December 26, 2010

The Birth Story (or How A Tummy Ache Became A Baby Before Tea Time)

Right then, so where was I? Oh yes, the birth story. Good Lord, has it really been three weeks since Francesca bungee-jumped into the world on her umbilical cord?

But wait, I'm rushing to the end when I'm sure what you really want to know is stuff like how excruciating the labour was, whether my obstetrician made it on time, which bodily functions did I embarrass myself with and how many stitches I needed.

No? You don't want to know all those things? Rubbish. We all want to know those things. We just don't want to admit that we want to know those things. (Answers: Fairly. No. All of them. None)

I should probably state right now that this is a 'warts and all' account of childbirth. No punches will be pulled. Any queasy gents who would prefer the fully-clothed, lights-off, sanitised version of childbirth (particularly if I'm your sister or daughter or step-mother) I believe there's a very good horse called Blissful Ignorance running in the fifth at Randwick today so go get your form guide and we'll see you back here for the flowers and chocolates bit at the end of the story.

It all started on the Thursday night, which I spent sleeping on the sofa due to some supersonic snoring coming from the marital bed and a handsome, muscle-bound 20 year old lad in the spare bed (because that's where I like to keep them, along with my Manolo collection and fridge full of Bollinger).

I woke up half a dozen times with mild tummy cramps. In my half-asleep state it felt suspiciously like indigestion and the resultant, shall we say, 'passing of wind' (if my husband tells you they are whopping great thundering farts, please ignore him) through the night corroborated this suspicion. When I woke up, I thought perhaps they might have been Braxton Hicks contractions as they weren't regular or painful. In fact, they stopped altogether in the early morning and I didn't even bother mentioning it to John.

Throughout the morning, I felt them again - a painless tightening similar to period cramps, but still irregular, perhaps once every half hour, and not lasting any regular length of time.

At about 9.30 I walked around to the local coffee shop and, sitting there with my mate Rachel, I continued to feel these 'tightenings' which, being women, we began to over-analyse. It MIGHT be the start of labour, but COULD just be Braxton Hicks which could go on for days. I had 'loose motions' which MIGHT be a sign of going into labour, but I'd had that on and off for days alternating with constipation, so it COULD have just been something I ate or a symptom of late pregnancy.

I walked home at 11.00am and sat down to do some work at the computer, still not convinced I was in labour due to the infrequency of the contractions. I also had the distraction of the handsome, muscle-bound 20 year old (oh alright, it was my stepson Ryan - fantasy's over ladies, move along) who had stayed the night due to being unwell with migraines. I had been planning to take him to his MRI appointment at midday. We were very worried about him.

I sent John a Skype message and our exchange went as follows:

M: Ryan has woken up feeling very unwell with a headache again so I've just been feeding him, given him a cold pack for his forehead and making sure he keeps his fluids up.

J: Thanks Darling - I'll do the doctor run / I will be home at midday to take him to MRI

M: Probably a good idea if you take him as I have been having mild contraction thingies for 12 hours now

J: And when were you going to share that with me?????????

M: I thought I was just constipated through the night but went to loo twice this morn and am still getting them. But they are very mild, inconsistent and short - possibly just Braxton Hicks - and could therefore go on for days. Trust me, I will tell you when they get serious xx

J: Ta xx

(Note the use of the technical term 'contraction thingies' - I still didn't think it was serious)

Rachel called me at about 1pm and, as we chatted on the phone for about 45 minutes, we decided to time the contractions, which were starting to feel less like 'thingies' and more like fair dinkum labour. At the start of our chat they were coming every 15 minutes and by the end of the call they were about 5 minutes apart. "I think you're in labour," said Rachel. "Mmmmmbblllllmmlllbbbssssaaabbbmmm . . ." I replied, suddenly unable to speak during them.

My next call was to John. He was due home at 2pm. I told him it was really happening and we would probably need to go to hospital. When I called the hospital and told them contractions were every 5 minutes, this was my second baby and I was at least 40 minutes drive away, they told me to come in pronto.

During the next 80 minutes, I parked myself on the birth ball in the bedroom, my head resting forward on the edge of the bed, and went into my calmbirth bubble. This is it, I thought calmly. It starts now, I thought calmly. Here we go, I thought calmly.

Then "Bloody hell, this is it!! It's starting!! Here we go!! What do I do again??!!" in a slightly less-than-calm manner, but that moment only lasted a millisecond. Oh yes, breathing, I thought. In for four, out for six for between contractions oops, I mean 'waves', then in for four and out for four during the 'waves' just like I'd been been practicing nearly every day for the last four weeks.

So far so good. As I rocked from side to side on my ball, focusing on the breathing, I began to visualise my cervix softening and opening. I smiled as I remembered John, Jack and I sitting around at the end of dinner one night a few weeks back, making donuts out of pink play doh, moulding them into ever-widening circles. (Hopefully Jack will never discover that we were making replicas of Mummy's cervix that night. Hello therapy couch!)

I remembered to keep smiling as I thought about welcoming our new baby into the world, and to keep my jaw loose because a relaxed jaw equals a relaxed uterus, a fact you should bear in mind if your uterus ever gets upset and throws a tantrum.

I tried my best to block out the sounds of John racing around the house packing a bag for himself and making phone calls to organise Jack and Ryan in our absence.

And then I threw a spanner in the works. I decided that it was suddenly vitally important for me to see Jack. It was an intense motherly urge to see my first born, to kiss him, to reassure him. I don't know what drove it (perhaps  I was acting upon some primal instinct about child birth being potentially life-threatening to mothers) but I did not want to leave without seeing him. So John raced up the hill to the school and eventually brought my boy home for a quick cuddle with me.

By this stage the waves were becoming more intense and coming every 3 minutes. When John pulled out of our street and asked me whether we should go via the beaches or the forest, I could only shake my head and murmur something that hopefully resembled the words "I don't mind darling, whatever you think best" and not "Dontfuckingcarejustdrive".

I kept my head down and focused on the clock on the dashboard, ignoring red lights and anything else that had the potential to distract me from my breathing. For by now the pain during those waves had become my whole world. The waves were coming every 2 minutes and I just wanted to get to the hospital and sit on a toilet. I'm sure these urges to wee and poo and vomit all at the same time are not uncommon to labouring women, but when you're trapped in a car, sitting on a flimsy folded beach towel with several litres of amniotic fluid being kept at bay by the equivalent of an elastic band with a bit of clingfilm across it, the need to 'go' is almost overwhelming. At that stage I would have been happy with a good sized bowel movement and a decent chuck, forget about the 8 pound human I'd been lovingly waiting on for the best part of a year!

Finally we were there. John dropped me at the entrance to the hospital where I had (oh stuff it) not just a wave but a BLOODY GREAT CONTRACTION in the foyer, another in the lift and another at the entrance to the delivery ward. I greeted the midwife Ronnie with another contraction and fell in love with her immediately when she said "Well done. Lovely control. Keep going that way and you'll be fine." I mumbled thanks and hello and made my way as fast as my quivering legs would take me to the loo.

When I came out, I felt much better and the contractions slowed a little to a more manageable 3 minutes apart. Ronnie performed all the usual checks. The foetal heart monitor indicated the baby was fine and after giving me an internal she told me I was 4cm dilated. This was good news as it meant that I was now in the active stage of labour, either a big dash or long marathon to 10cm. Now that I was in the safe environment of the hospital where I was supported and comfortable, I felt more in control. I was even able to talk to Ronnie about our calmbirth preferences between waves, relieved to hear that she was familiar with the techniques and would assist in any way she could to facilitate our wishes.

It was about 4.30pm by this time. I asked Ronnie what time her shift ended. She told me 9.30pm and that she thought I would probably have the baby just before then. I wondered briefly if I should mentally prepare myself for another 4 or 5 hours of labour, but I decided not to think in terms of time, and instead just let my body set the pace. I knew from my calmbirth lessons that if I wanted to get through this stage of labour more quickly, it was important to remain as relaxed as possible to enable my uterus to contract naturally, unhindered by the tension that can prolong a labour. This meant continuing my breathing exercises at all costs so that the oxygen and oxytocin and endorphins (our natural painkillers) would continue to flow.

