Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Growing Pains : 35 -36 Weeks Pregnant



“I feel like someone has attacked my groin with a cricket bat.” I said to my GP. “It really hurts.” I was putting it politely.  Actually, I felt like screaming.  I do feel like screaming. The constant throbbing in my pelvic region these last few weeks has been responsible for a severe lack of sleep, regular tearful interludes and a small fortune being spent on maternity cushions.

Further discussion and a short examination from the GP resulted in a diagnosis of SPD. The GP said she would try to arrange some urgent physiotherapy at the hospital, but with five weeks to go, I did not hold out much hope.  Recent experience has shown that it takes two weeks for a letter to even leave the typing pool at my GP’s surgery.

I took matters into my own hands and on the advice of a friend visited an Osteopath. This relieved the pain somewhat as did the addition of a most becoming maternity belt.  Helpfully, this came with no instructions, yet, it seems that as long as you look like a weight lifter, and said belt is holding up one’s belly with suitable support, it’s doing the job properly. 

Taking weight off the pelvis as much as possible is reputed to be a good thing, so finally, the birthing ball was inflated and has since been put to use (as well as serving a secondary purpose as a giant football).  All these things helped slightly, but the pain was still there, nagging away in the background.  It was therefore a great relief when the community midwife took pity on me last week and put in a separate referral to the physio. Thankfully this seemed to travel at missile speed and resulted in an immediate phone call and an appointment two days later.  My initial visit didn’t cure all ills, but it did help, and I was given some helpful suggestions to deal with the pain ( a pregnant woman always should have a packet of frozen peas in her freezer, apparently), and the reassurance of some ongoing treatment.

I’m trying very hard not to focus on how dreadful it can feel, especially during the long, dark sleepless nights. And certainly, I’m not thinking about how on earth I’m supposed to ‘push through the pain’ to bring my watermelon sized baby into the world.  No, I’m not thinking about that at all. 


My little man has become a dichotomous little devil in the past few weeks, I am struggling to understand him. On the one hand, he wants lots of cuddles and asks constantly; "Do you love me, Mummy"? I tell my sweet boy I love him so often, I’ve been surprised he’s even felt the need to ask this. But obviously he does.  I’ve also noticed that after a period of improvement, his little hand is now continually creeping back inside my top at every opportunity for a reassuring breast fondle.  I think he senses that change is finally afoot; that the little person is coming.  The hanging of new curtains, the assembly of the cot, the hustle and bustle of preparation are all starting to make EB's pending arrival real for him. Perhaps the prospect of being a big brother is more daunting than I thought.

I’m also finding that he can make the leap from being a sweet little boy to teenage-esque behaviour in one fell swoop.  I’ve witnessed more defiant behaviour in these past couple of weeks than I can ever recall before.   He is normally a good boy, I can’t fathom what it is. Preschool influences?  Insecurities about his forthcoming sibling arriving? Being a 3 year old?  On all counts, it’s exhausting. 

We have the best days when I haul my sorry self into action and make sure we’re doing something; a focused activity or play date. It’s just that I find it so tiring. I feel disappointed with myself, that I’m finding these last few weeks hard, and not making the most of every last precious moment together.   People give you lots of advice about how to deal with introducing your child to the new baby, or, how to cope in those first two weeks, but what I’d really love is some advice on how to entertain your child and keep harmony in the last few weeks of pregnancy, when really, all you want to do is rest.  

How did you manage in those last few weeks?

Saturday, 27 October 2012

1950's Pregnancy Advice for Mothers

When I was pregnant with Pip, my grandmother gave me this pamphlet.   A 1950’s manual, given to Health Visitors, of which she was one, to aid them in educating pregnant women.  I was amazed she had kept it all those years. In fact, 69 years since it had been printed.  It smelt old and musty.   It’s cover was stained and dogeared, from years of use.  The title was simple, one word; MOTHER.   A little legacy, given from her to me.  An act of sharing, between two women, one who understood motherhood, and one who had yet to learn anything.

I devoured the preface with interest, a section called ‘Mothers as Pioneers.’  I loved that fabulous title. This section addressed the fact that mothers are very important people (naturally).  It encouraged mothers to educate themselves and do their own thinking, particularly in regard to public health.  Mothers were encouraged to make use of ‘aids to pioneering’ in the post war period; newspapers, the wireless, the free library, the public health department, and importantly, to have a ‘hobby’.

“Keeping up our hobby, practising our best bit of work, not only gives us job, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it makes happier the people around us.”

As I read the pamphlet and turned its yellow, well thumbed pages, it struck me how some of the advice given to 1950’s mothers was still applicable today.  Even in something as simple as the suggestion that mothers should have a hobby.

