The Baby Diaries: Bring out the boobs!

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Breastfeeding is something that so many people have an opinion about and as a person with boobs and a newborn baby I’ve never been more conscious of the different opinions that are out there.

And there are a lot of different opinions!

These do not all conform nicely so whatever you do you are bound to be doing the wrong thing as far as some people are concerned. You can only hope that these people who think you are doing the wrong thing aren’t people in your immediate vicinity that feel able to express their judgment of your breast etiquette ineptitude.

I always wanted to breastfeed, I accept the arguments put forward that breast milk is good for the baby and I’m also pretty lazy and a bit of a skinflint at times. I assumed it would be easier and cheaper to breastfeed a hungry tot with hooters on demand, ready to go at any moment, than having to faff about with formula. So my plan was to breastfeed but I was also aware that this isn’t an option for everyone and I was open to the possibility that for whatever reason formula might be the way forward.

Wanting to breastfeed was my choice, I do not judge women (or men, apparently with the right hormones birthmothers aren’t the only ones who can breastfeed) who do not, for whatever reason. Perhaps they can’t, perhaps they prefer a combination of breast and formula, perhaps they just don’t want to. I don’t need to know their reasons, these women do not owe me or anyone else any explanations. To breastfeed or not to breastfeed, that is the question but the answer is highly personal and down to individual choice. Or at least it should be.

However, there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed with an underlying undercurrent (or sometimes very overt current) of judgement of your failings as a mother if you don’t breastfeed. People demand explanations, even if the question of how you plan to feed your baby seems quite innocently put.

What I hadn’t realised, despite the midwife at our antenatal classes strongly making the point, was just how hard breastfeeding can be, particularly in the first few days. You know that boobs providing babes with milk is their natural function so it is easy to assume the process comes, well, naturally. Even as the midwife was explaining that breastfeeding is a skill which takes practice for you and baby and the potential challenges involved, I was sort of registering this but mostly just thinking, well my mum breastfed me and my two brothers so I assume I have a natural ability and this doesn’t apply to me.

I was wrong. My first attempt at breastfeeding seemed successful, the little one seemed to get hold of the nipple and seemed happily sucking away. Sure it was a little uncomfortable but I figured my knockers would toughen up after a day or two, I was just chuffed the bambino seemed to be doing alright. I resigned myself to the fact that this was my life now, continually putting myself out for the baby’s welfare. Day one was also comparatively easy because newborn’s are pretty exhausted by the birth process (mum’s are too but that seems to be of lesser importance – see previous sentence) and they are still pretty full from all that placentay goodness they’d been living off up until recently.

Day two a whole different story. Baby was awake a lot more and awake baby seemed to think best option for being awake was to demand boob, which I of course supplied, every 30 minutes or so. The slight discomfort I’d experienced at first turned into an almost agonising pain by the third day and before I knew it I was ordering silver shields off Amazon desperate for some sort of solution that would get me through at least a week of breastfeeding let alone the six months or so I’d initially banked on.

I was fortunate during those first few days to be comfortably ensconced in my Swiss hospital with a selection of midwives on hand at any hour to help and advise. They provided some sticky plaster things for the nipples which seemed to help and were generally reassuring.

Best bit of advice from one of the midwives was that sometimes my baby just wanted something to suck on and this didn’t need to be my breast, a finger would suffice. I can’t stress enough that this time is so confusing for every new mum (and dad) and trying to placate a crying child becomes a top priority so helpful little tips makes a great deal of difference as our plan of giving a feed every time the bambino cried seemed logical but actually made things a bit more difficult as continually just topping up was tiring for us both and was sometimes giving the mini-me a tummy ache to boot.   

Things got easier when my milk came in after three or four days, the potato and I got the hang of connecting to the breasts a bit better and the whole process became painless. I recognise that I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot even begin to imagine how frustrating it must be for those women who desperately want to but struggle to breastfeed their babies, waiting for a delayed milk supply to kick in, little ones unable to latch and screaming in frustration. Mum’s whose babies drop more than ten percent of their initial weight and struggle to gain the weight back despite round the clock feed-a-thons!

What mum’s need in those circumstances is someone to listen to them and offer support that responds to what she is saying. New mums should feel more empowered to ask for advice and help. They don’t need random family members, friends, etc offering advice or platitudes that fail to address the frustrations currently experienced. If parents decide to add in some formula or give their child a pacifier or whatever they don’t need judgement.

Even as someone fortunate enough to be blessed with a bountiful milk supply I can comment that breastfeeding is hard. Even after six weeks I have failed to master one handed breastfeeding. I still need one hand to support our daughter and one to support the milk-dispenser so that the two can connect easily.

Whilst I’m fully down with the argument that breastfeeding is perfectly natural and that no-one should feel ashamed to whip out their baps in public to feed their kid as and when required, I cannot hide from the fact that I’m still incredibly self-conscious about feeding in public. Prior to attempt public feeding, I’d sort of figured that whilst I probably should be loudly and proudly breastfeeding in all its brilliance I’d probably prefer to do so more discreetly.

