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Storify: your pregnancy bucket lists

 

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Drawing up the list


Follows on from The Things We’ll Miss

 

Herbert agrees to draw up a pregnancy bucket list with me. I expect a gushing-forth of profound longings and long-held ambitions, but I am wrong. Instead, he says,

‘Skydiving?’

‘Do you really want to skydive? You’ve never mentioned it before.’

‘Yeah I’d like to skydive.’

‘I think I read somewhere that you have a one in four chance of breaking a bone when you skydive.’

‘So?’

‘So you need to be in a fit state to drive me to hospital if anything bad happens.’

‘Right. So we can make a list, but only if you approve it?’

‘No. Well…yes. Oh okay, you can skydive if you really want to. But it had better be bloody important to you. And I’ll be pissed off if you break your ankle.’

After that, he’s out of ideas. But as it turns out, so am I. When I try to pin down my sense of anxiety about what I’ll lose by having a baby, it’s vague and elusive. It centres around a fear that I’ll lose my identity, or have to abandon my own dreams. But, somehow, I’m not quite sure what those dreams actually are.

What’s more, the rebel in me is appalled at the notion that a child will stop me from doing anything at all. I’m full of the urge to challenge the notion that I have to put myself under house-arrest just because I’ve reproduced.

But I know, too, that few people manage to get through the experience without sacrificing something. The question is, do we only actually surrender the things that don’t matter to us anyway? And are we sometimes grateful to move on to the next phase, setting aside the parts of life that we’ve long since grown out of?

In any case, after much debate (and no small amount of bickering: ‘Your ideas are rubbish!’ ‘You’re oppressing me!’), we finally come up with a list. Some of these are mine alone, but some are joint aims. In no particular order:

1. Throwing a final after-pub party, where everyone dances in the kitchen until the early hours of the morning.

2. Learning to be fit as a part of everyday life.

3. Developing a regular meditation practice, that won’t get lost when the baby comes.

4. Going to see the Northern Lights.

5. Confronting our joint fear of anything to do with being a parent.

6. Getting my career in order.

7. Learning to dance the tango.

8. Working out how to have good (read: ‘useful’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘productive’) evenings in.

9. Indulging in grown-up pleasures – the stuff that children would ruin if they were there: city breaks, expensive restaurants and art galleries.

10. Finding role models who are mothers.

11. Herbert still maintains that he wants to sky dive.

And we’re making a start next week: we’ve booked tickets to Tromso, Norway’s ‘Paris of the North’, where a sighting of those Northern Lights is as near to guaranteed as it can be. I can’t wait to get started.

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The things we’ll miss

I am, in general, an optimistic soul.

I tend to see life as an upward curve, and difficulties as problems that have yet to be solved. My glass is not half-empty; it just has room for the aromas to circulate.

And yet, the first trimester of pregnancy floored me. Despite the fact that this was about as far from an accident as possible – we’d thought it through for thirteen years, for goodness’ sake – I was swamped by pessimism. Clearly, few people feel entirely jolly when they’re permanently exhausted and nauseous, and are additionally on high alert lest this turns into their third miscarriage. But there was something extra here, a dredging-up of fears and anxieties that I’d never been conscious of before.

Who the hell was I? Laying on the sofa for hours at a time, there was little else to do but inventorise my life. I was happy with everything, as long as it was a work in progress. My twenties had been devoted to laying foundations, learning to create a stable relationship, making a home, working out how to become a writer, finding work that interested me. I felt like I’d made a slow start, but had plenty to build on.

But there loomed the great unknown. What would a baby do to me? Sure, I understood that there would be huge changes  – I wanted those changes. But would there be any room left for me as an adult, who needed to achieve things? How would I ever find a balance between the baby and my ambitions? In my imagination, motherhood became claustrophobic, lonely and desperate. I could only picture myself stuck at home, bored to tears and desperately conflicted. I hated myself for putting such a negative spin on such a wonderful event, but equally, I felt engulfed by a tide that I couldn’t push back. I was terrified.

After a few months, this tide washed away as suddenly as it had flooded in. I had come to terms with a few things. This is the biggest rite of passage you’ve ever been through, I told myself. It was comforting: I was enduring a test that millions of other women had endured before me. It was okay not to cope, to take my time in understanding it all.

I was haunted by the thought that I wasn’t enough of a grown-up yet, that I’d always imagined I’d do so much more before I became a parent. I thought I would have seen more of the world, had a stable career in place, become a bit more, well, interesting. I thought I’d be routinely invited to glamorous parties full of fascinating people, to which I could sneak out in a gorgeous, perfumed haze that my children would still recall with great awe in their later lives. I thought, frankly, that I’d be able to afford good childcare. But here I was, slightly skint, with a peeling bathroom ceiling and a blank space where my future should be.

