Pre-Parenting

I don’t mean massive life changing events or global travel, although a great many of those are probably worth doing before you become responsible for another life. But I mean the small everyday things that will quietly disappear almost without you noticing. The little things that you took for granted and that now, post pregnancy, require a logistical plan akin to an Everest expedition to achieve.

Go to the Cinema. And see a film that is no good for kiddies. The next one you see will involve cartoons and may not be for some time.

Go to the Theatre. I kicked merry hell out of this one- 4 plays in a month – sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own – nothing like a big pregnant lady elbowing her way along the aisle to the middle of the row (and back again when she needs a wee halfway through act one). Heavenly.

Have a pedicure. You can’t see your feet now but when they return to view, it would be nice if they were pretty.

Manicure. Because your nails are about to dry out and flake so spoil yourself now.

Get some sleep. At anytime of the day. In bed, on the sofa, in the car (not when driving). Wherever. Just pass out, snooze, snore and pad round in your PJs. Yes, you’ll do the latter when baby arrives but that won’t be out of choice. And the first three will never happen again.

Phone your friends. Chat and catch up. Lord knows we don’t do it enough anyway but time will pass in a way you hadn’t realized it could and it’ll be eight months later and you won’t have talked to them so do it now. And try to remember to do it later too.

Go for a posh meal in the evening. Look, no babysitters, expressing or worrying required. In six months, this level of freedom and spontaneity will all seem completely surreal.

Take a picture of you at bump maximus. You’ll look at you in that picture in six months time and it will seem a lifetime a way.

Baby Brain

Lose phone.

Growing concern as realise wealth of lost info and access random stranger (who clearly has my phone) may now have to all aspects of my life.

Empty (ridiculously over sized, over stuffed) bag. Wallet, keys, tissues, lippy, mascara, gloss, hairbrush, stamps, cafe nero card, book (with manly folded over corners), notebook, pens (thousands of them), three tampons (why?), 7 business cards for people I don’t know, 2 hairbands and one hair clip, nail file. No phone.

Search last known whereabouts (lecture theatre). Check coat pockets and jeans pockets. No phone.

Start panicking. Go to lost property. No one has handed a phone in. WHy would they? Nice gentleman behind lost property desk phones three other lost property sites on campus to ask if they have had phone handed in despite the fact that I have been nowhere near that part of campus. No phone.

Beg (in manner of Oliver asking for more… MORE!!!) nice but now unamused man behind counter to please phone my phone. Lost property man even less amused when he (and I) discover my own bag is now ringing… with very familiar ring tone.

Oh, the humiliation of baby brain.

The Birth Plan

The Birth Plan. The what? I looked cluelessly at my midwife. Honestly, I had no idea. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. A Birth Plan? Hmmm, like “waters break, contractions start, take drugs, have baby. Preferably in fifteen minutes”?

Apparently not.

Once she realised I genuinely didn’t know what she was talking about, she started to explain. A Birth Plan covers all your options. Where would you like to have the baby? erm, in hospital with as many qualified people surrounding me as possible. Had I considered a home birth? erm, no. I live in a tiny rented flat with very thin walls. My loud, shouty, next door neighbours may look even more disapprovingly at me after they’ve listened to 12 hours of contractions. You could consider a maternity unit rather than a full up labour ward? er…. I looked blankly at her again; at which point, I think she became pretty convinced that I was either stoned or stupid or just badly prepared (the last of which was spot on). Maternity unit – straight forward births, no complications, often attached to main hospitals where you’ll go if complications develop, no epidurals available. Labour ward – for complicated births and drugs. There’s far more to it obviously but you get the gist.

Perhaps you ought to go away and have a think about the options. There’s a sheet in your maternity notes to write your birth plan on. There is? Oh, yes, I see, there it is. On page 9 of the notes I haven’t read. Look at all those options.

A water birth. In a mini warm swimming pool. That sounds nice. With music. Of my choice. What would I want bump to emerge to? Perhaps an opera, La Boheme? A bit tragic. Maybe… Don Giovanni? maybe not.

What else? Hypno birthing. Hypno what? seriously? Yes, apparently. And for those who got the practice in and understood it far better than I did, apparently it was quite helpful.

Use of drugs? Would I want to go a bit earth mother and try and do this without drugs? Or would I want to have an epidural from the moment I arrived* until the bump was, oh, eighteen and financially independent? Well, hey, I’ve been through some pretty tough stuff so you know I’ll give it a shot without but if the consultant thinks I need drugs (or I begin weeping) then perhaps I’ll take some gas and air (ha!)

Who is your birth partner? Do you plan to use a doula? Again, I had to turn to Dr Google. Who knew a doula could be available on the NHS! A great idea and a thousand pent up, nervous husbands breathe a collective sigh of relief.

