Is there a “best time of year” to have a baby?

I did my second pregnancy test at the weekend – still negative – and then started my period pretty much straight afterwards. So doing the test was a big fat waste of money, and on top of that I had to endure the misery of a second purple line still not appearing. It wasn’t the best start to my Sunday morning!

One of the reasons that I hoped I would get pregnant in the first couple of months of trying is that I always wanted a spring baby. To me, it seems like there must be a reason that everything gives birth in the spring – lambs, chicks, even plants. In nature it’s because the world is getting warmer and the weather is getting calmer, so small, vulnerable things are more likely to survive. Imagine if a little lamb was born in the depths of winter – it would be impossible for its mother to keep it warm and well fed. And vice versa, if it was born in the height of summer, it would be difficult for the mother to keep it cool and well hydrated. I have all the advantages of civilisation to help me care for a baby at any time of year, but I still like to do things the natural way where I can.

So now here we are in the middle of August. If I get pregnant this month my baby will be born at the end of May – that’s perfect. For family reasons it’s perfect too, as my Mum is a sixth form teacher and by May she’s pretty much finished for the term. She and I would both love it if she could take some time off to come and be with us and our baby in the early summer.

But if it takes another couple of months then we’re well into June and July. I just want it to happen for us this month, really desperately.

Part of it is selfish, I have to admit. Even though English summers are hardly renowned for their balmy sunshine, sometimes it gets really hot and humid, especially down here in the South-East. I hate being hot – I’m definitely a winter person – and I don’t want to stagger about, nine months pregnant, feeling miserable and sweaty in July or August. I’d much rather be heavily pregnant in the cool of spring.

But is there more to it than that? Is there a ‘best time of year’ to have a baby in terms of optimising education and development? Articles like this one in the Daily Telegraph make me stressed out – August is apparently the worst month to have a baby because the child will always be the youngest in the year, and will therefore lag behind his or her peers both intellectually and physically. There are even scary statistics about August babies being 4% less likely to go to University.

I try to rationalise this by telling myself that it does seem very subjective, depending on the child in question. My husband has pointed out that, as a September baby and the eldest in his year (and a total swot, it has to be said) he sometimes felt like he was held back by some of his classmates – maybe if he’d been young in the year instead he would have been more stretched and challenged.

Added to the issue of subjectivity is the fact that I’ve found lots of other articles which say entirely contradictory things: for example inThe Independent (“Babies born in winter are bigger, brighter and more successful“) and Metro (“Winter babies ‘face a sadder life’ as adults“). None of the research is very conclusive, and most makes only vague attempts to explain the findings in terms in terms of socio-economic factors or seasonal changes in diet and the mother’s mood.

When it comes down to it, I think that beggars can’t be choosers. I desperately want a baby, and if it happens this month that will be wonderful. But if I can have a healthy child, I don’t think I’ll care in which month he or she is born. Whichever one it is, it’ll be the best month for us.

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My first proper pregnancy test – and it was negative.

For the last couple of weeks I have been watching entirely too much TV – I live near London and I’ve been totally absorbed by the Olympic Games. As a result I have been appallingly neglecting this blog, but I’m back up and running now!

I did my first real pregnancy test yesterday – and it was negative. Last month I started my period so I didn’t have to do one then. As I’ve mentioned, my periods can be very irregular so it’s pretty difficult to tell the best time to do a test – the packet says the test works from the first day of your missed period. If I had “normal” 28 day cycles my period should have started yesterday, but to be honest it could be anything up to six weeks.

Now I’m in a weird limbo state where I haven’t started my period, but the test was negative – I don’t know whether it was just too soon for the test, or whether my period is just being its normal unpredictable self. I really envy women who are regular, and for whom being two or three days late is exciting. For me it’s just tiresome – and also expensive because I’m inevitably going to waste lots of pregnancy tests. I’m going to wait a week before I do another one otherwise I’ll be bankrupt rather than pregnant!

The whole process of doing the test was very odd. Exciting, but also disconcerting. If you’ve never done one before, tests come in lots of varieties – there are cheap and cheerful ones, right up to amazingly complex digital ones. I have bought a bunch of the cheap ones, and one expensive digital one which I’m going to save until one of the cheap ones says I’m pregnant. Then I can use the expensive one to make sure! With the cheap ones, you have to wee on the end of a little stick – the part you have to get wet is ridiculously small! Then you leave it for three minutes – a little purple line appears to show that the test is working, and then if you’re pregnant a second purple line appears between three and fifteen minutes later.

