Dwell on This

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a beautiful fall day in 1973, sunshine pouring through the campus medical office window where Lara sits with her back straight, hands folded primly in her lap, waiting for her examination results.

“You are definitely pregnant”, the doctor tells her.  “Four or five weeks along.  Do you know what you want to do about this?”

Do?  Lara tries to clear her head and imagine what exactly people are expected to do in this kind of situation.  Cry?  Throw a party?  Why does the doctor care what she’s going to do?

“Was this pregnancy planned?  Is your husband going to be okay with it?”

No, not planned, Lara tells her.  Not discussed, not anticipated.  Big surprise, really.  So much for the diaphragm as birth control.  Throwing that out now I guess.  Stupid thing.  They stare at each other for a moment in silence.

“If you decide to terminate this pregnancy, it’s best to do it now.  You will need to let me know as soon as possible so we can make the arrangements”

Lara’s heart thuds and she moves her clasped hands up across her belly.  An abortion, that’s the option Lara is supposed to be considering, and immediately she knows that for her it isn’t an option at all.

“Oh God, no, I’m really happy about this!”  She supposes the doctor can be forgiven for not figuring out that her shell-shocked expression is an indication of joy.  And if Stan isn’t thrilled with the news that he’s going to be a parent before his university semester is over, oh well.  Lara decides she won’t dwell on that.

Because it doesn’t matter.  She is going to have this baby.  The doctor gives her a huge smile, as if to say she’s made the right decision, and tells her to come back and see her in a month.

When Stan picks her up ten minutes later he doesn’t even ask.  Laras beaming face tells him everything he needs to know.

(This is in response to this weeks Trifecta Challenge)

trifecta button

Things you didn’t realize…..

…..until it was too late.

Drew that card out of the box last night and was stumped.  Left it until this morning.  Still stymied.  Yes it does sometimes take me awhile to ‘get’ things;  the little light bulb is sometimes slow to pop on, but it’s that last part that I can’t deal with.  It’s never too late.  If your original big picture doesn’t pan out exactly the way you thought it would, then you just rearrange your big picture.  And life goes on.

An original Edison light bulb from 1879 from T...

An original Edison light bulb from 1879 from Thomas Edison’s shop in Menlo Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, maybe I’m taking this way more philosophically than it was intended.  I didn’t realize there was glass on the car seat until I brushed away some crumbs, felt a stabbing pain in the palm of my hand and began to bleed profusely.  But it wasn’t too late to save some unsuspecting soul from sitting on that seat and getting a glass cut on his or her butt.  So that worked out well.

I didn’t realize giving birth was such a painful experience until I was in labour.  And then it was too late to make myself unpregnant.  Although having the baby accomplished the unpregnant thing.  Then I didn’t realize how easy it was to forget about the whole labour thing until I was in the midst of it for the second time.  And then it was too late to have an only child.  Doh.

I didn’t realize this stupid card would make me crazy until after I read it, and then it was too late.


Are you kidding me?  TWO cards in a row that it’s almost impossible to answer??  Men know more about growing beards.  I think that’s it.  Next card please.

Cambridge Bay

Cambridge Bay

I haven’t been in any great hurry to carry on in a chronological fashion and describe our first few years in the NWT.  In fact, I think I’ve been deliberately putting it off.  For the first year or so I kept a kind of diary, mostly because I needed to pour my heart out and vent and there was no one there to listen.  When I read it now, it breaks my heart.

When we landed in the Arctic, D. was 14 months old.  I was 5 months pregnant.  W. was thrown into a crazy job in a strange place where white people were a very small minority and the culture was all new and different to both of us.  We lived in government housing, a three bedroom bungalow that would have been suitable for a much less harsh climate.  Our furnace ran constantly but our windows were always iced up.  Water had to be delivered by truck and pumped into a huge tank in our back entranceway.  Until we got used to conserving it, we ran right out of water two or three times.  There was a ringer washer which I had to figure out how to use, and a dryer that was in constant use because the clothes that went into it were still soaked.  A sewage truck had to come and pump out a holding tank under the house.  The vent for the sewage tank would sometimes get clogged up and the smell would permeate every room in our house.  Someone would have to climb up on the roof with a kettle of hot water and unclog it.  I did it once myself in the latter stages of my pregnancy because no one was around to help me and the smell was making me sick.  I suppose I could have fallen off the roof and killed myself and our unborn baby, but that was something I didn’t even think about until the deed was done.

