36 Week Update

36 Weeks! (does a happy dance).
I feel so very blessed to be able to say that we're only a month away from Baby's due date now; that in a week's time, Baby will be deemed "full term" by the medical community and that we're now very much getting ready for his/her arrival.
I feel very big all of a sudden (I'm not, I'm "just right") and a lot of everyday stuff has become slightly awkward, just hauling myself in and out of Boyfriend's van is an effort, where before I could jump up in to the seat effortlessly. Saying that - I actually managed a small headstand during my daily prenatal yoga session earlier in the week - OK, it was a mini headstand (with knees bent, I was too chicken to straighten my legs in case I fell flat on bump!) - and I started off with my birthing ball to get in to position, but hey - at least I know that my body is still relatively strong and balanced.
 I'd definitely be feeling pretty rough without the yoga; Boyfriend and I spent three days away over the weekend having a little couple's time before Baby's arrival, and I didn't even do a single stretch - and my gosh can I feel it! It's been making such a massive difference in keeping my body supple and comfortable, a few days off and I feel tight and achey - I've promised myself a double session today!
Now that we've reached 36 weeks Baby's movements should plateau, as they've gradually increased in strength and regularity up to this point. I'm kind of glad because I'm not sure that this baby could move with much more strength or regularity if he/she tried! I'm definitely experiencing a lot of "Alien Belly", where I can see Baby rolling about, or stretching out one limb at a time. I love it, despite the discomfort, it is, after all, a sure sign of a healthy baby, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it wasn't inconvenient at times! I've become increasingly aware of how visible Baby's movements are, and am pretty sure I gross people out slightly when I'm sitting next to them on the bus! Last night, Boyfriend and I went to the cinema, and Baby decided to wiggle about violently throughout the entire film, I'm pretty sure it was the base vibrations (of which there were many - we went to see Jurassic World!) as Baby did the same thing when we went to a gig a few weeks ago. Still - it made me feel slightly nauseous and I didn't manage to eat my sweet treats until towards the end of the film!
I've finally got around to putting away all of Baby's clothes. You'll remember weeks back, Boyfriend had bought Baby and I a new set of drawers each to begin preparing the bedroom - and yet all of the baby clothes had remained packed away. I can't believe how cute some of the bits we have are - although, rather boring, I realised I need to buy more first size vests. Yawn. Also baby doesn't own any socks... Summer babies don't need socks right? I looked again at our first size nappies, which fit babies as small as 4lbs (our baby will not be anywhere near that tiny!) and it made me slightly emotional (hormones).
Seb is getting increasingly inpatient. It's difficult to help a five year old to understand the sort of time frames involved in waiting for a baby, and I'm so glad that I put off telling him about his new sibling for as long as possible (for this exact reason). He came downstairs the other day and I'd already been sorting out baby things, and he got excited seeing one of our Mam milk bottles on the side - I had to explain that I was just putting the bottles away in the kitchen, and they weren't indicative of baby's overnight arrival!
I saw my midwife at the beginning of the week for a routine appointment. She had a student midwife working alongside her who was really excited and interested in my decision to birth with Natal Hypnotherapy. It was lovely to chat to her and see her enthusiasm, and I've given her some more details to go away and find out more about it. I had to have more bloods taken - bizarrely because I'm planning a homebirth, apparently they want to keep a closer eye on my iron levels than they would if I were giving birth in a hospital. But other than that it was just the usual measuring of bump (exactly 35cm) listening to the baby's heartbeat (about 120bpm strong and healthy) and checking Baby's position (still head down). My blood pressure was still low but I'm in brilliant health, which I can feel.
My next appointment is this week (again, it's a homebirth thing) at home, to run through my homebirth plans, make a note of any possible access problems and stuff - and basically prepare any paperwork at the midwife's end, before I am officially put on the "Homebirth List". Once I've had this appointment and have officially "booked" my homebirth with the midwife, the pool hire company are happy to send out my birthing pool, so that should be here very soon too!
I can not wait for this final month of pregnancy, I'm planning to soak up every second (as much as I can given that I have every intention of working up until and beyond my due date) and just hope that the predicted heatwave this week doesn't cause me too much hot, sweaty bother!

How Pregnancy Changed Our Relationship

I think we've covered the background enough already right? But for those who are new to the blog, Boyfriend and I had only been together for a few short months when I fell pregnant, quite by accident and thoroughly unplanned. We were still very much in the earliest possible days of our relationship, that's not to say that we weren't incredibly and deeply in love (that's pretty much what got us here), nor did we have any questions at the time about whether or not we wanted to be together. However, I wasn't (and still am not) yet divorced from my husband, we didn't live together, we had no other shared responsibilities, and what's more, we'd both discussed pretty early on (because you have to when you decide to be a grown up) that neither of us was interested in having any more children. Boyfriend's two sons are eleven and fifteen, Seb, who features here regularly, is five, and we were both pretty happy with the parenting cards we'd been dealt.
An unexpected pregnancy is certainly one way to shake things up.
Oddly, from Day 1, I never once worried about whether the shared responsibility of raising a child would be damaging to our relationship. The strength of the bond between us, the intensity with which we love and adore one another, and the lengths that I know we'd both go to, to keep the other safe and happy, have always appeared impenetrable to me. We had the "will we be strong enough for this?" conversation, but my response was always a resounding "yes, of course."
In fact, whilst Baby hasn't yet arrived, and I know that his/her arrival will change the dynamic of our relationship all over again, pregnancy itself has changed us in ways I wasn't really expecting, or at least I think it has, but who's to say that things wouldn't have developed this way anyway?
I'm comforted by how much more open it's made us (me) with one another. I can be intensely private at times, often to my own detriment, and a desire for privacy can often appear to others as dishonesty. I differentiate quite happily between "keeping stuff from people" and just "having my own stuff going on"  which I often forget, makes me appear secretive a lot of the time. Pregnancy allows less and less for this though, layers gradually get peeled back and suddenly everything, from your daily whereabouts to your spending habits, lunch choices and bowel movements, are shared property. That sounds horribly intrusive, but it's just the way that our relationship has evolved over the course of the pregnancy that we (I) have developed such a deep and unquestioning trust in one another that life feels far more shared - even though we still don't live together or have much by way of shared responsibilities other than this one, fragile little life.
I can't believe just how close this pregnancy has brought us, considering the fact that we've still not been a couple for a year! We've been inseparable since the beginning, and I've no doubt that we'd have grown closer and closer throughout the space of the year anyway, but this Baby has bought down so many walls, it has mellowed us a little but added such a deep running layer of contentment beneath us that I couldn't feel safer, more secure, in my relationship than I do right now - at a time when I know many relationships would be struggling to weather the storm after creating a new life so early on. We are very lucky, to have found one another as much as to have unintentionally created something so precious, I think.
Boyfriend has become a whole several degrees more protective which I imagine is bog standard of expectant Fathers, but it's lovely to see. I don't mean that weird possessive form of protection but it's kind of adorable to see the concern that he has for Baby's wellbeing and thus mine in turn.
We have a different connection now, still the same one we had as crazy, slightly over the top lovers, but now there's this whole new dimension to our relationship whereby we are tied together by something far greater than the some of our two characters, and I guess because I didn't experience that at all with Seb's Dad, it blows me away somewhat.
I posted before about how I felt about "sharing pregnancy" this time around, rather than going solo as I did before, and how different the experience is for me to be one of two expectant parents, you can read that post here.
The Dad Network

Packing for a Pregnancy-Moon (35/36 weeks pregnant)

I'm not really here. As you read this I've already left the laptop far behind for the weekend and am heading to the beautiful New Forest in Hampshire with Boyfriend. I have dubbed this, The Pregmoon, an opportunity to relax and celebrate "making it" to pretty much full-term with our little human. I'll be enjoying the sites of the New Forest on the 27th June, exactly one month before our estimated due date, and it seemed fitting to mark the occasion with a little "couple's time".
What is slightly less lovely, is the manner in which my suitcase differs from that of any non-pregnant woman, heading off for a romantic weekend with her beloved. There is no sexy lingerie this time, in fact, I'll be taking a Cantaloop nursing bra to keep things under control in that region (comfiest bras ever) and popping a couple of pairs of reusable breast pads in my bag too, because pregnant boobs are not for behaving.

