Monday, December 31, 2007


My poor body has finally given up on this whole pregnancy thing. With less than 2 weeks until my due date, with an additional 14kg currently being supported on my frame (most of it on my front and, I have to admit now, my bum), and the Bump pretty much the size she will be when she comes out, my body has finally had enough. After responding to the blood pressure drugs for the past few weeks, it has finally shouted quite loudly "enough is enough" and shot up again. This led to a highly amusing (if at moments worrying) appointment with Dr D yesterday and one from which I am not sure the Boy has entirely recovered yet.

Although the drugs had given us a reprieve for the past few weeks, I have been waiting for the inevitability of my blood pressure going up again. I blame my mother, or rather the genetics I inherited from her. Whilst my sister got a breach birth in revenge for her being breach and causing my Mum problems (although this can't be proven to have a genetic link, I see it as such sweet revenge that I am sure Mum had something to do with it), I have got the blood pressure from her. The Boy, however, seemed to be under the illusion that the drugs would do their work and I would have a happy, healthy labour. So, it came as a bit of a shock that a) his wife now officially has pre eclampsia and that is a bit worrying and b) this means that things have to change from letting nature take its course.

In anticipation of this event I have read all about the dreaded PE and found that for all the dangers, it is unusual if it is spotted and managed that it causes major problems for me or baby and that in many respects it makes life easier. So it was with some glee that I sat in Dr D's room yesterday to hear I might have to be induced early (yippee, a well planned faster labour) and have an epidural immediately that I go into labour (speed and no pain, what a result!). All the Boy heard, however, was Dr D saying "if it's not changed by Friday we'll have you in and induce her early". He giggled nervously, looked a bit worried, and muttered the F word under his breath a few times.

Then it came to the scan (she is fine, I am still ticklish and Dr D still finds it amusing to tickle me). When Dr D realised that her head is now engaged, meaning she is nicely nutting my pelvis regularly when I walk, he got all excited - "Let me check the cervix, if its ready now then we might as well induce sooner than the weekend". At this point the Boy issued an even more nervous laugh. He had turned up at what should have been a routine appointment because he didn't have any meetings and thought he would pop along. I am pretty certain he did not sign up for finding out his daughter might appear a week earlier than expected, then watch a 70 year old doctor stick his fingers into his wife to find out whether he might be father to the first baby born in HK in 2008.

As it turns out I am not "ripe" (what a horrible way of describing it, like a mango or banana) so she is staying in to see what happens on Friday.

When we finally both came home the Boy poured himself a very large glass of wine, uttered the F word a few more times, and we sat down to a blood pressure reducing evening on the sofa. By the time we went to bed the Boy's blood pressure seemed to have reduced sufficiently for me not to worry too much about him over night.

New Year, new life

It is customary at New Year to reflect on the year past and make resolutions for the year ahead. The past year has largely involved being pregnant and 2008 will be dominated by the arrival of the new addition to our family. As I sit here looking at the cot currently resident in our bedroom there is a mixture of apprehension and excitement.

My main challenge in making any resolution is that I really have no idea how my life will change. However many books I read, however many people I speak to, however many lovely and supportive friends and family we have around us, in a few days the Boy and I will have a baby. It will be utterly dependent on us for everything, our lives will revolve around her needs, and life will never be quite the same again.

So I suppose that my resolutions are really very simple. To try to be a good Mum, not beat myself up when I do something wrong, ask for help, realise that this is a team effort with the Boy, and to enjoy the next few months getting to know my new daughter.

Happy New Year

Sunday, December 30, 2007


I have just packed the Boy off to work on Day 2 of my maternity leave. He is rather jealous of the fact that I appear to have 2 weeks now of sitting around not doing very much. The Boy seems to think that this is something of a nice holiday for me, although I feel that after nine months of sickness, fatigue, loss of all body shape, backache and no booze I deserve something for my efforts! H, our nanny, was much more accurate in her assessment when she looked at me this morning in horror and asked why I was not going to work. She already has the measure of me and doesn't much want a caged animal getting under her very well organised feet all day.

I have already started to change. On Day 1 of the leave I got up, showered, dressed and had breakfast with the Boy. Today, Day 2, I got up and had breakfast but am still in my pjs. I have a horrible feeling that, left to my own devices, I might not make it out of bed tomorrow at all. Over breakfast I realised that the problem is that I am used to routine and targets each day. Our lives are full of very simple ordered things, get up, check emails, go to meetings, finish reports, make calls. Suddenly most of these are absent from my life and I am in a limbo where they are yet to be replaced with feeding and nappy changing.

So, what I need to do to survive the sheer boredom that maternity leave is rapidly turning into is to set myself new goals each day. Most of the goals I would normally have are out because of the Bump. So whereas I would love to be hiking over Lantau, rowing in a single scull every day, or going for long runs I am a bit constrained by, well, the possibility of going into labour.

So, I have new goals. My goal for today is to work all morning on my conference paper and get the reading done in preparation of that. By the end of this week I want to have a first draft of my conference paper finished. I intend to go for a walk each day (H reliably informs me it helps bring on labour if I keep walking so is taking me out each day - she is bored without a baby to look after too!). I also want to learn to bake, learn Cantonese, plan my trekking trip in Nepal, solve global warming and find the answer to the mystery of God.

Who said the goals had to be realistic or achievable?

Friday, December 28, 2007

First day boredom

First day of maternity leave and I am left wondering how on earth your average tai tai manages to fill her day. By lunchtime I had done everything I wanted to achieve today, including have a pedicure (it is SO important when one is in the labour room staring at ones lower parts that ones feet look pretty) and bikini wax (same principle applies) and had lunch with the Boy.

This afternoon I cracked from boredom and did a 2 hour conference call followed by another couple of hours of work.

Thank goodness I have a paper for a conference to write next week.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The final countdown

Today is my last day at work before my maternity leave. My company is surprisingly generous for Hong Kong and rather than the statutory minimum, which I believe is about 10 weeks, I get 15 weeks of leave to be with my new little bundle of screaming joy. HR mandate that I leave work at least 2 weeks before my due date because, although the bank are keen to develop the next generation of bankers I suspect the strategy does not extend to giving birth to them in the office. If Bump is on time then I will have 13 weeks to get to know her before I am back in the office.

