Author Archives: Postcards

In which I share our experiences of what happened after our twenty week scan

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I was very lucky in that physically, I had a very easy pregnancy — a little bit of acid reflux, some minor ‘backne’ and a bit of pelvic/hip pain were the only things that bothered me.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and I’m going to share our experiences of what happened after our twenty week scan, in that it might provide some support for others who stumble upon this post when scouring the internet for answers.

The twenty week scan started well, in that all the major things — heart, brain, spine — looked fine. But at the end, the sonographer frowned a little and said the baby’s femur length was coming up a bit short, and she needed to re measure it. She did; it still did — on the third percentile. She looked at S and me, and said that because we’re tall (6’2″ and 5’7″), she wanted to refer us to a consultant for further tests, as a short femur can be a marker for certain genetic conditions.

I was completely devastated. Of course on my return to the office (one of the issues when you’re a freelancer and committed to a day’s work somewhere, giving yourself time off unexpectedly isn’t an option) I Googled ‘short femurs pregnancy’ and thus began a few weeks of obsessive reading and worrying, as short femurs are a marker for Down’s Syndrome and skeletal dysplasia. You can imagine, I’m sure, what my state of mind was.

Because the scan was so close to Christmas, we had to wait until the first week of January for our consultant appointment. That was the worst two weeks of my life. We had such a lovely Christmas planned with just the two of us — we were going to celebrate ‘Bumpmas’ and treasure our final solo Christmas. We did our best to relax and enjoy it but there was a constant feeling of worry and dread underpinning everything.

I ate loads of protein and calcium in a vain hope that the baby’s femurs would have grown by our appointment, but they were still on the third percentile (anything under the fifth or over the ninety fifth is considered ‘abnormal’). Our consultant was very lovely and calm, and presented us with four options: the likeliest being everything was fine and the baby just had short legs; Down’s Syndrome; achondroplasia (dwarfism) or a placental issue, where the placenta wasn’t functioning at 100% and thus giving less blood to the limbs. The only way to rule out two and three was with an amniocentesis, but as the miscarriage risk is 1%, my Down’s risk had been found at 12 weeks to be 1:6900 (very low risk) and neither were life limiting conditions, we decided instead to opt for serial scans and keep an eye on things that way.

Over the course of my pregnancy I had a scan about once a month. After 24 weeks they could rule out achondroplasia as the other limbs were growing fine, but options two and four continued to always be in the background. Because of the potential placental issue, I wasn’t allowed to give birth on the midwife led unit and had to have the baby’s heart rate continuously monitored during labour, which wasn’t how I had envisaged giving birth. But I was exceedingly grateful for the amazing care and support we received from the hospital  — the NHS rocks.

S and I did a hypnobirthing course and I found that the affirmations and positive visualisations learned from this really helped calm me down when things got overwhelming — which they frequently did. We also had wonderful support from friends and family, particularly friends who had had similar experiences of problems coming up at the twenty week scan and who knew what we were going through. It was one of these friends who told me to stop Googling things and she was quite right. After our first consultant appointment I managed to convince myself that the baby had a lethal form of skeletal dysplasia, purely through Googling things obsessively and jumping to huge conclusions. I ended up emailing the consultant with my fears to do something positive and break the cycle. She told me that this was not likely at all and, as S pointed out, fifteen minutes of Googling is no match for fifteen plus years of medical experience!

The story, luckily, has a happy ending. At our final scan, the femurs had jumped to the twelfth percentile, so things were looking much better, and when our son arrived a few weeks later, he was absolutely fine with no health issues relating to his legs at all — they just were disproportionately short compared with his body length (21 inches!).

If you are reading this because you’ve had a similar diagnosis, my heart goes out to you. It’s a worrying, stressful, horrendous time that takes the shine off your pregnancy. All I can say is, the chances are that everything is fine, especially if short femurs are the only marker that’s come up from the scan. Don’t fall into a Google hell hole as I did; instead, focus on the actual facts you’ve been given, rather than imagining things to be far worse. As I said above, positive visualisation and affirmations were tremendously helpful for calming me down and staying positive, as was reflexology, and may be good for you. I also had a friend who’s an aromatherapist create a calming essential oils blend for me which I had in a stick, so when my mind started racing I could take a step back and relax by inhaling it.