Here's what's coming to the New Forest with me - the 36 weeks pregnant edition!
Hospital Notes
Birthing Ball
Cantaloop Nursing Bra
Reusable Breast pads
Comfy pants
Maternity clothes suitable for unpredictable British weather
Maternity bikini
Antacid tablets
High SPF sun cream
Big bottle of tonic water
Large sunhat
Camera (with fully charged battery)
Phone & charger
Micellar Water
Lip scrub
Lip balm
Perfume that I never admit is actually Beyoncé (which Beyoncé is apparently allergic to)
Avon Skin So Soft Dry Oil Spray which is the best insect repellent known to me (and smells nice)
Personal CD player
Hypnobirthing CD's
Books (I'm currently reading The New Experience of Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger and Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin - both of which I recommend)

You can keep track of our Pregmoon Adventure by using the hashtag #NFpregmoon on Twitter and Instagram - and I'll be sure to share plenty more photographs next week when I'm home.

Why a Doula?

I've mentioned my doula, Marika, and my backup doula, Bryoni, in several of my pregnancy update posts (which I post every week on a Monday if you'd like to follow the remainder of my pregnancy journey). I thought I'd dedicate a post to them today, mainly to explain why Boyfriend and I have chosen to work with a doula (or two) to prepare for Baby's arrival, to cover what a doula is and what she does and to signpost to some more information for anyone who needs it.
To me, a doula's work is so so important, I put them "up there" with midwives, in terms of the amazing improvement in birth outcomes that they can bring to a family, and I just wish that there were more doulas, so that this help could be made available to everyone.
 I feel strongly, for example, that we ought to have a system in place whereby caregivers such as midwives and obstetricians could recognise families who'd benefit especially from the services of a doula (women who'd experienced past birth trauma, couples planning a VBAC - vaginal birth after caesarean, couples planning homebirths, and also those suffering from social isolation, for example) so that this service could be provided for them. Yes it would be an expense to the NHS to provide doulas to families on a criteria based method of means testing, but when you consider the alteration in birth outcomes (fewer emergency sections, less pain medication, fewer incidences of assisted delivery and reduced rates of pre and post natal depression, with fewer babies requiring urgent treatment after birth) - I'm pretty confident that there would actually be a saving to be made.
So what is a doula, and why do I think they're so great?
The word doula comes from the Greek meaning "woman servant", and even in modern practice, this is still a pretty accurate description. We tend to think of servants as being repressed and poorly treated people, but most of us serve others in some capacity, either in our professional or personal lives. A doula is, quite simply, a woman whose role it is to serve a family in the most appropriate way during pregnancy and childbirth. Exactly what a doula does to fulfil this role, will vary from one family to the next. What help a single pregnant woman in an unfamiliar country requires, will differ wildly from the needs of a couple in their forties, expecting their first child after years of failed fertility treatments and multiple miscarriages, for example - and yet both of these pregnancies and births could benefit from the use of a doula.
We chose to look in to "hiring" a doula, because our homebirth plans presented several problems for which we needed to find a solution, and the solution was pretty simple to each of these concerns - we needed at least one extra pair of hands.
Here are some of the things we realised we would struggle with:
  • there is a possibility that five year old Seb will be present for the birth, but whose role will it be to comfort him and explain things to him, to make sure he has something to eat, drink, or play? If it gets late, who will help him to bed, and if the Sun rises, who will greet him in the morning? Of course Boyfriend would fulfil some of these roles where necessary, but it wouldn't get around the fact that he would be involved in the birth of his own child, and I'm going to need him, but I'll eventually become unable to attend to Seb's immediate needs.
  • Boyfriend is going to be in the birth pool with me (in theory) to best be able to support me and delivery our baby. This leaves a vacant position however for: someone to refill my drinks, someone to get Boyfriend a drink, someone to adjust the lighting, someone to change the tracks on the CD player, someone to answer the door to the midwives - the list goes on and on. Boyfriend would find himself constantly jumping in and out of the water!
As I see it, because we are planning our homebirth, my home basically becomes the labour ward. The problem is, I need to be able to run the labour ward, and be one half of the labouring couple - and that isn't going to work. I see hiring a doula as employing a ward manager, so that I can get on with being the birthing Mother!
This last week I set out a timeline of how I wanted my ideal homebirth to run. Each of the roles present (Me, Boyfriend, Doula, Midwife) has their "jobs" set out on the timeline in the order that they should happen, roughly, by means of colour coding. The doula probably has around three times as many "jobs" as anyone on that timeline, midwives included.
Here are just some of the responsibilities of my doulas on the timeline (if either of them are reading this it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise!)
  • Sort out Seb whether that's assist with handover to whoever is going to be looking after him, or setting him up for the duration and making sure he's happy - this could include on going childcare for the entirety of my labour and birth depending on the time of day! If I go to hospital, a doula will also stay at home with Seb.
  • Be in charge of the CD player. I'll be using both the Labour Companion and Birth Music CD's by Maggie Howell from Natal Hypnotherapy during labour and birth, and there are different tracks to be played at different stages or intervals, that the doulas need to be familiar with.
  • Keep an eye on the pool. Boyfriend will get the pool started whilst we wait for the doula to arrive, but by the time they get here, he's likely to be busy supporting me, so the doulas will finish off filling the pool, making sure the water is the right temperature etc.
  • Refreshments To ensure that Boyfriend is able to concentrate entirely on me, it will be down to the doulas to make sure everyone has a drink and snacks when needed, including making tea for the midwives and filling me up on coconut water!
  • Call the Midwife! I've asked that we hold off calling midwives until my labour is established and I'm in the pool. Boyfriend will be with me, so it'll be down to the doula to put in the call to the hospital.
  • Answer the door. When the midwife arrives, the doula will be on hand to let him/her in, show them where everything is, and make sure they have refreshments, as well as to go through the key points of my birth plan with them.
  • Lighting. Lighting plays a huge part in creating the ideal birthing environment (how many other animals would seek out bright fluorescent light under which to give birth?) so the doula will be in charge of adjusting the lighting as appropriate or as requested.
  • Breastfeeding support. Doulas trained by Doula UK receive training in helping women to breastfeed after birth. As I didn't breastfeed Seb, but am planning to breastfeed this baby, I'll be glad of their dedicated support.
  • Help with the tidy up. Once Baby arrives, the flat will need to be turned back in to the flat, the pool will need draining, protective covering will need rolling up and disposing off, there'll be washing up to do... thanks to our doula(s), Boyfriend and I will be able to snuggle up with our new baby whilst this is done (the midwives will take anything that needs to be taken)
Doulas also provide help after a baby is born, not just with breastfeeding, but as is seen appropriate. This might be visiting the Mother and looking after the baby whilst she has a shower and a rest, or providing advice on baby care in the early days. It can be as simple as coming over for a cup of tea and being an understanding ear in the midst of sleep deprivation, or helping a woman access help and support for postnatal depression.
The antenatal support that I've had from my doulas has been great. For the most part, I've just wanged on at them about what I want from my birth, how it differs from what I experienced when I had Seb, how and why I've come to the decisions I have, and so on and so forth. They helped me to put together my birth plan by bringing certain options to my attention, and bought a flipchart, marker pens, and even a pile of old magazines, to allow me to get creative with planning Baby's birth. What's more, they've taken time to get to know Seb, and Boyfriend, so that they can best provide for and support them both as well, which will make a huge difference when we get to the main event. They've researched local breastfeeding support groups in the area for me, and have made it their mission to track down suitable aromatherapy fragranced candles to compliment the oils that I've chosen to use during labour, and have recommended all-natural nipple creams (which I'd been after)... they are, quite frankly, my pregnancy PA's, and they're so so good at their job!

