31 March 2015

What I've Enjoyed About Being Pregnant


Pregnancy isn't the most dignified of processes. From the first three months of feeling like you have flu to the last three months of feeling like you can't breathe, to all the minor indignities along the way - the nosebleeds and the spots and the inability to fasten your own shoes - it's hard work.

But it's also an incredible experience.

In fact, despite the pelvic girdle pain and the Braxton Hicks contractions, I have loved the majority of my pregnancy. I would say it's about 20% crap stuff to 80% exhilarating.

Here are some of the bits which make it all worthwhile:

Feeling the Kicks

Well, most of the time! While not always comfortable and not always conveniently timed, there is something quite amazing (and very reassuring) about feeling a tiny human wriggling around in there. Steve and I sometimes watch my belly jiggling about and giggle away together - it's a very visible reminder that we're making a whole new person. It can make us quite emotional.

Eating at the Table

From about week twenty-four onwards it became much more comfortable to eat dinner sitting at a table. Things were feeling a bit squished in there and that was giving me occasional indigestion. It's lovely, sitting down and spending a bit of time chatting to Steve over a meal, rather than eating on the sofa, each with one eye on Netflix.

An Excuse to Buy New Clothes

I'm not usually much of a shopper - I tend to wear things until they're embarrassing and then choose their replacements with longevity in mind. Although I've been keeping my pregnancy wardrobe as small and cost effective as possible (hooray for the ASOS sale section!), being able to justify a whole new set of clothing was rather fun and shopping for the baby is the best.

Deep and Meaningfuls

Whether it's discussing potential names or what we're going to do about money, how to approach the Santa question or our options when it comes to nappies, there's no avoiding in depth conversations at the moment - and no point being coy about what we believe. Steve and I have had to be very honest with each other about some very big topics and (although we do tend to agree on the things which matter) it's challenging and rewarding to voice exactly how we feel.

Other People's Excitement

Okay, there has been some naysaying, but over all we've both been blown away by how excited people are for us. From screechy text messages to homemade gifts, it has been quite humbling, seeing how much other people care.

Ice Cream

The official advice, if you're worried you haven't felt your baby kick for a while? Eat some chocolate or some ice cream and go for a lie down. Brilliant. Ice cream being full of calcium and being a sure way to get the baby to wriggle about, I'm taking the excuse to eat it a lot.

The Bump

I love it. I've never had an "I'm so fat" moment. I can spend ages admiring my bump in the mirror and marvelling that I'm growing a baby in there. It just seems so implausible. After my miscarriage, I would look at pregnant women and find it both magical and unfair that their bodies knew how to perform this amazing trick - and now I'm, frankly, far too impressed with myself for managing to do the same.

Why is there a photo of honeysuckle at the start of this post? It isn't even blooming yet this year! Well, two reasons. One: there are only so many photos of my bump in this same black and white spotty dress that I can stand to take. Two: this is the Two Days the Same photo from the day I did my pregnancy test; I remember breathing in the honeysuckle scent, feeling equal parts scared and excited.

29 March 2015

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Purple crocus growing in grass

So, two more weeks of waiting for an enormous change in my life. How have I spent them?

Well, I did try to watch the eclipse. Unfortunately, the sun wasn't far enough over to be seen from any of our windows and I was having too bad a day to get down into the garden. I did quite enjoy watching the darkness creeping over the world, though, as though there was an incredible storm looming.

Black cherries in an Arcopal bowl

Last weekend, a decorator we know stripped the wallpaper in the baby's room; this weekend he hung new lining paper; during the week, he'll be painting the walls (truly the height of laziness of our part - wallpapering's one thing but paying someone to do an hour's worth of painting?! I'm a little embarrassed).

I can hardly wait for the room to be ready - the baby might be sleeping in with us for the first wee while, but I'm getting impatient to assemble the wardrobe and arrange all the teeny wee clothes.

Writing on bare plaster walls
Wallpapering tools
There have been several visits from friends over the past two weeks. One brought cake. One drove me to the beach for ice cream. Some brought a third tin of paint for the baby's room (just in case...).