As a self-proclaimed feminist I feel a bit guilty about my unwillingness to breastfeed more blatantly. I feel that in joining the multitudes of women that seek out breastfeeding safe spaces or cover their baby and breast, in doing so this sort of supports the notion that breastfeeding is something to be hidden away. Tucking babe under a blanket accepts that using one’s boobs for their primary food-dispensing purpose is something that offends people and that as a milk-full titty bearer I have a responsibility to shield those sensitive souls from my offensive breast. In hiding my baby-fuelling-bazungas away am I fuelling the notion that women ought to do this?

Perhaps. But in the end I asked myself the question, how would I feel if someone gave me grief for openly feeding my child in public? Whilst I know that I have every right to do so and I have more arguments in support of breastfeeding in public than you could shake an entire forest at (let alone a piffling stick), I suspect that I would feel vulnerable and there’s a good chance I’d just cry and feel shitty, even though my hypothetical agitator ought to be the one feeling ashamed.

You hear so many tales of women being shamed for breastfeeding and whilst I operate on the assumption that the majority of people don’t have a problem with breastfeeding in public and of the minority that do it’s going to be a slim margin that feel confident enough to openly criticise a breastfeeding mother. Chances are very unlikely that people are going to make any kind of comment that will make you feel bad, this may never happen, but it would only take one or two unpleasant incidences to taint what ought to be a lovely process of bonding with your youngster (technical difficulties aside).

Perhaps I do have a responsibility to breastfeed with pride on behalf of those that are less capable of doing so, but perhaps I’m just not strong enough to really put myself and my ‘girls’ in the firing line at the potential cost entailed. Consequently I concluded that I’d be more comfortable covering up.

However, hypothetical lactation ruminations are one thing, the practicalities of trying to surreptitiously feed are quite another as I soon discovered that I just can’t publicly feed as discreetly as I’d wanted to. I am envious of those that can subtly slip their kids under their top and leave them to get on with the milking process without fear of baby drowning in milk and everything mum’s wearing plus those within a ten feet radius getting covered in the white stuff.

I need both hands to ensure tiddler and tit are in perfect alignment and I need clear line of sight to check the tiny one’s progress. I am currently enjoying some very enthusiastic breasts, eager to feed at any opportunity and whilst I’m grateful for this juggling my jugs to prevent the quite literal showering of my infant in milky goodness, let alone the soaking of several outfits a day, requires a lot of concentration. Frankly I haven’t the time to be faffing about with modestly-placed scarves, etc.

If the beard is with me I can ask him to drape something over both of us, although this usually falls off within mere seconds. It’s usually easier to just ask him to use his physical presence as a shield. If he’s not there then breastfeeding-deniers be damned, but I’m going to bring out the boobs.

I do still try to sit in a quiet corner of the café or to angle my hooters away from any onlookers but it turns out that my lioness-like instinct to protect my child, including providing its breakfast/lunch/dinner on demand seems more pressing than potentially having to deal with any breastfeeding-averse plonkers.

Hopefully, I’m overthinking the whole thing and will never encounter any negativity when out and about and offering the nipple to my niblet, and that anyone not happy about the process will simply look away and keep their discontent to themselves.

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The Baby Diaries: Zzzzzombies….

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In hindsight we should have been better prepared for the zombie apocalypse. People tried to warn us that the end of the world was nigh but we laughed them off as crazy naysayers, doomsdayers, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. We too easily dismissed the words of those friends and family we should have trusted and we should have spotted the early signs that all was not as it used to be.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment it started, it crept up on us so gradually and was nothing like the films where one brain hungry monster’s bite induces instant cranial cravings of your own. But if I had to give a date I’d say somewhere around the start of August, around the same time of the arrival of the little being.

The little being came to us on the day of the Swiss national holiday and its arrival complemented the Swiss festivities for indeed it was a joyous occasion that warranted celebration, even if the advance preparations were a little traumatic for all concerned. The minute thing seemed so helpless and innocent that we were lured to it and felt an instant connection and bond that blinded us to what was coming. Perhaps we were naïve but perhaps under these circumstances no-one could have had the ability to foresee the great power that it already wielded over us now bound us in inescapable bonds. Whatever the truth of the matter our lives of servitude had now begun and there was no escape.

As I said, it came on so gradually, it wasn’t perceptible at first. It was only natural that after the little being’s grand entrance into the world I should want to zealously watch over it to ensure that no harm could befall it. Innocuously it passed the night in peaceful slumber and as the beard returned home and I was left alone in the hospital room I volunteered for the first watch, not knowing how long this watch would last.

When the man returned the following morning, I was only too pleased to report how well the small one had reposed. When left alone for the second night I eagerly anticipated another restful eve for the little being and thought it may be permissible to take my sensory leave and recharge my, by now slightly weary, human cells, but unwittingly I had made a fatal error.

