Welcome to the world, Ophelia

As you may have guessed from the blog going quiet, our new baby, Ophelia Hope, is here!

I won’t go into all the details (just yet) but she was born on Monday night at 40+3 weeks. So I guess I don’t only do 42-weekers! Not that I particularly want to find out again.

It was a really satisfying birth, at home and in water. Talitha is very much in love, as are we all.

Thanks for your continuing support as readers. xxx

Circus Queen new baby 2.jpg

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40 Weeks Pregnant – Due

So today is the due date, according to our scan. Since only something like five per cent of women give birth on their due date and since my last baby was three hours’ short of being a 42-weeker, I feel like this is the one day I can completely rest in the expectation that I will not be going into labour.

Actually, I’ve been telling people from the start that the baby’s due somewhere sort of late February, early March. And I told myself that this time I was definitely not going to get impatient; I would be totally zen and whatnot. That was all well and good when my body was feeling amazing – so much energy and positivity, so much distraction with a two-year-old, so much physical relief with osteopathy. Just in this past week, it’s suddenly got a lot harder.

Exhaustion and nausea have returned almost first trimester-style. I am feeling the full weight of this heavily pregnant body. For the first time in this pregnancy, I’m experiencing pelvic girdle pain akin to that of my last and I really don’t have the money or inclination for any more osteopathy right about now. I had all these intentions for keeping active and staying out and about but, as it’s turned out, we haven’t been able to go anywhere, except once to a corner shop. Sweet Talitha keeps offering to kiss my pelvic girdle to help me feel better. What I’d really like is to nap all day long (or even for 30 minutes) but she’s not buying into quiet time this week.

I’m realising that I have to stay mind-over-matter about this, though, because the reality is that we may have another two weeks to go before we meet this new person who’s joining our family (and before I get another grown up to stay home with us for a bit). Whether we have hours, days or weeks left, I don’t want these last moments to be really crappy because I’m all grumpy and over it.

40 weeks pregnant

Yesterday, when nausea was at its worst, I found myself clock-watching, which I feel really awful about. These are the last days of having this concentrated one-to-one time with my two-year-old. Actually, make that my 32-month-old because she’s still a baby, really, even if she insists that she’s “a big girl”. We had some really fun moments together but I did end up almost losing the plot towards the end and convinced her to start the bedtime routine a little early.

I’m in a place right now where I’m not sure which I’d rather have: certainty that I’m going to give birth really soon or a set time frame for how long my child is going to keep asking me “Why?” on repeat.

On the upside, I think that this frustration is because, on some level, I feel ready. Back in June when I found out I was pregnant again, my excitement was peppered with so much worry: How would I cope with two? What would birth be like this time? Would I once again struggle to breastfeed? Could I do sleep deprivation again?

40 weeks pregnant - due

Other mothers reminded me that nine months is a long time. So much can change, and, well, so much has. I truly feel fears have been released over these weeks and I thank God for that. Talitha has grown up lots and understands more than I’d expected she would. I’m still making huge mistakes in my parenting but at least I can genuinely look back and see growth, which is something I rarely allowed myself to notice or believe before.

Even if I’m not completely ready to do this thing, I’m prepared to give it a hell of a go, anyway.

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How to Henna Your Pregnant Bump

I mentioned last week in my Ten Lessons for a Positive Pregnancy post that having Laurence henna my bump has been a powerful way of celebrating this pregnancy, especially since we don’t expect to have any more children. I enjoyed having full wedding mehndi on my hands and forearms 4.5 years ago so why not remember my likely last bump this way?

Since we’re really skint at the moment and it’s really hard to find anyone who’ll henna bumps professionally, Laurence agreed to have a go when I was 38 weeks pregnant. I thought we’d share the DIY with you in case you ever wanted to give it a go.

How to henna your pregnant bump 2

We started off by buying three cones of henna. As it turned out, we only needed 1.5. Once you’ve opened them, they need to be stored in the fridge.

How to henna your pregnant bump 3

To get into the flow, Laurence started off by looking at lots of designs on Google images and trying some pencil drawings. He also practised on some mates at work to get a good feel for drawing with the fiddly medium of henna. You’ll notice that there’s a lot of circular going on in most designs, which is great for accentuating a pregnant bump.

