Hello, masses, here’s my pregnant body

My father has a habit of saying, “Fat is a feminist issue,” whenever I mention weight, mine or anyone else’s.

I’m convinced that he’s quoting the title of a book he’s not read because he never goes on to explain what he means.

He probably just likes how it sounds.

Or maybe he’s been vaguely trying to help me see that my body isn’t valued based on what others think of it.

It’s even possible that he’s arguing that women talk about “fat” far more than is necessary or interesting. I have no idea. I must ask him some day.

Last night I went swimming with a friend at a public indoor swimming pool. It was my first swim in almost a year, which also made it the first time I’d displayed my pregnant body in all its glory to the masses.

Now, even when I had significantly less body fat as a teenager, I felt uncomfortable stripping to go swimming in public. My breasts were new and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them and I felt like everyone was watching me.

I never wore a bikini even though I had an enviably flat stomach. This was partly because I felt self-conscious and didn’t want to draw more ‘attention’ to myself and partly because the Christian community I grew up in wasn’t too keen on women not wearing one-pieces (at least that was the message I got quite early on).

I had a pretty nervous take on my body.

It wasn’t until university, when I cut off all my hair (the hair on my head) and occasionally shaved it, that I came to be at relative peace with my body.

I’d chopped it all off myself while plunged in what I later recognised as a bout of depression but the outcome of having little hair was quite useful.

I stopped trying so hard.

Since I realised my hair didn’t matter in terms of building relationships, because it wasn’t such an essential part of my identity – that I was, in fact, the same person – I felt freedom to recognise that my body’s size and shape also existed outside of my innate value.

Of course, I still had insecurities but they didn’t predominate quite as much.

Actually, I didn’t start interrogating my body again until pregnancy began to make itself apparent.
My breasts, already uncomfortably large decided to multiply in size overnight and, almost as suddenly, my waist disappeared. My clothes, suited to an hourglass, didn’t fit well any more.

I felt frumpy. But I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to appear shallow or ungrateful for the baby.

From the day my bump flopped out one weekend, I began to look at my naked body in the mirror with fascination, awe and horror. I obsessed over the possibility of stretch marks and my rapidly expanding thighs.

I also wondered if I’d be able to lose the weight quickly after giving birth.

I was shocked at my own sexualised response to my pregnant body. I had inwardly criticised other women for their vanity, for buying so deeply into celebrity culture that they began to view their own bodies as objects to be manipulated for the observer’s pleasure rather than fully claiming them as their own.

It was difficult to reconcile myself to a body that no longer obeyed me but instead did whatever was necessary to nurture the creature, with caring about side effects.

I won’t pretend that these thoughts and feelings have magically disappeared as if I’m somehow immune to the trappings of western culture. But feeling the creature kick, noticing the hardness of her home and seeing her on screen are going a long way in transforming some of my horror to wonder.

I marvel at my body’s ability to do this, to do this beautiful thing; to provide for someone else in such a complete way.

When I was getting ready for swimming last night, I discovered that I’d already outgrown the modest maternity one-piece I’d bought so would have to wear a bikini I’d accidentally bought years go two sizes too big. Looking at all my bulges in the mirror, I wasn’t sure whether I’d feel self-conscious when out in public or not.

To my surprise, heavy breasts, extended belly, meaty thighs and all, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t care whether anyone was watching me or what they thought of the state of my body.

I casually slipped into the water and enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness, of freedom.

Image: Mary Thompson

Feast, famine or funny food

In this flat, we have a bedtime routine that I’m not altogether proud of. If we stay up beyond 11, I’ll almost inevitably go into a funk that doesn’t allow me to go to bed without making a fuss. Often, Laurence has to drag to my feet by the armpits and remind me that for this to work, I need to put my arms down. Clearly good common sense goes missing late at night. But then, while I’m brushing my teeth, I’m tired enough to start thinking about the things I’m worried about. It goes like this.

I couldn’t wait to stop being a student so I could get a real job and finally have money. You know, get on the career ladder. Be a grown up. Or at least be able to buy a pair of shoes without having to struggle through the maths first.

It’s all about stability – that thing you’re supposed to have acquired before you get married and have children. Oh. Am I doing this the wrong way around, then?

As a freelance writer, I expect the feast or famine (and I know which it feels like more often!) but as an expectant mother, it’s sometimes difficult not to get a bit, well, antsy.

Especially when I’m raiding the January cupboard and cooking “bean and stuffing casserole”, the bizarre concoction pictured here.

So began the worry rant I heaped on hassled Laurence last night: “Why can’t I have a real job, go to an office, have a boss tell me what to do and know what I’ll be paid and when I’ll be paid every month?” And even scarier: “Is this the wrong time for us to be having a baby? What if my career’s never stable? What if we can’t pay for ballet lessons?!”

He patiently said something that surprised me: “You need to accept that you may never have a ‘real’ job.” What? The suggestion was at once terrifying (you mean it could always be like this?!) and liberating.

