Arrivals

‘Just so you know’, I texted Timothy on Sunday afternoon, ‘I am definitely baking a cake in swimming hotpants right now. I am a vision.’

Sunday was a good day. But not an especially good day to be thirty-seven weeks pregnant. It was hot, and bright, and busy. After three hours of church and an afternoon of preparing for a workshop activity that evening, even wearing a skirt had become too much to contemplate. I switched to the swimming hotpants, did my printing and preparing and mixing of cake like a heffalump in turquoise lycra, and felt pretty good about it, since you ask.

Our activity went well, mostly because I remembered to change out of the hotpants before we left, and we arrived home late and tired and happy. We were in bed before 10.30pm, and unconscious not long after that.

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‘This is my first properly empty week before D-day’, I remember thinking before I dropped off. ‘Shall I nest? Maybe I’ll make some frozen meals’.

Well, I can only conclude that nesting is so entirely out of character that the universe stepped in to avoid such silliness. At midnight I was awake again, with stomach ache. I didn’t think anything of it. We’d never settled on a proper nickname for this baby-to-be (Tim had tried TJ II, with not much success), but I didn’t call him the Bowel-Treader for nothing. I went to the loo, came back, and had almost dropped off again when the pain came back. And then back again. And then back again after that. After half an hour, I got a magazine, retired to the bathroom and started timing the spaces between them. They were fairly regular, but not clockwork, and I didn’t want to wake Timothy – who had, frankly, a rat’s behind of a week ahead of him at work – if all I had was boomerang diarrhoea.

At 2am they were still there, and I hadn’t managed to take in much about the situation in Egypt (in hindsight, I should probably have chosen a different magazine). So I went back into the bedroom and woke Tim.

‘Soooo’, I started, feeling ridiculous, ‘I think I may be having contractions’.

‘Wha?’

‘Contractions. I’m having them’.

‘Oh’.

There was a pause, while his rat’s behind of a week ran fairly obviously over his face.

‘Are you sure?’

I stopped. Suddenly I was horribly sure. ‘Yep. I’ll call the hospital’. And then I added, while the phone rang, ‘I’m frightened’.

Because I was. Your body and mind are helpfully in cahoots, after giving birth, and all I remembered from Henry were a few vivid flashes. The rest of it was coming back to me now, in pieces. In most of the pieces I was making a lot of noise.

The midwife at the other end of the phone was lovely. We were told to wait until the contractions were stronger and more regular, and in the meantime keep moving, get the bags ready, have a soothing bath. I got in the bath, as directed. We tried to have a discussion about where to send Henry, but I was finding it hard to talk. I breathed in time on my hands and knees, and made a valiant effort to be interested in the location of Henry’s vests. I didn’t really cotton on that things weren’t going to plan, however, until fifteen minutes later, when I started wanting to push.

‘PUSH?’ yelled the functioning part of my brain, as soon as I’d verbalised that bit in my head. ‘Push what? PUSH WHAT? GET OUT OF THE BATH, YOU IDIOT’.

I did. I crawled into the bedroom to the edge of the bed, got a nightdress on over my head – stupid fiddly tags – and told Tim to call the hospital again. I remember thinking how blessedly calm he sounded. I am alright, I thought. I am wearing half a nightdress and kneeling on half a towel with my head underneath a flipping baby crib, but Tim is here, and I am alright.

‘She says that if you’re feeling pressure, we need to come in now. If you want to push, I need to call 999 for an ambulance’.

My waters broke. He called 999. Somehow he remembered to take the stairgate off the top of the stairs. Neither of us remembered that I was still crammed half underneath a baby crib, over a cream carpet. And then there were voices behind me, and one of them – heaven bless that woman from eternity to eternity – was offering me gas and air.

‘Can I push?’ I sobbed, ‘I need to. Please, can I?’

‘My love’, came The Voice, ‘if you need to, push as much as you want’.

So I did. Ten minutes after the voices arrived, out he came. And he cried, and I cried, and managed to back out from the corner to sit and hold him. A cheerful bearded face came into view for the first time.

‘Hello there’, it said. ‘Well done. You know, Gareth is a wonderful name for boys, these days’.

***

At first I am too numbed to feel anything but relief: blissful and dizzying. We arrive home less than a day after it all started, and it feels like a bizarre dream, except that now there’s another baby. The early hours of the morning find me alone with this tiny person, fascinated with his face and feet and hands. He is entirely his own self. And I feel a wave of fierce, unstoppable tenderness. Oh, I know this, I know it: it is how I feel about my first, adored boy, but this time it’s for my second.

Come in, I tell it, gently. Come on in.

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Things that made thirty-seven weeks alright

A long skinny foot poking out of my side. I can feel the shape of it, toes and all. I’ve bought socks for that foot; he just doesn’t need them yet.

