Hello, Barry here for a change, Sarah is still in the birthing centre having given birth to a baby girl, Katherine Abigail, at 3:22pm.
 Well, obviously a baby.
Hello, Barry here for a change, Sarah is still in the birthing centre having given birth to a baby girl, Katherine Abigail, at 3:22pm.
 Well, obviously a baby.
A while back, I read a book called Three Shoes, One Sock and No Hairbrush, which was written to cover the yawning gap in the market for women wanting information on how to deal with having a second child. It’s a largely neglected area – the information in baby books is generally limited to what the author, Rebecca Abrams, sums up rather nicely as "a few coyly inadequate paragraphs on sibling rivalry." (I do apologise if that quote isn’t word-for-word, by the way – I don’t have the book in front of me, and that’s as close as I can get from memory.) The general assumption on the part of society is that, having had one baby, you know what you’re doing and can be left to get on with it. Which is, of course, likely to be true as far as the basics of taking care of a baby or child are concerned (although, even then, you could be in for a rude shock if your second is notably different from your first in personality), but doesn’t really cover the fact that women could do with some advice on how to take care of a baby while taking care of an older child, which is an experience that opens up a whole new area of genuine but largely ignored difficulties.
The book, by the way, is a great source of information and well-written, but incredibly depressing. Or at least that was how I found it, though it is fair to say that many of the reviews disagree and that there are a lot of people who would probably benefit hugely from realistic information on what the problems may actually be like, rather than the nice sugar-coated version. My personal recommendation, if you’re pregnant with your prospective second child and looking for a useful book, would be Judy Dunn’s From One To Two, which covers the basics while remaining upbeat about it all and did not leave me with the same feeling that I was about to spend the next year or two travelling through a long dark tunnel. But then, if you already have two children and are already finding the experience much like travelling through a long dark tunnel, "Three Shoes" might be just what you need to reassure you that you’re not on your own and that there will be light at the end of it.
Anyway, the point of all this was that the book cited a survey in which parents were asked whether they felt it to be having their first child or having their second that had made the greater difference in their lives. The usual assumption is, of course, that it’s going to be the first and that a second baby will just fit in around the edges without too much further ado. In fact, the parents surveyed were about evenly split between those who did feel this way and those who felt that having their second child was actually the biggest change for them. It does seem that second-time-around parenthood is causing far more of an upheaval to far more families than is commonly recognised.
I wasn’t terribly surprised to read this – back when I was first pregnant, a much more informal discussion had taken place on that topic on one of the parenting forums I read and, although I didn’t tally up an official count, the split between the two opinions had indeed appeared to be fifty-fifty. But it did, of course, make me think about which category I’ll find myself falling into. Will this child’s birth end up making more or less of a change in my life than Jamie’s birth did?
I think – and hope – that I’ll be one of the people who votes for the first child being the biggest change. Partly this is because I now have a certain amount of practice in various highly useful skills – breastfeeding, sling usage, feeling able to ignore something even if it is written in a book by somebody everybody says is an expert, not sweating the small stuff, and genuinely believing that this too will pass. Partly, it’s because I think I let Jamie’s birth make far too much of a change. I’d always assumed I’d be the sort of laid-back mother who tucked the baby under her arm and got on with normal life, and then I actually had a baby and somehow things never quite seemed to work out that way. I was so busy being freaked out by the fact that I had a BABY, for god’s sake, that I somehow couldn’t get past that to get on with normal life.
Of course, with Jamie it didn’t help that, thanks to his uncut tongue tie (and, in retrospect, probably more of a desire for comfort sucking than I realised), Jamie seemed to be nursing practically non-stop. I had, of course, read all those polemics on breastfeeding which stress the importance of feeding your child as much and as often as they want to suck in order to get a good milk supply going, and so I went right along with his desire to hang onto my nipple for hours, fearful that if I dared cut a nursing session short or keep him waiting for one he would miss a precious drop or two of hindmilk and ruin my supply for good. The result was that I rarely dared put him in the car and drive anywhere (but what if he wanted a feed while I was driving? And I had to keep him waiting? Heaven forfend!) and, unfortunately, we lived at the time out on the outskirts of a small village where driving was the only way to get anywhere more exciting than the local Tesco’s or the second-hand book sale at the doctor’s surgery. I found myself not even going for walks because, somehow, it always seemed like too much trouble. So I would sit around inside all day, in a house that had proved to be a lot less inviting to live in than it had seemed on looking round it on a bright sunny day (Barry and I had utterly underestimated the degree of awkwardness that a houseful of cold stone floors can cause when you’re taking care of a baby and would like somewhere to put him down sometimes). It is not a time in my life that I view with great joy in retrospect. I wasn’t suffering from post-partum depression, if you’re wondering; but I definitely think I was suffering from post-partum overwhelmement.
This time, circumstances are more on my side to start with. We’re in a much nicer house, in an area where things are much more accessible. And raising that baby to the wonderful three-year-old he now is has been a salutary lesson in not obsessing over the details – whatever mistakes I may have made along the way, Jamie has unarguably turned out just fine. I find it a lot more difficult to get worked up over the finer details than I used to. On top of that, his very existence is going to be quite effective in stopping me sitting around in a dazed state staring at the baby and wondering what on earth happens next; he’s going to be quite insistent on life continuing as normal, and so I’ll have a lot more incentive just to get up and get on with it, which will of course do me far more good. So I think – I hope – that I will not be as poleaxed this time.