It seems my mistake was in continuing to believe my life was still my own, to do with as I would like. I had not understood the full extent of the invisible contract I had entered into, in accepting the little being into our lives. It was our master now and it exercised its supremacy during the witching hours of that second night when demonstrating rest was an abstract concept that it alone could deploy or remove at will. Apparently it could do without sleep to teach me this valuable lesson.

I felt my humanity drifting away but I clung to a hope that some part of me still remained in the skin I managed to shuffle around in and that I could still recover my senses and return to the fully operational version of myself that had existed before the advent of the teeny creature. The cure seemed so simple, all that was required was a good night’s sleep, but was already now far beyond my reach.

When the beard and I took the little being home I hadn’t realised that the malaise I suffered from was infectious and that soon, he too, would be contaminated by the same dreamless machinations contrived by a titchy master that demanded our attention at any waking or attempted sleeping moment. As the days and nights blended into one interminable mess of hours we were dragged further and further from the mortal selves we had previously known. We became shadows of ourselves, barely functioning automatons that lived to service the being’s needs. We survived off the scraps of repose it may casually toss our way after duties had been fulfilled before its insatiable hunger loomed again.

In the battle of our will to sleep and its will to deny us that luxury it had the advantage. Its micro proportions meant that it could easily recharge and function on the short snippets of sleep it allowed itself, but two formally functional grown adults could not possibly reboot their necessary systems within these short time spans, even if they could turn themselves on and off in synchronisation with the tiny pest.

Even now we were so under the little being’s spell that the exasperations that should have rightly been laid at its door were misdirected at each other. From time to time emotions would erupt and accusations of deliberately avoiding duties along with occasional packet of nappies were hurled at each other as missiles of our snooze-deprived frustration.

We never thought we’d be the kind of people to cave so easily to terrorists but in the early hours of the mornings we begged our miniscule captor for release from our doze-divested state. In our attempts to negotiate with the petite extremist we promised it everything under the sun from limitless food provision, all the toys it could handle, 24-hour viewings of ‘Frozen’ on repeat and a free choice of naming any future pets or siblings no matter how ridiculous the consequences. But the little being was unmoved.

Secure in its domination over us, that we no longer had the capacity to resist, the little being allowed itself slightly longer rest periods, even as long as four and a half hours at times! Slaves that we were we rejoiced in its generosity as it gave us back a tiny fraction of that which it had forcibly taken from us at our initial subjugation.

And still the diminutive organism continued to toy with us. Whenever we thought we found a pattern to its strange dozing habits that we could adapt to in an attempt to recover a small semblance of our conscious selves, the little being would change the rules and intersperse new variations on its slumber(less) patterns.

The beard and I vaguely remembered that we had once had names and souls of our own as we shuffled past each other, dragging our feet and groaning in the early hours of the morning. If we had been given the opportunity we would have dreamt of sleep, but denied even this we continued to devote ourselves to the micro ruler’s will.

The zombification has overcome us and we are fully enslaved to the will of the little one. I fear there is no hope for a remedy that will return us to earlier days where we could lounge in a blissful siesta state for half a day or more. The best we can hope for in the immediate future is a six-hour snooze, should the little being allow us that we would be as happy as the walking dead at an all you can eat brain buffet.

The pregnancy/baby diaries: The potato’s arrival

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So our potato finally arrived, four days early, on 1 August 2017. That it has taken me four weeks to write this post might give you some idea of what life with a newborn is like and just how all-consuming it can be, but I’ll save that for another post.

I had always thought that our baby would be born early and this belief intensified after one particular incident in week 35 of the pregnancy after I sprinted for the bus (which is a terrible idea when you are eight months pregnant) and then suffered contractions that made me think I might give birth on the bus. The beard had to meet me at the bus stop and escort me home; a walk that normally took five minutes took almost half an hour.

At the doctor’s appointment I had the following day I was warned in no uncertain times that the baby would arrive imminently unless I slowed down. Fortunately, I was then signed off sick from work and had a chance to rest.

In Switzerland maternity leave only begins when the baby is born, any time you have off before the baby’s arrival is considered as sick leave, and your doctor will normally sign you off some point between two to four weeks before the baby is due. This makes planning for things like when you finish work and your maternity replacement should begin quite difficult, but it does protect the amount of maternity leave you get, which is less generous here than in the UK.

I had been quite uncomfortable for a little while before the bus sprint, not helped by the fact Geneva had been undergoing a particularly virulent heatwave for several weeks, so my doctor would have been happy to sign me off six weeks before my due date but I managed to negotiate this down to just three weeks. At the time of our discussion I didn’t feel great but still felt capable of work, but the final week, even before my public transport dash, had been incredibly challenging so I was grateful when my sick (prenatal maternity) leave began.

For once, I actually did as I was told and followed doctor’s orders to take it easy. I thought I’d revel in nothing but moving from bed to sofa for alternating stints of Netflix binging, reading marathons and daytime napping, but it did get pretty boring fairly quickly. However, I was grateful that the potato was at least happy with my new regime and did decide to stay put until I reached the point of being full term (37 weeks), but after that point I found myself increasingly impatient for baby to arrive.