Now this all sounds great in theory, but continuing to breathe through those contractions was quite possibly the most intense and mentally taxing thing I have ever done. Almost as bad as having a Brazillian wax (something I will NEVER do again - all the pain of childbirth but no sweet little baby at the end of it - eeekk!)

John asked me if I wanted to get in the bath and I thought I would try it. I probably stayed in there for about 20 minutes. In the beginning it felt quite good but it wasn't a huge bath and I eventually felt a bit cold and uncomfortable so got out.

There were times during the next hour when the temptation to clench my teeth and hold my breath at the peak of those contractions was almost overwhelming, but I just kept forcing those breaths in and out, in and out. I remember at least twice giving a little gasp of surprise at just how intense it was. At some point, I started making a noise on the 'out' breaths. Not a groan or a wail I hasten to add (well not to my ears anyway) but more of a low drone. The first time it came out, it was completely involuntary but because it helped make the pain more manageable, I continued making the noise through the contractions.

The other thing that helped was having a mantra that I could repeat in my head at the height of the contractions. I didn't know what that would be until I needed it. Louise, the calmbirth teacher, had given us around 30 ideas for affirmations but in the weeks leading up to the birth nothing really jumped out at me. When the words came to me, they meant everything I needed at that moment. Release and surrender. I suddenly knew with absolute clarity that they were the two things I needed to do to progress the labour. Release all tension. Release all control. Surrender to the process. Surrender to my body. By the end of my labour, I was whispering these two words over and over into the pillow.

Throughout the whole time, I stayed on my feet. A week before giving birth I'd had a chat to my aunt Andrea who is a midwife. We discussed the whole calmbirth thing and I remember her saying, no matter what happens, keep moving. What great advice! I am convinced that continuing to move and stay upright made the whole thing move along so much faster.

Mid-contraction and standing on a towel because I'd just got out of the bath. I'd parked my thongs under the bed in case a fast getaway was needed!
 At 5.30pm, about 90 minutes after getting to the hospital, I found myself alone in the room. John had just stepped out to talk to Ronnie the midwife. I was mid-contraction exactly as in the above picture when I heard a loud pop and a flood of amniotic fluid whooshed onto the floor. I remember saying "Oh!" It was all just so surprising.

I had no idea where the call button was and couldn't move anyway because it felt like a bowling ball had just landed on my pelvic floor and all I wanted to do was push. I called out "Help!" but much to my surprise it came out as a quivery whisper. I'd lost my voice?! In hindsight, I think I was in a little bit of shock. I hadn't expected my waters to break, despite the fact that I was in labour, a condition in which waters have been known to break!

The urge to push was overwhelming and it was the thought of delivering my precious baby daughter onto a small hand towel and a pair of thongs that prompted me to find my voice and yell "Help! Hello?? Can someone please come!"

John and Ronnie both raced in and I told Ronnie I needed to push. She helped me onto the bed where, in some subconscious throwback to my neanderthal forebears (or maybe I'd just been watching too many David Attenborough documentaries), I immediately assumed the all-fours position. I heard Ronnie call in another midwife and tell her to call the doctor. "Quickly," she ordered "She wants to push!"

As the next contraction came on, I felt the baby's head bear down. "Can you stop pushing?" asked Ronnie. I'm not sure why. I immediately thought the cord might be caught around the baby's neck and stopped pushing. I think it was just that she was unprepared and needed to get her gloves on!

A minute later, the next contraction came and I said "The baby's comiiiiiiiiiiing!" as the most unearthly moan escaped my lips. I felt an enormous wellspring of pressure on my perineum and whole lower half. I had no option but to push. Then I felt a slippery slither between my legs and she was out, caught by John and the midwife behind me. I heard the breaking emotion in John's voice as he said "Oh darling . . . oh . . . " and a gulpy noise that was a cross between a sob and a laugh.

I looked behind me. The little purple bundle attached to the end of a long milky cord was my baby girl, Francesca, our little Cesca-Luna and I couldn't believe she was here already. My first emotion was one of utter relief. Relief that labour was over. Relief that she was safely out and breathing. Ronnie carefully passed her back between my legs as I swung over onto my back and felt Francesca's warm soggy body as she was placed onto my chest.

The poor little thing had come out so fast she'd swallowed some amniotic fluid and it was catching in her throat. She coughed and cried and made little choking sounds but I knew she was alright. Ronnie brought over a little suction machine to clear the mucous out of her mouth and passed a little oxygen over her face. John and I grinned at each other. He had grabbed the camera and was already filming the whole thing, standing there with his shirt drenched in the rest of the amniotic fluid that had gushed out with Francesca.

Five minutes old and having her first wee on Mum (so proud)
So around 90 minutes after arriving at the hospital, I had a tiny pink body on my chest and was feeling the warm trickle of baby urine seeping over my stomach. Heaven!

She lay on my chest for about 20 minutes before she began bobbing her head and stepping her legs up and down looking for milk. We gave her a little help finding the nipple and she latched on beautifully, helping herself to her first meal of colustrum.

At some point, the obstetrician turned up. My ob was on holidays so I had a replacement. He seemed pleasant enough but there was nothing for him to do apart from a quick inspection of my lady-garden and the placenta, both of which were 'intact' I'm relieved to say. No stitches and frozen condoms in the knickers for me thank goodness! The midwives had handled everything beautifully.

After an hour and a half, Francesca was weighed and measured (8lb1oz and 52.5cm long), then while I got up to have a shower, John stripped off his shirt and Francesca had some skin time with Dad, curling her fingers into his prolific chest hair and sucking on another tuft. The look on John's face says it all. He was besotted from the first minute and this special time alone with his new daughter was a fitting reward for his amazing support throughout the birth. Not only did he help catch Francesca in the slips as she shot out, but his gentle suggestions and encouragement throughout the process made it all so much better for me. I can't emphasise enough how important it was to feel supported unconditionally.

And THAT'S why he will never visit the laser clinic
So that's it folks. The story of Francesca's entry to the big scary world we live in. I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I feel at being able to experience this amazing birth.

It wasn't a walk in the park that's for sure, and to be honest, I can't even be confident that I would have been able to continue labouring at that level of intensity for too much longer. That being said, the intensity was obviously due to progressing from 4cm to 10cm in only 90 minutes! I don't know. They say second babies often come more quickly, but even so, I wasn't prepared to have such a short active phase of labour and I do believe that the breathing and visualisations, and the subsequent releasing of fear and tension, resulted in a birth experience that was calmer, faster and easier than I ever could have imagined. Soooo very different from Jack's birth, but that's a whole other story - one involving drugs and a catheter and a frozen condom in my knickers!

I would love to hear your birth story and, with your permission, publish it here on Bump. I think it's important to share our stories honestly with others, even though every experience is so different. Or perhaps because of that. Calmbirth, epidurals, caesarians (planned or unplanned), what surprised you, what got you through, was the food in the hospital any good, the good, the bad, the downright messy - we want to hear it all.

Write your story and email it to me at mbarraclough68 [at] gmail [dot] com. And don't forget pictures if you have any!

Okay gents, it's safe to come back but sorry there aren't any chocolates. When you have a girl, it's a sea of pink and frills and not a chocolate in sight. But you're more than welcome to eat my jelly cup from last night's dinner tray.

Merry Christmas everyone! xx

PS. If you're interested in why I decided to use calmbirth techniques for this birth, all is revealed in this post - Calm Birth. Are You Crazy?

December 17, 2010

Welcome bella Francesca

So two Fridays ago exactly, I washed my hair, walked to the local coffee shop to catch up with a girlfriend, wrote a few work emails, put on a load of washing and generally waddled about in my 39 weeks pregnant body.

