Wednesday, March 20, 2019

In defense of paying a ton to get your nails done

When I was 11 - and I remember the age exactly, because of friend-group fluctuations and which friend this was - my best friend at the time got a gift certificate for mani-pedis, and brought me along. It was... fine? But the pedicure was plainly not for me - too ticklish. Also the whole thing seemed a bit too much like going to the dentist.

In grad school I got a grand total of 3 manicures, one with pedicure. The two manicure-onlies were pick-me-ups of some sort. The first was the French variety, and I remember it as looking great (which I knew even then to be a basic thing to think - a basic style to have requested to begin with) and being impossible to replicate at home. The mani-pedi was when I got married, and again, pedicure, not for me.

But this notion of The Manicure lingered as the ultimate frivolous indulgence. You can, after all, just paint your own nails! (Which I do!) Any bottle of nail polish, even a fancy one, is going to cost so much less than a manicure. I'd both congratulate myself for savvily avoiding this unnecessary expenditure, and feel a certain degree of envy of peers who clearly took themselves seriously enough (Because You're Worth It TM) to think their looks (and their careers?) were worth investing in, in this way.

Aaaand then there was the big exposé about nail salons - how exploitative and toxic most of these places are. At just the historical moment when scorn for sex work (and often, by extension, the people - the men - who patron sex workers) became problematic, the Woman Who Gets Her Nails Done became emblematic of consumerist insensitivity. It all seemed a little hmm. Like perhaps the motivating force here wasn't so much a goal of a safer and less exploitative norm in the nail salon industry, but rather a world where women feel that much more terrible about primping and not primping. (Because it always cuts in both directions.)

Then, back in Toronto, I started noticing a whole new nail-art world. Students at the university where I teach would have these elaborate nails, sometimes with rhinestones (?) embedded in them. It looked neat and fun and... especially impossible to replicate at home. And not all chipped off, like my own DIY polish attempts inevitably were. (I'm decent a painting my own nails, but less so with not absentmindedly fussing with the results during a meeting.) I decided that I would, as a sort of end-of-year reward, go get my nails done, probably at a fabulous-looking place I'd seen on Instagram, on Dundas West. It would be a whole outing, once it was warm out. I would get the famous gel nails, the ones where the polish doesn't chip. With some sort of nail art, because that was clearly what this place is known for.

Then I learned I was pregnant and it didn't fit with my panicked first-trimester mode, when I wasn't even having any coffee, to do this, plus I wasn't awake enough.

Then it was later in pregnancy and I was too tired in a different way, and concerned that there's something where during childbirth they need to measure your blood oxygen so I couldn't get polish that wouldn't come off easily, and if this was just going to be regular nail polish I should just do this on my own.

Then it was the first six weeks, when I was doing fine as it goes, which is to say, only mildly incapacitated, and also had to feed too often to commit to more than brief poodle-walks.

Then it was too cold.

And then somehow, it seemed... possible? But, expensive. Could I justify this? I felt confident the salon was a Good One but not that I, personally, had any business spending over $50 plus tax and tip on my nails.

I don't know what the ultimate catalyst was, but after many visits to, then away from, the booking site, which requires credit card info and everything, I took the plunge.

The outing itself was decadent if not all-out relaxing. (Subway to streetcar-replacement bus, yeah.) But the salon - Naked Beauty Bar - was spectacular. As were - and are, a week and a half later - the results. Actually getting my nails done in this manner - where a manicurist does all sorts of things to your nails and cuticles and all of that takes longer than the polish itself - shouldn't have appealed to me, because aw shucks I'm too low-maintenance for that but given my state of haggard frazzledness upon arrival (or given that I am not in fact too low-maintenance for that), it was just lovely.

Then I picked up tacos to bring home from Good Hombres, home of many a satisfied third-trimester craving, but apparently just as good after the taco fixation had subsided. The whole thing improved my mood tremendously. With tip it was, I believe, $78. Not including the tacos. Frivolous, yes. Shocking, as in, I'm re-startling myself as I type this. But worth it.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Breast is OK-est

It can be challenging in the beginning.

That much is admitted even by breastfeeding proponents, but what "challenging" meant remains remained mysterious until it all played out.

First came the span of days when baby's eating needs exceeded my milk production. And the things you're meant to do to help this (insofar as it even can be helped - there's basically the day when the milk comes in and that day hadn't yet come) are, eat well and get rest, neither of which were possible what with the days-old baby in the house. This was, at the time, all-out terrifying.

Eventually I spoke on the phone with a lactation consultant who (for free! Canada!) explained everything. But first, the healthcare hotline I called instructed me to feed every 1.5 hours, as in to *start* each feed at those intervals, which effectively meant feeding continuously because newborns eat more slowly. It didn't make sense. It still, in retrospect, doesn't make sense. I was also advised - as I later learned this hotline advises everybody, no matter the reason for the call, but I had not realized this - to go to the emergency room.

Then came engorgement, something I suspect is discussed less than it ought to be because it sounds vaguely erotic, although it is, I promise, anything but. It started with armpit pain, then became what it sounds like, and ultimately escalated to a very frightening shivering spell, where I was just shaking as if I had a fever, but I didn't (yet another emergency room near-miss), and this is a thing that can happen, but won't necessarily, so you don't learn about it ahead of time. This is the much-awaited milk coming in, but it paradoxically makes it more difficult to feed. It will then repeat itself, if less dramatically, on the occasions when the baby sleeps for more than 3 consecutive hours in the night.

Next were the three or so weeks of intense pain every left-side feed. (Present from the start, but initially overshadowed by the rest of what was happening.) Of the there's-nothing-to-do-about-it sort (not the famous bad latch, just something about how my own body apparently works), so I was advised to take over-the-counter painkillers, which I was already taking what with having recently given birth. Took a bunch of those!

