Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ask a Pregnant Woman, Part 2

Laura had a question for the pregnant woman:

I'm interested in the "giving your body over to a stranger" concept, because that's something I think lots of people who haven't experienced it can't really fathom.

I think that's one of the main arguments of pro-choice people, that you shouldn't have to be pregnant -- that is, give up your control over your own body -- unless you've actually chosen to do so.

[Of course, you could say the choice to have sex was the choice to (potentially) get your body taken over by a very cute parasite (to paraphrase House!), so even that argument isn't necessarily pro-choice...]

My question is, are people patting your belly yet, or are friends and family relating to you differently, and does THAT also feel like giving yourself over to someone else?

Good question, Laura!

As for the "giving your body over to a stranger" concept, absolutely, what I'm saying is that you shouldn't have to be pregnant if you have not chosen to do so. Sure, if you have heterosexual sex, you run the risk of becoming pregnant (even using birth control), and that should be a risk that you are willing to take, under normal circumstances.

Of course the only foolproof way of not getting pregnant is to never have heterosexual sex. Unfortunately, this is usually unrealistic; sex is one of the basic needs in Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. So birth control is a safe way to diminish the likelihood of pregnancy while satisfying this basic human need. For this reason, I am very much in favor of making birth control products such as the birth control pill, condoms, and spermicide, readily available. Still, these are not 100% foolproof (emphasis on fool) so we must be prepared to accept the consequences.

However, there are plenty of situations in which you are giving over more than you expected. If you are raped, for example, you are not making the choice to potentially get your body taken over; someone else is making that choice for you. Should you be required to carry that baby?

Or maybe, as it turns out, you have a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, "a debilitating and potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting with potential adverse consequences for the newborn(s)." (I think they theorize that one of the Bronte sisters died of this disease.) This was a risk that you didn't know you were taking when you made the choice to become pregnant. Should you be required to carry that baby?

I guess to me, the rights of the already-born trump the rights of the not-yet-born, and in these cases, the woman should have the choice to terminate the pregnancy. I think that it is important to accept the sovereignty of the woman over what happens to her body.

As for people treating me differently, I find that a lot more doors are held for me, my co-workers offer to take my tray up to the cafeteria window, and my boss treats me quite gingerly, making sure that I'm up for whatever task I volunteer to take on. For example, I'm teaching a one-day crash course in supercomputing, and he wanted to make sure that I would be up to it. On the one hand it's kind of nice to be treated so politely; on the other hand I'd rather just make the decision for myself as to what I am capable of doing.

Jeff and I have noticed that we get a lot of gifts from the future grandparents to their future grandchild, and not so many gifts for us. For example, when Dad and Marvis were here this weekend, they brought a gift for their future grandchild, whereas before, if they had brought a gift, it would be for us. After he is born I imagine that the attention will get even more skewed towards him. This is fine, it's just different from how things were before.

Nobody's rubbing my belly yet but I suspect that it's too small to be tempting yet. I'll let you know how it goes as time goes on.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ask a Pregnant Woman

Being pregnant is an interesting experience. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm enjoying it, although there are certainly some things that I do enjoy about it (e.g. getting to eat more). Half the human population will never get to experience this, and as for the other half, there are plenty of folks who have not yet been pregnant, and some who will never be pregnant. Because of the fact that this is a relatively rare experience, I thought I'd offer up some answers to some questions you may be having about what I'm going through.

1. What does it feel like?
You know the feeling you have after Thanksgiving when you've overeaten and your stomach is stretched out, and you have to unbutton your pants? Imagine feeling stretched out like that, except that you're always hungry. That's what it feels like to me.

2. What does it feel like when the baby moves?
So far, I am only at about 22 weeks, so he is pretty small and weighs less than a pound. But for now, anyhow, it feels kind of like when you get a muscle spasm, only it doesn't hurt, it just feels weird. But as he gets bigger, I'm sure I will start to feel more.

3. What do you like the most about being pregnant?
Without a doubt, the thing I like the most is getting to eat a lot more than I would normally eat, and not feeling guilty about it. It's nice to have a second helping of dinner, and to eat leftovers for lunch. Before, I just ate salad or something very low in calories for lunch. But now I can't do that. That is, I can't do that if I want to be able to think about anything but food all day!

