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.

Birth, motherhood and me

So I had a baby! And as expected I have many thoughts about birth, motherhood, and babies.

On birth

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Birth is like an event horizon. When you’re pregnant for the first time, it is almost impossible to visualise what lies beyond it. But one of the things I forgot is even if I was exceptionally unlucky, at most it would be 72 hours out of my life. I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the birth. I wish I had thought more about what would happen afterwards.

As a mum-to-be you hear a LOT of labour horror stories. Looking back now, it’s amazing how much of my memory of the labour has faded replaced by what came afterwards. Yes, it was painful but I had a baby at the end of it.

I find it interesting how much of being ready to give birth is about physical readiness versus psychological readiness. I spent the day before I went into labour sewing Nib’s mobile. ‘It’s the last thing on my maternity leave to do list.’ I announced brightly to HWSNBN. Somewhere in my head a tick had been placed on the list and there was just one last item:
Have a baby.

I woke up at 1am contracting three minutes apart. But I’d had Braxton Hicks for days so I wasn’t sure this was it. Then half an hour later I turned over in bed and my waters broke with a sudden pop and I knew it was time.

Our NCT teacher told us your waters breaking wasn’t like in the movies – it just a trickle. DUDE, it was exactly like in the movies. It felt like I had Niagara falls in my knickers and out of the biological indignities that were to come it was almost the grossest.

The grossest was the vomiting. Imagine having a contraction, perhaps the worse pain you have ever experienced and as you are trying to breathe your way through it you projectile vomit. Again. The midwives were thrilled ‘open mouth, open cervix’. I was less than happy. I’d never imagined I’d met my child covered in green bile. But nobody ever said labour was glamourous.

As somebody whose always been self conscious about her body I worried beforehand about how I would feel lots of strangers seeing it. I can’t count how many people saw my poonani, nor did I care.

I had gathered together so many supplies for my birth – aromatherapy oils, playlists and birth balls. What I actually wanted was a dark room, a bucket to throw up in, to be on all fours, and for HWSNBN to push on my spine so hard it gave him bruises.

Which brings us to… back labour. From the moment I woke up contracting and felt that Nibs, after being in the optimal position since week 20, had turned so his back was grinding up against mine, I knew I was in for a rocky ride. Back labour feels like the baby is trying to exit via your spine. It isn’t only extraordinarily painful but the pressure is almost unbearable and it turns out is visible from the outside. HWSNBN described afterwards as like a scene from alien as my coccyx pulsated and bulged outwards.

There are lots of things you can do to try and turn a back to back baby. I tried them all (not knowing that he had the cord tangled around him and he was stuck). Being in the birth pool helped for a bit. Being in on all fours helped for a while. But as he descended I began having back to back contractions. I would breathe my way over the hill of a contraction and just as the pain began to fade the intensity would slam back up to the peak again. I was getting tired and we had a choice. Stay at home for another hour and try and turn him or transfer to hospital. I asked to be examined. If I was in transition I’d stay at home and bear it out. But I was only six centimetres. I cried, despite the midwives comforting me. Six centimetres at home in this time was amazing, they said. But I was done – we made the decision to transfer.

Before labour in our long discussions I’d asked HWSNBN to be my advocate as I have been known to be less than assertive. But apparently (I have no memory of this) when everybody was milling around the ambulance, they kept offering me pillows and water for the journey, I snapped ‘JUST DRIVE.’ They did.

Putting my clothes on and leaving the house was hell. I had to stop for each contraction. I kept my eyes closed in the ambulance. And I didn’t even care as people stared at me as I waddled through A + E or in the lift up to the labour ward as I panted sucking on the gas and air.

In hospital I had an epidural which alleviated some of the pain but none of the pressure – thanks back labour! However, the contractions began to space out so I could breathe in between them.

It became clear that the baby wasn’t coping very well as his heartbeat was dipping during contractions. I could tell that the doctors and midwives were worried. All I could do was lie there helpless and ask over and over again ‘Is my baby OK?’ 

A lot of the things I worried would happen did. I got transferred to hospital, the pain was, at times, so unbearable I lost control during contractions, I tore. But in the end only one thing mattered that my baby was safe and well. When his heartbeat kept dipping, if a scalpel had been in reach I would have cut him out myself.