In every respect it was just another day and, apart from a few random tummy pains (which could have been Braxton Hicks contractions or just a result of eating a Butterfinger, a round of sour cherry toast, several prunes and an unripe pear!) I had no inkling that by 5.35pm I would be holding a baby girl in my arms.

It was that fast. I got my calm birth. Sort of. Calmly chaotic was more like it.

I am brewing the birth story and I promise to pour it out soon, but life with a newborn has me on the hop. Then there's the matter of all that tinsel-wrangling, turkey-stuffing and gift-wrapping that's going on around me. Something else going on is there? Hmmmm?

Seriously, what could be more important than gazing into the milky, slow-blinking eyes of a 2 week old baby, holding a tiny warm bundle in a close cuddle, watching teensy rosebud lips make a soft round 'o' and feeling the flutter of tiny fingers on my breast as she feeds?

Unspeakable acts of un-Christmas-like behaviour have been happening since Friday fortnight ago. We don't even have a tree yet and there's only EIGHT DAYS TO GO!! At least there won't be any chance of it shedding dead brown pine needles as we slowly neglect it to death as in Christmases of yore!

But we have our little bundle of joy. The latest addition. The newest apple of our eye. Wot the stork dropped off. Our bella Francesca Elizabeth. And everything else is on the back-burner.

Back soon to regular programming . . . . x

November 25, 2010

I'm Pregnant. Really?

Lately, in that strange and fuzzy limbo between sleeping and waking, I've been forgetting that I'm pregnant.

It's just for a split second, but for that tiny sliver of time, I don't believe it's real. This is followed by another micro-second of wondering if I made the whole thing up and have created a phantom pregnancy, my tummy growing with a pretend baby because I REALLY, REALLY wanted to be pregnant.

It is the strangest sensation. I don't remember having it when I was pregnant with Jack.

As reality seeps in, along with the daylight peeking through the blinds, I know it's not true. I am pregnant. With a real live baby. It's not just 43 boxes of Uncle Toby's cereal swilling around in there. There have been ultrasounds and kicks and a heartbeat loud and clear on my obstetrician's doppler speaker. Cereal does not kick you in the bladder.

As if I can have any doubt, I only have to try moving. Each morning I mentally prepare to hoist myself into an upright position and get my feet onto the floor. Like an Olympic weightlifter, I clench my face into a mask of concentration before attempting a personal best, getting the extra 100 grams that have piled on overnight, off the bed.

My legs, creaking slowly in their hip sockets, feel like the rusty corkscrews of a reformed alcoholic, and just as useless, as I take the first few small robotic steps of the day.

My abdomen is tightly strung and I hold my hands under it's weight as I make my way to the kitchen to get Jack's breakfast. The baby does a lazy roll and a foot or elbow causes an extra bump to appear on the left of my stomach. I know the baby is head down and I imagine it settling into the cradle of my pelvis for the day as I move slowly through my day. Kerthunk.

Before long, my joints loosen and my body settles in to itself. I feel less like a 90 year old arthritis patient and more like a weightier, less fit version of myself. With reflux. And wind.

As the day wears on, I waddle from room to room. I've tried not waddling but it's too much of an effort. Easier to make like a duck.

I nest, I nap, I do a little work. I wander in to the baby's room and find it difficult to believe that I will be carrying a newborn to bed in that room in two weeks, maybe less.

And every day, despite the stiffness and the reflux and the mental trickery and all the other symptoms that growing a human being inflicts upon its mother, there is unbelievable gratitude, utter wonderment and a kind of serenity that allows me to transcend the physical and float towards my child's birth day.

For now, I can ignore the doubts, the fears, the outside world full of petty grievance and trivial domesticity, and, just for a little while, let myself be the cat who got the cream.

Image courtesy of

November 21, 2010

Calm Birth. Are You Crazy?

Calm. Birth.

No, that is not an oxymoron. Or a myth. Or a method of giving birth where everyone in the room gets high on drugs and stands around saying 'peace man' to the melodic backdrop of a few Simon & Garfunkel tunes.

It's a method of giving birth naturally. Without pain relief. Are you hearing me right? PAIN RELIEF FREE.

You already know I've gone to the kooky side (with all that communing-with-the-universe and secret baby t-shirt business) so really, it shouldn't come as any surprise that I'm throwing the anaesthetist out with the epidural and going all alternative when it comes to giving birth this time around.

Except that it's not really 'going alternative', it's more like 'going native'. We all know that millions of women give birth in huts and paddy fields as a perfectly normal part of their day to day lives, without medical intervention or pain relief. So why not us? After all, we have the best of both worlds - the ability to birth naturally AND the back up of medical intervention should it be required.

The difference is that we are so used to relying on medical help, we often bypass the natural bit, where our bodies know what to do.

For my first birth, I think it was fear that sent me scuttling to the hospital so early. Fear of the unknown mostly. When my contractions started at midnight one Saturday, I felt slightly panicked. I also had an awful and unremitting bout of diarrhea for hours and was worried about dehydrating. I laboured intermittently through the night at the hospital, but by 8am nothing was progressing. Which led to having my waters broken. Which led to being induced on a syntocin drip. Which led to immediate fast, hard contractions. Which, combined with the intense back pain of a posterior baby, led to an epidural.

Yours truly, mid-contraction, unable to move, holding my breath,
willing the aneasthetist to come NOW!!!
Don't get me wrong, the birth was wonderful. They turned down the epidural just enough for me to push effectively and John and I pulled Jack out of my body together in what was the most intensely emotional moment of my life. But in hindsight, I can see that my fear and lack of trust in my body led to a domino effect of medical intervention.

Now I'm curious about what it would be like to do it another way. With knowledge and faith and courage, instead of fear and doubt and ignorance.

I first heard about calm birthing (or hypno birthing as it is sometimes called) a couple of years ago when one of the girls in my mother's group used the technique to deliver her subsequent babies. At the time, it sort of drifted in one ear and out the other, because at that stage I had made the mental and emotional adjustment of living with unexplained infertility and confirmed myself as a one-baby woman. I was still interested in all things baby, but kept myself detached. As you do when everyone around you is having babies and you can't.

Then last year when we were contemplating IVF, another friend told me about her experience using the calm birth technique to deliver her first child. Not only did she give birth calmly and naturally, her little boy is, quite possibly, the calmest, most contented baby ever produced. This is another by-product of having an unmedicated birth - seriously chilled out babies. When I met this little dude, he sat on my lap, staring up at me as if to say "Hey there nice lady, wassup? Feel like chillaxing to a few Simon & Garfunkel tunes?" It was all I could do not to plonk him in my handbag and make a fast getaway!

I was fascinated. Pain-free? Drug free? How??!!

I jumped on e-bay, found a second hand copy of Marie Mongan's Hypnobirthing and started reading.

In a nutshell, the whole idea is that we Western women are conditioned to think that childbirth is horrifically painful, a trial to be feared, and that the only way we can possibly manage is via the use of pain relieving drugs and/or having a Caesarian section and avoiding the whole thing altogether. Of course, in many cases, these options are necessary and potentially life-saving for both mothers and babies so I'm all for having those options. But as just that. Options. Not de rigueur.

However, the combination of our education, our recent Western history, the childbirth hell stories we insist on relaying to each other and the portrayal of childbirth in fictional media (the cliched pushing, panting, screaming, husband-blaming labouring women of so many movies) have given us a picture of child birth that isn't pretty and is, in fact, bloody repellent.

All that gruesomeness has engendered a great fear in we women. We fear the pain. We fear any tearing. We even fear the fact that we might do 'number twos' when pushing! (For those who haven't yet had children, be warned, you probably WILL do number twos when pushing. It's no big deal and perfectly normal. Doctors and midwives have seen much worse. Your husband, on the other hand, may need to suck on some of that gas . . . )

All that fear leads to an enormous amount of tension. Tension causes us to stop breathing properly and our blood pressure to rise. We fight against the body's natural ability to bring the baby down. Our body stops producing the natural pain-relievers we need like oxytocin and endorphins, and starts producing adrenalin which sends all the good stuff to our limbs (to flee or fight) instead of our uterus. The result? Pain. Lots of pain.

