You spend your entire childhood wishing you were old enough to do grown-up stuff and then adulthood hits and BAM, what you wouldn’t give to make it all go away again. Like Tom Hanks taught us in Big, it’s not all white tuxedos and trampolines in your New York apartment. Being an adult is difficult and boring.
One of the scariest things about becoming a parent is how firmly it insists you commit to adulthood. You have to (try to) keep a steady income, you have to keep the fridge stocked, you have to write a will! I think I’m going to faint. Having said that I’ve never been much of a dependant, although financially my parents have bailed me out a good few times I did move out of home when 17 (dumb idea but I did it anyway) and I’ve been stubbornly independent since my preteen years. I think growing up in what was essentially a household of adults (my brother being seven years my senior) made it quite difficult for me to relish being 12. I always wanted to be part of the gang and (as I saw it then) that gang was my parents and brother, enjoying each other’s company as equals. If I knew then what I know now it probably wasn’t like that at all. I’m sure my brother was a typical stroppy and immature 18 year-old and my parents probably got on his tits a fair bit with their inherent parenty-ness. But I just saw them as these older, wiser, freer people sharing jokes and sharing wine and I wanted to be part of it. I hated being young.
Of course as soon as I graduated from university, thrown out into the big bad real world, I really started to appreciate being someone’s child and have had far more of a mother/daughter relationship in my twenties than I ever did as a teen and I think that’s fairly normal. They were my rebellious teen years and although I was never cool or edgy and the label ‘rebel’ probably wouldn’t have been easily applied to me, I was certainly expressing myself and that often meant ignoring everything mum said. It’s a rite of passage.
Now my own son is but a few weeks away from splash landing and I’m excited as can be but I’m also grieving my status as just ‘child of’ as I prepare to also become ‘mother of’. It’s a whole different kettle of fish and there’s no point pretending otherwise. I told my mum about this feeling of loss I’d been experiencing in a time where all the emphasis is on my impending gain, and she had to admit she’s considered it too. She was wondering if I’d still want kisses and cuddles and to be mothered when I’m a mum too and the truth is, I suppose, I don’t know. I can’t imagine my relationship with my parents changing that much because we’ve always been so close, even when I’ve tried to deny it. I can’t possibly predict how I’ll feel; my emotions have so far been entirely unpredictable, although that is in great part to do with a hormonal roller coaster that no amount of PMS can prepare you for. The truth is, though, the older I get the more I appreciate long lasting, meaningful relationships of all kinds and the relationship I have with my parents, particularly my mother, is no exception. I will always want hugs.
I’m determined not to let the last few weeks of pregnancy be riddled with crippling introspection and a desperate rush to tie up every last loose end before the baby arrives. I instead need to take the time to appreciate being the baby before it’s all over. This is fairly easy when so many people are treating you like one and you’re too exhausted to focus on much more than sleeping and shitting.
I’ve not been freaking out about not partying like Andrew WK anymore. I’ve long made my peace with almost definitely never attending another sex party (or even having regular sex) again. I don’t lament festivals or gigs, magazine launches or wanky industry dos. I’ve had a lot of fun in London over the last 8 years but in truth it’s usually all very samey and I wake up with hangovers that make me yearn for a life by the sea with dogs and babies and homemade lemon curd. But I have been nervous about days when I just can’t be arsed; when I just want to sit in my bedroom on my own for a few hours and do my nails and listen to Blur. Days when I don’t fancy heading straight home from work and instead take myself on a detour via shops or friends or the cinema. What if I just want to go for a walk/swim/run whenever I bloody feel like it? That’s the sort of stuff that’s been freaking me out. Little acts of independence that were so easy but will now take planning and effort.
I will readjust, just as everyone else does, and it’ll be absolutely fine. But for the next few weeks, when I’m scheduled by every bloody pregnancy/parenting website to be nesting and getting everything in its right place, I will actually just be doing whatever I flippin’ feel like whenever I feel like, whilst I still can.*
*This probably involves quite a bit of housework, going to watch the new Bridget Jones on my own during the day whilst eating a massive ice-cream lunch and then a lot of napping. Can’t. Bloody. Wait.
Why call it a babymoon? It’s like ‘babyccino’ or ‘mummy wine’, it makes something perfectly innocuous (like going on holiday when you happen to be pregnant) sound awful and like there will be bunting and Cath Kidston and forced smiles. But actually a relaxing, beachy holiday was exactly what Dan and I needed in the middle of this emotional roller coaster. Ten days of noses in books and asking each what we should eat next. Well good.
The beach, for a start, is ideal. I thought I might get a gym like flare-up of body inferiority but actually I didn’t give a shit. I know I’ve usually got a waist. And even if I didn’t I know it doesn’t matter, it’s the beach and it’s the sea and so what? But the more pregnant I get the more at ease I am with being a different shape and weight, I don’t love pregnancy and I don’t think I ever will, but the whole odd-bod fear has just dissolved. Although presently I keep receiving kind comments about having a “neat little bump” still, so I’m aware that when my tan fades and I balloon over the next few weeks I mightn’t feel quite as Zen. Ah well it’ll all be worth it yeah yeah shuddup.