My labour was short by first labour standards at around 20 hours. But it felt like no time at all – the day a brief window of light before the darkness fell again. Midwives kept changing shifts and I’d look at the clock and see that hours had passed.

In labour the world retreats. The room had one of the best views over Brighton but I barely saw it. There was nothing but this small room, this breath in between contractions, this baby and me working together so he could be born.

You never forget the midwives who delivered your child. During the long night and day and night I was in labour we had lots of different midwives. I was so glad that it was the last two who delivered my baby. They were brilliant, compassionate, open about what was going on, and so encouraging as I pushed the baby out.

As the baby was getting so tired and his heart wasn’t returning to normal in between contractions, they gave me half an hour to push him out. I put my chin down and focused. Although I knew that after an epidural it can be harder to push – there was no doubt in my mind that I could do this. One advantage of having back labour was I always felt the pressure of baby. And as I began pushing I could feel the baby moving down with each push and even when he finally flipped round the right way in my pelvis. As he was crowning and I was panting through the stinging, doctors barrelled into the room with a gurney. They took one look in between my legs, told me to ‘Good job, carry on!’ And left again.  

As soon as I saw him I knew it would be OK. He was silent, a colour not found in nature and a midwife was furiously palpitating his back as the other worked the cord free as it tangled around his neck. I cried and I think they thought it was because I was worried. I wasn’t. I knew he was OK, in a weird way deep down in my bones. I cried because he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

They put him in my arms and we just stared at each other and I thought ‘Oh, there you are.’ There was an immediate feeling of recognition, like running into somebody beloved I had not seen for centuries. He was tiny, blanched white and smelt of clementines. His eyes were universe dark and he had an expression like he’d been here before. We stared at each other for hours and he didn’t make a sound.

I pushed out the placenta, they sewed me up, people came and went but HWSNBN and I just stared at this perfect being we’d made and he stared back in a trifecta of love.

On postpartum

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Apres the birth was the biggest high, followed by the deepest come down of my life. There were moments of being caught up in the most blissful love bubble ‘Look what we made. I love him so much my body can barely contain it.’ and moments of being snagged on the rocks of despair ‘This is so hard. I can’t do this. I’m a shit mum.’

I didn’t think motherhood would be easy. But when I imagined it I saw it through the filter of  pre-baby me. Well rested, non bruised and not on a hormone crash from hell me.

A friend described it best when she said postpartum is like being in a car crash and then being handed the most precious and fragile being you ever saw and told not to drop him. How can you look after somebody else when you need looking after yourself?

As we walked up to the postnatal ward, I heard another mum being bought in howling. Just the sound of another woman in labour made me feel like I was going to throw up again.

Word up to all the expectant mothers, even if you don’t tear you’re going to feel bruised and tender for at least ten days post birth. Good thing you’re not going to be spending a huge amount of time sitting on your behind breastfeeding a newborn. Oh… wait. To add to the mix I had a huge purple bruise from where Nib’s head had engaged in a prolonged battle with my spine, that meant putting any pressure on my back was toe-curlingly painful. Breastfeeding involved arranging an elaborate system of pillows and a piles cushions around and under me while the baby howled for his dinner.

Ah, the post labour poo. Read this mamas-to-be and god be with you.

Good friends bring pressies for the baby. Amazing friends send pressies for the baby and for you. My lovely fairy godmother Ros sent me a postpartum package including tinctures and arnica, cool packs and a savoy cabbage. Yes, really. It was hands down the best present I received.

Night sweats – because what every woman wants to do with less than ideal pelvic floor control post birth is ask herself the question in the middle of the night ‘Is that puddle I’m lying in pee or sweat?’

I expected to get postpartum depression (ever the optimist). I didn’t. What I did experience was postpartum anxiety. It did not last long but it felt endless at the time. A lifelong sleepaholic I suddenly had horrific insomnia my thoughts racing so fast I could not follow them. I jumped at every sound convinced that there was something wrong with my baby. After a couple of days of me not sleeping more than an hour at a time, HWSNBN took Nibs in the other room promising to bring him in for feeds. But every time I closed my eyes I heard the baby crying. Yet whenever I went to check, he was fast asleep. ‘He’s OK.’ HWSNBN would tell me. But I could not shake the conviction that he wasn’t and that I had to be hypervigilant to prevent anything from happening to him.

