Halfway there and other observations from the middle

Today marks 20 weeks in my pregnancy with the being we call Baby Frankie.  It’s hard to believe that I’m halfway through sometimes.  In some weeks each day felt achingly slow, and others just flew by.  Today, for the first time, someone who had not been told I was pregnant, felt bold enough to bring it up.  As she said, and I guess I must accept, I am now “obviously with child.”

It’s funny how hard it can be to accurately determine at what point you cross over into the “obviously with child” realm as opposed to the “possibly getting a bit chunky” realm.  Early on you feel like everyone must know that your extra paunch is baby-related, when in fact they probably haven’t even noticed it.  But soon enough you begin to think you are successfully flying under the radar and begin to wonder how you’ll start to share the news when it becomes necessary.  In some ways, I am glad my body broke the news for me. I’m happy to have moved into the former category, because it really gets old just feeling fat.  Honestly, for me I think that has been one of my hardest challenges in pregnancy.  As someone who has struggled with my weight for all of my life, including some short, dangerous interludes with anorexia and bulimia, simply feeling grateful for and accepting my changing body has been hard.  More than accepting the increased mass, has been the challenge of relaxing control over the things my body needs, what I can do, and my lifestyle generally.

Two weeks ago I ran a half marathon up in Aspen.  It isn’t crazy or overly ambitious to take on something like that during pregnancy, people do it all the time.  But, it does elicit reactions from people.  Maybe that was something I needed – just to hear that it was impressive to run a half marathon while pregnant.  At times pregnancy feels like it overtakes me, and I feel a grasping need to cling to the bits of my life that have previously defined me as more than just a woman and a vessel – as special and sweet that role is.  I needed something to make me feel ambitious and assert that I didn’t need to scale back my life.  The half marathon was a good way to do that.  But, as I ran I did notice that not all was as it should be, or would be, sans fetus.  My knees and hips ached in strange new ways, and my tendons made their presence known.  It was a different race, and though I hardly planned to PR, even I was bit surprised at how slow I was and how much my limitations were obvious.  Again a few weeks ago I felt similarly.  We made plans to ride Mount Evans, as we do each year.  It’s a big ride from Idaho Springs up to the summit at just over 14,000 feet.  Almost 60 miles round trip, and tough.  I knew riding to that altitude pregnant was unwise, so I planned to ride just to Echo Lake, a nice 30 mile ride.  I thought if I felt good perhaps I’d ride on, but at Echo Lake I turned back.  You see, even with my handlebars raised for added comfort, there still felt like there was a melon wedged into my pelvis, which was a bit uncomfortable.  Also, even though it didn’t slow me down too much, I felt a tad irresponsible tearing downhill 15 miles back to Idaho Springs on the descent.  It’s one thing to put yourself in harms way riding fast down a busy road, but another thing knowing that a small mistake could prove to be doubly harmful while you’re pregnant.

I guess all this reflection is mostly to observe that as much as I don’t want to accept that pregnancy imposes some new limitations on my life, I have to do just that.  In two weeks we are booked to fly to Maine and hike Mount Katahdin at the end of the Appalachian Trail with Rick’s mom.  Will I be able to complete the hike?  I sure hope so, but I am beginning to understand that there might be very valid reasons why I shouldn’t or can’t.    Pregnancy, finally after 20 weeks, is truly manifesting itself in more real ways in my life.  It’s amusing that even with a nursery all set up and as we begin to start interviewing doulas and making a birth plan, nothing has felt REALLY real until I couldn’t comfortably ride my road bike or run.

As of about a week and a half ago, I could feel the flutters of life moving around inside me.  To me it felt, as I told my mom, like “I am housing an unruly bluegill in my stomach.”  So much for the romance of butterflies.  Tomorrow we have our 20-week ultra-sound where we can learn whether it is a boy of girl.  We are still unsure if we really want to know, so don’t hold your breath for any updates.    Honestly, to me it will be an adventure either way and I’m not really entirely keen on removing this little piece of mystery from my life.  Today there are so few things in life that remain a mystery – it’s beautiful to hold on to a little spark of possibility without building in expectations one way or the other.

I have been musing for quite some time now, and I should get back to more pressing tasks.  I guess I will have to share the highlights of our long weekend in California with you at a later time.  It was an incredible trip and I can’t wait to describe it in more detail.  Til then, I’m off!

Sand Dunes National Park

I sat awake in the cool night air, listening.  Around me the winds from the east were rushing down the mountainside. The aspens and meadow grasses surrounding me whirred with a steady rustling.  The noises felt ominous in the cool dark, as though they preceded a storm or an imminent bear attack, but in my little tent not even the puppy stirred.  It seemed that I was the only one startled awake in the blackness to wonder at what the night concealed from me.

