Keeping up with my man

Nine years ago my hubby and I donned funny flat hats and picked up our college diplomas.  We both had bachelor’s degrees, and we were equals.  It only lasted a year or so, though.  Pretty soon he was in graduate school, then an apprenticeship, and now it’s back to graduate school again.  I’m feeling so inferior that I watch over his shoulder while he changes a diaper to inform him that I could have completed the job with fewer wipes and saved our family $0.002.  I also brag about how great I am at cleaning house, but he one-ups me with comments such as, “I really like vacuuming, but I gave that up when we got married.”

I’ve been stewing and soul-searching and came to realize that while I don’t technically have any new diplomas, I deserve some new diplomas because motherhood has expanded my intellect in ways he hasn’t even considered.  I’m not talking diapering efficiency, and I’m not talking about namby-pamby things like love and patience.  I’m talking zoology.

You don’t believe me do you?  Well, here goes.  Do you know what a murder is?  Yeah, I knew you didn’t!  It’s a flock of crows.  Do you know what a smack is?  Yeah, I’m superior!  I’m talking smack!  It’s a herd of jellyfish!  Do you know what animal defies classification?  Duh, it’s a platypus!  What animal stands on its hands to scare away predators?  Take that!  It’s a skunk!  What animal sings songs that are heard miles away?  Blue whales, you dope!  What’s a baby horse called?  I bet you think it’s a colt, don’t you?  You fool, it’s a foal!

There you go, I’m a mother of four, a bachelor’s of arts, honorary PhD of zoology, and a wife to my intellectual equal.

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Loud and Demanding Children

If you’ve read my About page, then you know I have “loud, demanding” children, but just how loud and how demanding has probably never entered your imagination, which is why I began this year with the goal of reading every parenting book I could find.  The idea was that by year’s end I would be competent enough to cope with four children without the help of chocolate.

Fortunately, I never wasted time pursuing  these silly goals because a couple good friends helped me see the light when it comes to parenting.  They recommended to me a non-parenting book called “Outliers,” which is about what causes people to be highly successful.  This book piqued my interest because, as you know, I have been highly successful in producing gorgeous children.  What I was amazed to find out, though—probably because I’m so humble—is that I’m doing everything right in preparing my children to be highly successful too!

So I learned from “Outliers” that I should return my parenting books to the library, or else loan them to you, because research indicates that well-behaved children are the product of lower-class expectations.  On the other hand, children raised by sophisticated parents like myself are headed for greatness.   This is because they are comfortable with authority (ahem, they are loud and demanding) and are not afraid to pursue their dreams (ahem, to manipulate others into giving them what they want).  So the next time you see my child kicking and screaming on the floor, and you wonder why I reward that behavior with chocolate, this is because I am preparing her to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

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World Class Child Rearing

There’s an awesome French documentary out there called “Babies,” which follows four children from different parts of the world–Japan, Mongolia, Namibia and the U.S.–from their births to their first steps.  The point of the film is to document the universal love and joy that surround birth and babies, but I couldn’t help but notice a few interesting contrasts, such as the African baby lying in the dirt versus the American baby floating in a plastic ducky in a bubbly jacuzzi surrounded by balloons.

Of all the mothers, I related best to the Mongolian one.  For example, after the Mongolian mother gives birth in some sort of medical center, she carries her swaddled baby outside where her husband and toddler are waiting on a motorcycle.  The husband revs the engine as she struggles to lift her leg over the bike while holding the newborn.  Finally she gets her leg over.  She puts one arm around her husband’s waist, the other arm firmly clasping her bundle of joy, and the family of four takes off together, cruising over dirt roads back to their yurt.

Whenever I break seatbelt laws, I feel a real kinship with this Mongolian sister.

Then there’s the time that she tethers her baby so that she can get something done outside of the home.  The film doesn’t show where she goes, only that the baby is left behind, tied to a stake so that he can’t reach anything dangerous in the house.  I’m sure the woman wasn’t headed to Costco, like I usually am, but her situation reminded me of my own life.  When I really need to get something done, especially when I need to take a nap, I tether my children to a screen.  I’ve also been thinking about safety pinning my son’s pajamas to his bed sheets.

If you think that I am unsafe or inhumane, well, my Mongolian sister and I think you are ethnocentric.

