There’s a baby in Mummy’s tummy

I showed the photo of my latest scan to Caspar. I wasn’t going to tell him I am pregnant until much further down the line, but it just sort of happened. I asked him what he thought the photo was of.

“Well, it’s got a nose… ears… is it a snowman?”

I didn’t ask him when he had ever seen a snowman with ears.

I had to check to see if Olaf had ears

I had to check to see if Olaf had ears

I told him that it was a picture of the baby in mummy’s tummy. It’s not an alien concept to him. His best friend got a new baby brother this year so he kind of understands how these things work (I use “understand” lightly, as he thinks he’s got a baby in his tummy too, but anyway).

He looked at the picture, I could see him trying to conceal a smile.


I told him the baby in my tummy would be his new brother or sister, and asked him if that was ok.

“Yes” he replied;

“Can I have some more pizza?”

At least the kid has his priorities straight.

My fourth pregnancy and a return to blogging

I haven’t written for a while because I got a bit lost. I hadn’t grieved after my last miscarriage because I insisted I was fine. Actually I was unraveling and self-destructing, hopping on and off SSRIs, benzos and fertility hormones like a bizarre and awful rollercoaster I couldn’t quite escape. Last month I had a bit of a revelation: somehow accepted things for what they are and became satisfied with my lot. Ditched the pills (well, all of them but the vit D and the folic acid), stopped consciously trying to conceive and felt more satisfied than I had done in ages. I didn’t care whether I had another child or not in the future. I was free from the angst of trying to conceive and my body being uncooperative. It was a relief.

Then (as all of Twitter discovered in due swiftness), I found out I was pregnant.

I had been bleeding for a few weeks, which I attributed to my cycle being more fucked up than usual due to stopping all the pills at once. So I did a test just to check that I didn’t have to feel guilty about all the wine I’d been consuming whilst socialising with friends during a visit to Brighton.

An undeniable second line emerged and I started muttering “shit, shit, shit…” as Julian reassured me in vain that it would all be ok.

Actually not the first test this pregnancy but the fortieth. Roughly.

I had either conceived two days before he’d shlepped off to Peru last month (hence the romantic break in Brighton for Caspar, the dog, the cat and me), or a while prior to this and was miscarrying. I felt sick. I must be miscarrying. If not, why the bleeding?

Of course this all happened on a Sunday. It always does. It is the requisite period for self-torture and worst case scenario envisioning. With no medical assistance available, I somehow got through the next 24 hours to Monday morning, rang the doc and got an immediate referral to EPU. The next few days were bloods, bloods rising (yay), bloods not doubling (boo) and a scan that showed a dark patch in my uterus that could be the beginning of a pregnancy with maybe a yolk sac or could be a blood clot. Oh fuck it’s Christmas 2013 all over again. Then I had to go on holiday.

I cannot explain or express my gratitude for how my pals on Twitter kept my sanity intact during last week while I faked an appetite for gambas alioli and enthusiasm for the World Shitting Cup (badly) to both family in-law and strangers alike.

Finally I was home, Sunday again (following a car breakdown on our return to Bristol, just what my blood pressure needed), then yesterday was my follow-up scan to see whether it was a pregnancy or just my body being an utter twat again.

If I’m honest, the thing I was most looking forward to was going under general anaesthetic again eventually. Of course I would have another D&C. That few seconds before you slip out of consciousness and the faces go hazy and you don’t care why you’re there or whether you will wake up. That’s the best bit of a D&C. That and the opiates. Look on the bright side (light?), right?

I mentally pondered decisions. Would I get signed off work for a week while I recovered? If I did, would I send Caspar to nursery during that time or would I prefer him to be near me, as I had during my recoveries from previous D&Cs? Will I be able to get really strong opiates if I don’t opt for a D&C? Ooh, diamorphine…

In a succession of short seconds the sonographer breezily announced “yep, there’s a baby, strong heartbeat, can you see?” and turned the screen to face me.

Shock. Delight. Absolute shock mainly. 7 weeks. A baby! (Well, a blob.) A tiny flashing star heartbeat!

I didn’t see the heartbeats of either of my lost pregnancies, before I miscarried. By the time I had scans for them, they had already started to disintegrate or stop developing inside me. This heartbeat feels like a real chance. I saw Caspar’s at the same gestation, 4 years ago almost to the day, and there are statistics that say Everything Is Probably Going To Be Ok (unless you’re the unlucky 10 per cent for whom it’s not).

