The last days of pregnancy – the zwischen

(I wrote this on my due date, three days before my baby arrived. And it’s taken me nine months to finally publish this. There could not be a better demonstration of what life with two is like than this.)

Today I am 40 weeks pregnant. It’s the 31st of December 2018, we are in the dregs of the old year and on the cusp of a new one. And, I too, feel suspended between worlds. I am still (VERY) pregnant and yet perhaps within days, definitely within a couple of weeks, I will become a mother again. I am in the last days of pregnancy, the in-between time or zwischen. I read that article and gasped with a recognition that other mothers have felt this period of waiting, of hibernating, of time stood still.

This time it feels so familiar to me. Three years ago I was also waiting for my baby to be born. I will always associate the depths of winter, the short grey days and the long dark nights with the flicker of new life waiting to be born within me. I will always love this time of year because it reminds me of waiting for Nibs to be born. But it’s an odd time of year where nobody knows what day it is, where it feels like an endless run of Sundays. We’re in the dead zone between Christmas and New Year. Twixtmas, the gusset, the taint. Nobody has any plans and there’s nothing to do but dive into the Quality Street, start day drinking, and begin the debate over what to do for New Year’s. But such pleasures are denied to me. I can’t eat chocolate (fucking gestational diabetes), drink (fucking foetal alcohol syndrome), or move off my sofa without extreme effort (fucking cankles). There’s nothing in my calendar except the obvious – give birth. But when?

I loved this period of waiting the first time. I spent long hours on the sofa staring down at my humongous belly. I did nothing but rest, secure in the knowledge that he would be here soon. I slowly ticked things off my to do list until with only thing remaining I went into labour. It’s, in part, a matter of expectations. The first time I had a strong sense that I would go overdue. So when people asked me if I thought he’d be born on Christmas Eve or arrive on New Years, I laughed. I felt certain he would come in January – and he did. I don’t understand why women get so anxious I thought smugly. Babies arrive when they’re ready.

Now my smugness has come back and smacked me in the face. This time I feel impatient and itchy in my own skin. I want to meet my baby. I was so certain he would arrive early, second babies are always early – right? I have been ready and waiting since 36 weeks. At 35 weeks I had a manic burst of energy and a sense that this baby would be coming soon (haha). I organised the house from top to bottom, packed hospital and home birth bags, and wrapped all of my son’s Christmas and birthday presents (his birthday is 19 days after my due date) – just in case. Completing that flurry of activity has been both a blessing and a curse. Because it’s left me with nothing to do but wait. And as each day has passed the anticipation and the anxiety has only grown.

I have been anxious throughout this entire pregnancy. I could pinpoint it to the early bleeds I had or the health problems along the way. The week I conceived this baby my mum had her first breakdown and has been in and out of psychiatric wards. Every time I get a call, I tense wondering what has gone wrong this time. But even if my pregnancy had been uncomplicated, I still would have been anxious because of everything that has happened to my family. I just don’t believe that lightning won’t strike a third time. Until I hold this baby safe and well in my arms, I cannot let myself relax. And no matter how much therapy, birth preparation work or hypnobirthing work I do – the fear stays. My husband doesn’t understand the anxiety. ‘This baby is going to come and it’s all going to be fine.’  The only way I can describe it to him, is it’s as if you’ve spent nine months preparing to run a marathon. Except you don’t know the exact date. So every day you wake up and think will today be the day? You can’t relax, not completely because you still have to run that marathon.

The messages don’t help. Every day, they flood in:

have you had that baby yet?

I know they are sent with love but argh STOP! If I have another baby (hah!), I am lying about my due date. As a private person, it’s odd having something so intensely personal on display. I am at the stage now where my belly enters the room before me. And strangers come up to me on the street to touch my bump and ask when I am due.  Sometimes you get tired of answering the same questions. ‘No it isn’t twins, yes it is really uncomfortable, haha yep it’s an awkward time of year to be born’. For god’s sake even talk to me about Brexit anything other than the elephant in the room (hur, hur, hur) my impending arrival

Being pregnant is harder this time around. I am three years older and a couple of stone heavier. Instead of spending most of my time dozing on the sofa, I am struggling to entertain an energetic toddler. Lifting him takes immense effort. At bedtime I fall asleep before he does. I feel intensely guilty that instead of going to the park, we spend boring days at home. I long to go back to his mother ‘before’. But I know there is no before, there is only after. He follows me from room to room and every night takes the book ‘There’s something in mummy’s tummy’ to bed with him. He senses something is changing. For over two years he has been at the center of my universe. My little miracle child. But already I have become a woman divided. So much of my energy is being diverted into growing and carrying his little brother.

I am trying to remind myself to savor these last days. These are the last moments we’ll be a family of three. The last moments when the one who made me a mother will still be my littlest. The last moments, my baby and I will be one and not two. (Stop it, no you’re crying!)

Every feeling is huge and so close to the surface. I find myself crying at the oddest of things. My partner offering to take our toddler to nursery when I’ve been up all night with a hacking cough I can’t shift. The tiny clothes that were once Nibs and will now be worn by his little brother. My toddler already looks so big to me. He’s shedding that toddler chubbiness. His limbs are so gangly and long. During our days alone together I hold him until he falls asleep in my arms even though I sense he doesn’t need the nap anymore. I still do. I need him to be little, just a bit longer.

I cannot wait to meet this baby and see if he has his father’s eyes and his brother’s nose. To smell the skin at the back of his neck and to soak up every detail of him. I know this baby so well and yet I know nothing about him. All of this is to come.

There is nothing I can do but wait and plan things to get me through the next day.

Today if the baby does not come, I am going to sit by the sea. If the baby doesn’t come tomorrow, I will go for a pregnancy massage. If… if… if…

I have pregnant for so long where you begin to forget a time before you were pregnant or expect it will ever end. That this new lumbering body with its prisoner dancing within shall forever be yours. That you will never be able to pick things up from the floor, never sleep without 50 thousand cushions, never shed the thousands of aches and twinges as your body is stretched to bursting. But simultaneously you are very aware that this time is finite. Whatever happens, a final countdown has begun. Somewhere inside of me, my baby is deciding when to be born.

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