My body and I

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Let’s face the facts, body:
I’ve never really liked you.
I don’t think of you as being a part of me,
‘we’ aren’t one but two.
My own worst enemy.
Perhaps unfair but undeniably true.

I ‘divorced’ you at seven;
Told you were too big by a ‘friend’.
Sure, it was cruel of them;
Bringing my self-consciouslessness to an end.
I was never so innocent of vanity again,
My container mattered, I had to comprehend.

It wasn’t all bad, often I failed to remember
I was supposed to wish you a match
For the model images, svelte and slender.
But once awoken it was hard to detach
From that important element of my gender:
My body was supposed to make me a catch.

I confess, I haven’t treated you well,
I stuffed you with chocolate and cheese.
Ate too much junk and allowed you to swell
Beyond limits society told me would please.
So at times I starved you in attempts to quell
The increasing mass that caused me unease.

You’ve been scarred, scalded and strained,
Bloodied, beaten, burned and bruised.
But every injury that was ever sustained
I always interpreted as a sign of abuse
Of the malicious way you caused me pain.
I blamed you without sympathy or excuse.

My mental and physical couldn’t be united.
I had ambitions for us you couldn’t supply,
My catwalk ambitions went unrequited,
The skinniness I desired you couldn’t satisfy.
It was your fault I couldn’t be dieted,
Your cravings that stopped you from being an ally.

At various points I’ve wished parts of you changed:
Bigger and smaller, lengthened and shortened.
If I could I’d have gladly had you exchanged
For anything I felt to be less of a burden.
It’s really little wonder we became so estranged
When so many requests upon you were importuned.

But I’ve begun to realise, in this relationship of ours,
That I’m the reason things haven’t been great;
It’s because of me that everything soured.
And now I want to move from this cycle of hate
To embrace you again, move forward empowered
To stop being hung up on issues like weight.

It’s about time I offered you some gratitude
Some recognition that really you are a miraculous thing
Something more than a meaningless platitude
About how things could be worse so I shouldn’t be worrying.
Grudgingly grateful for your functionality is a little screwed,
Sure, you aren’t broken but there’s more that you bring.

In reality most don’t see you as a monstrosity,
Humanity doesn’t see you as an anomalous blip!
And for those that do think us quite the atrocity,
Well they deserve nothing more than a finger to flip!
Despite my obvious and unjust animosity,
Together we’ve had a pretty good trip.

You’ve been my constant companion and plaything.
Together we’ve jumped and danced and entertained.
We’ve glided in the air and done other things hair-raising,
We’ve completed a half marathon after we trained.
There’s really no doubt you are simply amazing
So I’m sorry that our relationship has been so strained.

And now you’ve achieved the best thing of all,
As you worked so hard to bear me a daughter,
Before she moved from my belly to the cradle
So much changed as you made room for the squatter.
It was a supreme feat and I’ll forever be grateful.
So what if my waist expanded and breath became shorter?

And as our baby entered the world,
I thought of all the things I wanted for her.
When I think of how her future will unfurl,
I desperately hope body image won’t be a self-saboteur
Because it’s so evident she’s the most perfect girl
I hope our flawed relationship won’t be transferred.

So today, my body, I make you this vow
No longer will I look at you with disappointment or spite
I promise to love you as you are now
To accept that whatever shape you are it’s really alright
So however you change, whether you become lean or round
I’ll love you, my body, and cherish you with delight.

And hopefully, from my example, our girl will learn
That how you look really isn’t important,
I’ll show her we are happy and, with any luck, in turn
Her unity with herself will not be surplanted,
Who she is and how she looks will be of little concern
And she’ll love herself without taking her body for granted.

 

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The baby diaries: tears before bedtime

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Babies cry. Quite a lot as it turns out. Sometimes it almost seems that they do nothing but cry. This isn’t true of course but time distorts when you are pacing around your living quarters with an infant emitting ear-splitting wails directly into your auditory brain channel!

