Pain and the Second Scan

And now begins the period in the pregnancy when the experience felt by the man and the woman starts to diverge, dramatically.  At first the excitement and stress is almost equal for the two parties as they consider their futures.  But soon, the real physical changes begins for one, whereas the other remains unaltered.  As the little life inside the woman grows little by little, aches and pains follow with alarming progress.  Slight twinges develop into almost disabling agony.  Walking becomes more than an uncomfortable, standing is only possible for short periods and sleeping, which was once so peaceful, is now a matter of turning from one aching side to the other.  Obviously this is different for every woman, but Willy soon came to feel pain in her back and groin that could not be passed off as just acceptable pregnancy discomfort.  And it was pain that was not going away or easing.

Before making an appointment with our GP, Willy searched the internet for some comfort in shared experience.  She found information about a condition called ‘Pelvic Girdle Pain’.  It is described in terms of the pelvic girdle not being balanced or effectively allowing movement of the legs without excess strain at the pubic symphysis joint, which could shear or separate, causing pain.  Willy also noted that the web was full of horror stories about the condition being ignored by most doctors as just a symptom of pregnancy and something that will get better after the baby is born (not encouraging when you have four months more of searing pain in front of you), or worse , evidence that some women have ended up on crutches.  With this in mind Willy visits the GP hoping for a physio referral.  What follows is a indication of how poor some of the services offered by our NHS are.  Now before I get a million comments saying this is an unfair criticism, just remember that this is our experience, and not necessarily the experience of everyone.

The 1st GP’s response was one of taking painkillers; the 2nd GP was an attitude of ‘pull yourself together, you are pregnant, it will be painful at times’; the first mid-wife was yes you can be referred for physio, but the hospital will not allow referrals until you are further into your pregnancy, so just suffer for another six or eight weeks.

Within these weeks, we had our 2nd scan and this is the day we learned if we were having a little Hazel or a little Theo.  I remember having conflicting thoughts on whether I really had a preference:  I didn’t, but I did have reasons in place for being happy whatever the outcome.  I did want Willy to have a girl, so her grandmother’s name could live on and so Willy could share a similar strong relationship she has with her own mum.  I also selfishly thought that Willy would then have a greater responsibility in the future for those sensitive conversations, that would have been very difficult for me to have.  I also wanted a mini-me; a boy who I could share my love of guitars, Star Wars, motorbikes and post-modern art.  There was also a small part of me that thought that ‘men’ have boys, so to have a son was a sign of maximum virility.  I later learned that this is nonsense, but it kept me amused for a while thinking it true.

And so it was that on the day we learned our fate and welcomed this new identifiable life into the family, I had to deal with a massive loss to our existing family.  Before making the journey to the hospital I spoke to my dad and found out that my sister’s husband had died during the night.  He had made a brave fight against cancer that lasted many months more than he was originally given, and he was and remains an example to all in how to fight that terrible disease with good humour and dignity.  He is sadly missed.  With heavy hearts we travelled to the hospital, the excitement and nervousness of the scan, mixing with intense sadness of the loss of my brother-in-law.  He was on our minds the whole time.

The scan is a blur now, but everything was as it should be and we were treated to seeing out little baby sucking his thumb (a rare sight apparently).  All the tests were fine and he was shown to be doing very well (as was Willy).  Ah yes, I just gave it away didn’t I…?  The sex of the baby was shown very clearly in an image of the space between his legs:  unmistakeable.  A little boy.  Our little Theo – the bump finally had a name.  We had been calling it Thozel (our two chosen names mixed together), but now we knew it was Theo and the little man’s character began to form.  It is very odd that when an entity has a name it becomes more real than when it was just a nameless life:  maybe this is a part of the human condition, and why names are so important to our sense of self.  From that day, we had our own little The-man – Master of Our Universe.  It is interesting that at the point I knew we had a boy, that there was an image in my mind of little Hazel disappearing into nothingness and little Theo becoming clear.  It almost felt like losing a daughter in the millisecond of gaining a son.

