You know what this blog needs? A birth story.
Please come back...I promise no-one eats their own placenta. In fact, I vow not to mention placentas at all. There. How can you resist an offer like that? It’ll be edifying and fun.
Ok, lets crack on. So in the autumn of 2016, I found myself ‘with child’ as the virgin Mary says. My joy was short-lived. I had morning sickness so unwavering and unrelenting that I would often cry with the thought of another day of work, children, house, awakeness. The exhaustion was crushing and never-ending - no amount of sleep filled my cup. People would sit beside me on the DART carrying with them viscous haze of cigarettes or perfume and I would have to clear my mind and think of a cool, mountain spring to stop me vomiting all over them. In work, I would hold on to my desk as the floor seemed to slide off to one angle and then retch violently into the bin. I don’t remember much - I think I blocked it out.
I’m writing this to formally note that the term ‘morning sickness’ is offensive to those ashen faced women who want nothing more than to crawl into bed and be knocked unconscious for months at a time. It implies that you wake up in the morning, feel a wee bit off-form for about ten minutes and then continue on with your day bathing in the warm light of that special glory reserved for those who are creating life. There is no glowing. There is only grinding, interminable nausea that sucks the joy out of every single thing in your life. But you’re not allowed to talk about it because your pregnancy is still supposed to be a secret at the point when you most want to turn into a mushroom and melt back into the earth. You continue as normal - working, commuting, cooking dinner (my kids ate sandwiches for dinner for three months) - because you’re only pregnant and you’re supposed to just get on with things. I deeply resent the ‘get on with things’ attitude attached to pregnancy. I’m making an actual human being - let me have a goddamn nap under my desk.
Sozfest. Got a bit carried away. Ok so let’s do what they do in the movies and skip over the next six months with a cheery montage of fun pregnancy activities which include standing precariously on a step ladder in dungarees with a paintbrush, running on a beach (*snort*) and sitting on the floor of the kitchen by the light of the fridge eating pickles and ice-cream. A more realistic montage would involve shots of me napping on the train, napping in the bean bag, napping on the floor of the children’s bedroom while they cry...the pickles and ice-cream scene can stay too - that happened.
This did not:
Nor did this:
Taking up the story again two days past my due date. I have just spent half an hour googling whether tom yum soup has ever induced labour...followed by whether tom yum soup is safe in pregnancy. I should have done both these things before I ate the tom yum soup. I also googled “Is back pain plus exhaustion a sign of impending labour”. It turns out it’s just a sign of being 38. I decided to go to sleep. I awoke two hours late with a sharp pain my cervix. One only really knows where one’s cervix is when the fecker starts doing something. For years, decades even, the cervix stands immovable and silent, like a stone wall, and then, as if the baby inside had silently whispered “open sesame” from the depths of his amniotic bubble, it starts moving. It’s not unlike a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the dim lighting of our bedroom, Mr Oh does look a bit like Harrison Ford. I wake up to tell him I’m in labour. He mutters something inaudible that sounded a bit like “ok so” and started snoring. Indy would never have done that. I gave him a sharp, accidental kick in the upper thigh. It had no effect but to make me feel slightly better. Feeling underwhelmed by his reaction, I went downstairs to sulk/labour in the bean bag alone until morning.
The morning came, and I was still having contractions. Mr Oh remained deeply unmoved by the seismic event I was experiencing and pottered about the house making tea. At 10am, he decided to take Little A to his swimming lesson. I reminded him of the fact that I was in labour. He reminded me of the fact that my last labour went on for three days, it was incredibly boring and there were not enough snacks. He left. I made a sandwich and pulled out the TENS machine.
A TENS machine is a little device where a set of electrodes are attached to a labouring woman’s back and when she presses a button, the machine sends an electric pulse along the wires, into the electrodes and into the pregnant woman’s internal organs. I did not make this up. It is supposed to help with the pain of contractions. It is rooted in the well-known medical theory of distraction through electrocution. Every time you get a contraction, you press the buzzer on the hand-held taser and electricity courses into the kidneys. Imagine stubbing your toe, and as you’re reeling from the pain, someone slaps you in the face - that’s what a TENS machine is like. Super little device - it just confuses the pain out of you.
Mr Oh came back from swimming to find that I had not, in fact, given birth in the driveway. I was a bit disappointed - it would have been one hell of a ‘told you so’ and I am so not above having a roadside birth if it would bestow upon me enough martyred righteousness to power a decade’s worth of marital arguments. Instead, he found me bouncing on my swiss ball, still very much pregnant, electrocuting myself at irregular intervals and cursing.
