The day I beat the twisty thing in my garden into submission

There is a devil in my back garden. It stands there in the centre, taunting me, especially when the sun’s out. Its tentacles hang down all reproachful and that. But today I’ve made a small victory.

Laurence doesn’t get what the big deal is. He doesn’t understand why I have spent well over an hour of my life prodding it, staring at it, twisting it to try to work out how to get the metal demon to obey.

Well, this time he wasn’t around. So I had a fight with our airer or whatever it’s called. I’m partial to calling it the evil-umbrella-washing-line-twisty-thing. I tend to get physical with misbehaving household items when the “real adult” isn’t around. The sorry-looking smashed pieces of smoke alarm would tend to agree.

The washing was done and in the basket, smelling all fresh (I’ve recently discovered fabric softener and am a little obsessed) and I was about to take it upstairs when I noticed the glint of the sun on the twisty thing outside.

I can do this, I thought, After all, you don’t need a man to do it and what happens if, God forbid, there comes a time when Laurence isn’t able to do it and as a matter of fact he’s not around to do it now, so there. He’s probably more worried about the conversations I’d have with myself if he weren’t around at all.

I pulled, I pushed, I swore, I cajoled. The twisty thing would not become erect. I just want to hang my washing! I lifted it out of the earth and turned it upside down. It was surprisingly heavy and fell into the mud. I lifted it up, put it back in the earth and wiped the mud off.

Now it stood there reproachfully with all its tentacles messily tangled. Carefully I put them aright. Then I went inside to have a cup of tea and to calm the lemon chicken salad down. I went back outside, convinced that I would not take a hammer to it or – and this was more likely – hurt myself in its abuse.

I pulled again. As if it had never been a mystery, the twisty thing came alive. I pushed it with more force than my stomach muscles were happy with but it gave. It was a moment of triumph. I was even able to take it down and put it up again to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

It’s a small victory, perhaps, but I’ll take them where I can.

PS: Yes, I know the garden’s a mess. Do not rain on my parade.

Consuming life instead of living it

Last Sunday in church, someone described consumerism as a system in which we are valued based on what we can afford to buy. It wasn’t the focus of what he was talking about but that hit me so hard, I got my pen out and wrote it down. It articulated the trap I often get caught by.

For me it’s not really so much about buying things to match other people. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t often buy things and certainly not new things.

Most of my clothes come from charity shops. Apart from the buggy and the car seat everything we’ve bought for the baby so far has come from Freecycle, Gumtree and the NCT Nearly New Sale. Although I’ll occasionally buy books, I’m far more likely borrow from the library. We’re also all about the re-using around here.

None of this is some bizarre type of eco-thrift boast. If anything, these little efforts have successfully blinded me to the places where consumerism has its grip on me.

We’ve been talking through our finances recently and I often sigh over “When – if ever – will we be able to buy a house?”, “When will we be able to go to India?”, “Will we be able to afford ballet or football lessons for the creature?” and the list goes on.

But the question that trumps all of those is: “What will happen to my career?” Like so many of us who graduated in the last two or three years, the going’s not been easy. To be sure, I’ve been fortunate with a lot of the opportunities I’ve had but I hardly feel like my writing career is firmly established. And now, I’m getting ready to take a break!

I applied for Maternity Allowance this week and it put me in a foul mood. At first, I couldn’t work out why. I know it’s necessary (I’m going to be bloody tired those first few months) and actually, I want to stop working for a bit because I want to concentrate my energies on the creature. For me, the consumerist trap isn’t about actual items I can buy so much as it is about commodifying my life. It’s about image. It’s about wanting to have it all – right now. It’s about consuming life rather than living it.

I can hear people saying that maybe I should have waited until I was older and more firmly established. But I hardly see how that’s the answer. Surely that would have only given me more time and ammunition to boost my consumerist obsession. The problem is buying into a false idea of how life is supposed to be. It isn’t not having enough money or a settled enough career.

Despite my worries about the future, I am just as convinced that this is the right time to welcome someone new into our family. While I fully respect the decision of those who do wait, and maybe I envy the things they’re able to afford that we won’t, I do think some things might be easier for us in not having waited.

Having a baby can be an unsettling thing. But then my life was pretty unsettled to begin with.

Image: Milena Mihaylova

Buying a pram: the moment of truth

I woke up on Saturday raring to pick up our pram and car seat. I didn’t know how symbolic these objects were or that they’d freak us out.

My in-laws bought them for us a few weeks ago and had them delivered to the store so we could leave them in storage. That was never going to happen.

It was bit like the Saturday before last when I pleaded with Laurence as soon as his eyes opened: “Please can we get a kitten today. Please?” He said yes but the internet and newspapers let us down.

