Where once I had Tesco Prussia Street, I now have Carrefour Auderghem. The junkies have been replaced by winos, the fresh figs are cheap and the cheese takes up three aisles. There’s a fresh sushi counter and zebra on offer in the meat section. You would think I would be delighted to be surrounded by such diversity and range of produce but I’m not. I miss Tesco Prussia Street - the 2-for-1 deals on Muller Fruit Corners, the three litre bottles of milk and the self scan that let me smuggle (steal?) an unlimited number of red peppers for 97c. Okay, I admit that’s ridiculous - Tesco was awful. It was a warehouse of tasteless vegetables, ready-meals and saturated fat…but at least it was manageable. Carrefour is enormous, it’s always jammers and, quite frankly, there is too much cheese. *Gasp*. Who knew such a thing was possible? The truth saddens me greatly but there you have it - there is too much cheese in Carrefour. Let’s not linger on this point for too long…
There are other things that make me not like Carrefour. It’s hard to find a parking space. They have special spaces reserved for ‘bébé et sa famille’. These are always occupied by nefarious people who I suspect do not have bébés and it frustrates me that I am too cowardly to shout at them and insist that they vacate their space to allow for legitimate bébé-having people to park. The issue is probably less one of guts and more one of capacity to shout at people in French. “Est-ce que vous avez un bébé avec vous?”, I growl internally while acting out my triumphant confrontation in my head. “Non? Je ne peut pas voir un bébé…Allez toute suite! Le parking est mine! Vamoose! Vous-etes l’interloper…je suis outragé!”. I have restrained myself from actually confronting anyone in real life…wisely I think. Baby A may be young, but he’s not too young to be totally mortified.
Also, because Carrefour is in Belgium it closes on a Sunday like everything else. This is why I was down there at 8.20am on Saturday morning. The fact that it didn’t open until 8.30am seems to have escaped me. In fact, I think it used to open at 8am but one day they just decided that the opening times would change and didn’t tell anyone. That would be a very Belgian thing to be at. My theory of whimsical time changing was supported by the fact that I was not alone standing outside the gates of Carrefour in the early morn. There were at least thirty other people hovering around the entrance, trolleys at the ready. It was like the start of a marathon…a nano-marathon run by geriatric Belgians toting small, yappy dogs. If I had better French and was more confrontational in real life (as opposed to in my head, where I’m very confrontational), I would object to dogs in the supermarket (and everywhere else where dogs should not be like sitting on their own seats on the tram). Fortunately for the dog-lovers of Belgium - of which there are many - my French does not stretch to public declarations of effrontery.
Early morning is about the only time one can go to Carrefour on a Saturday. By 10am, the queues are endless, the shih-tzus have turned on the toddlers and the place has degenerated into mass hysteria as people scramble frantically for the last carrot. I am there, that morning, for yoghurt, milk and pain au chocolat. My basket also appears to contain an unnecessary amount of plastic items that are a direct result of not having the baby with me. Shopping with Baby A is a race against time to grab the items on the list and get out before the screaming starts - I don’t have time to eye up the tupperware aisle.
Even though I’m baby free, I still don’t really want to hang out in the drafty aircraft hanger that is Carrefour Auderghem for longer than is absolutely necessary. I’m in the queue, there’s only one person ahead of me and he doesn’t have a whole lot of stuff. Some baguette, some meat, a small bag of oranges and a newspaper. The checkout lady is chatting away to the man. She has a long conversation with him about the weather (which is bad) before even picking up the first item to be scanned. She eventually starts scanning things although stops half way through to read the headlines in the newspaper which she declares to be ‘choquant’ (which is probably ‘shocking’ but I momentarily think might mean ‘chocolately’).
Now I love a queue as much as the next Belgian but this woman is taking the piss and if I knew how to say that in French, I would have told her that…and not just in my head either. Eventually, she finishes chatting to the elderly monsieur and begrudgingly serves me. I give her an icy stare. She looks blankly at me and painstakingly drags each of my items across the scanner. In my head I am Tesco Prussia Street, laden down with cheap yoghurt, bounding towards the self-checkout where I scan items at the speed of light. Ah, the good old days. Sigh.
I live in Babydom. It’s a land populated entirely by babies and the people who pander to them. It’s a muffled maze of invisible interconnected bubbles that exist within normal society. Citizens of Babydom wander among you looking like average folk but they’re not.
There’s a whole baby sub-culture out there that goes unnoticed until the day you need to shop for a baby and realize that at least 15 pieces of equipment are required just so a baby can go for a nap:
I’m finding it harder to write my blog. Not because I’ve lost interest in it or because I don’t have the time - it’s just that I don’t have very much to write about. I’ve written about back pain, bloating, hormones, cereal, milk and Percy Pigs. Really, what more is there? I can no longer tie my own shoelaces. Is this newsworthy?
New things don’t really happen to me from one day to the next at the moment. I am essentially immobile. Mr Oh drives me in and out of work. Going across the road at lunchtime to get a sandwich makes me so tired I have to nap under my desk afterwards. My colleagues have taken to waddling down the corridors after me in mock baby penguin formation and I am told ‘You’re enormous’ at least once a day (Really? Am I? Compared to what - a baby elephant?....a sumo wrestler?... or just a woman who is not 33 weeks pregnant??).