He had the good sense to deposit Little A and Snugglepunk with the grandparents. I took this as a sign that he was ready to focus on the birthing of our child. I soon discovered that it was actually a sign that he was ready to focus on garden maintenance. By the time the front and back lawns were mowed, my contractions had become very painful. I handed him my phone and assigned him the job of timing the contractions while I paced up and down the back garden in the hope of regularising them. They say that once you cannot keep walking or talking through contractions, you’re seriously on your way to having a baby. After a series of contractions that fully stopped me in my tracks with a pain so intense that I could barely breathe as it exploded through my body, I wanted information on the interval between contractions and details of whether they were of regular duration and spacing. I looked up at Mr Oh, who was as you will remember tasked with compiling this information, and found that he had set my phone down on the path and was himself, on his hands and knees, trimming the edge of the lawn with a pair of kitchen scissors. It was unclear whether the stream of expletives that subsequently emanated from my person were as a result of the piercing contractions, the electrocution of the organs or the fecklessness of the husband.
At 3pm, I told Mr Oh that I wanted to go to the hospital. He said “No, it’s too early”. I thought (or maybe I said), “What would you know? You’ve been fixated on the grass for the last three hours, you wouldn’t notice if I was crowning on the patio”. I accepted that it was probably too early - my contractions weren’t yet regular but they were very strong. And I wanted to go to the hospital - I didn’t care if they sent me home again - I didn’t really want to give birth in the driveway, not even for the mother of I-told-you-so’s. And so we got into the Oscartavia (which is Little A’s name for the Skoda Octavia) - Mr Oh, me, the hospital bag and a giant pink birthing ball wedged into the back seat. And off we hurtled to the hospital, which was about 30 minutes away.
It was 10 June 2017, one of the hottest days of that year. The air-conditioning in the Oscartavia was broken so I had rolled down all the windows. As we approached the hospital, I felt relief wash over me. And then, as we zoomed right past the hospital door, relief was replaced with panic, disbelief and a soupcon of homicide. “What are you doing?” I demanded as the hospital faded in the distance behind us. “It’s too early”, Mr Oh said, “we’re going to Dun Laoighaire”.
“We are in my...oh, another contraction...” and I started hollering out the window.
Dun Laoighaire is a picturesque seaside suburb, 30 minutes south of the hospital. I think it’s a nice place but I did not want my baby to be born there, mainly because there is no maternity hospital in Dun Laoighaire. There is ice-cream, however. And Mr Oh suddenly had a hankering for ice-cream. As we got further and further away from the hospital, I contemplated opening my door and rolling out onto the road, but I was, at that exact moment, the wrong body shape for rolling. So, I sat in the car as we drove to Dun Laoighaire, gripping the edges of my seat as my labour marched onwards, blithely unaware of Mr’s Oh’s treachery and deceit. When we got there, the place was, naturally, jammed with people and the traffic slowed to a crawl. Tourists sauntered past the window, inches from me as I was loudly vocalising each contraction. Mr Oh tried to close the windows, presumably to stave off the mortification of your pregnant wife birthing in front of strangers. I did not give a flying fox who heard me so the windows stayed down. It was at that moment that I looked him in the eye and said ‘Take me back, now’. He looked longingly to the right as we approached the ice-cream shop with a long queue of people snaking along outside it. “Are you sure you don’t want to stop?” he said. To this day, I don’t know if he was joking.
We reached the hospital at 5pm...two hours after we left our house. Mr Oh still thought they would send me home but we were not only admitted but brought straight up to the labour ward and assigned a midwife, who confirmed that I was ‘definitely in labour’. There was an hour of gas and air (very disappointing really, I expected so much more), more electrocution and a lot of chanting birth meditations like ‘it’s not pain, it’s power’ (it is pain, in case you were wondering...lots and lots of pain). I was busy ‘breathing my baby down’ as they say when I hit what is known in the business as ‘the transition’. It’s the part that feels like you’re either going to die or are possibly, already dead. Gas and air was abandoned, the TENS machine was ripped off and I started cursing at everyone - Mr Oh, the lovely midwife, anyone who tried to talk to me. It was also the exact point when Mr Oh said, “I need to go and feed the parking meter”. My head whipped up, and my eyes locked on his. In a voice that I do not recognise as my own, I said “you can get clamped, or you can get divorced”. He chose clamped. It was the correct choice.
45 minutes later, I took a break from screaming my head off to tell the midwife that I was going home as I didn’t want to do this anymore. Apparently, this is really common in childbirth and is a sign that the baby is about to arrive. Sure enough, 2 minutes later, there he was.
It’s always a shock when the baby arrives. Right up until the very last moment, I never actually fully accept that there will be a baby. It’s not fear, it’s just that there is some kind of unseen curtain between pregnancy and birth - something inexplicable and dense - like a wall of tumbling, blinding light. They say that labour is the closest that you can come to death in a regular, ordinary, daily kind of way. There’s something about it that is not just primal but unearthly. There is no-one and then there is someone - a small, new, slightly blue someone.
