Sunday, 29 December 2013

Holiday in pictures

This is just a quick hello. We've been cocooned away for a little, savouring the last days of solitude and peace this time has afforded. But here, succumbing to popular demand, I present you with a visual record of some of my favourite moments and random discoveries during the last few weeks.

Much as I do love all the syrupy sweetness of the holidays (confession: I could happily listen to Last Christmas on loop and not gag), I know that many of us who are vulnerable, hurting or feeling isolated struggle to feel the jollity of this season. All the artifice of the happy families stuff can feel forced. Like salt in the wound for those of us whose families don't look like we hoped they would, or when someone is missing. I know there have been disappointments and reasons for hope in this community in recent days (as in life), and although I haven't had the time to comment lately, you have all been on my mind.

In our own quiet holiday celebrations this year - when we miss most acutely those who we wish were here but aren't, and have tried to leave space to honour our sadness as well as joy - H and I have had some bitter (more on which later) and some sweet. Today I'm sharing the sweet, with the genuine hope that, if you are facing darkness, you too shall find some small light which brings hope and comfort. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Pregnancy, the Austrian way

When, on something of a whim, we booked this lovely holiday (contents thus far: slow food and long walks followed by longer naps), it meant having to rearrange our 16 week appointment so that we could be followed here. After all the worry that once again surfaced with our last bloodwork results, we were loath to just skip entirely a chance at reassurance, yet another confirmation that everything looks good and is progressing well for our little seedling. Our appointment with a local OB could not have gone better, even if there were some marked cultural shifts in, let's say the care regimen, from that to which we're accustomed in the UK.

We hauled ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn (medical appointments start early here!) and made our way to the clinic; for the first time, I think the busyness and fatigue of the previous days' travel kept my mind from any nerves which usually precede such appointments.

The warm yet state-of-the-art atmosphere of the waiting area was quickly offset by the icy welcome we received from the receptionist, who immediately sized us up as the foreign interlopers we were and informed us that as it was a busy day, she could give no indication of the wait ahead. Even at 7 o'clock in the morning, the clinic was full; immediately noticeable though, was the absence of any dads. At our clinic appointments in England, it is the exception rather than the rule that a pregnant woman will attend such an appointment sans partner. While we waited to be called in, we saw eight patients come and go solo, while H was the only dude anywhere in sight. <cultural shift the first> Given their reputation for, erm...less than progressive gender roles in this country, I suppose it should be unsurprising, but it surprised the sensibilities of this couple nonetheless. I'm lucky who are we kidding, what I really mean is discerning in that my own Austrian is a clear exception to this trend. 

We didn't in the end have to wait long to be called in, and the doctor herself was as warm and welcoming as her receptionist was frosty. She spent a great deal of time going over our history, listening to any concerns, reassuring as that all looked well, and examining me and little seedling. <and here we encounter cultural shift the second> So yes, the Austrians can claim many cultural idiosyncrasies, but unnecessary modesty is not among them. These straightforward, efficient people see no reason to cover up where clinical bodily matters are concerned, and thus, wenn in Wein, as it were...Behind a pointless flimsy partition I stripped from the waist down (save my socks!) and progressed from doctor's office to exam room stirrups to ultrasound room without so much as a crappy paper, ass-hanging-out-the-back hospital gown. Wie natürlich!

Alright then; cervix looks good, blood pressure looks good. My weight is down (!) 2 kgs from my 13 week weigh-in, but since the little seedling is a week ahead in terms of its own weight gain we see who's taking priority here no worries. And finally we get as far as the u/s room. And again, all is clearly set up to accommodate doctor, pregnant lady patient, and...nope, no partner. I mean, obviously. Why ever would you want your husband/wife there with you?! H had to crunch in at the foot of the examining table and lean over the doctor as she wielded the wand. (In all the u/s rooms I've been to before, the table was set up with the u/s machinery one one side, and a chair for the hand-holding partner on the other.)  

Still, it was worth it; what the Austrians lack in gender equality they make up for in technology. (And isn't that just the sum of every stereotype ever produced about the Germanic peoples? No, I am not above gross cultural stereotyping, it seems.) We got a good 25 minutes of u/s time, as she toured us around every little inch and crevice of little seedling's ever-developing form. We got to see the lobes of the brain and an adorable little alien-esque spinal column and each individual rib. So cool. In fact, I'm pretty sure that what we got today was equivalent to the 'special' level II genetic scan that we'll have next month. She even thought she detected little seedling's sex, but again, the 19 week scan should confirm that, so I'm keeping schtum for now. 