Compared to my sister, who gets 6 months paid leave and then can take a further 6 months, this seems rather pathetic, but being out of the office for 15 weeks is still worrying me a bit.

I am not very good at not being at work. Since the age of 18 I have worked weekends and holidays. I didn't take a gap year and the longest break I have ever had between jobs was a 2 week rowing holiday. I blame the work ethic my parents instilled in me at an early age, along with the fact that I have always been rather blessed to do jobs I really quite enjoy. When we first moved to HK the Boy used to book our holidays to places where my phone wouldn't work so as to forcibly stop me engaging with the office, and when my Blackberry and phone worked on our recent trip to Vietnam I predictably spent a couple of hours one afternoon sitting by the pool sorting out some minor crisis back in Singapore. Although the team has cover while I am on maternity leave in the form of my counterpart in the US, I know I will end up taking a sneaky peak at emails and having to restrain myself from dealing with them.

My friend, L, has offered some very good advice in this regard. L is a good friend of mine and the archetypal working woman. She has a super senior job with one of the world's largest banks, which sees her with huge responsibility and lots of travel. Such was her work focus that when she went into labour 4 weeks early she said all she could think about on her way to the hospital was who would do the presentation she was due to give the next morning. For the first couple of weeks after her first son was born work continued to call her and she checked her Blackberry a couple of times a day in between feeds. She is not quite sure when her Damascene conversion occurred but one day she woke up, looked at her son and decided not to turn on the phone or Blackberry. She then spent the remainder of her maternity leave getting to know her son properly and enjoying the rare time to be with him, reasoning that work would always be there but she would only have this time with her son once. She let go of her job and became a Mum for those few weeks.

This is an example I need to listen to and start from the beginning. However, I can't help feeling that taking this time out will disadvantage me career-wise. I would like to think otherwise - I am lucky and have a supportive boss who has promised only to contact me on critical issues, the team will ensure they handle everything they can and only involve me on crucial decisions - however I will miss 3 months and it is going to take some time to get back up to speed after that.

Also, although L sets a fine example, her story also has a sting in the tail. She was, quite obviously and shamefully, passed over for a promotion that would have clearly been hers had she not been on maternity leave. Whether "out of sight, out of mind" or the incorrect assumption that Mums might be less committed than their male counterparts, it was a stark reminder of the choices we have to make.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holy infant so tender and mild...

Unlike many of our expat friends, the Boy and I don't head home for Christmas. For the first three years we went on holiday for Christmas each year, and were usually underwater looking at fish on the morning of the 25th. However, last year we stayed in HK and as our move here feels more and more permanent, we are building our own Christmas traditions. This includes seeing our good friends and their daughter on Christmas Eve for dinner and then going to midnight mass together.

The Boy, being a heathen, partakes of the dinner and wine and then packs us off to our local Church. This year H, our nanny, was due to go to her Catholic church for midnight mass but a friend let her down so she came along with me, P and her 3 year old daughter A, to the service in a small Anglican Church behind the flat. The service and carols, the readings about a baby being born, the fragility of life, the whole magic of the Christmas story takes on a new meaning when you are experiencing this yourself first hand. I also found myself singing with gusto the words "holy infant so tender and mild" reminding the Bump what a good little baby should be like.

All was going well until the sermon, which was quite frankly rather odd. The service was led by M, himself a father of three children all under 5. He is a great vicar. Very informal, very family friendly, and an all round nice guy. However, his sermons can either be brilliant or somewhat esoteric.

When the sermon started "My son was born about 5 years ago and it was a magical event" P and I nodded wisely along with it as her daughter slept quietly in her arms. When he talked about the waters breaking, using the phrase "milky flow of waters", P and I looked at each other and got a little worried. Where, exactly, was this going? We were then told about the pain of childbirth in some graphic detail and the baby being covered in "blood and slime" when born and screaming at the top of his voice. Now I am a realist about the Christmas story, but even I don't want to think of God incarnate screaming at the top of his lungs in the stable while the shepherds stood around wondering what they might be able to do to help while two frazzled parents tried to calm the child. I imagine a discussion similar to "is this really the son of God? Did we see the star correctly or should we be next door?" and nervously looking in the other direction while Mary tried to figure out the best position for breast feeding the screaming infant. I can only hope that he had calmed down a bit before the wise men appeared, it doesn't quite suit the Christmas story to include Joseph saying sternly to his new son "Now if you don't quieten down then the nice men will take the gold and incense away again".

The point of the sermon was a good one, but by the time M talked about the difficulty in cutting the tough umbilical cord I think someone at the back may have fainted and H was wondering whether the hellfire and brimstone of her Catholic church might be a bit easier to stomach.

Monday, December 24, 2007

And finally a benefit to being heavily pregnant

There are many stupid things I have been known to do during my pregnancy, but perhaps none was as challenging or stupid as trying to navigate my way around one of Hong Kong's busiest supermarkets at 4.30pm on Christmas Eve. I would like to point out that I only actually needed one thing for the dinner I am cooking for two close friends and their little daughter this evening. However, I needed the main ingredient (sea bass) and there were very few places I could be bothered to walk to that I knew would have it.

The supermarket was heaving. There must have been a few hundred people crammed into the tiny aisles, which are not spacious at the best of times, all trying to buy last minute provisions.

After being shoved and bumped a few times and being stoically British about it (i.e. muttering at a volume nobody could actually hear) I decided that for the safety of my child and my own sanity I was going to get a bit stroppy. So I shoved my way through the crowds, every time someone bumped me I would loudly say in my best Queen's english accent "excuse me, could you please be careful" and point to the Bump, resulting in apologies and offers to let me through first. Even the man at the fish counter ignored the numbered tag system and served me quickly.

When I went to pay the line for the tills was about 150 people long and stretching outside the shop itself. So, again pulling the pregnancy card out of my back pocket, I sidled up to someone in authority and asked whether there was an express line somewhere. He took one look at the frazzled me and the size of the bump and whisked me off to my own till, where I paid in about 3 minutes. No mean feat when, apparently, the main line for the tills was taking upwards of 25 minutes.