People of Bristol, have your cats stopped reproducing? Isn’t spring when all the baby animals are supposed to emerge? That’s what Bambi taught me.

At least the pram and car seat were a sure thing. Once Laurence realised the injustice of suggesting we collect them “tomorrow”, we were off to Mamas & Papas.

I had tried to approach pram shopping like my father would: methodically researching, making notes and comparing to produce a highly detailed list to choose from. He’s done this with anything remotely technical he’s ever bought me.

A few years ago when he offered to buy me a camera, I unwittingly let him down by quickly glancing through the options and replying seconds later: “Oh, I like that one. It’s little and pretty.” He tells everyone this story. I’m not sure if it’s my impatience or technical disinterest which amuses him more.

In the end, I produced a fairly thorough list but admitted to Laurence: “But I like this one because it’s pretty.” It was the Mamas and Papas Pliko Pramette – so feminine and classy while agreeing with our practical requirements. I don’t think I could have gotten more pleasure from choosing an evening gown.

The traitor had been looking behind my back. Which? gave the M&P Sola their vote and he was pretty sold on it. I had to agree, it looked a good match. We decided to be open-minded and went to the store.

My poor brother skulked in a corner with his HTC Desire while a sixteen-year-old demonstrated every single buggy in the joint that would do for a newborn. We got our heads around the Luna and the Sola, momentarily drooling over the Urbo.

As it turned out the Pliko Pramette actually did tick our boxes. It was parent-facing, converted between pushchair and pram, the right size for our trunk (alright, boot, you Brits) and folded up completely. We left satisfied. Laurence felt like he’d picked a car and I a handbag.

But after he assembled it, and demonstrated it to me, he gave me a crumpled look as if to say, “My God, we’re having a baby. What are we doing?”

I found it funny. It’s not as if I can successfully forget the reality. She’s constantly sitting there around my middle, sometimes sticking a foot up my ribs.

I had my turn last night when we closed up everything to head to bed. I stopped in the hallway to look at the little car seat that would hold the creature. I imagined her head laying back, her eyes closed in sleep and wee toes peeking out.

I looked at Laurence. This time three years ago, I was an undergrad writing a dissertation, longing for him to notice me. Now we’re married and having a baby.

The sight of the car seat made me dizzy. All this and I’m not even twenty-five yet.

When I told him about it, he said: “At last. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s scared.”

Thou shalt not wear a dressing gown in public

When I mentioned the uni-boob scenario the other day, it was an attempt at being amusing. My mother read it and all she could think was: “Good grief, my child needs to be clothed!” She speedily got in touch, in her worried mother way – a way I shall soon learn, no doubt.

Although I may have been guilty of slightly exaggerating – I do tend to do that – I am genuinely grateful that she’s offered to buy me maternity clothes. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that my vague hope that I could keep wearing my pre-baby clothes throughout my pregnancy was laughably unrealistic. This only works for women who wear oversized jumpers to begin with, I think. Looking at my wardrobe now, I’d never noticed before how waistline centric so many of my things are.

As I’ve said before, I’m not good at buying things for myself. I attach guilt to the prospect. But Mummy’s right, as mums often are. Even if it feels silly to buy things for the next few months, that’s a long time to wear pajama bottoms and a dressing gown.

This top was the first thing I outgrew and this picture was taken the weekend the creature was most likely conceived (you're welcome for 'too much info')

I do wonder if I’ve resisted buying maternity clothes for reasons beyond the state of our bank account. I’m shocked every time I look at myself in the mirror with my top off or rearrange my boobs into a comfortable position for sleep. Perhaps there is an element of denial at play here. Though I’m heavy and ill at ease, I do forget that I am pregnant from time to time. So maybe, when I look down, I’m expecting to see the body of the woman pictured above.

But there is something I like about being obviously pregnant. Even with my coat on, there is now no mistaking that I’m pregnant, whereas before I’d mention it and people would be surprised – as if we blow up overnight. It’s a public thing now. A public and private happiness.

Mompetition beats the competition with “Date Night”

I tweeted about this video a while ago, hoping that followers would give it lots of views, because I think Valerie Stone Hawthorne’s blog The Mompetition (especially the videos) is a brilliantly humorous and affirming depiction of motherhood. And because the video itself was clever and made both Laurence and me laugh.

I’m so glad she won the Xtranormal February Contest with this entry. It also makes a great follow-up to yesterday’s post about facing the saga of going out while pregnant. We behold our future.

“You won’t be going to nightclubs after the baby’s born”

One of the great paradoxes I’ve discovered in pregnancy is that while I’m supposed to be “making the most” of the time before the baby comes, I just don’t feel like it.

I’ve lost track of how many times someone’s told me “You won’t be going to nightclubs/parties/late night cinema after she’s born.”

