A recent study by an independent midwifery service has revealed that 89% of pregnant women have used search engines for health advice relating to their pregnancy.
Having given birth the year before Google was launched in 1998, then given birth again 13 years later - by which time Google had become the online equivalent of God - this made me ponder the differences between the two births. Was the second better than the first because I had access to far more information?
My first daughter arrived when I was in my lateish 20s, hardly the first flush of youth but still some years away from being labelled a ‘senile gravida’ (the medical profession's term for a woman who has the nerve to have a baby after the age of 35). It bemuses me that there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent term for older dads. Despite gargantuan leaps in modern medicine, when it comes to creating life it still takes two to tango, and there's evidence that the quality of sperm, not just eggs, may deteriorate with age. Perhaps the medical profession would find ‘paternus decrepitus’ an apt equivalent, notwithstanding the fact it sounds like something Hermione Granger might yell at an approaching Death Eater.
Anyway, I was pretty clueless the first time round. Along with my daughter’s father I attended NHS antenatal classes where I watched the dilapidated doll pass through the plastic pelvis; I did the ‘stork walk’ (otherwise known as the maternity unit tour); and I was informed that massage could work just as well as morphine in relieving pain (they lied).
None of it had much bearing on my actual birth experience. As The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book is aimed primarily at women expecting a baby, I’ll steer clear of the details. Suffice it to say it was fairly standard, give or take a few more stitches than I cared to count and my chillingly accurate impersonation of a donkey being steamrollered. But I have no doubt things would have gone better if I’d been more clued-up about what was happening.
Back in the late Nineties not many of us had internet access at home, and those who did had to suffer the miseries of a fickle dial-up connection. At the time I worked for a magazine publisher which employed around 30 people and had just one computer linked to the internet. This was guarded more closely than the recipe for Coca Cola, requiring written permission to use it.
Had the world wide web been easily accessible I’d have been all over it like a cheap suit. Never have I had such an overwhelming desire for information and reassurance, which my sporadic midwife appointments went nowhere near satisfying. Pregnancy magazines helped a bit, although I got fed up with rehashed photo shoots of the same poor woman endlessly giving birth. Desperate for more, I rediscovered the library, coming away with armfuls of books. Most of these seemed to have been published decades earlier and came complete with pictures of moustachioed men massaging their bubble-permed partners' backs as they gave birth. Much of the time the information provided was as dated as the spectacularly hirsute fannies on display.
These days, whether you have a question about cervical mucus or cradle cap, you'll find inexhaustible information online. When I was having my second daughter I suffered a terrible case of Gestational Googleitus. At the slightest twinge, I would turn to my nearest electronic device for a session with Dr Google. Rather than having too little information, I now had an overwhelming amount.
The more informed you are, the less likely you are to shout: "You're not putting that sink plunger
While the internet has done much to (vacuous buzzword alert) empower women (after all, the more informed you are, the less likely you are to shout "You're not putting that sink plunger anywhere near me!" if the ventouse is brought out), it should be approached with caution. Much has been made of the negative impact of looking up medical info online, notably DIY diagnoses causing unnecessary stress. When, as in pregnancy, your symptoms change more often than a chameleon in a kaleidoscope, and when so very much is at stake, Googling can easily become an obsession. Additionally, much of the information available is medically unverified. For every rational, well researched article, blog post or comment, there are many that will put the willies up you (although, being pregnant, that's most likely happened already).
Websites that have their content reviewed or even written by health professionals, such as NHS Choices, are, of course, preferable to non-verified sites. But for anyone genuinely concerned, they are never, not ever, a substitute to a real, live medically trained professional - once that medically trained professional is good at his or her job. But that's a whole other blog post.
Like prom night and Black Friday, the American trend for baby showers has become big business here in Blighty. And whether you consider them the most irritating US import since The Osmonds or a marvellous opportunity to celebrate the imminent arrival of a brand spanking new member of the human race, they’re becoming increasingly popular.