What I do also think, though, is that any slack in the system will have gone. Parenthood has reached a stage where I can get enough sleep and even some free time. Juggling a child, a four-day-a-week job, and a lengthy commute is fairly exhausting and there’s never nearly as much time as I’d like for everything, but I still get by. Juggling two children and the job is going to be more exhausting than I even want to think about right now. It’ll get better when the new one is old enough to sleep through the night fairly reliably; when he or she gets past that awful toddler stage where you have to be watching every minute; when (if) I find a job closer to home. But, in the meantime, I’ve got a long hard couple of years ahead of me, and I’m trying to brace myself for it.
So, why in hell am I putting myself through all this again? Believe me, I asked myself that question quite seriously when Jamie was fifteen months old. (I’m utterly mystified as to why two years is such a common age spacing – I can’t think of a time when I felt less like having a second child than when my first was fifteen months old.)
Because doing it all the first time round has been so damn good. In spite of the exhaustion and the long dark night feeds of the soul and the stress of worrying about all the things I might potentially do wrong and the lack of free time and the did-I-mention-the-exhaustion, watching that scary little bundle grow into a wonderful little boy has been an experience to which I’m not even sure words like ‘amazing’ do justice. Every difficult minute has been worth it, and I would not have missed it for anything in the world.
And now, in spite of having no idea how I will survive the exhaustion, I want to do it all again. I want to see what it’s like taking care of a baby without constantly getting stressed out over whether I should perhaps be following this book or that one instead of doing whatever it is I’m doing. I want to see what this new child will be like, what little person he or she will be. I want to have two different children. I want to be able to compare them – not in the awful "Why aren’t you as good at numbers as your brother?" sense, but in the sense that seeing the differences between them will make me aware of details that I’d otherwise have missed and will give me even more of an appreciation for each of them as individuals. I’m ready to be a mother of two children, and I’m looking forward to it.
Jamie and I are engaged in a favourite post-bath game of his – counting to a hundred by alternating the numbers back and forth between us. The ‘little’ isn’t part of the usual game, but started, of course, because of my habit of calling him ‘little one’ – he’s now started replying to that with "Little two! Little three!" and on this occasion I just picked that up and went along with it, to his delight. (Any mention of a number, in any context, is fair game for sequential counting – he will immediately repeat whatever phrase you used with the number changed to the one immediately before or after it. Earlier, while in the bath, he confused me by counting "Every two, every three, every four…" He was, of course, riffing on "everyone".)
His eyes are locked on mine, his smile huge at the fun. "Little ninety-eight!"
Jamie backs off a couple of steps and spreads his arms wide for emphasis. He pauses. He pauses further, drawing out the suspense. And then… "Little one hundred!"
Giggling, grinning from ear to ear, he dives into my arms and we share a tight hug.
Tucking him into bed, I chat to him as always about what happened during the day and about what the next day will bring. What the next day will bring in this case, hopefully, is a meet-up with the other NCT group members.
"And baby Edward will be there – you remember baby Edward? And this time there’ll be another baby, called… Henry! And there might be another lady there as well. This lady’s still got a baby in her tummy, like Mummy."
Jamie thinks this over. "Is that Gordon?"
"Is what Gordon?"
"Baby in lady’s tummy. Is that Gordon?"
I think I’m going to have to clarify to him that not all babies are called after Thomas the Tank Engine characters. As grateful as Barry and I would have been for any extra inspiration while we were struggling with name choices, I have to say that ‘Percy’ is absolutely out.
A few weeks before I started writing this post, which means several months ago by the time I actually get round to finishing it, I saw someone collecting for a Down’s Syndrome charity. As I chucked some money into the collecting bucket, I commented that, after all, I might need their help in days to come; for all we know, Probable Katherine could turn out to have Down’s, especially what with me being an Older Mother and all.
My sister, who was there at the time, was astonished at the word ‘might’. But didn’t I know whether the baby had Down’s? she demanded. Hadn’t I had the test done? That one where they measured the thickness of the neck? Well – um – what about the blood test? Hadn’t I had any tests for Down’s at all?
Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. Which all provides quite a nice lead-in to the post I was already planning to make about the reasons why.
For those who don’t know much about Down’s Syndrome testing, here’s some background information to start out. (This will be a whistle-stop overview rather than a detailed description of every possible test, so, if you’re after the latter, keep Googling.)
There are two basic categories of tests for Down’s – diagnostic and screening. Diagnostic tests are the ones that tell you definitively one way or the other whether someone has Down’s. The only way that anyone can do this is by getting a look at the chromosomes in question, which involves getting some cells, which involves some type of needle being stuck in somewhere. This is relatively easy to do on someone who’s been born – all you need is a blood sample – but it’s rather more difficult on someone whose veins are not immediately accessible on account of them still being in utero. For prenatal testing, you either have to get some of the amniotic fluid at a point where there are going to be sufficient fetal skin cells floating around in it that some can be picked up for testing, which means the pregnancy has to be something like 20 weeks along (please don’t quote that as an exact figure, because it’s probably changed since I did my medical training and may well be a few weeks earlier – but, basically, we’re talking second trimester) or you have to get some of the placenta, which can be done at the end of the first trimester. The first procedure is called amniocentesis, the second is called chorionic villus sampling, or CVS. The big drawback of both is that they involve some risk of miscarriage. This is not a high risk – although I can’t be bothered to google for exact figures right now, I believe that in the hands of someone experienced in these procedures it’s less than 1%, although that does of course raise the rather awkward Catch 22 of how they become proficient in the first place without someone somewhere out there having procedures done by someone who is as yet merely on the road to proficiency without being there yet – but it does exist.
