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The final countdown

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So we’re really here. 38 weeks pregnant and our little one could arrive any day. 2 more days at work before maternity leave, and 2 weeks until that magical due date.

It’s a weird old time. I thought I’d be veering wildly between ‘so excited I can’t sleep’ and ‘so terrified I can’t breathe’. But actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I’m sad. After months of anxiety at the beginning, in the last 10 weeks or so I’ve finally learned to love my bump and to be excited about this pregnancy. Just in time to not be pregnant anymore. Now, I know that the whole point of pregnancy is to have that little bundle at the end – and I know that’s going to be brilliant; but nonetheless I’m going to be sad not to be pregnant. We’re really not sure if we’ll do it again, for reasons of our own, so it’s possible that this is the last time I’ll experience pregnancy. Me and the bump have had a unique bond that (selfishly) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Like a secret club of two, with clandestine nighttime meetings and secret handshakes (well, maybe not handshakes but definitely bum wiggles and kicks). I’ve enjoyed our little journey so I’m letting myself feel sad so I can say goodbye to the bump before the next stage.

I’m worried. This baby will change everything – not just practically but for us as a couple. I know we’re tough enough to weather the change. I know we love each other enough (yuk, vom, I know) to make sure we communicate and stay in love, and make time for each other. But nonetheless, we won’t be the same. Spontaneity is going to be harder for a while – no more last minute trips to the pub. We can’t be as selfish with our time – it’s not all about us anymore as a twosome, but about our family of three. And yes, practically we will be tired, we will find it hard to be on time and to see everyone we want to and to function and to get all those niggly jobs around the house done.

I’m excited. I can’t wait to see if we’re having a boy or a girl. Just imagining if the baby has my husband’s eyes, or my nose, and what their personality develops into gets my heart pumping and makes me all emotional. We. Are. Having. A. Baby. It’s like a self-belief mantra I have to repeat. A teeny tiny part of me still doesn’t quite believe it’s going to happen and when I realise it is, I can barely contain myself!

I’m actually not that scared. Physically, this baby is coming out of me. One way or another it (and I) doesn’t have a choice. So I don’t see any reason to be scared. I can’t keep it in there (nor would I want to), and no matter what happens it’s going to hurt. But I’m going to have great care, from great midwives, and great support from my husband and my mum. In the grand scheme of my (hopefully) long and happy life, a day or two of pain with such a wonderful outcome is completely worth it.

So there we are. Depending how long this baby wants to cook, the next blog post might well be a birth announcement. In the meantime, rest and relaxation are the order of the day with a few lunches with friends thrown in for good measure. Bring it on baby, we’re ready for you!

Bend me, I won’t break

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Bend me, I won’t break

I think we all have moments when we worry about our physical abilities – after an accident or injury, after too many drinks (!), when pregnant, when especially tired. For the most part, these are well founded fears – our brain’s way of keeping us safe and uninjured. But sometimes, they’re the result of unfounded or exaggerated anxiety and recognising these worries as different to the reasonable, justified ones, can be tricky.

As anyone who has read the blog knows, I’m currently pregnant. 31 weeks pregnant. Pregnancy is a time when you absolutely have to be careful and aware of your body and how you’re feeling (please note this careful disclaimer to avoid a horde of angry midwives at my door). However, I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our anxieties (particularly when we’ve suffered prior complications or losses), that we miss out on opportunities to get stronger, healthier and better prepared for what’s coming.

I’m one of the worriers.

After two previous early miscarriages, and despite a normally good amount of common sense, I was terrified of everything. Eating the wrong thing, lifting too much, sneezing too hard (completely serious), passive smoking, exercising.

Now, all of these things can absolutely be a danger to a pregnant woman and her unborn child (except the sneezing thing, that was just daft) but they also all require a bit of reason.

Food guidance is there for a reason, and it should be observed. But it should also be understood. The risk of getting food poisoning from soft cheese or uncooked meat is the same as it’s always been. You’re not necessarily suddenly more likely to get it. The danger is, that should you be unlucky, the damage will affect more than just you – it can affect your baby too. I followed everything my midwife told me – ensuring that I stuck only to her advice (not the forums online filled with fellow unreasonable worriers, not family, not friends). This served me well and quickly quelled my worries. It also meant I could eat medium rare steak.