Last night, Bruce came round for an enormous Indian take out. Turns out one of the many Indian takeaways within 50 yards of our flat is awesome. But, after a couple of experiments this week, I can confirm: curry does not start labour.

For more photos from my life visit Two Days the Same and/or my Instagram.

28 March 2015

Six Years of Steve and Me

Today is Steve's and my sixth anniversary. Or possibly very early tomorrow morning is - there's no romantic first date story here; we got together after a very long and drunken night of celebrating a mutual friend's birthday. Ben Stiller was there. Here's the proof:

Steve with Ben Stiller

I know, right? Steve with short hair and no beard. If he didn't still wear that T-shirt once a week I'd barely recognise him myself.

Six years. It seems like we've done so much together it should be longer.

I had bought my flat two weeks before we got together; we've been together long enough that he moved in with me and then bought into the mortgage and then we moved to this bigger place which we both had a say in choosing.

He was about to be made redundant and I was fed up of my own job; within weeks, he was into a new, better role and my own career change came just a little while later.

We've made good friends through each other and we've made new friends together and we've known those people long enough to have seen them move to foreign countries and to have visited some of them there.

And now it's our sixth anniversary and we're awaiting the birth of our first child. S/he will be here within a month.

And s/he's going to have a wonderful dad.

Steve and Sarah at the Love Wall in Paris
Our fifth anniversary, Paris.

24 March 2015

Rooftops Baby Full Term Pregnancy FAQs

Today, I am thirty-seven weeks pregnant. Which means that the baby is officially full term. Which means (because pregnancy talk is a language unto itself) that s/he is big and strong and effectively ready to be born.

Sarah Rooftops's pregnancy baby bump at 37 weeks (full term)

If I'm still pregnant in five weeks' time, I'll be induced. But I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. I'm hoping there's not too much longer to go.

I know just how lucky I am to be pregnant and there's a lot that I've enjoyed about the experience (more on that next week) but, at this stage, I'm ready. I'm done. I'm verging on fed up.

Actually, there are moments when I'm way beyond "verging" on fed up. There are moments when I'm tired and tearful and achey and the thought of five more weeks of this seems unbearable. But there were moments when twenty more weeks seemed unbearable and moments when twelve more weeks seemed unbearable and, somehow, here I am, that much closer to the birth and still surviving.

But I am ready.

If the baby comes today, I am ready.

Or as ready as I ever will be, anyway.

Which answers several of the questions people are asking me at the moment. Here are some of the others:

When is your estimated due date?
14th April but I've made a conscious decision to always think of the birth in terms of the delivery window - that's any time between weeks 37 (now) and 42 (five weeks from now) - rather than focusing on one specific date. I don't want to feel any more impatient than I have to if the baby takes its time arriving!

How are you feeling physically?
Oh... well... the baby is getting itself into the birth position and this is good in that I no longer have its full weight (almost 3kg) on my right hip so sitting around is much more comfortable; it's bad in that I do now have its full weight pulling on all my stomach muscles which, combined with the PGP, makes any sort of movement a challenge. I've also got lower back ache, increasingly intense Braxton Hicks contractions and the baby's head is bouncing on my bladder. Oh, and my knuckles get really sore on days when I don't wear tights. So... yeah... I have been better...

Have you written that damn birth plan yet?
For what it's worth, yes. It says the same thing I suspect most first birth plans say: I want to get through this on gas and air and laughter and love but, y'know, I might change my mind on the day. To be honest, I think the birth plan is more for the partners than for the pregnant women - if, on the day, Steve has to give the go ahead for, say, a caesarean, he's got my permission there in writing and can be confident he's making an acceptable choice.

How are you feeling about the birth?
Good, actually! A lot of my friends have had complicated labours so I feel well prepared for the worst - I know what could happen and I know that they all got through it and I know that none of them love their children any the less for it; if I have a tough labour, I'll weather it and I believe it will be worth it.

Although, obviously, the plan is for everything to be easy.

In fact, as much as I realise that none of these are likely to be issues, I'm more worried about recognising the signs of labour (as opposed to Braxton Hicks), going into labour when I'm at home alone (not sure I can carry my hospital bag...) and/or getting to the maternity hospital in time. Once I'm actually there and being supervised by experts, I'm happy to take the rest as it comes.

