Sunday, July 31, 2005

We're running out of weekends

Last night before going to bed I made a list of things I wanted to get done today. Right at the top was "Clear the shed", followed by an optimistically long list of follow-up activities that seemed achievable after a bottle of Old Speckled Hen.

Today I cleared the shed.

OK, so getting up at 10.30 then having a nice brunch wasn't exactly flying out of the blocks, but the shed turned out to be a more formidable opponent than I had counted on. But by this evening most of its former contents was in the tip and the things we decided to keep were looking much more presentable.

It's a chain reaction. Emptying junk from the shed makes space so that I can move in things from the conservatory, which makes space in there to move in some furniture from the living room, which in turn makes space in the living room... which we will need for Bump. Life in a 2-bedroom house requires a merciless streak as we throw things out to make space. It's a slow process but the phrase "we are getting there" is being uttered increasingly frequently.

I feel like everything is starting to come together. The buggy has arrived, the nursery is finished (bar the back of the wardrobe!), the travel cot and bouncy chair have arrived, the baby monitor and the baby carrier (courtesy of Hayley's friend Bev) have arrived. And some time within the next five and a half weeks a little person will arrive with no knowledge of all this preparation and no concept of just how much we've been looking forward to meeting them.

Mums pregnant with boys may be less forgetful

In recent blog entries I reported that:
- I am fairly convinced Bump will turn out to be a girl,
- Hayley has become very forgetful in late pregnancy.
So this article (originally from Reuters) which Hayley came across yesterday in "Pregnancy, baby and you" magazine made us smile.

Dateline: Vancouver, British Columbia - Mothers pregnant with boys may be less forgetful than those carrying girls, Canadian researchers said on Tuesday.

The researchers said they found evidence that women who gave birth to boys consistently outperformed moms of girls in tests that specifically taxed memory in areas of listening, computational and visualization skills.

"When we set out to look at the effects of pregnancy on cognition, we weren't thinking of the sex of the fetus, so we were shocked by our results," said study leader Neil Watson, a Simon Fraser University psychology professor.

Watson said the results suggest that an "unknown fetal-derived factor" that differs between male and female fetuses may have an influence on the mother's cognition.

The researchers' findings will be published in the May 12 findings of the journal NeuroReport. (:/)

Friday, July 29, 2005

I remember you

Hayley has had a head like a sieve this week. She can't remember names, the times or dates of her appointments or even everyday words.

For example, yesterday she cancelled the pedicure she had planned because she had an aromatherapy appointment at the hospital that clashed with it. (She's starting to sound a bit pampered, I know. But at 8 months she is definitely starting to deserve it!) However, she had got the date wrong and so she had cancelled the treat for her feet for no reason. This sort of jumbling of dates is commonplace for her at the moment.

Other things she has forgotten are: a hair appointment; the milk she specifically went to the shop to buy; the name of the colleague who has sat next to her for the last 18 months.

I may start to wear a name badge.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ultrasound scan at 36 weeks

Click the photo for a larger image.

See the previous entry for the story of the day.

Upside down

This afternoon we went to the hospital find out whether the midwife's assertion on Tuesday that she was "80% sure the baby is breach" was borne out by an ultrasound scan.

Funnily, when the sonographer first put the scanner on Hayley's tummy today my mind was still pondering whether we might notice the baby's gender after keeping it a surprise for all this time. But as soon as she placed the scanner at the base of the bump I saw a large object which she quickly confirmed was the baby's head. What a fantastic sight it was. Our Bump isn't breach after all!

She went on to check out one or two other dimensions and we clearly saw an arm and a hand. The baby's head was pointing down with one foot up under Hayley's ribs and another slightly to the side. Finally she managed to capture an image with part of the baby's face and printed it for us free of charge.

So we didn't need our follow-up appointment at the Ante-natal clinic and we went home very happy. Well, perhaps those of us who won't have to go through labour went home slightly more ecstatic than those who will.

Before we left we went to see one of Hayley's fellow mothers-to-be from our ante-natal classes upstairs in one of the maternity wards. She is 35 weeks pregnant and her baby has lost some weight recently. She also has little amniotic fluid left so she is being monitored until the doctors believe they need to perform a c-section. They are trying to leave it as late as possible.

