Hot date in the hospital

We sat in the overheated hospital room, hemmed in by a curtain and feeling very One Born Every Minute. Yesterday had been planned as the last day of our babymoon, with a choice between the museum and a forest walk. Sitting in a bleachy room and having me finally discover what a speculum is had not been on the menu.

We tried to keep chatting so we’d stop eavesdropping on the woman next door but it was nigh impossible. She was due for a C-section and was defending herself against various midwives, doctors and so on, insisting that she was waiting for her husband to get back from London. Without meaning to, I counted five different people who asked when she’d last eaten. By the fourth, I was ready to volunteer the answer: “a granola bar now 45 minutes ago.”

Meanwhile, the fact that no one was attending us, though irritating, confirmed to me that whatever had happened in my body in the wee hours of the morning wasn’t a big deal. A searing pain radiating from my lower abdomen to my back had rudely awakened me from a hopping good dream around 4am. Being a first-timer, I have no idea what labour is supposed to be like but my thoughts went like this: “Crud, if it starts here it’s going to be bloody painful. Wait, if I’m thinking like this when it starts and I’m planning to do this thing unmedicated…” I know. I’m a wuss.

Panicked by my panic, Laurence got me a hot water bottle and would only go back to sleep when I told him I’d wake him if anything else happened. Well, it did. There was water. But the pain had gone and the baby was kicking about as usual so I just went back to sleep. After putting the coffee on in the morning, I nonchalantly rang up the hospital (couldn’t get through my midwife) who nonchalantly suggested I tell my midwife when I saw her in a couple of hours for my scheduled appointment or if I was worried, I could come in now. I wasn’t worried. I nonchalantly agreed to the first option.

The midwife herself didn’t seem too concerned. The creature’s head had recently migrated downwards, so she suggested that she could have just hit a nerve. Thrashing about like always, aren’t you, my love? I was satisfied with that. But she felt that we should go to the hospital just in case.

I went to the loo to test my urine and by the time I came back she and Laurence were talking about something like a pap smear test that the doctor would want to do when I got there. I’ve only just turned 25 so I’ve never had one so I was just like, “OK”, imagining someone having a quick look down there and maybe swabbing a Q-tip inside my sacred place. It’s not like that.

When we were finally attended, the baby’s heart rate was monitored. We had to wait a long time for her to stop kicking the machine. She’s nothing if not persistent. That’s what you get when you make a child with two sets of bull-headed genes.

My blood was taken and then it was time for the fabled speculum. They lubed it up and stuck it in. So far so good. “We’re just going to expand it,” the doctor said. Well, ok. That’s fine. Wait a minute. Bad words. Bad words. That’s not fine at all! “It all looks ok. Your cervix is closed and there’s no water pooling around the amniotic sac.” Great. Whatever. Get that instrument of torture out of me!

Laurence suggested I should have got them to do my pap smear at the same time so I’d be able to put the next one off. He asked what it felt like and his shock at my description confirms to me that it’s not fitting for polite company so I’ll refrain. There, I think you lot are polite company. Also, my parents read my blog and I don’t want to have to explain one of the terms I used or how I know that word. I later giggled that he’d earlier asked if I’d like him to leave when they were doing that bit as it would be strange seeing people look into my vagina clinically. I have no idea what he expects will be happening at the birth.

Anyhoo, about four hours later, this much was clear to everyone involved: nothing was wrong. It probably was just a nerve. “But I’d like to keep you in overnight just in case,” the doctor said.

Uh, no. I know some people are probably reassured having you medical types around them and maybe even like the attention, who knows, but I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather not be spending a sleepless night. So I asked, “Is that necessary? I’d really rather not.”

She seemed taken aback. In fact, she seemed a bit flustered. “Well,” she explained, “It’s just in case the pain comes back. And we might want to have a scan in the morning.” I looked up at the clock. It was nearing 6pm. There were too many hours between now and morning. We assured her we’d come back if anything happened but that I definitely had no intention of staying the night.

She left to talk to the registrar. I packed up my things. It was beyond me why they’d want me to occupy a valuable hospital bed when there was nothing wrong with me or the baby. When the registrar came in she asked a few questions and was happy for me to go. She didn’t suggest I come in for a scan and she didn’t even suggest that I come in if the pain returned but only that I pop some paracetamol and see if it goes away. I was flummoxed at how she could be so unbothered in letting us go when just minutes before the language used made it sound as if I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

I wonder, how many people just go along with it when they tell them they need to stay? And how much money is this reluctance to challenge the doctor’s first opinion costing the NHS? At any rate, I hope I’ll not be going back. See, here, creature. You’ve just got to sit tight at least three more weeks and you’ll likely be born at home.