This universal career ladder thing is, essentially, imaginary. It only becomes reality when buy into the idea that there’s only one clearly-defined way of doing things, of living.

I think he also meant that I would be doing what I love, writing, and that this in itself would benefit our children. They might even see the merit of not taking the easy path. And anyway, it’ll be years before they even notice that mummy doesn’t have a normal job.

Even so, the money/career thing? It’s scary.

Driving’s for losers

Yesterday I proved that my husband is patient enough to put his life and, more impressively, car into my shaky hands simply to encourage me. He yelled, “Brakes!” a couple of times but there were no beads of sweat, whispered prayers or attempts at thinly veiled contempt.

It could be that he’s bone tired of driving the whole way to Cornwall while I either consume all breathing space with “important issues” or snore my head into dropping forward, back, left, right and back again. He’s probably also a bit fed up of having to quickly pull to the side while I revisit whatever I’ve had for breakfast. Latest accomplishments include puking a full English outside the Wordsworth museum in the Lake District – just to inject a bit of culture into our visit. And bless his pants, that time he was making the ten-hour journey up to Aberdeen and back as the sole driver. To see my family. What a hero.

But the hero has decided it’s time I learned to drive, especially since the creature will probably demand need driving around. He needs to feel safe about me taking his offspring out and about. For my part, I really don’t want her to grow up subconsciously thinking at worst that women don’t make good drivers or at least inherit my complex about the whole issue.

It all started when I was 18. The mechanics of maneuvering a manual car were fine but I soon realised that I had no perception of where the chips the car was. I could move it around just fine but understanding where other cars were in relation to my car or deciphering just what I was seeing in the mirrors was a total mystery. Embarrassed, I never told the instructor. I just let him tell me what to do.

Amazingly, this didn’t affect my test. I failed it a couple of times but for unrelated majors. The third time I decided to go automatic and still made a huge mistake (rolling back on a hill) but the examiner decided to pass me anyway, out of pity, I think. He said, “You’ll learn as you go along.” Oh, Trinidad, how I love thee.

Well, I didn’t learn as I went along. Soon after getting my sympathy license, I picked up a friend with my dad in the car. We were driving to the mall and all was fine until my dad suggested I switch lanes. In one clear moment, I realised that I didn’t know how to do that, couldn’t tell where the cars behind me were and shouldn’t attempt this one on the fly but bravado got the better of me and I plunged for it.

I looked over my shoulder and simultaneously pushed the wheel to the left, resulting in the car scraping over the partition that separates the cars going in one direction on the motorway from the cars going the other. I’m so driving savvy that I don’t even know what this is called. Anyway, there we dangled, our car precariously hanging over both sides of the motorway like a toy dropped by the Honey I Blew Up the Kid baby.

Massive props to my dad for seeing the humour in it pretty much right away and for telling my friend and me to get out of the car and go around the corner where we wouldn’t hear things that could jeopardise my confidence. I think he even offered for me to get straight back into the driver’s seat after a van of guys helped him lift it onto the road. But I refused.

I’ve not driven since, partly because of what happened but more because there was never any impetus to try in Brighton. As a student, I hardly knew anyone who had a car. The city’s so small you can walk everywhere and so green that many people make the lifestyle choice not to drive.

But, it’s like riding a bike, everyone said, you never forget. Not that that helps. I can’t ride a bike either.

And guess what, they’re all a bunch of sweaty liars. I got into a car yesterday and remembered nothing. What the hell are gears for? Why’s this clutch business so flippin’ complicated? Which way do I turn if I want the car to go that way when I’m reversing? How much do I turn? Too much? Grrr. Breaks. Jump. Stall.

And the big problem remains. I still have limited spatial awareness. I still can’t make sense of what I’m seeing in the mirrors so that it translates into me not aiming to crash into something.

I start lessons to get my UK driver’s license on Wednesday. And now it’s about more than not wanting the creature to think that women are rubbish. At this point I’ll settle for her not thinking that I’m rubbish.

Image: J.B. Hill

My cupboard is fully stocked…

with pinches of salt for the coming year. Mompetition hits it again.

Mum-thing to do: confuse religion with ethnicity

Late nights courtesy London friends left me struggling to get to sleep at a reasonable hour last night. My iPhone was (shock, horror) battery dead so I decided to read a little book Laurence (ahem, Santa) put in my stocking this Christmas. It’s called, “things to do now that you’re a MUM” and is ultra-yummy. It really is a fun book for any new mum to have.

That the author Elfrea Lockley is able to round up 600 “nice” things to do as a new mother is somewhat prodigious, I thought. Yes, I’m aware that new mothers are bombarded with thousands of things to do. But we’re not talking 4am feedings and stinky nappies here. Her suggestions are along the lines of “smile at other mothers”, “try a face stretch” and, one I thought was particularly sweet: “Turn early mornings with a baby into something beautiful – open the curtains and watch the sunrise together.”

But this I found hilarious when reading through the “Celebrations” section last night: “Celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of light…it’s never too early for your child to learn about other faiths”. Sure, it’s never too early to learn about that great faith, Indianism.