I wouldn’t wish our experience on anyone, but I can take some positives from it. Firstly, how amazing the NHS is. We had so many people involved in the pregnancy and birth, all of whom were marvellous. I am so grateful for the healthcare system we have in the UK. Secondly, how lucky S and I are to have such wonderful friends and family, and how lucky I am to have such a brilliant husband. S was an absolute rock throughout everything, and even when he was worried himself, he always stayed positive for me, wiping away my tears and reassuring me that no matter the outcome, we would be OK.

Finally, this experience has made me so grateful for my baby. When things get a bit tough or tiring — which, with a newborn, they do — I try and put things into perspective and appreciate the brilliant fact I have a healthy, happy baby, who just needs the legs on his onesies rolled up a bit.

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In which there’s an addition to the family

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Our son was born on 17th May, making his entrance at just after ten in the morning. The last six weeks have passed in a fast blur of joy, tiredness and wonder. And love, so much love. I’ve been overwhelmed by how he’s been welcomed by family and friends. My mom says babies bring out the best in people and she’s quite right.

It’s been a steep learning curve at times, but I can honestly say that this little lad is one of my proudest achievements. I’m sitting here typing this one handed on my phone while he snoozes in a carrier on my chest. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

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In which there are things I have learned since being pregnant

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  1. There will be tears over the most random things, including (and embarrassingly) One Direction videos.
  2. Everyone has an opinion on everything to do with your pregnancy; from the actual birth, on whether your bump is ‘neat’, on how you’ll bring up your child. I’ve found the usual best response is just to nod and smile, nod and smile, then ignore.
  3. Hypnobirthing is amazing. I mean, it just makes so much sense and I really, really cannot recommend it enough. I don’t understand why it’s not completely standard practice. We’re currently attending a four-week course and both S and I are getting so much from it, not just for the birth but techniques that are excellent for life in general.
  4. Watching your stomach ripple because there’s an actual, live baby dancing a fandango underneath it is pretty magical.
  5. The imminent arrival of a little one brings so much joy and goodwill from others — it’s magical. This wasn’t something I was expecting so it’s been lovely to feel how much love there already is for our child.
  6. The NHS, especially here in Bristol, is frickin’ awesome. I mean, I appreciated it before but now I really, really do. Everyone we have come into contact with — midwives, health visitors, sonographers, consultants — has been brilliant, supportive and knowledgeable. The options for the actual birth in this city are also some of the best in the country, from midwife-led units to hospitals to home birth to freestanding birth centres.
  7. It still hasn’t really sunk in yet that we’re having a baby. I don’t think it will until they’re here!

In which there is a look back on 2016

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Slightly later than usual, here is my now annual, somewhat narcissistic look back on the previous year.

  1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

Went trekking in the Atlas Mountains. Ate soup from a bread bowl. Took part in a childhood memory, The Crystal Maze. Had my home featured on a design blog. Pitched a feature to a magazine I had no prior connection with and had it accepted for actual cash payment! Visited Durdle Door in Dorset. Knitted my first two baby hats, which I’m really proud of. Knitted my first rabbits, which I also love. Cycled to work. Watched an opera all the way through.

Oh, and get pregnant. Yep, I’m having a baby! The ETA of Mini W, as I have dubbed them, is 18th May. So this has also led to a whole load of other firsts: having an ultrasound, wearing maternity clothes, feelinh a baby kicking me, sharing intimate bodily details with total strangers…

  1. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year I said “I just want to appreciate everything I have, continue to grow my freelance work and be the best wife, friend, daughter and sister I can be. I’ve also made a decision to do more of what I want to do and stop saying yes to things I don’t want to do (albeit in a polite manner).” I would say that’s been pretty successful. I read The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a **** earlier in the year and found myself nodding in agreement to everything the author said. Consequently I have really tried to only do things that I want to do, and while it’s not always worked, it’s definitely more in my consciousness. My freelance work has gone really well this year, and I’ve expanded my clients as well as launching a specific subsection of my business with its own website and branding. I’ve certainly been more appreciative of everything I have – global and personal events in 2016 have made this even more necessary – and I hope my friends and family would say that I’ve been a good person to have in their lives. Certainly everyone gave us an amazing and joyous reaction to the announcement of Mini W, so that bodes well! So this year, I want to continue on the same path, with the added addition of being the best parent I can be, and a bit less freelance work.

  1. Did anyone close to you give birth?

We welcomed a new niece in April, then friends’ babies in February (twice), April, May (twice) and November. Next year I have two friends (who handily live just around the corner) giving birth in January and February, and I’m sure (hope) that more will be announced. More hats and rabbits to come!

