My Baby, the Prude

I’m not the most patient or calm person in the world. I’m incredibly neurotic, and I love to plan and organize things. Even as a child, my favorite part of Halloween was the day after when I would steal my mom’s giant Rubbermaid container and a box of sandwich bags from the kitchen and organize all of my candy. My goal was always to keep tabs on how much of each kind I had to ensure that I didn’t run out of any specific candy too soon. It also helped keep me aware if my beloved father tried to steal my candy without asking.

Even in college I remember the time that Bethany tried to be really sweet and make my bed and help me with laundry after I missed a week of school due to being on an overseas mission trip. I was so stressed about getting my life back in order that I remade my bed and refolded all of my laundry after she already had done it because “she didn’t do it right.” Thankfully, I’ve relaxed a little bit since then and stopped being a jerk and redoing Bethany’s housework, but I still am a little bit crazy about planning.

My most current struggle has been planning for a baby with an unknown gender. I realize that until 30 years ago, women didn’t get routine ultrasounds, and the gender of every baby was a surprise, but Bethany and I are choosing to embrace technology and find out what parts our baby’s got down there.

I don’t know why science hasn’t yet found some way to incorporate a gender sensor into urine pregnancy tests. There has to be some sort of antibody or enzyme that’s released into a woman’s system when an embryo housing a Y chromosome implants into her uterus.  An extra sensor will allow a little blue or pink symbol to appear on the test strip after the nerve wracked woman squats over the toilet and pees onto it.

Bethany is currently 19 weeks and 4 days, and I have been dying to know the sex of our baby since the day we found out she was pregnant. I realize that there are all those crazy people out there that want to be surprised, but isn’t there enough surprise and anxiety impregnated in the fact that there is soon going to be a newborn baby living in my house depending on me to keep it alive? We don’t need the added stress of trying to pick out two names and assemble all gender neutral baby items. Thankfully, Bethany and I have always agreed on this fact and have never planned on being surprised with the baby’s gender.

Since I have some extra resources in my line of work, I texted one of the doctors I work with who used to do a lot of OB and is skilled at prenatal ultrasounds and asked if she would give Bethany and me a sneak peak at Tommy(e) at 16 weeks. The genitalia should have been differentiated by this point, and the suspense of not knowing was driving me mad!

Bethany and I snuck into her office on a Monday afternoon a little bit nervous to see our baby again. I was again convinced that the baby had birth defects in spite of our negative screening tests so far. When Dr. Shuman began to rub the ultrasound probe over Bethany’s uterus, I automatically began searching around on the screen looking for the genitals. Did I see a little extra appendage floating around down there in the amniotic fluid?

No. What I saw was two crossed legs covered by two little hands directly over my baby’s bits. Tommy(e) knew exactly what we were looking for and was going to play no part in this little game of show and tell.

In spite of my baby laying the smack down on my neurotic planning, this has been one of the best parts of the pregnancy so far. Prior to this ultrasound, we’ve had two others. The first was at our initial prenatal visit when we first saw the heartbeat, and the second was at our next screening appointment when the nuchal translucency was measured to screen for Down’s Syndrome. At these visits, everything seemed a little bit nerve wracking and rushed, and I was automatically in doctor mode scanning the screen making sure everything was in order. At this visit, however, I finally felt like a dad just hanging out with Bethany and our baby. Shuman took her time scanning from all the different angles just letting us soak up this time with our baby. We watched the heartbeat and watched Tommy(e) bounce and jump. We lingered on the little legs and feet and hands.

I’ve heard stories from parents whose children are in the NICU connected to wires and tubes in their tiny incubators, and all the parents can do is sit next to the little encasements and whisper to the babies how much they love them when all they really want to do is pull that baby close and hold it tight.

This is kind of how I felt. I know that it’s good that the baby isn’t in the outside world yet because it would die, but at that moment all I wanted to do was reach inside, pull it out, and hold it tight to me.

Now, when I look at Bethany’s growing tummy, I see my little prudish baby with its hands covering its bits and its legs crossed begging me to leave it alone so it can go back to sleep.