Doulas aren't just great for helping you get stuff done though. More and more and more research has pointed to "continued care" being one of the most important factors in improving birth outcomes. Basically, those who receive on going care from the same care providers, generally have the best birth outcomes. If you see the same midwife throughout your pregnancy for example (as I've been lucky enough to do) and then that same midwife attends the birth of your baby - chances are, you'll have a better birth experience than someone who has missed out on any consistency in their antenatal care, and delivers her baby surrounded by strangers. Unfortunately, in the UK, with most women under the care of the NHS throughout pregnancy, a continuity of care is very difficult to achieve. The NHS provide a wonderful service, but it can be logistically difficult to provide a woman with the same midwife throughout her pregnancy, and even harder to have those community midwives present at the births of the babies they've monitored. In busy labour wards and midwife lead birthing units, it becomes almost impossible to provide anyone but a stranger - and with caesarean rates in the UK now reaching a somewhat staggering 25%, many births will include staff in unfamiliar roles, such as paediatricians and anaesthetists, as well. By hiring a doula, a couple can provide themselves with this continuity of care, alongside their medical care. A doula can be a constant, and familiar face throughout pregnancy, and guarantee their attendance at the birth - much like an independent midwife but without the medical provision. This has been proven to dramatically improve birth outcomes, by providing the same benefits as the continuity of care which is missing from the NHS model of pregnancy and childbirth.

Image courtesy of Wendy Kenin "Green Doula"

Those couples who hire a doula are far more likely to have a birth which closer mirrors their prepared "ideal" birth plan, are less likely to have an assisted delivery or emergency C-section, use fewer modes of pain relief, and have a generally more positive outlook - there is a notable decline in pre and post natal depression in women who have the support of a doula, social isolation during and after pregnancy is dramatically reduced, and those women supported by a doula are significantly more likely to breastfeed successfully, if the Mother wishes to breastfeed her baby.

Doulas are especially ideal for those deemed "high risk" in pregnancy, for a number of reasons. For one, they can attend appointments with pregnant couples and help them to make sense of the information provided, or suggest questions that the couple may not think to ask at the time. Informed couples have a far better experience of pregnancy and birth, and are significantly less anxious - so having someone there to get to the bottom of what's being suggested, can be really helpful. High risk pregnancies are also more likely to require the sort of emotional support and encouragement that a doula can provide. Doulas will also act as a couples advocate. It can be very easy to say that you will say no to induction, but just as easy to become intimidated when faced with an apparently knowledgeable and convincing hospital consultant - your doula will increase your confidence, and prevent you from feeling "ganged up upon" to agreeing to a treatment that you're not comfortable with. These supportive services can make a huge difference to the birth outcomes of women who naturally feel pessimistic, anxious, or doubtful about their birth choices.

If you feel you'd benefit from the services of a doula I would urge you to check out Doula UK. Nobody needs a set qualification to act as a doula in the UK (to be honest, your best friend or sister could decide today to be your doula, and you'd probably see great benefits - depending on who your best friend or sister happens to be!) but Doula UK provide on-going support and training for their registered doulas, which comes with a number of benefits that these women can pass on to the couples they work with, this includes, for example, expert training on helping women to breastfeed.

You can use the Doula UK website here to find and contact registered doulas in your area, or contact Doula UK for a list of mentored doulas, who've completed the training but are now spending a year "in practice" before they are awarded their full registration (these ladies will usually charge significantly less than registered doulas for their services - our doulas are mentored and still provide an outstanding service and have the backing of full Doula UK training). If you are in receipt of certain means tested benefits, or your income is less than £16,000 per annum, you may be eligible for the Doula UK Access Fund, which will cover a doulas expenses so that she is able to provide you and your family with appropriate care at no cost to you. The access fund is very easy to apply for, and could help a lot of families who've found doula fees impossible to find.

Marika and Bryoni work together as Divine Doulas, are based in Canterbury, and will travel to provide doula services to families throughout East Kent. You can check out their website here.

Marika and Bryoni are mentored by Rebecca Schiller of The Hackney Doula, who is based on the Isle of Thanet, and will travel throughout Kent and East London to provide doula services and private antenatal classes, she also runs the Thanet Homebirth Support Group (which Boyfriend and I attend) and chairs Birthrights, the only charity in the UK dedicated to defending the rights of families in childbirth.


Is a great pregnancy becoming a social taboo?

One of the questions I'm asked most often these days is "how are you?" (with emphasis on the "are"). What this person is actually asking is "how are you finding your pregnancy?" but instead they just gesture towards my swelling tummy and ask how I am - but I get it.
I always answer honestly, that I'm great, everything is going really well, really straight forward and other than the fact that I'm growing at an alarming rate, I'm just getting on with business as usual. Now, by the Mums at the school gate, and my friends, and my boyfriend's friends, this is met with great enthusiasm, everyone is pleased that I'm not unwell, or unhappy, or struggling to go about my normal daily business (and so am I). Online, however, the story is a little different.
Don't get me wrong,  nobody has expressed discomfort at my enjoyment of pregnancy (perhaps they have quietly, to themselves, but they certainly haven't voiced it) so I can't say that anybody has made me feel that I shouldn't love being pregnant, but I can't help but try to avoid the constantly reinforced message that pregnancy is a really shit ordeal that we must endure in order to reach the ultimate reward.
I do know that that is the reality for a lot of women and their partners, and I feel for them, and I understand that these messages, these articles, these shared "in jokes" about how bloody awful the whole thing is, brings them comfort, because nobody wants to feel that they ought to be enjoying pregnancy, and are the only sod on the planet who doesn't. That would suck.
But I have to admit, I feel like the odd one out over here, that I'm not a member of the club, because I can't say "Oh gosh yes, I know what you mean, it's horrendous isn't it?" with the sort of wink and a nudge that means I know what it's really like to be pregnant.
I do know what it's like for me to be pregnant (lovely), and I know, from other's accounts, what it's like for some other people to be pregnant (sometimes not lovely), but I feel as though my inability to say "I know right, who made up this bullshit about a pregnancy glow - what a load of bollocks" is met by deafening silence on the internet - because actually, I look a damn site healthier now than I did before I fell pregnant.
I decided to Google "the truth about pregnancy" - you know, to see whether my pregnancy experience is actually dishonest, or altogether fake. The first result, is an article from those lovely people at Mumsnet.
Anticipating being a glowing paragon of womanliness during pregnancy? Think again.
It ends on a particularly cheery note too with
Don't say we didn't warn you.
There are A LOT of similar sources online, I'm not going to sit here and quote them all, but they follow the same kind of gist:
Myth: Your hair will look lovely
Reality: Your hair will look gross
Myth: You'll have a beautiful pregnancy glow
Reality: You'll have acne
Myth: You'll feel sexy and gorgeous
Reality: You'll hate yourself and turn all the mirrors around in your house
Myth: You'll notice an increase in sexual desire
Reality: You'll wish you had separate rooms
Myth: You'll be full of joy and cheer and positivity
Reality: You'll cry all the time
Myth: You'll do pregnancy yoga, and you'll swim, and go for gentle walks
Reality: You won't be able to get off of the sofa, partly because you're covered in Oreo wrappers
And so on and so on and so on and so on. But the problem I have, over here, is that all of the myths above, are my reality, which makes me think there's something wrong with me for being happy and healthy, and that I probably shouldn't mention the "p" word unless it's to discuss how miserable and crap I feel.
Now this is not me whinging about anyone who's struggling to enjoy pregnancy - or me suggesting that those people shouldn't voice their disappointment that pregnancy isn't a walk in the park for them. Do  - talk about it - find other people who've had similar experiences, take comfort in the fact that it's normal.
However, isn't it weird that I see things like this, and feel left out?:
It makes me wonder whether it's now somewhat unfashionable to talk about the spiritual joys of pregnancy, the deep feeling of contentment, the excitement about anything other than the stuff that I've purchased; that actually the online pregnancy community - and I'm not talking about the blogging community, I mean far wider reaching than that, is about uniting through negative experience, or through material possessions, but not through the incredible sisterhood that runs through the entire female race, not just alive on the planet now, but reaching back as far through history as us humans can go, with women growing and birthing new life. It makes me sad that if I am to express wonder and amazement at what my body is capable of, adoration for the little baby inside me, and great happiness to be a part of the process that growing that life entails, I must back it up by mentioning the great suffering that I endure at the same time (none).
I don't want anyone to say they love pregnancy when they don't, I don't want to make anyone feel bad for not sharing my experience. I don't want this to be personal, and to single anyone out based on how they feel, as I said, I'm talking about the social norms of our time which appear to be, to huff and puff and moan about how much you have to go through, and not to celebrate pregnancy (unless, by celebrate, we mean with stuff). I would love to see the celebration of pregnancy made normal again, for pregnant women to be revered, honoured, and admired, not just sympathised with and patted on the back, and told it "won't be long". I wonder how we went from being a global race who worshipped female deities who'd be represented by life giving, pregnant, nursing Mothers (representative of nature and Mother Earth) to a bunch of people who became preoccupied with cankles and the "indignity" of giving birth.