Images by Laurence Jarrett-Kerr on his iPhone out of boredom

The Thursday I turned 25 and liked it

I started off planning to blog about woman-focused pornography and then remembered that the day this post is meant for will be my birthday. In fact, if the postman hadn’t just dropped off a package that I’m “not allowed to open” I probably would have forgotten altogether. So, uh, yeah, we’ll leave the porn for another day.

Obviously, the actual writing has happened beforehand. Sadly, this is not because I’ll be spending the day lying in a bath of maraschino cherries and cream (wait a minute, that sounds sticky and not fun, anyway). Instead I’ll be busy finishing off helping with a law book thing. It’s a rather grown-up way to spend a birthday, wouldn’t you agree?

Being born in April has usually meant that I’ve had the luxury of birthdaying in the Easter holidays. Of course this means little when you’re no longer in school but at twenty-five I’ve yet to have a birthday when I was confined to a desk for a nine to five.

The upside of having time flexibility has meant that I’ve been able to make a fuss of it myself, shopping or painting my nails. The downside has been that time has allowed me too much space to over-think things and fall into the birthday-slump that so many of us do.

Why are we so depressed that another year has passed? Often I’ve felt that I wasn’t where I’d planned to be by now or that I’d wasted those 365 days. I know this might seem ridiculous given my age but everyone can look back and wish they’d put more effort into something.

In the past I’ve wished I’d studied harder and thought more carefully about what to study. Last year, I was happy with the career I was about to embark on but wished I’d been more disciplined at keeping the bonds strong with my family.

This year, I probably wish I was further along in my career or was sure about what I’m doing but I’m actually not too fussed. There are bigger, more immediate things on the brain. And I like being 25.

I think I’m cool with where I am because having a baby at this stage in my life always sort of made sense to me. We base a lot of our assumptions about the world on the reality our parents demonstrate and because my mum had me at 25, I probably always saw that as a good age to have a baby. This wasn’t a conscious decision but the idea was there.

By outsiders’ standards, it probably wasn’t a good time for my parents to start a family either. They weren’t financially secure and, in fact, my mum had to start a small sewing business from home to help make ends meet. I learned all sorts of thrifty tricks from seeing her do whatever she could out of necessity. Little did she know, her habits would later become fashionable. Not the hand washing nappies though, mum. That was hardcore.

For once, I’m neither overly excited nor dejected by the coming of my birthday. I’m simply content, grateful and looking forward to someone else’s birthday, oh, some time round the end of May or beginning of June.

Little one, may you be better at birthdays than your silly mummy.

The sweary verse strikes again

We annoyed each other last night as we sometimes do. The better you know each other, the easier it is to hit those pressure points. Granted, the subjects of our argument were little things blown out of proportion but anger seethed through the darkness palpably.

Eventually we did talk it through and this morning we were able to take everything before God for renewal. Prayer is a helluva thing.

But last night, I lay awake thinking about our need to learn to handle conflict in healthy ways that don’t affect the baby. It’s all well and good to “have it out” when it’s just the two of us but when there’s a little person absorbing everything and looking to you for stability it’s a bit more complicated.

Then out of nowhere, Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be the Verse jumped into memory. It goes like so:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

One of my English courses at university began with this poem. I think the idea was to help us get turned on for “Aspects of Literary History” by a sweary verse or two.

At the time, I found it unbelievably depressing. Actually, to an extent I still do, especially the outcome. But it would take an optimist of clinical proportions not to see that there is some truth in what Larkin is saying.

We are all profoundly shaped by our families of origin (this is a term I get from my father – he loves it). It’s where some of our deepest hurts lie. But it’s not a case of pointing the finger at your parents. We’re all products of the human condition. We’re not perfect.

Remembering this poem, I now find it a bit affirming, even in spite of its ending. It’s not saying that you might mess up. It’s assuring you that you will. That’s not a “get out free” card from doing the best we can with this parenting thing. It’s also not a reason to avoid taking responsibility for the people we become and the direction of our lives.

Reading this again now, I feel more strongly that we must do our best, minus the frightening pressure for perfection.

The image is of Philip Larkin. Doesn’t he look cheerful?

That bad word, “homemaker”

I’ve instinctively struggled with the idea of gendered roles in marriage since we got engaged two years and two months ago. I’d like to think I’m closer to settling the matter in my mind by now but every time I turn a corner I find myself pausing, uncertain of where to go.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently since I’m about to enter a long stretch where the home, in a very real way, will be my domain. I’m not saying that having a baby will confine me staying home but I won’t be working, at least not for money, for a spell and I imagine that I’ll not be able to ignore the dishes quite as well as I’ve done in the past. So, by default, I will probably become a “homemaker”.

