Your fearful hands

Things I have learned so far from pregnancy:

Despite thrice daily bastings of Bio Oil since we started trying to conceive  I developed vicious stretch marks on my stomach before my bump even properly formed. There is no way to avoid stretch marks if you're prone to them.

Despite daily pelvic floor exercises since I was a teenager, I have discovered that a sneeze whilst relaxed can lead me to wet myself. Awesome.

These annoyances I can handle. As far as I'm concerned, pregnancy brings unexpected joys and unexpected challenges. The best we can do is be well educated, well prepared and not too uptight about it because from the minute we announce our joyful news we are sandblasted with advice, opinion, old wives tales and if we're lucky - second hand baby swag. (Thanks Laura!)

At some stage, I think all pregnant women naturally get defensive about their choices and beliefs and with hormones - it's easy to get pretty vocal about that too. The main thing though, is to accept advice gracefully, especially from people who care about you.

I am lucky to know many, many people who have been pregnant and am so grateful for all the input I get. Even if their advice is outdated. What I don't like is judgement - and that's the other thing that happens. I have had friends devastated by comments on those mumsnet forums or by their baby groups because they couldn't or wouldn't breastfeed, or breastfed longer than others deemed appropriate. And why? Because some people are just plain fucking awful or ignorant.

How have I prepared for this pregnancy?

My two best female friends are a paramedic and a GP, my best male friend is a vagina (sorry Tom, couldn't resist! Haha!), almost all of my friends have had one or more children already and 7 of them are midwives, nutritionists or work in childcare. I listen to everything they have to say with an open mind and learn from it.

Is dyeing my hair, drinking caffeine, eating mould-ripened cheese, having the occasional glass of wine, wearing a seatbelt, or taking a bath over 100 degrees before 16 weeks have passed guaranteed to harm me or my child? No - of course not. There are no guarantees - even taking a knitting needle to your stomach whilst sat in a boiling bath and drinking gin isn't guaranteed to end a pregnancy.

But do I understand the risks involved in all of these things and why they are not recommended? Yes - I take nothing at face value and research everything thoroughly before I take it on board or dismiss it. Do I judge anyone who eats pate or wears an underwired bra whilst pregnant? No - part of being a parent is making your own choices. Do I open discussion about it? Sure because if you care about someone, you want the best for them and unless you ask someone about their opinions, you don't know if they are making their decision based on ignorance or not. Even better - you might learn something as a result of it.

I want my pregnancy to be as stress-free and positive as possible. I was at a high risk for miscarriage so I chose to research everything thoroughly, and take no risks. I am pleased to say that I made it to 20 weeks with no issues except for SPD and I'm looking forward to my next scan on Wednesday. I'm hoping for a girl with all of my heart - not because I want a doll to dress in frilly pink dresses - I believe in gender neutrality when it comes to raising children, but because I simply believe that I am meant to have a girl.

The main thing that I believe? My baby has not read the baby books, so whilst every parent should explore their preferences for sleeping arrangements, labour, feeding and carrying... we should be aware that the baby might want to co-sleep, might have to be formula fed, might not wean when you expect them to, might hate a sling and love a pram and might not think the routine that suits you, suits them.

I have decided to breastfeed (if I can) and therefore I have researched my birthing plan around giving myself the best possible chance for achieving that. From my friends experiences and from what the Ina May and La Leche League books have told me I now have a whole host of potential technical issues to be prepared for - from tongue ties, blocked ducts and under/over supply to reflux, positioning and engorgement.

I have also learned about the impact of cutting the cord too early and not having skin-to-skin time. Of having IV fluids and drugs during birth, of the position I deliver in and whether it's a c-section, forceps, episiotomy or a natural vaginal delivery.

I want a natural birth with no medial intervention, but I accept that this is my first birth (second pregnancy) and that, again, the baby will make her own mind up about how and when she comes.

I would like to use hypnobirthing and a birthing pool to keep me calm, focused and in an upright position to allow gravity to work with my body. Being put on my back for the convenience of medical professionals will make my labour longer, more painful and more likely to require pain relief. Of course, I know that being able to use a birthing pool depends on whether I am overdue or not as meconium in my waters or having blood pressure issues will mean it's not an option.

