01 Sep

On having an abortion

[10 years ago]

It’s 4.30am. I’m sitting on the side of the bath, watching as the moisture seeps up the stick. A line appears, dark pink, just as it should. The instructions said five minutes, so I continue to watch, and slowly, beside it, a second pink line appears, such a pale ghost of the first that I could almost kid myself that I am dreaming it. But definitely a line.

I’m stunned. This is an experience I never expected to have. Of course there is no question of me having a baby right now, I know that straight away; but I still feel strangely pleased and positive. It’s shattered my fundamental assumption that I can’t conceive, and that’s a huge deal. I feel sad that this is very much the wrong time, but completely astounded that I do have the option, after all.

My marriage ended a year ago, and I’ve been with my boyfriend for a few months. We’ve just made the big decision to reduce the 100 miles between our homes and live together. We have so much fun, so much in common, so many possibilities. We’re not ready to bring a baby into this relationship, there just isn’t room, yet.

I see my GP who points out that I’m 33 and it’s taken me months to conceive; what if I have an abortion and then never conceive again, won’t I regret it? But my priority is my relationship, and what if I go ahead with the pregnancy and the relationship doesn’t survive? I currently have no maternity rights and no savings, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my adult life.

Do I have a moral obligation to have the baby? No. I have a moral obligation, when I make a positive decision to have a baby, to be prepared. To have a body free of alcohol and antibiotics, a secure roof over my head, and a few more years to solidify this relationship, to give a baby a stable family. This is not a difficult decision, but nor is it one I make lightly.

*

I have to endure Christmas through morning sickness and hormones and a strange stab of conscience with every glass of wine I drink. In early January I am sent for family planning counselling, expecting to be judged or dissuaded, but none of that happens. It’s all very practical and I feel a bit scared, mainly of how I might feel after The Procedure. I notice that none of the professionals seem to use the word “abortion.” They tell me that there will be a lot of blood.

My boyfriend and I book a Friday off work and I spend a miserable night and morning feeling nervous and not allowed to eat in advance of the anaesthetic. The clinic looks like a large house on a residential street, inside and out. I’m taken to a bedroom with two other women, and the nursing sister talks to us all together about what will happen. We put on surgical gowns, then we wait for a bored, tense hour, to be taken through. We don’t chat.

I am the last of the three to be taken away. The staff are pleasant and efficient; it’s so clearly all in a day’s work. They check my temperature and my blood pressure, and give me a hairnet. The anaesthetist and the surgeon introduce themselves to me. I am not particularly bothered that they are men, but younger girls might mind, I suppose. As I lie on the bed being wheeled through to another room, a voice asks “is this our last one this morning?” It makes me feel like I’m being processed on a conveyor belt, and frankly the impersonal touch is exactly what I need.

I lie looking up at the lights, just waiting for the anaesthetic; at this stage, I really don’t want to know any more about it. I want to be out, I want that moment before unconsciousness, where I’m certain that the next thing I know, it will be over. They take an age to get the needle into my hand and I panic that for some reason it might not work. The last thing I remember before the feeling of numbness starts to creep through my veins, is them fixing stirrups to the side of the bed, a moment of knowledge that my pregnancy is about to be sucked out of me, and then nothing.

*

I wake in post-op, where a nurse is watching for me. I try to speak and my words sound slurred. I say I can feel terrible cramps, and the nurse tells me that’s my womb clamping down, and it will stop soon. I’ve been given painkillers and antibiotics but they haven’t kicked in yet. I gather myself up, and someone walks me back to my bed in the waiting room.

I lie down feeling tearful and lonely, wanting to be able to let my boyfriend know I’m alright, wanting to go to sleep, wanting a cup of tea. That wish is granted about twenty minutes later: tea and biscuits, and I sit up and feel a bit better. The cramps fade. I listen to the other women chatting quietly. One already has three children, she didn’t want to go through it all again. The other woman is Irish.

Finally I am allowed home, and I can spend the weekend feeling a bit delicate but on my way back to normal. It takes a little while for the hormones to seep out of my body. I still have this strange feeling of sad-happy acceptance of the situation, that I’ve had from the moment I took the pregnancy test. This is something I needed to do for me, for us, at this time. It was weird to be pregnant, without being a mum-to-be, and over the weeks I was pregnant, I did let myself form an odd detached attachment to my little clump of extraneous cells, knowing that I would have to say goodbye soon. I thought of it as a little bundle of potential which I was putting on hold until the time is right.

13 Mar

Announcement!

Today I met with my mentor Maddie McMahon, and after an interview which took place over a pleasant lunch, I am now a Recognised Doula. Here’s an explanation of Mentored and Recognised Doulas from the Doula UK website:

Mentored doulas
A Mentored Doula has completed a Doula UK approved Preparation Course and is involved in Doula UK’s Recognition Process. This means that she has a Mentor providing support and supervision within a framework for reflective practice until she has gained sufficient experience to become a Recognised Doula. A Mentored Doula’s fees reflect her previous and current experience, her expenses and the going rate in her area.

Recognised doulas
A Recognised Doula has been evaluated by a Doula UK Doula Mentor at the end of the Recognition Process, as having sufficient experience to practise without on-going mentoring. Doula UK nevertheless continues to provide support for all its members.

27 Apr

In the red tent

I will be spending this weekend on study days all about processing ideas of birth and motherhood, and in preparation for that [and to avoid doing my tax return], I have been collecting up some bits and pieces to take with me.