Alles gut?, I nervously queried in my still-clumsy German. 'Alles sehr gut', she replied. 'Wunderbar! Eine schönes Baby'. A beautiful baby. We could not possibly have received a better Christmas gift.


Despite my own weight loss, the little seedling continues unperturbed, and my baby belly is no longer just the overhang of middle age spread a real thing now. We waited until arriving here to shop for maternity stuff, because the products are both cheaper and better quality than in England. So, yesterday we took ourselves off to the shops accordingly. This experience was surreal in more ways than one. First, there is the now obvious fact that...uh, hello, I have an actual (yes, actually real) bump! Strange days indeed. I still can't quite wrap my head around it. 

However, yet more bizarre entertaining still was the exchange I had with the sales clerk when I asked to be directed to the maternity wear, using my available German vocabulary for 'pregnancy' and 'maternity'. She looked at me quizzically, until I mimed my expanding bulge, when recognition set in; 'ah', she said, 'you mean Umstandsmode!'. Uh, ok...I guess so? <cultural shift the third> The literal translation for this word, apparently the commonplace descriptor in German, is 'condition clothing'. And there we found it, all the cheap and expertly made European apparel a pregnant lady could want, under the department marked, yes, Condition Clothing.

I'd have choice words in response to that one, but my delicate, erm, condition prevents me from getting too worked up. Now now, dear, think of the baby.

Let's do the time warp again. Source

Thursday, 12 December 2013

In the words of Freddy Mercury (and a little German too)

Deep breath.

The last few weeks have been stressful. There was the difficult news we received last week, obviously, to which we are still adjusting. Ultimately it wasn't so much the test results themselves that threw me, or even the possibility of a diagnosis that comes with that. It was the sobering reminder, intruding into my blissed-out pregnancy haze, that anything can happen at any moment, and that often, no matter how fiercely we love our babies, there is nothing we can do about it. It doesn't bear further thinking about actually, and so as I said, we have instead focused on processing the possibilities before us as we move forward.

But naturally, daily life doesn't stop for that process of adjustment; work has been especially hectic recently, with me taking on some particularly high-needs clients while also racing to perfect my Grooveshark holiday playlist meet many a proposal-writing deadline. While H precipitously careens towards the final completion of his thesis and with most days spent in the library 'til the wee hours, I feel like the only time I do see my husband lately is for those anxiously and nervously anticipated hospital visits.We also spent an over-extended Hanukkah week, travelling to events in London, socializing lots and cooking for 20+ people, and then there are my final rehearsals for the holiday performances with my singing group this weekend. It hasn't all been scary and stressful; some of it has been fun and lots of it very productive. But all of it busy, not leaving us much time for much of anything.

But forget about all that for the time being, because, dear readers.....on Sunday afternoon we set off for nearly three weeks of holidays in Austria and Germany, during which we'll have ample time to catch our breath, (re)count our blessings and just be together as a little family. <little happy dance> We prefer our holidays low-key and don't go in for any of the prevalent consumerist frenzy. There'll be some obligatory family engagements, but for much of the time it'll be just H and I, while we house-sit for his folks as they're abroad. Long hikes in what are sure to be enchanting snowy landscapes, chancing upon alpine huts offering warming food and crackling log fires, exploring ancient castle ruins. Christmas markets and gingerbread and chocolate and twinkling lights and woolly socks and sleigh rides and skiing. (And oh yes, the gluten free diet will be violated.)

Aaah. Deep breath. I can't wait.

In German there is a word for all this: Gemütlichkeit, which my German/English dictionary defines as any situation 'inducing a cheerful mood, peace of mind, a sense of belonging, coziness and unhurry'. Yep, sounds like just what the doctor ordered. 

