I started “writing books” when I was four, dictating to my mom from the bathtub, my thick, dark brown hair smooshed up on top of my head with frothy shampoo. Mom would listen carefully, hand-print my words on blank construction paper pages I’d illustrate later with crayons. I adored stories. I relished in make-believe. Mom said, lovingly, that I had an overactive imagination.
My parents read with me a lot, pretty much every day as far back as I can remember. When I was a little older, my dad would read young adult literature to me and “do” different voices for all the characters. I was reading children’s books on my own by the time I entered kindergarten and short chapter books by first grade. I’d get completely immersed in the narratives, lose track of time and let my mind traverse across Madeleine L’engle‘s strange and transitory landscapes, find solace with Roald Dahl‘s lonely beasts and heroines.
Stories are about journeying; about discovery; about a sense of place; about a beginning, middle, and end. My story begins with blank pages, an empty journal that starts, jarringly and robustly, from the middle. There is no exposition, no framing, just a vague temporal beginning documented in my adoption papers in English translation.
I was abandoned or as my adoption papers describe it, a “foundling.” My earliest months are recorded roughly by the orphanage and adoption agency and seem partially fabricated. According to my paperwork, I liked to play with dolls, something that seems patently false. I liked dogs, which I believe is true—I’ve always felt close to animals and took to my family’s golden retrievers right away. I had two large purple burn marks on my right forearm that are to-this-day unexplained, what’s left of a lost narrative I’d love to know, however painful. They’ve faded to soft, rippled scars that look more like birthmarks than wounds.
My story began on an airplane, a transatlantic flight to Alaska and then to JFK airport in New York City where I met my parents. My younger sister is also adopted. For my family, kinship has never been about blood. “Blood is thicker than water” simply isn’t true for us. Chosen family has always made sense to me because my family chose me.
Being adopted means I’ve always been filling in those first pages of my story with my own ideas, my own illustrations, some suggested by my parents, some discovered on my own. It takes someone with an overactive imagination to create your own context from scratch, to imagine yourself into the world. If you aren’t adopted, it’s probably hard to understand not knowing where you came from.
There are probably stories you’ve been told about your birth, about your gestational parent’s experience with pregnancy, about how you were conceived. You were born in a hospital or a bed or on a kitchen floor or the backseat of a speeding car. You were a quiet baby or a fussy baby or a happy baby. There are shared experiences between the parents and siblings in your family across generations. Births are compared to one another. Stories are passed down. Histories are created. You are tethered to your origin, whether you want to be or not. Kinship is in your blood. You know the exact time and place you went from an idea of a person to a squirmy human being with air filling your lungs.
I can’t imagine my birth story or even my infancy. I was a toddler when I began to exist in any documented way. Anything before that is intangible. When I imagine where I came from, I envision a train track split in two or three or four directions, a redacted manuscript with page-after-page of immutable ink blots. Or just a sidewalk that ends unexpectedly, surrounded on all sides by grass and weeds, like the scattered bits of concrete paving in my rural hometown. Imagine if your beginning was as unwritten as your future. How do you navigate a journey without a starting point?
Being an adoptee has made being pregnant all that much more strange and interesting. I’m building a story with my body, one I’ve never known before. It’s unfamiliar. It’s completely new. I can read about it in forums and books, but it doesn’t feel like something that’s real to me. It doesn’t feel natural. Maybe this is why I don’t feel a strong kinship with other pregnant people, with mama culture. Maybe this is one reason that “having a baby” was never part of my identity as a woman.
When I played make-believe house with my friends in first grade, I always volunteered to be the family dog. I was neither the baby nor the mom. Those weren’t roles I knew how to play or wanted to. My parents shared parenting roles and they never pushed us to have kids or get married. My mom was never pregnant with my little sister. She wasn’t pregnant with me. She was an amazing parent and educator, as was my dad. Baby-making just wasn’t part of my family’s narrative.
There is no birthing wisdom passed down between generations for me. My grandparents have passed and my parents have their own experience with family-making that is theirs and is challenging and wonderful in different ways than mine. My mother-in-law talks to me about pregnancy like it’s this normal thing that people do. It is. For most people. To her. I don’t feel “normal” in this pregnant body, though. I don’t feel like I’m carrying forth some family tradition of womanhood or embodying my mother or carrying forth the wisdom of The Mothers. Most days, I feel slightly out of place.
I’m not sad about this feeling. I recognize it. I sit with it. I hold it, see the hardness and the fragility in the words I used to say: “I don’t want to have kids.” “I don’t think I have a maternal clock.” “Writing is how I create and birth into the world.”
In many ways, being pregnant has forced me to contend with the loss I never fully grieved as an adoptee. It’s not a loss of family. My family is whole and complete. It’s not loss about being adopted or unwanted. I’ve never felt anything but loved, that I can remember. It’s the loss of my own beginning, of my story, my starting point, my origin.