This week I was sitting in a meeting beside a middle-aged man I had never met before whose first words to me were ‘You must be overdue. When were you due?’. I assured him that if I were overdue I would be at home munching on raw chillies and pineapple and not sitting beside him contemplating the outline of a strategy paper that would be written, discussed, commended and then promptly forgotten about until it was decided in five years time that we need a strategy paper at which point the entire process would begin again like an incredibly boring re-run of Groundhog Day. Such is the perpetual cycle of public sector strategising. I actually didn’t say any of those things to him. I just gave him a weak smile and said “I’m not due for another seven weeks”. Had he known me better, I’m sure he would have told me that I was enormous. Had I known him better, I would then have growled at him.
Despite the tone of the paragraph above (and maybe the one above that as well), I’m not actually grumpy. Although I am in a state of deep discomfort on account of the kung-fu water balloon compressing my internal organs, I’m pretty zen and relaxed. Mr Oh pointed out that I’m the first person he’s known who is literally engaged in naval-gazing for much of the day. I like to sit on the sofa and watch my bump move around. Little limbs push out here and there and slide under the skin like the sandworms from Dune. I play the baby music and talk to it about important things like sandwiches and celebrities. I’m also watching my bellybutton slowly disappear - I reckon it’s just about ready to pop out (too much information?)
I wonder if the baby knows that there’s a world out here. The only world it knows is inside me. It probably thinks I’m its god. Or maybe it thinks I’m its captor - it feels like it’s trying to get out sometimes. I think it likes me in general, I feed it custard on demand.
People say nice things to you when you’re pregnant too. The man in Cafe Sol told me - after he’d seen me leave the back of the queue one day because the wait was too long - that I didn’t have to queue for my maple pecan pastry in the morning - that I could just walk right up to the till because I have priority. The man giving out the free Metro paper on the corner presses the pedestrian button when he sees me coming so that the lights change on time for me (at least, I think that’s why he does it but it never works). A junkie shooting up outside my local Tesco asked me if I was having a boy or a girl. Taxi drivers give me blow by blow accounts of their wives 6-day labours. My favourite comment (although not pregnancy related) came from an elderly British gentleman I was speaking to at a lunchtime business reception last week. I was standing with a glass of sparkling water and when a photographer came over to take our picture, the man said ‘Lower your glass, dear, or people will think you’re a lush’. I thought this was hilarious, particularly as he was completely serious (I did lower my glass though).
So besides work and home, the only places I go at the moment are Tesco, yoga and Eurobaby on the Long Mile Road (had never been to the Long Mile Road before - very disappointed - expected it to be like the Vegas Strip but turns out just to be an industrial estate with a roller disco). Babies, it turns out, need a lot of stuff. We’ve put the bed against the wall in the spare room to make way for all the stuff. Baby now officially has more possessions than Mr Oh. Baby’s possessions though are generally smaller than Mr Oh’s, but not that much smaller because, as you will recall, I’m enormous.
I had always heard it said that having a baby was an expensive business. It turns out that this is amplified by the fact that by the time the baby comes along you have no money left because you’ve spent it all on being pregnant. I’m thinking of abandoning my career and devoting my time to selling things - any kinds of things - to pregnant women at three times the price that you would sell them to unpregnant women.
The whole market is driven by a heady combination of fear, novelty with only the most transparent spattering of maternal concern. Fear is by far the most powerful. If you do not buy this XXX, then something-kind-of-bad will happen to you and/or unborn child.
It starts with pre-natal vitamins. “What do you mean I’m pregnant? I can’t be pregnant...I haven’t been taking super-strength folic acid tablets wrapped in extra strong vitamin b-multitude for the last sixteen weeks!!! I’m done for. I might as well sign the child up for remedial maths classes. Sigh.”. So, the first thing you do is run out the door, to the chemist, and buy its-not-too-late-to-take-your-vitamins vitamins at €30 for a months supply of pink tablets that you take with see-through-fishy tablets, thereby guaranteeing that you are not a failed mother before your child has even lost its tail (which it does at about 8 weeks).
This said, you generally save money in the first trimester overall, depending on your cravings. Mine were cheese sandwiches, and not like crusty baguettes and gruyere or anything, just white sliced pan and processed cheese. My only nod to frou-frou was a need for organic mayonnaise because Hellmans was too white and freaked me out a bit.
The next big spend is BioOil (€25 a bottle) which is a vaguely sticky pink oil that you are supposed to slather over your skin in order to fend off stretch-marks. The fact that BioOil itself admits that it does not prevent stretch-marks is irrelevant. If you don’t bother using it, you might as well stay in your pjs all day, eat butter with a spoon and stop brushing your hair. It’s a symbol to the world that that you are not willing to let yourself go in the face of genetics, limited cellular elasticity and a 10lb trainee ninja recreating scenes from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the space behind your belly button. BioOil is a necessity - a token of your spirit. It’s worth the money.
