30 May 2013

more changes

Brown rice, picture from http://www.tylermcpeak.com/wp-content/uploads/Brown_rice.jpg
The last few weeks have been more than a little fraught, but things are settling again. Earlier this month, I went in for the blood sugar testing that is recommended for pregnant women. You fast for at least 8 hours prior to the test, then they take a blood sample, make you drink a weirdly sweet fizzy orange drink, and  test your blood at one and two hours afterward. I woke up nauseous on the day and threw up the water I was allowed to drink on the way there, and felt nauseous through most of the test. Then I went home, figuring that I'd be fine. Several days later, I headed back to the hospital for my regular prenatal appointment, where my least favourite doctor at the practice informed me that I had gestational diabetes. Then she measured the height of my uterus and proceeded to inform me that the baby was too small and lectured me for not eating enough protein. Because my numbers were borderline (as in, my fasting number was just on the line) and because she was concerned about the baby's size, she told me she wouldn't send me to the dietician, but I needed to increase my protein intake.

I went home and cried the rest of the day. I cried at the drop of a hat off and on for the next few days, one of which was, unfortunately, Mother's Day. I nearly lost it at church and was about ready to punch the next person who told me "Happy Mother's Day." I'm not fond of greeting card holidays to begin with, and it's a holiday my mother especially has always played down, because she doesn't want it to be a source of guilt for her kids like it often was for her. So I've inherited a dislike of the day. I managed to get myself moderately composed by the end of the service, and then we went to see Star Trek, which helped a lot.

Then the doctor's office called again. Someone else had looked at my chart and decided I needed to see the dietician after all. I hung up and cried some more, furious that my body couldn't make a baby without reacting weirdly to food. Then I called them back and tried to find out why one doctor had told me one thing and the other had told me something else. The poor receptionist told me to call the dietician and talk with them, since she couldn't do anything. So I did. The dietician's receptionist was actually helpful. She suggested that I come to the appointment, that it would be helpful, and it seemed like she was actually interested in listening to me. So, off I went to the appointment.

Gestational diabetes is usually a temporary condition, where, for some reason or another, the body during pregnany either does not make enough insulin or does not process insulin normally. It can happen for a number of reasons--hormone levels, position of the baby (for example, if it's squishing too much against the pancreas), or probably a few other reasons I don't know about. The information sheet I was given said something like 3-15% of pregnant women develop it, which sounds like a crazy statistic. There are predisposing factors, such as ethnic background, weight, and a family history of diabetes. I'm a tad overweight and my mother had borderline gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with me, although not with my brothers, so it's likely that those, combined with my body's reaction to all the hormones (like with the morning sickness) were what tipped the balance. One of the biggest concerns with the condition is that, exposed to unchecked blood sugar levels in the mother, the baby may grow much larger than it would have without that exposure. This can, of course, lead to complications during delivery, and after birth, the baby can develop jaundice from the sudden drop in its blood sugar levels after being separated from the placenta. The mother may develop high blood pressure in late pregnancy and is now at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes usually goes away within the first few weeks after giving birth, once hormone levels return to normal. It's typically controlled with diet and exercise, and only severe cases require the administration of insulin.

When I came out, I had learned that I need to lower my carbohydrate intake for the moment and that I was now required to test my blood sugar three times a day. This was upsetting, too. I love carbs and I've avoided dieting on purpose for most of my life, because I didn't need to add to my body image issues. I'm unused to checking calorie and carbohydrate contents and have very little real idea of the caloric content of most foods. Additionally, after spending most of my pregnany puking my guts out, any food that stayed down was good. I'd thrown up several days in a row prior to my appointment with the dietician, and had been sick right before the appointment, which didn't help my state of mind.

Two days later, at my next prenatal appointment, I found out that I'd lost weight again, probably due to lowering my sugar intake and the morning sickness. Fortunately, the doctor who was in that day was not the one I'd had the time before. His attitude was that the gestational diabetes was an annoyance for me, but as long as I was careful about what I ate and made sure to exercise, I'd be fine. I mentioned the baby's size, and he checked again and told me that the baby's heart rate was fine, and that as I'm a small person, a large baby wouldn't be a good thing. He wasn't concerned. I got my Rhogam shot at this appointment, so now the concern about my blood-type going crazy on the baby isn't a problem (this is a whole different issue. I'm O-negative, which means I lack Rh-factors in my blood.  Most of the world's population has a positive blood type, so odds are that J. has contributed a positive blood type to the baby, and that she's also positive. If her blood crosses the placental barrier, my body could form antibodies to the Rh-factors in her blood. The nice thing about this is that there's a simple treatment for it that prevents my body from forming antibodies. At six months, the mother gets a shot for the problem, and then the baby's tested right after it's born. If its blood type is also negative, there's no worries. If it's positive, the baby gets a shot, the mother gets another shot, and then they're good. This is one reason for the early blood tests in pregnancy--this is an issue that needs to be identified early so it won't cause problems later).

