The middle

The middle

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Credit: Mark Basarab

I have always loved before and after stories. Cinderella transforming into a princess. The ugly duckling becoming a swan. The hungry caterpillar emerging from it’s chrysalis.

And if asked I will talk to you honestly, happily and at length about my own before and after stories; afterwards. I’ll tell you about how I went from desperately trying to earn my place in the world to believing (most of the time) that I was enough. I will talk to you about what grief taught me about love. I will describe my struggle with infertility and how I lost three stone to access IVF and instead fell pregnant naturally.

The key word in that sentence above is afterwards. People tell me that admire my honesty in writing about the situations I have found hard. My reaction is always mixed: part proud but also part feeling like I have just pulled off a con. It’s takes courage to show somebody your scars, it another thing entirely to show somebody your wounds.

I am very good at talking about difficult experiences afterwards. When time has lent some distance and perspective and things are less raw. But sharing that brutiful (half beautiful/half brutal) bit in the middle of something I am struggling with? Ugh.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I cannot find the words to name what is happening to me.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I feel an expectation that I need to go away in private and figure my shit about before I can be in company again.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel so bruised and skinless that an inadvertent glance could hurt me.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel stuck. I cannot go back and unknow what I have learnt. But I have no idea how to move forward.

When I am in the middle of something hard I don’t know the story ends. I don’t know whether I will triumph or fail. I don’t know what the meaning of this experience will be until afterwards.

When I am in the middle of something hard, the last thing I want to do is talk about it.

But that’s what I ask my clients to do every day. There is so much I could say about what is happening within me right now. But I am in the middle – so I don’t. Until now that is.

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I read this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, one of the writers who inspired me and it floored me. Yes, it is important to share our truth but what about sharing our unknowing. Why don’t we talk about the bits of our life that are still in construction. So inspired I am trying something new today. Even though thinking about hitting publish gives me a knot in my chest and that sinking sensation of being emotional naked.

Here are some things I am in the middle of:

Work

I’ve always been ambitious, it’s one of my defining characteristics. But when people ask me ‘when are you going back to work?’ I want to jam my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until they go away.

I don’t want to work again, ever. Despite the fact I love my job and staying home isn’t an option financially. I am desperately frightened that if I go back to work that ‘Push the river’ side of me, that relentless driving force will take over. And there won’t be any space for me or Nibs or anything other than pushing forward at all costs. Until I have figured out how I can work without letting it take over – I don’t want to go back. I expect my motherhood bubble will pop at some point and I may long for another identity other than mother and to exercise my intellectual muscles. But for the moment…

nope

Self-care

Having and mothering a baby has made me realise how abysmal I am at mothering myself. If I were an actual mother and child I would report me to social services for neglect. I have realised recently where this lack of self-care comes from. But I don’t know how to move forward and it makes me feel sad and stuck. Why can take care of other people, but not myself? I am starting to notice how much this is affecting my relationships with my husband, child, family and friends. And it the affect on them that is motivating me to change, not on me. That fact makes me feel even sadder. I am trying to go back to basics and ask myself daily what I need. But it is so hard and humiliating. Shouldn’t I have learnt how to take care of myself already? Is it too late to learn?

Body

I eat emotionally, always have done, and it’s becoming a problem. I eat as a reward, out of comfort, to console myself or just mindlessly. I worry that Nibs will see me and develop some of my habits. The worst thing about this, is that I successfully lost a lot of weight before getting pregnant through revolutionising my eating habits. When I was pregnant I was really careful about what I ate. But the combination of breastfeeding, tiredness, and boredom have meant I have been eating cake like it’s going out of fashion.

The feeling that keeps on popping up that I should be over this by now? I know how to eat healthily. I have done it before. I have all the tools in my toolbox but still I keep self sabotaging. Sadly I think the issue is I can moderate my approach to food when other people are at stake – but not when it’s just about me. Instead I circle around and around this issue never progressing

Marriage

He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I have been in better places. Don’t get me wrong, we’re OK but we could be better. Lack of sleep and lack of time, as individuals and as a couple, has taken its toll. I find this immensely frustrating because as a couples therapist I knew that having a baby was one of the biggest stressors on a relationship and I had a chance to memorise the classic fight up close:

Stay at home parent: I love the baby so much but sometimes looking after him alone is so hard. I resent so much that your life continues almost unchanged whereas I am tethered to a tiny human being. You get to leave, to speak to other adults, to pee in private. I am never alone but I am so lonely.

Working parent: But you get to see it all: all the tiny ways he changes every day. I miss it. I miss him and you get to see him all the time and you don’t appreciate it. He’s growing so fast and I am not here. Plus work isn’t the holiday you think it is.

Repeat ad nausem

9 months ago I assured myself we wouldn’t be like that. Cue hollow laughter. We, OK being brutally honest, I have not been kind to HWSNBN recently.

It is so entwined with me not taking care of myself that I know that before I can reconnect with HWSNBN I need some time for me. To figure out who I am as a mother and individual after this immense lifechanging experience. If I am set boundaries and ask for my needs to be met; I will be a better partner to him. I am not in panic mode at the moment partly because I don’t feel like I have the headspace to panic. We are trying different things – some of which seem to be helping. We’ll see.

The future

I am very torn on if/when we should try for another baby. It took years, and years last time. And I am hyper aware I may not have years of trying left. I never want to go through that agonising desperation of trying and failing to conceive again.

But I am not ready. I am not even close to ready for signing on for the intensity of a newborn. Some days I look at Nibs and he’s so wondrous I can’t imagine not trying to give him his sibling. Some days he seems so big to me and miss him being a tiny baby in my arms with an ache in my womb. Then I have a dark day where I feel like the shittest mum alive and think I am never having any more children. 

So, this is where I am at right in the middle with all the mess and none of the glory. Watch this space.

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Newborn baby essentials for first time parents

 

NewbornSo you’re having a baby. You’ve read all the books, your due date is looming and you’ve bought everything you’ll need for yourself postpartum but what does your newborn baby need? Before you give into that excited urge to buy all the things (yes, those baby shoes are gorgeous, and no they aren’t really necessary) remember newborn babies don’t really need much beyond a boob or bottle, something to wear and most importantly a pair of arms to hold them. However, there are some essential products out there that can make your life as a new parent a thousand times easier. As an *ahem* experienced parent of a four-month old, here are the newborn baby essentials I could not do without during those early days.

