The Pregnancy Diaries: Hippos Can be Very Aggressive

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I am a fat pregnant person. I do not mean that I feel fat because I am pregnant, I mean I was fat to begin with and now I am pregnant, but I am still fat.

I have been trying to reclaim the word ‘fat’ since reading Sarai Walker’s marvellous ‘Dietland’ (which I sincerely recommend to any woman trying to accept they don’t fit into the beauty moulds society suggest we should aim for and which the majority, non-fatties included, are ultimately doomed to fail to achieve). More recently I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s highly-rated, and deservedly-so, ‘Americannah’, and marvelled along with the protagonist at the offence the word ‘fat’ causes in Western societies, rather than being taken simply as a descriptive term that could be applied without judgement in the same way you might say someone was tall.

Pre-pregnancy, I was doing pretty well at mostly accepting my chubbiness, excepting occasional hormonal ups and downs. I knew I ate too much, but as the overeating tended to be of relatively wholesome homemade foods and was always accompanied by a level of fitness that was satisfactory (to me at any rate), rather than the result of constant consumption of junk food and an inability to remove myself from the sofa this didn’t seem so terrible.

Pregnancy has been a different story. For most of the first trimester I felt so nauseous healthier preferences were thrown out for tortilla chips and rounds of marmite toast in a challenge to eat anything. I gave up the gym and stopped running because almost any form of motion was sickening.

Then along came the Christmas holidays, a typical period for over-indulging where constant rounds of friend and family reunions involved more cheese and chocolate than I could fit in my carry-on luggage, let alone stomach. However, this year I couldn’t throw myself into a healthy, if depressing, January of salads and doubling the gym attendance. At least I wasn’t drinking but that was as far as it went as the nausea and extreme fatigue continued to hammer me.

The normal holiday bloating and the beginning of those changes in my pregnant body added up to a horror of my corporeal shape that was unprecedented. I was hitting the scales at figures higher than I could previously recall and saw no means of escaping this. The bearded one told me he could tell it was a pregnant body but I remained unconvinced and was at any rate aware nobody else would know this, as we still hadn’t told anyone at this stage.

When we did finally tell people we were pregnant I enjoyed people telling me I could now enjoy ‘eating for two.’ However, I also knew there was no truth in this and wanted to make sure I was getting the kind of balanced diet a growing spud might need.

People asked me if I had any cravings and I was pleased to report that I didn’t, assuming that my lack of cravings meant the growing bambino was getting all the nutritional requirements it needed from my diet, even if it was also getting a bit more than strictly required.

In recent months, as my bump has become more obvious, I have been happier with my new rotundness, which was cemented when one afternoon a colleague told me that I was looking beautiful in my pregnant state and I actually believed her.

I started delightedly calling myself ‘fatty’ with a new-found glee, finally believing I had found peace with the term. My increased girth is mostly down to the potato growing inside me but my pregnancy doesn’t mask the fact that I was and continued to be overweight.

It amused me how my liberal self-application of this most derided of descriptive labels made so many other people uncomfortable. As the thought of being considered fat is, in the minds of most, a truly terrible thing and, even if it happens to be true in my case, most people probably thought it was a kindness to try to hide this truth from me. I thought it was a kindness I no longer needed and that I was now insulated both emotionally, and with that extra layer of blubber quite literally, from being worried about my body shape. It felt liberating.

It turns out I was mistaken and my feelings are as squishy as my current body-shape, which I discovered when our doctor, at our most recent appointment, brutally exposed me to the truth that I was too fat for a fat pregnant person. For all my attempts at loving my inner fatty, it turned out, that when cruelly exposed to the reality, I actually wasn’t as happy with the idea of being judged a chubster as I had previously thought.

In my first appointment with the doc I had quickly self-acknowledged that I was overweight so as to avoid the medical man feeling the need to point this out to me in the mistaken belief I might not already know, but at that point he seemed unconcerned.

As a fat pregnant person I had diligently searched the web to discover how much weight I should be aiming to put on each week and was alarmed at each doctor’s appointment how rapidly I was piling on the pounds, conscious that the scales were escalating more rapidly than was probably required. I also considered that the nutritional advice these sites were dishing out wasn’t aimed at the likes of me as they would tell women that if they felt truly naughty and gave into the occasional chocolate chip cookie not to berate themselves too much. I knew the occasional cookie would never be my problem; I was in much greater danger from falling prey to an entire packet of Oreos – so considered the advice was meant for others.

Nevertheless, each weigh-in over the last five months or so I expected the doctor to raise my weight gain as problematic but as he failed to do so, despite numerous opportunities, I started to relax into a false sense of security. I assumed that a little extra on top of the ideal weight gain was nothing to worry about. I also thought it was perhaps okay to cut myself some slack, given the trials my body was undergoing and the inability to keep up with an exercise regime a non-pregnant me would be proud of.