After a week of monitoring my blood sugar levels, I was back at the dietician's. My levels are good, and I'm allowed to eat more than I thought I was, but I really need to avoid white flour most of the time, since that spikes blood sugar way more than most things. So it's whole grains for us, which I've already been doing more of because of the increased need for fibre in my diet (yay pregnancy). But for the most part, it's looking good. I don't have to jab myself in the finger quite as many times in a day now, and that's also reassuring. I'm getting used to it, but I'm not a medical professional, and never intend to be one.

I'm still wondering how pregnancy as a whole is going to redefine my relationship with food. I've never had an eating disorder, but I have struggled with eating enough vs. eating too much, eating more healthily, and body image. For the first half of my pregnancy, it was all about keeping food down, and to an extent, that's still a concern. It's not entirely normal to weigh less at the beginning of the third trimester than I did when I got pregnant. Now it's not only about eating enough, it's about eating enough while keeping my blood sugar levels from going too high. Of course, my immediate craving is for the starchy foods that are the kind of thing I have to eat in much more moderation. As I write this, I really, really want Chinese food and I'd have to have fairly small portions of most of what I'm wanting (although smaller portions are probably a very good idea).

When I was at my worst points while reacting to this, I felt so tired of pregnancy being about what I could and could not eat. I'm still tired of that. And after the baby's born, after my body's handling insulin normally again, I'm looking forward to being able to have a few more carbohydrates and not having to worry quite as much about white flour. At the same time, I hope that some of the changes will be permanent, that I will grow more thoughtful about what I'm eating. I think that would be good for our family as a whole. Although I am planning to have sashimi with white rice sometime after the baby's born. White short-grain rice is on the list of "worse for the blood sugar" so I have to avoid it for now. Long-grain and/or brown rice it is. Two and a half months to go.

02 May 2013

The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew is, naturally, a comedy, but like some of Shakespeare's other comedies, it provides material for thoughtful discussion. It deals with the question of whether marriage should be a marriage of equals or not? Should we have the marriage of true minds? The story of Petruchio and Katharina sheds some light on the question.

The story is framed as a play within a play: the initial scenes bring in a tinker who falls asleep at an inn. A fellow guest, a lord, plays a trick on him. The man wakes to find himself being treated as a lord, and the players helping with the joke offer to perform a show, which then leads us into the main tale. We never go back to the audience or find out when he discovers the joke. Instead, the rest of the play is something else entirely. The basic plotline is fairly simple. A gentleman, Baptista, has two daughters. The elder one, Katharina, is known as a shrew, and the younger one, Bianca, is wildly popular and has many suitors. Baptista is determined to marry off his elder daughter first, which is driving her little sister crazy. One of her suitors suggests to his marriage-hungry friend, Petruchio, that Katharina might suit him. Petruchio's interested in a wife with a sizeable dowry, and is not intimidated by the tales of Katharina's scolding tongue. He and Katharina meet, have an impressive argument, and Petruchio agrees to marry her. Baptista doesn't give his daughter much of a choice, so they are married. Katharina is mortified when her bridegroom arrives in a crazy outfit, and her day just gets worse from there. Petruchio is determined to convince her that she should deal more kindly with him, so he decides to give her a taste of her own medicine, and acts like just as much of a shrew as she has.

In the meantime, Bianca is deciding which of her many suitors should win her hand. The most persistent, Lucentio, disguises himself as a music teacher and woos her under that guise. Near the end of the play, they marry, and Katharina and Petruchio return to Padua for a visit. By this time, Petruchio and Katharina have come to something of an understanding. She finally gives up fighting with him, and consents to agree. Once they've come to agreement, Petruchio makes use of Katharina's new-found meekness to win a bet. He wagers that, of himself and Katharina, Lucentio and Bianca, and their friend Hortensio and his wife, his wife is the most obedient. They, of course, take the bet, and when each woman is summoned, only Katharina appears. Baptista, dumbfounded by the event, adds to their winnings equivalent to Katharina's earlier dowry, since she is so transformed as to be like another daughter. Petruchio and Katharina then retire together, triumphant.

