Tag Archives | pregnancy

Our New Arrival

After all those months of fretting and waiting (and generally grumbling), the time finally arrived. Albert James was born on 7th May, weighing a distinctly average 7lb 8oz (not quite the 12lb that was predicted). He was two weeks early. I may have taken a vow against over-sharing lately, but hey, I’m a proud parent so I’m bending the rules.

My waters broke on Saturday night, and he took 45 rather painful and sleepless hours to emerge into the world. I will not regale you with the full details, but I will say that I have discovered two new tastes: I love epidurals and hate pushing.

Anyway, I’ve pretty much forgotten all the bad bits now. He’s beautiful. I was afraid that I would become a different person after I’d given birth, but I’m exactly the same me as before, it’s just that I’m now in love with a strange new creature. I pointed out to him yesterday that no woman will ever drink in his face so adoringly as I was at that moment. That was after I’d had a little cry because he was so lovely. Don’t worry, I am also doing entirely normal things like swearing at the telly and being fondly reunited with gin. I’m just a bit smitten, that’s all.

As I write, I can hear Herbert chattering away to his ‘little one’ while he runs a bath. I am quite, quite content. Already, I know that I’ll miss these precious first weeks when they’re over, sleepy and vague as they are.

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I am no fan of the celebrity gossip mill. I just don’t understand the appeal. Why would I care about Kerry Katona or Katie Price? They do nothing more than exist, and sell the story of that existence for quite staggering sums of money. And we buy it, and we talk about it, and get into stupid, engineered outrages about it, like the obedient puppies we are.

But really, I suppose there’s no difference between what they do and what I do. Aside from the fact that they earn considerably more money from the enterprise (damn them! Where’s my Essex mansion?), we’re all trading in the same currency: the thrill of being allowed to peep through someone else’s window. We love the chance to gaze at the parts of life that are usually private, sometimes recognising our own situation (thank god, I’m normal!) and sometimes finding something strange enough to titillate us (she did WHAT?).

In the early days of writing The 52 Seductions, a few people accused me of writing porn, because I was writing in detail about sex. It’s never been a criticism that’s particularly bothered me – after all, why wouldn’t I want readers to feel the erotic thrill of the sex I was portraying, when it was good? – and I don’t accept that porn is a bad thing in and of itself. But it always struck me that these critics were missing a more pertinent point – that I was dealing in a kind of pornography of the emotions.

To me, that has always been the most questionable element of my writing. To what extent does it undermine my own dignity, to reveal as much as I did? To what extent does it undermine Herbert’s? My answer would be that I set my own boundaries very carefully. I always wrote with Herbert’s full consent, and there were many, many things I chose not to tell. We would, for example, have ‘off the record’ sex during the year of seductions, because neither of us wanted to have to be interesting all the time. Despite it feeling like one big spree of confession, the blog only ever really covered a small part of our lives; for the rest of the time, we were just getting on with it in relative privacy.

But once the project was over, I confess that I floundered. What on earth should I write about now? How could I create anything nearly as interesting or compelling? I wrote about a few sexual encounters, and played around with different ideas and formats, but really my heart wasn’t in it anymore. The seductions project had been an authentic journey of discovery, a genuine cri de coeur. Nothing else seemed to satisfy me in the same way, or set off my urge to write and share.

Meanwhile, I recoiled from the idea of setting out my stall as some kind of a sexpert. I remain, as ever, fascinated by the world of sex, but I’m an enthusiastic learner rather than voice of wisdom, or an advocate. I can’t generalise rules that I think everyone else should follow. Sex, to me, is your own business, and not mine. It’s great to be able to share experiences, but there will always be differences between us all. Thank heavens for that.

For most of the last year, I’ve been writing about the things that have occupied me the most – getting pregnant and being pregnant. I hadn’t ever wanted to become a ‘mummy blogger’ (is that as offensive as ‘chick lit’ I wonder?), but it was impossible not to let my utter preoccupation flow over into my blog, particularly as it neatly answered the ‘what happened next’ at the end of the seductions. As the time to actually meet this exasperating, terrifying and wonderful new being grows near, though, I find myself no longer very keen to write. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence (and lordy how I hate the judgemental sniping and tribalism that accompanies discussions of parental choice online), or maybe it’s just boredom. But my overriding sense is that this is no longer my story to tell. Albrecht can’t give his consent to anything I write about him, and so when the narrative crosses over from my life to his, I don’t feel that I have the right to go on telling it.