The insomnia did not help. My baby was sleeping, my husband was sleeping but I could not sleep except when the exhaustion grabbed and I fell into darkness for a hour or so. I haunted the flat like a little ghost. During one conversation in the middle of the night I realised I was so sleep deprived it felt like I was having a stroke. I could tell I wasn’t making sense but I couldn’t articulate that thought. I could not articulate anything.

Day fucking five really sucked. Mention into the other mums and you get the shudder of been there, endured the hormone crash. In perfect storm of shittiness events conspired to make mine pretty awful.

Picture the scene me manic from not sleeping more than a hour at a time when the midwife comes to weigh the baby. I’d expected that he would have lost some weight. He was still quite jaundiced, sleepy and had to be woken to feed and throughout the feed. But the night before he’d fed almost constantly – surely he was starting to put weight back on? I knew as soon as she placed him on the scales that something was wrong. ‘He’s lost too much weight.’ But he was feeding constantly the night before, I said. ‘Yes, he was feeding constantly because there wasn’t enough milk. We need to see how much milk you’re creating and make a plan to get his weight back up and if that doesn’t work we’ll admit him into hospital.’ I pumped and we stared at the measly amount of milk that dribbled out and then she wrote out a plan: breastfeeding every three hours, expressing breast milk and then supplementing with formula. I could barely hear her at this point over the siren blare of my baby is starving and it’s all my fault.

After she left, HWSNBN was sent out to get formula and pumping equipment. ‘You’ll be OK?’ He asked as I stood in the doorway, rocking the baby and weeping. There was nobody I could call to come sit with me. My family were over the other side of the world. His were an hour and a half away. And as I tried to feed Nibs it became clear that the milk wasn’t coming. I felt like the shittest mum ever. How could I have missed that he was starving? He cried frantically until his little body was exhausted and he fell asleep in my arms. This was the nadir.

HWSNBN and I embarked on the fatten the baby up plan. I’d breastfeed on one side and express on the other while HWSNBN fed me sips of water and food. After the baby had finished we’d offer him the milk I’d expressed earlier and then formula if he was still hungry. Before setting an alarm to wake up in an hour and half and do it again. I remember it being hard but I also remember the love and that feeling of being on the same team.

I’ve always been notoriously talented at hiding when things are wrong. My leg could be hanging off and I would still insist that I was ‘Fine. Oh that? It’s nothing. Tell me about you?’ Birth robbed me of that skill – I lost my filter entirely. I sent out messages into the ether to my friends spilling my emotional guts. The responses, ah me, they make me want to cry even now. They were so lovely. In my vulnerability came honesty and connection. Sadly the filter is firmly back in place now. This is one thing I miss from the postpartum period.

Weigh in day arrived. The midwives wanted to see a weight gain of 60 otherwise we’d be admitted to hospital. Luckily the January genes for putting on a shit-ton of weight are strong and he had gained 300. I tried and failed to not cry on the midwife.

Like it had never been the anxiety began to fade and I slept for three blessed hours in a row and it was wonderful. I’m not sure why it went. Was it simply hormonal and the hormones had began to fade? Or was it emotional? It wasn’t until the midwives told me that my baby wasn’t putting on weight that I realised I had been carrying the fear from the birth that my baby was not OK. Plan fatten baby up gave me somewhere to challenge my anxiety and like that it dissipated. Looking back I realise how lucky I was in comparison to other women whose babies were seriously unwell. But at the time my anxiety seemed so real, so valid.

On breastfeeding

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I thought breastfeeding would be as simple as take boob, pop boob in babies mouth, baby feeds – done. Insert hollow laughter here.

Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I have ever done. None of it was easy. In the first three weeks I cried almost daily about how hard it was. The temptation to say fuck it and only give him formula was almost overwhelming. But a small voice inside me said just try another day and I did.

If I wasn’t supported in the people around me I would not have persisted. From the kind midwife who suggested giving him a tiny bit of expressed milk to satiate his hunger, then breastfeeding him when he was so hangry he refused to latch. To all the other women my friends and at the breastfeeding clinics who said yes breastfeeding is really, really hard but it gets better. To HWSNBN who did everything so I could feed our baby. From bringing me endless glasses of water and food, to changing nappies and taking him around the park so I could give my sore boobs a rest. And for encouraging me to keep going when things were tough.

The first challenge I faced when it came breastfeeding was physics. Nibs was born on the small side and my boobs are anything but small. He’s seven weeks old now and much to my little sister’s amusement my boobs still dwarf his head.