Annoyingly, Sardinians and their tourists do not get their boobs out and this did upset me. I love to be boobloose and fancy-free for a few days each year but there wasn’t a lady nipple in sight. I didn’t actually let this stop me but I didn’t feel nearly as relaxed as say, on Barceloneta, where the second your foot touches sand it feels completely natural to ping off your top and enjoy a couple of hours of not being ashamed of your disgraceful, disgusting woman breasts. But I just sat, baps out, in the sea and piddled to my heart’s content as the lovely waves took the weight off my feet and back, and the empty horizon helped me stop thinking about everything and anything for just a few moments. And then I dug a nice big hole in sand for my bump and lay on my front for the first time in weeks which was really satisfying. I hate lying on my side; it genuinely is one of my least favourite things about the whole business and I sometimes worry that the joy of finally getting to sleep on my back again in September will override my maternal instinct and I won’t get up to feed a crying baby. Dan, you are warned. Anyway if you can get to a nice sandy beach for a few days in your second/third trimester then bloody do it. It’s a real treat. We also accidentally hiked to a very Stanger by the Lake nudist beach where a leathery old Sardinian guy talked at me in Italian for absolutely ages, and then in German for a bit because he thought I was German, all the while with his cock and balls literally centimetres from my face. He was lovely and I was happy because I had my biff out in the sea which for me is nirvana, but I’ll remember that old, tanned, Italian winky forever because it was so close to my face for so long.
The real joy of a preggo holiday is just getting to reinvent your life around the inconvenience of being knocked up instead of awkwardly trying to fit
exhaustion/nausea/mood swings/blind panic/aching back/constant weeing/sobriety into your usual routine, and that for me is where the babymooning element comes in. It’s a chance to change it up and actually enjoy being pregnant, however fleeting and unsustainable that lifestyle is. Trouble is that since I’ve had a break from doing that I’ve come back to reality and I really can’t be bothered now. I accidentally on purpose pissed away a slightly embarrassing sum of money trying to Lotto my way out of reality. I won’t do that again. It made it worse.
I’ll also add that I was definitely not a blissed-out hippie-woman for the whole ten days. Towards the end I had a few breakdowns of feeling irrepressibly sad and numb. Yeah sure nice stunning view whatever I just want to go home – tears building up behind my sunglasses and legs getting more and more lead like as my physical condition attempts to emulate my mental form. I’m not sure you can avoid these meltdowns even if your immediate concerns are only virgin coladas and dinner plans: hormones are just too powerful. It’s like smoking a massive joint and then trying to divert your way out of being stoned (or pulling a huge whitey as the case would be for me) by doing a Sudoku – you can’t just distract yourself from big chemical imbalances. They pass, it’s fine.
My top tips for babymooning are:
Get to the beach and get in that lovely big sea, it’s so soothing
Don’t buy loads of maternity wear for this one off exposure to proper sun, just get some cheap, loose dresses from Primark and some comfy sandals
Read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson and enjoy some entertaining and none too taxing edu. whilst working on your tannage
Get a load of podcasts loaded up, sometimes reading is just too much effort
Don’t get annoyed at yourself if you’re too tired to even make it off the apartment balcony one day because you’ll be not-pregnant again soon and that is when you will learn to paddleboard
Don’t plan too much: ‘beach, eat, sleep, repeat’ is quite enough
Don’t have a meltdown on top of a meltdown and get cross with yourself for being hormonal/mood swingy, just ride it out and forgive yourself for being a big dumb baby
If you can’t go away then at least try and take some annual leave, full-time work and being pregnant is super knackering and you deserve some serious sofa and telly time at the very least
It’s super nice when people are nice isn’t it? Like it’s so much better when people go around being sweet and courteous and caring and not mean and self-absorbed and shitty. I am not suggesting for a moment that that is not the case. It’s totally true. Except… except maybe when you’re pregnant. When you’re pregnant and you want to get on with 95% of your normal activities and be trusted to know your own body and its limits, it gets an eensy weensy bit annoying when the whole world has something to say about what you should and (more frustratingly) shouldn’t be doing. And my problem isn’t the seat-offerors and the ‘how you feeling?’ types and people generally appreciating the exhausting nature of the job (because it is that, I’ll admit.) It’s these two things:
The infantilsation of pregnant women
The complete desexualisation of pregnant women
I went to exchange some maternity jeans in my local H&M a few weeks back because I’m a 10 not an 8 now and I need to get that into my flippin head once and for all but anyway… I sorted it over the phone with H&M customer services, ensuring they had the trousers in stock so I could rock up without disappointment and luckily they did and I put a pair aside for collection.
So I arrived at H&M and here’s how the chat with a member of staff went:
Hi I called and put some jeans aside to collect.
OK which jeans are they? I don’t see any here.
It’s a pair of black maternity jeans, size 10.
Aha, our children and baby store is just down the road, two doors down, they’ll be there.
Oh no it’s not baby clothes. Its adult clothes. They’re for me. Maternity jeans for me.
Yes our maternity wear is in the children and baby store.