  1. Did anyone close to you die?

My wonderful friend N, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, died in August. I had the privilege of dancing at her wedding in June, which was the last time I saw her, and I’m glad I have such a happy final memory of her. Her death hit my friends and me really hard, and has really shaped how I view life and ensure that I am even more grateful for everything I have. She was an amazing person – funny, clever, engaged with the world, generous. I miss her a lot and still rail against the sheer unfairness of what happened to her.

  1. What countries did you visit?

Morocco in April for my mom’s 70 birthday, and then an epic Eastern European road trip encompassing Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Hungary and Austria in July.

  1. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Wine, caffeine, unpasteurised cheese. I’ve only lacked these since September but my, it’s been hard at times. Alcohol and caffeine really do make everything taste better.

  1. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

10th September, when I found out I was pregnant.

  1. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Managing to give up all alcohol for three months straight and then reducing it to less than half a glass of wine beyond that! On a less superficial level, having the confidence to cycle to work. Luckily a lot of the route is off road, by the river, making it a lovely commute, but I’m still really pleased that I’ve had the courage to brave Bristol commuter traffic for the busy sections. Cycling to work is ace, and a great way to bookend the day.

  1. What was your biggest failure?

The fact I can’t think of one either says that I’m really arrogant, or that I had a lucky year. Hopefully it’s the latter!

  1. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nope, I’ve been (touch wood) really well this year, even while pregnant. In fact I feel a little bit guilty sometimes when people ask how I am and my response is fine and dandy, especially when I know so many people who really suffered with morning sickness and fatigue.

  1. What was the best thing you bought?

As with last year, we have really tried to cut back on buying objects, as the older I get the more I despair at just how much stuff there is in the world. So again, the ‘experiences’ I bought, such as holidays and meals out, were the best. In terms of objects, I bought a pair of black boots that are the same as my beloved fox red ones, which I do love and wear a lot, plus a second hand cat jumper (it’s freaking awesome). Oh, and paying someone to landscape our garden was a brilliant decision.

  1. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

As always, S continues to be my absolute favourite human being. He has been a rock this year, and I genuinely don’t know what I would do without him. I was also so grateful to have an amazing group of supportive friends this year to cope with various issues that came up.

  1. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Oh, the list could go on for ever here. Trump, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, journalists from The Daily Mail and other such tawdry publications… So much of national and international events in 2016 made me appalled and depressed. It’s important to remember the good stuff, though, which is why I really liked the list of positive news stories that Colonel Chris Hadfield posted on his Facebook page on 31st December. Go check it out and feel a bit better.

  1. Where did most of your money go?

We spent quite a bit to get the front and back garden landscaped, but as mentioned, this was definitely worth it as man, lugging railway sleepers around is hard! Most of our money went to savings, actually, which is good to build them up after the Great House Renovation of 2014 and in light of having an extra mouth to feed this year.

  1. What did you get really excited about?

Telling our family and friends about Mini W. Spending time with one of my best friends in Sarajevo. Winning both of my crystals in The Crystal Maze!

  1. What song will always remind you of 2016?

Lover of the Light by Mumford and Sons, and Made-Up Love Song #3 by The Guillemots, although sadly not for the happiest reasons. The latter was N’s first dance, and the former was played at her memorial service. But as well as being poignant, they also remind me of what a wonderful human being she was. On a happier level, Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling always makes me smile.

  1. Compared with this time last year, are you:

–happier or sadder?
As happy as I was last year, as for the majority, it’s been a good year. Events on both a domestic and global scale make me even more grateful for my life, and my wonderful friends and family.

–thinner or fatter?

I’m 22 weeks pregnant, so definitely fatter! How much is a baby and how much is Christmas excess though is debatable…

–richer or poorer?

Richer as, aside from the garden, we’ve not had to do anything on the house and we’ve been able to save quite a lot. When I stop work this is going to come in handy!

  1. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Dancing, not worrying, going to the allotment.

  1. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Wasting time on my phone. As with last year, working on evenings and weekends. The curse of the freelancer! But the payoff is that I get to have odd weekdays off from work and also plan nice things such as the now-annual trip away I take with my mom. And I never learn, but stressing about deadlines. It always works out! I really ought to know that now.

  1. How did you spend Christmas?

S and I spent it with just the two of us (and Olivia). It was a sadly alcohol-free celebration for me, but I ate lots of warm mince pies and clotted cream to make up for it. I got given a lot of socks and chocolate (we now have a drawer full), we spent mornings snuggled under the duvet watching TV and I did absolutely no work at all.

  1. Did you fall in love in 2016?

I really understood for the first time what it’s like to feel overwhelming parental love for someone, even someone who’s not yet here.

