Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The All Seeing Cupcake

If you’re a first time parent with less than “traditional” parents yourself, you probably are asking a lot of questions. And you should. Lord knows I didn’t know ½ of the stuff I know now when I started. In fact when I first found out I was pregnant, I was pretty excited… about the idea of pregnancy and childbirth. I had no idea what that meant.
Among the doctors appointments, medical treatments and steps to get your body prepared to grow a parestite- er baby…. (I know mama, you hate that joke).. there’s a lot of other things to think about to. Like do we find out if it’s a boy or a girl? When and where do you ask for help preparing for things? Is is ok to register for gifts? Do I have to have a baby shower or can I just pop the kid out and call it good? I make light, but these are actually all vital steps in your mental preparation for baby.
Number one, thinking about what type of toys you want for baby can be a big statement about what kind of parent you’re hoping to be. What kind of diapers (my faves are Honest), bottles, strollers… Each of these things are essential to cultivating a young body and mind into a young person- and with any luck a responsible adult with enough humility to not brag about how awesome they are, but rather what a rad parent you were (hey, one can dream right?). So aside from knowing I was going to have a baby shower,  the next question and more immediate one that I get asked is “Do you know if it’s a boy or girl yet?”
For some, this is so they can buy pink or blue. For others, this is so they can relate to you about their experience. For me, it was just a confirmation of if we went more Pirate or more fairy with our Neverland theme.
My mother in law is the goddess of parties. We have not yet had to have an unspoken rivalry about who throws a better party, mostly because I enjoy going to hers. She also knows more about female tradition and trends than I could ever imagine. When she first told me about a baby reveal, I pictured a baby on a silver platter with a “voila!” moment. That apparently is just my active imagination.
Baby Reveal parties are the latest trend that allow expecting parents to celebrate their new bundle of joy with a party of their closest friends and family. Some people choose to have a box filled with colored balloons, pink for girl and blue for boy, others use cupcakes where the couple is the first to bite into a specialty order. I’ve since heard of specialty cocktails which I’ve decided is a really big tease and therefore NOT an option. We went with cupcakes from Seattle favorite, Cupcake Royale.
Now the Neal’s are an Irish clan. We tend to be the black sheep of the family, rarely to do things in a straight line, we opted for a party at our absolute favorite Irish Pub, the Owl n’ Thistle. Baby was after all expected to arrive on March 17th. You don’t get more officially Irish than being born on St. Patrick’s day. So continuing to celebrate our Irish roots, we also chose Irish flag cupcakes and Green for boy and Orange for girl. My husband wore his kilt and I wore a green sweater over an orange tank with the Blackwatch Tartan (because I’m the Scottish kid in the group) wrapped over my jeans.
The Neal’s are a masculine clan. I don’t know the specifics of other Neal’s, O’Neils and any other version of the name, but the Neal’s I married into have boys. I the last 14 babies and three generations starting at Grandpa Neal (not counting a divorce and remarry to a non-Neal) there was exactly one girl. One girl in over 50 years. So the deck favored another boy.
That was my bet. That was the bet of all of the cousins. That was the bet of our little nephew, my sister in law and Mama Neal. My husband had said from the moment he met me his first child would be a girl. Twin girls, to be exact. I laughed and told him to place an order with God, see how that worked out for him. Having known him now for 4 years, I’ve watched him in the face of extraordinary odds make predictions like this before- and come out right. So my faith in the Neal history was a little shaky. But he had been wrong about the twins part, so maybe he wasn’t as infallible as I thought.
Bets were laid. We designed a game based on a similar game done with champagne, blueberries and raspberries. We’re Irish, this family doesn’t do champagne, they do whiskey or ale. We asked the kitchen to give us a small side of Lemons and Limes so we could at least stick with our theme and people could declare their bet on the rim of their preferred beverage. hubby had his whiskey, I had a cranberry sprite. Le sigh.
Now Collin had cheated. After receiving some very disheartening news not three days prior he had needed a confidence booster and peeked at the little card before he took it to the bakery. So he remained silent and took a slice of each fruit. And we waited for the allotted time.