Water wipes

Have you tried to wipe meconium aka tar off a baby’s bottom using nothing but a bit of cotton wool and water, after 48 hours of no sleep while your baby screams like you’re cutting off an appendage? Learn from my mistake – get water wipes. A mix of water and fruit extracts they are safe to be used on newborn bottoms and they won’t leave you picking off bits of cotton wool off a tiny behind. Pro-tip: liberal applications of coconut oil after every nappy change makes meconium wipeable.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

I read so many pregnancy and baby books covering theories from as attachment parenting to sleep training. The one book I want to buy and give to all my pregnant friends is The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp. If you have a baby that is colicky, cries uncontrollably or turns from an angel into screaming bat-baby come 5pm (raises hand sheepishly), this book is for you. You can read more about the theory in this blog post but to summarise here. Pediatrician Dr Harvey Karp argues that unlike other animals babies are born before they are developmentally ready because of the size of their heads in relation to the pelvis. This means that the first three months are a fourth trimester outside of the womb as babies need to rapidly develop to function in the outside world. All babies had an evolved calming reflex to keep them from damaging themselves or mum in the womb, and if we can recreate these outside of the womb we can calm babies in minutes. These are called the five s’s: swaddle, side or stomach, shush, swing, suck. I was sceptical at first but the five s’s helped calm our fractious newborn in minutes. You can watch Karp in action here. The next five essentials are all ones that use the five s’s.

Co sleeper

My lovely friend Claudia lent me her co-sleeper which is a crib that attaches to the side of the bed. It was godsend for three very important reasons:

  1. Newborns have really odd breathing patterns and frequently take very looooong pauses in between breaths. A co sleeper allows you to check on your baby without leaving your bed. This saves you from diving across the room twenty times in one night in a move I like to call the ‘Why isn’t my baby breathing dive? Oh no, he’s fine.’
  2. Breastfeeding is made so much easier once you can do it lying down. No more getting out of your warm bed, arranging pillows behind you or even sitting up to grab your baby. Instead release boob, roll baby onto boob, doze while baby sucks then roll baby back into the co-sleeper. Or yaknow…
  3. Don’t. My sure fire way of waking Nibs up whether I wanted to or not was to put him down after breastfeeding. The way he reacted was as if I had lowered him into the pits of hell not an expensive, lovingly crafted crib. I had a choice hold him for twenty minutes until he’d fell into a deeper sleep or lie him next then very gradually inch him back into his crib. Having the crib as his back meant I didn’t have to worry that he would roll out of bed when feeding and he felt close to me. Which brings us nicely onto the…

Sling

I bought a Moby fabric sling initially. It may have been the sleep deprivation or the fact that I have worse block designs skills than my son. Who is four months old. But I could not put it together without putting my baby down, which defeated the point, as he’d then wake up. I needed a sling that I could strap my sleeping baby into using only one hand.

Enter the Beco Gemini which even this mama could put together in her sleep. What I should have done before buying this was: go to a sling library and try on a couple before buying. What I did: ask my friend Jo sling obsessive which one she recommended for a novice like me. Both He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I love it because the crossing straps distribute the babies weight and Nibs can be worn in a number of different positions as he gets older. The sling is brilliant for getting housework done while his Nibs naps. It allows me to get out and about without worrying if the buggy will fit through doors or on buses. And at grizzle o’clock it calms him down and will, if the stars are aligned, even send him to sleep if we walk around swiftly with him in the sling.

Ewan the dream sheep

White noise is a parent’s best friend. Whether it’s the dishwasher, car or even the sea, white noise mimics the sound of the wound and sends our baby Nibs into a deeper sleep. My little sister bought us Ewan the Dream Sheep which emits a soothing red pulse and has a number of different white noise tracks to choose from. Our favourite is a track we’ve nicknamed the haunted womb.

Gro swaddle

I was decidedly anti swaddle before having a baby. They seemed so restrictive and Victorian. Until I witnessed how my sons flailing limbs would wake him up multiple times a night and read about the Moro instinct. As soon as he was swaddled, he calmed down his little face relaxing and the swaddle seemed less like a medieval torture device and more like a full body hug. I credit the swaddle with helping our son sleep like less like an actual baby and more like a metaphorical baby from early on. We loved the Gro Ladybird Spot Swaddle for being so simple even this mama could use.

Love to Dream Swaddle

Now Nibs is a little bigger we’ve graduated to this Love to Dream Swaddle which is like a swaddle just for his arms. This helps restrain his natural impulse to violently batter himself in the face with his arms as sleeps. Plus when he’s wearing it he looks like he has wings providing many a hilarious photo opportunity.

Swing

Here’s the thing. As a new parent you get many a piece of useless advice of which the mos useless is sleep when your baby sleeps. The problem was like many newborns Nibs would only sleep when in motion as he was used to being lulled to sleep by the constant motion in the womb. In utero his most active time was 2am when all was still and I was trying to sleep and he commenced his kick mummy in the ribs done. So unless I mastered sleepwalking/sleep driving that advice was pretty useless. Until we bought the Joie Serina 2 in 1 Baby Swing second hand on ebay, aka the best money I ever spent. Save the money you could spend on a bouncer and get this electric swing. Like magic the swing on its most vigorous setting would send him to sleep in minutes allowing me to nap too. It also comes with white noise, vibrates, the swing works in two directions, and the seat can be taken off and used as a bouncer too. Seriously buy this, you won’t regret it.

Products for your first aid cabinet like:

A thermometer – ideally the no touch scan thermometer so you don’t have to keep your wriggling baby still while you check for a fever.

Nosefrida – this ridiculously gross invention the Nosefrida Nasal Aspirator allows you to alleviate a congested nose in seconds with the aid of saline drops and a suction tube. Its disgusting but essential especially if you have a baby in the season of the snot aka winter like we did.

Metanium – the yellow Metanium is like kryptonite for nappy rash. Most of the time we use a thin layer of sudocreme on our babies bum. But when he had a nasty nappy rash due to thrush a thin layer of this cream cleared up the rash in days.