I want minimal cervical exams to avoid risk of infection. With a gentle birth, people have been known to deliver at only 8 centimetres and I believe if instinct tells me I can push, then I am ready to push. Equally, I don't want to be forced to push until I feel ready to minimise tearing. I want no induction, no forced water breaking, no epidural and no c-section: even if the baby is breach. Unless the baby is in serious distress and labour is not progressing, I am determined to do this myself with no forceps or episiotomy.

My baby is to be immediately placed on my bare chest after delivery to ensure minimal distress to the baby and maximum bonding. I want time to smell her, stroke her, look into her eyes, and for her to feel my heart rate. If she roots to feed, she should be allowed to latch on immediately before being removed for cleaning and weighing and measuring. Any vernix is to be rubbed into skin rather than wiped off to minimise skin peeling and irritation. I will insist that the cord has stopped pulsing completely before being cut so the remaining 3/4 of the baby's blood has been restored to her body and her iron levels are high. I also want the baby to be weighed stomach down, and if IV fluids have been given to me during labour (against my wishes as it can cause nipple distortion) - then that needs to be taken into account so that the health visitor doesn't think the baby is heavier than she actually is and therefore give me bad advice about feeding.

I aim to breastfeed for at least 6 months, hopefully 12 and then introduce baby-led weaning. I intend to make my own baby food rather than buy it.

I aim to baby-carry with a fabric sling, though I have a pram too (thanks Laura!)

I aim to co-sleep, though have the baby next to the bed, not in bed with us.

I will also not let any smoker hold my child until they are at least 6 months old.

And now... bring on the advice! What are your regrets - if you have any?

Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.

Title: Blackout by David Bowie

She's an old-time ambassador

I was memailing some friends this morning about my views on feminism - a fluid concept, subject to various definitions, such as women's liberation, liberal feminism, (seeks to establish equal rights through policy change) cultural feminism (seeks to establish competitive female power structures) and that most hated and controversial of approaches - radical feminism which seeks the abolition of gender as we know it.

When someone is talking about feminism, it's not always clear whether they are referring to women's liberation or modern feminism. Like everything from menstruation to orgasms - for women it comes in waves.

First-wave feminism
1800 - 1945. Centered on securing basic civil rights, such as the right to vote and to own property
Second-wave feminism
1945 - 1980. Centered on achieving equality in the workplace, protecting reproductive choice, and attempting to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment).
Third-wave feminism
1980 to date. Incorporates racial justice, LGBT rights, and class oppression into the main feminist worldview which seeks practical equality for all women.

"feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings." as someone once said. As a movement it began to allow women the freedom to live on equal terms with men and not be made subservient by law or culture. I think we can argue that in terms of  men and law we are more equal and less subservient, but in terms of culture we have never been anything less than subservient.

The concept posed by mumsnet recently that feminism is dead is ridiculous. It is as vital today as it was in the 1800s, but Modern Feminism has simply been rebranded. It has evolved to incorporate new goals.

Feminism is not about division of the sexes.
Feminism is not about hating or emasculating men.
Feminism is not about judging women for the choices that they make.

Feminism is about re-educating both men and women about:

1) the institutions that restrict their choices and define how they "should" look or behave or feel
2) the factors that contribute towards the cultural climate

and taking  positive action against both.

For example - modern feminists do not say that pornography should be banned. They strive to ensure that we recognise the impact of pornography on children, teen and adult relationships, female body image and calls for content which is less accessible to those under age and does not demean or enslave women, but rather reflects a healthy view of human sexuality.

For example - modern feminists do not say that women should not have cosmetic surgery, wear makeup, be feminine or glamorous. They suggest that the media be responsible for what they project and perpetuate, and that women are not under pressure from men, from women, from society as a whole to look a certain way.

For example - modern feminists do not dictate whether women should work or raise a family, or suggest that the traditional roles of men and women in relationships are archaic and anti-feminist.
They suggest that support is available for parents to make a choice between career and family or juggle both. That there is fluidity around maternity and paternity rights. That there is equal pay and support systems in place from healthcare to benefits to support families. That organisations do not discriminate against women as if they're a ticking time bomb that may eventually get pregnant.

