Language. Its an amazing thing, hearing this person you’ve done everything for since they were a defenceless hungry lump offer you a cup of tea, and when you’ve drunk it, ask you if you want some more, even if it is just a hairband in an old tin. We once started noting down each word BB could say to see how many there were –

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and then it quickly went of the end of the blackboard. As well as these words correctly formed and executed, there are many BBisms, names for things coined by BB that don’t seem to bear any relation to the original word; throw-backs to her first experiments with sound when feet, socks and shoes were all called bat, and penguins were called gwodge gwodge. She utters them with such certainty and determination, regardless of what we say that we end up accepting her pronunciation and adopting it ourselves. So planes are not planes; they’re copters. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all just numynumy. Anything denoting to trains can have the prefix ‘choo choo’. The other night Dad, rather worn out and at the end of his tether after some effort trying to get BB towards bed, bustled into the front room looking for something. On being asked what, he irritatedly growled, ‘choo choo stories’.

I don’t think I ever blogged what BB’s actual first word was. Rather embarrassing this, ‘Dart’.

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Biscuit is a chubby, windy, smiley three months now. BB is continuing a long obsession with ‘choo choo trains’ with no sign of any let-up. She views her little brother with interest, mirth and occasional frustration, but seems to have just accepted his sudden presence in her life unquestioningly. I always characterise life with two as a general niceness, peppered with moments of high stress that never last very long.

As much as BB is a really early riser, Biscuit is proving to be a really late riser, so I can still enjoy mornings of gazing in admiration while Dad is up and watching endless youtubes of choo choo trains with the busy one. You can read all the baby books you like, it just goes to show how much these things are a part of their nature, over which we have absolutely no control!

Thanks to biscuit’s triumphant, early and speedy entrance (or exit I suppose), I managed to return to all my piano pupils by September. I even started some new ones the other day, a girl and a boy, thirteen months apart! Blimey, what was that like? I asked their mother. She told me it was full-on at first, but now it’s like a constant play date because they are so close in age, and there’s not that much competition between them because they aren’t the same sex. Hooray then! Although I’m sure BB is going to be a bossy sister, she bosses me and Dad around pretty successfully.

I can’t wait till biscuit is BB’s age. I’m impatient to see his personality emerge, and when they’re running around together it’s going to be so much fun! Also, babies are cute but quite tricky. I mentioned he was windy. He throws up after every feed, gets hiccups constantly and needs burping all the time. I have to make sure I go out wearing an unsullied set of clothes, and remember to remove them when I nip home to feed him because of his predilection for redecorating his immediate surroundings. This was brought home to us when dad was told by SS, ‘you smell weird’. Sadly I didn’t quite manage it the other day. Around the corner from their house I realised with horror that I was going to meet my new pupils with white regurgitated milk all down one shoulder of my red top.

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I started writing the previous blog at 8 a.m. By 2.11 p.m. I was a mother of two. Our son came 8 days early, and in a hurry.

I had decided to use the time that Dad gave me by taking BB to the park for their regular morning jaunt to write on my poor undernourished blog instead of grabbing the opportunity to sleep. SS (my now teenage stepson) was asleep in the front room. The practice contractions had become steadily stronger and more frequent; they had woken me up from a deep sleep a few times in the night. Pretty much from the time I got up, big contractions were coming short but strong every two minutes. Just like last time I started noting down the times at which they occurred, but quickly gave up as they were simply every two minutes and didn’t waver. I was confused by the early date, and the fact that they were over so quickly. Surely it can’t be today? I had texted a friend just the night before saying I expected it to happen in another couple of weeks.

The morning continued with these bursts of intensity every two minutes. BB returned from the park. I was trying to look after her whilst regularly shutting myself away in the bathroom, half thinking the pains were stomach related. But BB was in an uncharacteristically mellow mood, unphaseable which I took as a sign of this being no ordinary day. I phoned the midwife and said, ‘It might be the start of something.’ I reasoned that things were a long way off, as I hadn’t even had the show yet. Figuring that one can’t teach the piano whilst having contractions I cancelled the lesson I had booked in for 11.00.

Dad was asking me if he should take SS home that morning instead of later in the evening as planned. It’s a 2 ½ hour round trip. SS said, ‘does that mean we’re not going to play tennis?’  I said, ‘Go and have half an hour of tennis, then yes maybe you should take him back early’.  In between contractions I felt so fine it seemed I was making a lot of fuss over something that still must be far off in the future, but they felt very real for each short time they gripped me.