And the Austrians excel at it, particularly at Christmas. You guys, they are the Kings of Christmas. It's like being dropped into a Santa's village/Sound of Music mashup, with really good home cooking on the side. (And to balance out the saccharine sweetness of that image, they have this badass guy as part of the traditional festivities too.) Every corner of every street festooned with markers of the holiday season, but (with apologies to those who are fans of the more-is-more-at-Christmas school of decorating), not in a tacky way. No tinsel or glitter, but rustic and homespun and charming. Every open space is transformed into a tiny wonderland of a Christmas Market; little wooden huts selling the famous gingerbread and stollen and glühwein (though this year it'll be only the kinderpunsch for me) and impromptu outdoor, mittened social gatherings that seem to burst out spontaneously as everyone stops in their busy workaday lives (not that the Viennese are well-known for that), to slow down, smile (not that the Viennese are well-known for that) and just savour. And rampant fire hazard be damned real candles on the Christmas trees. On everything. It's so warm and cozy and contagiously delightful in a simple kind of way. It makes my heart happy.

And really, that's what I'm wishing for all of us in these waning days of 2013. I hope that wherever this finds you, you may encounter moments that bring you peace of mind, a sense of belonging, coziness and unhurry. May our hearts be happy and find peace, in whatever form it comes.

In looking back on my feelings towards the year that is passing, I think Freddy and Co. really say it best.*

* Also, how can you not love the 'stache/tank top/santa hat combo?

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Not the worst news

Just when you think you're safely out of the danger zone (if such a thing exists). Just when we finally began allowing ourselves to feel really hopeful and let unadulterated happiness in. Just when we were starting to breath again.

We got the bloodwork results from our combined NT screening (after the nuchal fold itself measuring perfectly) and they show an extremely high risk of Down's syndrome; 1:35. Given my age, I suppose we knew there was a heightened risk, but it still broke me to see H, overcome with tears of fear and exhaustion, look at me and say 'I knew we shouldn't have let ourselves hope'.  

They asked us to come in right away to discuss things with the screening midwife. When we were ushered into one of those 'nice' hospital rooms with the sofas and tea making facilities and boxes of tissues, I think both H and I were petrified; those are the kinds of places you go to hear the Very Bad News. The specialist midwife was lovely and patient and answered all of our questions. They are not at this point worried about any other, more dangerous trisomies, which should already have been picked up on u/s. We had an appointment with our Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist booked for Friday anyway, so after this encounter it was good to have the extra time for discussion and to go over any questions we still had. Not that we managed to really be coherent enough to compose any, or focussed enough to really take in the answers that were proffered. We did, however, get a completely unsolicited look at the little seedling again; we weren't expecting this, having just had a scan a week earlier, but Dr B offered and who were we to decline? (Have I mentioned that I'm a little bit in love with our doctor?) And there s/he was, bouncing around without a care in the world, looking pumped up on too much caffeine or sugary cereal for all the vigorous jumping around it was doing. This time we got to hear the heartbeat too. Amazing. This is one strong baby; I just feel that.

It's been a very tumultuous few days. I've gone from devastated and terrified that any heightened risk factors might put this pregnancy in jeopardy, to a sense of 'ok, we can do this', to utter confusion over what I can, should, might be feeling.

Part of that has to do with all the what next? issues we now have to consider. We were offered further screening; we're too late in the pregnancy for a CVS but our options now include an amniocentesis and level two genetic anomaly scan. (And before anyone suggests it, no, the MaterniT21 test is not available here in the UK, even privately. From a bioethical perspective - to do more with the history of scandal surrounding the company that holds the patent rather than the test per se - I am not sure how we'd feel about it anyway.)

Given our history of loss and how hard we've struggled to get here, not to mention how protective we feel of the little seedling, it would feel crazy to undergo any testing that puts us at risk of miscarriage, no matter how small. So I don't think we'll pursue an amnio. We can be booked in for a high level genetic scan carried out by a specialist (rather than just a technician) at 19 weeks. This might detect any 'soft markers' for Down's, but like the combined screening of NT scan and bloodwork, it can give you only a probability; it's not a diagnostic test.

Even if we got a conclusive answer from an amnio, we wouldn't consider a termination because of a diagnosis of Down's syndrome. It couldn't possibly make us love our baby any less, and really, as two highly educated people without any other children to demand our time and attention, we are pretty well placed to cope with such an eventuality and give our little seedling the best possible upbringing regardless of its level of ability. We've fought too hard to get here. So the invasive, risky procedures seem pointless, except insofar as perhaps preparing us for that eventuality.