Put simply, you get scared, you tense up, and it hurts.

So how are the hundreds of thousands of women all over the world who are giving birth calmly and naturally doing it? (Oooh, I'm sounding a bit like an infomercial aren't I?! All I can say is I have the zeal of the converted! Jeez Louise, I hope this stuff works.)

Firstly, we have to let go of all our fear surrounding child birth and completely trust that our bodies know what do to. That child birth is something that our bodies are made to do.

Then we have to learn how we can best facilitate that process, mainly through the use of breathing, which allows all those good hormones to flow, and visualisations, which help us to focus. The result is not only a calm, unmedicated birth, but a calm, unmedicated baby. It sounds easy huh? Would you like a set of steak knives with that?

The internet is full of calm birth stories so if you're interested, read one here . . .

John and I have completed the calm birth course with the beautiful, knowledgeable and yes SUPER CALM, Louise Luscri. You can find details about her and her accredited course here.

She's a proper, real-life midwife too which was quite comforting considering the course was in a room full of pregnant women picturing their cervixes opening and anything could have happened! As if that wasn't enough to recommend her, she also serves Tim Tams and homemade brownies for afternoon tea. We love you Louise :)

So . . . . here we are . . . . 38 weeks pregnant, armed with my calm music, calm candles, calm husband and this youtube clip loaded onto my iPhone (if you watch this clip, you'll understand why I will have the sound turned off - a bunch of Russian folk dancers aren't really part of my whole cervix-opening visualisation scene).

What was your birth experience like? Have you tried calm birth? Would you? What most scares you about child birth? I'd love it if you'd share your story in the comments below.

Wish me luck ladies!


Disclaimer: If the writer succumbs to an epidural, an excellent excuse will be fabricated to justify its use under the guise of creative license!

Image courtesy of cafepress. You can buy this t-shirt here.

November 12, 2010

IVF Story Part 3: Nice Needles & New Attitude

We meet our embryo for the first time on the big screen
just prior to being implanted!

The day I found out that I wasn't pregnant from our first IVF attempt, I sat calmly at my desk, staring out out over the hot red rooftops, through palm fronds swaying gently in the summer sun and wondered 'what next'?

I didn't cry, although there had been some eye-welling and lump-swallowing as I hung up from the IVF nurse. I felt more hope than anything else. I knew we still had a shot with our frozen embryos and we had agreed to have 3 attempts in total, but it all felt so out of our control now. We'd done our bit. All I had to do was wait and look after myself, which meant not giving in to the temptation to go on a martini-drinking, chocolate-inhaling, sorrow-drowning spree.

The nurse had told me we had to have a month in between each attempt. It was now almost the end of January so that meant we wouldn't be able to try again until March, although it would be a much less invasive procedure. No needles or harvesting of eggs. Just blood tests and ultrasounds to determine the right time to implant the embryo, followed by progesterone pessaries.

I sat at my desk, trying to focus on work, but my head was full of date calculations and tiny frozen embryos and what kind of sushi I was going to finally be able to eat in my holiday from IVF.

I needed to clear my head so I threw on a cossie and ran down to the local ocean pool, rushing through ten laps of freestyle in an effort to clear my head of all that chatter and making myself take joy and revel in a body that, unencumbered by the fragility of pregnancy, was capable of exercising and sweating and drinking chardonnay and taking hot showers and getting cross with people turning right from the left hand lane. All those things you dare not do when carrying a new baby that, despite all evidence to the contrary, might fall out.

Afterwards, I rolled on to my back and stared up at the hot January sky, floating aimlessly, my mind finally clear, all control relinquished.

Perhaps it's true that, in order to open up to the real truths in life, we need to empty our minds to clear the way. Because that's exactly what happened in that moment.

It suddenly hit me that I had been mentally and emotionally holding myself back from conceiving. Those thoughts I'd had all through the first attempt now seemed so negative in hindsight.

"Oh, if it doesn't happen, that's okay, at least I'll know we've tried"

"Doesn't matter if it doesn't happen first go, we still have 2 more attempts left"

"If it doesn't work, it's because of my age/my fibroids getting in the way/some other excuse"

"What will be, will be"

In trying to shield myself from disappointment, all I'd done was set myself up for failure. It was like I was inviting what I DIDN'T want into my life, rather than what I DID want.

I then remembered a friend telling me about a book that helped people to change their mindset from limitation to abundance. Something about the law of attraction and how you can attract what you want into your life.

Now I am normally the world's biggest sceptic. I'd always prided myself in having both feet firmly planted in REAL LIFE and BEING PRACTICAL. I'd rather play poker than read tarot. Heaven and hell? I don't think so. Elvis lives? Get real.

But now I felt I had nothing to lose in changing my mindset and embracing some of the hocus-pocus, universe-will-provide stuff. Maybe it wasn't all hocus-pocus. What if it worked?

The book was called The Secret. That afternoon I found a lonely copy of the hardback in my local second hand bookstore (meant to be??) and started reading. I finished it that night and then jumped on The Secret website and read some more.

I'm not going to go all evangelical on you here, or try to convert you. This is not an ad for The Secret. You can read the book yourself and make up your own mind. As with anything of a self-help nature, we take what we need from these texts and discard the rest.

I, however, found I needed a lot of it and decided to give it a go. I began each day being thankful for all the great things in my life. Just listing all those things in my head and saying thank you. That, on its own, was a really lovely way to start the day.

Then, following the mantra of "Ask, Believe, Receive" I asked, every single day, for a healthy baby. That was it. It felt a lot like praying, but without the guilt and self-reproach.

I wrote exactly what I wanted on a piece of paper and kept it in my desk drawer. I closed my eyes every day and imagined a baby in my arms, how it made me feel, pretending it was real. And, at the risk of sounding like a complete kook, I even bought a tiny baby t-shirt and kept it in my underwear drawer where I would see it every day.

And then this funny thing happened. I actually began to believe it was going to happen. That it was out of my hands completely and that, no matter what the statistics said, I was going to fall pregnant and deliver a healthy baby. I relinquished all control to God or the universe or whoever (which, for people who know me, relinquishing control is the true miracle!) and put all my faith in that belief.

I also started acupuncture, once a week, with a dear Chinese woman in Manly. Every time I saw her she would say "We keep the baby in, yes? We keep the baby in" and she would rub my tummy and smile with her eyes and tell me not to eat ice cream (something about the cold!).

I don't know if it was my new found belief in myself, or the universe saying "What the heck, give the kook a baby", or the weekly acupuncture needles, or Dr Bowman hitting the right spot, or the non-eating of ice-cream, but on April the 2nd this year, I pulled my car over to the curb to take a call and a nurse told me I was pregnant. I was one of the 28% of women aged 40-43 who fell pregnant using IVF! Yee har!! My hand went automatically down to rest on my belly, tears filled my eyes. It was real.

So thank you husband, thank you Dr Bowman, thank you Ping in Manly, thank you universe and thank you 'ball boys and ball girls' (family, nurses, friends, the magic folk in the faraway tree)!

And most of all, thank you baby, for hanging around for 37 weeks and proving that it's okay to have a mother with a few bats in the belfry!

We can't wait to meet you x

19 week scan in 3D - nuzzling Freddy the Fibroid

November 3, 2010

So Bump, how do you feel about having 2 dads?

In the last month I:

  • Made a filing cabinet from IKEA (with a screwdriver and everything)

  • Swore at said IKEA filing cabinet

  • Put WD-40 on the bathroom door hinges to stop them from squeaking

  • Took the garbage out and had a yarn to the garbo

  • Watched Top Gear

  • Drank beer

If I wasn't 8 months pregnant, wearing a skirt and worried about getting my roots done before the baby comes, I would say I'm . . . well . . . a man.

I may even be growing a beard.