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When I was about 18 weeks pregnant, I picked my friend’s little girl up without thinking – she had no shoes on and we were popping out to say hello to my husband, who was waiting in the car. Picking her up was the logical thing to do. As we later drove away (having deposited my little friend back to her mum – we’re not child snatchers), I turned to my husband and said, anxiety stricken, with crazy, manic eyes and a wobbly voice, “I shouldn’t have lifted her, should I?!”. To which he held my hand and sensibly replied, “Mums with more than one child all over the world continue to pick up their toddlers throughout pregnancy. Stop panicking, you’re fine.”

I have very little to say about passive smoking, except that walking behind a smoker on the street once or twice during your pregnancy will not have an impact. Something I had to convince myself of, despite being a normally reasonable person.

And now, exercising. For any Sex and the City fans out there, I had a Charlotte moment. I panicked that any exercise would somehow pull the wrong muscle, causing my comfy, cozy womb to become a dark, dank cave that any self-respecting baby would quite rightly up sticks and leave. So despite recently starting Pilates and enjoying it, I stopped the moment I found out I was pregnant…just in case. It was only upon reaching 24 weeks that I decided I’d be brave and try the antenatal Pilates class instead, something I could have done weeks earlier. I checked with my midwife, who told me any strengthening exercise run by an individual who is trained in supporting pregnant women, would be a great thing to prepare me for birth. 7 sessions later and I absolutely love it.

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So I guess what I’m trying to say is, of course there are times in our lives when we feel more fragile, more vulnerable, less sure of our bodies and their capacity to continue to support us. But you know what? As long as you’re sensible and listen to medical advice; 9 times out of 10, the things we’re most scared of sit within two categories: Utterly ridiculous, or exactly what we need.

And to my fellow pregnant women – it’s OK to be frightened. But you’re not a fragile, delicate crystal, you’re a diamond – tougher than most grown men, and doing something absolutely incredible with your body.

Be brave, try that exercise class, get involved in decorating the nursery, eat that steak. You are so much stronger than you know.

Weirdly and wonderfully ‘with child’

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Weirdly and wonderfully ‘with child’

Pregnancy is such a odd time. Millions of women have written or spoken about ‘the things no-one tells you’, so this is just general rambling about some of the very weird (and often wonderful) things I’ve experienced since being pregnant.

1 Random touching

This one’s well documented, but I have had the most bizarre selection of people just stroke my stomach without so much as a ‘how are you?’.

If I encountered someone who told me their eye surgery had gone well, I wouldn’t stroke my hand over their eyes in a ‘go to sleep’ style movement; nor would any other sane person. And yet, apparently, baby bumps are exempt from this general rule of touching etiquette.

I’m certain all mums feel the same, but I’m incredibly protective of the bump. It’s precious, and ours, and (and this is, you’d imagine, the most obvious point) part of my body. Please ask before you reach out to touch it (particularly if I barely know you in the first place). And if I say no, regardless of how well you know me, please accept that it’s based on how I’m feeling, not you.

2 Friendly faces

Since being noticeably pregnant, people have been so kind. I dropped my parking ticket the other day, but before I could begin the slow descent (and inevitably difficult ascension back to full height), a random stranger had picked it up for me with an understanding smile.

Various retail staff have asked when the baby’s due and finished our transaction with a ‘congratulations’ or ‘good luck’.

People smile at me more – pregnant women in particular have been very un-British and actually made eye contact and started conversations in waiting rooms. It was a little disconcerting at first, if I’m honest.

3 Everyone knows better

As first time parents, we’re under no illusions – we have lots to learn, and no matter how organised, we’ll never be ready for the huge change that’s coming. Nonetheless, we didn’t emerge from an alien pod only days ago with no knowledge of the human family.

We’re certainly not too proud to ask for help or advice, but when we describe the midwife’s most recent observations/guidance, we don’t expect a random relative or friend to launch into an unasked-for and opinionated diatribe about how the midwife is wrong. They are, of course, human and susceptible to mistakes, but they’re also the experts.