The second challenge was genetics, I was the most uncoordinated person I know until I met… my son. Latching was like trying to touch opposing magnets. In the early weeks it would take up to half an hour and HWSNBN’s help to get him to latch. Where he would feed for a couple of minutes and fall asleep, and then the whole process started again.

The third challenge was medical. I have PCOS which means that my breastmilk supply is lower than average . Nibs like many babies had jaundice which equates to one sleepy baby who doesn’t really want to feed. As breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, having a sleepy baby who didn’t really want to feed meant my already low supply dwindled further.

My boobs the day milk came in two words: rock tits.

They say breastfeeding isn’t meant to be painful. Seriously? Tell that to my fucking nipples. It gets less painful as your nipples get more desentised but still sometimes when he latched I have to count to ten.

Getting newborn to latch is like trying to put a sock on a snake.
‘Hey baby, here’s the nipple.’
Baby turns head in the opposite direction.
‘Baby the nipple, it’s here.’
Baby bobs frantically headbutting nipple.
Baby manages to get nipple in his mouth (yay), and his hand too (no).
Baby latches on and while latched whips his head back and forth still searching for the nipple. Yep Nipple whiplash, it’s a thing.

Years ago I read about Melanie Klein’s theory of the good/bad breast and the concept of splitting. I thought it was bullshit. But Klein was right on. Sometimes Nibs loves the boob and sometimes he hates it. Being a mother is about being able to withstand both.

The breastfeeding books speak about being in a comfortable position. But I’d stay contorted in the most awkward positions because I had finally got him to latch and who cared that I was bent double over my baby. And if the remote control was out of reach well, love meant enduring Jeremy Kyle.

I’ve breastfeed through thrush, engorgement, blocked milk ducts (twice), cracked nipples… I’m just waiting for mastisis and then I’ll have the full set.

In some ways, having to introduce a bottle so early was a blessing in disguise. It has meant that HWSNBN can feed the baby and have that bonding time together. Even better it means I get a blessed hour off. Bliss

The best thing about my breastfeeding app. It tells me how long I’ve been feeding for and which breast I last fed from. The worst thing about my breastfeeding app it tells me how long I’ve been feeding for. 8 and a half hours! No wonder my arse is numb.

Cluster feeding was demoralising as hell and it hit in week three just as HWSNBN headed back to work. Unless HWSNBN or his mother were there, I couldn’t eat, or wee or even take a sip of water. I didn’t leave the house for days because he would not stop feeding and as he was finally putting on weight I did not want to interrupt him. He still cluster feeds at night but it isn’t all day so I am so thankful for it.

I quickly learnt to prioritise in those brief moments when I wasn’t physically attached to Nibs. Have a wee, drink water, eat something and perhaps if you’re really lucky nap. Fuck housework.

Some babies are into fast food. Feeding my baby is like trying to feed a narcoleptic drunk gourmand who ordered the fucking tasting menu goddamn it and he will finish it. Even if it takes him three hours actual time (thirty minutes effective feeding time) A sample feed looks like this.
Feed frantically for four minutes.
Fall asleep.
Get put down.
Howls indignantly.
Come back for a two minute soupcon.
Fall asleep while possetting on self. Handed to daddy.
Howls while rooting on daddy’s nose.
Repeat until mummy declares the boob restaurant is closed. Baby does not understand language yet so ignores this.

Stuff Nibs hates:
Being put down
Having his nappy changed
People touching his feet
Having his cheesy armpits cleaned
Being stripped naked
Falling asleep on the boob and waking up to discover the boob is no longer there.

Stuff I will do to get him to feed (because I am eviiiiiiiil):
See all of the above

They said it takes six weeks to get breastfeeding established. By week four it was noticably easier (barring the really painful thrush episode). It’s the end of week six now and I finally feel like we are in a rhythm. What I would say is you need to what is best for your baby AND you! Whether that’s breastfeeding, combi-feeding or giving formula your emotional and physical wellbeing matters too.

On motherhood

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Pre motherhood me would judge the fuck out of some of the choices I’m making. Mother-me would pour me a gin, give me a hug and tell me I’m doing my best.