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The Difference Between Boys and Girls

When I was pregnant with my third child, my two daughters wanted to know if I was going to have a baby boy or a baby girl.

“I don’t know,” I told them.  “We’ll find out when the baby comes out.”  At this point in the conversation, my four-and-half-year-old had a brilliant idea.

“I know!” she exclaimed.  “We can look at the baby’s privates!  If the baby has a penis, it’s a boy!”

Coming from a four-year-old, this is a bright idea.  I hope, though, that your doctor or midwife is not still using this primitive method of gender identification.  As I explained to my daughter, ever since the Industrial Revolution, educated people have been using a less superficial and more reliable way to identify a child’s gender, which is called the Rattle Method.

The Rattle Method consists of purchasing a rattle before the baby presents him or herself, and then, upon presentation, offering the rattle to the new infant.  If the baby grasps the rattle and shakes it, the child is a girl.  If the baby grasps the rattle, points it at you and shoots, then the child is a boy.

 

 

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My long and winding road to hippie birthing

My hospital births in Seattle

A long time ago and far away in the city of Seattle, I used to be a non-hippie who knew that home birthing is silly and dangerous.  When I learned I was expecting for the first time, I found a cute old man to be my obstetrician and deliver my baby at the hospital down the street.  He talked me into an AIDS test (an exercise in wasting money), induced me unnecessarily, and gave me an episiotomy just for fun.  But, after wandering up and down the hospital halls with my rear end hanging out, a tube stuck in my arm, and tears rolling down my cheeks, I was able to deliver without any complications and without an epidural.  I thought my birth had gone beautifully!

My second baby was also born in a hospital. This time I went into labor on my own and stayed home as long as possible so as not to annoy the admissions nurse, who hadn’t been too friendly on the phone.   Finally, I knew I couldn’t reasonably wait any longer, so I went to the hospital, where I labored in the waiting room while the nurses searched for an empty bed.  After pacing in the waiting room for thirty minutes, I informed a nurse that I had the urge to push.  When I said that, an empty bed magically appeared just a few doors down the hall. The nurses put me in a wheelchair, zoomed me to the room, and ordered me to change my clothes and lie down on the bed where I popped out baby number two.  All of this took ten minutes, and 24 hours later I was back home, glad to be away from those nurses who never would let me sleep.

I move to Sequim, Washington, land of the hippie births

After baby number two was born, we moved to Sequim, Washington, a little town that is an hour’s drive plus a ferry ride from Seattle.  Sequim is home of the Irrigation festival, a Spring-time celebration that includes a grand parade down our main drag.  My first Spring here, I took my little girls to see the marching bands, horses and tractors.  Also in the parade was a home birthing group, a ragtag group of women with fertile figures pushing their babies in strollers.  The babies held signs saying, “My first hug was at home.”  Shuffling along beside them, playing ukuleles, were their skinny fathers. Being the hard-nosed, conservative type, I don’t care much about hugs, so my friend and I mocked the home birthing group, and I never gave a moment’s thought to the fact that I have a fertile figure and a skinny husband who plays a mean ukulele.

As I said, though, I am a hard-nosed, conservative type.  So when baby number three started growing in my belly, I started punching numbers.  Even with decent health insurance, I knew I’d be paying a hefty portion of my birthing bill.  So I called up the local hospital to find out how much they charge for a vaginal birth without any complications and without an epidural.  That’s when I learned that medical billing is not a good profession for those who like hard facts and figures.  No one at the hospital could tell me how much a normal birth would cost; but, with a little persistence on my part, they finally uttered a rough guess of at least $10,000.

Ten thousand dollars!  With a co-insurance of 20%, I would be paying about $2000.  Two thousand dollars of my husband’s hard-earned money!  This is when I started having nightmares about paying $10,000 for a doctor to (1) watch me cry and (2) ask my husband if he’d like to cut the cord.  (You’d think that for $10,000 they would throw in the cord-cutting service without any questions asked.)  Of course, this $10,000 also paid for the nurses to (1) throw out the placenta, (2) change my sheets and (3) torture me with uterus massages and blood pressure checks.