We chatted away and Hayley was tickled to find she has the same nocturnal experiences of frequent trips to the loo for a tiny dribble and of taking an age to get in and out of bed. She also told us that one night she couldn't find her "bump pillow" after a trip to the loo and after searching fruitlessly in the dark found it under her partner's "curry belly"!

Tonight I have put the scan picture on Flickr but everyone who has seen it so far seems to be having trouble making out the face. Well, at least a blurry image still keeps us in blissful ignorance about the gender.

Turn baby turn

We spent yesterday reading up on the procedure the doctors may use to turn the baby from a breach position and also on ways to persuade the baby to turn without physically intervening.

Acupuncture is apparently very successful at turning the baby from a breach position in China and Japan, specifically a combination of acupuncture and moxibustion is used between 32 and 36 weeks.

Hayley also read that playing music to the baby and shining a torch up from "down below" can cause the baby to turn towards it. So yesterday afternoon she lay on the bed with the radio playing (not too loudly) resting on her legs and lower abdomen. The baby became quite active for a while but probably not enough to have turned.

We also read that playing the mother's voice from down below can cause the baby to turn but we didn't have a tape recorder handy or we'd probably have tried that too.

Finally late last night - after getting into a "on knees and elbows" position that is conducive to turning several times through the evening - Hayley lay in bed while I shone a torch at her lower belly and tried talking to the bump. This produced no notable response and must have looked ridiculous.

On a related subject, the baby can apparently recognise the father's voice at birth so I sometimes talk or even sing to the bump. Some nights we both sing the lullaby I wrote. (Cheesy but fun.) I'm really curious to see if he/she shows even the slightest sign of recognition on hearing it outside the womb. Hayley still plays the Baby Mozart and Baby Bach in the car so the same applies there.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Once more into the...


At every visit to the midwife we have been told the baby is "head down" and in the right position. Today the midwife came out to see us for Hayley's 36 week home visit and announced after her examination that she is 80% sure the baby is breach. Hayley will now have an ultrasound scan on Thursday to determine whether he/she is breach and whether it is likely to be possible to turn him/her. If he/she doesn't turn then Hayley will have a planned C-section.

We were shocked at this turn of events. And disappointed. We had been busily looking forward to a normal delivery. Today when Hayley saw the physiotherapist - who said how very supple and ready for labour she was - she showed us the birthing pool. The midwife also told us how the birth would occur in the water (if the baby does turn). Hayley would actually see the baby come out and pick the baby out of the water and hold it to her immediately. I know you can't guarantee how these things go but after talking through the birth plan it all sounded like it could be a great experience. The contrast of major abdominal surgery and a sheet blocking Hayley's view is much less appealing.

Hayley has been doing all the right things with regard to her sitting position and has been doing lots of appropriate exercise (aqua-natal, yoga) that should have helped avoid a breach position. So I can't help feeling this is all a little "unfair" on her.

I think she also feels the experience of labour is being stolen from her, even though she has been looking forward to it with a little trepidation.

More practically, this will mean a slower recovery for Hayley, more difficulty breast-feeding and a general lack of mobility for her. But there is still a chance we can turn the baby or he/she will turn of their own accord.

Of course to put this all in perspective the outcome should still be good for mother and baby. And we still feel blessed to be having this baby. In the great scheme of things this is a minor hiccup. I'm sure this is just the first of many plans we make for our child that doesn't turn out exactly as we had hoped. It's probably a valuable early lesson.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Place your bets

Hayley's colleagues are apparently running a sweepstake on what date and time the baby will be born. 50 pence a go. I've been given the job of recording the "official" time. Let's hope I don't forget. Or faint. Or cry. Or all of the above.

With just over a month to go I'm starting to feel a bit more nervous now. Several people have uttered the words "it could be any time really". I think the fact Hayley is still working (until tomorrow anyway) has meant that there's still a feeling of "life as usual" even though logically I know the big change is imminent.