Isofix base

Three door car + sleep deprivation= going anywhere is a hurry is a hassle. When you add in a screaming baby its amazing how a simple procedure of threading a car belt through a car seat becomes mensa level difficult. Get a Isofix Base for your car seat and you simply clip and unclip the car seat from your car. I held off buying one for three months until I finally gave in on the advice of my very wise friend Katy and I wish I’d done it a lot sooner. 

1,000 muslins

Nibs is a silent posseter. You’ll be holding him and suddenly your lap will be suspiciously warm. Before giving birth, my mother in law asked me how many muslins we had and I naively replied ten and she gave me the look. The look that meant haha, you’ll learn.

Within days of the birth we were on ebay ordering more and now I think we have close to 50 at least. Muslins are great as well as clearing up posset and protecting your shoulder when burping, they can be used to swaddle your baby, to tuck under your boob for hands free feeding and as nursing cover. Ours where just cheapo ones but if I had the money I’d get these gorgeous Faye and Lou Rainbow Muslins. 

Trial amazon family membership  

No matter how well you prepare by reading helpful new parent lists like this and faithfully buying everything on them (right? Right.), once the baby arrives you’ll realise, always at 3am, that you’ve missed some essential item. Amazon family have a free month trial with next day delivery, £20 off when you spend over £60 and deals on nappies and other products. It was ideal for those middle of the night ‘I need new bits for my breastpump’ purchases.

A village  

*Mounts soap box* Postnatal depression is at a record high in this country. And I strongly believe its because we aren’t meant to raise babies alone. It takes a village. At first I tried so hard to show that I could do it all. Hadn’t I longed for this? Then why was I finding it so hard. Things became easier when I started asking for help from my loving partner and co-parent HWSNBN, from my parents and his, from my sister and new mum friends. Workout what you need whether it’s food or a spare pair of arms so you can shower – and ask for help prior to giving birth.

Fellow survivors of the newborn stage, what would you add to the list? Mummas and dad’s to be, you got this!

Postpartum essentials: a survival kit for new mum’s

Postpartum essentials

Before giving birth, my baby had everything he could need and then some. But as I was so focused on the baby and the birth I didn’t really think about what I would need post-birth. Which I realised when I was sore, bleeding and attached at the boob to my baby was a very stupid idea. Putting on pants let alone going to the pharmacy seemed a Herculean struggle. Luckily my bestie was on the case and come day 5 (aka the hormone come down from hell) a postpartum survival package arrived. Unlike all the supplies I gathered for the birth, everything in the postpartum kit was used to death. In this post, I’m going to run through the postpartum essentials I wished I had known about prior to giving birth.

*Warning it’s about to get TMI in this joint.*

1.Nightwear

As you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your jammies, you want them to be as lovely possible. My bestie Debs bought me these gorgeous elephant pyjamas which I am currently living in. Look for something lightweight and made of natural fibres (to help with night sweats), loose (if you have a c-section, tight waistbands are not your friend) and breastfeeding friendly.

Also invest in a dressing gown. Not only do they make you feel like you’re starring in Game of Thrones, they are keep you warm when feeding or rocking your baby in the middle of the night. As I gave birth in January I ended up rotating a series of cardigans to save my exposed shoulders from seizing up. I finally gave in and bought a robe on ebay. In those early weeks you will have endless visits from midwives and health visitors. A robe helped me feel less undressed and retain a teeny bit more dignity.

2. Savoy cabbage  

When your milk comes in around day 3, your boobs will get huger and harder than you ever believed possible. Hello metal tits! To alleviate the pain and the pressure send somebody out for a savoy cabbage and put it in the fridge. Whenever it hurts pull off a pair of leaves, crush them slightly and pop them in your nursing bra. Voila, instant relief. NB, if you are breastfeeding only use couple of times a day as it can encourage your milk to dry up.

3.Hot and cold packs

Hot and cold packs are so versatile. I used these cool to help calm swelling on my boobs, to relieve my aching head and swollen nether regions. Or hot on my sore back and to help with milk let down.

4.Doughnut cushion

If you’re breastfeeding you are going to spent an inordinate amount of time sitting down feeding your baby. After the birth my tailbone felt like it had snapped in two, (thanks back labour) and everything down there was pretty swollen. A doughnut cushion to distribute and cushion the pressure is essential.

5.Painkillers

I was expecting to feel sore and achy nobody told me about the headaches. Some women have horrendous headaches as a side effect of the hormones driving milk production. I took painkillers every couple of hours until the headaches dissipated in the second week. Take my advice get somebody who isn’t sleep deprived to monitor the dose. Otherwise you may accidentally take too many doses of paracetamol and lie there googling liver damage when you should be trying to catch up on your sleep.

6.Piri bottle

If you have stitches peeing will sting like the worst case of cystitis you have ever had. Use a piri bottle to pour water over the whole area while you pee and it will alleviate the stinging.

7.Witch Hazel

I love witch hazel and have been using it for years as an all purpose cure all. You can add it to your piri bottle to prevent infection. Or pour some on a maxi pad, pop it in the freezer and they can be used an instant relief on your stitches. You’re welcome!

8.Tena lady pants and Always maxi pads

Heads up pregnant me, after birth you are going to bleed a lot. For weeks. In preparation I’d bought the disposable maternity pants, which were crap and maternity pads were useless and constantly peeling off. Next time I’m buying incontinence pads for the birth to avoid waddling around with a towel in between my legs. And post birth I’m going to use Always maxi pads because they are soft and the wings help them stay in place.

9.Bath tincture

My bestie Ros sent over a bottle of this bath tincture which was godsend. The daily soaks helped the whole area heal and provided a tiny oasis of me time in the middle of a baby soaked day and night. Welcome to motherhood, where baths are a luxury item.

10.Iron

I’m a vegetarian and I knew I had to keep an eye on my iron levels post birth. I started taking Spatone iron sachets just prior to giving birth and I’m sure they helped with exhaustion and with all the postpartum blood loss. However, they can cause constipation, and as many women get bunged up post birth make sure you take them with…

11.Dulcolax

When it comes to the post-labour poo, preparation is key my darling. Eat lots of fibre, take a stool softener and apply counter pressure.

12.Snacks

Sleep deprivation has a way of making anybody turn into the ravaging cookie monster from hell. Especially if you are breastfeeding. Luckily my mother-in-law bought ready meals every time she visited and snacks to devour one handed. These Graze boxes would be brilliant for those middle of the night snack fests.

