Trying to conceive? Does ovulation tracking speed things up?

If you’re trying to conceive, chances are you started out quite relaxed about the whole thing, assuming it would happen pretty quickly, and without too much effort or thought. “I’m not taking contraception, so I’ll get pregnant” you think, logically. However good your intentions are to remain relaxed, if you’ve been trying for a few months, the impatience monkey inevitably comes to sit on your shoulder. “That’s weird, I’m still not pregnant”, you think, your calm demeanour slowly giving way to frustration. A few months later and it’s all you can think about, turning you into an obsessive, anxious wreck. We’re taught at school to be ultra careful and to ALWAYS use a condom, as if any unprotected sexual relations we have will knock us up before we can say “sex education”. However, in reality, it’s actually quite a different story.

Conception is not a chance occurrence; there is actually a precise set of conditions that have to be met in order to conceive, whatever your age and however long or ir/regular your cycle. Providing that your eggs and your partners sperm are viable, the most important factor in conceiving successfully is when you ovulate. According to the NHS, an egg lives in your body for about 12-24 hours after you ovulate and your partner’s sperm can live for up to five days inside your body, and these life spans combined give you your all-important “fertile window”. If you’re reading this thinking you have beaten the window and managed to conceive outside it, you’re most likely mistaken; what’s actually happened is that your window moved, due to you ovulating on a different day than you expected.

Human eggs live for about 12-24 hours after ovulation, and human sperm live for up to 5 days inside the female body, so the ‘fertile window’ is very much a real thing. Picture: Alexey Kotelnikov / Alamy

For women who have monthly cycles (i.e who ovulate once per month) this basically means that you have approximately six days per month —the five days before and the 24 hours after ovulation— where having unprotected sex can lead to conception. This applies whether you have regular periods or not, and whether you’re 20 or 40; every time you ovulate, you have about six days to get your partner’s sperm on a hot date with your egg. If you happen to ovulate more than once a month then you have another six days where it’s possible, but either way, your eggs always come with a time limit, and so do your partner’s sperm, so whether you have one window or more, timing is everything if you want to conceive sooner rather than later.

If you’re ‘going with the flow’ and having unprotected sex when you feel like it, and without tracking your ovulation, it might result in conception, and if it does: lucky you! This method is great if you and your partner are consistently having loads of sex throughout the month, at least every couple of days. But many of us just aren’t able to maintain this; work, travel, responsibilities and other children to look after can all mean that sex gets pushed down the list of priorities, and the crucial window gets missed month after month. Plus, some theories suggest that a lot of sex on a consistent basis can actually reduce your chances of conceiving, because the quality and/or quantity of your partner’s sperm is reduced if he ejaculates too often.

For lots of couples, maintaining regular sex at least every couple of days throughout the month, every month, is impossible. So knowing where your fertile window lies enables you to prioritise.

Once Rob and I had decided to try for our first baby, I wanted to make it happen yesterday! Call me impatient, but once the decision has been made, I just wanted it done, so I was keen to find something that would help us maximise our chances. After doing a bit of research, it seemed the consensus was that tracking your Core Temperature (CT) or Basal Body Temperature (BBT) was the most accurate way of knowing when you have ovulated. According to Ovusense, your Core Temperature is “the low, minimum temperature your body cools to during a period of rest or deep sleep, when your heart rate is slower. If you measure this temperature every day throughout your menstrual cycle, you’ll notice that it doesn’t remain constant: it varies from day to day. If you measure it for multiple cycles, you’ll see how a specific pattern of changes coincides with when you ovulate.”

Apparently before ovulation, a woman’s Core Temperature averages between 97°F (36.1°C) and 97.5°F (36.4°C). After ovulation, it rises to 97.6°F (36.4°C) to 98.6°F (37°C). It’s a tiny change, caused by rising levels in progesterone, but it’s enough for a sensitive fertility app to detect that ovulation has occurred, and after a few cycles of getting to know your monthly pattern, predict when your fertile window is likely to be.

For my first two pregnancies, I used Natural Cycles, which involved me taking my temperature first thing in the morning with an oral BBT thermometer supplied in their kit. It worked; with my first pregnancy I conceived within two cycles and with the second, in one. The first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage, but the second pregnancy resulted in our gorgeous son, Odhrán, now eighteen months old. There were lots of things I liked about Natural Cycles, but having to take my own temperature manually as soon as I woke up, and having to make sure that I had been asleep for a certain amount of time, and that I was taking it before getting out of bed, all made it a bit stressful and was disrupting my sleep, which ultimately made me decide to switch to a wearable that would take my core temperature automatically during the night, without me having to worry about it.

I switched to Ovusense so that I could sleep stress-free without having to worry about taking my own temperature in the morning.

When we decided to try for a sibling for Odhrán, the option I went for to conceive again was Ovusense, a small, tampon-sized, silicone bullet with a long tail that you insert into the vagina like a tampon and leave overnight. This sperm-looking device calculates your Core Temperature every five minutes throughout the night, taking lots of temperatures and coming out with an overall measurement. In the morning you open the app in your phone, wash the the sensor you’ve been wearing and place it on your phone, and the app picks up the results and plots them on a temperature graph. I had a few teething problems with it at first, namely a faulty sensor that would take numerous attempts —and about half an hour— to download to my phone, but once I contacted Ovusense about it, they sent me a replacement straight away which worked fine and would download immediately.

This is one of my non-pregnant charts by Ovusense. As you can see, about 9 days after ovulation, my temperature dropped right down, indicating that conception has not taken place. My period arrived the next day. You can also see that intercourse (indicated by blue dots) was sporadic around the ovulation day, hence no baby.

I started monitoring my ovulation just after I stopped nursing Odhrán, when he was about 10 months old. I wanted to get an idea of how my body was recovering after a year and a half or so of anovulatory cycles while I was pregnant and breastfeeding (it’s normal not to ovulate while you are nursing a baby, especially if the baby is exclusively breast-fed). Rob and I, being 40 and 39 respectively, didn’t want to hang around too long before having another baby, so I monitored my cycles casually for around 6 months before we tried ‘properly’ (for us that meant having sex almost every day in the fertile window; starting from four days before ovulation, including the day of ovulation and the day after….but it’s different for every couple). On this 7th cycle of using Ovusense we conceived the baby with which I am now 18 weeks pregnant; Odhrán’s brother or sister.

This is my pregnancy chart by Ovusense. See how the temperature doesn’t come down, even 20 days after ovulation? This indicates that progesterone has remained high, which increases the likelihood of a pregnancy having occurred. As you can see, intercourse (indicated by the blue dots) was much more consistent and regular around the ovulation day in this cycle.

My verdict? Using a device to detect my ovulation and ‘fertile window’ undoubtedly helped me conceive all three pregnancies in a much shorter time than if I hadn’t been using a tracker. What I liked about Ovusense over Natural Cycles was the fact that I could pop it in like a tampon at night, knowing it would take my temperatures for me. This freed me up from having to do it myself manually in the morning, and it greatly reduced the chance of human (i.e Freya) error.

With Ovusense you just pop the sperm-shaped bullet inside your vagina at night and go to sleep. It tracks your temperature for you.

The trouble I found with taking my own temperature, was that you have to have been asleep for a certain amount of consecutive hours before taking it, so getting up in the night to attend to a crying baby, or to go for a nighttime wee, might throw it off if you then wake shortly afterwards to actually start your day. You also need to make sure that taking your temperature is the first thing you do on waking, even before sitting up or getting out of bed. Even before I had any children to look after, I kept forgetting this, and repeatedly missed my opportunity to take my temperature, so once I had Odhrán and was trying for baby number two, it became impossible. What I liked about Ovusense is that I didn’t have to worry about that.

Trying for a baby can be a stressful time, so whichever method of cycle tracking you choose, or if you decide not to use one at all, I wish you the best of luck with your baby-making journey! Stay positive, and look after yourself and your relationship. Let me know what you think in the comments, or hit me up on Instagram at @the_amateur_mama

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with her partner, Rob. Visit them on Instagram at @the_amateur_mama and @the_amateurdad

Pregnancy Tests: Is there a line, or am I imagining things?!

Driving yourself nuts, peering at a pregnancy test, trying to work out if you can really see a second line or not?! Yep, I’ve been there. Obsessing over the existence of a barely-there line can make you feel like you’ve lost the plot. If you’re testing super early (read more about testing early, 10 days after ovulation here), then it can be really hard to see the test line, no matter what test you’re using. This is because your levels of hCG (the pregnancy hormone that the tests pick up on) probably aren’t yet high enough to give a truly obvious BFP (‘big fat positive’ in fertility forum speech!).

So if you’re wondering whether you’re imagining things, or whether there really is some of that pink ink showing up along the test line, here’s a little hack to help your poor, tired eyes see what’s really there. Or you could of course wait a few days to test again. Nah! Who has the patience for that! ? Certainly not me…

So here’s what you do.

Step 1: Take your pregnancy strip (if you’re testing really early in your cycle, I recommend using some cheap cardboard test strips instead of the pricey plastic ones. I used the One Step Pregnancy Test Strips which you can use really early and are only £3.29 for 20, so no worries using loads of them! ) Follow the instructions they come with to dip it in your urine and wait the specified time to read the result.

On this test strip, which I did only about 10 days after ovulation, I could have sworn I could see a VERY faint test line, which indicated a positive pregnancy result. Can you see it?

Step 2: Look at the area where the TEST LINE should be, this is the important bit. The control line will always show up, unless the test is faulty. If you feel that you can see a really faint test line, go to step 3.

Step 3: Take a photo of your test strip, and then download an app to your phone which which turn photos into negatives. I used one called Negative Image. Convert your picture to negative.

Step 4:  Have a look at the negative image of your test strip. Can you make out a faint turquoise line where the test line should be? Try bringing the brightness up or down on your phone or computer screen, and play around with the light or darkness in your room to see if this makes a difference. If there is any ink on that test line at all, it will be showing up as a faint turquoise haze, and that means it’s highly likely that you’re pregnant!

Can you see the faint turquoise line under the arrow where it says “TEST LINE” ? I used an app called Negative Image to create, well, a negative image!

And there you have it! As you can see on my early test strip above, there is a faint turquoise test line visible once I converted the image. I carried on testing on subsequent days and that line gradually got darker, before I finally used a First Response test on day 28, which confirmed that it was positive. I really do recommend the One Step Pregnancy Test Strips though, they are VERY economical and use WAY less plastic, which means less rubbish in landfill or the oceans!

See photos of the test strips I used on subsequent days, which show how the line got gradually darker, here, in my blog Am I pregnant? How early can I take a pregnancy test?

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents. Follow her and her partner Rob on Instagram: @the_amateur_mama @the_amateurdad

Am I pregnant? How early can I take a pregnancy test?

If you think you might be pregnant, it can be excruciating waiting until the first day of your missed period to test and find out. But just how early can you test? I am currently 17 weeks pregnant, and while I was waiting to see if I’d conceived, I experimented with different tests to try and find out as quickly as possible. Because of the expense, and the plastic, I didn’t want to start testing too early and waste a branded shop-bought plastic stick, so instead, I purchased some simple One Step pregnancy test strips from Amazon for only £3.29 for 20, so that I could test daily without worrying about the expense, or the plastic waste!

These simple (and cheap!) strips do the same thing as the bulky plastic ones, but cost much less and waste far less plastic. Win win!

These little cardboard strips can be dipped in urine and will detect hCG if you’re pregnant, displaying two maroon/pink lines for a positive result. They are the same ones that your GP will use if you visit them for a pregnancy test (I can vouch for this as I have seen them do it!). They’re pretty easy to use if you read the instructions carefully.

I had been monitoring my ovulation with Ovusense and knew that I had ovulated on day 12 of my cycle. All the advice online seemed to agree that with sensitive tests, you can test from about 10 days after ovulation (10DPO or ’10 days post ovulation’). On day 23 of my cycle, 11 days after I’d ovulated, and 5 days before my expected period, I used one of the One Step hCG strips, and found that if I looked really, really carefully in the right light, I could see what I thought was a line; an almost completely invisible line, that is. Was it my imagination? I couldn’t be sure either way, because of the possible confusion with an ‘evaporation line’ (more on that below!), so I tested again the next day, and for a few days after that. Here were my results:

The Ovusense monitor, which I was using to track my ovulation.

-Cycle Day 23 (11DPO): Practically invisible test line, almost entirely undetectable to the naked eye.

-Cycle Day 24 (12DPO): Almost the same as Day 23, but a ghostly-faint, colourless, almost invisible test line which can be detected when photographed and turned into a negative (see here for how to do this!) is present.

-Cycle Day 25 (13DPO): Very little change, but the test line today is every so slightly more visible than Day 24, especially its top left hand corner.

-Cycle Day 26 (14DPO): The test line is now visible, especially at its top left, where the ink meets the edge of the strip. The left hand side of the line is defined and straight, but it’s still hard to make out any pink colour.

-Cycle Day 27 (15DPO): The left hand side of the test line is now obvious and its right hand side is more defined.

-Cycle Day 28 (16DOP): The test line is now unmistakable, especially on the left border, where some colour is visible. The positive result is confirmed with a First Response test.

On the strips above, the maroon line on the right is the ‘control’ line and the fainter lines on the left are the ‘test’ lines. The presence of a visible test line indicates a positive result.

So what is an evaporation line and why should you beware?! An evaporation line is a really faint line that can show up where the test line would be if you leave it sitting around for too long after you’ve weed on it. It’s NOT a positive result, but equally, it isn’t a confirmation that you’re not pregnant. You should discard the test, re-test on subsequent days and make sure you read the result in the time specified.

I used one of my First Response tests the previous month, a day or so before my period was due. When I didn’t see a test line appear at first, I put the stick aside, still (mistakenly) convinced that I might be pregnant. The next day I looked at it again (yep, obsessed!) and saw what I thought was an extremely faint positive result line showing up, which made me wonder if it was in fact positive after all. When I called First Response to ask them, they told me that you should never read a test after the time limit specified in the instructions, and that what I was seeing was most likely an evaporation line, which is where the urine evaporates off the test line and leaves a faint, colourless mark. Sure enough, my period arrived the next day on that occasion!

You can avoid the confusion by reading the test within the time window specified in the instructions, and also, by taking a photo of your test, and using an app to turn it into a negative. This method is quite useful also if your test line is really, really faint, as mine were on the first days I was testing. Read how to do this here.