Oh…cheers… (under breath as I walk away) well pregnant women aren’t children or babies so…
There’s the problem. Right there! Babies, children and pregnant women are all the bloody same. You get knocked up, you cease to be adult. Get on the kiddy table, lady, lest some of this wine jump out the bottle and down your throat and you end up feeling normal for five bloody minutes. Now I know the main reason they have the maternity clothes section in the kids shop is because they want to sucker you into the newborn babygrow section which is right next to it and do you know what it worked and I bought five babygrows because no matter how offended I am that H&M don’t class me as ‘adult’ anymore I am too excited and weak and easily manipulated by the idea of my first son all bound up in pistachio and cream stripes and looking just edible! So I’m angry at me as well as them. But furthermore, as my friend Soph pointed out, please don’t assume all women are pregnant and happy about it. There are hundreds of variables that lead to a woman needing to buy maternity jeans and they don’t all involve excited and beaming mums-to-be.
Also a woman in a macaroon shop in Covent Garden recently told me that I couldn’t have the coffee flavour because of my being pregnant and all that. But I think she was just really thick. And I continued to buy five macaroons from her because like I said before: I’m weak and I can’t resist pistachio.
But expectant women are also constantly told not to lift. And this really gets on my swollen, veiny tits. I think there’s just a huge amount of ignorance around what can actually harm a foetus, and so I try and keep it to myself when I’m frustrated. People are just being nice. But inside I’m bubbling (and not just because LB has the hiccups). I want to scream ‘WHY THE HECK NOT?!’ every time someone suggests that I can’t lift a heavy box. If you think heavy lifting can cause miscarriages in healthy women well then you’re dead wrong and if you (more correctly) are merely concerned about my muscles being weaker than usual well please just let me be the judge! It’s shitty enough that so many people can’t bear to see a woman lifting a heavy box but when you’re a pregnant woman people basically act like they’ve seen a six year old smoke a cigarette. In fact the six year old with the ciggie would probably get left to its own terrifying devices, but the preggo lady with a box of printing paper will get her knuckles wrapped. Naughty preggo lady! And yes we might throw our backs out and feel like idiots the next day and regret it for weeks but that’s our right as adults and moreover that behaviour is not exclusive to pregnant women. Middle aged blokes, old ladies, teenagers – we all overdo it sometimes. We get over it.
I have a friend who is French and a mother. She told me that, unlike here in Blighty, in France nobody would dare tell you to give up blue cheese when you’re pregnant but they will tell you to pop your cat in the bin which of course we’d never think to do in the UK. Her partner also told me not to eat honey because of botulism but the internet demystified that and I was back on nature’s candy after a few weeks of going ‘I NEVER KNEW I LIKED HONEY SO MUCH!!’ Much like many first time, first trimester mums I was a right cautious Carol. I was avoiding deli meats, the slightest runny bit of egg, honey, anything more than a sip of booze and don’t come near me with that medium cooked steak you infanticidal MANIAC! But between the advice of my super chill midwife and the lovely bosom of the non-alarmist side of Antenatal Online, I’m back consuming it all within reason and to a degree that is healthy for anyone trying to grow a human in their womb.
I’ve noticed a lot of odd assumptions and confusion around pregnancy since I’ve started showing. People look at my bump when I’m cycling my single-speed through central London like I’m levitating to work or something. I get asked when I think I’ll start my maternity leave all the time. Er… when the baby is on the outside of me, probably?? (It might well be sooner, I know. I’m not exactly Miranda Hobbes.) I feel like a lot of these rules and assumptions about what pregnant women can and can’t do and what they can and can’t have were probably not written by women who are or have been pregnant (or any women for that matter) but quite possibly by the bearers of the keys to female anatomy and all knowledge thereof: men. The sudden treatment of women like they’re merely glass incubators has got to have something to do with further controlling women.
And that leads me onto my second issue with society’s attitude to pregnancy. We are still sexual! We may feel less like having sex when we’re gassy, exhausted and 20lbs heavier than we’re used to, but again, that’s not for you to decide. I recently went to see the actor, stand-up and living fucking dreamboat Rob Delaney at the Southbank Centre. He was exquisite and filthy and loving and horrendous and hilarious and all the things I adore about him. But he also did a good five minutes on how when his wife is pregnant and horny he drops the earth to satisfy the situation immediately and not just because the moment might be fleeting but because he also just finds pregnant women so fucking sexy. GASPS! MONOCLES DROPPING INTO TEA CUPS! FAINTING! But they have babies in their bodies! Yes we do, thanks, dummies. But, as I’ve mentioned, we ourselves are not babies. We’re adults. Adults who still like sex. Even if we’re mostly just privately wanking when we’ve gone to sleep on the sofa-bed because we’re too hot and windy to share a mattress. We don’t need to be cast into some sort of ‘completed’ pile like a finished computer game. Procreating isn’t the same as defeating Bowser. Don’t put me on EBay yet! You might want to play me again! This analogy is a bit weak but you get the idea. And it’s perfectly OK and normal to fancy women who are pregnant. It’s not weird or perverted and it doesn’t require special mention that you’re finding them attractive in spite of the fact they’re pregnant like ‘she’s fit in spite of being a massive racist’ because unlike being a massive racist, pregnancy isn’t awful and gross, it’s just normal nature being normal. You were perfectly happy to accept sex being the way women get pregnant so please accept that it’s normal throughout. If not a little bit more scarce.