Screening tests are the ones that just give you betting odds as to whether a particular fetus has Down’s, with the general idea that you can then decide whether or not it’s worth progressing to a diagnostic test. One way of doing this is to measure the levels of various proteins in the mother’s blood which are, on average, higher or lower in women pregnant with Down’s syndrome fetuses than with non-Down’s fetuses. This includes the double, triple, and quadruple tests (according to how many proteins are being tested) all of which are done at 15 weeks, and a different test which can be done at the end of the first trimester if you want to pay privately (the NHS only seems to offer the 15-week blood tests, and there’s a lot of variation between areas in which of those are offered – a lot of areas offer the triple test, a lot only offer the double, and I don’t know whether or not any offer the quadruple). The more proteins you get tested for the more accurate the test will be, but, at the end of the day, as I said, all any of them will give you is a figure as to the chances of your baby having Down’s, rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Another test in this category is the nuchal translucency test, which is the one my sister referred to as measuring ‘the thickness of the neck’. It actually measures the amount of fluid just under the skin of the neck, and is done at the end of the first trimester. Again, I think this test is only available privately – it’s certainly not a routine one on the NHS, although I cannot swear that there are no areas that offer it. The greatest level of accuracy comes from doing both the nuchal translucency test and the first-trimester blood test and combining the two results to look at the odds, a combination known as the OSCAR, or One-Stop Assessment of Risk.
(Incidentally, the interpretation of the results of all these tests is very dependent on exactly how pregnant you are. A week one way or the other can make a difference to what you’d expect the normal results to be, so unless the lab know fairly accurately what gestation you are you could well be given the wrong estimate of risk.)
The basic idea is that you start out with a screening test in order to get an estimate of the chance that your baby has Down’s, and then, based on that, decide whether or not to proceed to a diagnostic test and take the risk associated with that. One problem with this is that, although technically the decision on what tests to get is yours, somebody else has already long since decided the levels of risk at which it’s worth moving on to further testing, and this may not exactly be presented to you in an unbiased way. For example, while I was engaged in my big clear-out of my desk before heading off on leave, I found some leaflets advertising OSCAR testing at some local private clinic. According to the leaflets, any result below a 1 in 300 chance of Down’s Syndrome was counted as low risk, and anything over that as high risk. This means that if tests done at that clinic show a 1 in 299 chance that the fetus you’re carrying has Down’s Syndrome – less than a 1% chance – then you’ll be told that you’re at high risk. Which, of course, means that any further discussion or decision-making on the subject will be carried out with that label – High Risk – throbbing in the back of your mind. But, hey, no pressure or anything.
This is very much a your-mileage-may-vary thing, but less than a 1% chance doesn’t sound like high risk to me. Then again, to someone who really feels that having a child with Down’s would be a disaster, a one in a thousand risk might sound high. Why, exactly, is something as subjective as an opinion on whether X risk is high or low being presented as though it were some sort of immovable fact?
Incidentally, my understanding is that the choice of figure for ‘high risk’ is not totally arbitrary, but is taken from the risk of miscarriage if you progress to the more invasive testing that’s needed if you want an exact diagnosis. So, if the chance that you’re carrying a Down’s Syndrome fetus is higher than the chance of you miscarrying as a result of having a further test in order to find out for certain, then you’ll be told the test result shows a high risk. The logic behind this, as far as I can figure it, is that a potentially avoidable miscarriage as a result of amniocentesis or CVS is considered to be exactly the same level of undesirability as a potentially avoidable birth of a child with Down’s Syndrome, so deciding which of the two risks you’re going to take simply boils down to weighing up the odds and going for the one that’s less likely. Again, I’d consider that assumption… questionable.
So, as you can tell, I have some general reservations about how the tests are used and how they’re presented to patients. That’s not why I personally decided against any of them, however – I mean, I’m not actually boycotting the tests as a moral principle, or anything. If I’d wanted what information they could give me, I’d have gone for them and ignored anyone else’s opinion on the risk classification of whatever figure I was given. So, background done with, this is why Barry and I didn’t bother with any tests for Down’s:
Barry and I both knew that we would not consider a diagnosis of Down’s sufficient reason to abort. Barry used to know someone with Down’s Syndrome and thought he was a pretty cool bloke with a cracking sense of humour who, by the way, happened to have Down’s. I don’t know whether he already felt that Down’s wasn’t enough of a reason to abort or whether knowing this man was what swayed his views, just that he mentioned this person to me when the subject came up in an abstract sort of way on a previous occasion as an example of why he didn’t see Down’s as being a big problem.
While I would personally prefer not to have a child with Down’s, the choice here wouldn’t be between having a child with Down’s and not having one – it would be between having a child with Down’s and having an abortion. For me, that would be a no-brainer. Not because I object to abortion, but because I would not have found it a strong enough reason for me to have one. Down’s would be a problem to deal with, but not, as far as I can see, a catastrophe. I’d sooner spend my life dealing with whatever problems come along with having a child with Down’s Syndrome than spend my life wondering whether I could have handled it if I’d tried.
Since we both felt this way, we just worked backwards from there. Given that a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s wouldn’t change anything we did, we didn’t see any point in taking any risk of miscarriage to find out whether we were going to have a Down’s child or not. So amniocentesis and CVS weren’t options for us. Given that that was the case, and given that we also weren’t planning on taking bets on whether the baby had Down’s syndrome or not, I couldn’t see any point in going for any test that would only tell me the odds rather than giving a diagnosis. Why waste the NHS’s money? Or ours?
