What Not To Buy When You're Shopping For Maternity Clothes

Why Are Maternity Clothes So Awful?

Last time I was pregnant, I quite enjoyed buying maternity clothes. They may have only come in black, white, navy and grey (the anti-rainbow; nothing there to flatter pale skin) but at least I could order anything from ASOS and know that it was going to fit me - this was a revelation after years of trying to dress a long torso and hips two sizes wider than my waist.

So I want to know what on earth has happened in the last three years?!

Because trying to find maternity clothes which both fit and are fit for the purpose of cladding a pregnant body seems nigh on impossible now.

Here's what you'll find in the maternity ranges at the moment - and, conveniently, it's identical to my list of What Not To Wear When You're Expecting:

Anything You Can't Wear With A Bra
Anything: strapless; backless; with spindly spaghetti straps; with tantalisingly placed see-through panels; which plunges to your navel. You can't cart third trimester boobs around without a bra. Those of us who started off with larger chests will have bra straps the width of a teabag; those who started off smaller will still be contending with please-don't-jiggle-me growing pains; and let's not get started on the possibility of very early leakage.

Anything Which Knots At The Back
Because your back is under enough pressure, what with the big bump it's now supporting, without you wearing clothes which prevent you from sinking back into your chair.

Anything Which Opens At The Front
Wrap dresses seem so practical, right? Because you can wear them for breastfeeding, right? Except that you've now got a huge bump sticking out the front, pushing the fabric apart.

Anything So Trendy It Can't Be Worn Next Season
Because you're either going to have another baby - in which case, you want to get another pregnancy's worth of wear out of these clothes - or you're not going to have another baby - in which case, you want to claw back some money by flogging the lot on eBay.

Anything Which Makes You Feel Self Conscious When You're NOT Pregnant
Because you should be loving your pregnant body (you're growing a whole new human being! you're amazing!), not wondering if that high necked dress makes you look like a Christmas tree bauble.

Anything Made Of A Fabric Which Makes You Sweat
I mean: seriously.

Jeans With A Solid Ridge of Denim Right Across Your Bladder
How much can one woman pee?

Skinny Jeans
Or any trousers which are made of fabric with no give to it. Because, even if you escape the puffy evening calves, you are supposed to get larger in pregnancy - don't wear clothes which turn being dressed into a battle against your own body.

Anything Which Needs Ironed
Unless you've got somebody around who just loves to do that for you.

And, If You're Hoping To Breastfeed, Anything Which Doesn't Give Access To Your Boobs
You won't be back into your pre-pregnancy clothes the morning after the birth; you will still be able to wear your maternity clothes. So it's good financial sense to make sure you can wear them while you're feeding your baby.

Building a capsule maternity wardrobe last time around wasn't too difficult. Yes, I had to send about 50% of my purchases back because they turned out to be either itchy or translucent, but at least the clothes looked okay and fitted fine.

This time around, maternity clothes seem to come in two categories: HR department and nightclub. Where are the comfy jeans, the Breton tops and the flattering dresses?

And why, oh why, did I let myself believe that I was so sick of the six outfits I wore on rotation last time that it would be a better idea to flog them on eBay than to keep them to wear again this time?! I'd much rather be wearing the pink flowery jersey dress right now than scrolling through page after page of polyester boob tubes.

Why I Don't Ask What My Toddler Is Drawing

How to Entertain a Toddler All Day

When Matilda was about twelve months old, she was given a box of crayons, a stack of paper and a colouring book. She loved them. Every day, she spent a good long chunk of time scribbling - wild, carefree masses of colour; rainbow squiggles all over a sheet of A3; a solitary knot of red covering the outlines of ten different flowers.

As she got older, she learnt to control the crayons better. Sometimes, she draws lots of straight lines because she can; sometimes she draws lots of circles because she can; sometimes she draws zigzags because she can. When she colours in, each part of the picture will be smothered in a different colour.

And, left to her own devices, her crayon control will improve even further. She will learn how to join her shapes into recognisable pictures. She will begin colouring within the lines. She will start asking herself "What colour would this strawberry normally be?" instead of "Which crayon haven't I used yet?" (although I do hope that, eventually, she will come full circle and start purposely breaking the rules).

But, recently, when other people are crayoning with her, I've noticed them asking, "What are you drawing? Is it Daddy? Is it a cat? Shall we draw a dinosaur?"

More and more, she's shoving the crayons aside and saying, "I can't do it." 

She has started realising that, technically, she's not very good at drawing and colouring in right now - she doesn't have the skills to create the end result they've suggested. 

She doesn't realise that, developmentally, she's exactly where she's supposed to be. 

She is becoming discouraged; she doesn't hear me when I stress, "You can't do it YET, but soon you will learn."

I am a big believer in allowing kids to enjoy the process rather than encouraging them to focus on an end result.

This doesn't mean never encouraging Matilda to enjoy the process of painting on thick paper, then cutting the results into Christmas tree shapes and sticking them onto cards - I'm quite happy to have my own sneaky toddler art projects, as long as they don't cause stress to my kid.

And it doesn't mean never allowing her to stick masses of tiny bits of tissue paper on to transparent sticky-back plastic then turning it around and saying, "Look! You made a suncatcher!" Sometimes it's nice to surprise her with what she's managed to do.