So the next time a big retailer plans their next year’s maternity range it’d be great not to see any babydoll dresses, dungarees or polka dots. I mean I’ll be buying all of these things; obviously, I’m not going to go nudey for the next 18 weeks and besides dungarees just don’t really have a wrong place. But it’d be so nice if there was a range that could encourage the bizarre notion that pregnant women are capable, powerful, sexual and stylish adults. And please for all pregnant women’s self-esteem’s [and my pistachio vulnerability’s] sake put them with all the other adult clothing! Thank you.
The taboo surrounding post-natal depression has been all but smashed to pieces in the last 15 years or so. We’ve made very fast but long-awaited progress in a lot of areas of mental health, if not in treatment then at least in attitudes. It might not feel to sufferers like the stigma surrounding their condition has lifted but from the outside looking in we know there’s been huge growth in what we’re talking about, what we’re bringing to light and how we normalise conditions that were previously ‘other.’ I have very much felt like I’m back on the inside, recently, unable to connect with ‘normal’ and feeling totally and utterly other. But I don’t think that feeling has been entirely without reason, because we’re still not talking about antenatal depression.
This week has been a really, really tough one. I think it’s been the first week where my inability to cope has completely ruined Dan too. And when he breaks I break double. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of our home life and how miserable we’ve both been. But let’s just say that unhappiness has had the majority rule, and we’re usually a very cheery household.
Yesterday, however, we had a bit of breakthrough. We talked. And we’ve talked before, we’re not ones to repress. But yesterday we really talked, and it was brutal. The trouble with antenatal (much like post-natal) depression is that it comes with all these other knock-on emotions, as a result of the issue but also exacerbating it. At my lowest, recently, I feel worthless, completely demotivated and unable to care. I have sat for an hour or more, staring at the same spot, unaware of time passing because I don’t want anything. Not even the banality of nothingness can touch me, I am numb. Then there’s the sadness, which is possibly worse, a crippling undone feeling that I convince myself won’t ever go away because it feels so completely everything. I’ve had depression before, I recognise these feelings, but in that moment when I’m so engulfed in the black cloud, I don’t remember feeling better again. And then there’s the guilt, the shame and, worst of all, the self-hatred. Everything about being pregnant is new and surprising and alien, but nothing feels more alien to me than not being a nice person. I know I’ve been unkind recently. I am just not me at times. I’ve never been a jealous, resentful or bitter person, I’ve never coveted things or even felt like I’ve been dealt a raw deal. In fact most of the time I consider myself pretty lucky. Mentally I’ve just lost my way the past few weeks, and I don’t like this me; it isn’t me.
Although it is easy enough to say that’s just not me, I think an important part of mine and Dan’s breakthrough this week was being able to admit, This Is Me. This is who I am right now, it might not be pleasant and it might not be true to myself, but it’s what’s happening and it isn’t permanent. Never forget that this isn’t permanent – it’s so easy to forget that. So I told Dan the frightening and unreal thoughts I’d been having, in this here brain that isn’t me but really is me. I told him that I have felt unable to care about him at times, and sometimes felt like I simply don’t, or can’t love him. I’ve told him that I‘ve wanted to disappear and just not exist just to make it easier for him. I’ve told him about the times I delay coming home in the evening just to save him from being around me. I explained that I wanted him to suffer too, I resented him not having to change, physically and chemically to the extreme that I had and would. None of the feelings I’ve been experiencing are fair or just; and the guilt and shame of having those thoughts, and the constant fear that I won’t love my baby isn’t needed. I’m not doing this because I’m a bad person and I know I’m going to love my baby, I know that. Dan listened to me, and he told me how he’s been feeling, and that made me break with sadness, because I never, ever want to hurt him, but to be honest I’ve not been thinking about him.
More than anything he made it clear that he understands – and I don’t think he meant for a second that he knows what it’s like, he’s not pregnant and can’t be and it’d be gross if he pretended he’s got the first idea – but he made me feel totally normal for having what are, frankly, bat-shit thoughts. I know he’s been suffering too, I just didn’t want to think about it, or anything for that matter. We’re a week away from our 20 weeks scan and I truly believe this will be a turning point, but I am still going to talk to my midwife about counselling. I think it’s easy to ignore the extreme lows when you’re not in one, hoping that the last one was just that. Sadly it’s never that easy with mental health issues and I’m old enough and ugly enough to know better. I spoke to my midwife in my first appointment about feeling low and I feel confident about speaking up again. I am determined not to take this condition with me through the next 20 weeks and if I can get on top of it now I think I have a much better chance of dodging, or at least dealing with, post-natal depression.
Is anything helping?
Today I went for my third swim of the long weekend, and so gave in and bought myself swimming membership. It’s been so nice to be swimming again, I used to do a lot of training as a kid and have always found it incredibly comforting as well as being a good workout. It’s also a great place to be alone with your thoughts, free from any other distractions, even music or podcasts. Just the splashing of the other swimmers around you and occasional shrieks of kids in the training pool if you swim during the day! The ritualistic element helps me focus, and even the water itself feels very cleansing, you leave something behind in that pool. Metaphorically, I mean – I never pee in the pool. I would really recommend swimming for anyone who is finding their pregnancy difficult mentally. I fell out of love with the gym when I first fell pregnant, my hormones were too raging and my self-esteem was too low to be around other women all bendy and stretchy and looking like a bunch of goddesses out to humiliate me with their non-pregnant bodies. (Yes mental I know shut up.) Running is a bust because I can’t get further than a few metres without needing a piss and I already cycle for 90 minutes a day commuting so it doesn’t really feel like extra exercise. But swimming is my saviour and I will keep this cheap, healthy and meditative therapy up for as long as I can because I think it really is making a difference.