I would like to thank the Bump for making my evening a little less stressful, and the lovely manager man for being so nice. Or accurately surmising that he either got me out of there or the hormones would take over and the newspapers tomorrow would be full of a story about a mad pregnant woman killing a store manager with four bits of slightly chilled sea bass.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A bit of a serious one

After a horribly stupid argument with my Mum last night (over nothing other than a misunderstanding and me being defensive about a sore point) I have been mulling over the way in which we as women set our self esteem and who our role models are. There will be further posts on this as I mull over my thoughts, but in the meantime, I found this great website for young girls from Dove and their campaign for real beauty. It has some great short films (go to the films section on the site), but the one that really got to me was all about bombarding young women with beauty images. The end message was one to Mums that we should talk to our daughters about beauty before the beauty industry does. Very compelling in an environment where if a sensible, well educated, career minded early 30s woman like me can feel insecure about her body image then what hope a 10 year old?

I am not sure whether I entirely approve of Unilever giving this message, they are part of the problem and this campaign only part of the solution. However, it is worth taking a look.

What a difference a day makes

Yesterday I slept, lots. I didn't go rowing (shock, horror). I didn't go to the gym. In fact, I didn't leave the apartment and was still in my jimjams at midday. I lay around on the sofa or in bed and read and slept and did nothing. I even watched the whole of a Dr Who episode on TV (it was the one with the werewolf and really rather good). I felt horribly decadent as I padded around the apartment in my slippers.

But today brings a new me. All I needed was to catch up on sleep.

If only everything in life was so easy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Slow down, you're moving too fast, if you don't slow down you're gonna crash

When I was doing far more worthy, if less lucrative, work on social and health policy in the UK I once did some user testing for a new website for the NHS that would let people type in their symptoms and then make helpful suggestions as to potential self-treatment options, or advise when to panic and rush to your nearest hospital. The main problem with the website, other than encouraging woefully misplaced diagnosis and probably making people think they were worse than they actually were by suggesting symptoms they hadn't thought of, was that the NHS was so cautious in its diagnosis that pretty much any combination of symptoms directed you to your local doctor.

Being a bit mischievous, one of the first things I did was type in the symptoms of a hangover (nausea, fatigue, headache etc) and the combination of these symptoms, rather than suggesting a little lie down and some paracetamol, would give you a bright red warning telling you to immediately go to your local hospital.

Pregnancy is all about your body doing funny things and making you feel not quite your normal self. I hate being ill. Not that anyone likes it, but some (such as the Boy) take to it like a challenge to be overcome and dose themselves up with pills and potions in a well-formed strategy to dealing with what would probably get better with a bit of bed rest and a cup of tea. I, on the other hand, will usually ignore that I am ill until the point at which I become so debilitated that I am forced to slow down. Which is why I am finding my current state so annoying.

For the last three days I have developed all sorts of irritating symptoms. All my joints ache, my ankles are puffy, I have a bit of a headache, feel so horribly tired and sleep isn't making me less so, and I feel sick. All of which, according to my books, is perfectly normal for someone who is 37 weeks pregnant. Sadly, this means that my body is finally telling me that I can't go to the gym, spend the day on my feet Christmas shopping, and then out until 11 at friends for dinner (which is what I did yesterday on my day off). Much as I am sitting here moaning to the Boy about how miserable I feel, it really is my own fault and if I just slowed down a bit, I would probably feel a bit better.

Or, if the NHS website is to be believed, I have flu.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reality bites, then gets a hug

I have had an especially tough week at work, and with guests and late nights in the office I've not been sleeping very well and feeling horribly tired as a result.

This morning I had a meeting with two of my favourite people at work, who run the part of our business that deals with our wealthiest clients. They are a lovely team, down to earth and very clever, and I get on very well with them.

As I walked into the meeting room, my coat was taken and I was asked how I was doing. Rather than being sweet and nice and saying very well blah blah, an unusual bout of workplace honesty befell me and I responded asking "Do you really want to know?". They both looked sympathetically at me and told me how miserable and hard their wives had found the last month, and to make sure I was getting lots of rest and not to work too hard.

In a Swiss bank we do not tend towards physical signs of affection, but I could have hugged them both.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it

Whilst mulling over the general breakdown of my body at about 4am while I struggled to get comfy, I was reminded of something a friend told me in my pre-pregnancy days during an oddly philosophical debate about why society seems to think all women want to have children. We were in a boat at the time, and her comment was "what is so special about getting pregnant? Any dumb animal can do it".

She was, of course, entirely correct. In fact, most dumb animals are an awfully lot better designed to do this that we are. Our very design, as bipeds, means that rather than sensibly distributing the extra weight across four legs and the whole length of the spine, we end up with about 30 kgs of additional weight bearing down on our lower back, pelvis and leg joints.

Our labour also takes ages, is painful, and you end up with an entirely dependent blob at the end of it. I have often thought that marsupials have the edge in this respect. How lovely it would have been for Bump to have quietly and discretely crawled out a few months ago and set up residence in my Prada handbag for the remainder of the gestation while I went about my normal business.

If we are looking at convenience then anything that lays eggs really takes the prize. The production of a nice spherical object (none of those bumps and lumps making it difficult to get out) and then sitting on your bottom waiting for it to grow while your husband brings you food.

Of course if we are really looking for the ultimate in parenting ease then fish have it sorted out perfectly. Lay thousands of eggs thereby maximising the likelihood of some being healthy and making it to adulthood (none of this investing 9 months in one offspring), find a helpful male to spray over them before bidding him goodbye (no embarrassing morning after the night before moments), and then swim off into the sunset to enjoy a nice reef somewhere.

While the human approach has its merits, although I can't think of any right now, I can’t help but feel that evolution did well for almost everything else in the animal kingdom while dealing the human race a very unfair hand.

The incubator speaks

I went to see Dr D today to check on my blood pressure and Bump progress. Good news, blood pressure is stable and Bump performed wonderfully and boogied her way through the scan. Bad news is that my kidneys seem to have joined the breakdance party now and I am having lots of tests. The later stages of pregnancy seem to be a succession of body parts giving up on me.

Sadly, however, Bump seems quite happy where she is. After Dr D saw my glee when he said she could come out now and be fine (perhaps it was me jumping up and down and punching the air that gave it away), he then spent 20 minutes telling me the benefits of keeping her in there for a few more weeks. This seemed to almost entirely involve referring to me as an incubator and describing me in terms more akin to a petri-dish than a living, breathing person.