4. What do you like the least about being pregnant?
I dislike the fact that I'm always so tired. It was a lot worse in the first trimester. Also, I got a body pillow and that has made a big difference because I'm able to sleep much better at night. My biggest sleep-related problem is that I am a stomach sleeper, or if I can't sleep on my stomach, then I sleep on my back. Both of these positions are also conducive to keeping my arms straight, which is important for the sake of my left elbow and wrist. But I can't sleep on my stomach at this time, and sleeping on your back is bad too because it cuts off the circulation of a very important artery that supplies the uterus. So I have to sleep on my side, which is uncomfortable and makes it impossible for me to keep my left arm straight. Because of this I'm going to need to go to the orthopedist soon, I'm afraid.

5. Have you had any food cravings?
Nothing like the legendary pickles and ice cream or anything like that. During the first trimester I was extremely crazy about string cheese, which is odd because I've never been fond of cheese. Also one night I woke up and had to eat some grapes so I went into the kitchen and shoveled grapes into my mouth by the handful.

6. Have you had any food aversions?
I used to think that Santa Fe Beans and Rice was one of the greatest foods ever. So I made my own, and I seemed to have overdosed on them, because I can't hardly put a bean in my mouth anymore.

7. Have you had to change any of your habits or adjust your lifestyle?
Mostly I have eliminated artificial sweeteners from my diet. I used to drink quite a bit of diet drinks (diet root beer, diet orange soda, diet Kool-Aid, etc.) so I just drink water or milk instead. I read that the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium is actually hazardous to your developing fetus, so I had to quit one of my favorite daily habits, chewing sugarless gum. Wintergreen is my favorite flavor. Unfortunately, even sugary gum usually has acesulfame potassium in it. The only brand of gum I found that did not have that sweetener in it was Double Bubble, and that gum is pretty much disgusting, so I have quit chewing gum altogether. I am looking forward to chewing gum again after he is born!

8. Any other comments?
To me, this experience has underscored how important it is for a woman to be pregnant only if she wants to be. If I didn't think that the outcome of this experience was going to be worth it, I would have a hard time giving over my body to this stranger for nine months. I'm glad that I'm in an emotional and financial state that is stable and that I will be able to support this new person in the manner that he deserves.

Questions for the pregnant woman? Feel free to post them in the comments.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Adventures in Oak Ridge

Today we hosted some out-of-town visitors: Dad, Marvis, Marvis' mom Ruth, Marvis' aunt Eda, Marvis' sister Leslie, brother-in-law Kenny, and niece Layne. (I don't know that I spelled everyone's names right.) Anyhow, they came down from where they had all gathered, in Lexington, to tour Oak Ridge, because Ruth and her husband Marvin had both worked here during the war, and both of their daughters were born here too.

First we had a late lunch at Panera, before heading to the commemorative walk that we had taken Dad and Marvis to on their last visit. Next we saw the house where they lived while in Oak Ridge. It just so happened that the owner of that house was walking into her house while we were there, and she invited Ruth, Leslie, and Marvis into the house to take a look around. Marvis was less than two years old when they moved, so she didn't remember anything about it, but Leslie and Ruth said that not much had changed, at least in the layout of the house. Then we headed over to Jackson Square, and we saw that and then the chapel on the hill where Ruth had sung in the choir. Finally we ended up back at Panera for some thirst-quenching drinks after this hot day, and they took off from there.

It was really nice to meet Marvis' family members. We had already met her mother, but Jeff and I met all the others for the first time today. I was glad they got a chance to come down here and see the city and see us too.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Neighborhood Block Party

On Friday evening, our neighborhood held a block party. Each family had to bring a main dish and a side dish to share. Jeff made some fried chicken strips breaded with his secret recipe. I made a Texas sheet cake (chocolate cake with chocolate frosting). Jeff's chicken was a big hit, and my cake wasn't too unpopular, either.

We met a lot of neighbors and it was a lot of fun. Our neighborhood has a lot of people of different ages: we sat next to a woman who has lived here for 45 years, and there was a 2.5-week-old baby in attendance too.

The police department sent out their neighborhood watch coordinator to talk to us about starting a neighborhood watch. Apparently there's a bit of a drug problem in town, which is what probably motivated the thefts that we had a few months ago. We got some brochures about keeping our house and neighborhood safe, and neighborhood watch stickers. We should be getting a neighborhood watch sign soon, too.

Our neighborhood is amazing. Apparently there has been this annual party for 30+ years. Everybody knows everybody else in the neighborhood, so we are one step ahead of some of the city's neighborhoods. I really like our house and neighborhood. It's nice because everyone is so friendly and they all look after each other. On the other hand, we have a lot more privacy than we did at our house in Illinois, because our houses are farther apart, and we have no backdoor neighbors (unless you count the people hundreds of feet down the hill). I think we picked a really good place to live.