35 Week Update

Welcome, Baby, to Week 35.
Notice anything different?
Before I fill everyone in on the events of this week (growth scan, that consultant appointment, writing up my birth plan with our doula) I just want to mention maternity clothing quickly. I can't imagine that I'm alone in this plight - but I appear to have out-maternity'd a large amount of my maternity wardrobe. Now, I appreciate that I'm quite rotund these days, but my bump does measure exactly where it should for 35 weeks pregnant, and a majority of pregnant women do make it to 35 weeks - so why are so many of my maternity clothes unable to accommodate my heavily pregnant girth? Case in point: my favourite maternity dress. It's a light denim smock, which came in a maternity bundle that I bought on a local Facebook selling page. I have absolutely worn the thing to death because it's so comfy, and the fit is perfect on my shoulders and in the sleeves (something I struggle with) - it has also, up until recently, been the perfect length, and looked great with opaque tights and boots on a colder day, and with Birkenstocks and bare legs when things heated up. Now, however, it has been retired (hopefully to make a reappearance as a postnatal outfit!) because it can no longer stretch over my bump! I have the same problem with all of my over-the-bump maternity jeans (I have around 10 pairs, as so many people have gifted them to me!) Unfortunately I only have a couple of pairs of under-the-bump jeans, which still fit. As I write this today, I'm actually in a 100% non maternity outfit, as Summer styling has been quite forgiving on us pregnant types, in particular, my local TK Maxx have loads of stretchy trousers in by QED LONDON, which fit perfectly with a big pregnancy bump (I recommend you invest). I'm really hesitant to buy any new maternity pieces to see me through these last few weeks though, in case the fit is poor, which is annoying. If anyone has a particular retailer that they've found fit really nicely around the largest of bumps, or just some pregnancy styling tips, I'm all ears, please leave a comment below!
So, this week. I'd actually been dreading this week since Week 28, because we finally got around to seeing the consultant at the hospital regarding our "large baby". If you haven't read previous updates, let me fill you in; at our 20 week scan, Baby's abdominal circumference was measuring on the 95th centile, so we were booked in for an extra growth scan at 28 weeks. At the 28 week scan the sonographer took the abdominal circumference measurement three times, and recorded the largest of the three measurements that she took - which pushed Baby's recorded abdominal circumference off of the scale. At this point I was referred to the diabetic clinic to test for gestational diabetes (came back clear) and referred to an obstetrician to discuss birthing options for large babies (typically home births like the one I am planning are discouraged).
On Thursday, Boyfriend and I made our way to the hospital for our second growth scan, now 34 weeks pregnant, I'd been reassured by my midwife last week that everything is exactly how it should be, and she could see no evidence of an abnormally large baby (ultrasound scans can be notoriously inaccurate). The scan itself went really well, Baby is thriving, and the measurements showed that he/she now measures well up towards the top of the scale, but within the realms of "normal".
We then met with the consultant - and what a ray of sunshine he was! I jest; he was a miserable great oaf of a man. I've no idea of his name as he just muttered this at us absent mindedly as he fumbled through my pregnancy notes. Bizarrely, he had no awareness of why we there, and I had to explain about the suspected large baby. He asked whether I had any family history of diabetes (this information is on one of the first pages in my notes) and when I informed him that I had, in fact, been tested myself for gestational diabetes, his response was "oh, have you?". He then proceeded to listen to Baby's heartbeat, despite the fact that I'd come immediately from an ultrasound that had confirmed perfect heart function, and used a tape measure to measure my bump, despite this having been recorded as ideal by my midwife just days previously. He then declared that as my pregnancy was otherwise normal, there were no concerns (thank goodness), but arbitrarily booked me in for another appointment at 40 weeks and 3 days. As well as for another growth scan at 38 weeks.
I have decided to decline the additional consultant's appointment, and shall now only attend routine appointments with my midwife. I can't see why on Earth I should take a consultant appointment from someone who may actually need it, when my pregnancy has been confirmed as unequivocally low risk. I don't want to be in a hospital environment at all, let alone unnecessarily, and quite frankly, I'm aware that as soon as I get past that 40 week mark, a consultant is going to start talking about induction of labour, especially with a large-ish baby, which is something I won't entertain. So it seems better to me that I say "thank you, but no, thank you" to the offer of on going consultant lead care.
Boyfriend and I have however agreed to attend a further growth scan, for last minute reassurance that Baby's growth continues to be constant, and that my placenta function is still strong. That should be our last visit to the hospital though until Baby's paediatric check up, post-birth, if all goes well with our homebirth intentions.
Another great result from that growth scan - Baby is no longer breech (see picture above)! I spent the whole week trying out lots of yoga poses using my birth ball, as well as inventing a few of my own that felt comfortable. Boyfriend and I had a lovely Sunday together last week and went to a local fruit farm to pick strawberries. I spent the entire time on my hands and knees, crawling up and down the rows of strawberries, picking and eating (one for me, one for the punnet, one for me...) and we were delighted when the sonographer confirmed that Baby is now head-down again where he/she should be. I so recommend ditching the sofa entirely to anyone trying to spin a breech or transverse baby (actually, I recommend ditching the sofa to any pregnant woman, regardless of Baby's position), and spending as much time being active, and on all fours, as possible, plenty of yoga work on the birthing ball is a definite winner!
On Thursday evening, after our visit to the hospital, our doula, and back-up doula, Marika and Bryoni of Divine Doulas in Canterbury, came for their second antenatal visit. This time we focussed on preparing my birth plan, first by discussing my birthing experience with Seb (text book hospital delivery) and then going through my preferences for this birth. I'd already spent the week preparing something in a lovely new notebook I bought whilst in TK Maxx (this isn't a sponsored post by the way!) and I'd made lots of lovely colour coded spider diagrams to be enjoyed by everyone!
I'm going to do a separate post on my birth plan, why I think it's vital to write one and how I went about doing so, for anyone who's interested, that will be published later this week.
Marika and Bryoni had bought a giant flip chart and marker pens for us to play with though, as well as an enormous bag of old magazines to cut up, to create an ideal birthing room mood board! I love those ladies! If only more people had the support of a doula, there's Pritstick and everything!
They even bought Seb a new pack of colouring pens and a sticker book, he adores them already which is so important, as supporting him through the arrival of his new sibling was one of the main reasons we looked in to working with a doula in the first place. 
I've since used the flipchart and pens to create my Ideal Homebirth Timeline too, which shows the order of things to happen - colour coded dependent on whose job it is to tick the action off. It sounds anally organised but, for my nitpicky, gotta-love-a-plan kind of brain, it was very therapeutic!
On a final note, I'd like to say a huge congratulations to a few new parents this week, two of my friends have welcomed new lives in to the world this week, one is to remain anonymous at this time but she is a blooming inspiration, and the other, Toni-Lee who I met online during the course of this pregnancy, welcomed a little baby girl, Amelia-Grace Esme, Earthside earlier in the week; after a quick, drug free hospital labour. The other big news of course is that Ruth (of A Model Recommends), who has blogged her own pregnancy over on The Uphill (if you love a pregnancy blog, get over there), also had a baby girl this week, weighing in at a gorgeous 9lbs 11ozs! And last of all, Leona from Oh!Leona became an Auntie again this week, after her brother became a Daddy to baby Riley. Thumbs up all around to the new babies!
I have a lot of pregnant friends all due in the next few months so please expect the congratulatory messages to come thick and fast from now on!

Reviewing Cat Hampurr; A Luxury Monthly Subscription Box For Cats

It can be tough, this blogging thing. There's not only the writing to do, there's all of the behind the scenes stuff too, getting the content and images together, the networking, the afternoons spent playing with your cats...
Today, Bucket and The Kitten received a parcel (addressed to them personally, of course). The lovely team at Cat Hampurr, had asked whether the cats would review the contents of one of their monthly subscription boxes, and of course, whilst I doubt these two represent the average family cat - I said yes!