How to henna your pregnant bump 5

When it was time to get down to business, he kept the iPad to hand so he could look at some inspirations then just got on with it – starting from the belly button and working outwards, stepping back every now and then for a look. The experience was significantly less stressful once my brother took his niece off our hands for a bit. You can’t erase mistakes, so you pretty much have to run with whatever happens.

How to henna your pregnant bump

Laurence found that it’s easier to do the top of the bump than the bottom as gravity pulls the henna away. So it also follows that stroke lines are hard but dots are easy. To steady himself, he used his left wrist to support the wrist of the drawing hand. It was best to go faster once he got into the swing of it and if he drew a line that got wobbly, adding some loops on top and flourishing it saved it. Any gaps were filled with filigree.

How to henna your pregnant bump 6

You can paste on a lemon solution and wrap with clingfilm for a deeper dye but I didn’t bother and it stayed as long as the professional mehndi I had for my wedding did, ie it started to fade after a week (pictured). So, it’s worth taking pics while the paste is still on as that’s when it’s at its most impressive, really.

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If you like Circus Queen, please consider nominating my blog for a MAD Blog Award. I’d especially appreciate a nomination in the Best Blog Writer and Best Pregnancy Blog categories.

If you like Circus Queen, consider nominating it for Best Pregnancy Blog!

Breastfeeding while pregnant – the third trimester

I kind of wasn’t really expecting to ever write this post. I found breastfeeding in the first trimester such hard work, especially since it triggered nausea which led us to night wean. I was determined to take a “wait and see” approach, making myself no promises either way. I believe that allowing children to outgrow the need to breastfeed is such a gift but that the balance of needs between the two people in a nursing relationship naturally shifts over time.

So I had mixed feelings when I thought she was weaning. During the second trimester, breastfeeding, as most things, got a whole lot easier. My colostrum came in and Talitha reached a stage where I could reason with her about how often and how long we fed. It began to look like weaning was unlikely.

By last month, I realised I needed to get my head around the distinct possibility that I would be tandem breastfeeding my two-and-a-half-year-old and my newborn.

Now at almost 40 weeks, I look back and it’s been such a weird and wonderful journey, breastfeeding during this pregnancy. It’s certainly an incredibly personal experience, unique to any mother who finds herself in this position. I’ve benefited from hearing others’ stories and, hopefully, someone else will benefit from mine.

Breastfeeding more
I guess it must be down to my body producing more colostrum but Talitha has suddenly in the last few weeks wanted to feed more frequently and for longer. I’m not thrilled about it but at least it means she sometimes naps or gives me a chance to rest and read during the day.

Discomfort still there
Breastfeeding continues to be physically and, at times, emotionally, unpleasant. It’s unbearable on one side so I’ve stopped feeding from that side altogether. As long as I get Talitha to latch really carefully, it’s usually OK but I never just let go and stop thinking about it as I would before.

It’s always something I’m actively choosing to do. She comes into our bed in the morning and her asking for “milky” is generally a countdown to us waking up altogether because I know that I can only manage it for so long. So, I’ve got really militant about counting to ten with her, after which she’ll happily come off and demand porridge for breakfast.

The only time I just carry on is if I am absolutely desperate for her to have a nap. And then it becomes an opportunity to practice hypnobirthing! It’s not pain so much as just really irritating! In my less rational moments I worry that it’s always going to be like this but I know it’s down to pregnancy hormones.

Breastfeeding while pregnant - the third trimester

Breastfeeding in public
For the first time since Talitha was a very tiny baby and I was a new mother, I’ve started to feel slightly embarrassed about breastfeeding in public. I think part of the issue is that, apart from breastfeeding support groups, we haven’t done it in so long. Generally, Talitha is too busy to ask or is easily distracted if I feel it’s inconvenient for me to feed her when we’re out and about, which, to be honest, I usually feel like it is.

However, there have been a few times recently where she’s been (loudly) adamant that “milky” is what she wants and nothing else will do. I have felt that she is expressing a need for reassurance or comfort and that, actually, breastfeeding her is the quickest and least disruptive way of meeting that need. I actually think it’s a pity we don’t see children breastfed into, well, childhood, in Britain. It does little for normalisation and quite a lot for isolating mothers who continue for longer.