We don't know the baby's gender but we have almost settled on names. We are pretty much set on our choice of girl's name but we are still not 100% sure of a boy's name. We have steadfastly avoided discussing names with anyone as we don't want to offend anyone who pushes a particular name or be faced with a negative reaction to a name we are keen on. So everyone will find out after the birth. I think that's the best way anyway. It adds to the surprise.

And the other part of the surprise will obviously be which name we need to use. (Actually there's something quite sad about the name that doesn't get used. It's a bit like the losing team's ribbons on Cup Final day that never get put on the cup.) Personally I feel pretty sure that we are having a girl. I've felt that way for the majority of the pregnancy. I can't say why exactly. I heard that first pregnancies of "older" parents are often girls. I'm not sure why that might be. I also read that sperm that result in girls are slower swimmers but stronger, as opposed to the "male" sperm that can sprint but have no stamina. I've always been a stayer rather than a sprinter so maybe there's something in that. It's no less logical a theory than most of the old wives tales I've heard!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ante-natal class #4: The Health Visitor

Last night's ante-natal class (our last one) was a talk with two of the local health visitors. They take over responsibility for the well-being of mother and child some time during the first month after the birth.

Their over-riding message was to have faith in your own parenting instincts and to make your care baby-driven for the first few weeks and months.

Interestingly a couple with a 5 week old child was brought in at the end to talk to us and they said they didn't always respond instantly to their child as it sometimes just made noises for no reason and he would be disturbed unnecessarily if they dived in to pick him up too quickly.

But generally the advice has been that you can't give your baby too much love and attention in the first few months and that to try to get him or her to be independent in that time was unwise as the most confident toddlers are those who have had the most love and attention and re-assurance as babies. To re-enforce the need to make the baby feel secure they split us into two groups to discuss and compare the way the baby must feel in the womb and then outside. For one girl it seemed to be a real revelation that the experience could be traumatic for the baby.

So that's the end of the classes and I still haven't bathed a baby or changed a nappy. But I guess feeling unprepared is all part of the experience. As I said to a fellow father-to-be at work today, I feel like I'm in the trench waiting to go over the top, sure in the knowledge that I can't imagine what awaits me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Good Book

I bought a book of short essays on fatherhood written predominantly by journalists and writers. It's called "Fatherhood" edited by Peter Howarth (not to be confused with the book of the same name by Marcus Berkman which seems to be based on the assumption that all fathers are reluctantly so).

Its contributors include Tony Parsons, John Hegley and Pat Kane. Its bite-sized pieces are going down nicely as bedtime reading.

Unfortunately it is quite hard to come by. I got mine through Amazon Marketplace from Hay-on-Wye Booksellers ("hay-on-wye_booksellers").

Saturday, July 16, 2005


In Nick Hornby's novel "High Fidelity", our hero's travails (sic) revolve around his list of his "top 5 ex-girlfriends" (or is it "top 5 break-ups"?). In fact the propensity to make lists of "top 5 this" and "top 5 that" seem to dominate the male persona of Hornby's creations.

So he'd be pleased that I have finally given in and drawn up a list of my top 3 (and 3 is enough) fears about the impending event. These are the concerns that have dominated my thoughts, rightly or wrongly. Of course, I could dwell on all sorts of terrible possibilities, but I have generally tried to be positive and my concerns are dominated by worries that arise from the real-life experiences of friends with young children.

1. Lack of sleep and its fallout.
I love my sleep. My wild partying days are behind me and we tend to go to bed before 11pm and get up after 7am. That's a good 8 hours of sleep on a good night. And even now (despite Hayley's large bump and increased nocturnal bathroom visits) good nights are plentiful. These 8 hours might sound like luxury, and maybe they are, but I wake up feeling fresh, enjoy cycling to and from work and feel pretty good all day. (Most days anyway.) This contrasts with how I felt in my 20s when I had to rise and shine earlier to commute 40 miles by car and often battled drooping eyes after lunch.

If my nightly quota of sleep slips down to less than 6 hours I start to feel rough. And if it falls as low as 4 hours the effects are rather gruesome. I suffer from IBS and it seems to flare up badly when I am sleep deprived or my sleep pattern is badly disrupted.