A fluffy little peanut head poking out of his duvet. I lean over, push the scrappy hair off his forehead and say the mantra I say every night.

Henry sleep well. Doggy sleep well. 

I’ll see you in the morning. 

I love you, my darling. 

He beams, and beams, and beams. A row of little peg teeth in the half-dark.

Banana milkshake. Lasagne that came out right, for once. The short hair on the back of Timothy’s head.

A fresh day tomorrow.

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No, THIS is what every pregnant lady needs

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…A friend who can lend your husband an Empathy Belly for the weekend, so he can begin to understand what you’re whining about. Our last loan from her collection was a set of model uteruses, and that was brilliant, too. A worthy adornment for any mantelpiece. I was sad we couldn’t keep them.

The Belly of Empathy includes a rib belt to restrict his breathing, a hard pouch to poke him in the bladder, a heavy water-filled bump and two lead balls rolling around inside to simulate little knees and elbows. Sadly nothing that might feel like a foot hooked behind your ribcage, and no extra chins in the bag either, though we did look. We worked out that the extra weight is about the same as what I’ll be carrying by full-term, at least if I keep eating this much pizza. According to the instructions, he’s not supposed to wear it for longer than two hours, for health reasons (HO HO). The push-ups didn’t go especially well.

Some direct quotes from Mr Jeffcoat yesterday evening:

‘I am wearing a flak jacket! A flak jacket with breasts!’

‘Ooh, it’s hard to bend over. I’ll give you that’.

(Yelled from the bedroom): ‘I can still go up the stairs two at a time!’

‘Look, don’t pull the smock too tight. You’re ruining my boobs’.

‘Now all I want to do is rest a drink on my belly. Convenience!’

I knew we were getting there when he started groaning as he sat down. Yessssss, feel the burn.

I have to admit, I am jealous of the boobs.

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Pregnancy crib-notes: what you’ll actually need in your hospital bag, and why

ATTENTION: this post is pregnancy-specific. In the sort of way that you probably won’t want to read it if you’ve never thought much about the details of getting a baby out (let’s face it: who would want to if they didn’t have to?). Shall we talk about Beckett tomorrow? Ok, promise. 

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Yesterday Sarah and I ventured into the attic. By which I mean, Sarah went up into the attic, I yelled instructions from below, and Henry climbed up the wrong side of the ladder shouting ‘LATTER! LATTER!’ like some kind of demented miniature chimpanzee. Up went the suitcases and down came the newborn-sized clothing bundle, and I could wash all the tiny, tiny things and finish my hospital bag at last.

The hospital is the great unknown in pregnancy: the flashing neon light at the end of the long, baby-growing tunnel. You have a number to call when your waters break, but no idea what you’ll find, what they’ll tell you when you arrive, or how long you’ll spend there before you come home as two people instead of one. The labour might well be the part you’re most afraid of, but by the time you get to 40+ weeks, you’re so desperate to get a baby instead of a belly that you’ll do practically anything to get the job done.

I love the idea of home births, by the way, and completely champion the rights of women to have them if it’s a situation that will make them feel more comfortable. For me, they’ve never quite worked: I like the idea of going away to have my labour in an environment with medical assistance in the next room, then bringing the baby home to my clean, safe place. Also I’ve never wanted to clear up the mess, afterwards (lazy but entirely characteristic, I’m afraid). It’s one of those things where you just have to listen to yourself.

Anyway, I feel a huge amount better about the prospect of my second labour, because I can visualise where I’ll be and what might happen. If you’re a first-time mother-to-be, anxiously scanning hospital bag lists online and wondering how much of it you’ll actually need, I thought a handy guide might be helpful.

Have a gander at this, then, lovely huge person:

what you might actually need to birth a baby, and why 

First, find a bag of reasonable size that can be moved easily. A little wheeled suitcase is ideal. Write your list on a large piece of paper, and tape the paper to the front of the bag, crossing off as you put things inside. There will be things that can’t go in until the day of (your pregnancy notes, your make up bag, etc), so once you’ve finished everything else, write these in VERY LARGE FONT and put a box around them. Then draw this to the attention of whomever will be taking you to the hospital. Honestly, you won’t want to be thinking about it yourself.

Here’s what might go on your list -

1. Pregnancy notes

2. Things for your new baby.

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I didn’t get, at all, that we might well be in hospital for a few days and that a new baby can go through LOTS OF STUFF in that time. Your family can run back and forth with anything you’ve forgotten, but I’d plan for about three days as a good medium. Which means–

- Three baby gros.

- Pack of vests
Mine’s a five-pack.