At the same time, I would rather Talitha not pick up on my discomfort or anyone else’s and, thankfully, I’ve yet to deal with that. I think my feeling of strangeness has primarily come from the combination of being out and about breastfeeding a child approaching three and exposing my massive pregnant belly!

Conversations with my nursling
Talitha surprised Laurence the other day by calling my breasts “our milkies” meaning that they belong to her and the baby. I asked her again what the milk tastes like and she said: “Sweet and just like milky” – whatever that means! Sometimes, while she’s feeding, she’ll lay a hand on my bump and stroke it. She’ll come off and have a little chat with the baby. It goes something like this. “Hello, —, having a nice day? You will like milkies!”

Preparing for our new baby
In early pregnancy I was a bit freaked out about how tandem nursing could work should my newborn have similar breastfeeding problems to the ones we struggled through with Talitha.

The prospect of breastfeeding two didn’t reassure me that I would make enough milk because I was still uncertain that tongue-tie was the only cause of my low milk production. I also didn’t know that things were ever completely resolved with Talitha’s feeding. In fact, I’m pretty sure they never were.

However, I’m now in a really good place with this. I feel prepared to breastfeed the second time around, having addressed the last experience and defined my own success. I will talk at greater length about this another time.

All in all, I’m really glad we got here. I know that many women do end up needing to wean during pregnancy and that is a valid and entirely personal decision. Others find their nurslings self-wean before they expected them to. We’ve been fortunate, really. I have no idea what’s going to happen next and I don’t really have any milestones in mind for when we’ll go on to. I just feel good about where we are.

Breastfeeding while pregnant – the first trimester
Breastfeeding while pregnant – the second trimester
Tandem breastfeeding – the early months

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Ten Lessons for a Positive Pregnancy

Positive pregnancy – why does it matter? Or does it even matter? I flinch whenever I hear someone call birth experience a first world concern, mocking women for wanting a positive birth. Of course, any woman would choose a traumatic birth over infant death but are you saying that’s the only choice she should have? Why is it so bad not only to admit we want better but to aim for and even demand it? Sure, a positive birth won’t make us bigger women or better mothers. We know that. Usually, though, women know that a positive birth experience is the better outcome – physically and otherwise – not only for them but for their babies too.

And can pregnancy be divorced from birth? We can think of them so separately. Yet, just as we can be pretty birth-negative in our culture (“You’ll be begging for the drugs”, “First-time mum? You’ll need to be induced for sure”, “You’re too small-boned to deliver naturally”) we can be unwittingly bump-negative too. Pregnancy gets viewed as an illness. Women spend those nine months disliking their growing bodies, accepting and dwelling on physical discomforts and worrying about the labour to come.

At 38 weeks, I’m coming to the end of a pregnancy in which (goodness knows!) I have not always remained positive but have learned a lot. I don’t pretend that reading around, listening to others’ experiences and being down this path a couple of times makes me an expert by any means. I’m just adding my voice to a conversation we need to keep having around pregnancy, birth and parenting.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far about protecting and retraining your mind for a positive pregnancy.

1. Spend focused time alone
This list isn’t in any particular order but if it were, this point would need to be at the top. Time alone is gold – time to pray, to focus, to listen, to reflect, to seek, to meditate, to find sanctuary.

Find a time where you can disconnect from screens and other distractions. Granted, this might be easier if it’s a first pregnancy but I’ve found it no less vital the second time around. In the early months, Talitha’s nap time allowed me this dedicated time as well as a nap myself. Nowadays, it’s last thing at night but that makes it no less valuable.

Without it, I feel disconnected from my baby and my body as well as from God. Growing a baby is quiet, lovely work and with too much noise it’s easy to get frantic and lose patience. There is little left to give to anyone or anything else. What this looks like for me is me snapping at my husband for not telepathically knowing what I want him to do and say and ending up wanting to run away from a toddler who won’t listen to me in the supermarket aisle.

Ten Positive Pregnancy Lessons

2. Surround yourself with positive birth stories

In the introduction to Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, she quotes Stephen King: “Believe me: if you are told that some experience is going to hurt, it will hurt. Most pain is in the mind, and when a woman absorbs the idea that the act of giving birth is excruciatingly painful – when she gets this information from her mother, her sisters, her married friends, and her physician – that woman has been mentally prepared to feel great agony.”

