Monday, 28 February 2011

Harlan Coben - CAUGHT

Harlan Coben – Caught

Harlan Coben has been 1 of my favourite authors for as long as I can remember.  Ever since I bought his 4th book, “One False Move” in a WHSmith special offer 10 years ago, I have done nothing but rave about his wit, his great characters and the speed with which he can download his adrenalized story right into the brain of the reader.

For 10 books he did nothing wrong, creating 2 of the best characters in modern fiction – Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood III – and moving deftly out of the potential graveyard of a series decline into the novels which moved him finally, and beyond overdue, into the mainstream.  Tell No One and Gone For Good unleashed the modern turbo thriller – real people caught in mundane lives as they turn sour, nightmarish and ghostly.

For the last 3 books, something has been wrong.  For the last 3 books, something has been missing.  Some indefinable spark has poofed and floated away (and is probably now living with Greg Iles or Simon Kernick).  The wit is still there, but it’s an echo, a 3rd rate sit-com with the lights turned low.  He still creates agreeable characters, and their mouths are still occasionally wonderfully sharp, but they lack the emotional resonance of some of his finer and more complex creations. 

And then there is the story itself, as if his search for nightmares in a mundane world has delivered him to just one conclusion – those lives are mundane for a reason, and with it comes the hum drum of his latest novel.

Wendy Tynes is agreeable enough, smart, spunky and with a sarcastic attitude.  The set-up is good too:  as a TV reporter, Wendy “exposes” a local paedophile who is then murdered.  Is it justice, or was she set up to frame an innocent man ?   Five years ago, Coben would have made this an amazing story, mining the complex moral see-saw of the is-he/isn’t-he scenario, and adding incomparable threat when a conspiracy starts to emerge.

This time, the story limps along, readable enough, but lacking any complexity or depth.  It reads like the book of an author on a treadmill – one who can no longer wait to be inspired because his latest deadline is looming closer every day.  It’s a shame – with more time or thought, the book could have been so much more than the sum of its parts.  As it is, it’s storytelling by numbers.  Easy, readable numbers, yes, but 2-dimensional numbers never the less.

The blurbs on the book still trumpet the amazingness of Coben’s latest work.  Of course, they’re not doing that at all.  They are the long overdue words of the very critics who didn’t notice him when he was brilliant, and now applaud his lofted position in a crowded market.  Unfortunately, their long delayed adulation will force readers to this book, only to be disappointed.

Unfortunatelier still, those same critics don’t direct the reader to any of his masterpieces – probably because they still haven’t read them.
Save yourself and Coben: read one of his earlier books, preferably one of his first 5 Bolitar books, (when he was on fire, racing like a tornado and spitting out pithy one-liners faster than a coked-up comedian) and hope that the extra royalties will earn him the extra rest he clearly needs to recharge his thrilling batteries.

(because I love him and refuse to diss him too bad)

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Cheater's Fish Pie

Cheater’s Fish Pie

Quantities to suit however many you’re cooking for
·         White fish eg cod
·         Other fish to choice – smoked haddock, salmon, tuna
·         Bag of large prawns frozen (no need to that)
·         Optional – bag of frozen mixed shellfish – prawns / squid / mussels / scallops

The rest –
·         Single cream
·         Dill – born to be used with fish
·         Soy sauce (to find the perfect cream / spice balance)
·         White wine or sherry
·         Garlic and chilli – ideally blitzed by a blender.  Failing that, just squirt a dollop from a tube or use a teaspoon of the easy stuff you get in a jar
·         1 large onion
·         Sweetcorn – optional
·         Frozen peas – optional
·         Maris Piper potatoes to mash, with butter

1st Things 1st
Follow this order –
·         Peel the potatoes
·         Put the kettle on for the potatoes
·         Chop the potatoes into medium chunks (the smaller the chunk, the quicker they will boil)
·         Put the potatoes on
·         Chop your onion and place it in a separate bowl
·         If you’re going to blitz it, do your garlic and chilli now, to taste
·         Pour some oil into the widest flattest pan you have.  Choose your flavour – olive oil, garlic, chilli, lemon.  Place the fish in the pan and on top of it, spread your garlic/chilli paste and any other spices you want to add
·         After 10 mins, turn the fish over and add the onion
·         10 minutes later, check on your fish, peeling any skin off if you’re that bothered
·         Add your frozen shellfish and a good left-handed glug of wine / sherry (always use your non-writing hand for a less controlled splash!)
·         Let things simmer for another 10 minutes, adding the peas and the sweetcorn half-way throug.  Turn the heat down low and add your cream, soy sauce and anything else you might want, spice-wise
·         Whilst this is gently simmering, drain your potatoes, throw in some butter, and mash ‘em up.  Whilst you’re mashing, drop your dill into the fish mix as your final step
·         ALWAYS test the meal before you serve it – it’s better to add a bit more wine / cream / soya sauce than serve something that’s “missing” something

