This fetus is, by the way, currently going by the name of Akira. This is not because we have the remotest intention of calling the poor thing that once it emerges, but because it’s a handy nickname for a fetus of as-yet-uncertain gender and of as-yet-uncertain name if it does turn out to be a boy. (And, no, that’s not the name of the leader of Cub Scout packs. That would be Akela. Akira is the name of a Japanese animé character. There is a minor joke behind our choice of this particular nickname which I may or may not ever get round to telling at some point. Meanwhile, my apologies to anyone who found this page while searching for pages about Japanese animé – since Akira’s name is the limit of what I know about the subject, you’re better off looking elsewhere unless you also happen to have an interest in reading about the non-adventures of an eccentric pregnant GP who argues with people for a hobby.)
Thank you to everyone who left comments and congratulations, especially to Anna for writing such lovely things about me on her own blog. And congratulations in turn to LoopyNZ, not to mention to the person whose blog I’ve been following who’s due at the same time as me (not named on here as I’m not sure whether or not she still wants to keep her blog anonymous?) I look forward to updates!
Those of you who are familiar with mummyblogs may be aware that it is something of a bloggy tradition to post in knee-trembling detail about every step of the pregnancy saga from the pre-conceptual stages onwards – the initial decision to try, the charting of ovulation dates, the timing of what is coyly referred to in ‘Net pregnancy-group parlance as ‘baby dancing’, the Two Week Wait, the magic heartstopping moment of the Second Line, and the nausea and mood swings of the initial weeks – and may therefore have noticed that I’ve skipped all this, announcing the pregnancy only when I’m already three-eighths of the way through. The reason for this is not that I didn’t want to post about all the rest of it (ignore my sarcastic tone in the last sentence, it’s just the way I write – I am, in fact, almost endlessly fascinated by those sorts of details), but because I’m vividly aware of the fact that things do not always progress according to this smooth plan. If I turned out to have trouble conceiving or a miscarriage, I didn’t actually relish the thought of announcing it to a group of people eagerly expecting further details of good news. So, my rule is not to announce a pregnancy until I’m past the riskiest part of it and have reached the point at which failure to conceive is no longer an issue and miscarriage unlikely.
This was a bit more complicated than it sounds, for reasons which I am about to go into. If you are unduly squeamish about matters medical, or have particular reasons for not wanting to hear about some of the things that can go wrong in early pregnancy, then this might not be the best blog post for you to be reading. Consider yourself warned.
Although pregnancy is of course supposed to be all about generation of a fetus, the early stages are not actually caused by the fetus; they are caused by the placenta. The placenta produces the hormones that keep all the other bits of your body doing the things they’re supposed to be doing differently in pregnancy, and it does not actually need a fetus present in order to do so. Obviously, where there is a placenta you will generally find a fetus attached to it somewhere, but this is not invariably the case. There is a rare condition known as ‘blighted ovum’, in which the fertilised egg develops into an embryo-less placenta that will give you all the symptoms of first-trimester pregnancy without the joyous little bundle nine months hence. (Incidentally, this is caused by a flaw in the ovum that means it lacks the genes to produce an embryo. Development of the embryo depends on the presence of specific genes in the ovum – development of the placenta depends on the presence of specific genes in the sperm, so if an ovum without the right genes is fertilised by a healthy sperm, you get a placenta without an embryo. Although this is all by-the-by, what I always find interesting about this fact is that it’s almost the exact reverse of the ‘homunculus’ theory of ancient physicians.)
What’s more, not all embryos stay the course. Now, of course, if an embryo dies then this generally triggers the end of the pregnancy – the sort of miscarriage that we think of as such, with cramps and bleeding and general misery. However, every so often you get a particularly jobsworth placenta that will keep on blindly chugging away, pouring forth the pregnancy-maintaining hormones that placentas are meant to pour forth, oblivious to the fact that the star of the show is no longer around. Sometimes, a woman won’t have so much as a spot of bleeding and will remain blithely ignorant of the fact that things have gone horribly wrong until she turns up for her first scan and discovers that, instead of the first glimpse of her baby that she had been joyfully anticipating, there’s nothing there but a dead embryo. This is known as a missed miscarriage.