The boys left, and almost immediately I got the show. What now, shall I call them back from the park? Should I call the midwife again? Alone with BB I called my friend, Brilliant Mum. She had offered to take BB off my hands when the time came.

‘you know last night I said it would probably be another two weeks?

‘Yeeees,’

‘Well, scrap that. I’m having contractions. Would you come and keep me company while Dad takes SS home?’

She duly arrived with her son the same age as BB and a friend and her 3 year old girl. The children played and I kept up conversation through the cramps, my mind racing about the things that needed to be in place that weren’t quite there yet. Things like, ‘where are the dust sheets?’ A very important requirement for a home birth. The girls were concerned about Dad going away on the tube. When the boys returned from playing tennis, they asked SS, ‘Can’t you go on the tube on your own?’

The look on his face was one of perfect bafflement. Dad left whilst still trying to get hold of SS’ mum and grandparents, saying hopefully he would hand SS over somewhere on the way and high-tail it back. The children milled about, BB started being impossibly clingy and difficult. My mind was spinning. After a while, brilliant mum said to me,

’If there’s anything you’d like me to do, just tell me.’

I didn’t miss a beat. ‘Take her to the park!’

So they did. I took BB downstairs and kissed her goodbye. I wouldn’t see her again for another few days. Suddenly I was alone with space to focus my mind.

Between my regular bouts of leaning on the windowsill, trying to be relaxed a la the hypnobirth CD, I packed an away bag for BB. Clothes, nappies, her beloved panda etc. I found the sight of this bag so forlorn and poignant I took a picture.

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I packed a bag for me and the new baby in case I ended up in hospital.

The midwife came to check in on me, thinking she might then go away and come back later. The contractions were still very quick but getting more and more intense.

‘Where’s your husband?’

I felt a little embarrassed. She said it was impossible to tell how far away it was unless she examined me, but examining me might set things of resulting in Dad missing the birth. I had some toast and got a text from Dad saying he was half an hour away. We put dust sheets down. I leant on cushions and moaned. Dad eventually arrived and I suddenly felt all wobbly and worried, and wondered why. I thought it was the added number of people in the room, but maybe it was the transition I was feeling, because when Dad put his hand on my back, the contractions were suddenly stronger still.

The midwife was asking me questions and I was annoyed to have to expend the extra energy trying to answer them. I muttered through the pain and Dad translated.

Another midwife arrived and I was asked if a student could come in with her. ‘No!’ I said emphatically twice as I was already put out at the thought of someone else swanning in!

I remember it really annoyed me that the new midwife was quite heavily made up, as if she represented too much of the day, of the outside world invading the intimacy of my nest.

At some point I thought it would help matters if I took my trousers off. All was bright red when I looked down.  A few contractions later my waters broke with disconcerting violence. I remember thinking, ‘Aren’t you’re supposed to feel some relief with that?’

But things were happening fast. A few big contractions later the baby’s head was through. I had instinctively put my hand down to help it out, and then it was through and in my hand, all small and furry and silent. I marvelled at this and just kept saying, ‘Baby. Baby.’

The midwife was shouting loudly, ‘You have to listen to me now, this is very important’, and getting me to pant instead of push. I did pant when I heard her but her voice was quite distant in my head and the urge to push was inescapable. My son was out. They let Dad cut the cord and I held this tiny lump of new life while the midwives surveyed the damage.

I had a tear which was too large to be stitched properly at home.

***

Well my little boy is now nine weeks old, asleep, and so is his two year old sister. Better get this piece of writing finished. We went to hospital in an ambulance and I was stitched up properly with the help of an epidural. I was then very reluctantly stuck in hospital for two more nights. I remember feeling a little twinge of defeat when my perfect baby boy and I were tagged and entered into the system.

It was exactly right to be seen to properly in an operating theatre, and the epidural and all that that entailed, but I felt keenly the sudden loss of autonomy over myself and how I chose to care for my baby. I felt the sudden lack of family and even knowledge of what’s going on, stuck behind a curtain having no idea where I was, waiting for the next person (of the vast army) to come and see me.

I was regularly given an assortment of drugs which kept me out of pain. This never occurred to me after my previous birth, stupidly. Back then I sat on a rubber ring, bathed twice a day and was in pain for weeks. I can’t say I felt any pain at all in hospital. But I had a lot of discomfort, catheters and cannulas, noisy ward nights. So I concluded that birth at home meant more pain but family and comfort, and hospital meant less pain but more wires and strangers and discomfort. I don’t really know which is better or worse!

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The impersonal and uncomfortable nature of hospital summed up on one wrist.