For me it’s an ethical decision, but a pragmatic one, too. I have, quite simply, told all I want to tell about my own life. I’m emptied out. I’ve got nothing left. I want, largely, to put my feet up for a couple of months, and then, maybe, to witter on about whatever is interesting me next. I just hope it will be interesting.

But I’m left with some wider questions: are we bloggers good enough at knowing when to move on? For how long does a blog stay on top form, and when does it go stale? In other words, how do you tell when you’ve tipped over into being Kerry Katona?


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Womb names

Albrecht Durer's Rhino

On New Year’s Day, I found myself in casualty with decidedly iffy blood pressure. While she hooked me up to an ECG, the nurse tried to distract me with some light conversation.

‘So, do you know if you’re having a little boy or a little girl?’ (Can I say here and now: we don’t need to use the word ‘little’, people. Babies tend to come out rather small).

‘We find out next week.’

‘Oh really? I didn’t find out with mine. I wanted a nice surprise. All the midwives say that you push harder if you don’t know the sex!’

I find it hard to imagine being overtaken with such ennui that I couldn’t be bothered to see through labour, just because I knew whether the baby had a penis or a vagina – and believe me, I am generally susceptible to ennui. But more than that, both of us felt that the information was out there, and so we ought to know it to. We hated the idea that the sonographer might know the sex of our baby while we didn’t. We also thought that it might be more efficient to only agonise over one list of names, rather than two.

As it happened, finding out we were having a boy has meant a great deal more to us than that. Initially, we were both struck by the feeling that it got us no closer to understanding this mysterious person who is about to change our lives so radically: it told us nothing about his personality, his tastes or his feelings.

But within days, he had acquired a womb name, which seemed to spring from nowhere. One moment, we were going though all the names in our respective families, and laughing at monstrous possibilities of names like Albrecht, which abound in H’s Swiss relatives. The next, we were saying, ‘Oh, Albrecht’s on the move,’ or, ‘What colour shall we paint Albrecht’s room?’

This had caused a few raised eyebrows amongst friends and family, and we’ve got used to explaining that we’ve settled on Albrecht for now because it’s the one name we’re absolutely certain we won’t choose when he’s born. Yet we’re both quietly getting rather cosy with those stacked Germanic consonants. It’s got a ridiculous grandeur to it that’s rather sweet. Herbert is now openly wondering if it wouldn’t at least make a good middle name.

I was pretty certain that we wouldn’t adopt a nickname for the baby before he was born. To be honest, we just couldn’t think of anything (unlike our friends, all of whom seemed to come up with something witty and apt, like The Bun, The Tadpole, The Bean and The Squidge). I tried to make The Homunculus stick for a while, but it wasn’t going anywhere. Too ambitious, as ever.

And yet ‘Albrecht’ has done a lot more for us than just making conversations easier. Somehow, with a name, he’s become a person, too. In the time since that 20-week scan, so many of my early fears have fallen away. I no longer agonise over whether my life will be destroyed; I no longer worry that I won’t manage to bond or do a good enough job.

Meanwhile, Herbert seems to have found it easier, too. He’s been able to think about the things that they might both enjoy together, and the things that he wants to offer to his son. He is developing ambitions and desires around this future life. Maybe this would all have happened anyway as the pregnancy went on, but there has been something about having a name that’s eased the transition for us. Now that we’re imagining a person rather than a screaming baby, we’re looking forward to meeting him. We’re no longer afraid that we won’t bond, because we’ve already started the process.

If anything, I will probably push all the harder now that I know the sex of my baby. Hopefully, we’ll find something a bit more suitable than Albrecht to name him; but then again, I realised yesterday that he would have the great artist Albrecht Durer as a namesake. And if nothing else, at least it’s unique.

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Sex? Yes, I remember that…

I have a confession to make.

No, not the sort of confession you’re used to reading from me; quite the opposite in fact. Since I’ve been pregnant, we’ve more or less given up on sex.

I know; it’s disappointing, isn’t it? We really ought to have a better handle on such matters. But the thing is, nothing feels right at the moment.

For a start, I just can’t get into the zone. Whereas the Seductions taught me that I could create the right mood for sex if only I was committed to trying, pregnancy has turned that upside down. If I’m not already turned on, nothing can drag me there. My body is expressing utter disinterest in sex, except in nightly, lurid dreams that wake me momentarily aroused, before it all drains away again.