By the time Pip was two years old, I was floundering as a SAHM, I’d lost sight of many of the hobbies I’d had before I had him. On a whim,  I took up blogging as a hobby, a way to evolve my love of writing, and almost instantly, I felt more enthused, more creative. It gave me something to think about outside my role as a mother and wife.   It made me happier.   It seems that some wise words are immortal, they have no best before date.

I recently dug out my grandmother's book again and stumbled upon yet more pearls of wisdom, albeit, some more relevant for today than others.

On ‘Good Cooks and Bad Cooks.’

“We have been called a nation of bad cooks. Englishwomen naturally resent this, but if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that taking us on the whole there is a lot of truth in the reproach."
Cooking has come a long way in this country since the 1950's, but the bitter truth is, I’d be a far better cook without the modern day conveniences of a ready meal or take away at my fingertips.  If I had to cook every meal from scratch, I’m sure my Michelin star would be shining far more brightly in the culinary universe.  I do however, want any home cooked offerings I serve up to be delectable, and as I embark on my pre-baby batch baking for the freezer (ha ha), or think about quick evening meals I’ll be able to prepare after a day with a baby glued to my breast,  these tips may come in handy:

"A stew boiled is a stew spoiled."  (There’s a good reason to buy a slow cooker if ever I needed one.)

"Jacket potatoes baked under the sitting-room grate are a most acceptable supper on a winters’ night with butter and a scrape of Marmite."  Oh yes -  I’m a Marmite girl through and through but I’d never thought of having it on a jacket potato. Until now.

Advice for the Mother-to-be

On Recreation: "Late hours, stuffy rooms and excitement are not good. In these days of radio nobody need be bored at their own fireside. Praise the homelier pleasures – books, handicrafts, even the forgotten art of conversation."  

Ah, the forgotten art of conversation.  Would that require both my husband and I to turn off our separate laptops each evening and talk to each other?  Some evenings we sit mute after dinner, staring at our separate screens. Maybe we should be talking a little more; after all, we are about to bring another life into the world. As for forging conversations with others, my making an outgoing call has become a rarity. These days I communicate mostly by email,  text messages and in 140 character bursts.  Perhaps I should engage more. It might help me keep my post-partum pecker up. And we all know; ‘It’s good to talk’.

On Hygiene: “A sitz bath in a basin placed on a chair followed by a gentle rub with olive oil is very useful in last months."  Well, you learn something new every day; I've discovered a ‘sitz bath’ is a localised bath for the pelvic region. It seems even in the 1950’s they were recommending perineal massage.  How very forward thinking of my grandmother’s generation, and how eloquently put.  Alas, these days we’re not nearly so subtle, you can now find a video on YouTube telling you exactly what to do.  Sometimes I rather favour the less direct approach.

On clothes for the Mother–to-be: “It is always worth a woman’s while to take some pains with her appearance and never more so than during pregnancy. Feeling and looking nice in one’s clothes is a great help towards feeling comfortable. The modern loose swagger coat cannot be bettered.”

There is much for a pregnant lady to swagger about - I like the fact they had a coat for it too.  Fashions clearly haven't changed that much since the 1950's, my maternity coat has exactly the same loose A line cut and swing.

The Mother-to-be gets ready for Baby:
“Good sensible baby clothes cannot be bought at the ordinary drapers – only at special shops for high price. Don't say you can't sew, you never know what you can do until you try."

I can’t sew.  There. I said it.  Homespun baby clothes are lovely.  But frankly, the only hand crafted things EB will be getting will be made by my mother.  (I’ve challenged her to make one of these).  Everything else will be coming from Mothercare or Mamas and Papas.  Sometimes you have to be thankful for progress, and as far as I'm concerned, Mothercare babygros are the business.

Father helps to get ready for Baby
: “Fathers vary, some are so handy and others, with the best intentions, feel quite helpless if left to think out ways of helping.”  A suggested list of jobs for the 1950's father included: cleaning windows, hanging clean curtains, fetching coal, chopping firewood, keeping the radio set in working order and being able to make a really good gruel.

In today’s world, my list for my husband looks something like this:  Work out how to reinstall maxicosi isofix base into car,  rebuild cot, hang new curtains (somethings never change). Ensure adequate stocks of champagne, parma ham, unpasteurised cheese for home arrival, ensure adequate pampering time for mother, and that she is given full control of TV remote.  And given the time of able to make a really good Christmas dinner.
The nursing mother takes care of herself: "Because on her own health depends not only baby’s well being but the harmony of the home".