There's one reason that I've never looked in to a Cat Hampurr subscription for the cats before, and that is Bucket's fussy eating habits. It's not that he has expensive taste and will only eat the very best: quite the opposite, he's only interested in dried cat food, and the cheaper, cackier dried cat food I can find him, the better. Thankfully, he does eat the dried cat food that we buy from the vets, which is independently produced without grains, and has nothing horrible in it, but manages to appeal to his awful taste. He won't eat fresh fish, or meat, or anything most cats would risk their lives for. I can confidently leave a whole side of salmon out in the kitchen and know that Bucket won't pay it the slightest bit of attention. He also despises all cat treats, and wet food. The only exception to his rule is peas, there is very little that he wouldn't do for a bowl of peas. So a subscription which aims to introduce you to the best, healthiest and most innovative cat food products on the market, is completely wasted on him. The Kitten, on the other hand, will usually eat anything, including small potted plants.
A Cat Hampurr however does include toys, so you'd think, oh well, Bucket can have the toys then... except he doesn't really like cat toys (I know, I know). Bucket only really likes playing with screwed up paper, and he really likes playing with screwed up paper: but somehow, I didn't think that Cat Hampurr would include such a speciality. The Kitten, on the other hand, enjoys cat toys very much (his favourite cat nip caterpillar has recently been discreetly disposed of and replaced with a trio of cat nip mice) - so really, I supposed that the entire box would be for The Kitten.

I wasn't entirely right though. First of all, Bucket went straight in for one of the toys, a Kitty Kick Stick by Clasicats. This is the sort of thing I'd totally disregard usually as I wouldn't expect him to show the slightest interest, but I suspect that the "luxury, maximum strength, fine cut Canadian catnip" might have something to do with it. The Kick Stick is a long sturdy stick made from high quality fleece, and is twice sewn for added durability. It also has a marabou feather "tail", which is the sort of thing The Kitten goes in for on toys (the trio of mice used to have feather tails). Both cats have enjoyed playing with the Kitty Kick Stick, the quality of the catnip is obviously far superior to what they're used to.

The Kittens absolute favourite part of the Cat Hampurr was the purple tissue paper packaging... I think it must have smelt rather heavily of the cat nip from the Kitty Kick Stick, because he is still rolling around on the paper now, and it's covered in dribble.

A close second on favourite items though, was the Angora Bunny Ball, from Reclaimed by Nature. Both cats have enjoyed this too. Unlike most of the balls I've bought them (which have gone ignored), the Bunny Ball is made from British sheep's wool, which is coated in layers of soft angora rabbit fur (a bit indulgent for a cat toy perhaps). The angora, for those who (like me) are concerned, comes from a British angora rabbit farm where the rabbits live outdoors in large runs, not in tiny cages, have regular human contact and are clipped with scissors. None of the horrors of Asian and European angora factories that make jumpers.

On toys - a massive thumbs up (from me; cat's have no thumbs - apart from Tipsy, Boyfriend's sister's cat, who does have thumbs - weird).
Food stuffs was harder work. In the Cat Hampurr were two different types of treat, some air dried British venison slices (basically like biltong for cats) from The Innocent Cat, and some freeze dried fish fillet treats from Pet Munchies.
Neither cat was interested in the venison, even though I was half tempted to try some myself, it looked pretty good, and only The Kitten will eat the fish fillet bites; but there are no surprises there.
The Pen Munchies fish fillet bites are made from 100 % fish, and the smell that comes out of the packet when you open it up is seriously over powering! Bucket was disgusted, if there's anything he hates it's actual real fish, I mean, it's not like he's a cat or anything! The Kitten likes these though and so I'll be using them as I continue to work on sorting out his severe behavioural issues (more about that in a previous post here.)

Also in the Cat Hampurr, were two portions each of two different brands of complete cat food, one wet, one dry.
The dry cat food, by Lily's Kitchen, is actually a huge hit with Bucket (yay!). Described as "crunchy nibbles", they're flavoured with chicken, and are entirely grain free. They're also made in the UK, and are apparently very tasty. Basically, they have all of the merits of our current cat food, but I'm just pleased to have found something else that Bucket will eat that isn't complete rubbish! This was the first time I ever witnessed Bucket push The Kitten off of food (The Kitten is usually the dominant of the two) so he must really like it!
The wet food, by Forthglade, came in two different flavours, Turkey & Duck, and Chicken & Duck. I served both at the same time to see which either cat would be drawn to, but, surprisingly neither of them like either of the flavours! The Kitten licked the Turkey & Duck meat a few times and then left it, and they both smelled the bowls with each flavour in, and then left the room. This is odd as The Kitten usually LOVES it if I buy him wet food as an occasional treat. Annoyingly, they're unable to tell me what it is about this wet food that they don't like! It does, however, have a very high meat content, no grains, it's made in Devon, and contains all natural, locally sourced ingredients, so they sound fab - what a shame!
One thing I have a personal grumble with about the Cat Hampurr is that whilst you get a card detailing each of the products included (with a website for each producer) there is no information provided about the RRP of the items. So I've had to visit 6+ different websites to find this information for myself. In the case of both toys, I'd almost certainly buy these again myself, which is the purpose of them being included in the subscription package, so it's a shame that I'm not provided with information on how much they cost to buy individually. You also aren't necessarily given any information about where to buy any of the products from. Visiting the producer's website as provided by Cat Hampurr often only provides product information, but few of the producers actually sell via these sites (and even fewer have an online list of stockists!)
The prices for full sized versions of each of these products are as follows:
Forthglade wet cat food: approx £13 on Amazon, including delivery, for a pack of 12. NB - there is no information on the Forthglade website regarding an RRP and online retailers were very difficult to find so I am sure prices vary between retailers.
Lily's Kitchen dry cat food: £3.59 + postage for a 300g tube (on VioVet) - again no info re: RRP on the Lily's Kitchen website.
Pet Munchies Fish Fillet treats: 88p + postage for a 10g bag (on VetUK) - again no info re: RRP on the Pet Munchies website.
The Innocent Cat Venison Slices: £5.99 + postage for a 100g tub (on Pets Corner)
Clasicat Kitty Kick Stick: £3.75 via their own Etsy page (yaaaaay!)
Reclaimed by Nature, Angora Bunny Ball: £8.00 via their own Etsy page again (double yaaaaay!)
So it seems the toys are also a lot easier to buy online than the food items, you might find the food in your local pet store (independent pet stores with a good range of natural, high quality pet feeds seem your best bet) but information on where to buy seems pretty hard to get your paws on.
I'll definitely be buying a new Kitty Kick Stick when this one dies, the price seems very reasonable for a handmade cat toy and I'm all for supporting small businesses and craftspeople. £8.00 seems quite a lot for a ball for the cats to play with (especially when Bucket is so happy with paper) but the angora bunny ball is probably a present I'd buy a friend if they got a new kitten, as a bit of a treat! When you consider the materials used and the fact that the ball is needle felted by hand, which is time consuming, you can appreciate the price tag, but amusing as my cats are, I don't think I like them enough to make this a regular purchase!
Overall, I'm really impressed with the range of samples and full sized items that we received from Cat Hampurr. The toys were definitely a hit, my only concern would be with paying to continue to discover how much food Bucket doesn't like, and I was surprised to find two items in the box which The Kitten, who has never ever turned down anything in his life, didn't want to eat.
A monthly hamper is £11.95, or you can opt for a "Double Helpings" hamper to cater for two cats at £21.90. I'd probably go for the single £11.95 hamper, even for two cats, as the idea is only to find out what your cats make of the new products, allowing you to decide whether to repurchase. The toys can be shared - I'm not sure it would be necessary to have two of each. With this particular box you basically cover the subscription cost with the RRP of the toys, and you get the postage plus all of the food samples thrown in for free (I like to look at things in that sort of manner). If you have the money on a monthly basis to subscribe to the hamper delivery service, you'll get different products each month and I think I'd probably begin to look forward to the package arriving even more than the boys would!

I don't want to give birth to this baby!

Today I had to ring my local midwife lead birthing unit to arrange a tour. No I've not had a change of heart, we're still very much Team Homebirth, but I still think it's important to consider all options, and to find out as much as possible about what facilities that are available to us. The last thing I'd want, is to decide at the last minute that I'd be more comfortable giving birth at the MLU, only to arrive and have no idea where to go or what to expect! Anyway; that, along with the fact that I am now seeing my midwife fortnightly, and even my maternity clothes are starting to feel a bit tight, is serving to remind me that we really don't have long left until this baby arrives. I had a few July appointments to put on the calendar yesterday, and there was Baby's due date, staring back at me!