Barry did query that last, when I was pregnant with Jamie – he suggested that there was one possible reason to have at least a screening test, and that was that if it came back showing a very low risk then that’d be one less thing for me to worry about during the pregnancy. I thought about this for about half a second and realised the flaw in the logic immediately – I wasn’t worried about having a baby with Down’s. (I was aware of the possibility and not particularly thrilled by it, but I wasn’t worried about it, if you see the difference – it was something I figured I’d deal with if and when it happened.) So, the only possible effect a test could have on my worry levels would be to increase them. So my answer was still no. Barry, who wasn’t bothered either way as long as I was happy with the decision, shrugged, and that was that.
And if you’d asked me when I was pregnant with Jamie, that would have been that. I didn’t see sufficient reason to take the risk of the diagnostic tests and didn’t see any particularly good reason to bother with tests that wouldn’t at the end of the day tell me one way or the other, and that ruled out the lot. At the time, those were the only reasons I had. I would have told you that if I was offered a test that combined the advantages of both – zero risk to the baby and a definite answer – then, sure, I’d go for it. Why not? This time around, I realised that I wouldn’t even do that. I realised that there was, in fact, one more good reason why I wouldn’t want any tests. I don’t want to know if I’m pregnant with a baby with Down’s.
I don’t mean that in the dreadful head-in-the-sand ignore-it-and-it’ll-go-away sense. I mean that the time at which I’d want to know that my child had Down’s would not be during the pregnancy, but after it was born. I know that some people, even if they choose not to abort, do specifically want to know during the pregnancy so that they can prepare themselves; they don’t want the joy of the baby’s birth to be marred by an out-of-the-blue Down’s diagnosis. I feel exactly the opposite way – if I have to deal with a diagnosis of Down’s, then I want to deal with it at a time when it can be mitigated by the joy of a baby’s birth. I don’t want to be dealing with Down’s in the hypothetical, with a pregnancy blighted by oh-dears and oh-how-awfuls and I-don’t-know-what-to-says. If this baby has Down’s and I wait for the diagnosis until the baby’s here, then the don’t-know-what-to-say brigade have the option of saying "Congratulations! Isn’t she beautiful?" If this baby does have Down’s, then I’d rather find that out at a time when it’s just one of the many things there to discover as part of the whole adventure of getting to know a new baby.
On the off-chance that perhaps not all my readers were breathlessly checking my About Page on a regular basis to look for any changes, I shall let you know that I finally got round to changing the photo. I have a very nice one of the three of us that I’ve been meaning to put on for ages, and I thought I’d better seize this final opportunity to do so while it is still the three of us.
So, instead of that very old one of Jamie as a newborn with the ghastly non-editing that meant that it was enormous and took ages to load (sorry about that – I always did mean to do something about it, honestly), I now have a more up-to-date one showing my family collectively engaged in our favourite pastime. It’s also a much more reasonable size. In fact, it’s probably gone a bit too far to the opposite extreme, but it’s big enough for you to get the general idea. I was going to tell you all to go check it out, but then realised that while I was on a roll with the techie stuff I might as well just insert it into this post:
There – that’s rather a nice one, isn’t it? That was taken in my mother’s back garden. It isn’t terribly recent – I think it dates back to summer of last year – but it’s certainly a more accurate picture of what Jamie looks like these days than the one of him as a newborn on his woolly sheep. The fascination with the computer screen is especially accurate.
I am now, for the first time, pregnant on a November 21st. We made it through Jamie’s birthday without any labour-related incidents, and I have thus fulfilled my goal of giving each of my children separate birthdays.
Having done that, and having realised that my due date is now less than a week away, I have now worked my mind round the subtle mental shift from "I really don’t want this baby to come out just yet" to "It would probably be good if this baby came out before too much longer". These could, of course, perfectly well work as the beginning and end of the same thought, and that’s pretty much how I feel – I am not averse to having a few more days of calm before the storm, but I am now getting my head round the idea that bringing on the storm might also have its advantages and that if the baby were to arrive some time over the next few days then that would be, on the whole, a good thing. So, of course, now it’ll probably be two weeks late just to annoy me. Oh, well – if that happens, I’m sure I will find plenty to enjoy about the intervening time.
Jamie’s third birthday slipped by almost unnoticed after the excitement of his birthday party, but we did a few things to mark the day. It was his Tumbletots day, and they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him – I wasn’t there, having taken the chance to stay home and rest while Barry and my mother took him, but apparently he was very pleased with being sung the ‘birthday song’ and danced cheerfully along to it. They gave him a card and a balloon, and my mother got him a CD of Tumbletots songs that he adores and has been playing over and over since then. I gave him the last two presents I’d saved for him – The Tiger Who Came To Tea, and Alfie Gets In First. Jamie ripped the wrapping off both with great interest – "I wonder what this could be? What could it be? What could it be? Oh – it’s a book!" (Of course, he then abandoned both of them to return to his computer, but he still seemed pleased.)
He also got his yearly card from the health visitor. This is the local arrangement instead of regular check-ups – children of this age are sent a birthday card with a list inside of the milestones they should have passed by this time and a list on the back of local clinics and clinic times for seeing the health visitor. That way, parents can go and see the HV if they actually feel there’s a problem, rather than all having to attend for tests routinely. Although the whole area of developmental testing fascinates me so much that I’ve been sorry to miss out on the chance to get close and personal experience of some, I do have to admit that it’s probably a more sensible way of doing things. For the record, the milestones listed in this year’s card are:
There were no entries for being able to read words, count to a hundred, count backwards, or play simple computer games, but Jamie can do all of those. This child is a geek in training.