Of all the sage advice given here, I like these three golden nuggets:

1. "Make up your mind before hand which less important things you will let slide - and resolve not to worry about them.Ok. No housework then.
2. "Ensure mother has her proper times for self-attention too."  Brilliant. A spot of blogging? A hairwash? A cheeky nip down to the High Road sans baby, for a latte and a slice of carrot cake?
3. "Ensure Father shoulders cheerfully his share of the extra work a baby makes."  Absolutely. Paternity leave running into Christmas...perfect.

It all sounds so simple, who needs Gina Ford or the Baby Whisperer? With a little help from the 1950's,  this modern day mother is sorted. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

How to Make a Cup of Tea

One thing I have refused to give up during this pregnancy is my daily cup of tea. (Alright, two cups). During Pip’s pregnancy,  I drank herbal all the way.  But this time, plagued by severe sleep deprivation, and the fact I’m also running around after an exuberant boy prone to Houdini like disappearing acts, I’ve found that a cuppa has been essential to get my engine revving each morning.  I’ve also found that in the absence of anything else to drink that’s really enjoyable *thinks champagne*, I’ve been truly savouring my tea drinking moments each day. 

Perhaps my increased focus on my daily cuppa has made me a tad obsessive, but recently it has come to my attention that some people are truly terrible at making a simple cup of tea - the worst perpetrators being those who don’t drink it themselves.  Increasingly I find myself sitting on friend’s sofas in fear of what may come my way.  I don’t want to waste my precious caffeine points on something that is hideously undrinkable. Yet,  sadly this seems to have been my experience.

Here’s a list of the crimes against the good old British cuppa that have really rustled my tea leaves of late:

Tea Crimes

1) Using the same teabag to make more than one cup.  No. No. NO. It should be one bag for one cup. A friend recently confessed she uses one bag for two cups.  I wasn’t surprised, depth of flavour is never present in her cups of tea.

2) Depth of flavour.  I like my tea ‘medium’. Not too strong and not too weak.  Seeing the tea bag stew for longer than about a minute, two minutes max, I start to get jittery.  I have to control my reflex to leap up from the chair and shout ‘time to remove the bag now!’ Because in my experience, tea that’s stood with the bag in it too long ends up tasting tanniny or even more horrifyingly, develops SCURF.

3) Scurf. I detest scurfy tea.  I define this as tea which has little brown bits floating on top. The scum.  IMHO this happens when the tea has been left to stew too long and the tannins start coming out in the brew.   It must be said, serving me tea with a scurfy top will always result in a rather downcast look on my face.

4)Not hot enough.  I have a friend who has a boil on the stove type kettle, rather than an electric one.  Perhaps it’s just my perception, but tea never seems as hot when served from this kettle.  Whatever temperature one likes to drink their tea at, it should always be served piping hot at the start. 

5) Too Milky/ Not enough Milk.  This is a tricky one to get right.  This week I was presented with one of the milkiest cups of tea I’ve ever had to drink. (Note: by an exclusive herbal tea drinker).  It was so revolting I could barely drink it. The excessive milk seemed to make it taste sickly sweet even though there was no sugar in it.   Likewise, if there’s not enough milk, I find the tea lacks body.  It’s a difficult balancing act.  Let guests add their own milk, that’s what I say.

6) Inappropriate milk type.  The worst milk for making tea with has to be UHT. This is actually, I believe, an acronym for Utterly Horrible Tea.  This is the milk my mother chooses to use, wonderful woman that she is.  My close second choice of milk not to make tea with is skimmed.  I find you can never get the right body or flavour when making tea with skimmed milk.  The tea even tastes thin.

7) Cheap Teabags
Again, it’s a very personal choice, but cheap budget teabags, do in my opinion, make cheap, budget tea.

8) Tea from the Pot
It’s pretty rare I go to someone’s house these days and they make a pot of tea. (More’s the pity, such a nice tradition). Most of my friends are dunk the bag in the cup types.  However, on the occasion I do go somewhere a little bit more ‘proper’ and a pot is made, the conversation that leaves me crestfallen normally goes something like this:

“Would you like more tea?”
“Ooh, yes please”
“ Just help yourself, there’s still some in the pot.”

Surely not. The pot that was made 30 minutes ago?  The pot that has now got luke warm water in it with stewing bags (which will no doubt create lots of scurf on my tea.)  But, then I find myself in a dilemma.  It seems rather rude to say, "Oh, if it’s not fresh, I don’t want it".  Last time this happened, fortune smiled on me as we were sitting in the garden, so at a discreet moment I was able to water a flower bed with the luke warm, scurfy hideousness filling my cup.