So now enters my son onto the world’s stage. He looks all-knowing, wise and strong. For the purpose of this blog I think I’ll call him Biscuit.

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Dad with Biscuit when we had just got to hospital

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Drowsy early mornings spent gazing at perfection.

The countdown has started in earnest now. If I go into labour from this point it will be a normal delivery at home, unless he’s extremely late.

It’s a warm, mostly rainy summer in London with Olympic events happening all around. People are striving for perfection, breaking though all sorts of pain barriers and I have my little task to perform.

A friend gave me a hypnobirth CD and I have been listening to it, but only ever get as far as breathing in the golden light and visualising a beach and then I fall asleep.

It’s a completely different experience being pregnant with a growing toddler on your hands from before, when there was time and space to focus on what’s happening to your body to the point of obsession. I like the less obsessed route. And I’m smug in the knowledge that this is it; I don’t have to be pregnant ever again.

Pose for the camera with your big fat Mummy

No, I’m off.

A visit to Kew Gardens on my birthday.

 

One of the nice things about this time round is that people don’t react in horror and disbelief when I tell them I’m hoping to have the baby at home. All I have to do is say the magic words, ‘Like we did with our first child’, and all is well, deep concern and possible lecture avoided.

Other differences are much less heartburn so no going to sleep on fifteen pillows, but oh God, it must have been luxury to sleep undisturbed through the early hours. BB is an early bird. By now we’ve come to accept this. Dad does everything he can to let me have extra rest, even when he looks completely shattered, but she’s a non-stop bird. We’re both done in.

The miracle of first evers continue to come thick fast to BB. Its magical to experience them with her. My favourites include -

the first time she saw the moon.

She kept looking for it and saying, ‘ba!’ (her word for ball) and was trying to find it the next day when I took her to the park.

First steps

For a long while we were getting her to walk from one person to another but still her favourite mode of transport was her knees. After a while I could ask her to walk to something in the room rather than another person with arms outstretched. I remember the first time she waddled away from me like this, I felt the tiniest pang of grief at her independence which shocked me, but was really intriguing at the same time. I felt the same sort of thing – absolutely miliscule but there – when BB first wheeled away from me on her car by herself. Something we had been trying to teach her for months.

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One of the last times BB bravely set forth on poor, sore knees.

First time on the slide on her own

I marvelled at what little time it took to teach her the whole process – how soon she was sitting herslf down and launching herself off with abandon while I sat and watched with a big proud grin.

And – joy of joys! – the other evening. First real dancing!

We took BB to a friend’s 40th birthday party – a couple of real old rockers. Eventually the music went on and there was a little dancing. After a while, BB started jigging about, wiggling her bottom, arms outstretched and bobbing from side to side like a drunken aeroplane. Having got the appropriate reaction, she danced more and more, revelling in the adoration she received.

Luckily I don’t have all day to dwell on the implications of my impending and sudden MRI scan. I’ve invited my two lovely local mum friends and their toddlers around for morning play and lunch. Our offspring are just at the age when they have started to interact with each other. It’s so funny to observe from the sidelines.

One of the mums offers to come over in the morning and look after BB along with her son, so that I can have Dad with me. How brilliant! She’ll be round 9 a.m.

In the evening I look over the information the hospital had sent me. I have an overwhelming feeling of having been railroaded into a whole other world of clinical instruments, machines, procedures and choices that I don’t want to be part of. I’ve requested a second homebirth, why would I want all these tests and checks? What can they do with all this information when they find it? Nothing apart from offer an abortion.

There’s a link to a video of what to expect at the MRI scan. The machine reminds me of things I’ve seen in Terry Gilliam films. Oh God, you have to take off all your clothes and wear hospital scrubs. You have headphones to help block out some of the noise. They play you soothing music (this is the most frightening prospect of all). You hold an alarm button which you can press if you start feeling funny. You have to stay perfectly still, and the whole thing won’t last more than 45 minutes. Studies have shown that the deafening noises don’t appear to have any impact on the baby. Well, that’s all just great.

You can take a CD of your own music to listen to if you like. I can’t think of any music I would like to listen to, stuck in a tunnel. Someone else’s idea of what you might want to listen to seems a horrifying prospect. 45 minutes of soothing classics in a narrow tube, accompanied by loud knocking  and banging. I’m sure the baby’s brain is fine, but I would come out foaming at the mouth. I have to have talking. Mmmm… composer of the week? I don’t want to create a lifelong aversion to any poor composer. Desert Island Discs then. Who? Julian Clary.