- Baby hat
You’ll need to dress your new baby in a vest, baby gro and hat to keep them warm after the birth. We had to tape Henry’s hat on his head, he was so small, but whatever works. Air feels exceedingly unfriendly after months of amniotic fluid.

- Pair of scratch mitts.

- A couple of pairs of baby socks

- Two newborn blankets
You and a brand-new baby who just got expelled into the world and doesn’t like it much? No one’s getting much sleep in that scenario. But the warmer and cosier you can make them, the better your chances. 

- Newborn nappies
You would not BELIEVE the enthusiasm with which a newborn can fill a nappy. What is going on down there?! Last time I brought three nappies, ho ho. Don’t bring three. Bring a whole pack, and expect to need more.

- Cotton wool pads, and small plastic container
You’re not supposed to use baby wipes on a properly new bottom. All that crumply soft skin. But fiddling with cotton wool balls and water is the worst thing ever when the meconium makes its first appearance at 3am, and then its second and third and fourth. Make things easier on yourself by getting the wide cotton wool pads, and bringing your own little container for warm water.

3. Things for your labour.

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The key here is to remember that you might be there a while, and you need to be comfortable.

- Labour clothes
You’ll need something a) loose, b) long enough for you to wear without bottoms in that bit at the beginning where you still have personal shame, and c) something you don’t mind never seeing again, because you won’t want to. Go and buy the cheapest nightie you can find, or appropriate a large button-up shirt that doesn’t get worn.

- Socks
They’ll probably want you to wear those attractive green compression stockings, but your feet might still get cold.

- Lip balm
Delivery rooms are dry, and you’re breathing a lot.

- Camera
Even if you only want photos when the birthing’s safely done (yes please), and even if those brand-new half-naked photos are for family eyes only (YES PLEASE), this is still a moment you’ll want to remember forever. And also one that you’ll have difficulty remembering as soon as it’s over. Take the photos so you won’t forget.

- Snacks for your partner
You probably won’t want or won’t be allowed to eat, but I didn’t feel that Tim should be allowed out of my sight while everything hurt so much. Not fair to starve him, though, especially if you’re there some hours. I haven’t put these in my bag, but they’re on my list so that we can have something in the house when we need it. 

4. Things for after.

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- Pair of loose pyjamas

- Flip-flops
For the shower. Just trust me on this. Buy a cheap foam pair you can throw away afterwards. 

- Underwear
Bring in bulk, in a larger size than you normally wear.

- Maternity sanitary towels
We will say no more about this, except to repeat: BRING IN BULK.

- Nursing bra and breast pads
They’ll want you to breastfeed at least once before you’re allowed to leave the hospital. Don’t worry too much about this, as there’s lots of help. But having something that will easily unclip will save you a bit of middle-of-the-night fumbling.

- Toiletries
Things to shower with, hairbrush, make up, dry shampoo. Having a shower and putting a tiny bit of make up on really does make you feel ten thousand times better afterwards. To save time and space, I bought travel sizes of everything and put them all in one ziplock bag.

- Going-home clothes
Sad to say, I looked about five months pregnant for a good couple of weeks after Henry was born (and didn’t fit my old clothes for many months after that). I know you don’t want to see your maternity clothes ever again, but still: bring clothes that are loose and comfortable. Otherwise that victory lap around the hospital corridors, while you try and remember where you parked the car, might be more revealing than you’d planned. 

I’ve made this list look ridiculously long. It isn’t, honest. I got it all into a miniature wheeled suitcase, and even included an extra water-friendly top in case I get to try a water birth this time. A warm bath without Henry using my bump as a bongo drum would be a refreshing change, labour or no labour.

Happy packing!

What do you wish you’d known about two?

Happy juice. No, it really is.

Happy juice. No, it really is.

It might be the giant angry beach ball on my front talking, but – man, 34 weeks feels rough this time. Urgh, the heaviness of it. And the achy unhinging of my pelvic bones whenever I have to rush around, which – given the existence of Master Dangermouse over here – happens far too many times an hour. I’m not saying I want an unexpected, panicky, prawn-cocktail-crisp-fueled labour like last time, and of course I’m very grateful that I’m here at all. But if the midwife tells me this week that oh, a miracle, this baby looks full-term already, I’ll be faking my sad face. And it won’t be very convincing.

Of course, when the Bowel-Treader (affectionate but tragically apt nickname) does emerge, things get more complicated. And less complicated. And there’s much more chocolate gateaux involved. The feelings will be mixed, is what I’m saying.