Somewhat affronted, I left, promising to come back on Monday for my test results and went and bought 4 mince pies and ate all of them when I got back to the office.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Happiness in a size 41

This lunchtime I went for lunch in Harvey Nics with one of the most glam and fabulous women I know, followed by shopping with her and hammering my credit card in Jimmy Choo. For a while, as fawning shop assistants brought me a succession of beautiful shoes with spindly heels in lovely colours, I didn't feel pregnant or tired or fat or miserable.

I know I am shallow, but this made me very happy.

Would a rose by any other name...

On the mad merry go round of getting ready for the new arrival, one of the decisions that there is most support about making is that of a name. In fact, it is easier to find out the meaning of a name, or the list of most popular names, or the least popular, or the strange and weird names you could use than it is, say, finding the statistics for c-sections (I know… I will stop ranting about that now). There are endless websites, discussion boards and articles on the topic.

Being a theologian by background, a name is very important to me. Under Judeo-Christian theology your name is your being, your essence and your power, it defines who you are. Hence the statements in my favourite gospel (yes, I have a favourite gospel and I know that makes me a bit strange) of "I am" to define the difficulty of a theological mystery of what and who Jesus purported to be. So, I have taken the naming of the Bump rather seriously.

Thankfully the accuracy of pre-natal scans these days mean that I can rule out names for boys. This was a real problem in our parents' era. After mulling and discussing my sister's name for quite some time, and coming to a compromise solution, Mum and Dad were convinced I would be a boy and only had boys names picked out. When I turned out not to be a future England fly half (sorry Dad) but of entirely the wrong flavour I imagine a bit of a panic in the delivery room while my parents hit on the entirely sensible solution of picking the names of my two grandmothers. A quick and easy way out if ever there was one, and thankfully neither grandmother was named Phyllis.

The same theory applies brilliantly to boys names for us. One grandfather on each side has a cool, and quite popular, name and so we had decided on boys names ages ago. However, Bump has, on every scan, proven that she is a she, and so we were back to square one.

We went back to the old faithful of family names of the grandmothers. None are especially bad, but none really got us all that excited either. I also don’t think it helped that our grandmothers were all very strong characters and their very distinction makes it hard to project their name onto our daughter. It would be difficult, for example, to imagine my maternal grandmother without her bottomless handbag full of scents, powder and cigarettes - my memories of her are always as someone fantastically glamorous, distant and fascinating (for those who don't know, Mum's side of the family are Italian so inherently glamorous until the gene pool became sufficiently diluted in me). Calling my daughter the same name would rob her of her own chance to forge her own identity, which is what a name is all about.

So, we moved onto whether we could use derivations of the grandmother's names and hit upon a brilliant solution. The shorter version of the Boy's grandmother is a lovely name. Short, biblical (which I rather like), and the name of a very strong woman. We both loved it.

Then to the middle name. We might be being a bit odd, but we thought that having a Chinese middle name would be a nice idea. Bump is being born in China, and a fair chunk of her early years will be spent here. Giving her a Chinese name would give her a nice link back to her place of birth, as well as being unusual and interesting.

However, Chinese naming is a nightmare, so much so that my girlfriend S has still not named her daughter 4 weeks after she was born! The problem comes in the fact that almost all Chinese names mean something tangible, so you end up with "prosperous future", or "golden luck" or some such. Then, once you have found something where you like the meaning you need to check whether it sounds nice or, if mispronounced, could be mistaken for something dull and rude - "Pleased to meet you muddy puddle" doesn't sound so great.

To pick the Chinese name, and combine it with the sound of my grandmother's name proved quite a task. We also wanted something related to water. The Boy and I speak no Chinese other than taxi directions (and my daughter is not going to be called "turn left and stop after the lights"), so we set the challenge to our colleagues. They grasped the task and came up with some great ideas. In the end one of the Boy's colleagues came up with a brilliant name. It is related to water, sounds uncannily like my grandmother's name, and is very pretty.

The only problem now is learning to say it...

Wise words from mother

It is very tough doing this half way around the world from my own mother, to whom I am very close (although she may disagree!). I find myself quite jealous of my sister, who has Mum on her doorstep to offer advice, support, wise words and baby sitting whenever she needs it. However, the daily emails I get from Mum are a delight to read as she imparts her wise words of experience to me over the net.

Her email today started with one lone sentence in bold:

"I think you should stop reading all the literature"

Very sound advice.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The home strait

With less than 4 weeks to go, I am finding life increasingly difficult. I need help now, for example, getting out of the car or off the sofa. Only about 3 items of clothing fit me, and they are all work clothes because when I was doing my Bump shopping I seemed to forget that I might spent a couple of weeks prior to the birth not at work and now don't think it is worth spending the money for a couple of weeks of use.

I am not sleeping, despite a fab bean bag sausage thing that S gave me to stick between my knees, and once a night I get cramps in my abdomen, throwing me into a panic about the fact I might be going into labour (as an aside, I read at the weekend that one shouldn't worry unless ones mucous plug has come out - and if you have no intention of ever having children, you don't want to know what that is).

You read in the books that the last month is the hardest, and never quite believe it while variously have your head over the loo (first trimester), loose all your balance and coordination (second trimester), or even when you start to get a bit tired (months 7 and 8). But, I can categorically say that the final month is the worst. You are huge, bored, everything hurts, and don’t get me started on the need to go to the loo every 30 minutes. I am also, to use an Americanism "so over" being kicked all the time, and am convinced that Bump is pretty bored with being stuck inside me as well. I am clearly now heavily pregnant and people at work are starting to look at me nervously as I walk into meetings looking ready to pop.

I was out at lunch with some of my most lovely and glam girlfriends on Sunday, and wished that I too could be drinking champagne, fit into normal sized clothes, and no longer have to do a funny wiggle to shuffle my chair backwards to get out from under the table.

I suppose this is why gestation is 9 months. You get prepared, you get bored, and then you get ready. Having her out will be immeasurably hard, challenging, and sleep deprived. However, I am ready for the next challenge now.