A Day Out

Today we went on a road trip to the Smokies. It's less than an hour's drive to Gatlinburg. This morning we headed out to the Smokies, stopping in for a pancake breakfast at the All-American pancake house. I had the Massachusetts pancakes (with cranberry sauce and whipped cream) and they were pretty good. Just a couple of doors down was the Elvis museum. We had to go to it. It was a lot of fun to see all this memorabilia of Elvis', such as some of his jumpsuits, his cars, and his jewelry.

Then we went to the park and appreciated the scenery on our way to Cherokee, NC. In Cherokee we went to a Cherokee craft shop. On our way home, we decided to take the interstate, which involved taking some scenic backroads to get to the interstate. It was a good day out.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lovin' the Old Computers

It's way past my bedtime, but I just wanted to share with you some of my love for historical computers. I've been working on an education project (I'll give you more details when I get the chance), and during my research for this project, I discovered the coolest website ever, provided that you're as much of a computer history geek as I am. It shows all the great old computers, like the ILLIAC-IV, which was made by the University of Illinois and the Burroughs company. I got a kick out of seeing all the old-fashioned computers, and how much progress we've made in the computing field. So check it out if you're at all interested!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dear Tennessee

Dear Tennessee,

I am a relatively new resident of yours, moving down here after seven years in Illinois. While I enjoy the beautiful hills, the lush greenery, and the new job I have here, I had a few complaints that I was hoping you could do something about.

First of all, do you think you could get your residents to stop pronouncing the final "s" in my former state's name? Illinois rhymes with boy, not poise. I begin to twitch involuntarily when they do that, which makes it hard for me to make a good impression.

Secondly, would it be possible to do something about the people who don't believe in traffic signals? When I first arrived here, I couldn't understand why cars turning left didn't do like they do in Illinois: get out into the middle of the intersection, and turn left when the light turns red. After seeing too many instances of people speeding into the intersection when they see the light turn red, however, I now understand.

Finally, what's up with the weather? The high hasn't been above 70 for the past ten days or so. Who do you think you are, Illinois?!?!


Friday, May 19, 2006

En Pojke*

Sorry for leaving you in suspense, but the week has been quite busy. I'm taking some time out of my lunch hour to let you know that it's a boy we'll be expecting on or about October 4. He's an active little fellow, weighing only 11 ounces (why, then, have I gained 20 pounds?!?!), with a normal sized cranium, a good-looking face, a healthy heart, and extremely attractive gams (which he exercises regularly). We knew we'd be happy whether he turned out to be a girl or a boy, although it does feel like we're conforming to the family pattern (he will have only boys for cousins) and I'm not a big conformist, myself.

But that's about the extent of my complaints so now it's on to more questions, like what is he going to look like? Is he going to have (daddy's) blue eyes or (mommy's) brown? Is he going to be blond like his daddy or dark-haired like his mommy? Is he going to have short, stubby fingers like his mommy or the longer fingers of his daddy? And is he going to inherit my (lack of) chin? I guess we'll find that out in October!

*Swedish for boy

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Guesses Welcome

Tomorrow we are scheduled for an ultrasound. Seeing as we live in the technologically-advanced state of Tennessee, it's the cool 4-D ultrasound where you can see pictures of the baby, as detailed as a photograph, and moving in real time. I don't have to drink so much that my bladder is about to burst. Thank goodness we live in such a technologically-advanced place rather than those other backwoods states and countries.

Jeff and I are both kind of apprehensive about it. What if there's something wrong with the baby? What if it has three eyes? But chances are good that there's nothing wrong with it. There's still an element of the unknown. Is it a girl or a boy? We might find that out tomorrow. But in the meantime (based entirely on no evidence, I know), what do you think?

Adventures in Buying Clothes, Part 2

Thanks to you all for your suggestions about maternity clothes. The shop that I went to the week before is unfortunately the only maternity specialty store in the area. But there are other places to shop.

On Friday evening, Jeff and I went to J.C. Penney, which turned out to have lots of acceptable maternity clothes. So I bought three tops that I am looking forward to wearing to work. I was really glad to see that there was a place that offered clothing that would actually cover the wearer's body.

A Hearty Welcome

... to the latest relative to enter the blog world, Ginger!