I keep poking my boobs to check they’re still sore. I know how easily this could be snatched away from me and I wish I could use my newfound mental strength to hold onto it where my body has previously failed. I have a long way to go. My losses were at 12 and 8 weeks respectively. When will I start to believe that this baby could be real, could really be mine and get born with life and health when the time is right?

Pregnancy  after miscarriage is sullied by fear and anxiety for many women, regardless of the gestation of pregnancy loss, so I am going to try and take things one step at a time and try not to let my fear get the better of me. I’ve tried that one before. I need a different approach this time.

With Caspar, I loved him, or the idea of him, without question or hesitation, from the moment he appeared as a faint blue line. I wasn’t able to do that with my pregnancies last year – the first because I was just a bit nonchalant and ignorant to the reality of miscarriage, the second because I expected to lose it anyway. I feel like I might have already fallen too far in love with the idea of this one already. It’s frightening.

I really want you, little nut. Please stay.

An update: It’s been two months

It’s been almost 2 months since my second miscarriage and subsequent D&C. And I’m not feeling as strong as I thought I would. When I posted here to tell people I had miscarried the pregnancy, I gave the impression, to myself, and anyone reading, that I would be dusting myself off and “getting back on the horse”. It hasn’t really worked like that. I have found myself affected despite not wanting to waste time feeling sad. It has manifested in something strange:

I don’t want to try again. Well, I do, I want another baby… I just don’t want another miscarriage.

I don’t know if I can face another miscarriage. I don’t want to have sex because there is a risk I’ll get pregnant, even though it’s not entirely straightforward for us to get pregnant in the first place because of my PCOS (or whatever it is, but more on why I’m questioning that diagnosis another time). “Well why don’t you just take the pressure off and use protection?” asked my well-meaning, lovely friend on Friday night over a bottle of wine. Well, we could, but that would feel like we were wasting even more valuable time. Delaying it further wouldn’t stop the fear.

I’m basically stuck in a catch 22 and it’s a really unpleasant place to be. Worse is the fact that I really don’t know what to do about it. Not having sex will stop me from getting pregnant, yes, although my body was more than capable of stopping me from getting pregnant despite swinging from the chandeliers – so then we may as well go down the protection route, right? I don’t know what to do, for my sanity, for my marriage and for my son.

This isn’t a problem I had after my first miscarriage. I was still blindly hopeful. Everyone said “there’s always next time”. Not a particularly helpful thing to say to anyone who’s just suffered a miscarriage, but deep down, I actually believed it. I had more hope then than I do now. There was no reason I should be unlucky enough to have two miscarriages in a row, so yeah, there was “always next time”. No one has said that to me this time, and they’re right not to: “next time” doesn’t mean what it did in the strange limbo between my last two pregnancies. Now “next time” is another certain miscarriage to me.

I just wanted to share this, because I said I’d keep talking, and this is the latest unexpected installment on my journey to attempt to obliterate the miscarriage taboo. It may not be something everyone experiences, but it’s what I’m experiencing, and, well, I don’t know. I know some people who read this blog have had multiple miscarriages, and some have ended up with the family they wanted; some are still trying, some have made decisions they never thought they’d be making. I wonder if what I’m feeling is more common than I think?

Another miscarriage

On Boxing Day I had a heavy bleed. I knew what was happening, so I took myself to hospital in the hope that they could scan me and confirm the miscarriage (so that I could have a big old drink in the name of painkilling). They were unable to, but did measure my hCG at 45,100 (compared to 11,600 8 days prior). Although this was a number conclusive to a viable pregnancy, I knew it had failed. I just knew it. The following morning I had the miscarriage confirmed with a scan. I had to attend a family party in the afternoon, so I duly did so, and got reasonably drunk.

Back to reality. Back to my reality. Numbers. Dates. Counting. Peeing on ovulation sticks. Keeping an impeccable diet. Taking the metformin. Waiting. Oh, and probably a bit of shagging. I don’t really know what hope is anymore, but I guess I must carry a muted version of it to be contemplating trying to conceive again. There is no question that we will be getting back on the horse, so to speak, as soon as possible. We are now looking at an age gap of 4 years, assuming we get pregnant within the next 3 months; 4+ years is more likely, considering it took 8 months from my last miscarriage to become pregnant again.

The pregnancy still isn’t entirely gone. I’m in limbo, waiting for the worst to come. There is a large blood clot hanging out in my uterus, and behind that, the “retained products of conception”, according to the sonographer, and I am not currently bleeding. The midwife I saw at the hospital in London (we have been staying at Julian’s mum’s over Christmas) was quite insistent that I should opt for natural management, and I didn’t feel like arguing at the time, but I will be visiting the EPU in Bristol on Monday morning, with a view to being referred for an ERPC. I would rather not wait for it to occur naturally, because an ERPC means my hormone levels and body will adjust back to normal more quickly which means we can start trying again sooner.