So there you have it, my verdict on testing early! If you’re (impatient!) like me and you want to avoid the expense and planet-destruction of using loads of plastic branded pregnancy tests when you’re testing every day, then I highly recommend the One Step pregnancy test strips. Then, if you really want confirmation from a well-known brand, you could get one test stick just to make sure. I chose the First Response test.

Good luck!

Found this article helpful? You may also be interested in my related blog Pregnancy Tests: Is there a line or am I imagining things?! , where I explain how to read a really faint result on an early pregnancy test.

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents. You can follow her on Instagram @the_amateur_mama . Rob can also be found there @the_amateurdad

The Pregnancy Test: At what point do you tell your man?

The pregnancy test. It’s a big deal, right? It tells you whether you’re bringing a brand new human into the world or…not. Whether you’ve been trying for a while, or your missed period has come as a surprise, taking the test and knowing for sure is a pretty big moment for any woman, and indeed, any man. But is taking the test a moment that should be shared by both the mother and father-to-be, or is it more fun, more romantic even, to surprise your partner with the happy news once you already know? Rob and I have been through three pregnancies together and we handled the testing part differently each time. Here we each give our perspective on taking the test, and talk to other couples about their experiences too.

FREYA: We’d been trying for a couple of months and I had just got back from a holiday to Ibiza when I noticed my period was late. It didn’t occur to me to wait to take the test with Rob; I just remember being at work and looking at the calendar, thinking “surely not?”. I went to Boots after work and bought myself a pregnancy test, and because I couldn’t wait, I took the test in a hotel toilet. It was positive! I spent the next few hours in an excited daze; entirely clueless as to what lay in store, but happy and giddy at the thought of having a baby. I had a huge suitcase with me, and having heard somewhere that pregnant women shouldn’t lift heavy things (which, incidentally, is a belief I don’t subscribe to anymore) I didn’t want to carry it home in my newly-pregnant state, so I texted Rob and asked if he could come to help me. He jumped on the tube, and it was in the middle of the concourse at Paddington station that I told him I was pregnant.

I told Rob about my first pregnancy in the middle of the concourse at Paddington station.

ROB: I was relaxing at home one Friday evening, looking forward to seeing Freya as she had returned from her holiday in Ibiza that day. Suddenly, I got a text from her about helping her with some luggage, and I must admit I did think it a bit strange, given that Freya is normally a very hardy character, and had been happily lugging a house-sized suitcase around London for the past few months, travelling around on all her housesitting placements. I put my shoes on and rushed over to Paddington. When I arrived, she was stood in the middle of the concourse with her suitcase, commuters streaming past. I had no idea what she as talking about when she said she had something to tell me, and asked me cryptic questions about why she might need help with her heavy bag. Eventually it clicked, and she confirmed the news by producing the positive test stick. I didn’t mind at all that I hadn’t been there for the test; I was over the moon at the surprise, and the fact that she told me in such an iconic train station made the whole thing an unforgettable experience.

FREYA: Sadly that first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 6 weeks, but I got pregnant again just weeks later. Thirty days after I’d had the miscarriage, with my period still not having arrived, I said to Rob “shall I take a test?’. My biggest concern was wasting money on a pregnancy test that might turn out to be negative, just because I hadn’t had the patience to wait a few more days for my period. But because I’d been complaining of bad smells, and a glass of water had made me wretch, Rob told me to go for it, so I got a test off Amazon and took it straight away. This time, there was no dramatic reveal; I peed on the stick while Rob waited downstairs, and we both stood in the kitchen waiting for the lines. Sure enough, it was positive. I remember quite matter-of-factly saying “I’m pregnant”. Rob was pretty incredulous, as he couldn’t believe it had happened so quickly, but there it was, the positive result for us both to see. Because of everything we’d been through, it was a more reserved reaction than the first time, but to make up for it, I surprised Rob with a baby Liverpool kit when we came out of our first ultrasound scan at the hospital, along with a daddy-to-be card.

To make up for the lacklustre way we took the test 2nd time around, I surprised Rob with a baby Liverpool kit at our first ultrasound scan.

ROB: I remember us discussing with Freya the fact that the miscarriage was so recent, and umming and arring about doing a test so soon. But she was complaining about stinky smells that didn’t exist, so when she suggested taking a test I was all for it. I tried not to get my hopes up, but at the same time I had never doubted that we’d be able to have a baby, despite the first time ending in miscarriage. I was in disbelief when the two lines showed up though, as I couldn’t believe that it had happened so quickly. Both times we’d tried we’d got pregnant almost immediately. Bizarrely, the way we took the test and how I felt when I heard that it was positive was less memorable the second time around than the first, even though thankfully, this time all went well and we had our beautiful son Odhrán 9 months later. I’ve always remembered the Paddington moment as if that was when I heard that Odhrán was on the way, so somehow the two memories have become intertwined.

FREYA: My third (and current) pregnancy had a bit of a strange lead-up. Because I was breastfeeding Odhrán, my periods didn’t return until I started to wean him onto bottles when he was about ten months old. Rob was keen to have another baby, as was I, and given our ages (I was 39 and Rob was 40) we knew we couldn’t hang around too long. I started monitoring my basal body temperature again when my period returned, but I didn’t tell Rob, as I didn’t want to put pressure on the relationship by ‘trying’ for another baby, as it had made things quite mechanical and chore-like the last time around. After a few months obsessing over LH strips and hCG tests, my patience ran out and I suggested that we actually try properly, as I was concerned that if we carried ‘winging it’, it might be another year before I conceived.

So we timed sex for the fertile window, and that very cycle I got pregnant. I had been testing with cheap hCG strips from about day 23 of my cycle, and had seen a gradually darkening positive line on the strips with each passing day, so I had an idea that I might be pregnant. I still didn’t really believe it until, on day 28, I used a branded test and got the confirmation that indeed I was! I wanted to make an occasion of the reveal this time, especially as it meant that Odhrán was going to have a brother or sister, so I bought him a ‘Big Brother’ T Shirt, and made a little story book about him getting a trouble-making playmate next year. When Rob got home from work, and I told him that I’d come up with a business idea to make personalised story books for families, and that I wanted him to read the ‘prototype’, while I filmed his reaction for my ‘market research’. As he sat down to read it, he clocked straight away what I was up to, as by this point he knew me too well! But he humoured me and read through the whole book, and seemed delighted at the end when his suspicions were confirmed and he read that Odhrán was to have a younger sibling come April 2021!

Odhrán wore a “I’m going to be a Big Brother” T Shirt for the pics I included in the booklet

ROB: I had been wondering if Freya was pregnant for the couple of days before she actually told me. I had been a little apprehensive leading up to that day, as although I suspected that our ‘trying’ had probably worked, there had been a bit of stress in the weeks leading up to that. After we had Odhran, I’d made it clear I wanted another child, but I hadn’t wanted to go on about trying for a second baby for numerous reasons, not least because I didn’t want to pressurise Freya to get pregnant again so soon. When out of the blue she told me that she’d been monitoring her ovulation for the last few months and that she was worried that nothing had happened yet, I was a bit surprised that she’d was ready to start trying again. As soon as I got home from work one Saturday, she brought Odhrán over to me and handed me a booklet, which she told me was a ‘business idea’ she wanted to test out on me. I knew straight away that something was fishy! But I quickly resumed my ‘innoncence’ and played along. Odhrán was sat next to me, enthralled with the little book (he loves reading!). We got to the page where he was to have a younger brother or sister, and I just smiled, looked up and said “I knew it!”. I was really happy, but I can read Freya like a book now (excuse the pun!).

WHAT ABOUT OTHER COUPLES? We talked to some of our friends to find out whether it’s best to ‘share or surprise’:

NIKKI: “After two traumatic miscarriages, Tom and I decided to have a weekend away in Amsterdam to let our hair down and take the pressure off trying for a baby. On our first night, we went out for a really fun evening of cocktails and food, and then the next morning I remember my boobs really hurting. I said “Tom, I’m pregnant, I just know it”. So we went to a chemist together in Amsterdam and took the test in our hotel room: it was positive. Despite the miscarriages, for some reason I just knew this time was going to be different. We were both really excited, and what had been planned as a ‘dirty weekend’ turned out to be a completely different experience; a loving, happy, joyful and romantic trip, celebrating the excitement of our future family together. The second baby was much more low-key. I was packing to go away on a retreat, and as I wondered if I should bring some tampons, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t had a period for a while. I took a test straight away while Tom was still at work, and it was positive. Tom came home, and before he’d even got in the front door, and while he was still soaked from the rain, I blurted out “I’m pregnant”. Although the baby was wanted and planned for, the speed at which I conceived was so unexpected that the timing felt like a bit of an inconvenience, as I was meant to be going away the next day, so our reaction was a little subdued. We were just as happy as the first time deep down, but the ‘reveal’ was much less glamorous the second time around!” @nikkiarmytagefoy

DOMINIC & TIM: “We decided to try conceiving the ‘turkey baster’ way, motivated by the savings we would make compared to IVF! Our single friend, Sarah* had never had IVF in mind, and was originally going to order some frozen sperm online. Because we also wanted a baby, the three of us made the joint decision to do it together using a Calpol syringe and a small Tupperware tub! Via our homemade method we had a 1% chance of success, but IVF wouldn’t have been much better, at 2%. Sarah was in her mid-forties and we were all dubious about it working, but nevertheless, we calculated the most fertile time to try and gave it a go. We were hopeful, but didn’t really think that we would succeed — certainly not as quickly as we did! After only our second attempt, Sarah sent me a photo of her positive result, via WhatsApp! We were all shocked, but very pleased, and we are now co-parents of a bouncing baby boy. @dominickelly

KATIE: “With our first, we’d been trying for eight months when, irritated and somewhat deflated, we decided to give up trying and just “go with it”. My best friend called to tell me she was pregnant with her second, which only compounded my frustration. I happened to mention that I was really hungover from the Saturday night, and she replied with “…but it’s Wednesday!”. I told her how I’d had to stop and puke on the way to work that morning. She shouted her reply: “take a test FFS!”. So I did…and I was one week pregnant! I rang my husband Karl, who was shocked and delighted, arriving home shortly afterwards with flowers, chocolates and a bottle of white wine in the middle of the day, which needless to say he drank on his own, trying to comprehend the news. We were stunned to say the least, and couldn’t really believe it until we saw the scan weeks later.”

DAVID*: “My wife Orlagh* and I are partners, lovers and friends. We go through everything together, and nothing about having a baby was private to either of us. I remember, on each of the three occasions we’ve had a baby, her saying “I think I’m pregnant” —before she’d even taken a test. She would buy the pregnancy tests and we’d make an occasion out of the big reveal. For our youngest daughter, we were about to go on a planned holiday to Ibiza when my wife mentioned her period was late, so we saved the test, took it with us in our luggage, and waited until we were on the white isle to actually take it. It made it even more special to be away on holiday in our favourite place to find out the good news.”

BEATRICE*: ” I left a letter for my husband on the bed, beside a bag of trash which, even at two weeks pregnant was already setting me off as he was awful at taking it out, despite it being one of his jobs! He always came in from work and went straight to get changed, so he walked in and saw the note, which was basically along the lines of “hey Daddy, if all goes well, I will be meeting you in 9 months time. Until then, please take the trash out as it’s making mummy and me feel very queasy! Love, your baby. p.s starting now, get this bag outta here!” My positive pregnancy test was under the bag. I laughed when I saw his face; such confusion as he read the note, then the quizzical look at the end, and then when he picked up the bag and saw the test, he was over the moon! He dropped the bag, grabbed the test and did a weird happy dance over to me shouting “this is amazing!” So yeah, he loved the surprise!”

MICHAEL*: “My daughter Chloe* came after the unfortunate miscarriage of our first baby. When my wife and I suspected she might be pregnant, I went to the shops and spent a fortune on a bundle of tests, just to be 100% sure. We both sat around impatiently, waiting for the blue lines together, and we were delighted when it showed up as positive. Baby number two, though planned, happened sooner than expected. My wife took that test alone, and our reaction this time was more reserved, solely due to the fact that we found out in the midst of the pandemic, which had dampened our spirits somewhat. Overall I would say that taking the test together was amazing; the nerves and excitement were something I will never forget.”

PETER*: “Our experience was probably quite different to most, as both of our children were conceived through IVF. So the result wasn’t really a surprise as such, but there was a lot of anticipation about whether the process had worked or not. We had to test on a very specific day that was planned ahead by the doctors, so it was more a part of the overall medical process than a private thing between us as a couple. We were over the moon both times though, and have two amazing children now.”

JULIA: “Kim was there both times we took a pregnancy test. He was, in fact, the one who suggested we try testing, even though we knew it was super early. He wasn’t actually in the loo while I was peeing on the stick, but he was waiting outside anxiously. Then we waited for the result together. It was great that we did it that way, as I think Kim always really wanted to be there for the initial reveal.”

NICOLA: “With us, both times, I had picked up a cheap test while out and had done it on my own, and surprised my husband Jorden with it afterwards. We’d then do a more expensive, clearer test together because the cheaper ones weren’t overly easy to read, and we got to have the ‘confirmation’ result together. ” @nikkij_uk

JORDEN (NICOLA’S HUSBAND): “I liked the way we did it. Especially the second time as we’d been trying for a long time. I think it helped that Nicola had used the cheap, less reliable test first, and then I was there for the confirmation, which made it real”. @berryjorden

LOTTIE: “The first time I was pregnant we took the test together, and I waited for my husband Thom to tell me whether it was positive or negative. It was really exciting! I’m glad we did it that way as it was a great experience being the one to be told the news. The second time, we were a bit more laid back, and I just casually suggested taking a test as my period was late. I went off on my own, and came back in disbelief, telling Thom “what the ………! I think I’m pregnant!” We couldn’t believe it and I ended up going out and buying no less than five further tests, and testing again and again over the following two days, just to make sure. We needn’t have, because my bump is very much alive and kicking, and we have a daughter on the way in 2021!” @lottielot13

DIANA*: ” I did the test on my own and then called my husband to surprise him. I didn’t know where he was at the time, but once he’d taken the news on board, he said “babe, I’m going to have to go, I’m at work, standing on a roof!”. He was surrounded by workmates, but somehow managed to climb down safely —and keep the good news to himself!”.