Being honest with people. And anyone who makes you feel like you can’t be needs to take a good, hard look at themselves. Talking is vital, it’s been really hard for me to do, I just want to be better and say no more about it, but you have to talk first and it has to be honest. Writing has also helped me a lot. I’ve never felt like I could write a blog, I wanted things I authored to be more profound and exceptional than what is essentially a bit of an online diary, but now I don’t care about being the next Margaret Atwood. I just want to vent a bit and hopefully help a few people along the way.
Just remember people aren’t talking about depression in pregnancy like they are PND, so you’re going to have to be brave and speak up if you’re suffering. I know I’m bigger and better than depression, but I know I’m only human and that’s why it’s been so important for me to admit I’m part of this. Until you own your role in your mental health, you can’t make it any better. So this is me.
A few weeks ago my best friend and I were talking about loneliness and all of its forms. The thing we agreed on most was that loneliness has bugger all to do with being alone. One very literal idea of loneliness definitely does entail social isolation, I’m not denying that, but there’s just as much chance you’ll feel totally lonely when you are surrounded by wonderful people. Pregnancy, for me, has been one of those times. Unless you’re lucky enough to live the sorority sister lifestyle where you all whip the rubbers off at the same time and breed like bunnies in spring (I say lucky… that actually sounds well gross), you’ve not always got many people around you experiencing the same thing. I currently have one pregnant friend who I don’t know very well and who lives in a different city. She’s ace and we have weekly message catch ups on the lows (I’d say highs & lows but who the hell is messaging people to tell them how good they feel?) but in reality my day to day has been pretty difficult. I’ve been questioning everything so regularly I’ve felt like we can’t possibly be doing the right thing because if that’s the case why would I have so much doubt? Well to be fair to the whole situation it’s not been an easy ride, and I think I need to give myself credit for how positive I have been a lot of the time. I’m predisposed to the blues, I get very introverted and sad beyond redemption a few times a year. It used to be much more often but I sorted my life out quite considerably and the feeling doesn’t occur nearly as much. Pregnant me, with PUPPP, on steroids isn’t as balanced, however.
I know what I need to do to help get myself back on track but when you’re in the pits of a major low if often feels like the light will never seep through and you mentally give up for a day or so. Sometimes it’s even briefer than that, but it can feel like a lifetime. Firstly, I need to bite the bullet and get involved with some pregnancy classes. NCT or hypnobirth or some such – one of these things that seem like a middleclass obligation (and a flippin rip off) if you ask me, but I’ve heard they’re really good for meeting other women/couples and sharing experiences, thusly fighting off this isolated feeling. So we’ll probably do it. There’s a ton of them out there and I’m nervous about picking the right one. I want to meet women who inspire me and make pregnancy and children seem cool and fun but at the same time don’t want the experience to be free from humility and like those god awful Instagram accounts with #amazingmama under countless pictures of women who have managed to keep breastfeeding their kids until they’re 12 whilst sporting a trendy hair do. Those women won’t like me.
Secondly I need to Stop Eating So Much. I’ve never comfort eaten like this in my life. I’m not saying I haven’t shotgunned a tub of Hagen Daaz in a teary haze before, lord knows I have. But I’m on a new level of snack attack at the moment and it’s not good. I’m not the most aesthetically minded person but I do like to be fit and not feel totally jelloid. It’s just not good for your mental health, either, shovelling down the salt and sugar like it’s going out of fashion. So I’m going to rein that in and find myself somewhere between my current, over-indulgent gluttonous state and the green juice drinking, holier-than-thou, Instagram health freak I could never be. I think it’s called ‘normal’.
Finally I need to make plans and stop having silly episodes of seeing this as a prison sentence. It’s not. I mean it will be if I continue to eat at this rate, you’ll need a crane to get me to the birth centre. But actually, I have a wonderful partner who tells me to go ahead, have a glass of wine/go to the gig/dance the night away/book a sexy holiday, and when I simply feel like I can’t move for fatigue and hormones he strokes my back, does silly voices and makes Masterchef and a Hello Fresh seem more fun than a sky dive with dolphins. There really isn’t anything you can now never ever do when you start a family. If you want to move to Borneo and take care of orangutans you’ll just have to do it with a baby in tow. I can’t think of a cooler bunch to start them off on the socialisation process, actually.
Another set back to my emotions this week was the death of Prince, one of my favourite artists ever in the world, proved by the number of times my friends/partners have uttered the words ‘you’d be a terrible DJ, you’d just play Prince’ or ‘no the headliner isn’t going to be Prince, Charlie’ or ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about you literally only listen to Prince’. Sometimes Prince can be subbed out for Blur in those conversations and now you’re getting an idea of my listening habits. A lot of the time it’s actually just Radio 4 but the less said about that the better.