The Cheat’s Choice
Serve the mash up onto your plates, as a base, like rice
Serve your fish mixture on top

The Posher Choice
Put your fish mixture in a deep casserole dish, filling it up at least half way.  Spread your potato mixture on top
If you want to, put some cheese on, or crispy bacon
Be careful – you need at least 1cm gap before the rim of the dish.  Once you put the pie in the oven, it WILL bubble (approx 180 for about 20 mins)

Et voila J
If you like, you can smart with it, experimenting with different spices.  Keep the veggies simple – broccoli is good, as is celery, but don’t over do it.  Equally, don’t do NO veg !
And for an extra mmmmm use less cream and add in some Bisto parsley granules

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Being A Mommy - week 1 part 2

When you are alone with the baby, things are not good.

Things are in a constant state of panic and agitation.  You can’t settle, rest or relax.  And most of all, you want your old life back.  It’s not that you wish harm on your baby or wish her to cease to exist, you just want this to NOT be your reality.

You throw out a comment about adoption to see how it goes down.  The movie star boyfriend, with typical sensitivity, tells you you should have thought of that before you got pregnant.  Harsh, very harsh, but who is there to tell you these things ?  This is how the whole Silence of the Sisterhood started – a conspiracy of fertility, sacrifice and resignation.  No one tells you how hard it is, no one.  So how the hell are you supposed to know you can’t cope with it?

You know it’s bad for several reasons –
·         You’re not eating.  For someone who loves food more than almost anything, this is always a bad sign
·         When you are forced to eat, you eat Pot Noodle.  Since you have always described this as less nutritious than cardboard, it is a very very bad sign.
·         In the night, when you can’t sleep because you are waiting for the baby to wake up (how sick and ironic is that) you wonder what would happen if the roof accidentally collapsed.  Not on your room, just the baby’s.

That’s my sickest confession.  I really did think that once.  And I didn’t even consider it worryingly wrong.

Bizarrely, it’s the little things that save you.  A control freak by nature, I find that if I write down exactly how much Beth has drunk, I will be able to predict how long she will sleep.  This gives me a measure of control over my day and makes life feel less random.  The victory is small, but valuable.

Big Brother.  Seriously.  It’s the year the Scottish religious one wins, and E4 is streaming it live, 24/7.  In a world where nothing exists except the baby, this stupid show becomes my family, my friends and my neighbours.  If I keep the TV on, I feel less alone.  I don’t talk to them (I am after all depressed, not mad) but just having them there, talking bollocks, keeps me a teeny bit sane.  Go figure.

It takes about 6 weeks for the breakthrough.  On the edge and at a loss, I beg my auntie if she would love the chance to have Beth for the weekend.  She gladly jumps at the chance and I immediately feel something like opium soothe through my veins.  All week I countdown to the magical moment, and actually talk to my daughter, telling her exciting things about her trip.  Eagerly, I bundle her into the car, and it’s not til she’s all the way down the road and out of sight that I realise what a very very wrong thing I have done.  I am consumed with guilt at the selfishness of what I have done and what I have put my daughter through (I’m sure she’s having a blast with her auntie, but that’s not the point).  I am overcome by a ridiculous urge to travel 50 miles and bring her back, and that, my friend, is when I finally accept I am a mother.  Standing there on the side of the road, forlorn at the departure of my innocent baby girl I feel like the lowest form of shit and know, just know, that I have to be better.  She is innocent, pure and innocent, and unless I want to scar her for life, I must stop wallowing and crack on with this motherhood shit.

2 interesting asides to the story –
Part of sending Beth away for the weekend was to spend more time with Shaun, who promptly came home, didn’t notice she’d gone, decided we’d watch a film I didn’t want to see, and then feel asleep halfway through ...

And the next time my aunt and uncle visited, I was actually holding Beth.  It’s one of the saddest moments in my life that his immediate reaction was not “hello”, but to say “well done, that’s the first time I’ve seen you holding Beth.”  Tears, sometimes they flow, and sometimes they really flow.

The drugs do work.  They started to stabilise me and helped me take baby steps with my baby.  They helped me resolve not to cry in front of Beth, however shitty I was feeling, because she did not deserve it.  They helped me want to be the mother she deserved, however inadequate I was, and eventually, they helped us decide to move to Lincolnshire, so that I could have a network of real people to support me, not just Big Brother.

That’s not to say the next 2 years were easy – they weren’t – but loving my baby became infinitely easier, and far easier than loving my movie star boyfriend.

Being A Mommy - week 1

Post natal depression is a kick ass poker player.  It doesn’t hit you 1-2, 1-2 like a boxer would.  No, it prefers to screw with your head so that you actually think you’re fine, even though you have never been so far from fine in your life.