I am surprisingly chilled out about the whole thing. I guess I had more inclination to believe it would fail after last time, than to believe it would succeed, so I have been subconsciously preparing myself. It helps, too, I think, that the miscarriage occurred earlier than last time: at 8 weeks as opposed to 12. Less time to allow myself to believe it all might be ok. I genuinely haven’t contemplated the possibility of this pregnancy succeeding. Last time I was pregnant I allowed myself to think about names. To get a double buggy. To consider sleeping arrangements in our 2 bedroom house. And I was more heartbroken than I am now, so I feel that my reluctance to acknowledge the possibility of a live birth has protected me. In a sense, the loss this time is just physical. There are no dreams attached. No plans or intentions. We are back to square one. In a few weeks it will be as though nothing happened and we are still trying to conceive, just as we were before.

The fact that I have miscarried again is a bit of a niggle, in the sense that I don’t know what caused it. I don’t know what caused my last miscarriage, and technically, there could be a problem, but I will be unable to get this investigated by doctors until I have a third miscarriage, so I’m trying not to dwell on this too much. All I know is that in this pregnancy I did everything by the book. I ate well. I took my vitamins. I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol. I tried to relax. There was nothing else I could have done and it still didn’t work out, so I won’t be beating myself up (like I did last time about having some wine at 11 weeks after I heard the news that my cousin had been killed).

There is one thing that is no different to my last miscarriage, and that is the love and support I have had from my Twitter pals since sharing the news. I am constantly humbled by the empathy and caring comments offered to me by people, some of whom I know only through reading their blogs and Twitter feeds. It is a huge comfort to know that people are there for me, particularly at this time of year when they are busy with family and travelling. My two best friends are both abroad for Christmas so the support I have received from my Twitter community has felt extra special, and I am endlessly grateful.

So that is where we’re at. I’m talking. I’m sharing. Everything is out there. As in the blog post I shared when I discovered I was pregnant, I won’t be stifled by the stigma of miscarriage. I will keep talking and sharing, and hope that in doing so I am making someone out there feel less alone, in just the same way that I feel less alone by the support I receive from my Twitter pals.

What a rollercoaster 2013 has been for baby making. I hope we have a better time of it next year. I’m not sure how many more miscarriages I can deal with. Although I don’t feel too emotionally affected by this one, I think there may be only so much I can take. Let’s hope I don’t reach my limit because my beautiful boy deserves a small sibling so much. I don’t want to let him down.

Happy Christmas your arse

I spent some time a couple of weeks ago making some sets of subversive baubles, for myself and for my pals who are a bit Scroogey or simply have the same dark (and foul-mouthed) sense of humour as I have (obviously this means Charlotte, who makes some very rude, very excellent necklaces). Oh, and I made a set as a secret Santa gift for a Twitter pal I’ve never met – and still haven’t as I didn’t get to go to the social occasion after all, although did send my gift along with a mutual pal, so Sian, I hope you liked them! Christmas is traditionally the time for good cheer and pleasant festivity; to that I say “Merry Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last!”

Ok, ok, not really, I am softened to the season by my small son who still believes in Father Christmas, but Fairytale of New York by the Pogues is my favourite Christmas song, so it is this that I paid homage to in my little craft, using my favourite, most offensive lyrics from the song:

“You scumbag
You maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last”

This will be my last post before Christmas so I do hope you all have a fun time, whatever you get up to. May there be snowballs and eggnog and roast goose galore, and may you win the fight for the TV remote, and bask in the slightly sozzled glory before dozing off and waking up in a patch of glittery drool and reindeer vomit. Happy Christmas!

Homemade infusions: Booze and olive oil

Homemade Christmas cards (like the ones in my last post) are good, but homemade Christmas gifts are even better, particularly when they can be eaten/imbibed/used to intoxicate for maximum flushed-cheek festivity. This year I was inspired by the lush rosemary bush that grows in our back yard. I knew I wanted to make infused booze, but I also wanted to make something for family members who aren’t merrily travelling the road to alcoholism don’t enjoy alcoholic beverages particularly, so I decided to make infused olive oil to use in cooking, for dressing and for dipping.