We were both very optimistic in the beginning and really and truly believed that this was going to be a great adventure, and that we’d have few problems adjusting.  For the first time ever we were cut off from family and friends – that in itself was a huge adjustment.  Isolation took on a whole new meaning.  Especially for me.  W. was gone to work every day, and off on various trips, and even when he was home he went out drinking with the guys until all hours.  I was friends with some of their wives, mostly government workers or teachers but it was such a production to visit anyone that I eventually just gave up trying.  As my pregnancy progressed it also became too risky to be wandering around in the ice and snow with a one year old who could get frost-bitten cheeks and fingers and toes.  W. never seemed to clue in to the fact that I wasn’t sociable because it exhausted me.  Maybe he thought I liked staying home with a one year old 24/7 and not going to work full-time.  It got more and more difficult to tell him how I felt.  I spent my time looking after my daughter, cleaning and cooking and teaching myself how to bake bread.  Mostly I was bored out of my skull.  So I taught myself to knit and crochet. I made hats and scarves and sweaters and even attempted socks.  Then I made a quilt. I read everything I could get my hands on.  I invented games and stories and intricate play areas.  When I got really bored I moved all the furniture around until I had exhausted every conceivable arrangement.  Whenever W. left I’d spend a couple of hours crying and feeling sorry for myself.  I missed my family, I missed my car, I missed shopping and eating out, and going places and DAYLIGHT.  By Christmas I was the most depressed I’ve ever been in my life.  W. said it was hormones.  I was too down to disagree with him.  It was our first Christmas away from family and the stupid mail strike had finally ended but everything was so back logged that everything we ordered for Christmas was either late or cancelled.   I wasn’t too concerned about D.’s gifts not arriving from Sears because she was too little to know the difference.  But her dad got on a plane and flew to another community with a bigger Bay store and came back laden with gifts for his little girl.  We put up an artificial tree and made a big deal out of Christmas morning – maybe more for us than for her.  We were invited out for Christmas dinner and to a Christmas party at the D.E.W. line, and also to a New Year’s Eve party at the curling club.  So it’s not like we didn’t go places, but when we did W. fraternized with the guys and I talked to their wives about babies and recipes.  W.  still went out lots on his own.  Sometimes I was just happy not to have to deal with him.

I had a month or so to go before my due date.  Arrangements had been made for me to deliver the baby at the nursing station with the help of a mid wife.  For some reason or other, after we got past Christmas things didn’t look so bad for a while.   Maybe part of it was knowing that my pregnancy would soon be terminated.  I was never very good at being pregnant.  That healthy happy glow thing eluded me completely both times.  Add to that the fact that W. stopped going on trips because he didn’t want to be away when the baby came.  I was actually able to leave D. with him and go out to a baby shower, and a girl’s coffee get together, and even to do some shopping at the Bay on my own.  Funny how little things you normally take for granted can make such a difference in how you feel about life in general.

It was a week into February before I went into labour at 4:00 a.m.  W. woke up with a start and went into overdrive, waking up our friends who were going to look after D, phoning the mid-wife, helping me (for the first and last time during my entire pregnancy) to put on my boots.  All the while he was fussing I kept protesting that we had all kinds of time.  There was no need to get everyone else up at this ungodly hour.  But as usual he wasn’t listening.  So there I was at 6:00 a.m. in a nursing station bed with bleary eyed people surrounding me waiting for something to happen.  They all wandered off and probably had a nap somewhere.  W. just stayed hyper for the next six hours.  Our son was born at one minute after noon.

