Book Review – ‘Expecting a Baby?’, Dr Penelope Law

Dr Penelope Law

Kindle version £10.80, illustrated hardcover £12.00

I am a massive reader so as soon as I found out and we’d decided (well… ‘decided’) to keep the baby, I got on     Amazon and found some books to read. I have also subscribed to various forums and websites for advice, but noticed that a great deal was tailored to a US audience. When it comes to medical advice and information about hospital procedures, this is obviously pretty important, so I needed specific information about what to expect in the UK.

I chose Expecting a Baby? as my first purchase over What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which I know is more famous and is the one I had heard of. When I looked up reviews however, they were definitely mixed and it seemed to me that it wasn’t the sort of book that I would find helpful. I’m the first to admit that I am very headstrong, reasonably scientific minded, but open to new ideas. I’ve never liked being condescended to or told what to do, so I wanted some actual objective information that would let me make up my own mind, and this book was perfect for that.

The book focuses mostly on pregnancy and labour, although there is a section about the immediate aftermath and the first few weeks of newborn care. Dr Law writes with authority, in a way that is caring but without that sickly sweet tone that really gets on my nerves after a while. There’s a lot of really practical suggestions in here, such as good stretches to do while pregnant, diet suggestions, techniques for labour and more. Dr Law also does a great job of comparing different approaches without appearing biased. To my delight, she does not bother to sugar coat the fact that there is no proof at all to certain ‘medicines’ like homeopathy, but (I think) also avoids being insulting about methods she clearly does not support. This, I think, is the most helpful approach – it bothers me that some authors feel the need to use tentative language rather than just coming out and saying that there is no evidence at all for something, and that effectively it’s up to you if you try it but it’s going to do about as much good as taking a load of Smarties, except without the deliciousness and exciting colours.

The book takes you through advantages and disadvantages of the various options you have for your care, like location of birth (home birth, birth centre, hospital ward) and pain relief options, in a really clear and easy to understand way. Although it’s less common in the UK I have seen a lot of books/websites that seemed really really against having a baby anywhere but a hospital, this one is definitely not and gives you the pros and cons in an honest way. It also changed my mind about certain things like water births – I fully admit that not having read much about them, I assumed it was a sort of fad-ish, hippy thing to go for and that I’d feel uncomfortably even bringing up the idea, even though I knew my sister had one with her second child and loved it. After actually reading about them and seeing there was quite a bit of support for the method, beyond the kind of ‘it’s so natural!’ thing, it’s something I’ll actually consider, assuming it’s an option.

There are also some very sensitive chapters on dealing with miscarriage, stillbirth and postnatal depression. I’ll admit I skimmed them because I felt like it wouldn’t do me much good at this point to dwell on any of those topics, but I know they’re there if the unimaginable happens.

I admit I haven’t watched much of One Born Every Minute, but perhaps if you have you’ll like the fact that it’s connected in some way I haven’t quite figured out. It’s got the title on the cover, anyway.

I bought the Kindle edition because I don’t like waiting for post, and I can definitely recommend it, though perhaps only if you have a Kindle Fire rather than the original with an e-ink display. The book hasn’t been reformatted for digital display so what you’re seeing as far as I can tell is direct copies of the pages of the book, complete with little colourful insert boxes and full-page images. These look lovely on my Kindle Fire HD and the touchscreen means it’s not too annoying to zoom in and out or scroll through the pages. I don’t think this would work terribly well on the original though, but perhaps there is a different version of it? I’m not sure.

I’d definitely recommend this as a basic guide to what to expect through pregnancy and while in labour. It’s made a good complement to the advice I’ve had from friends and family, and also the hospital’s video series my midwife recommended.

The pregnancy story

So, first, how I found out I was pregnant, the principle players, etc etc.

I’m 22 and have been working random jobs since graduating in 2012. Around April 2013 I began seeing an old friend from one of my old jobs, Jaime. It got serious pretty quick. In the summer, I moved back to be closer to my family – around 3 hours away from the city I’d lived in for 4 years and where Jaime lived. It sucked big time. I had a horrible job and didn’t know anybody.

In August, I moved back and started working for the Youth Hostel Association, and living with Jaime and our housemate Susan. We’ve had a crazy couple of months as I needed to get another job just so I was making enough. I’ve been taking the contraceptive pill since I was 15, so pregnancy worries were quite far from my mind. Even so, when I missed a period in September I took a pregnancy test about 10 days after I’d expected it. Negative. OK, no worries – I was stressed, not eating great and it’s only to be expected, right?

Through all of November and December, I didn’t have a single day off. So I was pretty exhausted, and you know, not really thinking about much except working all the time. Like normal, I ran a couple of pill packs together. I felt myself getting a bit bloated, but then, I’d been eating McDonalds more than usual since it was the only place open when I was starving after work, and on most days I didn’t feel like cooking myself anything particularly nutritious. I had a couple of dizzy spells, but like everyone else, thought I was just knackered (which I was). I got into the habit of napping during the day, but hey, if you work from 7.30am almost every morning and only get a few hours break before having to go back until 10pm, you’re probably going to want to nap!

I missed another period in December, and finally started thinking maybe something was a little weird. My normally nearly-concave stomach was getting round and weirdly hard. I poked it a lot. My real overwhelming fear was some kind of tumour. I tried not to think about it too much.

On the day before New Year’s Eve I darted into Superdrug and bought a Clearblue test. Jaime was at work. The vertical line meaning ‘positive’ was very dark. I think I said ‘fuck’ mostly, then called my mum.

A few hours later I went to Jaime’s work and told him. We had a confused conversation because we hardly knew any details. We discussed all our options. Jaime for some reason kept smiling while I felt alternately like crying and screaming. I had my last cigarette then, although abortion was still on the table at that point as we had no idea how far along I was.

After I’d worked my shift (a little bit like a zombie), we went home and talked some more. We thought seriously about keeping the baby. I knew my mum’s honest advice would be not to, although because she is fantastic, she’ll always let me make my own decision. There was a great big logical part of me saying I could not possibly do this, I am irresponsible and often have Skittles for dinner. But another bit thought how it would be pretty great, how Jaime was a great partner, and if we put our minds to it we could be pretty good parents.

The next day I made an appointment with my doctor. I’d expected to have to take another test, but instead, she lay me down and felt around my belly, straight away saying she could feel pregnancy. She told me she would estimate 20 weeks, and if that was right, a termination was not an option. She called the Early Pregnancy Unit to try and schedule a scan to confirm. Later, I got a call saying I was too far for the Early Pregnancy Unit, and instead I’d been referred to the midwifery unit at the hospital.

The midwife I saw agreed with the 20 week estimate. I heard the heartbeat for the first time on the 2nd of January, three days after I found out I was pregnant at all. Then, about a week later, I was scheduled for an ultrasound (the midwife had marked it ‘urgent’…)

On the 11th of January I had my 20 week scan, skipping the normal 12 week one. This confirmed that I was 20 weeks 4 days pregnant. The baby actually looked like a baby, not a peanut. It was also a boy baby, with a spine and a face and everything. Before the ultrasound I’d been told to drink 2 pints of water and hold it, so by the time I was sitting in the waiting room I was really, really needing to pee. The ultrasound technician let me go after seeing my ‘very full bladder’. I pretty much ran. Then we got right back into it.

Ultrasound 2                         Ultrasound 1

This was really the point it became real for me. We’re going to have a baby boy. My due date is the day before my birthday. It’s all real and happening in a few months, which is pretty crazy.