No room for egos at 22 weeks

My body has decided it’s time to do something about my ego. Rightly, it figures that making me climb bum first then legs together into a car as if I’d forgotten to wear underpants would be the best way to go about it.

It started with the swim session I told you about the other day. You know, the one where I began to accept my body? Well, it turns out that while I had come to terms with the whole mountain-boobed-globe-bellied thing, my body’s limits and I have still been at odds.

I honestly tried to be good. While my friend Emily went straight into one of the faster lanes, I decided to stay in the frustratingly slow lane. I was so bored that I promised to upgrade next time we go. I still managed to overdo it.

The day after, I felt the pain in my arms. Good pain. But I also felt it in my thighs. Weird. My legs can usually deal no matter how out of practice I am.

As the day wore on, after a 45-minute walk, I realised that actually I felt like I’d been spending too much time on a horse (this was my imagining what being horseback might feel like. I’ve never been).

Was I really that unfit? Surely a little 20-minute swim couldn’t de-commission me so easily. I basically told my body, “Don’t be such a weakling” but was relieved when we took the bus home.

I suppose another person, a more cautious and sensible type, would have decided that it was time to take things easy. Whatever part of the brain enables someone like that to arrive at such a conclusion, it’s clearly gone missing in my I’m-only-pregnant bravado.

So, since we’re moving home this weekend, I’ve been packing and climbing and lifting and even jumping – basically daring my body to do it’s worst.

Then last night, I packed and stacked a couple of boxes and began to push them over to the other side of the room. Oh. That bending didn’t feel too good. Ok, let’s give them a kick across instead, shall we? Uh, sit down.

I spent my night having to sit up every time I wanted to change positions and had to get dressed this morning sitting down. I naively thought the worst thing that could happen was that my back could go out. That’s something I could deal with. I’ve grown up with scoliosis so backaches and I are well-acquainted.

But why the Gorgon did no one tell me that about half of pregnant women do their pelvises in? Is this some kind of sick joke – hiding information like this from the uninitiated?

I rang up my midwife today and she tells me it’s incredibly common. Really? REALLY? Then why no little warning? All the mothers I know, I’m adding this to the list of things you never told me about pregnancy. Not that I blame you. It’s not exactly polite conversation. But let’s add this one to the stinging nipples, shall we?

One of the incredible things about pregnancy is that every time I think I’ve got the hang of things, that I’m now a pro, nature has a way of reminding me that this is the one experience that I can’t control.

There’s only room for my baby or my ego – my body won’t hold both.

Image: Kate Ter Haar

Tell me I don’t have to start folding the laundry

We’re packing up the flat to move into our first house this weekend and I’m coming face to face with my usual lack of organisation. One suitcase has books, shoes, a mini djembe drum, a hot water bottle, hangers and a game of chess. My mother would look at this, amused, and wonder what these things have in common. They’re all stuff that was living room at the time, Mum. I’m sorry, you did try.

The topic of tidiness was revived in our flat yesterday because I’d flippantly mentioned that I don’t bother to fold clothes on a Facebook status. That’s no surprise to anyone who’s lived with me – especially those who witnessed the legendary bomb sites of my university days. They probably wonder at me saying that that’s the only thing I don’t bother to do.

Bit by bit I have and am taming my natural disorderliness. Except on bad weeks, and let’s face it, we’re moving so this is one of them, the world we live in is more or less tidy and usually pretty clean. (I feel the need to mention briefly that while I can live with messy, even I’ve outgrown dirty.)

Books make their way back to the shelves with my mother’s voice inside my head saying, “How you keep your surroundings reflects how you keep your life” or, when we’d properly vexed her with our sloppiness, “You people feel it have a slave inside of here. You waiting for the maid to come pick up after you.”

In many ways, she succeeded in shaping my view of what an adult home should look like, in terms of tidiness, even if I do backslide – except when it comes to folding the laundry. I remember opening my mother’s drawers and looking through her things as a child. I loved how neatly everything was kept, how sweetly even the littlest most delicate things were folded.

Perhaps, because she is my mother, I’ve come to see this as ‘the epitome of all that is womanly’. As a result, I feel not just un-dainty but unfeminine for my obviously inability to do the same. I could fold my underwear but, mercy knows, I’ll never get it to stay that way.