Every pregnancy is different, everyone’s medical history is different, and guidance and advice changes annually – my midwife knows both me, our baby, and the up to date clinical guidance best.

4 Sticks and stones

Your throwaway observation that ‘Ooooh I was much bigger than you by this point, haven’t you got a small bump?’ brought me to tears later that day. It weighed on my mind, had me googling like a good’un, and worrying that my much-wanted baby wasn’t growing right. All this, despite knowing from regular midwife appointments that things are right on track.

I know that nothing is meant maliciously, but just think about the impact on an anxious, tired, hormone-ridden first time mum before casually declaring that their pregnancy is noticeably abnormal (in your humble opinion). Instead, tell them they’re looking good, ask how long they’ve got left, share your funny pregnancy stories.

5 Love and understanding

I recently went on a hen weekend in Liverpool. When we originally booked the weekend, I wasn’t yet pregnant. So despite loving the bride and wanting to be involved, a part of me was dreading being away from my husband for the weekend, and worrying about being boring and sober and tired, and a big fat burden on the other girls.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Women I’m close to but also women I’d never met before picked my suitcase up to carry it upstairs, gave up their seats, and checked on me. One of my fellow bridesmaids made sure soft drinks and mocktails were part of the activities she’d planned so I wasn’t left out, and I laughed and chatted and thoroughly enjoyed myself all weekend.

My point is, my worrying was unfounded. Throughout my pregnancy people have understood that I’m tired, not judged when we leave a meal/gathering/party earlier than we would have done a few months ago, but also continued to treat me like me.

So I guess, in summary:

  • Don’t touch me without asking (this is, you’d think, an obvious request)
  • The world is kinder than you think
  • Trust your instincts (and your midwife)
  • Be sensitive in your observations (and pregnant superheroes, try not to get too upset about clumsy comments)
  • Your people/tribe will always understand

 

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A muddle of emotions

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A muddle of emotions

I feel like this should be an official collective term, like a gaggle of geese or a murder of crows. Official or not, a muddle of emotions is how we’ve been feeling lately.

Our muddle is partly fuelled by hormones, tiredness and huge life changes coming our way. But it’s also fuelled by other people. People who unwisely don’t heed the previously mentioned hormones. Here are some silly/ignorant/just plain mean things that people say/do which have made us even more muddley.

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Ignorant things people say

Perhaps it’s because of our previous experience. Maybe for those beautiful, happy pregnancy announcements which don’t follow a loss of some kind, people aren’t so stupid. For us, most people were kind, thoughtful, and understanding that we weren’t dancing on the ceiling. But one or two were just gobsmackingly heartless (whether intentional or not).

One person genuinely asked ‘Is it real this time?’…I know. There are no words (well, there are but I won’t repeat them on this public forum).

Mistaking cautious excitement for full-steam ahead spotlight time

Here’s the thing. I’m a talker. I love being social within my own little groups. But generally, I’m an introvert. Time at home in our bubble is vital to my energy levels, ability to function, and avoidance of grouchy, snappy comebacks at people. This is something I’ve learnt to embrace as I’ve got older. We are much better at turning down invitations when we know we need to. Our time at home is as protected (if not more so) as remembering key family birthdays. And that’s what makes our situation difficult.

At 24 weeks, we’re now cautiously excited. We’ve bought stuff for the nursery, I’ve bought maternity clothes. I have a rapidly expanding football shaped bump that won’t be ignored, and a teeny tiny kung-fu artist to remind me they’re growing inside me. We’re happy to talk about the baby. But that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with discussing every last aspect of it just yet, or rolling out the parade and party poppers. We need to take the lead. Some days we’re over the moon. Others we want to quietly get through without a panic attack.

It’s ours to celebrate

Now that we’ve reached this cautiously optimistic stage of pregnancy, we’re proud of it. It feels like a huge achievement that we’ve made it this far, after our experience last year. That means I proudly wear the ‘baby on board’ badge on my coat, even though I don’t do the daily London commute. It means that when we’re asked how far along we are, what our due date is, whether we’ve found out the sex; it would be nice to answer for ourselves before overenthusiastic family and friends jump in for us. I completely get that family and friends are excited too. But please, after everything, let us have this for us. This baby is ours, ours to celebrate when we’re ready, ours to protect and ours to get used to.