On top of this I have a job which requires the retention of many small pieces of information about lots of different things. My recall starts to fall as my fatigue rises. I once read that the human brain can not reasonably manage more than 5 pieces of information at any one time. I dare say that it wouldn't take a mountain of research to show that this number falls the less sleep you have.

As well as my bowels and my work potentially suffering I dislike the thought of Hayley and I becoming impatient and snappy with each other, which strikes me as not at all unlikely if we are both exhausted and struggling to pacify a screaming infant at 4am. I'm expecting the first few months to be a like war zone (battling exhaustion rather than each other) and I've already apologised in advance to Hayley in case the person she loves disappears for a few months (metaphorically, not physically!).

So the arrival of human alarm clock going off every few hours at times of his/her choosing is my number one concern, unavoidable as it is!

2. Hayley taking the strain.
After the avalanche of advice it will come as no surprise that we plan to breast-feed our baby. However, the recent advice from the midwives not to express any milk for the first 6 weeks would mean that Hayley would be entirely alone in the front line of the feeding battle for that time. Of course there is always the option to switch to formula, but we're hoping to avoid that for a while at least. (The professionals' advice is to stick to only breast milk for 6 months. It remains to be seen whether we achieve that!)

After the first two weeks my paternity leave will end and I will be waving good-bye in the morning, leaving Hayley to fend for herself. Her family live 180 miles away and most of her friends in this area work full-time, so her support network will be very small. Perhaps only two or three friends / fellow new mothers. I feel pretty rotten having to leave her to it like that. So my second fear is that despite all the 21st century talk of sharing the responsibilities, Hayley will suffer disproportionately.

3. Projectile poo!
OK, there are probably other things higher up the list, but the general messiness of babies is something I am finding hard to gauge and I do find myself wondering how much poo / pee / vomit I will be picking out of my hair / eye / clothes. I hear stories from colleagues of projectile poo hitting the opposite wall of the room. How can they do that! I guess I may find out in a few weeks.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hayley and bump

Hayley and bump
Originally uploaded by Steven Townley.
Hayley has looked really well today. I think it's because she is drinking lots of water in this hot weather (up to 30 degrees). Her hair has more life now than in all the time I've known her, the whites of her eyes are really clear and she just generally fits the cliche of the "blooming" pregnant woman.

Tonight we went for a short walk after dinner. Hayley's back hurts and she tries to walk in a way that she has been told (by her physiotherapist) will straighten the deep arch in her back that has increased through pregnancy due to her increasing bump. But it's hard to maintain and she looks a bit like she's trying to do a Max Wall impression.

Ante-natal class #3: breast-feeding

On Tuesday we attended our penultimate ante-natal class which was entirely devoted to breast-feeding.

There was the (now fairly familiar) sales pitch on why breast-feeding is so beneficial to both mother and child.

There were also detailed instructions on how to get the baby to properly attach to the breast and some "DO"s and "DON'T"s from NHS guidelines. These included no nipple protectors or "expressing of milk" - in fact no intervention of any kind - in the first 6 weeks.

The final session next Tuesday will be with the health visitor.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Furniture saga (Act 4... or is it 400)

Chest of drawers
Originally uploaded by Steven Townley.
This afternoon we decided to assemble the nursery furniture. The chest of drawers and changing table (pictured) presented no problem other than taking a bit longer then we expected.

Unfortunately the construction of the wardrobe was halted before it started when we discovered that not all the necessary parts had been packed into the box. Looks like we will have to wait a little longer still to get the room finished.

At least the air conditioner worked today to counter the outdoor temperatures which were in the high 20s. I dare say that's what stopped our blood boiling.

Ante-natal class #2: tour of the delivery suite

Yesterday we went to our second ante-natal class at Stepping Hill hospital. This time the focus was on pain relief and what can go wrong during labour. Perhaps most importantly for us there was also a tour of the delivery suite.