So at my next appointment, I presented my Birth Plan to my midwife, not without a little pride in this complete work of fiction I had created. She read down, nodding. This looks great, she said. But I need to warn you. Birth is a complex and long process and lots of variables can change throughout. While I see you’ve gone for the hypo birthing, whale song, water birth, I should warn you not to hang your hopes on it entirely. Yes, it may well happen like this. But if things change, then you will need to be flexible. A lot of women often feel they have failed if the birth doesn’t go how they wanted it to go. You haven’t, its just the team around you need to change the plan to ensure you and bumps health. Wise words as it turned out.

*note to self, “from the moment I arrived” was what I expected. It got explained to me once in hospital that that wasn’t quite how it worked.

How to plan a travel journey

Ok, so parking is an issue. But so is driving in general. At seven months, planning a car journey is akin to planning a military campaign. At least in terms of level of detail. I very much doubt military campaigners need to worry about their troops needing a wee stop every forty five minutes or only decaf drinks or strange food cravings. So we’re off to see my mother. A journey that should take about two hours. Ha. Again, I say ha.

Firstly I’m still a little queasy so I need water to sip, a bag in case I do need to be ill and some form of food stuff in the car to take the edge of hunger pains. So pre-planning and packing is essential. Its also a good idea to figure out where the service stations are. You’re going to need them.

Secondly, the bump has been kicking for some time now, but now appears to be taken with doing complete swimming-style tumble turns. Which is a very odd feeling – wonderful but a little weird to watch your belly move around like that. Anyway what it does mean is that I have to recline the seat in the car a little and if he gets himself to excited or stuck with a foot against my rib cage, bladder or kidneys, I need to stand up and jiggle about to get him to move again.

Finally, you’re going to need to wee. Oh are you going to need to wee. Every forty five minutes. Which with current traffic means you’re stopping about every 25 miles. And you might as well grab a sandwich or tin of peaches or whatever your poison is while you’re stopped.

All in all, the two hour journey becomes a four hour epic. And you (and your Better Half) are very grateful to arrive finally. He needs a drink. And you, obviously, need a wee.

The miracle

I’m not religious in the slightest. I don’t say this to get the backs up of people who are. And I don’t think those who adhere to a religion are qwonks or nutters. I think religious belief serves many good and noble purposes (and a good few that aren’t so great but I’m not getting in to a deep philosophical debate and I don’t write this to offend anyone, believer or not). My personal belief is not in a deity and I don’t believe in miracles.

I always thought I kind of had life explained to a greater or lesser degree- I’m in more of the Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin, Tim Minchin (a different video than previous) club than the more standard religious clubs. I also figured I knew me and what I was doing and my path was pretty much sorted out (by me!). So it comes as a whopping surprise to realise that not only do you not know you, you don’t even know how awesome your own body is. Your body is so damn awesome that it can conceive, protect, nurture and grow another human. Have you any idea how utterly utterly awesome that is. Say it again… your body is SO damn awesome you can grow another human. GROW another human. This body which you have run around in, flown across seas, danced the night away, poisoned with some form of substances (alcohol, chocolate, the wrong type of carbs etc), bruised, battered, depended on, broken and generally taken for granted- this body is capable of performing the only true miracle on the planet. You can carry life within you. And it is awe inspiring and terrifying and magnificent, all at once.

So when you see pregnant women stroking their bump.. yes, they are doing it because it is comforting. But they’re also doing it because they are in awe of themselves and the body they thought they knew. And they are terrified that it is they and only they who are nurturing a tiny life entirely dependant on them. And they are magnificent because despite their fear, despite the infinite possibilities, despite all of this, they and their body is doing exactly what it is meant to do. Perform the only miracle on the planet. The privilege of pregnancy and the miracle of new life.

Watching

This time last year, I was heavily pregnant. With the holiday season rapidly approaching. One of the benefits of being pregnant is looking forward to a whole two weeks of partys, work ‘do’s’, christmas drinks and watching the New Year’s Eve bells toll without one iota of alcohol. Awesome.

Don’t judge me as an alcoholic, but Christmas isn’t quite Christmas without a sniff of booze. Not only do you get to spend all of it sober. You also get the ‘oh, it’s alright, H will drive’ comments – will she? I don’t remember volunteering to squeeze 7 inebriated mates into my car and drive through the icy backroads of whichever english county we happen to be in to get to ‘a great pub’ (definition of great pub, by the way, is significantly different when you can’t indulge in the local fine ale, a decent glass of vino or a good healthy cider; a great pub is now one defined as good food, comfy seating and clean, wide loos). And its funny because when I’m ready to go home – which is generally about ten o’clock when pregnant and having just eaten- no one else is quite there yet – ‘just one more, H, won’t be long.’ – I hate you.