It lets you think you’re getting away with it, even though you’ve battled depression twice before.  You know the signs, you’re braced, you’re aware of the growing numbness, but this doesn’t stop you hoping you are wrong.  Even when the amazing movie star boyfriend leaps in with his self-pitiful, “this is great, I just fucking knew it”, you wonder why you didn’t, and why you are so disappointed.

For the 2 days you were in hospital, you thought you were coping.  You smiled at your visitors, you generously let everyone who wanted to hold and snuggle your baby, you even managed to change baby’s clothes (you try not to dwell on the fact that it took you half an hour to summon the courage to even attempt this).   You dismiss as normal the way her cry knifes through you, and how very very grateful you are when the nurses take her away to the sleep ward.

It’s only 1 week later, at the insistence of your wonderfully honest GP, that you face the truth – you are only fine when you are not being a mother.

I was always adamant I would never have children.  I always knew I wasn’t maternal, and that really deep down I was far too selfish to be a mother.  My own had been amazing – loving, selfless and inevitably a little smothering – and I knew that was not an existence I could subscribe to.  Inevitably, it took her death to make me realise what I had lost and how to regain it.

Even when I was pregnant, I think I was more in “shopper” mode.  It’s very exciting having a whole new room to design and plan, and a whole heap of clutter to buy for it.  And let’s not forget, baby clothes and soft toys are very very cute and very very cuddly – they do indeed make you go aaaah.  Funnily, I never realised I was buying them in a standalone sense, rather than for a little someone to use.

And then there’s the whole garage full of crap required for the baby just to function – prams, car seats, sterilisers, bottles – it goes on, as does the quest for the “perfect” one.  Such a little person, so much clutter.

And so on the day you leave hospital it really really dawns on you, with the sensitivity of a hammer, that however you walked in, you are walking out as a mother.  What the hell does that mean? And how am I supposed to do it?  I’m great at my job, ok as a girlfriend, positive as a person – but no one taught me what this motherhood malarkey means.  I am acutely, rawly aware that I really need my own mother to illuminate the path.  Stubbornly, the path stays depressingly dark.

By the time the movie star boyfriend arrives to take you home, you can barely contain your nerves, your fears or your rage.  You have been trying to telephone him all morning – now he tells you that he didn’t answer the phone because he was determined to enjoy his last lie-in of his adult life.  WFT?  Did I seriously have a baby with this piece of shit?

The first couple of days at home are bewildering, scary and like nothing I have ever had to cope with before.  For the first time, I do not have all the answers, or know how to find them, or have any confidence in what I am doing.  The baby monitor which I considered essential is just annoying – if the baby’s finally asleep, I can’t cope with the stress of listening to her sleeping.  Knowing my bubble of peace could be punctured at any minute is almost more than I can bear.

Due to the caesarean, moving is difficult. My ankles still look like concrete pillars and my head is a mess.  I have never known a tiredness so deep or so inescapable – like a tide pulling me under, all I want to do is drown in it.

And there’s so much to do.   When the baby is awake it needs watching or interacting with.  And when it’s asleep there’s bottles and sterilising and all that crap to do (Beth thankfully having given up on breast-feeding just before the movie star boyfriend punched the wall because she wouldn’t “crack on with it”.)  Which is all fine, crap but fine, until you wonder when you’re ever going to shower again or have a meal again.  You’re not even fussy.  It doesn’t have to be a cooked meal, just any sort of meal.

And then the bomb drops.  Almost as soon as the baby is home, Shaun has to go back to work.  You have felt his departure counting down like a nuclear warning for the last 2 days and suddenly it is here.  Your only response is to cry.  You are scared shitless.  How the hell are you going to cope with a baby for 12 hours while he is at work?  Alone?!  OMG, alone.  You.  You and the baby.  Alone.  The panic is shrill and all encompassing.  It has enslaved you – all you can do is think about it and how the hell you are going to get through it.

Through it.

After the Caesarian

Being a Mommy – Day 1

Lying under the lights of the spaceship, everything is numb.  You can turn left and see your “not too sure what to do so I may as well smile” boyfriend.  You can turn right and see the 2 nurses.  Bless them.
But no.  Shit.  They are nodding that nod of encouragement and offering you the baby.  Offering you the scary thing you realise you haven’t really thought through.  Offering you the thing that you have not been able to give birth to, (and you actually feel deprived about this) and the thing that you didn’t feel, see, hear or feel or feel or feeeeel coming out of you.
You smile back politely and look away.  And that’s when they speak.  “Would you like to hold your baby?”  Er, no.  Even numbed up, you realise this is probably socially unacceptable so you force your brain into some top grade lying – “oh .. woozy .. wouldn’t want to drop it, ha ha”.
They nod.  But it’s one of those nods that you can know won’t give up.