But, over the past couple of years, I've left her to scribble with crayons and watched with pride as the squiggles slowly became more intentional.

I've left her to swirl her hands through goopy paint (although not as much as I'd like because, ugh, the clean up!) and watched with joy as she started purposefully selecting colours for herself.

I've left her to plonk stickers wherever she liked on a sheet of paper and watched with awe as she naturally began giving the paper a top and a bottom, turning all the stickers to face the same direction.

And I'm thrilled that's she's now starting to make things - cards for other people; flags for herself; space rockets out of cardboard boxes - that she's now starting to realise that art can be used to create something wonderful.

My Pinterest is full of ideas and inspiration for her and I do hope that, eventually, she'll start asking to see those pins and/or will start leafing through books to find projects of her own. I'm eagerly anticipating the days when she can have and follow an idea from start to finish, even if that might mean our house being covered in wonky, splodgy egg cartons with yoghurt pots on top.

But, right now, I'm waiting. I'm letting her figure it out in her own time.

Because I hope art will be something she comes to naturally, something with brings her joy and pride; it would break my heart if creating things became a parent-pleasing chore.

Why Every Pregnancy Really Is Different

Why Every Pregnancy is Physically - AND EMOTIONALLY - Different

It's a familiar refrain: "Every pregnancy is different; every birth is different; every baby is different."

I know, I know!

Or: I thought I knew.

I thought, when people said that every pregnancy is different, they meant physically. I had tons of symptoms during my first (eleven week) pregnancy; a handful of symptoms during my second; and almost none (so far) with my third.

But it turns out there's more to it than that.

Emotionally, it's different, too.

Here's what's surprising me this time around:

Forgetting I'm Pregnant

Friends with multiple children had told me about this. The way they told it, second time around, they were so focused on stopping their toddler from hurling themselves off the top of the climbing frame that they didn't have time to think about being pregnant.

That's not quite the case with me.

In fact, the only time I do really think about being pregnant is at about 3pm when I'm trying to stay both focused on my toddler and semi-conscious, despite the sudden, crushing, overwhelming need for a nap. No amount of cajoling can make Matilda sit in front of the TV for the two hours before Steve gets home from work - those two hours are allocated in her mental calendar as the "jumping on the bed, turning the sofa into a bus and reading Hello In There 57,000 times" slot. There was one beautiful afternoon when getting me to lie on the bed while she tucked me in and shoved bump wedges and knee cushions into their appropriate places was The Best Game Ever, but the novelty has sadly worn off.

But, yes, I do forget I'm pregnant. So much so that I can't even tell you which fruit or vegetable is a comparable size to the foetus this week. Because I haven't felt pregnant for the past twenty-one weeks. There was no queasiness; there's no sense of heaviness; there's none of the organs-being-shoved-aside-and-pelvis-being-jacked-apart discomfort. All there is is tiredness and, you know: I've been through the newborn days and I'm now in the toddler-who-doesn't-take-a-nap stage; tiredness doesn't seem all that significant a symptom to me.

In fact, I feel so not pregnant that the other day, when a significantly older lady offered me her seat on a crowded bus, I assumed it was because I had a toddler with me. It wasn't until we were almost home that I remembered about my obvious bump.

Assuming I Know More About The Kid Than I Do

With Matilda, we didn't find out the sex until she was born. She was a complete unknown. The only clue we had to her personality was that she kicked non-stop from 10am-10pm most days but didn't move at night. We had hoped that this would mean she would sleep through from early on. She did not. What it actually meant was that she doesn't see a lot of point in naps.

This time around, we do know the sex (and, no, I'm still not going to tell you).

And it doesn't matter that I think the sex of a baby means very little - that I think they all look much the same, despite the enormous pink bows strapped to their heads or the Wall Street braces clipped to their joggers; that I believe they all behave in entirely non-gendered ways, until such time as pop culture exerts its influence; that I don't think it makes any difference whatsoever (beyond the "how long can they share a bedroom?" question) whether we're having a girl or a boy - knowing this one thing about the kid makes me feel as though I should know all the details of their personality. How can I know whether they have an X or a Y chromosome and not know whether they'll like dancing or climbing or books or (I've heard rumours such kids exist) even broccoli?

I feel like, because we're not waiting to find out everything about them, we shouldn't have to wait to find out anything.

Feeling Ready

In the last few months of my pregnancy with Matilda, I felt simultaneously impatient to hold my baby and terrified that we weren't going to be ready in time. What if the bedroom she wasn't going to sleep in for around six months wasn't painted before she arrived? What if we (somehow) forgot to assemble the crib? What if we should have bought a nappy bin and a baby monitor after all?

The list of Things To Do Before The Baby Arrives was long, expensive (hello, complete rewire of the flat) and wasn't fully scored out until days before the due date.

And then we still spent fifteen mortified minutes in the hospital waiting room, trying to figure out how to adjust the straps on the car seat.

This time around, I'm baffled by how much more pregnancy I still have to go. Almost half of the total time? Ridiculous!

Because we're ready.

We have everything we need. Even the things we needed to replace (the annoyingly small crib; the buggy which sheds mysterious pieces of itself; the bottle teats we may or may not end up using) have been dealt with. The smallest baby clothes are down from the attic.

