Nine, or less, months you wait for your bundle of joy to arrive. You know your life is never going to be the same. Your world will now embrace all things baby. And there are lots of baby things.
Let's recap. You get pregnant. You get morning sickness/nausea/metallic taste in mouth/bizarre cravings (tick all appropriate). You wait a few weeks before informing - no, not the grandparents-to-be - your credit card company/bank manager (delete as applicable) that there will be some unusual activity on your card in the forthcoming months i.e. you're going on a massive shopping spree for baby things.
You buy a moses basket. You tell aforementioned grandparents-to-be. And other close friends.
You make a booking in appointment with the midwife and tell her you want a water birth, can she book the pool now please.
You buy some clothes - neutral colours - because even though you know the grandparents-to-be are about to buy shares in Mothercare and baby will (at some point) inherit some hand-me-downs from varying cousins, there was a gorgeous sleepsuit in size "new baby" (so anything over 8lbs, forget it) that you had to have.
You do your research on your pram. Do you want a pram or a pushchair, or perhaps - darling - one of these travel systems would be better. It doubles, nay trebles, as a pram, pushchair AND a carseat. Ingenious. Rear facing or forward facing? Neutral colour scheme or slightly bolder colours - navy, black & cream.....but nothing gender specific. Not yet anyway. You decide on a three wheeler that looks like a mini John Deer tractor when up and functional, but folds down small enough to be put into the boot of your smart girl about town car, with matching raincover, cosytoes, sunshade and parasol (for the back seat of your smart girl about town car, the boot having been taken over by some three wheeled contraption).
You research cots. Fixed sides, drop sides, full size, junior sized cot bed? How about the really cute ones that drop the side altogether and you can have baby sleeping next to your bed, making night feeds so much easier. That doesn't mean however that you will co-sleep with your baby, but it's nice to know that he/she will be right there where you can keep an eye on them all night. You decide on a junior sized cot bed, after all, baby will spend - oh at least - the first few months of life in the moses basket because there is nothing cuter than a tiny baby all swaddled up in a crisp new moses basket.
You buy linen for the cot bed. And matching wallpaper, border, curtains, uplighter, waste bin, nappy stacker, changing bag and toiletries box. Plus the linen for the moses basket matches too. How cute is that going to look lying in the cot bed all matching?
Changing bag - mentioned above - now this was a tricky one. Again you had to do your research. Is it big enough for all the paraphernalia you are going to need when transporting baby around town via the car seat section of the mini John Deer tractor and then into three wheeled contraption? Nappies, changing mat, wipes, baby bottom cream, change of clothes (or 3), bibs x at least 5, spare bottles (if bottle feeding), spare formula powder, spare dummy (if using one and let's be honest, you probably will, even given your firm "I'm never going to put a dummy in my child's mouth" attitude), pocket for mummy's mobile, attached clip for aforementioned dummy. At this rate you're going to need a steamer trunk. Eventually you settle on one that promises to take all your "caboodle" and tell yourself this is going to be the only change bag you'll ever need. Of course it is.
You have your 20 week scan. You either find out sex of baby (cue gender specific clothes buying) or decide to go with the surprise (cue more neutral colours clothes buying).
You buy yourself, and pack, your hospital bag; with your five new nightgowns, your significant other's tee shirt to give birth in (they don't want it back and their smell is going to be comforting during your natural labour), your toiletries, your chewing gum, your glucose sweets (for energy during labour) and your latest edition of some pregnancy/parenting magazine (which you can always update nearer the time) for swotting up on those useful tips whilst in early labour.
Toiletries - you buy yourself some ridiculously overpriced "mummy to be" toiletries, because there was an article in the first pregnancy/parenting magazine you bought all those months ago that said these were the latest must haves. It doesn't matter that you may not get to use them, or by the time you remember to use them you cannot get in or out of the bath without a JCB standing by, at least you'll have them to hand should you need them. And they do smell incredibly pretty.
You start to get bigger and if you're unlucky, start to retain water. Suddenly your ankles and calves merge into the dreaded "cankles" and your fingers swell to the point where, if married to the baby's father, you cannot wear your wedding ring as it cuts into you.