So, it had been 5 weeks since our previous appointment, the longest we had been without having to see him so far, and during this time it had been my birthday, I’d been to Paris and back to the UK, seen friends and family and clearly indulged a little more than usual. However, given my new complacency and self-acceptance of the extra bumpy version of Briony, it was a shock as I weighed myself to hear the doctor tell me that I had gained ‘a lot’ of weight and then for him to cheerily follow-up with ‘I tell my patients that weight gain is my problem if it is accompanied by gestational diabetes,’ (which they will be testing me for soon), before continuing, ‘but if there is no diabetes then it is their problem as they will have to lose the weight afterwards.’

The fact that he was a man who would never experience pregnancy first hand suddenly seemed very apparent and more of an issue than it had ever seemed previously. I wanted to explain that I’m not fat on purpose, that I know I eat too much but ‘simply’ not doing so is as challenging for people like me, who struggle in the willpower department, as I imagine it is for smokers to ‘simply’ quit.

That my normal approach of trying to balance my overeating with increased exercise was not an option when I can now rarely walk for more than 20 minutes without needing a rest, let alone stomp for hours or run. That I am tired and vulnerable in my first pregnancy. That I would rather have someone gently ease into concerns of rapid weight gain rather than smash me over the head with it.

It didn’t help that I am now at a point where with hormones surging, increasing discomfort and troubled sleep my tolerance is lower than normal. However, I managed not to respond as I wanted to, which would have involved swear words and physical violence, but simply smiled grimly.

To top it all off he then proceeded to spend the rest of the appointment calling me by my middle name. With every utterance of a name I don’t recognise as my own, my internal pressure gauge rose.

I’m not sure whether police would have understood if I’d snapped and hit him over the head with the coat stand but it’s probably as well we didn’t have to find out. The doctor may have undergone years of medical training and clearly knows more about pregnancy than me, but he evidently hasn’t watched enough David Attenborough shows. Otherwise he’d have known that Hippos are the most aggressive animal on the planet and would have thought better than to goad one in the confined space of his office.

I managed to leave without harming anyone or anything, and as we headed into the wet Geneva evening to meet some friends, the bearded one eased my mood by buying me some new trainers, which I can wear happily in the knowledge that whatever the scales might say he’ll love me and the potato regardless. They are also a nice shade of gray that will remind me of those mud-loving monstrous beasts and the threat they can pose to those around them. I’ll be sure to wear them to my next appointment.

 

 

The Pregnancy Diaries: Puberty Strikes Back!

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Certain things with pregnancy everyone knows to expect, even if you can’t fully understand how it is actually going to feel until it happens. Things like morning sickness, fatigue, a rapidly expanding waistline. Other things come as more of a surprise. This blog post could also be called ‘what the hell is my body doing now?’ but I preferred the Star Wars allusion with the title I went for.

I’ve never been massively in touch with my body, aside from to curse it for its occasional failings: the collection of minor ailments, which are sometimes highly irritating but generally serve as a reminder that it’s good I don’t seem to have any serious health issues.

Of the three sciences we studied at school I enjoyed Chemistry and Physics but really disliked Biology because I hated those lessons learning about how our bodies worked. A fleeting grasp of the rudimentals was all I wanted. So since becoming pregnant I have shied away from researching into exactly what’s in store for me, the baby and my body (which I prefer to think of as a separate thing from my self). I have enjoyed a weekly update from the babycentre app about what’s been going on because knowing how the potato has been developing helps to make it more real and the weekly updates about standard changes my body is going through have been reassuring.

The good thing about my head-in-the-sand approach is I haven’t been overwhelmed with information, I haven’t learnt about every weird possible side effect of pregnancy and haven’t been freaking myself out with thoughts of rare and life-threatening diseases either I or the foreign invader might have. On the other hand, my complete ignorance about what could or could not be happening has meant that every unexpected thing I have experienced has been enough to send me into a panic spiral, feverishly searching the many pregnancy forums just long enough to find at least three other people saying they have experienced the same thing and it’s perfectly normal.

When talking with one friend who has already come out the other side of the pregnancy malarky she summed up the crazy stuff that seemed to be going on by saying it was like going through puberty again, when your body starts adjusting itself to all sorts of new things it’s never had to deal with before. Obviously every pregnancy is different and not everyone has the same side-effects but for anyone wondering what pregnancy feels like let me share with you some of the odd symptoms I’ve had to adjust too.

This is a longer post than usual so feel free to stop reading now, or just skim ahead, I’ve thrown in a few more of my wonderful artistic renditions to break up the extra words a bit. I’d definitely recommend stopping now though if you also hated biology lessons and get a bit squeamish at the thought of all sorts of gross things going on inside people.