From our prenatal classes the midwife had said that labour was not like seen on tv, rarely was it a case that waters would break in a gushing flood and then you would instantly have to rush to the hospital. For most first-time mothers of our age (as in not-teenagers) labour would take somewhere around 18 hours from initial contractions, and for many people this could last much longer.

With not much to do whilst lounging around the flat I became much more sensitive to every twinge, unusual occurrence in my body and many a night (I guess I was even more attuned to these things when lying in bed longing for sleep and with no other distractions) I would find myself googling random symptoms to see if this could be the start of labour.

I didn’t have much in the way of contractions before the baby was born and I knew that although waters breaking was a good indicator I also knew that for lots of people it was barely noticeable when this happened. So, after what seemed like countless evenings of internet researching and scouring through millions of forum entries for indications of early labour, it took me by surprise when my labour actually began on that Tuesday afternoon at 12.30pm.

The beard and I had just had a late brunch, and I was sat in my PJs browsing social media between Star Trek episodes (we’d found a new series to binge on during my leave), waiting for my man to get dressed before watching the next episode. All of a sudden there was a gush, I leapt up from the sofa (I figured it would be easier to clean the tile floor) stood rooted to the spot and yelled for the bearded one.

I didn’t feel any contractions at this point so we took time to find the leaflet the hospital had given us about when to come in for labour, noted that instructions for when you think your waters have broken are to put on a pad, walk around for 30 minutes and if still leaking to then call the hospital. Whilst I paced the flat, the man prepped for the hospital trip: corralling the cats, setting out enough biscuits to last them a week (in case complications kept us both at the hospital for some time), checking the hospital bag, etc.

After half an hour was up I called through to the hospital (which took a little longer than expected, owing to the leaflet they had given us having an out of date phone number). We went through a few things and they said that I should aim to come in within two hours but had time to take a shower, have some food and make my way in. So the beginning of my labour was all very civilised.

By the time I got out of the shower I’d started to have some regular contractions, but these were fairly mild and I remember thinking maybe labour isn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe, or perhaps I have a particularly high pain tolerance threshold and this isn’t going to be any worse than a bad period. Ha!

By the time I’d gotten dressed and we went down to the garage the contractions were about six minutes apart and the pain level had dialled up. By the time we arrived at the hospital thirty minutes later, the contractions were three to four minutes apart and each one was bad enough to reduce me to grim-faced, gritted-teeth silence but still just about manageable with the recovery period in between.

By the time we’d gotten to the hospital at about 2pm contractions were three minutes apart. We were instantly taken through and examined, but at this point I could still manage the pain so thought I could get by without the need for painkillers. Within 20 minutes the contractions were longer and so frequent that I couldn’t catch my breath during the supposed recovery periods and I felt I could no longer continue purely under my own steam, so called for the epidural. I felt like I’d failed a bit, in not being able to hold out for longer but I think the man was relieved to see me seek some relief beyond his mopping of my brow and provision of water.

Within another 20 minutes, although it felt like an almost interminable age, the anaesthetist came and explained the procedure and the epidural was connected. It didn’t kill all feeling, I could still feel the contractions but these were now back to mildly uncomfortable rather than swear-inducingly painful. This was now probably about 3pm, for the next 90 minutes I did okay, remembered to breathe and let my body do its thing. At about 4.30pm, everything changed gear again. What I hadn’t realised about the epidural is that it can only do so much, those final parts of labour are a bitch, drugs or no.

But, I was better behaved than I thought I would be, and only crumpled the beard’s hands during each contraction and muttered a single expletive after each exhausting effort was over. Although I remember having the distinct thought ‘why would anyone ever have more than one child when they know how painful labour is?’

The pain didn’t go away when the pushing began (probably about 5.30pm) at least there was now a clear end point in sight and I went from dreading each contraction to willing the next one to hurry up so I could just get on with getting the pain generator out! As I responded to the midwives encouraging calls of ‘Poussez! Poussez! Poussez!’ (Push! Push! Push!) eventually I could feel the baby starting to emerge. I ignored the midwives (at some point there were two) sudden calls for me to stop pushing as the baby and I decided we were just going to get on with this in one go.

And suddenly, at 5.56pm, there she was, our little baby girl had emerged and was quickly placed on my chest. She emitted her first cries as her lungs started working for the first time and she learnt to breathe. From my prone position I could only see the top of her head, covered in a mass of dark hair and one squidgy eye looking up at me. I burst into tears and felt an overwhelming rush of what felt like every emotion possible, although dominated by a kind of euphoria that I can’t really describe. I felt the beard by my side and concluded I was the luckiest person alive.

The midwife and I think a doctor started to explain to me that there had been some tearing and I’d need stitches (in my eagerness to meet her and her rush to enter the world, our daughter had come out in a triumphant superwoman pose with clenched fist saluting her new world). The previous pain already felt irrelevant and their words had almost no meaning; they could have told me they were going to have to amputate a leg and I don’t think I’d have cared.