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A thank you

I want to finish this by saying that I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I completely understand that a lot of what I’ve ranted about above comes only from a place of love and excitement by those we love. We love you all too, and we’re so grateful we have you all.

We just need you to understand that (like all first time parents) we’re a little overwhelmed. And when you top that off with our anxiety, our utter disbelief that this is actually happening, and our introvert personalities; well, you’ve got a pretty muddled couple of people.

To those who have somehow seen through the muddle, the ones who’ve discovered the perfect balance of excitement for us, and space for us to breathe. The ones who’ve remembered the painful milestones related to last year, referenced them with a simple ‘I love you’, and let us move on. The ones who’ve given us plain facts and honest truths when I’ve asked daft pregnancy questions; and who have quietly drip-fed baby clothes, nursery paraphernalia, and recommendations at a pace we can manage. Thank you for accepting us as we are, muddle and all.golden-letters-thank-you-design_1095-240

 

The invisible patient

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The invisible patient

To the woman who grabbed her children closer to her and stared at him as he spoke too loudly in the coffee shop…I’m sad for you.

To the people who have shoved past us in the supermarket or shopping centre despite his obvious mobility limitations…I hope you’re always agile and active.

To the GP who talks about him, in front of him. Describing him like a test tube subject or experimental case study…he can hear you.

To the visitors who dwindled when he didn’t ‘get better’…we understand. It’s hard, he’s hard work but I promise that you’re missing out on laughter, joy and entertainment. You’ll always be welcome if you change your minds.

To the nurse who spoke directly to him, who asked his name, explained her treatment and demonstrated patience, kindness and humour on a busy night at an out of hours walk-in centre…thank you.

To the doctor who came out of his consultation room to meet him halfway up the corridor. Who shook his hand, waited as he got muddled with his responses and made sure to get to the bottom of all of his issues (breaking the rules about ‘one issue per visit’)…thank you.

To the carer who challenges him, who doesn’t spoonfeed him and mollycoddle him, who gives him the time and patience required to force him into action…thank you.

To the man at the supermarket who refused my offer to go ahead of us as we shuffled painfully slowly in on a busy day, telling us ‘you go first mate, I’m in no rush don’t you worry’…thank you.

To our family and friends, for the funny texts on the hardest days, for the paperwork, the doctor visits, the lifts, the Christmas gifts, the moving crew, the furniture, the understanding, the patience and the overwhelming love…thank you.

To our dad, some days (like today) drive us mad. You don’t mean to, you just require a lot more energy and patience than you ever did before. You get tired and forgetful, we get tired and grumpy, we snap and you (somehow) end up being the one to say sorry. You have a beautiful heart, a cheeky sense of humour and so much love for your friends and family. You’re doing better than you’ll ever know, and even when you’re driving us round the bend…thank you.

Things my dad has taught me

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Things my dad has taught me

So I’ve talked in the past about what we’ve learned along the way since my dad’s accident. But recently I’ve realised how much my dad himself has taught (and continues to teach) me. I thought I’d share a few of them, because after a bad meeting, or a traffic jam, or a family argument; it can feel like the end of the world but my dad has changed the way I look at life.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

The amount of times I’ve visited my dad after a busy and stressful day, only to walk out an hour later calm and smiling and wondering what my problem was. The things that were driving me to distraction suddenly didn’t seem important when faced with his daily struggles to even remember when to eat, or to turn the lights on when it gets dark.

  1. Keep laughing

From the moment he got his speech back, my dad has continued to be silly. I’ve said before that he’s always been silly – and one of my biggest fears was that he’d lose this sense of fun. Thankfully it’s remained, and has been the source of a series of Facebook posts like the following:

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  1. Be compassionate

My dad has every reason to be a grumpy, selfish, inconsiderate old bugger. But he’s the opposite. He notices when I’m tired. Asks what’s up if I’m quiet. Tells me to send love/congratulations/best wishes (insert greeting here) to various family members when I tell him their news. He asks how my mum is, my sister, my brother, his friends and listens when I give him updates about them. He reminds me to look outside my bubble. No matter how hard things are, it’s not OK to forget about other people.

