The B-Word

When Kevin and I went to the birth center earlier this week for my 30 week check up, our midwife gave us surprising news. She explained that my blood test results had come back, showing that I was mildly anemic. If this continues, I will not be able to deliver at the birth center, and will have to deliver in a hospital instead.

Needless to say, she had my attention. I absolutely do not want to deliver Penelope in a hospital if I can help it. I associate hospitals with fear, sickness, and death. The beeping machines, the people rushing around, the smells… none of it makes for a calming experience. And that is exactly what I intend to have with this delivery.

I still vividly remember our first visit to the Charleston Birth Place, when I was only 8 weeks pregnant. The midwife talked about the problems with health care in our country, and how hospitals tend to treat pregnant women like they are sick instead of doing the most natural thing in the world. They are far too quick to perform what are almost always unnecessary medical interventions, often to the detriment of the mother and baby, in order to cover themselves or simply speed the process up.

They said a lot of things that made perfect sense to us that night, but my favorite part was the tour at the end of the visit. We walked into the delivery room, and my first impression was one of relaxation. The soft glow of candles flickered around the room, showing a beautifully made bed, and in the corner, a pristine white and very luxurious looking birthing tub. It was nicer than many hotels I had stayed in. I thought, I get to have my baby here? With no scary machines or strange nurses ducking in and out? Only the people closest to me and a midwife there to support me and trust me to know what do to? To trust that I, like the countless women before me, will be able to do what I  was born to do, when Penny is ready to do it. That is, assuming there are no complications or risks involved with my pregnancy. So when our midwife told us about my test results, I immediately felt panicked and thought, “What did I do wrong?”

It turns out nothing. My anemia is due to the fact that there is not enough iron in my blood, because my baby is using what she needs for nourishment, leaving little left for me. I am relieved that she is getting everything that she needs, but now the midwives are concerned about me. In order to deliver in the birth center, I have to get my iron levels up. And in order to do that, I have a few options.

1. Take a liquid iron supplement that is fairly expensive and tastes like meaty metal. (After taking some yesterday, I felt like I had licked a cast iron skillet. The lingering taste was not fun).

2. Eat plenty of non-red meat foods high in iron (like eggs and green vegetables). Certainly doable.

3. Eat red meat! Not so doable.

I’m sure most of you are having trouble seeing why this is a problem. The truth is, I haven’t eaten red meat in about a year and a half, ever since watching the documentary “Food, Inc,” and have not looked back. I could go on and on about my reasons for this, but that would be enough for another post entirely. Lately, however, I have found myself thinking about red meat more than I would like. I actually have dreams sometimes that I accidentally eat a deliciously juicy burger, and wake up in a panic. This, coupled with my low iron levels, made me think that maybe I should change my quasi-vegetarian ways, at least for the duration of my pregnancy.

After our appointment, instead of going home and cooking the healthy meal of grilled chicken and asparagus that we had planned on eating, we went to a restaurant and ordered a burger. I was afraid to order my own in case I got too grossed out, so Kevin and I split one. That chargrilled smell of cooking beef, something I have never stopped loving even since giving up meat, wafted out to our booth from the kitchen. The ominous burger arrived shortly after, pilled high with fried onions and pickles. It was quite a sight to behold, and this fuzzy camera phone picture does not do it justice.

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I loaded up on ketchup and cautiously took a bite. I could tell Kevin was gaging my reaction, probably ready for me to run to the restroom at any second. Instead my eyes rolled back into my head, and I said, “Oh wow, that’s good.” 

All of you meat eaters out there are probably feeling a bit victorious at this point- and I won’t deny that it tasted amazing. I never stopped eating meat because of the way it tasted. And so I happily finished my burger, feeling slightly conflicted but also relieved that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

When we got home, however, Kevin and I both felt a bit strange. Our hearts were pounding very fast, yet we were extremely lethargic and were suddenly in desperate need of a nap. We continued to feel weird the rest of the night and into the next day. Kevin texted me later that day saying, “I think I have a beef hangover.” I laughed, but I think he was right.

Even though I’m sure our physical reactions were due in part to the fact that our bodies were not used to eating red meat, there is no denying that eating that way does affect the way you feel on a daily basis. Since changing our eating habits, we have felt more energetic, and very rarely feel that awful, regretful feeling you get after making a bad food decision. I found myself wondering, do I really want to eat something that my body has to get used to?

As for the final verdict? While I do not want to say that I will never have beef again (from a local, grass-fed and hormone free source, of course), I am in no hurry to start. And I can guarantee you won’t find me anywhere near those golden arches. The negative emotional and physical effects I get from it are simply not worth the iron. Therefore, it looks like it is eggs, greens, and metallic meat supplements for me! Here’s to increasing my iron levels, one cringing spoonful at a time.

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