First of all, having gotten over the nausea and lethargy that dominated the first three months, the second trimester has, thankfully, been a time of clearing away the grim symptoms, and I'm feeling pretty good. I've found that as my hormones have balanced out (due to the placenta taking over with this work), I no longer behave like my emotions are riding, non-stop, on the world's tallest roller coaster, and I'm feeling more like me.
Back in October 2013, when I was about 15 weeks pregnant, both my husband and I were fortunate to attend sessions run by The Natal Company at The Baby Show, held at London's Olympia in Kensington.
Mummy Natal was on the menu for me: I was treated to a relaxing foot bath, and Steph Beaumont, one half of The Natal Company's founding couple, talked to our small, intimate group about the natural powers of our bodies to deliver babies into the world. It was reassuring beyond words to hear about peaceful births, and to learn about the importance of relaxation to encourage this. I now know that if the birth room is dark and quiet, and I'm not treating my labour so much like a medical intervention, the levels of oxytocin (the body's natural birth assistant) in my body will heighten: resulting in a smoother labour and birth.
While I was taking five with the girls, my husband was in a Daddy Natal session next door with Dean Beaumont (the other founder). I'm fortunate to say, judging by some of the other girls' descriptions of their partners, that mine is, and was even before the session, very sensitive, thoughtful and supportive. However, he came out more confident, knowledgeable and comfortably charged with the role of "protector and advocate," as Dean had, rather wonderfully, put it. My husband was also reassured that labour didn't have to be a horrible experience: one where the screaming woman lashes out at the father. Instead, he felt reassured (from having heard it from an experienced man) that dads have a key part to play in the delivery of the baby. I enjoyed all the facts and useful tips that he reeled off to me: the amount of contractions per hour in established labour; how we need a code word that only we understand so that he knows if and when I REALLY want to change the birth plan; that a bendy straw is a must-have item in my hospital bag; and that women are not legally obliged to wear a seat belt when in labour.
Anticipating the 20-week scan was a long wait but, thankfully, my midwife used a Doppler to hear my baby's heartbeat at the 16-week appointment. Then, we were overjoyed to discover, at the scan, that our baby was healthy and growing well.
Feeling the 'quickening' was an experience, to say the least! Initially unsure if what I was sensing was flatulence (sorry, but gas increases ten-fold in pregnancy) or my baby moving, eventually I realised that those butterflies were indeed my baby flipping around, jabbing and exploring his surroundings. I must point out that my baby's movements are a personal monitoring project right now. Sometimes, I guess when my baby has a growth spurt, it's as though he has run out of room. So, he slows down a bit, which does worry me. Then the next week, it is full-on, bold movements that knock me sideways. I'm told this is normal, and that if he is facing away from the front of my body, it is harder to feel him move. "Welcome to parenthood..." a friend told me, "from now on you'll never stop worrying." However, I am comforted by the 10 movements an hour measure, though this isn't usually medically considered until 28 weeks. Nonetheless, it reassures me when I'm resting; I wait quietly, holding my bump to feel gentle wriggles, kicks and elbows toward my spine.
To come back to worrying for a moment, I want to share with you the things that have concerned me, and made me rush to hospital to get checked out. I have had skin reactions: red bumps on my legs in the hair follicles, and huge lumps under my arms. So huge I couldn't put my arms down properly. I was freaking out thinking I'd contracted toxoplasmosis! Thankfully not, it was just my skin reacting because it is more sensitive. So, I stopped shaving, using oily moisturiser, and antiperspirant, and both soon disappeared. In addition, I have also been worried about leaking fluid; most likely urine due to extra pressure being put on the bladder. Again, it was, thankfully, nothing to worry about.
More recently, when I'm a slightly dehydrated from the central heating being on for winter, my hands get a bit puffy. Though not swollen, certainly not enough to warrant suspected pre-ecalmpsia (a very serious condition, for both mother and baby, where the placenta comes away from the uterus. Mostly due to unhealthy blood pressure). To guard against dehydration, which can increase blood pressure and swelling, I'm mindful to drink more water and rest with my feet up when I can.
Thankfully, my NHS maternity care has been amazingly supportive, and I have never been made to feel as though I'm wasting time or that I'm over-reacting. In fact, I've been encouraged to contact them and to go in whenever I am concerned because they recognise that worrying is more damaging than going to get reassured.
Another current issue that is worth mentioning here is the position in which to sleep. I read that it is better to lie on the left side, as opposed to the right, and to not lie flat on my back. Apparently this is because, as the uterus grows, pressure is put on the blood vessels in the pelvis, particularly the large vein (inferior vena cava) on the right-hand side. This vein receives blood from the lower limbs and pressure here is said to slow circulation, adding to any existing water retention.
To help with this, I have been using a pregnancy pillow, and it has been a sleep-saver. My bump is supported and I'm better able to stay on my left side. The award-winning device is uniquely shaped to help the sleeper avoid rolling flat on to the back, thus encouraging the maximum blood-flow between mother and baby. The makers of Dreamgenii, the one I am using, claim that: "If used from around 20 weeks, it can help to encourage optimal foetal positioning, which can lead to a shorter and less painful labour, with less chance of intervention." Also, because the right leg is gently lifted, pressure is relieved from the pelvis, which means less back pain and a more restful sleep.
I've noticed how much more tired I am in the evenings; often I'm in bed by 9 pm. I'm trying to make the most of it as I know and appreciate that this is the time, before I get bigger, and before my baby is here, to steal some me-time. A warm bath is a wonderful thing, but often knowing what products to bathe in is a worry because of the conflicting advice about essential oils and certain chemicals. Thankfully, Mama Baby Bliss has solved this dilemma, and now mums-to-be and breastfeeding mamas can indulge in a warm bath bubbling with gorgeous, relaxing aromas.
To end my second trimester, I'm ecstatic to get the chance to indulge in a UK spa break at Pride of Britain Hotel's Ockenden Manor, in West Sussex. Calling it our 'Babymoon' this break is an opportunity for my husband and I to kick back and spend some quality time together, before our unit of two becomes three. The hotel is set in nine acres of beautiful parklands and gardens, and the spa, with its awe-inspiring vistas of the rolling countryside, is a haven for busy mums-to-be. Offering specific treatments suited to pregnancy, the spa also has a stunning, elevated relaxation area, with access to unlimited, complimentary herbal tea and decaffeinated coffee, and a wonderful swim-through indoor and outdoor pool: something to be enjoyed, considering it's unsafe to use heat therapies or to drink too much caffeine. Many other spas simply aren't able to offer such experiences to the pregnant, so I've no doubt this will be a treat to savour.
As I approach my third trimester, my focus will be on preparing my body, and my mind, for labour and birth, and I'm really looking forward to the final leg of, what has been, the most incredible experience of my life.