The information states, ‘A scan has been requested by your doctor to help him/her with the management of your pregnancy.’ This is the whole thing. I don’t want to have my pregnancy ‘managed’. I want them all to leave us alone. I remember saying to the girls earlier, ‘I wish they’d all go away and leave me alone and I’ll have my baby in a bush!’ Ahem.

In my mind I am resisting the continuation of this rollercoaster I’ve been set on. I discuss it with Dad. I think my baby’s probably ok, and I don’t want to go through any more stuff. If there’s something wrong, the scan won’t change anything, I’ll still have him. It’s way too late to think of anything else. Dad’s view is that if the baby’s ok, it’s better to know for certain rather than worry for the rest of the pregnancy. And if there is doubt hanging over it, they may not allow us to have a homebirth. Good point. So really I have no choice, and the way I try and retain a bit of control is to make a positive decision that I will have this scan, and whatever the result, it will be the last medical interference I will submit to.

In the night, it all goes around in my head. They seem to be rushing me into all these scans before it gets to the 24 week mark. This is all assuming that I share the same view that a baby can be terminated now at the 22nd week. It really gets to me that I wasn’t consulted, and asked whether I wanted all these checks in the first place.

Then I get to thinking of the sheer intrusion into his space. Why am I putting him through all this? If you can’t even hide away from people in your 9 month gestation period before you’re born, when can you?

The morning rolls around, brilliant mum and toddler arrive. We leave on our bikes with my notes and the disc of Julian Clary. We are looked after by the nicest person you could hope to meet, I think she’s a research scientist. We have a long chat first of all, where I air all my apprehensions whilst trying not to get emotional. I am asked to be part of a study that would mean a longer scan today, further scans and more after the birth too. It is worded in quite a persuasive way, but I’m prepared, keep my Britishness in check and say no. Then I have to put an X on a line indicating how anxious I felt, starting at ‘not anxious at all’ and ‘extremely anxious’. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, given that she was supposed to have reassured me (British to the core). Still, I put my X quite near the ‘extremely anxious’ mark.

So then I have to get my kit off and get the new kit on. You can’t have anything metal on you at all, that’s why they have you in the cotton hospital gear. I always feel a bit naked without my watch. Dad is allowed to be with me up until the door of the Terry Gilliam room. Here we part, not knowing quite when to say goodbye. There’s a rhythmic, train-like shuffling noise. I am helped onto the bed, kind of wedged in place, given the headphones, the alarm cord to clutch and am shunted into the tunnel. I make a little wave in Dad’s direction, I can’t see him. I think of my Grandma, how she hated these scans. When you roll in there, the roof of it is right in front of your face. It’s a nasty feeling, I don’t blame her. But if it’s not your brain which is the subject of the scan, but rather the little one inside your stomach, you continue rolling through till your head pokes a little way out the other side.

So this is it, I just lie here now, and try to keep as still as possible. Scanner professor lady, and the nicest person you could hope to meet settle me in. ‘We will talk to you through the headphones’. ‘let us know if you need the volume adjusting.’ ‘if there’s anything you need, ring the bell’. ‘Remember, don’t be scared. The noises are quite startling’

Julian Clary starts, and so do long beeps from the machine. I wonder if I made an error of judgement with my choice CD when my belly shakes with inward laughter. Every time there is a loud noise, I feel my baby leap around vigorously inside. So much for the babies being unaffected. I try to concentrate on the interview between the obliterations, rather than ruminating on how I came to be in this situation. Terrorising my baby with continuous loud noises and stressed and upset emotional chemicals. At one point I think, ‘If I had been stronger I would have said no to this’.

What were described as knocks are more like long held beeps, mainly As and Ds in different octaves. When heard in conjunction with the excerpts of music, an eerie, science fiction type horror music is produced. I was glad I wasn’t listening to all music. The interview comes to an end, I know I’ve done 35 minutes, so not long now. For a time I focus on the beeps. I can hear different harmonies emerging the more I listen. What feels like 20 minutes go by, and then on comes Desert Island Discs again. Funny. The CD must be starting from the beginning again. I’ll catch the bits I missed. But no, it’s not Julian Clary, it’s a forensic psychiatrist in Broadmoor! I’m sure I only burned the one onto the disc, how can this be? Then I hear the scanner, professor lady in my headphones. ‘Doing alright in there? There are going to be about five minutes of normal sound, then some high pitched one, then a little knocking and we’re done’.

The forensic psychiatrist and the noises resume. And then – the noises stop and all the lights go out. ‘It’s broken!’ I think. The ladies come back in. ‘we’ve had a power cut’. Scanner, professor lady is visibly hacked off. The nicest person you could hope to meet comes to talk to my prone head sticking out of its sausage roll.