The time is getting nearer, you buy a baby on board sign that your husband/partner/significant other points out matches the junior sized cot bed/moses basket linen. Of course it does, don't be silly.
You do some research on slings and baby wearing. Your neighbour's sister's cousin's daughter had one and "wore" her baby all the time and it was great for both her and the baby, and besides, looked fabulous. You decide to buy one of each type of sling you have researched, just so you can be sure of getting the right one.
You promise yourself that you are going to breast feed, for as long as baby wants to. But just in case, you buy bottles, teats and sterilising equipment. You buy an electric steam steriliser but then your neighbour's sister's cousin's daughter points out her microwave one works really well, so you buy one of those too.
You buy nipple shields and breast pads. Your husband/partner/significant other puts breast pads on his eyes, wraps a muslin round his neck and pretends to be Biggles. You laugh because at this juncture you still have a sense of humour. Just wait.
It is quite possible that at this point in time (d-day minus whatever) your credit card company is sending you "you have been pre-approved for a £5,000 increase on your limit" letter because of all the spending going on, or if having gone down the route of using your savings via the bank, your bank manager is apoplectic.
You buy maternity towels, otherwise known as the world's unkindest sanitary towel EVER. Your husband/partner/significant other takes time out from being Biggles to joking how he's going to build an air raid shelter with these.
You buy yourself a rocking chair because the pregnancy/parenting magazine (last month's issue) says that it helps to get a screaming baby off to sleep. Course it does.
You buy a travel cot - because you are going to go camping with a newborn. You've camped before, PGL holiday at school, it wasn't that bad.
Your husband/partner/significant other announces that your smart girl about town car is no longer adequate for your growing family and is going to trade it in for something a bit bigger. He returns home with a Grand Voyager. There's going to be three of you at the most in this beast plus all the equipment - the mini John Deer Tractor 3 wheeled contraption plus car seat version thereof, changing bag, parasol, sunshade, raincoveretal - so although outwardly grieving for your smart girl about town car, you're secretly pleased that he bought the bigger car because now you're going to fit right in with all the other mums and their seven seaters/four by fours at baby/toddler group.
You buy an electric swing that gently rocks your baby to and fro. See comment about rocking chair.
You buy a cd of "sounds from the womb" because the pregnancy/parenting magazine said it soothes a newborn. Again, see comment about rocking chair.
You buy some "developmental" toys. And possibly cds and dvds that promise to turn your bundle into a genius by the time he/she is.....say 2 or 3 moths old.
You fend off daily phonecalls from the grandparents-to-be asking "anything happening yet?". You give your husband/partner/significant other a list of all the people that must be called upon (a) you going into labour and (b) you giving birth (this part of the list is prioritised). He promptly looses it but only mentions this after baby is born. Or when baby's head is crowning.
You ring the midwife/maternity unit to make sure your birthing pool is still booked after seven months and a few extra days.
You buy "how to bring up/placate/feed/change/wind/swaddle your new baby" books. Given half the chance, if you were to sit an exam on them you would come out with a first class honours degree. You pick up lots of useful tips that you know you will use bringing up your bundle. Of course you will.
You try a hot curry, followed by a hot bath, declining the offer of hot sex from husband/partner/significant other. You try walking up and down the stairs, drinking raspberry leaf tea.
You settle down and make sure you have everything ready, you do an inventory on all your equipment, from the junior sized cot bed to its sheets, to the mini John Deer sitting in the boot of your new Grand Voyager. You realise that you haven't made the decision yet about disposables vs washable nappies. You have sixteen packets of newborn disposable nappies sitting in the nursery waiting, but your neighbour's sister's cousin's daughter was round yesterday with her baby in a really cute nappy wrap extolling the virtues of washable nappies and you'd quite like to look into it. You make mental note to do so. Because a woman's brain INCREASES in memory power whilst pregnant (of course it does).
You wake up at 2am on a Sunday morning with a pain like you have never felt before. And either that damp patch is where your water has broken or someone has some explaining to do.......