Is the flat ready?
Ha ha ha! No!

Still no hunches about the sex?
Nope. Sometimes I let myself imagine the baby being lifted onto my chest, all gunky and wailing, as Steve says the words, "We've got a boy/We've got a girl". I know I wouldn't have regretted finding out the sex ahead of time but I'm really happy now that we didn't - I can get quite emotional thinking about him being the one to tell me.

Have you chosen names yet? Is it really going to be called Spartacus?
We have too many girls' names to choose from and absolutely no boys' names. But, no, it will not be called Spartacus (Steve refuses). It also won't have the surname Rooftops (Steve doubly, triply, quadruply refuses). For now, we're referring to it as Thumper (because oof! this kid can kick).

And how are you feeling?
Excited! Occasionally impatient. Mostly calm bar the odd few moments when I'm convinced the baby's stopped moving. And kind of surprised - a part of me can't quite grasp that the wriggly thing inside of me will soon be a completely separate human being who eats and poops and screams and has a name and his or her own distinct personality. That seems absolutely crazy.

20 March 2015

Spring Cleaning (when you're sensitive to chemicals)

It's spring at last! The season of flowers and lambs and... um... cleaning. Apparently.

I can't say that, in the past, I've ever felt a seasonal urge to scrub my house. This year, things are different. After several months of not being allowed to do much cleaning, I find myself actually wanting to wipe down the skirting boards - as much as Steve's been doing his best to keep on top of things, the flat is far from sparkling and I want to put that right. The nesting instinct is hitting me hard.

But I don't want to do this with chemicals.

I've always been sensitive to chemical products. I've only ever been able to use non-biological laundry powders. My frequent bouts of tonsillitis turned out to be a reaction to scented shampoos, perfumes and candles. I used to get rashes on my forearms the day after the cleaners wiped down our office and I once ended up in accident and emergency with full blown pneumonia because I had spent two weeks sat in a room with an air freshener.

And none of this is as unusual as it sounds.

With the baby on the way, I'm even more keen than ever to cut out chemicals. The one thing the local midwives have been strict about is not using toiletries on newborn babies and, if I'm not even supposed to use specialist baby shampoo on the kid, I definitely don't want him/her rolling around on a surface which has been cleaned with something bearing a big bad toxic logo on the back of its bottle.

Sarah cleaning a mirror

But finding gentle cleaning products hasn't always been easy. Several supermarkets do "sensitive" washing up liquid but trying to source unscented oven cleaners, floor polish or window spray is a challenge. I'm a big fan of those magic sponges (the only thing I've ever found which effectively cleans grout) and I occasionally mix up my own concoctions using things like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda but, frankly, I don't have the storage space or the inclination to do that on a regular basis - I want the convenience of shop bought products.

I've also been stung several times buying "unscented" cleaning products which turned out to be full of smelly essential oils. "Natural" is not the same as "unscented"; I've had to throw them all out.

It was perfect timing, then, when The Healthy House asked if I wanted to try out some of their allergy-friendly cleaning products.

I had a wee chat with the women at The Healthy House about my sensitivities and the products I'm currently able to use - they were really helpful and made some recommendations based on my specific needs.

A couple of days later, a parcel arrived containing unscented bio-D bathroom cleaner and some sample sachets of Violet's unscented laundry powder. I strapped myself into my support belt and had a go at wiping down some surfaces.

bio-D Bathroom Cleaner

The back of the bio-D Bathroom Cleaner bottle said it was suitable for glass so I had a go at wiping some paw prints off the windows and cleaning a few mirrors and the results were... well... kind of streaky. It took a lot of buffing to get rid of the smears. But it did clean the dirt off and I think a little bit of elbow grease is a worthwhile trade off in return for pain-free lungs and an environmentally ethical product.

I actually found it a bit odd using the bio-D Bathroom Cleaner because it genuinely is unscented - no essential oils, no vinegary tang. It looks and smells like you're cleaning with water and, as much as that's what I've been searching for, it will take a bit of getting used to - but getting used to it, I will do!

