So Much Bigger

I was doing much better towards the end of my second trimester. I’d done some buggy research, watched lots of One Born Every Minute, read huge chunks of the pregnancy book. I was even feeling excited about the prospect of a real live baby coming into my life. But then the third trimester began and whomp. It was like being hit with a ton of bricks.

In a matter of days my belly got much bigger. It sticks out. People offer me a seat on the tube. There are curved hollows either side of it where my midriff used to be. My boobs have started getting in the way of my arm. I feel ugly. There’s a pain in the middle of my back that strikes when I nap on the sofa. And yet I know, I know I have been incredibly lucky in terms of physical symptoms so far. For the first time pregnancy-induced bad times feel like they’re in the post for my body and I’m scared of them.

And time is running out. I have to choose a birth plan, finish the baby book, pick a buggy, cot, car seat, toys, highchair, breast pump, blankets… I wish this was a Communist country and the Government would just deliver a standard-issue baby pack. I am so sick of the sight of the Mothercare website and I still haven’t bought a single thing. And as for reading up on a baby’s development and how to actually be a mother? I definitely don’t have time for that in between the pilates, pelvic floor exercises and perineum massages.

In case you haven’t noticed, my emotional state has flipped back to my pre-12 week scan mindset. I’m depressed and loopy but this time it seems like there might be good reason to be panicking. At last I can tell I’m growing another human inside me. What was I thinking?

That’s a pretty good question. I decided to conceive because I wanted a baby. But why did I want one? Well, because the thought of having one made me happy and the thought of not having one made me unhappy. So an entirely selfish decision, basically. But this isn’t like thinking you want to learn to ice-skate, doing so and then reaping the endorphin rewards once you can do it, or wanting an iPad, saving up and enjoying the Facebook app. This thing has taken on a life of its own. Literally.

Six months ago I quite fancied having my own human but I now see that what I’ve done is outside my control. This is so much bigger than me and I can feel that I’m losing myself to it. No wonder the author of Frankenstein was a woman. I’ve created a powerful monster who has decimated my emotional self and is wrecking my physical self. Will there be anything left of the old me in 18 years’ time?

Apparently the joy of having a child makes it all worthwhile. But what if Junior is a horror? My children could be stupid, ugly, selfish, murderers, rapists, UKIP voters… It certainly looks like they’ll be warped by the burden of my resentment. I can imagine myself screaming that I want my tits back, and the ability to hold urine, and legs free from varicose veins. I might beg for my sanity and my emotional wellbeing. And no doubt my offspring will laugh in my face and say, “Sorry, Mum, but you chose to have me. In fact, I wish I’d never been born.”

“What are you going to call the baby?”

This is apparently the most pressing question people have for me nowadays, judging by the number of times I get asked it.

I could pretend I don’t understand why people are asking…but I do. I always wanted to know what my friends were going to name their offspring too. It’s weirdly intriguing. Maybe it’s because I’ve considered my kids’ names since primary school. Maybe it’s because of the intense power of a name. Maybe it’s because I enjoy judging people. Either way, I’ve discovered that this is yet one more thing that’s a totally different experience once you’re knocked up.

I’ve found that if I do tell my friends the names we’re choosing between, they make comments. They say that they used to know a Melchior who was horrible. Or that Pomegranate is an ugly name. Or, worst of all, they’re also planning to name their bundle of joy Aurora Borealis. Of course these are comments that I considered perfectly reasonable this time last year. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was just chatting, sharing opinions, reflecting on the issues.

But take it from me, once you’re pregnant, you can’t handle it. You treasure your chosen name so dearly that any comment whatsoever is like a red rag to a bull. Hypersensitive should be my new name. I warned you I’ve gone proper loopy these days.

I think people sense this though, because asking a baby-to-be’s name carries with it a frisson of daring. No doubt that’s part of the appeal. You can tell people are gearing themselves up to ask, and it feels like an assault on your battlements. They’re eager to see if they can breach your defences and capture the Holy Grail of baby information.

What makes this a particularly nasty attack for the parents is that even if they have a dozen monogrammed babygrows hidden in a drawer, it’s simply not done to refer to the developing foetus by name. I have heard of the odd case of foreigners using the foetus’s name and getting vilified, laughed at, lampooned. Some kind-hearted souls even recommend that you don’t name the baby in case you get too attached and something goes horribly wrong. Cheers, mate.