Having a child unearths a lot of shit from your psyche. I am not somebody who likes being dependent and I hate asking for help. Having a sister who needs extra help, I think I made me grow up fast and decide that I didn’t want to burden people by being too needy. Since having a baby I am physically, financially and emotionally dependent on the people around me and I hate it. I feel incredibly uncomfortable which I think indicates growth.

It takes a village to raise a child. We aren’t meant to do this alone.

You will welcome the people who come over and want to hold your baby. You will want to worship the people who come over with food, pop a load of laundry on, and make you a drink while you hold your baby.

There are a lot of nasty jokes made about mother-in-laws but mine has been amazing. In those early days when I was a walking zombie and later when HWSNBN went back to work she would come over every couple of days and help out.

Being a mum eclipses everything else. I lose hours staring into his eyes. There isn’t a to do list anymore.

Being perpertually late person naturally is exacerbated by having a baby. Leaving this house is like martialling an army. An army that waits until you are just picking up your car keys before pooing up it’s back.

Saying it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t also wonderful. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

One day he may be 33 too and taller than I will ever be, but he will always, always, always be my baby.

During the birth, he was born but a new me also emerged. I am not sure what mother Rowan looks like. But I can’t wait to find out.

Sometimes you have no choice but to put your screaming child down and have a wee. It doesn’t make you a bad mum – it makes you somebody who values continence.

On marriage

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When I met HWSNBN I was 21. I wasn’t sure I wanted to even get married, let alone have children. I never chose him thinking about what kind of father he’d make. Luckily those qualities I fell in love with as a partner map perfectly onto being a dad.

My bestie asked me what I was doing for Valentine’s day and I replied sarcastically that HWSNBN and I were playing the ultra romantic game of pass the screaming baby. But it’s true I have never loved HWSNBN more than when he sees me pacing with a screaming Nibs and says ‘Let me take over for a bit’ and I go cry-sob in the shower. It isn’t roses and chocolates but it is love.

On the dark side, I have never hated him more when he complained in all seriousness ‘I never got out anymore.’ The baby was four weeks old. Complaining to a new mother about never going out, is like bitching to people in a famine regime that the size of Quality Street tins are a bit skimped. Know your audience!

I don’t mind admitting that HWSNBN is better at settling him that I am. He seems less affected by Nibs’ crying whereas to me it’s like an alarm saying do something! One of the downsides of having boobs is that I use them as a pacifier. Whereas HWSNBN has a whole host of tricks at his disposal.

It’s ridiculous that dad’s only get two weeks of paid paternity leave. I was lucky because HWSNBN works for himself he could work from home most days or ask his mum to come down when he wasn’t able. I don’t know how other women do it. 5.30pm has become my favourite time of day.

I am a better parent with him around.

On babies

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I never knew much about babies and to me they all seemed alike. Tiny, sleepy bundles that looked and acted like drunk old men. Now I have one I see the differences.

The first night Nibs threw up every half an hour gobs of yellow mucus. I sat and watched over him terrified he would choke and drown. It was first experience of motherhood that sometimes there is nothing you can do but bear witness and be there for your baby.

If you have a baby that screams uncontrollably for hours, it can almost unbearable. The one that helped was imagining the screams were him talking. Very loudly. For hours.

It’s OK to think your child looks a bit weird sometimes. Sometimes I think he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Other times I think he looks like a cross between Pob and a monkey.

The principle of the fourth trimester governs many of my early parenting decisions. Nibs has gone to never being cold, or hungry, or not held to experiencing all of those things. No wonder it is overwhelming.

He loves staring at me the most. Followed shortly by the curtains.

Nibs hates to be put down. If he could he would cling to me (preferably) or Johnny at all times. At 7pm when I’ve been feeding for hours and he’s howling, I would do anything to be alone. I miss having my body to myself. But sometimes in the dead of night when I feel his warmth on me I think nobody will ever love and need me like you do and it makes me want to cry with the tenderness of it all.

You can’t spoil a baby. A child yes, but not a baby.