All of this means that getting out of the danger zone for miscarriage is not simply a matter of waking up on the day you hit the second trimester, dancing round the room in celebration of having made it thus far, and rushing to the phone to start ringing everyone and letting them know the glad tidings. It’s a really good idea to wait until you have confirmed that there’s also a little heartbeat still beating away in there.
Unfortunately, wanting to spare yourself the experience of having to break it to eagerly knitting friends and relatives that the news has abruptly changed from good to bad is not actually a medical necessity, as such; and, although NICE (the committee whose job it is to decide on how the NHS’s money should best be spent in England) does recommend that women should get a scan at the end of the first trimester, they have no power to enforce this and it’s ultimately left up to the individual PCTs to decide whether they want to fund these scans or not. Ours doesn’t. So we were left hoping that the midwives would be able to detect the heartbeat at my first antenatal visit with the little hand-held Doppler machine they have. Trying to pick up the heartbeat in a fetus that small with one of those gadgets is like trying to get toddlers to eat their greens – you might get lucky, but you wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it. When I was pregnant with Jamie and it didn’t matter in the slightest because the area we were living in then did provide scans, everyone who tried managed to pick up the heartbeat from the start with no trouble at all. This time around, no such luck. I waited until thirteen weeks for my first antenatal appointment in hopes that the extra week would help, and then made arrangements to come back a week later for them to have another go, but still no luck.
Since there were limits to how long I felt I could put off telling people about the pregnancy, we went ahead and opted for a private scan, which involved a large amount of money and a lengthy trek to the clinic, but did show exactly what we’d been hoping for – one little heart beating away just as it should. (And, yes, despite Barry teasing me for weeks about twins, it was just one little heart. Which is also a relief.)
"See those pictures?" we explained to Jamie. "That’s a little baby inside Mummy’s tummy." Jamie carefully pulled my T-shirt up to inspect my lower abdomen with great concentration, looking to see whether he could see any sign of this strange phenomenon for himself. (Incidentally, he couldn’t. Despite my previous concerns, I haven’t yet started to look visibly pregnant, or at least not to any extent that stands out from my camouflaging flab.)
So, scan photos in hand, we left the clinic and started the phone calls (or, at least, started them several hours later, once we’d been shopping and had a nap), and let the general celebrations begin.
Currently, I’m feeling good, apart from feeling exhausted much of the time. I remember wondering about this when I was pregnant the first time around and flopping on the sofa every evening when I got in from work – how did anyone ever manage to do this more than once, given that that would involve taking care of a first child while growing the second? (The answer, in case you’re interested, is that you find some way for the child to entertain himself while you slump in a semi-alert doze next to him, ready to snap out of it the minute a change in the background burble alerts you to the possibility that something other than harmless playing is going on. I’ve got very good at seizing the rest I need in five-minute bursts between opening my eyes to check on him.)
But other than that… eighteen weeks yesterday, and things are going really well. The combination of second trimester and second pregnancy means that the persistent haunting queasiness which has always been a marker of pregnancy for me is finally a thing of the past. (And I do mean a thing of the past. We are not planning on having a third child, so, barring some major unforeseen circumstance, each stage we pass through this time around will be over for good. Although this will no doubt lead to some extremely poignant moments in the future, even a nostalgiaphile like me can’t summon up any emotion other than relief and delight at the thought that I will never have to go through so-called morning sickness again.) As well as feeling physically better, I’m feeling much more relaxed than I did at this point in my previous pregnancy, where the sheer freak-out aspect of oh-my-god-I’m-really-going-to-have-a-BABY was really hitting me around now. This time around, I’m so laid back about it I’m practically horizontal – babies? Been there, done that, got the sick on the T-shirt.
And, this past week – the eighteenth week, just the same as in my pregnancy with Jamie – I’ve started feeling those little is-it-or-isn’t-it twitches and shifts inside (the books always talk about ‘flutters’, and this conveys the light tentative quality well, but ‘flutters’ just isn’t the right word, somehow – they’re too brief for that). The movements that get just that bit more definite and frequent, until there’s no more doubt – this particular pair of tiny feet is now big enough to make its presence felt. Little kicks inside me. Hello, Akira. Welcome to this world.