At the earliest opportunity, the boyfriend disappears to make the celebratory phone calls.  You lie there pathetically, not wanting him to go – who will form the barrier between you and the baby if he’s not in the room ?
Panicked, you see the smiley nodding nurse moving in for the kill – here is a baby, your baby.  I smile blankly.  Wouldn’t want to drop the baby ha ha.  The nodding stops and her bullshit-o-meter spikes – “just let the baby lie on you” she commands.  You make some sort of noise, but it’s no good.  You’re trapped.  And there’s some sort of baby on you.
In the movies and the rom-coms and the TV shows, this is where the glowing, sweaty, apple-cheeked momma leaks a few photogenic tears and starts a life of endless cooing about her baby.  This is where she shakes her head in awe and wonder, gazes lovingly into the eyes of her soulmate and feels the world CLICK into a jigsaw of perfection.   She will feel blessed, joyful, brimming with love and declare it the most momentous moment of her life.
She is not me.
I lie there.  Numb.  Numb in oh so many ways. Numb from the epidural which I am frantically trying to convince myself is not wearing off because then I would have to admit reality is intruding.  Numb to how I should be feeling.  Numb to myself.  Numb and immune and apart from what is expected of me.
I look down, assuming a glance at my baby will change me into Jennifer Aniston in Friends.  But nothing.  Numb.  How is this baby me ?  How did it get here?  What am I supposed to do – now, today, tomorrow, the rest of my life ?  Why don’t I want to hold this thing ?  Why can I not even touch it ?
7 years down the line, it is hard to contrast how I feel now with the stark horror of those few hours.  I love my daughter more than I love myself, more than life, more than crisps, more than my eBay pleasures, yet that first day (hell, let’s be truthful, the first year ?  two years ?)  I did not know how to love her.  I lay there, waiting for love to spring and wash over me like a mommy shower, longing to bathe and drown in its waters but ... nothing.  Numb.
Bad as this is, and numb as this is, you remember a vague sliver of yourself.  Oh yes, control freak.  A lifetime of being out of control with this baby thing.  Shit.
So you’re lying there quietly, ignoring the blob thing sleeping on your chest, when the husband sweeps back in.  You have never been so happy to see him and immediately urge him to get this baby off you.  Smug nurse strikes back – let’s see if baby’s hungry.
Breast-feeding.  Oh fuck.

Everything about pregnancy has told you that your body is no longer your own.  You have lost your special hang-ups and shynesses and no longer care who sees it or what it does.  Hell, if you can survive the piles and the magic bullet, you can survive anything.
So you let the nurse tug your gown away and look at you expectantly until she realises if there’s any feeding to be done, she’s going to have to do all the legwork herself.  You force the non-numb bits of you into the bed, steeling yourself for what this leeching experience is going to steal out of you, and vaguely, only vaguely because by now you are drowning in numbness and don’t really care, you notice the husband frown at you, wondering why the earth mother he ordered has forgotten to take your place.
Part of you, a small part, a part clinging to life rather than the vortex of the fast approaching depression, thinks this could be the moment.  That as soon as the baby starts suckling, it will unleash some miraculous motherness in you and a white glow will spread through your body transforming you from nothingness into Jennifer Anistonness.  You take a deep breath – here goes.
Breast feeding is the weirdest thing.  Some women love it.  Frankly I didn’t get it, and thankfully, neither did Beth.  Unlike all the baby animals you see in zoo programmes, real babies don’t automatically search for the nipple, or know what to do with it, or guzzle with parched thirst.  They kind of roam around like blind eels, put the thing in their mouth and ignore it, and just ... lie there.  To break the monotony, they cry that they’re hungry.  Like the men they spring from, they cry over the problem rather than grasping the solution.
So you lie there.  Numb but no longer numb enough, and as some sucking starts and you realise with a weird distaste that it’s a baby not a man causing that tugging sensation.  You persevere, waiting for the gush of motherness, warmth, love, selflessness that still does not come.  The baby, eventually, in a half-arsed way so reminiscent of her father, starts to drink and the nurse all but breaks into a gospel Hallalujah.
You, well you’re not so impressed or awed or anything.  One look at the nurse bitch tells you she can’t wait to try this breast-feeding malarkey again.
Relieved that the nurse is satisfied enough to snuggle the baby down for a nap, you shrink into the bed and fake tiredness.  Willingly they wheel you back to the ward.  You close your eyes hoping to shut out the world, but annoyingly, like a thorn, it’s still there.
You let the boyfriend go and do boyfriend things.  You will the sleep down on you, and pray with a fervour that has eluded you for years that you’ll wake up back in your old world.

Caesarian - Part 1


So today is the day of my Caesarean.

Today, munchkin, you are finally coming out.

So far, 5 doses of Prostyn, the eagerness of your granny and the impatience of your mother have had no effect whatsoever.  

Today, all that will change.