The most reliable time to test is meant to be the first time you go to the loo in the morning, because then the concentration of the pregnancy hormone that the test detects – hCG – is higher. Inevitably I forgot first thing in the morning, but I couldn’t resist taking the test that day – I don’t want to find out I’m pregnant on a weekday morning and then have to go to work and pretend that everything’s normal! So I just went ahead and did the test – it wasn’t exactly a vary reliable attempt. Hence the weird limbo – I could still be pregnant. I just want an answer one way or another!

Waiting to see whether the little purple line would appear was bizarre. You have to keep the test still while it’s working, so my husband and I leant over the side of the sink where it was sitting and just watched it. I felt really excited at the possibilities, but also I didn’t feel like it was going to be positive – maybe my body knows that it isn’t pregnant. Or maybe I was just feeling pessimistic that day. Either way I am second guessing my every feeling, even though I know stressing about it is going to make conception less likely, not more.

After three minutes we went away, assuming it was negative – I checked again at 15 miniutes and then threw it away, but I had a final peek hours later while it was in the bin. I can’t help but wonder which test will be the one that brings the good news.

The worse thing is, if I haven’t started my period by then, I’ll have to go through the whole emotional palaver again in a week.

“Trying for a baby”: the most unhelpful term ever

My husband and I are into our second month of trying for a baby. The longer it takes us to get pregnant, the more I hate that term – to me, trying without succeeding equals failing.

The fact that you have to “try” for a baby makes it seem like like hard work, rather than something exciting with a lovely outcome to look forward to at the end of it. It puts the emphasis on the negative rather than the positive. If you’re an athlete at the start line of an Olympic race, the last thing you want is someone saying: “Right, you’ve done all this hard work and preparation, and now all you have to do is start trying.” You’ve been trying all along – trying to get your body in the best shape, trying to break bad habits, trying to keep your relationship on the strongest footing, trying to get as much from your pre-baby career and life as you can. And now the trying really starts, with the possibility you might not succeed at the end of it? How depressing. The word “trying” is a synonym for tiresome, difficult and stressful (eg “it’s been a trying time”) – and it still has that connotation even when it isn’t used as an adjective.

My Mum and Dad tell an awful story about some friends of theirs who had been trying for a baby for about a year, when they were all in their twenties. Mum and Dad asked them sympathetically how they were doing, whether they’d had any good news yet, and the man said, “No, we’re still slogging away”. Slogging away! Everyone was embarrassed and upset when he said it, but in lots of ways I understand him – I don’t see it like that myself and I’m lucky that things are so great between me and my husband, but society makes us all feel that trying for a baby is a “slog”, a protracted and difficult process. And a lot of that feeling comes from the word “trying”.

It’s not that I resent that you have to be committed to it, or the fact that “trying” for a baby might take some time. All that is part and parcel of the experience, and if it was easy and required no sacrifices or fears it wouldn’t be such an exciting and life-changing adventure.

Maybe it should be called “waiting” for a baby, or “hoping”. That’s a bit more how I want it to feel. My husband and I understand all the days when we could be most fertile, and all the reasons why we might not conceive in a given month, and so really we’re just waiting for exactly the right combination of timing and circumstance. We’re waiting for everything to be just right. And isn’t that a more positive attitude? You’ve done all the preparation and hard work, and now you’re waiting – like waiting for Christmas with an advent calendar. It’s exciting and fun and you’re filled with anticipation of good things. Not bogged down in “trying” hard work.

Anyway, back to the practicalities of the matter – my husband and I are still waiting. My cycle has never been particularly regular, so it’s hard for us to know exactly the most fertile days – maybe there’s a bit more of an element of chance for us than there is for a couple where the woman operates like 28 day clockwork. So we have a period of about a week mid-month where we’ve got even more motivation than normal to be ridiculously in love with each other. We’re in that period now (woohoo!) and I’m hyper-aware of every single thing going on in my body – is it a sign? Has it happened? Has a little egg been fertilised? I know there’s no way I’d be able to feel anything or know anything within one or two days of conception, so it’s purely in my over active imagination.

For now, then, we’ll keep on being excited, and try not let the process feel stressful and strewn with obstacles. And I’ll tell people that we are waiting and hoping for a baby.

Will I have any friends when I’m pregnant?

One of the biggest problems with being ahead of the baby game is that I feel like I’m going to drift away from many of my friends when I’m pregnant (let alone when I actually have a baby to look after).

There’s the ‘going out’ type friends to worry about first. I won’t be able to drink. I might be tired and want to go home early! I might feel sick all the time. I’ll probably want to be snuggled up at home talking about nursery decor. So basically the friends I tend to do that with will be pretty bored of me.

Then there’s the ‘active stuff’ type friends – the people I might play tennis with, or go to Center Parc with, or (using this weekend as an example!) go segwaying with! I’ll be able to carry on with some of those things at first, but not all the way through.

Then there’s the coupley friends – they’ll be my best bet, but even so they’re probably not going to want to talk babies all the time. Lots of them are getting married so i suppose we could swap one-track-mindedness.