I called him Bear.
That’s not his real name, the name he knows and already answers to. It’s his blog name. I called him Bear after Bear Grylls - because he’ll basically have to raise himself in the wild surrounded by predators and rely on his wits to survive. Such is the way of the third child.
I’ll stop now, before we have to talk about the placenta. Mr Oh did not get clamped in the end. Every time we talk about that trip to Dun Laoighaire, he has a look in his eyes that says “I told you so”. He’s too smart to actually say it out loud, but I know he’s thinking it.
I am vexed. The flies fly into the house. They congregate in the centre of rooms and fly in small circles for hours on end. There are dozens of them. They give the living room the air of slaughter-house - it’s not a good vibe. I can’t figure out why they fly in circles under the lights…the lights are not on. They don’t really fly anywhere else. Sometimes perhaps in small circles around the pineapple, but mostly it’s in the centre of the room under the light.
I have spent hours trawling the internet looking for an answer to this question. If Yahoo Answers is anything to go by, it seems that I am not the first person to wonder why flies fly in circles in the centre of rooms. I wonder what was wrong with those other people? At least I have an excuse - I’m pregnant, housebound and my world is about to be irrevocably altered. It is therefore natural (and acceptable) for me to flail in a puddle of inane and pointless thought. The other people who think about the flight path of flies are, however, I suspect, insane.
Despite my level of research, I have not come across a conclusive answer to my question. Suggested explanations vary:
Apparently 60%-70% of pregnancies are overdue. This seems a like a lot. This seems like perhaps people need to start re-evaluating how they calculate due dates. Less than 5% of babies are born on their due date. Why bother having one at all? (a due date, not a baby).
Another useful fact…on average babies tend to be born on their due date plus three days. This makes me think that my due date is actually, therefore, tomorrow. Hooray! Baby is going to be born tomorrow. (Positive Mental Attitude - it’s what the Olympics are all about).
I am tired of watching Nurse Jackie. Pretty soon I will have finished Season 4 and then God only knows how I’ll fill my days. Hanging out with the junkies outside Tesco perhaps? They’re sometimes friendly. Mostly they’re kind of shouty. I’m tired of eating pineapples and drinking raspberry leaf tea. I am tired of identifying suitably sturdy pieces of furniture from which to cling as I hoist myself on and off furniture. Mostly I am just tired.
What I am not tired of is frenetically googling the endless number of things that may indicate impending labour. Twitchy eye? There is a website out there that will reassure me that twitchy eyes are a sign from the baby Jesus himself that one is about to go into labour. Everything from ‘cold toes’ to ‘strong desire to clean fridge’ can be (and is) considered a strong signal that the baby is about to be born. The fact that the strong desire to clean fridge was felt - and acted upon - by Mr Oh rather than me is immaterial. Everyone knows he’s suffering from Couvade syndrome and is therefore just as pregnant as I am, only without the actual baby part. Is it wrong that I’m secretly hoping he feels the contractions too?
Bring on tomorrow.
Baby Hu is late. I blame Mr Oh who is generally late for everything and has a peculiar relationship with time. He has little regard for temporal strictures and the sanctity of scheduling. In contrast, I am paralyzed by anxiety at the very notion of not being unnecessarily early for everything. I wonder if this baby has any of my genes at all.
Even though I’m only one day overdue, the midwife asked me to come back into the hospital this morning for another assessment. She’s scheduled me to see the doctor later this week “on account of the baby’s size”. She chuckles quietly in a way that reminds me of Santa as she wraps measuring tape around my bump and announces “well, it’s a good size baby anyway”. I ask her if she thinks the baby is likely to be over 10lbs. I have to ask twice because she pretends not to hear me the first time and stares blankly at the wall as if singing internally to herself. When I ask again she looks away and busies herself fiddling with folders and pens while muttering ‘oh, I wouldn’t necessarily think so’ in a way that suggests she is evaluating how convincing she sounds and then spins back round to announce ‘but you’re very tall so I’m sure it’ll be no problem’. I’m not sure how being tall is going to help me birth a baby sumo wrestler. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so much peanut butter ice-cream - this is all Mr Oh’s fault (although I’m not sure how).
As Operation Oust-Baby-Hu enters its third day, hope for timely delivery of the project begins to fade. A tactical recalibration of the delivery timetable may now be required. The consignment is in stasis.