In my pre-baby blatherings I had decided that it would be nice to have two little girls, and I had several girl’s names picked out and written down.  And a boy’s name, just in case.  The baby looked exactly like D. had when she was born – little round head, big round eyes, lots of dark hair.  I was sure they’d made a mistake and it was another girl.  When they left me alone to rest I picked him up out of his little bed side crib and undressed him and checked for myself.  At the time it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do just to make sure.  Then I fell asleep with him in my arms  and cuddled up against me.   I often wonder if that’s one of the reasons he was such a happy content baby, so different from his sister.  I’m sure that immediate bonding and closeness must have made a difference.  Being whisked off to a nursery and left to cry all by yourself has to be a much more traumatic beginning to your life.

So baby K. has a birth certificate from the NWT.  Although of course he’s not a baby anymore,  he’ll always be my baby. (GAG)  No English and French on this one – it’s English and Inuit syllabics.  I stayed one night in the nursing station and went home the next morning.  People at home that I talked to on the phone in the next few days were all agog about the whole thing – what was it like not being in a hospital with a real doctor, and what if something had gone wrong – wasn’t I scared?   Was I sure the baby was okay?  I got tired of reassuring everyone that everything was fine.   What a liar.  Things were not “fine”.

W. was away all the time it seemed to me.  He’d have occasional fits of guilt where he’d make an effort to spend time with me and his kids, but mostly he was off somewhere doing what ever it was he did.  One day in a fit of depressed rage I cut off all my hair.  W. really liked my long hair, but that particular day it was annoying the hell out of me and I hacked it all off.  He constantly told me that D. was becoming an undisciplined little brat and that I was way too easy on her.  She was almost two!  Two year olds are supposed to be brats!  Stick around and be a parent yourself, you asshole!   I started ordering a ridiculous amount of stuff through catalogues.  Cases of disposable diapers in different sizes, a new blender, baby clothes, toys, a curling iron for my new hair, all kinds of craft supplies.  W. had bought a snow machine, and I was a little afraid of it, but determined to make use of it.  One day I created a sort of baby carrier out of scarves and I can’t remember what else.  I strapped it to myself, plopped K. into it, got D. all bundled up, zipped my parka over the baby and took us all out for a snow machine ride.  It was quite a long reach to the controls because I had D. sitting facing me and the baby between us.  We drove over to visit my friend Trudy, and D. put her hand up and pushed on the throttle and we ran over her garbage barrel.  She was watching us out of her front window, and we both laughed hysterically about that for days.  I attached the baby sleigh to the back of the machine and that’s where I carried my groceries.  We went to a newly formed moms and tots three mornings a week.  Whenever W. came home it was like we were speaking different languages.  I didn’t care what he was doing at work, and he got tired of hearing about the lives of my friends and their children and what I had watched on tv and the latest thing to arrive at the post office.  We both took up curling (if you could even call it that – the ice was tilted and bumpy) but I hated his competitiveness and he thought I couldn’t take anything seriously enough.  My gawd, it was hardly the Olympics and the ice was so bad that we started to count rocks that bounced off the boards on their way to the other end of the ice.

One of my entries in my ‘diary’ says ‘ I think our marriage has kind of gone for a shit since we moved up here’.  Then I just blather on about how angelic baby K. is and how cute D. is and how many words she can say and all the places I’ve gone on our snow machine and what all my friends are doing.  And how W. has gone off on yet another stupid trip, this time bear hunting or something as equally asinine.  And how I haven’t felt the slightest bit depressed about it this time at all.   Two weeks later, I am convinced that I must be a widow.  How ironic, that when I finally make up my mind to snap out of my big funk and get out and do things and stop acting like a zombie who can only wander around doing laundry and picking up toys, that my husband has gone missing.