Did you approve of our choice of listening material?’

‘Oh it was YOU!’

It was a Desert Island Discs episode that she had been personally listening to a few days ago.

I saw your CD had finished, so I put this episode on. A bit of a different subject, but very interesting’.

She told me about the large library of audio they keep for the patients, and every time someone brings in a CD, they copy it and add it to the library. Dance music tends to go better with the beeps, classical music tends not to work too well.

I take the opportunity to move, which isn’t easy, as I’ve become so stiff. At first I go to move my legs and nothing happens. I’ve never experienced this before. The machine is up and running again, they try to resume from where they left off. No, they have to roll me out and back in again, and start from further back. Some more loud noises, baby somersaults, insights into the criminal mind, and it’s all over.

I am so disorientated getting up. They hand me a glass of water. I walk into the next room with normal alert people in proper clothes and feel like I’ve been reduced to a vulnerable plate of jelly. I immediately see the clock. Is it really twenty to twelve? A smiley girl comes up to me and asks me to fill in the same chart as before. Now how anxious do you feel? As I’m still on the verge of tears like I was when I went in, I don’t feel much has changed, but my Britishness overcomes me, and I put the X a little closer to the ‘not anxious at all’ end, but not much.

People keep smiling at me and asking how it was, so I keep having to say, ‘Not great’. I elaborate to another smily girl who takes me to my basket of clothes. ‘I feel it was a massive thing to go through for such a small reason’. (basically for me to know that my baby’s ok, after already being told there’s a 90 percent chance of everything being perfectly fine).

I meet Dad and phone brilliant mum who has cooked lunch for the little ones and is just serving it up.

After a little wait, we go with the nicest person you could hope to meet and look at the findings.

This is your bladder, and this is your baby’s head’.

Well, that explains a lot.

here is the ventricle in the brain. The largest measurement is well within the parameters of normal. Your baby is perfectly fine. The results from the ultrasound were misreadings.’

I phone brilliant mum. ‘They’ve had their lunch, do you mind if I take them to the park?’

So we cycle back, away from stress and anxiety, towards reality and our family life. We catch up with BB in the park, and she’s properly walking around!

So there we are. Getting back to normal life now, possibly to never set foot in that hospital again. I have a feeling of lightness and appreciate more how good life is.

The whole experience has made me think a lot about the automatic process you get swept along in from the time you tell the doctor you’re pregnant. It seems that the technology just gets sharper and sharper, they can measure ever more detailed things inside a tiny fetus, inside a woman. They can, and so they do, as a matter of course, for every single expectant mum. How many wrong results are they producing? How many lives are being turned upside-down for no reason?

My mum friend was told there was an abnormal measurement in her daughter’s heart which could have worrying consequences. On the next scan when she was a bit bigger, they said it had ‘got better’. I’m sure it was the measurement on the scan that was the problem, not her daughter’s heart.

I used to think that the two scans you have when you’re expecting a baby are amazing, wonderful, joyous things to look forward to and relish every moment. You get your little skelly pictures, with which you can bombard unsuspecting people, or even put them on facebook if you’re so inclined (that’s another matter).
But I’ve just been through what I would call an ordeal which has me pretty sure that were I to ever be pregnant again, I would refuse to have a scan at all.

Ok. So here’s what happened-

I’m pregnant! Whoops! Feels just like last time, no concerns.

The first scan is late at 17 weeks due to paperwork error at doctors. Fine by me. By this time, there’s quite a lot to see. A restless, bouncing baby boy. Wow.

Two weeks later- the second scan. This time the sonographer is concerned about a measurement of a ventricle in the brain –bordering on slightly too big. She wants to measure it again in another two weeks. ‘It’s not big enough for them to want to see you upstairs, but I’d like to scan you again just to be sure’. Ominous, but I’m not convinced. By this time I can feel my boy leaping about plenty more than his sister ever did.

Another two weeks later –a different sonographer says the ventricle has grown. So now the thing that was a bit too big is a bit bigger. I’m still not convinced. There’s talk of being sent upstairs, ‘but don’t panic’. After lots of toing and froing in and out of the room to verify things with superiors while I wait with a sticky belly, I finally cut her off mid-flow. ‘What’s upstairs?’ (feeling a little Orwellian), ‘The Fetal Care Unit’. I’d rather call it the Fetal Scare Unit. ‘They will scan you in more detail, you can make an appointment, it won’t be today.’ Another scurry out of the room and back. ‘They can see you at 2.15 today’.
This ‘probably nothing to worry about’ issue is suddenly seeming quite urgent.