Sample sachet of Violet's Unscented Laundry Powder

Next, I tried the Violet's laundry powder. I'll admit: I was hesitant about this. I've had so many bad reactions to so many supposedly gentle laundry powders that I'm reluctant to try anything new.

Three loads of laundry later, however, I'm convinced. It takes hardly any powder to do a wash (each of the sample sachets can do two loads), the ingredients are all natural, yet my clothes came out of the machine clean and free from odours. I've been wearing clothes washed with Violet's laundry powder for a week now and have suffered absolutely no reactions.

Towels cleaned with Violet's have come out fluffy and the random food stains all washed out of our dishtowels. But what interested me most was that the microfibre cloths we use instead of paper towels came out soft and smooth which, for us, is completely unheard of. As we want to use microfibre cloths instead of baby wipes whenever possible, this is very much a selling point for me.

Stack of clean towels

The Healthy House has a frankly mind boggling array of products for people with allergies and sensitivities from simple cleaning solutions to air purifiers, light boxes to specialist paints. As an added bonus, many sensitive products are also ethically produced and environmentally friendly so you can feel proud as well as safe.

I was also pleasantly surprised by The Healthy House's prices - the cleaning products I've used and looked at all cost about the same as their big brand equivalents in the supermarket which has not been my experience in the past.

If, like me, you want to avoid the standard chemicals but don't have the inclination to mix up your own solutions, click through and take a look.

Do you have any recommendations for allergy-friendly cleaning?

The bathroom cleaner and laundry powder were gifted to me by The Healthy House (thanks folks!) but the views are entirely my own.

17 March 2015

Not Quite a Mother's Day

Lots of yellow crocuses in the sunshine

Neither Steve nor I come from families which pay much attention to Mother's Day. Either that's because we take our mothers for granted or it's because we make them feel appreciated all year round - you'd have to ask them and, frankly, I'm not sure I dare.

With our own baby, we don't expect Mother's Day and Father's Day to become part of our family traditions. There's a good chance we'll acknowledge them the first year but, beyond that, it doesn't currently feel important to us. I guess we'll see how we feel come 2017...

That said, we did decide to mark Mother's Day this year. Or, rather, we decided to mark "Not Quite a Mother's Day" instead and spend Sunday doing relaxed, grown up, childfree things together as a couple because who knows when we'll next have a chance?!

Sarah Rooftops's pregnancy baby bump at 35 weeks

Obviously, some of the traditional Mother's Day activities are out at the moment. I wasn't going to make it to a spa or a fancy restaurant; lounging in bed is far too uncomfortable for me to appreciate a lie in or my breakfast balanced precariously on a lap tray. But we did still come up with a few ideas.

It was a gorgeous, sunny morning so we replaced "going for a stroll" with "standing in the garden for ten minutes, scattering breadcrumbs and admiring the trillions of crocuses". I also announced that I wanted flowers so Steve cut me a tiny posy.

Bunch of crocuses for Not Quite a Mother's Day
Crocuses in a Meakin cup. Steve pouring ketchup on a sausage sandwich in the background.

We had sausage sandwiches for lunch, for no more detailed reason than we both really fancied one. I'm not sure if Steve was intentionally doing a thumbs up in that photo...

I had a couple of naps, we watched I Give it a Year (which was really pretty awful) and a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones (because we feel the need to finish it before the birth - it doesn't seem entirely appropriate viewing for a newborn...), and we made a nod to practising the labour massage techniques.

St Kitt's Herbery chocolate box

A few weeks ago, St Kitt's Herbery sent me a box of their herb chocolates which I had saved specially (yep, I'm ambushing you with a mini review in the middle of my post. You need to know about these chocolates, though - they're gorgeous).

These are proper grown up chocolates. No soft centres or gallons of sugar here - they have flavours like geranium, lavender and basil along with the more traditional vanilla, orange and peppermint. The box contained one of each flavour so we very carefully bit each one in half and shared them evenly between us. The cinnamon was a particular favourite for both of us.

No kidding - St Kitt's is going to be my go to place for posh chocolates from now on. They also do some really lovely sounding toiletries for those of you who like your skincare scented.