It's not all oestrogen and Kleenex moments with this pregnancy business people!

October 27, 2010

IVF Story Part 2: Hello Embryo

Commencing IVF at age 41 is a little bit like deciding to go back to school and do your HSC. You just know it's going to be fantastic when you finally get what you want at the end of it, but you feel kind of embarrassed telling people.

You're worried they might think, in no particular order, that:

(a) at 41, you are far too old and might be better off going to get your anti-delusional meds upped rather than your eggs harvested

(b) you would be better off spending all that money on a long shot at the Melbourne Cup

(c) you should have tried harder the first time around, when you were young and presumably a lot more fertile, instead of leaving it till the last minute (silly girl!)

(d) you're an idiot.

The Referral

Now I'm not usually the type to worry about what other people think, but when my lovely, very supportive, but very honest GP raised his eyebrows at our plans, I began to have doubts. He gave me a look that pretty well encapsulated thoughts (a) to (d) above, plus a little 'WTF?' on the side.

"You do realise that, at your age, the chances of success are fairly small?" he warned. "And are you sure you want to go back and do the whole baby thing again?"

"Yes and yes," I replied, trying not to sound like my fists were up, even though they were. "I've read all about it. I just want to know, at the end of it, that we've done everything we can do to have another baby. If it doesn't work, then that'll be that."

"Alright then, if that's what you want" he said, like a parent finally agreeing to let their kid on the rollercoaster, even though he knew they would be scared shitless and probably throw up.

The First Appointment

So armed with our referral and, in my case, a defensive mask of false bravado, we had our first meeting with Dr Mark Bowman at Sydney IVF. (Note: the home page of the Sydney IVF website is dominated by a very reassuring picture of a couple who look like they would remember the Hawke years and know who Spandau Ballet were - the man even has GREY HAIR! We felt immediately at home.)

Dr Bowman is charming, knowledgeable, straight-forward and an absolute expert in his field. He went through the process with us, made sure that we understood the success rates for our advanced collective years (98 - holy shit!) and smiled politely through my little speech about our history of fertility and why we were doing this and how worthy and sensible and non-delusional we were.

But my justifications and over-sharing weren't necessary. This man was Rio Tinto and his commodity was babies. In a nice way. His job was to arm us with knowledge, mine our bodies for the necessary elements and put a viable embryo into my body. And he would do it with professionalism, good grace and humour. I was ready to buy shares.

The Tour

After our appointment with Dr Bowman, we visited the IVF clinic where we met a very pleasant nurse named Amanda who gave us a tour, showed us some videos of the entire process and gave us a beautifully bound journal and some folders full of DVDs and other information.

And let me just say, Sydney IVF does good stationery. Tiffany blue, gorgeous graphics, excellent quality stock - if part of all that money was going into printing and graphic design, then this stationery-freak was happy.

We then met with the finance lady who went through all of the costs (you can see detailed costs and rebate information here). This was the bit I had been dreading, but actually it wasn't as scary as I thought. And although I knew Visa or Mastercard would be particularly delighted, it was good to know that it was something we could easily manage on a credit card if we had to, and not have to either save up for or take out the equivalent of a loan on a Ferrari for.

The Process

And so the baby-making began. If you want to know all the ins and outs and wherefores of the IVF process, you can read about it here.

It starts with a call to the nurses on the first day of your period. You would never think that calling a complete stranger and announcing "Hello, I am calling to let you know I am menstruating!" could be so thrillingly exciting, but it really is, because you know this is the very start of the whole baby making process that could lead to an actual, um, BABY! Yeah!!

Then there are lots of injections, which you do yourself at home, either in the tummy or the thigh (I chose thigh - seemed less close to the temple of the womb which I imagined could look like a colander by the end of all those injections. Ridiculous logic I know). You are injecting FSH (egg maturing hormone) to make sure lots of lovely eggs come to maturity at the right time, instead of just one.

Now, for the needle-phobic among you, this could be quite confronting. Get your partner or friend to do it for you and look away. You'll hardly feel a thing. But really, it's not that bad and is easy to do yourself. It can even be quite fun if you have kids or a needle-phobic partner to stick the needle dramatically into your thigh with a blood-curdling yelp just as they enter the room. The happy endorphins released from your wicked laughter at the look of horror on their faces will take any sting away immediately for you, although you may have to sit the poor love down and make them a cuppa.

Then after about 5 or 6 days of that, you inject another hormone to stop the eggs from releasing too early, but keep going with the FSH needles too. At this point you wonder how drug addicts can ever be bothered with all those fiddly darn needles, but you keep jabbing away, and put up with the slight bruising and itchiness that can appear.

There are also lots of blood tests and ultrasounds, for which you need to travel into the clinic at the crack of dawn every few days, and towards the pointy end of the process, daily. I actually enjoyed those early morning runs into the city in the pre-dawn light, walking past all the baristas grinding their beans and putting out their tables on the footpath, sitting in the hushed foyer of the Kent Street clinic waiting for them to open.

Eventually, an ultrasound/blood test cocktail tells the nurses you're ready to inject THE TRIGGER! No, not Roy Rogers' horse (oh dear, showing my age again), but the hormone which will loosen the eggs from the follicles within 36 hours. This is also a warning not to go anywhere, even if your French lover offers you an impromptu trip to Paris, because in 36 hours you have a date with Dr McBaby to harvest your eggs. Which is just as well, because by this time you will be feeling like a squat old apple tree, fully laden with over-ripe fruit that is ready to drop. Like the heavy feeling you get the day just before your period. Times ten.

Egg Collection

If it wasn't for the lovely stationery, the extremely personable nurses, the cappuccino machine and the fabulous magazines, you could be forgiven for feeling like a laying hen in a chook house when it comes to the egg collection part of the operation.

After changing into one of those unflattering gowns, as well as a redeeming and rather attractive bath robe and putting the equivalent of paper condoms over our shoes, we were led into a long room with curtained cubicles running down each side. We were ushered into our very own laying box - I mean, cubicle, where we received a visit from a nurse with a happy disposition and a consent form, followed by a scientist who told us everything she was planning to do to our eggs once collected ("Over-easy, soft centre, toast on the side? Ha ha ha" - yep, the nervous jokes were bad).

Then it was off to meet Dr Bowman for a quick anaesthetic, knees up and in ten minutes it was all over. We were able to watch everything on the ultrasound screen as he inserted a giant needly thing and sucked in the eggs from every follicle.

The big question was - how many eggs? Given that the average retrieval is between 5 and 20 eggs and only 6 for women my age, we were surprised to have produced a grand total of 14 eggs. As a couple of parental geriatrics, we were rather pleased with ourselves, and would have done a high five if it wasn't for the fact that I still had my legs akimbo and such frivolity seemed a tad inappropriate.

The Man's Bit

Because it's all a bit personal, you'll just have to take my word for it when I say that John's part in proceedings was almost exactly like they show in the movies. Or like the start of a joke, "A man walked into a room and picked up a girly magazine . . ." You get the picture.

Although neither of us expected to see a mini-bar full of juice and soft drink, it makes sense when you think about it. A man could work up quite a thirst under the circumstances.

The result at John's end was also excellent. We felt proud that we'd both been able to stay off the booze and produce good quality eggs and sperm, even if they were vintage. The daily pill popping of Elevit and Menevit also seemed to have paid off.

The Sciencey Bit

The reason you want as many eggs collected as possible is because there is a lot of 'drop off' along the way. By the time it came for the scientists to inseminate my eggs with John's sperm, 3 of the eggs had already died. Of the 11 that were inseminated, another 5 did not survive over the next 5 days. It's a case of 'survival of the fittest' and only the 6 strongest embryos survived.

If all this seems too weird and far-removed from what happens naturally, it helps to remember that at this stage, the embryos are still a microscopic group of about 75 to 100 cells. No face, no arms or legs - really a teensy weensy ball of fluid only just visible to the naked eye. The lack of survival at the embryo stage happens all the time in-utero; the difference is that with IVF it's all happening in a petri dish and being monitored by a whole lot of clever people in lab coats.