As an aside, I did manage to go rowing on Saturday, and Sunday, so life isn't all bad.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

C-ing is believing

Another post on the c-section debate I'm afraid. Having made the choice, a number of times, and now had it largely taken out of my hands, I find myself taking on the role of interested observer in the whole issue. On Thursday and Friday this week I did a lot of observing.

On Thursday night I found myself sitting in a pub with T, a lovely British guy I work with, drinking hot chocolate (me) and lager (him). He has an older daughter and, in amongst other topics of conversation such as the dire state of the England football team, we got chatting about the obvious Bump with us at the table. He was telling me about a girl he works with who, in month 7, was given all sorts of reasons by her obs about why she couldn't have a natural birth (baby is too big, hips too small blah blah). Being a savvy lass, she questioned all of them, and in the end her obs simply said that unless she was willing to have a c-section he would no longer treat her and she should find another doctor! A similar thing happened to another friend, P. She ended up with my obs and having a natural, and pretty trouble free, birth.

It seems that in HK almost every obs will ask you to have a c-section. I can't help feeling this is largely driven by money (they make more money on a c-section) and convenience for the doctor. Whatever happened to the right to choose?

What is annoying me even more is that women do seem to be listening to their doctors and most of the people I know who are pregnant are opting for a c-section without necessarily doing anything more than listening to a few friends and their doctor - who seems to be biased. For various reasons I ended up on Friday talking to 4 other pregnant women at different points about this, and all were going to opt for a c-section. I have no problem with their decision, but when I asked them why only one was doing it for medical reasons (the birth of her first child had been so traumatic that she wanted more control this time), the others variously said it would be more convenient, their doctor had recommended it (although for no medical reason), or because they thought natural childbirth would be harder. One even said she hated the idea of being cut or stitched "down below", whereas major abdominal surgery seemed perfectly acceptable to her.

Not one seemed to have actually looked into what is physically involved in the surgery and was taking the advice of their doctor. The fact that it is really rather tough and for every one woman who "heals" quickly and is running marathons within a week, there are many more who have problems with bleeding, infections and pain seemed not to be known to them. It makes it a lot harder to feed the baby too (baby + scar = pain).

As mentioned before, there is no pleasant way of getting Bump out, but I can't help feeling that the medical profession are doing us women all a disservice by not giving us the information and advice to make our own choices and respecting the choices we make - whatever they may be.

Rant over.

Picture perfect

The Boy decided to buy a video camera last weekend. After winding me up about buying a bed-level tripod for the birth, I feel it only appropriate to lay down some ground rules regarding video and photo evidence of the new Mum:

1. No pictures during the birth, I will look awful and feel compelled to break the camera, or the husband, or both should any attempt be made to photograph me

2. After the birth photos of me will only be taken once I am wearing make up, have washed my hair and preferably after a facial. You can take as many of the wrinkly, cone headed new baby as you like, but none involving me

3. I will only have my photo taken once wearing the very comfy, and indulgent Elle Macpherson PJs I bought myself at the weekend. They are stylish and expensive

4. Photos of me and baby will involve gentle cradling and adoring looks. Not any where she is screaming and bright red and I look ready to kill someone as a result.

5. There will be no, I repeat, no photos of baby at the breast feeding. It is bad enough that I will feel like a cow, without me having a photographic reminder

And, finally, in the spirit of all top celebs, I will have final approval on any photos taken and have the right to delete any I am in that I don't like.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In fact, practice reveals a worrying trend

In the flurry of the less-than-one-month-away-panic the Boy has taken to reading a baby book each day over breakfast. As a result, whereas I can only focus on getting the Bump out of me, he is finding out about all the stuff that happens afterwards, and has taken to doing amusing impressions of babies in different moods when we are in the lift in the morning - I think you have to be there to appreciate the finer points of these.

It has, however, got me to thinking about my own parenting skills and how good I might be at this whole parent stuff. The twins for whom I was nanny for three years have grown up to be lovely, well adjusted, 17 year olds with some stonking AS level results. However, I think that their parents can probably lay more claim to how they turned out than I can. So, I am left with how well I have cared for my pets - the closest thing you can get to something that is completely reliant on you for all their physical and emotional needs, except a husband.

I must admit, my track record with pets isn't great. My first proper pets were a pair of guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are unbelievably stupid, and ours kept on either dying or having babies, giving me an early insight into the circle of life. However, Dad built a hutch for them and they lived in the garden. I distinctly recall being given Chocolate, the brown guinea pig, and being told to be very careful how I held her. My parents were clearly worried I would crush her or some such, but had not anticipated that I would go to the other extreme and drop the poor mammal almost as soon as she was placed delicately in my hands. Clearly not a good start.

I then got a rat in my late teens. He came from Harrods and was a pedigree rat, and I loved and adored him. Rats make brilliant pets, they are clean, affectionate and clever. Mine used to curl up on my desk while I revised for my A-levels and sit on my shoulder as I wandered around the house. He was also a very good judge of the character of boyfriends, taking an instant dislike to the more suspect ones. However, I was perhaps a little cruel when it came to naming him. As I was studying Othello at the time I decided to call him Iago. Mum thinks that I gave him an inferiority complex.

When I moved in with the Boy, in the godforsaken part of London that is Croydon, we got two cats. The Boy was working for a consultancy and away a lot and I neither liked Croydon nor had any friends there so wanted something to come home to. We got two kittens, mercifully renamed them from their original names of Ziggy Stardust and Stella Starlight, and they became family.

We have not gone out of our way to neglect the cats, in fact quite the opposite. It was pure accident that Marlow got run over and needed thousands of pounds worth of vets treatment, or that we completely ignored the fact Henley clearly had bladder stones and was very uncomfortable for about 3 years until the vet finally diagnosed it, or that Marlow managed to double herniate when we were about to fly to HK for our go-see and Mum had to take her to the vets. None of these were our fault. Perhaps is it our fault that the cats flew half way around the world in a small wooden box, or that they now live indoors. But I swear it wasn't my fault that Henley died when she last went to the vet for a relatively innocuous operation (she now sits in a small metal box in our soon-to-be nursery and, yes, that is a bit strange but we can't think of anywhere better to put the ashes).

