Twenty-one to twenty-nine weeks pregnant: we have some catching up to do

We-have-some-catching-up-to-do-hello-Mum100I speak to my friend Sabbir every week. He’s a skilled listener and he always offers me such peaceful suggestions. I’ve been telling Sabbir that I haven’t written a blog since February and I miss the connection that writing brings with my community online. Mostly I’ve avoided blogging, but when I have sat down to write, I haven’t known where to start. Besides, there always seemed to be something else to do first – keep on top of client work, make chicken soup, watch Masterchef, sleep! We’re house hunting as well, so there is a lot on, but I knew something was up when I wanted to clean more than I wanted to write a blog.

Over the last two months, I have been recording thoughts in my notebook. I have captured moments in the second trimester of this pregnancy. Sabbir said to let go of all pressure I was putting on myself to write a blog – just to focus completely on appreciating the present moment, allowing the flow of creativity to come naturally. And guess what? As soon as I did that, I felt inspired to write this blog!

As my baby grows, as the kicks get stronger and the bump gets bigger, as more people comment on my pregnancy, I realise more profoundly the magnitude of this precious gift. By keeping quiet, I’ve been attempting not to jinx my luck. Totally irrational, I know, but I still cannot quite believe we are here: our rainbow baby is coming and I do really want to share the experience with you.

One other thing: it’s time to come out! Since I started this blog, I have enjoyed the feeling of safety that the Mum100 pseudonym has given me. Being Mum100 has allowed me to share things that I couldn’t have shared openly as myself. I feel ready to introduce myself now, however. The time feels absolutely right.

So hello, I am Charlotte. This picture is from our holiday to Seville in March, when I was 23 weeks pregnant.

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My partner is also happy for me to share his first name in my blogs. He is called Phil. We’re both waving hello and sending our love to you 🙂

Here are some snippets from my notebook I want to share with you.

Wednesday 8th March: 23 weeks 4 days

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As night drops, there is abundant space. In Plaza de Espana, lanterns spill their white and orange and blue dots on the crescent of water in front of the grand building. At sunset, we rowed our boat along this water. Joy soaked into every cell. This is the freedom I always experience on holiday. I am completely present and I can feel in technicolour.

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It’s dark now. Bats swirl in navy sky. I follow the shadow of a man on a bicycle. He is a giant, projected against the semi-circular building. His white dog trots along side him, unfazed by the splendour. Still, there is the clip clop of hooves, those hardworking horses that pull tourists in carriages. They stop to take their pictures by the fountain. The spray turns turquoise and pink and vivid green. Phil and I invent a game on the chequered cobbles, an Alice-in-Wonderland blend of chess and ballroom dancing.

On the bridge, the blue and cream tiles are smooth to the touch and warm from soaked up sun. The moon bounces on green water, delighted by its reflection. Venus is above my right shoulder and looking up, there is the moon’s protective face, those wide grey eyes.

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This is a generous playground for people of all ages and nationalities. There is a feeling of infinite space here and this is exactly how I feel tonight. I have endless gratitude for the growing life inside me. I understand my relative size in the universe, a tiny speck of life, yet undeniably part of the whole.

Monday 20th March: 25 weeks 2 days

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I dreamt I gave birth to a tiny baby. I was crying without noise, in a late night hospital ward. I wanted to hold my baby. More than anything, I wanted to feel warm skin and the curl of pink fingers. My child was sealed off from me, however, wired inside a glass igloo.

Through the top floor window, thousand of stars sparkled in black sky above the city skyline. I wanted Phil to arrive. We were alone, my miniature baby and me. I felt a surge of panic, desperation for Phil to come.

Then Phil appeared, running across the empty ward towards us. I so wanted him to see our tiny baby and here he was, out of breath, keen for the same. As I turned back to the baby’s igloo, the glass blackened. There was no way through to see our child.

I woke up suddenly. I had a long drink of water. I breathed in and out, feeling relief with each breath. Then the greatest relief, our baby kicking inside me with Phil asleep beside us. I whispered to our baby to stay safe in there – to keep growing, to get stronger.

I went back to sleep quickly. The rest of the night passed peacefully.

My prayers have changed now. I ask everyday for our baby to come at the right time – late June or early July – please come then, little one, not before. The old prayer was always, please come baby, come as soon as you can, I can’t wait to meet you.

Reality check: we have been completely blessed so far with a smooth and uncomplicated pregnancy. The stream of green lights only seem strange to me because they are a new experience. Everything is exactly as it should be and I am very grateful for that.