  1. What was your favourite TV programme?

S and I binge watched series 6 of Game of Thrones over Christmas and New Year, which was excellent. I feel that events are finally starting to level out and nasty people are starting to get their comeuppance.We also got through Stranger Things very quickly, and even went to a DJ Yoda gig inspired by the series. I really enjoyed The People v OJ Simpson, particularly the episode that focussed on Marcia Clarke. The ‘San Junipero’ episode of Black Mirror was superb, and so life-affirming — very different from the usual dark predictions that leave me feeling drained and depressed after watching. I also started watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and have reached series 5. S is not joining in with this, and in fact is not that impressed that it’s the only reason we’ve kept our Netflix subscription going.

  1. What was the best book you read?

Out of the 75 books I read, The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett was definitely my favourite. I loved it so much that I went out and bought it for my friend for her birthday and I keep telling people that they need to read it. I also really enjoyed The Muse by Jessie Burton, which S gave me for Christmas.

  1. What was your greatest musical discovery?

There was nothing noteworthy this year. We continue to listen to a lot of funk and soul, and saw Craig Charles live on Good Friday, who was excellent, and made up for the god-awful phone-in gig we last saw him give in Bristol.

  1. What did you want and get?

Exchange and completion on our old house. A landscaped garden.

  1. What did you want and not get?

To finish the online journalism course I started in April. The trouble with self-study is that lounging around reading paid work has to take priority, so I’m only halfway through. My aim is to complete it by April, however, so it’s done before I start my maternity leave.

  1. What did you not want and not get?

Long periods of unemployment. Hurrah! I had a quiet April but I just used it to spring clean the house and get ahead with regular commissions, so while I could have done with some more income that month, it wasn’t the end of the world.

  1. What was your favourite film of this year?

It doesn’t make me sound highbrow but I really loved Bad Neighbours 2!

  1. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 34 and we had a rum and reggae evening with friends at ours to take advantage of the warm weather and the balcony. I made jerk chicken and coleslaw, and we drank several bottles of rum. Then S took me to Go Ape in the Forest of Dean, which was a lot of fun, and that evening we drank a lot of Prosecco and ate pizza while watching Mystic Pizza.

  1. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

.Less worry and more alcohol.

  1. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

I would never really describe myself as having a ‘personal fashion concept’, as I’ve been wearing exactly the same type of clothes for years now — skinny jeans, short skirts, dresses, boots. A few years ago I made a conscious design to be much more aware of where my clothing was coming from, and not to buy from the worst ‘sweatshop’ offenders on the high street. I have kept this up now and will only buy from a handful of shops that put effort into the transparency of their supply chain and that have better ethical ratings than Primark, Asda et al. It’s not always easy but it’s worth it. I also consider that (myself included) people have too many clothes, clothing is far too disposable, and this is something we really need to address as a matter of urgency. I’m halfway through watching The Minimalists documentary on Netflix, which I can highly recommend if this is something you’re interested in.

  1. What kept you sane?

I took up yoga on a regular basis this year, which really helped to calm down the chattering in my head, as well as being good for my fitness and strength. I find regular swimming good for keeping sane too. Mostly though, it’s my amazing husband. He always, always knows what to do to keep me calm. And red wine or gin as a last resort!

  1. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I’m always partial to a bit of Kit Harington.

  1. What political issue stirred you the most?

Oh my gosh, where do you start with this considering the year we had? If I had to pick one, though, it would be the EU referendum. I am still horrified that the UK voted to leave and am hoping against hope that something comes along to block it. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I felt that Leavers had voted for good reasons, but it seems that the majority of them did it as a protest vote without considering the consequences. I was also appalled at the xenophobia that it stirred up.

  1. Who did you miss?

My friend N. We didn’t meet up a fraction of how much I would have liked, but we always had a lot of fun when we did. I still can’t really believe I won’t see her again.

  1. Who was the best new person you met?

I got to know one friend and her partner (now husband) a lot better this year, and I’m so glad I did. I now count her as one of my closer friends and someone I can talk to about so many things.

  1. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Always be grateful for what you’ve got.

  1. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“They say that new life makes losing life easier to understand” — Jack Johnson, If Only I Could. It’s a cliche but it’s so true. I found out I was pregnant a month after N died, and it helped to put things in perspective a little. I like to think that this baby will have some of her amazing characteristics, and I look forward to telling them about her achievements. I’ll probably skip the more juicy tales of us getting drunk at university, though.