Yeah? You seriously think I’m doing that now? SPD has made me kiss standing for long periods of time, let alone dancing, goodbye. I can’t drink – well, I do have the very occasional glass of wine but, really, I’ll likely sip cranberry juice while you down your pints of lager. By 11pm I’d rather curl up in bed with a book than stick around for the next band, thankyouverymuch.

The night out begins with me ransacking my wardrobe to find something that still fits over the epic mass of my breasts without smooshing them together in the horror that is uni-boob.

Five changes later, I’m livid at the lies my clothes are telling me. But this fit just yesterday, I swear! Skirts cease to cover my arse, tops now show off my burgeoning mid-rift, and nothing, nothing, nothing ever buttons up. By the time I’ve gone back to one of the two pairs of jeans that still fit and one of the three maternity tops my mum bought for me, I’m ready for a therapy session, not a trip down the pub.

Today is Pancake Day in Britain but Carnival Tuesday in Trinidad so in defiance, we're having saltfish for dinner

So, it was with uncertainty that I went with Laurence to London on Saturday for a friend’s 30th. Would it be crowded, would it be late, would I be pathetic? But I was determined to goandhaveagoodtime. And, actually, I did.

It started with getting on to a busy tube and being offered a seat pretty much right away. Then entering the pub and again, someone got up and volunteered their seat. Who knew a little human kindness could go such a long way? We loved catching up with friends and others left early enough for us not to feel like we were spoiling anything by heading off around 11.

I actually think I’m more likely to be up for getting out and about when the baby is in my arms instead of lodged above my sore pelvis. In fact, she’s got a ticket to her first festival this summer. I’ll let you know how that excursion goes.

At the end of Saturday’s night out, I looked at myself in the mirror. I’ve mentioned before that I can’t remember what it feels like not to be pregnant. I said to Laurence: “What if I never stop looking pregnant- even after the baby’s born?” He chuckled at my melodrama and said: “Well then, at least you’ll get a seat in the tube.”

Maybe home birth isn’t so crazy

When I told people this weekend that we were going to a home birth group discussion around the theme of attitudes to pain, they looked at Laurence as if feeling for his pain.

Truthfully, neither of us was sure what to expect. The idea of home birth is not an alien concept to me. My mother had my brother and me at home and I suppose I kind of always thought that I’d have my babies at home some day.

But since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve only met women with hospital births and so I was intrigued to meet others who wanted to do it or had done it at home. I’d begun to feel like they were the stuff of myth.

Looking around a room of, perhaps, fifteen couples, it felt like what we’re trying to achieve isn’t so ‘out there’ or as one friend suggested, frankly, crazy.

We’d joked beforehand that it was probably going to be a lot of hippies. Though I immediately looked down at my shalwar pants and had to admit that we sort of fit that bill anyway. A home birth on the cards and a room full of ‘real’ nappies? We’re those parents-to-be.

Actually, there was a lot of talk about meditating on labyrinths and quite memorably, one guy suggested that birth sounded like the biggest ‘trip’. But couples ranged in age, dress, number of children and stage of pregnancy. A summary of the room would admit that thinking about home birth seems to be for everyone.

The night kicked off with a birth story from a couple who’d recently had their baby at home (the current popularity of the name Bella astounds me – it’s pretty though). Their little girl kept staring about and I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone was looking at her and thinking the same thing I was: “We’re going to have one of those.”

During the break, Laurence and I caught up with each other’s thoughts. I’d been worried he was bored and wondering why we’d come but he was bursting with things we needed to get ready for the baby. His excitement was palpable. It was as if everything had suddenly become real and he’d realised that when I said we only have 12 weeks left, it actually wasn’t very much time at all.

In the next segment we broke up into two groups: one for pregnant women to discuss ideas for dealing with the pain and another for our partners to think about how they might support us. I’ve put a photograph of the lists we came up so you can get the gist of the conversation.

I’m still working out how I feel about all the different options. Some feel quite obvious to me – I will be hitting the bath a fair bit, I’d imagine. Visualisation on the other hand just wouldn’t work for me. It’s just not how my brain is wired.

But then each of us had something of an epiphany when our respective groups were asked to think about how we’ve always dealt with pain or tried to relax. When we talked about it afterwards, it was astounding how similar our thoughts were.

As Christians, our instinct is prayer. Why shouldn’t we aim to make our birth a spiritual – even worshipful – experience? It suddenly all clicked for us. While I’m not about to stick Tim Hughes on iTunes, mantras will be helpful, especially if they come from the Psalms.

I think the important thing to take from all this is to recognise that everyone’s got to make the birth experience their own. For us, that’s just opened a world of possibilities.