Wednesday 22nd March: 25 weeks 4 days

How good it is to walk, to move forward, brisk feet on the pavement. I love the life all around me: a yapping white dog; a Japanese woman with dyed yellow hair; a delivery man with a silver barrel on a trolley; the honk of North London traffic. How good it is to see and hear it all, then immediately let it all go.

What work could I do where I could walk everyday? What work would take me outdoors? Travel writer. Park manager. Personal trainer. Tour guide. I do love the effect of the outdoors. Too much time inside shrivels up my gratitude. I dwell on inconsequential thoughts. Movement outside pacifies my brain. It makes me forget myself.

Outside today, I am loving my wriggly baby, now 25 weeks and 4 days – 64% baked! Yet according to my pregnancy app, still my baby’s weight will increase five times before I give birth. I could pop – the growth feels extraordinary!

Friday 7th April: 27 weeks 5 days

Sometimes I feel like an overblown balloon. Other times my belly is soft and round. Either way, it’s delightful to see the ripples and kicks across my stomach. We’ve nicknamed our baby ZipZap: our little space baby descending to Earth. We call out to ZipZap each day, hoping for jabs and wiggles. Our doctor said to look out everyday for at least ten movements over a two hour period. I lie still and speak. Phil speaks too. Soon, there are messages from the other side. We are in touch, the three of us, in the most basic and remarkable way.

I take more care now. I am careful on crowded London streets, on packed buses and tubes. I was walking through Westfield the other day, to catch a train at Stratford International. I held my arm across my belly, the first line of defence in an overcrowded shopping centre. Occasionally, I have a fleeting vision of falling, slipping down the stairs or tripping up a kerb, a stupid and preventable accident that pulls us all down, now that we are so very close. When I get up in the night to use the toilet, I hold the banister tightly as I go downstairs. I am slowing down. 

Tuesday 11th April: 28 weeks 2 days

Calm is increasing with each week that clocks up. Passing the 24 week viability milestone, every week I have increasing faith that my baby would now survive outside of me. I have a deep desire to enjoy the rest of my pregnancy; this is a gift to be experienced now. I also want to enjoy the remaining time with Phil, to make sure he knows how much I love him.

Saturday 15th April: 29 weeks

I was checked out yesterday in hospital for leaking fluid. Our midwife, Ana, was with me on the antenatal assessment ward. There was no evidence of uterine contractions. She tested the heartbeat. For twenty minutes, I listened to my baby’s strong heartbeat, an average of around 150 beats per minute. The number flickered up and down on the monitor. The sound was soothing to my soul.

There were lots of kicks, those incredible kicks, which thudded like drumbeats on the monitor. Ana told me to expect this. It’s the baby responding to the sound of its own heartbeat. Our little raver, ZipZap – you just keep dancing away in there.

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Weeble wobble

Mum100-blog-IVF-wobble-falling-over-getting-upOn the surface, there was no reason for me to lose it. I slept well. We went for a jog around Abney Park cemetery. Beneath tall trees, we darted down paths between ancient gravestones, running in and out of sunlight pools. For breakfast, we ate fried tomatoes and mushrooms on toast. I sent some work emails. At lunchtime, Dad 100 made cheese and onion omelette with mixed salad. There it was on the table, red and yellow and green, ready to go.

The first piece of omelette was too hot. It brought tears to my eyes. I gulped water and started on the salad instead, cucumber and tomato slices in vinaigrette. I couldn’t make eye contact with Dad 100 because of an ugly feeling in my stomach. Quite suddenly it was there, as if an elevator had dropped a floor with us inside. I tried to hold back tears by concentrating on the next fork of food – blowing to cool it, chewing, swallowing too quickly. It was absolutely no good at all. My eyes were spilling over. Unfairly, I wanted my partner to guess what was in my head. Worse, I wanted him to make me feel better.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.
Without looking up, I said, “I’m not expecting you to say anything.”

Except that was a lie. In that moment, I was craving answers. Why can’t I stay upright for long? How is this going to turn out? Don’t get me wrong, since the surgery there have been plenty of good moments. We’ve started with a personal trainer called Dave. We met him by the goat enclosure at Clissold Park for our first session. He had us skipping and squatting and side-stepping on the grass. We attracted inquisitive gazes from local dogs and toddlers, who were keen to join in. I’ve also taken steps towards work, emailing and meeting with prospects, contacting agencies. I’ve met up with friends for food and conversation. I’ve visited my Mum and stayed two nights longer than planned. These are all positive things. However, punctuating all of this have been sudden tiredness, sharp snaps of anger and turn-on-the-tap sadness. I’ve fixed up social activities then wanted to cancel. Right now, there’s a convincing illusion of complete safety inside our home, potential harm outside.