Now here's the bit were I admit to being one of those women that lots of other women despise, because I'm going to say it again, I'm really enjoying being pregnant. Yes, there are some discomforts, I'd love to be able to reach down and pick something up off of the floor without any difficulty, I'd love to be able to trim and paint my toenails without having to carefully manoeuvre around my baby bump, and I miss being able to run up and down the three flights of stairs to my flat without getting out of breath. Sometimes my ankles swell, Baby's hiccups can become irritating after a while (especially if they begin halfway through me eating something particularly delicious) and it can be hard to find a comfortable sleeping position. My low blood pressure has meant that there've been times when I've felt horribly nauseous, light headed, faint and exhausted - and I quite often sneak off for a nap, or end up in bed for the night by eight thirty. But all of this is weirdly enjoyable, when experienced as part of the lead up to Baby's arrival.
My bump has become my constant companion, I'll miss it when it's gone, not because I am thankful for it getting in the way, or slowing me down, but because it's just, there, and I see it as my baby, as opposed to my swollen and extended abdomen. When my ankles swell I know it's because I've been active during the day, and have carried my baby everywhere with me. The hiccups, whilst annoying, are a further reminder of the tiny person inside of me, busy doing whatever it is unborn babies do, and at night, I feel as though I'm trying to find a comfortable position for both of us, not just for me in spite of Baby. Every time the symptoms of my low blood pressure surface, I remember to be thankful that I'm not suffering from high blood pressure, I have a friend in hospital right now with pre eclampsia, waiting for her baby to be born very early, and if I feel a bit dizzy one day, I'd much rather that than be in her shoes. And naps - well who's going to complain about naps?
It's funny when you consider that Baby was entirely unplanned, and my first response to a positive pregnancy test was one of horror and misery. These days though, as the end of my pregnancy journey approaches, I feel genuinely very lucky to have carried this little person this far, and to be the person bringing them in to the world.
There will be no babies after this one, and so everything feels precious, despite the fact that I'd said I wouldn't have more children before I fell pregnant. When I was pregnant with Seb, I was relatively open minded about whether or not I'd have any more children, it was largely down to the direction my life took, and as such, I never really stopped to consider that carrying him might be the only time I experienced pregnancy. It was only well after he was born, when I made the firm decision to stop at one and raise him as an only child, that it occurred to me that I wouldn't be pregnant again. Or so I thought. This time I really know that I won't, so I feel inclined to cherish every movement, to spend my days talking to Baby, folding and refolding his/her clothes and mulling idly over potential baby names.
I feel incredibly healthy, I have found a deep level of contentment, I'm very much in love, and I'm happy and confident in my pregnant body. I appreciate that this isn't the experience for some women, that many suffer horrible health complications, anxiety, mental health issues, and a constant battle to be at peace with their changing bodies - and I recognise how lucky I am not to be able to identify with this experience. I just feel, good.
So of course I can't wait to see Baby for the first time, to experience that sudden rush of love and exhilaration when he or she is born, I'm actually very much looking forward to labour and birth, but at the same time, there's a bitter sweet sadness that comes with reaching the end of this journey, and I do find myself thinking, "I don't want to give birth to this baby!" - not because I don't want to go through the physical experience of giving birth, but because I don't want to not be pregnant anymore. This is the closest that Baby and I will ever be, in just a few short weeks we'll breathe our own air, we'll be able to go places without the other, and my body will return to being just that again. This makes me sad and I'm desperate to remember everything, feel everything, and take pleasure in everything, before time is up and it's on to the next, very different, chapter.

The Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar in Pregnancy

I've been a firm advocate for the benefits of taking apple cider vinegar for ages now, long before I fell pregnant this time around, but naturally, once I knew that I was carrying Baby, I double checked that it was safe for me to continue taking ACV (though I'm not sure why I thought it may not be)
Many of the benefits of drinking ACV daily, when not pregnant, appear to simply be intensified, or all the more useful, in pregnancy, and what's more, there's evidence to suggest that Baby's benefit considerably from having a Mum who takes ACV every day too.
A couple of notes however, firstly, when buying apple cider vinegar, check the label. To get the true benefits, you need to be drinking ACV that is made from 100% apple juice, with nothing else added. Secondly, like anything, moderation is key - don't drink the entire bottle in one hit. I tend to have a generous glug in a large mug of hot water to start the day - that's more than enough.
So, what are the benefits of taking ACV daily, in pregnancy and otherwise?
  • A majority of ACV's benefits are tied up to digestive health. The efficiency of your digestive system effects your entire body. If your digestive system is struggling,  this can have an effect on: your skin, your mental health, your energy levels, your productivity, the quality of your sleep, your risk of infection and your libido, among many other things. ACV helps to significantly improve digestive efficiency, meaning that you digest food quickly and effectively, getting the most from the nutrients you take in.
  • Because it increases metabolic efficiency, ACV also helps with the body's ability to absorb fluids from the digestive tract, helping to keep you hydrated. Being well hydrated is important all of the time, but especially so during pregnancy when your body is under particular strain and you're using twice as much energy for bodily functions. Being well hydrated will make you feel more energised, and also limit your tendency to snack or feel hungry all of the time - both very useful for pregnant ladies!
  • A sluggish gut more often than not results in sluggish behaviour. We all feel a bit tired when we're full, and if your food is passing through your digestive tract at a slower rate, you're only going to feel tireder (not a word) for longer. Keeping food moving, whilst increasing the amount of nutrients you absorb from each meal, will ensure that you have all of the energy you need to get through the day.
  • Constipation, nausea, excess wind, heartburn and acid reflux are all common symptoms throughout pregnancy. By increasing digestive efficiency - ACV can help to alleviate all of these complaints. Despite it's sharp taste, apple cider vinegar is highly alkalizing, NOT acidic, and will help to calm down acidic complaints (like burning burps) that annoy many pregnant ladies.
  • By ensuring your digestive and metabolic systems work more efficiently, ACV can help to ensure that your baby gets even more wonderful nutrients from the food you eat (you do still need to make healthy food choices though!)
  • There is a surprising link between digestive efficiency and mood regulation/mental health. Those who suffer from a slow, irritable gut are often more likely to experience mood swings and display depressive tendencies. I'm by no means suggesting ACV as a treatment for mental health issues, and if you're experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy please make your midwife or doctor aware as soon as possible, however, taking ACV could help to stabilise moods and keep irrational, seemingly hormonal, outbursts under control!
  • ACV can help to alleviate the symptoms of water retention, which are particularly common in pregnant women. If you suffer from swollen ankles and feet towards the end of the day, your symptoms may be helped with daily ACV. Remember if the swelling comes on very suddenly, and doesn't go away after you elevate your feet for a while, or they're still swollen when you get up in the morning, this could be a symptom of pre-eclampsia and you should be seen immediately by your midwife.
  • ACV helps to flush toxins from your system, which can have a range of benefits. You may notice your skin is clearer, your eyes appear brighter, your hair looks healthier, you appear slimmer (bump excused), and you manage to avoid those dreaded pregnancy urine infections which plague many women.
  • Taking ACV daily has been shown to significantly increase immunity - this is good news for us preggos - as we can be more susceptible to bugs and infections, some of which could pose a threat to our babies.
I usually get my apple cider vinegar from our friends at Little Stour Orchard. It contains nothing but apple juice from their organic orchard, and it tastes amazing. They're the only peoples on the planet to be granted two gold stars in the Great Taste Awards (2014) for a vinegar (Aspall Cyder Vinegar which is the most widely available organic cider vinegar, has only ever achieved one star), and of course, it's totally local (to me).
Please remember that none of the above information should be taken in place of medical advice. If you're suffering with severe pregnancy symptoms, it's always best to seek the opinion of your midwife or doctor. However, apple cider vinegar won't do you any harm, so rather than take my word for it, your best bet is to try it yourself and see what benefits you experience as a result.