Today, I took Jamie down to the breastfeeding group again and met up with Moira again. Unfortunately none of the rest could make it to the group, but we did, purely by chance, run into Jo in town afterwards while she was doing some shopping after her antenatal appointment and we were on a (fruitless) quest for some fenugreek (Moira’s currently struggling with the breastfeeding, so I am of course being my usual bossy self advising her on all the things she should be doing – I hope I have not driven her too far round the bend). We’ve arranged to meet up for lunch this Friday and it does actually look as though everyone will be able to make it, barring sudden labour on my part or Jo’s, which would make it the first time the full group has got together since our second class. I’m really looking forward to it.
Anna has expressed an interest in hearing how we decided on names, so…
One thing we never had any problem with in my first pregnancy was decisions on names. When Barry and I first started dating, he told me that he wanted to call his first son James, after a friend of his who had died far too young in an asthma attack. It wasn’t a name I’d have thought of choosing myself (I rather liked David), but it wasn’t a name I had any great objection to, and that was the kind of reason I wasn’t going to argue with. The name James had one other advantage, for me – it fitted in with a family tradition. My aunt, two of her four children, and at least one of each of their children have names beginning with J. I have no idea whether this was all part of a deliberate plan or not, but, although I wouldn’t have chosen a name for that reason, I rather liked the idea of having a name that happened to go along with the theme.
Meanwhile, I’d already decided I wanted to call a daughter Abigail – not for a reason as dramatic as that, but just because I really liked the name itself, the meaning (father’s joy, or source of joy), and the cultural background. Barry was all right with that one, and there we were with names picked out for our first child before we’d even moved in together. Middle names, which I picked, were very nearly as easy. For a boy’s middle name I wanted Michael, after my father. For a girl, I originally liked the idea of Constance after my mother and Esther after a great-aunt, mainly because of the initials this would give her, but Barry vetoed that and I came up with Joanna, the female version of John, which is Barry’s middle name and his father’s first name and which I thought went well with Abigail. So there we were, all sorted. In fact, we’d even got as far as a choice of first name for a second daughter – Kathryn, after a friend of mine from another Internet forum. When women posted on the parenting forums about the difficulties they were having finding names and pleaded for help, I felt rather smug. Then we faced the issue of what we were going to call our second child, and I realised that, as far as boy’s names were concerned, we seemed to have completely shot our bolt.
A girl’s name, of course, was no problem, although I did go for some fine-tuning. By then, we had decided we weren’t going to be having a third child, so I knew that if we did have a daughter then that would be my one chance to use any girl’s names I wanted to use. Joanna was the one that ended up getting sacrified. Kathryn had grown on me as a name in the intervening years, and, besides, Kathryn Abigail seems to have more of a flow to it than Abigail Kathryn, so that was the order I went for. Then Barry realised I was planning on spelling it the same way as our friend did and vetoed that – he prefers traditional spelling. For practically all names I do as well, but I rather liked Kathryn as a spelling – however, I was quite OK with Katherine as well, and it’s his baby too, and, besides, Katherine happens to be my sister’s middle name, so I went along with that one and Katherine Abigail a girl shall be. But a boy? It wasn’t that we didn’t have ideas – we had plenty of them. It was just that neither of us liked any of the names that the other one liked.
Eventually, after a whole lot of discussion, we picked out a second son’s name by the well-known "Mmmmmm. Possible" method – you know, the one where, after your spouse has turned down a long list of names that you come up with and vice versa, one of you finally comes up with a name to which the other one says "Mmmmmm. Possible" and that one gets short-listed and after a few more weeks or months of turning down other names you’ve decided that that one actually doesn’t sound too bad after all and eventually you just decide to go with it. This is what we came up with for the "Mmmmmm. Possible" shortlist, and how:
William. This was Barry’s choice and my "Mmmmmm. Possible." It’s actually a name I like a lot – solid traditional name with a meaning I liked (‘will-helmet’) – but what put me off was that I couldn’t quite seem to find a nickname I could live with. I like Will, but it’s somehow not quite soft enough for me to be able to picture myself burbling it into his belly button as I get him dressed or shouting it up the stairs (the ultimate tests of the name you choose) and I was concerned it would degenerate into Willie or, worse, Wills, both of which were absolutely, utterly, out as far as I was concerned. (Damn. I’m now going to find out that I have a reader who calls his or her son that and whom I’ve just mortally offended. Sorry.)
Alfred. This one was actually an "Mmmmmm. Possible" for both of us (we were getting a bit desperate by then). I came up with it because it’s my father-in-law’s middle name (his first name, John, was out – having two children with the same initial is more confusion than I want to get into once they get old enough to get letters, and, besides, I felt if I had two boys named James and John people would probably start looking for the fundamentalist fish on my car). Again, it had a whole lot to recommend it – family link, also happened to be the name of the greatest monarch England ever had, as traditional as it gets, easy to spell and pronounce, a meaning we liked (‘elf-counsel’) and with a cute nickname in Alfie. Oddly enough, I used to dislike the name Alfie and somehow it grew on me as the years went by until one of my patients called her son that and I found myself thinking "You know, that’s actually rather sweet."
The problem with Alfred was, in fact, the reverse of the problem with William – I liked the nickname just fine, but wasn’t so keen on the name. The problem was that it just didn’t come from the right age group. It’s a name I can’t say without picturing a seventy-year-old man with nose hair. We could, of course, simply name a boy Alfie, but neither Barry nor I like the idea of using a nickname as a name. No matter how much we use a nickname in day-to-day life, we want something a bit more traditional for the official documents.