  1. Be honest

Due to his condition, my dad doesn’t have as many inhibitions anymore. That means that sometimes, what’s in his head comes out of his mouth. Often, he realises as soon as it’s been vocalised that it was inappropriate or rude, but not before. Now, I know that it’s socially polite to frame your criticism constructively, to smile and hold the door for someone even if they do shove past you without a backwards glance; or to sit out a boring conversation in order to avoid offence. I’m not suggesting we all start spewing out exactly what’s on our minds all the time – it would be chaos and we’d cause hurt.

However, wouldn’t it be great if we could just take a leaf out of my dad’s book – just to now and then stand up when someone is only talking about themselves and walk off without a word?! To tell someone they’re being loud and it’s bothering you.

  1. Forgive

OK, so maybe in his case it’s more often than not that he doesn’t remember, rather than that he forgives. But my dad doesn’t hold grudges. And when I do have to tell him off, or I snap because frankly, I’m human and sometimes my patience wears thin; he forgives me instantly. He’s the one who apologises – he gives me a hug – reaches over to touch my arm to get my attention and says he loves me. Nothing matters enough to overshadow our precious time together. I wish I could be more like him and remember what really matters in our brief time on this planet with the people we love.

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Hiding my light

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Hiding my light

So 15 October was the day when people all over the world lit candles to create a wave of light – it’s part of baby and pregnancy loss awareness week. Obviously this is a cause close to my heart, an incredibly worthy cause and one that needs more people to talk about it. However, I didn’t join the wave, no candles were deliberately lit for this cause in my house, and here’s why.

In the last 6 months (yes our first miscarriage was 6 months ago in November) the miscarriages have defined who I am. How I feel. What people say to and around me. My reaction to my friends, to TV, to songs, to films. My relationship with my husband. My friendships. My health. There have been some positive lessons learned – friendships have been cemented by the love, support and normality that’s surrounded us. Me and my husband know for certain we can weather anything – because we’ve been through more in our 2 year marriage that most couples cope with in a decade. I know for certain I’m ready to be a mother – because I’ve grieved the loss of my unborn children and everything they could have been. As I’ve talked about previously, we’ve also learned some hard lessons – we’ve been disappointed by people. But it’s made us tougher, more resilient, better at saying no to those people.

My point is, the last 6 months have either been spent pregnant or grieving. That’s not to say the grieving has stopped. I still have my moments, and I’ll never forget our pain. But on Saturday 15 October, the weekend before my birthday, I wanted a weekend about me. The Hilary I used to be – laughing til I cry. Acting like a wally. Enjoying all the cheesiness and tackiness life has to offer. So I planned a birthday day out to Dreamland in Margate – the birthplace of tack and cheesiness. I went on fairground rides with friends all day, drank prosecco, came home for a takeaway with friends. Played Cards Against Humanity. It felt really nice. It did me and my husband the world of good. We felt like, even if just for 24 hours, we were back in the game. Part of the gang again – there were no kid gloves or eggshells allowed.

After an extra couple of days off and some brilliant time with my husband where he spoiled me, I feel genuinely relaxed for the first time in a very long time. I’ve got some kind of peace. I’ve been reading the ‘7 days, 7 stories’ Tommy’s stories that appeared on my newsfeed and acknowledging that this experience is happening around the world and talking about it and addressing the pain is a positive move. One of my very favourite couples in the world announced their pregnancy and while it still hurt that the universe had been so unfair to us, that was quickly overshadowed with genuine joy. Other people deserve happiness and a family. Resenting the people we love will only add to the things we’ve lost. It’s a pointless exercise that will eat away at us and prevent our (and their) happiness.

We now occasionally let a ‘when’ creep into conversations about our future family, not just ‘ifs’. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten. It doesn’t mean it’ll change anything when the time comes again – we still need to be cynical and prepared for the worst and we’re still healing.

But for the first time in half a year, we feel like us again. Defined by the things and the people we love, not by our pain.