Still dazed from the overflowing emotions and the sense of loss and gain, we arrived home and I phoned my dad again to let them know our news and check that my sister was coping.  I guess in some ways our beacon of light was some distraction that day from the grief felt by all:  the way that new life brings hope when hope seems evasive.  Through sobs and tears I let dad know he has a grandson on the way and that we have named him after his own grandad: Theodore.  I heard my mum and sister in the room behind dad express their approval and I later put down the phone exhausted.

So, remember then that during this time Willy is still experiencing massive groin and back pain and we had been counting the days until we can get a referral?  Well the day finally came for one of the mid-wife appointments, and this was at a time when the referral could be given.  The mid-wife happened to be different from our usual one, and when asked about a referral replied in the affirmative.  Willy explained that she had been in pain for weeks and the mid-wife asked why it hadn’t been dealt with before as she refers her ladies for physio as soon as it is needed!  And this is our experience:  ask one person, get one answer; ask another get a totally different answer, sometimes diametrically opposite.  And so the referral was given.

It turns out not to be absolute solution to Willy’s aches and pains, but at that point she was relieved that some help was being sought.  On that day, despite the frustration of not being referred earlier, it was enough.


Building a Nest

The first couple of months of pregnancy are a strange time.  For the woman there is a whole host of almost imperceptible changes occurring in her body and clearly she is preparing herself for the time ahead:  for the time when everything is bigger and everything is more difficult to do.  For the man, it is a real state of limbo; a time when you are really surplus to requirements.  It is at this point therefore, that as a man, you start thinking of what needs to be done, as a way of feeling necessary.

It is with this in mind that I become focussed on practical issues… practical; technical; manly things.  Things that I can investigate and study, compare and make judgements on.  Things that I can feel important about.  I am talking about cars.

My issue being that we were a two car family, and we each had 3 door hatchbacks:  cars not suited to the daily task of baby car seats and the constant in and out of a small sleeping person.  Although it is doable, it is easier with 5 doors.

So I went in search of a car that would suit both me and Willy; that had to have 5 doors and a decent boot, and had ISOFIX fixings.  It also had to cost no more than both our cars as part exchange.

I can’t tell you how having this project made me feel:  looking at cars with a mature outlook, instead of purely on looks; looking at safety rather than acceleration; checking miles per gallon rather than top speed…  it made me feel like my own dad; it made me feel I had responsibility – it made me feel that I had to consider others before myself.  I started to feel like a grown up.

I checked a number of different garages and models and checked with Willy about whether she would be comfortable driving certain models.  After looking at a handful and test driving a few, the decision was made.  And on a snowy Sunday in February, we said a sorrowful farewell to our own cars and came home with one car:  Our car.  The family car.

It was interesting to remember our feelings at this stage because this was the thin end of a wedge of future changes.  I recall thinking that this small change was nothing compared to what would happen in 7 months time, and the fact that we were dealing with it so easily was extremely reassuring for the real upheaval to follow.

With the transport sorted out, the next big job was changing the spare room into a nursery.  This may sound like an easy transition, however, the room was being used at the time as a music studio.  I had all my musical equipment in there and initially imagined that this would be relegated to the dark attic.  After discussions with Willy, it was decided that a corner of our own bedroom would be set aside for a mini-studio for me.  This meant compressing all that I had into a space a quarter of its original size:  another project to keep me occupied.

The first thing to do was sort our own bedroom out and within a fortnight me and Willy decorated and moved the room around to free up the corner that would be my studio.  It remained ready like this for a few weeks because I knew that to fit in all that I wanted, I would need to install a couple of big shelves.  Not being particularly gifted in DIY, the thought of undertaking the job was more frightening than actually doing it.  Plus, I needed to buy wood and before that, I needed to measure and plan out the structure of the shelves.  I guess what was holding me back was the idea of the physical change of my world:  very selfish I know, and although I was happy to do it, unconsciously I was probably delaying the actual move because it was a symbol of an era ending.

