Blimey. Seems like only yesterday I was writing this post announcing our status as parents-to-be, though it turns out to have been six months ago. This Thursday sees the Sprög-to-be - who has become known online as Bagl (I think it was Stu N who came up with that?) - reach the ripe old age of 39 weeks in utero... except he would only have been conceived 37 weeks ago, such is the slightly confusing way of dating these things. ANYWAY, the point is that the little bounder should finally be making an appearance into the world very flipping soon indeed, so before he does so and everything goes totally babybatshit crazy, I thought I'd try and write about what the last eight months have been like.
And yet... now I'm actually sat here, trying to put it into words, it seems damn near impossible. There's been so much, such a conflict of emotions, that whenever I try to express them in words I feel the need to add a bucketload of provisos and context. It all gets terribly complex and putting stuff in writing can over-simplify, leaving out things you think go without saying but, it turns out, don't. One tweet expressing anxiety at the upcoming birth was misinterpreted as a horrible winge at the child itself, an experience that underlined the risk of getting into this stuff in 140 characters or less, at least if you're as clumsy at expressing yourself concisely as I am.
Because I don't want to just say the pregnancy was 'good' or 'bad' - it's nowhere near that simple or clear-cut. It's fair to say it's not been the pregnancy neither Wifey not I expected, with hyperemesis gravidarum hitting hard from early August to... well, there's no one day where suddenly everything was tickety boo again, but the second half of the pregnancy was certainly an improvement on the first. I found it profoundly difficult to see Wifey so wiped out by the sickness, for so long, and given what she was going through she handled things amazingly - she's been incredibly strong throughout all this. It's awful to see someone you love suffering and feeling utterly unable to make things better, and during those early months I hurtled about the internet looking for possible solutions that might help. Of those, we can (cautiously) recommend the following for at least making it very slightly less horrendous, with the proviso that what works for one person might not work for anyone else on the face of the planet:
- smelling a freshly-cut lemon;
- drinking ice-cold water, through a straw;
- Wifey was able to drink lemon barley water when all else seemed unbearable, again through a straw (we've still got three unopened bottles of the stuff!)
- freezing packets of Capri-Sun, then sucking them throughout the day slushy-style;
- Gaviscon (note: in the UK you can get big bottles of this on prescription);
- rich tea biscuits, Ryvita, Crispbread, toast, crackers, all with a very thin layer of butter spread on top;
- Polos - good way to 'drown out' too much saliva;
- Tracker bars are handy for nibbling for if you have to go out;
- for dinner: baked potato, noodles, rice, pasta, gnocchi, but not with any rich sauces;
- if you can stomach cereal with milk, small bowls of corn flakes or rice crispies.
With regard to that last one, having breakfast as early as possible (part of the problem seems to be excess stomach acid building up while you're asleep with nothing to do) seemed to help - I've brought her breakfast at 5:30/6am every morning since last summer, the contents of the breakfast changing as we tried to figure out what worked best for her (get a sturdy tray and a cool bag). Indeed, multiple bowls of cereal throughout the day have been a real help to Wifey when little else would stay down. The word you keep hearing when looking for guidance is GINGER - be it ginger snaps, ginger tea, ginger cake, anything ginger is apparently a real blessing. However, if ginger causes your tummy to do somersaults at the best of times, that's chuff-all use. And don't assume it's just a part of pregnancy to be endured - getting help from the doctor made a big difference.
All that said, through no-ones fault, I still felt both helpless and useless, and that stung. I felt a failure for not being able to make Wifey feel better, and this was something I had to deal with over those months. I can understand, though certainly not sympathise with, men who look for some kind of escape when it all gets heavy - be it booze, adultery or just generally avoiding going home. I can understand it, but also despise it, because it's weak, and unbecoming of a man. Because no matter how tough it's been for me, I've no doubt it's been far worse for Wifey - and if there's one life lesson worth learning in advance of parenthood, it's not to run away from problems, from whatever's making you feel bad, awful, a failure, but to face them. And while I often felt drained and hollowed from keeping everything going at home and at work, that's what had to be done, and while I didn't try to escape it I also didn't try to bury it (well, not too deeply). Talking to others helped a lot, though only in person - it's the kind of thing that just didn't seem to belong on Facebook, Twitter or email. To verbalise these feelings, to speak them out loud, makes them manageable, not the vague amorphous clouds of doom floating around the noggin, and if there's one thing I dearly want my son to learn it's that - to really talk, to be able to say how he feels.
Looked at logically, I wasn't useless - I was doing all the housework, shopping and cooking! - but in the depths of a gloom logic doesn't shine too brightly. But this is why you're both in this as a team, together, and while you can't take the sickness for her or carry the sprog-to-be yourself, you can still do so much. Being there counts for so much - when you're going off to work it's difficult to imagine how isolating it must feel being stuck at home for weeks on end. While I wouldn't have done things any differently, in retrospect I wish I hadn't been so hard on myself, so quick to find fault with what I was or wasn't doing. Silly boy.
Now I've made it sound as though the whole pregnancy has been a massive cloud of misery with Wifey constantly sick and me constantly sad. Not so - it's just that often pregnancy seems to be presented as a time of babymoons, the best sex ever, working until the waters break, and while that'll be the case for many couples out there, it's not for all. There were lows - see above - but highs too, along with generally content middly-bits. Because as the root of it all - an ever-growing embryo - became more apparent, it was easier to deal with everything. Both the 12 and 20 week scans were huge boosts, but so were days when there wasn't sickness, days when ante-natal appointments filled a room with the sound of the fetal heartbeat squelching away furiously like vintage Aphex Twin.