Early pregnancy cramps

The first weird symptom was at about five/six weeks when I started to experience cramping, this was worse than any period pain I had ever had and at that stage of the pregnancy is perfect for feeding into paranoia that you are going to miscarry at any moment and then continued to experience on and off for at least three weeks after this. For the first week of this I worked from home because the idea of trying to concentrate on anything without the privilege of being curled up with a hot water bottle glued to my stomach was unimaginable. Back in the office after this, I would have to resort to making myself hot drinks I didn’t want just so I could hold them against my stomach when colleagues weren’t around.

An abundance of hair

I have always had very fine hair that tends to sit pretty flat on my head on most occasions. On the rare occasions I would attempt to style it with some sort of volume my efforts would usually have miserably deflated by the time it took me to leave the house and arrive at wherever my destination was that warranted hair effort. I had heard the rumours of pregnancy resulting in healthy looking hair so full-bodied and glossy it could rival the shampoo adverts that promise you paradise in a hair-wash.

Currently I am feeling that my hair is thicker and healthier than normal, however, my first sign of increased lusciousness of locks was not on my head but on my belly. I was having a bath, as I submerged myself in the water and the bubbles gradually trickled away to expose the mound of my stomach (which protruded from the shallow depths even before pregnancy) I looked down and suddenly panicked that my fluffy black cat had got in the tub with me and was stranded on the high ground of my flesh. Panic worsened when I saw the cat next to me (she often keeps me company at bath time) and realised that in fact I had simply grown a carpet over my belly. Trust me when I tell you that nothing will make you feel sexier than the dawning realisation that in your naked state you could now be mistaken for a Harambe impersonator.

Belly-button stretch

Now that I’m clearly in a pregnant person phase, rather than that awkward ‘is she preggers or just fat or is she a fat preggers person’ stage, I’m learning to love my bump, but a new weird sensation is the feeling that my belly-button is trying to tear itself in two. It currently feels like its being stretched just beyond the point of elasticity where it can return to it’s normal shape. I have found that I can sooth this particular sensation by taking a bath and pouring jugs of warm water over the afflicted area or by simply trying to hold my belly button together. This one is pretty disconcerting as I’m conscious that my stomach have some more growing to do in the next few months, so I’m hoping my body will adapt to this one sooner rather than later.

Random butt cheek pain

The first time I had random bum pain (and now I fully understand the meaning of the term ‘ pain in the arse’) was towards the end of the first trimester when I realised that I couldn’t actually get up without some serious spasming going on. When I told my doctor his response was it’s too early to have ‘lower back’ pain (I was too embarrassed to admit just how low down the back my actual pain was), so maybe this one wasn’t pregnancy related or perhaps my changing body hadn’t learnt it was too early for this particular symptom.

Anyway some hot-water bottle action at night-time (it was so much worse when getting up in the morning) and frequent renditions of ‘downward facing dog’ helped alleviate this one in the first trimester. Fortunately, none of my colleagues came into the office when I was practicing my awkward yoga poses, I’m not sure how I’d have explained those. Now I’m just entering the third trimester and am currently only afflicted with bottom pain if I’ve walked too far in a day.

 

Inability to breathe

I have a bit of an asthma problem, it was an issue when I was younger, flared up again when living in London and we got cats, but then mostly subsided after a three-month stint during the humid rainy season in Cambodia. Until now it tended to only return when I had a cold or am otherwise run-down. Nonetheless I’m aware my lung capacity isn’t what it could be. What I hadn’t prepared for was that with this mini-me growing inside there is less space than normal for my organs to do their regular thing, which includes breathing. It’s almost funny, or it would be if I had the spare oxygen to laugh, just how out of breath I get from going up a flight of stairs (luckily not too frequent an occurrence as we live on the ground floor) or from getting changed at the end of the day.

Who knew that pulling off my day clothes and replacing them with sleepwear could warrant me huffing and puffing by the beard’s chair for five minutes whilst I try to gasp out a goodnight?

Increased toilet time

I’ve always had pretty good camel-like control over my bladder, despite drinking litres of water a day I usually don’t need to wee more than a couple of times a day. I could take an eight-hour flight and know that I won’t need to use the airplane restroom for the duration. I remember those days now as though a distant dream.

People of the world with small bladders, I salute you! I now finally understand just how inconvenient life is when you have to assess every activity in terms of how long you’ll have to go between bathroom breaks. Increased toilet time also results in fun side effects like very dry hands caused by frequently washing. I should note that I have been luckier than many pregnant ladies in that so far I have not had to start getting up in the middle of the night to pee.

In addition to the increased need to wee, and something that almost no-one talks about and frankly I’d rather not, but I did vow this would be an honest pregnancy diary, is the increased need to poo. Much like the inability to breathe issues with growing baby equating to less space for organs, well, sorry to say this, but that also includes your bowels.