You give one last enormous push (if not having a section of course) and all the planning, buying, researching, worrying, arguing over names disappears as you look at this little soul who has entered, and more than likely completely captivated, your world.
I loathe long flights. A tendency to retain water and swell like the perverbial balloon (thanks mes enfants....), along with accompanying aches and pains (airplane seats = notoriously uncomfortable) render anything longer than 2 hours a nightmare. It doesn't matter that there are countless movies, tv shows, cartoons etc to watch or hundreds of music channels to listen to, my brain goes into "I'm on this plane for HOW LONG?" mode and that's it, the flight is ruined.
So let's get past the fact that I hated the outward and return journeys with a passion.
And let's move on to the fact that I understand completely now why Mr H fell in love with Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer).
Saigon is, quite simply, mad. Mr H had forewarned me of the fact that there are countless numbers of scooters being driven in this city and you just have to step off the kerb and "go for it" when crossing the road. Nothing prepares you for this spectacle, it's insane but somehow it works perfectly well. You do just step off and go for it, I became quite the expert by the end of our time there. The streets are lined with shops selling all sorts of lovely things you would want to buy, from hand made lacquered items to beautiful (and cheap) material. In the midst of these shops you will find a Louis Vuitton boutique, primarily for tourists I suppose.
The restaurants, oh I could wax lyrical about these for the rest of the day, range from the local version of a fast food outlet to a sumptuous Sunday brunch at The Sheraton. Two of the best restaurants we found were local; on the roof of a building you sit at your table with it's inbuilt barbecue, you order your food raw from the menu and you cook it yourself, such a simple idea yet absolutely brilliant. We had two fantastic meals there. The other was along a similar vein, you sit at your table, you order what you want to eat, the waiter takes your order outside to one of the many booths furiously cooking food and about 10 minutes later, your order is delivered to your table. And this was the restaurant where the Mister and I discovered Black Sticky Rice as a pudding, an unexpected treat, in fact so much so that upon returning home it was the first thing I "googled", found a recipe for and tried out at home (needless to say the four H's were not interested but the Mister and I had yummy puddings that night). Sunday brunch at The Sheraton was cheap as chips and a culinary experience the likes of which I have never, and probably will never, experience again. It was worth it for the Fillet Mignon alone (I have never, in all my 38 years, had a fillet mignon so that was a first), oh and the vodka passion fruit slushies went down well too.....
On a more touristy note now, we visited the Cu Chi tunnels (lifted from Wikipedia: are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The role of the tunnel systems should not be underestimated in its importance to the Viet Cong in resisting American operations and protracting the war, eventually persuading the weary Americans into withdrawal.)
These tunnels were mystifying to me, how on earth did they stay down there for so long, weren't they incredibly dark and dank? Our tour guide was particularly enthusiastic about the day, which was as well otherwise I think my slight claustrophobia would have set in and I would have dismissed it entirely as being a waste of time. But it wasn't, it was fascinating. The highlight? watching 6ft 5 Mister descend into the darkness and re-appear at another exit some 50m away (and he does have claustrophobia, so bravo! - the tunnels have at some point been heightened and widened for tourists but I'm not sure for one as tall as he). The other highlight was sitting on the coach being driven through the Vietnamese countryside towards and from our destination, watching paddy fields, (incredibly scrawny) cows, more scooters and children of various ages going/coming to/from school, all in their neat uniforms.
We also had a day out to the CaoDai temple about an hour's drive outside of Saigon. Now this I was extremely interested to visit as I have lately (well over the past two years at least) been drawn towards the serenity I feel from Buddhism. Caodaism is the third largest religion in Vietnam, after Buddhism and Catholicism and is made up of elements of Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism (more info can be found here: http://www.religioustolerance.org/caodaism.htm). The visit to this temple was the highlight of our trip for me, we were privileged to arrive in time for the noon prayers and to be able to stand on the viewing gallery and watch was beautiful, I felt such peace and tranquility and came away refreshed. The simplistic prayers and absolute faith of the followers at worship was extraordinary and it was wonderful to feel enveloped for at least a short while by this.