MARGOT*: Many moons go (12 to be exact) I’d been with my partner for a few years and had no success in the baby-making department. Fast forward to a trip to Amsterdam, where I had figured “when in Rome” with regards to sampling the local delicacies. But before I had tried any cookies or cakes, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had my period in a while, and I thought I’d better check, rather than be a ‘stoner mum’ before I’d even got off the starting blocks! Bang, I peed on a stick and we jumped for joy. No ‘cake’ for me in the Dam! I called my auntie first, and she started crying. I thought she was upset because I was unmarried, but no, she was crying with happiness as she’d dreamt only the night before that I was having a baby! I gave birth to my son Oliver*, and we tried for the next eight years to give him a sibling to no avail, in and out of fertility clinics, with more ‘camera crews’ inside me than the BBC! The heartache of not conceiving month after month was too much, so I decided not to try any more, and our marriage ended. Years later I met the most amazing man (my current partner). I happened to call my auntie to see how she was one day, and out of the blue she said “you’re pregnant”. “Not unless you know something I don’t”, I replied. It got me thinking though, and that night I bought a test without my partner knowing, peed on the stick and gazed at it in amazement: it was positive! For a few moments I was a deer in headlights and thought “I can’t tell anyone”, as it was such a shock. But when I went back downstairs, I saw my partner sitting there looking so gorgeous, and thought “there’s no way I can’t tell him”. He was absolutely overjoyed. I’m still in disbelief and can’t believe I’ve been this lucky”.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Freya and Rob are The Amateur Parents.Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama and Rob @theama

The First Trimester: A Week by Week Symptoms Guide

The first trimester can be quite a hellish time, dominated by nausea, vomiting and tiredness, but what about those lesser talked about symptoms that hit you out of the blue and come as a surprise? Well, here’s a guide to the symptoms I have been experiencing over the past three months, plus a few chucked in from my previous pregnancy. You may recognise some or all of them, and you probably have a few of your own to add to the list, but remember, even if you have no symptoms at all, this isn’t necessarily anything to worry about! Plenty of women don’t notice any changes at all when they’re pregnant and still have perfectly healthy babies, so don’t fret. If in doubt, contact your doctor or midwife team.

Symptoms at THREE WEEKS:

At three weeks, it’s extremely early, and I didn’t really have any ‘symptoms’ as such. However, because I have the patience of a two year old in a sweet shop, I had started testing on day 23 of my cycle, which was still 5 days before my period was due. This was my ‘symptom’ at 3 weeks pregnant:

An almost totally imperceptible line on an hCG strip:

Can you see it? Five days before my period was due I thought I could see a super faint line on an hCG strip. Turns out it was a positive result.

At 11 days post ovulation, I used a cheap hCG strip, and found that if I looked really, really carefully and in the right light, I could see what I thought was a really, really faint line. So faint, that it was almost entirely invisible, and makes for a pretty terrible reference photo for a blog, as on a computer screen you can hardly see it at all! I couldn’t be sure that it was a positive result because of the possible confusion with ‘evaporation lines’, but as it turned out, it was in fact a very early detection of low levels of hCG in my urine, which, in this case did mean that I was pregnant.

Symptoms at FOUR WEEKS:

Four weeks is around the time when many women who have been actively trying to conceive discover that they’re pregnant, as it’s about when your period would normally be arriving, and your hCG levels are high enough to be picked up on a pregnancy test. So, an absent period is the (pretty obvious) first symptom of pregnancy a this stage! But if you’re anything like me (impatient), you might be searching for clues as to whether you’re pregnant even before your period is due. These are the other symptoms I had started to notice at around 4 weeks, but you might spot them even earlier:

In the first few weeks of my pregnancy, I developed an obsession for this stuff: Cawston Press Rhubarb drink. And no, this isn’t a sponsored post (though it probably should be!)

∙Mild nausea that comes and goes.

∙Slight car sickness.

∙Slight tiredness, with less ‘strength’ and less energy than normal.

∙A craving (bordering on obsession) for sparkling drinks containing grapefruit or rhubarb.

∙A strange one: my finger nails seem stronger and the tips whiter than normal. My imagination?

∙A sudden sensitivity to smells that previously went undetected was actually the first sign for me when I was pregnant with my first child, Odhrán. This time around it took a few more weeks to fully take hold.

Symptoms at FIVE WEEKS:

At five weeks, many women still haven’t taken a test, as your period is still only about one week late at this stage. Therefore, you may not notice any symptoms if you’e not looking out for them. In my case, this is when my symptoms starting ramping up, and the list was added to by the day.

By five weeks I was obsessed with pink grapefruit and ate several each day.

∙My nausea is becoming more consistent now.

∙The tiredness is more noticeable, especially in the afternoon and early evening. Lots of early nights!

∙I’m getting slightly breathless when exercising compared to normal.

∙The obsession with sour or bitter sparkling drinks is growing ever stronger.

∙A craving for grapefruit begins (‘m eating at least 1 large pink grapefruit a day, cut up into chunks and eaten with a spoon).

∙My first aversion begins, to chocolate! Normally I’m addicted to it, so this has been surprising to say the least…

Symptoms at SIX WEEKS:

At 6 weeks, you still may not be feeling too bad, and will possibly still feel like you have the same energy levels as before. Be careful though, pushing yourself too hard at this stage can bite you on the bum, as you find yourself more exhausted after physical exertion than you would normally be.

While still active, I had started to feel more tired than usual by 6 weeks.

∙Nausea has gone up a gear and has become even more consistent.

∙Motion sickness is increasing, even to the point where swinging gently on a swing induces the feeling of needing to vomit.

∙Physical exercise and exertion induces more tiredness and exhaustion than normal.

∙Food seems to taste more delicious and satisfying, or more disgusting and repulsive. The middle ground seems to have faded away.

∙The urgent need to eat often and at regular intervals is developing.

∙Not strictly an ‘aversion’, but I have gone off coffee. Even the smell doesn’t appeal any more.

∙A metallic taste is developing in my mouth. Not pleasant.

Symptoms at SEVEN WEEKS:

Ok, so here’s when things really got interesting. Even if I hadn’t already taken a pregnancy test, my symptoms by 7 weeks were unmistakable; I felt terrible.

∙Extreme exhaustion is setting in; I’m feeling the need to lie down constantly, nap during the day and be in bed by 7pm.

∙Strong and unrelenting nausea has firmly taken hold, as if suffering from permanent ‘sea sickness’ —on dry land.

∙A sudden aversion to chicken has begun; can’t eat it, can’t smell it, can’t even think about it. Apologies to my father-in-law who cooked us a big chicken dinner and watched as I ate NONE of it…

∙My aversion to chocolate is confirmed; I tested this out by sampling some of my mother-in-law’s secret stash. Nope. Revolting.

∙My super-human sense of smell is now firmly in place; everything stinks, including my partner, Rob!

∙Talking of smells, my farts have got smellier! This is down to hormones changing the way your bowel works. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

∙Thrush! Yep, I’ve had it with both pregnancies. Severe itching ‘down below’ both on internally and externally. Get me the Canesten!

Symptoms at EIGHT WEEKS:

∙Nausea is constant, intense and has no break now. Why it’s called ‘Morning Sickness’ when it lasts all day and night, I’ll never know.

∙Exhaustion is now extreme, meaning daily 2 hour naps plus 12 hour night sleeps.

∙Dizziness, shakiness and weakness has started to kick in, especially first thing in the morning, as if caused by low blood sugar or low blood pressure.

∙Constant eating and snacking needed to stave off feelings of sea-sickness and dizziness.

∙Night time eating has become necessary, as nausea and light-headedness wake me up at night.

∙My hands are swelling up a bit now, and the veins on the backs of them stick out more than normal. Pretty.

∙Hormone-related bowel changes means I now have diarrhea. Thankfully not the ‘desperate-run-to-the-loo’ kind, just looser than normal. TMI?

∙I’ve also been feeling flutterings, pulling and tightening in the lower abdomen, which is most likely the womb expanding and growing to accommodate it’s new happy camper.

Symptoms at NINE WEEKS:

If your first trimester is anything like mine, by nine weeks you’ll be praying that the second trimester arrives early! For me, at 9 weeks I was just over half way through this challenging first stage. To cheer ourselves up we got an early reassurance scan and saw our little gummy bear moving on screen. You’re over the hump! You can do it! Symptoms this week were:

Our 9 week early reassurance scan helped cheer me up despite the nausea.

∙Sickness and nausea is as strong as ever.

∙I would now descried the exhaustion as ‘debilitating’. I spend the whole time lying down and getting dizzy when I stand up.

∙The familiar aversion to being touched on the legs that I experienced in my first pregnancy shows up again. Get off, Rob!

∙The frequent need to urinate means I need to wee all the time, including throughout the night, which is more than a little annoying.

∙An insatiable thirst has me downing pints of water and waking at night to drink even more. Ice cubes in the water is particularly refreshing.

∙Bogeys: Here’s a weird one! Extra snottiness and dried up bogeys occupying my nostrils are now unmistakable. Gross, but true!

∙Lower back pain has blighted my week this week, most likely caused by picking up my son (which normally wouldn’t have been a problem).

∙Last but not least, and caused by the muscles of the stomach relaxing due to my pregnancy hormones, I am finding myself needing to burp a lot more. Attractive, this 1st trimester, isn’t it?

Symptoms at TEN WEEKS:

The first trimester was spent lying down 90% of the time wearing seasonal pyjamas even though it wasn’t Christmas. Here I am with Odhrán, who was suffering from a cold when this picture was taken, so he sympathised with my plight.

∙Nausea, exhaustion and weakness continue as strong as ever.

∙Insomnia has ramped up, caused not only by the need to urinate, eat and drink but also by nightmares!

∙Nightmares and vivid dreams have become a nightly occurrence and will wake me up at 2am or 3am for several hours.

∙Food obsessions continue to pop up out of nowhere, causing me to panic-buy tonnes of the same thing (which I wouldn’t recommend; I stocked up on Thai green curry sauces in week 10 but by the end of week 11 I hated the stuff).

∙I’m guzzling whole milk by the gallon (in porridge, cereal and tea).

∙As well as food aversions, I’ve also developed pregnancy-related human-aversions. or more specifically man-aversions. Ok, Rob-aversions. Rob’s feet gross me out now; if his toes so much as touch my leg I freak out. I was also surprised to notice that certain sounds he makes (particularly low, rumbling noises that he puts on to play with Odhrán) make my skin crawl and drive me insane (imagine The Incredible Hulk in the fight scene where he’s floored by the sonic cannons; that’s me).

Symptoms at ELEVEN WEEKS:

Thai green curry became a short-lived obsession for a week or so. Ice-cold water with lime, lemon and mint provided refreshing relief.

∙My drink obsession is now iced water with mint leaves, lemon and lime juice.

∙My food obsession is pear, kiwi and lime fruit salad with a mango puree and mint leaves, as well as carrots and cucumbers dipped in hummus.

∙The chicken aversion has become ever stronger, to the point that even the thought of live chickens walking around in their pen make me feel sick. Sorry chickens, no offence.

∙I realise that I also have an aversion to eggs now too.

Symptoms at TWELVE WEEKS:

The 12 week scan revealed the little person causing all the trouble.

∙Just when I thought it was already at its peak, the nausea and “sea-sickness’ has become even strong this week.

∙Exhaustion levels are now immense; I hardly get up from the couch or the bed.

∙Burgers have been added to the aversion list. YUCK.

∙Baked potatoes and corn on the cob have beome the new obsessions, as well as salmon (smoked, poached or baked) and cream cheese. YUM.

∙Desserts have started to taste “too sweet” (how?!) and chocolate still doesn’t appeal.

∙Crusty nipples. Anyone? I noticed this in my last pregnancy too, though it seems to have started earlier this time. It was only when I gave birth that I realised that the creamy coloured specs on my nipples were bits of dried colostrum (the thick, golden yellow-coloured first milk that your breasts produce to feed your baby in the initial few days) which, unbeknown to me, was already being made by my mammary glands in preparation for the baby’s arrival.

On the plus side, we got to see bub again at our 12 week scan.

Symptoms at THIRTEEN WEEKS:

Horizontal living became the norm for me as I moved from bed to couch and back again.

∙I have become accustomed to existing in an almost-permanently horizontal position, while having only the slightest will to live. The only reason I get up at all is to look after my toddler or take him to the (very local) park, but where I can, I am sitting, or preferably lying, down.

∙Where previously, eating regularly was at least giving me some momentary relief, food is no longer helping my nausea now.

∙Carrots and cucumber are my favourite thing this week, food-wise. So cold and refreshing, ahhhhh.

∙Mint, and ginger and lemon tea is my latest drink obsession, and gives (very temporary) relief.

Symptoms at FOURTEEN WEEKS:

Desperate to alleviate the nausea, I tried some acupressure wrist bands. Not sure they worked though…

∙The nausea has ramped up to a new level, and evenings are the worst. I’ve never vomited, but this week I came very, very close, gagging and retching at the sight of some food on TV, and even innocent old toothpaste is causing some issues.

∙My new food aversion is tomato-based pasta sauce, which ordinarily I love, but which now I HATE.

∙Night eating (bread with margarine) is imperative (I take a slice to bed with me wrapped in cling film), as is a pint of water during the night.

∙Hot chillies and jalepenos continue to be a food obsession.

∙I have started trying some anti-nausea acupressure wrist bands. I’m not sure if it’s a placebo but they seemed to work on day one…

∙Despite the horrendous nausea, by the end of this week I have noticed one area of improvement: I had my first nap-free day this week! Progress? Let’s see…

Symptoms at FIFTEEN WEEKS:

O.M.G! Are things on the up? It does seem improving this week. By Tuesday I saw glimpses of my old self, meeting a friend at the park and feeling a renewed vigour to walk and do things.

By week 15 I suddenly had more energy and found myself able to walk longer distances than previous weeks.

∙No need for daytime naps this week, which means I can finally start working on some projects I’ve been meaning to get on with while my toddler naps on his own.

∙Evenings are still difficult, with the activity of the day catching up on me and causing strong nausea and exhaustion by 5pm each night.

∙Nightmares seem to be reducing too, although…

∙I still need to wee a lot at night!

∙Thrush continues to be an issue.

Symptoms at SIXTEEN WEEKS:

A mixed week this week. I was looking forward to week 16, as in my head it was the magic week when, in my pregnancy with Odhran, the woeful first trimester symptoms came to an end and I stopped feeling sick and exhausted. So I was (mistakenly) expecting that this week I would suddenly feel completely normal and bounce back to life. In reality, things seem to have gone backwards somewhat this week ,and some of the progress made last week appears to have retroceded.

By week 16, all I wanted to eat was bread and cereal.