It’s the realization that I don’t know what I looked like as a baby and there aren’t any pictures, something I never thought about until recently. It’s my unexpected need to find a South Korean donor, something I didn’t know I wanted until I wanted it, urgently, deeply, unapologetically. Because I long for someone who looks like me. Because I want to share my ethnicity with my child. Because I want my child to love being Korean. It’s my insistence that we use an open donor for the benefit of our future kid, who may one day wonder about their origins, too. It’s the daily reminder played out in the feeling of feet and hands poking me from the inside that I’m writing an origin story for Remi and that my story remains unwritten.
I am a mother. I am becoming a mother. Before I was a mother, I became a writer, a storyteller, fabricating fiction from wisps of truth, shadowing and lining the angles of my memories into essays, connecting letters into words into images with smokey lines of verse. I started writing my stories in the bathtub with my mom. I created fictions to fill in the gaps. I illustrated the pages of my books. I am writing a new story now, with my body, for Remi, who will never know or understand what it means to be birthed by airplanes and adoption papers and mythology.
10 Random Baby-Making Feelings I’m Currently Over-Processing
1. Drumroll, Please: The Dino Decal Winner!
You’re probably wondering what we decided about the dino decals. Well, there were a lot of votes for all the decals. A mixed bag, if you will. Ultimately, the most votes were for the top left and top right decals.
With your input, we decided to go with a set by the same Etsy seller as the top left option because the colors are really bright and fun and go well with our bright and fun nursery. However, we went with a set that is kind of a hybrid of the top left and top right, dinos with cute and happy facial expressions and bright colors and eggs and trees and volcanoes. The pink pterodactyl in this set really sold Waffle.
Thank you all for your feedback! I hope you like the decals we picked with your input. (I mean, ultimately we have to like them first-and-foremost, but I hope you like them, too!)
2. Doula Want to Hire a Doula?
We have a childbirth class scheduled for later this month so we can learn about breathing techniques and I don’t know…whatever you learn in a birth class.
The place we booked our birth class through also provides doulas. I’m still deciding if I want a doula attending our birth. We are working with a midwifery group and a midwife will deliver T. Rex. But it’s not like a traditional midwife. We don’t have one individual midwife, so depending on how many women are in labor, our midwife may not be able to stay with us at every moment.
Also, we’ve never done this before and I’ve heard a doula can be as beneficial for the non-gestational partner or support person as they can be for the person in labor. I think it might be helpful to have one, for Waffle and for me. I’d also love to labor as long as possible at home before heading to the hospital and my plan (very open to amelioration) is to attempt natural birth.
Mostly we have to see if the cost is worth it to us and I’m not quite sure yet. Have any of you hired a doula to attend your birth? Did it make the experience better?
3. Perks of Being Preggers
I parked here the other day and I felt great about it.
4. The Best and Worst Pregnancy Symptoms
I keep saying I’ve had a mostly easy pregnancy and it’s true. I have a good amount of energy, enough to get through the work day and evening commitments. The gestational diabetes diagnosis in the first trimester was a momentary setback, but it’s forced me to make lifestyle changes that make me feel better like eating breakfast and exercising every day. My diabetes is still well-controlled without medication. I haven’t gained much weight at all, so I don’t have a sore back…yet…and my boobs are pretty much the same (large) size as they were before I was knocked up.
I have a lot to be thankful for. There’s still a lot of weird stuff happening, of course. Here’s the best and worst of the pregnancy symptoms I’ve had or been spared.
- Regular as F*ck: Pooping regularly is a big part of my daily routine and I was super worried I was going to be constipated for nine months. But so far, so good! Fiber is my friend.
- Not Hungry: The gestational diabetes eating plan means having three meals and three snacks every day, so I’m eating from morning until bedtime. It’s a lot to remember to pack snacks all the time, but I rarely feel hungry.
- Strong Nails: After 28 years of biting my nails, I finally quit last year, but they were in sad condition. Prenatals, hormones, and time have made my once-brittle nails super strong and thicker than they’ve ever been. It’s great! They’re starting to look half-way decent even without polish.
- Itchy Pits: About two weeks ago I started getting really itchy in my left armpit and left side boob due to pregnancy hormones. I gave myself a rash, in fact, which was very visually appealing and a whole heck of a lot of fun. I treated it with witch hazel and tea tree oil and lotion and now I just have an itchy pit that’s prone to rashes if I let myself scratch. I’m controlling it with lotion and witch hazel applied three times a day.
- Mood Swings: The crying stage of my hormonal journey seems to be over, but the bitchy stage has kicked in in full force. I find myself snapping at Waffle for no reason. I know in my head I’m being unnecessarily mean or reactionary, but I literally can’t stop the words from coming out of my mouth.
- Daily Leg Cramps: I wake up with what feels like a horrible charlie horse in my leg almost every day. This morning, I had one that was so bad that I started doing pseudo-Lamaze breathing into my pillow because I wanted to scream, but didn’t want to wake Waffle up.
- Popping Joints: My joints are loosening all over and especially in my hips. I sometimes wake myself up by popping my hip or knee joint when I roll over in my sleep.
- Carpal Tunnel: Apparently you can get carpal tunnel symptoms during and after pregnancy, which I definitely have because my wrists are achey every day after work. Wee!