This is at the heart of my problem, really. I don’t have anyone that’s at the same stage as me and will want to talk about what colour to paint the baby’s bedroom.

I talked to my Mum about this and she says you make lots of new friends when you have a baby – but I’m not really worried about that. I’m sure that I’ll meet lots of other Mums at buggy fit, and baby groups, and things of that kind. It’s when I’m pregnant that I think I’m going to be a hermit. I kind of already feel like I’m nesting – I want to be with my husband at home. I’m quite a home girl I suppose anyway, but it seems like that drive to be with him is even stronger than normal. It must be my biological clock.

So should I cultivate pregnant friends? Do you tend to meet people at ante-natal classes? NetMums do a great job of encouraging people to make the most of their pregnancy to meet like-minded people: http://www.netmums.com/pregnancy/early-pregnancy/making-new-friends. They even have a ‘Meet a Mum’ board where you can arrange to meet up with another Mum or Mum-to-be from your local area. It’ great, but it all just feels a bit like a dating website, and I’ve never been keen on those. I want to have more in common with my friends than just being pregnant. (Like I’d want to have more in common with a man than just ‘wanting a partner’.)

So maybe in fact what I need to do is stop worrying about making pregnant friends, and start thinking about how things will change with my current friends when I’m pregnant, and how I can make that work. Maybe I need to have people over to my house more often – get into the habit of having people over for dinner or a BBQ or tea and cake. Those are things I’ll be able to carry on doing throughout pregnancy and having a tiny baby around.

Plus I could stay active by taking up some activities that are pregnancy-friendly but that will mean I meet lots of new people with more than babies in common. I’ve been thinking of starting archery again for ages – I used to do it at University, and it’s how my husband and I met. Maybe this is the time to get involved in something fun and active like that, that’s doable with a baby on the way or in tow!

I need to remember that change is good. I’m ready for so much of the baby adventure – this is just one more life change that I’m choosing. It could give me a whole new circle of people to enjoy being with. (My positive thinking hat is now firmly on.)

Conception support vitamin supplements: yes or no?

We all know that taking a folic acid suppliement is really important as lots of folic acid helps babies to develop healthy nervous systems. But what about other vitamins and minerals? Should I be taking a special conception support supplement?

I am a fish-eating vegetarian (my parents stopped eating meat when I was a child, so it’s mainly habit rather than ethics) and I’ve always taken a multivitamin just in case I’m missing anything important in my diet. But I had no idea that specific supplements existed for conception support – for men as well as women – until I stumbled upon them in Boots.

As part of our slightly paranoid desire to do everything possible to make a healthy baby, my husband and I thought we’d better get dosed up. He ordered some Conception for Men tablets from Healthspan – http://www.healthspan.co.uk/pregnancy/pregnapure-conception-for-men/productdetail-p3197037-c3167.aspx – and I bought some Conception Support tablets in Boots – http://www.boots.com/en/Boots-Pharmaceuticals-Conception-Support-30-Tablets-_1161201/. Today I had a good look at the ingredients on both packets.

The men’s supplement is full of crazy stuff that you’ve never heard of. What on earth are Maca and L-Arginine? (Answers: Maca is a South American plant that enhances ‘endurance’ and acts as an aphrodisiac (!) and L-Arginine is an amino acid that’s supposed to combat erectile dysfunction.) I’m not trying to boost my husband’s ego, but he’s a normal healthy 31 year old, and he just doesn’t need these things to fulfill his part of the baby-making process! The other ingredients are standard multivitamins and minerals, so he’s going to go back to his normal tablets when he finishes this box.

As for my Boots tablets for women, they look much more sensible – 200% RDA of folic acid, plus all the other standard vitamins and nothing I haven’t heard of! The great thing about them is that they don’t contain anything that would be bad if I did get pregnant, like Vitamin A. Pregnant women shouldn’t take Vitamin A supplements as too much can cause birth defects, and the damage is often done in the early weeks or months of pregnancy when you might not even realise that you’re pregnant. My conception support tablets don’t contain Vitamin A or retinol (another form of the vitamin) so this isn’t an issue. I think I’ll definitely carry on taking them.

What about the benefits of other vitamins and minerals in the conception supplements? A study in December 2011 suggested that conception multivitamins do boost fertility amongst women with fertility problems – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8928234/Women-trying-to-conceive-should-take-vitamins-researchers.html.- but there’s no evidence to say that they’re helpful for normal conception. I get the impression that the best conception support supplements are just normal multivitamins that we’re encouraged to take now because nutrition is particularly important when you want to conceive. Unless you’re a man with an actual sexual dysfunction – in which case I’d drop the Maca and L-Arginine and get to the doctor – you should probably just eat healthily, and take a folic acid supplement and a multivitamin without Vitamin A.