I know it’s un-American to think about the cost of one’s medical care.  But I have yet to buy into the idea that no medical risk is too improbable to pay thousands of dollars to avoid. And so I figured, since I didn’t have any extra money lying around, I might as well be un-American.  I started contemplating whether there might be a cheaper way to have a baby, and I had the good fortune of mentioning this to my neighbor who suggested home birth.  I said something profound about not wanting to take such a risk.  “Well, there are risks with having a baby in the hospital too,” she replied.  My first thought was MRSA.  My second thought was cute old men.  If I kept on having babies in hospitals, at some point a cute old man would probably get antsy, or maybe just bored, and order a caesarean.  “Just how risky is a home birth?” I began to wonder.

I enter the land of hippie birthing

My neighbor gave me her midwife’s number and I called her.  Later, I talked to another midwife, read some books and watched a movie.  I had entered the world of hippie birthing, and I learned oh so much!  Some of the key facts for me were:

A.  A home birth costs less than half of what a hospital birth costs.

B.  Home-birth midwives only provide care to women with low-risk pregnancies, which is about 80% of all pregnancies.

C.  Midwives bring medical equipment to your house, such as IVs, oxygen for resuscitating a baby, pitocin for hemorrhaging, needles to stitch up your tears, etc.

C.  They are not able to give pain medication or perform a caesarean.

D.   My rural hospital’s caesarean team is an on-call team, meaning they are within 20 minutes of the hospital, which is also how far I live from the hospital.

E.  A recent study in British Columbia showed that home births are no more risky than hospital births (home birthers are a healthier population set, which was accounted for).

F. Home birth midwives recognize that hospitals and obstetricians are necessary, and are prepared to send a woman to a hospital if a labor should become prolonged, making pain medication advisable, or if an emergency should arise.

If you want to research home birth, I suggest watching the movie titled “The Business of Being Born,” and reading “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.”  Ina May’s book includes a lot of birth stories (which I found boring after a while) and a really strange chapter about pleasurable births (as far as I can tell, this chapter is fictional). But there were several chapters I found extremely interesting and
informative.  These chapters covered the history of midwifery and obstetrics and the scientific research behind current birthing practices.  I won’t go into detail here, but I learned what I had already intuitively known after two hospital births: that many of the birthing practices in American hospitals are not based on scientific research, but on tradition and convenience for the hospital or doctor.  Simply put, much of what happens in labor and delivery rooms is bad medicine.

I find peace and joy in the land of hippie births

After I had found a midwife who would take my insurance (and was good with hard facts and figures too!), I set out for my first prenatal appointment.  I drove to the Victorian seaport town where she has her practice. I walked down a brick path through a garden to her cottage clinic.  I removed my shoes to pad softly across her immaculate carpet to the bathroom where I used lavender soap and drank water with lemon.  There were no other patients there, and my midwife spent an hour with me. In addition to getting a urine sample and weight check, measuring my uterus and taking a blood sample for the lab, she answered my questions and made pleasant conversation in a manner that suggested she had all the time in the world. Every consent form she gave me included literature explaining why the test or procedure became routine and the statistical risk involved.  She let me read the material at home and decide whether I wanted the procedure.  A large portion of routine prenatal care is to prevent problems caused by sexually transmitted diseases; I chose to skip all those, and no one minded.

Other than not having to wait, not being pressured into unnecessary tests, and getting a hug goodbye, the prenatal care for home births is about the same as prenatal care for hospital births.  A midwife can order all the same tests that doctors order, including an ultrasound.  Near the end of my pregnancy, though, my care became very different from mainstream care.  A month before the birth, the midwife came to my house to make sure my home was adequate for the delivery.  She checked to make sure I had basics, such as running water and reliable heating, and that I keep it clean.  She made sure I had gathered the supplies on a list she’d given me, such as a thermometer, chucks pads, wash cloths, garbage sacks for laundry, receiving blankets, and a pan to catch the placenta.  She asked about my plans for getting post-partum help from family and friends.

A few weeks later, my due date came and went.  While I was getting antsy, the midwife didn’t seem to mind at all.  She told me all the ways I might try to induce labor at home and which of those methods had been scientifically proven.  Finally, I did go into labor.  As every mother knows, trying to figure out when to go to the ospital is not easy.  With home birth, it’s a similar challenge: figuring out when to have the midwife come over.  With home birth, though, your practitioner remembers you and your history and is willing to talk to you on the phone.  Also, there’s no risk of delivering on a freeway.  After my midwife and I decided together that it’s time, she notified her assistant, and then put on her purple T-shirt and white overalls.  She braided her beautiful graying hair, pinned it around her head and drove to my house, where she was prepared to stay a long time.

