17. Did Stalin’s mum eat cake?

Last week was one of landmarks. We had our twenty-week scan and I turned, older. What a wonderful birthday present to have a tour of our baby’s organs! Like fascinated tourists we watched agog as our sonographer guided us on a bewilderingly detailed journey. ‘Here you can see the baby’s stomach, here’s the liver and on your right you’ll catch a glimpse of your baby’s spine. And if you just follow me, I’ll take you to the baby’s brain. Keep up. Photographs and novelty hats will be available in the gift shop.’ What looked crystal clear to our escort looked like a vortex of ever changing shapes to me, until we encountered the face and there upon it, a little up turned button nose that bought a lump so quickly to my throat. Saint Luke and I squeezed hands – he had spotted it too, and it was just perfect.

So I ate cake for two this birthday, at breakfast time. Officially ‘eating for two’ is not allowed in The Rulebook, which is made up of a small library of baby books stipulating precisely what I must do to be a ‘good mother’. It’s really rather overwhelming. What if that book is out of date? What if the authoress is a sadist? What if I don’t want to be a ‘yummy mummy’? What happens if I take the wrong piece of advice or god-forbid I find my own way?! Does that make me a bad mother? And let’s face it, a bad mother is the worse kind of bad human being. Did Gengis Khan have an inept mother? Did Hitler’s mum eat brie? Donald Trump’s mother almost definitely slept on her back. Oh god, why did I eat that second piece of cake?! Shame on me!

And so, it is my solemn responsibility to the future of humankind to read all the advice I can garner and increase my Rulebook knowledge of Do’s and Don’ts. Mostly Don’ts.

Don’t sleep on your back or on your right hand side. Don’t eat the delicious cheese. Don’t forget to make a birth plan. Don’t make a birth plan because you’ll only have to abandon it. Don’t do too much. Don’t do too little. Don’t spend too much money on maternity clothes. Don’t pretend you didn’t just eat that piece of sushi. Don’t lose your place on the NCT course. Don’t panic about the agonising, excruciating, mind blowing pain of labour. Don’t panic!

Much like Beyonce’s private jet, I appear to be harbouring a diva. My ever-changing vessel no longer belongs to me, or at least I’m no longer centre stage of this rig. And to add another layer of complexity, I’ve got Lucian Lupus lingering in the wings, like the curse that waits to crash Cinderella’s party. And so the list of Don’ts gets longer. Don’t forget to take your pills. Don’t stay up late because you’ll suffer the next day. Don’t ease your aches in a hot bath. Don’t do pregnancy yoga because your body isn’t strong enough. Don’t panic about the return of crippling Lupus symptoms bought on by the ‘trauma’ of childbirth. Don’t panic that the doctor used the word ‘trauma’, perhaps he said chicken korma? Yes I’ll have mine mild, thanks. But whatever you do, don’t panic!

But I am panicking. And you know what, it really doesn’t suit me! It’s a most unrecognisable feeling. I didn’t panic when I forgot to bring a calculator to my maths GCSE – not when I fell asleep off stage during a performance of Twelfth Night and was late for my soliloquy. I didn’t even panic when I got lost up a mountain in the Yorkshire Dales during a snowstorm wearing a summer dress and a denim jacket. I just don’t panic, so what on earth has got into me?!

Someone clever once said, ‘panicking is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere’. I feel much the same about The Rulebook – it’s giving me something to read at night as I exercise my pelvic floor, but it’s getting me nowhere! (and I’d much prefer to be watching Master Chef.)

So excuse me as I lay my baby books to rest for a while. I appreciate all their pearls of wisdom, I really do and I don’t profess to know it all, or any of it in fact – you see, I’ve never danced at this disco before. But for the sake of my sanity and as a birthday present to myself, I’m taking Fleetwood Mac’s advice above all others, and I’m going my own way. Admittedly that thought petrifies me, but I’m hoping that once I see that little upturned button nose, I’ll know just what to do.

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I’ll have my cake and I’ll eat it, twice.

16. A surprising Spring story…

My dearests, I apologise for my tardy blog post. I promise I didn’t forget about you, I just needed to wait for the right time – I needed to find the right words. You see, something quite wonderful has happened.

Let me set the scene. (Forgive me if this reads like an episode of Game of Thrones.) Two tiny ovaries were sleeping. Without command they slept for six months, protecting their owner’s body from itself, until one day, one ovary (the left one, which was by far the bravest) woke up. The weather outside was bitterly cold, but inside the ovary was warm and happy; it beamed with brawn. And as chance would have it, at the very same time an army of tens of millions were venturing on a hunting trip. They fought their way through dangerous obstacle courses that claimed many lives; some lost track and took the wrong path, some got caught in the treacherous terrain, some simple gave up the fight. Of the one hundred that remained, only one had strength, stamina and luck on its side and so it was crowned the winner. This was just the beginning of the champion’s fearless adventure…

Five tests, four months, three scans later, here I am today, harbouring one tiny miracle – a baby. Our baby!