One of our mornings in Saigon was spent jumping from taxi to temple, to taxi to temple. We were lucky to arrive at one of the smaller Buddhist temples in time to watch a young monk make his morning offering. And to watch the locals coming in to burn incense and offer their prayers or thanks. A particularly small baby girl held in the arms of her mother was completely and utterly oblivious to it all,sleeping soundly with such an air of peace about here, her mother was there to give thanks for her safe arrival into the world. She was a darling little thing.
The Continental Hotel was officially a four star, but to be honest, it felt more like five. The room was huge, there was a king size and a single bed, a separate little seating area complete with an old steamer lounger - Mr H had to tell me on many occasions that no, it wouldn't lend itself to the flight home or look in place in our garden. Shame really......
I wasn't brave enough to ride on the back of a scooter but I was brave enough to partake of a small journey in a bicycle rickshaw, although upon getting off declaring it was second only to my terrifying experience of go-karting and I would never be doing that again.
There is an air of family in Vietnam, no matter (I think) where you go. Children are clearly adored and it shows. Every evening families with young children would gather in a particularly lovely flower filled area with a fountain, where the children would spend the evening splashing their hands in the water and running around playing with balloons that their parents had bought them from a nearby vendor. To see a family of three, four or even five, on a scooter riding through the streets with no air of nervousness about them was incredible - some children are mere babies, some being bottle fed by their mother as their father negotiates the traffic.
Saigon was an uplifting experience, I came home feeling renewed but once again that overwhelming ache that I feel whenever we land back in the UK took hold, and even though I had a wonderful time, spending quality hours with my beloved, the journey back home made me realise once again that this is not where I want to be.
And yes, the four H's were pleased to have their mama and daddy back. And I was glad that they were happy.
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As I have just this morning found out that a second good friend is preggers with her second baby (October's going to be an expensive month, ooh I feel those knitting needles beckoning), I know where I'm heading for my congratulatory greetings.
My favourite colour is white. I love white walls, white vases, white clothes, white nappies (fresh off the washing line), white socks, white cushions, white bed linen (alas not yet in this house, but one day).
My favourite day of the week is Thursday. There's still enough of the week left to get excited about tomorrow being Friday and then the impending weekend, but most of the week gone to make me happy.
My favourite number is 7. I'm not entirely sure why, but I've always like the sound of the word seven.
My favourite animal is a cat, they're pedantic and cranky, but heaps of fun. I miss my cat.
My favourite time of the day is between the hours of 10.00am and noon, as Monday to Friday that's usually when son no.2 is having a nap and the other three are in school, Mister H is at work leaving just myself and the dogs to either savour the peace or have music playing in the background which makes all the laundry/housework/blogging (delete as applicable) an easier task.
My favourite car that I have owned was a 1983 Datsun Cherry (in Cherry Red). It's name was Marvin, after the ubiquitous Martian. I loved that car.
My favourite place in the world is South Africa. If I could lift and move my house and family in one easy go it would be to there. I love the sounds, sights, peoples, smells, languages of Africa as a whole but SA is my favourite. I love their patriotism, their all encompassing love of rugby and sports in general, their laid back attitude to life, their absolute joy of family and friends and spending time with them. I love a thick SA accent, Mister H has lost his somewhat over the years although it does come back with a vengeance when he speaks to relatives on the phone.
My favourite pieces of jewellery are my wedding, engagement and eternity rings. 9ct gold and sparkly diamonds, I cannot help but smile every time I catch sight of them.
My favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I was 13 years old when I first read this book (at school) and fell in love with all the characters immediately. I named my jack russell Scout after the character in the book.
My favourite film - this is a tie between Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (yes, really!) and The Green Mile.
My favourite song of all time - again, a tie between Blue Monday by New Order (love love love) and Insomnia by Faithless (quite possibly the greatest "dance" track ever).
I don't have a favourite tv show as I don't watch enough tv to warrant one. I did however used to love Saturday Morning Swap Shop with Noel, Cheggers and Posh Paws when I was younger, and Wilo The Wisp voiced by the late, great Kenneth Williams.