The best thing about these homemade gifts is that they can be prepared at marginally short notice. The booze infusions take as little as a week to develop the flavourings used, and the oils take about 2 weeks for the flavours to infuse fully. So there is still (just about!) time if you fancy making any of these as gifts for loved ones this Christmas.

ROSEMARY AND CRANBERRY INFUSED GIN

You will need:

  • A glass bottle with an airtight seal (I used 70cl Kilners)
  • Enough gin to fill said bottle
  • A funnel
  • A couple of sprigs of rosemary
  • A handful of fresh cranberries – you could use dried but the fresh ones look really gorgeous, and they’re in all the supermarkets at the moment so easily available

Instructions:

  1. Wash the rosemary and cranberries thoroughly and allow to dry
  2. Sterilise the bottle and funnel, I use boiling water and a fish kettle but any covered receptacle with a lid that’s big enough will do
  3. Place the rosemary and cranberries in the bottle and cover with gin, filling the bottle right up using the funnel
  4. Allow to infuse for as long as your taste dictates

You can infuse this particular mix for anything from 4 days to 4 weeks. I would recommend tasting it after a few days and if the flavours are strong enough for your liking, remove the herbs and berries. If not, let it sit, tasting every so often. You can top it back up with gin – it won’t affect the flavour.

After about 3 days you will notice that the gin takes on a lovely subtle shade of pink, thanks to the cranberries.

Mine has been sitting for a week now and I am considering leaving the rosemary and cranberries in as the flavour is quite subtle (so Julian says!) and they look pretty in the bottle for when they are given to their recipients.

This infusion is lovely with tonic water or muddled with crushed ice and lime for a festive gimlet.

GINGER AND VANILLA INFUSED WHISKEY

You will need:

  • A glass bottle with an airtight seal
  • A funnel
  • Enough whiskey to fill said bottle
  • A hunk of ginger
  • One vanilla pod per 70cl bottle

Instructions:

  1. As above, sterilise the bottle and funnel
  2. Slice the ginger into 4 fingers of about 1.5cm thick each
  3. Place ginger fingers and vanilla pod in bottle, and cover with whiskey, filling the bottle using the funnel
  4. Allow to infuse

In this infusion, the ginger is the dominant flavour, so I chose to remove the ginger after 5 days, leaving the delicate flavour of the vanilla to develop. At this point I am thinking the vanilla pod will remain in the bottle and I will re-add some sticks of ginger just before giving the whiskey to its recipients.

You could use this infusion to make a creamy hot toddy with honey and lemon, or a spicy whiskey mac with ginger wine and crisp ice cubes.

You may have noticed I’m keen to leave the various flavouring components in the booze. What can I say? I’m lazy. When I make sloe gin I leave in the sloes. It just makes the flavour intensify, and nothing’s spoiling as alcohol is a preservative. Also it makes it look homemade. Fancy.

HERB INFUSED OLIVE OIL

I decided to make 3 different types of infused oil, for a bit of variety. I used rosemary, dill and chilli, but you could use anything you like the flavour of, providing it has been dried and properly prepared.

To make one 50cl bottle of oil, you will need:

  • A glass bottle with an airtight lid
  • A funnel
  • Herbs: 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary OR 6 stalks of dill OR 4 dried chillies and a sprinkle of chilli flakes (optional)
  • 50cl olive oil (don’t use extra virgin as it’s more potent so won’t take on the flavour as successfully)

Instructions:

  1. Soak the herbs/chillies in a bowl of water for a few hours, then rinse under a tap and allow to dry thoroughly. It will take a few days for them to dry properly so you can put them in the oven on a low heat if you want to speed things up.
  2. Sterilise the bottle and funnel, as above, and allow to dry thoroughly
  3. Set aside one rosemary sprig, dill stalk or dried chilli to add to the bottle
  4. Heat a stoneware or cast iron pot (heavy-bottomed is better, just make sure not to use non-stick) to a low heat on the hob and add the oil and the remaining herbs at the same time. You don’t want to start frying the herbs, you just want small, sparse bubbles rising to the surface on the olive oil. Something more than a simmer but not high enough to cook – you just want everything to warm up to become open to infusion.
  5. Continue to infuse on a low heat for about 10 minutes, or until you can smell the flavour of the olive oil, then remove from the heat and leave to stand until cooled
  6. Place the rosemary sprig/dill stalk/chilli, that you set aside earlier, in the bottle (if making chilli oil you can also throw in a sprinkling of chilli flakes, depending on your/the recipients taste – more chilli flakes = spicier oil!) – the reason these were set aside is that the herbs infused in the oil will have wilted and lost their colour, so won’t look as vibrant in the bottle
  7. Use the funnel to carefully pour the infused oil into the bottle
  8. Seal and leave to infuse for 2 weeks

Unlike alcohol, oil is not a natural preservative, so you have to be a bit careful to ensure that you dry out any fresh ingredients carefully. Excess water may cause mould to grow on the surface of the herbs, which not only looks grim, but can cause illness such as botulism – lovely! Avoid using fresh ingredients such as garlic and fruits, as it is difficult to dry out these ingredients completely, so better not to risk it.