I realise now that a lot of it is because I don’t see the real point of folding. I know it means you can find things more easily but I actually enjoy the hunt and rediscovery inside my drawers and cupboards, even if I do get frustrated when we’re about to be late for a wedding and none of the dresses in easy reach fit me.

I know it means you can fit more into a draw when it’s folded nicely but…ok, I’m actually not convinced of that fact.

I also know that some people prefer the straight lined creases that come with folding as opposed to the all-over creases that come with stuffing but let’s be real, I hate ironing far more than I do folding and it doesn’t happen unless there are wedding, funerals or work events. Anything that absolutely needs to be uncreased gets hung not stuffed and so is excluded from this here diatribe against folding.

Mind you, I do go into a folding frenzy when Laurence and I have a fight. Rage tends to lend me special self-righteous cleaning powers. The place is never so tidy as when I’m angry. He jokes that he just needs to wreck my moods more often for us to stay on top of everything.

The reason why this is a question at all is because of the debate we’re having about what kind of parents we’re going to be. The blueprint for parently housekeeping that we’ve both grown up with is almost inexplicably orderly and it doesn’t mesh with either of our personalities. We both dislike visible clutter but neither of us honestly give a toss about what happens in the drawers.

But aren’t “real” parents supposed to care about the little things like that? How else will the skiddywinks learn? Do they even need to learn? Why oh why is this important? Please tell me that it’s not.

I don’t know if I can or would fight a battle with my children that I can’t or won’t win even inside myself.

Image: sunshinecity

Me, a pick up artist?

I think the UK may have missed out on the phenomena of “The Pick Up Artist” a VH1 television series. I got sucked into it one summer when I was home with my parents, which often translates into me watching a tad too much cable. It involves a group of shy men being trained to change their luck with women (apparently in the show’s terms this means seducing women for casual sex) and is based on a book that a few of my friends back home seemed to really get into.

Don’t have a clue what I’m talking about? Here’s an interview for your amusement with one of the show’s stars ‘Mystery’ who claims that “Being picked up by a pick up artist is a privilege.”

Really it’s the worst kind of entertainment, so self-assured and trashy that it pretty much parodies itself. Where the chips am I going with this? I started thinking about it today in passing when I was considering what it’s been like trying to settle into Bristol.

We moved here last summer and only now do I feel like I’m making some potentially deep and meaningful connections. The first step is where the difficulty lies – getting a new acquaintance’s number. I’ve met a few potential friends at parties, cafes, other people’s houses, church meetings, pubs and getting into the conversation is actually not that difficult once I push past my natural shyness barrier.

Then the moment of truth comes, will I initiate the exchange of numbers? She’s got no reason to initiate it. She’s settled in her life, her social group. So it’s up to me to make that move. And more often than not, I don’t. I just hope we’ll bump into each other again.

I know this problem isn’t unique to me. Just a couple of weekends ago I was chatting with a friend who moved back to the countryside to live with her parents and asked her how her social life was going. She told me about one instance in which she’d had a lovely chat with a woman about her age who was in a similar situation and also lived in the village. At the end of it, she gave the other woman her number but, because she didn’t have her phone, didn’t take hers. The woman never got called.

Little by little, I’m improving my method, inventing reasons to get someone’s number (actually, that’s pretty much how my husband and I got together!) and casually orchestrating the second meet-up. A lot of people meet me halfway – I add you on Facebook, you invite me for a cup of tea, that kind of thing. But I can’t for the life of me work out why it’s so difficult to stretch out and make it happen in the first place.

So here’s to me and other friends who’ve moved out of Brighton, our university town. May we pick up quality women – for the chats, not necessarily the sex.

Image: Nono Fara

Hello, masses, here’s my pregnant body

My father has a habit of saying, “Fat is a feminist issue,” whenever I mention weight, mine or anyone else’s.

I’m convinced that he’s quoting the title of a book he’s not read because he never goes on to explain what he means.

He probably just likes how it sounds.

Or maybe he’s been vaguely trying to help me see that my body isn’t valued based on what others think of it.

It’s even possible that he’s arguing that women talk about “fat” far more than is necessary or interesting. I have no idea. I must ask him some day.