I shifted position, recognizing that the pressures on my growing belly made for an interesting sleep experience on my thermarest.  I curled into the fetal position, facing the tent wall as it fluttered in the wind, glowing with the subtle light of the moon’s cool light filtered through the aspen grove where we camped.

Recalling the day that brought me to this spot, I smiled.  Rick, Addie, and I had piled into his car and driven the three hours to the Sand Dunes National Park.  Rick had visited before, but for me it was the first time and I was pretty excited.  Along the way, I watched the scenery fade from the familiarity of South Park, to the arid vastness of the San Luis Valley – a huge, flat expanse of harsh, unwelcoming land.  It once was a booming agricultural valley, but now it was mostly dotted with small, abandoned shacks, interspersed with large irrigation systems that periodically brought a shock of green to the swaths of brown grassland.  The valley is testament to the finite nature of groundwater and a warning to use it wisely.  In the heat of midday, the valley seemed anything but welcoming.  Heat vibrated up from the roadway, blurring the brown grasses that made their way, crisscrossed with only dirt roads, to tan sands.  As we pulled into a coffee shop to grab a chai and use the bathroom, a sign reminded us of the cost of maintaining the toilet and the need to conserve water. It asked us to flush only after multiple uses.  It asked for contributions to help pay for their tank to be emptied each month.  It seemed apparent that the valley was not thriving.

Putting this depressing fact behind me, I tried to focus on the dunes, but suddenly I was consumed by questions of if I would even enjoy the trip.  Through the wafting heat off the valley floor I could picture myself trudging across an unbroken, unshaded expanse of yellow sand with no water or cool air in sight.  A creeping panic began to rise in me.  If there is one thing that grabs my survival instincts by the balls, it’s the thought of unbroken and unmitigated heat.  My brain immediately flashes to visions of me shriveling to a parched and shrunken shell of myself, and collapsing in the heat, and never leaving the desert.  Though many landscapes evoke fear, to me, the desert is perhaps the most forbidding.

We drove into the park, however, and I reminded myself that today would not be spent on the dunes.  Today Rick and I planned to hike in the preserve where we could backpack in to a backcountry site to camp.  Abutting the dunes is the Sangre de Cristo Range.  The winds that bear down the mountains, combined with the prevailing winds barreling across the San Luis Valley, and the winding Medano Creek help to hold the massive dunes in their place.  Today we would hike up Mosca Pass, to the crossing point of the Sangre de Cristos, in a low saddle full of wild green grasses and aspen groves.

We hiked for an hour and a half, up the incline to the pass, and were there before we even knew it!  The hike was mostly shaded and gradual, and we were moving faster than we thought.  We reached the pass just as afternoon storm clouds began gathering on the horizon, so we turned back, took a dog-legged path off the trail, and made our way into a beautiful mountain meadow with a small creek running though it, wildflowers blossoming abundantly, and a tiny, miraculous, hidden cache of Columbines in a shaded aspen grove.  It was a little paradise, and after searching out the right spot, we set up camp at the edge of and aspen grove overlooking the meadow from above.

We made a fabulous meal, and Rick broke out two beers he had stowed away in his bag as a little treat.  As I sipped my shandy and watched the light fade while Addie bounded through the meadow grasses, I couldn’t imagine a better, more peaceful spot to rest my head and body for the night.  I felt a little chill as I sat with intention, trying to share this moment with the little being fluttering in my belly.

We lit a small fire and let the night fade away from us before crawling into our sleeping bags, reminiscing on the sweet perfection of our day.  Moments spent like this, together, away from the rush of life in the city, bring both of us back to ourselves and the simple things that bring a smile to our faces.

As we have been busy putting together a nursery, fixing up our home, and trying to establish ourselves in the new jobs, we occasionally lose sight of these simple pleasures.  Our trip to the Sand Dunes was a beautiful reminder from the universe that a mountain meadow filled with wildflowers can do more for the soul than weeks of dedicated work to “improve” one’s lot.  Reduction, it seems, is often the key to contentment.

Strengths Finder 2.0

During the interview phase for my current position as the Public Involvement Coordinator for a large engineering firm, I was given a personality test.  While I love personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, etc.  I also worried that a diagnostics test might reduce me (at least on paper) to someone I’m not.  As I talked to my (now) boss about it during the weeks leading up to my job offer, she assured me that my worries were misplaced and that she and the company used the information they gathered in order to better construct effective teams and ensure that projects are rounded out with the right personalities.  So, when I received my copy of Strengths Finder 2.0by Tom Rath, I skimmed it over it and quickly found the code in the back to go online and take my test – nervous but excited for my results.