I would recommend that these oils keep for about 2 weeks (after initial infusion) on the worktop, or up to a couple of months in the fridge – they don’t look particularly good when kept in the fridge as the oil cools and changes form, looking white and lumpy, but it is a good option if you know you won’t use it too often. I included this storage information on the back of the little tags I made to go on the bottle.

I have also made chocolate covered salted caramel pecans and rosemary salted cashews in little jars to give as gifts, but that’s enough homemade wares for one post I think!

If anyone tries making these, do let me know how they turn out. Has anyone else made any other homemade gifts this year? Anything edible or intoxicating? I’d love to see.

Crafty Christmas cards

As a kid, every year without fail, I made my own Christmas cards. I loved getting the glitter glue and fat Crayola felt tips out and drawing elaborate Christmas scenes of snowy villages, Christmas presents amid decorated trees and (blame the Catholic school) Jesus Christ… as a ghost. With a Santa hat on. My depictions of all of the above probably looked like someone got the formaldehyde out at the office Christmas party and started aggressively throwing glitter and lunatic snowmen about, but I was a kid, and aside from the questionable theological demonstration of Supernatural Santa Jesus, my family and friends at least pretended to be pleased and grateful for the gesture.

So obviously I have taken the message into adulthood that it’s always nice to receive a homemade Christmas card. I enjoy receiving homemade Christmas cards, anyway. I’m not particularly into the whole convention of buying Christmas cards from Marks & Spencer, scrawling the recipient’s name and your own, then posting it to be consigned to the recycling on January 2nd. While I appreciate all the Christmas cards I receive, I wouldn’t keep a store-bought Christmas card, while a homemade one is likely to go into my Christmas decorations storage unit box and come out to be displayed for years to come.

Here are a couple of ideas for homemade cards that are quick, easy for the kids to make, and cost pennies. Except for the stamps to send them which cost £1340. SIXTY FUCKING PEE for a single first class stamp I discovered today. Up until last year I still thought they were 26p but SIXTY ENGLISH PENNETH. Ridiculous. No wonder handwriting is to be abolished in 2019; by then a book of 12 stamps will cost more than a 3 bed semi in the south east and no one will be able to afford to write letters or cards anymore.

HANDPRINT CHRISTMAS TREES

This year I wanted to get Caspar involved in making Christmas cards, as a fun festive activity and an excuse for him to get covered in paint, which is a favourite pastime of his. To make these you will need:

  • White card, cut into A5 and folded into A6 size
  • A severed hand, alternatively a still-attached hand
  • Small piece of sponge for printing
  • Green and red paint of any description
  • PVA glue
  • Rhinestones/sequins
  • Gold/silver pen

I got Caspar to make a singular green handprint (don’t worry, his hand is still safe and well, attached to the end of his arm) on each pre-cut A6 card, waited for these to dry, then used a piece of sponge cut into a small pot shape to print, you guessed it, a little red pot at the bottom of each handprint. Once these were dry I then drew a star with my gold pen at the top of each tree, and glued rhinestones on as bauble decorations. Simple, fun and effective.

Gratuitous Elmo

After the event. Unsurprisingly the actual event was a camera-hostile paint apocalypse.


VEGETABLE PRINT PRESENTS AND BAUBLES

I actually made these last year, but as I was on a 3 year blogging hiatus, the idea was never shared. There are many, many alternative uses for vegetables (snigger) and this is just one of them. Also, it involves glitter, on which I am keen. You will need:

  • Black card, cut into A5 and folded into A6 size
  • A potato
  • An onion
  • Kitchen roll
  • PVA glue
  • Glitter in every shade of the rainbow, preferably in shaker tubes
  • Christmas foil ribbon, I used silver, red and gold
  • Glue dots
  • Silver and gold pens