Listening to positive birth stories is not about living in a dream world and crossing your fingers that all will be well. It’s about re-educating your mind to believe in a natural process you have learned to fear because everything you saw in the movies and heard from your friends and family told you that you should. We’ll be going to our local Positive Birth Movement meeting again tonight, mainly to hear birth stories that are more beauty than blood and gore. If you’re looking for something to read, check out websites like BellyBelly that take a positive, gentle approach to birth.

3. Create rituals

This is related to the taking time to be alone point. It’s not always possible to do that at times when we need a little break. This becomes more true once your baby is here so you might as well get in the habit of finding a place of calm without requiring the perfect circumstances to do so.

Most of us already have rituals that we can tie refreshment into. For instance, every time you make a cup of tea, you could say a quick prayer or repeat a statement of affirmation or breathe or even just take a moment to work your pelvic floor muscles!

I’ve taken to practising my upward and downward breathing (from KG Hypnobirthing) with my two-and-a-half-year-old. She thinks it’s funny but often it’s just what I need to regroup for whatever we’ve got to do next.

4. Make informed choices

There’s a really weird language around pregnancy and birth where we keep saying that our health care providers have done things to us or allowed us to do certain things or said that we have to have whatever. I’m not saying that we should live in suspicion and question everything but there’s no reason to go into pregnancy and birth with blind faith. This is your body and your baby. Whatever happens needs to be your choice.

Refer to the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) website, attend an antenatal course (though, do be careful when choosing one), read books that inform rather than scare, find a doula, consider an independent midwife, do what you need to do.

For me, one of the reasons I’ve felt so much more in control this time around was that I felt free to accept or decline any procedure or test I was offered, either by saying that I’d go away and think about it first or by simply and politely doing so. By the way, I don’t think most midwives and obstetricians are out to get anyone. It’s ultimately a pretty caring profession. Medical (and parenting) decisions are yours to make but courtesy and kindness go a long way.

5. Plug into a community

When we moved to Bristol four years ago, I felt quite alone. I was working freelance mainly from home and struggling to meet new people, let alone make meaningful connections. I fell pregnant just a few months after we’d moved and suddenly felt a great urgency to meet other mothers. I needed to share this intense experience. It was unexpected, really, and in some ways that need to share and connect is why I started this blog.

After weeks are collecting the courage to do so (I can be a bit shy), I started going along to a women’s group at my church. They were incredibly kind to me, warmly welcoming me and even making meals for us even though they barely knew me. I later met women through antenatal courses, baby meets, breastfeeding groups and even, yes, online. Already having this community of women around me has made this pregnancy even more positive than the last. My baby and I have flourished under their love. If I were to do it again, I would have gone along to La Leche League meetings when I was pregnant with Talitha.

6. Be proactive

Probably the single thing that most impressed me from Spiritual Midwifery was how much talk there was about not complaining. In fact, Ina May recommends you try to stop complaining during your pregnancy not only as a tip for birth but as a lifeskill.

I am so prone to moaning about things and not doing much to change them but I’ve been reflecting on that habit lots in the past months. One of the great things it led me to was a good osteopath. Last time I went on and on about my pelvic girdle pain (SPD) and just assumed it had to be that way. I had a futile visit with an NHS physiotherapist who didn’t really look at me.

After a friend who’d also suffered told me she’d had great success in her second pregnancy with a private physiotherapist having checked out The Pelvic Partnership, I decided to go see Claire Howard-Robinson at The Yew Tree Clinic. I haven’t been totally pain-free but then I should really have had more treatment than I’ve been able to afford. On the whole, though, I’ve been amazingly comfortable.

If something is bothering you, maybe trauma leftover from a previous birth, drama in your relationships or distrust of your health care providers, seek help rather than letting it fester.

7. Get your birth partner involved

Whoever your birth partner is, really involving them in the pregnancy can make the experience so much easier and richer for both of you. For us, this meant having Laurence go with me to NCT classes and Home Birth meetings last time. This time we went to a hypnobirthing course with Katharine Graves and to Positive Birth Movement meetings. KG Hypnobirthing has especially been useful as we practice it frequently, which allows us to both connect with what’s happening. Well, realistically, it’s giving him tools to be involved, even though I suspect that reading the scripts bores him a bit!