We're so ready we even know how we're going to go about swapping bedrooms with the kids - them to the big room; us to the small one - in roughly ten months' time. The furniture is arranged in my head; I'm thinking about paint colours; I don't understand why I'm having to wait.

There is the small matter of figuring out what we're going to do with Matilda while I'm in labour, but we've got so many offers of help that I figure - with an Excel spreadsheet and a bit of luck - that that will all fall into place.

In the meantime, I'm having to remind myself that mid-July is probably too early to invite our friends for a "why am I still pregnant?" curry towards the end of November.

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

Book Lover by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack
I didn't get very far with this. I'm all for chick lit heroines being intelligent - hurrah! - but, you know, I'm pretty well read and well educated and I still found all the "I read so many books!" stuff impenetrable and smug. And the main character was otherwise typically hapless.

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams
When Dee Williams is diagnosed with a heart condition, it prompts her to reassess her life; she decides to sell her conventional fixer-upper home and build herself a tiny house on the back of a trailer instead. This is partly the story of the build and partly the story of how her downsized life has unfolded - some of which was inspiring, some of which seemed like perhaps you had to be there or to know the people involved. It also helps if you don't mind sweeping - and sometimes bizarre - cultural generalisations (Irish people living in elf holes, anyone?). Overall, though, worth a read if you're interested in small space living, minimalism and/or eco-builds.

Happy Mum Happy Baby: My Adventures in Motherhood by Giovanna Fletcher
Giovanna - writer, TV presenter and wife of That Guy From McFly - writes about PCOS, pregnancy and parenting two small children. This is absolutely her story rather than a parenting how-to book - she freely admits that she doesn't have all the answers and that the approach she and Tom have taken may not be right for every family (some of their choices weren't right for us). Her writing is open and honest but she manages to discuss the tricky parts of parenting without ever shaming her kids. It's a bit like reading a "mummy blog" but without all the advertorials - I nodded along and wanted to be her pal.

Together by Julie Cohen*
As Robbie enters the early stages of Alzheimer's, he becomes worried that he may inadvertently reveal the secrets he and his partner, Emily, have kept hidden for several decades. This is being marketed as a hugely romantic novel so I was worried that it was going to be a bit schmaltzy for my tastes. The first... maybe... two thirds were not. The book moves back through Robbie and Emily's lives, step by step, exploring their relationship, their experience of parenthood, their plan to start a family - these sections are beautifully written, hugely engaging and underpinned by the mystery of their deep, dark secrets. And then it gets to the section where they meet and everything becomes a bit "star crossed lovers who must never be apart"; my eyes began rolling like crazy at that point. Overall, though, a really clever book - if you have a higher tolerance for sentimentality than me and you like a bit of a mystery, this is definitely worth picking up.

Spectacles by Sue Perkins
I have never *gasp* seen The Great British Bake Off but Light Lunch was a student years staple, so I was really looking forward to this. In all honesty, I suppose I wanted to somehow become mates with Mel and Sue just by reading it. I want to more now. Self-deprecating without being mean to herself, funny and touching; I'm glad I'm not related to Sue Perkins (because her family takes quite a ribbing) but, as a complete stranger, I hugely enjoyed this.


*Provided for review

My Birth Plan Last Time (And How It Differed From Reality)

What I put in my birth plan for my first child

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about birth plans.

During my last pregnancy, I avoided thinking about them for as long as I could - birth was such a huge unknown, I didn't know where to begin planning for it or what my chances were of things going the way I had hoped.

This time around, I'm excited - I know that birth can be a positive experience and I'm fired up about making sure that happens.

But this post isn't about my new birth plan; this is about the one I wrote for Matilda and how things played out on the [two] day[s].

Recently, I read The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill. There are a lot of things I like about the book - it's full of information, large chunks of which are impartial; and it advocates for women taking control of their own birth experience, understanding that every single thing which happens to them and their baby should be their choice, and standing up for the aspects which matter to them most. Brilliant.

On the other hand, Milli disapproves of women taking a "see what happens on the day" approach. Which is what I did. She wants us all to stop making what she sees as passive statements and to, instead, write extremely detailed birth plans which cover all eventualities.

And I think that's fine if it's your second or your third or your fourth labour.

But, for me, I suspect that I felt a lot more in control first time around because I hadn't tried to plan for eventualities which I didn't fully understand. I could handle asking myself whether or not I would regret an epidural; I couldn't handle thinking about seeding the baby's microbiome (yes, exactly: what?!). Too many details and too much information would have been overwhelming, so I focused on what was important to me and trusted the rest to the midwives.

If you're keen to have a positive birth (and, I mean, who isn't keen for a positive birth?! But: if you're actively seeking one out rather than watching One Born Every Minute and assuming it's a ridiculous, sparkly daydream), you're often advised to focus solely on positive birth stories and to picture the best possible outcome. In fact, I found it really helpful to hear about the ways in which friends' labours had derailed; this gave me just enough information about induction, ventouse and caesarean to know that I could get through them and love my baby at the end. I felt confident in saying, "Yes, I will do that, if it seems necessary," and in leaving it at that.

