The Alien Within Her

Alison, Steven and Pod at the font

It's possible to buy a wide variety of books purporting to tell you how to be a pregnant woman. None of them do, of course, but never mind. Several of them, however, suggest keeping a diary, a journal, of one's deepest thoughts and feelings as one embarks on this great and momentous undertaking. Piffle, I thought; but then I changed my mind, when I realised I could get a fanzine article out of it. Or six. I have several books suitable for keeping a pregnancy journal; the particular one which springs to mind is a blank book illustrated throughout with pictures of unicorns, and intended for teenage girls to use to write their secrets in. Unicorns have deep associations with fertility and child-bearing, and I feel this would be most suitable. A fine fountain pen, and I could produce a beautiful artefact.

But I don't suppose the writing would be up to much. The problem with fountain pens, and artistic journals, is that you can't revise infinitely in the way you can with the word processor. It's unromantic and somehow unmotherly, but nevertheless much more efficient. And one's deepest thoughts and feelings tend to be much less entertaining than the random collection of anecdotes, history, innuendo and lies which go to make up most of my writing. So this is the first part of a pregnancy journal. And I shall report episodes of it in Plokta periodically, and add to it until I'm in a position to add the much promised hideous birth report.

When I was little, I was given my mother's diaries to scribble in. And I was always disappointed that in the months leading up to my birth, there were none of her deepest thoughts and feelings as she embarked on this great and momentous undertaking. Instead, there was just a little note in early July saying "Baby!" Even the date was wrong. I wonder now what she felt; was she worried and excited and confused in the same way I am? Not to mention sick as a parrot. I've never thought of my life as beginning at conception, or ever considered what my mother was thinking of in late 1964 and early 1965, when she was pregnant. But when you're pregnant, you're always thinking -- the baby's heart is beating now, or it's learning to suck its thumb, or whatever. And so some extent, I think it would be nice to leave something tangible for Pod about these things. So that, then, may be a suitable use for the fountain pen and the beautiful book; and I can edit everything dodgy and unsuitable for children out of my word processed notes first. Probably won't leave much.

Having decided to start a family, Steven and I then waited until after we'd been on holiday to India, and finished taking the anti-malarial drugs after we returned. And then it was Eastercon, and being a major convention and a stress situation, of course my period arrived (This seems to be a uniform trend. 200 women in the Radisson Edwardian, and they all come on at once.) So I counted forward from that until I was probably fertile, and spent the weekend at home, mostly in bed, like you do. I didn't think it was very likely to work first time out, though. And a couple of days later, we made love again, and I was suddenly struck by the thought that this was pointless. Which was strange, because I'd been having sex regularly for a goodly number of years, and I'd never thought it was pointless before. And then I knew.

After that, of course, a wide variety of exciting pregnancy symptoms kicked in. My breasts were sorer than they'd ever been. They are, of course, famously large and famously vacuous, but they'd never been large, vacuous and excruciatingly painful before. They hurt all the time, and became larger, heavier, and more painful on a daily basis. I also developed sudden exhaustion. At work, at home, in the car; I'd be walking round Sainsbury's or discussing development of policy strategy and yawning constantly. I'd arrive home from work and go straight to sleep. This wasn't helped by the fact that I went off coffee completely. This seemed thoroughly unlikely to me. After all, I'm the woman who buys her coffee from a little mail order coffee house run by ex-Californians who roast the coffee to order and despatch it by first class post the same day, selling only single estate varietals, the caffeine-containing equivalents of single malts. But all of a sudden, I found I couldn't be in the same room as freshly ground coffee. Very peculiar.

Just before I found out I was definitely pregnant, I went to Bob Shaw's wake and got plastered. We drank for many hours, had a riotous evening, caught a night bus home, and I was horribly sick in a local gutter. I worried a little. Surely this sort of thing couldn't be good for a putative baby?

We started to call the baby Pod; a good, all purpose name; suitable for both sexes and redolent of the space alien we both knew I was bearing. And of course, a pun; Podkayne of Mars. I've discovered since that baby names of this kind are often carried on for a long time; until, in fact, the baby is old enough to assert their independence and object. And we wrote about Pod in Plokta 1, and sorted out an e-mail address. You can't start them too young, after all.