Our daughter had arrived and I was in love.

The Pregnancy Diaries: Why are we doing this?

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Once we got through the first trimester, and as we told family and friends, the reality of a baby started to kick in. I was still mostly trying to think of it as a potato at this stage to try to hide from myself the truth that in another 6 months the beard and I were going to become responsible for a small human. Our actions or inactions, decisions we would take and behaviours we would intentionally or inadvertently encourage and discourage would have a fundamental impact on the formation of an actual person.

Beyond the primary goal of just trying to keep it alive was an entirely dense and terrifying further mission: raising it to be 1) not a terrible individual (note to prospective parents do not read or watch ‘we need to talk about Kevin’), and 2) preferably ‘happy’ but given the elusive nature of such a concept would settle for ‘on balance, more happy than not’.

It is so ingrained into our society that having children is the normal thing to do that very rarely do people stop to question whether having children is the right thing for certain people. Which is really odd because many of us are quite happy to express opinions about whether or not someone should have a cat or a dog and we can discuss an individual’s suitability to be a pet owner, weighing up whether this is a responsible thing for them to do, fair on the future pet and so on.

Obviously getting a pet is a big commitment and should be thought through carefully but surely having a child is a bigger commitment and yet we don’t even come close to asking these same kind of questions. Instead we are trained to expect that every adult should want to have children and I know many people that will go beyond this and actively encourage adults to have children, without even remotely considering whether or not having children is actually a good idea for them or future offspring. (Not to mention those that would actively do everything they can to prevent people who don’t want to have children from being able to exercise autonomy over their own reproductive abilities).

The more you think about this, the stranger it seems. Humans are very complicated! And I should know, I’ve been one (more or less) for some 30 odd years. Taking responsibility to raise one and train it how to, hopefully, add more to the world than it takes away isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Yet, mostly, we don’t question people when they make plans to have a child and we don’t really, or at least I haven’t, ask ourselves why we would want to have children?

Is it purely a selfish thing? A wannabe-god like moment of creating something in our own image in which we hope to inspire devotion and exert control?  A desire not to be forgotten and/or to have someone to look after us in our dotage? A hope that by raising a child we can model a new and improved version of ourselves, a Briony 2.0 if you will, complete with an ability to play a musical instrument, ice-skate, speak many languages and all the other things I wish I could do? An uncontrollable biological urge to propagate? A belief that your child will bring balance to the force, and hopefully not in a Darth Vader kind of way? Some combination of all of the above?

I know I want the potato but as to why…I definitely don’t have a clear answer. And this is just thinking about the impact of the child on me rather than thinking of the child itself and the question of whether I’m going to be a decent parent.

This concern of ‘how do I not completely balls up the child?’ is a pressing one. I have a tendency to think ahead, which can make living in the moment challenging. Knowledge that we were expecting initially intensified this and I became much more conscious of the potential issues our kid is going to face.

I was more aware of the seemingly 12 year old boys on the tram talking (and one can only hope, lying) about girls they’ve slept with; the true horrors of social media when teenage hormones are surging, kids can be so mean and photographic evidence follows you way past the end of the school day bell; not to mention the ease of accessibility of drugs and alcohol; and worst of all, what if they grow up to become some sort of Nigel Farage-accolyte xenophobic monster??

How the heck am I supposed to be capable of raising a decent human being that can navigate all that? How is anyone? Or is that the trick, the whole idea is so hideous, society unites in agreement to collectively bury our heads in the sand and refuse to consider even the most basic elements of suitability for child rearing?

The beard’s response when I would find myself careering down this dark rabbit hole would be to point out how many people seem to cope with having kids that on the surface of it you wouldn’t have thought appeared even slightly qualified to do so, yet somehow managed to adapt to parenting with ease.

A friend at work advised me not to over think it, everyone messes up their kids in one way or another but mostly it’s nothing too overwhelmingly catastrophic.

And someone else told me not to worry about it because ‘happy parents make happy children’. This one bugged me though. For one thing the implication that anyone who wouldn’t class themselves as ‘happy’, those combatting depression or other mental health disorders on a regular basis, will automatically make unhappy children is highly offensive.

For another thing, I resented the oversimplification of myself as a happy person. I am many things: I can be a positive person but I’m not always, I am often irritable, I am an idealist and a realist, I am loyal and I am fickle, I am funny and I am dull, I can be sad and, yes, I can be happy. I am all of these things and more, I am no single one of these things.

So the idea that the potato’s emotional well-being will be reliant on my maintaining some sort of stable positive vibe at all times is frankly alarming and sounds like the way towards a mental break-down for me, sproglet and anyone else in the vicinity when my stepford-wives-esque grinning persona crashes into the reality of a complicated life of even average human emotions.

Perhaps what this person meant was ‘you don’t seem like a complete blight on the history of humanity so have some faith that your spawn may be similarly undamaging to the world?’ Which, is a much more helpful position.