And I'm sure, if my pregnancy had turned complicated later on and I had ended up needing a planned section or induction, I would have read up on them and made more informed choices about the details.

But, for a first labour which showed no signs of complications, I didn't need to be overwhelmed with information. I would have found the barrage of possibilities stressful - and stress was the one thing I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I wanted to avoid.

So, two years and three months on, what did that first birth plan look like and how did things work out on the day?

(You can read the full birth story here)

I wanted: To give birth in the midwife led unit (MLU).
Why? This was a bit of a no brainer for me. I didn't feel confident enough for a home birth but I didn't want the medical environment of the labour ward; I had had an uncomplicated pregnancy; and the MLU and labour ward in Aberdeen are literally right next door to each other so, if things went wrong on the day, a transfer would take all of a minute.
How did it work out? I was in the MLU for most of my labour. It was a pleasant enough place to be - we could dim the lights and theoretically play our own music (I liked this idea but couldn't even begin to imagine what I would want to listen to; I do remember something comically significant coming on the radio mid-labour and thinking "I'll always laugh when I hear this" but, by the following evening, I couldn't have told you what it was). When it became clear that Matilda was stuck, I was transferred to the labour ward (which did indeed take roughly a minute); it was a bit too bright and cluttered with machines but, by that point, my surroundings weren't a huge concern.

I wanted: Steve with me.
Why? He's the dad and I knew he'd be supportive.
How did it work out? I felt like we were a team throughout.

I wanted: To try to labour on just gas and air, but I didn't rule out drugs.
Why? To know if I could, really. Plus, a lifetime of medication allergies makes me wary of taking anything unless it's absolutely necessary.
How did it work out? I had one shot of morphine in the middle of the night, largely because the midwives thought it might help me get some sleep (I did manage a bunch of 40 second naps as a result); in the middle of transition, I wondered why nobody was forcibly administering any more (that passed very quickly); and I ended up being given an epidural as part of the forceps delivery. I do believe that, if she hadn't been stuck, the labour would have been quicker and there would have been no need for anything but gas and air, but I have no regrets about taking the drugs!

I wanted: To avoid intervention, particularly a c-section.
Why? Because I was scared an epidural would damage my hips further; because forceps and ventouse sounded brutal for the baby; because I had had enough of being immobile and didn't want to add on a couple of weeks of recovering from abdominal surgery.
How did it work out? Well, I avoided surgery! I had the epidural and forceps delivery and, actually, I felt amazing about it afterwards - after 36 hours of contractions I was knackered, so a quick, easy, pain-free final delivery was very welcome. I did occasionally feel a little sad about not having felt my baby's ultimate entry into the world but that was only ever a fleeting sorrow (I do realise her health was the most important thing, but I'm not going to deny having contradictory emotions!).

I wanted: Freedom to move around.
Why? Because lying on my back in late pregnancy was agony; because moving around allowed me to find comfortable positions; because we're built to deliver in basically any position but prone.
How did it work out? I did most of the labour leaning over a birthing ball. Lying down for examinations was excrutiating so being able to move around was definitely a good thing. For the forceps delivery I was on my back but I was numb from my chest down so couldn't feel any discomfort.

I wanted: To try the birthing pool.
Why? Curiosity! Also, I had read that it might be gentler on my hips.
How did it work out? I did get to try it (there's only one in Aberdeen so it's pot luck). Early on, I found that being submerged up to my hips was helpful but, overall, it was far too hot for me and, as I could only stand to be in it if I was hanging over the side, I didn't find it very comfortable. I did feel guilty, thinking about other women (possibly) arriving and not getting to use the pool because I was hogging that room!

I wanted: Whatever the injection is which speeds up delivery of the placenta.
Why? Because I felt no strong urge to do it myself and couldn't think of a reason not to have the injection.
How did it work out? I remember nothing about it so: well? I have no regrets, anyway.

I wanted: Steve to tell me the sex and to have the option of cutting the cord.
Why? Because she was our baby and it felt really symbolic that he was the one introducing her to me. The cord cutting I didn't have any strong feelings about, but it was a way for him to have more involvement, if he so chose.
How did it work out? We're both about 99% sure he declined to cut the cord; he doesn't regret it. As for telling me the sex, I still feel damp eyed remembering whoever-it-was-who-pulled-her-out holding the baby out to him and asking, "Can you see?" and then him turning to me and saying, "It's a girl! We've got a girl!" It was the most amazing moment.

I wanted: The baby to have the vitamin K injection.
Why? Because it could potentially protect her from brain damage and there didn't seem to be any downsides.
How did it work out? There have been no downsides.

I wanted: Skin to skin.
Why? Because I wanted ALL THE CUDDLES. Also, there was some leaflet about it being beneficial...
How did it work out? The hospital here is very pro-skin to skin; it's the default option. We had some before she was whisked off to the neonatal unit and an awful lot more over the days which followed.

In summary:
I remember Matilda's birth as being such a positive experience. No, it didn't all go to plan, and, yes, it was loooooooooooooong, but I felt really supported by Steve and by all of the hospital staff; I felt that all of my requests were listened to and everything that happened to me was done with respect and permission; and, other than one screech of "I CAN'T!"  in the middle of transition, I didn't feel scared or overwhelmed by what my body was going through.