Thanks to modern technology, we were able to connect with family from far away via Google Hangouts (we take a good 20 minutes to get to the reveal, but you get the idea). My mom, my dad and stepfather connected with us from Rosalia, WA and Los Angeles, CA. My step-brother couldn’t get it to work in Chicago and my best friend couldn’t figure it out in NY but that’s alright, we posted it on YouTube on accident and decided to leave it there for them. The time had come.
We put the lap top at the far end of the table. All our friends and family that could come gathered round, cupcakes were passed out and we dramatically waited, people holding their glasses out with their predictions on the rims. I bit into my cup cake. I forgot to remove the wrapper. I looked for the filling and couldn’t see it. Then I looked again, that wasn’t Irish frosting, that was orange filling.
We have a little girl.
A beautiful, strong, fiery Irish girl ready to make her debut this coming March and I can’t wait!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Perfect Children Pt. 2

October was kind of an exciting month. We had made official announcements that we were having a baby, the first for my side and the second for my husbands if we don’t count cousins (which there are a lot of them).  October 17th was our routine exam that was to be proceeded by a standard 21 point ultrasound.  Everything was going swimmingly. Baby kicked, baby stretched, baby let us watch them fold in half and do a hand stand.  In general, baby was healthy as a horse.
But not quite. We had just been told that baby might have a cleft. We had a million questions and dark cloud had settled over our heads. We went to our follow up with doctor that very same day. 
Now, there are a list of tests that are “optional” for expecting parents designed to allow you a leg up on preparation. Some people want the whole shebang, every test available. Others would rather leave it up to God or fate or whatever they believe in, and only do medically necessary testing. For myself, I’m somewhere in between. I’d truthfully never thought about it because like many women my age, babies make us smile but we’d never considered all the things required of us to make one.
So, while the doctor had mentioned them in passing at our initial consult and handed us a stack of information packets that I sort of glanced at, we now were being pressured into tests that we had really been uninterested in before. The thing that was confusing us was that they would reassure us that there was literally nothing we could have done differently to change the outcome of a cleft. There was no history of it in either of our families.  I wasn’t drinking or smoking and we were both relatively healthy individuals. Nothing was abnormal for the first 5 weeks of pregnancy so the chances of anything environmental that had caused this we small. In fact they really don’t know what exactly causes clefts aside from lifestyle and medical history. This time, it was just chance.
Despite all that, the abject warnings about potential chromosomal abnormalities suddenly skyrocketed. Words like “down’s syndrome” and “sickle cell anemia” were tossed around like a hot potato.  Amniocentesis was optioned and pushed for as a way to determine if the baby would have any of this. These heartbreaking concepts are pushed because “we want to make sure that you have the best medical care available.” The problem with this is that these tests are very expensive and can be very inaccurate. Even under ideal circumstances they’ve had test come back clean as a whistle only to have babies born with very serious issues. So it’s a crap shoot and you’re out the money either way.
Then the real question was… well it was eluded to, without being stated. Do you want to keep this baby or not? Because that’s what it boils down to at the end of the day. If the test is negative would you keep this child?
I have always fancied myself a pro-choice individual. I’ve always consider it my body my choice, and I still do. But suddenly I faced a very real question for my own heart and soul. My husband and I are responsible adults on most days. We chose to have sex, we chose to not use any contraception. And despite all the environmental reasons in the world to have not conceived when we did… we did. Was that also chance? Would I, could I free us of a burden simply because the baby might not be “perfect” in the eyes of the world? I’d never been faced with such a question before. And it disgusted me that it was a question I had been forced to ask myself.
The more times the amniocentesis was pushed, the more I felt like that was what modern science was saying to me. If you take this test, you can get rid of it, if you don’t your stuck.
I fucking hated that thought.
I hate that it made me hate pregnancy and question every fiber of my soul because I suddenly didn’t know who I was any more. Who was this doctor to suggest that imperfection was not beautiful?
By the time we left my husband and I felt lost. But I had made up my mind. No test, in all the world, would change my mind. This child was mine, my blessing and my responsibility. So fuck your test and let me have my baby in peace.