Really, I just wanted to share that bit. Pedantic? Probably.

Baby, you’re on screen

Yesterday, I drank well over a pint of water, lugged my unhappy bladder into the filthiest taxi I’ve ever sat in and went to the hospital. Two signs on the England-flag-emblazoned glass separating the driver from me warned me that a £75 fine would be due should I soil the vehicle. Honestly, I’m not sure what difference my spit-up, or any other soiling materials for that matter, would have added to the mix.

I’d decided to take a taxi because the thought of waddling across Bristol, ready to burst, oddly did not appeal. For our dating scan I’d drunk what felt like my day’s allowance, only to be informed that my bladder was only just full enough and that it would need to be “well and truly full” for the next scan to work. So I wasn’t taking any chances. The lads’ night out taxi I’d taken managed to hit every bump on the way but I was so excited about seeing the baby that I managed to see the humour in this even if my bladder didn’t.

The minutes that the sonographer was delayed in calling us dragged on and just as I was about to unbutton my jeans for a little relief (how easily I’ve been able to allow myself to do things like this without feeling the least bit undignified) she called my name. Laurence had met me at the hospital during his lunch hour. He now jumped out of his seat, striding off with my maternity notes as if he was the one carrying the uterus.

As I lay on my back (these days my most uncomfortable position – it feels like someone is lying on my spine), unzipped my jeans and let the woman rub warm goo all over my stomach, I got the familiar panic that she wouldn’t find anything. I’d already had a dating scan and listened to the baby’s heartbeat at a midwife appointment but still it was there. What if this somehow isn’t real? What if my imagination has managed to manufacture all the signs of pregnancy like Mary I?

But then, as the creature came into view I was hit with altogether different worry. What if something’s wrong? Previously I’d had to keep reminding myself that the scan was primarily to check on the baby’s health and not just some fun way for us to see the baby and know the sex. Now I could think of nothing but, “What if I’ve done something wrong?” Relief washed over me every time the sonographer said that everything was fine.

It became obvious that Laurence was enjoying the experience far more than I. He kept “ahing” and chuckling and whenever I looked over at him, his eyes were filled with wonder. To be honest, I generally didn’t know what I was looking at until told. It could have been because I’m just not as visual as he is or perhaps it was because, between being jabbed in a bladder threatening to empty itself and the sudden rush of worry, I was a tad distracted.

While sitting up and wiping myself off, it was hard to remember that the person we’d seen on screen, who definitely looks like a baby and not alien spawn, was actually inside me. She’s (most likely) a healthy girl and definitely an energetic wriggler. I put down the tissue, zipped up my jeans, thought about how cool it would be to raise a woman and dashed off to pee.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind

I’ve been sickeningly obsessed with  Christmas since July this year. Laurence has been caught somewhere between amusement and horror as I’ve enticed (coerced) him into buying presents from hippie stalls at music festivals and drawing up our Christmas card list. I haven’t always been this way. In fact, it’s characteristic for me to make the mad dash to the shopping centre for entirely unglamorous last minute hunting on Christmas Eve. So I’ve reflected on what makes this one different.

Firstly, my parents are coming to England. If this is indeed one of the reasons my attitude has changed this year, it’s fairly obvious why I’d get excited. They have been up from Trinidad one Christmas before this but I was but a humble second-year student, we stayed at my aunt’s and my mum ended up doing most of the cooking. This time I’ve got a fairly good shot of playing hostess to the people who changed my nappy; maybe I’m now a, ahem, real grown up?

And secondly, I may have finally *accepted* England. I stubbornly have trouble admitting to this one. When I moved to England from Trindad five and a half years ago, I felt shockingly alien. Apart from language, I felt that I had so little culturally in common with most people I met here. Christmas time just made this more visible.

A Northern Irish friend duped me into nearly spitting out a mince pie by convincing me there was meat in it (I was vegetarian and gullible at the time). The were no panaderos, no pastelles, no ham and hops. The carols weren’t even the same and those that were, were song to different tunes. Then there was the cold. I repeatedly got ill and didn’t feel like doing anything with single digit temperatures outside. It didn’t feel like weather to celebrate in.

Worst, my family wasn’t here and my friends were all people I’d met in the last ten weeks who went home to their respective families.

My brother told me off for not buying a chocolate Advent Calendar - whatever happened to silent contemplation?

So, what’s changed? My mouth now waters for mince pies and I’m already lamenting the fact that I’ll be forgoing the mulled wine this year so I don’t addle the creature’s tiny fast-forming brains. I find myself humming Once in Royal David’s City while doing the dishes.

I think a lot of it actually has to do with the family thing. Not the thing about my parents coming, though that is cool as I said, but I feel more settled here because I now have my own family here. This is where I met and married Laurence. And now we’ve got the creature on the way, who will be both British and Trini. I’ll still be making my pastelles (in foil not banana leaves) but I’m looking forward to my father-in-law’s turkey. Even the winter wind has become a welcome reminder that winter is coming.