The delivery rooms varied from dark, slightly cramped and depressing to bright, roomy and cheerful. Though the bright rooms were quite hot yesterday. That's one price of a summer birth I guess. The midwives seem very keen that the mother doesn't lie down much (or at all) during the labour, so although there is a bed in the room the expectation is that the mother won't use it much and delivery almost certainly won't be on it. The midwives had tales of women giving birth in all sorts of positions and places including in the shower and on the toilet. The use of large inflated balls (such as those used for pilates) also seems popular to get into a good position to speed up labour and delivery. We are hoping to use the birthing pool, but there was someone in it yesterday so we didn't get to see it.

The classes are also quite useful for meeting other soon-to-be mothers and fathers. Early on in the pregnancy we had considered whether to have the baby at St Mary's hospital in Manchester. After speaking to two mothers yesterday who gave birth there we are very glad we chose Stepping Hill. Neither mother was keen to go back there. One spoke of being treated like a number and even the midwives spoke of a reluctance to use the birthing pool under almost any circumstances.

The class concluded with a discussion of the different types of abnormal deliveries (ventouse, forceps, c-section) and the pain relief options (gas & air, pethidine, epidural, acupuncture!).

The next class is on Tuesday when we will cover breastfeeding.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London Bombs

Yesterday, only a day after the country celebrated the award of the Olympics to London, it was hit by a series of bomb attacks on tube trains and a bus. As I type 50 people are known to have been killed but the final count is bound to rise.

What a difference a day makes. On Wednesday I commented how withdrawn and unfriendly people were on the tube last weekend. Yesterday, in the midst of tragedy, stories started to appear of selflessness amongst London's commuters and passers-by. Everyone has been touched by what has happened. Not just in London but throughout the country and perhaps the world.

It's been noticeable that the right words have been hard to find for many people and I have been surprised at the level of emotion shown by people who I would normally think of as quite hardened or reserved or both. That emotion has come through as anger in some, as distress and frustration in others and for still others in tears.

One friend who takes the bus daily was clearly shaken by the thought that someone like him, who commuted by bus without a second thought, had been killed out of the blue without warning and so senselessly. His anger - even via email - was palpable.

When I came home Hayley evoked the image of a couple like us kissing goodbye in the morning unaware that one of their lives would be snuffed out and the other would be blighted permanently after they received the worst of all news. As she thought aloud of the police making that most unwelcome of calls the full horror of the day started to sink in.

I guess many people did the same as us last night: put their arms around each other, realised the fragility of life and counted their blessings.

Top of the Pops

Top of the Pops has made its last appearance on BBC1 tonight. It's moving to BBC2 on Sunday evenings.

As I sat and watched it tonight I found myself shaking my head and wondering what the hell Gwen Stefani was going on about.

Then I realised I was ready to be a Dad.

So we're all set then!

So we're all set then!
Originally uploaded by Steven Townley.
After our first ante-natal class this handy little flowchart has appeared on our fridge. What could be simpler! I can already picture us consulting it carefully and calmly as the first contractions kick in.

To see a larger version (one you can read!) click here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

London 2012

So London has won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. What will this mean to us if we decide to go to this iconic event when our bump should be seven years old? (Wow, seven years old, that's a mind-blowing thought!)

Having been to London last weekend I predict that the tube (and public transport in general) will be unbearable. When we arrived in London on Friday we took several tube journeys on trains where there was only standing room. Only on one of them did someone offer to stand up so that Hayley - who looks heavily pregnant - could sit down. And it was a woman who offered. On the other trains people just looked away. We noticed one man who clearly looked at Hayley, then her bump, then up at her face, then looked quickly away. Welcome to the friendly caring capital.

Of course the idea that sport will get a big boost - and that the boost will be focused on children - is an encouraging thought. I am rather terrified that our child is going to grow up in a world full of child-targeted advertising of junk food that didn't exist to the same degree when we were kids in the 1970s. Couple that with a lack of exercise and you can see why he UK has far too many obese children. I can only hope that we are successful in encouraging our child to enjoy the countryside, outdoor activities and sports in general.

Ante-natal class #1: If all goes well...

We went to our first ante-natal class last night.

The class was given by one midwife who works in Heaton Moor. All the people there were apparently from the Heatons area so that we could start to network. We had chance to chat to one couple, Anthony and Sarah who are expecting their baby (their first) early in August.