That word is hot and cold in my mouth, even though the transition’s already been happening. For the past few months I’ve worked primarily from home. The flexibility of my work has meant that we finally have a laundry day, our meals are generally planned and for the first time since we’ve been married, everything (save one mini suitcase) is unpacked. Furthermore, and this will make those who knew me even three years ago gasp, the house gets tidied and cleaned at some point every week.

I find myself taking pride in it, not in the sense that I’m fulfilling some feminine role (though there’s a bit of that too, if I’m completely honest) because competence is enjoyable. It’s like how I felt learning to play the guitar. There’s some creative fulfillment in it as well, as if acquiring new ways to be thrifty and changing the look of a room bore resemblance to writing a song. I also like the hospitality it allows. I usually don’t have to mentally check whether the house looks too much like a farmyard’s come and had its fun in it before inviting someone to spend time with us, spur of the moment.

I guess I feel a bit like it’s a “spousonomics” type of exchange between Laurence and I. For one thing, he works much longer hours than I do and earns a great deal more so I feel a bit like taking care of things domestic is my contribution to the “business” of our marriage. If the roles were reversed, I expect he’d be the one making sure things are spic and span.

But it’s a relational thing too. Something we discovered when taking a marriage preparation course (let me tell you, this was one of the hardest things I’ve done, one of the crappest times in my life but made our first year so much easier because all our personal rubbish was out in the open) was that he experiences love most strongly through acts of service and I through quality time. He really makes the effort to give me what I need and it would be more than a little selfish for me not to do the same.

So, it sounds like I’m down with this homemaking thing, no “issues” attached. But I’m not. I’m overly sensitive to any time I feel like I’m doing all of it (I never am) though I’m happy, time allowing, to do the lion’s share of it. When things do become messy because I’m too busy, tired or ill, I find myself making defensive jokes about being “a defective domestic goddess” or if I’m really trying to elicit a reaction, “a bad wife” – not that I actually think vacuuming has the slightest thing to do with being a woman or married.

These barbs protect the woman inside who’s scared of being taken for granted the way a lot of the women I grew up amongst were. Beneath their harsh tone, they’re quietly saying to him: “I know you’re not oppressive or distracted. I know you’re involved, happy to muck in with these silly domestic things. But I’m scared that eventually you’ll stop seeing me.” And that’s not fair to him. He’s done nothing for me to expect the worst.

Image: sflovestory

Five things to do before the baby comes

At thirty-three weeks pregnant, the countdown has begun. Laurence asked me yesterday if we’re in the third trimester yet. I pray he was joking. At any rate, I’m determined to make the most of these next seven (or five or nine or God alone knows how many) weeks.

This does not entail, as has been previously suggested to me, clubbing. Anyone who’s made that suggestion (and they’ve tellingly all been male) doesn’t quite understand that this thing around my middle really is as heavy as it looks.

Nope, dancing days waved goodbye a week after I peed on the sticks. Then the first trimester’s exhaustion/nausea/generally-feeling-like-I’m-dying was speedily followed by the ligaments in my pelvic girdle deciding to fall apart and do a fancy jiggle called SPD. Though that’s admittedly chilled quite a bit with exercise and listening to my body, the third trimester has brought the return of exhaustion, coupled with needing to know where the restroom is at all times.

So, in short, I’m afraid this list won’t be as active as some of my friends would probably like but it reflects how excited I am about meeting the creature. Call me 25 going on 50.

Before the baby arrives I want to:

1. Get all things “baby” ready

This might actually strike some as surprising, since I clearly have the kid on the brain rather a lot of the time, but I haven’t set up the nursery yet. Yes we’ve bought things. We even have the pram and car seat. But everything is sitting in the room, mostly in bags, unwashed and wondering if a baby is really coming. Then Braxton Hicks rudely reminds me that it’s worth getting my tush into gear, even though I do have loads of time left.

2. Learn origami

I mentioned this to a crafty friend the other day and she seemed excited that we were going to make a mobile or something (not a bad idea though, not at all). Really, I meant that we need to work this nappy situation out.

We’ve opted to do the cloth nappy thing. My brother and I wore reusable nappies and I’m keen to continue the family tradition mainly because we don’t have much money and I saw an exhibition in Bristol Zoo last year that freaked me out about what disposables do the environment.