Babies can’t really help the crying, they don’t have a lot of options when it comes to communicating so screaming is often all they’ve got. This has to suffice to communicate a whole lot of things which as a parent is your job to try to interpret, it could almost be considered a fun game, a sort of twenty guesses of the baby’s needs type affair, except that you hardwired to do two things when your baby cries, one is to respond and the other is to feel like a terrible specimen of humanity.

Sometimes babies just cry and once we’ve gone through the standard list (is she hungry, gassy, does she need a change, is she tired, running a temperature, bored?) we use the paediatrician recommended method of assessing if there is anything specifically wrong, which is to roll her over our arm and carry her face down. Usually this will temporarily stop the grizzling, which apparently is a sign there’s nothing actually wrong, so if the wailing commences again after that we can be reassured that we aren’t missing anything serious.

However, knowing that sometimes babies just cry (fab book a friend lent me ‘Your baby week by week’ gives an indication of how often and for what reasons or lack of reasons) doesn’t stop you from feeling like a failure every time they do. Especially when you are that joyous combination of over hormonal and sleep-deprived.

During my pregnancy, I received a lot of helpful advice (and some not so helpful advice) from a lot of parents. One piece of guidance in particular has been really helpful, when our daughter is screaming her lungs out and we are trying to assess how bad on a scale of dismal-to-barbaric this makes us as parents, which came from a friend at work we’ll call The Italian (and italicise because of the obvious link between Italy and italics – I assume Italians invented the slanting style and don’t want to hear any evidence to the contrary).

The Italian told me and the beard, on more than one occasion, that it’s alright to cry. I’ll admit that failed to really register at the pre-baby hypothetical time but I can’t repeat enough now that we are in the solid-albeit-squidgy-reality of parenthood. The Italian’s advice was meant for us more than our daughter although it applies to her too. This counsel has come in pretty handy as I think I’ve been more tearful in the several weeks of our daughter’s existence than in the previous several years.

I burst into tears when my daughter was first laid on my chest straight after birth. That definitely counts as good crying.

The next tearful incident was one particularly fractious night around the two or three-week mark when she seemed to be constantly demanding food but then would take a mouthful before screaming on my breast, nipple still in mouth, milk going everywhere. Unsure where I was going wrong (as already mentioned blaming yourself is instinctive), frustrated and tired, the beard sensibly whipped her away for a pace around the flat before I started to join her in the wailing!

On another disturbed night with unexplained crying dragging out minutes into years the girl’s tantrum must have been contagious as I neared breaking point and could only save myself from full on nuclear meltdown by hurling a pack of nappies across the room. Which, in my defence, seems a fairly reasonable response as I could have hurled the baby or thrown nappies (perhaps with a baby inside) at the beard instead and that probably would have been a bit harder to fix than a measured tidy up the following day.

When the little one got a bit better at sleeping, going for three or four-hour stints at a time, we started to recover from the prolonged period of sleep-deprivation we’d been subject to. I mistakenly started to think maybe I’d got the hang of this parenting thing and wasn’t as bad at as I’d initially thought.

This brings me to the next time I properly cried: the day I hurt my child. Before anyone starts calling the French equivalent of social services on me, I hasten to add that it was accidental and not at all serious but that didn’t stop me from feeling like the worst human being in existence, having just injured the best human being in existence (it’s possible I may be biased but the beard and both sets of grandparents would definitely agree with me, so that seems fairly conclusive to me).

I was putting her down on the playmat, she slipped slightly (from a height of probably no more than five centimetres), and bopped her head, she landed on the edge of the playmat but it’s a very hard tile floor underneath and it did cause two quick sharp wails before she was swept up and the tears stopped. We checked her for damage but pretty sure the only result was the initial shock of a slight bump to the head. The beard was relaxed enough about the incident later to try and joke about it over the changing table, I was not quite so sanguine about what had happened and promptly burst into tears.