Over the last few days, I have conducted a campaign of displacement based on the strategically compelling foundations of conjecture, wishful thinking and mythology. The offensive began quietly on Tuesday morning with a low-key reflexology session and accelerated quickly that afternoon over a number of speed bumps in the North Dublin area. On Wednesday, the onslaught continued as needles were inserted into key vantage points on the skin and driven into the underlying nerves (this is similar to waterboarding vis-a-vis levels of unpleasantness and appears to be significantly less effective). A pineapple was consumed. On Thursday, the subject overdosed on raspberry leaf tea in a valiant effort to flush Baby Hu out of his/her hiding place - a tactic which backfired and resulted in hourly nocturnal trips to the bathroom. This morning, in desperation, more needles were again inserted into nerves, more tea was drunk and more pineapples were consumed.
Baby Hu remains ensconced in the trench and is refusing to budge. It occasionally launches decoy physical assaults on surrounding organs which are most likely intended to confuse and vex subject. Both sides have agreed to a weekend ceasefire. Engagement will resume on Monday morning at an undetermined time.
So after a disgracefully long hiatus, I have returned to my blog. In my defence, the blog absence was not my fault. Apple decided to eradicate Mobile Me and on 30 June, it mercilessly wiped my blog off the face of the netosphere. I would like to say that I have spent the intervening period furiously trying to re-establish its existence elsewhere but I have instead spent the intervening period napping. I was tired.
I also had very little news to impart. The final few weeks of work were pure torture. Sitting in an office chair all day was incredibly uncomfortable and the bump had grown so big that I had to reach forward to touch the keyboard. At one stage I tried to put the keyboard on top of my bump and type that way but the baby kicked it off. It’s all over now thankfully and I have spent the last two weeks on maternity leave doing what one is supposed to do on maternity leave, cleaning the floors with dettol wipes on one’s hands and knees. Apparently this is normal. I also arranged the tupperware in size order. Mr Oh was very proud of me.
The first few days of maternity leave were very strange. I woke up early. I did the shopping. I vacuum packed all my clothes. I cleaned the bathroom and then I wondered what to do for the rest of the month. I made a little well in my bean-bag (like the little well one makes for an egg in flour when making a cake) and sat in the middle of it to contemplate my next move. I promptly fell asleep for three hours and woke up with sudden awareness that I would spend the rest of the month napping. So far, it’s working out well for me. In fact, it’s unavoidable. Every time I sit down to read my book, I get about three pages in and then pass out for two hours. It’s amazing how easy it is to fill one’s day in this manner.
In a way, pre-baby maternity leave is a terrible waste of lots of free time. There’s so much I could see and do, if only I were awake, energetic and able to walk more than 100 yards without sitting down. All this resting has been fun (and necessary) but it’s been going on for too long now. I realized I was in trouble at the weekend when I was getting ready to go out and lamented to Mr Oh that I had nothing glamorous to wear. He reminded me that we were going to the Saturday matinee showing of Ice Age 4: Continental Drift and was unsure as to why glamour would be necessary. Sadly, I realized, this outing was the highlight of my week. I sat somewhere other than my bean bag and watched something other than re-runs of Scrubs - there’s no reason not to dress up for that.
Due date is in 6 days and I’m finally at the stage where I can begin to try to bring on labour by bizarre and dubiously effective means. Operation Oust-Baby-Hu begins in earnest tomorrow. I would have started today but I couldn’t fit a whole pineapple in my backpack. A elderly woman in Superquinn last week offered to mow me down with her trolley ‘if it would help move things along’. I was a little bit disturbed at the time and politely declined. I’m going back to Superquinn tomorrow to hunt her down and throw myself in front of her trolley.
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.
The sofa is now too uncomfortable and I have taken to my bed in near perpetuity. I continue to trudge bitterly into work each morning full of simmering resentment at the fact that almost my entire yoga class seems to have wrangled early maternity leave. What I need for this, apparently, is a touch of high blood pressure and a low lying placenta. Instead, I have the blood pressure of a pre-teen marathon runner and an inconveniently nuisance-free placental location.
I also have calves like tree trunks which are accumulating cellulite like it’s a flesh eating disease (I never claimed this was a glamour-blog), fat little fingers (the engagement ring has had to go into temporary storage) and a sharp pain in my pelvis of undetermined origin. None of these things are likely to warrant early maternity leave which is probably a good thing - what my calves need least right now is additional time in proximity to the Percy Pig stash (Mr Oh thought he had hidden it from me but it’s in the casserole dish).
Mr Oh is in the middle of exams at the moment and is studying for more hours a day than most people are awake. I use the opportunity of his short and infrequent breaks to demand cake. He has predicted my future mothering style to be combination of Mary Poppins, Marie Antoinette and Pol Pot.
I’m tired now - it’s time to nap. Tired pregnant woman is much like a grumpy carebear (see image above).