I cycle home. I play with BB in the kitchen while Dad hoovers the crumby front room. I make a toasted sandwich which I hastily wrap in tinfoil and race back to the hospital. This time, ‘Upstairs’.

I get there just in time. I stuff the sandwich in my face in the shortest time feasible. I wait. I wait. People with clipboards and dangly ID cards come through and expertly avoid my eyes. I ask the receptionists to check if there’s been any mistake. They respond defensively and patronisingly and laugh to each other when I sit back down. I wait. I wait. I daren’t ask them again. One of them takes pity on me when it’s nearing two hours and checks. There’s been a mistake. The doctors have missed my name off the list.

Soon I get to have eye-contact with the previously aloof people. I say, ‘Has it been very busy today?’
‘Yes, it’s been busy.’
‘I’ve been waiting for two hours.’
‘Oh dear’.

By this time I’m feeling rather miffed.

So now it’s time to get squirted with gel again on another bench with the obligatory pillow which isn’t quite high enough to rest your head on.

‘Are you comfortable?’
(No, I’ve been told there’s something wrong in my baby’s brain. I waited two hours, you refused to apologise, I’m rather miffed, and this pillow isn’t quite high enough to rest my head on).

’Yes’.

She is very kind and very clear about what the concern is. If this ventricle continues to grow, it could mean a number of things. All of them some kind of brain impairment. If it stays the same, it could well be just an abnormality that has no effect at all on the person’s life.

A lot of questions.
‘Did you have your Downs Syndrome check?’
‘Yes.’
‘Did you get the results?’
‘No, I don’t think so’
‘Have you been taking folic acid since the beginning?
‘Yes’
(There was a gap of a month or so before I got it together to take it, and sometimes I forget. But my breakfast cereal has it in too. Could I have given my baby brain damage by not ingesting enough folic acid?)
‘You might have been exposed to a dangerous virus without knowing it.’
Oh dear.

There’s no fun screen to watch in this room. The sonographer has a screen, but I can’t see it. I fix on the clock wondering if I’ll make my 5.00 piano lesson. The scanning stick goes back and forth over my belly. She stares at the screen. I stare at the clock. After about 20 minutes she reassures me that her silence doesn’t mean she’s finding lots of things wrong with the baby. I’m very happy to hear this, but it’s a little too late. She resumes scanning, and I feel tears running out of my left eye and into my ear. Perhaps if I lie still, they’ll just dry and no-one will notice.

40 minutes now and the right eye has become a problem, because those tears are forming a pool between my eye and my nose. A quick flick. She didn’t notice.

‘Ok, here’s some tissues to wipe the gel off, I’ll just get my supervisor to verify my findings. I don’t see anything bad.
At this stage, what’s bad?
‘If you can wait here, we’ll be a few minutes.’
‘Ok, I need to ring my client to tell her I’m running late.

No time. The supervisor is already here, and she wants me back on the bench with the pillow and the gel.
More scanning. More silence. Those pesky eyes are at it again. I ask the first sonographer sitting on the other side of the bed to pass my phone so I can send a text. Great idea! Sending a text will keep those tears at bay. More scanning. I focus on the ceiling. I’m doing really well now.
This scan lasts half an hour, and afterwards I’m offered an MRI scan for the baby, a blood test to see if this abnormality has been caused by a virus, and a procedure called amniocentesis to rule out downs syndrome. There’s a 1 in 200 risk of miscarriage. I say, ‘I don’t think I have a high risk of miscarriage, I’ll have it. Because by now I’m sold and full of fear.

I go to the loo and think about my bike leaning up outside.

I return to the room and sign a consent form to say that I know the risk of miscarriage, and hey, I’m fine with that.

I ask about cycling home – no, no, no. Ok I’ll just leave my bike here and get a taxi home. The thought of arriving home in a taxi having abandoned my bike makes me feel suddenly very vulnerable. Taxi isn’t really part of my vocabulary.

‘Don’t cycle or do anything strenuous like lots of shopping for a few days’.

Since when was shopping strenuous?

Time to get back on the bench with the pillow and the gel. I hadn’t quite realised we were going to do it then and there, but there’s no time like the present. I guess I’ll have to postpone the lesson to another day.

This time, the sonographer tilts the screen so I can see my son, all cosy in his bubble and looking for all the world like a perfect baby. There’s lots of prodding and discussion about where would be the most harmless place to put a needle right into the bubble. I watch my baby. Those darn eyes are back with a vengeance. Still, nobody seems to have noticed.