My body has betrayed me in many ways since last summer and this is by far its most wickedly wonderful trick. For now, Lucian Lupus has retreated into the recesses, petrified of my ferocious womanly wiles. How could such a duplicitous villain possibly enter into battle with a body that’s preparing a new life? How could it stand in the way of a mother giving her unborn all the goodness it needs to thrive? BACK OFF LUCIAN LUPUS, I’M MAKING A HUMAN BEING IN HERE! And in the very act of doing so, I feel superhuman… I feel quite magical in fact.

In the first four months of pregnancy that are characteristically plagued by sickness and fatigue, my body has danced a merry jig! I feel better than I have in months! When my Super Doc reflected on my super test results, he mused ‘you’ll just have to keep getting pregnant’, at which point Saint Luke fainted into my arms.

My darling baby, I can’t quite believe I’ve got to wait until September to meet you! I’ve got so much to tell you, and so much to thank you for. You’ve already changed my life in many marvellous ways. I need to tell you that you came in the darkest of days when I was struggling to find any light. I want to thank you for casting the brightest of sunshine to warm my beaten body. I want to thank you for my re-born love of chips and revived repulsion for spice; for the excuse to buy new underwear and ask for seconds (twice.) I need to tell you that your Dad will be a rock that you can always depend on, and I’ll be fantastic at organising themed birthday parties. I want to thank you for allowing me to bring joy to so many people we have told about you; I wish you could see the look on their faces and sparkle in their eyes. I want you to appreciate the support you’ve bought from surprising places; you are so incredibly loved by a chorus of people who haven’t even met you yet. I want to thank you for putting my every ache and pain into perspective and for making me feel more empowered to fight than I’ve ever felt before. I want to tell you that I’m still a little bit scared and sometimes I can’t sleep at night because chocolate cake doesn’t count as 1 of my 5 a day (not even 5 slices). My brave little one, I want to thank you for standing up to my archenemy when you were only the size of a kiwi fruit and for putting the skip back in my step. Gosh you really are incredible. I’ve got so much to thank you for my darling, and I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure you know how much I love you (which doesn’t mean you don’t have to tidy your room.)

Even in my most inspired / medicated creative moments, I couldn’t have written a plot twist quite like this. Like the most fantastical stories, mine has come with a spectacular change in fortune. Except unlike Game of Thrones, this story is true. And it’s our story Luke; our baby is the story of me and you. To be continued…

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Wind swept and blown away.

14. I’m storing up the good stuff…

This past week has been a most excellent week. For the first time in a very long time I feel like I belong to the body I’m in. I don’t hear myself groan as I walk up stairs or wince as I sit. Tiredness doesn’t creep up and knock me out unreasonably at reasonable hours. My counterfeit smile has been replaced with the real deal because at long last, I can see my reflection and recognise it as my own. I’m back.

Lucian Lupus has taken leave. Perhaps he’ll return with a vengeance just to spite my mood, but when he does, if he does… I’ll be ready for him. I’m going to bottle this favourable feeling and use it as a tonic to fight his mighty malaise. I’m bottling this feeling for some rainy day PMA.

The words below are a potent rescue remedy, to be used in cases of emergency. (Penalties for improper use apply.)