The Transfer

So about 5 or 6 days later, it's back to the chook house for another knees up affair, only this time the good doc is putting a real live embryo inside you - a hugely momentous event that is over in a few short minutes (Sound familiar . . . ?)

Despite the doctor's assurances that "it can't fall out", you walk out of there very, very carefully, get into the car and cross your legs.

It's time to wait.

The Two Week Wait

No more visits to the clinic, no more ultrasounds, just a looooong wait until we were able to find out if we were really truly pregnant. Fortunately I still had medication to keep me busy and make me feel like I was doing something useful. Progesterone this time, the hormone required to support the pregnancy. But this time, it was in the form of a pessary rather than an injection.

It was strange waiting for those two weeks to pass, wondering every day if the embryo was still in there or if it had somehow slipped away and been flushed down the loo. I didn't have a particular feeling one way or the other. I was just holding on to hope, reassured by the fact that we still had 5 embryos frozen at Kent Street that we could use if necessary.

I guess part of me was not wanting to get my hopes up so I downplayed it in my head. "Hope for the best, expect the worst" was my motto.

The Pregnancy Test

Finally, the day arrived. I drove in for my pregnancy test and then spent the rest of the morning pretending not to look at my phone.

When it finally rang, the news was not good. "I'm afraid you're not pregnant," said the nurse.

My heart dropped into my stomach.

"Oh well," I said, bravely. "There's always next time. What's the next step?" I sat there slowly taking it in while she went through the next process.

I didn't feel like crying, although of course I felt sad. I just felt more determined for the next time. I was going to be stoic, damn it!

I called John and told him. He was disappointed too, but we decided to celebrate nevertheless; to reward ourselves for what we'd been through by enjoying a nice dinner at our favourite restaurant, including a bottle of wine, something that we had forbidden ourselves in an effort to produce the healthiest eggs and swimmers.

It was January 30th. In a few days, my period would come and there would be nobody special to announce it to. We were told we could try again the following cycle which would begin in March. A Christmas baby then. Good.

I uncrossed my legs for the first time in two weeks. Let the wait begin . . .

Click here for IVF Story: Part 3 - Nice Needles & New Attitude

October 22, 2010

The Nursery

In six terrifyingly short weeks, we have a new tenant arriving. A newborn child who will expect somewhere decent to doss down, perform ablutions, maybe invite a few friends over to suck on dummies and generally just, y'know, chill out.

Instead we have a room filled with old mattresses, empty boxes, a drawer full of odd socks, some handy coils of rope and a bottle of 20 year old single malt. This sounds like the room of a 15 year old boy (except instead of the single malt it would be a half empty bottle of gatorade with mouldy bits floating on top).

If I were this baby, I would just stay where I am till these people who call themselves parents get their act together. Sure there isn't much leg room, but there's cereal on tap and the woman sure knows how to get a rocking good waddle going on!

October 13, 2010

IVF Story Part 1: The Pity Party that set the wheels in motion . . .

Just over a year ago, I was going about my business one morning, having taken Jack to school, put on a load of washing, brushed my teeth and negotiated a peace settlement in the middle east for the prime minister - all the usual, mundane things you do of a morning - when it suddenly hit me.

I was 41 years old and I didn't have another child. Of course, I already knew that. But the fact of it hadn't really walked up, slapped me across the face and tipped a beer into my lap. Until now.

I felt myself being washed away by an unexpected tsunami of grief - a real Pity Party Ho-Down with my old acquaintances Regret and Self Reproach as the main guests.

I couldn't believe I'd been so arrogantly naive as to think I could get pregnant easily and so flippant in brushing off my failure to conceive after 5 years. I had told myself it didn't matter, that life was good, that I was lucky to have a child of my own and three great step-children. All the usual justifications we women are so good at. But all along, I had been ignoring the gnawing voice deep inside telling me that it really
did matter. That I wasn't finished with this baby business.

Well that voice made itself heard, loud and clear, on that Tuesday morning last year. Now I'm not normally a weepy emotional person but that morning I sobbed for Australia - a self-indulgent, snot-filled, puffy-eyed Kleenex extravaganza.

Eventually I pulled myself together (as you do; after all, these moments can't last forever because after a while you do start to feel faintly ridiculous, especially when you run out of tissues and catch sight of yourself in the mirror with a bit of toilet paper sticking out of your nose!), and got on with my day, having no idea how, at the age of 41, I was going to get myself in the family way.

The next morning, I met up with my friend Elizabeth who is a few years older than me but many years wiser. She gave me a piece of advice that changed my life. Without that piece of advice, I would not be sitting here 7 months pregnant. That's pretty darn life-changing don't you think? 

So what did my wise, clever friend Elizabeth say? She told me very gently, but bluntly that, at 41, I still had options for falling pregnant, but at 46 those options would have all but completely disappeared and did I really want to look back 5 years down the track and realise I didn't give it the very best shot I could and exhaust every single available option while I still had the chance? 

Did I? DID I???

I hugged her, drove home, sat down at the computer and typed 'IVF' into Google.

I'm not sure why we never considered IVF before then. I certainly had a lot of uninformed non-factual 'facts' roaming around in my brain about the subject. Perhaps you do too. Here's what I thought about IVF:

1. It is for infertile couples
And after 5 years of trying to conceive with no medical reason why we couldn't, we weren't officially infertile were we? Duh!

2. It is horrendously expensive and would require us to get the equivalent of the loan on a waterfront cottage in Palm Beach Um, not quite. We could put the initial treatment on our credit card as the out-of-pockets were less than $5,000 - in our minds, a small price to pay for the chance to conceive. The second cycle was even cheaper because we were using the embryos from the first cycle - out-of-pockets approximately $1500.

But let me clarify, one woman's
'affordable' is another woman's 'are you out of your freaking mind, that's expensive' and I understand it's not within everyone's reach. But, and this might be lousy advice, if you can beg, borrow or save up for it, in my opinion it is worth every cent.

Let me also say that for those who don't conceive and continue to pay for cycles over many months and years, it can become a financial nightmare and yes, horrendously expensive. It doesn't help that the government has reduced the Medicare rebate for IVF treatment but that's a whole other story! Julia I love you, but for that particular piece of legislation your government needs a good spanking.

3. It is an emotional and hormonal nightmare for not just the woman, but for the couple
For me? No, I enjoyed the experience. For John? You'll have to ask him, but I swear he only raised his eyebrows once or twice. A week. At the most.

For many couples, however, it is a horribly taxing emotional and hormonal journey, particularly if they are trying for their first baby and nothing is working. IVF can seem like the final solution (and for many couples it is) so when cycle after cycle doesn't work, with all the attendant physical side effects, 'nightmare' is probably not an adequate word to describe what they go through.

So I sat there and spent two hours eating up every word, every fact, every case study on the Sydney IVF website. The stories submitted by women who'd gone on to have IVF babies were particularly compelling and as I sat there imagining what I would write if that were me, I realised that I'd bought in to the whole IVF shebang. It had me - hook, line and sinker.

But how to raise it with John? We'd officially 'given up' on another baby. We'd had our kitchen cabinet meeting and were sticking to the party line.

I waited about a month, during which I began to doubt the whole idea. My 41st birthday was looming, Jack was a wonderfully self-sufficient 6 year old and surely, after 4 children, my husband deserved to retire from broken nights and shitty nappies.

But those women's stories stayed with me. And then there was Elizabeth's story. She had said "If I were still your age, I'd do everything I could to make it happen. You don't want to live with that regret when it's too late to do something about it."

She was 100% right. I was already the 'sliding doors' type - wondering if I should have pursued a high paying corporate career, wondering if I should have had children younger, wondering if I should have worn the nude heels instead of the strappy gold heels to my cousin's wedding in 2002. I didn't want to add to that list.