The relationship between Petruchio and Katharina could be read in more than one way. Petruchio can be seen as breaking her independent spirit and forcing her into the role of submissive wife. That reading is easily supported by the text, and is certainly easy to convey in a stage production. However, another reading of the story could indicate that Katharina's submission to Petruchio eventually puts them on equal or close-to-equal ground with each other. Her agreement to obey her husband allows them to work together to confound their family and friends. A more nuanced reading of the text would bring out this quality, and this is the one that, I think, comes out in many modern productions of the play. It's certainly the reading found in the musical version, Kiss Me, Kate, where the actors' characters' off-stage relationship mirrors the on-stage relationship between Kate and Petruchio. If you're interested in a fun version of the play, with another plot going on in the background that mirrors the Shakespearean comedy, I'd highly recommend it. The music's fantastic.

So, The Taming of the Shrew: possible misogynistic play demonstrating how to browbeat your wife or a potential vision of companionate marriage. As a bonus, the play includes lots of really naughty lines. I went to see a production once with a friend who was unfamilar with Shakespeare and had a hard time following much of the language, but there were moments...and the look on his face was priceless.

Our next play is All's Well That Ends Well. It's one of the minor comedies, but the first scene is promising (and eyebrow-raising!).

Favourite Quotes
"For you are call'd plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;
But, Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom;
Kate of Kate-Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all cates: and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation" Petruchio, The Taming of the Shrew, II.1.186-191. I'm never sure if it's the 'super-dainty Kate' or the 'Kate of my consolation' that's my favourite bit in this speech.

"Better once than never, for never too late." Petruchio, The Taming of the Shrew, V.1.157

01 May 2013

As You Like It

As You Like It. A comedy, where, once again, everyone ends up in the forest. Those forests are popular places. We've seen them in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, and of course, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The forest is a place of imagination where anything can happen. I suppose there's probably some Freudian symbolism in there somewhere, but my background is linguistics, not English lit or psychology. If you're reading this, feel free to comment on forest symbolism and enlighten me.

This play, once again, has one of those fun female roles. To be fair, much of Shakespeare is populated by interesting women (wait until we get to Taming of the Shrew). Rosalind's character is witty, smart, and not afraid to stand up for herself, although she also knows when it is wise to retreat. She ends up dressing as a man for most of the play, since she and her cousin Celia need some sort of chaperone when they are wandering through the forest.

The plot goes thusly: Rosalind's father, the Duke, has been forced into exile by his brother, Celia's father. Eventually, Duke Frederick, Celia's father, decides that his niece must also leave the court, and Celia refuses to be parted from her best friend. So Rosalind disguises herself as a boy and the two leave the court together, accompanied by Touchstone, the court's fool. In the meantime, Rosalind's love interest, a man named Orlando, also flees to the forest to escape his murderous brother. In the forest, the banished Duke also resides.Through a series of convoluted meetings, Rosalind is re-united with her father and wed to her lover Orlando. Orlando's brother Oliver meets Celia, and taking her for a shepherdess, falls in love with her and is willing to renounce his inheritance in favour of Orlando. The brothers are then reconciled, since Oliver no longer wants to kill Orlando. Rosalind also plays matchmaker for a shepherd and shepherdess (although the shepherdess takes a little more convincing, since she's fallen for Rosalind in male guise). Touchstone the fool is paired with a country woman named Audrey, although their union appears to be more about lust than love. By the end of the play, the usurping Duke has also wandered into the forest, where he runs into a holy man who convinces him to relinquish his brother's lands and titles and turn hermit. So everyone has a happy ending, although Touchstone and Audrey are predicted to have a turbulent marriage.

As You Like It has never been my favourite comedy. It's funny, and when staged well, it can be great. But there are so many subplots and lovers that it can be difficult to follow if it is staged poorly. It does have the famous "All the world's a stage" speech, delivered by an associate of the true Duke in Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166. There is also Rosalind convincing Orlando that she will cure him of his love for the fair Rosalind if he shows up and courts her (since he thinks she's a man at that point), which is entertaining. But the story's never captured my imagination, and I don't find much matter in it for discussion. The usurping Duke's about-face in the final scene makes very little sense, especially since his conversion is conveyed by messenger and it doesn't fit with his words and actions in the earlier acts. The part I like the least, I think, is rather unfortunately one of the main devices which drives the plot. The love-at-first sight phenomenon, which plagues the play, rarely convinces me. It's certainly easier to establish in a short amount of time, but it tends to feel unconvincing unless played by very skilled actors.

Well, there's my take on As You Like It. Our next foray into Shakespeare will take us to Padua, in The Taming of the Shrew.

Favourite Quotes
"Invest me in my motley; give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through ahd through
Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine." Jaques, As You Like It, II.7.58-61

"It is meat and drink to me to see a clown. By my troth, we that have good wits have much to answer for." Touchstone, As You Like It, V.1.11-12

"It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue." Rosalind, As You Like It, Epilogue