Other ideas for involving a birth partner could be praying together, letting them feel the baby move or talking about your birth plan.

Lessons for a Positive Pregnancy

8. Talk to your baby

You’d think that having had a baby before, I’d be totally at ease with this, but I wasn’t. If anything, I felt so distracted by life with my toddler that it was hard to take the time to focus on the new baby.

Talitha has actually been the one to help me get there. From very early, she was surprisingly aware of her sister, talking sweetly and naturally to her. Nowadays, she’s always calling my attention to her. If we’re going somewhere, it’s never that just “Mummy and Talitha” going; it’s always “Mummy, Talitha and baby”.

So bit by bit, I learned to talk to her, to acknowledge her and to marvel at her. I need to give her a good talking to about turning at the moment, though, because I found out yesterday she’s back-to-back!

9. Celebrate

This seems such an obvious point to make when it comes to thinking about how we can embrace pregnancy as the positive thing it is. Last time around we had a BabyBash which involved barbecue, bodysuit painting and birth date betting (boy, did I live to regret the last one!). It was a great chance to get together with our friends and welcome this new phase of our lives with them.

This time we’ve gone a lot more low-key. I considered having a Mother Blessing or Blessingway but it just didn’t end up happening. Instead, Laurence and I had a morning of him drawing patterns on the bump with henna. I love it. It’s like walking around with a celebration, especially whenever I see it in the mirror or Talitha raises my top up so she can look at it and talk to the baby.

10. Focus on the present

I remember spending most of my last pregnancy wishing time away. I was so impatient to enter this new phase of life, meet my baby and become a mother. That’s not been the way this time.

Most of the time I’ve not really thought about it and when I have, I’ve just felt I had too much to do before the baby comes. I also didn’t feel ready to be a mother of two. Despite any residual uncertainties, though, I’m now at the point where I just want it to happen so the key is not to get hung up on the due date and not to get (more) impatient. So I’m extending my to-do list a bit and making plans with Talitha for weeks 41 and 42.

But I’m also just trying to enjoy these little kicks and squirms. I don’t expect to have any more children after this baby so I need to remember all these little lasts.

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37 Weeks Pregnant – Suddenly Impatient

This feels like it’s been the longest week of the pregnancy so far. Hopefully that’s not an indicator of what is to come. I’ve filled our calendar so we hopefully avoid me moping around saying “I’m done with this! Out now, baby!” especially when I could have over a month to go. There is still a lot I want to get done before the baby gets here but realistically it will never all be done. At least now all the clothes are sorted and I’ve stuck a few more meals in the freezer.

What’s made this week feel so long is the baby dropping. A first-time pregnant friend asked me how you know when they drop. For me, it feels the way it did last time, like my insides might fall out. Precarious. Braxton Hicks have started too and are more intense than I remember. I cancelled a driving lesson yesterday because of them. I think I may just have to put driving on hold. Again. Anyway, all this doesn’t necessarily tell me much. It all happened around now with Talitha and she still wasn’t born until just hours short of 42 weeks. What it does tell me is that my body and baby are getting ready and know what to do, without help from me. That’s pretty exciting. I’m trying not to be impatient in light of all that but it’s not easy!

We went in for a growth scan last week as the home assessment midwife measured my bump as a couple of centimetres small. I’ve been measuring small the whole way through, which is funny because I measured big with Talitha. I wouldn’t have gone in as I’m not keen on scans (especially since it’s just a policy thing – measuring up to 2cm either way is usually considered fine) but weighed it up and felt we might as well make sure everything was OK. I did get nervous just as we went in for the scan but my gut told me that everything was OK and it, really, it was. I’m measuring small because the baby has dropped – which I already knew. She was too low to get a good measurement of her head but there was no cause for concern. It was amazing to see her face though. I think she looks like me. Laurence rolls his eyes when I say that.