13.A doorman

Sometimes people forget that behind every new baby is a mother recovering from the birth. I get it. Babies change so rapidly that even a day’s delay meeting them can feel huge. Looking back I wished I’d just lain naked in bed napping, feeding and staring at my new arrival. This would have definitely helped get breastfeeding established and cushioned the massive hormone crash I experienced. Instead I bustled around manically eager to show everybody I was OK – like an idiot. If I ever have another baby I am going to sleep and nest. Sleep and nest.

 

New mum’s anything I’ve missed that you’d include in your postpartum survival kit? Let me know in the comments.
Coming soon: the essential newborb and breastfeeding survival kits.

The third trimester of pregnancy – the waddling diaries

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I think this answers everything you need to know. But if I have one motto it’s why use ten words when you can use a gazillion?

If the first trimester was all about the FEELS, and the second trimester was all about the glow, the third trimester has been all about the waddle.

It happened so incrementally it took me a while to notice. But then I could no longer ignore the facts – I was waddling and it felt sooooo good. Once Nib’s head engaged into my pelvis it was like having a cannonball between my legs. The only solution to gradually widen my gait until I was rocking from side to side like a penguin. I am never* closing my legs again. (If *never= until this baby makes an appearance)

The questions

How do you think I feel?
How do you think I feel?

Before I got pregnant, I asked pregnant women the same questions. Questions I didn’t realise that were either a bit silly or they were probably getting asked ten million times a day. Now that I have been pregnant I have new questions. Questions which are definitely silly but they definitely won’t have been asked before. Winning!

The new questions:

I know being pregnant is a miracle but do you also feel at times like Kane out of Aliens?

How weird out of scale of 1 to 10 are your boobs?

Drinking your own breastmilk/eating your own placenta? Interesting experiment or cannibalism – discuss?

Is being pregnant how you expected it would be?

Tell me your craziest pregnant dream?

The old questions:

How are you feeling (with accompanying concerned face and side tilt)?

This always confuses me because *guilty mother face* a) sometimes I forget I am pregnant until I look down b) I am pregnant not ill so it takes a while to realise that’s what people are really asking about and not my general health so normally I answer ‘fine?’ creating a confused and awkward silence.

Are you excited or scared?

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Can’t I be both. Scated/excitred? We need new words. Also this feels like a trap for you to tell me about the horrendous experience your aunt/first cousin/ you had giving birth. Earlier in pregnancy I was tempted to lie down on the floor with a pillow over my head to avoid having to hear the stories. Now they don’t phase me at all. Frankly at this stage I’d be happy to push this baby out through my nostril.

When’s your due date?/what are you having/is it your first?

All great and relevant questions. Please ask me about my baby and I will bore on for Britain. But… my memory went the way of waist around three months ago and doesn’t seem like it will be making a reappearance anytime soon. I need to start wearing a sign around my neck saying ‘My due date is 13 January, I am having a boy and it’s my first baby.’ to make way for more exciting questions like who would win in a fight to the death, your baby or godzilla. Come on, he is the dark lord.

Have you had the baby yet?

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I’ve just started sending over this link to people. It doesn’t help that I have never been the most reliable correspondent so when I take my customary sweet time responding to text messages I get a follow-up message ‘Are you in labour?’

Trust me the first thing I will do after pushing this baby out, feeding him, cleaning him and having a well deserved lie down it update facebook to let everyone know he’s arrived. Yes, that was sarcastic.

I’ve noticed a recent change in how people relate to me. At around this stage you stop being worshipped as a glorious pregnancy goddess and instead become a chubby woman hoarding all the baby goodness for yourself. I feel as if I am one day away from my sister getting creative with a scalpel so for my sake Nibs you’d better make an appearance soon.

Making a baby bucket list

There comes a time in every pregnancy when you feel like you’ve been pregnant forever. You forget a time when you weren’t pregnant and you can’t imagine ever having this baby just getting bigger and more immobile, until you stop.

But at the back of your mind you know one way or another this baby is coming out. And you have a brief gap in your maternity leave before the babies to make the most of your last days fancy free.

Maternity leave may just be one of the most epically wonderful things I have ever experienced. Finally I have time to do all the pregnancy yoga, hypnobirthing, that I should have been doing all along. I am slightly worried that actually having a baby might eat into the blissful idyll of reading and napping. But how hard can having a baby be? (Lie to me parent-friends, I beg you.)

When I say make a baby bucket list I am not comparing having a baby to dying But in my limited experience becoming a mother involves one of biggest and sudden role transitions most of us will ever experience. And there are no take-backs.

For example, when I left the job I’d been in for seven years, I knew it was the right time. I was so ready to move onto pastures new. But at the same time, it had been my life for better or worse for seven years. So instead of rushing through that last month of notice, I slowed myself down. I went for lunch, I walked the boundaries of the campus, even during endless meetings with stroppy academics I was filled with such glorious nostalgia – that this was it.

So I wanted to do something similar to mark the transition from pregnant lady to mother. In typical Row fashion I made a list (in addition to my more practical pack your birth bag tasks) and over the last month or so I’ve been:

Making freezer meals

Week 33 – starting to pop

In a fruitless attempt to not spend the early months of motherhood living on chocolate and popcorn.

Read/watch brain taxing stuff…

I’ve been diligently working my way through books off the best off lists and watching documentaries like Making a Murderer while developing a serious crush on justice warrior Dean Strang.

But I’ve also been cueing up the Geordie Shore for when the baby is born.

Obsessively tidying and organising the nursery aka our spare room aka formerly HWSNBN’s office.

Tiny baby clothes you make my ovaries ache.

Go to the cinema

We saw the Hunger Games (which was fine) and Spectre – during which Nibs moving around so much I thought I had a bucking bronco in there. I had to get and go to toilet four times. (Note to self: never sit between a pregnant lady and the toilet in a cinema). Not because I needed to but because he.would.not.stop.moving Conclusion: he really really hates loud noises and/or Bond.

Eat somewhere very unbaby friendly

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Think white tablecloths, amuse bouches and marble surfaces. We went to 1847 a new vegetarian restaurant in Brighton and it was delicious

Visit friends without children and have conversations about anything not related to babies.

I have nothing against friends with children, it’s just that I had limited time and I knew that my friends with babies would understand post-baby distractable me. Whereas my friends without children might aspire to higher conversational standards than ‘look what I made.’