[After posting the above, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realised that I looked even more like grumpy bear than I had originally thought]
It’s uncanny. I’ll refrain from posting a photo of my enlarged calves.
I have heard it said that pregnant women often go through a manic period of spring cleaning in order to prepare the nest for the impending arrival. I have taken to my bed.
I have been here for three days now - only venturing afield (i.e. downstairs) for cooking and biscuit hunting. It may not look like it, but I am nesting. I am preparing my technological environment for the dramatic changes afoot. In fact, to look at me, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am attempting to remotely coordinate the global satellite network from my bed. That is if you can see me at all, so ensconced am I in a hedge of wires, plugs and Apple logos.
I have here in bed with me my new 15’ Macbook Pro - most beloved of inanimate objects. I also have my old Macbook, an iPad, two 1TB external hard-drives, an iPhone, an iPod and a pork pie (with some HP sauce). There also appears to be a calculator under my left ankle but I think Mr Oh left this there earlier when calculating my tax credits.
I have been organising my tax affairs, arranging photos into events, purging my iTunes of Bruce Springsteen albums, researching online photo storage/sharing options (I’m thinking Smugmug but would welcome views), downloading episodes of Game of Thrones and, once again, comparing my unborn child to vegetables (this week baby Hu is the size of a butternut squash). This is 21st century nesting. When my hard-drives are in order, I will be ready for baby.
There has, however, been one disturbing element of nesting that I cannot attribute to modern mothering. I have been absolutely convinced that this child cannot be born until I know how to make custard. It has been something of an obsession for the past week. Mr Oh is not complaining - he considers custard to be stand-alone food group. I bought vanilla pods and cream and golden caster sugar and rhubarb (you need something to eat with custard). I whisked and stirred and cooled and simmered. I made perfectly nice custard, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t the right colour, it wasn’t the right texture and it wasn’t the right taste. I think it needs another egg yolk.
In my experimentation I came across an unfortunate truth - the perfect custard does exist and it’s made by Marks & Spencer. I am now going through a crisis of pre-motherhood. Do I really need to be able to make my own custard when it’s so laborious and awkward and unperfect and M&S do it better? I have a feeling that this issue will shape many of my future mothering decisions. I have resolved to continue to try to make my own perfect custard - anything less is substandard parenting. (I suspect this parental zeal (and possibly all types of zeal) will have exhausted itself by 2013 so I might as well be a martyr to perfection while I still have the energy and will.
Incidentally, on my quest for perfect custard, I came across the perfect cherry pie (also made by M&S). I have no intention of learning how to make cherry pie and am therefore delighted with this find. Mr Oh was reluctant to buy the cherry pie at first. He said he didn’t like cherries. It turns out he just doesn’t like cherry-flavoured Jolly Ranchers which is hardly the same thing. Now that he has unearthed a deep-seated love for M&S cherry pie and M&S custard, my star is waning. Luckily M&S is not carrying his unborn child, otherwise I might find myself surplus to requirements.
[Mr Oh has subsequently assured me that he will not leave me for M&S but cannot rule out the possibility that he will leave me for S&M] [or M&Ms].
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.
There is nothing on television! There really isn’t. It’s Friday night and I’ve got a choice between Celebrity Come Dine With Me (if you consider Rory McIlroy’s trampy ex-girlfriend a ‘celebrity’), the news (which I find stressful) and a type of This Is Your Life show hosted by Piers Morgan which is tonight featuring Ken Barlow from Coronation Street. It’s pretty grim.
I get very excited about nights where I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and then when I’m actually right slap bang in the middle of them I realise that I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and Ken Barlow is the best thing on telly. I feel like I should be gainfully relaxing rather than just lolling around the place like this. Lying lopsidedly on the sofa licking a large chocolate easter egg is not, I suspect, relaxation time well spent. [Just to explain myself, I was unable to break the egg open with my hands and it was too big for me to get a grip with my teeth and bite so I had to resort to licking it. The alternative was stabbing it with a pen which I thought might be perceived as uncouth].
My options of things to do are limited. I could watch another episode of The Tudors but there really is a limit to the amount of gratuitiously starkers Jonathan Rhys Meyers frolicking in a loosely historical context that a person can watch in a week. Everything else (reading, yoga, cooking, finally sorting out my online tax affairs) is too tiring. I’m fully updated on celebrity gossip (Brangelina is engaged - yawn), I’ve no particular desire to talk to anyone and it’s too early to go to sleep. I have no idea what to do. I feel like I’m wasting precious minutes of relaxation by doing nothing. Resting is proving to be stress.ful, I may shortly return to licking the chocolate egg.