St Kitt's Herbery chocolates

We rounded the day off with an enormous dinner and an early night.

With so much tidying, decorating and furniture assembling going on at the moment, I'm so glad we took a day out to appreciate being together. In no time at all, there will be three of us instead of two; we're both very much looking forward to doing family activities but I hope we can always find a little time to celebrate being a couple, too.

The chocolates were a gift from St Kitt's Herbery but the views are, as ever, my own.

15 March 2015

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Forewarning: I tried really hard to think of something non-baby-related to tell you in this fortnight's catch up but - as my entire life is basically hanging around, waiting to become a mother right now - I failed. If that doesn't deter you, read on!

Handmade knitted baby gifts: dinosaur feet booties; cardigan; stripy blanket. Also cat rattles from Ikea.

I am so smitten with this pile of baby gifts from Elise. Our postman was a bit uncertain about delivering a parcel addressed to "Spartacus Rooftops", mind you...!

On that note: the full list of names given to babies in Scotland in 2014 was released last week and I'm slightly irked to see that somebody's beaten us to Spartacus. Not that it was ever a serious contender but it was still our name.

All the names we're genuinely considering appear on the list, too, but we're less worried about them being unique - whatever we choose, we have to be able to shout it across a playground without being filled with self-loathing.

Red and white striped mouse toy for cats

This week, my mum and my sister came to visit for a few days. They drove me to lunch in one of the beach front cafes but, otherwise, it was a case of lazing around the living room, talking babies and eating cake. When I was napping, they headed to the shops or watched a film on Netflix.

On Friday, a friend brought her four week old daughter round and I got to have loads of cuddles with her (and, you know: grown up talk about labour and babies and genderised sleepsuits).

Black cat (Gizmo) against grey carpet

I've gone into proper nesting mode these past couple of weeks. I've been waddling around the house, cleaning everything above waist level and doing my best to tidy up. All the newborn clothes, crib bedding and assorted cloths have been washed and folded and my hospital bag has been packed for a fortnight now.

The carpet was fitted in the baby's room last week, there's a cot (the one Steve slept in as a baby!) and a chair in there and five boxes of wardrobe which we're holding off assembling until the decorating's done. A decorator we know is very kindly squeezing us in around his normal jobs (because Steve doesn't have the time and I don't have the mobility to do it ourselves) so we're not sure exactly when the room will be ready but fingers crossed it's before the baby arrives!

Finally, the aches and pains have changed a lot over the last few days - I'm much more comfortable when I'm seated (hurrah!) but am really struggling to stand or walk or get in and out of bed (boo!). I suspect this means that the baby's making its way towards the exit but that doesn't necessarily mean the birth's imminent - the kid might just take after its mother and prefer to be super-prepared.

Tell me: what's going on out there in the world?

For more photos from my life visit Two Days the Same and/or my Instagram.

14 March 2015

What I've Been Reading Recently

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
c/o Curtis Brown
Oh no, I thought, not another book about somebody dying in a hospice. I mean, I love getting review copies of books but what are the publishers trying to do to me?! At first, I was determinedly resistant to this one's charms but it successfully sucked me in. It's not really about the dying but it is about loss - loss of love; loss of family; loss of friendship; sometimes loss of common sense. The young, aimless characters and their occasionally hurtful actions were very familiar to me and the slowly revealed resentment felt very real - along with the uncertainty about how that should be handled.