However. They are both perfectly good names, and we had run low enough on other possibilities that we were not in a position to be too fussy over details. So, we have opted for Alfred William for the name that goes on the birth certificate and Alfie for what he gets called from the start. And I find the whole idea has rather grown on me. There is something about calling your children names you never originally thought you’d end up choosing that somehow seems rather appropriate for the whole experience of parenthood.
I’m fairly sure I’m smaller this time around than I was with Jamie. (Either I’m right about this, or the patient population in the area where I now work are a lot less discerning than the ones in Clacton-on-Sea. Last time around, by around five months I was starting to get the odd discreet enquiry as to whether I might possibly be expecting a happy event – this time, my patients sounded genuinely surprised when, as I approached the eight-month mark, I started mentioning the fact of my fairly imminent absence and consequent need to make alternative arrangements for their follow-up.) I’ll be interested to see if I’m right or not – I remember that when I was on my obstetrics attachment one of the consultants told us that a study had shown that women who had given birth before were more accurate at judging what the birthweight of a subsequent baby was going to be than ultrasonographers were. I have never seen the actual study and thus can’t guarantee that I am remembering that snippet of information correctly, but I’ll be disappointed if I ever do find out that I’ve got that wrong – it always stuck in my mind as such a great example of patient know-how trumping the best of medical technology. Anyway, I’m going to go out on a limb and state that I expect this baby to weigh less than Jamie did, and then we can all see whether I’m right or not. Given that Jamie was a healthy 8 lb 10.7 oz, I have to admit it’s not really that much of a limb to be going out on – even without any estimates of my size coming into it, statistical averages would seem to back up the likelihood of that statement.
There’s something so strange about knowing so little about a person to whom you are so closely connected not just in the emotional but in the literal sense. There is a recent novel about conjoined twins which starts with the narrator musing about the fact that she has never spent a minute apart from her sister, yet never looked into her eyes. (The novel went downhill from there, unfortunately, but it was a great opening.) Pregnancy is like that. That little head bobbing around somewhere above my pelvis already has a little face that might look like someone in my family or Barry’s or a mixture, and a little brain that is, on some level, already taking things in and processing them, listening to what’s going on. But I have no idea what this baby looks like or what kind of person he or she is going to turn out to be. I remember when I got to the birthing centre in labour with Jamie and the midwife told me that my baby had lots of hair, feeling thrilled that finally I was learning something – however inconsequential a detail it was – about this tiny new person.
Tomorrow is Jamie’s actual birthday, and thus the one day above all on which I really don’t want to have this baby. I feel they ought to have separate birthdays so they can each have a special day. Perhaps I’m making too much of that – I knew someone at medical school who was a twin, and recall her mentioning once that she didn’t know what non-twins did on their birthdays without someone else to share it with and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to. "It must be so lonely," she mused. But I’d still prefer it if I could hold off a further 24 hours and 26 minutes (as I type this) and give them each their own day in the sun.
Jamie is adapting fairly well to the idea of being a big brother (since he hasn’t yet got too firm a grasp on gender-specific nouns, his main grievance on the subject was that he couldn’t be a big sister instead, which apparently left him feeling quite cheated.) How he takes to the reality may of course be a different matter, but so far he has taken to the idea of a new baby in much the same way as he takes to most things – a general benign interest in the oddities of the world and a willingness to tolerate them quite happily as long as they do not interfere with his computer time. I’ve talked quite a bit to him, in a general commentary kind of way, about the baby in my tummy and of what sort of thing he might expect when it emerges, and he seems to have the general idea. The baby is in Mummy’s tummy, it’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger before it comes out (I hope that last bit isn’t prophetic), and it’s going to drink special milk when it does come out. That seems to cover quite a lot of what he needs to know. He’s even said hello to the baby on a few occasions without me prompting him, and occasionally even remembered he has to put his face against my belly when he does so rather than simply addressing his "Hello, little baby" to the world at large.
Having read reviews on a number of the books intended to prepare young children for imminent siblings and bought, or at least browsed through in the bookshop, several of them, the three I would particularly recommend are Jeanne Ashbé’s And After That, Joanna Cole’s I’m A Big Brother (which also comes in a Big Sister version), and Lucy Cousin’s Za-Za’s Baby Brother. What I liked about this selection is that not only are they all lovely little books in themselves, but they also complement each other rather well by focusing on different aspects of siblinghood. "And After That" introduces some factual points about life with a baby – baby nurses but bigger child gets a snack, baby gets a bath in the little bath but bigger child gets a bath in the big bath – which I felt was a particularly helpful approach in Jamie’s case as he’s a concrete little soul and I think absorbed the whole thing better for being given some definite facts about the matter that he could focus on. "I’m A Big Brother" plays up the positive side of older siblinghood, with a lot of hype about being big, being able to do all sorts of things the baby can’t, and being able to help take care of the baby, while still being very special to Mummy and Daddy. (Actually, that would be Mommy and Daddy, as it’s an American book, but I adapted it in reading aloud.) "Za-Za’s Baby Brother" helps prepare a child for the fact that there’s a negative side there as well – Mummy and Daddy may be busy with the baby and not always able to play with the older child and sometimes the baby will get in the way of you doing what you want. (There’s a happy ending, in case you were worried – Za-Za discovers the baby himself can be a fun playmate, and she gets the parental attention she wants when he settles down to sleep.)