My sister-in-law Ginger, inspired by the fame and fortune I am fast amassing as one of the world's most popular bloggers, has started her own blog. Actually, I'm kidding -- about my fame and fortune, that is, but not about Ginger. I think she will be a wonderful addition to my regular blog reading habit and I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Cool Link

I came across this web page and I thought it was just about the coolest thing ever. It's the Baby Name Wizard NameVoyager. It's a graphical representation of the top 1000 names given to American babies each decade since 1880.

We've already picked out names for our baby whether it's a boy or a girl, but it's still interesting to look through the names and see how they've changed over time. Like did you know that Agnes was the 939th most popular name for boys in the decade 1900-1909? Strange but true. And before 1940, if a baby was named Allison, it was more than likely a boy, whereas today Allison is almost exclusively a girl's name.

Anyhow, check it out, type in your favorite name, and see how popular it is or once was!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Adventures in Buying Clothes

My waistline is expanding, and if it weren't for a good cause, this would frighten me. Instead, it just annoys me, because it means I have to go out shopping for clothes. I have plenty of large t-shirts, and I've already bought some maternity jeans and other casual bottoms. What I really need is clothes for work.

I knew that there was a maternity clothing store in the mall in the Big City, so on Friday evening Jeff and I decided to go there and see if we couldn't find me some work-appropriate attire. I was disappointed to discover that there was very little there that I would be willing to wear in public, much less to work!

The vast majority of tops there were of the sleeveless, or even worse, of the spaghetti strap variety. Now, I don't like to wear sleeveless tops, and I recognize that I am in the minority on that. (The problem for me is that I have a condition that makes my armpits a bit of an eyesore, so for the sake of those around me, I choose not to exhibit them in public.) But spaghetti strap tops are absolutely out of the realm of possibility for a completely different reason. I am, shall we say, rather well-endowed on the best of days, and as my body makes the preparations for a baby, my endowment becomes more and more generous. This means, not only must I wear a bra at all times, but I have to wear a very supportive one, which will by necessity have large straps, a minimum of three times wider than the spaghetti straps.

While we were at the store, a saleswoman asked me if we were finding everything that we needed. I was annoyed enough that I told her no, and asked if there was anything that covered your armpits. She said that there wasn't much, because it was the season for short-sleeved shirts -- at which point I told her that short-sleeved shirts, such as the one I was wearing, did cover your armpits. Then she said that the fashions for pregnant women are based on the fashions worn by teenagers, because it made people feel younger, like how her forty-something mom was wearing short skirts and sleeveless blouses and all kinds of crazy things modeled after teenagers.

Her suggestion was that I try wearing a "shrug," a piece of clothing that is like the shoulders and upper part of a blouse or a knit sweater, and then wear one of the sleeveless tops underneath it. But when I tried on the shrugs, they ended up visually drawing attention to my large chest. One of the shrugs fit almost like an exterior bra. So the shrugs were of no help and even made the problem worse.

The only parallel between teenagers and pregnant women is that both feel awkward about their changing bodies. Does this mean that we have to display our awkwardly changing bodies for all to see? That's not what I want to do, thank you very much! I'm certainly not ashamed of my body or my growing belly, but I'm really not that interested in drawing attention to it. My idea of the ultimate summer maternity top would be a loose, short-sleeved top made of a lightweight fabric, not a form-fitting swatch of fabric that accentuates my cleavage!

This may seem like such a trite thing that I am complaining about, but in the larger scheme of things, it is actually a pretty big deal. As I have indicated before, I am the only woman in my department, and because of this, it is essential that I maintain a professional image at work. Part of the way that I maintain this professional image is to dress nicely, but not in ways that draw attention to my obviously female figure. This is not to say that I wear a loose sack over my body. I wear nice women's clothes that fit; I keep my cleavage covered, and I avoid short skirts. I usually wear some make-up too, including eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick. I wear flat shoes because I'm tall enough already and heels are just plain uncomfortable.

I know I'm a woman, and everybody at work knows I'm a woman, and nobody cares that I am not the default (white male) computer scientist. But that doesn't mean I want to dress in ways that make an issue out of the way my body is built. I don't want my male co-workers dressing in ways that bring attention to the way their bodies are built, either! The nature of our bodies is irrelevant to our ability to work at this job.

The problem is that it's hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in a male-dominated world. Wearing revealing clothing only hurts my chances at that. The type of clothing marketed to pregnant women makes it seem like someone's conspiring to keep women from being taken seriously. If I were a paranoid type, I might start believing that it's yet another way the patriarchy keeps women down. In any case, I don't think I'll be going back to that store anytime soon.