The practicalities aren’t easy. Every tiny bit of genital contact sends me running to the loo. My vagina feels sore. My breasts feel weird. The pregnancy-induced asthma, which is triggered by the merest scrap of physical activity, does not make for the attractive kind of heavy breathing. And what’s more, some atavistic hormonal drive tells me that everything is potentially unhygienic. The same impulse that lately seems to forbid me from eating anything from a tupperware, seems also to be on high alert for such filthy habits as kissing and oral sex. Everything, frankly, smells a bit funny to me anyway. I’m worried that I don’t taste or smell as good as usual, either.

Herbert, meanwhile, is treading a careful line between his own disinterest and my rampant paranoia about my unattractiveness. I get the distinct sense that he’s not at all sure that sex is a good idea right now. He’s not one of those men who thinks he might accidentally prod the baby, but he’s slightly unconvinced that I’m robust enough for sex at the moment. He’s in full-on nurturing mode, making sure I’m properly rested, fed and watered; he seems to prefer to take care of his own erotic urges without troubling me. I sometimes wish he was a bit less polite about it all.

I’m sad not to be having sex; I miss it. When I was limping through the first trimester, women cheered me up by telling me just how randy I’d feel after 20 weeks. Sadly, I haven’t even had a glimpse of that; I can only imagine that my randiness is lost in the same gestational black hole as my pregnant glow. But then, if I’m honest, that never sounded much like something that would happen to me in the first place. When I hear other people’s experiences of pregnant urges, I’m left with the same slightly murderous feeling that I have towards women who tell me how much they love being pregnant: well lucky bloody you!

Personally, I can’t wait to get back to a body that does the things I expect of it: basic stuff like breathing, not wanting to puke in the mornings and being able to walk around the shops without having to sleep it off afterwards.

Sex, of course, isn’t the be-all and end-all. Pregnancy brings about new opportunities for intimacy, the special things that only get shared with your partner. We’re both a bit in love with my perfect dome of a belly. It’s still lovely to make contact, skin-on-skin, and now H can put his hand across my bump at night and feel the baby moving between us.

And, like all the difficult aspects of pregnancy, none of it is forever. In a few months’ time, I’ll find myself with a different body all over again, with problems and feelings that I can’t predict. Sometimes, the changes feel relentless. But then, I suppose we knew that when we started this.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on sex in pregnancy – or ways to feel intimate when sex isn’t on the cards.

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Bump-feeling and other unexpected pleasures

I am not a social kisser.

I am English, and we simply have no social conventions for it. It is therefore an unpleasant moment of embarrassment for all concerned – how many? Where? When? In fact, because I hate it so much, I routinely end up mis-timing the social kisses that I’m obliged to endure. I once licked a colleague’s ear due to a mis-kiss. More than once, I have kissed vague acquaintances squarely on the lips for the same reason. The whole thing is an endurance and ought to be banned.

Basically, I’m not keen on physical contact with anyone but my very nearest and dearest. Even handshakes sometimes leave me wondering if we couldn’t have got away with a respectful nod. So, I naturally assumed that I would hate bump-feeling with a passion.

I had been warned: strange old ladies leaping out from behind the racks at Marks and Spencer to grab you in the middle. Inappropriate advances from colleagues. I even took the precaution of tweeting: ‘If anyone tries to touch my bump, I will fucking bite them.’ Actually, that might have been in capitals. You can’t be too careful.

But then, it happened to me. I was standing in a cafe, waiting to be served. The woman next to me began to chat, I mentioned I was pregnant, and she got all excited and immediately reached out and stroked my emergent bump.

And the weird thing was, I liked it. It was sort of sisterly and appreciative, like I was a cake, and she couldn’t resist tasting the icing. It was totally sincere. After months of feeling sick and generally awful while having nothing to show for it, it felt good to be allowed to see pregnancy as a privilege, something that was an objectively exciting thing. I felt a little bit like I was being welcomed into a community in which my experiences of the world were acknowledged.

We don’t do much to mark rites of passage in our society. In fact, we deliberately turn a blind eye as childhood segues into adulthood, afraid as we are of drawing attention to that burgeoning fertility too soon. Sure, we celebrate weddings, but quite rightly we don’t expect it to form any sort of a community; I’ve no more in common with other married folk than I have with someone single.

Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve noticed that I get treated more kindly by the people around me. Complete strangers go out of their way to ensure I’m alright. I’m almost invited to feel vulnerable, if that’s what I want, and I’m hugely grateful for it, because the whole experience has left me feeling a bit more pathetic than my usual self. And, for the first time in my life, I feel as though a rite of passage is being marked – not in any fixed, ceremonial way, but through a multitude of small gestures that acknowledge the changes I’m going through.

Now that the baby is moving inside me, having a bump is rather fun. I can now independently feel that he is fine as he swooshes around, without needing a medical intermediary. It’s endlessly fascinating (and a bit appalling) to see it growing every day; Herbert and I amuse ourselves every evening as I get undressed by declaring, ‘Bloody hell, it’s enormous! Surely it can’t get any bigger!’ ad infinitum.

What I really want to say, constantly, is I’m pregnant in thousand different voices: I’m pregnant (wonder); I’m pregnant (terror)I’m pregnant (excitement)I’m pregnant (queasiness). In any other context, this would be considered a bore; but instead, those who understand it because they’ve been through it themselves, all conspire to say it back to me: you’re pregnant! they say in chorus, and it feels like a blessing.

Now, I’m inclined to invite a little bump-feel, just in case people are too shy to ask. ‘Would you like a feel?’ I say, in the same way that I will, in a few months’ time, say, ‘Would you like a hold?’ Maybe one day, my own fingers will twitch to feel someone else’s bump, just to ignite the memories.

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Mama Reindeer

On our final day in Norway, we get up early to find the minibus that will take us out to Whale Island to meet native Sami folk and their reindeer. I am so tired that I feel sick, but I don’t want to miss this one, last expedition.

I feel better once we arrive. The drive takes us through the snowy Lyngen Alps, behind which the sun is rising, staining the mountains rose pink. We pass fjords where people are swimming, despite the unthinkable cold. Eventually, we pass a herd of reindeer and a Sami lavuu (which to my ignorant eye, resembles a Native American tipi), and stop at a wood cabin nearby.

There, we are greeted by a smiling woman named Trine, who ushers us in to get into warm clothes. It’s so cold today, she tells us, that we should put snow suits on over our coats, and rabbit skin deerstalkers over our existing hats. I have to ask if there’s anything big enough to fit over my bump, and suddenly I am the centre of attention. This is the first time in the holiday that the people around me have really been aware in pregnant; after all, bulked up in our various layers, we all look like zeppelins. But now I am being admired for leaving the house at all, it seems, and asked how I’m feeling, and when it’s due, and do we have any names yet. We proffer Albrecht, which apparently isn’t nearly as funny to Norwegians or Americans.

We are shown to a little caravan of reindeer sleds, which are all tied together, and staggered so that the reindeer that pulls the person behind you walks by your side. I am the first to be seated, alongside what I soon realise is the most docile of the reindeer, which is pure white with gentle eyes. Once we have trotted around the frozen lakes, Herbert tells me that his reindeer kept giving him wild, terrifying looks. This is possibly because he has a reindeer skin draped over his lap; he proved too tall to fit into any of the snow suits, and so has to find other ways to keep warm. When H asks if he can stroke one of them, Trine tells him, ‘Well you can, but bear in mind that the reindeer hate you.’

‘Do you notice how scruffy their antlers look?’ she asks us. ‘That’s because they’re due to fall off soon, before the Spring comes. These are all castrated males, but in the wild, they use their antlers to fight over the females. Around February, they shed their antlers, and soon grow another set, but they’re soft for a few months, and tender because the blood vessels are near the surface, so they avoid fighting until they’re hard again in the Autumn.

‘Meanwhile, the females’ bellies are swelling, and they have their young just when the males’ antlers are softest. So the females keep their antlers for longer, so that they can defend their babies against predators, because the males can’t look after them.’

Despite the snow suits, the cold is setting into our bones now, and so we are taken into the lavuu for some reindeer soup (yet another reason that the reindeer hate us). As I finish my bowl, Trine hurries over to replenish it. ‘You do not have your antlers, Mama Reindeer,’ she says, ‘so we must fill you up with soup instead.’

I well up; she’s summed up exactly how I’ve been feeling all this time, like I’m missing some defence or other that I’d normally expect to have.




That night, we walk down to the waterfront for a final meal, passing a group of Japanese women who are gazing into the sky.