∙Energy levels are up and down; some days I feel almost ‘normal’ and others I need to join my toddler for a daytime nap.

∙The nausea has been quite bad, and my gag reflex has stepped up a gear. I gagged on toothpaste one evening and was a tiny bit sick into the basin!

∙My huge disgust reflex and aversion to the tomato-based pasta sauces that emerged 2 weeks ago has gone up a level; I tried to make a pasta bake and couldn’t even look at it, let alone smell or taste any of it. Rob had to eat it all. He wasn’t complaining.

∙I seem to be eating nothing but bread and cereal (with whole milk).

∙The vivid dreams continue but not quite as bad as previous weeks.

∙My insomnia is fairly bad; I’m spending 2 or 3 hours awake per night.

Symptoms at SEVENTEEN WEEKS:

I don’t want to speak too soon, but the first trimester appears to have finally been left in the past now, as my energy levels, nausea and general outlook on life seems have vastly improved. Last week must have been the transition. While certainly not my ‘normal self’, I’ve come on leaps and bounds from the invalid I was a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to a productive second trimester! I hope you are too.

Now in the 2nd trimester, I ‘treated’ myself to a giant pregnancy pillow to help me sleep more comfortably at night.

∙Coffee, which I haven’t touched since I discovered I was pregnant, has suddenly reclaimed its appeal. I am now enjoying one (weak) cup a day.

∙The nausea, although still present, has reduced greatly.

∙My taste buds are still off kilter, with things that I used to like (chicken, tomato-based pasta sauce, eggs, burgers etc) now pretty revolting.

∙Acid reflux is now kicking in; this was an unwelcome accompaniment to my last pregnancy too. Gaviscon is my new best friend.

∙Back and hip pain is causing me a bit of discomfort, and my normally comfortable mattress is now way too hard! I have got myself a HUGE pregnancy pillow and a memory foam mattress topper, which help immensely, as I am also trying to train myself to sleep on my side, ahead of the third trimester (when it’s recommended you don’t sleep on your back in order to maintain good oxygen supply to the baby).

∙No more naps! I’ve got way more energy again during the day.

So there you have it, that brings us up to date and into the second trimester! Let me know in the comments below if you’ve had similar symptoms or whether you’ve experienced others that I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with her partner Rob. Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama for more parenting articles and photos.

The First Trimester: Why the big secret?

Some believe it’s bad luck, some say it’s simply tradition, but whatever the reasoning, until a woman passes the twelve week milestone of her pregnancy, convention dictates that she is not to reveal it to anyone but her doctor, and her partner. The superstitious amongst us believe that until twelve weeks, it is tempting fate to mention your pregnancy, because so much can go wrong and your pregnant status is somewhat ‘insecure’ until you’ve passed that all-important turning-point. Granted, the first trimester is when the risk of miscarriage is at its highest, but as someone who has experienced an early miscarriage myself, I would say that having people around you who know what has happened and can support you in your hour of need is exactly what you need at such a devastating time. In my case, most of my friends and family had no idea that I was pregnant, but when I started to bleed at six weeks, I just knew that it had come to an end. Even though we hadn’t told anyone that I was pregnant, once I knew I was miscarrying, I felt the desperate need to reach out and let people know, partly for support, but mostly because I felt an unbearable weight of sadness for this little life that had existed for six weeks and was now going to leave the world without anyone knowing that it had been there at all. It felt like I was doing that little soul a disservice to let it vanish without trace, so I ended up telling everyone I knew that it had been there, but that now it was gone, and it was the only thing I could do to honour the importance of the little life that had been with us for such a short time.

With my second pregnancy, which thankfully gave us our healthy son Odhrán (now eighteen months old), we didn’t tell anyone until after our twelve week scan. I don’t know why we felt the need to wait to tell people, particularly seeing as I would probably have told them anyway if it hadn’t gone our way and we’d ended up losing that baby too. I suspect it was superstition that prevented us telling too many people; the fear of tempting fate or getting too excited, too soon. It’s almost as if you’re supposed to reserve your happiness until the world deems your pregnancy to be ‘real’, even though to you, with all the changes that are assaulting your body so dramatically and with the sense of protection and love that you feel for your tiny mini-me from the word go, it is more than real already. There were benefits to keeping it a secret I suppose, namely the surprise that our family got when we sent them our first scan pictures, as they’d had no idea that we had conceived again so quickly after our miscarriage, and were delighted to see such a clear ultrasound scan of an already well-developed baby. I called my dad on FaceTime to show him in person, and admittedly, it was a special moment, made all the more precious because we’d waited to tell him. It’s also kind of fun keeping a secret and figuring out ways to throw people off the scent, and finding out, when you do tell them, whether or not they had suspected something all along. However, the downside of waiting is having to plough through three months of morning sickness and covering it up to all and sundry with a web of elaborate —and increasingly ridiculous— white lies.

With my second pregnancy, we decided to wait until the 12 week scan before telling people.

The first trimester, although largely ‘invisible’ insofar as any external physical signs are concerned, is actually, for many women, the most difficult part of the whole pregnancy. Those two little lines on the pregnancy test can mean that you’re about to spend the next twelve to sixteen weeks feeling increasingly tired and ill, while not being able to tell anyone why. If you’re lucky enough never to have experienced the dreaded morning sickness then I’ll happily enlighten you as to how it feels. Remember the worst hangover you ever had? Take that feeling and think back to the last time you were bed-bound with a really nasty bout of flu and add that to it, then chuck in a good measure of sea-sickness, some food poisoning, and a dash of vertigo. Make things a little bit harder for yourself with some insomnia, regular nightmares and frequent nighttime urination, plus the head-rush-inducing, stomach-knowing, desperate need for a midnight meal —every night. Maintain all of this for twenty four hours a day and then try and keep the whole thing to yourself, pretending everything is absolutely, gloriously, fine. And that’s not even the worst version; some women find themselves vomitting up to ten or twenty times a day and even end up being hospitalised due to dehydration and exhaustion. The clandestine world of the first trimester means feeling like absolute cr*p but having to put on a brave face and show up to the world; the smiling life and soul or the consummate professional, feigning normality, only to return home at the end of it all and collapse in an exhausted, tearful heap.

Those two pink lines are the start of three months of morning sickness for many women.

With my current pregnancy, which we found out about at the end of July, I didn’t necessarily want to wait until the official twelve week scan, but I had at least wanted to see a heartbeat on an early private scan before making an announcement. However, useless with secrets, my partner Rob told his sister at the first opportunity he had, when I was still only about five weeks pregnant. That led to his parents and other siblings being told, and before long I had also caved, telling my brother and sister-in-law about a week later. I hadn’t planned to say anything, but they had come over to visit at a time when I was already starting to feel nauseous and tired, I wanted them to know why I was sitting down every five minutes and leaving Rob to run around after our toddler instead of helping. As a wave of nausea washed over me, I announced that we had ‘news’ and then explained that I just wanted to get it out there: I felt like sh*t! Had they not been visiting precisely when the morning sickness was kicking in, I may well have put off telling them until we had subsequently had our first scan at just over nine weeks, which is when we did in fact tell the rest of our friends and family.

The first trimester of my pregnancy with Odhrán was by far the most difficult part of the whole pregnancy. The nausea was one thing, but the debilitating exhaustion that accompanied it was something I found very hard to hide. I was working in an office at the time, and the tiredness would get so bad that I’d have to book meeting rooms in secret and slink off when my colleagues weren’t looking, in order to go and lie down when it all got too much. I worked in a shared office space where all the meeting rooms had glass walls, making it pretty hard to carry out my covert activity with stealth, so I would use the ‘prayer room’ instead, as it had a proper door and no windows, allowing me to curl up on the kneeling cushion they provided for the floor and die in peace for half an hour. There was no way round telling the girl at reception why I wanted to book that room, and even though it was ‘breaking the twelve week rule’ to tell anyone at all, it felt like a huge relief to share my secret even with a stranger, and I basked in the sympathy of her knowing smile as she handed me the key, revelling in the rebellious pact I had created with my new-found confidante.

Now, with my current pregnancy, I am at home full-time with an eighteen month old toddler, which although taxing in its own way, at least means that I am not having to commute to work or put on a brave face in front of other adults for most of the day. Usually a very active person (I can normally run 10k without batting an eyelid, and would ordinarily do an intensive gym class at least four times a week), I have spent the last sixteen weeks almost permanently horizontal. It’s only because I have a toddler to entertain that I have even been making it out at all; just about managing the half mile walk to the park and back before resuming my position on the couch. The first trimester of this pregnancy has been every bit as bad, if not worse, than the last one. So exhausted by eleven in the morning, I would have to make joining my son for his two hour naps a daily routine, and my life has consisted of moving from bed to couch to floor and back again. It’s only in the last couple of weeks that the regular dizzy spells, low-blood-pressure-induced black-outs and debilitating tiredness has eased off a bit, but I’m still enjoying the last bit of nausea that doesn’t yet want to budge and which, unlike the term ‘morning sickness’ suggests, does in fact last all day…and night. 

Daytime naps with my toddler became a daily occurrence throughout the first trimester of my current pregnancy.

Because of the pandemic, we’ve been doing a lot less socialising than normal, which in many ways has been a blessing in disguise, not least because I haven’t had to make constant excuses for why I’m acting with less enthusiasm than a mushroom that’s been left to wilt at the bottom of the fridge, or why I can’t manage sitting upright for more than an hour without my face turning a thunderous grey. During the first trimester of my pregnancy with Odhrán, I’d have to regularly turn down invitations, and because we were keeping it a secret, my useless reasons only served to baffle and confuse their recipients. One that sticks in my memory was having to explain that I was too tired to meet a friend to visit a church because I’d been to a 70th birthday party the day before. I mean a church and a 70th birthday party. Yeah, I mean, don’t burn the candle at both ends, Freya. To this day that particular friend likes to remind me how so bizarrely out of character my excuse was, given that I would normally have the energy to go mountain biking, go-karting and kayaking with her, and a church visit wasn’t going to be anywhere near as exhausting as any of the high octane pastimes we would normally enjoy. 

Despite the social restrictions we’ve had this year, there have been some opportunities to meet with friends, and depending on how severe your pregnancy symptoms are, even a picnic in the park can seem like a mammoth task when you feel like death warmed up. It was for this reason, not having to make pathetic excuses to my friends as to why I couldn’t join them or why, if I did, I’d be lying down on a cushion for most of the duration, that I decided that in this pregnancy, I would give the twelve week rule its marching orders once and for all. Before Rob had even opened his gob and let the cat out of the bag by telling his sister, I had in fact told one member of a group of friends of mine, with whom I’d planned to meet up on Hampstead Heath a week or so earlier. We had been discussing the logistics of how I’d get there and whether or not I would stay over at hers, me being a south Londoner and she living in Kentish Town. Because I was already starting to feel queasy and weak, the thought of travelling across London on public transport with a toddler in tow was starting to give me the heeby-jeebies. I was dithering about with the plans as I was holding out for a lift from another friend who would be driving up from south of the river, but given that only a few weeks earlier, a non-pregnant me had walked the entire eight miles from Deptford to Primrose Hill in thirty-five degree heat to meet the same group of friends, with my son, the picnic stuff and both our overnight stuff piled high on his buggy, I could sense that my new apparent aversion to any form of physical exertion was drawing a bit of baffled attention. I decided to text my friend to tell her the reason why I was acting so flaky; I was four weeks pregnant! It was such a relief just to know that she knew, even if none of the others did, as somehow it felt like someone had my back.

The text I sent my friend, at just 4 weeks pregnant, breaking the ‘rule’ of the ‘secret first trimester.’

I was dying to tell the others though, particularly as I sat in the back of my friend’s car on the bumpy journey across town, feeling increasingly car-sick as I stared at his smartphone, politely watching a family video he’d made and wanted me to watch, the motion of the car beneath me combining with the flickering screen to create a nauseating bog of doom in the pit of my stomach, as my friend excitedly babbled away in the driving seat, oblivious of my plight. Once at Primrose Hill, as I struggled up the slope holding my ten-tonne son and all our picnic things without asking for help, I was dying to explain that actually, I wasn’t really managing very well at all and that it felt like I had Arnold Schwarzenegger strapped to my body in the Baby Bjorn rather than a toddler, with my lungs feeling like they were going to explode at any given moment. Later, at the picnic, as one of my friends unwittingly took my only can of non-alcoholic sparkling grapefruit drink that I had specifically bought to alleviate my nausea (bubbles and tang help!) and gulped it down thirstily, not realising that it wasn’t just any old can of drink, but my refreshingly crisp, nausea-alleviating lifeline (ok, a bit dramatic, but you try keeping your cool when you feel like you’re on a rough boat crossing even though you’re on land, and you have newly arrived pregnancy hormones surging through your bloodstream ), I wanted to unleash my inner banshee and let out a long, guttural scream along with the words “I’m f*cking pregnant, you mother-f*ucking, sparkling drink-stealing bastard!!!”.

Putting on a brave face: I was already feeling nauseous and tired at a picnic with friends, but hid it under a smile because I was keeping my pregnancy a secret.

I didn’t of course, because I was keeping my pregnancy a secret, so instead I smiled politely as I watched the drink I’d been looking forward to for the last two hours disappear down his unenlightened gullet. A few weeks later, after I’d had my nine week scan, I met up with the same group of friends again, only this time, I had texted them in advance to announce that I was expecting. I did this less to induce a inpouring of congratulatory replies, and more to give them a heads up that it would be likely that I would be spending most of the picnic lying down, with my hands on my tummy and my eyes shut, and that they weren’t to think me rude if my pained expression gave the impression that I was secretly thinking that I’d be having more fun sat with a bunch of carrion birds, picking bits of rotten flesh of a carcass. It worked; everyone understood that it was the morning sickness, and not their company, that was the cause of my sad-sack demeanour, no-one expected me to be the life and soul of the picnic and… no one stole my drink. 

With this pregnancy, we decided to tell people at 9 weeks, which is when we saw the baby’s heartbeat on an early scan.