The weekend finally came when I got myself together and sawed, drilled, hammered, screwed and then stood back to admire a fine set of strong shelves. In addition, I also put up the spare TV on a wall bracket and wired the cable for the aerial.  Months later, everything is still solid on that wall, so I can now say that I did a good job.

This demonstration of my DIY skills was followed by moving my musical equipment into place and storing away things that were not in constant use.  Somehow I managed to do it and am still able to record my music with very little inconvenience.

With the spare room now reduced to just a chest of drawers and a small settee, we started decorating what would be our baby’s room.  As Willy was still in the early stages of pregnancy this was not too much of a chore for us, but it was clear during the painting that Willy was beginning to suffer from what we would learn to be Pelvic Girdle Pain.

More on that next week.

12 Weeks

The first scan was carried out during the last week of February.  The preceding couple of months had been unremarkable in as much as it was a period of keeping a secret.  Although we wanted to share our news, we wanted to wait until the first scan was done and we were sure we didn’t have a phantom.  I know this sounds pretty silly now, as it is obvious that if there had been no monthly action, being ‘late’ gets passed the point of even being mentioned.. two months late is not ‘late’ it is clearly ‘pregnant’.  The voice in the back of your head is a quiet but doubting voice, and it is a by-product of this generation that until we see a photograph of something, we cannot accept it is real.

I also have to say at this point, me and Willy had not wanted to announce our news, only to have some horrible course of events lead us to then announce again that we were not pregnant.  That ‘course of events’ is of course the worst case scenario: losing the baby.  It is an interesting quirk of human nature (or maybe it is just us) that we remained silent because we did not want the upset or embarrassment of having to retract our original statement about being pregnant, when really if the worst had happened, we would have needed that support and outlet of grief to get us through that part of our lives.  It is with this clear thought in our minds that we agreed to tell our close family… but only close family: three people.. my mum and dad, and Willy’s mum.

Now, we have been together almost 16 years and married for 10 years, but there was still a nervous period before announcing our news; we did not know how our nearest and dearest would react.  We had thought either that we had waited too long to start a family and were not interesting enough anymore and it would have been a total non-event to them, or worse that we would have been criticised for being too old to start a family:  I am 43 and Willy 32.  Also I am the youngest of my siblings and Willy the eldest of hers, so I also thought that my niece and nephews would have satisfied my parents long ago, and Willy’s mum had long given up on being a gran.  How wrong we were.  All three of them were delighted:  totally shocked, but bursting with joy.

Willy was fortunate during this time that she did not suffer too much from morning sickness.  She did feel unwell and nauseous often, but never vomited.  She also did not have massive or unnatural cravings:  I had pictured driving to the all night superstore and picking up all manner of odd delicacies.  But no, only once did I have to go to the shops and that was for mango chutney and poppadoms.  Luckily, Willy’s love for good Indian cuisine never altered and we often visited our local restaurant (Tropical Spice in Stourbridge).

And so to the first scan.  I am trying now to recollect my feelings, but I think it was mainly of relief.  We had thought we would both be very emotional, but we both were just relieved that we definitely were pregnant and that everything seemed to be healthy.  Willy had said only a couple of days before going to the hospital that she had nightmares of the scan showing nothing and we would be sent away with our tails between our legs for wasting everyone’s time.  I have to say that sitting in that darkened room, a TV screen hanging from the ceiling at the end of the bed showing initially a very grainy dark nothingness, my heart was banging in my chest.  And then out of nowhere the shape of little life, and then it was gone again as the radiographer rolled the scanner around Willy’s belly.  We had heard that sometimes it is difficult to get a clear picture, but again the screen fills with the unmistakeable image of a baby’s head and arms, and there at the centre of the TV a white pulsing heart.  And the baby’s legs and arms were moving around as if he was dancing (we didn’t know at this point by the way it was a boy); it was a beautiful sight.  The radiographer carried out the necessary measurements, while me and Willy stared unblinking at the screen above us, trying to take in and process the information there.  The photograph we eventually took away with us does no justice to these few minutes, but we left the room with swelling hearts and excitement. No tears, but very emotional.  I kept looking at the picture almost in disbelief, but with a wide smile that knew this was all true and all happening to us.