That night, I tentatively approached John "Call me crazy, but what if . . . "

To my amazement, delight and undying gratitude he didn't hesitate for even a second "Let's do it. Make an appointment and let's just do it."

We agreed to give it 3 attempts and approach the whole thing with as much levity and humour and pragmatism as possible. After all, we were 41 and 55 respectively. According to the success rates on the Sydney IVF website, our chance of success was less than 30%. But at least we would know that we had tried everything and if it still didn't work, then so be it. We would put the idea to rest forever.

I called Sydney IVF in Kent Street with my heartbeat pounding so loudly in my ears I could barely hear the receptionist. We made an appointment for 10 November 2009 at 12.45pm with Dr Mark Bowman - the man who would throw our ingredients into a cocktail shaker and hopefully mix us up a lovely little baby. I couldn't wait.

Click here for IVF Story: Part 2 - Hello Embryo

Click here for IVF Story: Part 3 - Nice Needles & A New Attitude

October 8, 2010

In These Shoes?

I was up bright and early to attend an Inspiring Women networking breakfast this morning which was due to start at 7am.

That meant heaving 32 week pregnant body out of bed, showering and attempting to pour said body into a dress that would (a) look halfway professional, (b) not show too much flesh between gaping buttons, (c) not allow for an unseemly escape of the ultimate muffin top and (d) allow me to make an emergency wee stop with a maximum of two manoeuvres.

I chose a black knee-length number in fabric that I like to describe as poly-stretchy-manmade-ester (not a natural fibre in sight) but it seemed to fulfil all requirements. The problem is that it's black and dull and not exactly the cheeriest garment with which to greet a beautiful sunrise over Long Reef headland. So I accessorised with red. Red pendant, red resin ring and a pair of lovely (if pregnancy-inappropriate) red velvet wedge heels.

Exhibit A:

John asked me if I planned to walk to the venue, which would be a fair question to ask under normal non-pregnancy, non-heel-wearing circumstances, considering it is only 2 blocks away.

And I said "In these shoes? I don't think so" which reminded me of this completely fabulous and awesomely cool song by Kirsty MacColl which you absolutely MUST listen to. Right now. Go on . . .

I guarantee it will make you want to tap your foot, sway your shoulders, and maybe even click your fingers in a groovy fashion like Elvis in Blue Hawaii, as you imagine sitting at that bar in Guadalajara, sipping something pink and fizzy, waiting for the man with the faraway look in his eye . . . .

Happy Friday everyone. Have something pink and fizzy for me will you? Ta.

September 29, 2010

The Other 9 1/2 Weeks

On Monday, someone asked me how long I had to go till my due date and I answered, without really thinking about it, "nine and a half weeks". We both sort of tittered nervously and moved on to something like "Isn't this weather lovely?"

9 1/2 Weeks is one of those films that people either loved or hated, and even now, people aren't sure whether to admit they liked it or even saw it.

I was 17 when I saw it and remember squirming with embarrassment in the cinema next to my two girl cousins. It was just so sexual and in-your-face and stirred up all sorts of very strange feelings that seemed so at odds with our daily HSC study sessions and chaste kissing sessions at the local blue light discos. The post-movie critique between us went so far as to admit that Mickey Rourke was cute and Kim Bassinger wore nice hats and we left it at that. However, there are scenes from that film which have remained etched in my memory, even though I've never seen the movie since.

So with nine and a half weeks to go till I give birth, I've been thinking about all the ways in which MY nine and a half weeks is different to Mickey and Kim's.

1. At 30 weeks pregnant, I am beginning to resemble more Mickey Rourke than Kim Bassinger. And not handsome, suave Mickey from '9 1/2 Weeks', oh no . . . I am morphing into Mickey from 'The Wrestler', complete with swollen ankles, dark roots and a whole lotta ex-boxer attitude. But if my face starts puffing up like his, for God's sake someone prick me with a pin!

2. The theme song, it goes without saying, will change to 'You Can Leave Your Fat On' and the accompanying dance (if you can call it that) will be some raunch-less hip swivelling on the fit ball and a few pelvic floor lifts.

3. Forget about dripping honey all over my body and rubbing it sensuously along my burgeoning thighs. Just give it to me straight - into the mouth, preferably on toast, with butter. And do you really think one piece is enough? Keep 'em coming buddy!

4. Forget, too, about the gift of white lacy lingerie and suspender belt. Make mine a few dozen pairs of giant cotton knickers with double gussets and a maternity bra made out of two teepees.

5. Don't bother brushing my hair and treating me like a doll. Get the razor out and shave my legs will you? For I cannot reach them and hair leggings are simply not 'in' this spring.

6. And finally, about all that sex business. In the words of Darryl Kerrigan, tell him he's dreamin'!

September 21, 2010

The Difference Between Kids & Cats . . .

The difference between kids and cats?

Cats generally have more hair (unless you're unfortunate enough to be a child of ours cos John and I are two extremely hirsute individuals. Can someone please make sure our children are kept in hair removal treatments after we accidentally smother each other to death-by-underarm-hair in bed one night? Thanks.)

But apart from the hair, there's not much difference, if this little vignette is anything to go by.

Do you still want to have kids? Do ya?? Really???

Cos this is EXACTLY what most mornings are like with a toddler (hopefully minus the baseball bat).

The sleep-in is dead. Long live the sleep-in.

Video by the very clever Simon

September 18, 2010

Telling it like it is . . .

So this morning Jack jumps into bed with us at the unusually late hour of 6.15am and proceeds to wiggle his way down to the bump to have a word with the baby.

Sometimes this involves singing, sometimes just a hello and a kiss, sometimes a more detailed discussion about the minutiae of our daily life. Not only will this baby have some idea of how life works in the Barraclough household and what it can expect upon exit, it will also have an appreciation for the entire back catalogue of Michael Jackson.

This morning, however, Jack only had one piece of vital news to impart to the baby, which wriggled around in my belly when it heard Jack's voice, eager to soak up today's pearl of wisdom.

In a very serious voice, he said "Did you know you will be coming out of mummy's big vagina? When it gets even bigger, that's when you come out."

Good to know.

September 14, 2010

Serially serious about cereal . . .

Despite only being a few posts in, you will have already noticed several references to cereal.

My name is Michelle and I am addicted to cereal.

("Hello Michelle")

Remember the row of cereal boxes on the kitchen shelf in Jerry Seinfeld's apartment? I'd rather browse through that row of cereal boxes than be let loose in Peep-Toe Shoes with a platinum Amex provided by a sugar daddy. And Jerry's boxes were lined up alphabetically in true control-freak fashion. What more could a pregnant cereal aficionado with a fierce nesting instinct ask for?!

In my opinion, Goldilocks was far too discerning. I'd have scoffed all three bowls of porridge, hot, cold or just right.

Cold. Porridge.
It's THAT bad.

I'm putting it down to pregnancy cravings, but in reality I've always loved cereal. The pregnancy is possibly just an excuse to indulge in more than one bowl per day. And when I say 'more than one bowl per day' I mean 'less than five'. As in four.
Fortunately I like the healthier varieties. Anything with a bit of crunch and dried fruit and you've got me. Although I'm partial to a spoonful of Jack's Cheerios right before I serve them to him.

I am eating cereal for dessert after every meal. There's breakfast dessert, lunch dessert and dinner dessert. Including the actual breakfast main course of cereal, there's your four bowls.

I'm telling myself that drinking nearly a litre of skim milk a day with the cereal can't be that bad. Can it?

I'm also telling myself it's better than cravings for chocolate or chardonnay or anchovy smoothies or beetroot & peanut butter sandwiches.

But still . . . it does make me wonder what effect it will have on the bump. I imagine my amniotic fluid is a milkier consistency than most ("just like a milkshake only crunchy"), and that s/he is swimming around collecting Cheerio rings on his/her fingers. Will there be a snap, crackle and pop when my waters break?