 

What’s next in store?

I remember when I first learnt about periods, when I must have been about six or seven, thinking that it would be better to be constantly pregnant than have the monthly ordeal of regular menstruation. Obviously I hadn’t really factored in the numbers of children this would produce (or perhaps my dictatorial tendencies had already kicked in at a tender age and liked the idea of an army of children), but it turns out I was also blissfully unaware of all those weird and wonderful side effects of pregnancy itself.

As I enter the third trimester I can’t help but grimly wonder what other random changes this little alien I’m hosting inside me is going to bring about!

But it’s not all bad

I should add that although pregnancy brings about a whole host of changing sensations, it isn’t all bad and I’ll try to address these another time, but for now I’ll just add that I’m loving my ever-increasing bump and the kicks and wriggles taking place inside. I’m definitely starting to feel that smug inner pregnancy glow and I enjoy nothing more than sitting of an evening cradling my belly.

I try not to do this too much in public because I’m conscious of the fact I must look like a moron that’s bound to annoy child-free people with an appearance of trying too hard to pretend pregnancy is amazeballs, and probably amuses actual child people who probably laugh to themselves thinking ‘enjoy your dreams of motherhood now before reality hits you like a train’.

The Pregnancy Diary: Passing the 12-Week Point

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The 12 week scan is a big deal in a pregnancy, it’s the time when chances of miscarriage drastically decrease, you get the first in-depth analysis of how the potato is growing and accompanied by a thorough blood test is likely to be the first indication of any potentially serious problems.

In Switzerland we have been lucky in that before we were sent for our formal 1st ultrasound we had already had 3 scans with the gynaecologist. Although his equipment isn’t as advanced as that at the ultrasound centre we were referred to, we could see that the potato was developing as it was supposed to and could check its heart was beating.

I was talking with the beard about this recently and he felt that having more regular scans made us more likely to feel more paranoid than if we only had the 12 week and 20 week scans we’d have been entitled to in the UK. But I think the regular scans means that at least we get to alleviate our paranoia each time we see the doctor.

I still dislike the action of having to go our gynaecologist (lovely man though he is) and my blood pressure is still highly elevated every time we do (but is fine whenever I have recorded this at home, so clearly I have a distinct touch of ‘white coat syndrome’). I used to bemoan the fact that the doctor kept asking us to come back at three week intervals, but when travel circumstances dictated that we had a four-week gap between appointments I found myself increasingly anxious as week three passed and we had to wait a whole extra seven days to check on the potato’s progress. But maybe the bearded one is right, perhaps if we didn’t expect such frequent scans we’d find a way to be a bit calmer in-between times or perhaps not.

At any rate, had we been in the UK, the 12-week scan would be the first visual encounter we’d have had with the baby. So I can imagine the wave of emotions this first encounter provokes in UK-based parents would be very different to that which we felt awaiting our premier echo in Switzerland but this didn’t mean we weren’t on our own emotional rollercoaster as the scan took place. Certainly the official ultrasound felt like a very different experience than our regular consultations.

It’s quite hard to know how you are supposed to react when viewing the grainy black and white images of your growing child, probably there is no set way to respond but certainly some kind of response is required as the technician points out various body parts, organs, etc. on the screen. It felt a bit like at Christmas when you are being handed so many nice presents that as you say thank you time and again the effect of the words start to sound hollow. You start to panic that the gift givers will sense a lack of enthusiasm in the repetition of your words, so try to overcompensate with effusive acknowledgement but then worry that earlier, more simple, iterations of gratitude suggest a lack of interest in these initial gifts.

And so it was in the ultrasound room as they point out the head, arms, legs, organs, etc. and I’m politely responding with a vague ‘mmm, yes’ as though I understood that one blob here is a lung and another blob there is a bladder. I became increasingly self-conscious that perhaps I’m not responding correctly. The technicians must see so many expectant parents, that in comparison my ‘mmm, yeses’ might sound like someone who isn’t interested and shouldn’t be trusted with a child. Oh god, I thought, I’m doing this wrong, and started trying desperately to think of something, anything else to say with the next image they showed me.

Unfortunately that was the moment they decided to switch to the 3D imaging technology, which is supposed to give you a glimpse of your baby’s actual facial features and therefore be rather exciting but instead struck me as some kind of mud monster creating itself out of the dirt to suck away all humanity. On the plus side I managed to say something other than ‘mmm, yes’ on the downside what I blurted out was ‘oh, it’s weird’ in a genuine state of shock at the thought of this nightmarish creation shaping itself so crudely out of my own flesh!