Babies noises are deceiving. Throughout the night he will frequently sound as if he is choking on his own vomit only when you turn on the light – there is no posset to be seen. Paradoxically when he does posset it dribbles from his mouth silently like Bishop at the end of the Aliens movie. Frequently while fast asleep he will emit a sleep screech that is so terrifying it alone makes me glad I religiously did my pelvic floor exercises. We’ll just settle him for the night when he will start hiccuping in his sleep. Loudly. His favourite thing to do is lie there asleep making snuffling, snorting and burbling noises. HWSNBN calls this his ‘look mummy I am sleeping. Look at me sleep. I iz very good at the sleeping’ noise. I call this fucking irritating. Other times I will wake in the night and he will be lying silently in the dark staring at me. #mybabyiscreepierthanyourbaby

Babies are gross and because you love them you become gross too. He has possetted on my hair, stomach and nipple. Once he threw up on his fist then sucked it like it was a lollipop. I took a photo. Sometimes I don’t even know myself anymore.

When pregnant I read in the newborn book that babies feed on average every two hours. That’s not too bad, thought me. At least your getting around two stretches of sleep. What I didn’t realise is that’s two hours from the start of the feed and by the time you put them down you have forty-five minutes before the whole cycle starts again.

You win some, you lose some. I hesitate to write this because I am so tempting the baby gods to curse me for my hubris. But Nibs sleeps absurdly well for a newborn. WINNING

I expected the nights to be bad – but the first fortnight aside they have been bearable. The evenings on the other hand… ah dios madre. When the clock turns 5pm my angel child turns into the bat baby from hell. He has a full agenda of screaming and feeding or screamfeeding and he isn’t going to stop until he’s done. This is coincidentally the time when my reserves and patience are at their lowest. Luckily it is also the time when HWSNBN comes home. 

The days are long but the years are short. As I write this Nibs is six weeks old. He is smiling and burbling. He loves to be held upright so he admire the curtains. He’s grown almost 30 centimeters. I can’t wait to witness the little person he grows into.

I thought I would have this strong feeling of ‘mine’ when I saw him. But he doesn’t feel like he came from me. He feels like a gift from the stars and the sky and I am just looking after him for as long as he will have me.

They didn’t say it would be easy, they said it would be worth it. And it is so worth it.

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!

2015: dreams don’t work unless you do

2015: dreams don’t work unless you do

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So the door closes on another year, and wow 2015 has been pretty splendid to me. Here’s hoping 2016 is similarly generous. Here’s my year in review (and you can find previous years 20142013, 2012, 2011 here.)

If 2015 has been proof of nothing else it’s how your life can change on a sixpence. I started the year desperately sad, crushed by trying and failing to get pregnant. All I wanted was to crawl into my Row-cave and lick my wounds.

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But after spending a Christmas and New Year with my lovely family and friends, and a judicious helping of ice cream (bear wafers 4TW) I strapped on my big girl knickers and got back to working out like a mofo.

Continuing the theme of latter days of 2014, the early part of 2015 was all about working out and eating clean as I completely overhauled my lifestyle in order to be eligible for IVF.

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I lost over three stone in total and have never felt healthier.

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The rest of January was a write-off as I contracted tonsillitis followed by pneumonia. Thanks body!  I looked and sounded like a troll. Although it took a couple of months for me to get the message, getting that sick turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

In March HWSNBN and I celebrated our 11 (I feel so old) year anniversary. He’s still the first person I want to speak to every morning and the last person I want to speak to at night.

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At the end of March I made the decision to quit gainful employment and go freelance. Between working 50 hour weeks, working out and trying to get pregnant – something had to give and unless I was careful that would be me. I needed to stop pushing the river and start taking care of myself. The plan was to moonlight for a month or two and then apply for jobs over the summer. But you know what they say about plans…

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In April my best friend took me away for a friend-moon to Glastonbury and it was exactly the tonic I needed.

 

Because in May I found out I was pregnant! Even though as I write this I sit cradling my huge 9-month bump – I still can’t believe after the years of trying this has happened for us. We are so lucky.

Nib Pic 1

Summer came and with it BBQs, pool days and counting down the days until I neared the end of the first trimester.

I also thought a lot about friendship and how bad I am at making friends.

In July, I went away to France with the family and HWSNBN.

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In August (and July, and June…) I missed my best friend more than words can say.

And I turned 33, eek!

I also went away for the Bank Holiday with the curry night crew and it was pretty fabulous.

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In September, I truly begin to appreciate how lovely working for myself really is. Especially when it means I can decide to go for a walk by the sea just because 1)it’s Thursday, b)it’s sunny and c) I want to.

We also found out we weren’t expecting a unicorn, boo but a baby boy as I finished my second trimester.

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In October I celebrated Halloween by dressing myself and Mr Nibs up.