While she was on her way, I was spreading shower curtains on the floor to protect my carpet from blood and water.  My bed was made with a set of sheets, a shower curtain, and then another set of sheets.  After I had delivered, we would toss the dirty sheets in the laundry, the shower curtain in the garbage, and underneath would be a fresh, clean bed waiting for me and the baby.

In the land of hippie births, once you’ve spread the shower curtains, you can labor however you want. You can eat, sleep, watch a movie, frantically scrub your bathrooms, lie on the bed and moan, whatever.  Unlike doctors, midwives do more than show up when you’re about to push or about to die.  They stay with you through the labor, patiently watching and waiting, and occasionally checking you and the baby.  No one threatens you that if you don’t hurry up and pop out your baby, then they’re going to cut you open and do it themselves.

When you are ready to pop out the baby, you can do it lying down, standing up, kneeling (my choice), in the bed, in the tub or on the kitchen table.  And if you scream and swear that next time you’re doing it in the hospital with an epidural, they don’t seem bothered.  In interest of full disclosure, I will state that pushing a baby out without numbing medication is horrible, agonizing, H-E-double-hockey-sticks kind of pain.  Your chance for a smooth birth without complications, though, is much greater. And once the baby’s out, your relief is akin to joy.  Also, you aren’t numb; you can get up and walk to your shower.  Furthermore, you don’t have to pay an anesthesiologist thousands of dollars.

After the baby is out, and you’re all checked and cleaned up, the midwife gets ready to go.  First, though, she gives your husband instructions to check you and the baby every four hours to make sure you’re recovering normally.  Then she tells your husband something very wonderful:  don’t set the alarm.  In other words, the midwifery school of thought is that a new mother probably needs sleep even more than a temperature check.  Brilliant!  After that, an even more wonderful thing happens.  The midwife schedules her post-partum home visits.  You don’t have to shower, dress and load up your baby two days after giving birth.  You can stay in your pajamas.  In fact, you can stay in bed, and she will come to you.

By the time the midwife has said all these wonderful, brilliant things, you have noticed that your abdominal skin is no longer stretched to impossible proportions. You revel in the relative flatness of your belly.  Your birthing cramps are fading, and you are getting sleepy.  Beside you is the most amazing, brand-spankin’ new baby the world has ever seen, swaddled into a ball of contentment.  Just beyond her is her wonderful daddy who is getting sleepy too (his ukulele is down the hall in the living room).  You realize that you are in the joyful, peaceful land of hippie birth, and when your midwife leans down to hug you goodbye, you discover that even hard-nosed conservative types can learn to appreciate hugs.

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Idolatry

Every time a mother adds a new member to the family, she has to spend some time reassuring the other members that she still loves them.  One of my children recently accused me, “You love Susie more than me!” to which I calmly replied, “No, I love all my children the same.  You are each so different!  And so special!  And if any one of you died, I would cry for the rest of my life!”

Then I tried to change the subject because I don’t want to tell them the whole story, which is that I do love all my children equally, but there is only one that I worship, which is, obviously, baby Susie.  I can’t tell them this because it would undermine the religious values we are trying to instill in our children:  Everyone should worship God and only God.

It’s hard, though, really really hard, to not devote all my heart, might, mind and strength to serving Susie and singing her praises.  My other children have no right to be jealous because they wouldn’t let me worship them even if I wanted to.  If I tried to sing them hymns of praise such as (to the tune of Camptown Races) “I just love your birthday suit, doo-dah, doo-dah, I just love your birthday suit, doo-dah, doo-dah day,” they would yell things like “STOP SINGING!”  Susie, on the other hand, grins and squeals when I sing this song.  She also lets me kiss her round tummy and pinch the rolls on her thighs any time I want.  Furthermore, her toes don’t stink.  Her diapers smell like sweet bread, and her neck smells like sour cream.  Susie is a ball of delicious, rashy goodness, all wrapped up in sweet chubbiness, kind of like a ball of delicious crab meat all wrapped up in fried flour (which I am, by the way, also tempted to worship).