Big chunks of my birth plan were "go with the flow" and I stand by that. I trusted the midwives to guide me through anything which I didn't understand and, on the day, the detours from the original plan - the morphine; the epidural; the forceps - were easy enough for me to accept and didn't lead to regrets.

But I'm also glad that I had spent a little time thinking about which things were really important to me. There were very few of them and, actually, they're all pretty standard here - freedom of movement; Steve to tell me the sex; skin to skin - but being clear in my mind that those were my priorities helped me to focus on the good.

And as for my birth plan this time...? I'll tell you all about it nearer the time!


The Varying Health of The Rooftops Family

The Varying Health of the Rooftops Family

Bump

Let's start with the really good news: Steve and I had our twenty week baby scan on Wednesday and everything is perfect.

In Aberdeen, there's no option to find out the sex at the twenty week ultrasound - it is very clearly an anomaly scan done for medical screening purposes. So I was a little bit nervous. But mostly not. Mostly, I felt like we had had our scare for this pregnancy. I could (can) feel the baby moving; I was pretty sure all was well.

And it is.

And, wow, I thought the scans were sharp and detailed last time around (November 2014) but the machines have had an upgrade since then - we could see everything. Everything except the carefully dodged sex parts, that is!

It was a bit weird, seeing the image squidge through our child as though the foetus is no more substantial than jelly, but incredible to see each chamber of the beating heart lit up blue and orange as the blood pulsed through it.

So: all is well with the baby, as far as the experts can tell.

Sarah

And all is well with me, other than having had my whooping cough jab on Tuesday. It wasn't as bad as last time - just a bit achy and itchy.

Matilda

She seems to be having another growth spurt which means she's a bit tired and liable to bump into things (presumably because her limbs aren't the length she expects them to be). She dragged her tired, overly-far-away heels all the way to and from the dentist on Thursday (normally a ten minute walk; it took her thirty) but didn't even get a sticker for her efforts; they were running so far behind they asked us to reschedule her appointment. Which we did. For a day when Steve's off work and can do all the cajoling instead.

Gizmo

On to the bad news: Gizmo had another emergency vet run on Sunday morning. The same thing as the last two times.

He has seemed so happy and healthy recently - he's been playful, sociable and even seems quite fond of Matilda at long, long last.

But, at four o'clock on Sunday morning, I was woken by him scrabbling to get out of the bathroom because he couldn't jump over the baby gate (we have a baby gate on the bathroom so the cats can use the litter tray without anybody hugging them). I spent the next three hours watching him trudge back and forth to the bathroom, tail between his legs, trying and failing to empty his system; pacing around the flat, clawing at random patches of floor because he was so uncomfortable; and occasionally cuddling up against me for strokes. As soon as I thought our animal-loving neighbour might be up, Steve called the vet and I called next door to ask for a lift. Steve took him in as I would struggle to carry his box right now.

The vet manually cleared his system and sent him off with another week's worth of eye-wateringly expensive medication. But he prepared Steve for the worst - most cats who start having these problems are gone within two years, he said.

Gizmo's first bout was a year and a half ago.

So, there are practical concerns: how on earth to do vet runs with no car, a toddler and a huge bump/newborn; how on earth to pay for treatment with no remaining savings.

But, mostly, there's fear of him suffering and dread of having to make that final decision... and not knowing whether that will be next week or several years from now.

But today he is happy. So today, we are good.

Polly

Polly seems well and (unusually) free from anxiety. She has been very focused on finding new hiding places recently, though; I wonder if it might be an age thing? This does concern me a little.

Steve

Evidence of cat-related stress, mostly in the form of sighing.


How are things with you?

Rooftops Second Baby FAQs

Rooftops Second Baby 20 Weeks Pregnant FAQs

Today, I am twenty weeks pregnant (not in that photo, though - in that photo I am 18 weeks pregnant. Remember summer? Also: no, YOU need to cut my grass).

At this point, when I was expecting Matilda, I did my first "Rooftops Baby FAQs"; I've decided to repeat more or less the same questions this time round.

Here goes:

Do you know/are you going to find out what you're having?

We do. We found out as an (optional) part of the chromosomal testing. We wouldn't have paid to find out - we both enjoyed the sex being a surprise last time; on the other hand, we were happy to know simply for the convenience - we could stop thinking about one set of baby names and would know whether or not we could get rid of the gender specific baby clothes. But, no, I'm not going to tell you yet - I want to know what your guesses are first!

How are you feeling? How are your hips?

Good! Physically, this has been a really easy pregnancy. I've had a few days when I've gone for a nap as soon as Steve got home from work but, otherwise, if I hadn't skipped a period, I wouldn't have known. I'm starting to get odd twinges in my hips, but at this point last time I was a few days away from being signed off work, so still being mobile and almost entirely pain-free seems like some sort of pregnancy miracle (it's NOT a miracle, obviously, but I might write about that at a later date).

Emotionally, it's been a bit of a rollercoaster. Between miscarriage flashbacks/fears, those extra blood tests, exhaustion from caring for Steve and Matilda during the three weeks they took turns at being ill, exhaustion because oh, hello, last two molars!, the lack of any physical symptoms ("what does it meeeeeeeean?") and just general wacky pregnancy hormones, my mood's been a bit up and down. It seems to be evening out now, though; it's a while since I last wanted to chuck Steve because he can't push a lightweight dining chair under a sodding table.