And this, for me, is an important part of why I believe couples should feel that it’s ok to tell people they’re expecting, even in the early days. The first twelve weeks are precisely when a woman should be wearing her “Baby on Board” badge and being given special dispensation and a seat on the tube. When you’re feeling like sh*t, you don’t want people having any expectations of you; rather you need a friendly face, some understanding, hell, sympathy even, a bit of assistance and regular access to food and drink, without looking like some sort of rabid snack-devouring, demanding diva-b*tch. Once people know you’re pregnant, all is forgiven. And if it doesn’t go your way, if you do lose your baby in those first twelve weeks, being able to tell people and hear about similar experiences from other couples who have gone through the same thing lightens the load immensely. Keeping the whole thing a secret, as if it never really happened, isn’t fair on you, and it doesn’t do justice to the people you know and love, because the truth is, people are generally kind; we can all relate to the pain of losing someone, and to share that pain with those around you, if not halving it, certainly makes it a lot easier to bear. It also invites other couples to talk about their own experiences of miscarriage, which they may previously have felt too embarrassed, ashamed or nervous to bring up for fear of judgement or stone-cold, awkward silence. 

In my case, when another another couple replied to my message in which I’d told them I’d had a miscarriage, to reveal that they too had gone through the same thing just eighteen months earlier (and had subsequently gone on to have a healthy baby, who by that point was four months old) I was so relieved. It wasn’t that I was glad to hear that they had suffered, but it was a relief to know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t abnormal and that I hadn’t done anything wrong. To hear them speak of the devastation they had felt, which sounded so much like that which I was drowning in there and then, and to hear that they had got through it, recovered and gone on to have a healthy baby, gave me a life buoy to hold onto. More and more people opened up to me about their own experiences as a result of me telling them about our loss; not just about miscarriages, but pregnancy complications, problems conceiving and all manner of fertility anxiety, all echoing the same desperate agony that I was feeling, and all making me realise that this feeling was not unique to me. 

The Baby on Board badge, which many women wait until the 2nd trimester to wear.

Silence only serves to make something which is very common feel like it’s some horrendously abnormal thing that is only happening to you, and shrouds the whole horrible experience in unnecessary taboo. According to Tommy’s, the charity that funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, an estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Most of them will be a “one-off”, caused by chromosomal or genetic abnormalities in the embryo, and will have no bearing on a couple’s chances of having a healthy baby in the future. But the tradition of keeping the first trimester —and any negative events that happen during it— a secret, somehow makes it seem like it isn’t real or valid, and that your pain isn’t deserving of any sympathy or relief. But the opposite is true. Just because your baby was only around for six, ten, or twelve weeks doesn’t take away the fact that she existed. She was alive, she was real and for that short time she was loved. Her birth was looked forward to and her future and a life of her own was imagined with perfect clarity. It’s a pretty cruel tradition that turns this painful loss into what feels like a shameful secret, and to cause a couple to fear tempting fate if they dare tell anyone their news, and to leave them to mourn the loss of that baby alone if they’re unlucky enough to have a miscarriage, seems like some sort of gruesome, outdated joke. 

Anyone who has experienced miscarriage will know, that as well as the acute sense of loss, our pesky human minds also heap on a whole load of other unhelpful emotions when left to swirl around in their own lonely cosmos; sadness; guilt, regret and anger, and it’s normal for women —and their partners— to agonise over what they did ‘wrong’ or to fret about how the miscarriage could have been prevented. The loneliness you feel at such a time of loss, especially one shrouded in secrecy, leads to the mind scampering down a rabbit hole of over-analysis, causing more pain than the actual miscarriage itself. I found that being able to talk about what had happened, including the actual physical events of miscarriage, the way I had felt when I was pregnant and when I lost the baby, normalised the experience and helped me make sense of it in the context of the real world, not an anxiety-ridden parallel universe where there were a million things that I could have done differently to prevent my baby from having died. For people to hear about my baby and how she or he had made me feel, also felt like I was giving him or her the send-off they deserved, a eulogy if you like, for the future child we never met. 

And thats the thing, despite the secrecy and the lack of official ‘validation’ of your pregnancy in those first twelve weeks, the first trimester is a time when it all feels overwhelmingly real for the mother –and often the father— of the baby-to-be. The excitement of discovering you’re pregnant, which can be the culmination of months or even years of trying to conceive, the realisation of your hopes and dreams of having a baby, the excitement of wondering whether its a boy or girl and the sudden awareness that your world is going to change beyond recognition make it, emotionally speaking, the most real experience you’ve probably ever had. Couple that with having to adapt to the rapid onset of nausea and exhaustion, and the whole things makes for the ride of a lifetime, one whose highs and lows, I believe, should be shared with those who can support you and share in your happiness, trepidation and excitement.

Of course, keeping it a secret isn’t all doom and gloom. It can be quite fun exchanging glances with your other half as he surreptitiously sips your drink as well as his own so that your not drinking alcohol doesn’t raise suspicion, and it can also be a time when you and your partner enjoy the knowledge that you have a little person on the way in the privacy of your relationship, before the world starts interfering. However, my wish for those parents-to-be who are keeping mum because of the fear that something will go wrong that they will have to ‘explain’ to those they’ve told, is that they feel supported and encouraged enough to tell whoever they wish about their pregnancy, at whatever stage they want. The more we talk about our experiences of the first trimester, both good and bad, the more we can give it the recognition it deserves, support new pregnant mums in what can be the most physically demanding stage of their pregnancy, and lend a life-line of understanding to those struggling with the agony of an early miscarriage, instead of their pain, which is every bit as real and acute as any other loss of a loved one, being shrouded in silence.

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with her partner Rob. Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama for more parenting articles and photos.

Egg Freezing: Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

During the thirty minutes I spent knocked out on the operating table, I would have my legs spread open and hooked up in stirrups, my ovaries drained of their contents and my eggs sucked out via a long, thin needle inserted into my vagina and through the wall of my womb. My surgeon, Mr Shah, would skilfully navigate his needle through the labyrinth of my insides and suck out my eggs one by one, shooting them along a tube across the room, through a hole in the wall not dissimilar to a 1980’s dining room serving hatch, into a glob of cryoprotectant freezing solution to be plunged deep into a tank of liquid nitrogen. None the wiser, I slept a dreamless sleep, oblivious of the events unfolding between my legs.

Waiting to be wheeled into surgery to have my eggs collected.

Nine eggs and forty-five minutes later I was waking up in the recovery room, a cup of tea and some rich tea biscuits next to me on a table. A nurse gently let me know that as soon as I’d had them, it was time to be on my merry way. It was surprisingly anti-climatic; the end of a journey that had taken an immense amount of thought and preparation, not to mention an immense amount of money. In a drug-induced daze, I ignored the polite nurse and let my heavy, morphine-clouded head clonk back onto the pillow as my eyes drifted back shut. Some time after, I woke up properly, sat bolt upright and scoffed the biscuits before bouncing out of the clinic and into bustling Marylebone. As I skipped towards the tube, I was surprised to note how pain-free, on top of the world and seemingly invincible I felt, not realising that I was still flying high from the anaesthetic. I was so full of beans I felt like I could take on the world.  

Immediately after egg collection: still drugged to the eyeballs.

Thirty-eight and single

Needless to say, I didn’t take on the world that day, or the day after. I came down from my anaesthesia-induced high approximately two hours and thirty-five minutes after reaching home, and holed myself up in bed to spend the afternoon working on my laptop, a dull ache slowly spreading across my tummy to remind me that that I had just had abdominal surgery to suck out nine eggs, and that one of those now-frozen ovum might one day be my child. I was three months short of my 38th birthday and single, and the realisation that maybe I wouldn’t meet someone in time to have a baby had suddenly, and quite recently hit. I’d heard of egg freezing before; I’d seen the little advertising plaques they have on the tube, but I had never considered it relevant. I hadn’t thought it would ever be something I’d need to do and had assumed that at some point I’d grow up and meet someone, and we’d decide to have a family. But now, after years of putting it off, FORTY was suddenly fast-approaching and I realised that despite years of never really caring either way, I did now want children after all. But had my time almost run out, and if so, should I invest a whopping five and a half thousand pounds on trying to pause it? 

My twenties: footloose and fancy free

I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to go for egg freezing and that’s probably because it wasn’t one exact moment. Like lots of big decisions, this one had taken a long time to germinate, somewhere in a cosy womb-like space in the back of my mind. Bit by bit the accumulation of birthdays and failed relationships, and the realisation through years of counselling, therapy and life coaching that I had deep-rooted desires of which I’d been long-denying myself, all gradually combined in one big tail wind, pushing me towards a big fat crossroads in my life. Throughout my twenties and early thirties I had insisted that I didn’t want children. I pitied women who gave up their lives to look after kids and was incredulous of anyone who’d want a snotty little leech running their life. In relationships, my baby-aversion and fear of commitment had not yet become an issue because let’s face it, what twenty-something bloke wants to hear his girlfriend saying “Shall we have a baby”. It was a dating advantage to be footloose, fancy free and unshackled by the maternal instinct that I felt blighted many of my peers.

My own childhood was problematic and I have no meaningful contact with my mother to this day.

A difficult childhood I didn’t want to repeat

The first time the idea of babies had really came up in any seriousness was in a relationship I was in when I was thirty-two. Despite this guy’s devotion, I became more and more ambivalent, repeating the familiar self-sabotaging patterns that had become my go-to crutch when faced with emotions I couldn’t handle. I rejected any possibility of marriage or children, convincing him as well as myself that neither would be on my radar, ever. Because he loved me, he reluctantly went along with what I ‘wanted’, and it was only during a huge fight at the end of our relationship, in which I hurled undeserved abuse at him, that I realised I did want those things, only I couldn’t fathom any way of being able to have them. My own childhood had been unsettling to say the least and I no longer had any real contact with my mother (and still don’t to this day), so the thought of opening up a can of worms by starting my own family was too painful even to contemplate. Instead of bringing fulfilment, relationships had only triggered fear, confusion and panic. I wanted to run back to the safety of not being needed, and not needing anyone else.

Facing my fears

After that break-up it dawned on me that I had emotional baggage yet undealt with since childhood, so I began a course of life coaching (with the super-duper women’s coach Nikki Armytage). It turned out to be the first of many steps in breaking down my emotional barriers, steps that subsequently included both counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Gradually I was able to make sense of my fear of relationships and negative thought patterns, and find strength in vulnerability, and gradually I allowed my angry defences to lower a little in order to see more clearly the things that I was missing out on. To my shock, I found that I was actually quite good with children, and I found myself wanting to spend more time around them. I started volunteering with my friend’s charity in Kenya, travelling to Mombassa to run holiday programmes for the fifteen orphaned and abandoned children she supports there. Closer to home, I volunteered my time to organise a marketing campaign for a another friend’s charity supporting women and child survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and on a personal level, I was made godmother to my baby nephew, born in 2015.

I was made Godmother to my nephew in 2016.

When egg freezing first seemed like a real option

It was a period of great change, but at almost thirty-eight, was it too little, too late? In amongst all of that growth, another relationship had started and ended, and I was now enjoying a long list of Tinder dates crammed into lunch hours or brunch hours or after-work, pre-gym squeeze-you-in hours. Whether it was choosing the ‘wrong’ type or plain bad luck, I languished in a string of relationships that wouldn’t budge beyond the three month mark. I didn’t want to plump for just ‘anyone’, but equally the time pressure to find the ‘right’ one to settle down with was ruining all the fun as the clock ticked ever louder. So when a friend of a friend went to Harley Street to get her eggs frozen, a light switched on. It was no longer just an advertising plaque on the tube. It wasn’t something that other women, unknown to me, spent their designer handbag money on. Egg freezing had all of a sudden been catapulted into the forefront of my mind as something most definitely relevant; an actual possibility that I was literally considering. I was finally ready to admit it: I loved kids, I was great with kids and I wanted my own kids. But now that I was able to say that, was my biological clock going to let me down?

London’s famous Harley Street, where Fertility Plus was located.

Getting a ‘fertility test’ in Harley Street

I decided to book a meeting with Mr Amit Shah of Fertility Plus, still not thinking that I’d really go through with it. Somewhere in a secret, anti-feminist corner of my brain, there was a version of me secretly dreaming of being rescued by a knight in shining armour, riding in wanting a serious relationship and saving me from having to go through with such a big emotional and financial commitment. What I was yet to see, was that this commitment was going to be my way of saving myself. Mr Shah offered me a fertility test as a first step, and as it only cost a fraction of the full egg retrieval procedure, it seemed sensible —if nothing other than to get an idea of the state of play ‘down there’. It would be a measure of my ‘ovarian reserve’; which is a test of female fertility potential, or to put it more bluntly ‘how long you have left to have a baby’. I coughed up £350 and took the plunge.

Antral follicles and AMH levels

Mr Shah explained that the test would be a two-step process. The first step was a vaginal ultrasound (cue medical dildo complete with condom and lube) which would show us my antral follicle count. Ovaries are filled with follicles, which are fluid filled sacks each containing an immature egg. Each menstrual cycle, several of those follicles will start developing eggs, and usually, just one of them will be released, while the remaining follicles disintegrate. Think of antral follicles as ‘follicles of the month’ because they’re the ones that have the potential to grow, mature and release an egg. Because of their larger size and fluid-filled cavity, these follicles can be seen on ultrasound, and are what Mr Shah would be counting. Your number of antral follicles can indicate how much time you have left, and perhaps more importantly, what your body’s response will be to stimulation of the ovaries for egg retrieval.  It’s important information to have because, not only does it tell you how prolific your ovaries are (follicles with the potential to ovulate decline with age) but also tells your surgeon how much medical stimulation you will need if you do decide to go ahead with the procedure.

Mr Shah’s ‘wand’, primed for a vaginal ultrasound.

The second step was to have blood tests to measure the levels of Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) in my blood. AMH is a hormone produced by your active ovarian follicles, so your levels of AMH often relate to the number of your antral follicles. AMH levels in isolation can also depict the remaining lifespan of the ovaries, and again, tell you how much time you have . Like antral follicles, AMH declines naturally with age, while high levels can suggest polycystic ovaries. All important stuff.

The results

Suddenly, despite having never heard of them before, how many antral follicles I had became all-consumingly important, and I found myself hoping and praying for a good result. After an agonising few days, I met with Mr Shah to discuss the findings. “Your AMH levels have come back at 22 pmol/L”. I stared back at him blankly. “Which is higher than expected for your age” he added. Ok, well that’s good, I thought. “I would normally expect AMH levels to be between 15-17 at your age” he continued. “Well done, ovaries!” I cheered, silently. Mr Shah went on; “the ultrasound scan showed 12-14 antral follicles which, again, is a good number, and your ovaries aren’t showing any polycystic ovarian morphology. It’s a satisfactory result”. It was like getting a 2:1 from York all over again, except this time I hadn’t had to read any books, study any scholarly essays or write any dissertations. But somehow I still felt as smug as if I’d passed a test; my ovaries were adequate… for my age. Yay!