I’ve mourned two of my favourite artists of all time since being pregnant, and this means I’ve not been able to get shitfaced and scream Bowie/Prince songs at the top of my lungs to commemorate. That’s been hard. It’s funny the things that crop up when you’re pregnant that make you doubt the whole experience. The death of my musical heroes, years before their time, making me ponder the futility of life wasn’t one I’d prepped for. I am just so glad I got to see Prince live, at one of the most fun and silly gigs of my entire life, in a field in Kent, cocktailed off my rocker and dancing non-stop through-out, on the coach home, until I reached my bed. He was incredible. When he was told he needed to stop playing because he’d run over-time his response was ‘A party don’t stop when there’s a curfew, a party stop when e’ryone fall asleep!’ and on he kept rocking. Replace the word ‘curfew’ with the word ‘baby’ and you have my new mantra for motherhood. To be honest I’m not that good at partying anyway. My biggest bawl yet was when I was thinking about being too big and off balance to rock climb on the beach in Sussex this summer.
My first trimester was over and I was feeling bloody good about it. Powerful. Like I’d been reborn a sexy, preggo supreme mama. I was seeing people, outside of the confines of my flat or my brothers flat. I was feeling rational again. I saw attractive women and thought about their boobs and not about killing them. When I was cycling I didn’t fly into a rage every time some prick in a 4×4 overtook me at speed. It didn’t send me into floods of tears when someone was drinking a nice big G&T in the pub on a Tuesday night. I had these cracking great big boobs and my usual body, plus a few lbs from first trimester overeating, but on the whole I was rockin it. Second trimester was going to be wicked. Starting with my first proper night out since the blue lines appeared. I met friends in a pub, had a small glass of white wine and danced until 2am! Powered by lime & sodas and sheer excitement I conquered that first night out like a pregnancy wizard and was even complimented on my impeccable form. That’s right, I thought, this shit is easy.
Sunday 27th March 2016. Easter Sunday with the in-laws. I was excited because I’d set up an Easter egg hunt for Dan around the flat, I’d been out and danced my tits off the night before and yet didn’t have a hangover and there were parentals on route with baked goods. It’d been a good weekend, actually. Except I’d developed this little itch. I mean the surface area was little, the itch was actually quite intense. It was on my very upper inner thighs, bikini line if you will, and it was doing my fucking head in. It wasn’t there yesterday. Maybe it’s from my tights and dancing and being warm. Probably just that. It’s pretty unbearable for a heat rash but my you know, preggo women and their wacky body temp. As the day went on the itch got more and more intense and I had to retire to bed and leave Dan to entertain the fam because I needed to go and rub E45 on my groin and try and sleep it off. Dan’s mum suggested putting natural yoghurt on it. I’m not going to do that. I love yoghurt. I’m not going to get it all mixed up in the world of crotch itch. Nah. It’ll die down soon.
I don’t sleep a wink that night, the itch has become so intense. And it’s moving. It’s attacking my bottom. My lovely smooth bum is getting rashy too. And resisting itching is like trying to keep your hand in a flame. It was agony. Bank holiday Monday was a less fun day as I tried to find solutions to what I now assumed was pregnancy eczema. I’ve never had eczema before in my life. A bit of mild acne over the years, that I can handle, that I’m prepared for. This fresh new hell wasn’t welcome at all! I had no idea how bad it was going to get at that point. I spent another two nights not sleeping. I missed work. It was on my arms and the back of my knees now too. I made an appointment to see the doctor who essentially told me it’s tough titties, pregnant women get itchy, and prescribed me a bottle of Aveeno. I’m starting to feel a bit downtrodden. The Pregnancy Wizard wasn’t itchy, she was awesome. But I am definitely itchy now. And I was itching just as much where the rash isn’t – i.e. where it will be next.
Days go by and the itch intensifies, the rash spreads, I’m sore now too. I haven’t slept literally more than an hour a night for over a week. I’m feeling nutty. The docs have given me hydrocortisone cream and it’s doing exactly fuck all and I’m getting so desperate for some relief. I’m sleeping in the living room on the sofa bed and when I say sleeping I mean I’m crying, bawling the night away, wishing there was something that would just make it stop. I tried ice packs to alleviate it but they’re a momentary fix for what feels like chickenpox with added sunburn and mosquito bites. I went back to the doctor, Dan came with me this time, tired of watching me mentally deteriorate whilst I turned into a giant, red, lumpy toddler: too exhausted, physically and mentally to express myself in anything but shrugs, head-shakes and tears. Dan’d had enough too.
Now we’ve googled the heck out of this. And I’m not one for googling symptoms/illnesses because I either don’t believe what I read or get panicked, either way it’s pointless. But this itch has made me desperate and we’ve done our research and we’re 99% sure it’s PUPPP (or PEP). This is a heinous rash that usually presents itself in late pregnancy and basically ruins the woman’s life until she gives birth at which time it should clear up. Well I’m 15 weeks at this point. That means I’ve got at the very least about 22 weeks to go. Waiting to give birth is simply not an option, I need them to do something now. The doctor was stumped. The other doctor she brought in was also stumped. Neither of them have ever seen anything like it. They’re sympathetic but ultimately clueless and I get put on an urgent referral for a dermatologist. A two week wait. It’s going to be a long two weeks.