In Real Life by Chris Killen
c/o Canongate Books (via Netgalley)
Ten years after university, life hasn't really panned out as planned for Lauren, Paul and Ian. From dead end jobs to dysfunctional relationships, their early thirties are just as chaotic and confusing as their early twenties were. Written with understated style, this will make a lot former slackers wince with recognition whilst rooting for at least one happy ending.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July
I was really looking forward to this book and quite prepared for it to baffle me at first. And it did. To be honest, I wasn't too sure about it for a while - I liked the writing style but the narrator, Cheryl, seemed a bit pointedly odd and there's a weird domestic violence situation about which she is unsettlingly glib. But, as the story moves on and becomes ever more unlikely and explicit, I found myself drawn in. There's a lot in this about the desire for connection and the strange power games adults play to link themselves together - it never shies away from the surreal or the uncomfortable - and I wanted to know what on earth would happen next.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
Twenty years after a zombie plague decimated the world, Melanie is one of a group of children living on a military base. She has a crush on her teacher and a deep dislike of the soldiers who manage her life. If you've seen The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later or, basically, any decent zombie film/series you know what to expect from this but it delivers it well. Despite being such a well established genre, this manages to be both unsettling and intriguing.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Elf is an internationally acclaimed pianist with a loving family, good friends and a supportive husband. She wants to die. Her sister, Yoli, wants to keep her alive. This is an incredibly moving novel which brings into question a lot of gut responses to suicide, whilst also examining family bonds and the nature of grief. It sounds like hard work, I know, but it's surprisingly easy to read and filled with much more love than sorrow. I recommend it.

*Affiliate links are used throughout

13 March 2015

How to Make Your Own Luck

As it's Friday the thirteenth, it seems the ideal time to fight against the bad luck and generate some good.

Lots of dice

I tend to think of myself as a lucky person although the evidence goes against this.

In fact, when I actually stop to think about it, between multiple redundancies, a couple of stints of homelessness, two chronic health problems, a miscarriage, one employer so awful he made the national press and my current state of immobility, I reckon I've had more than my share of misfortune.

Which is not to say that there aren't good parts to my life. I'm incredibly happy with where I'm at right now.

But here's the thing: the strong relationship, the friendships, the creative career, the nice home - that's all my own (and sometimes Steve's) doing. Those are things I have saved up for or worked hard for or tried hard to achieve or put a lot of effort into establishing. Even my pregnancy - as much as it will always feel extremely lucky to me - is not something most people would see as amazing.

The good things in my life are rarely the result of good luck. The good things in my life are the result of perseverance.

And yet I still think of myself as lucky. I still feel like things will work out if I just keep plodding on.

And I do believe there are things we can all do to make ourselves luckier - and that's there nothing mystical or magical about it.

Here's what I suggest:

Save Your Money

Many of the things which make people cry "You're so lucky!" cost money - think glamorous holidays, owning a beautiful home or starting up a business. Even if you don't know what your savings are for right now, building them up will put you in a better position when you do come up with a plan.

Make a Little More Effort Than Necessary

Very few people with amazing careers started out there. Most of them started out in a boring, badly paid support role and worked their way up by proving that they were hard workers, skilled (or willing to improve their skills) in relevant areas and able to maintain a positive attitude in the face of mountains of filing. Whether you're putting in a little more effort than is strictly necessary at work, in a volunteer role or on your blog, you never know when that's going to be noticed.

Make Time for Your Hobbies

One friend is able to run his own kung fu school because he spent years pursuing martial arts as a hobby. Other friends make an income from art or crafts because they spent so long doing those things for fun that they reached a professional standard. You may never think of your hobby as a potential career - you may never ever want to do it professionally - but you never know where it might lead. If nothing else, doing something fun with your free time will make you happier and what could be luckier than happiness?

Be a Positive, Approachable Person

Yes... yes, that's a nicer way of saying "networking". I don't mean you have to go to every expensive Women in Whatever-Your-Career-Is event you're made aware of - just that, in general, it doesn't hurt to be friendly. Chat to other bloggers. Go to your friends' get togethers. Be nice to work contacts. You never know when you will find a new friend or get some good advice about a personal dilemma or be given a heads up about a new job - but that can only happen if you let people know you exist.

Ask for Advice

When I was looking for my current job, I messaged ten different people on LinkedIn who were where I wanted to be in my career - I had met or emailed most of them at some point in the past but I didn't know any of them well. It was terrifying to approach virtual strangers asking how to do better in my career but eight of them got back to me with genuinely helpful, encouraging advice. Sometimes you just need to find the courage to ask.

Focus on the Positive

Scroll back through your recent tweets and ask yourself honestly what a stranger would make of them. Would they see a lot of whinging about seemingly trivial matters? If so, you're in the habit of focusing on the bad stuff. And you can stop. You can simply stop tweeting those things. You can restrict yourself to only tweeting about things which are either positive or too important to ignore. It takes time, but you can teach yourself which things are worth getting worked up about and which are not. Ditching the "life's so full of irritations" mindset makes you feel luckier and happier even though nothing has actually changed.