But then I hit an idea: there was still time. In December, I got my energy back, and was overtaken by the urge to turn out every last cupboard and drawer. And I felt like I needed to sort out the less tangible things in my life too, the emotional cupboards and drawers in which I’d stowed things away for an unknown future date when I’d know what to do with them.

Barring the vomity bits, the forty weeks of pregnancy can be seen as time to prepare, with a clear deadline at the end of it – hopefully. I decided to make a list of all the things I want to do before the baby comes – a kind of gestational ‘bucket list’, if you will – and work my way through them over the next few months. Some of them are about taking stock of life, some are just plain fun, and some of them are loving goodbyes to the things I’ll miss, even if only for a short while.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my list; but in the meantime, tell me yours. If you’ve already got children, what are the things you did, or wish you’d done, before the birth? If you’re planning children in the future, what would you like to achieve before that happens? And if you never want to have children, what are the things that you think you’d lose?

Read on to see our list –> 

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Bumpy Rides

*Boak*

We’ve had Women Laughing Alone with Salad and Women Struggling to Drink Water (which I think is subversively rude, but that’s another story). Can we please now have Women Smiling Inanely at their Bumps?

Let’s face it, it’s ripe for parody. As the obligatory cover of every pregnancy manual, and the go-to image for every pregnancy-related product, it has become the great cliche of maternity, a symbol of the wonderful optimism and joy that all pregnant women feel.

Because that’s how it feels to be pregnant, right?

Oh, er, well maybe. I mean, sometimes, yes. Perhaps. With a prevailing wind.

Well, actually, can I admit that pregnancy has made me the most miserable I’ve felt in years? Yes, there are definitely moments of wild excitement and happiness, but frankly, they’re few and far between. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a bump to gaze at yet, although I’m fast developing a sort of gentle incline that’s pushed my belly fat upwards, creating a rather nasty spare tyre.

Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve never felt so isolated. I’ve spent the last ten weeks pretty much stranded on the sofa, feeling sick, exhausted, faint and shivery. On the rare moments I’ve left the house, I feel vulnerable to every passing person, and am liable to suddenly feel so sick that I have to rush home again, back to my safe encampment in the living room.

There are black days, when I feel so miserable I can barely move, like a damp, heavy blanket has been thrown over me. There are paranoid days, when I become convinced that everyone hates me. There are tearful days, when I simply cannot stop sobbing.

And then there is the restlessness, the sense that the world is speeding past me while I sit and brood. It’s appalling to realise how limited my choices are already; and how limited they will continue to be for many years to come. And the doom-laden, insomniac worrying that cuts a 2-hour swathe through every night’s sleep: how on earth will we make ends meet? Will I lose myself in all of this? What will it do to my marriage?

Being online was such a comfort to me when I was writing The 52 Seductions, but at the moment it just makes it worse. All I see is women judging each other. It’s like a horrible premonition of my future, when I too, will no doubt be judged inadequate in so many ways (hey, I’m probably making a good start with this very post). When did parenting become so ridiculously political? And why on earth can’t we accept that different people will do things differently?

I seem to be entirely at odds with the world, because I just don’t feel particularly ideological about all this. I just want to see how it goes, and make decisions from there. I used to be irritated by stridency with which women argued for their chosen position on birthing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, childcare or whatever; now, it’s become actively toxic to me, a series of hurdles lined up for me to trip on. Frankly, I just hope I can get some sleep, and, in the absence of any grandparents nearby, get some time on my own occasionally.

It feels incredibly transgressive and ungrateful to admit all of this, and it feels dangerous, too, in such a climate of judgment. But then, there is something I feel strongly about: that we can’t only find one side of maternity acceptable – the pie-eyed, bump-gazing, joyously martyred side. It’s just not the whole picture. When intelligent, high-achieving, complex women become pregnant, we ought to expect a questioning, critical response. And with that, no small sense of loss, despite all the wonderful things we also stand to gain.

Maybe I just need a project to take my mind of it all. Look out for my future Tumblrs: Pregnant Women Doing Yoga, and its darker cousin, Pregnant Women Breaking a Cigarette with Fire in their Eyes. In the meantime, I’m delighted to present you with a meta-stock photo – Delightedly Pregnant Woman Laughing at Salad. Enjoy.

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Nursery Food

The first week I knew I was pregnant, I munched my way through a range of salads and slow carbs that would make Gillian McKeith weep.

Three weeks later, however, it’s all very different. Monumentally nauseous, I spend much of my day feeling sick and hungry at the same time (an entirely new sensation), and on a quest to discover exactly what it is that my body will consent to eat today. This is less obvious than you’d think; it’s never a simple case of fancying something. It’s more a process of eliminating foodstuffs that actively repulse me, and then, finally, settling for something that I feel I may be able to swallow without too much horror.