Its also impossible to enjoy music anymore. Get the image of a pregnant whale shark dancing out of your head because that is off putting enough. Now imagine the pregnant whale shark is fully conscious of how pregnant and how whale shark-like she looks, which immediately inhibits any type of natural rhythm and you end up moving about with the grace of a space hopper. It’s also interesting to note from your sober look-out post that there are generally two reasons why blokes dance – a) they fancy the girl they are dancing near (so its never you) or b) they are beyond legless (at which point they put their arm around you and say something like ‘dontchuworryHyorlbeealuverlymummy’). At which point you tactfully extract yourself and find a bar stool to lever yourself on to and from where you can view the rest of the evening from afar while you drink your lime and lemonade. Before retiring to bed at the extortionately late time of half eleven, exhausted. And to be honest a little bored.

At least you do get the somewhat comic morning after experience of watching everyone else turn up for work either hungover to hell or still drunk as a skunk. And the gossip is never about you. But the smell of stale alcohol makes you want to heave.

So, lovely preg a mamas, do yourself a noble favour and take the money you save from not boozing and treat yourself. You’ve earned it this holiday season. Every drop of it. Enjoy it, and make the most of a different way to spend the holiday season: being the sober hero to your friends who need a lift or a shoulder to cry on. And then go and spoil yourself too. Because you really will be a lovely mummy.

Parking

So I’ve driven round the car park three times trying to find a useful space. I’m seven months pregnant, which means bump is now Bump and arrives a few minutes before I do. It also means there are some basic logistical issues I need to negotiate. Parking is one of them.

So I find a space- its not great but if I wedge the passenger side up close to the pillar, then I think I’ll have enough space to get out of the driver side. Phew. Logistics sorted and off I toddle for a lifestyle coffee and a cruise round mothercare. Wild.

Of course, it’s never that easy. When I get back to the car after an hour and a half, the nice sensible VW Golf that I parked next to has gone. In its place is some wide-mouth Audi A7 which has clearly been parked by some ass clown with no concept of personal space. Its parked, nay, wedged in the space between me and another sensible vehicle like some beached whale shark with a personal number plate. Given that I am also the size of a whale shark there is no chance of getting in the drivers side. At least not via opening the door. And the passenger door isn’t going to work either not unless I remove the concrete pillar I parked so conveniently close too.

But you know, I’m a resourceful woman. This is not going to stop me getting in to my vehicle. I briefly contemplate whether I could open the driver’s door a crack, enough to get the window down and then do some Dukes of Hazzard style entry in to my car through the window from the roof of the Whale Shark. Hmmm. Think I might get done for criminal damage. And not sure I’ll fit.

Perhaps I could reach the hand brake from the window. Nope.

Oh, I know. If I could open the boot and somehow unlatch the rear seats, I could crawl through the boot into the… Oh my god, what am I thinking.

My final course of action is to crack open the rear passenger door. Initially I think this is futile too. But I realize if I step up on to the foot plate I can raise my bump to a slightly wider part of the open door, above the arm rest thing. And slowly, tenderly I squeeze me and my bump on to the back passenger seats. Step one. I then try to shimmy (ha! Pregnant and shimmying…!) in between the two front seats, negotiating the gear stick (oh my). I realize the traditional head first way of doing this does not work for me in my curvaceous state and end up sliding feet first, bump up in to the driver seat.

And I’m there. In the driver seat. Ready to go. And I haven’t even spilt my (decaf) coffee.

Then the Ass Clown shows up. He gives me a jaunty wave, gets in to the whale shark and buggers off. I consider throwing my coffee at him.

To know or not know

Between the 12 week scan and the 20 week scan, there is an inevitable conversation. Between you and your partner and, oh, everybody else in the world who knows you’re pregnant. The conversation starts with “ooooooh, you’re pregnant, how lovely” etc etc and inevitably leads on to “Are you going to find out the flavour?” or some other equally weird way of asking whether you’re going to find out at the 20 week scan whether bump is a boy or a girl.

Well, are you?

First things first, your hospital or clinic may not allow you to find out. This is a fallout from the tragedy that is male babies being more desirable than females in certain populations. Yes, even in the UK. So you simply may not be given the option to find out.

Assuming your clinic will tell you, do you want to know? Can you face calling bump “It” for the next twenty weeks? Would it be easier just coming up with one list of names rather than two? Are you planning on decorating the nursery before bump becomes bimp? Do you already have three boys? Or three girls? Are you just too excited and simply have to know? Can you keep a secret? Do you want to?

I don’t think there are right or wrong answers to this (perhaps apart from the Do you already have three boys? Or three girls? Questions). I don’t think there is a right thing to do and a wrong one. I think there is personal choice and neither finding out nor not finding out is wrong. All I can offer is my perspective and our answers to the questions above.