Have you had any weird food cravings/aversions?

I really want cake with raspberry jam in it and anything in the least bit coconutty. Both of these are standard period symptoms for me, though, so not particularly noteworthy! I've not got any proper aversions, although - as with last time - I don't much like taking liquid on board and Digestives give me heartburn.

There's definitely just one in there, isn't there?

Yes, it's just a massive bump. By eight weeks, I was using a hairband to fasten my jeans; goodness knows what I'll be squeezing into by the time I reach eight months. A duvet cover with a few holes cut out, perhaps?

Can you feel it move yet?

Yes, although it's very different from last time! With Matilda, I could feel little bubbles at thirteen weeks and definite jabs a few weeks after that; this time, it's more like something stroking me on the inside - I've been feeling it since week fourteen but it's only very recently that I've been able to say with absolute certainty that it isn't just wind!

What sort of birth are you planning to have?

A straightforward one. I've got lots to say about this over the coming months, believe me!

How are the cats taking the news?

Utter indifference.

And Steve?

Excited and slightly stunned, despite it most definitely having been planned!

And Matilda?

Thrilled. She had been asking for a baby for ages (thanks to a couple of her pals becoming big siblings), so she's very pleased. Almost every day, she asks to look at photos from when I was heavily pregnant with her and of her as a newborn; she is using them, plus a few books and some firsthand encounters, to piece together what babies do (current understanding: sleep; cry because they don't have the words to explain their problems; learn to crawl - which pretty much covers the basics, right?). She sometimes says hello to the bump and is impatient to feel it move. Fingers crossed she stays happy with the situation when the baby actually arrives!

Can you talk about anything else right now?

Ugh, politics, curse them. More pleasantly: our garden. I'll also do a good job of listening to whatever's going on in your life (before turning the conversation back to me).

Some more thoughts about this pregnancy:

  • I was so gutted that the lovely community midwife I had with Matilda is no longer with my local surgery. Luckily, my new midwife is equally lovely although our appointments are much, much shorter because a) she doesn't go off on great long, highly entertaining tangents about her own kids, and b) every time she offers me information about anything I wave it away in a breezy "been there, done that" manner which I really HOPE is less annoying than it sounds.
  • I spent about two hours the other day reading all my blog posts from my last pregnancy. I also read Matilda's birth story and the post about her being in the neonatal unit - both of which made me cry. I was so scared when I wrote all that that I was being hopelessly naive by anticipating liking parenthood but I'm happy to report that, for the most part, it's much better than I dared to hope ("the most part" does not include teething).
  • So far, the hardest part of this pregnancy (bar anxiety) has been getting Matilda off my yoga ball so that I can have a turn. None of that "I'm so uncomfortable at 39 weeks that I'm admitting defeat and inflating my yoga ball" nonsense - I had it pumped up by week ten, prevention, cure, etc.
  • Oh, no, actually, the most hardest part of this pregnancy was throwing the positive test in the bin. It felt a bit callous - not to mention unlucky - to chuck out the only proof of my baby's existence.
  • The day I tested positive, the zygote was the size of a poppy seed. I had just planted poppy seeds in the garden. They are tiny. I cried.  
  • Elise has given the baby the temporary name of Xenon. She says temporary but her parcels to Matilda all still come addressed to "Spartacus", so, really, who knows?!

On Testing High Risk for Chromosomal Abnormalities

On having a high risk combined nuchal test during pregnancy

Wednesday 12th May.


The perfect twelve week ultrasound scan. Everything where it should be; everything the size it should be; everything beating as it should be.

"I have no concerns about your baby," says the sonographer. "It looks very healthy to me."

And then she asks us repeatedly whether we really do want to go ahead with the combined diagnostic test - the foetal measurements and maternal blood samples which assess the child's risk of chromosomal abnormalities.

Which we do.

People have mixed feelings about this test; it gets talked about as though the only reason people go ahead with it is so that they can abort disabled babies (and as though that decision is always easy and always abhorrent).

But it's not as simple as that.

Down's Syndrome does scare me - not so much the thought of looking after a Down's Syndrome child in my forties, but of looking after a Down's Syndrome adult in my seventies and eighties and of what would happen to that person (and, by extension, Matilda, the next of kin) when Steve and I either die or become too frail to care for her/him ourselves.

So I'd be lying if I said we wouldn't even consider a termination - we would; we would agonise over our options. But, if we were going to have a baby with Down's Syndrome, then I wanted to have processed the shock before meeting my child for the first time and to be going into that situation armed with knowledge, support and first hand accounts. I wanted it to be a conscious choice.

However, none of that was a big concern. Because that kind of thing doesn't happen to real people in real life. The scan was perfect; everything was great.

Wednesday 17th May.


Matilda and I are out in the garden when my phone rings. It's the screening coordinator from the hospital.

"Are you out and about?" she asks. "Can we chat?"

I think that she's making such a big deal out of telling me that everything is fine.

"Your test has come back with a 1 in 74 chance of abnormalities," she says.

And I feel relief flood me. 1 in 74 is good, right? It's 1.35%. It's practically nothing.