And when I’m actually pregnant, I’ll have to do all this research all over again for pregnancy vitamins! It’s a pretty busy and confusing market.

How hard should you exercise when trying for a baby?

Over the last six months we have been seeing a personal trainer once a week – his name’s Jim and he used to be an army physical instructor. He’s so fantastic – he really keeps us motivated. We do circuits that combine strength training with lots of running for cardiovascular fitness, and I am fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my whole life. It’s awful and painful, but no pain no gain and all that. I also play tennis and go to a pilates class once a week and walk to and from work (a mile each way) every day – so I’m pretty fit.

I have been worrying about whether doing this high intensity exercise with the trainer once a week could be damaging my chances of getting pregnant – I know that being fit boosts fertility, but am I risking an embryo not implanting properly if I’m straining around? Plus, lifting anything heavy is supposed to increase the risk of miscarriage, isn’t it?

Well, I’ve done some research today and it sounds like it’s OK to carry on with proper exercise whilst pregnant – and that exercise is in fact a good thing. Here’s the NHS website on this: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-exercise.aspx#close. I found the following three points to be the most useful advice from this page:

  • don’t increase the intensity of what you’re used to – so carry on with the level of exercise you were doing before pregnancy;
  • you need to be able to hold a conversation while you exercise, otherwise it’s too strenuous for when you’re pregnant;
  • you shouldn’t lie on your back after 16 weeks as it can make you feel faint.

There are also some good suggestions for exercises to do – lots of them seem to be pilates based. In general I would recommend pilates to anyone, pregnant or not – it has changed my life and helped me cure a back problem. More about that in a later post! But it seems that, for pregnancy, pilates also really helps to stabilise the pelvis and can help avoid Pubic Symphysis Disfunction. My pilates teacher has written a great article on this, and on exercise in general while pregnant, called Pilates 4 Pregnancy: http://www.pilates4life.co.uk/is-pilates-for-me/pilates4pregnancy – it talks about being careful with posture and lists a few exercises that can be really dangerous to do, like sit ups.

No more sit ups for me then. What a tragedy…

The What to Expect website has some good information about strength training: http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/keeping-fit/options-for-everyone-strength-and-toning.aspx. Again this suggests that I can carry on with weight training as long as I’m not straining or holding my breath.

I’m concluding that I can carry on exercising with my trainer, Jim, but that I should lower the intensity of what I’m doing. He suggested that lots of brisk walking, swimming and tennis would be good. Sounds perfect!

I’m still not sure about exercise during conception. Am I going to ruin my chances for a successful implantation? Everything I’ve read so far suggests that only excessive exercise would have a negative effect, and only then because it might reduce body fat so much that foetal and placental growth are affected. I can’t find anything about impact or stretching affecting conception, so I’m going to try not to worry and carry on exercising – I’ll just make sure I’m not pushing myself to the limits.

I shouldn’t be disappointed after trying for one month.

But I am. One month of trying (and we both had a cold so we didn’t even try that hard) and we’re not pregnant – and I feel like a bit of a failure. Even though I know that’s incredibly stupid and that three to six months of trying is normal.

My husband and I are young (he’s 31, I’m 28) fit, and we eat ridiculously healthily. We’re also obsessive planners and we’ve been planning every little aspect of our pregnancy and having a baby for years. But the problem is, we’re a bit ahead of the baby game – none of our good friends are having babies yet. Lots of them are getting married or settling in to serious relationships, but babies aren’t on many of their horizons.

I don’t think my husband is too bothered about this, but I wish I had someone to share it with – someone to tell me, from an external point of view, that I’m being a moron and that it’ll happen soon, at the right time. I met a girl I went to school with a few months ago at a mutual friend’s hen party, and she is also baby planning – it was such a pleasure to talk to her, and it made me really sad not to have that in my every day life. I’ve got my Mum, and my husband is absolutely wonderful and very understanding and sensitive – but it would be nice to really live through it with someone.

Hence this blog. I’m hoping that some other people like me might stumble upon it and tell me what they’re doing, how they’re feeling and where they’re up to. Maybe we can simultaneously reassure each other and share some (vague) knowledge!

In the mean time, I’m going to try to blog every day (or most days, at least) and share the things I’ve discovered so far. Hopefully at some point I will be able to tell you some good news, and then we can launch into the whole new weird adventure of being pregnant – and still having no one to talk to about it! I can’t even imagine what that’s going to be like. I’ve never had a baby before and I’m not any kind of expert. I work in a University (not as an academic!) and all I’ve done is read the first chapter of a few books about having babies.

Just like everyone else, I suppose – stepping into the unknown with a mixture of total excitement and total terror.