I’m doing my best to go with the Ostrich approach and try not to overthink it and, for now, to just take one thing at a time. First thing’s first, I’m going to concentrate on getting through this pregnancy, what comes after that is another matter entirely.

The Pregnancy Diaries: Let’s Talk About Sex (of the) Baby!

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When people know you are pregnant one of the first things everyone asks is ‘do you know if you are having a boy or a girl?’ There is nothing wrong with this question it shows a natural interest in the pregnant person’s future offspring and helps those interested to try and get a better sense of who the little person to come might be.

If people know, the next question is usually ‘do you have a name yet?’ and again this is helping to flesh out the idea of the mini human brewing away in there. Although it is fairly common now for parents-to-be to confess they are keeping the name to themselves and most people understand and accept this. Not wanting to witness any potential negative reactions to the name you love seems a fairly legitimate reason for keeping schtum on this.

This is assuming that negative reactions are just personal preference and not because you are actually intending to call your child something like Adolf/Adolfi the Great, in which case you deserve all the scorn and judgement possible that might induce you to think twice and spare your sproglet a lifetime of misery (at least until they are old enough to change the name themselves).

When it comes to sex, not all parents are able to found this out, particularly in the UK where the technicians will not be able to tell you before the 20 week scan and if your pomme-de-terre refuses to cooperate at that appointment then you are in for a surprise if you want one or not.

This is not an issue in Switzerland if you choose the Doctor route where you have a scan every month or so, so plenty of opportunities to see. Some parents prefer not to know and to wait until birth to find this one out. Some parents may prefer not to know but will be told by unthinking medical staff anyway (as happened to a friend of mine).

Then there is the option that the beard and I took, which was to find out but not to tell anyone else. This is apparently not the usual course of action. Not that it is so unusual to want to keep the baby’s sex to yourselves but normally people find it easier to just say they don’t know when asked rather than admitting they know but just don’t want to tell anyone, which results in questioning glances and the necessity of offering some sort of explanation.

The issue for us is not so much sex but gender. This is complicated to summarise but I’ll give it a go. Sex is the reproductive parts that make us female or male, gender is the patterns of behaviour that makes us feel like a man or a woman. With gender comes a lot of stereotypes and assumptions that we’d rather our kid doesn’t have to deal with.

If a boy’s favourite colour is pink and he prefers butterflies to sharks or a girl wants to have short hair, and has more interest in playing with dinosaurs than Barbies these things shouldn’t be a problem.

Not so long ago I read ‘The Gender Police: A Diary’, which started as a twitter feed by @GenderDiary created by two parents who wanted an outlet for their frustrations at the way people interacted with their two children differently based on their genders. This made me conscious of this child-rearing gender minefield even before our own potato started incubating.

When I was younger I was very much a ‘Tomboy’, probably I was influenced by having two older brothers but I think my parents also tried pretty hard to ensure I didn’t feel limited to only being able to do certain things just because I happened to be a girl. In some areas gender stereotypes are breaking down, but in other areas these are a lot worse than they used to be when we were growing up.

In the world we live in we know we won’t be able to protect our spud from gender stereotyping, they’ll be inundated by it when they walk into toy stores and see the little girls pink cleaning trolley toy set and the boys science kits, clothes stores with glittery girls t-shirts saying ‘daddy’s princess’ and boys t-shirts with dinosaurs, when schools hold a knights and princesses dress-up day and the girls are given plastic tiaras and the boys plastic swords, they’ll pick it up from the adults they interact with (strangers and those familiar to them) and they’ll pick it up from their friends.

And if we have a boy that loves blue and sharks and a girl that loves pink and butterflies then that’s fine too or if we have a boy or a girl that loves blue and pink and sharks and butterflies then great. What seems truly sad is the idea of a child being made to feel ashamed or abnormal for liking a colour or animal that someone somewhere along the way decided was only applicable to one sex.

I know that those friends and family members we are most concerned about not getting that a girl is more than the colour pink and a boy more than the colour blue, are going to present issues once the potato arrives and its sex is apparent so keeping it secret for now is perhaps a little pointless.

However, if we can have some of these arguments now, when we have a little more energy, we can convince ourselves that perhaps these are sinking in as we explain for the umpteenth time that any baby can wear pink or blue or even a different colour entirely. At one point I had to explain to a concerned gift-giver that Paddington Bear gifts are equally fine for a boy or a girl, even if he wears a blue coat (this is what I mean about gender stereotyping getting worse)!

The idea behind not sharing the baby’s sex was to try to derail some of the thinking before spud arrives of those that might want to limit them to constrictive idea of what it means to be a boy/girl. We were definitely more concerned about some people’s response to the baby’s sex over others but it seemed fairer to just agree not to tell anyone rather than to tell some people and then deliberately not tell others.