My clinic letter after the antral follicle count and AMH test.

And that’s the caveat; at almost thirty-eight, having adequate ovaries ‘for one’s age’ still isn’t the best prognosis when it comes to the business of baby-making. Especially if you’re currently single with no sign of a partner on the horizon, and you’re hoping to harvest strong eggs that will withstand the freezing, and maybe also one day, the thawing processes. The second caveat is, that just because you might have a relatively good egg count, it doesn’t necessarily mean that quantity equals quality. Nor does it mean that you’ll definitely get viable eggs, or any egg at all. So while the news was as good as it could be, I still had to keep my feet on the ground. The question now was: should I shell out five and a half grand and take a chance on freezing my fertility?

A close up of an antral follicle as seen on ultrasound.

Raising the £5500 it cost to freeze my eggs

Mercifully, I did at least have the five and a half thousand pounds to be in the position to make that decision. But I had worked really hard for it, so it wasn’t an easy decision. I had been saving up to launch a new business; my baby, if you like, which was an idea I had gone to ITV with to turn one of their iconic TV gameshows into a real-life immersive experience, and I was in the midst of developing the idea, finding a London location, and most importantly, raising over a million pounds to launch it when I first went to see Mr Shah. Having previously been a jobbing actor (translation: unemployed), I had no money whatsoever when I first started the business, so in order to raise some much needed seed capital, I had landed a temp role with a telecommunications company, moved out of my flat and joined a housesitting website.

Housesitting turned out to be the best way ever to live in London for free. Literally for free. The only snag is that you are constantly moving; each ‘placement’ would last anything from one week to three months, with my average stay in any one home lasting about ten days. So if you housesit full-time, you’re constantly on your toes, always having to line up somewhere new to live so that you’re not out on your ear. With a full-time, pressurised job to maintain plus a start-up to launch, having to find somewhere new to live every ten days can be unsettling at best and stressful at worst, so you have to be comfortable with the unknown. And you have to love pets, which I did, so that part wasn’t a problem. I would move from swish Marylebone townhouse to forest retreat, from Richmond terrace to Paddington house boat; from cat to parrot, to pug to hen with nothing but a suitcase and a prayer. I was a hobo in heels.

Housesitting was a way of saving up to afford the operation.

Taking my future into my own hands

So when I say I worked hard for that five grand, I really mean it. Literal blood, sweat and tears. But in a way, all the effort, energy and passion that had gone into making that money was the last push in my marathon  towards motherhood. Because the way I see it, spending a significant amount of money on something is like making a big statement. It might not necessarily be a statement that anyone other than you can hear, but nevertheless you’re choosing to transfer all the energy and effort that it took to make that money onto something you think is a worthy investment. And when you make an investment, you’re doing so with the hope, the belief even, that something will grow and develop from it; that it will be worth more in the future than what you’re spending on it now.

For me, it was a powerful commitment to the change I had initiated five years earlier when I had decided to do something about my destructive pattern of relationships, my self-limiting beliefs and my fear of vulnerability. No knight in shining armour arrived to save me from Mr Shah’s needle, and thank God they didn’t, because it was time for me to woman-up and take responsibility for my own future, to have the balls, nay the ovaries to make that silent declaration to the universe that I was ready and willing to invest in having a family of my own. Who knows whether, had I not gone through with it, the amazing events that followed soon afterwards would ever have happened. 

The drugs

I transferred the money and took a deep breath. In order to get my ovaries ready to be ‘harvested’, I would have to inject myself with a combination of two drugs; Bemfola, a follicle stimulating hormone which would encourage several of my follicles to mature their eggs all at the same time, and Fyremadel, to prevent my ovaries releasing those eggs before they were ready to be collected. Because of the decent amount of antral follicles I had, Mr Shah decided to put me on a ‘low dose stimulation protocol’ in order to avoid Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, a side effect of the treatment which can cause uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms including nausea, bloating and vomiting in mild cases; weight gain, severe pain and blood clots in severe cases and kidney failure, ovarian torsion (twisting of the ovary) and haemorrhage in the worst.

He explained that some doctors like to administer as much medication as possible in order to encourage the ovaries to mature the maximum amount of eggs, but in addition to the risk of gruesome side effects, a high dose protocol doesn’t necessarily guarantee plentiful eggs. Just because the follicles are large, and even if they each contain an egg, the quality may not be sufficient to go ahead with freezing, and they could, in theory, all have to be thrown away. Under or over developed eggs have a lower chance of conception success, so the whole process is a fine art, combing precision timing, balanced pharmacology and skilful handiwork. 

Hormones!

Mr Shah’s approach was to use a modest amount of drug-induced stimulation in order that the eggs that I produced were viable.  My follicle growth would be monitored carefully with frequent vaginal scans, and when they were at just the right stage of development, I would inject the all important “trigger shot”, precisely thirty six hours before going in for the operation (this shot is usually a hormone shot of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), which triggers the ovaries to mature their eggs). In a natural menstrual cycle, HCG would tell the follicle not only to mature its egg, but crucially, to release it. However, in a medicated cycle where the endgame is to collect the eggs, it’s imperative that this release doesn’t happen. Eggs, once released from the ovaries, can not be collected, so the timing of the trigger in relation to getting to the operating table is vitally important. Miss your appointment and you could potentially have multiple mature eggs floating down your fallopian tubes towards your womb (note: do not have sex at this point unless you want to risk being the next Octomum). 

Mr Shah and I had to work out the best dates to go ahead, because not only was the timing of the operation going to be vitally important, the date that you start the drugs depends on where you are in your monthly cycle, and we had to make sure that we were both going to be available at the right moment to proceed with the operation once my follicles were ready. Dates decided, he handed me a big box of pre-filled syringes and told me it was time to practise injecting. Having never been a diabetic nor a drug addict, I had never had the opportunity to master the art of using a syringe, so I didn’t realise what a wuss I was until Mr Shah demonstrated how to do it before asking me to have a go. It was imperative he could trust me to administer the drugs myself on a daily basis, and if not, I would need a nurse to do it.

Learning to self-inject

My hand trembling, my eyes welled up as I tried once, twice, thrice to stab the needle into the fold of tummy flesh I was nervously gripping between the finger and thumb of my left hand. My needle-holding hand seemed to belong to someone else, someone with vibrating fingers and an annoying habit of retracting the needle just at the point where it was about to touch the skin. The harder I tried to plunge the needle in, the more violently my hand would tremble. Presumably accustomed to such muppetry, Mr Shah politely assured me that my pathetic reaction was completely normal. Beads of sweat poured down my face and I began to worry about the distinct possibility that I would be staining the posh chair I was sitting on with the perspiration that was now pooling between my legs. Was it me or was the room unbearably hot? 

“Come on you idiot”, I said to myself, not helping matters. “Stick it in”. If I couldn’t inject myself, I’d have to traipse into central London every day to have a nurse do it, and seeing as I’d planned a cosy two weeks working from home while I would be pumping myself with hormones, the thought of having to commute into town every day to be injected by a nurse really didn’t fit with the programme. After what seemed like ten eternities, and with tears of embarrassment rolling down my face, I finally stabbed the needle into my skin and pressed down the plunger. Surprisingly, it was like slicing through butter. The initial pain was immediately replaced by shock as alarmingly cold liquid shot into my skin. “Well done” said Mr Shah, and for a moment I thought I was going to get a gold star. “It’s completely natural that you’d feel some anxiety if you’ve never done it before, but you’ve done really, really well”. A look of smug satisfaction crept across my face —I really was nailing this whole fertility thing. Deserving of praise or not, I’d done it, and Mr Shah had a unique way of making you feel like you were top of the class. Now I just had to do it every day for the next two weeks, and without Mr Shah cheering me on. 

Self-care

What I would say to anyone contemplating fertility treatment, either for the purpose of egg freezing like me, or for IVF, is that self-care during your treatment goes a very long way. Mr Shah recommended I work from home during the lead up to the operation, which I was lucky enough to be able to do, and I didn’t regret it. The impact of the daily hormones should not be underestimated; some days felt like I’d mixed a hundred doses of pre-menstrual tension with ten good pinches of puberty and downed the whole bloody lot in a glass of good old fashioned Victorian hysteria. Some days, within ten minutes of injecting, I would feel a huge wave of nausea and fatigue envelop me, sending me running to my bed to curl up under a thick duvet and let out a long, primeval moan.

Other days, as the wave came crashing down, it would bring with it a complete emotional breakdown; a friend once made the unwitting mistake of calling my mobile just after I’d injected one day, only to hear me wail down the phone for ten minutes straight, for absolutely no apparent reason. Another day, after learning of the death of a (very old, terminally ill) cat that I had previously looked after, I cried for the rest of that day, and intermittently for the rest of the week. Couple the emotional instability with the fact that you get a fair whack of bloating, breast tenderness and general premenstrual funk, it’s fair to say you won’t be rushing out to put on a designer frock and Live Your Best Life during this period.

Nourishing, organic food was what the doctor ordered during my treatments.

You’ll benefit from peace and quiet (if you can get it), wholesome, delicious, nourishing food, plenty of water, herbal teas and heaps of self care. Clear your diary and don’t make any plans that you can’t easily and guiltlessly get out of, and make sure that as few people as possible have any expectations of you during the couple of weeks you’ll be injecting. As best you can, avoid any situations where there will be confrontation, emotional labour or painful triggers, but say yes to anything you feel like doing for yourself, whether that be your favourite meal, a lovely warm bath, snuggling for an evening of Netflix or indulging in your favourite body treatment. On the advice of my life coach friend, I assembled a support group for the few weeks that I would be going through my procedures, made up of five or so friends who I knew would be positive about my decision and support me throughout its ups and downs. I added them to a little whatsapp group and kept them up to date with my daily trials and tribulations, and they helped me keep a smile on my face along with a much needed sense of humour.

Acupuncture for fertility

Alongside all this, I treated myself to acupuncture. A lot of women undergoing IVF have acupuncture as a complementary treatment alongside the fertility drugs, and tests have shown it to significantly improve the chances of successful implantation of in-vitro embryos. Although I was not having any embryos implanted, I figured it couldn’t hurt to get me some of that acupuncture while I was maturing my eggs, as it’s meant to help combat stress, regulate your hormone levels, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and regulate your immune system Sign me up! Whether or not it helped with creating better or more eggs is debatable, but it definitely helped me mentally, and it felt good to know that I was doing as much as I possibly could to ensure the best possible outcome. Overall, the time leading up to my egg freezing procedure was probably the most self-caring I’ve ever been; never before or since have I made such a concerted effort to protect and nourish myself physically, mentally and emotionally, and this, in hindsight, was another big part of my motherly awakening. It also meant that I bounced back after the procedure as good as new, without any lingering exhaustion or sense of depletion.

Acupuncture for IVF.

Stopping the clock: a contentious issue

The irony is, of course, that I embarked on the expensive and physically draining journey to freeze my eggs in the hope of never actually having to use them. I still had faith that I’d be lucky enough to meet someone and have a child naturally, but deciding to go for egg freezing helped to take the pressure off having to meet someone like, yesterday. It’s a contentious issue though; some argue that the egg freezing industry leads to dangerous complacency in women in their late thirties and early forties, who are led to believe that they can stop the clock, but who will unfortunately and inevitably find later down the line that when it comes to thawing their eggs for use in IVF, the guarantees of motherhood they believed they had do not survive the defrosting process and end up being discarded. But despite the statistics on the viability of thawed eggs, others argue that egg freezing removes the time constraint from finding the perfect mate, and with a new relaxed outlook and less emphasis on finding a man to father your baby, you are less anxious about the future and more open to letting things happen naturally.

A symbol of independence

It also marks a pretty powerful step forward for Feminism; men have never had to worry about being ‘past it’ in the fertility race, which has arguably put them in a stronger position in the dating game and beyond. Now, with advancing knowledge and increased availability of female fertility treatments such as egg collection, sperm donation and embryo freezing, women have more options —not as many as men enjoy, granted— but we are certainly freed up somewhat from the age-old notion of ‘being left on the shelf’.  I can’t speak for why other women go through with egg freezing, but for me, it was the final step in taking responsibility for my mental health, dealing with both my childhood trauma and my adult depression, and facing the fear of relationships and motherhood that had blighted my personal life for the preceding ten years. It was an important symbol: I was saying that I wanted a baby, that I was willing to invest care, time and money in a chance to have one, and that I believed I would be a good mother.

Good eggs vs Bad eggs

Once home and ensconced in my cosy bed after the operation, Mr Shah called me on my mobile for the moment of truth. How many eggs did they manage to collect? This was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole, entire process. Before the operation, the scan had indicated that I had a decent amount of mature follicles, but no one knows how many follicles will contain viable eggs until they’re actually collected. Mr Shah had described the way that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ eggs look under a microscope. Healthy, mature, genetically viable eggs appear uniform in shape, nice and round with smooth edges, even borders, and a nice clear nucleus, and their surface should reflect the light. ‘Bad eggs’ on the other hand are irregular in shape, oblong rather than round, grey in colour and with rough, fragmented or jagged edges and poor light reflection. Being well over thirty-five, the chances of my follicles containing a few ‘bad eggs’ was pretty high, so I was anxious to know what they’d found; the whole thing would be in vain if most of the eggs they had collected were useless.

The all important number: how many eggs?

I held my breath as Mr Shah took me through the results. The news was good —ish. He had found ten large follicles and four smaller ones. Nine of the follicles had contained eggs, seven of which were mature and ‘looked good’. Those seven were immediately frozen. The remaining two had appeared immature and ‘possibly abnormal’, which Mr Shah assured me was not unusual. In his view, it was a good outcome with seven mature eggs on ice. Phew. I had a result which, by no means anywhere near a guarantee that I’d be able to have a child, at least meant that I had a chance.

My friend came to visit me after the operation with ‘nine eggs for nine eggs.’

The law of attrition

And here is where the numbers start to show the stark reality of egg freezing. In my case, it cost around five and a half thousand pounds to grow fourteen follicles which yielded an eventual result of seven successfully frozen eggs. Which, if you care for maths, works out at just over seven hundred pounds an egg. The observant among you may have noticed a decremental pattern forming in the numbers already; only fifty per cent of the follicles that I grew yielded viable eggs. You’d better get used to this number-halving pattern, because in the business of fertility, this ‘attrition’ only continues as you progress through the stages from follicle to baby, and it can make for slightly discouraging reading. Here’s how it works: To make a baby with fertility treatment you need to first stimulate the ovaries to mature several eggs all at once (tick), and then extract the eggs (tick) and freeze the ones that are deemed viable (tick).