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Look lively Lush, and don’t for a moment dwell on what’s wrong with the world. What possible good can come of focusing on your own ill-feeling and all the answers you don’t have. Look past the time you got ripped off, left out, or made to feel small; that time you were called up first or not recalled at all. Don’t eat food that isn’t completely delicious, just because someone somewhere told you that it’s good for your third intestine. Forget about the texts you shouldn’t have seen, that email you wish you’d sent and the time your heart was shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Listen to your gut before you listen to advice from strangers, because your gut knows you better than they do. Call mum because she probably knows more than your gut. Don’t lust after snazzy expensive things you can’t afford– they won’t make your cheeks hurt from smiling, no matter how snazzy. Stop wishing it hadn’t happened to you, or could happen for you, or wondering why it happened for them instead. Don’t long to turn back a clock that’s impossible to turn because your life didn’t quite go as your sixteen-year-old self had planned. Your sixteen year old self wasn’t as wise as you are now. Enjoy the plot twists. Eat donuts even though they probably want to kill you, because there’s no joy quite like jam dripping from your chin. Eat fruit too. Don’t turn a blind eye to sights you’d rather not see; be mindful of the bigger picture you’re in. Be kind. Wear comfortable shoes and red lipstick. Be thankful for the friends that love you even when you’ve got nothing funny to say, and forget about the ones who have so easily forgotten you. Listen to Taylor Swift and shake it out. Worship at the alter of Saint Luke who is the slowest cook in London, but will always deliver a wonderful meal in two to three hours (AND wash up.) Laugh at the impeccable timing of a punctured tyre in the rain. Laugh a lot. Smile at people because more often than not, they will smile back and it feels good when they do. Enjoy the warmth of your electric blanket, that’s warmer still because it was an unexpected gift. Steer clear of strangers on Instagram who only ever look tanned, ironed and dead behind the eyes; they may have a beach house in Miami but they have no idea how good the view of London is from the 88 bus. Relish in the bits of your body that are behaving as they should and use them wisely. Use your brain most of all; challenge yourself to use it some more (and when you’re tired, watch videos of the Honey Badger on You Tube). Read words that inspire you and watch Ted Talks about things you don’t understand. Understand that life can be cruel, but no amount of melancholic musings can stop that, or help at all. When your mood turns sour, it’s time to count your blessings and make sure you count them twice. You are responsible for your own happiness and you are capable of finding it, even in uncomfortable shoes and situations. You really don’t have far to look.

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I’m off to see The Super Doc next week – if he doesn’t tell me that my medication is working, I’ll eat my hat, and his.

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The bright side.

13. Red Lipstick: my weapon of mass deception

Over the last couple of months my friends may have noticed my penchant for red lipstick. Whether it’s accompanying a black silk shirt or tracksuit bottoms, I really don’t care – the lipstick stays on and it’s always ruby red.

I slap it on after a sleepless night. I reapply after puking at the bus stop (my fellow commuters wondering how I’d come to be so drunk at 9am). I sport it because my body is feeling fragile but my lips say I’m fearless (and probably French).

Sometimes I misjudge the boundaries and find it creeping towards my nostrils, and sometimes I forget it’s on and Saint Luke looks like he’s been mauled by an angry mob (or gob). It seeps deeply and defiantly into the ravines of my lips, an Armageddon survivor like a chic cockroach. It’s often out of place, it’s always high maintenance, but I’m committed to the cause because every time I go red, someone will say ‘you look well’. Lush – 1, Lucian Lupus – 0.

And much like a pantomime dame, I do look really rather jolly. Thankfully I’ve managed to forgo the common Lupus rash across the face (a la Seal) marking my days with disease. Instead, Lucian Lupus stays hidden – a devious, duplicitous villain, cloaked in my clothes, skin and bones.

I wonder if life would be easier if I wore what I’m truly feeling like a badge? I’d have one on my back that reads ‘Slow moving human – body hurts.’ I’d have one on my shoes that says ‘please tie me – tricky to bend down.’ I’d especially like one in bold across my chest, ‘temporarily out of order. Maintenance aware.’ On some days I’d like to swaddle myself in Hazard Tape, warning onlookers of perilous obstructions ahead after only two hours sleep.

I don’t want these signifiers to provoke pity, but perhaps a little understanding of what I’m masking. I’ll never be the bore that responds to a courtesy ‘how are you?’ with a list of ailments – no one wants to hang around that person! But sometimes I’d like my auto-reply, ‘I’m really well thanks!’ to come with a few caveats. Namely, ‘I’m normally much more fun. I’d like to say something humorous now but I’m too tired. Of course I’d have a glass of wine if my medication would allow it. I’ve got lots I want to say, but I’m distracted by the aches. I think you’re really funny but it hurts to laugh. I hate to leave early; I’m usually the last girl standing. This isn’t really who I am. This isn’t who I want to be. Please bear with me.’

But it’s not appropriate to whisper in people’s ears and what would it achieve if I did? Would people treat me differently if I came adorned with warning signs? Would people don their kid gloves and feel removed with misunderstanding? That would surely be the worst of the Lucian Lupus curses. The very last thing I need is sympathy to reinforce any self-indulgent pity. On the contrary, I need to be reminded to fix up, look sharp and get on with it.

On goes the war paint, on it goes, taunting Lucian Lupus like a flash of a matador’s red cape. On goes the signage that says I’m bold, brave and far from feeble. On goes the mark of glamour and joie de vivre, on it goes, masking whatever it is I’m trying to hide. So when people ask ‘how are you?’ I’ll leave my red lips to do the talking, without having to say a word.

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Pucker up, it’s show time.