The book’s general premise is that we all do better when we maximize our own strengths rather than focusing on bringing our weaknesses up to par.  It’s a philosophy that I definitely approve of – and while I don’t see too much harm in trying to improve one’s weaknesses, it seems to make sense to capitalize on your strengths first and foremost.  The book, in order to help people identify their strengths, asked questions on a sliding scale that helped inform an evaluation of 5 key strengths, from about 34 they’ve identified. After taking the test, I came away as the following:

1. Strategic

2. Achiever

3. Individualization

4. Ideation

5. Learner

At first, I was pissed.  To me these were the strengths of a total dreamer – minus the achiever.  I was hoping for something with more solid footing.  These were not the strengths I hoped to convey to a potential employer, and now I was stuck with them.  Who wants someone full of strategies and ideas and fascinated with learning?  As valuable as these things can be, they aren’t necessarily the makings of a stellar employee.  I honestly felt really despondent for a while thinking that this kind of profile shot me in the foot.  But when I finally got the courage to share my test results with my boss we had a wonderful realization that our strengths were nearly the same!  I took this as a great relief since she is a pretty young woman, who has risen to VP in the company, and built her own unique strategic communications group within an engineering firm – no easy task.

The Strengths Finder system is a fantastic way to help understand yourself and what you have to offer. Because the personality themes identified on the test are not your typical personality definitives – they are broader and more thematic, they offer a different perspective to analyze your personality.  For example, I was a bit confused by the meaning of my Ideation theme (lover of ideas, revels in taking the world and turning it over to look at it in new ways), but the more I read about it, the more I realized it really fits me!  And, it has been a major driver of some of my big life decisions.  Because I know that I can tend to be caught up in ideas, and get more entangled in creative thinking than planning I tend to naturally surround myself with two types of people – either those who help me idle away my time discussing and analyzing the world around me like my sisters, and my Dad; or those who provide me some structure and balance me out – like my husband, my best friend, and my mother.  In looking back at my life, some of my most bonding friendship have been with other Ideators who sometimes seem to understand and follow my thoughts better than other people, but my more fruitful and long-lasting relationships are with those who provide an analytical balance to my ideation – the people who help me give my dreams footing in the real world.

Similarly, I find that the skill of individualization really helps me hone in on personalities around me.  I tend to have a very intuitive understanding of what makes people tick and I take great pleasure in considering the topic and understanding its real-world ramifications.  But, being prone to individualization I sometimes fell into the trap of giving people more leeway than they deserve, or enabling behavior because I understand the root causes of it and feel sympathetic.  I find that I am often put off by generalizations; for example, I used to date a guy who routinely referred to people according to the sport they liked or the business they were in – I found it annoyingly reductive and often called him out on it.  I do well to balance my tendency to evaluate a situation relative to the personalities in it, with a healthy dose of considering how more general rules should apply.  This could probably have saved me many a bad decision looking back on my past.

My Strategic and Achiever roles did not surprise me too much.  Ever since I was a small child my parents have marveled at my ability to manipulate things and people around me.  Often this is seen as a bad thing, but I don’t think it has to be bad.  Just because I once (as A CHILD) used these skills to get my sisters to give me foot massages and help me clean, does not mean I never used my talents for good!  I did and do!  Strategic is a skill I’m proud of, and I think it indicates a good forward-thinking approach to life.  Achiever is what you would expect.  If there is a bar to reach, I tend to try to reach it.  I like to tick off the boxes and mark things as “complete” on my lists.  It is immensely satisfying to me to watch progress happen and to set goals and fulfill them.  No shockers there.

My last skill is learner – and I find that one amusing.  I tend to assume everyone likes to learn – but apparently they don’t! Lately I have really seen it in action.  Being pregnant it such an opportunity to learn.  For me, though it might not be something you’d expect, issues about motherhood and birth have always been a special interest.  I have always wanted to be a mom – be it a very abstract desire that I, even now, still am not sure I’m ready for. But, now that I am pregnant I find that I’m delving even deeper into reading and learning about the process.  I can’t get enough information.  Just how much I’ve been taking in hits me on days like today when I toured a birthing center.  Clearly I was the least pregnant person on the tour, yet I was the one with the most questions! Anyway, this has been a post of a lot of navel gazing self-assessment, which I’m sure is very boring.  But, I have to say, the Strengths Finder 2.0 book is a really interesting tool to look at yourself in a new and different way.  I think it is a wonderful tool to help people capitalize on their strengths and identify the patterns that function best and most productively in their lives.  I’d recommend it to anyone who is in a time of self-evaluation and change in their lives.  It can truly help to reformulate the way you see yourself and the ways you market your skills in the workforce.