9) No Biscuits
Tea is for dunking sweet sugary items in - is it not?  It is always a disappointing day when a cup of tea is not accompanied by even the most humble of biscuits.  Luckily for all my friends, I’m very good at bearing gifts of biscuits - albeit in exchange for drinking cups of tea I don’t really like.

So, how do you make a perfect cup of tea?  Clearly, it’s a very personal thing.  But, let me tell you how this fusspot likes hers.

A guide to making the perfect cup of tea

1) Fill kettle with fresh water. (I have an OCD about this. The water has to be fresh, virgin, previously unboiled water.  I read somewhere once that this water has a higher oxygen content which should result in a tastier cup of tea. )  Also, I’d prefer it made in an electric kettle - See point 4 above.  Don’t worry too much about limescale though, London has very hard water so I’m used to that.

2) Select drinking vessel.  This needs to be an appropriately sized mug, not too small.  My favourite mug holds approx 300ml.  Porcelain is a must, and I favour mugs with a thin rim.

3) Add one teabag to the mug.  Brand of teabag? It’s a real conundrum.  Personally, I’m a Twinnings English Breakfast lady.

4) Once the kettle has boiled, pour water over the teabag.  I prefer not to leave to stew. Instead I take a spoon and gently dunk the bag in the cup to the count of twenty.

5) Bag removed, I add the milk.  Semi skimmed please. Add the equivalent of three dessertspoonfuls.  You’re aiming for a Midnight Savannah colour.  If you're not sure, it might be a good idea to use this chart as a guide.

H.M. British Tea Colour Chart

Image: From

6) Serve with a sweet accompaniment.  Shortbread is a personal favourite.

Sit down, relax and wait for tea to cool enough so as not to burn the roof of your mouth but still consume whilst piping hot.

So that’s how I like my tea. Now, how do you like yours?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Little Boy Lost

We were in the bread aisle.  I turned my head, to peer more closely at the yellow tag at the end of the loaf of bread, trying to uncurl it, to decipher the best before date, barely visible in tiny black print. This simple act took three seconds, four at most.  I looked up and he was gone.  No bright red coat, no blond haired, blue eyed boy clutching his as yet unpaid for pack of jumbo pencils in soft, still toddler-like hands. 

I didn’t panic.  I told myself he wouldn’t be far away. I walked to the end of the aisle, turned left. No, not in jams and baking.  I retraced my steps and turned right. No, not in biscuits.  Stay calm.  Where is he?  I shouted his name a couple of times, expecting to see him appear. Nothing. Nameless faces pushing trolleys ambled by. But no sign of Pip.  Looking ahead, I wondered if he had disappeared to the bottom of the freezer aisle, to the his favourite place behind the tills; where he likes to fiddle with the silver dispensing flaps on a vending machine that holds plastic balls filled with toys.  Hastily, I made my way there.  The only child at the vending machine was a small dark haired boy with his mother. 

Heart pumping, adrenalin jumping, running now.  Back to the bread aisle. Perhaps he’d wandered back there to find me. Maybe it would be better to stay put, at the last place he'd seen me. I return to an empty space flanked by silent loaves.  Shouting now. Over and over, repeating Pip’s name again and again.  Panic surging. Eyes stinging. Suddenly unable to stay still.  Then running to the in store bakery; the place where he loves to stand in front of the glass counter and look at the pink sprinkled ring doughnuts and the gingerbread men. Lone shoppers walking trance like, as if oblivious to me calling the name of a young boy, that might possibly be lost. Or missing.

Don’t think it. Don’t think it. It’ll be alright. It’s going to be fine.  Store workers, restocking shelves in the aisle beyond, blurred at the periphery of my vision. A thought.  Help. Get help. They can help. Tell them; ‘I can’t find my son, I’ve lost him. Help me.’ Moving again. Still shouting his name on approach.

A woman wearing glasses, touching my arm.  "Are you looking for a little boy in a red coat?’" Yes. Yes. I am. I’m desperate, have you seen him? "He’s with one of the store workers, they’re taking him to customer services, to make an announcement on the tannoy".  
Running. To get to him as soon as possible. 

Midway through the store I find them, Pip, following a tall man, smiling, still holding the pack of jumbo pencils. 

“Hello Mummy, this is Michael. I was going with him so he could call you.”

I look at Michael. His badge confirms his name. His uniform, that he is ‘real’. I thank him, we walk away, in search of our abandoned shopping basket.  I explain to Pip that Mummy has been so so worried.  That he mustn’t wander off.

“If you get lost, then you find a man in a brown suit and then ask them to call your Mummy.” he says.  Problem. Solution. Pip’s world is simple.