I’ve also added ‘talking to unborn baby’ to my pastimes. The benefits of this are multiple. A - baby cannot talk back. B - baby cannot go anywhere. C - baby cannot slam doors or say ‘i hate you’. On the downside, baby can kick. Sometimes I get nice light fluttery kicks around the belly button (usually when baby’s father is around). When baby and I are alone, it likes to kick my bladder.
Despite my increasing suspicion that my baby is hyper-active, willful and unlikely to eat broccoli , I’m very fond of it. Baby (who we have this week nicknamed Hu Jintao) and I spend all day together and I think it’s starting to show signs of a personality. For example, baby likes milk, ice cream and dried mango. Baby does not like fish, loud noises or the bus. Baby likes swimming but finds walking tedious. It likes banjo music but not rap music. One might say that these are obviously things that I like and have nothing to do with the personality of my unborn baby. I’m not so sure. I now drink gallons of milk a day where previously I never drank milk. Even Mr Oh is shocked. He tried to prevent me from buying a 3-litre carton of milk last week on the grounds that ‘there are only two of us, we are not the target market for 3-litre cartons of milk’. It turned out that we needed to go back the next day to get another 3-litre carton of milk once I devoured the first one like a hungry lactose vampire.
It is interesting that the baby seems to react to different types of music. Some make it dance, or thrash about wildly in a type of early onset moshing, classical music seems to calm it down and whenever Mr Oh plays A Tribe Called Quest in a frantic and disturbing attempt to become a tall-white-beardy-rap-connoisseur I can hardly stay in the room so intense is my physical revulsion to the sound. This happens with all kinds of music with heavy beats and only the slight imaginings of a melody. While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of this type of music, I’ve never had such an inability to tolerate it before. My brothers went through a similar phase of loud politically incorrect noise adherence (albeit at a more age appropriate time in their lives) so I’m quite familiar with the genre. I have quite a soft spot for the Wu Tang Clan but these days I can’t play it out loud because I just don’t like it but strangely, I don’t have the same negative reaction when I listen through my headphones. My conclusion....baby does not like the Wu Tang Clan.
Baby Hu Jintao - so named because my bump is now HuJ(inTao) - is now fully formed but still has another three months of practicing his or her step dancing atop my bladder. I am slightly nervous about how much growing there is still left to do. I always knew that I was unlikely to be one of those pregnant women who looks like she woke up one morning and discovered, to her great surprise, someone had implanted a melon behind her belly button, but I really want to avoid the ‘inflated by a tank of helium and about to float off into to the stratosphere if not tethered firmly to earth’ look.
Someone said to me yesterday ‘Are you not due soon? It seems like you’ve been pregnant forever’. I was not offended, I too feel like I’ve been pregnant forever. I always knew that pregnancy lasted 9-months but what I never really considered before was that 9-months is essentially the best part of a year. I have now been unable to eat blue cheese for half a year. I originally thought that this - and a bit of tiredness and maybe some nausea - would be what would define pregnancy for me. No one tells you that it is entirely all-consuming and dominates every second of your life and thought process.
I usually feel ok waking up in the morning. I have to eat straight away, often having my breakfast at 4 or 5 am before going back to sleep because I get light headed and faint if I don’t get my mini-fruity-wheats straight away. I used to be able to run for the bus when we could see it coming down the road but now when Mr Oh turns to me like an impatient puppy wanting to break free from his lead and sprint so he’ll make the bus, I scowl at him and continue plodding forward at what is genuinely my top speed thinking he should be grateful that I’m walking at all and not lying down on the pavement for a nap which is what I would do if the pavement were warm and made of grass. The bus usually makes me feel nauseous and sometimes faint and by the time I get into work I’m ready to go back and would consider it if that didn’t necessitate getting back on a bus. Work itself isn’t too bad but by the end of the day I’m usually limping on account of the fact that one (or both) of my hips is trying to detach itself from the pelvis and fall away from my body entirely (this is normal apparently). Also normal is the heartburn, stomach pains, swollen ankles, lower back pain and constant desire to sleep. I always try to plan a dinner to make when I get home but its a 50/50 chance whether I have enough energy to do anything other than curl onto the sofa. Once on the sofa, it’s hard to get back up, not just mentally but because if Mr Oh is not there to physically ‘wench’ me up I have to perform this kind of scrabbling, rolling type maneuver which thankfully no other living soul has ever seen. When it’s time to sleep, I arrange an impressive collection of pillows like sandbags around and under my body in the hope that it will stop things aching and waking me up in the middle of the night. Mr Oh refers to his small remaining scrap of bed where he has to eek out a solitary and lonely slumber as the Gaza Strip. Sometimes he talks to me through the barricades. Last night, despite being entirely consumed by a mass of pillows, I still woke up at 3am to find that my entire left side from shoulder to ankle had gone numb. Stupid pillow fail.