Then, at such time when you’d like to try making a baby from your eggs, you need to defrost them (cue some of the eggs perishing in the thawing process), take the ones that survive being defrosted and fertilise them with sperm (cue some of those eggs not fertilising properly and dying), nurture the surviving fertilised eggs into embryos (cue some of those embryos dying in vitro), and then, of the embryos that survive, transfer two or three of them into the womb, in the hope that at least one will implant successfully, grow into a foetus, survive to term and be born as a live and kicking baby. The fact is that at with every stage in the process, it’s fully expected that some of those eggs and embryos will be lost, so the more you set out with at the beginning, the better your chances.

Success rates: The frustrating confusion

The frustrating lack of accurate and comprehensive data on how many frozen eggs end up as live births makes it even harder for women to decide whether egg freezing is worth everything it costs them — financially and emotionally. The BBC earlier this year published an article which cited a quote from leading fertility expert Lord Robert Winston that claimed only 1% of all frozen eggs thawed for use in fertility treatment actually result in a pregnancy and subsequent live birth. Which, if it’s true, is really quite depressing. But it’s also confusing, because the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) – puts the success rate at closer to one in five. However, the HFEA are referring to how many embryos developed from frozen eggs result in a live birth as their success rate —which they put at around 19%. So the two statistics come from really quite different data when you consider the difference between a thawed egg on the one hand, and an embryo successfully developed from a thawed egg on the other. There’s a gulf —and a whole load of unsuccessfully fertilised eggs—between them. 

Self-injecting became second nature with practice.

So how many eggs do you need to freeze to get a baby?

The best way to think about it is to be realistic about how many eggs are likely to be lost at each stage of treatment. In 2016, when Lord Winston asked for data, 1,204 eggs were thawed. Of these, 590 eggs (49%) were fertilised, so it’s realistic to assume that half your eggs will be lost at this first stage. Of the 590 eggs fertilised, 179 (30%) were transferred back to a patient, but we don’t know how many of those fertilised eggs not transferred perished or were frozen for later use. Out of the embryos transferred, 22 resulted in a pregnancy (13%). There was no data for the live birth rate. These numbers vary from woman to woman of course, with the age at which your eggs are frozen being one of the most important factors in how well they will survive each stage. Having digested all of this, I decided to do the maths on my own little omelettes:

Follicle Stage: Follicles grown using Bemfola and Fyremadel: 14.

Harvest Stage: Of those 14 follicles I got 7 healthy eggs (50%). Egg count: 7.

Thawing Stage: If I apply Lord Winston’s 2016 data to my eggs; 50% of my egg will likely not survive the thawing process in order to be fertilised, should I ever decide to use them. Likely Fertilised Egg count:  3-4.

Fertilisation Stage: 30% of the 2016 fertilised eggs were transferred back to the patient, but as I pointed out above, we don’t know whether that means the others died or were kept on ice for future rounds of IVF. Because of this, I’m going to make a conservative estimate that 50% of the fertilised eggs from the last stage would develop into embryos suitable for transfer. Likely Transferrable Embryo count: 1.5 – 2.

Pregnancy Stage: 13% of the embryos transferred to patients in the 2016 data resulted in a pregnancy, so this is where the chances of my 7 eggs resulting in a baby become —on paper at least— negligible. Pregnancy count: 0.2 – 0.3.

Live Birth Stage: There was no data available for this. But if we take the HFEA’s statistic that 19% of embryos made from frozen eggs result in a live birth, and if my likely embryo count is 1.5-2, then my Live Baby Count would be: 0.3 – 0.4, which is not even half a baby!

Statistics aren’t everything

This is why statistics make for such alarming reading. To stand even a low chance (according to statistics) of achieving a live birth from egg freezing, I would have had to have spent in the region of fifteen thousand pounds so that I could have had three cycles of ovarian stimulation over the course of a few months, requiring me to inject hormones for every cycle. Assuming I’d produce roughly the same number of eggs each time, this would have resulted in about twenty one healthy eggs. Using the same maths above, this would have given me a chance of having five   transferrable embryos and one live baby. Makes grim reading, doesn’t it? But as history has proven time and time again, statistics aren’t always everything. One woman’s chances of success with IVF can vary wildly from another and there are plenty of success stories which fly in the face of statistics; I personally know of several that have defied all odds. So there is a small chance that, should I decide to take my seven little eggs out of the deep freeze, every single one of them could survive every stage of their fertility treatment and I could end up with more children than any multi-seater people carrier could accommodate.

Is it worth it?

Favourable statistics or not, going through the process of egg collection, with all its mental, emotional and financial labour, helped me reach an important and ultimately life-changing shift in attitude; one that quite soon after my operation led to me realising my dream of having a family –naturally. It’s my belief that in taking that very definite action in committing to having a baby, I was finally being honest with myself and others about what I wanted. For as long as I could remember I had been a commitment-phobe, but if you’re going to have a baby, boy do you need commitment, and in spades! I had spent years in a conflicted state between longing for something more, but making choices which ultimately ensured that I remained on my own; I was attracted to men from overseas, to ‘exciting’, noncommittal men, to younger men, to men who’d ghost me after three months of seemingly-amazing dating. When any of the nicer ones tried to get close, or whenever anything got remotely serious, I’d get overwhelmed and would convince myself that I was better off single.

Spending such a large chunk of the savings that I had worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to amass seemed to tell the universe/God/my own subconscious that I was serious about becoming a mum. Sharing my honest experience of the process in all its darkness and light with my little supportive group of friends seemed to heap yet a more gravity onto my declaration. And making a conscious effort to heavily prioritise self-care during the months leading up to the operation turned out to be a pivotal move in how I prioritised everything in my life at the time. Not only was I spending time and money on nourishing, quality food, drinking more water, getting loads of sleep and taking supplements, I was becoming more discerning about who I gave my time to.

Growing up and being honest

A die-hard Tinder user, I had until that point spent many an hour conversing with men I wasn’t particularly interested in, going on dates with guys who I knew deep down weren’t going to turn into long-term commitments, and agonising over being ghosted or breadcrumbed for way too long than the experience merited. I had always put on an air of breezy nonchalance when it came to the subject of long-term commitment or having a family, never bringing it up myself or admitting that it was something I was keen to get on with. But because I was spending so much time and money on freezing my eggs, every minute I spent on my own or with others during the lead up to the op became extremely precious. I no longer had the capacity to engage with people (read: men) who were going to waste my time, or whose time I was going to waste. As a result I found myself being much more honest. For the first time ever, I would tell potential Tinder dates that I was looking for a serious relationship, and for the first time ever, I would tell one potential Tinder date in particular that I wanted to have children. Luckily, he said that he did too. That was Rob, my now-partner and the father of my child.

Baby Odhrán was conceived naturally seven months after my egg collection.

Everything changed

Within seven months of having my eggs frozen, I was pregnant with our first child, a little boy named Odhrán who we conceived naturally. At the beginning of our relationship, we had chatted for a while on Tinder, and because I had declined to meet on account of having to have an operation, Rob had asked me what the procedure was for. Because we were conversing over text, I had time to decide whether or not I wanted to tell a potential date that I was having fertility treatment. In the end I decided to just go for it; after all, there’s nothing like telling him you’re having your eggs sucked out of your vagina to test a guy’s mettle. I was tired of playing games, if he was the right guy he’d take it in his stride. “I really want to have children”, I told him, “…and because I’m not in a serious relationship yet, I’m freezing my eggs”. If he was taken aback, he hid it well; he responded quite readily to say that he really wanted children too, and he was very understanding about delaying our first date until after my operation. Needless to say, we did eventually meet, and in the early days of dating, while I was deliberating whether or not to go back to Mr Shah for a second round of egg collection, it was Rob who suggested that instead of doing that, we just try for a baby the natural way. We’d only been dating about six months, but I felt that I knew enough about him (and myself) to take the leap and make the life-changing decision to grow up already and have a baby. I was thirty-eight. 

Pregnancy in your late thirties and forties

Little Odhrán is now seventeen months old and we are expecting our second (also naturally conceived) baby in April 2021. I was two days short of my thirty-ninth birthday when I had Odhrán, and I’ll be a couple of weeks short of my forty-first when the next one arrives. I’d like to think this gives hope to anyone in their late thirties who is single, reading the statistics and wondering if it’s all too late. When I froze my eggs, I really had no idea whether they were even genetically viable, and to be honest I still don’t. My age was against me and according to statistics there was a good chance that none or very few of them would be good enough to develop into a baby. The ones we froze looked good under the microscope, but you don’t know until you try to fertilise them whether they are going to be up to the job. Then there were the two duds, the eggs that came out ‘immature and possibly abnormal’, and the five follicles that didn’t have any eggs in them at all. If you thought about all that too much you could drive yourself insane thinking about how small the chance of being fertile enough to have a baby really was.

“Baby 2021” was conceived naturally in August 2020.

It’s not too late

But the fact that I now have one healthy child and another on the way, both conceived naturally without any issues, is evidence that statistics don’t tell the whole story. It’s good to inform yourself of them, and indeed be aware of the fact that fertility declines with age, but it doesn’t mean that the death knell is ringing for your dreams of a family. For me, as a woman approaching my forties, the most important thing I did was to be honest with myself (and with the man I was contemplating being with) about wanting a family. My eggs are still frozen in time, still costing me just under two hundred pounds a year to keep in liquid nitrogen, and still, after everything, the best thing I could have done on my journey to motherhood.

Egg freezing: Not a guarantee but the chance of a Plan B

Freezing those little ooyctes, with the hope of never having to use them, turned out to be the pivotal moment when I realised my own potential as a mother, on my terms, in my own way, and no longer paralysed by the trauma of my own childhood or my own mother’s troubles, but free to give myself the chance to be a good mum. It took responsibility, courage, dedication, care and honesty to decide to go for egg freezing; the very same qualities it takes to be a good mother. My advice to single women in their late thirties and beyond? Don’t be scared by the statistics, but do respect them. Now’s the time to be honest with yourself if a family is what you want; and now’s time to take real steps in starting one. If one of those steps is getting your eggs frozen, who’s to say that it’s not the right thing to do? In my case it got me, albeit in a roundabout way, the family that I really wanted. 

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with her partner Rob. Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama for more parenting articles and photos.

Mentioned in this article:

Mr Shah at Fertility Plus 

NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

Deborah Ubee Trust: Counselling and Psychotherapy 

Nikki Armytage-Foy Life Coaching 

Belinda Buchanan’s Kenyan charity  Hope Child Africa

FGM charity Desert Flower Foundation

Fertility Acupuncture at the London Acupuncture Clinic

BBC article: Egg Feezing, what’s the success rate?

Sleep Saviours: Our 6 Baby Essentials for a peaceful night

You’re a childless 8-hours-a-night singleton. Everyone you know with a child bemoans the fact that they never get any sleep. Their babies cry all night, or demand to sleep in the big bed, or get up at 2am for playtime. You think “Well, I’d never put up with that. Any baby of mine wouldn’t get away with disrupting my beauty sleep like that”. Then you meet a partner, try for a baby and find that you’re expecting. Your family-oriented friends warn you that it’ll never be the same again. “Say goodbye to your sleep”, they say, “…the baby will keep you up all night”; “you’ll age ten years in as many months” et cetera et cetera [read: blah blah blah]. You shrug them all off, insisting that you’re an 8-hour-a-night person. You can’t survive on less, you stress, adding “I love my sleep” —blissfully unaware that you’re going to have NO choice in the matter.

And now, a child or two down the line, you laugh in the face of your former, childless self, realising how ludicrous it was to assume that you’d put your foot down and your young baby would miraculously toe the line and let you sleep uninterrupted for as long as you wanted. Did this kid not get the memo?! HOWEVER, despite your mimi-me not buying into the 8pm-8am no-scream zone, there are things you can do to give them, and yourself, a fighting chance of some much-needed ZZZs, especially in those early months. Here are our Top 6 Baby Essentials for SLEEP. They helped us, and they may just help you too.

  1. Love to Dream Swaddle UP, from £26.99

Swaddling is a renowned method of helping your baby feel calm and safe, and the theory is that it gives newborns the same safe feeling of being inside the womb. You may also have noticed that your newborn has a reflex known as the Startle Reflex. While completely normal, it can be very annoying when their sudden startles wake them up from an otherwise undisturbed sleep. The Swaddle UP is an ‘arms up’ swaddle bag, meaning that babies can ‘self soothe’ (suck their fingers and thumb through the fabric) as their hands are up near their face, as opposed to across their chest as with traditional swaddling.

We were given a Swaddle UP as a gift when Odhrán was born, and having never seen one before, I was initially a tad alarmed at the thought of putting my baby into what looked like a straight jacket for dolls. Our only experience of how to put a baby to bed was at the hospital NICU ward, as Odhrán was taken to intensive care the day after he was born. There, the nurses always put the babies on their backs, with a blanket pulled up to the chest and tightly tucked into the sides of their cot, so we’d be replicating that at home too. Eventually though, we bit the bullet and tried him in the Swaddle UP, and it was amazing! We noticed a difference right away, and Odhrán seemed a lot more secure in his moses basket than before, even sleeping through the night several times.

Needless to say, we loved the newborn Swaddle UP we were given so much that we bought several more as Odhrán grew bigger, including their ‘transition’ bag for when he was old enough to start flipping over.

2. MyBaby SoundSpa On‐The‐Go Baby Soother Sleep Aid (white noise), £14.99

White noise! The sleep-saviour. We were lucky enough to be given a little white noise unit by HoMedics (the Soundspa Mini) as a gift when Odhrán was born (by the same generous and baby-savvy friend who gave us the Swaddle UP, incidentally!). Knowing nothing about white noise, or its effects on babies’ sleep, we thought we’d try it out and see what happened. Like the Swaddle UP, this little gadget turned out to be a godsend. It’s a simple and economical little device compared to a lot of the more Instagram-photo-worthy humming toys on the market (check out my review of the Whisbear for example; it didn’t come off too good, I’m afraid to say) but it’s just as good (if not better), and it’s all you really need.