Take Risks

If you know what you want to do, take that chance. I don't mean leap in blindly. Read up on travelling round Europe on a shoestring budget. Go to Business Gateway to learn how to set up your shop. Research postgraduate funding. Speak to a financial advisor about affording a home. Whatever it is you want, take appropriate steps to prepare yourself and minimise the risks. But at some point if this is what you really want to do you just have to go for it. You can't call yourself "unlucky" if you've never even tried.

10 March 2015

Why Pregnancy is Largely Stress Reduction and Asking Silly Questions

At one of our Preparation for Labour and Birth antenatal classes, somebody asked the midwife at what point during labour she should head to the hospital.

"I know you want me to give you an exact answer," the midwife replied, "like when you're having so many contractions per ten minutes or they're lasting X amount of time but all that happens when we do that is that people spend hours sitting with a stopwatch, timing everything and obsessing. So what we tell you is to take a couple of paracetamol, have a bath and head to the hospital when you're no longer able to get yourself comfortable at home. That will vary from woman to woman."

This is something I've loved about all the midwives I've met over the past 35 weeks: they're all so laidback about the details. They talk about things we are "encouraged to try" or "advised to consider" or "recommended to avoid" but there have been very few absolute mandates. For the most part, we have been given balanced information and trusted to make up our own minds. "We are here to support you whatever you decide."

I'm all for this. I'm all for parents being empowered to make their own choices about raising their own children.

I knew from the start that I didn't want a pile of How To Be the Most Competent Parent instruction manuals. One friend made the mistake, early on, of telling me I had to get the baby book his sister had used which "told her down to the day when her baby would do everything!" He was given an angry, hormonal earful about babies developing at their own pace, along with some facts and figures I happened to have read about the different stages at which summer and winter babies tend to hit assorted milestones.

I don't believe having strict instructions or rigid timetables is helpful for many first time parents. For some, yes, but most will be panicky enough about our parenting abilities without feeling criticised because our child is four days late for the first smile or two weeks early at teething. Some things - most things - I suspect are best left as rough guidelines rather than unbreakable rules.

That said, I don't want to go into this completely blind. I've bought one baby book* (because the reviews all said it was very laidback - which it is), I've read the enormous book NHS Scotland provides and there's a wealth of information on the internet.

So far, though, I haven't been googling sleep patterns or infant first aid. So far, I've been googling what seem like silly questions.

Thermometer and guide to baby bedding

There are plenty of online lists of what we need for a newborn - we need X amount of vests and sleepsuits and and babygros and sheets and blankets - but they don't tell us how many layers to dress or wrap the baby in. They don't, for that matter, explain that sleepsuits and babygros are (apparently) the exact same thing.

There are plenty of online lists of what to pack in my hospital bag but I struggled to find out what size of clothes I'm likely to need after the birth. I don't want to be staggering home from the hospital in trousers which are three sizes too big or too small.

I've googled to find out what the "indispensable" mountain of muslins is actually for, when babies can sit up unaided and whether newborn babies actually need toys (the answer to which was "kind of... yes and no...").

And it seems I'm not alone. Pregnant friends have admitted to similar web searches. We cry "thank you!" when the other inadvertently answers a question. And the information we find online isn't from professional websites - we're finding it in forum posts started by other slightly embarrassed first time parents.

It seems to be assumed that we need to be told to buy nappies but that some innate knowledge will prompt us to buy pads of our own. It's taken for granted that we know what envelope sleepsuits are and why they might be desirable. There's no handy flow chart telling us which buggy best meets our requirements because surely we just kind of... know?

So this is the pregnancy book that I actually want to see: one which doesn't pretend there is one foolproof approach to establishing sleep patterns but which does include a season-by-season chart for how to dress the baby, a fill-in-the-blanks spreadsheet for tracking at what weight your baby is too big for the various bits of equipment you've bought and a sizeable glossary of such complicated terms as "regression", "weaning" and "flannels" (because surely they don't just mean "facecloths"?).

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