First they’re a couple of days late, then three, then four.  Then a week.  We are worried sick.  Two Inuit guys from the hunting party finally turn up and go immediately to the RCMP to report that my friend Joyce’s husband Ed left the group a week ago to head home on his own. They all tried to talk him out of it, but he took off, and now they have no idea where he is.  The rest of the group stayed together, but there have been several white-outs and they’ve been storm stayed much longer than expected.  W. had mechanical problems with his machine and they’ve had to leave it behind.  They are running out of food.  The two guys who returned tell the RCMP where they think the rest of them are, and they send out a plane which spots them easily about a hundred miles out and headed home. Included in the group are Trudy’s husband and young son.  We hug each other and cry when we find out they’re okay.   When they finally arrive, W. has a weather-beaten face that his daughter doesn’t recognize.  He has grown a beard, and worn holes in the knees of his long underwear.  He is dirty and hungry and sick with worry about  Ed.  He thinks people will hold him responsible.  He tries to explain that Ed just got tired of the hunt and took off.  How could they have made him stay, short of tying him up?  Eventually a rescue plane finds him, way off course, hungry and delirious, and flies him home.  He becomes a bit of a celebrity about town, has newspaper articles written about him, and does some radio interviews.  Amazing, how being an idiot can win you some notoriety.  W. is still blamed by a lot of people for how things went wrong.  Joyce stops speaking to me.  I don’t understand any of it.  I’m just happy that W. is back and a bit wiser, and seems for a while to be more appreciative of his little family.

Our marriage has one more big crisis to weather before we get the hell out of Cambridge Bay.  And lots of little ones.  I suppose it’s not much different from any one else’s rocky road when you have small children and you’re trying to be good parents and still have some semblance of a life and sort out who you are now that you’re all grown up.  I’m sounding like a ranting crazy lady, but I think in lots of ways that’s what I was starting to become.  And it’s all too much for one blog, so stay tuned for part two.

Newborn, at the nursing station.

One week old.

Life As We Knew It Then

May 09

Life As We Knew It

We have great memories of living in Guelph, Ontario.  The first place we lived was an apartment in a high-rise.  We had very little furniture and we were dirt poor.  I was able to get a job right away at the Guelph Campus Co-op bookstore, and we immediately applied for co-op housing.  We had a car.  We made friends.  We had money for food and beer.  That’s what a student loan is all about isn’t it?

The Guelph skyline is dominated by the impressive Church of Our Lady.  I’ve never been inside it, but just looking at it always gave me a sense of serenity.  I have no idea why.

And the University Campus is quite beautiful.  I’m sure it has changed drastically in the years since we were there.  But there continues to be a wonderful sense of tradition.  The old buildings are kept in good repair, even if their function changes.

This is probably one of the oldest and best know buildings on campus, made into a coffee shop.  The co-op bookstore was fairly close, and I suppose it’s still there.  The only other landmarks  pertinent to this memoir would be the co-op student housing on Forest Drive, the Harvey’s restaurant, various pubs, and the Guelph General Hospital.

So picture the two of us.  I’m working full-time at the front desk at the bookstore, helping students find everything they’re looking for and loving being in on the hectic campus lifestyle.  W. is attending lectures and labs and any spare time at the library working, so that when we go home at night we can spend some quality time together, sitting on pillows on the floor watching our little black and white t.v. (which also sits on the floor) and more often than not, eating some kind of take-out.  Most weekends we feel like we deserve to party at least once.  Our friends aren’t picky, they’ll join us on the floor and drink our wine.  W. takes up smoking a pipe.  I find this hilarious.  My bearded pipe smoking biologist.  We smoke a lot of pot. We make wild plans to go to Africa and work for CUSO.   We drive up to my parent’s house every so often where my mom frets that we’re not eating right, so she stuffs us and our car so full of food we don’t have to eat or grocery shop for a week.  W.’s brother and his wife move to Hamilton where she works and he goes to school.  (We’re starting new family traditions.)  It’s great to have family close.  I find an incredibly beautiful long black belted pea coat at a thrift store for five dollars and I never take it off.  God I loved that coat.  Life was good.