The next time I cried was a week or two ago (my ability to remember things like days of the week and accurately marking the passage of the earth around the sun has severely decreased since living with a newborn). I thought we had got into a reasonably settled pattern of just waking once between midnight and 8 am but my daughter had other plans and went through a couple of nights of only sleeping for 60-90 minutes to a time. The shock of the return of this nightmarish sleep schedule just pushed me over the edge. In the witching hours of one such evening, I took her out of the bedroom to nurse her but was faced with one of those confidence-shattering moments when the daughter’s demands for boobs only resulted in shrill screams at my breast.

I just thought I have no idea what to do and I’m too tired to figure this out. I started to sniffle a little bit and then I started to full-on sob. I then started to feel worse about my failure to satisfy the infant thinking that my sobbing was going to upset her, but then I remembered The Italian’s advice ‘it’s alright to cry’. And that finally fully sunk in. It was alright to cry, it was alright to give into my emotions and it’s alright for my child to see me do this. In fact it’s probably more than alright to expose our daughter to this from an early age.

At this point the beard blundered in having been woken by the chorus of our howls to find himself confronted with a bawling child and weeping wife, incoherently thrusting the baby in his face whilst snuffling out something or other about maybe needing to change her.

I have been thinking about this moment quite a lot recently and why it is that I, along with so many other people, are indoctrinated to think of crying as a negative physical reaction, a sign of weakness that is something to be ashamed of.

From an early age crying gets pushed into a gendered dimension, which is why I think it particularly important to note that the advice came from The Italian, who happens to be male. Crying is often portrayed as a feminine trait symptomatic of girls and women’s inherent weakness, it’s okay for girls and women to cry, they can’t help it; but not for boys or men to do so.

As someone who is often fighting to overcome negative gender stereotypes I’m not exempt from this and have inadvertently accepted the narrative that crying is a sign of weakness and have consequently trapped myself into thinking that if I cry I’m giving into feebleness and in doing so undermining the notion that women can be just as strong as men.

The problem is that crying is almost unilaterally portrayed as a bad thing, unless we expressly clarify that someone is crying tears of joy. Crying is often symptomatic of sadness, pain or discomfort but these feelings aren’t a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. I think the problem lies in that tears make other people uncomfortable and are something that people feel need to be justified, excused or otherwise explained away as an anomaly, as though it isn’t okay to just admit sometimes we are sad and crying is an expression of that.

As the parent of an often-screaming child, I already feel like I’m failing when our daughter cries when it is just the three of us, but as soon as she cries around other people, whether friends or family or out in public, my feelings that I’m a failure are hitched up into a whole new level of uncomfortableness caused by the assumption that everyone else will also think I am a failure.

This sense that crying is bad is something that is unavoidable from the earliest age. We noticed this with some visitors who kept on asking whether our daughter had been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’.

Given our child is unable to support the weight of her own head, let alone plot for the downfall of humanity, we were given to understand that a good baby was one that was quiet and a bad baby was one that cried. At first we didn’t really notice it but the frequency at which this concept of good or bad was being liberally applied to our child really started to grate on me and although I’d let the comments slide at first, I then found the need to keep correcting our visitors. Yes, she woke up in the night; no, it wasn’t her being naughty or bad in doing so.

Frustrating to have to constantly contradict others, amongst ourselves it has become a source of amusement, so that currently whenever the potato cries the beard and I look at each other and laughingly say ‘bad baby, bad baby’. It’s a habit we’ll have to break before our daughter becomes conscious of the meaning of our words but figure we can get away with for a little longer so long as it is always said in a happy tone.

When she is old enough to understand the concepts of those asking if she has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we’ll have to make conscious efforts to explain and to demonstrate to her that it’s alright to cry. In the meantime, I’ll work on accepting this more in myself as I expect this family will be dealing with quite a few more tears before bedtime in future.

 

 

 

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.

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 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.