Last night I went swimming with a friend at a public indoor swimming pool. It was my first swim in almost a year, which also made it the first time I’d displayed my pregnant body in all its glory to the masses.

Now, even when I had significantly less body fat as a teenager, I felt uncomfortable stripping to go swimming in public. My breasts were new and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them and I felt like everyone was watching me.

I never wore a bikini even though I had an enviably flat stomach. This was partly because I felt self-conscious and didn’t want to draw more ‘attention’ to myself and partly because the Christian community I grew up in wasn’t too keen on women not wearing one-pieces (at least that was the message I got quite early on).

I had a pretty nervous take on my body.

It wasn’t until university, when I cut off all my hair (the hair on my head) and occasionally shaved it, that I came to be at relative peace with my body.

I’d chopped it all off myself while plunged in what I later recognised as a bout of depression but the outcome of having little hair was quite useful.

I stopped trying so hard.

Since I realised my hair didn’t matter in terms of building relationships, because it wasn’t such an essential part of my identity – that I was, in fact, the same person – I felt freedom to recognise that my body’s size and shape also existed outside of my innate value.

Of course, I still had insecurities but they didn’t predominate quite as much.

Actually, I didn’t start interrogating my body again until pregnancy began to make itself apparent.
My breasts, already uncomfortably large decided to multiply in size overnight and, almost as suddenly, my waist disappeared. My clothes, suited to an hourglass, didn’t fit well any more.

I felt frumpy. But I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to appear shallow or ungrateful for the baby.

From the day my bump flopped out one weekend, I began to look at my naked body in the mirror with fascination, awe and horror. I obsessed over the possibility of stretch marks and my rapidly expanding thighs.

I also wondered if I’d be able to lose the weight quickly after giving birth.

I was shocked at my own sexualised response to my pregnant body. I had inwardly criticised other women for their vanity, for buying so deeply into celebrity culture that they began to view their own bodies as objects to be manipulated for the observer’s pleasure rather than fully claiming them as their own.

It was difficult to reconcile myself to a body that no longer obeyed me but instead did whatever was necessary to nurture the creature, with caring about side effects.

I won’t pretend that these thoughts and feelings have magically disappeared as if I’m somehow immune to the trappings of western culture. But feeling the creature kick, noticing the hardness of her home and seeing her on screen are going a long way in transforming some of my horror to wonder.

I marvel at my body’s ability to do this, to do this beautiful thing; to provide for someone else in such a complete way.

When I was getting ready for swimming last night, I discovered that I’d already outgrown the modest maternity one-piece I’d bought so would have to wear a bikini I’d accidentally bought years go two sizes too big. Looking at all my bulges in the mirror, I wasn’t sure whether I’d feel self-conscious when out in public or not.

To my surprise, heavy breasts, extended belly, meaty thighs and all, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t care whether anyone was watching me or what they thought of the state of my body.

I casually slipped into the water and enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness, of freedom.

Image: Mary Thompson

Feast, famine or funny food

In this flat, we have a bedtime routine that I’m not altogether proud of. If we stay up beyond 11, I’ll almost inevitably go into a funk that doesn’t allow me to go to bed without making a fuss. Often, Laurence has to drag to my feet by the armpits and remind me that for this to work, I need to put my arms down. Clearly good common sense goes missing late at night. But then, while I’m brushing my teeth, I’m tired enough to start thinking about the things I’m worried about. It goes like this.

I couldn’t wait to stop being a student so I could get a real job and finally have money. You know, get on the career ladder. Be a grown up. Or at least be able to buy a pair of shoes without having to struggle through the maths first.

It’s all about stability – that thing you’re supposed to have acquired before you get married and have children. Oh. Am I doing this the wrong way around, then?

As a freelance writer, I expect the feast or famine (and I know which it feels like more often!) but as an expectant mother, it’s sometimes difficult not to get a bit, well, antsy.

Especially when I’m raiding the January cupboard and cooking “bean and stuffing casserole”, the bizarre concoction pictured here.

So began the worry rant I heaped on hassled Laurence last night: “Why can’t I have a real job, go to an office, have a boss tell me what to do and know what I’ll be paid and when I’ll be paid every month?” And even scarier: “Is this the wrong time for us to be having a baby? What if my career’s never stable? What if we can’t pay for ballet lessons?!”