Friends and family visiting gave us both a great lift, negating that sense of isolation. As the bump became ever more apparent, it all felt realer and realer. And, crucially, it felt increasingly like something we were in together, rather than something that was just happening to Wifey. I know, I know - she was still the one doing the really hard work, but by getting as involved as possible I didn't feel like I was on the outside looking in, as though I'd done the one essential task for the father and now didn't matter. I loved the antenatal appointments, the scans, the classes, and would urge every father-to-be to go to every one, it makes a huge difference. As it progressed we spent less time talking about sickness and more & more about the Bump, the Sprög, the Bagl. I'd talk & sing to him even when I knew he didn't have functioning ears yet, playing reggae music to him through the iPod Touch. Throughout pregnancy there's a constant underlying fear, like a drone that never quite silences, that it could all suddenly end, but as the week numbers rise the fear recedes and you feel comfortable shopping for clothes, for nappies, for all that baby stuff (oh, that's for another post). We even came up with our own 'private' name for Bagl which we call him, but no-one else knows - it certainly won't be a name he's given once he's born, but it's added to a lovely feeling of togetherness. And that counts so much.
At the beginning I kept looking on the Baby & Bump First Trimester message board for indications of what would help Wifey, how soon the sickness might go, and given that we'd not announced the pregnancy at that point it wasn't possible to talk about things with others. The board helped a bit, in that I did get a few hints that we tried, but I soon gave up on reading it after some particularly idiotic anti-vaccine gibbering, mums-to-be showing off about just how much great sex they were having, and smoking mums-to-be complaining they were being strongly advised to stop smoking. There aren't really any established messageboards along the lines of B&B, Mumsnet or Babycentre for dads-to-be, but then it's hard to imagine chaps feeling comfortable with that format - I certainly wouldn't have been. But I did enjoy using the Sprout app (even if it is targeted at mums-to-be - dads can be interested too, y'know) which gives a week-by-week depiction of how the foetus is developing, usually with some kind of fruit/veg comparison (ie he's the size of a courgette!). I remember looking at this at 8 weeks and thinking how impossibly far away 39 weeks looked. How time flies...
Having brooded so much on the sad stuff, I'd like to wrap up by thinking over some of the nicest times. I've mentioned the ultrasound scans already - you get the 12 and 20 week scans on the NHS as standard (yay NHS!), but because the bump was measuring a little small we were also offered scans at 32 and 36 weeks to ensure he was developing okay (again, on the wonderful NHS, where they didn't even charge us for scan printouts). I'm happy to confirm he measured absolutely fine on those scans, and while the key purpose was to ensure he was healthy rather than give us another look at him, to see his face at these later stages was quite amazing. The real standout moment was at the 36 week scan when we were shown his face - and, as we looked, his mouth moved and his eyes opened and closed. A stunningly odd moment, in the best possible way, bogglingly reminiscent of the end of 2001 (hence the poster up yonder).
Also - while the above has me going on about feeling bad seeing Wifey so sick, the flip side was the joy of seeing her slowly improve over days, weeks and months. The delight of cooking her a proper dinner for us to eat together, making recipes like veggy shephard's pie, lentil dahl, risotto - once upon a time this wouldn't have been a big deal, but after months of hyperemesis each meal was a victory. And there's an extra frisson of pride knowing that the food I've made for my wife will indirectly make it's way to the Sprög, helping him get all the goodness he needs.
Also - having friends (both local and far-flung) who've either been through pregnancy recently or are on the way has given an awful lot of succour. I've particularly appreciated the blogs set up by Dietsch (Daddy's Whiskey) and Jenblossom (Feeding Julian) since they had their son last year - really inspiring. There's been plenty of articles at The Good Men Project over the months that have also been a help. And then there's the baby books - ah, but that's for another post too.
Also, more than anything else - Wifey. She's just amazing. She's coped with so much, but still remains an absolute star and my favourite person to be around. Even during the worst of it we would still find time to talk, to laugh, to just be together. Whenever we go outside, be it for an antenatal appointment or a walk, I'm so goddamn chuffed to be with her. And I will always, always be utterly grateful to her for going through all this to bring our son into the world.
Everyone changes over time, so it seems silly to say I'm not the same person I was nine months ago. Nonetheless, the experience has forced me to come to terms with some of my more annoying flaws (the one about talking in silly voices remains) which may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Better to get over my selfishness, my neediness for approval, before there's a tiny little lad here inadvertently exascerpating such flaws through no fault of his own. I'm hardly the perfect person now, but I feel better, readier, and possibly, hopefully, just a tiny bit more grown-up - though no doubt there's plenty more change to come in the next few weeks. But the silly voices are staying.
Well, there we go. If you've made it to the end, BRAVO. I'm not sure if that post adds anything to the world but I feel better for getting it out there, and what else is a personal blog for? I've no idea how this blog will change once Bagl appears, and things may go quiet for a bit, but I've taken to gibbering on Twitter an awful lot these days (having gone off Facebook - ah, another post!) so if you want to keep up with what happens, lookee there. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week (and hopefully not later than that) our little world is going to change - and I can't wait to embrace it, to embrace him.
(Should you be remotely interested, we've set up a wishlist for Spröggy stuff over at Amazon filled with all sorts of things that should be ideal for dressing/amusing/poking the child with. Romper suits! Totoro rattles! Finger worms! And a few things for Bagl too.)