Not talking about babies is hard because, as evidenced by this blog, I can talk about babies for hours. HWSNBN and I can be having a perfectly innocuous conversation about dinner and within one sentence I can related it back to Nibs. It’s a talent. A very annoying talent, but he married me and knocked me up so he can’t back it out. It is also hard because well meaning friends can’t really ignore the elephant in the room aka me. But so far I’ve been out for dinner, brunch and walks by the sea.

Go out the house with just my purse and keys (thanks Sarah for this one)

Let’s face it babies and travelling light don’t really go together. So far I have managed to leave the house with just my keys forgetting my wallet. It was briefly liberating and then terrifying.

Spend time by yourself/with your other half

Truly recommend, this has been lovely.


Is there anything else I should add to the list bearing in mind I have the mobility of a small country and the energy of a sloth?

The waiting game

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How I thought I’d feel at this point

At the time of writing this, I’m a day over my due date. As friends and family will tell you I am one of the most impatient people they have ever met. At the beginning of this pregnancy I would have expected to be to swilling raspberry leaf tea and castor oil like it’s going out of fashion. But to my own surprise, I’m content to wait.

Don’t get me wrong. After all these months, I can’t wait to meet him, to hold him in my arms and to memorise the contours of his face. But I believe that babies have their own timescale and he is after all HWSNBN’s child

Partly I think I’m content to wait because unlike so many of my friends physically, at least, I’ve had such a relatively easy journey. OK, yes I bid goodbye to comfort at the end of the second trimester. My back feels like it will never be normal again, I need to pee every five minutes, turning over in bed is a Herculean struggle. But since I stopped working (after a brief scare with some of early symptoms of preeclampsia) things are a lot easier.

Pregnancy seems to have switched off the part of my brain that needs to fill every moment of each day. Instead my busy schedule consists of all the naps, worthy novels, and a very slow waddle round the block.

I also feel a bit melancholy that I am the end of this pregnancy. I began to believe that pregnancy might not happen for me and I remain so grateful for every moment – headbutts to the cervix and all. Nibs and I have never been apart and soon that will be coming to an end. Although I hope that I will have other babies, I know there are no guarantees and besides, it will be different then. And I worry, neurotically, because how could I ever love another being as much as I love him?

I feel as if I am braced at the top of precipice. Behind me is my old life, where I was responsible only for myself. Over the edge, shrouded in mist, is motherhood waiting for me. I’ve grown him and kept him safe this last year, but it’s time for him to emerge into this wide, wonderful and terrible world. I know once I dive, there will be no going back. So for now I am enjoying the hesitation before the fall – content to read, to nap, to cradle my ever-expanding belly and wait for the next chapter to begin.

The third trimester – the statistics

Week 30 - mini bump
Week 30 – mini bump
Week 33 – starting to pop
Week 36, the enbiggening
Week 36, the enbiggening
Week 40 - full term
Week 40 – full term

How far along: 40 weeks and one day. *Insert Rocky music here*

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Baby is the size of: A durian, actually. Feels like, a baby elephant dancing the macarena.

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Names: We have decided on a name. Which I am not telling, because it’s a lot harder to say I hate it to a little baby face than to mine.  

Bump: HUGE. So much so that I have caught my bump in a car door, the fridge, a small child, and taken out of a shelf in holland and barrett.

Symptoms: Boob sweat. Yeah, I said it.

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Peeing all the time with no warning.

Lack of sleep. I love that most people’s advice is sleep now. *Side eyes* With the peeing and having to rearrange the great wall of pillows around me every time I shift getting a restful night’s sleep is a distant memory. It’s Ok though. I can catch up on sleep when the baby arrives.

Being really, really ridiculously emotional. Which was especially hard as my job involves immersing myself in human misery and towards the end I just could not absorb any more bad things

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Things I Can’t Handle On Any Emotional Level (a short and not exhaustive list): the news, Making a Murderer, orphaned animals, orphans, injustice in any form, Adele songs, and Pixar movies. Just thinking about the ending to Toy Story 3 is too much to bear.

Boy or girl: A boy.

Cravings:  Nothing except for one brief night where I needed liquorice immediately and made HWSNBN drive me to the shops where I ate a massive pack of the Allsorts spitting out the coloured bits. Classy.

Anything making you feel queasy: Just when memories of first trimester ickiness are fading heartburn arrives to spoil the party.

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Maternity clothes: I am so bored of wearing the same three things that vaguely fit and don’t make me look like a house. I am living in trakkie bottoms

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Don’t get me started on why so many maternity clothes involve stripes because that’s what every pregnant women wants to look wider around her bump. Just don’t.

Miss anything: Seeing my feet.

Sleep, oh blessed sleep.

Being able to pick things up. Pregnancy klutziness and the inability to bend means I am constantly leaving a trail of discarded items in my wake. Or if HWSNBN is there making a distressed sound like bird cheeping until he comes to pick it up for me.

Next stop, motherhood. Eeek!

The second trimester of pregnancy – bring on the rainbows and unicorns!

The second trimester of pregnancy – bring on the rainbows and unicorns!

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Is the second trimester, the best trimester?

After months of tireless research – I can conclude categorically that yes, yes it is. Or it was at least for me. The first trimester was characterised by exhaustion, secrecy and fear/excitement. The third trimester has so far been filled with miscellaneous aches and pains, gradually getting more cumbersome and with shit getting real. But I had high hopes for the second trimester. Other pregnant women talked about it so reverently as if rainbows beam out of your ears and you spend it riding a giant unicorn. The second trimester is when you felt your baby move, finally stopped vomming and falling asleep or vomming while falling asleep (FUN!) and you might even… glow!

How I expected pregnancy to make me look. How pregnancy actually makes me look.
How I expected pregnancy to make me look.  How pregnancy actually makes me look.

 

I was slightly disappointed when at midnight on week 14 I didn’t magically start feeling as if I was starring in a tampon commercial. But sometime through week 16, I went to bed at 10.30pm. Considering that previously I had been struggling to keep my eyes open past 8.30pm and this was akin to going out to an all night rave. Gradually, I began to feel more like a human being. And then even better energised. I was suddenly filled with a manic urge to clean all the things. In a period HWSNBN characterised as the week of hell as he woke up to find his pregnant wife obsessively wiping down skirting boards and culling all possessions.