It may be naïve to think there is a right way to respond to ultrasound images of your child but I’m am now fairly confident that there is an incorrect way as seemed evident from the doctor’s somewhat stunned response as she quickly corrected me ‘no, not weird, beautiful’. I’m a bit embarrassed by my patently non-maternal response but still find myself thinking ‘that’s easy for her to say, she’s not the one with some slime demon growing inside’. At least she switched back to the traditional ultrasound images pretty quickly.

Initially we told the immediate family that we’d give them the all-clear to start spreading the news at the 12-week point, but as we were still awaiting the results of the blood test, we made them hold off for another week. Fortunately, a week later, the results came back positively and Down’s Syndrome was assessed as very low risk so we didn’t have to confront the issue of how we’d act had the risk been otherwise.

I thought I’d feel elated as soon as we reached this marker and could sound the sirens announcing the pregnancy but we both felt strangely flat after leaving the doctor’s that afternoon, and decided to communicate the news to family members by text rather than having to talk to anyone.

However, the next day I started to tell people at work. I had a new boss starting in a few months who happened to be in Geneva that week preparing for his handover (he was already internal to the organization) and I wanted to let him know as soon as possible and to reassure him the timing wasn’t a deliberate attempt to abandon him as he took on his new role. I was also keen to share the news with office-mates to be able to justify the constant state of exhaustion and permanent green tinge I’d been exhibiting for the last 6 weeks or so.

As an added bonus, in the act of telling I provided a source of amusement for one colleague amused by that variety of methods I went about spreading the news from slipping it into conversation, firing it at people as they came in the office and a dozen ways in between. And I found the more people I told, the more I felt their enthusiasm catch within me.

This shit just got real and finally I was excited!

 

 

 

The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 6 – Spreading the Word

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I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to tell people we were trying for a baby under any circumstances, but the awareness of a number of friends and family members with fertility issues had made us mindful that wanting and succeeding were not the same thing.

Even before babymaking was on our agenda it already irritated me the amount of people that would ask the beard and I when we would have a child, without any consideration of the fact that this could be a delicate issue. Maybe we didn’t want children, maybe we couldn’t have them. Whatever our family status was or wasn’t I was surprised by how many people just assumed it was fair game for genial conversation. When our situation changed and we made that decision to start trying we didn’t want to advertise this and potentially open ourselves up to all sorts of future painful conversations.

When it comes to secrets I tend to be an all or nothing person, either I tell no-one or I tell everyone, so we had decided that for this issue we wouldn’t tell anyone even though clearly many people in our lives would have been able to handle the issue with the sensitivity required.

I’m not great at sharing emotions, certainly not in person anyway – blogging is a whole different form of therapy – so I was very reluctant to share our pregnancy news with anyone in the early stages. When we were still trying to process how we felt about the whole thing, not to mention the fears of miscarriage or some other mishap, the thought of having to communicate this to anyone other than each other was just too overwhelming.

I still didn’t know how I felt, let alone know how to explain this and I wanted to avoid putting myself in the position I automatically opt for whenever I’m unsure about anything: where I expend buckets of energy trying to reassure everyone that everything is okay so as to mask my own uncertainties. We didn’t want to share the news with anyone until we’d hit the 12 week mark (when chances of miscarriage dramatically reduce).

However, the terrifying reality of trying to deal with whatever the hell was going on, with a man as bewildered as I was, and an internet that we knew could be an abyss of over-information and terror stories waiting to suck us in, caused me to crack in my resolve. I had a chum from my London days who was the first friend I knew to have a child and incidentally she’d had her little boy as an expat in a foreign country so seemed a good person to turn to. I spoke with her even before I’d had the first gynaecologist appointment and it was a huge relief to be able to share my thoughts and fears with someone who’d already been there.

We wouldn’t have told anyone else before the second trimester if it weren’t for the fact that we’d be home with immediate family around the eight week mark and felt disingenuous hiding the news from them, not to mention the difficulty of concealing the pregnancy during the festive season. We concluded if we were going to tell some family then we could also tell a handful of friends.

There was one friend I wanted to tell more than anyone but was also really reluctant to do so. This friend had been unsuccessfully trying for a child for some time and had just started the IVF process. I knew she loved me enough that she’d be pleased for me but I also thought news of my pregnancy might be hard for her to accept. I wasn’t sure how or when to tell her but I thought about the friend I knew, so like me in many ways, and thought what I’d want if our situations were reversed. I wouldn’t want someone I loved deliberately keep something from me because they were afraid of my reaction but I’d also want time to process the information in my own way without being forced into a situation where some sort of immediate response would be required.

I decided that if the news at our second doctor’s appointment confirmed that the pregnancy was progressing as it was supposed to I’d let my friend know immediately, but via text so she could respond whenever and however she wanted. Within a few hours she responded that she was happy for us and I knew that she was, but I felt guilty for not having warned her we were trying and I felt guilty for not feeling as overjoyed about the pregnancy as I imagined that she would have been had it been hers (and as I imagined all ‘normal’ pregnant people were generally supposed to feel).