Surprisingly, I have slept really well (surprising because I can never sleep on Christmas Eve, and the suspense of this is killing me far more than that).   I have had my Last Supper (well, last sip of water) and now all that is left is a final encore of waiting.
Even more surprisingly, I am calm. I think this is because I know what is about to happen. There are no ifs, ands or buts. There is just this. My caesarean, and then you, my sloth of a baby.

Of course, not everything can go to plan.  When your father finally arrives, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Of course he looks dishevelled.  Of course he is wearing his favourite lucky rugby shirt.  Of course he looks as if he has slept in a hedge.  However, what your father never looks is worried, and yet here he is, head in hands, looking everywhere but out, frantic with panic cos he has just remembered that 4 days ago I asked him who he would choose if he was forced with saving only me or you. Now he remembers.

I have never ever ever seen him like this.  He slides down the wall and sits with his head in his hands, propped on his knees.  He paces.   He cradles his head again.  He provides excellent humour material.  He paces again.   This is not my movie star boyfriend.  This is a man whose life is about to change, and he doesn’t know which way, or with what effect.

Unfortunately, all this comedy is having a far from funny effect on me.  My serenity is rudely interrupted by an osmosis case of diarrhoea.  All my calmness has been abraded away by your Daddy pacing around and exhaling doom n gloom.  Suddenly the reality of the Caesarean hits me.   Needles.  Spine.   Inefficient anaesthetic.   Sliced open.   Unable to screeee-

Its time.

I am wheeled gingerly to the delivery ward, all my many bags stacked around me, next to me, on me …  and suddenly the big moment is here.

After 9 months of lusting after you, visualising you, anticipating you, salivating over you, suddenly I am not ready.  I am not ready to be a mother.   I am not ready to be a mother for the rest of my life.  And I am certainly not ready to be a mother today.

But life is sometimes like a rollercoaster (Ronan) and right now I am at the top of that first incline you know the one the one that seems to go up and up and up forever at an impossible angle and you feel the curve is so steep that you are actually going backwards hanging upside down clinging on for dear life …. And that there is a lifetime of twists and turns ahead, some dizzying, some scary, some just downright exhilarating.  But above all else, you are strapped, bolted and pegged into this rollercoaster of life and from this moment on there is no getting off.  


The pit crew are great.  Professional, chatty, breezy – after all, to them this is just another day at the office.  They explain things to me and I nod, but I have too much energy to nod, so instead my whole body shakes its agreement. 

Annoyingly the movie star boyfriend is no longer gnashing his teeth and is instead laughing at me.  !!   Would you believe it !!??  He explains that now he is calm because it doesn’t affect him now.  Charming to the last.  He neglects to apologise for successfully transferring all his nerves over to me.  Bastard, he is enjoying my anxious ripples.  Little Miss Got To Be In Control hopelessly out of control – somehow I fail to spot the humour.

The anaesthetist gets ready.   Her assistant uses his hand as a tourniquet – bloody hell, never shake that man’s hand – and the drip goes in.  I am perched on the end of the bed concentrating fiercely on my breathing, fixing my gaze on a specific object, but nothing helps, because all I can see is the smug face of my grinning boyfriend, gleefully enjoying my nervousness.

Turning the dial, he decides to start a conversation, knowing that I am not capable of words.  I blow replies, too scared to nod or move in case important needles go astray.

And here it is, the key moment.  I fight to relax as the needle aims for my spine.  I can feel every goosebump, the blood rigid in my veins.  My nostrils flare like Puff the Magic Dragon and I feel the needle pop in.  Immediately my right thigh jerks.  It’s a bit like horror movie acupuncture – there is electricity hurtling down some damn meridian from my spine to my thigh, but bizarrely it amuses me (hey, I loved acupuncture).   Alert, the anaesthetist stops.  Thinks.  Begins again.  This time the speed limit on the meridian highway is well and truly smashed and I jump, startled.  The anaesthetist slows up and offers the reassuring words – “this might mean it won’t work.  So if we find out it hasn’t –“ (how how how will we know it hasn’t?) “-we’ll have to give you a general.”

But but – a general …  I may never wake up from a general. 

Worse, how will I ever bond with my daughter if I have a general?  How will I know she was plucked from me ?  How can I bond with someone when I have no proof she hasn’t been swapped on the ward with the daughter of any old Dresden ?

I have to be laid flat very quickly so that the anaesthetic can spread up my torso.  If they are too slow, it won’t work properly.  If I could move, I would move very fast, but instead I allow myself to be handled and positioned.  I stare at a cracked tile on the ceiling and I breathe very deeply and very determinedly. 

They move me now to a proper bed, and this is when it gets weird.  I know they are about to move me, so I prepare to help them, by turning my body, lifting a buttock, tilting, shuffling … except I don’t.  Nothing happens.  I feel as if I can move, but I can’t.  I feel completely normal (though enervated) yet obviously I am not normal, because I cannot move.  So instead I burble with nervous laughter and pretend I am enjoying the experience.