Back in 2013 a survey by Mothercare revealed that not only are more than a quarter of UK mums-to-be now having baby showers, they expect to attend 23 – 23! – in their lifetime. I don’t think I’ll even know 23 pregnant people in my lifetime, let alone 23 who are pregnant AND have a baby shower.
It goes without saying that the perfect baby shower present is The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book. Not only will it have the mum-to-be spraying coke out of her nose with laughter (the carbonated drink variety, obviously, her being pregnant and all), it will also get the baby shower attendees in fits discussing their own buttock-clenchingly embarrassing mothering moments.
So that's the present ticked off. BUT what about the entertainment? If you’ve ever been to a baby shower you’ll know that:
A) Most of the games suck.
B) Some of the games require you to suck.
If you have any say whatsoever in the arrangements, demand some of the games below. Hopefully you’ll actually have fun playing them, so much so you might momentarily forget the cocktail you’re quaffing is actually a mocktail as the organiser has decreed that if the mum-to-be can’t drink alcohol, you bloody well can’t either. Sanctimonious bitch.
Before I start on the games, look no further than below for the perfect soundtrack for the gathering. You can easily turn this into a game by having guests guess the artists behind these fabulously inappropriate (or, if you're anything like me, hugely appropriate) songs for giving birth to.
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd (for when you've finally received that much requested epidural)
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club
Whoomp There It Is – Tag Team
Push it – Salt-N-Pepa
The Drugs Don't Work – The Verve
Push – Moist
The First Cut is the Deepest – Rod Stewart
Sex on Fire – Kings of Leon
Hurts So Good – John Mellencamp
Stand and Deliver – Adam and The Ants (for those hoping gravity will come to their aid)
Help! – The Beatles
F**k you, I won't Do What You Tell Me – Rage Against the Machine
I Hate You So Much Right Now – Kelis
Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
The Whole of the Moon – The Waterboys (for when the entire room's getting an eyeful)
I'm Coming Out – Diana Ross
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
What Have I Done to Deserve This? – The Pet Shop Boys
Under Pressure – Queen
Supermassive Black Hole – Muse
Every Breath You Take – The Police
Gimme Stitches – The Foo Fighters
And last but most definitely not least: Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
Baby shower charades
Just like regular charades but baby-related (obvs). You can get downloadable suggestions online but they're as dull as they are predictable, eg: Discovering you’re pregnant, Giving birth and Burping baby. Make things more entertaining by creating your own scenarios, such as: Finding out you’re pregnant then realising you’re not sure who the dad is; Trying not to show your midwife how much you hate her while giving birth; Squeamish dad reluctantly trying to cut the umbilical cord; and The horror of your first post-birth bowel movement.
Name that stool
No near-the-knuckle baby shower is complete without this crappy classic. Simply smear nappies with anything vaguely resembling a baby’s bowel movement - think peanut butter, pâté, lemon curd, melted chocolate, Marmite, curry sauce - even dog food - and get guests to guess what they are. Extra points to anyone who sticks a tongue in a nappy in a quest to identify its contents; depending on how kind you are, you may or may not want to let them know about the dog food.
Pushing or porn?
Google photos of women in labour. Google porn. Crop the photos so all you can see are the faces. Wipe your computer's recent history (this step is particularly important). Now see if guests can tell whether they are witnessing the miracle of life or the miracle of orgasm.
You can spare yourself any future computer repair-related blushes by purchasing ready-made downloadable cards such as this one, which I found on Esty of all places (not quite the homespun, handcrafted vibe I have in mind when I think of that company) .
If the mum-to-be’s Great Aunt Joyce is attending and you want to rethink the game (although word is she was a bit of a goer in her day), you could always opt for ‘Birth scene or horror scene’ or ‘Baby bump or beer belly’.
Baby face mash-up
Enlarge and cut up two close-up photos of the mum and dad-to-be, then ask guests to create a Picasso-style montage of what the baby might look like. Beware: Frankenstein's monster might have fled whimpering at the resulting image.