I am not this sort of eater. Usually, I’m a restless, inquisitive diner, keen on bright flavours, variety and spice. I have always, always cooked everything from scratch, and mostly in season too.

At the moment, the world has been strangely turned on its head. Vegetables appal me. I can’t contemplate strong flavours. And, quite randomly, my palate will reject flavours that comforted me a few hours before. Sometimes mid-meal. Yesterday, I had to scrape all the cheese off my jacket potato because it was suddenly overwhelming. I am even able to feel sick over a concept, such as the idea of making the bed.

Herbert adapted to this state of affairs quicker than I did. I sulked and lamented, and tried to force myself to eat nutritious meals that were destined for the bin as soon as they were cooked. He put on his tolerant face, walked me down to the local Budgens (where I never shop) and took me from aisle to aisle so that I could  pick out the things I could face eating.

My palate, it seems, has turned strangely nostalgic: cornflakes, Petits Filous, fig rolls, tinned pineapple and garibaldi biscuits. I would never normally dream of buying any of these things. But unexpectedly, my cook’s brain has been overthrown in a violent revolution by my inner child. And my inner child is infuriatingly fickle. I had to rush out and buy fishfingers last week, and yet now I can’t even contemplate the rest of the box.

The dish that I turn to again and again, though, is this zero-nutrition wonder: spaghetti, butter, cheese (which may be on its way out) and black pepper. It’s what I ate every morning for breakfast when I was at primary school, and it’s now my go-to meal when all else fails. When I was a kid, my mum used to snip salami into it, too, but that would be a step too far right now. And don’t even try to suggest a side salad.

 

What were your cravings – or anti-cravings? Share them in the comments below and I’ll try not to dry-heave as I read them. 

 

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Finding a Heartbeat

This one isn't mine. I got it from Google Images.

I had always imagined that women skip along to their first ultrasound with a great sense of excitement. I hadn’t thought for one minute about the crippling terror that might descend in the days before it.

My main thought is: what if it’s not there at all? What if it turns out to be a nasty virus? But there are other worries too: What if it’s not viable? What if it’s already given up the ghost? 

Come the morning of the scan, I am quite beside myself.

‘I think my boobs have definitely got smaller again,’ I tell H, ‘and I just don’t feel as ill as I did last week. I think it’s all over. I think we should prepare ourselves for bad news.’

H, stoically pointing out that a mere five minutes ago I was feeling too sick to eat breakfast, doesn’t really know what to make of all this. ‘We just have to wait and see,’ he keeps saying. ‘We can’t do any more than that.’

I’m lucky, of course, to be having a six weeks scan in the first place. Everyone else has to wait until twelve. But I’m a patient of the fertility clinic, and even though I’ve managed to get pregnant without their help, they’re being extremely kind and treating me as if I’m still one of their flock.

In the hour beforehand, I occupy myself by chugging water. I can’t remember how much I’m supposed to drink, so I guzzle my way through a litre, just to be sure. In any case, my mouth is dry. But by the time I’m sent along to the ultrasound waiting room, every footstep feels like an earthquake in my bladder. I silently congratulate myself for being such a good patient.

By the time I’m called for the scan, my biggest worry is that I’ll be sick, and that I won’t be able to stop myself from peeing at the same time. Neverthless, I forget all that when I lie down and am smeared with gel. H decides not to sit down beside me; instead he hovers geekishly around the equipment.

‘We’ll see if we can see anything this way first,’ says the sonographer, ‘but don’t panic if we can’t. We’ll try an internal scan if we don’t get anything.’

I nod. I’d prefer it if she skipped straight to the internal one, if that’s clearer. I’m not proud. But I’m worried it might sound weird to ask. In any case, it’s not long before she’s pushing painfully down on my abdomen and I’m back to the distraction of trying not to piss myself.

‘My,’ she says, ‘you have been good with the water-drinking.’

Yes, I think. I am ridiculously conscientious like that. I watch her roll the handset over my stomach. Nothing appears. It feels like a lifetime.

‘Problem is – and I don’t find myself saying this often – I think you’re bladder’s too full.’ She points out the enormous reservoir of water on the screen, and the way that it’s squashing my uterus. ‘Do you think you can go and empty half of it?’

‘Oh god yes, thank you,’ I say. I put my skirt back on and nearly run to the loos, where I have cause to thank the gods of Kegel that my pelvic floor allows such activity.

On my return, things run much more smoothly. My uterus is looking a great deal less flattened, and very quickly the sonographer says, ‘I can see a yolk sac.’

‘Is that good?’