I promptly found a new doctor.
The moral of this story is not yet over, as it is not yet written. But what I do know is that all children are beautiful in the eyes of their creator. I understand some of you may not believe that, but they are. This child, my child, will not only live, but will be as sassy as mommy, as strong as daddy and look at this world in absolute wonder. 

Prefect Children Pt. 1

This may come as a shock to some but I’m a Christian. I know, mind blowing isn’t it? I can still be in shows like HAIR and work on a horror film folks. Still the same me, just with a little faith in something greater than myself.  I am a liberal leaning Christian and my husband tends towards a more conservative Christian. So sometimes we don’t always agree on the fundamentals. We’ve had those fabulously heated arguments about the basics but because we love one another and can’t imagine a world where the other isn’t part of it, we always come to terms with our disagreement and try to see it from both sides, with mostly success.
Then along comes baby. And everything you thought you believed with every fiber of your soul is challenged. For starters, there’s a lot of things you don’t know and a lot of answers you’re expected to give without ever having known there was a question to begin with. It can be as confusing as it is overwhelming.
I feel a bit like they were making up for the first 3 months I was on set of my husbands first feature and there were all kinds of tests. Blood tests, urine tests, ultrasounds, more blood tests and on occasion a written exam… I’m kidding. Or am I?
These are a monthly part of the ritual now. Once a month you check in to make sure mama and baby are developing on target, because despite our differences there are some consistencies about every pregnancy that must be met. So October 17th I went back in for my monthly check up (I swear I’ve spent more time at the doctor in 4 months than in 6
years) preceded by a 21 point ultrasound, whatever that means.
It was the first time I really felt pregnant. This wasn’t just a little floating blob that may or may not be a fetus, but a living breathing (metaphorically) being inside of me. While the movement I felt left me feeling more gassy than anything at 18 weeks, I could really see baby for the first time. How baby loved to fully stretch out their legs from one side to the other.
Baby was sassy as could be, mouthing at us and not letting us get a clear shot of their face but distinctive poses to see a very healthy spine, legs, arms, fingers and toes. Not to mention a very strong heart.
We had already decided we wanted to know the sex of the baby, but we also wanted to make that a special moment at a reveal party, my mother-in-law’s suggestion that I loved.
So they put the information in a pretty little envelope, sealed, and then went to get the doctor.
Now this isn’t our normal doctor, it’s the doctor assigned to the unit for radiology and ultrasounds. Never met him before, he’ll never see us again. He doesn’t do more than introduce himself blithely and dive right in.
“Well your baby is healthy, but looks like they will have a bilateral cleft lip.”
Do you know what it’s like when blood freezes? It’s painful. You can’t breathe. Your whole body aches and ever muscle in your body tenses as if you’re lifting Atlas’ burden.
“Excuse me, what do you mean?” The doctor proceeds to explain that there is bulbous tissue around her mouth that is typically indicative of a cleft lip and or pallet. That it’s too early to know anything for sure but that the amount of tissue around her lips makes him suspect a bilateral cleft lip.
He asks a few personal questions about health habits of me. Do you smoke? No. Do you drink? Not since I found out. Is there a history of cleft or other birth defects in your family? No.
Well, then it’s just bad luck.
“Excuse me? Bad luck? My baby is not bad luck, you egotistical asshole! My baby is a blessing. You are the only bad luck that’s entered my life and your bedside manner is shit!” Never mind that this was inside my head and not what I voiced. I was trying too hard not to cry. I looked at my husband and he was in exactly the same place I was- ready to strangle the doctor, fighting tears.
We took our pretty little envelope with our card that revealed if baby was a boy or girl with us and somberly got back in the car. We hardly spoke.
Clefts, we had been told, were incredibly treatable and incredibly common. They are much more common among boys. That 1 in 700 children born will have it. But neither of us knew enough about them to have the slightest idea about what to do next.
So here we are, at a dark place. And the challenges to our faith and trust in God and each other were just barely about to begin.
To be Continued....