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: 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.