What really worries me, however, is how we seem to have made our cats completely mad. Henley used to revel in a game of fetch and love her tummy being tickled. Marlow chats to us all the time and pulls out her own fur. In fact, there was almost nothing normal or cat-like about them. I am really worried that if this is what I can do to two harmless cats, what sort of damage will I do to my daughter?

Practice makes perfect

Last night, while I was out with some friends, I got an urgent email to return to the office to attend to a request from the mothership (Zurich). I finally left the office at around ten and once I got home H, our helper/nanny, was already in bed and the Boy was out.

Tired and annoyed I stumbled into the bedroom to find that the cat, for reasons best known to her little furry self, had peed right in the middle of the bed - so much so that it had soaked through the duvet.

Rather than eating or crawling into bed, which is all I wanted to do, I spent the next hour disinfecting and cleaning the duvet in the bath, washing down the matress and scolding the cat (nicely, and I did cuddle her a lot too).

It was only when the Boy came home and I told him what had happened that I realised this probably won't be the last time I will spend an evening cleaning up the pee of a small creature.

Worry wort

I am now convinced that the whole process of having a child, and bringing it up, is one long worry.

When I was first pregnant, only 8 weeks or so, I ended up on a business trip to Australia. At the time something looked a bit odd on my first scan so things were still up in the air as to whether something could turn out to be a problem. The business trip itself was awful. I had horrible morning sickness, worked some very long days, and it was a very stressful and political project. This, combined with all of the worry and two long flights in 5 days had left me in a bit of a state by the time I went to see our friends, K and R in Sydney. K is a top girl, a rower, and now mum to two delightful little girls. She was just what I needed at the time - someone very matter of fact, supportive, and amusing about the whole experience. She set my mind at ease and gave me possibly the best advice of anyone. I asked her when I would stop worrying about my child, she looked thoughtful, and replied "in about 18 years time, and probably not even then, you just get used to it".

What I hadn’t realised is how right she is and, even now, how much of my time I spend worrying. I worry about the health of the little one, to the extent that I have convinced myself something will be wrong. I worry about the labour (not helped by my friend, J, last night telling me her daughter was born not breathing and sort of pinky purple). After reading over the Boy's shoulder at breakfast this morning that up to 80% of women get some form of the "blues" after they give birth, I am now worried I will get depressed and end up being committed. I am worried that my stomach will look like a deflated tyre for the rest of my life, I will never fit normal bras again - and I can forget about ones that look nice, and my lovely, lovely size 10 Stella McCartney suit will never go over my bum. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I am not by nature a worrier, but sometimes the enormity of what is happening and how I will cope with it scares the hell out of me. But then I think about it sensibly, and realise that women have done this for eons, it is really not a big deal, and if it takes me 6 months or even a year to squeeze back into Stella then I will be fine.

So I take a deep breath, eat some more chocolate (well, if I'm not going to fit the suit anytime soon then a bit more choccie won't hurt!), and think about all the things that could go right.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back on the water

It has been a tough week with lots of uncertainty over my blood pressure, not drinking anything at all (horrid during the Christmas season and on your birthday), and not being able to exercise. So it was with some worry that I set off to Dr D yesterday to find out whether my bp had dropped. I was all prepared to be told it had gone up again and that I would need to go in and have her out before Christmas. I had convinced myself a c-section would be fine, and my sister in law had even called me to tell me how much easier she found the c-section with her second child than the natural birth of her first.

So, it was with some surprise for both me and Dr D that we found the pills have been working brilliantly and not only has my bp stabilised but it has actually fallen back down to the higher end of what is deemed acceptable.

Rather than asking Dr D any sensible questions such as the implications this may now have for the birth, what I should plan for, whether they still might take me in early, I asked the most important question - "Does that mean I can row this weekend then?"

The answer was yes, as long as I take it easy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Reflecting things at twice their natural size

Went onto my usual baby info website at lunchtime to read about how Bump is developing this week.

"There's much less amniotic fluid and much more baby in your uterus, which has expanded to a thousand times its original size."

Oh my lordy...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Showers with sunny intervals

One of the things about living in HK is the adoption of many traditions that would not be done at home as a result of the cultural melting pot that is this transient city. Halloween is, for example, a big deal and poor frosty turkeys hit the shops a few weeks earlier than they would at home to be sacrificed for Thanksgiving. Therefore, quite a number of friends of different nationalities informed me that I would be needing a baby shower.

This is not really a concept I am all that familiar with. I come from a family where the baby is celebrated only when it actually comes out (family background of high blood pressure seems to make us a little more cautious about this perhaps), and it is considered bad luck to buy very much before the first scream confirms the little one is alive and healthy. As a result, the Boy and I have been quite abstemious in terms of what we have bought so far. We have focused on the basics, such as somewhere to sleep, something to travel in, and something we can take her running in. We have a few clothes, although most of those are second hand and have been given to us by friends. Not a single toy has been bought and the baby's room is still functioning as our study.

However, the combined excuses of me being pregnant, not really celebrating my birthday last week, and the Boy leaving for a business trip in Macau yesterday afternoon meant that I had three excuses to have a little party. So I found myself yesterday evening hosting 12 of my closest friends in HK and plying them with champagne and nibbles - except me and the other pregnant woman who drank a lot of water.

Another thing about living in HK is the way in which your little circles of friends, all of whom you are close to, don't necessarily cross. So last night I had three distinct groups of friends together who would not normally meet - those from work, those from sports, and those from other places (mainly dancing in bars in my pre-Bump days). To break the ice, I had concocted a little game where everyone had to answer a question picked at random. They ranged from the easy (name five things you like about HK), to the embarrassing (what is the worst date you've had), to the baby related (what is the first word Alice's baby is likely to say). It turned out to be great fun, as I found out a few new things about my friends.

What really struck me, however, is how despite being from all sorts of different backgrounds and nationalities (8 nations were represented, 9 if you think Scotland may eventually find independence) how similar our concerns are. We talked about body image, peer pressure on teenage girls these days, finding Mr Right - and what to do with Mr Wrong - and our families. Despite being a group of some of the most successful women you could put in one place (as an aside, I am incredibly proud to call these amazing ladies and one gent my friends), we were discussing things that most likely our mothers, their mothers and many generations back also talked about. There is something humbling, and also rather nice about this.