The gender stereotyping was definitely the primary reason for not wanting to share the sex but an unintended benefit has its been that its been quite nice for us to have this bit of information for ourselves. When we announced the pregnancy it went from being this private thing that the two of us had been feeling all sorts of intense emotions over to a public event that lots of people had an interest in and we were expected to feel uniform delight in. Whilst sharing pregnancy news has been amazing keeping the baby’s sex as something that still just belonged to the two of us has given the two of us something special to hold onto.

It’s also been a lot of fun letting people guess and if you want to join the game feel free to leave a comment and you can also add in expected delivery date and weight if you want (we are due 5 August). I will try to think of suitable prizes but don’t hold it against me if I am too exhausted at end of this pregnancy process to actually remember!

The Pregnancy Diaries: Slowing to a Stop

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I have always been a person who moves quickly, this is mostly just a character trait (I say trait others may use the word defect) although it definitely either became worse over eights years of living in London or I just became more conscious of it during this time.

In London most people are in a rush all the time, rushing to get to work, to get home, to meet friends, to catch the bus, and so on. In a city of over eight million people, time and space are at a premium and both need to be maximized to cope with big city living.

However, even by London standards my habitual speed was definitely way above average. I remember when I first took the beard (then beardless) on the train to visit my parents he was amused at the way I ricocheted out of the Marylebone forecourt and raced towards the train as soon as the departure platform was announced. I wasn’t deliberately doing this but I know that my thought process was every person I passed was one less person I’d have to contend with to get a good seat on the train. Perhaps not all my fellow competitors were aware of this but the race was on and I intended to win or at least place well.

Certainly not everyone in London was like me. I had a friend ,who had lived there far longer than I, who moved to her own tune entirely and would never rush, even when crossing roads at non-designated crossing points. Even consciously trying to walk slower to adapt to her pace I’d find myself taking two steps forward and one back to try to adjust my natural equilibrium to hers.

When I first moved from London to Geneva one of the things that struck me most was the (lack of) pace of this city. Even at peak hours, no-one seemed to be in a rush and everyone happily ambled down streets with all the time in the world. Of course, Geneva is a fraction of the size of London and the average commute is probably somewhere around 15 minutes. Plenty of time to meander after work and still enjoy an evening.

I have adjusted somewhat to Geneva time, although I still move a lot faster than the average inhabitant here, but the need to slow down further to accept the fact I’m pregnant has been tough. It must have been at about five months that I first started to notice that operating in my usual gear was not quite as easy as previously. Of course, I continued to ignore this for as long as possible and continued to stomp and stride my way about the city, opting to walk instead of taking the buses for shorter distances.

In my sixth month I started to make some minor accommodations and accept a slight pace readjustment and upping the frequency of taking the bus over traversing by foot. But I still refused to admit there were certain things I just couldn’t do, so I still set about regular weekend walks with the beard. And if I needed to rush a bit for the bus, then so be it, even if I could definitely feel the consequences afterwards and the little potato would object quite strongly to what it probably considered some quite unnecessary bouncing about.

Towards the end of the sixth month I have had to be more accepting of the restrictions my body has imposed upon me as I waddled into the pace of an average person, which from my perspective felt agonizingly slow.

Now I am well into my seventh month I can no longer pretend that everything is business as usual with the occasional off-day causing me to readjust my speedometer. I am having to accept a slow-down into a snail’s pace that is incredibly frustrating yet impossible to overcome. I am now that person that will not hurry across the road. This is not because I’m wholly oblivious of the traffic (although as the beard will testify my road awareness isn’t the best) I’m now just physically incapable of doing so.

Recently, I was traversing a road when the green man transformed into the red version. The beard tried to shepherd me across the road a little faster than the glacial pace I was currently moving at but I explained that I couldn’t go any faster if a dinosaur was chasing me so I definitely couldn’t speed up for a few cars.

When I get particularly exasperated at my inability to walk at even half the pace of a normal human being, my facially-haired man points out this is good practice for when the potato makes its appearance. He’s probably right and I should accept that my capacity to race down a high street, weaving between dawdlers is a skill I’m not likely to get to exercise much with a baby in tow and the need to slow down is just one more way in which having a child will impact on my life.

However, ignorance is bliss so I will ignore his wise words, as I strived for so long to ignore the physical impacts of pregnancy, and will operate under the delusion that as soon as the little one arrives everything will resume to my previously understood definition of normal.

At any rate, we’ll see how handy my ability to quickly distance myself from those around me will prove to be when we are out with the spud in public and it starts wailing for one reason or another. Whoever is closest has to fix it right? If the beard and baby are left eating my dust then I’m sure that is more likely to inspire the offspring to Usain Bolt aspirations rather than indicating I’m a terrible mother.

The Pregnancy Diaries: Picking Up Good Vibrations

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I never got around to actually obtaining a driving license but I remember reaching a point during lessons when frustration at my lack of advancement kicked in and was then exasperated by seemingly every living person in the universe telling me ‘don’t worry at some point, it’ll all just kick in’. As that point never happened before I indefinitely postponed my lessons I’ll never know if they were right or not.

Anyway, the frustration at not getting something other people seemed to have the hang of whilst telling me it’d all become clear eventually was pretty similar to how it felt waiting to feel the potato kicking.