We could not have been happier… well, as it happens, we became progressively happier as the weeks go by.

The first few weeks

These were actually worrying times, the first month or so after the positive pregnancy test; which sounds strange to say I know. You would expect one long continuous party. However, blessed as I am with a large dose of realism (sometimes described as pessimism) I knew that pregnancy was never always a simple matter of fertilisation followed by delivery nine months later. Not including those close to me who had experienced the cosmic unfairness of miscarriage, or complications in pregnancy, there was a world wide web full of tales of desperation and disappointments and utter despair. So my mind filled with the worst possible endings and almost as a way of dealing with future horror I kept saying to myself that we still had a long way to go… that anything could happen.. and that whatever came our way, we would face it together.

Luckily the last eight months have been relatively horror-free.

But those first few weeks were a signpost, an indication of things to come: I am talking now about hormones, the internet and the way a woman’s mind works. Clearly when I am talking about ‘women’, I am only talking about my beautiful wife Willy and am in no way making a connection that because one person is like that, therefore everyone else is. However, I do hope that both men and women reading this will feel some comfort in knowing that these early thought processes are entirely normal and rational (or rationally irrational) and that no matter what you say the fears do not go away, but are totally necessary while your brain attempts to make sense of the life-changing period of your life.

So the main, everlasting fear is that you have started something off that will be irreversible: this isn’t a thing you can lose if you get bored or forget about if it doesn’t quite go the way you wanted. This is a living thinking individual life and it is your job to raise them so they can get on in the world without going crazy or making anyone else crazy. Now we have all grown up somehow, either with or without help, so it isn’t rocket science – but with a baby you have a blank canvas and your fear is that you will do it wrong, very wrong.

This is my fear. There is also an underlying unease that has no reason for being there except as simple human nature, and that is losing the life before it has a chance to be born. This irrational fear comes and goes, but is always present, lurking in the very depths of my being – I guess it stems from the human brain being incapable of not thinking about worst case scenarios. Every day I count my blessings: I honestly do.

These are my fears.  My wife’s fears include these in some form but she has many more to deal with, which is understandable as she is this life’s sole carer for the next nine months and everything she does will have an impact on both her own body and the baby itself.  On top of the rational thought processes, we have the ones running on hormones: the uncontrollable raging hormones that are ever-present and always making an impact, somewhere… not always when you expect it, but always there.  My first example of this (and I use the example in a total non-judgemental sense – my wife is my hero) is: the no alcohol fear.  Now I don’t mean the fear of not drinking for nine months, her abstinence is an example to all, I am talking about having alcohol without knowing.. eating food that contains ‘traces’ of alcohol.

Picture the scene if you will.. an innocent after dinner dessert: a tiramisu, and I am describing a tiramisu in a plastic pot, the sort you would have yoghurt in.  Manufactured in a factory to strict EU guidelines, suitable for all ages.  Willy eats her tiramisu and loves it… she then recalls that normal tiramisu that you may get at a restaurant is loaded with alcohol, so she checks the packaging of her dessert, and there it is: ‘traces’ of alcohol.  And then begins a few hours, maybe a night and a morning, of panic.  Controlled panic.  Repeated questions.  Checking the internet.  More questions.  More self-questioning, followed by guilt and more panic.  I try my best to allay her fears, but it is difficult to make someone feel better, when the cause of their discomfort is an irrational fear not felt by the other person.  You hear yourself saying: “Don’t be daft, it couldn’t do any harm – there is no alcohol in it – kids can eat it” etc.  Followed by her saying “Hmmm”, but her eyes still wracked with guilt.  There is acceptance in a couple of days, and it is then I remember that her responsibility at that time is 100% and if anything bad were to happen, she would feel totally at fault.  Her nervousness at holding something so precious to us on her own is intense.

This fear is also always there, and I guess will never leave her – but later on it will be shared, and that is some comfort.