We’ve had so many people tell us so far that they just know for sure that the baby is a boy or that the baby is a girl. While a part of me is still desperate to know because I want to plan, there is another part of me—a much bigger part—that doesn’t care. All I desperately want to do is hold it tight and snuggle it into my chest and whisper into its ear how much I love it and how I’m the luckiest guy in the world because it’s this little baby that’s made me a daddy.

Operating Instructions

When I found out that Bethany and I were pregnant, I instantly felt the need to start planning. I started pinning nursery ideas on Pinterest like a mad man (yes, real men use pinterest), and I started an Amazon baby registry. I googled reviews on strollers and car seats and tried to find the perfect bottles and pacifiers for Tommy(e). I realize that I’m a neurotic control freak and I wanted to feel like I was somehow contributing to the growth of the little fetus incubating in Bethany’s uterus. I wanted to feel like I was preparing, but honestly, I struggled to figure out what I was supposed to be reading. I started googling book recommendations for first time dads, but it was hard to find something designed exactly for my personal niche. Most of the “first time dad” books talked about coaching the wife through labor, what to expect in the delivery room, and how to be supportive to a hormonally charged woman whose body is changing and she doesn’t know how to handle it.

I probably sound like a pompous jerk, but I wasn’t finding any information being presented that I didn’t already know. I mean—I’m a doctor. (Yeah, I sound like an jerk.) But, I know what to expect in the delivery room. I’ve delivered lots of babies. I’ve coached women through pushing. I’ve held up legs, held hands, and fanned a pushing mom’s sweating face until I thought my arm would fall off. I’ve put in an epidural. I’ve performed exams on newborn babies and sewed up episiotomies. I’ve taken tests entirely composed of questions about pregnancy.

I desperately wanted to call my dad and get his recommendations on parenting books, but Bethany and I both wanted to wait until we were a little bit further along in our pregnancy before we told our families.

I tried to hold off on reading any books for a few days and do other pregnancy related things, but Bethany still refuses to let me paint the nursery until we hit at least the second trimester. Her reasoning is sound. We’re both pretty realistic about the realities of miscarriage, and the chances are highest during the first trimester. Even in her hormonally charged state, she has the soundness of mind to know that we shouldn’t make any huge changes to our house or make any huge purchases now because if we do miscarry, we don’t need more reminders of what we lost.

Once again, I was left searching for books. I was going to buy a few Christian parenting books, but then I realized once again that I should wait on my dad since he’s a counselor and has shelves full of Christian parenting books. I like free stuff, so again, I was left waiting.

I finally turned to the one person who I can always turn to in moments of desperation. Anne Lamott. Anne became my friend around the time I had my nervous breakdown in college when I read her book Traveling Mercies. Anne is a wildly irreverent, God loving, liberal feminist. While digging around for the perfect parenting book, I remembered that a few years after publishing Traveling Mercies she published Operating Instructions, her journals that she kept during the first year of her son’s life.

If anything, her book makes me more terrified to be a parent, but I don’t care. She writes the way I want to write. Her blatant honesty is refreshing, and when I read Traveling Mercies it makes feel like everything will be okay. I’ve read that book countless times, and sometimes when I hit my low points, I sit on the floor with my mug of tea/glass of wine, open to a random spot, and start reading. After a few paragraphs I start to gain some perspective on life again.

I think that Operating Instructions provides a nice contrast to the other books on my reading list like Grace Based Parenting and Love and Logic. Rather than a book of theories or advice, it’s the journals of a neurotic, recovering alcoholic who is trying to raise a baby as a single mom on a writer’s salary in California. After reading about Anne suffering another momentary breakdown and spending the night on her futon crying with her baby and dreaming of cocaine and bottles of wine, I realize that if she could keep her baby alive then so can Bethany and I.

While I love Anne, there are many areas where she and I differ in opinions on life. She’s a raging, liberal feminist who is a little bit too relativistic for my tastes. To me, however, she is like that old aunt who is terribly inappropriate, makes embarrassing comments about sex, and buys you skimpy Superman underwear for Christmas, but who you can’t help but love in spite of all this.