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It helped that the second trimester fell over the summer holidays when for the first time in three years I was only working one job. It meant that I had time. Time to go swimming, to read and just stare at my expanding belly and to day dream about meeting Nibs.

During the second trimester I felt amazing – energised, potent and powerful. I wish that I could have bottled that feeling like liquid energy was coursing through my veins. Everything was easy and nothing hurt. At times I’d even forget I was pregnant as I whizzed around ticking tasks off my to do list.

Emotionally, although I still had days when I felt anxious, I finally allowed myself to get excited about being pregnant and even bought a couple of small things for Nibs. Earlier this year I had been working on accepting that although I was determined to become a mother I may not be able to biologically carry a child. Mourning the dream of growing this little being inside me was the only way I felt I could start to move forward and step off the roller coaster of hope and despair. But just when I had given up hope – it happened.

It took a while to recover from the emotional whiplash of ‘this dream might never happen’ vs ‘this is happening. NOW.’ As I said in my last post about pregnancy a big part of me will never feel completely comfortable and safe until I hold my baby in my arms. But as each week passed and each milestone with it, I began to relax more and more. 

At 17 weeks, I finally gathered up my courage and came out of the pregnancy closet. The outpouring of love and well wishes from friends who knew how we had been struggling made me cry – but in a good way. I’d say this was unusual but due to pregnancy hormones that week I also cried about swans, an advert for chocolate, and after stubbing my toe. Note to self, buy shares in Kleenex, preggo.

The kraken wakes

The latest scan photos of our baby
The latest scan photos of our baby

One of the most reassuring things was starting to feel Nibs move at around 18 weeks. I’d been feeling flutterings for a couple of weeks but convinced myself I was imagining it. But then HWSNBN felt it too. ‘It’s like fish in a balloon’ he said. And it was at first so light and airy like a swarm of teeny minnows inside me. At night I’d lie flat in bed, hands pressed to my tummy feeling the teeny shifts of movements. The midwife was incredibly surprised I could feel him so early as my placenta was anterior, acting like a massive cushion. As he grew the movements felt more distinctive. I could feel him rolling from side to side like a kraken emerging from the depths. He’d turn over suddenly and I’d feel that sensation like I was poised at the top of a rollercoaster waiting for it to drop. Feelings Nibs move was like having the best secret in the world especially as I still didn’t look visibly pregnant. To everybody else I looked normal but it felt like a miracle was happening within me that my baby and I were communicating in a language only we knew. 

Scans will never not be terrifying. Fact

When I feel scared I take selfies, fact
When I feel scared I take selfies, fact

After the relief of our 12 week scan, I was expecting to feel less nervous ahead of our 20 week anomaly scan. But as we drove there I wanted to throw up. I already knew that if our baby had a disability I would continue with the pregnancy. I remain firmly pro-choice but having a sister that was disabled and the light of my life meant it just didn’t seem an option for me. But what if our baby had a condition that was incompatible with life? How could I choose to keep going with the pregnancy knowing my child might live briefly and die in pain? All I could do was hope that this agonising choice was not one I would have to make.

As I lay down on bed and saw the first images of our baby on the screen I could tell the sonographer was tense. Unlike before the view was murky like seeing everything through a veil. And as she barked out measurements to her colleague I clutched HWSNBN’s hand tighter and tighter. Even he, the eternal optimist, was looking nervous. The numbers might as well have been in latin for all the sense they made to me. OK so he had kidneys but the fact they were measuring X. Was that good or bad?

I lay there feeling sicker and sicker as she frowned at the screen. Finally, she finished her measurements and I couldn’t keep silent any longer – ‘Is it all looking OK?’

A big pause.

‘Yeees, from everything I can see it looks normal. But…’

But?!

‘Because of your placenta’ (aka the massive cushion) ‘and the babies positioning’ (lying with arms crossed over their chest like Dracula) ‘I can’t get as good a view of the heart as I would like. From what I can see it looks fine but I need a better view and I don’t want to take any chances. Let’s get you in three weeks time when he’s a bit bigger and we’ll look again.’

As we left the room I made a conscious decision that I was not going to worry about it more than I could help. To my surprise I managed to do just that.

Three weeks later we returned and despite our little bat baby lying arms firmly crossed over their chest, after a bit of judicious hip sambaing and one very indignant baby later we could see that they DID have a heart after all.

Insider revelations on being the mother to the dark lord

Nib's new home

‘You know, Dana, there are many perks to being the mother of a living god.’

During the scan the sonographer zoomed in on Nib’s face to check for a cleft palate.

‘There is your babies face.’ She said obviously expecting cooing. But out of the gloaming, gulping amniotic fluid appeared a face. It was the kind of face only a mother can love. It was the kind of face that suggested a career with a cape and an amulet of fire. It was the kind of skeletal face, noseless, empty staring eye sockets that suggested that maybe I was carrying the dark lord.

Evidence for that I am the mother to the dark lord

  • Nibs likes to hang upside down like a bat
  • Nibs sleeps with their arms crossed over their chest. Like Dracula
  • Nib’s favourite activity is to kick mummy in the ribs, or head-butt her in the bladder – especially when she needs a wee.
  • As soon as I became pregnant a tower started being built on Brighton sea front. Every evil overlord needs a palace of doom afterall.

Evidence against that I am the mother to the dark lord

  • No familiar or evil sidekick has appeared. Yet.

Some might expect me to be disconcerted at that fact that I am carrying the dark incarnation of evil in my womb. Frankly I am rather excited as the dark lord position comes with a good pension and built in social life, if you like orcs. Let’s face it no matter what happens Nibs will always be mummy’s little precious and only allowed to take over the world after they’ve had tea and is wearing a vest.

Boy/Girl/Unicorn

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I always knew from early on in this pregnancy I wanted to find out whether I was having a boy or girl. I completely understand why people might want to keep it a surprise. But after all the uncertainty of trying to conceive, I knew that I needed every bit of information I could get about this baby. The more I knew about our baby the more this pregnancy began to feel real to me.

After the scan we decided to throw a small celebratory party for friends and family who had been so supportive throughout the whole journey to conceive. To add to excitement we decided to make it a gender reveal party. The name bothered me because although we knew Nib’s biological sex his or her gender wasn’t something we could prescribe. But holding a sex reveal party for friends and family sounded SO WRONG so gender reveal party it was.