Eventually the feeding bit itself got sorted. Enough so that despite the above, I'd fall into the category of women for whom nursing - thus far, at least - works. The above is, again, what it looks like, or can look like, when it works. With enough maternity leave to give it a proper go (though even in Canada, recommendations for length of nursing well exceed leave), with a body that wound up being capable of this, and a baby prepared to do her part. My nursing's-been-a-breeze privilege is showing, except for the few days when I thought (and had medical reason to think) it wasn't working and that my baby was going to starve. And now - now! - I can appreciate the positives. That it's easier than preparing bottles, for one thing, but also, the bonding bit - present from the start, of course - is more front-and-center when the throbbing-pain part has subsided.


There's the general advice for those first few weeks, aimed at all new parents but especially those feeding the baby from their bodies: Just focus on the baby, and ignore what can be ignored, and let those assembled around you deal with everything else. This makes approximately no sense, either. It assumes a next-level support system, some sort of amalgam of the best of what everyone on online mom forums describes, without any of the worst. There's this assumption that chores are things like dusting or scrubbing the bath, i.e. that can be ignored. Well! Laundry and dishes, those really can't be put off indefinitely. (Big regret: not temporarily switching to disposable dishware for 2-3 weeks at the start.)

Basically, the ideal situation for breastfeeding assumes, then exceeds, such things as 'supportive partner' or 'maternity leave'. It assumes a woman sort of permanently reclined, emperor-style for (at least) the first six weeks, getting non-intrusively fussed after by an army of people whose single focus is making sure she feeds the baby. Who think breastfeeding is a worthy pursuit (maybe hard to believe in some haute-crunchy milieus, but not everyone does!), but who will also be supportive if for whatever reason nursing doesn't work out and formula is needed.

Which leaves that other bit: If you're the only one who's feeding your baby, and your baby needs to eat every couple of hours, you're not sleeping. (For your partner to support the endeavor, they're not sleeping either.) And you're not going anywhere. Or maybe you are, but bringing the baby, but if it's winter in Canada and too cold/icy to go out with a baby, then yeah, no, not going outside. The latter only becomes an issue, I found, when the former has (in its limited way) resolved. That is, if you're getting three hours of sleep a night, it's hard to get stir-crazy. If, however, you're at 7 or so, albeit interrupted, the outside world again seems quite interesting, but what are you meant to do about this? In my case, it's meant leaving the apartment when possible, but trying to accept that Fahrenheit single digit days, we're staying in. There's a mall nearby, and we're regulars. There are baby fitness classes semi-nearby (for mothers' fitness, that is, but apparently there's a way to bring a baby?); those have had to wait until weather permits a trip to semi-nearby.

To go the nursing route, you have to believe in it, which means reading, yes, but not getting bogged down in contrarian and feminist literature about how it's all pointless and correlation is not causation and you may think you're doing the right thing but Actually you're just engaging in the choice that happens to be favored by the Brooklyn haute-clog-wearing set. (I used to live in Brooklyn and once had mid-range clogs, but foolishly did not time that part of my life for the baby-having one. But I'm sure it made some sort of cultural impact on me all the same.) If you're breastfeeding, you're in many key ways opting into being pseudo-pregnant for another year or so. And pregnancy? Worth it for the end result, but not the most fun in and of itself. There, it's the difference between baby and no baby. Breastfeeding or not, it's between one sort of feeding and another, so the stakes are a touch lower.

Some of the rules (the ones that drove me up the wall, at least) go away, and you can resume eating sushi and runny cheeses and soft-boiled eggs and lox and and and you get the idea. (I'm still in the mode where I neeeeed to eat these sorts of foods as often as possible.) But alcohol is either forbidden (according to one government pamphlet) or just needs to be very carefully timed, to the point that it is, in effect, forbidden. (After full-on abstaining during pregnancy, and being too tired for the first month or so after, I have on a couple occasions reminded myself what beer tastes like, but what an entire beer is like, that I have only the vaguest recollection.) Curious about those actually-effective skincare products you've been reading about (now that you've gone and started looking a decade older, all at once)? Nope, not starting on those, either. Coffee... I guess that's also something you're supposed to avoid, but there's also the thing where you're supposed to stay awake on no sleep...

And maybe the most daunting: Interested in not having quite as much of a paunch aka not still looking pregnant three months in? Exercise needs to be carefully timed in terms of feeds because there are only certain points in the nursing cycle where jogging could possibly be comfortable. And making any sort of change to your diet is risky because - as when pregnant - it's not just you you're feeding. So, eat up! But you also maybe don't want to swing too far in the food-restriction-is-evil direction, when you know full well the reason you're where you're at is a continued third-trimester approach to, specifically, salt-and-pepper potato chips. Or when your physique goal remains fitting comfortably (as versus squeezing) into the cold-weather winter coat that cost $$$ a few years ago, such that you're for sure not about to buy another one, but now, when you try to zip it up, it feels like the zipper's about to break. I don't know.


Ultimately, the answer to why I've gone this route (thus far - always add the thus-far because you never know and also because in some estimations, being a completist as it were means lasting for years plural) is, because it's what's done, what I started doing, and it's maybe the better way, maybe? For reasons it's not so much that I can't articulate as that I'm not sure about, having read conclusions in all directions, and having zero expertise in this area myself. I don't believe, in general, that natural is better, or even means much of anything. I don't feel cooped up in the sense of wanting to run away with the circus. I do, however, eagerly look forward to the days when my now-infant can join me in eating a sandwich.