So for the sake of pregnant people everywhere, let’s draw the line and make it illegal to ask the baby’s name. I mean, we might have to address the situation in the Middle East first, but as soon as that’s dealt with I expect David Cameron to get straight on this.

I hope Victoria Coren Mitchell is reading this.

It’s quite annoying when a woman selling wedding rings takes down your fiancé’s details and then laughs in your face. The joke? I was going to have to take his surname and it’s such an awful name.

First of all, the love of my life hasn’t actually got a particularly rubbish name. It’s a bit awkward because he always has to spell it out but it’s not Cockburn, Bumstead or Shufflebottom.

But of course, that’s not my point. I was horrified that she thought that in 2014 I have to take my fella’s surname. We didn’t buy rings from her, in case you hadn’t guessed. Once we were married, a new acquaintance heard I hadn’t changed my name and said, “Really? So is he your bitch then?”

I can’t tell you how opposed I am to women taking their husband’s surname. Oh, wait, yes, I can. Why the hell should I lose my identity just because I’ve got married? Anyone who’s ever known me or ever Facebook-stalked me now no longer has my name. I’ve become someone else apparently, just because we’ve simplified the legal aspects of our joint life together. Oh, he’s still the same guy. I’m the one who’s become somebody else. Why would I sign up to that?

And even worse, changing your name is a total ball ache. Every piece of ID has to be altered. Every bill. Every email address. Every personalised fountain pen. Surely if the moral grounds don’t convince you, the administrative ones do?

So why do women do it? Tradition is apparently a biggie. But it’s traditional to hang out your blood-stained sheets the morning after your wedding and we don’t do that anymore. Well, I didn’t. And we don’t exactly have a strong tradition of women’s rights in Britain. It’s traditional to ban women from voting or owning property too.

One friend told me she wanted to take her husband’s name to express her love for him. I wonder how he erased his identity in order to express his. She also pointed out that the great benefit of women’s lib is the right to choose, including whether to take your man’s name or not. I’m afraid I don’t accept that either. People choose to take heroin but it’s still a really bad thing for society. Some women say they choose to wear burkas. Anyone who’s ever watched Derren Brown will know that we don’t actually make choices based on our own freewill. We’re coerced by forces that we don’t understand and it requires huge awareness to break these forces.

Perhaps the clincher for many women is the prospect of everyone in their family unit having the same surname. Granted, I can see that might be convenient if you want to appear as the Mycock Family on Family Fortunes one day. But I say other people should just get your names right. How hard is it? Millions of families don’t share the same names, as a result of divorce, death, choice, lack of marriage, remarriage, and also tradition. In Iceland, Svarvar Magnusson’s child’s surname would be Svarvarson. Just ask my friend Svarvar Svarvarson. In Spain, women don’t change their surnames, so María Sanchez Grande and Jesús Navarro Gonzalez’s children’s surnames are Navarro Sanchez and everyone just deals with it. You should see their personalised post boxes!

It may not surprise you to hear that I’m not OK with using your husband’s name ‘at home’ and your maiden name ‘at work’, which is the oh-so-helpful advice of the author of the baby book I’m pretending to read. As an obstetrics professor and a published author I think she has more reason than most to celebrate her identity. But apparently her dual identity “has never given rise to any uncertainty for [her] children.” Phew! Because that’s the issue here – whether a five-year-old is confused.

And then even worse than having two separate personas must be adding your husband’s surname to your own. Jessica Ennis-Hill, I’m looking at you. Surely this is the worst of both worlds? You haven’t respected tradition and you can’t go on Family Fortunes. You’ve still suffered all the admin and you’ve still compromised your identity. And if you then get divorced, you have to announce it to the world through your name. Radek Stepanek’s trophies all bear the same name regardless of misfortunes in his personal life. Justine Henin isn’t so lucky.

Now that I’m up the duff people are asking which name we’re going to give our children. Well, guess what? I wasn’t OK with giving up my name and I’m not OK with my kids having just my husband’s name. So we’re going to double barrel the sprogs.