Of course we also talked about shoes, handbags, and shopping. But then I suspect previous generations of women spent a lot of time discussing these too!

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Having shown only a passing interest in the movements and development of his daughter for the first 7 months (largely confined to shoving the Bump to make her kick me while he giggles quietly) the Boy has now swung into action. He has bought two books and is reading all of the bits about what fathers should do, we had an informed and interesting discussion on breastfeeding, he has bought a brilliant buggy (that is designed for you to run with and had to be imported from the US), car seat, a super dooper monitor thingy, and he is insisting on making sure I have everything in my baby bag ready for hospital.

As I write this he is currently sitting on the floor, fixing something on the door. I can only suppose this is a male form of nesting.

Decisions, decisions

I've never been very good at actually making decisions. I am one of those people who potter through life seeming to be in the right place at the right time and things generally work out fine. I've only ever had one proper job interview (for my current job), and even then the job spec could have been written to be my ideal client-side job so there wasn't much of a decision to be made.

However, I have found that during my pregnancy not only does one have to make decisions but that, just when you think you have finally made one, you talk to someone or read something or circumstances change such that the decision you had been so certain of yesterday does a 180 degree turn and you now, quite passionately, believe in the opposite.

I found I have made two complete changes in the last couple of days, and am rather surprised at myself for it.

The first is on the birth itself. Having swung from wanting a c-section to finding the whole idea horrible, I am now back to the idea of a c-section again. This has mostly to do with the fact that I am a bit of a control freak, and as my blood pressure creeps ever higher, the chance I will have one increases as well and so I would rather decide to have one now than have uncertainty for the next few weeks. However, it also has to do with dogged pragmatism. Even if I end up in natural labour, the pesky blood pressure means that at the first sign of stress on my system I will have a c-section anyway. Now, I am fundamentally a lazy creature and the idea of spending a few hours panting, pushing and generally putting in a lot of effort only to have to be cut open anyway rather seems to me like a wasted effort. A bit like spending 40 minutes on the rowing machine when you aren't training for a race. It's just a bit pointless. So, I am back to thinking that if the balance is that I will end up having a c-section anyway, I'd rather just make the decision and get on with it.

The other is on breast feeding, where I have been resolute the whole way through that there is no way that I will breast feed. This is a hugely emotional topic, on which everyone has an opinion. My opinion has nothing to do with any feminist desire to reclaim my own body but rather that it seems, well, all a bit icky and ever since my sister told me about bleeding nipples I have decided that there are some things that one just shouldn't bother with. However, in the past couple of days I've found myself thinking that it might not be too hideous. I think as the Bump gets bigger and becomes more of a person, the idea of her and what she needs (rather than her being a mild inconvenience who kicks me a lot) is becoming more and more important to me, perhaps even (shock horror) surpassing my own dislike of personal discomfort. I'm still not entirely sure whether I want to become a dairy cow - and the pics in a book the Boy bought of a woman pumping her own breasts were so disturbing as to make me need a little lie down - but I can at least now see that it might be worth a try.

It also rather suits me that, often, women can't breast feed for a whole host of reasons so it would actually fit in quite nicely with my overall ethos not to make decisions. Give it a go and if it is fine then do it and if it isn't then don't. Ah, I seem to have managed to turn this into another decision I don't actually need to make. Phew.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Birth day

The whole terminology of ones "birth day" takes on a new meaning when one has a birth day imminent.

Anyway, I digress. It is mine today and for the first time ever I find myself not craving the latest handbag, shoes, or other trinket but genuinely just wanting myself and Bump to come through this healthy and happy.

Of course, in the absence of any such certainties, I rather like the necklace, watch and Spice Girl's CD. I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A night at the theatre

Now that I know there is a high likelihood that I will end up having a c-section I have started to do a bit more about finding out about what is involved other than just saying "ouch" a lot. It is not a pleasant experience, but neither would a normal birth be so it really is a case of it being pretty miserable either way. I am also so worried about my health now (Bump will be fine, the doc gets her out at the first sign of trouble, it is her large incubator who is the one at risk now) that the option of just getting her out as soon as she would be able to survive safely seems rather appealing.

So I found myself this lunchtime on a very good, British, baby website that has been very helpful throughout when I have had a quick question or worry at work and need some perspective. However, when looking at its description of a c-section I did start to wonder who wrote it.

"A screen will be put up while the procedure is taking place. Some partners like to peek over the screen but others prefer not to see what is happening. You may like your doctor to tell you what he is doing, so that you know the minute your baby is born. Many parents like to have music playing in the theatre as well."

This makes it sound like we are going for a night at the opera rather than major surgery. Although I do remember once seeing a dreadful rendition of Wagner and it was a very painful and traumatic experience.

Side effects

After the general panic that was this afternoon after I was told my blood pressure was getting too high too fast and being told all of the wonderful complications that go along with it, I sensibly took myself off to the pharmacy to get the magic pills that might help, or might not, but it's worth a try.

Anyway, being the child of a scientist father and a mother who spent most of her working life working in hospitals I googled the drugs I had been given to see what they are and whether there are any side effects.

Amongst other side effects, they are likely to cause nausea, dizziness, fatigue, swelling of the ankles and problems with the movement of ones bowels.

So, just like being pregnant then.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Slave boy wanted

I went to see Dr D today to check on my blood pressure. It has gone up again, meaning I had to listen to all the additional complications this could cause me (because I am not scared of labour sufficiently as it is), and have been put on drugs to try to lower it.

It also means that I am under strict instructions to take life a lot easier, so no more racing or the gym for me, and spending lots of time on the sofa doing as little as possible.

So, I am wondering whether now is the time to advertise for the aforementioned nubile slave boy to tend to my every whim...

Things that go bump in the night

I have largely steered clear of the marketing machine that is baby books and magazines during my pregnancy. A number of people have told me that they offer conflicting advice and therefore hinder more than help. I am also lucky that I have a great doctor, who I trust completely to tell me anything I really need to know or worry about.

I was, however, given two books by my friend K who lives in Oz. She is a Brit, wonderfully practical in her approach to her two delightful daughters, and a rower to boot so I trust her judgement and the books have proved to be great. The books follow the format of most pregnancy books you can get, with a week by week or month by month review of what is going on. I have found both useful in different ways, and have not skipped ahead and pretty much read them at the appropriate time.

