Welcome to Slack Saturday. It’s been a bit of a week and my brain needs a rest, so I’ve given it the day off. Fortunately, I’ve been digging around in my back catalogue (aka dusty boxes in the attic) lately. It’s been very entertaining – the reading bit, the digging bit sucks – trying to recall the woman who wrote all those magazine articles. This one is from Cosmo Pregnancy magazine, when I was up the duff with Sprog 1 and hopelessly naive about childbirth. Little did I know 12 hours of labour wouldn’t be the half of it. It took a day to get my ginormous 4.3kg baby out, through an emergency incision in the end. The feature’s a bit long – sorry – so I’ve included a startling pic of me in a bikini to make things more interesting for you …
“Women aren’t supposed to hate anything about pregnancy. They’re meant to embrace it as one of life’s beautiful miracles. At least that’s what the soppy ads on TV suggest. But I think it’s a big con – pregnancy is hard work, it’s stressful, and it makes you cry a lot (damn those hormones). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate being pregnant. I’ve just passed the five-month mark and I’m getting pretty excited about the whole new life being created inside me. I can hardly believe I’ll soon have a little person to cuddle and giggle with about silly things. But nothing prepared me for the reality of pregnancy. I had romantic visions of earth motherly splendour, oozing happy hormones, sexy belly bumps and giddy anticipation. Instead, I spent the first four months feeling sick, weepy, exhausted, frumpy and grumpy. The pregnancy guide books don’t dwell on those things, most of them seem designed to make you feel guilty and inadequate instead. It’s all about what you shouldn’t be doing, drinking, eating … I don’t know how so many people manage to have healthy babies, it’s a bloody miracle. So, I thought it was about time someone told it straight. Here goes …
- THE FEAR
I’m 35, married and perfectly capable of taking care of a baby. So why did those two positive blue lines on a pregnancy test stick fill me with such terror? I expected to shed tears of joy, not shock. But all I could think was, life will never be the same again … nooooo, what have I done? Then I started worrying that I’d given the baby foetal alcohol syndrome by drinking lots of alcohol before I knew I was pregnant. Soon after came the constant, obsessive checking for blood every time I went to the bathroom, in case I was having a miscarriage. Then there was the nuchal translucency test to see if the baby had a high risk of Down’s Syndrome. Followed by the ultrasound where, for a split second, I thought the baby had stumps instead of feet. And, when I finally started feeling the baby move, I panicked every time it stopped.
- THE MORNING SICKNESS
When the doctor confirmed I was five weeks pregnant, she asked if I had morning sickness yet. I smiled smugly and said no. Famous last words. Within a week I felt like I was on a wildly tossing boat, 24 hours a day. I didn’t throw up, but sometimes I wished I would to get a respite from the nausea. And the worst thing is that you can’t tell anyone you’re sick, because they don’t know you’re pregnant yet. You have to smile grimly and be nice to everyone, especially at work, when you really want to tell them to bugger off and leave you alone. Aside from feeling like crap all the time, the really annoying thing about morning sickness is that you go off your food. You eat because you have to, but you don’t enjoy it. And I love my food, it’s my passion in life. But even having lunch with my husband became a culinary ordeal. He’d order yummy beef and Guinness pies with mash and I’d struggle with a bowl of soup. I couldn’t even manage the bread roll that came with it.
3. THE CRUEL CRAVINGS
I want smoked salmon, salami, oysters, sushi, camembert (what’s with that rule anyway, aren’t all cheeses in Australia pasteurised?), pate, runny poached eggs with hollandaise sauce … I want them now, and I can’t eat any of them. After suffering 16 weeks of vile morning sickness, my appetite came back – but for all the wrong things. Dining out has become an absolute minefield, too. There are all these secret ingredients just waiting to trap you. Like steak with béarnaise sauce, which I’ve belatedly discovered is made with raw eggs. I’ve since add homemade mayonnaise, tartare sauce and aioli to the banned list, which make my calamari rings very boring these days. There’s also a really devastating book called What To Eat When You’re Expecting. It tells you to give up junk food completely for the duration of your pregnancy. Some of my other favourite suggestions include only eating biscuits (preferably oatmeal) occasionally, limiting yourself to a few mouthfuls of the yummy turkey trimmings at Xmas, and skipping the white bread rolls in restaurants. But the bit that really got me was when the author magnanimously said it was OK to have a piece of cake once a month as a treat, as long as you chose a healthy sort like carrot cake and didn’t eat the icing. Hello? Are you living on planet Earth?
4. THE WEIRD BIT IN THE MIDDLE
Around the 15-week mark, the morning sickness disappears, but you don’t have a baby bump yet. So I became convinced that it was all a hoax, that I wasn’t really pregnant after all. Completely irrational, considering I hadn’t had a period for four months. I also hadn’t told people I was pregnant yet, because I was waiting for test results. So life just continued as normal, except my pants were a bit tighter. On weekends I succumbed to a pair of maternity jeans I’d bought on sale, even though they looked like I was wearing fisherman’s waders and made my husband giggle.