Before the scan I tried pout a number of old wives tales. The ‘evidence’ was conclusive, we were having a boy. Except both HWSNBN and I were convinced we were having a girl. Except for that one dream I had pesky about rocking my baby boy in my arms while he gurgled up at me. We even had a girl’s name we had tentatively agreed on. Before we went into the scan, I said semi jokingly let’s hope it’s a girl so the great name war of 2015 remains concluded.

Anybody who has ever met me knows that my skill for guessing the sex of unborn babies is uncanny. As in uncannily I have 100 per cent record of getting it completely wrong – a record that remains intact. Because, yep we are having a little boy.

Is there anything more unappetising than blue food?
Is there anything more unappetising than blue food?

The second trimester – the statistics

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How far along: 27 weeks

Baby is the size of: Cauliflower. Comparing the baby to the size of fruit short-circuits HWSNBN’s scientific brain.

Week 19 and starting to pop
Week 19 and starting to pop
Week 27, see ya later feet
Week 27, see ya later feet

Names: Nibs, Nibbisicle, His Nibs, the dark lord, the long awaited one. We are completely stuffed for boys names and at this point there is a strong possibility our baby might remain ‘It’ for eternity. Then again Voldemort Sauron Vigo has a nice ring to it, no?

Bump: Growing. I still feel like I fit firmly into the baby or cake camp. Depending on what clothes I wear I can go from looking very pregnant to like I enjoy a bourbon biscuit or 60. I still forget I am pregnant and when I catch myself out of the corner of my eye have a seriously Row put down the cake moment and then remember doh you’re pregnant

Symptoms: Slight back ache as my bump grows bigger.

Amazing and uncanny sense of smell. Combined with a constantly blocked nose, thanks pregnancy sinitusis. This has had one unexpected benefit – for the first year in a long time I’ve skipped all those seasonal colds.

Ability to burn in the moonlight. Thanks lack of melanin that has suddenly made me feel a lot of sympathy for pale people.

Insomnia. Just when I had regained my energy I started waking at 5am each morning filled with thoughts like ‘how can I fix the world in three months?’ ‘Should I cut my hair?’ ‘What is the difference between walnut and pecans anyway?’ You know important shit like that. HWSNBN thinks this is nature’s way of preparing me from the sleepless nights post birth. I think this proves that nature is a bitch.

Boy or girl: A boy. 

Cravings: Cauliflower cheese.

Milk

All the carbs.

Anything making you feel queasy: Luckily what queasiness I had seems to have abated. But eating too much can make me feel overfull and sick so I have to eat little and often like a small woodland creature. Dessert is no longer an option. This is dark times indeed my friends.

Maternity clothes: Thanks to eBay I now have some maternity clothes which I am mixing with my more floating normal dresses. So far I’ve been unimpressed with maternity fashion which remains both expensive and unfashionable.

Sleep: Less than before especially at 5am…

Miss anything: Crack.

I jest. Nope, so far I am loving being pregnant.

Next stop, the third trimester…

The agony and the ecstasy of the first trimester – pregnancy after infertility

The agony and the ecstasy of the first trimester – pregnancy after infertility

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(Editors note: I wrote bits of this between weeks 8-10. I’m now at week 25. By my reckoning this means I’ll publish a post about the second trimester just before I’m due to give birth. Let’s just say pregnancy hasn’t made me any more together…)

I didn’t allow myself to dream about what would happen after I finally became pregnant. It seemed needlessly cruel. Like dreaming about completing a marathon when I was hobbling around on a broken leg.

If you’d pressed me back then I would have been certain of one thing if I was able to become pregnant I’d be happy. Can anybody say destination fallacy?

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It’s hard to put into words what I felt when I saw those much longed for two lines back in May. Utter disbelief that maybe this was finally happening. A surge of excitement bubbling beneath my skin as I visualised my baby as tiny as sesame seed. And a fear so sharp I could taste it in my mouth that this baby would be taken away from me.

But happy? No, I didn’t feel even a little bit happy, not at all. That would come later. In those early stages I would swing between these feelings in an emotionally exhausting rollercoaster that I confided in very few people about because it seemed like spitting in the face of my good fortune. There were brief intervals in between where I felt with a weird certainty that everything would be OK. And even moments when I would forget I was pregnant altogether.

(Don’t get me wrong – getting pregnant has been and remains one of the best moments of my life to date. It’s just that like so many big moments such as getting married it wasn’t anything like I had expected it to be.)

I read a lot beforehand about the hellish physical symptoms of the first trimester but *whisper it* I loved my physical symptoms. I loved that feeling of exhaustion so deep that I needed a nap from just getting up and putting on my clothes. I loved the waves of nausea and over sensitivity to smells. I loved how excruciatingly sore my boobs were that wind could make me wince. Because each symptom was like a message from my body signifying it was doing something, that it was busily working to sustain the life growing within me.

Me trying not to vom/fall asleep on things. This is my happy face. Promise
Me trying not to vom/fall asleep on things. This is my happy face. Promise

But for a lifelong control freak this was terrifying too. My body was doing all of this without any conscious effort from me, so it could just as easily stop without any conscious effort from me.

I was very aware of the statistics and that my fear was rooted in facts. In the first trimester, the average woman has 20-30% chance of miscarrying and those statistics are higher for women with PCOS. Every time I went to the toilet I was on knicker watch for signs of blood. I took a pregnancy test every week and that three minute wait to see the results crawled by agonising slow. One dreadful evening midway through working with clients I started cramping so badly I was convinced the pain would show on my face. Later in bed the pain was so bad my breath felt halted and contained. I turned to HWSNBN and told him that this was it. The worst thing was the sense of relief I felt, I’d been waiting for something awful to happen and here it was. Now it was over I could deal. (It wasn’t. Thank god, it wasn’t)

The only thing that helped during those early weeks was to try and not look ahead and just focus one day at a time. Each day that passed with my symptoms intact felt like a victory. And although the spectre of the missed miscarriage hung over me, I tried as much as I could to not think about worse case scenarios.

I thought, naively, that getting pregnant would heal the wounds of those years of trying fruitlessly to have a baby. But it seemed like I carried a parcel of that old anxiety with me. I’d forgotten that it was the hope (that two week wait) that hurt the most. And the first trimester is that two week wait on steroids.