Of course, there's a big part of me that wants to crumple up on the floor and howl, to indulge in all kinds of I knew it thinking about how we were never going to be allowed the true, simple joys of pregnancy without fear and complication. If this was always going to be true anyway, given our history, it's now that much moreso. No stress-free, happy pregnancy here. But actually, I don't want to come across all Why me?, because really, why not me? I know I'm no one special. Although it can be galling to watch how some people (usually the nasty ones, or so it seems) can breeze through life unscathed and blissfully unaware of the harsher difficulties that some of us face in more than our fair share, the truth is, people get shitty breaks all the time. This is far from the worst among them.

For months, years, I lamented and implored the fertility gods to just allow us one chance at a healthy, happy, living baby, and nothing has fundamentally changed in that. Our little seedling is still that chance. We're still lucky beyond measure, and best of all, we know it.

I'm still processing all this, and don't yet know what I think or feel, but one thing is true: this is not the worst news. Even if it may not look as I expected it to look when I have often repeated that simple, comforting incantation, somehow I still have to believe that everything is going to be alright. Screw it; I'm going to keep hoping.

Thursday, 5 December 2013


Allow me a brief interlude in all my shiny, happy talk about blissed out babies and real OB appointments, for a missive of a more bilious nature. Those of you who have been reading for a while may remember I have previously on these pages both praised the NHS for its comprehensive, free-access care and decried it's insensitivity.

(I have to say, that while we are blessed to live in a society that - for now - continues to view high quality healthcare as a fundamental right of citizenship [or even, as in our case, residence], we have also been on the receiving end of that disinterested attitude on more than one occasion. But today I'm here to rant in a more generalized way.)

The universal healthcare of the UK's National Health Service: weighing in on the generosity end of the spectrum, there is the fact that all pregnant women in the UK receive what is called a Maternity Exemption Certificate, entitling the bearer to totally free prescriptions of any kind, as well as dental coverage, for the duration of their pregnancy and until the first birthday of their child. Wonderful.

At the other, less humane end of the spectrum, well...New levels of insensitivity have been reached today people.

After filling out a form with my midwife about a week ago, I received my certificate in the mail this week. Below the instructions for use, under a section entitled 'Important Information', alongside routine details of what to do in the event your address changes, etc, there was the following:

If you have a miscarriage within the first 24 weeks of your pregnancy, please return your certificate to us. (If your baby is stillborn after 24 weeks, you can keep it. Yay!)

Subtext: because really, if your sorry uterus can't even manage the job of carrying a baby to a minimally respectable point at which it is considered a death rather than just release of the 'products of conception', what right do you have to the privileges enjoyed by other, more effortlessly fecund women?

Ah, all the tiny, effortlessly cruel ways in which the world reminds us of our failings, of how we just don't qualify, of how we're not quite enough.

Okay, okay, I get it...Age of Austerity, economic bottom line, risk of welfare fraud, cold, heartless neo Thatcherism, yadda, yadda, yadda...

But seriously? Seriously NHS?! You can't come up with a more appropriate way of keeping tabs on the allocation of the state's resources, or show even the slightest hint of compassion in the context of your bloated bureaucracy?

I know that when I lost my babies, in the midst of all the grieving and gnawing pain and self-loathing, one of my absolute top priorities was to undertake the paperwork necessary to keep me in good standing with my healthcare registration status.

Honestly, I'm not even sure how to appropriately convey the sense of repugnance I feel at this piece of 'information' and the way in which it is delivered, because it would involve a string of expletives so long and ugly I would doubtless alienate the more genteel among my readers and belie my true, less-than-ladylike nature.

If, however, this stokes the fires of your righteous indignation as it did mine, fellow IFers, fellow loss moms, well then, please feel free to let loose with as many colorful expletives as you care to share.

I'll start us off: Fucking, thoughtless, asshole, inhuman, dickhead, douchebag wankers.

<End rant>

Does not qualify as humane treatment

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tiny triumphs

1) Yesterday when I updated on the hourly daily pregnancy count, I shaved a day off without even realizing it. I cheated myself of one hard-earned day of pregnancy! 13w5d today (and not, as I reported in my last post, 4). The fact that I could casually forget the day-to-day pregnancy count that has been sustaining me through these breath-holding, nerve-wracking early weeks feels to me like concrete evidence that I'm not only coping with the crazy, I'm even dwelling in moments of natural calm. It looks like hope. <happy little victory dance>

We were sitting in bed last night, indulging in our new nightly baby-bonding ritual of reading a page from our day-to-day pregnancy guide (finally purchased last week in a leap of faith [and can I just add here that, nice as this nightly ritual is, it's disappointing to see how many pregnancy books sideline the dad almost completely. I know us ladies are the ones with the bodily experiences, but still...]), checking up on little seedling's progress, when H pointed out my mistake.