For an added twist, use one of the many free morphing websites to create a completely unscientifically-based but nevertheless possibly vaguely more realistic image of the baby-to-be. You can also have fun morphing yourself with different celebrities. I couldn't resist sneaking a peek to see what the child I'm planning to have with Aiden Turner, aka Cap'n Poldark, will look like (right). He - and my husband - are as yet unaware this is going to happen.
Blindfold nappy change
Use a life-size baby doll and, for extra realism, the particularly gunky nappies from the Name That Stool challenge. If the winner gets too smug, remind her there’s scant comparison between changing a nappy on a doll and changing a nappy on a small, screeching, breakdancing octopus at 3am.
Inappropriate baby shower Pictionary
Beg, borrow or steal an easel or a whiteboard. Divide the guests into two teams who take turns drawing and guessing the words (give them a minute each to do this before it's handed to the other team).
Suggested words and phrases:
Waters breaking • Mucus plug • Stretch marks • Giant, mesh knickers • Nursing pads • Hospital gown • Gas and air • Caesarean • Colic • Morning sickness • Crowning • Ventouse • Forceps delivery • Episiotomy • Epidural • Umbilical cord • Swollen feet • Maternity bra • Nuclear nappy • Breast pump • Mastitis • Perineum • Cradle cap • Placenta
So, that's the best I can do regarding baby shower games that won't make you think you've entered the fifth level of hell. But if you've got any better ideas (and for 'better' I actually mean 'cruder'), then do us all a favour and share them here by leaving a comment.
Things babies need
And so many more.
When it comes to spending money, I can be tighter than a dolphin's bum-hole. That’s not to say I live a life of grim frugality, it just means that I'm loathe to spend my hard-earned cash on crap . Oh, and that I still bend for pennies.
But entering the mysterious world of Planet Baby for the first time can turn even the most ardent anti-consumerist into a starry-eyed shopper. Baby stores and magazines are bursting with gadgets and gizmos which claim to make your and your baby’s life easier and, in our sleep-addled, sanity-challenged state, we fall for the spiel. Most of them are about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.
Take baby wipes warmers. A quick search reveals a huge selection available, retailing on average around the £25/£30 mark. As well as protecting your baby’s tush from the horror of a room temperature wipe, most of them promise to keep wipes “fresh”, “moist” and even “free from discoloration”. Call me a cynic, but isn’t that what the wrapper does already? Moreover, if you're tender-hearted enough to want to warm a wipe before applying it to your little darling's derrière, what's wrong with using a bit of warm water to do so?
To be honest, things like baby wipes warmers and nappy bins (the latter aimed at those who must truly love the smell of festering baby poop wafting around the home for days on end) are such easy targets they’re hardly worth having a pop at.
Alas, I have no room for smugness as I, too, have been guilty of making useless baby purchases. In my case it was clothes for my first daughter; more specifically, adorable but overly complicated clothes. I can’t even claim to be the hapless victim of cynical advertising: I picked up these pieces of pint-sized couture while mooching around the shops, not because I’d seen an ad for them and nearly did myself an injury in my rush to get to the nearest stockist (this, as you've probably worked out, was pre-internet days)
The clothes of which I speak included dresses with more frills than a can-can troupe; dungarees with buckles made from actual metal; and clothes with pockets. Pockets. Unless they need somewhere to stash their Rothmans Superkings, what, exactly, do babies want with pockets?
In my defence, most of these outfits were purchased before my daughter was born, at a time when, looking back, I clearly subliminally suspected I was going to give birth to a doll I could dress up as opposed to an actual living human. It took a few goes trying to insert my flailing sprog into one of these clownish costumes – and trying to change her nappy or put her down for a kip while she was wearing them - for me to realise that buckles, bows and newborns are not a match in heaven made. After that, my daughter spent most of her first few months in blessedly squidgy babygrows, not a buckle in sight.