I now have a collection of pocket nappies, all-in-ones and terry toweling but little idea of how to use them so I’ll be having some fun with Videojug and online diagrams these next few weeks. I say “I” but I do mean “we”.
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No doula this time – I’ll just have my mum

A couple told their birth story at our last home birth meeting and it involved a doula. I worried the whole time that Laurence was bored, wondering why I’d dragged him to the wretched event, especially when he’d previously said: “It’s all pretty straightforward, isn’t it?”

Their story brought the reality of what was happening rushing in. Their midwife almost hadn’t got there in time – a possibility that still scares the jingles out of him. I wasn’t worried about it. I’d never given it much thought.

Subconsciously, I knew this could happen. My brother basically fell out of my mother so there was no time for the doctor [I’d love to get her to guest post on here and tell that story but I didn’t get my affinity for oversharing from her so we’ll just have to wait and see]. Maybe I just thought there were worse things that could happen.

In Siba Shakib’s Samira and Samira a woman squats in a separate room and delivers her own baby. Not that I’m saying I’m anywhere near this hardcore. I’m just saying that I figure your body generally knows what to do. I’ll probably slap myself in the face with this post later.

When Laurence asked, “What’s a doula?” it finally occurred to me that it might not be the greatest idea for us to do this on our own. Perhaps we could use a little extra support.

For those not up on their hippy-lingo, a doula is a trained birth partner who helps a woman achieve the birth that she wants, usually a natural birth. They often also specialise in pregnancy massage, aromatherapy or another homeopathic practice. In Laurence’s mind, what this means is that they help you not to completely freak out, while defending you against the NHS.

Initially, we’d decided that we wanted it to just be the two of us. Too many people staying in too small a flat while my hormones got jiggy meant that Christmas was stressful beyond repeating. Deciding to do the birth on our own was a way of pulling protectively into our shell as well as marking our territory as new parents.

So we continued, happy to “do it on our own”, until the birth became real. Our nervousness was exacerbated by my midwife never remembering who I am. There’s also the likelihood that she’ll not be there the whole time. Suddenly, independence doesn’t look as attractive.

We turned our thoughts to the doula option, discussing it with my in-laws, whom I think may have been slightly amused by the idea. But as I focused on the birth, I realised the person I really wanted to share this experience with was my own mother.

She’s given birth twice, both times at home and un-medicated. Throughout my life she’s supported me in practical ways, unsolicited. I remember that time I’d come home from summer camp with the flu and she dictated me into the shower, a bowl of soup and bed though I was fighting sleep. Heck, I remember all the times I’ve been ill and she’s taken care of me without being asked. I mentioned last week that I had a chest infection and she couldn’t help Facebooking her concern.

Selfishly, I want her to be there to take care of us. But I also want her there because I know she wants to be there and I think she deserves it. For the many times she skipped on things she needed to give us things we wanted, I’d like her to have this. And, if the baby comes two weeks early, as I did, then at least she’ll get some quality newborn time.

I can’t predict how I’ll feel when the hour(s) of reckoning comes but this feels right.

So, mum, thanks for having your passport up-to-date and if I start using words you know you didn’t teach me, I promise you still raised me right.

PS: Congratulations to my cousin-in-law who had a successful home birth two days ago. Hope you and your boys are getting lots of rest.

Image by William Warby

Nominate me for a MAD blog award

I started this blog back in November with a post about what I should call my fetus. It was strange time.

We didn’t have friends who had or were having babies, we’d recently moved to a new city and I was working primarily from home, which made it difficult to meet new people. So, looking back, this blog began as many do, out of isolation.

I’d blogged in the past, ranting about national identity and other abstract concepts my university self was trying to come to grips with. This blog has never been about that.

Instead it’s been rooted in a concrete and frighteningly physical fact: there is a baby growing inside me. From gasping at the ultrasound to accepting my morphing body to pondering what I want to teach my daughter, there’s been nothing particularly out of the ordinary on these pages.

Yet, writing about it has helped me to frame an experience that is simultaneously ordinary and life-changing. It’s helped me to understand what’s happening and, more importantly, to figure out that it’s not really about me. In many ways, what started as my outlet has become a love letter to this child.

And I’ve been more than a little surprised that you’ve wanted to read it. Every visit and comment has reminded me that my words aren’t just falling around me. Thank you for encouraging me when I’ve worried about money and when found I was bleeding. Thank you for walking with me as I work out what it means to become a mother.

That’s a lot to receive and I feel strange asking for anything more. But if you regularly read this blog and have a few moments spare, I’d love to be nominated for a MAD (Mums and Dads) blog award.

The form looks a little daunting but you don’t have to fill in every field if you’re not that up on your parent blogging. To make things easy, I’ll admit that I’d be particularly thrilled for Circus Queen to be nominated “Best Pregnancy Blog” or “Best New Blog”.

Nominate now.