What am I doing? I haven’t even discussed this with Dad. If I do have a miscarriage after this, I’ll always blame myself for killing our baby. AND I DON’T THINK THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH HIM.

‘I’ll hold the needle in place and the midwife will come and suck up the fluid, then we’re done’.

‘Ok’.

She moves away, and I’m completely given away by loud sniffles turning into sobs. ‘I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing, I croak.

Now everything is halted, the wheels of this accelerating machine I’ve found myself on grind to a halt.

‘Don’t feel pressured. Go home, discuss it with your husband and you can call us any day this week if you would like the test.

I now have a face like a beetroot and the eyes won’t stop streaming.

They take me to a private room rather than the waiting area so I can be a beetroot in peace. I see I have a missed call from Dad, but I’m too choked to speak right now. I wait for what seems like ages then a nurse comes in to do the blood test. We talk (I croak) about the amniocentesis. ‘Don’t worry, you can call us any time this week if you still want it done.’
I ask why not next week or the week after.
‘it can’t be too close to 24 weeks, as that’s our cut-off point where we consider it too late to perform a termination’.
Are we really talking about aborting this bouncy boy I’ve been seeing such a lot of recently?

I have to wait some more while the report of today is written up. It seems like another age, I try and sniff some fresh air out of the narrow opening of the window. There’s some thunder in the sky. I really want to go home.
At last I can go, they hand me the report and an appointment card for my next scan.

‘We got the results of your Downs Syndrome test’ they say, ‘your risk is very low, 1 in 12000.’

It was so great to see BB when I got in, all smiles and ‘mummmy!’

The next day Dad got a call at work to say they wanted to see me the next morning for an MRI scan. I phoned them and booked it.


A long time has gone by. How do mothers keep blogs? Maybe the blog is their only project after their offspring. They’re not also trying to publish piano duets, sing in choirs or attempting to save the world through the medium of song. Maybe they’ve discovered the ability to stop time at will. I’d like to keep some sort of record of how it was in these fleeting early years. Even if they don’t feel fleeting at the time.

BB is one year and a half. She is a blooming bouncing beautiful bossy girl. Perhaps I should call her BBBB. It’s great to see her face appearing out of the babyness. So many complex expressions flitting across her perfect face. She sometimes calls me Mummy. Sometimes Mammma sounding very Italian, lingering on the mmm and swooping up and down in tone. She just started walking, just figuring out that it’s easier to use your feet to transport yourself across a room than waddle along on your poor, sore knees.

We did sort out her sleep patterns, simple really – stop breastfeeding her in the morning. The trouble is I’ve heard that ending breastfeeding can make you extra fertile. It certainly worked for us. Ooh lordy, there’s a second one on the way.

Last week I sang in a concert at the Royal Festival Hall with my choir. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with the wonderful Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Not to be missed, but the late nights for rehearsals in the run-up to it were punishing for someone who usually goes to bed near 9 in order to survive being awake any time from 4 am the next day. The chorus rehearses two nights a week, but this week the rehearsals were Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Friday was the concert. I felt like death warmed up on the day of the concert, but knew I would find a second wind. The piece is a quite a gruelling tour de force for the sopranos (as well as being stomach-achingly beautiful) but I was able to stay standing till the end and sing the last note without completely losing my voice, so I count my performance as a success.

Anyway, dragging my tired personage across Waterloo Bridge and thinking how this vista of London doesn’t inspire the same excitement in me as it did when I was wide-eyed and younger, I was presented with this-

On the wall of the Hayward Gallery was projected the question, ‘How are you sleeping these days?’ How apt. Another soprano in the choir who is a grandma was telling me how her son got in some sleep specialists to sort their terrible broken nights with their toddler. It cost 250 quid and it has worked. She sent me a copy of the ‘task form’ detailing all the things the parents had to do to get the boy sleeping through the night. BB isn’t as extreme a case as Stanley, but she’s still up way before the dawn. This is what we are going to try-

  • Set a small lamp up in his room, with a low wattage bulb, 10-12 watts. Make sure he can see it from his bed.
  • Connect the lamp to a timer switch and set it to 6.45am.
  • If he wakes and the lamp is on, go and get him up immediately – show Stanley the lamp and explain that he can now get up.
  • If the lamp has not come on, he must wait until it is on before you get him up

The problem may be that BB has no way of knowing when it’s morning. I have prepared our lamp and timer, only l set it for 6.00. No good aiming to high! BB has been unwell these last few weeks, but is much better now. Fighting fit, so battle must commence. Last night I had her out of the cot at 3.15. This is no good! One daunting thing is that tonight when playing before bed, she learned how to stand up in her cot. Lord help us.