What’s your view?
Perhaps you'd sell your soul to the devil rather than get rid of your baby changing table. I'd love to hear about the baby buys you wouldn't be without, and the one so useless it's actually funny (well, it would be, if you hadn't shelled out £39.99 for it). You can leave a comment here.
When my eldest daughter was about two and a half, I took her to a local housewares store. I can't remember what I wanted, although it should have been white paint and the biggest mirrors known to man as we lived at the time in a Victorian terraced house so dark and gloomy it made Miss Havisham's abode in Great Expectations look like Liberace's lounge.
As I perused the shelves, Emily contently played bongos on some huge paint pots on the floor. The door chimed and I clocked a very glamorous woman coming in. The shop was in an iffy area, so she stood out in her swanky black ensemble. I can even remember her hair: it was in a chignon, a style I much admire but which, when I try to recreate it on myself, resembles an explosion in a sofa factory.
I went back to browsing, keeping a vague eye on Emily as I moved along the shelf.
And then it happened.
There was a loud bang followed by a shocked cry. I turned my head to witness a scene of such absolute devastation I almost dropped the tin of Whispering Peach emulsion I was clutching.
Glamorous Woman was glamorous no longer. Instead, she resembled an art installation in a particularly avant garde gallery. From her coiffed crown to her manicured toes she was covered in thick, white paint. Ropes of it hung quivering from her ears. Glutinous streams of it oozed down her torso. If I hadn't personally observed the complete annihilation of her appearance I wouldn't have believed it possible. In front of her stood my startled daughter, doing that great-big-intake-of-breath thing small children do before they emit a wail worthy of an air raid siren. On its side between them lay one of the big tins of paint, the last of its contents pooling gently on the floor.
I instantly understood what had happened: Emily had somehow lifted the pot up by its handle (I made a quick mental note to put her forward for weightlifting in a few years) and then dropped it, causing the lid to fly off just as our stylish fellow shopper rounded the bend. The forces of gravity were clearly against Glamorous Woman that day: while she looked like she'd been shoved through a satin paint sheep-dip, Emily had mere splashes on her shoes.
Picking up my howling sprog, I dived straight into profuse apology mode, offering to pay her cleaning bill - heck - buy her a whole new outfit. But so ashen-faced with fury was she that not only did she not respond, she wouldn't even look at me.
The manager came over and led the woman out onto the fire escape. Obviously realising a cloth wouldn't have any impact on the carnage in front of him, he gave her some sort of scraping tool, which she set about using while cursing under her breath. I made one final entreaty but she pointedly turned her back on me, clearly not trusting herself to engage. I then approached the manager and offered to pay for the paint but he waved me off; I had the feeling he wanted my daughter and I gone as quickly as was humanly possible.
Outside, a sleek, black torpedo of a car gleamed gently in the sun. It was obviously Glamorous Woman's, and I imagined her negotiating the journey home while desperately trying to keep white paint off its pristine seats. I pushed my buggy a tad faster, just in case notions of revenge overcame her previous restraint.
It was for stories such as this that I compiled The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book. While I could never forget this particular incident (even now, 16 years on, if I happen to drive past that store with a family member they will invariably pipe up: "Isn't that the place where Emily..."), there are a hundred other stories that didn't score quite so highly on the mortification meter and have thus been lost to the mists of time.
Parenthood comes with countless gooey-eyed moments (most of which happen when you watch your sprog innocently slumber following a day of carnage), but for every one of these there are any number of frustrating, embarrassing and - frequently - funny incidents, usually involving bodily fluids or fluids of another kind (see above). These are the stories that should be captured for posterity, the anecdotes that will be accompanied by shrieks of laughter when they're retold at family gatherings. A baby book that merely depicts a series of sentimental scenes would be a very dull thing indeed. Let's capture our children's childhoods in all their gory - sorry - glory.
I'd love to hear about the mortifying moments your kids have caused. Share them here.