Compared to so many other couples struggling to conceive we had it easy. Our journey was not particularly long or medically invasive or full of loss like some of my friends. But when you’re in the midst of infertility you don’t know if you will conceive next month or never. Living in limbo never gets easier and it had left it’s mark.

I don’t know if women whose journey to conceive was easier felt like this – the barely controlled panic. Knowing myself as I do I expect even if my journey to conceive had been less rocky I still would have felt a certain measure of anxiety. It’s always been in my nature to distrust good fortune and look to the sky not for rainbows but approaching comets. But I felt so jealous of the women who on getting that first positive pregnancy test were able to skip out and buy babies shoes, who shared the news widely, who said with confidence that their baby was due in January. I realised midway through the first trimester with a kind of mourning that my experience of pregnancy will never have that optimistic certainty that everything will be OK. Until I hold my healthy baby in my arms I will always be waiting with baited breath to pass the next milestone, to have the next scan, to feel the baby move – to exhale just a teeny bit.

For me it felt like pregnancy was a skittish woodland animal that I would scare away if I make any sudden movements at it. The only thing I wanted to do in these early weeks is curl up under the bed in a pile of blankets and not move or do anything. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for my reclusive instincts I was juggling three jobs at the time so I had no choice but to keep going. Although everything else stopped as I realising that powering through my exhaustion was no longer an option.

Post dating scan faces
Post dating scan faces

I felt in limbo – I didn’t belong in the world of the happy pregnant women but neither was I a member of the infertile club anymore.

The worst thing was not the physical symptoms or anxiety but the guilt. Complaining about pregnancy after infertility feels like a person who was dying of dehydration bitching that there is a fly in their champagne. I felt extraordinarily guilty that I wasn’t enjoyed this privileged experience I had longed for and fought for. I had so many friends who would long to be in this position and instead of enjoying it I was worrying.

The guilt was insidious. I was very aware of how hard it can be to hear pregnancy announcements especially if you are struggling with infertility. And that my joy might inadvertently hurt somebody because they so desperately want to be in my shoes and they aren’t. One of the reasons I wanted to be open and honest about the fear (as well as the excitement) of getting pregnant is because to help other future woman going through this feel less isolated. Just as reading how other women felt and realising I wasn’t alone helped me immeasurably.

The guilt is still there but it was lessened when around week 11 I realised I as much as any other women have the right to feel whatever I feel around this pregnancy. And that’s it’s OK to feel afraid, as well as blessed, to flip between the certainty that everything will go wrong, and the wish that everything goes right. Sometimes it’s OK to focus on surviving a new experience rather than thriving. And day by day, hour by hour somehow I made it to that first scan. When the sonographer said ‘There’s your baby. And that’s it’s heart beating’ and I saw strong but clear the rhythmic thud of Nib’s heart – there was the happiness I’d been seeking like the sun coming out after a storm.

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The first trimester – the statistics

How far along: 13 weeks

Baby is the size of: A peach

Names: Just a nickname: Nibs.

Bump: A teeny one. But I’m sure it’s pregnancy bloat rather than pregnancy belly. 

Week 8
Week 8 – bloated
PicMonkey Collage 11
Week 11 – so, so tired

Symptoms: I realised early on that I have been so focused on getting pregnant, that I have almost no knowledge of what happens when you are pregnant. This means I have spent most of the first trimester consulting Dr Google with questions like:

What is going on with my boobs and why do I want to cut a bitch when she brushes past me? What is leukomania and why is it so gross? Why do I feel like I have two corks stuffed up my nose – permanently?

The biggest surprise has been the exhaustion. I expected to feel sick, I didn’t expect to feel like I had glandular fever. But every pregnancy symptom feels like a gift at this point. Bring it on body.

Boy or girl: Team unicorn all the way! That’s an option right? I have managed to horrify a good number of well-meaning people who have asked what I’m hoping for, by responding without thinking ‘a live one.’

Cravings: Milk. Milkshakes. Milk on cereal. Milk by the galloon. I’m guessing the baby needs calcium

Lemons in any form – squeezed on salad, or vegetables and fresh lemonade. But and this is important not at the same time as the milk. That would be gross.

Anything making you feel queasy: Sweet things. Quorn. Anything complicated. Pregnancy has reduced me to toddler tastes

Maternity clothes: One of the benefits of losing a shit-ton of weight before getting pregnant means that my larger clothes will last me a while before I have to buy maternity clothes. Even so waistbands are not my friend and I cannot bear anything tight so all my jeans have been packed away. My lovely SIL has gifted me with some of her maternity clothes and my favourite pick is sleep bras. AMAZEBALLS.

Sleep: All the time, at every moment of every day.

Best moment this week: having the scan and realising that little Nibs is a) in there and not a deluded figment of my imagination b) that his/her heart is beating c) and that they are measuring perfectly on schedule.

Miss anything: No, I am so beyond grateful to be pregnant even the extreme tiredness is welcome. Check back in the third trimester and we’ll see if I’m still singing from the same hymn sheet

33 years today

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I’m 33 years old today.

Birthdays have changed over the years. As a kid it was all about big parties, jelly and ice cream, and suspiciously always winning pass the parcel. In my teens it was sleepovers, sweets and sharing secrets. In my twenties it was booze, bar hopping and besties. Now I’m in my thirties it’s about museums, family and cake. Lots of cake.

No matter what decade one thing has remained constant – my birthday is the one day of the year where it’s all about me!

But I get the feeling that will be changing soon.

It’s been no secret I’ve dreaded the last couple of birthdays. And I find that hard. I never wanted to be the kind of person who dreaded getting older. Getting older is a privilege many would give anything for. But losing Lianne has meant it’s hard not to look back and be conscious of the void opening between us as I get older and she stays forever frozen at 30.

This year it’s different.  For the first time in three years I’m filled with excitement that it’s my birthday and hope for the future. You see, all being well, 33 is the age I will become a mother.

I feel like I’m standing at the edge of a precipice. I know what before looks like: the lazy afternoons on the sofa, the freedom to go wherever and whenever I choose, the days rare but real when it’s all about me.

I have no idea what after looks like. All I know is that next year there will be other birthdays and other little people who come first always. I can’t wait. Bring it on 33!