I can’t be the only one peering over the precipice of one-baby-to-two and worrying about how it will feel. I was continually surprised by Henry, and expect this new transition to be just as glorious and discombobulating. So…

–STAND BY FOR THRILLING ANNOUNCEMENT–

…I’m terribly excited to let you know about a little project I’ve had in the pipeline: What I Wish I’d Known About Two, a guest post series that will appear here on makealongstoryshort.net, beginning the first week in July.  I feel so much better about everything when I speak to people who have been there already and come out with their hair and marbles intact. And what a hugely supportive community this internet can be. Some of my favourite people are contributing their perspective to the series, and I’m so looking forward to it. I hope you’ll all come along and join in the conversation in the comments, because I’m gathering advice and stories like one of those nutters on Hoarders.

–BUT HANG ON A MINUTE–

Perhaps you have a story to tell, too? If you’d like to write a guest post for the series, I’d love to read and publish it. Just send it to rach.makealongstoryshort [at] gmail.com by the end of June, along with your blog/social media details if you like, and a photo if you don’t mind. I am absolutely determined to be in labour by July, so want to make as many notes as possible before then.

Cheers to you, fabulous internet people. Shall we hug? Oh go on then, let’s.

How to get a toddler to sleep better

two words:

or maybe, two words, one of which is hyphenated:

or is it, three words, two of which are hyphenated? ANYWAY:

CAR-PRINTED DUVET.

This photo makes my face ache. Love that boy. (Hate that blind; anyone want to make me a cool one?)

This photo makes my face ache. Love that boy. (Hate that blind; anyone want to make me a cool one?)

Honestly, I can’t tell you how worried I was about putting him in a child’s bed from a cot. It was much earlier than I would ever have considered it if we hadn’t needed the room. So I also felt guilty about moving him on to a stage he possibly wasn’t ready for. He’s a climber, this boy. He doesn’t sit still unless he absolutely has to, and he only stayed in bed because the bars kept him there.

However, it turns out that when you sleep under a duvet, you sleep in a warm, embracing cocoon that keeps you unconscious loooong after your grateful mother thought was possible (7.30am, he wakes up these days. WHAT?).

It also turns out that when said duvet is car-printed, you always get excited about going to bed, and will spend the time before sleep pointing out motorbikes and trucks to your wooden mouse.

Without getting all child-psychology about it, I think the fact that he now chooses to stay in bed, rather than having sleep forced upon him, makes him sleep sounder. Now all I need to know is whether you can buy car-printed sandwiches, because that would solve another pressing problem.

How to get a pregnant woman to sleep better

No idea, guys. Seriously.

(Has anyone tried a proper pregnancy bump pillow? They’re expensive, but I’m just tossing between normal pillows right now, and am far too familiar with 3am. This only leads to more daytime naps than I can really afford, and a Bon Jovi fringe once I wake up.)

Things to do at thirty weeks: an alternative list for the anti-nester

I’ve been a bit list-tastic lately, no? Forgive me: I’m tired enough that long sentences hurt my frontal lobe.

This morning I got my Congratulations, Thirty-Weeker email from Babycentre.co.uk. It included a list of feel-good things to do in the last sprint towards Labour Day. Very nice, I thought. But it was all a bit too much about nesting, and – I know this will come as a shock – I’m not really the nesting type. So I wrote my own, and will be taking this advice extremely seriously.

Congratulations, Thirty-Weeker! Why not try some of the following?

1. Realise you have only ten weeks of food excuses left. Retrieve the Ben & Jerry’s from the freezer, and finish it.

2. Spend twenty minutes trying to paint your toenails. It’s difficult, and may require some greasing, but it’s probably your last chance. In the same spirit, book a haircut and buy some heavy-duty concealer and waterproof mascara.

3. Take innumerable self-portraits in the mirror. Soon you won’t fit in the frame. Remember to edit out the chocolate around your mouth (done).

4. Think of the next two months as the final marathon slog for your skin. Take baths. Exfoliate. Use much, much cream. Wangle as many massages as you can.

5. Take some time to remember what life was like with a newborn. Reread old blog posts if you have them. Resolve to schedule two naps a day from now on. Start stockpiling chocolate gateau.

6. Tell everyone who asks (PLEASE STOP ASKING) that actually, they’re right: you are having twins after all. Thought you’d make it a surprise.

7. Abandon heels, finally. The elephankles are coming. Treat ‘em right.

8. Organise some sort of pulley system for lifting and carrying your toddler. I have this sort of thing in mind (I’m the elephant, Hen the war-painted arrow-shooter).

9. Revisit the baby name shortlist. Tell Daddy, again, that you’re not naming the baby after him. Reluctantly strike off Sweyn Forkbeard. Don’t talk about specific names with anyone but the two of you: at this stage, people aren’t shy about telling you they hate it.

10. Sort baby supplies list into Must Have Now, Can Probably Buy Later and I’ll Never Use That Anyway. Buy, at the very least, a ten-pack of tiny vests. Keep them where you can see them. They’ll remind you why you’re doing this, and that it’s all going to be fine.

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No, it really is.