At about 16 weeks our doctor asked if we’d felt any movements yet and then explained that this might feel like little bubbles and did a very endearing impression of a gold fish as he glub, glub, glubbed at us complete with little fin like arm movements (the thought of that is almost enough for me to forgive him for the fat insensitivity at our last appointment). He said that in the next month or so movements should start to be apparent.

In these circumstances the internet was definitely not my friend as I’d visit various forums to find people sharing stories of feeling their baby kick at 10 weeks or some other ridiculously early date, which seemed unbelievable but I couldn’t tell whether I was right to judgmentally assume these people were simply experiencing gas and confusing it with something more magical or if I was just downright jealous.

As I waited for my inner goldfish to start bubbling I found myself paying a lot more attention to the inner working of my belly than previously. Whilst I could feel stomach movements, it was hard to know whether these were genuine potato flutterings or just an overactive intestine.

Waiting for those internal stirrings I started to wonder if it would work both ways; if I would be able to feel the baby moving would the baby also be able to feel movements from outside the womb? If the potato’s hearing was developing to extent it should be able to recognise the voices of me and the bearded man what else could it pick up?

One of my cats, Jasper, has become increasingly more affectionate as he has gotten older and for some time has taken to coming and sitting on my lap of an evening whilst I scratch his head and indulge in whatever the latest Netflix addiction is. My other cat, Buttons, also likes to cuddle against me and the bump as I lounge in bed on lazy weekends or before drifting off to the night-time land of nod.

As my body continues to stretch and adapt, to make itself accommodating for the developing life inside, this hasn’t always been the most comfortable. I have often resorted to a hot water bottle against my stomach to ease cramps and tensions as these changes take place. Having a warm cat vibrating with purrs and gently wriggling about to find the best position for one of their humans to give them attention has been a real treat for me and I wondered whether it has also been noticeable to the one inside?

A few people have asked me if I dream of the baby but, aside from some terrifying late miscarriage dreams, I haven’t really, with one exception: I dreamt the baby was born, and as it was snoozing away it wasn’t gurgling, snuffling or snoring but purring.

Around week 22 I started to think the microscopic movements inside were baby related but I wasn’t wholly confident of this until around week 24, when I became much more conscious of little thuds that were distinct enough from regular organ movements so that these were either the baby or my bowels developing elbows, which I really hope they’d have noticed at the 20 week scan!

Now the kicking is fairly frequent and does wonders for providing daily reassurances that the potato is still, well, live and kicking, and it’s a relief not to have to coast the 3-4 weeks between doctor’s appointments without a sense of what’s going on inside.

I was excited to share with the beard the inner movements but disappointed that the sensations I could feel weren’t apparent to him for quite some time. I guiltily worried that kicks wouldn’t be noticeable outside my belly because of the whole fat and pregnant thing, but here the internet came to my rescue and I found a whole thread of fat mammas sharing their experiences and explaining that although it might take a little longer those kicks would still be strong enough to get through the additional insulation some of us hippos carry around.

As the internal thuds started to get a bit stronger I thought it would be easier for the bearded one to sense these but the baby had an irritating ability of refusing to conform to expectations (can’t think where it might have got that from) by steadfastly refusing to move as soon as I’d feel confident enough of the movements to position the man’s hands in the right place, only to start booting away as soon as he’d move them off. But eventually patience won out and the hairy one could sense something going on even if he did then need me to confirm that these were sproglet rotations and not an overdose of carbohydrates (at least I was certain of the difference at this stage).

Not long ago we had a friend staying with us for a few weeks and in the short time she was with us she managed to learn more about Ferney Voltaire than we had despite our having moved here last August. One of the wonders she revealed to me was that there was a yoga studio a mere two-minute walk from our apartment. I joined the yoga class tailored for pregnant ladies and seniors, which sounds odd but is a combination that works surprisingly well. After my first session I shared my experiences with our temporary flatmate and said I’d enjoyed the class, and even managed to get into the chanting and ohming that I’d never thought people really took seriously until I found myself in a roomful of people doing just that.

My amused friend, evidently more of a yoga-afficionada than me, asked if I believed in chakras. I quickly replied that I didn’t but remembered reading somewhere that the vibrations caused by a cat’s purr aren’t purely there to indicate its smug pleasure at a world that it understands as its own personal kingdom, but also have the purpose of helping to heal the cat through minor ailments. If I could accept that a cat’s unique purring frequency could have a positive physical impact on its wellbeing, then why couldn’t yoga chants serve a similar purpose for humans?

If that is the case then I hope the cats purrs and weekly yoga chants are positively impacting on the potato. Perhaps the dream I had will turn out to be a premonition and the baby’s first word will be more ‘miaow’ than ‘mummy’, but if it grows up to be as self-contented as the kitties that wouldn’t be so terrible. Although if it picks up on other cat habits such a penchant for murdering birds and burying poos in the garden that might be a little more alarming.