What cravings did you have when you were pregnant? Were they real cravings or just an excuse to indulge? Anonymous comments are allowed :)

September 10, 2010

In Which I Need To Be Royal

As I sat at the table this morning, still trying to finish reading the Spectrum from last Saturday and consuming my post-breakfast bowl of cereal (more on that later), I was so bloomin' happy to hear that today's temperature in Sydney is going to reach the balmy heights of 21 degrees!

That can only mean one thing - no more boots! Or socks. Or anything else I have to bend over my watermelon-proportioned belly to try and manoevre on to my feet. Because it's getting really bloody hard and my disappointing lack of attendance at pre-natal yoga classes means that trying to bring the foot to me, rather than the other way around, can mean more groin injuries than a football team.

So it's thongs and ballet flats and anything other footwear that can 'slip on' from now on.

Except for the pesky business of my walks. The one bit of exercise I am still doing. Lack of properly shod feet would be an excellent excuse to give up the walks, but fear of an arse the same size as my belly makes that a rather scary proposition. I need to keep walking and I need lace up shoes to do it.

I could get John to do it, but I always walk at 6am and he's usually still asleep. I could get Jack to do it, but have you seen the quality of a 7 year old's shoelace tying? One word - loose.

There's only one solution. A lady-in-waiting.

Perfect. Can't think of how I've done without one until now really. I'll get on to it. Just as soon as I finish reading last Saturday's papers.*

(* Finish Saturday's papers? Pah! This NEVER happens. Oh well . . . hello groin . . . )

September 3, 2010

Puberty Blues Meets Maturity Blues . . .

Starting with giggling into my skivvy at a sex education lecture in Year 6, then reading Puberty Blues in shocked awe by torchlight on a family camping trip and right through the 80s and 90s, going to uni, backpacking around Europe - anything to do with boys and sex was all about How Not To Get Pregnant.

Working up the courage to get the pill, fumbling with inside-out condoms and sometimes whispering urgent prayers to a previously neglected God when a period was two days late, getting pregnant was not an option.

My beautiful, carefree, naive child mother had only just turned 18 when she found out she was pregnant with me in January 1968. By 21 she had 3 children under four. That wasn't going to be me. I wanted to study, travel, have a career - you know, skinny dip in the Mediterranean and drink martinis in Soho and wear high heels and Cue suits to a Very Important Job when I eventually came home to the colonies daaahling.

Then in Melbourne, November 1986, when the hoop earings were big, the hairdos even bigger and George Michael was belting out 'I'm Your Man' (though little did we know he was aiming it at the Pet Shop Boys and not the West End Girls) I had a scary moment.

I was studying for my upcoming HSC exams and eating lots of vegemite toast and Choo-Choo bars when I received a welcome respite - an invitation to the Melbourne Cup from my ex-boyfriend who was still a good mate.

So I brushed my blackened Choo-Choo teeth, washed my greasy swot-vac hair and borrowed a salmon coloured taffeta dress from my Mum which I thought made me look rather fetchingly like Princess Di, but probably more like a giant salmon. In heels.

Twelve hours and as many glasses of an under-appreciated case of Moet later (a nice change from cask Moselle), the mud-drenched heels were flung in a corner, the taffeta was off and I was passed out in the ex-boyfriend's bedroom after an entirely forgettable tumble in the sack.

It wasn't until I'd finished my exams a few weeks later that I realised I was late. Really late. Like a week and a bit LATE! Oh God, it was like Puberty Blues come to life (except with less surf wax and more West Coast Coolers). Sitting on the loo every day, checking my knickers, praying for my period, promising God I'd cut up my fake ID and give up Iced Vo-Vos IF ONLY I WASN'T PREGNANT! We had used a condom, but I have no idea what happened to it. I couldn't even remember if it had stayed on.

Every scenario imaginable went through my head. Could I have a baby? What kind of mother would I make? What about going to uni? Was I destined to repeat my mother's fate? But on the other hand, could I terminate a pregnancy? Despite not having been to church for some years, there was enough residual Catholic-ness in me to reject the idea.

Of course, my period eventually came. I breathed a gigantic sigh of relief and put the whole thing down to HSC stress. What I didn't foresee, however, was that not a year went by when I didn't think about that phantom baby at least once, calculating its age, imagining how different my life would have been. This year, that imaginary baby would have been 23 years old. Good God.

And you know what? It would have been great. I would love to have a 23 year old child. Life would have been different, but I'd have been fine. I know myself and what I'm capable of and I would have coped.

The other thing I didn't foresee was an inability to conceive when I really wanted to in the future. I, like most young women, had it all mapped out. Children were in my future - at least 5 kids - and it would all happen with the greatest of ease.

Instead, life took a different path. Fast forward to the new millenium. It turns out I did end up with 5 children. Three of them, my step-kids, now in their 20s, then my adorable Jack who just turned 7, and finally the much wanted, hard-won, macarena-dancing, trampoline artist inside me who is due on 2 December this year.

But the thing is, I only just got there, just by the spiky little hairs suddenly apprearing on my maturing chinny chinny chin.

It took me 12 months to fall pregnant with Jack when I was 33 and then another 5 years of serious trying to fall pregnant with this one, finally happening with some serious intervention from a doctor on Kent Street. But I'm one of the lucky ones. It so nearly didn't happen. And those 5 years were full of all the ignorance, denial, guilt, pain and grief that so many women feel when they find they can't conceive.

But that's another story . . .

August 31, 2010

Hello. Lovely to meet you . . . .

So, welcome on board the Good Ship Bumparella (or perhaps that should be the Good Barge Bumparella, as in 'barge-arse', as in maybe I should give up the post-dinner bowl of cereal with rice pudding chaser!)

I've been meaning to start this blog since I first fell pregnant. Then I blinked and popped and here we are at 27 weeks with the glory of morning sickness behind us and the joy of acid reflux ahead. Woo hoo!

Actually, the timing doesn't matter but the reasons for writing do. They are, in no particular order:

1. Fertility - specifically to tell it like it is, open the closet, debunk the myths, come clean, air the dirty maternity knickers!

Like many of you, I got the equivalent of a masters degree in how NOT to get pregnant through my teens and twenties. But what about when you really WANT to have a baby and you're in danger of leaving it too late because the magazines showed you lots of impossibly wrinkle-free famous women having babies 'naturally' in their 40s ("yes you can conceive a baby and you can also have a perfect complexion by drinking 2 litres of water a day and wearing sunscreen!")

But the uber-famous and their publicists aren't totally to blame. The cone of silence also seems to descend on families and friends. It seems we like to keep information about our private lives a little too private when it comes to important stuff like how to make babies. I reckon some secret women's business should be shared with more women, especially those we love - our little sisters, nieces, daughters, best friends. We need to go tribal girls.

So that's what I'm doing here - I want to share my story with the women in my inner posse. Wouldn't do the men any harm to listen in either! I want to say, simply “If you definitely want to have children in your future, you need to think about these issues now.” Let’s get the knowledge out there. Let’s stop hiding our miscarriages and fertility treatments and grief and pass on these stories to the girls and women in our family so that the cycle of sadness and regret ends.

I would hate to hear the words “I didn’t realise . . . ” from a sister or friend desperately trying to conceive and know that I didn’t speak up and share.

2. To Remember - Don't ask me if I was "all out the front" or whether my veins popped out or when I first felt movement with my first baby 7 years ago. I can't remember! But I wish I could. So here I am, jotting it all down so that when the young ladies in my family get knocked up and ask me for details on exactly how many litres of Mylanta I chugged a week, I will have the answers immediately to hand (no more than a litre I swear!)

3. For Christianne - My gorgeous 25 year old step-daughter is travelling through Italy at the moment, eating plenty of gelato, navigating foreign loos and brushing off the frequent advances of overly amorous Latin Lotharios, and she's not coming back for SIX WHOLE MONTHS (sniff) so this is a great way of keeping her up to date with the goings-on in the space formerly known as my six-pack ;)

4. To Share - with you. If you feel like it, I'd love to hear your story.
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