Only 184 days to go! Not that anyone's counting.

2) And speaking of said pregnancy guide, I now have it on good authority that my episodes of weird, nocturnal noise-making can indeed be blamed on pregnancy. Ha! Totally legit.

* This post has no accompanying image. Why? Because, DON'T EVER DO A GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH FOR 'PREGNANCY COUNTDOWN', even, like me, in a facetious way. Seriously, it will make you want to gag.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

First flutters and baby Buddhas

So, December. Seriously, when did that happen? After so many weeks in which every agonizing second seemed to crawl by, allowing me too much time to over-analyze ever twinge, post-pee toilet paper wipe and scary what if thought in painful, terrifying slow motion, this past week has flown past at lightening speed. Mammoth Hanukkah latke-making (and eating) sessions, trips into London to see the exciting Paul Klee exhibition I mentioned, and my performance in a holiday-themed flashmob organized by my choral group as well as less joyful, more stressy work deadlines, have all helped to fill the week and catapult us into this final month of 2013.

But really, mostly, there is this: I am now 13w3d 13w4d into a pregnancy in which our little seedling gives every indication of being happy and healthy in there, progressing without complication. I can't really believe it, the good fortune, the truth of it all. I know I've said it before, but even (especially) when that second line appeared, I never imagined we'd make it this far. Second trimester! Mind blowing.

Last Wednesday was our nuchal translucency screening, and all appears normal (we'll have more conclusive results when the accompanying bloodwork comes back in another week). We had a lovely u/s tech who spent a lot of time touring us around each of little seedling's appendages, including already-kissable no maternal bias here, I swear upturned nose, miniature and perfectly round little toes on tiny flailing feet. And this time, I think there could be no mistaking that it was mild annoyance (rather than delight) that caused said kicking. S/he kicked up a fuss when ordered, so that the tech could get her nuchal fold measurements, but was otherwise content to be left alone and continue it's chilled out, intrauterine dozing.

How am I able to hypothesize? Well, this past week has seen another amazing development: little seedling has started to oblige with the concrete, anthropic evidence that I have been so craving; I am beginning to feel distinct movement. I know this is incredibly, unusually lucky, but I had similarly early sensations of movement with S (at around 15 weeks), so I guess my body just tunes into that stuff somehow. If I'm sitting or lying quite still, I'll get a very pronounced whooshing feeling, followed by little flutters. It's strange and amazing and miraculous.

And there have been exactly two times this week when little seedling has felt the urge to flail with such notable intensity. The first was during a rather fraught and confrontational 'discussion' with my mother last Sunday (worthy of a post in itself), when emotions ran high. The second was when H and I went to the movies to see the rather tense and suspenseful Captain Phillips the evening after the scan, the tone of which kept me for large parts of the film on the edge of my seat and not just because of necessary bathroom breaks. <Note to fellow pregnant readers out there: films which take place exclusively on the open waters of the ocean, complete with naturalist, jerky camera work conveying the surging crest of 30-foot waves, are not advised when morning sickness might be an issue. And the film wasn't that great, either.>

Anyway, put together with little seedling's reluctance to dance for the u/s tech, these bouts of movement in the face of (actual or fictional) tense, stressful situations have led H and I to developed an image of this baby as blissed-out, slightly languorous, and certainly conflict-avoidant. Basically, I'm harbouring a tiny baby Buddha. Or an adorable sloth. << weirdly cute image right there...

Whether through fervent parental daydreams or actual human development remains to be seen, but it's kind of fun to think about how quickly distinct personality traits suggest themselves.   

I wonder if little seedling will also be as corpulent.

Of course, things aren't all fluffy bunnies and unicorn farts around here, and even though I haven't been blogging quite so much lately, I'm sure I'll soon be back with the other side of the coin. But while that stuff too has it's important place, for today I'm continuing to work on all the good stuff. The fullness of life. Right here, right now.

And Happy Hanukkah/Thanksgiving to those celebrating this week!