Prior to Christmas, the bearded one met up with his best man and one of his groomsmen and shared the news with them. When he passed on their congratulations to me when we met up again later that evening, I found myself feeling kind of peeved. I wanted to be in control of the message (yes, I’m a control freak) and also it felt strange to have people congratulating us, surely it was still too soon for all that and was responsibility for a tiny new person really something to be congratulated about?

As I faux-sipped at my Bucks Fizz, we told the man’s family on Christmas morning. Not good at saying things out loud (there’s a power to voicing things that clearly scares me more than writing stuff down) we announced the news by giving his parents a Christmas card with a baby sock inside and signing it from the three of us.

As the penny dropped and we were warmly congratulated by parents and then the sisters and brother in law also present, I tried my best to behave how I guessed a typical pregnant person (still suffering under the delusions such a person existed) was supposed to under such circumstances. I accepted the congratulations with a forced smile, ‘joked’ that I was ‘excited/terrified’ and only responded with truly genuine emotion to quickly rush to prevent mother in law from immediately sharing the news with nan-in-law, aunties, uncles and co as we explained that it was still early days and we didn’t want anyone else to know yet.

Next came my family, and a handful of other people we felt wouldn’t be so traumatic if we had to ‘untell’ anyone if something bad happened down the line. With each individual or group we told I tried to conjur up a bit more excitement but something inside me refused to get on board the enthusiasm train just yet.

The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 5 – Drinking for Two

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After initial disappointment of first scan we’d been advised to schedule another scan before Christmas. As our doc only works from the clinic we attend on Thursdays we had to schedule the appointment for the same day we were due to fly back to the UK, timings were tight but just about do-able.

Initially we had intended that I go to the appointment alone and the bearded man would meet me at airport with all the bags, but as we got closer to the day of our appointment, I was becoming increasingly more nervous and couldn’t stand the thought of potentially hearing that the potato had gone away without him by my side. The beard offered to take bags to the airport, store them in lockers (as would be too early to check in) so he could join me for the Doctor’s rendezvous.

This time the black smudge we’d barely seen last time had evolved into something that contained a definable blob resembling a mushy kidney bean. Complete with a racing heartbeat. We received a hearty congratulations from the doc. The potato was real.

Had the results been otherwise there is a serious chance we’d have cancelled Christmas and decided to stay home instead, but as it was we left the clinic in a bit of a rush, conscious of the plane we had to catch.

The sense of relief we both felt was palpable but unspoken and we reached the airport in a blur of luggage checking, security and boarding before either of us said anything. It wasn’t until we sat on the plane, seatbelts fastened that we finally asked ‘so what now?’

At only eight weeks pregnant we weren’t ready to widely share our news (we wanted to wait until after the 12 week scan when the risks of miscarriage and serious complications dramatically decrease), however, we also didn’t want to keep this from the families when we’d be spending the holidays with.

We decided on only telling immediate family and close friends, those that we felt we could handle it if we had to ‘untell’ them about the pregnancy if the potato went away. We thought there was a pretty high chance certain people would fail to keep schtum but reckoned that if there was any ‘untelling’ to be done that additional burden would fall to those officially in the know and we could minimize the amount of people we’d have to deal with in the event of bad news.

To decrease the temptation of anyone letting the news slip we decided to time our announcement well. Bearded man’s family we’d tell on Christmas day (after arriving on 22nd December) and my family we’d tell after the extended family Boxing Day event.

The plan was sound but there was one issue, which was how to hide the obvious signs of pregnancy until we were ready to share? Morning sickness and fatigue was still a burden but I could plausibly hide these symptoms behind having picked up some kind of office bug and having worked too hard at the end of the year. The more obvious red flag would be my not drinking, particularly as I’m well known to be partial to a nice glass of wine or several.

There was nothing for it, I was going to have to do some stealthy non-drinking and the bearded man was going to have to drink for two. On the 22nd and 23rd we weren’t around the family home much to have to enact our plan. The first challenge was Christmas Eve, the entire family was at home all day, plus Granny, and there was a big family lunch.

We planned that if we sat next to each other at the table and strategically placed our glasses next to each other the man could sneakily drink from both our glasses without anyone being the wiser.

The bearded man’s first mistake was to attempt to polish off my glass of wine as quickly as possible so that he could then enjoy his at a more leisurely pace. His second mistake was in marrying someone a little bit evil.

When mother in law noted my glass was empty she very kindly offered to fill it up. A nice person would have politely declined or at least stalled. I am many things, but ‘a nice person’ is probably not one of them. As I gladly accepted a second refill and then a third the bearded one did manage not to visibly flinch or express his growing discomfort as it dawned on him his wife was throwing him under the alcoholic bus.