For the present prints, I carved a piece of potato into a present shape (4 squares, 2×2 stacked with a recessed area for the ‘ribbon’). The bauble prints were half an onion (cut across) with a couple of small nicks cut out for the ‘glint’ on the bauble. You will need to press out the liquid from the veg stamps with some kitchen roll. When dry, apply a thin layer of PVA to your stamps (I dipped mine into a shallow bowl of the stuff then wiped off excess as appropriate) then print them onto your pre-cut cards. Get the glitter shakers out and throw some glitter at them, evenly covering the PVA print. When they are dry, tie a few bows in the foil ribbon, and use a glue dot to affix them above the glitter veg prints. For the bauble prints I used a silver pen to draw the little ‘crown’ at the top where the ribbon loops through on a traditional Christmas bauble. Write ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Bah Humbag’ or any seasonal greeting of your choice underneath and you’re done. Caspar didn’t assist with this one as he wasn’t yet 2 at the time but this is a fun one for slightly bigger kids (such as myself).

My pal Charlotte at Black Heart Creatives has blogged her crafty Christmas cards. I practically begged her to. They are my festive crack (while I am pregnant, at least, and cannot get sloshed on eggnog). Have any of you guys made homemade cards this year? Care to share with the class?

On the fifth day of Christmas a Clearblue gave to to me…

… Two blue lines.

So it would appear I am pregnant. That the short time I have spent taking the metformin and the vitamin D, paying meticulous attention to my diet and trying to be serene (ha!) has paid off. Or maybe I just got “lucky”, as the doctor described my previous conception. When I wrote this post less than a month ago, I wasn’t pregnant, but thought that maybe if I committed my fertility limbo to words on this blog, the law of Sod would make it so, and lo, it did. So as predicted, I feel a fool – although of course very glad to feel like one! I won’t be counting my chickens too soon, though, because let’s face it, the eggs weren’t behaving themselves impeccably. I know that I am a jammy beggar to be pregnant so soon after a diagnosis of PCOS, but pregnant I am.

I should be excited but mostly I am just terrified. Instead of talking about due dates and folic acid (that reminds me, best dust off the Pregnacare from last time) there is something else I need to talk about, and that is why? Why am I telling you I’m pregnant now? I’m barely 5 weeks – why am I “risking” sharing the information that I am pregnant with anyone and everyone, before I know that everything is ok?

Well, firstly, no one ever knows that anything is ok. You can have a textbook pregnancy and still you never know what’s really going on in there. That isn’t to say that there’s usually anything wrong. Happily, there isn’t. Happily, once you get to around the 12 week mark, generally the risk of miscarriage reduces, unless there are extenuating circumstances that mean the pregnancy may fail at a later stage (various syndromes and growth factors). But mostly, who made up that rule? Who said that couples should keep pregnancy to themselves for the first few weeks until they know they’re “out of the woods”? I know it’s based around the idea that, if the worst should happen, you don’t have to awkwardly explain to people that you’re no longer pregnant, causing them embarrassment and reliving it all yourself. But why should this be the case? Why should there be so much stigma around miscarriage that pregnancy “should” be hidden away until the risk of miscarriage is lesser?

Those of you who followed my Twitter on my old locked account will probably remember miscarriage-gate. I live tweeted my miscarriage, from the day I started to bleed, to the day I went to A&E to be told to “go to the EPU if it gets worse”, to the day the miscarriage was confirmed, to waking up after my ERPC, hazy from general anaesthetic and loss. I tweeted and I had immediate support. People expressed sympathy. People shared their own experiences with miscarriage. People offered an ear, night and day, if I wanted to talk. It felt like I had unlocked the door to a secret club – albeit one no one wants to be in – but one where there was the opportunity to talk about what no one ‘in real life’ wanted to hear.

Pregnancy is, by nature, an exciting thing. It is the possibility of a new life. Of change. Of families growing and completing. When you tell someone you are pregnant, most people congratulate you and tell you how pleased they are for you. They ask all the usual questions. When are you due? Are you getting morning sickness? Will you find out the sex? When you have a baby, again, people are quick to extend their congratulations, generous gifts and well wishes. But when you lose a baby? You receive short-lived sympathy, platitudes of “oh well there’s always next time” and the expectation that you will just get on with it. And that’s fine. But no one wants to talk about it after that. People want to brush it under the carpet, forget it happened and focus on the future. Perhaps they assume that’s what you want to do. I think mostly it makes them feel uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything.

I’m not saying I don’t think it’s great that I’m pregnant. I do. This is the best thing that’s happened to me all year, with the various family deaths, a diagnosis of an illness that was affecting my fertility and of course my own miscarriage. I am really pleased and amazed that I am pregnant again, but perhaps understandably, I don’t have on the rose-tinted spectacles that come with pregnancy that isn’t preceded by loss.