In La Trahison des Images (The Treachery of Images), Magritte annotated his painting of a pipe with the immortal words "ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe), which means nothing more than to explain that the painting is not in fact a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. Surrealism was bred based on the freedom that this concept provides - your view of a pipe depends on how the artist paints it, but it does not define the literal definition with a pipe and it's the same with women.

The media peddles images of women that do not reflect what women literally are, and this is part of the problem that feminism attempts to address.

Have you signed the No More Page 3 petition yet? WHY NOT?

Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.

Title: Queen Bitch by David Bowie

Take On Religion

I was just asked why I don't believe in God by a Christian, and then told my answer was unacceptable.

My answer was:

"whilst I respect the comfort that people draw from their faith, personally I would rather take the time and energy to believe in myself than in some random intangible entity, and whilst I know many religious people who as individuals have a lot of integrity and compassion, I believe that organised religion in general is responsible for much of the world's dissent." 

My question is, can someone tell me why my opinion is unacceptable?

Besides, if I were creating a religion and had to pick a god, I'd pick David Bowie. He's far more worship-worthy and inspiring. Also... happy 100th blog post to me. Well on this blog anyway...

Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.

Title: Word on a Wing by David Bowie

You tore your dress

I keep drafting blog posts which my head entitles "things they never tell you about being pregnant" and then deleting them because they sound whiny and ungrateful, two things which I most definitely am not with regards to this pregnancy.

My current rant however, is one which has irritated me more than most. The Quest For Office-Appropriate Maternity Clothes that can be found in one's lunch hour in Leeds City Centre.

Let me fill you in on my situation. Prior to getting pregnant I had a size 14 waist, a size 16 bottom and a size 16 top due to The Breasts. I'm curvy and dress for my shape which for work meant wide-legged trousers and tailored tops with jackets (until I started cycling to work and quit wearing trousers, which you'll understand if you were ever careering down a dual carriageway with your trouser leg stuck in your bike chain.) or skirts and jackets or dresses over glossy black tights.

Since getting pregnant I have switched my fitted jackets for smart cardigans, and all of my skirts for dresses because my skirts simply do not fit. The trouble is, I now have about 5 dresses which I can actually fit into because I have a foetus emerging from my pelvis and forming a bump.

Because that's what happens when you are pregnant. You don't get fat and need a bigger size of your regular clothing, you have a hard sphere in your stomach which means you need different waistlines (above or below the bump, not intersecting it), maternity tights (because HELLO GAROTTED STOMACH!) and maternity bras. Now maternity bras are the most comfortable things in the world. Fact. BUT, they do change the shape of your breasts into 1950s pointy things, which the clingy, stretchy clothes of pregnancy do not flatter.

Further notes on my situation. I do not drive, I cycle, I work full time (officially 9 - 5:30) in Leeds City Centre, and live 2 miles from the city centre. My husband currently works in Derby from Monday to Thursday and I only see him Friday to Sunday. This means that weekends are precious to me. Would I rather trail my husband around Outlet Stores searching for ones with maternity ranges or spend quality time with him? You've got it.

This is why I was looking for clothes in Leeds City Centre during my lunch hour. Cheap clothes for the office which means the kind of high street stores which I usually avoid like the plague. But I discovered that in the city centre Next, Marks & Spencers, Gap, New Look and H&M for example do not have maternity ranges. Actually I lie - H&M has a maternity section, but it has 3 tops in it and some leggings. Leggings are not office appropriate. Leggings are not trousers.

I have since been advised that the Merrion Centre has high street shops with maternity sections in them, but having look up all of the maternity ranges in these shops online, I discovered that they each have at the absolute most one dress which is appropriate to wear in an office in their maternity sections.

For now, I'm sort of sorted because I ended up ordering this £12.99 dress from ebay in black, grey, red and blue because it looks comfortable and stretchy and will probably be suitable for nursing afterwards.

I have a wedding to go to this weekend, so checked out Seraphine, which everyone recommended as having a good range of good quality clothes. It was expensive, but worth the money as I can wear it when I'm done being pregnant. I can wear it to the office too, really - even though it's more of an evening dress.

I'm really disappointed with the high street shops though. Walking around Leeds City Centre you see pregnant women everywhere - shopping in casual clothes and dressed in office attire so there's clearly a market for maternity clothes in LS1. Here's hoping the shops wake up to it.

Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.

Title: Rebel Rebel by David Bowie