After lunch it got worse for the poor fellow as I offered to prepare drinks for everyone to maintain the illusion I had nothing to hide. I planned to make a round of Gin and Tonics for everyone (but without the gin for me) but then father in law brightly offered us pre-mixed G&Ts in a can, no way of separating the booze from the mixer and the bearded man had to once again drink my drink.

Another bright idea of mine, when discussing the family Christmas with brother and sister-in-law long before realizing I was pregnant, was to suggest a Christmas Eve trip to the pub (an annual tradition from my neck of the woods). To my credit I did quietly hope that this suggestion, so enthusiastically greeted many months before, might quietly be forgotten, but the hope was in vain and it was off to the pub for several rounds instead.

I did try to have a soft drink, claiming ‘I’d’ drunk too much earlier, but after the first round of mockery this wasn’t sustainable so I had to resort to more booze for the bearded man to surreptitiously consume. At least when his brother bought out shots, I steadfastly declined. Shortly after midnight we made our way home, with the bearded man only slightly wobbling, and headed for bed.

The next morning as my unlucky lad felt the force of the hangover he was bearing for both (all three) of us, I couldn’t help but feel a smug satisfaction as I’d been feeling permanently hungover for weeks now. Unsurprisingly he was keen to share our news as early as possible the next day!

The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 4 – Pregnant in Venice

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I must have been about 6 weeks into my pregnancy when the first symptoms of morning sickness kicked in and I met these with a mixture of welcome relief and regret. I’d read online that the symptoms were a good indicator that the pregnancy was progressing well (although morning sickness doesn’t affect everyone). The downside is having to deal with an unprecedented fatigue and constant nausea (although fortunately not actual sickness), the combination of which I can only equate to constantly feeling hungover and sensing that everything would be okay if you could just be left alone to lie very still in a cool dark room.

Dealing with these unpleasant early symptoms of pregnancy when you can’t tell anyone definitely makes for a challenge in the work environment. I know a lot of women have it a lot worse than me, but I cannot emphasise enough the hell that is trying to pretend everything is business as usual when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and wish everyone and everything would just go away.

I was fortunate at least that I could somewhat disguise my symptoms as being generally run down at a time of year when the combination of bad weather and end of year exhaustion makes lingering colds commonplace. But I felt this way for the entirety of December. Every time my officemate would leave the room I would allow myself a visible grimace as I let fall the mask of pretending I’m just mildly under the weather.

I have spent many years vocally berating the lack of acceptability of afternoon naps, so colleagues in my immediate vicinity were already aware that I tend to flag a bit mid-afternoons but the exhaustion of growing a life-force sucking potato inside me was a whole new level of fatigue.

From 3pm onwards, with nowhere to nap, I could barely keep my eyes open and by 5pm I was resembling a zombie whose shambling stumbly purpose was a quest for energy rather than brains. Except sources of energy were pretty limited. I’ve never been a massive coffee drinker and I know from personal experience that energy drinks are the devil incarbonated.

Normally I’d revert to tea but I had discovered an inexplicable absence of desire for tea, which might not seem entirely odd if you didn’t know that even by British people standards I’m a tea addict and would routinely drink anywhere between 6-10 cups a day. I recall opening the cupboard at work where the tea supplies are stored and staring at them for a good five minutes, thinking I desperately want something but also I can’t drink any of these. I’d occasionally settle for just getting a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon and surreptitious trying to rest it on my aching belly without anyone noticing.

Just to keep me going until I could get home and have a nap before dinner, I’d resort to one of two options: either gulping down a strong black coffee with too much sugar or sneaking off to the office of an absence colleague and settling in for a 20 minute power nap, hoping a) no-one would notice I wasn’t at my desk and b) no-one would find me drooling on the floor of someone else’s office.

Another challenge was trying to hide my less than impeccable diet of salted tortilla chips, dried fruit and nuts and occasional yoghurt from co-workers. And yes, I know this isn’t the most wholesome combination, but diet options when you feel completely hungover all the time are somewhat limited. I would try to eat something more nutritious in the evenings but this was a challenge I just couldn’t face during the working day.

I am lucky in that I can occasionally work from home and during that time, as my boss was working from abroad, I could take a day or two a week to work in the comfort of my PJs, with a hot water bottle clutched to my stomach and no need to hide my misery face except for the odd Skype call.

About seven weeks into the pregnancy we took a trip to Venice. We had planned the trip long before the pregnancy drama, in an exuberant splurge on easyjet sale flights a few months previously. The sale coincided with the happy realisation that since crossing the border to live in France as Frontaliers our finances had improved to the extent we could finally benefit from one of the main selling points of Geneva: the ease of which you could leave it to go to other places for a weekend away!