The first thing I was asked for was easy: a poem or short piece of prose about birth or parenting. I’ve chosen an extract from Naomi Wolf’s book Misconceptions. The review linked here is rather critical, which makes me interested to re-read the book, as it has been a long time since I looked at it. However there is a page describing the experience of breastfeeding which I found graphically accurate the first time I read it. It’s too long to quote the whole thing here, but it ends: I had never in my life been able to make someone so happy so simply. That gives the impression of an idyllic description, but the entire quote is far from that.

The second thing I have to bring is a favourite short birth story that makes a point, and this I had to think about. I hear lots of birth stories and on reflection I find it hard to pull out a whole story in any kind of coherent detail. I thought I could use my own story, or a fictional birth story that I wrote, but both felt a bit like cheating. Then I remembered reading the story when my son was just over a year old, of journalist Leo Hickman supporting the birth of his third child at home, with the help of the ambulance operator. From the transcript you can tell that the operator is reading instructions from her screen, but she is so calm, clear and encouraging throughout, even when Hickman reports to her that the baby is still inside the sac, and then that there is a large quantity of meconium. She remains cool but not detached, and steers him through an unimaginably alarming experience. If you’re brave, you can listen to the whole call here.

Finally, I need a picture or a small object that holds special meaning for me in relation to birth or parenting. That I am going to have to think about.

I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with my colleagues talking about birth and motherhood in a supportive and safe environment. I think it will be both motivating and educational, and best of all, we are encouraged to bring our knitting!

27 Feb

My experience of baby-led weaning

Now that we are advised to wait until around six months to start, our babies have better co-ordination and more mature stomachs than they did at four months, and so it is possible to skip the stage of aeroplaning mush into their mouths and then scraping it off their chins, and offer finger food right from the start. This is known as baby-led weaning (BLW), and the main principle is that the only person to put food in the baby’s mouth, is the baby himself.

I started weaning my son the traditional way, at 23 weeks, with great excitement and anticipation of him quickly becoming as much of a food-lover as I am. I did consider the baby-led weaning approach, but felt that it would not work for us, because I would be returning to work a month later, and therefore no longer had the opportunity to breastfeed on demand. As with most things, my son had a completely different agenda to me, and resolutely refused to contemplate the spoonfuls of delicious runny baby rice that I offered him. For a few days he had some interest in pear, carrot, and potato; but as soon as the novelty wore off, he closed his mouth, turned his head away, and cried; and that was his final say in the matter.

BLW puts the baby in charge of his own eating, on the basis that if parents offer a range of interesting, nutritious, and suitable food, then the baby can choose what he eats, and this allows him to move gently towards a solid diet. The goal is not to force your baby to eat, but to let him experience the tastes and textures of food at his own pace. It encourages the development of motor skills, and because the baby quickly moves on to eating the same food as the rest of the family, he also benefits from learning social skills at shared mealtimes, when he can participate in eating actively, rather than passively. As long as parents can relax and accept that it might take longer for the baby to consume significant quantities of food, this approach is more fun, less stressful, and much, much messier than traditional weaning on purees. At this stage, milk is still the most important source of nutrition, so it doesn’t really matter how much solid food baby eats, as long as he gets plenty of milk.

The BLW philosophy is to follow the child’s cues, and start when he indicates he is ready to try some solid food. First signs of readiness include losing the tongue-thrust mechanism (where anything put into the mouth is pushed back out again), having the ability to sit unsupported, and starting to develop a pincer grip with the thumb and forefinger. Our experience was that this tentative ability came on very quickly, when sufficiently motivated by such interesting items as peas and roast potatoes.

The first foods we offered were fruit, rice cakes, and steamed or roast chips of vegetables. We found that if you leave the peel on hard fruit like pears, the baby can pick them up more easily, and will suck the flesh and spit out the peel. Of course you should never leave your baby unattended while eating, but don’t be too alarmed by a little bit of gagging: this is a normal part of learning to manipulate food in the mouth, and is not the same as choking. We moved on to breadsticks and toast, pieces of cheese, and small lentil patties (an early favourite). Breakfast cereals were less successful in our case, but could work well with a different baby (my constantly teething son liked his food to be soft but still insisted on using his own hands, hence breakfast usually consisted of one weetabix with 2oz milk – perfect finger-mush). Later on we tried poached fish and chicken, and finally just shared our own meals with him.

He didn’t really start to eat well until he was nearly a year old, but mealtimes where I could relax and let him dictate how much he ate were always the most pleasant ones. He has always eaten better at the family table than on his own, and we have the attitude that there are no things he doesn’t like, just things he doesn’t like YET. Around 12 months he started trying to feed himself with a spoon, and over the past year he has progressed to a fork, and now likes to wave a (baby-friendly) knife around while he eats as well.

At two years old, my son has eaten (and likes) a far more varied diet than I remember as a youngster (or even in my twenties!), from olives to salsify. He also eats things that I don’t like much, like spinach (mixed with cream cheese and combined with pasta makes a good mushy, messy finger food) and fish.

There have been many ups and downs, especially when he is teething, poorly, or tired. Some days he eats more, and some days he eats less, and some days he has a healthy diet, and some days I let him have a sausage roll. I try to look at the bigger picture, and consider that overall he has a good diet and enjoys his food, which, looking back, is what I wanted in the first place.

BLW works well in a family where the parents feel able to relinquish control over what the baby eats. You decide what to offer, and he decides what to accept; there is no batch-cooking of mush, no counting spoonfuls, and no train-coming-through-the-tunnel-and-INTO-your-mouth! It is important to be able to top up with milk on demand, but at least that way you can be sure that the little tummy isn’t filling up with less-nutritious solid food, to the detriment of milk, which still provides the main source of calories and other nutrients that the baby needs to in order to grow.

June 2008