34 Week Update

Time for another pregnancy update! I can't believe how quickly time is going! How on Earth am I in my 34th week of this pregnancy? Just six weeks to go until Baby's due date, but Baby will be considered "full term" in as little as three weeks, and could arrive at any time.
The week was relatively quiet, but on Friday I saw my midwife, Kelly, for my 34 week appointment. As usual, it was a great, positive appointment, I'm so so lucky to have a midwife that I have a great relationship with - and who I see consistently at every appointment.
We discussed the hospital's assertions that I'm carrying a bigger baby, and I updated her on the fact that I was asked to take the glucose tolerance test and have been referred to a consultant for suspected macrosomia (big baby).
Well! Kelly has plotted Baby's measurements from my 28 week growth scan (which resulted in my referral both to the diabetic clinic and obstetrician) on my personalised graph, which represents normal growth for me, as an individual, based on my pre-pregnancy weight, my height, my ethnic origin, age and also Seb's birth weight. When plotted on this graph, Baby's measurements are slap bang in the middle of the normal range. Only when plotted on the graphs that the sonographers use, which base what's normal on a set of national averages, does Baby appear to be particularly big. As such, the macosomia has been pretty much dismissed.
Kelly also had a feel around in my abdomen, and whilst Baby has, frustratingly, turned back in to a breech (head up) position, he/she doesn't feel particularly large, and still has plenty of space to move around. My bump is measuring exactly 33cm (spot on).
I'm also very pleased to report that my previously "alarmingly low" blood pressure has now risen to the lower end of normal, and is no longer of particular concern. I also had the results back from my 28 week blood tests, which were all great.
So this week, everything centres around my second growth scan on Thursday, followed shortly after by my appointment with the consultant. I've also got an appointment with my lovely doula on the same day, to debrief from the consultant appointment and write up a final birth plan (all getting rather real now!)
I'll be spending the week concentrating on a lot of prenatal yoga to encourage Baby to spin back in to a cephalic position (head down). If Baby is still breech at 36 weeks we will have to start discussing possible birth solutions (usually a caesarean section is recommended) - but hopefully it won't come to that!
The Dad Network

We need to talk about Mongolia...

I've been meaning to write this post for absolutely ages and I've just never gotten around to it. Oddly, very few people have asked about Mongolia, but I still feel I need to clear it up.
As historic readers of this blog will know, this September, I was due to fly out to Ulan Bator, the capital city of Mongolia, to complete a ten day expedition across the Mongolian desert, on horseback. This wasn't just a fanciful idea but a fundraising attempt to raise vital money for Mind, one of the UK's leading mental healthy charities, whose work is particularly close to my heart.
Rural Mongolia
Now, it goes without saying that as chances are, Baby will arrive in early August, it would be downright inappropriate of me to leave him/her at a month old, to go charging across the desert on a pony. It would impact somewhat negatively on my breastfeeding plans too!
Thankfully, the guys at Charity Challenge have been great, and my place on the trek has been deferred until I'm ready. I'm looking in to lots of options (childcare based predominantly) to allow me to carry on and take part in the trek next year.
If you donated towards me shaving my hair in November (thank you, once again) your money has already been received by Mind, and is being used to continue their hard and vital work - and it still counts towards my total fundraising amount in the run up to Mongolia, so please don't feel you've been cheated!
I've also been asked about The Big Walk. The time has been and gone, I was due to complete the walk back in April and it will come as no surprise to most that a decision was made not to continue training. I'd been building up my training to enable me to walk to continuous 72 miles between Margate and central London, and at first, had wanted to do this whilst pregnant. Unfortunately, it became increasingly apparent that with the early stages of sciatica, I'd be putting myself at greater risk by trying to complete something of this sort of scale. I've since been treated by a lovely chiropractor, and my symptoms have cleared up, I have a healthy pelvis, ready for birthing, but the strain of the type of training required to complete the walk would probably have been too much.
Rochester: en route from Margate to London
However, once I'm no longer pregnant, training will resume, it's basically my post-baby body plan! The walk will be going ahead, probably in the Autumn, and news about fundraising will be forthcoming!
Hope that clears up any questions people had about the charity stuff!

Pregnancy Relaxation CD

As you'll know from way-back-when, I've been preparing for Baby's arrival with a full self-hypnosis programme from Maggie Howell of Natal Hypnotherapy.
At 33 weeks I'm now about to "move up" to the Birth Preparation CD which forms the later part of the programme, but up until recently have been listening to the Pregnancy Relaxation CD on a daily basis.
If you have no intention of using natal hypnotherapy in your labour, but are keen to enjoy a calm, focussed pregnancy and birth by your own methods, I would strongly recommend just buying the CD as a one off (you can buy individual CD's rather than the entire Natal Hypnotherapy programme).
It claims to help you to sleep, reduce common aches and pains, maintain a healthy blood pressure, make positive choices about the food you eat and also promotes a feeling of calmness and relaxation throughout pregnancy, as well as encouraging communication with your unborn baby.
Since using the CD my blood pressure has stabilised, I'm no longer considered to have "alarmingly low" blood pressure, though this could be a complete coincidence. I can also say confidently that listening to the CD has had no effect what so ever on my food choices (I literally begged Boyfriend to let me order a Domino's Tandoori Hot on a Double Decadence base the other night). However - it has definitely, 100%, improved my overall sense of wellbeing, my positivity, and my confidence in pregnancy. For that alone I'd say that every woman, regardless of how she is planning to give birth, should listen at least to this CD.
I can't stress enough how important I believe it is to regularly take a little time out alone, in day to day life as much as in pregnancy, to really connect with yourself, and when pregnant, with your baby. This is something I've practiced in the past through yoga and meditation anyway, but the CD really gives a focus to my relaxation techniques that promote a much healthier pregnancy and I've been greatful for this.
If meditation or visualisation are alien concepts to you, or you've tried before but found it difficult to "switch off", do give this CD a try with an open mind. At no point are you encouraged to "empty your mind of thoughts" (something I know a lot of yoga instructors try to promote, which usually has the reverse effect), your mind is simply allowed to wander, as if you're daydreaming, which all of us can do.
The CD gives a little focus to your daydream, but the instructions are vague and relaxed enough that you can let your brain do it's own thing.
The reason I suspect that the food thing hasn't worked for me is that I am very good at mental visualisation, maybe it's the writer and reader in me, I find it very easy to naturally imagine and create whole worlds in my mind without very much by way of obstacles. Anyway, in the script of the CD, you are prompted to visualise an environment (in this case a countryside scene), and later on, there is some content about making positive food choices. I tend, more often than not, to get "stuck" in the visualisation, and enter a complete dream state where I'm in a complete trance (I've found that if I sit up to listen to the CD I begin to sway involuntarily). I suspect that the food stuff is going in, I'm just completely unaware of it, and would probably need to listen to the CD for a more prolonged amount of time to start acting upon it.
You can listen to this Pregnancy Relaxation CD at any point in pregnancy, even if you've only just spotted the second line on a pregnancy test (which is actually quite late in the day if you happen to be me!) I would imagine someone who'd been listening to this CD regularly from their first trimester would be well and truly down with the content by the time they switched to the Birth Preparation CD at 33 weeks ish. If the Birth Preparation CD isn't for you though, and you just want to chill out now, then you could also leave this as late in your pregnancy as you liked and still benefit massively (those last few weeks can be stressful, especially if you go "overdue".)
I will probably still turn to the Pregnancy Relaxation CD, as well as the Birth Preparation CD, throughout the remaining 6 weeks or so of my pregnancy, just when I need to tone myself down a little and take a moment to rebalance.
It does state in the instructions for this CD, not to listen to it at a time when you'd usually be going to sleep. This isn't necessarily a problem for someone who works from home (zen lunch break) but the issue I had was that it quite often did send me to sleep, which at a time when you wouldn't usually be sleeping - is not ideal. If I did nap after listening to the CD though it was the most revitalising, refreshing little sleep imaginable - might be worth setting yourself an alarm if you can't afford to lose time though! On occasions when I listen to the CD and find myself able to wake up at the end, I'm left with the sense that I've had a full night's sleep anyway, it has that sort of complete mind/body reset effect (I quite like doing it just before I experience my 2:00pm energy slump in the afternoon because it gives me a real boost). You might not think of deep relaxation and meditation as being the key to getting you up and out of the door, but it works a treat for me.
The script is 25 minutes long (ish) so you do need to be quite militant about finding the time to fit it in to your daily routine, but I probably spend more than double that on Twitter every day, so it's quite easy to make a few lifestyle swaps if you set your mind to it.
The Pregnancy Relaxation CD costs £11.99 + postage from the Natal Hypnotherapy website here, or is available as a download, here.