We had been to Venice before as part of a day trip from a Lake Garda holiday many moons ago (our first actual holiday away together). We had been looking forward to the opportunity for a more leisurely sampling of Venetian delights, but as the trip approached, in my new condition, the enthusiasm we’d initially had was definitely waning. Had we not already paid for everything we wouldn’t have gone. Even having paid for everything I was in two minds about going.

In hindsight I wouldn’t have booked the trip knowing I’d be pregnant but actually Venice was a good destination to not feel great in. Our hotel was fairly centrally located which meant we could foray out in one direction for an hour or so, scope out the sights of that little neighbourhood and then be back in time for me to enjoy waves of nausea or just a nap that the small amount of exertion would in no way warrant if it weren’t for the tiny energy vampire dwelling within. Having seen the main tourist sites on our previous visit we also didn’t feel pressured to do anything in particular so the exploratory forays suited us quite well.

We were definitely glad we’d gone though when the realisation dawned on us that such random adventuring would no longer be an easy option when the potato finally makes its appearance. That in fact all life’s previously easy options would become a memory as hazy as the fog that engulfed Venice that December weekend.

The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 3 – The Potato File

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I’ve never been much of an obvious baby person, if there is such a thing, but by that I mean I have never found myself cooing over random children and marveling at the babies of people I barely know.

Show me a kitten or full grown cat for that matter and it’s a different story, I feel an instant desire to win it’s friendship and shower it with whatever affection that particular creature will allow me to bestow. I might even say hello to its owner.

Animal babies are adorable, human babies are a bit, well, meh.

My thinking has always been that most babies, particularly the really new ones, tend to resemble badly carved potatoes and I’ve had as much desire to get to know them as I would want to pick up and cradle your average root vegetable, which suffice to say isn’t much, unless said veggie has been baked and topped with tuna mayo and cheese.

Although if someone said to me ‘ooh look at my marvellous potato, don’t you want to hold it?’ I would think it a bid odd, but would probably look at it and maybe even pick it up out of politeness. This has, on the whole, been my experience with babies. Although to be very clear no-one has ever offered me a baked baby topped with tuna mayo and cheese. I hope if they did that my first instinct would not be to eat it.

In defence to my lack of naturally-occurring baby-loving genes I haven’t been around babies a lot and still don’t know that many people with tiny living replicas of themselves. Where my friends have had children, they’ll no doubt be pleased to know, I do hold them in higher regard than a potato, and can marvel at them as much as if said friends had got a new pet. These babies are wonderful and exciting and interesting because they are the product of people I love. Other babies continue to resemble badly carved potatoes.

Since our quest for a spud of our own has been on the agenda the bearded one and I have found other people’s babies to be much more interesting. It’s just that years of the vegetable comparison has stuck and we still have a tendency to refer to other people’s mini-them’s as ‘taters. Except now if we see someone with a stroller we tend to nudge each other excitedly and point out the ‘little potato’ in a definite gesture of good will rather than the perhaps less flattering way we used to apply the term previously.

At first we were referring to our own minion brewing within by the size of it as compared to some kind of edible substance (as our baby app updated us on a weekly basis): e.g. it’s a mustard seed, now it’s a kidney bean and now a small lime, etc.. However that got quite confusing because when speaking with my parents they’d ask me how the blueberry was, etc., but it kept outgrowing these references and we’d have so many conversations about poppy seeds, lentils and kidney beans I wasn’t sure if we were talking about the pregnancy or if I was supposed to be noting down a recipe.

So it became ‘the potato’. This has also been good size comparison-wise as these root veggies come in all shapes so it has probably been the proportion of some sort of spud for several weeks now.

Our doctor told us to keep a file with all the scans, test results and any other pregnancy related paraphernalia that we have collected and will continue to collect from our various appointments. I drew a picture of a pomme-de-terre on the front and the potato file was born.

It’s also a lot easier to refer to our own abstract ‘baby’ (I use the quotation marks to make it less real) as something decidedly less demanding. Thinking of it as an actual child has just been too hard (and thinking of it as a kitten is definitely too weird).

In those worrying early stages when the thought it might go away was all too prevalent, making it seem a little less human was a way to try to insulate ourselves against potential loss. However, even when I got past that stage I still find myself uncomfortable with the thought of an actual ‘baby’ (note the redeployment of the quotation marks there). Probably because I’m too busy trying to focus on the whole getting through the pregnancy malarkey that I don’t want to think about what comes after these 40 weeks are up, i.e. actually having to deal with a kid.

A potato is so much less threatening: I am definitely capable of looking after a potato, but a baby? Well that’s another story. For one thing I’m not sure I have a big enough baking tray.