Now the critical bit.  They begin testing whether the anaesthetic has worked.  I concentrate extremely hard.   First they prick me all over with a little needle and I have to tell them where I can feel it and where it disappears.   Then they get an ice spray out, and again, in some places I feel it, and in others it just disappears, into a void where sensation used to exist.   They agree the local has worked.  But how do they know if it has worked 6 layers beneath my skin ?  How can they tell that my womb is frozen, that the blood won’t hurt, that I am ready to be gaped wide open ?

I am wheeled into the operating room, my lucky homemade CD on the stereo and my movie star boyfriend by my side (now togged out in his blue scrubs) trying to hush soothing thoughts into me.  I stare up at the only thing I can really see, a beautiful light above the bed which looks like a spaceship hovering in the ceiling.

Shaun is doing his best to keep me calm, but it’s not really working, so I reassure him – “I’m OK.  I’ll be fine as soon as I know they’ve started.”

“Started ?  They’re about to pull her out !”

What ????  I have been lying there for 10 minutes, sweating as I waited for the blade to pierce my skin, my subconscious and my pain barrier, and all the while the anaesthetic had obviously been working.  Nobody bothered to tell me, after all, it is not as if I am a significant player in the day’s events.  Most of my miff however comes from having missed the gush of water – Shaun assures me there is the best part of an Olympic sized swimming pool on the floor, but I cannot see, I cannot feel and I refuse to laugh cos no one told me we had started.

So before I have a chance to relax into anticipation, you are plucked from me into the light of the spaceship and you are not happy darling, oh no, not happy at all.

I can feel nothing and I realise I feel absolutely nothing.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Silence of the Sisterhood - part 16 - SPD


So, just to recap: the first 4 months of your pregnancy have been a miserable saga of vomit, exhaustion and migraines, a cocktail of depression so potent that the producers of EastEnders are begging you for the ingredients.  You have just been told that your daughter probably does not have Edwards Syndrome, but it will be another few weeks before they can be 99% sure.  You are finally back at work after 9 weeks’ absence, and you, yes you with your frighteningly positive attitude, are convinced that the remainder of your pregnancy will be a breeze because the first half was so appalling (interestingly, you tried to use the same logic with the first and second 30 years of your life and have not yet noticed the bollocks in it).

You accomplish about 2 weeks at work before it begins.  The joy of being the boss is that you can dictate your own hours and no one ever dares question whether you are working hard enough, but what they do notice is that you have started to walk slowly and to wince when you get up from your orthopaedic chair.

It starts as a really heavy pain on the right hand side of your pubic area, as if a bowling ball is pressing down on the right pubic bone.  All day long you are aware of a pressure, but it doesn’t make you vomit, and as this represents a significant step forward, you ignore the pain and plough on.

The pain doesn’t like to be ignored, so it steps things up a gear.  You are still delighted to be back at work (bless) but decide it wouldn’t hurt to spend tomorrow working from home.  Miraculously, a day’s rest and the pain vanishes – see what being a good girl can accomplish ?  You trill off to work and try not to ignore the steady encroaching gnaw of new pain – you will not be beaten by this pregnancy.  You have endured so much, isn’t it time it started to pay you back ?

Unfortunately, it misinterprets exactly what you mean by payback and the pain intensifies.  The midwife cheerily confirms that you have Symphysis Pubis Diastases and that there is no cure.  Your hormones are making the pubic bone separate in preparation for birth (steady on, we have 5 long months left yet) and the cartilage which joins the bones is no longer preventing them from rubbing together.  

You try to imagine what is going on inside you, and you imagine the bones creating so much friction that you could save a fortune in heating bills if the sympathetic boyfriend could just find a way to wire you up to an electricity generator.

The midwife cheerily tells you that you will have to put up with the pain and that you should keep your legs together as soon as possible (has she not seen my watermelon front?  Can she not tell that parting my legs would require traction the equivalent of the Giant Haystacks Tug O War Team ?  Apparently not.)   I am also to avoid as much bending and stretching as possible as this only makes things worse.  I wonder whether this will make the sympathetic boyfriend rueful of the tantrum he threw the night before when I asked him to pass me a book I was reluctant to reach for; no.

So I decide I will prevail.  I will accept assistance wherever possible, but I will still go to work; I can always work from home if I need to rest.  Then the second shoe falls off.  One day I lurch off the couch on my way to offload a thimble of urine, and I swear I feel a vertical tear, exactly where my pubic cartilage would be.  At the same time I know this is impossible.  At the same time I know this hurts like a bastard and that I am in trouble.
It becomes harder to manage the pain.  Again I am reluctant to reach for the painkillers, because I need to be aware of whether I have hurt myself rather than being numb to it.  I hope the pain will rein me in, but pretty soon my prevailing stubbornness has decided that as I am in pain whatever I do – however good or not I am – I may as well be a bad girl and do whatever the hell I like.