Rumbles

Tonight Rick and I sit quietly in the low light of our living room as thunder rumbles outside. Inside my head, rumbles are also rolling around – thoughts of our changing lives and what is to come. As I look over at Rick I observe the home we’re making together. We have put quite a bit of time into making our place represent us – our travels and stories up to this point. Behind Rick above our couch I see two colorful paintings of girls riding bicycles that I bought during my travels in Vietnam. On the adjacent wall is an aboriginal painting we bought at Uluru in the Red Center of Australia. On the walls behind me are old maps of Brisbane with its winding river meandering through . If I look closely I can see our old street and it makes me smile. We have felted wall hangings from Inuit communities on the Hudson Bay, sand prints from Myanmar, Peruvian weavings, mate bowls from Argentina. Our house is a collection of the things that are beautiful and meaningful to us.

I wonder at times how to maintain this lifestyle with a baby on the way. Can we still be simple? Can we maintain what we have? Earlier tonight we got into a discussion over gear – for babies. We are not big believers in gearing up excessively, and we truly want to maintain as much simplicity in our lives as possible, even with the obvious fact that babies necessitate that we give up a bit of this. I have a personal vendetta against strollers of all varieties, and I think after years of my stroller rage Rick may have gotten on board with me. We can both agree that there is at least one piece of baby gear we would like to live without. But, truly, how much else can you do without? Especially as a working mom? How does one maintain as much simplicity in his or her life as possible, while still accommodating the needs of a baby and a career?

I find myself contemplating how my life will work in 6 months or so, when in the midst of the holiday season a new life enters the mix. As I look around now I have a husband who is a joy, and my puppy who makes me smile endlessly. We have a good little thing going, so how will we fit baby Frankie (this is what we are calling it for lack of a better name) fit into the mix? How will I balance work and my desire to be a mom? How will Rick transition into teaching with the added stress of a newborn? There are many moving pieces.

I feel like I am constantly reining myself in and reminding myself that people have been doing this for thousands of years and I will do the same. We will make it all work. And I know that stressors aside, once I look at Baby Frankie I will be smitten and will do what is needed to make life work for him or her.

Pregnancy Reflections

It feels nice to be out of the first trimester and to have the ability to share more openly my thoughts and reflections on the changes in my life and the being that is rapidly expanding my waistline. I have been so heartened by all the expressions of happiness and kind words people have shared with Rick and I. It has helped me to focus on the excitement rather than the myriad changes happening in my body and in my life going forward. I have a really hard time keeping my ongoing inner monologue to myself, and it is a major relief to share the news that Rick and I are expecting with our friends after weeks of awkwardly sipping pomegranate juice instead of wine and secretly drinking virgin margaritas while we’ve been out. I’m so thankful that I didn’t suffer from severe morning sickness or skin issues – things that would have made it more obvious that something was happening. We flew under the radar for the most part, so it’s been very fun to surprise friends and family with our news.

As far as how I have felt, I have had it pretty easy with only minor queasiness at the thought of certain foods (often my favorites like eggs and salads!), and a bit of early dizziness and fatigue. Aside from basically wanting to eat exclusively toast and cheese for three months straight and being a bit tired, I think I did pretty well. Right now, however, is possibly one of the weirdest stages of pregnancy. Some days I definitely have a belly, but others it really isn’t noticeable. Most of my pants fit, but they are certainly getting snug, and a few of the tighter pairs require a belly band – if I can get into them at all. I feel like more than my belly, my thighs and hips are rounding out – not to mention other parts of me! I am trying to embrace this new curvier version of myself, but it is a struggle at times. Rick helps keep it in perspective by asking me regularly if his ass looks fat or some other obnoxious question to remind me that of course my body is changing and I should just embrace it. It is a bit of a learning curve though. I have a lot of clothing, particularly for work, that is very tight through the torso. Needless to say, I am rapidly trying to adjust my wardrobe to accommodate the fact that many of my work clothes no longer fit, and they certainly don’t do much to disguise my growing bump. Each morning is a new challenge, but I am trying to look at it with gratitude and a sense of adventure. It will almost be a relief when I am just obviously pregnant and not in this strange limbo phase. 🙂