Yes and no, Pip.  Yes, if you are in the Sainsbury’s supermarket, where you recognise what the uniform looks like, and that the person you’re talking to is someone who works in the store.  No, if you’re somewhere else.  You can’t just walk off with anyone, anywhere in a brown suit. Does he understand the subtle difference? I’m not sure.

I’m a surge of emotions. I feel thankful, I feel tearful. I feel unable to reconnect back to normality.  Discombobulated. We find our abandoned shopping, checkout and go home, I clip the kerb on the way.

Later at home, we make gingerbread men. The sole reason for our trip to the supermarket was to buy the ingredients.  To be precise, they’re actually Gingerdead men. Skeleton shaped men made from a special cutter, a practice run for Halloween. Pip loves making them, examining all their little bones. But the irony of making skeleton shaped biscuits is not lost on me, especially today.

As I knead the dough and Pip helps roll it, I reflect that we’ve never had the ‘we don’t go with strangers discussion’. I think; he’s three. He’s too young.  I don’t think he even understands what the word ‘stranger’ means.  I tell myself, he’s always with me.  I never let him out of my sight. I’m always watching him. And then the little voice in my head says; "Except for those four seconds you took to look at the best before date on a loaf of bread today. That’s how quickly these things can happen."

Recent media events have made me even more jittery than normal.  How do you balance allowing your child to enjoy the innocence of childhood with ensuring they are able to do the ‘sensible’ thing in a situation where they find themselves alone or lost?   Pip knows his full name, and address, and after today, I’ve decided to write my mobile number on the inside of his shoes. If he get’s lost, somewhere where there isn’t a tannoy, someone can call me (assuming of course, that he remembers to tell them that my number is inside his shoe.)
Today’s generation of children have their childhood compressed to such a few short years, I want to preserve Pip’s idealistic view of the world for as long as possible.  I don’t want to frighten him or worry him unnecessarily.  Not at age three.  Yet I find myself now wondering if this is irresponsible parenting in a different sense.  If I’m being naive.  If I should say something. Is there a halfway measure? How do you tackle these things sensitively with a child so young?  Is there an appropriate age to talk to children about the dangers of strangers?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Little Friend

It seemed that time had never passed so slowly as in those first twelve weeks.  After a year of trying, when the thin blue line of hope appeared on the pregnancy test stick in the bathroom, it were as if, by some magical force, every tick and tock of the clock became longer than before.  Time was like a metronome ticking;  persistent, frustrating.  Days felt like weeks, weeks felt like years.  All we could do was wait; we floated pensively on a fluffy white cloud of hope.

As we ticked each week off the calendar, our small bud of confidence unfurled and started to bloom. We relaxed.  Mother nature never gave us any reason to think that our confidence might be misplaced.   The sun was shining when our scan day came; it was spring. Radiating golden halos of pre-emptive joy we skipped through the busy London streets to our destination, already on the brink of euphoria.

The final rush never came. 

As I lay on the consultant’s bed, all I heard were the words, "I’m sorry" as he turned off his machine.  In that moment, the world started to move in slow motion; a drone of incomprehensible confusion.

There was a baby, it was still there, but it wasn’t alive.  They couldn’t say exactly when it had died. Twelve weeks worth of hope disappeared into the ether. We were shown to a room filled with medical journals; green leather bound volumes, with gold writing lined the walls, a padded cell of medical jargon. Through the mist of tears, we tried to compose ourselves, to digest what we had just been told. I wondered how many tear soaked words the pages of those silent books had absorbed over the years. 

The next few days were spent in a blur. Waiting. Sitting in our house, silent, reflective, sad. We took a walk one day, and bought a fruit bowl shaped like a banana boat, from a tasteful home decor shop. It seemed a strange thing to do, but gave us a small moment of normality, as we pondered, chose and relinquished our cash.   On the way home, our incidental purchase in hand, the pain inside me increased. Like the waves of an incoming tide crashing against the breakers; it got harder, stronger and I knew it was finally coming. The consultant had told me what to expect and had outlined the warning signs that would indicate I should take myself to hospital.  He’d obviously assumed that as a seemingly intelligent woman, I’d know what a blood clot was when I saw one. I didn’t. Not until they were dropping from me like pennies from a slot machine.

From the wave of the first breaker to the point at which we arrived in A&E, I changed my trousers three times. On arrival, I locked myself in the single men’s toilet in the reception, hiding from furtive sideways glances that enquired at the state of my blood soaked self.