Exactly what Jamie got out of them is a little hard to say. He enjoyed reading all of them, and I’m sure he got some benefit from them and is better prepared than he would have been without them, but he is not the type of child to sit and discuss points raised. "And After That", as I said, certainly helped with getting some of the practical details across, although he was a lot more interested in some of the non-baby-related pictures that are mainly there to introduce the whole concept of particular things happening after other things (a baby getting a bath in a little bath is of some interest, but a spilled drink needing cleaning up is noticeably more interesting). His main interest in "Za-Za’s Baby Brother" was in the traffic lights with a green zebra instead of a green man (although he liked that enough to make me feel it was a worthwhile buy, even if it wasn’t quite the point I’d hoped he’d fix on). However, he picked up on a more relevant point from "I’m A Big Brother", and that was a line that I’d barely noticed in passing, about singing the baby a little baby song.
"How does the baby song go?" he enquired.
"I don’t know. Maybe we can think of one?" I stalled. I have never been a great one for lullabies. He was not to be fobbed off, however, and insisted on getting to hear the Baby Song. So I sang him the words that my father made up to Brahm’s Lullaby when we were children (at least I think it’s by Brahm’s – the really famous one that always ends up on baby mobiles) – "Lullaby and goodnight, go to sleep, little baby…" He was far more enthralled by that than he ever was back when he was a baby himself. When I’d finished that he insisted on another baby song, and thus got "Hush, Little Baby", a song the tune of which I love but the lyrics of which I feel very dubious about (I mean, what kind of message does it give a child to tell them that every time something you buy them turns out to be defective or gets broken you’re simply going to go buy them something different? Or am I overthinking this?) but which, again, he loved. And Barry tried singing him "Rockabye Baby", which he promptly dubbed the Falling Baby Song. The other two are Sleeping Baby Song and This Little Baby Don’t Say A Word, and he has insisted on a number of repetitions of both since then. If the baby likes the baby songs as much as Jamie does, then calming him or her down in moments of upset isn’t going to be a problem.
One problem with having a second child is the need for someone to look after the first while you are engaged in the actual process of having a second. Personally, I’m fairly comfortable with the thought of leaving that job to Barry – I realise I’m supposed to want him there holding my hand and staring into my eyes as we share this deeply meaningful moment, but, while that would be nice, it’s something I see as nice in an optional extra sort of way rather than as a must have. We will, after all, have a lifetime of deeply meaningful moments to share, lots of them involving parenthood. However, there is always the off-chance that something may go wrong and I may feel rather more acutely about having him there, and he’d probably come in useful for back rubs and the like, and he’s not too keen on leaving me to go through the whole thing alone, so we have a Plan B which involves phoning every available relative as soon as my labour gets to the point of meaning business and trying to find someone who’s free to drive straight down and take Jamie. Since all these people live a lengthy journey away and my last labour was a brisk seven hours and twenty-five minutes and second labours are supposed to be about half the time of the first, this may well end up being neck-and-neck.
One result of these practical considerations is that family attention is now focusing on my uterus to a degree I find somewhat disconcerting. Obviously people were eagerly looking forward to the happy event last time around as well, but there wasn’t the same requirement for precision timing. I somehow feel the onus is on me not only to produce this baby, but to do so at a reasonably acceptable time of day and with sufficient warning. My mother has already rescheduled the Law Society’s Christmas dinner around likely dates of baby production, and my in-laws, who came down for Jamie’s birthday party and have just left, are understandably a little leery of the possibility that they might potentially be required to turn round at the end of their 200-mile journey and come straight back again.
"Are you sure you’re not going to have this baby today?" my mother-in-law demanded, fixing me with a piercing stare.
What am I supposed to say to that? I doubt it – my uterine activity has settled down to the occasional crampy pain, which is the same level it’s been at for months, and there seems no reason to believe I might imminently go into labour beyond the rather obvious fact that I’m 39 weeks pregnant and such things have been known to happen to women at this stage. However, that does in itself seem like enough reason that I do not feel able to give an unequivocal "Yes" to a question like that.
The other thing I am feeling somewhat irrationally pressured to do is produce a girl. Despite my continued insistence on the failure rate of scans and the 5% chance we were given of this actually turning out to be Alfie, my mother and sister keep referring to the baby as Katherine and there seem to be quite a lot of pink clothes being bought, or at least admired in shops. I feel like Anne Boleyn in reverse.
Aside from such ungrateful gripes against those who are, after all, only trying to help and to whom I should be nicer, I am enjoying this stage of my life immensely. Most women seem to be desperate to get the baby out by this time and I have had a couple of people commiserate with me on the assumption that I’ll also feel this way, but, in fact, I’d be delighted for this pregnancy to continue for a good few days yet (words I shall no doubt deeply regret if the weeks then mount up with no baby, everyone nagging me, my maternity leave ticking away and the prospect of induction looming ever nearer, all of which could certainly happen as well). This is, as my mother put it, the eye of the storm – I’m no longer trying to juggle work and a child but have not yet had to embark upon the equally exhausting prospect of juggling two children. I’m actually managing to get some sleep and to get some things done. I’m enjoying the chance to spend some uninterrupted time with my son, and to spend time together, just the three of us, in that final short space before the whole exciting yet different adventure of it being the four of us.
