I don't do things in halves. I've been raised with the motto "do it properly or don't do it at all" drilled into my brain.
I'm also a control freak. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I have a chronic illness (actually, two: Hashimotos and Multiple Sclerosis). It means that there are things in my life that I simply cannot control - which makes me super excited about controlling the things that I can. Like, for instance, how I prepare for the birth of my first child.
So in this blog post I thought I'd share with you what I've done, read and put my poor suffering husband through during the last 12+ months (that's not a typo - I started preparing for pregnancy well before we even started trying!).
Like all first time conception seekers, my husband and I didn't know if we'd be able to fall pregnant easily. So I delved into the literature on how to best set your body up for conception. I worked out, got my weight to a healthy level, took stacks of vitamins and got a gazillion blood tests done. For a full list of the vitamins I took and the pre-conception tests I got done see the book listed below 'The Natural Way to Better Babies'.
I also stopped drinking (except for the very occasional half glasses of vino) about 6 months prior to us trying. Oh and I went off the pill a year earlier.
I am not for one second telling you that all of these things helped us fall pregnant (except obviously going off the pill was a start!). But the pre-pregnancy planning helped my sanity and made me feel like I was in control (as much as one can be) of my body and putting my best foot forward on this journey of conception.
Hurray, success - we were that annoyingly fortunate couple that fell pregnant after our first attempt. You can but only imagine the shock on my husbands face!
So then began my pregnancy prep.
Books for pregnancy health
First, I started on the books. I got stuck straight into Kaz Cooke's Up the Duff - if you're not a reader then seriously this is all you need to peruse, just one short chapter per week and you'll be well informed. It kept me sane and laughing when I could hardly keep food down.
At the start, I was obsessed in reading and learning about the pregnancy - from books that taught me about the best pregnancy nutrition to research that guided me through the gazillion tests and swabs being recommended by obstetricians, I devoured it all. For a full list of what I read see below.
Books for the birthing process
But as I got bigger, and felt the glorious kicks of bub, I got obsessed in the birthing process. I started reading about hypnobirthing and calm birthing and water births and home births and the research on the power of midwives in reducing medical intervention. For a full list of these books also see below.
My top reading recommendation out of this lot is Birth with Confidence by Australian Rhea Dempsey. If you can get past the hippy language (she calls readers that want a natural birth 'willing women'!) the explanations about the stages of child birth and how to ride the physiological phases are really useful (for preparation at least, I haven't actually given birth yet so stay tuned if you want to hear the birth story later on!).
Why we hired a private midwife
From these books and a trusted friends recommendation we also hired a private midwife. The research shows that you can massively reduce the risk of medical intervention during birth by having a private midwife. So I saved up my money (that I would have spent in the private system) and put it towards paying for a one-on-one pregnancy, birthing and breast-feeding coach. I cannot over state the benefits that my husband and I have already received from this magical woman Juliana. I actually first contacted Juliana the day after I found out that our baby had only one kidney (you can read my other blog post on that topic here).
I was feeling stressed, tired and incredibly anxious and I knew I had another 4 months left of this pregnancy to go! After ten minutes of speaking with Juliana on the phone I felt calm, confident (that I could get through the pregnancy and the birth) and like I had someone really qualified on my team (Juliana has been a midwife for 23 years and has three children of her own).
For more information about the benefits of hiring a midwife see here and here. I found Juliana via Google and chose her after reading her bio. It's absolutely critical that your values align and that when you meet in person there's a nice connection. If they even slightly annoy you, move on - this is one relationship that you must vet carefully.
Birth prep classes
And then came the classes. We attended the two day Calm Birth classes which integrate visualisation techniques, breathing skills and hypnobirthing all in one. I found sitting still for long periods of time to do the visualisation parts quite hard, but after two days of that I felt incredibly calm and actually a little spacey! Always a nice thing for a control freak like me. I also cried (happy excited tears) throughout the videos - interviews with lots of parents and clips of newborns doing the breast-crawl, so divine!
We also attended breastfeeding classes run by the Australian Breastfeeding Association. By signing up as a member (it's really cheap) I get access to a 24/7 helpline and email counselling if I do find it difficult at first to breastfeed. Obviously I'll have the support of Juliana but I also wanted to attend the classes as you go along with your partner (because research shows that your partner will have the biggest influence on you as to whether you'll feel supported to breastfeed and continue even when things are sore at first) and you learn things together to help you before you're overwhelmed with bub. Again, for a control freak like me the more I can learn and understand now, the better equipped I'm going to feel - even if it doesn't help one iota post birth!
Telling the boss
I was really nervous about telling my boss that I was pregnant. Hormones, nerves, insecurity - it all got the better of me! Before you tell your workplace, I strongly recommend that you read the information available on the website Grace Papers. You should also check out the information online at Fair Work Ombudsman. It's important that you know and understand your legal rights when it comes to maternity leave, but it's also good to consider the operational requirements of the business so you can pre-empt any concerns that may be raised by your boss and have intelligent (but firm) responses in reply. I'd also check out the facebook group Help a sister out - lots of amazing women in that group are happy to answer any of your queries / concerns.