The female doctor wore a white headscarf and a white jumper.  After an internal scan, she reached for a long steel implement; probing and scraping at the depths of me, to remove the red from my body. The tsunami of pain was unbearable. "Perhaps your husband should wait outside" she said. "No". I didn’t want him to witness it, I couldn’t bear to have him near me; the pain was so intense, but I didn’t want to be alone either.   Afterwards, she conducted another internal scan, "I think it’s all gone". She remained expressionless. It? My baby?  Despite the barbaric scene around us, she remained pristine white, clinical to the last. I wondered in that moment why Doctors wore white, when it must be so hard to keep it clean. 

I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to an IV drip with painkillers.  A young, kind South African male Doctor came to check on me regularly. I was beyond asking questions. Too tired, too numb, too shocked.   If I could step back in time now, I would demand to know if what that female doctor did to me was ‘normal’ procedure.

Flowers filled the house when I got home. From friends who’d got the high and the low in one phone call. I knew the flowers were sent to offer comfort, but they just reminded me of what we had lost.  Heartfelt sentiments on cards from people who loved me bought more rivers full of tears.  My brother sent a box of chocolates, in a heart shaped satin covered box with a bow. The expensive kind, the sort my whole life, I’d hoped that someone would buy me for Valentines or a birthday. The kind of chocolates I always hoped I’d receive on the happiest of occasions, not the saddest.

The leather sofa we’d saved for months and months for, told the story of what had happened. A small scratched patch where the leather had at some point worn thin, was stained darker than the rest.  Lady MacBeth like, I scrubbed and scrubbed at it, but it refused to shift.  A  short while later, I gave it away, to a friend’s sister; a sofa-less student. I could not bear to look at it and be reminded.

I hated my body. I hated myself. I felt my body had tricked me. How could I not have known?  I didn’t feel like a woman.  The grief and pain seemed too much to bear, so I applied myself to the task of getting on with life again. I changed my hair, I bought new clothes, I threw myself into my work.  I tried to forget.  I didn’t want to ‘try again’.  I felt empty.  I couldn’t deal with the pain, so I tried to ignore it with a false smile and forced gaiety. Deep inside, the wound stayed open, unable to heal.

As spring turned to summer, the nights turned hotter. I started to find myself waking in the early morning, unable to get back to sleep.  Sometimes I would go downstairs, to read or have a cup of tea.  One morning, I woke at 2.30am and went outside to the garden and sat on a chair, wrapped in a blanket to keep warm.  Our garden was tiny.  A pocket handkerchief of grass framed by some wild jungly borders. An old gnarled, elder tree stood in one corner, soaking up the roar of the traffic from the busy road behind.  The tree itself was nothing special but the jasmine creeper that ran, entangled through it’s branches, was magnificent when in flower, so the tree stayed, owing it’s place to the sweet smelling jasmine it had allowed to infiltrate it’s branches.

Finally that night in the garden, in the stillness and quiet before dawn. I let go.  The numbness left me and I was able to weep for what was lost, for the hideousness of the physical trauma, and for my inability to come to terms with it. What the trigger point was, I will never know,  the bottled up swell of emotion had just become too strong for me to stopper. 

As I sat watching the sun rise I noticed someone was observing me. Small, brown eyes flickered as he cocked his head to one side.  He was a stranger, I had not seen him in the garden before.  He came close; closer than I would have expected.  I sat very still, and so did he, we listened to the planes rise and fall overhead, as the dusky sky turned slowly into a brighter hue for morning.  Occasionally, he would move about, as if exploring, but then he would return to his sentry post, watching me intently, silent but reassuring in his presence.

In times of desperation, it is possible to find comfort in the smallest of things. During my sporadic pre-dawn garden visits that summer, a small tiny bird with a red breast became my companion and gave me comfort.

In daylight, I became more aware of him too. I came to the conclusion that he must live in the old elder tree, although I could never see deep enough into the thicket of branches to see a nest.  Save for a few fat pigeons, he was the only bird I ever saw regularly in the garden.  I felt that when he saw me, there was recognition between us.  Sometimes, if I was in the kitchen, he would hop on to window ledge peering through the glass;  as if enquiring, ‘Are you there?’.  His presence gave me more pleasure than I ever would have thought.

It was a warm summer’s day nearly four years later, when I placed the baby basket on the garden table under the shade of it’s large parasol. The journey had been long but, our dream was finally realised. Pip, a few days old, lay nestled inside like a biblical Moses in the rushes. Landing on the edge of the basket, Robin sat and observed Pip sleeping.  We looked at each other, and I felt he understood, that there were three of us now.

As Pip grew, he loved Robin as much as I did.  Pointing to him in the garden through the window, sometimes when outside, trying to get a little too close.  My father marvelled at his interest in the garden bird. "It’s amazing, how aware he is of that Robin". I didn’t share the story of how special he was. I couldn’t explain. The little friend was mine, and Pip’s.  Our friend, our secret.