Do you want to know? Yeeeeeeessssssss! Yes, yes, yes. We have the technology to do it and on every level I feel it would allow me to start bonding with the wee man (as it turned out). And no, I don’t think just because we have the technology we HAVE to use it. But it does mean we have the choice. And therefore the right to exercise that choice.

Can you face calling the bump “It”? No. I wanted to start bonding with bump, having conversations with him. I wanted to relate to him as a person and I wouldn’t call a person “It”. Actually that leads on to the next question, names (a whole post in itself!) but because we found out the sex, instead of just referring to bump as “he”, we started trying out names – a week per name to see if it was even allowed on the short list! It didn’t mean we’d selected the name before bump became bimp but it meant our short list became significantly shorter – Horatio and Methusalah were out. Especially with our last name.

Are you planning on decorating the nursery? Ha, we didn’t even have a house at that point but even so… I didn’t want swathes of beige or magnolia for the bimp. I didn’t necessarily want socially acceptable pink or blue either but knowing it was a boy allowed us to focus on what we did want (and the pressies other people bought us!). As it turned out the wee man got a jungle themed nursery which I would have happily given to a little lady as well. Perhaps that counters my argument for knowing. Hmmm. Next!

And finally, yes, you know what- we were too excited! We wanted to know because we wanted to start imagining our future with bimp and wanted to know the gender. Why should planning bumps future, our future, only start when he (or she) is born? They start changing your life the minute you realize you’re pregnant – you could argue, even before then. Has it changed what we’ve done? I expect so. Socially accepted mores are difficult to change, even in those who are super conscious of gender biases and want to avoid them. And what we plan for our wee man is probably subtly different to what we would be planning if bimp were a girl. But its not better or worse or less hopeful, just subtly different. Is that wrong?

Whichever gender bump had been we would have been over the moon. And we will be for the next one too. And you will all know then too- because, No, we can’t keep a secret.

And the not so glorious

I’d heard the myth of your senses being heightened when you’re pregnant but I was pretty convinced that it wasn’t going to happen to me. For no other reason than my sense of smell is abominable and I figured it wasn’t about to improve. In fact I would be rather glad if it didn’t as I could use it (and have) as a convenient excuse not to change junior’s nappy- “Oh, does it, dear? My bad, you know how poor my sense of smell is. Thanks, darling!” etc

So walking up the stairs to our flat one night at about week 18, I was quite surprised to find myself gagging at the god awful smell that was wafting out from the kitchen. I couldn’t go near the room (and no, it was not an excuse to avoid cooking). It was awful for weeks- the kitchen door had to be shut and the window open if we (he!) was cooking. If I was in the lounge, the door had to be shut and I kept spray near my bedside so I didn’t have to smell it at night.

At my wits end, I finally got Better Half to empty the entire fridge. Every last iota of food. And scrub the shelves clean. I could still smell it. This festering, putrid, overwhelming smell… of garlic. Hideous, disgusting, vomit inducing. I would spend evening after evening begging Better Half not to buy anything with garlic in it, not to cook with garlic, and please, oh please, search the kitchen high and low and remove any last tiny flake, crumb, slice or drop of the stuff.

And then he found it. THe last fragment of garlic that had repulsed me so much I had to sit behind two closed doors every evening. “Look what I”ve found!” he proudly proclaimed coming out of the kitchen and wafting it under my nose. I threw up instantly. It was as I fled to put my head down the loo for the 181st time that he realised I hadn’t been making it up. And he finally threw it in the (neighbour’s) bin.

Food glorious food

I didn’t get cravings. I didn’t want to drink guiness. Or eat coal. Or order a banana and tunafish pizza. Nope, I was absolutely fine. Nothing changed. Hmmmm.

It was when the waiter asked if everything was ok with our meal while I was face first in a bathtub of carbonara that I realized that perhaps I did have pregnancy cravings after all. Carbonara. Flipping tons of it. I could have eaten it for breakfast. Made in a vat. Enough to serve six full grown men.

But that particular craving only lasted about five weeks. I guess it must have been the carbohydrates in the pasta and the fat in the cream that my body was craving. Or just the taste. And that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

After the carbonara phase I went on to peaches – fresh or tinned. Whole or segments. By hand or with a fork. On the train home (nothing like loud slurping noises and peach juice running down your chin to clear a space round you – even on London Underground… at rush hour) or in front of the telly. To be honest, peaches could have formed the entirety of my diet but my better half insisted on normal food as well. So traditional.

And then it stopped and I went on to Jacket Potatoes. With Baked beans. And Cheese. And Coleslaw. All at the same time. It was like a Vesuvius of food bursting from atop a potato. I think about it now and I feel faintly sick. The Irony.