Turned out for me that my boss was happy for me and has actively supported me throughout my pregnancy, but I know I'm one of the fortunate ones. If you need help in this area, reach out - there are a lot of women that have come before you that can offer insightful guidance.
Planning the handover
I got to planning for the future needs of the business straight away. Hiring replacement staff, setting realistic handover time-frames and putting in leave applications early all helped in the transition stage to make sure that the team (including me) felt comfortable about the changes that are looming. I don't think that anyone else can provide better guidance in this department than other working mums. I have met with a lot of working women and grilled them on what worked for them and what didn't, and have tried to set my goals and expectations on what I feel will be right for our family and our finances.
Planning for the return to work
This has been by far the trickiest part - a part of me feels that more than three months off will feel ridiculously long, another part of me knows that this time will whizz by. But I'm the primary breadwinner in our family so I need to be realistic about our finances and also what's best for my career (and the future stability of our family). So I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - there are some great stats in this book about the importance of keeping a position at the table, even while you're planning your maternity leave, and the long-term benefits of staying in employment while juggling a young family. Her book isn't for everyone, but it made sense to me and gave me conviction to stay firm in my goal to return to work (even in just a part-time capacity) after the first few months.
Packing the hospital bag
I had such fun picking out a new hospital bag - I chose an overnighter from Seed and figure that I can then use it as a nappy bag post-birth. I did a lot of research, and this is what I've come up with so far to include in my hospital bag:
- Maternity pads (Tom Organic of course)
- Nursing pads (also Tom Organic)
- Big black undies
- Maternity bra (my girlfriend Liz has fitted both Lest and I in an intimo one - it's super comfy)
- Black harem pants
- Breastfeeding-friendly tops
- Heat pack
- Three newborn outfits
- Nappies, wipes, rags and muslin cloths
- Two blankets for bub
- Lipbalm and nipple balm (Lanolips 101 all the way)
What am I missing peeps? Please tell me!
I've also started preparing the post-hospital food. My freezer is stacked high with nutritious meals from Dineamic and nut bread (see earlier post here).
The baby room
This was a fun couples exercise to go through - the trip to Ikea, Baby Bunting, all the cliches! But we made it and the room is now set up with cot, nursing chair, chest of drawers and change table (full of Natural Supply Co goodies - stay tuned for a separate blog post on that).
The funnest part for me has been washing and folding away all the little clothes in age brackets with the accessories and 0-3 months in the top drawer, 3-6 months in the second and so on. Even those items made in Australia or that will be used as spew rags I've washed. Why? Well I don't want any unnecessary chemicals to touch bubs skin. Another reason - The Laundress baby detergent just smells so divine!
Other random tips
All the books recommend that you get your teeth cleaned at least once during your pregnancy - I think it has something to do with bacteria that could be in your mouth that may be harmful for bub. So I dutifully went along and got a clean and it was all fine, you just have to tell them when you book that you're pregnant.
Also make sure that you don't leave it too late to get your whooping cough injection (and making sure your partner and older family members book in too) as there are often shortages of the vaccine. Top tip: most GPs put aside some free whooping cough injections so if you're having trouble let them know you're pregnant and your local GP should be able to help you or refer you to a health clinic.
So what's next?
I'm now reading books about the first year post birth and also delving into the hilarious book Reservoir Dad - about a stay at home dad in Melbourne. Hoping this will give me insight into what my husband is getting himself into as he has put his hand up to be a SAHD after the first few months.
Another book I've been enjoying is The 4-hour Work Week - I figure any book that gives me tips on how to be more productive whilst working fewer hours has got to be beneficial - particularly when I'm sleep deprived and longing to be at home with my bub.
When I can't sleep in the week hours, I've also been doing a free online course via Coursera - just download the app and pick a topic that suits your fancy. I chose Child Nutrition as I'm in the zone, but there are courses in philosophy, leadership, you name it.
One other course I'm desperate to do is the Tiny Hearts First Aid course. Unfortunately I've left it a little late to complete pre-bub, but my husband has updated his first aid training recently so I'm definitely booking myself in post-birth.
I'll also continue doing the Calm Birth visualisation and breathing exercises (they give you a USB full of them), lots of swimming (to try and ensure that bub is in the optimal position for birth) and eating well (read lots) - I keep joking that I'm carb-loading in preparation for breastfeeding!
Finally, I'm stocking up Netflix and Stan series as I've heard that you need them when learning how to breastfeed and recovering from the birth. Shows like Nashville, Billions and Brooklyn 99 are on the list.
With the due-date looming, and Celeste not too far behind, do you have any tips for us on what we should be doing to prepare ourselves for this amazing next chapter in our lives? Did you do anything else that I've left off the list?
Full reading list:
Kaz Cooke - Up the Duff
Francesca Naish - The Natural Way to Better Babies
Heidi Murkoff - What to expect when you're expecting
Dr Anne Deans - Your pregnancy bible
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani - Well Adjusted Babies
John Medina - Brain rules for baby
Breastfeeding Naturally - Australian Breastfeeding Association
Birth with Confidence - Rhea Dempsey
Dr Nick Carr - What happens now? (the essential book for first-time fathers)
A.Brott and J. Ash - The expectant father
Brian Lipps - Expectant Fathers