I try to work from home on alternate days, but one day’s rest no longer does the trick, and nothing seems to quell that sick friction I can feel as I walk.  The night is the worst time.  Naturally stiff from lying in the same position, I encounter trouble with my nightly urinal pilgrimages.   It is hard enough to roll out of bed when your middle has the flexibility and manoeuvrability of a watermelon, but rolling over with your legs clamped together without falling out of bed just sort of takes the piss a little.  It isn’t easy.  Worse, it is extremely painful (as well as ungraceful).  I hobble to the toilet, one halting step after another, lurching from wall to banister to give me some support – my own body having given up that ghost a while ago.

The needling vertical pain gets worse whilst I am off waiting for my old dirty blood to stop trickling out (trickling ?  noses have been known to flow faster).  Even if I were allowed back to work I wouldn’t be able to make it – the pain has defeated me.

The midwife pays me a visit and after having told me for 5 weeks that there is nothing she can do, now produces some TubiGrip, (no, not TubbyGrip, TUBI-Grip) but tells me it won’t do any good (hey, at least I’m primed for success).  It looks like a huge sock without the toes and I am to wear it around my fecund midriff, doubling it up if possible for extra support.
After she has gone I toddle off to the bathroom, unaware I am about to enter a war.   It’s the classic dilemma – over the head, or up the thighs ? – I settle for stepping into it and heaving it up, though it might have been interesting to try and flatten the Zeppelins.  Its not as stretchy as I imagined and shit a brick, if its this tight round my knees, what the hell is it going to feel like if I ever hoik it up another 2 feet ? 

I wrestle with the TubiGrip, harrumphing in triumph only to realise that I have gotten myself in tangles.  It takes 10 minutes to win the fight and I am exhausted.  The TubiGrip is also in the wrong place – it is supporting my thighs, but not my bump.  I sigh and hoik some more, wriggling and gyrating, but my opponent has strength and refuses to surrender easily.  I imagine we look like a Looney Tunes battle, arms and legs flying out in all directions amid a puffball of steam – all effort, no result.

I crash land on the toilet as I lose my balance – I should have appreciated the damage the elasticity of the material could do to me, how it could lure me into a false sense of security and then boing me off like an overweight ball from a cannon – but as I look down, I think, “That’ll do”.   The TubiGrip is more or less in position, and then I think – ah, maybe I should double it up for extra support?  That way, I will also be able to get some trousers on, rather than looking like I have bought a cheap see-through long cream skirt.
I lift it from the bottom and fold it up on itself and gasp as all the breath whooshes out of me.  Whoa, elastic has strength.  It feels powerful enough to squash my watermelon backwards and out through my bowels, and I am not ready for that yet.  I hastily shuffle the suffocating material back down into a single sheath and inhale deeply as the corset relinquishes its grasp.  I trudge downstairs, smiling at how it achieves the midwife’s aim of keeping my legs together, until on the bottom step I realise I should have peed when I was in the bathroom.

Peeing with the TubiGrip is an interesting experience.  Its long skirt has to be rolled up high enough to release my knickers, but as I sit down on the loo seat, the neat folds I have created morph spitefully into a Cumberland sausage around my waist that ensures I squeeze out every last drop of water my body possesses.  I urge my body to hurry, hurry, as I cannot stand the pressure (again, I am not ready for a rectal delivery of my baby).  I stand, confident that the material will just morph itself back into position, but nooooooo, it can morph to be mean, but not to be helpful.  I am stranded, the spare tyre like a vise round my waist, frantically trying to push it down, roll it down, any old how it down.

Surprisingly, I manage to endure 2 days of TubiGrip before I agree the midwife was right – not only does it not work, but the daily aerobic workouts it gave me were driving me to the point of exhaustion.

I resume my position on the sofa and succumb to the pain.

Silence of the Sisterhood - part 15 - Morning Sickness

Food Glorious Bleugh

For me, morning sickness kicked in really early.  All day sickness kicked in about 2 days later.

Its funny how not a single sister told you before you got pregnant that “morning” sickness is one of the greatest misappellations in the English language.  Funny too how not one of them will admit to you how long theirs lasted.   And it just makes you so glad you wore your laughter corset when you learn you can’t take Andrews or Pepto-Bismol or anything else you have relied on the rest of your adult life.

Just got to put up with it girl.

See, I understand that the sickness is caused by all the upheaval, the body’s shock at what is growing inside it, and the speed with which your precious invader asserts its right to a food supply (and spacious living accommodation).  What I don’t understand is how we haven’t evolved beyond this sickness stalemate.  Has Mother Nature not realised that if I don’t feel sick, I can eat, and my baby can get all the energy and nutrients it needs ?  Does she not realise that all morning sickness accomplishes is a pissed off mother and a baby feeding off water and chips (because this is all you can keep down) ?