‘Yes, of course. I’ve just got to try and find a heartbeat now. The embryo’s very cellular at this stage, so you won’t see much else. And I’m having to enlarge it so much that it’s all very blurry.’ She shows us how other parts of the screen appear to pulse at that resolution. The whole image is like a big grey storm-cloud.

But then, she points to an area that’s pulsing slightly more than anything else. A tiny, persistent heartbeat, slightly white against the grey. ‘I feel like I’m watching an electric spark,’ I say.

‘There,’ she says, ‘perfect.’

H presses his face up against the screen and looks delighted that he can see it too. ‘I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it out,’ he says. Nobody cries, or even wells up. We’re just relieved. And still not out of the woods in any case. Until that twelve week scan, I’ll carry on feeling like I’m kindling a fire, rather than carrying a baby. It’s just too tentative.

H had found his confidence with the ultrasound now. He points at the top of the picture.

‘Is that big, gaping space your vagina?’

‘NO!’ the sonographer and I crow in unison.

‘How rude!’ I say. ‘That’s my bladder! Honestly!’

The sonographer scoots the handset over a little, to reveal a rather more compact line on the right. ‘That’s her vagina,’ she says. ‘By the way, did you know you’ve got a fibroid?’

‘Really? They were looking for one a couple of years ago, but never found it. That would explain so much.’

‘Well, it’s nothing to worry about; it’s on the back wall of your uterus, so it’s actually the ideal fibroid for pregnancy, if there is such a thing. It won’t interfere with your baby at all.’

Our baby. Fancy that! We leave with a 5mm embryo, a 35mm fibroid to keep it company, and a tiny, electric heartbeat.

 

 

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Sex and the Pregnant Girl

No sooner did I find out I was pregnant than I started to feel pregnant too.

How does that work? I was perfectly fine the day before I took the test. And then, a mere 24 hours later, I was feeling a little bit weak at the knees. Two days on, I felt like The Gods had located my ‘off’ switch, and were using it at random for their own amusement. On Saturday, for example, I got into bed for a lunchtime nap, reached down to take my socks off, and woke up an hour later with both socks still in my hand.

What’s more, I am treading the tightrope between feeling sick because my stomach is empty, and feeling sick because I’ve eaten something. Yesterday, I had to take to the sofa in groaning nausea because I’d eaten a salad. It’s a wonder I’m finding the time to continually take pregnancy tests, just to check it’s still there.

Anyway, amongst all of this, I have been reminded that I’m supposed to be a sex blogger. People keep telling me how rampant I’ll feel after these trying first thirteen weeks (THIRTEEN WEEKS?!?), but for now it’s hard to see the appeal. Still, it was Herbert’s 40th birthday on Monday, and seeing as the matter of sex hadn’t even been mentioned since that second red line appeared (a whole fortnight ago), I thought I ought to make him an offer.

Sex in pregnancy is a complicated matter. One gets the sense that it’s not really supposed to be at the forefront of your mind. After all, as soon as egg meets sperm, we’re supposed to turn into sanctified beings – all martyrdom and delicacy. Some of the (many) books I’ve bought tell you not to have sex at all in the first trimester – although most tell you to go right ahead.

What’s more, it feels a bit counterintuitive to generally prod, squash and jiggle the container that holds your precious embryo (which, this week, is the size of a blueberry and is busy growing a face, arms and legs, a bit like a Ribena berry). How come you’re not allowed to eat soft cheese, take a hot bath or roller skate (I imagine), but you’re allowed to do that?

But it is his birthday. He kindly volunteers to have a shower before he gets into bed (given that my sense of smell is currently so sensitive that I am tormented by the odour of other people’s hair, this is wise), and then snuggles in beside me. I am watching telly in my new voluminous Victorian nightie.

‘Shall I take this off?’ I say.

‘No, leave it on. It’s got a kind of Hammer House of Horror vibe.’

‘Is that good?’

‘Yeah. Sure. Why not.’ I can’t help but feel pleased that he’s never seen Rosemary’s Baby.

We begin to kiss. Then we stop. ‘That’s making me feel sick,’ I say.

H winces. ‘I’m guessing a blow job’s out of the question then.’

Too right, Herbert. Right at this moment, you activate my gag reflex at your peril. He’s looking distinctly put-off. ‘Look!’ I say by means of distraction, ‘You can entertain yourself with my enormous boobs.’

‘When do they start producing milk?’

‘When the baby comes. Don’t worry, they’re not full of anything. They won’t leak. They’re just big because…I don’t know. Because they are.’

I can’t tell whether he’s reassured or disappointed. Actually, I think he’s mainly scared. I don’t blame him. Neither of us are particularly convinced that this little berry has stuck fast yet. We’re doing all we can. But suddenly my body has become a great deal more mysterious to both of us. I’m sure we’ll get the hang of this eventually, but in the meantime, it feels a bit like learning all over again.

 

 

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