The version we have has a simple press-and-hold on/off button, up/down volume buttons and 4 different types of white noise to choose from; ocean waves, rain, jungle night sounds and pure white noise. It runs on batteries, which last us weeks depending on how much we use it. If you’re wondering how white noise works; its primary function is reducing the difference between background sounds and any one individual sound that may disturb your sleep, like a door slamming or someone shouting. Creating a constant ambient sound masks activity from inside and outside your room. For a baby, this can create the illusion of a womb-like environment too. I checked the availability of the Homedics Soundspa Mini that we have and it’s not available in the UK, but they do have the MyBaby SoundSpa On‐The‐Go Baby Soother Sleep Aid over here, which looks like a very similar gadget at a similar price point, so I imagine it will do much the same job.

3. Rockit portable baby rocker, £34.19

A bit of a curve-ball here, as the Rockit isn’t technically a sleep aid, at least not for night time. It’s a portable rocking device designed to attach to your baby’s pram, buggy or stroller, that will rock your baby automatically while you’re busy with work, or with your hands full in a cafe, salon, bus stop or airport. We used it a few times on Odhrán’s pram, but then realised that we could attach it to the legs of his moses basket stand and have it rock him at night too. Bingo! We’d use that in conjunction with the white noise machine to get Odhrán to sleep in the evening, and again if he woke during the night and needed soothing. It can get very tiring rocking the crib yourself, so having this device to do it for us was such a relief, and it meant we could leave the bedroom while the Rockit would carry on doing the hard work. We’d still be using it now except that Odhrán is now in a big sturdy cot bed that can’t be rocked. CUE, the Zed by Rockit…..

4. Rockit ZED vibration sleep soother, £29.95

Ok, so now I’m definitely going off-piste because we haven’t actually tried Zed, the vibration sleep soother made by the same people that make the Rockit portable rocker, but boy do we want to! Going by how much we loved the Rockit rocker, and disappointed that we can no longer use it now our toddler is in his sturdy, unrockable cot bed, the Zed might be just what we need! I came across it on the Rockit website while researching the details for number 3 on this list, and it looks awesome. The Zed is based on the theory that babies and toddlers sleep well in cars, so to reproduce a car-like experience in the safety of the home, Zed uses special motors that generates low-frequency rumbles that feel like the car suspension and the revving of the engine. As the gentle vibrations pass through the mattress, they also generate soothing sounds. WE.WANT.ONE!

5. Philips Avent Blue Flower Room Thermometer, £19

The Avent Blue Flower Room Thermometer was another godsend, especially when we first brought Odhrán home and we were constantly fretting about how warm the room was for him at night. All the advice on safe baby sleeping environments says you should maintain the room temperature at around 16-20 degrees, and because Odhrán was born at the end of April, we went into the summer months worrying ourselves silly, wondering if it was too hot for him. It can be difficult as new parents to gauge whether the room is too hot or cold, so this cute little flower-shaped thermometer is great for keeping an eye on the ambient temperature. It’s a hard-working little thing too, as not only can it be used for the room, but it floats in the bath too, making it perfect to check the water before you pop your little one in for a splash.

What we loved is that it even has a little reminder written on the face of the digital display; 37 degrees for the bath and 18 for the room; an awesome little detail for sleep-deprived, overwhelmed new parents who can’t remember which end of the baby the nappy goes, let alone what the temperature should be! As an added side-note, Odhrán loves playing with it too; it has a rubbery skin which he loves to mouth and chew. Probably not advisable to let your teething toddler knaw at it for any length of time, but good to know that it can take quite a bit of biting, as tested by Odhrán.

6. VTech Colour Video Baby Monitor VM3252, £99.99

For us, a baby monitor was an essential piece of our “Sleeping Baby” kit, as it enables you (when you’re ready) to put your baby down for naps and bedtime in another room while you get on with whatever you need to without disturbing them. We were given the VTech VM3252 monitor as a gift from my parents, and overall we are pretty happy with it. The image is decent and it has a zoom and pan function which is useful, and for night time it has an infrared display which means you can still see your baby even if it’s really dark. It has volume buttons which you can bring up loud enough to hear your baby breathing if the room is quiet enough, and it also has the temperature of the baby’s room displayed on the parent unit which is an added bonus. The parent unit can be used on battery, but not for that long before the low battery warning starts bleeping so we generally use it on charge, while the camera (baby unit) must always be plugged in.

Our only gripe is that the camera is not particularly flexible. It comes on a little plastic base and the camera is on a ball joint so that you can tilt it up, down, left or right. The trouble is, unless you have a chest of drawers or a unit of some kind near your baby’s crib which is the perfect height for the camera to get a good view of your baby, you have to get creative with boxes and gaffer tape in order to position the camera adequately. Ours is currently gaffer-taped to the corner of the crib, pointing down onto Odhrán. We find ourselves wishing it was on a long bendy arm with a clip, because then you would have much more options for where to put it. There are some solutions for this which I’ll detail below, but note that we haven’t actually tried those yet.

The FlexxiCam Universal Baby Camera Holder is a mount that can be attached to (apparently) any baby monitor and fastened using its clamps to the crib or a nearby piece of furniture or fixing to give you more height and flexibility. It looks really useful for cameras like the VTech VM3252. Alternatively, the Lollipop Baby Camera is an extremely cute monitor with a long flexible tail that can be wrapped around the ledge or bar of the crib, or a door handle or nearby piece of furniture. We don’t own one, but I saw that Dad Blogger Growing With Dad has one in his top 5 new parent must-haves, and it looks brilliant! If you’ve got £145 in your budget to spend on a monitor, the Lollipop definitely deserves a look.

So there you have it! 6 Sleep Saviours that have really helped us (and Odhrán) get some well-deserved sleep. Let us know your tried-and-tested suggestions in the comments, and feel free to get in touch if you have a suggestion for our next blog!

Freya x

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Ten books for an AntiRacist baby.

The murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25th 2020 sent shockwaves across the world. A month later, we are still trying to process how such an atrocity could happen, and why a relatively calm, nonthreatening man was killed by police over a twenty dollar bill. It happened in broad daylight and in front of countless witnesses, with Floyd lying motionless on the ground while desperate bystanders shouted at Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd’s neck. He refused, murdering Floyd by asphyxiating him for nearly nine minutes.

In the same week we heard of Amy Cooper, the white dog walker who, when asked to put her dog on a lead by black bird watcher Christian Cooper, lashed out at him in a verbal attack which culminated in her calling the police to (falsely) report “an Africa-American man threatening her and her dog”. Christian filmed the whole incident on his phone, and for any white person watching, it makes for cringingly uncomfortable viewing, not least because of Amy Cooper’s readiness to wield the most easily accessible weapon in any white person’s armoury; the stereotype of white ‘vulnerability’ at the hands of black ‘aggression’. The world began to rage, it was time for change.

And yet on June 12th, only three weeks later, we learned of yet another fatal killing of a black man at the hands of the police; this time in Atlanta, where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by Garrett Rolfe, a white police officer who confronted Brooks when it was reported that he has fallen asleep at the wheel while waiting in line at a drive-through restaurant. It appears that Brooks was running away from the police officers, unarmed, when he was sot and killed.

What has ensued since has not only been an outpouring of grief, but a universal sense that ‘enough is finally enough’. Black Lives Matter, and it’s a tragic reality that yet another brutal and unnecessary death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer has been what it takes to make the world wake up and listen. Institutions are taking action by pulling down statues, changing TV schedules and giving more airtime to black voices, but what can ordinary white people do on an individual level? And more specifically, what can white parents do?

One (small) thing that I am trying to do is educate myself. I have started reading “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad, and am working through the exercises she sets with a group of other white women, lead by journalist Geraldine Brennan. The work is challenging, upsetting and triggering, but isn’t it high time that we were challenged, upset and triggered? Perhaps that’s what it takes to open our eyes to the system of white supremacy that we have and will continue to benefit from on every level from the cosmetics we put on our face to the treatment we receive at the hands of the law.

But what about my baby? What can I do as the mother of a white male living in the UK? He is only 14 months old, but is it ever too early to start paving the way for a child to be an AntiRacist? And by that, I mean to encourage him not only to support and stand up for his black brothers and sisters, but to amplify their voices, advertise their achievements and give credit to their talents? Odhrán loves board books, so once my initial “white paralysis” (or “white silence” as Saad terms it in her book) wore off to some degree, I found myself searching for books that I could buy my son to broaden his experience of stories —and his exposure to the characters telling them.

I have compiled a list of ten (mostly) board books that are suitable for babies and toddlers. By no means exhaustive, they are just a selection tried and tested by The Amateur Parents that you may like to read your little one too:

  1. “AntiRacist Baby” board book by Ibram X. Kendi.

AntiRacist Baby is a board book available in the UK for pre-order. Ours won’t be arriving until July 8th so we’ve not physically read it yet, but we wanted to include it in the list, and indeed in the number 1 slot, because it’s a book that does what it says on the tin. There’s no beating around the bush here, this is for anyone who wants to teach their young ones (and themselves!) about AntiRacism. The pictures are bright, and bold enough to catch your baby’s attention, while the text rhymes, helping your little one to learn through language. The messages are simple yet deep; “…we confess the racist ideas we sometimes express.” Prepare to face up to some home truths, but rest assured, Kendi gives us the solutions too. Buy AntiRacist Baby HERE.

2. “A is for Activist” board book by Innosanto Nagara.

A is for Activist is a board book by children’s author, activist, and graphic designer Innosanto Nagara. Acclaimed for its “progressive message”, the book introduces little ones to a world of activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ, equality and race. This board book packs a punch, combining rhyming couplets with hard-hitting messages that deal with topics such as protesting, geurilla advertising, indigenous communities and racial advocacy, all at the level of an alphabet book that also has a hidden cat on every page for children to find! The images are bold, and the colours contrasting enough to provide an engaging read for babies, while the issues covered will make for some interesting discussions as they grow older. Buy A is for Activist HERE.

3. “Peter’s Chair” board book by Ezra Jack Keats.

Peter’s Chair is a lovely story by the same author as the famous book The Snowy Day It’s about a little boy who has to make room for a new arrival; his baby sister. Peter’s Chair is just one of a whole series of books written by Keats which star this determined little hero, and the bright colours, rounded page edges and simple moral-of-the-story make it ideal for reading to babies and beyond. If you’re keen to create a more diverse library for your baby and include more storybooks that star a black protagonist, this delightful series is a good place to start. Buy Peter’s Chair HERE.

4. “Baby Says” board book by John Steptoe.

Another retro classic, Baby Says is a sweet and funny story about a baby who wants to get out of his cot and play with his older brother. With very minimal text, it’s perfect for non-verbal babies and toddlers, and even older children can help tell the story by looking at the pictures and describing what they see. As children of the ’80’s, Rob and I love the illustrations, which take us back to our youth. Again, if you’re keen to include more black characters in your baby’s book collection, then Baby Says is a delightful addition! Buy Baby Says HERE.

5. “My First Maya Angelou (Little People, Big Dreams)” board book by Lisbeth Kaiser.

Little People, Big Dreams is an amazing collection of books for babies and children that feature international icons that have disrupted and shaped the world. Achieving outstanding feats, sharing their talents, making scientific breakthroughs, breaking world records and leading revolutions, what unites them all are their little beginnings as children with dreams. If you’re interested in introducing your little boy or girl to feminism as well as AntiRacism, then My First Maya Angelou, the story of a African-American girl who became a powerful speaker, writer, and civil rights activist, isn’t a bad place to start. Buy Maya Angelou HERE.

6. “My First Ella Fitzgerald (Little People, Big Dreams)” board book by Isabel Sanchez Vegara.

I love these book so much that I bought Odhrán My First Ella Fitzgerald too! Teach your baby how powerhouse Ella went from making a living singing on the streets to becoming the internationally acclaimed First Lady of Song. If your baby loves music (what baby doesn’t?!) then make this story even more immersive by playing some classic Ella in the background. Buy Ella Fitzgerald HERE.

7. “Muhammad Ali (Little People, Big Dreams)” hardback book by Isabel Sanchez Vegara.

For slightly older children who don’t rip pages (!), hardback books from the Little People, Big Dreams series are also available. My son was given “Muhammad Ali” as a birth gift and it follows much the same formula as the Ella and Maya books, only with a bit more text. As you can tell, we’re big fans! Buy Muhammad Ali HERE.

8. Rosa Plays Ball (All About Rosa) board book by Jessica Spanyol.

We just received this book from second hand bookseller World Of Books , and we’re not disappointed. Author Jessica Spanyol has created a whole series of colourful ‘Rosa’ board books which celebrate inclusivity and gender equality in an accessible, fun board book form. Your baby will love reading about adventurous toddler Rosa as she explores the different ways to play ball with her friends Mustafa, Sarah, Samira and Marcel. One of the best things about this book are the colours; bold, bright and eye-catching; perfect for the youngest readers. Buy Rosa Plays Ball HERE.

9. “Please baby, Please” board book by Spike Lee.

What’s not to love about this cute and mischievious baby created by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee and his wife, producer Tonya Lewis Lee? Parents everywhere will relate to the trials and tribulations depicted in this behind-the-scenes peek at toddlerhood at its most disobedient! From not holding your hand to splashing in the bath, little ones will delight in watching their partner-in-crime getting up to mischief, while mums and dads will take solace in the fact that parents all over the world can relate to the lovable chaos that toddlers create. THE.STRUGGLE.IS.REAL! Pre-order Please, baby, Please HERE or at The Book Depository

10. “Happy Hair” board book by Mechal Renee Roe.

From the author of the equally cool hardback book Cool Cuts, comes Happy Hair, a baby-friendly board book which we literally can not wait to get our hands on! We have pre-ordered Happy Hair, as it’s not released in the UK until October 2020. The images and colours are bold, beautiful and perfect for babies and toddlers, and it’s a fantastic way to introduce the beauty of black hair types to your baby or child at a young age. If you can’t wait until October, you can get your hands on the hardback Cool Cuts right now though, if your child is old enough not to tear the pages: Buy Cool Cuts HERE . Pre-order Happy Hair HERE.

So, there you have it. Ten baby’s board books that encourage understanding and awareness of black characters and AntiRacist values. It’s a small step in the right direction, but it’s a start. We can only hope that through reading these picture books, Odhrán will develop an appreciation for a more diverse range of stories, and for the hugely diverse range of people in the world with stories to tell. We hope you find it helps your baby too! Let us know what you think! As Odhrán gets older, we’ll be creating a new post with paperback and hardback books suitable for the older age groups.

Thanks for reading!

Freya, Rob and Odhrán xx

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