Last night the focus was on a normal labour and the stages that the woman goes through: when to come to hospital, the likely sequence of events, etc. There were lots of large laminated pictures of a baby making its way out of the womb and into the world in nice problem-free stages.

We got the chance to ask lots of questions - which we did - but I felt the whole thing was a little unstructured. Topics seemed to crop up and be dealt with in an arbitrary order. There was a lot to take in and I wished I had taken a notepad, not least to remind me look up more information when I got home on subjects where the coverage had been sketchy or a little confusing. For example, she explained that ideally the waters should not break as the baby has maximum protection against infection. But then she said that a woman can be sent home for as long as 5 days after her waters break to wait for labour. These facts seemed rather contradictory to me and when I quizzed her the vague answer I got left me feeling it was a risk we had to assess ourselves.

Overall it was beneficial and we came away with some useful reading matter.

Next stop: a tour of the delivery suite on Saturday morning.

Latest dream

On Saturday night I dreamt I was sitting on the sofa with our baby, a boy. He had a fat face and despite being only a few months old he kept asking "Why?" when I told him something. Go figure!

I'm not superstitious, but...

...three magpies flew up in front of me out of a bush as I cycled home tonight.

A single magpie also flew up at another point, but as I'm not superstitious that doesn't matter.

(For those who can't remember:
1 for sorrow
2 for joy
3 for a girl, and
4 for a boy...)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Party time!

Oh the shame. No blog for two weeks. Is this down to the massive amount of work I've been doing in preparation for the birth? Well, erm, frankly no. We've been making hay while the sun shines... enjoying ourselves!

Over the last weekend in June we made our annual trek to the Saab Salomon Mountain Mayhem 24-hour mountain bike race. It was a long and exhausting weekend for me as I rode through mud (again!) and equally so for Hayley as she drove back and forth to Wiltshire to visit family and friends while we were within striking distance. But ultimately it was a very enjoyable and rewarding weekend as we met up with old friends and fellow cyclists for our annual punishment.

This weekend we went to London to watch the Live8 concert in Hyde Park which we were lucky enough to win tickets for in the SMS lottery. We took the train down on Friday and that evening we went to The Royal Opera House where we saw "Otello" by Verdi (based on the Shakespeare play).

On Saturday we walked from our hotel in Westminster to Hyde Park. Unfortunately when we got there we found ourselves queuing for 2000 metres and two and a half hours around the park to get to the concert entrance. Hayley kept her cool with her handheld fan and sat on all available walls as we crawled along Park Lane. Resisting the temptation to pop into the Dorchester for refreshments we finally made it into the park after listening to Paul MacCartney and U2 open the concert on a transistor radio from outside the gates.

I felt a bit rotten that Hayley had to queue for all that time and offered that we abandon the effort in favour of watching on TV. But she's a tough and determined (if not stubborn) cookie and insisted we go on. In the end it was well worth it as we had a great day. We pitched camp in the park on our blanket, well back from the crowds at the front, and enjoyed the music in comfort with the benefit of one of the large screens. Despite the late finish we stayed to the end and walked some of the way home before getting a cycle-drawn taxi back to our hotel. (A scary ride!)

So, is this the last hurrah?

Many people have responded to this activity by saying "make the most of it while you can, you won't be able to soon enough". But I do wonder to what degree that is within our control and to what extent people abandon their old pastimes out of social expectations.

Don't get me wrong, I know our free time will be limited and we'll be partially reliant on the goodwill of family and friends to help us find free time for just the two of us. But I also think it may be possible to do these things in future with that goodwill and some careful planning. But will we want to when it means leaving our child with someone else for a day or maybe a weekend? I find it hard to gauge whether we'll be blissfully glad of the break or too continually worried about our offspring to enjoy ourselves.

Perhaps the answer is to continue to do what we enjoy and drag our offspring along! After all, it gives them the best chance of getting a taste for the excitement of mountain biking or just hiking and camping in the mountains. It would be nice to think that rather than party time ending, we are about to embark on the longest most exhausting party of our lives.