5. THE AWFUL MATERNITY CLOTHES
I was expecting to wear my normal hipster pants throughout the pregnancy, like I’d seen other women do. I even bought lots of extra pairs in anticipation (any excuse to shop, really). But, around week 18, they started to feel like I was being cut in two by one of those cheese wire thingies. The baby didn’t like it much either, kicking away at the waistband like a miniature Bruce Lee. So I went in search of maternity clothes. How hard is it to buy nice ones? Impossible! And how boring are they? Very! Sensible black trousers, sensible white shirts, sensible black tops. And why do they insist on putting ruffles on perfectly nice white skivvies? As for underwear, have you ever seen a pair of maternity knickers? Unfortunately, my regular bikini briefs stopped cutting it at the 16-week mark and started cutting in instead. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with numb bits on my hips where the seams were digging into my skin. So I went shopping for seamless undies. Naturally, all the $8 pairs I bought were uncomfortable, too. The $22 ones, however, fitted like a dream. Ker-ching!
6. THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS
If one more person gasps with reproach when I tell them I want to know the sex of my baby … “You must keep it as a surprise!” they all insist. No thanks, I don’t like surprises. I think it’s far more sensible to simply buy baby clothes in the correct, stereotyped colours, plan the nursery accordingly, and choose a great name. Unfortunately, the ultrasound operator couldn’t tell me the sex of the baby when I had my last scan. She even tilted the chair back on a scary 45 degree angle and swivelled the scanner thingy around at every strange angle imaginable. “Weeeell, I can’t see a scrotum, but don’t go painting the baby’s room pink,” was as far as she’d commit. I’ve also had people glare at me accusingly for deciding against an amniocentosis test, even though I’m over 35. Like it has anything to do with them. And I could really do without my parents demanding a female grandchild. It’s a 50/50 proposition, I’m afraid. I’d also suggest you refrain from revealing your choice of baby names. Unless you don’t mind people giving you their no-holds-barred opinion on them. For example, my father has refused to babysit if I call his grandson Tex.
7. THE RESEMBLANCE TO FRIAR TUCK
I was really looking forward to the whole fecund, sexy pregnant belly thing. Then it popped out and I just looked like a bloke with a beer gut. Maybe I’m too short to carry the whole bump thing off gracefully? At 18 weeks – when I finally announced I was pregnant – I managed to startle most people, who hadn’t guessed. Well, there were a couple of people who admitted they thought I was getting a bit porky, and one guy who pointed at my belly in the 17th week and said, “No one told me, congratulations!!!’, to which I hissed, “No, Bruno, I’m just fat!” The poor bloke looked absolutely mortified. Two weeks later I was enormous. People would run into me in the street and gasp “Oh my god, Alana, look at the size of that!” Of course, I make things worse by wandering around with my hands resting on the top of my bump in a very Friar-Tuck-like fashion. I’m also finding it pretty handy having an in-built shelf to rest my dinner plate while I’m watching the telly. 8. MEN I’m talking about the guy who was “disappointed” that his wife had to have an epidural and so they couldn’t have a “natural” birth; the one who was too embarrassed to show his baby to his workmates because it was fat; and the one who described the birth process as “bovine” at a dinner party, in front of his poor wife and mother-in-law. Thankfully, mine has been perfectly lovely about the whole process to date. Well, aside from his initial resistance to move out of our flat, which is up 50 exhausting steps (bad for me), but close to the beach (great for him). I’m also a teensy bit worried about how he’ll cope with me during childbirth – I tend to be a bad patient and he has a very low tolerance for my irrational outburts. But I’m reading him lots of scary snippets from childbirth books, such as how many of his fingers he’s allowed to let me hold during contractions to avoid breakages, so hopefully he’ll be sensitive, cautious and prepared.
9. THE FAIRYTALE The books say that the first time you feel the baby move it’s like little fish or butterflies. How lovely! Pity it’s not true. It feels more like an alien squirming around inside you. And when it’s not squirming, it feels like it’s doing The Stomp on your cervix. I’d also like to know why no one mentions the awful heartburn, extravagant farting (I wonder if my workmates have noticed how often my office smells like fart-laced Impulse…), hideous haemorrhoids, sudden nosebleeds and inappropriate burping that accompany pregnancy. Plus the lumbering baby elephant movements required to sit up and shuffle off to the toilet five times a night. Nothing romantic about any of that. I suppose I should just be grateful I don’t have any fluid retention, extra skin tags and moles, or horrifying purple stretch marks … yet. But, hey, I’ve still got 18 weeks to go, anything could happen!
10. THE SCARY BIT AT THE END
Childbirth terrifies me. Sure, women tell you it’s not too bad, but that’s because sneaky mother nature has made them forget the pain. Speak to a woman in the first hours after she gives birth and she’ll confirm your worst fears – it’s horrible. I’ve also seen the awful pictures and watched the messy videos. I’m not looking forward to any of it. I’ve also read the fine print about stuff like accidentally pooing during labour and being in so much pain that you don’t even notice. And women who tear from vagina to anus during delivery. Oh-my-god. So I have absolutely no idea why people go around spruiking the idea of a “natural” birth, meaning one without the benefit of drugs. Nobody talks about “natural” root canal or “natural” appendectomies, why should the agony of childbirth be any different? I once said I wouldn’t have an epidural, but that was only because I’m scared of needles. Getting pregnant put a whole new spin on things for me. I weighed up that single needle against 12 hours of horrible pain and the needle won. Bring it on doc, bring it on … “