So I guess that was the ‘life as we knew it’ that I’m referring to.  I don’t know why I thought it would go on and on.  Because suddenly – poof – it was done.  Time to finally grow up.  It was sometime before Christmas that I started to feel decidedly ill.  For over a week I was constantly nauseous, pale, tired, and weepy.  We’d just seen Love Story, so I imagined myself with some sort of fatal disease – our punishment for being so blithely happy.  I finally dragged my naive little butt to the doctor when a friend at work suggested I take a pregnancy test.  And that’s of course when all the signs and symptoms at last made perfect sense.  The very first things my doctor asked me were if this baby was planned, and was I happy about it and did I want it.  No, definitely not planned.  Too utterly stunned at the moment to think about the happy part.  But immediately protective, and enamoured, and committed.  I remember those feelings suddenly so strong it was as if someone had turned on a tap somewhere and they just flowed through me.  Of course I wanted it.  How could anyone imagine anything else?  W. picked me up after my appointment and just started driving.  I practically screamed at him….don’t you want to KNOW???  He said my face told him everything.  And he squeezed my hand and said everything would be okay.  And that started the crying that really didn’t stop for any great length of time for the next eight months.

Such ridiculously bad timing!  W. had two years of school to complete.  I had to work.  Neither of us had ever even talked about a child.  Life just seemed to keep happening to us.  I went home from my doctor appointment and threw my cigarettes in the garbage and then I phoned my mother.  Everyone kept asking me, are you happy about this?  Of course I was happy!!  Then why are you so miserable?  I DO NOT KNOW.  There are pregnant women who glow.  I was not one of them.  For me everything was a battle that I had to win.  I willed myself to not be sick.  I refused to take anything that remotely resembled a drug even if I had the worst headache of my life.  I gave up beer and wine and coffee and pop.  I started cooking vegetables and drinking milk.  I vowed to stay on my feet and work until the bitter end.

There’s a reason for a pregnancy being divided up into three trimesters.  The first three months are for getting used to the idea and dealing with the nausea.  Which could be a physical or a mental thing or a little of both.  The next three months are for reading everything you can get your hands on about pregnancy and delivery and nutrition and becoming an expert, especially if it’s your first one.  If there was a happy time for me, this was it.  Everything was new and interesting.  I could still see my feet.  The last three months, when ‘normal’ women do that strange glowing thing, were for me the most tedious, tiring, boring and miserable time of my entire life.  I don’t know how W. put up with me.    I did not like the physically awkward fat new me.  I didn’t want to admit how tired I was at work.  I wanted it to be over with.  My doctor actually said to me on one visit – don’t worry.  There has never been a case yet of a pregnancy that did not terminate.  I was sure I would be the first.  I would be pregnant forever.

The maternity leave rules back then were completely out to lunch, as far as I’m concerned.  I had to leave work six weeks before my due date, and return to work four weeks after that.  I did not need six weeks to wallow in self-pity.  That last month I sat in our basement apartment eating popsicles, drinking chocolate milk and watching game shows.  W. predicted our child would be born black and frozen, but with a high IQ.

We had gone  to pre-natal classes, because W. wanted to be with me for the delivery.  What a glutton for punishment he turned out to be!  I took my bad attitude with me all the way to the hospital, four days past my due date when I had abandoned all hope of ever seeing what the place looked like on the inside.   During labour I  informed him that if he ever did that to me again I would kill him.  And that’s when he shrugged and left the room and went to watch a baseball game in the waiting room.  Every labour pain after that I mentally strangled him.   He was smart enough not to come back until they gave me my epidural.

For every birth there is a different pregnancy and delivery story.  When you’re pregnant you get to hear them all, which means you’ve either already heard them or you may someday.  I won’t bore you with the sordid details.  Our daughter was born at 9:20 p.m. on the 27th of July.  She was the tiniest most beautiful little human being I had ever seen.  She scrunched up her little red face and screamed.  Even when she wasn’t yelling her eyebrows were pulled together in a mad little frown.  I was immediately a firm believer in the fact that a mother passes her moods on to her unborn child.

Top left is baby’s newborn frowny face.  Top right, the stunned new parents, with baby turning away thinking omg, why me.  Bottom left and right, new dad, new mom.  Baby thinking, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.