The point of this rant is not to whine about the discomforts of pregnancy (well, not really). This happens to everyone and I am in no way unique. I only found out about it all though once I started reading about pregnancy and talking to women in my yoga class. I think there’s some oath of silence that women who have had children take, to never speak of it again, or maybe they just forget. I’ve already forgotten morning sickness. What I find amazing though is that despite the fact that I have the silhouette of an oversized pygmy buffalo hunter, the bathroom habits of an incontinent octogenarian and the mobility of a Soviet-era locomotive - I’m really quite pleased with pregnancy. As long as I get to rest a lot and drink my body weight in milk - it’s not too bad. We’ll see if this changes over the next twelve weeks or so...
Pregnancy is a constant battle between trying to do the right thing and retaining a modicum of common sense and perspective. It is a condition that panders to the fears and small dramatics of those pre-disposed to hysteria, hypochondria, paranoia and low-level insanity. As I have been periodically guilty of all these things to a greater or lesser degree (usually greater) I am at greater risk than most of losing the plot entirely. Luckily, I seem to be hanging on in there, possibly because when I’m about to careen over the edge of crazy Mr Oh slaps me across the face (metaphorically) and puts me on the naughty chair until I regain composure (only kind of metaphorically).
Mr Oh has had to ban me from Googling every single thing I eat, drink and do in advance to see if it’s safe for the baby. It surprises me though how the most bizarre stuff seems to have reams of information already available. You can Google everything from ‘Will eating fish make my baby a better swimmer?’ to ‘Does wearing the colour pink during pregnancy lead to birth defects’ and be guaranteed that someone has both asked and answered the question before.
Where there is a risk that something might not be good for an unborn child, the general approach of the internet is not to say ‘that’s ridiculous’ or even ‘while there’s absolutely no evidence to prove that eating Percy Pigs when pregnant will make your baby ugly, if you’re concerned about it, you may wish to abstain from the delicious treats until after the birth’. Rather they say ‘Yes, it is absolutely possibly that eating Percy Pigs in pregnancy may indeed be linked to an increased incidence of ugliness in babies. While there is not yet any scientific evidence - or any evidence at all - supporting this admittedly random hypothesis you should not eat any Percy Pigs when pregnant...just in case. If you ignore this warning and your baby does indeed turn out ugly, it will be your fault and the child should be taken away from you”.
There are some things that you probably shouldn’t eat/do when pregnant. Take class A drugs for example. Nobody wants their baby to be born addicted to crack-cocaine. Smoking is another thing that is probably not a great pastime to be at when pregnant and it makes me very uncomfortable seeing heavily pregnant women standing outside the maternity hospital puffing away. This said, I think people generally need to lighten up a bit - for some women who would have smoked heavily before pregnancy, giving up entirely may be practically impossible. They may occasionally cave and have one or two cigarettes. It’s not great but there are far worse things that women do during pregnancy that are judged much less harshly by society. Stress, for example.
One of the worst things you can do to your baby is be stressed. The stress hormone is passed to your baby through the umbilical cord and no one really knows the harmful effects that consistently increased stress levels have on a baby in the womb. I don’t imagine it’s good, though, considering the hugely destructive effect stress has on fully grown adults. If having a cigarette occasionally or a glass of wine reduces stress in the mother, there is a good chance that there is a net benefit to the unborn of this action. Also, overwork and lack of sleep. There were a few weeks last month where I was doing 10-12 hour days most nights in work. It really wasn’t good for me and I was exhausted and drained which can’t be an optimal pro-creating environment but because it wasn’t stigmatized as ‘something bad mothers do’, no one really said anything to me except in a kind of congratulatory way e.g. ‘look at you working so hard even though you’re pregnant, aren’t you great’....when all I could think was ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I need to go home, lie down and eat Percy Pigs’.
Alcohol is probably the most cointreauversial pregnancy related issue around and one that very few people (apart from the French) are capable of having a sensible approach to. My doctor warned me about the dangers of getting wasted but seemed unconcerned by everything else. American websites are positively militant in their approach ‘No alcohol...no way...not even a cherry liqueur bon-bon...BAD MOTHER!!...the shame’. I imagine that having a glass of wine while obviously pregnant in an American restaurant may well carry with it the risk of public stoning. Even in Ireland, I hate to say, I’m at the stage where I’m reluctant to have a glass of wine in case people give me dirty looks, or worse...say something! God forbid - I’d be mortified. Luckily though, Irish people are so terrified of mistakenly assuming that someone is pregnant when they may just be a bit pudgy that I reckon you’d have to be crowning in the pub before they’d suggest that you might want to put down the pint.