Last night I realised that with all the excitement of the waddle at the weekend, I had fallen behind my reading and so settled down in bed with the cat to read this week's update. This covered labour.

I know that Bump has to come out at some point, but I am convinced that there is some form of grand conspiracy to ensure that nobody actually tells you about what is going to happen until it is, quite frankly, too late to do anything about it. Dr D only told me about the process last week ("there's not much point before now"), no other Mum will tell you anything other than "you forget it quite soon afterwards", and the books don't cover it until week 35, as I am now finding out.

It is, being brutally honest, a horrible process. If ever there was an example of why Darwin got his whole theory so horribly wrong then childbirth is it. I can't believe that after millions of years of evolution there isn't a better way to do this. There is, quite simply, not an easy or pleasant way to give birth to the next generation. As I explained to the Boy in bed last night, who queried why I looked so traumatised after reading the relevant chapters, you are going to either rip, tear, be cut, fall apart or all of the above and there is nothing you can really do about it. Dr D even gave me a nice little demonstration of the need for cutting rather than tearing by punching his fist through a bit of paper (as if I couldn't imagine it without that helpful image!).

Leaving aside the fact of the bits "down there" and the stitches required afterwards, your body then turns into something that will hate you that bleeds, leaks and won't work for a good few weeks after the main event. All the while you are trying to "bond" with the very thing that caused you all this hassle in the first place. I will want to take to my bed and be tended to by nubile young slave boys, but just when I need to feel lovely again I will be up all night, tired, leaking (that whole bit really worries me), have engorged breasts and generally miserable.

Of course I then had the most hideous nightmares all night as a result of thinking about all of this.

Why, oh why, did I not read those chapters before I got pregnant.

Monday, December 3, 2007

How to make a mummy-to-be smile

Yesterday I was feeling pretty grim. It had been a weekend without enough sleep, I was feeling tired, fat, spotty, a bit dizzy and generally not very happy with life.

As I was waiting for a lift at work on my way to a meeting I was chatting to a couple of my team members. D, a very sweet girl in my team, spontaneously said "You look really pretty today".

I didn't know whether to hug her or cry. So I smiled and told her how lovely she is.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Keeping the romance alive

According to a book donated to me by a very yummy mummy, L, it takes a lot of work and effort once Bump arrives to keep the romance in your marriage and ensure that this side of things don't get sacrificed as a result of the new addition. All sensible advice.

The past weekend the Boy and I had our wedding anniversary. We've never really done much to celebrate. I think we've been out for dinner a couple of times in the past, and one year I made the ultimate sacrifice and made him garlic prawns with the heads on (I am scared of prawn heads so it was a gut wrenching experience). But as our anniversary only falls 5 days before my birthday we tend to roll the two into one. Most years we are on holiday, as our anniversary falls outside the rowing season and therefore in prime holiday time, so we have often been away to celebrate. Last year we were in Bali with friends and family.

This year, however, we surpassed ourselves in the celebrations. Saturday involved going rowing (me in a single scull, him in a double) followed by a fry up with other rowers. I then found myself on the ferry to Macau in the early afternoon.

The Boy had booked us a hotel near the start and finish of the course, but by the time we checked in the only non-smoking room they had left had twin beds. As being in a smoky room the night before a race is just about the worst thing you can do in preparation, we took it. The beds were rock hard, not an inch of give, and set about a metre apart - we would have to lean out of bed to hold hands. You also jarred your back if you tried to, lazily, flop down on top of them, so forget any frolicking even if we had the energy after the hard rowing session in the morning. After an early supper, we were in bed by 10 - separate beds of course.

On the day of our anniversary, at 3.30am, thinking it was 4.30 and so 2 hours before the start of the race, the Boy woke up to eat a banana as fuel for the race. After shouting at him, he then went back to sleep until 4.30 when his alarm went off again and he ate what was possibly the worlds driest granola bar. I think I shouted at him again, accused him of sounding like an overgrown rabbit, and was generally rather rude about being woken up again. That said, the bed wasn't the kind of place one would want to dwell.

At 6.30 we were standing in a pitch dark stadium about to start the Macau marathon. I did it with my rowing coach, and the Boy did the half marathon alone.

Once back to HK, barely able to walk, let alone engage in any form of marital gymnastics, I fell asleep on the sofa for the afternoon.

The evening of our anniversary was spent cooking with and for the men's crew I successfully coached to a bronze medal at the National Championships this year. They wanted to say thanks, and so everyone came round for a big meal at our place. My present for the day was a very nice Tiffany necklace that the boys bought me to say thanks for coaching them.

Then we fell asleep at 11.

Despite it appearing possibly the most unromantic anniversary possible, it was completely appropriate for us. It involved sport, getting up insanely early, and time spent with friends. It was one of the best we've had.

However, I think it should be pretty easy to continue this degree of romance when the Bump comes!

Racing the Bump

With only six weeks until the due date of the Bump, I should probably be taking things easy. But then this is me we are talking about and so I found myself at 6.30am this morning standing in Macau stadium with about 1,000 other people about to do something, well, all a bit silly really.

It wasn't the toughest race I have ever done (that is reserved for the 31 mile rowing marathon I won in the UK), and rapidly walking 5km is something I would have normally scoffed at. However, I find myself sitting on the sofa now, next to the Boy who did the half marathon, feeling really rather proud of myself. I beat the time I was hoping for by about 5 mins, and considerably faster than the speed I managed on my very first training waddle. I also beat about 100 other women in my category - which does rather beg the question of how they managed to go even slower than me - and my support coach, J, was very glad not to need the various hospital phone numbers he had researched prior to the race.

It was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the more challenging races I have done just because I proved to myself that I could do it, even at 34 weeks pregnant when most normal women are lying around the house with their feet up.

Of course now I can barely move with an entirely new injury, which seems to be some form of impact injury on my pelvis and is making moving very painful and difficult (well, if you pummel a bone with 24 pounds repeatedly for 45 mins then it's not surprising that it's going to hurt). However, Bump is unaffected and happily doing her usual gymnastics.

As an aside, as I was on the ferry on my way back I was pondering what my next training goal should be. J suggested that I had quite a major event to train for in about 6 weeks.