In November I fell back in love with autumn and her sublime skies.

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And December was all about finally finishing working and taking a well deserved break to put my feet up. I’ve had some of the early symptoms on pre-eclampsia so have mainly been napping and reading and it has been so utterly blissful.

I ended the year as I began… waiting. Except it feels completely different. I am very different to how I was a year ago. One of the hardest things I found about infertility was living in the space between hope and despair. ‘If only I knew the end of the story.’ I’d say endlessly to HWSNBN. Knowing the ending would mean I could mourn or celebrate. It would mean I could move out of limbo. It would mean I regretted nothing knowing that in the end it would lead me here, to him.

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This isn’t the end of my story. There will be twists and turns along the way. I fully expect that this one of my biggest highs will be followed by some (many?) lows. But that’s OK. If 2015 has taught me nothing more, than how important it is to celebrate where you are in this moment. And this moment is waiting for my unborn baby to be born. Is waiting to become a mother. Is waiting for life to change firmly and irrevocably. And well, it’s pretty magical indeed.

And for you dearest reader, this is what I hope for you.

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…

I heart autumn

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I’ve decided autumn’s my favourite season.

I’ve had my suspicions for years. Let’s face it winter was never going to get a look in. Spring is a strong contender (see the cherry blossoms). Summers can be either epically wonderful or epically disappointing. But there is also something frenetic about summer – a pressure I put on myself to make the most of every moment and to soak up every last bit of sunshine.

Autumn is different. It encourages me to turn inwards, to luxuriate in choosing whether to pack my weekends to the rafters or choose to do almost nothing.

Normally autumn is tinged with the dreaded knowledge that winter is coming. And worse that we are approaching the darkest night – midwinter. But this year I am counting down the days until winter arrives and my and HWSNBN’s life changes forever.

So here’s to autumn. This is what I’ve been loving this autumn.

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The golden hour in photography terms is the hour after dawn and before dusk when the light is at it’s softest and most flattering. At the moment almost every afternoon the light spills across the ground like golden syrup. It’s just beautiful.

Making a paleo friendly Pear and Five Spice Crumble from the ever reliable The Art of Eating Well Pear and Five Spice Crumble 

Trying and failing not to buy all the baby things on eBay. My parenting style was going to be minimal, damnit!

Embracing hygge by curling up under a mound full of blankets.

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Dressing up and watching horror comedy mockumentaries for Halloween.

Working my way through my epic to be read pile. Five recommendations:

  1. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab9780765376459

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.

I loved the descriptions of the Other London’s and of how magic worked. I want the sequel now, please.

2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I have always had an unhealthy obsession with post-apocalyptic tales and may or may not have read the Stand until the spine cracked. Station Eleven is a lyrically written beautiful novel. It flips back and forth in time between seemingly unrelated characters until the last pages when you finally realise the connections. Love.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir

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Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Think MacGyver in space. It gets a little formulaic in places (things go well, an unexpected disaster happens, Watney science’s the shit out of stuff. Things go well). But it never stops the book from being gripping, funny and unputdownable.

4. Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

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As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I’m not.

LA IT girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?

Sometimes you need the book equivalent of Big Mac. This book isn’t quite as bad as that – it’s very readable, the voice of the female antihero is very distinct and I didn’t put the final twist together. A lot of reviewers have compared it to

5. The Shepherds Crown by Terry Pratchett

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A shivering of worlds.

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning…

I have been ekeing out the pages because I knew it would be last Discworld book ever written. It feels appropriate that *spoiler* it covers the death of one of his most loved characters. One of Pratchett’s many legacies will be the way he humanised death as something not always to be afraid of. It made me cry in a good way.

Any book recommendations? Please let me know in the comments. I’m always on the hunt for new reads.

Planning which of the bonfire nights I will be going to. Yay for living in Sussex home of the pyromaniacs

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Doing boring things like getting my car serviced and finally figuring out what that light was on the dashboard was. Aka: lots of things! Bye, bye money…

Bringing sunday walks back before the waddle kicks in. This weekend we went on a walk in the countryside and stopped off at a farm shop on the way back. I defy anybody to go into the farm shop and not come out with a basket full of ‘essentials.’

Taking endless photos of the leaves changing colour and the sky, the sky, the sky.

Thinking I’m a weirdo for my love of autumn? Let me know what your favourite season is and why in the comments.

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
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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