“Ah,” people say, “but what will they do when they come to have children? Treble barrel? Quadruple barrel?” And you know what? They can figure that one out for themselves. They can exercise their right to choose. I can’t think of everything!

Do you want a boy or a girl?

20 weeks ago I had an opinion on that question. The expert witnesses called in the case were my nephew and niece. His argument was how adorable he is and wouldn’t it be fab to have a son of my own, ideally a gay one who I could sing along to musicals with? Her case was similar and boiled down to how adorable she is, especially in a hand-knitted cardigan and booties. My internal jury had considered the arguments and returned a verdict.

But the transcription of that case shall remain locked in a top-secret vault now that I’m pregnant. Even online I can’t bring myself to admit which brand of baby I wanted before I got knocked up. I mean, what if I write the truth and then in 18 years’ time my offspring comes across my naive words and this very act wrecks their self-esteem forever? (Note use of plural pronoun to avoid any hints at all.)

And what about my feelings? My poor, fragile, broken feelings. It’s no use having a preference now because the deed is done. It’s moot. This whole baby is moot. I can’t control the sproglet’s gender any more than I can control the raging hormones. It’s much safer to pretend to myself that I don’t care whether it’s pink or blue, thereby cleverly avoiding any future disappointment. Neat trick, huh?

So why, oh, why do people persist in asking me which I want? This isn’t my Amazon wish list. It’s not as though they’re offering to get me one if I tell them. At least I sincerely hope that isn’t crossing anyone’s mind and since I don’t know Madonna or Brangelina I’m going to assume it isn’t.

It feels like my friends are deliberately trying to trip me up, trick me into saying willy or fanny so that when reality fails to keep pace with my stated desires they can hold their superior knowledge over me like the sword of Damocles. Then when I have a bad mummy day in five years’ time they can say, “I always knew you never wanted that one. You’re incapable of love and a terrible person.”

Have I mentioned the raging hormones?

OK, OK, my common sense is calling to me from the depths of my addled soul. People are probably just being polite. They’re trying to be nice. They’re asking the interested questions that they think I want to discuss. Well, folks, you’re wrong. I want to discuss gender preferences as much as I want to discuss nipple thrush. So, in the nicest possible way, shut uppa yer face.

Now does anyone fancy a Cats sing-along?

“I just worry that I might not be fertile”

I know what you mean.

Before I conceived I was crystal clear that infertility was my biggest fear. Throughout my 20s I felt surrounded by horror stories of polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, tens of thousands of pounds being spent on unsuccessful and invasive rounds of IVF. The episode of Sex And The City where Charlotte finds out she probably can’t conceive and Miranda walks behind her all the way home made me cry my heart out. And it still does.

I hated that there was no definite test of fertility except pregnancy, which I also knew I wasn’t quite ready to dabble with. If I’d bothered to line up all my fears and rank them, infertility would have been king of the castle.

And clearly I wasn’t alone because the most common comment I got when I announced my pregnancy was, “What a relief that you’re fertile.” And it was… For about a nanosecond.

That giant fear, which had niggled away at me for a decade, was soon dwarfed by the crashing waves of about 20 more. The fear of early miscarriage was stifling, followed by fear of Down’s syndrome, then disability, then preeclampsia, then emergency Caesarian… As time and modern medicine have conquered each one, ten more have sprouted in their place. It’s like battling the Hydra.

If I had a Hogwarts Boggart under my bed, it would morph into a new frightening image every day. Today it would probably choose a reincarnation of Frida Kahlo’s “Henry Ford Hospital”. And since I don’t know any spells to banish the Boggart, I’m trying really hard to remember what Lupin says to Harry about the shape of his Boggart: “What you fear most of all is – fear.”

Because this is the rest of my life, isn’t it? Waking up every day fearing for my child. Once I’ve pushed his or her little body out of my fanny, I will fear cot death and sharp objects and traffic accidents and bullying and diseases and mental health issues… And, and, and.

And meanwhile the fear is ruining the present moment. My miscarriage fears certainly pushed aside any happiness I should have experienced upon discovering that I am fertile. What a terrible waste of an opportunity for joy. How many more joyful moments am I going to let fear take away from me?

Let’s be honest, probably loads. But at least I’m trying to acknowledge what’s happening!