My favorite idolatrous fantasy is that all other people and obligations in my life would disappear (yes, even you, dear readers), leaving me more time and energy to worship Susie. Susie could be my goddess, and my bed would be her temple.  She would dwell there day and night.  I would bring her milk offerings, and she would bless me with sleep.  We would commune together through snuggles and snacky snoozies.  She would never command me to put down my book or get up and get dressed.  And from time to time she would perform a miracle, such as finding her tiny thumb and slowly, masterfully aiming it into her mouth.  The only reason I would ever leave Susie’s temple is so I could rock her in my rocking chair and feel her sturdy, wiggly body melt into a limp lump.

You are probably tempted to condemn me.  Please remember that two wrongs don’t make a right, and judging your neighbor is wrong.  Also, please don’t tell my other children.  I shouldn’t even have told you.  But I’m not a Catholic, so my blog is serving as my confessional.

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Indoctrinating My Daughters

This winter I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly had a minute to think about blogging.  I should have known better than to post pictures of my gorgeous children because it’s been a huge time eater replying to mommy friends who want to know if my children will marry their children.  These questions usually take me aback because I’m not Indian and I don’t believe in arranged marriages.  Sorry ladies, I just can’t make any promises.

I can, however, tell you what I have already begun teaching my daughters to look for in a husband.

First of all, I am partial to Mormon men.  There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that the chances of a Mormon husband becoming an alcoholic is only about 1%.  Furthermore, the likelihood that a Mormon man will shave and wear a suit at least once a week is at least 75%.  Razors and suits can add years to the life of any marriage.

The next thing I will teach my daughters to look for is an incompetent mother-in-law.  I can tell you firsthand that marrying the son of a perfect woman is not a smart move.  My mother-in-law still has the figure she had when she was a high school cheer leader. She also keeps a lovely home, cooks good food and is kind and gracious to all.  Now that is a bad formula for my marriage.  In other words, if I get in shape, that’s just normal, nothing special.  If I do my hair, I am not even a hero.  If I clean the bathroom, I don’t get a ribbon.  In fact, I don’t even get a thank you, not even when it’s the bathroom that I never use.

My daughters will do very well if they can find a man with a dysfunctional mother-in-law.  If they play their cards right they can be one of those stay-at-home moms who has convinced her husband that every day as a mother is akin to martyrdom.  Their husbands will hurry home from work to take over so that they can “regain their sanity” and blog about their day at the park.

Last but not least, I will teach my children to look for a man who is festive.  Celebrating holidays together is what makes a family.  My husband is fairly good in this area, but he has room for improvement too.  He celebrates Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and occasionally Halloween.  So far, though, I can’t get him to celebrate Take-Your-Daughter-To-Work Day.  I always feel so alone and invalidated on Take-Your-Daughter-To-Work-Day, so I’m hoping my daughters can find someone who won’t put them through that.

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My Christmas Letter Demystified

I sent out a Christmas letter without a family photo this year, which I’m sure has put my kin in a tizzy of curiosity. Stay calm, folks! You’ve come to the right place.

Before I solve the mystery for you, let’s talk Christmas photos for a minute. First of all, there are three reasons for exchanging Christmas photos: First of all, to see who got fat. Second of all, to see who is rich (for example, with a family photo set in Djibouti). And third, to see whose kids are the cutest. I will answer these questions frankly on this blog, so that I don’t have to go to the trouble of printing and stuffing photos, and so that you won’t have to examine and reexamine the photo in order to interpret the evidence correctly.

Who got fat? I did.
Who has money? I don’t.
Whose kids are the cutest? Mine.

I got fat

I did. I admit it. I ate with abandonment for nine months, counting on my miracle weight loss plan to lose it in thirty minutes. As far as miracle weight loss plans go, this one is amazing. I lost fifteen pounds through a one day workout and thirty minutes of excruciating pain. Unfortunately, I have 15 pounds to go.

Who has money

We don’t. My husband works in education and the state just loves to freeze and cut his salary. Meanwhile, our children seem to be more numerous every day. But we can’t complain because my husband has a job, and all you really need is love, which we’ve got LOTS of.