"We consider anything over 1 in 150 high risk," she states. "I'm sorry to ring with bad news."

And that's that. The phrase "high risk" has been applied to my baby's health and percentages get bunged in the compost bin.

There's more talk - she tells me about amniocentesis (having a big needle stuck into your bump, complete with risk of miscarriage) and about a non-invasive blood test we could have done privately (for £399; I laugh) and about how my age will have been a big factor in the calculation (later, I find that the odds will have started at 1 in 150 because I'm 38).

But I'm not taking much of it in; mostly I'm watching Matilda attempt to fill her watering cans and wondering how hard it's going to be to get her back indoors before I start to cry and panicking because I can't tell Steve that he has to leave work immediately without telling him why and having him spend an hour on the bus, going through all this in his head, on his own.

In the end, Matilda is wooed upstairs with the promise of lunch. And I don't call Steve home; I text a friend who's a trainee midwife and who I know will listen to me panic rather than tsk that everything's going to be okay.

And I do cry and Matilda looks alarmed; I tell her, "You know I got a phone call in the garden? It was some sad news, and sometimes when people are sad they need to have a little bit of a cry so they can get the sad out and get their happy back."

From then on, any time anything upsetting happens, she wails, "I need my happy back!" and I know just how she feels.

Friday 19th May.


Steve and I book the non-invasive blood test. The £399 non-invasive blood test.

Of course we do.

We have spent two days talking and googling and thinking and googling and talking and, although we're not completely happy with our decision, we're more happy than we would be with the alternatives.

We can't just wait and see. We can't. As soon as we start thinking about being high risk for one abnormality, we start thinking about the other abnormalities, too - the ones which are "incompatible with life"; the ones which we can't imagine recovering from. This is not something we're prepared to leave to chance.

We don't want to go down the amniocentesis route. It's free on the NHS and it tests all the chromosomes, not just the ones most likely to have abnormalities, and it is diagnostic so it will tell us "Yes" or "No", and all those things are appealing. But it means Steve taking a couple of days off work to look after Matilda (we're hoarding his time for when the baby arrives) and - more importantly - it comes with a risk of miscarriage.

A teeny, tiny risk of miscarriage.

But a risk of miscarriage nonetheless. We've been there, we've done that; we're not taking that chance unless we absolutely have to.

Which leaves the private test. Which means Steve leaving work fifteen minutes early one day, and which will involve a 4D scan (not that we've ever wanted a 4D scan in the past but if it's "complimentary" then, sure, why not?), and which, although not diagnostic, is so accurate that it's being rolled out across the NHS in the just-a-little-bit-too-distant future.

If the blood test comes back as "high risk" for any of the conditions it covers, I'll still need to be stabbed in the bump with a needle, but that's a concern for another day.

And so we wait for the test date, and I avoid going to the prenatal pilates class I had planned to start and I don't snap up the secondhand Snuzpod I see advertised on a local Facebook selling page and I feel uncomfortable telling any more friends why my T-shirts are so tight, and the whole pregnancy feels like it's on hold. Again.

Friday 26th May.


Steve and I head to the clinic for the private test.

Having had a week to process everything, I'm feeling pretty good. The odds of a problem are tiny; I've told a few friends about the situation in a deliberately glib manner; I've calmed down so much that my overwhelming feeling about this appointment is excitement about seeing the baby.

The sonographer is brilliant; we're laughing within moments of Steve and me arriving and, when I tell her our odds, she cries, "For 38, that's really good!"

So we see our baby who wriggles around madly - something which didn't happen at the twelve week scan or at either of our scans of Matilda. It's amazing.

We have a brief 4D scan, although the sonographer does warn us that, at fourteen weeks, babies tend to look more like a toddler's been at the Play Doh then an actual baby. Sure enough, I wouldn't be surprised if she bunged a video of a cauliflower on the screen instead of showing us our kid.

But, despite it seeming to be some kind of brassica, she tells us our baby looks perfect.

She takes a couple of vials of blood from me, hands us a few print outs (from the lovely, wriggly 3D scan not the creepy 4D cauliflower one) and sends us off on our way. It should take seven to ten working days for us to receive the results; the call should come in the evening.

Thursday 1st June.


I know it's only been four working days but WHY HAVEN'T THEY PHONED YET?!

Friday 2nd June.


I mean: SERIOUSLY, WHY HAVEN'T THEY PHONED YET?!

I waste a chunk of my evening googling "How long do NIPT test results take?" and not finding any helpful answers.

Monday 5th June.


Day ten. Six working days. I spend the evening with my phone never more than arm's reach away.

Tuesday 6th June.


Day eleven. Seven working days.

No phone call. Did my blood get lost in the post? Was it unusable in some way? Have they lost my contact details?

Wednesday 7th June.


Day twelve. Eight working days.

The screening coordinator from the hospital calls, wanting the results for my records. Official people think they should be here by now. I can't seem to concentrate on anything.

Friday 9th June.


Day fourteen. Ten working days. The maximum length of time it was supposed to take.

I've reached the resignation stage now.

Rationally, I know that either they will phone or I will chase them up and get to the bottom of whatever's causing the delay; emotionally, I'm resigned to never, ever receiving the results, to it all having been a colossal waste of money and to the baby popping out of existence because... I don't know... it seems like the most likely thing to happen right now.