Besides, I want to savour the last of this pregnancy while I can. It’s an odd feeling to know that not only do I have only at most a few weeks left of being pregnant, but barring major changes of plan I can add the words "…in my life" to the end of that sentence. After a fair bit of back-and-forth on the issue which would probably merit a blog post in itself if there was any chance of me ever getting round to writing it, Barry and I have decided that we will not be trying for a third child. I’m happy with that, and not even feeling the level of nostalgia I’d have expected to feel over knowing that this will be the Last Time – although pregnancy has been a fascinating, wonderful experience which I am utterly thrilled to have had, and had twice in case I missed any details the first time around, it does have enough attendant minor but irritating discomforts that I feel quite content with the idea that in future I will be enjoying its fascinating wonder in memory’s edited version only. Twice is enough. I’m pleased that I won’t ever again be going through those first tense and queasy months, and that soon the weird food aversions and the heartburn and the inability to go anywhere without needing to stop and find a toilet at frequent intervals and the slowness and the stiffness and achiness when I wake up in the morning after a night of not turning over because that’s more of a project than I seem able to manage in my sleep will all be well and truly over for good, never to be revisited.
But none of those things are troubling me enough at the moment to make me in a rush to give up the good bits. Looking down and admiring my bump and marvelling that my body could grow a baby to that size. Feeling the kicks and thumps and trying to interpret them – the little movements just to let me know the baby’s still in there, the huge fiercely determined kicks that make me think it’ll be a force to be reckoned with, the steady rhythmic kick-kick-kick-kick that Barry interprets as "OK, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored….", the feelings of pressure as the baby tries desperately to stretch its legs out in insufficient space (something the poor little thing can probably look forward to a lifetime of, if it takes after its father). I love those parts of pregnancy, and I’m going to savour every last moment of them while they do last.
"So what happened at your birthday party, little one?" I asked Jamie as I tucked him in for his nap this afternoon. (I know I should stop asking those ghastly fake questions that I know the answer to perfectly well and only ask to get him talking, but hearing what he has to say about things is so interesting that I just can’t resist.)
Jamie’s brow furrowed in concentration. "You had cake!" he announced with satisfaction. (This is absolutely true, but I doubt it was my helping of cake to which he was referring – he still hasn’t really got the intricacies of first- and second-person pronouns sorted out, and when he says ‘you’ it’s normally referring to himself.) "And," he continued, on a roll now, "you ate some cake. And the cake was finished. And," he concluded, "the cake was good."
I think we can safely say that the cake was a hit.
The rest of his birthday was just as good, with the exception of the weather, which was, sadly, far too dreadful for him to get to ride his main present – a car big enough for him to sit in and drive himself, complete with switches and pedal and flashing lights and electronic noises – around the garden as we had planned. But being indoors was still enormous fun. His other presents included:
Two big elaborate marble runs – one from us, one from my mother.
A Thomas the Tank Engine toy with numbered buttons to press that recites the names of the different engines, from my sister.
Books – a miniature set of books about the Night Garden characters, from my mother, and ‘Going to Playschool’ and ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ from us (plus a couple of others that I’m saving for his actual birthday, on Tuesday).
A singing Iggle Piggle toy, from us.
One of those magnetic doodle pads that you can write on and erase, from my grandmother. (I have to record that he wrote a perfectly legible ‘J’ on it, without help.) Also an Arizona T-shirt.
A Mr Men tambourine, from my mother.
A wooden threading bear toy, from my mother.
He opened all of these (except the marble run from us, which we kept back for the evening) when he first got up, with squeals of delight – "Oh! A big present! I want to see what’s inside!" – and then we took him through to the living room, where his car was, and he was most pleased with that as well and had a go driving it back and forth. Then he went off to the even better pastime of playing on his computer, until lunchtime, and then played on his computer a bit more (I probably should try cutting down on that computer time at some point) until it was time for the cake, which was actually a pile of twelve fairy cakes that Barry had split and filled with strawberry jam and buttercream icing to make them into miniature Victoria Sponges. We all sang "Happy Birthday" and Jamie stood on his chair bopping along to it, and then I helped him blow his candles out and Ruth tried to persuade him to make a wish, but it turned out his wish was an emphatic desire to get to eat some cake, so we happily made that one come true. And he opened his cards, which I’d thought might be anticlimactic, but in fact he was delighted with them as well (all those number 3s! And a picture of Mr Happy! And a picture of Iggle Piggle with Upsy Daisy!)
Then, after his nap, he opened up the marble run from us and had great fun playing with that too ("Round an’ round an’ round an’ round an’ round an’ round an’… in!" he chanted, as the marble traced its spiral around the funnel-shaped part of the run), and then played on his computer even more, and eventually went up to bed. At which point I asked him again about his birthday and he seemed to be under the impression that he had actually received a big and a little football. Nice to know all those presents made so much impression on him.
I can hear him chatting away on his monitor as I type this. Barry just took his new Night Garden books upstairs for him to read in bed, which was apparently a popular move – not only is he fascinated by all things Night Garden, but the different coloured pages in each book are also a huge hit with him. "And this is… some kind of orange," I’ve just heard him announce to himself.
I was having difficulty thinking of an ending for this post, so I took a break and went up to see him, where I found that the light from his little battery-operated nightlight had dimmed so much that the ‘orange’ must have been either imagination or a reference to the light itself. Nothing daunted, he was taking the books out of their box one at a time (it’s one of those sets that comes in a little open-sided box to fit them), counting them out with "And somesing like this. And somesing like this. And… that’s all there is."
I offered to put new batteries in his light.
"Oh, no!" he squealed.
"Oh, no! Your light has old batteries in it!"
I agreed with this and re-extended the offer of replacements, and he handed the light over to me. When I returned, he was putting the books carefully back in their box, one at a time, being careful to turn each one around the right way, and counting them off again ("Now there are two missing… now only one missing…")
I still don’t have a snappy ending for this post. But I have an extremely cute and wonderful almost-three-year-old little boy, and that’s even better.