The next five days are the worst. Between us, Dan and I spend a small fortune on treatments. We buy pine tar soap and menthol aqueous cream that feel good for the first use and then subsequently burns to high heck every time I apply, so much so that my body starts to convulse from the physical pressure of dealing with that kind of pain on every inch of me. I feel like I now know what electroshock therapy patients must feel like. I lay on the bed after each application shaking, spaced out from the pain. Is it better than the itching? It’s different. These are my two choices. My dear friend Sophie comes over at the weekend with a selection pack of treatments for me to try. I’m so grateful and yet at the same time I’m utterly miserable because I know she’s wasting her time and money too. I know what I need, I need drugs. I need a course of oral steroids and if the doctors even try and offer me another topical treatment I’m going to seriously lose it.
I’m so depressed now. I fear the evenings and going to bed because it gets so much worse at night. My heart feels broken because the only solution I can think that would definitely stop the whole thing would be to terminate the pregnancy. I cry and cry every time this thought comes into my head but I’ve never been so desperate and I’ve never felt so helpless. Dan and my Mum are dealing with my breakdowns 4/5 times a day. Dan does his best to help, he does everything he can, taking time off work to help keep me sane and making sure we’ve got entertainment all day long. We watch Rosemary’s Baby (SUCH A BAD IDEA!) and I convince myself for a brief moment that Dan is part of this, the doctors are all part of this. Well at this point I’d have handed the baby right over. Satan can have him half cooked. I also wasn’t losing weight, like Rosemary does, I was gaining fast. Unable to sleep or barely dress to leave the house, what I was capable of was eating. I haven’t weighed myself and I won’t, there’s no point. But I’d hazard I gained a good ten pounds in a very short space of time, just from trying to keep my mind off the agony.
Nearly a week after my referral was made and I hadn’t been called with a date for my appointment. I was seriously cracking up now. I text my mum and tell her that she needs to come to London because Dan’s back at work and I’m not coping with the situation. I’ve never had to do that before, but the rash and the itching is everything when there’s nobody else around and not even the cats can comfort me. I’m lost. I did’t hear back from her straight away. My Mum’s a busy woman in an important job, but in that moment that wasn’t good enough. I needed someone to help me. I was going properly mad. So I emailed my midwife and I told her with no hesitation that I couldn’t cope and that I wanted to terminate my pregnancy because I was in so much pain, discomfort and misery. She called me almost straight away and told me that I need to go to the Maternal and Foetal Assessment Unit (MFAU) at UCLH where I’m registered for maternity care. Now I’d thought about this, I’m not dumb, I’d definitely thought about rocking up at the hospital and throwing myself on the floor, refusing to move until someone injects steroids into my bottom, but I’d called and they did not want me. The woman I spoke to made it explicitly clear I was not to come to the hospital and that the GP will help me. Well by this time I knew that was bollocks and the midwife had given me the green light so I was fucking going there. They could see me or carry me out kicking and screaming, if I could muster that much energy.
Sophie drove me to hospital and I feebly walked to up to MFAU, Dan not yet having arrived, I’d get this party started myself. I explained to the nurse at reception why I was there and she immediately panicked. She told me I needed to leave and that they couldn’t have a woman with a [possibly contagious] rash around all these pregnant women. I fell apart right there in the waiting room, I started sobbing and telling her my midwife had sent me and that I couldn’t cope and that I desperately needed to be seen. I did all of this in front of a packed waiting room full of expectant mothers, none of whom seemed to be completely losing their shit. Lucky bitches, I think. I think this but a few nights before I had a conversation with my friend who sympathetically lists every horrid symptom of her pregnancies and even tells me of a friend of hers who was producing so much saliva when she was pregnant she had to start carrying around a cup to spit in. Pregnancy is fucking wack.
They finally agreed I could stay and quickly ushered me into a room where I was instructed I had to stay, in isolation, for the safety of the other patients. That was fine. That was perfect, in fact. My own little itching sanctuary. My burden was already feeling lifted, now I was in hospital they couldn’t send me away without a diagnosis. GPs might have never heard of PUPPP but I was going to make sure I didn’t leave this world class maternity hospital until someone had confirmed I have this hell condition. Several nurses and a doctor came in and looked at me and umed and ahed, marvelling at my ridiculous body like something out of a horror movie and guessed I might have an allergy and some overzealous eczema. Dan asked them if they thought it could be PUPPP and the nurse says it could be but it wasn’t presenting typically for PUPPP, which usually starts on your nice big bump way into your third trimester. Well fuck off, mate, I’m not typical and this is PUPPP. We were waiting on the opinion of one doctor in particular, Dr Tetteh, and as sweet and supportive as all the other staff were being I was desperate for this person to arrive because if they’re the expert, they’ll bloody know. I knew and I’m just some woman with internet access. He finally came in and the conversation between him and the other medical practitioners went roughly like this:
So here we’ve got Charlotte who’s developed an allergy type rash on her limbs an…
Ah yes it’s PUPPP.
Really because we weren’t sure as the rash didn’t start o…
No it’s PUPPP.
We were thinking of taking a TORCH screening just in ca…
Sure you can but it’s PUPPP.