Homebirth FAQ's

I wrote a post last week, explaining why I'm planning a homebirth, and what's made Boyfriend and I decide that it's the right option for us. That post did fail to address some of the most common questions (or comments) that people have when they hear that I'm hoping to give birth in my own flat though. These tend to cover the logistics and nitty gritty, the blood, sweat and tears (literally) which I didn't really go in to in my previous post. I'd been thinking about writing this post since I published the previous one, but a conversation yesterday that focussed particularly on Question 1 below, prompted me to share this now.
So picture the scene, I'm chatting to someone about pregnancy type stuff and happen to mention that we are hoping to be able to have a homebirth - these are the most common responses (in no particular order).
  1. What about the mess? This is often expressed also as "Oh, I couldn't deal with all of the mess!" - this one perplexes me, it quite often comes from people who've actually been at the birth of a baby in the past - exactly how much mess do you remember there being? There will be a bit of blood, but the baby comes from the uterus, where it's been living in a litre of amniotic fluid, you are not opening up your body entirely, other than in unfortunate circumstances, blood loss is pretty minimal. There is also the amniotic fluid itself to consider, but many people experience their "waters breaking" before they go in to labour anyway, so the risk of getting fluid all over the carpet isn't unique to homebirths, equally, it could go in the car, on the bus or in the bakery. Above and beyond that, the only mess you're looking at is the possibility of a rogue poo (pretty easy to clean up) and vomit (have a bowl handy). For the blood and fluid loss, it's easy to invest in plenty of cheap waterproof covers for any surfaces - a nice big tarp for the floor and some pound shop shower curtains to chuck over sofas etc. That should work to grab anything, and can be rolled up and disposed of (by the midwives, they fully expect to take on this responsibility - the cleaning isn't yours to do). It's worth having something (a bucket) to put the placenta in after delivery - your midwives will take this away with them unless you choose to keep it. Quite simply, the "mess" that most people imagine, doesn't exist. And personally, I'm hoping to give birth in the birthing pool anyway so hopefully anything gross is contained, many other women labour in the shower or bath which is very easy to rinse out after the event.
  2. What if something goes wrong? This is the most common question, and the most common objection to homebirth. It relies however on two assumptions: 1) that homebirth creates more medical risks than it avoids and 2) that complications can't be handled outside of a hospital environment. Both of these are misinformed. A majority of "things going wrong" that take place during labour and childbirth, take place because the woman is labouring in hospital. This isn't the hospital's fault. Labour can only progress, and birth can only take place, if a very very delicate and exact cocktail of hormones are charging around the woman's body in perfect balance. The body is capable of producing these hormones in the exact quantities needed, at precisely the right time, to create a whole chain of events that result in the baby being born. One inaccuracy in this intricate balance of hormones, and things start happening in the wrong order, or not at all. If a woman is disturbed, in any way frightened, or if she is concerned with something other than giving birth, if she meets an unfamiliar person, hears an unfamiliar sound, is expected to engage in conversation or answer a question, has to move when she does not want to move, is touched in a way that she didn't invite, or has to use the rational, everyday part of her brain for anything including answering the question "do you need something to drink?" - then those hormones are sent spiralling out of whack. That right there, is the main cause of complications during labour. The NHS guidelines, along with every other medical guidance available to families in the UK, clearly states that for low risk pregnancies, a home birth is deemed as safe, and in many cases, safer, than a hospital birth. The second most common cause of complications in pregnancy, is laying a woman on her back during labour and birth. Avoid that and you've once again halved your likelihood of experiencing any complications. If the odd special circumstances do present themselves, remember that you have two highly qualified midwives in attendance, exactly the same as you'd have available to you in a hospital. The absolute worst case scenario would be that you would need to be rushed to hospital for an emergency caesarean - which is what ambulances are for. The time taken to transfer a woman from home to an operating theatre, and from a labour ward to an operating theatre, actually don't differ that much.
  3. Oh I'd want to be where the drugs are! This one really depends on personal preference, experience and expectation and as such, it's a bit of an odd thing to say. See, I don't want to be where all the drugs are, so... that's why I'm birthing at home hopefully. If you do, that's absolutely super cool, but the fact that that is what you want from your birth experience has nothing to do with what I want from mine! HOWEVER, of the pain relief options available to women in labour, only one is available in a hospital and not at home, and that is an epidural. If you want to have access to an epidural during labour then you will need to be on a labour ward, so of course a homebirth isn't going to be for you. You can have gas & air and pethedine at home though, and your midwives will bring this in their "kit". Homebirthing women, because their hormones are better kept in check (see above) and because they are calmer and more comfortable thanks to being in a familiar environment, without lots of beeping machines and the smell of medicine in the air, report experiencing a lot less pain during labour and birth anyway, and this is backed up by figures which clearly demonstrate that home birth patients rarely use the pethedine that's available to them, and almost never transfer to hospital just so that they can get access to an epidural.
  4. If you want to die on your living room floor, go ahead, be my guest. Ok this isn't a common response - it's a one off response, and it is vulgar, disgusting and completely unjustified but it was one response I did get - just to qualify, comparatively, whilst more births take place in a hospital environment than a home environment, and high risk pregnancies rarely end in a homebirth, the chances of a woman dying as a result of giving birth at home are pretty much zero. There has been one recent-ish case in the UK, but tragically that lady would have died had she given birth in a hospital anyway. In much poorer countries, where homebirths usually occur amongst remote rural communities with little access to medical professionals, or clean, hygienic conditions and pure water, yes, birth is a dangerous business, but we're not in rural India (and actually, in India, many poorer people choose to birth at home because hospital conditions are so atrocious.)
  5. Just seems a bit risky, you never know what's going to happen. Correct! No two labours and births are the same, and it's impossible to tell exactly how things are going to pan out. That's why I've chosen to give birth where the conditions are best suited to allow my body to produce the correct hormones, in the correct amounts, at the correct time, to minimise my chances of any complications occurring. I've also opted for the only labour and birth option in the UK which secures me two fully qualified midwives for the duration of my labour, rather than a hospital birth, where midwives are stretched to their limits and often having to care for several labouring and birthing women as well as new families at once, stepping from one delivery suite to the next and having to adjust to a different set of circumstances each time. Also, as a hospital-birthing Mum I'd be congratulated for staying at home for as long as I could "manage" with no access to medical assistance what so ever, and no monitoring of mine or my baby's wellbeing - I'd even risk being sent home again if I sought to access this medical assistance "too early". As a homebirthing Mum, I would have the continuous care of a dedicated midwife from start to finish, and could labour calmly and comfortably with constant access to his/her professional opinion and guidance at any time. Afterwards I'd be in my own familiar environment, with a significantly lower risk of infection - which sounds like the "riskier" option to you?
But you live so close to the hospital! This presents an argument for and against really. One of the main reasons I've opted for a homebirth is that I live within a 10 minute drive of a very good maternity hospital. If I need it, it's there. The fact that it's nearby doesn't seem like a reason to use it, but at least I can. Many homebirthers start out discussing homebirth as a result of living very far from the nearest hospital, which is what I think confuses people. Risking giving birth in your car en-route to a far away hospital (as is the reality facing at least one of my friends at the moment) is obviously a less attractive prospect than homebirth!
If you've got any questions about preparing for a homebirth, please get in touch, if I can help, I will, if I can signpost you to someone else who can help, I'll do that. These are the questions I find myself answering about my birth choices, but I'm sure you've had some different concerns to face from well meaning (or less so) friends, whatever sort of birth you've planned!
As always, when I write about my decision to have a baby at home, please remember that my son was born on a busy labour ward, and I had a positive birth experience. I am by no means "against" hospital, surgical or otherwise medicalised births as long as they're approached by a couple who're entirely confident and happy with their decisions. I never seek to convince anyone that a homebirth is the right option for them, just because I believe it's the right option for me, nor do I suggest that anyone has made the wrong decision by deciding to labour and birth differently.