He patiently said something that surprised me: “You need to accept that you may never have a ‘real’ job.” What? The suggestion was at once terrifying (you mean it could always be like this?!) and liberating.

This universal career ladder thing is, essentially, imaginary. It only becomes reality when buy into the idea that there’s only one clearly-defined way of doing things, of living.

I think he also meant that I would be doing what I love, writing, and that this in itself would benefit our children. They might even see the merit of not taking the easy path. And anyway, it’ll be years before they even notice that mummy doesn’t have a normal job.

Even so, the money/career thing? It’s scary.

Driving’s for losers

Yesterday I proved that my husband is patient enough to put his life and, more impressively, car into my shaky hands simply to encourage me. He yelled, “Brakes!” a couple of times but there were no beads of sweat, whispered prayers or attempts at thinly veiled contempt.

It could be that he’s bone tired of driving the whole way to Cornwall while I either consume all breathing space with “important issues” or snore my head into dropping forward, back, left, right and back again. He’s probably also a bit fed up of having to quickly pull to the side while I revisit whatever I’ve had for breakfast. Latest accomplishments include puking a full English outside the Wordsworth museum in the Lake District – just to inject a bit of culture into our visit. And bless his pants, that time he was making the ten-hour journey up to Aberdeen and back as the sole driver. To see my family. What a hero.

But the hero has decided it’s time I learned to drive, especially since the creature will probably demand need driving around. He needs to feel safe about me taking his offspring out and about. For my part, I really don’t want her to grow up subconsciously thinking at worst that women don’t make good drivers or at least inherit my complex about the whole issue.

It all started when I was 18. The mechanics of maneuvering a manual car were fine but I soon realised that I had no perception of where the chips the car was. I could move it around just fine but understanding where other cars were in relation to my car or deciphering just what I was seeing in the mirrors was a total mystery. Embarrassed, I never told the instructor. I just let him tell me what to do.

Amazingly, this didn’t affect my test. I failed it a couple of times but for unrelated majors. The third time I decided to go automatic and still made a huge mistake (rolling back on a hill) but the examiner decided to pass me anyway, out of pity, I think. He said, “You’ll learn as you go along.” Oh, Trinidad, how I love thee.

Well, I didn’t learn as I went along. Soon after getting my sympathy license, I picked up a friend with my dad in the car. We were driving to the mall and all was fine until my dad suggested I switch lanes. In one clear moment, I realised that I didn’t know how to do that, couldn’t tell where the cars behind me were and shouldn’t attempt this one on the fly but bravado got the better of me and I plunged for it.

I looked over my shoulder and simultaneously pushed the wheel to the left, resulting in the car scraping over the partition that separates the cars going in one direction on the motorway from the cars going the other. I’m so driving savvy that I don’t even know what this is called. Anyway, there we dangled, our car precariously hanging over both sides of the motorway like a toy dropped by the Honey I Blew Up the Kid baby.

Massive props to my dad for seeing the humour in it pretty much right away and for telling my friend and me to get out of the car and go around the corner where we wouldn’t hear things that could jeopardise my confidence. I think he even offered for me to get straight back into the driver’s seat after a van of guys helped him lift it onto the road. But I refused.

I’ve not driven since, partly because of what happened but more because there was never any impetus to try in Brighton. As a student, I hardly knew anyone who had a car. The city’s so small you can walk everywhere and so green that many people make the lifestyle choice not to drive.

But, it’s like riding a bike, everyone said, you never forget. Not that that helps. I can’t ride a bike either.

And guess what, they’re all a bunch of sweaty liars. I got into a car yesterday and remembered nothing. What the hell are gears for? Why’s this clutch business so flippin’ complicated? Which way do I turn if I want the car to go that way when I’m reversing? How much do I turn? Too much? Grrr. Breaks. Jump. Stall.

And the big problem remains. I still have limited spatial awareness. I still can’t make sense of what I’m seeing in the mirrors so that it translates into me not aiming to crash into something.

I start lessons to get my UK driver’s license on Wednesday. And now it’s about more than not wanting the creature to think that women are rubbish. At this point I’ll settle for her not thinking that I’m rubbish.

Image: J.B. Hill

My cupboard is fully stocked…

with pinches of salt for the coming year. Mompetition hits it again.