When I lost the previous pregnancy, I was lucky that my family and in-laws were very supportive. But when the immediate aftermath was over, it was never mentioned again. They were excited when the pregnancy still existed; had the due date in their diaries and my lovely mum in-law had even started buying things in preparation. When I saw them again after the loss, it was as though nothing had happened. Family friends didn’t even acknowledge the loss, even in passing. It was hard. I felt that perhaps I had something to be ashamed of. Why were they all acting as though nothing had happened? I was endlessly glad of the support I had on Twitter, but my head at that time felt like a very lonely and confused place. Everyone had been so excited and interested, and now? Nothing. It was strange.

So that it why I am telling the world I’m pregnant. Because if I lose it, I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be ashamed. I want to empower myself and other women not to feel the loneliness and stigma that pregnancy loss is associated with. I want to REMEMBER. I don’t want to live in the past, and I’m not; I have dealt with what happened, but I want to be prepared for it to happen again, because as I mentioned earlier, no one ever really knows if it will all be ok. I want to be delighted it it all goes smoothly and I end up with a live birth at the end of it, but I don’t want to feel that I am owed anything or that I deserve a happy ending. I don’t, any more than the other ladies I know who are struggling with (in)fertility issues. Miscarriage, and pregnancy it seems, are (for the most part) totally random occurrences. They do not discriminate. I know that I am lucky to be pregnant again with the challenge of PCOS but it is mostly because I was lucky enough to become AWARE of my illness and the fertility challenges associated with it.

In the meantime I am going to try not to count the days and weeks, to obsessively check my knickers for blood, not to panic over every little niggle and cramp. I will continue to eat healthily and take care of myself, and to try not to “overdo it” (as my Granny puts it; she has already threatened to put me over her knee if I do!). Mostly I will remember to be thankful for my beautiful baby boy and to try to summon some hope from somewhere that one day next year, I might end up with another beautiful baby, and our family will be complete. But I won’t take anything for granted.

Why we’re doing advent presents

We love living in Bristol, but it does have its downsides, like not being near family – especially as Christmas approaches. We would love to spend  a relaxing Christmas at home with Caspar, cooking Christmas dinner for our families (we both make a mean Christmas dinner, they’re missing out!) and falling into our own beds after too much eggnog, but they are in London and Brighton. So every year since Caspar was born, we’ve made the exodus, with Caspar and pets (before Elmo the cat we had two dogs!) to be with our loved ones at Christmas.

We don’t really mind this, as it’s lovely for Caspar to see his grandparents, great-grandmother, aunt, uncles and honorary family, as it is for them (I dread to think how my mum in-law would react if she couldn’t see her beloved grandson at Christmas!), but we discovered after Caspar’s first Christmas that it can make things tricky when transporting presents to and from different locations around the country. Do we take Caspar’s presents from us with us? If so, how the hell will we fit them in on the way back plus all the generous but large gifts from relatives? Do we save them for after Christmas? By then it’s all a bit of an afterthought. Not buy him anything from us? We’re grinchy but the festive ice around our hearts has melted somewhat since Caspar came into our lives!

This year we decided to do something a bit different. We have only bought Caspar stocking-sized gifts that will go in his stocking for him to open on Christmas Day with his family, but this year we also have a DIY advent calendar, that we have filled with chocolate coins and some of said stocking fillers, for him to open throughout advent.

This is the first year Caspar has really understood the concept of advent, of Father Christmas and presents, and Christmas being a time to spend with loved ones and helping those who don’t have as much as us. We’re not religious, but when I was a child, my dad used to take us to the children’s hospital on Christmas morning, to donate toys that we had chosen and wrapped up for the sick children there. I’m not sure if that sort of thing is still allowed (they probably need to PAT test the presents or something nowadays) but I will be thinking of ways for Caspar to understand that Christmas is also about giving and remembering those in need, and we will be making new traditions in this vein, as well as our new advent presents tradition.

I’m hoping that with this new tradition, we won’t have dogs and cats wedged into tiny, unsuitable spaces in the car on the way back to Bristol this year, and that we won’t end up living under a mountain of toys we have nowhere to put. Also that with the presents being a bit more spread out, Caspar will appreciate each gift more and be less overwhelmed and overexcited on the actual day – last year we had to save half his presents for his birthday as he lost interest and got overtired after the first twenty gifts! Because he is our only child, and the only grandchild of both sets of grandparents, he tends to be a bit spoilt. Not anymore!