As Pip grew, I felt that we should leave our house and move elsewhere. The road behind it seemed to have got busier and noisier. I worried about the traffic fumes.  Splashing sessions in the paddling pool were sound tracked by motorbikes roaring up the road. As I closed the door on the house that final time, I did not feel sadness, I felt excitement at the new chapter ahead. My only regret was that I had to say goodbye to the little friend, that he had to stay behind.

Our new home was only five roads away; but in a conservation area, away from busy roads and surrounded by mature trees. A huge variety of feathered friends now populated our garden. Magpies, Jays, Parakeets, Tits and Woodpeckers. But not once in our first few weeks did I see a Robin.

A month after we had moved, I found myself walking along the road that ran behind the back of our old house.  The elder tree had been massacred, it’s branches hacked to stumps barely visible above the fence. Tears stung my eyes;  I walked the rest of the way home fighting the overwhelming desire to cry. The little friend had been evicted. My heart weighed heavy.

Later that evening, as Pip played outside and I watered the plants, I noticed someone watching me.  Perched on the back of a garden chair, inquisitive and intent, a lone Robin stared at me and cocked his head from side to side. Coincidence? Possibly.  But, I preferred to tell myself that the little friend had found me once more - and I felt at peace again.

I wrote this post a while ago, but never felt able to publish it. I’ve done so now to support pregnancy and baby loss awareness month.  If my words help one person suffering loss, then writing it has been worthwhile.

I am also linking up with Older Mum in a Muddle and ‘Once upon a time’.  

Once Upon A Time

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Second Time vs The First Time

One of the things I have pondered over the past few weeks is how different it can feel preparing for the birth of a second child rather than the first.  The first time there is magic in all the unknowns; feeling that first kick, that first contraction. The second time around they’re knowns, still magical moments of course, still special, but perhaps a different kind of special.  Likewise, the first time, everything you do to prepare for baby pre-birth; the shopping trip to the John Lewis baby department, the NCT classes, is filled with the joy of a journey you’ve never been on before. The second time, I’m finding that the journey is still enjoyable, but, I’m certainly more grounded and practical; which appliqued muslins to choose from Mamas and Papas is certainly not keeping me awake at night like it did the first time. (This time it's just an aching groin and dodgy hip.)

I’ve been thinking about Pip’s pregnancy.  I was able to do so much more then to prepare for his birth. Once I hit maternity leave, I had no other focus or commitments, other than getting myself ‘birth ready’ for him.   I practised my hypnobirthing exercises, I sat on the birthing ball for hours to in the hope of getting him in the ‘right position’, I read copious baby books.  I decorated his nursery, I bought a cot, a pram, a car seat, a baby bouncer, a changing table, researching each item in meticulous detail.

I think about EB’s pregnancy and it couldn’t be more different. As yet, despite my best intentions, I still haven’t successfully listened to the hypnobirthing CD from start to finish, the birthing ball is lying flat in the spare room as I can’t find anything to pump it up with.  I haven’t read a single book.  I don’t have a nursery for EB and I’ve bought very little new clothing as he’s getting all his brother's old cast offs. 

When I was pregnant with Pip, we had a name for him by 16 weeks.  EB is still nameless. At 36 weeks with Pip, I had a wonderful maternity shoot to photograph my bump.  Three and a half years later, and considerably less elastic than I was the first time around, I gave it fleeting consideration and decided not to bother.  I decided that surely he’s not going to want to see a maternity portrait of me anyway, and I certainly have no desire to look at my gargantuan naked bump in side profile.  Then my mind turned to the newborn shoot I had done of Pip when he was just a few days old.  I spent a fortune on purchasing the entire portfolio of photographs, so besotted was I, I couldn’t bear to not own every single shot.  The reality was, only three of those photographs ever made it into frames, the rest are still stored digitally on a CD three years later, still waiting to be printed out.  Lovely as they are, I wondered, do I really want to spend that money again? Is it really necessary to have a ‘newborn shot’ done?  They wouldn’t be as good, but surely I could just take some pictures myself?

In a rare moment of solitude this week, I pieced together all these fragmented thoughts, and when I considered them in their entirety, I felt really rather bad.  I thought, is this reflective of what EB’s life is going to be like?  A mother with a ‘been there, done that,’ attitude, so he gets shortchanged continually versus his older brother.  Truth be told, I felt a little ashamed; perhaps I’d let practical considerations weigh a little too far.