‘They won’t see the Lights in central Tromso!’ I say to H.

He squints into the space above him. ‘Hang on,’ he says, ‘there might actually be something there.’ We walk to the water’s edge, where it’s darker, and above us see a huge arc of dark green light, stretching from the other side of the fjord, right over the top of the city. It’s like a final farewell from the lights, a bonus for all the hours we’ve put into per suing them over the last few days.

We eat in a restaurant that we can’t really afford, except that by now, we’ve become so immune to Norwegian prices that we’ve stopped worrying. I eat cod’s tongues and local duck, and Herbert eats cured lamb and reindeer fillet, washed down with beer from the town’s brewery.

‘I genuinely feel like we had one last adventure,’ I say to him. ‘I feel a bit more satisfied now.’

‘There’s no way we could have taken a child on this trip, not for a good few years. It was too cold, too many late nights, too much time being cooped up. It was definitely better with just us grown-ups.’

‘It’s funny though, because at the same time, I don’t feel so bad about losing that anymore. We’re just heading for a different sort of adventure now, aren’t we?’

We chew on for a while, and then Herbert pauses and raises his glass, and says,

‘To the Northern Lights!’

I chink it with my glass of water.

‘To the Arctic!’


‘To the reindeer, who hate us!’


‘Hey,’ says Herbert, ‘to Albrecht.’

‘To Albrecht,’ I reply, ‘who kind of made all this possible.’



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Bring on the Armoured Bears!

I am not really the kind of girl who owns a wardrobe full of practical, sturdy outdoor wear. In all fairness, even if I did, this probably wouldn’t have helped me much when heading to Tromso at the end of this week. I am getting the distinct sense that no-one expects you to cross the Arctic Circle at 23 weeks pregnant.

No normal clothing fits me any more – not my warmest snow coat, nor my waterproof, nor my thermals – and there’s a distinct lack of maternity ski wear available. Perhaps this, finally, is my gap in the market, from which I will make the millions I’ve always dreamed of. But I doubt it somehow. Most pregnant women are simply too sensible to brave the snow.

I have solved the problem, I think, with a pair of 42-inch-waist men’s thermal walking trousers, which I bought in the Hawkshead online sale, and which  I’d like to pretend were a loose fit. I also bought a truly horrible XXL men’s jacket, which closely ressembles the sort of thing you see football managers sporting on a Saturday afternoon. All I can say about these garments is: thank god they were heavily reduced. If I’d have paid full price for them, I think I might have sat down and wept.

So, I will not be looking glamorous in Tromso. I will instead be looking like a rotund girl guide leader who’s wandered too far from camp. I will also, I suspect, be looking more than a little matchy-matchy with Herbert, who has bought exactly the same set of garments. We will even be modelling identical  Asda men’s thermal Long Johns underneath it all. Just call us Harold and Hilda.

Still, at least nobody knows me in Tromso, and so won’t be able to witness my sartorial fall from grace. And, of course, it’s very much not the point. We’re making this journey in order to cross the first item off our bucket list, and probably the biggest one too. We’re hoping to see the Northern Lights.

I’m not entirely sure that I should have waited until now to go and see them. Quite aside from the fact that we should be saving our pennies at the moment, instead of spending them, most of the things I’d really love to do in Norway are out of the question. Skidoos and saunas must be avoided, and I’m quite incapable of staying up after ten o’clock, let alone sitting up all night in the hope of an elusive sighting. And even the more relaxing trips – like a ride in a husky sled – seem to last about 6 hours, which would stretch my pregnant endurance levels to their limit.

But, still. I just have to accept that I can’t tackle this holiday in the way I could have done six months ago. I will have to take lots of rest, and target all my energies towards the things that matter. Being in Tromso (rather than taking a cheaper package trip to Iceland) means that we’ll have the best chance of a sighting of the elusive lights, which are currently at the height of their brilliance. But it also means a slightly more pregnant-friendly environment, too. It’s reassuring to be in a city, with cafes, shops and, dare I say it, hospitals, nearby.

All in all, I wish I’d been a bit more adventurous with my holidays before it became difficult. I’ve spent years saying, ‘I’d love to see the Northern Lights one day,’ without ever seriously thinking of doing anything about it. For all its inconveniences, maybe I should be grateful for the deadline that pregnancy has given me.


Gorgeous footage of The Northern Lights:



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