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.

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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: Part 5 – Drinking for Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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