All Pip’s old baby equipment is clearly good enough - it would be ridiculous to buy new. But, really, I think I can stretch to purchasing EB some new babygros of his own to wear home from hospital.  And frankly, I’ve got a spare bedroom with a changing table in it, would it really hurt me to buy some cheap fabric and make some curtains even if they will only be used for 6 months, to create somewhere that does feel like his little space and place?

Then I got to thinking about the maternity and newborn photography and I thought; how am I going to feel if in years to come if EB says; “Did you have any photographs taken when you were pregnant with me?" Or, "Where are the newborn shots of me?”, and I say, “No son, I didn’t.”  “Why?”  “Erm...“  Why indeed?  I was too busy, too tired, couldn’t be bothered?  Will he then think I didn’t care as much or that he wasn’t as special?

I cannot bring myself to pose in full naked splendour with my bump this time. It’s too much.  But instead, I have decided to arrange an outdoor (clothed) shoot with Pip and I at a local beauty spot, with a local photographer, showing off the resplendent bump.  They won’t be Demi Moore shots, but I’m not either, I’m not the woman I was when I had them done the first time, these pictures will reflect me as I am now, as a pregnant mother with a little boy looking forward to the arrival of her second son.

I’ve also decided to book a newborn shoot too. The photographs from the first time were incredibly sweet.  Although this time, I’ve promised myself I’m only going to buy a handful of photographs.  Just the ones I plan to frame. 

Filled with a sudden surge of positive energy and a desire to do right by my second son, I’ve also signed myself up to a ‘second time mums’ coffee morning group, because I don’t know anyone locally who is going to have a child EB’s age.  When Pip was one and two he had lots of little friends to come to his birthday party and I did wonder the other day, will EB know anyone? Who will I invite to his birthday? 

I’ve even bought some curtain fabric at a knock down price, and my mum, a much better seamstress than myself, has kindly agreed to make them.  The material is simple; printed colourful cars and diggers, but I'm sure it's going to make the room seem a lot more homely. More so than the bare window that is there at the moment.

Taking these steps has made me feel much better about things.  Yes, EB still hasn’t got a name, but he will have one, he won’t remain nameless forever - her majesty’s government simply won’t allow it. 

I’m sure once EB is here and life takes over, there will be times when I think about all the things I did with Pip that I haven’t done with EB, and feel guilty, but in some ways, that’s just the way it’s got to be. EB’s experience will be different, because he is my second baby, not my first, and because he’ll have an older brother and we’ll have to fit in with his needs as well.  That said, at least, for these precious few pre months and post months, I now feel that I’ve made the effort to ensure he’s going to be treated as royally as his brother was. Possibly none of these things will matter to him, but at least I feel a bit better about myself as a result.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


People talk about the ‘bloom’ of pregnancy; the glowing skin, thick luscious hair and strong, pink fingernails.  It is my pleasure to confirm that I am currently experiencing all of these benefits as a mother to be.  Yet, despite these wonderful positive attributes, despite the addition of some new maternity items to my wardrobe, I still feel like an over sized troglodyte.   The only way I seem to be able to placate these feelings is by spending money on accessories.  Purses, necklaces, earrings, floaty scarfs; I have become a compulsive accessoriser.  The one benefit of spending money on these things is that they’ll always fit. 

A good friend was recently bought a post baby makeover by her husband.  What a wonderful gift.  Off she went on a champagne fuelled styling frenzy, six months post the birth of her daughter with the aim of creating a chic capsule wardrobe. She came away with well fitting jeans (goodbye elasticated waists), a smart casual blazer, stripy Breton tops, and a sense of which items co-ordinated with which and worked well with her newly regained figure. She was full of praise for the experience and how much it had made her feel a little like her old self again.   Perhaps when the maternity bras have turned grey and the breast feeding tops have started to sag slightly too much, my dearest will surprise me with the same treatment.  *Given he doesn’t read this blog this will require some hinting on my part.*

In the meantime, despite adorning myself with various fripperies, the underlying desire to make myself over is still there.  But really, what sane pregnant woman cuts her hair short, especially when she’s had long tresses all her life?  So, taking the age old advice, that no hormonally charged, gestating woman should drastically change her barnet, I am staying away from the hairdressers.

Instead, I’ve given my virtual self a makeover.  Have you noticed?  I do hope you like the new look Mummy Plum.  I can’t take the credit myself, there is no way my currently scrambled brain could manage to achieve a look like this.  The credit for my lovely makeover lies with the super Liz at Violet Posy Designs.  She has been wonderful in holding my hand and managing my indecisiveness this week, and I’m sublimely happy with the end result.  Even if the real me doesn’t feel very polished right now, my blog certainly does.

Now all I need to do is insert some matchsticks in my eyes and write some posts.