The French apparently drink wine in moderation all throughout pregnancy without any negative effects (other than being born French). My approach is that I will drink a glass of wine or two when I feel like it and when the wine is suitably expensive. I don’t risk public humiliation for plonk.
The list of things you shouldn’t consume doesn’t stop there. Soft mould-ripened unpasteurized cheeses are apparently out because of risk of listeria but there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about this. I heard from the people in the cheesemonger (experts surely?) that pasteurised or unpasteurised is irrelevant and what is important is the age of the cheese. Anything under 9 months could carry listeria. Anything over that will be safe. This means that most soft cheese are risky but that stilton is back in the running (hooray!). Also anything you buy in Tesco is safe because it’s generally been whipped to within an inch of its life by a processing machine and listeria couldn’t survive near it. But the key thing about cheese is that, if it’s hot, listeria is killed so bring on the deep-fried brie!
Salami is another baddie, and actually any cold deli meats because they are uncooked and could also carry listeria and other things. The listeria thing would also apply to all salads, fruit, raw veg, deli items that you hadn’t washed yourself or that weren’t served hot. By this rationale, pregnant women should not eat any store bought or restaurant/deli-made sandwiches or salads. You could risk it....but you’d be a bad mother for putting your baby in danger.
You’re also a bad mother if you drink herbal tea which hasn’t been clinically proven as safe. Even camomile may have a negative effect on baby. All regular tea or coffee and soft drinks are very bad because of the caffeine. Raw fruit juice also may harbour listeria.
Salmon, tuna and swordfish contain mercury. Liver is totally out in all its forms because of harmful levels of vitamin A which can cause birth defects. All forms of paté, whether made with liver or not, also on the listeria risk-list (unless hot). Shellfish - bad. Any raw meat/fish - bad. Homemade mayonaise or mousses made with raw egg - bad. Soft-serve or homemade ice-cream - bad. Eggs that aren’t hardboiled - bad. All salad - bad. Anything with processed sugar - bad. All meat that’s not welldone - bad.
This basically reduces the pregnant woman diet to boiled rice, steamed broccoli and hot water. It’s unpleasant and also, I think unnecessary.
I had a craving for sushi on Friday (actually my craving was for raw salmon smothered in soft blue cheese). We went to Yamamori Japanese restaurant and I explained to the waiter that I couldn’t eat raw fish but still wanted sushi so could he recommend anything. He said I could have a California roll (cooked crab and avocado) sushi. Although this was ‘technically’ still on the no-go list because the ingredients were cold I decided to order one. He then told me - somewhat hesitantly in case I freaked out - that all the pregnant Japanese women in the restaurant had no problem eating raw fish sushi. I sighed.
I know this to be the case. In the same way that French women drink lots of wine while eating cold brie and American women eat salad in restaurants but would rather be consumed alive by ants than touch wine....Japanese women eat raw fish. None of this illicit activity effects their babies in any measurable or quantifiable way. Listeria is incredibly rare and I’m convinced that the stress of being obsessed with everything you eat is more likely to make your baby neurotic in later life...but once I know that eating raw fish could be dangerous, I can’t risk it because then I’d be a bad mother and it would be my fault if anything happened. I should never have Googled any of this in the first place.
There are other things that bad mothers do. They sleep on their backs. Apparently this squishes some artery which deprives your baby of nutrients. Most mornings I wake up on my back and silently panic for ten minutes until the baby kicks and tells me that despite my evil unconscious back-sleeping habit, he’s still ok in there. Bad mothers also use mobile phones which can cause ADHD in babies. I reckon that my baby already has ADHD (inherited from Mr Oh who is incapable of sitting still) but have moved the phone its usual position (under my pillow - oops!) to a drawer. Bad mothers have hot baths and showers (overheating can cause birth defects). Bad mothers have contact with reptiles (I’ve had our pet cobra put down). Bad mothers eat junk food. Find me a woman who did not eat an unusual number of Big Macs/chicken nuggets/cheese nachos during the first three months of morning sickness when nothing else would stay down and I’ll show you a woman with selective memory - or one who didn’t really have morning sickness at all. Bad mothers drink tap water (we’re a San Pellegrino household).
So I’ve decided to get a grip and take a less stringent approach to what I eat. No liver. No smoking. No getting drunk. No raw shellfish, fish or meat. No raw egg. No cold, young, mold-ripened cheese (doesn’t sound particularly appealing when you put it like that anyway). I’m undecided about crack-cocaine.
On the pro-active side I will endeavor to go to yoga twice a week, drink lots of sparkling mineral water, work normal hours, not get stressed, get lots of sleep, try to eat in quality establishments where the food is unlikely to be coated in e-coli, and drink at least two glasses of wine a week....in public.