Whose kids are cutest

Mine are. I know some of you are skeptical about this one. I can tell by the size of the bows on your children in your Christmas photos that you think your kids are cuter than mine. I don’t mean to blow your mind, but my children are SO cute, that they don’t even have to wear a bow or ridiculous hat to prove it. Occasionally, though, we do put a bow or hat on, just to rub it in that, indeed, our kids are cutest.

I don’t often post photos of my children because I don’t want you to feel jealous, but since I’m fat and poor, I’ve got to brag about something.  So here they are, the world’s cutest children:

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Joyous Mom is Back!

My Baby Susie, born October 31, 2011. Her healthy color is due to the constant stream of creative juices she received in utero.

I forgot to mention in my last blog post the effects of pregnancy on the expectant mother’s creativity. To make a long story short, expectant mothers have none. Any creativity they have been blessed with is leeched from their brains and bones, and fed to the fetus through the placenta.

A curious side effect of this phenomenon is the sewing syndrome; expectant mothers who do not want to acknowledge that they are limp fish when it comes to artistry and innovation, often attempt to replicate these sensations by sewing or cleaning. For example, instead of producing the great Mormon American novel, she might produce a yellow blanket with monkeys on it. Or instead of posting brilliant humorous essays on motherhood, she might clean her infant car seat with cue tips.
I suggest to first-time mothers, who have yet to discover that making baby quilts is one of the most popular hobbies in the world (just after playing soccer), that they let other people make them blankets. Trust me, you will have twenty new quilts by the time your baby is one month old, and every one of them will be lots cuter than my yellow one with the monkeys on it. So, instead of posing as a quilter, just accept that you are temporarily without creativity, and try to find self-fulfillment in a bag of chocolate or an afternoon nap. If you’re really struggling with this reality, remind yourself that, technically speaking, expectant mothers haven’t actually lost their creativity; rather, they are channeling it toward the creation of something gloriously more beautiful than even my great Mormon American novel—a baby.

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Pregnancy 101

As I embark on my fourth pregnancy, I would like to share what I have learned from my past pregnancies with those who have never been pregnant or who have forgotten the joys of pregnancy.

Pregnancy is generally divided into three trimesters, followed by post-partum. The first trimester is called Bring Me the Honey; the middle term is called Go-Go Bunny; the last trimester is referred to as This is No Longer Funny; and the post-partum stage is known as Fork Over All Your Money.

Bring Me the Honey: During the first trimester, the mother-to-be must be exalted in her family hive as the most important player in human reproduction. While she rests on her throne, concentrating on her queen bee role, the worker bees bring her honey, meaning delicious foods that appeal to her fertile appetite. Generally speaking, these foods must be things she hasn’t seen, touched or tasted in at least three months. They don’t necessarily need to be healthy, but they do need to have the finest ingredients. Workers bees do well to forage for this honey in the deli section of QFC.

Although the queen bee has wings, she doesn’t normally use them except in dire situations, such as when the worker bees fail to make the necessary sacrifices to meet her royal needs. In such cases, the queen bee will abandon her meditation and fly wherever is necessary to find suitable honey. If she is not allowed to do this, she will vomit on the floor.

Go-Go Bunny: The second term is called go-go bunny because the queen bee metamorphoses into a darling little bunny that is always on the go. She does darling things like sew and paint. The worker bees must continue to support her, not with honey, but with work.

This is No Longer Funny: During the last stage of pregnancy, things become less darling. The go-go bunny becomes sluggish and bloated. Her ribs hurt. Her back hurts. She has to wake up fourteen times a night to use the toilet. And when labor begins, she remembers what her hormones have tried to make her forget: birth is more painful than anything her husband has ever experienced. He always feels so proud of her for bringing a baby into the world. But she just wants him to feel sorry for her! This is no longer funny.

Fork Over All Your Money: During this last stage, the mother’s body returns to somewhat of a normal state. Her checkbook, however, is blown all out of whack. When she receives a mountain of bills in her mail box, she calls the hospital to notify them of a billing error. Surely, they have confused her with a brain surgery patient. They doublecheck to see that the name is right, which it is. They, in turn, inform her that giving birth costs more than a trip to Timbuktu, Hong Kong, and back again.

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