His advent calendar and stocking this year contain gifts such as a new toothbrush, Peppa Pig (newfound love of his life) toothpaste, a new sponge and Fireman Sam (an ex love) bubble bath, which are things he needs but that also have his favourite characters’ faces on, so they’re exciting for him to unwrap as presents. There are also some fun things like a mini wooden puzzle, a couple of toy animals for his farm/zoo/dinosaur museum, a set of Snap cards, and a mini solar system to hang from his ceiling to teach him about space. I’m hoping this year we’ve struck a good balance between function, learning and fun with his gifts, because let’s face it, at almost three years old, he’ll probably still be more interested in the boxes! I’m hoping we’ve got another couple of years until he starts begging for the must-have toys he sees on the (outrageous!) TV ads that will make him fit in with his school friends. We’ll reevaluate then, but for now, the advent fairy has been, and so far, he’s very pleased with day one’s Peppa Pig Christmas DVD and chocolate coins! Now to put up the tree and the decorations, and embrace the festive kitsch aesthetic of the season! Deck the halls and all that…

RECIPE: Risotto with Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and chorizo

My pal Steph who blogs at I’m Counting UFOs tweeted recently requesting inventive ways of cooking with the humble Brussels sprout for a blog post she is writing. I am a lifelong lover (and guffer, I’m sure) of sprouts, and recently cooked a risotto combining the tasty green articles with roasted butternut squash and spicy chorizo, so I ventured this information to Steph, who tried a version of it out yesterday and found it to be (and I quote) “almost sexual”. Sprouts described as sexual?! Well it would be rude not to blog the recipe, and spread the sprout sexuality to one and all.

Before you dismiss this recipe, I honestly believe the Brussels sprout is a highly misunderstood vegetable, with layers (geddit? Har har) of untold depth. Having been boiled to bollocks by pissed Christmas dinner-cookers everywhere for years, the sprout is undeserving of its reputation as a mere catalyst of sulphur to be unleashed on snoozing uncles during the Eastenders Christmas Death Special. Cook these little green gems in the right way and they are full of flavour, crunchy texture and antioxidants. They are basically tiny green super heroes with multiple capes. Give this recipe a try, and see if it doesn’t change your mind about sprouts. I promise, you won’t regret it…

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 300g Arborio rice
  • 125ml white wine
  • 800ml stock (I used veg stock)
  • 1 small butternut squash
  • An unknown weight of Brussells sprouts but I used about 15 medium ones
  • A finger-length of chorizo
  • Small handful of cheese (Parmesan is traditionally used in risotto but parmigiano reggiano or even cheddar are fine)
  • Paprika
  • Coarsely ground black pepper

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
  • Cube the butternut squash, throw into a baking dish and season with paprika
  • Roast for 20-30 minutes until it starts to caramelise

While the butternut squash is roasting…

  • Peel and trim the ends from the sprouts, then finely slice them
  • Cut the chorizo into small cubes
  • Heat a saucepan on a medium heat and drizzle in some olive oil
  • Add the sprouts and chorizo and fry off for about 4-5 minutes until the sprouts are just tender and the spices from the chorizo are coating them
  • Remove the sprouts and chorizo from the pan and set aside in a bowl (there is a good reason for this!), but try to keep as much of the spicy oil in the pan as possible, as this will give flavour to the rice
  • Finely slice the onion
  • Add a good glug of olive oil to the spicy oil already in the pan, then throw in the onion and the Arborio rice, stirring often until reddy-gold – this will take about 5 minutes
  • Pour in the white wine and cook off for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat down to a rolling simmer
  • Ladle in the stock gradually and stir often – you want all the liquid from one ladleful to cook off before adding the next lot – the rice should take about 15-20 minutes to cook in total – you want it to be tender and creamy but with a very slight crunch to the grains
  • About 5 minutes before the end of cooking the rice, remove the butternut squash from the oven, mash two thirds of it and add the mashed squash to the rice
  • A minute before the end of cooking, mix in the sprouts and the chorizo – the reason for adding them at this stage is so that the sprouts stay crisp and retain their flavour and nutritional benefit, and so that the strong flavour of the chorizo doesn’t overpower the dish
  • Finally, stir in the cheese
  • Serve topped with the remaining roasted squash cubes and a twist of coarse black pepper to garnish
  • Devour and let the “almost sexual” flavour take you over
  • Don’t start to take all your clothes off whilst winking at the sexual sprouty risotto because that would be really wrong… especially if you’re guffing