On the other hand: if they are going to call, surely they won't make us wait through another weekend. I keep my phone by my side, just in case.


Monday 12th June.


Day seventeen. Eleven working days. One month after our twelve week scan.

The weekend was tough. My reserves were gone. I spent most of my time either sleeping or hiding because I didn't have the energy to properly parent; I so badly wanted an enormous glass of wine. Or a phone call. Or, depending on the outcome, both.

I sail through Monday, quietly convinced that tonight will be the night.

Because it will, won't it?

Of course it will.

One extra day because of a bank holiday or a backlog. Totally understandable. The lab will be caught up by now and the phone call will come.

At 8pm, I accept that that is not the case.

And I cry and cry and cry.

I am seventeen weeks pregnant now and I want to bond with my baby. I had one confident week between the twelve week scan ("It's alive!") and the call from the screening coordinator ("But is it healthy?!") and that is not enough.

I'm convinced that I'm going to be one of the women who has to have a second blood test taken, that I'm going to be around twenty weeks pregnant by the time I get the results, that I'm going to miss out on enjoying a full fifty percent of my pregnancy.

And I feel utterly bereft.

Tuesday 13th June.


Day eighteen. Twelve working days.

I call the clinic.

The receptionist tells me somebody who had her test the same day as me is not long off the phone and that her results are in; she promises to call right back with information.

Which she does. Call right back, that is. With a promise that somebody will ring me with the results within a few minutes.

That's not information, is it? There's no clue there as to whether the news is good or bad. And I really need to pee.

But I hold it in, clutching my phone, a toddler clambering all over my bladder, waiting the longest time ever (four or five minutes) for a call.

And then it comes.

With all the drama of a TV game show.

"We needed 4% foetal DNA in the blood sample..." The woman tells me, followed by an OVERLY LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE "...and yours had 8.3%!"

PAUSE FOR APPLAUSE

"We tested [blah-medical-terminology-blah] for [such-and-such syndrome]..." OVERLY LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE "...and it came back low risk!"

PAUSE FOR APPLAUSE

And so on through each of the abnormalities they had tested for. OVERLY LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE. Low risk.

Everything low risk. Everything apparently perfect.

I confirm to Steve. I call my mum. I text a few people who were waiting to hear the results. I go and pee.

Matilda spends a good long while walking around with a balloon shoved up her T-shirt.

And just like that: it's over.

This pregnancy and this baby are at no greater risk than any other.

We can relax. We can tell the last few friends and family members our news. I ask Steve if it's too early to bring the baby clothes down from the attic (it is, he says). We even manage to bag the secondhand Snuzpod. We start to talk about names.

Decaf

Second Rooftops Baby Announcement

When you're secretly expecting your first baby, people raise knowing eyebrows when you meet them in the pub and order a soft drink.

When you're secretly expecting your second baby, people raise knowing eyebrows when you pop round for a play date and ask if they have decaf.

A splash of milk in mine, please.

Normal caffeine levels expected to resume sometime in November.

More Things

Good things in my life right now

The last few weeks have been odd and inconvenient. Steve and Matilda have been through nasty bug after nasty bug after nasty bug; the days when they've been well have either been sodden or scorching (too scorching); the news is too horrendous to go into right now; and... oh... this and that and these things and that other one. It's been a strange, impatient time.

But there have been lovely moments, too.

There has been:

Plum Cookies
Realising just in time that our punnet of plums was past its best, digging out a recipe, nipping to the shop for baking powder which was within date and honey which hadn't solidified, and the three of us whipping up a batch of sticky, splodgy, slightly tart but extremely satisfying cookies (yes, yes, "cookies" - they're not uniform enough to be biscuits).

Book Group In The Sun
This afternoon, while the rest of the family hid indoors, I spent two hours in the park with my book group. Under a tree. In the shade. Book group is probably the best thing I've done for myself in the past year - I so look forward to a bit of time away from the routine, cackling with smart, funny friends.

Date Afternoon
Just Steve and me, eating veggie burgers and deep fried halloumi and drinking milkshakes, talking about all the things we don't usually have the time or attention span for. Just what we were needing.

Flowers
Different ones springing open in the garden, every time I look outside. The geraniums, campanula, azalea (a successful experiment in a boggy, shaded corner - hurrah!), rambling roses and whatever-those-spiky-yellow-things-are-called are all blooming; we've got masses of nasturtiums on the way and so far we've only lost two sunflower plants to the snails.

Secret Garden
We met my sister and her family at Seaton Park a few weeks ago, where the three kids enjoyed the usual playpark equipment and the decommissioned-train-cum-climbing-frame, but where the real hit was the walled garden. "It's like a maze!" they squealed, running along paths between bushes so big they couldn't see over them. The walled garden is hidden up a hill at the back of the park; it's usually empty; it feels like our own secret place.

Washi Tape Birthday Cards
One of Matilda's favourite things to do right now is cover bits of cardboard in washi tape. She has mastered cutting the tape with her [rubbish, kid-safe, rabbit-adorned] scissors; all I need to do is sit nearby and nod. It's so lovely to see her creating.

Meeting My Friend's Three Week Old Baby
Of course.

What's the good news with you?