Maternity wear is next and its a racket. It’s not a case of buying one or two wraparound dresses in demure colours. Nothing that you wore pre-pregnancy can be worn during pregnancy. You need new underwear (bigger underwear), new bras (bigger bras), new socks (to prevent varicose veins - if you don’t wear special socks and you get varicose veins you’ll have no one to blame but yourself), new pyjamas (bigger pyjamas) and new shoes (to make you feel better because everything else is getting bigger). You will also need to buy an full wardrobe of things made entirely from elastic. None of these stretchy things are cheap. If you have to go to a wedding you will have to spend €200 on a dress that you don’t particularly like but that you gratefully buy because it is the only thing in the country that you fit into that does not look like either sleep-wear or a mu-mu. Any ideas you had about being able to continue to wear looser fitting items from your previous wardrobe are dashed when you try on a v-neck jumper and realise that you should probably not flash your belly button in work.
By the time I’d paid for pregnancy yoga classes (which was actually only recently because my mommy kindly bought me the first couple of months), the credit card was starting to creak. Needless to say, I also needed maternity yoga clothes.
As pregnancy also seems to have tipped me over the edge into a full blown earth-hippie-frantically-looking-to-connect-with-my-chi-before-I-forget-where-I’ve-put-it, I signed Mr Oh and I up to a hypnobirthing course. It was worth it just to hear Mr Oh loudly chomping on an imaginary lemon while the instructor guided us through a basic hypnosis. He has gone from being a total skeptic to a dedicated believer. He is also, we have learned, very easily hypnotised.
As it turns out, hypnobirthing was one of my better buys - much better than the tights that reach my neck or the app that each week compares my baby to a low-lying vegetable (this week Hu Jintao is the size of a Chinese cabbage). I’ve gone all birth-organic and will be refusing any form of pain relief or drugs for (at least the first fifteen minutes of) my labour. I think most of the reason I don’t want an epidural is that I think it might hurt. Needles into my spine give me the heebie-jeebies. It’s a pity they can’t just dose me up on Solpadeine. I could give birth in a opiate-haze....that sounds like a good time.
In the last month or so, my hips have started started hurting and I have been unable to sleep. I refused to buy a maternity pillow on the grounds that I didn’t want to bring any more unnecessary stuff into the house. Instead I spent a small fortune going to see an osteopath who specialises in pregnancy. Then, upon discovering that osteopathy necessitates sitting around a lot in one’s underwear, I had to go and buy even more underwear (this time in colours other than beige and grey).
I thought I had spent all the money I was likely to on a tiny person who has no earthly needs other than a bit of kicking space and a lot of milk. I had not yet factored in the-item-formerly-known-as-a-buggy. Nowadays, you don’t buy buggies, you buy a “travel system“. A travel system is a piece of machinery that costs as much as a Fiat Punto and has the design capability to double as a mid-range missile launcher. It is, however, essentially a buggy, with bits. It has a pram bit and a stroller bit and a car seat bit. You take all the bits off and put them back on depending on which bit you need. Buggy with bits can cost up to €1,500.
Choosing the right travel system is important. It is essentially an indication of how much you love your child (this is what I told Mr Oh). All the celebrities have Bugaboo travel systems. These are very nice and they do many wonderful things, but I did not think a Bugaboo was the right match for baby Hu Jintao. Hu is not a follower. Hu is not a slave to pedestrian trends (DYSWIDT?). Hu needs a different sort of travel system - something that will let baby Hu express him/her self in ergonomic luxury with a minimalist undertone. Hu needs a Stokke.
I fell in love with the Stokke travel system the first time I saw it. Mr Oh was slightly more skeptical (why does a buggy handlebar need to be designed by Audi?). I thought I had time to convince him but my friend Mary told me that she had to order her travel system 10 weeks in advance. I kicked up the campaign and after 48-hours of parroting like an infomercial, Mr Oh caved. The big selling point for him was the height. Every other buggy we tried, the baby carriage was hovering around his knee-height (which on other people is waist-height). Stokke is designed by tall Scandinavians for tall Scandinavians (and tall Irish men).
They told us last weekend in the shop that it would take six weeks to be delivered. Turns out it only took a week and arrived yesterday. After I’d unpacked it, I spent the day strapping my teddy bears in and wheeling them around the living room. I thought it would make a good shopping transporter and briefly considered taking it to Tesco but am not ready to be the crazy woman with the pram full of broccoli. Mr Oh has safely stored it upstairs in the spare room but not before he spent a bit of time practicing with the teddy bears (and at one stage even trying to strap himself in).
With the travel system out of the way, hopefully the next twelve weeks or so will be relatively expenditure light. Mr Oh is studying all the time and I am generally quite tired so life on the cheap may be a possibility.
As I was writing this, Mr Oh emerged temporarily from his study-cocoon and asked what my blog topic was this week. I said ‘How much being pregnant costs’. Before disappearing back up the stairs he said ‘But you save money too...you don’t have to go out all the time looking to meet someone that you might want to have a baby with’. I think the hypnosis has left him with deep and profound insights.