Mum100-blog-IVF-journey-ups-downs-glum-bags-past-futureIs any of this making sense to you? My head has been a jumble of sensations and thoughts over the last few weeks. Glumbags has been on the scene with his memories and predictions. And I haven’t known what to write on my blog. I don’t want to be gloomy, as we’ve all got enough to deal with in this community, so I have missed the connection that comes with weekly blogging. To write a piece, to press publish, to feel the arms of sisters around me – I have shrunk away from the very thing that makes this process bearable, enjoyable in fact.

Anyway, I lost it over that omelette.
Dad 100 said, “too much thinking about what’s happened, it’s not doing you any good.”
Through wonky ear filters, I heard, “why don’t you pull yourself together?”
I said, “I’m trying my best. Can’t you see that? I’m looking for a new contract and training courses. I’m meeting up with friends, even when I’d rather stay at home. I’m working out. Isn’t that enough? I already feel useless enough, without you adding to it. I can’t even carry a baby, for god’s sake.”

I always know within seconds when I’ve been out of order. I left the kitchen. I cried off a face of make up. Up in the bathroom, I scooped handfuls of cold water on to my face. I looked in the mirror and thought, yep, that’s about right – puffy eyes, blotchy cheeks, mascara smudge. I was due to meet with my friend Jill in an hour. I was so tempted to cancel, to swerve my writing class that evening. After crying, I always get tight temples and the start of a headache between my eyes. I could easily call it off, I thought. I can suggest meeting before our next class.

But this is exactly how the gloom wins. It wants me to cut myself off. This is the lie it tells. It says, “you just need a bit more time on your own, away from the world.” And it’s a convincing voice because it does feel safer to close the curtains, to curl up. It is more predictable to disappear into a Storyville documentary or to gawp at the latest drama on the news. Watching the world go mad is a terrible fixation of mine, when I’m avoiding my own life.

Of course, I do accept that not knowing what was happening inside my body – for so many weeks, months – has knocked my confidence. But strangely, all that build up to discovering the ectopic pregnancy, all the alarming symptoms and uncertainty over the diagnosis, the many hospital visits and the operation – that was easy compared to how I’ve felt since the surgery. Whilst going through it, we had to take the next step forward. There was no choice. We had to get to the next blood test or scan or examination. Now, the urgency has gone and I’m tumbling in space.

Thankfully, sense kicked in after my tear storm. I did meet up with Jill. She was great to talk to, actually. She pointed out why it was easier before the surgery.
“It was an anchor, all that stuff going on,” she said. “And what you’re telling yourself now is you should be over it, you should be back out in the world.”
“Yes, that’s it,” I said. “And the normal conversations involved in drumming up work, they feel like rejection. I know that finding new work involves talking to lots of people. It’s about numbers and the truth is I’m not yet having enough conversations – because the ones I am having, I’m taking way too personally.”

Then, for an hour or so, I listened to Jill’s stories. Turning points, those big reversals in life that switched her course – unexpected illness, job crises, family matters. It was such a relief to sit and listen. I asked questions and Jill answered them generously. She told me about her partner walking out unexpectedly and a sociopathic work colleague, who I wanted to slap on Jill’s behalf by the end of her tale. Then Jill mentioned not having kids, something I didn’t know about her.

“I haven’t exactly taken Conventional Road,” she said.

To listen to Jill was to be in the world. I need other people’s stories for relief from my own. I need to hear that other people have been through their own tough times and they are still up and out and doing life. Jill is a smart sixty-something year old, always sharply dressed, a great talker with an infectious laugh – you wouldn’t know, on the surface, there have been these big difficulties in her life. Her stories made me remember how much I enjoy writing. I love to exchange stories with people in the hope of connection. It’s what energises me the most – the identification that comes through sharing experiences.

Before our writing class, Jill and I tapped at our laptops for an hour. Out came this blog. It’s a human-shaped blog, rough around the edges, but it’s something. It makes me feel hopeful to see words on the page, after several weeks of not being able to write.

I have also apologised to Dad 100 – for expecting him to know how our story ends.

The waiting room

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Some days, trying to conceive feels like a waiting room. Just me, the grey walls and that large clock.

I sit in the waiting room and wonder: “Will it ever happen? When is our turn?”

My twin demons – fear and impatience – they want to know the outcome. Yesterday, preferably.

I am finding so much relief in writing and learning to draw, to express all of this. Each day, a blog is born.

And there is joy in discovering an online community. I am not alone. I have soul sisters and brothers for company – sharing our vision of creating new life.