G is for ...

Post a comment, I'll give you a letter, then write 10 things starting with that, explaining why. The letter I was given was G.

1. Grapes -- one of two things (along with string cheese) that I've had pregnancy-related cravings for. One night, I woke up and had to eat grapes. Luckily, there were grapes in the fridge. I washed a whole bowlful and shoveled them into my mouth by the handful.

2. Government -- I work for a contractor that contracts with another contractor that is paid by the government. Ultimately, your tax dollars pay for me, but I am not a government employee.

3. Green -- I am surrounded by green here in Tennessee. All the hills and mountains are covered in leafy trees, bushes, and poison ivy.

4. Games -- I love to play many different types of games, such as role-playing games, board games like Carcassonne, card games like bridge, and certain outdoor games like croquet. Mind games? No thanks, I played plenty of those when I was growing up, so I'm all done with that.

5. Gold -- the only type of jewelry I can wear. I am allergic to nickel, and jewelry made from silver and other metals usually contain a non-trivial amount of nickel. When I got my ears pierced, I chose sterling silver studs, and as a result my ears swelled and got infected. The stainless steel back of a watch causes my wrist to break out if I wear it too frequently. This is one of many reasons that I don't wear much jewelry. The only things I wear every day are my (gold) wedding and engagement rings, and I try to keep gold earrings in my ear lobes.

6. Grammar -- I am a stickler for good grammar and spelling and I tend to get upset if I discover a typo or a mistake in something I have written.

7. Gum -- I love chewing gum, especially sugar-free wintergreen-flavored gum. Unfortunately, the artificial sweeteners in the gum are off-limits at the moment. Even most sugary gum has artificial sweeteners in it! The only brand I could find that didn't have any artificial sweeteners is Double Bubble, which is kind of nasty, so I've pretty much given up chewing gum altogether.

8. Growth -- I have always been big. I was over 9.5 lbs when I was born, and I was nearly full-grown by the age of 13. Today I am one inch shy of six feet tall. My husband was a more than ten-pound baby and is also tall, and I think we are destined to have a big baby who will grow into a big grown-up.

9. Girl -- I grew up in the South, so it used to be my first instinct to call any woman under the age of 30 a "girl." For example, it was hard for me to think of a female college student as a woman rather than a girl. (To be completely fair, I never really thought of a male college student as a man, either; he was a guy. But not a "boy.") But after living in Illinois for so long, and returning to the South, it is now somewhat jarring to hear younger women referred to as "girls."

10. Grip -- I've often been told to "get a grip," but that's not really what I'm talking about here. Because of the overuse of my left arm and the twisting of that elbow for hours on end when I was practicing the violin as a child, I don't really have much of a grip with my left hand anymore. I still have trouble with hand writing and if I overuse that arm I find myself in a lot of pain. This is something that I really wish the doctor could fix, but all he can do is treat it by giving me shots in the elbow at most twice a year. I have to keep wearing my elbow brace and minimize the use of that arm.

The Past Week's Activities

Last Saturday, we helped our friends move into their new apartment. They drove down from Maryland with a big moving truck full of their furniture and belongings. I didn't move any of the heavy stuff but I did carry in a few boxes and bags. That evening, we took them out to eat at a restaurant that we had been to when we were house-hunting but had until recently been unable to find again.

On Monday, it was "Celebrate Women in Science" day at the lab, and in honor of that fact we had a plenary speaker and a poster session. As the only woman in my department, I made a poster for this poster session. My poster was about dynamic load balancing, which is what I'm working on these days. Then, in the evening, we went out to dinner with our newly-moved-in friends.

The rest of the week was fairly uneventful, until Saturday, when we went on a day trip to the Smokies. We visited Gatlinburg, where we had a pancake lunch, and Cherokee, NC. The mountains are just beautiful and green. We got home after 8 p.m.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Fame and Fortune

Okay, no fortune involved, as far as I know, anyhow, but today, I am famous! I am on the front page of the NCSA webpage, ORNL in the news page (if you don't look at it today, you can search the archives for May 5, 2006), and the article is on HPC Wire.

It has to do with the research I did for my Ph.D., concerning ill-posed problems and optimization. I feel kind of bashful but pleased to be getting so much recognition. In fact, someone from a different division e-mailed me and asked me if I could talk with him about my research, because he's trying to solve ill-posed global optimization problems!