- Diabetes: It’s definitely not fun. I feel lucky that I can control it with food and exercise choices, but it is a huge part of my daily life in a way that’s kind of obnoxious. I’m grateful I’m in control of it, but I’d be really sugar-coating it to say it isn’t kind of a huge bummer. I miss white rice, a lot.
5. Squirting and Not the Fun Kind
Bladder control is something I usually feel pretty good about, but lately my confidence is waning. I sometimes spring a leak if I sneeze or cough.
I hear this gets even better after giving birth, so I’m really looking forward to that. In the meantime, I’m trying to kegel my way back into control, but I can’t stop my uterus from expanding into my bladder area, so I’m not particularly hopeful.
6. Building a Badass Library for Baby T. Rex
Books are a big deal to me. Books were my very favorite thing when I was growing up and I plan to read to Remi all the time.
My mom was a first grade teacher and she’s been gifting me a lot of amazing children’s books with accompanying stuffed animals because that’s the kind of lesson planner she is.
I’ve been looking up as many Korean children’s books (in English) that I can find, as well as feminist and LGBTQ children’s books.
Some wonderful friends gifted us this dark and hilarious book and I’m totally into Jon Klassen now.
Of course, we’re also acquiring board books and soft books in some of childhood favorites. Mine is Moo Baa La La La by Sanda Boynton. Waffle’s is Sleepy Bunny (but not this reprint, the 1982 Johnson & Johnson version).
7. Things I’ve Googled in the Past Week:
- gestational diabetes cookie recipe
- what do labor pains feel like
- breastfeeding large breasts
- preparing for maternity leave
- labor how much poop
- cooked paneer safe pregnancy
- wrists hurt pregnancy
- baby won’t kick for partner
- sunburn pregnant
8. Can’t Stop Keeping My Hands to Myself
I keep touching my stomach with my left hand and I don’t know why. It’s just a thing that’s happening, like I’m being compelled by some invisible belly-hand magnetic force. I’ve always wondered why pregnant women are constantly touching their bellies and I still wonder it, as I’m constantly touching my belly. Touching my belly while I’m driving. Touching my belly while I’m standing in the grocery store. Touching my belly while I watch Game of Thrones. Touching my belly while I check my email. Touching my belly while I proofread this post.
9. A Wiggle, a Bun, a Kitty, and a Dino
We’ve always had a lot of pets in our home. At one point, we had two guinea pigs, a rabbit, four rats, and a cat in our fur family all at the same time. We’re down to just three furbabies. I’m glad Baby T. Rex will be exposed to animals from an early age. Loving and caring for animals is something Waffle and I share and I think it builds empathy for kids to interact with animals.
However, I never meant to still have two high maintenance pets like the bunny and wiggle pig (guinea pig) at the same time as a newborn. It kind of stresses me out to think about. It’s a lot of poop to deal with on the daily, is what I’m saying.
Additionally, both of those furbabes are getting older and probably won’t be around for more than a couple years. The wiggle may not even make it through this year—she has a chronic bacterial infection that’s untreatable and inoperable. We got extra pages for Remi’s baby book for the three pets we currently have, but I wonder if Remi will remember them at all.
The cat should have many more years with us and will also be around the baby more than the smaller furkids, so I’m hopeful Remi will remember and love the cat, at least. I don’t know if the cat will love Remi, but I’m optomistic. Luckily, our scaredy cat is also very gentle, so I’m not worried about the cat ripping off Remi’s diaper like my parents’ cat did to me.
10. How to Maternity Leave
I’m so, so, so blessed to be able to take some time off via my day job employer’s parental leave policy plus accrued vacation time. The U.S. is one of the only countries that doesn’t have federally mandated paid parental leave. My employer chooses to offer up to six weeks of paid leave for birth or adoption. On top of that, I’m using some of my vacation time and sick time.
Waffle’s employer doesn’t provide any paid leave, so he’s decided to use his vacation time for two weeks, but he had to schedule it way in advance, so we’re just hoping the baby comes in the two-week period he requested off.
I can’t believe I’m already in the third trimester. I have just about two months until my paid leave begins (unless I deliver very early) and I’m working on getting things situated at work for my co-workers while I’m out. I’m the director of a small office of a statewide nonprofit, with three staff (myself included) on-site and most of my co-workers six hours away in NYC, so it’s a lot to prepare for.
Like, who’s going to sign off on timesheets, but also who’s going to fix the printer when it disconnects from the wifi?
I have never taken this much time off of work before. The last time I had three months off was during summer break when I was a college student. For the last five years, I used a lot of my paid vacation time to travel for my second job as a professional speaker and sexuality educator. I just haven’t prioritized time off since I entered the work force. I’m grateful for the weeks to spend with Baby T. Rex and to heal and mend after delivery.
I imagine I’ll be exhausted most of the time, but I wonder what I’ll be doing in-between caring for Remi and sleeping. Reading books? Watching Netflix? Taking up radical cross-stitching? What do you do when you don’t go to a 9-5 job every day? Suggestions?