You are, frankly, shocked at what the body will no longer tolerate: fizzy drinks, meat, chocolate, crisps, anything more substantial than a 2oz meal, in fact, just about anything you try to squeeze down your throat.

You know you must eat, so you try to do the decent thing, and force your way through the nausea (you have a large appetite, you have fought nausea before, and won).  Just as the last mouthful drops however, you get that bowling ball feeling in your tummy, that weighty, tingly, hot-and-clammy Oh My God feeling.  Within seconds the £4.50 it cost you for lunch is floating in the basin sticking its fingers up at you, and grinning in its triumph:  ha ha, it seems to laugh.  You, well, you just sink to the floor of the toilet cubicle and shake, too exhausted and depleted to even cry.

But hope is a cruel thing.  You really fancy a bag of beefy crisps, you toddle out and get some.  You put the first one in your gob and it sits petrified on your tongue, filling your mouth with saliva and dread.  But you wanted this 5 minutes ago!!  In the jittery, slightly hazy world of nausea, 5 minutes can seem a lifetime.

You have 10 more weeks of this yet.

You try to cut a deal with your baby – “Mummy knows you need food to grow, but if Mummy feels sick she can’t eat.   If you let me eat during the day, you’ll grow.  Can’t I just feel sick at night?”

Amazingly the baby responds, and sends your brain the weirdest, scariest images: I would like to eat fruit please.   I have not eaten much fresh fruit in years, not since the produce in supermarkets became harder than a porn star’s tackle, but astonishingly, my baby wants fruit.  Lots of it.  Where once I was never to be seen without crisps in my hand, now I carry round a bowl of grapes, plums and cherry tomatoes, which in itself is enough to warn everybody that knows me that Something Is Not Quite Right.

As the weeks progress, my perverse daughter will demand salad – this when her mother has for years famously fumed that salad is not a meal, but a garnish – jacket potatoes, tomato soup, pancakes, oats (sympathetic boyfriend remarks how at least one of us is now getting some oats), Hobnobs, and eggs.   There will be a week when I cannot get enough egg down my gullet, prompted I think by my sudden aversion to meat.  Not only does the baby know what I can keep down, she can also work out what she is not getting and manipulate me into eating it.  The weird thing about the egg episode though, is that for the last 10 years they have triggered migraines.  I can just about get away with eating them as an ingredient in cake (its tough, but I make an effort) but eggs on their own, fried or scrambled, equal the next day being spent in bed.

In 7 days I think I eat 15 eggs.  There is not even the hint of a suspicion of a prelude to a migraine.

Pregnancy, it’s a funny old thing.

Silence of the Sisterhood - part 14 - What's In A Name

What’s in a name?

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I have wanted to name the baby.  It took Herculean willpower not to name my future children the moment Shaun agreed we should start a family (well, he didn’t so much agree as lack the self-restraint to disagree, such was my impeccable timing).

Convinced I am having a girl, it is girl’s names I focus on.  When we eventually contemplate the fact we might be having a boy, it will take 3 months of struggle to produce 3 names.  By the time I am 5 weeks pregnant I have 17 girl’s names to choose from.

I am big on signs, omens, the meaning of things; its just one of the perks of being an English Lit buff.  What disturbs me is how so many of the names I have always liked mean absolutely horrible things.  I now discover that friends have named their children after wreaths, meadows by rivers, horses and various degrees of melancholia.  Most disturbing of all, is that what I had always considered a really cute name – Molly, sounds so innocent, rhymes with jolly – actually means bitterness.  Now either all the Mollys in the world have mothers who can’t read, or they just didn’t care. 

Personally I can’t understand how anyone could name a trouble-free bundle of joy “bitterness” …..  but then, I am only 5 weeks pregnant at this point; all too soon I will appreciate the sick humour of calling your daughter Molly.
We don’t want a wacky name, after all, we don’t want to scar our daughter for life; having Shaun as a father will be challenge enough for her, but I also know girls like to be special, and something a little different may go down well.

I am drawn to a book that suggests names to match star signs, and we are smitten with names representing light and angels for our little Gemini.  An early favourite is Ellien.  Different, but not too out there; it means light; it can be abbreviated to Ellie, a name we both love.   Then someone remarks how in the playground she will be called Ellien the Alien.  It’s amazing how quickly you can go off a name.

After about 5 months we take the plunge, and agree on the name which was always our joint favourite from the start: Elizabeth.   Classic, but offering our little girl a choice of names – Ellie, Lizzie, and our favourite, Beth.   It means consecrated to God, and believe me, there have been many moments when I have wanted Him to reclaim his consecrated child, but Beth it is, and it is a name we instantly love.   Now if only my daughter could learn to be as endearing as her name …..
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