BB’s birthday will always come with the arrival of the first conker, leaves beginning to turn red and gold, that sudden change in atmosphere, crisp mornings and smoky air. I wanted her to have the heat and carefree fun of a summer birthday, but I kind of like it this way. Our back garden, otherwise known as Ravenscourt Park has new features.

Sweet chestnuts! The trees full to bursting tease you for a while. Then a feast falls down for the squirrels, me and Dad and some Chinese people with carrier bags. One day we got a particularly good harvest when scores of bright green rowdy parakeets (an every-day West London sight) were squabbling and bashing through the branches.

Score them in a cross with a knife, put them in the microwave for a few minutes, sprinkle a little salt. Yummy! Can’t wait to go sweet chestnut hunting with BB.

       

An empty adventure playground. The kids have gone back to school and left a brand new wooden adventure playground entirely for me and BB. She likes the big chunky roundabout and the extra wide slide.

       

Colours!

        

spot the ladybirds.

        

It’s a crisp autumn day. Dad and I went out last night for the first time and left BB with a babysitter (my mate with five kids who has furnished our house with all the baby stuff you could possibly need. BB couldn’t be in safer hands). I got called at the last minute to play a gig with our old band. It was a long setlist with three new songs. I hadn’t played the old ones for a year and a half. This morning, though slightly groggy, I feel suddenly light on responsibility. What a wonderful feeling! I guess since I was asked last Tuesday my mind has been full of when am I going to find time to practice, how will I make the rehearsal after teaching, coping with suddenly not going to bed at 9 but still getting up at 5. How am I going to organise cover for BB and make the incredibly early soundcheck. BB is quite demanding, she’s becoming a toddler and needs fresh air and continuous entertainment! Apparently me playing an hour of accordion doesn’t count. She does let me play a bit of piano if I keep giving her cheesy grins over my shoulder.

Yesterday was quite intense. Making sure I had all my stuff ready, trying to snatch a bit of essential practice in here and there of the tunes I hadn’t yet managed to play through, taking BB to ‘baby stay and play’ at the children’s centre (what a joy – more about this later), doing the washing, the battle that lunch has become. Taking BB on the bike to buy snacks for the babysitter and a quick dinner for us, the battle that dinner has become. Dad back covered in dust, quickly jumps in the bath, handover, I run out to the car, speed outrageously along the A40, set foot on stage at KOKO, Camden for the soundcheck at 5.30 on the dot. I made it! What a beautiful venue. Looking out at the round, tiered theatre from the stage, all dark wood and red lights is enchanting.

Inbetween having dots painted on my face and doing some sneaky last-minute practice on a piano backstage I give Dad a ring. Everything’s fine! Except he has to confide that there was one point at bathtime when staring exhaustedly into space, he looked down just in time to see BB suddenly slip under. An image of her panicked little face beneath the water was burned into his memory, and she was completely freaked out for the rest of the evening. Oh dear. Poor BB, poor Dad.

It’s fair to say Gabby pulled out a few stops for this one. Apart from us Other Animals, there was a samba band, a large brass band, a troupe of dancers and two aerialists spinning around on silks above our heads. Gabby wore a dress like a little salt cellar. Halfway through she changed out of this, into a dress like a large salt cellar. I (who had said to Dad beforehand, ‘I won’t let them backcomb my hair’) had my hair backcombed into a large bun on the top of my head. The gig went really well. I wasn’t on top of my game, but managed not to completely embarrass myself!

Dad, who in the days when he was the bass player railed against the gigs ‘becoming a circus act’ enjoyed it immensely from the audience and said it was all wonderful. Driving home together on our well-trodden route back from many a midnight gig in the past, he told me about his journey to the venue on the tube and the shock of being out late. ‘The people you see at night are a completely different animal to those you see in the park at 7 a.m.’ At Kings Cross he had looked around, feeling a little vulnerable and bewildered and saw a bloke in full combat gear, limping along like he’d just stepped out of Vietnam. He was closely followed by a man in rugby shorts and two bleeding knees.

Back home to relieve my fantastic friend, who sped off towards Ruislip, leaving one sleeping child to get back to her five. What a trooper. Before she left, I enquired, ‘Did Dad tell you that he nearly drowned BB before you arrived? ‘Ha, I’ve nearly drowned all of mine in that baby bath at one point or other’.

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