And out he walked again instructing a prescription of oral steroids and some more antihistamines. I could have fucking kissed him. It was the biggest relief of my life to date that I’d been listened to, examined and finally diagnosed after two of the longest and most torturous weeks of life. The nurse did do a TORCH screen, whilst I merrily sat there in my grundies, me and Dan just relentlessly grinning at each other because something had finally be done. My arms were so ridden with this PUPPP lurgy that they couldn’t take blood from my arm and had to do it from the back of my hand which caused me to near pass out with pain as she wiggled the cannula around trying to get blood to flow. I had to lie down whilst she fanned me with one of those cardboard bowls and the other nurse rushed to get me sugary tea. I mumbled something about not drinking sugar because I’d gained so much weight but I didn’t care. Whilst Dan was off picking up my prescription and the glorious light of proper drugs was on the horizon, my heart was light and happy with relief and excitement that this was all coming to an end. I could have easily nodded off for the first time in two weeks whilst that nurse fanned me with a cardboard bowl.
I was made two follow up appointments for the following week. One to see a dermatologist and another to see a specialist consultant, purely because we don’t see this condition very often so when we do we really like to study it. Oh good. Glad to be of help. And I really do mean that. When I was reading accounts of other women’s experiences with PUPPP online, one phrase came up more than any other ‘I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy’, and that’s exactly how bad it is.
6 days into a course of steroids and itching has decreased significantly with night itching becoming more bearable each day and skin sensitivity getting back to normal. I can even bear to be touched again! Wahoo! I’m also taking daily supplements of dandelion root as a lot of women said this cured them, and although I’m sure it’s the steroids that are clearing my PUPPP I thought the dandelion might help to prevent future flare ups. Worth a shot. I ain’t going back there!
What did I try? (None of these worked)
Aqueous Cream with menthol
Aveeno oatmeal moisturiser
Dr Salt bath salts
Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap
I’d like to thank Dan, Sophie and my mother who all supported me so much and did everything they could to try and make it better for me. You three are just utterly wonderful.
I’d like to also thank UCLH who turned it around wicked quick when I finally turned up looking like a disease ridden zombie at the MFAU.
And thank you for reading. I hope it helps in some way.
I’m now at week 16 of my first pregnancy and feeling ready to reflect on just exactly what happened there. I am pregnant with what I’m pretty certain is a human baby and I’m going to blog about it because I surfed the web for literally hours and couldn’t find anyone blogging their pregnancy or motherhood and that to me said that we really are living in an oppressive patriarchy. So I’m standing up for all of those women who haven’t shat on and on for pages and pages about every tedious details of their experience of pregnancy like they’re the first woman to ever go through it and I’m going to be the World Wide Web’s first pregnant blogger. Plogger.
I found out that I am pregnant by piddling into a little plastic cup in the bog at work, that I think was leftover from when we drank prosecco in the office at Christmas like we were in flippin Mad Men and then I put a pregnancy dipper into this piddle and then put it under my tongue for 10 seconds and, sure enough, my eyes went crossed. PREGNANT!
It’s odd but because I’ve never been pregnant before I sort of didn’t believe that the test could be correct. But after even more time on the web I realised that false positives are almost unheard of and it’s most likely you have hCG (the pregnancy hormone) in your body and that, mon amigo, means babino. Plus my tits were big and sore, my period was absent and I vomited on the way to work. So I did have my suspicions.
I did one of those ludicrously expensive tests that has a tiny telly on to find out how many weeks prego I was. The internet then told me that that many weeks is the about the size of a peppercorn and that is literally how I thought about it for the first fortnight, as a sweet little floating peppercorn in my stomach. Bless. To think that me and Dan made a little peppercorn just by bumping uglies and forgetting to go for a wee afterwards*. Magical really.
Fear and sadness
In pregnancy, much like in a Daniel Day Lewis film, There Will Probably Be Blood, but it doesn’t always spell disaster. When I wasn’t wigging out about raising a child who isn’t a weirdo, piling on weight, being able to breastfeed etc… my own body was delivering me little shocks to panic over on the reg. I’d never had piles before and the appearance of blood on the loo roll of a woman who is both newly pregnant and new to haemorrhoids is both confusing and upsetting. I worked it out eventually. There’re lots of things you just sort of work out.
The thing that put the willies up me the most though was the emotional impact. I couldn’t work this out, I wasn’t in control. I was sad. Like super sad. And not because I wasn’t happy and excited about being pregnant, I knew I was, but the hormones and the exhaustion and the having to fib to everyone – it all did a massive number on my ability to keep my chin up. Dan was very amazing through those weeks, forgiving every irrational outburst and moody response and just being so supportive it made me feel guilty too. I felt like I was ruining our good news by moping around like a gloomy goth. The nausea and extreme exhaustion didn’t help much to be fair. It’s a crumby old time. And you feel like you can’t tell anyone heaven forbid you do something awkward like miscarriage, which is a helluva lot of pressure on you and your partner. I ended up telling my mum the news fairly early, I needed her support too much, and I feel super lucky that I have a mum who can be equally as excited about becoming a grandparent and sympathetic to how low I was feeling.
But it did lift! That 12 week milestone passed and by about week 13 I was actually feeling pretty bloody good. And then…
*I know this isn’t how I got pregnant, silly. I got pregnant because the pill packet I was taking was 5 years out of date. Keep those medicine drawers tidy, ladies!