I also agreed in the end to having another test for anaemia since my last results from New Year’s Eve said that I was actually anaemic. All good there too. My levels are up where they should be and I didn’t take the ferrous gluconate in the end. Good ol’ eating and Spa Tone seem to have done the trick, fortunately. I’m still really tired though but that just seems inevitable. Talitha napping is also not consistent as it seemed like it was going to be but she’s been letting me have a little kip here and there and entertaining herself with her toys or a puzzle. I’ve cut down on TV massively, because she’s still shaky from her nightmare the other week.

37 weeks pregnant

We did, however, look at birth videos as I started thinking that maybe she should be prepared in case she’s here and awake when it all happens. Code Name: Mama has a great list. We watched a few and she loved them! She was very interested in the older siblings who were there and wanted to establish whether this baby had a big sister or a big brother in each video. When the baby would come out she’d exclaim “Ooh!” with delight. In one non-water birth, the baby came out with a gush and she said: “A bit wet!” Then she’d talk about how babies need lots of milky and sleep lots. I’m still not really sure whether we want her there but we’re continuing to play it by ear and prepare her for all eventualities. Her bag is packed and she knows that she may be going to have a special holiday with Grandmum and Puppa or that Laurence’s cousin may come over.

I’ve tried to be very low-key about the whole thing and, in fact, we’re toning down talking about the baby at all because we’re concerned that her nightmare and the clinginess in the house since may have something to do with anxiety over the new baby. It’s a minefield trying to work out what to do about this and I won’t get into it all as it would double the length of the post! She is still really looking forward to the baby, though, and continues to be surprisingly aware of her. I’m sure the baby is also listening to Talitha, wriggly little womb thing.

36 Weeks Pregnant – Heavily pregnant and slightly in denial

36 weeks

36 weeks-2

36 weeks-4

36 weeks-5

36 weeks-6

No one’s more surprised than I that we’re this far along already. In fact, the baby’s dropped lots and Braxton Hicks have started but I’m still prone to forgetting altogether that I’m pregnant. Apart from a little pelvic pain (another osteopathy treatment booked in this week – it’s been magic so far), a few mood swings and a tired period in the mid-afternoons, I feel amazingly well. Not like last time when I was falling apart by now. I’m even pencilling things into my calendar for when I’m 41 weeks, which makes me wonder if there’s a touch of denial!

Yet things are getting underway. I’ve packed my hospital bag just in case and I’m gathering things for the home birth. We have a midwife visit tomorrow morning for a home assessment. I can’t remember what it involves but I didn’t bother to get Laurence to take time off work for it this time as it didn’t seem that noteworthy.

I’ve decided not to discuss my birth plan as the chances are whichever midwife I see won’t be the one there at the birth and I’d rather not be upset by any difference of opinion. It’s not masses different from my plan last time anyway and the community midwives were generally cool about what was on it back then.

I’m re-reading The Hypnobirthing Bookby Katharine Graves and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. We continue to practise KG hypnobirthing techniques. I’m also listening to my birth playlist daily and allowing myself to daydream about a beautiful, secluded river we explored in Grande Riviere, in Trinidad last year. I can’t help but see lots of tropical flowers opening, hummingbirds and butterflies kissing them, as I allow myself to float in the fresh water. As it turns out, the music makes Talitha sleepy and she’s started napping again for the first time in months! I’m also burning frankincense, on our doula’s suggestion. It’s incredibly calming and uplifting.

I’m almost done washing all the baby’s clothes and nappies. The Moby Wrap is ready for action as is the Boppy breastfeeding pillow. The baby’s car seat is already plugged into the car (easiest to store it there) and the freezer is being filled with meals as I cook extra. We’ve moved a chest of drawers for the baby’s things into our bedroom.

The initial plan was for the baby and I to sleep in the master bedroom, for Talitha to sleep in her own bedroom and for Laurence to have the guest room with Talitha joining him when she wants to. But this week a nightmare sent Talitha into our room for a few nights and we realised we’d like to try all being together. So, instead, we’re mentally moving around the furniture in our room, trying to figure out how we can best make it work.

Life with Talitha carries on with days spent at the zoo, city farm and other favourite haunts, interspersed with days playing and tidying at home. Strangers keep remarking that it’s good of me to keep getting out. I take this to mean that I am huge, even though I still imagine myself with a waistline until I walk past a mirror! In fact, I’m looking at the pictures in this post and can’t believe my body looks like that, even though I can feel the reason kicking around inside me day and night.

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