At the same time, we started discussing proper names. It's very tricky, you know. You need a name that's pleasant, and goes well with the surname, and can only really be spelt one way, and isn't too peculiar or too common. It should not have any unfortunate resonances, like Candy Cain. You need to ensure that all elderly relatives are happy with it, and none of them think it old-fashioned or (worse) trendy. If you name the baby after any relative, all the others will be offended and will act as the wicked fairy at the christening. And meanwhile, everyone keeps asking you if you've chosen names yet. We've both got very good at keeping a straight face when we tell them "Oh yes; if it's a boy we're calling him Peregrine Eustace, and if it's a girl then Griselda Esmerelda."

I cut down on the drinking, and tried to eat healthily. This worked well for a few days, and then I started finding myself getting sick. Throwing up at random times and places is no fun; especially when it comes on without warning. Feeling sick all the time saps the spirit, and vomiting over the Head of Policy Group is a poor career move. The worst of it is that this all happens before anyone in the office knows that you're pregnant, so no-one makes any allowances for you or understands why you're regularly turning green and rushing to the toilet. So I found myself putting all my energy into work to keep my area going, leaving no enthusiasm for anything else whatsoever.

As for not drinking, I rapidly tired of a life of temperance. One or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week, they said. You would not believe how little booze this is. And ignoring the guidance didn't seem to help; whenever I tried drinking any more, I was very promptly horribly sick, in the manner of Rupert Bear.

The reaction of my friends was interesting. Those with children weren't remotely surprised, and those without were astonished. I think there's a tendency to be broody mostly around people who've already got children. Now that I'm pregnant, I've noticed this in reverse; friends who I've always thought of as staunchly childless have started telling me about their agonising about whether and when to have kids. The other weird thing is that pregnant women appear to emit a hormone which gives other mothers a compulsion to knit things. Pod's already had six little jackets and a Clanger from Sue's mum, and I've been promised babygros with spaceships on them. As Pod is due in January, knitwear seems like a good idea to me, and I'm encouraging this trend.

A knitted Clanger
Superfluous Tricotology

I found I was expected to start reading terrible magazines. You may never have looked at baby and parenting magazines. They're all rotten. They don't have any answers to the key questions first-time mothers have, ie:

Instead, they're completely full of articles about "How to choose a carrycot" and "Stretch marks -- kill or cure?" The last one I bought had "Do fathers prefer boys or girls? We discover the TRUTH!" Which of course turned out to be that fathers dote on whichever sort of baby they end up with. What a revelation. The worst of it is, I keep buying them. This is because my normal sort of bimbo magazine really has very little to offer the obsessive pregnant woman. "59 ways to spice up your love life" is of infinitesimal interest to someone who gets violently queasy at the mere thought of bonking.

The books you can get are much better. I discovered loads of things I never knew about babies. Did you know that babies' intestines are initially formed outside the body because there's no room for them inside? I've had Saturday nights when I felt like that, of course. I'm reading vast amounts of stuff, largely in an effort to find out the answers to the three unanswerable questions above. As far as I can tell, the answers seem to be:

  • Probably
  • Astonishingly, but it's a good sort of pain (FX: Skeptical)
  • Muddle through, everyone else does

The best book I've found so far is Dave Barry's Babies and Other Hazards of Sex. Staggeringly funny, mostly because it's all quite clearly the literal truth. Stories of hundreds of people looking at you in a shopping mall as if you were an evil child molester, merely because your toddler is screaming. And why is your toddler screaming? Because you refused to let it eat a half-devoured pizza crust which somebody has abandoned face down in an ashtray full of fag ends and sand. Strongly recommended, even if you're not planning to have kids any time soon.

The weirdest thing is the fact that nobody official has examined me, or tested me, or pronounced me pregnant. I told the doctor I'd done a home test, and he said, well, that's fine, you're pregnant then. The midwife visited me at home, and has given me all sorts of coupons for free baby products and so on, but hasn't actually done any tests of any kind. I keep thinking, but what if I failed to count up to two properly when I was counting pink lines?

They promise me that nearly everyone feels better by the end of the first trimester, which will have passed by the time you're reading this, and point out that morning sickness can be a lot worse than I've experienced (not that this helps). So hopefully next issue you'll get great tales of how I'm blooming, I've decorated the nursery, sorted out the entire house, am doing appropriate exercises twice a day and am mountain climbing in my spare time. Don't hold your breath.

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