Saturday, 2 May 2009

Month Two, Day One ctd.

Last night, Jack and I drank three pints of ale in the pub. This morning, I woke up feeling great and ready to face the day. I received a scrumptious cheque in the post from the kind people who are publishing the Dutch edition of my second novel, and I was all set to drive to the hell that is Reading and pay it in at HSBC (which, incidentally, sponsors Great British Dramas, of which my overdraft is one, along with the slightly more interesting Pride and Prejudice).

Also in the post, I received the hypnotise-your-eggs-to-conception CD. I waited until Jack was out on the patio saluting the sun with his curious yoga stretching, and played it. Off I went, into a trance, where, among other things, my ovaries were surrounded with golden light and I threw smooth, clear stones into a pond to get rid of the gut feeling I have - supported by no evidence at all - that I can never have a baby.

And then the soothing voice said, 'You will from now on only be attracted to foods that are good for you, that will nourish your child. You will find yourself avoiding alcohol and you will no longer enjoy the feeling of putting toxins into your body.' (NB. She said all this very sloowwwlllyy, buuttt I caaaaann'ttt speeeeellll ittt the waaay sshhhhheeee spppppoooookkkeee because it's bloody boring.)

Once I'd come out of trance, I spent the whole of the rest of the day being sick. Of course, this could be coincidence, but I was fine before I listened to that goddamn woman telling me alcohol would make me ill.

What do you think?

Month Two, Day One

This month, I have a whole new Aid to Conception. Its aim is to banish obstructive thoughts I have about my body not being good enough to grow a baby in. This is not, I hasten to add, the result of a perenially battered self esteem or anything dark like that. It's just a general feeling of disbelief about the whole reproductive process, probably stemming from the fact that I was never much into science at school, and found fairy stories far easier to believe in than sperm-meets-egg or everything-is-made-up-of-atoms stories.

Anyway, my new investment - along with ovulation tests, thermometers and hardback baby-making manuals that seem mostly to tell me to eat a lot of broccoli - is a CD for self-hypnosis. No laughing or eye-rolling, please. It states very clearly on the packet that 'More than half of all women using this CD have become pregnant.' So there. All I need to do is lie back, listen to the CD and find myself with child, a la our dear friend the Virgin Mary.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Month One, Day Twenty-Six

I can't remember the exact figure, but I believe men are supposed to think about sex for approximately 9.5 of every 10 seconds. (NB. When I 'supposed' I don't mean 'supposed-as-in-obliged'. I mean, 'supposed-as-in-inevitably-they-do-this.')

In a similar, though possibly less erotic fashion, I now spend 9.5 of every ten seconds thinking about sperm. My days consist of being preoccupied with answers to the following mathematical problems:

- If the average sperm lives for a maximum of 6 days, but usually up to three days, and more commonly, just one or two days, how many days does it take for 250,000,000 sperm to die?

- If my egg is fertilised by an average sperm, will I have an average baby?

- If you took a random sample of 250,000,000 people, you could reasonably expect one - just one - of them to be a superhuman and massively talented and stong. On the same basis, I would expect at least one sperm to be a super-sperm. If there is one super-sperm in the pack that just so happens to live for 7 years, could the father of my baby actually be my ex?

And so on.

Really, the question I am asking is: Am I pregnant?

I can find out tomorrow.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Month One, Day Twenty-Two

So this is only my first attempt, and already I have learnt this about trying to conceive:

1. It's very easy to get obsessed with.

2. It's not like being obsessed with anything else because for most of the time, there's not much you can do except wait.

3. I cannot live life at this level of neurosis for very long, so am going to give up soon.

Anyway, I’ve decided that having a baby is a stupid idea. I am far too poor and far too irresponsible. Last week, I forgot to feed my Facebook puppy and it died. I was secretly happy about this. Feeding it was a goddamn palaver, and all I had to do was throw cartoon dog biscuits at it. There was nothing as complicated as lactation involved.

So it’s just as well, really, that I’m sure this month’s attempt has failed. When I can be trusted, I’ll try again.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Month One, Day Eighteen

Our holiday is over. We've walked nearly a hundred miles in ten days which means that, strictly speaking, I should now be a waif. I should also be rewarded for this noble behaviour with something like a baby. I can test next week.

As soon as we get home, I leave Jack outside bemoaning the length of the grass and the asparagus that has gone to seed in our absence, and I hit Google. 'Am I pregnant?'

I'm directed to forums full of fifteen-year-old girls. They have been informed by their schools' Moral and Social Education teachers that if they ever go to a party lasting beyond 10pm, they will, inevitably, come home pregnant. Especially if there is alcohol at the party. Even more especially if there are drugs.

'I got drnk at a p.r.t and now I think Im pg.'

'Ur mum will kill u.'

'I no.'

'Wot u gon do?'

'Dont no.'

'Keep it. U like b.a.b's'


'Tell ur mum u wasnt drunk.'


It is interesting how the advice changes as you get older.

I won't be drinking next month.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Month One, Day Sixteen

I don't know which would be worse - to be pregnant, or to be not pregnant.

To be not pregnant would be disappointing.

To be pregnant would mean I will be giving birth to a child with a defective brain and severe personality and behaviour disorders, due to going on a massive bender shortly after conception.

But then, to have not gone a bender, and to still be not pregnant, would have been completely bloody rubbish and life-denying.

So. Next month.

To bender, or not to bender?

You decide.

To bender or not to bender when trying to conceive?
No free polls

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Month One, Day Fourteen

Since we got here, we've walked about ten miles a day. I never used to be a walker. In fact, I never used to leave the house if I could help it. I have, however, always liked the countryside, though more as something to be looked at and admired from behind a window, than as something to get deeply and messily involved in.

Jack changed that. He is a walker extraordinaire. He's also a wildlife enthusiast, and will sit for hours in the cold entranced by buzzards or red kites or even, sometimes, plain old blue tits. On top of this, he is a fantastic amateur photographer and has files of everything ranging from leopards with their jaws clenched round the arses of an impalas (very impressive) to beetles mating (less impressive) to fat slugs feasting on a rabbit carcass (plain revolting).

The conversion happened almost imperceptibly. One day, he said to me, 'Would you like to go for a walk?' and instead of saying what I was thinking (which was, 'I'd rather sit down, thanks, and maybe drink some beer'), I said, 'Ok.' And then I had to find appropriate footwear. Well, appropriate everything wear, if I'm honest.

Then suddenly, six months later I found myself hiking, make-up-less, across Dartmoor in the snow, complete with OS map, compass, walking stick, hat, pac-a-mac and khaki pants. I looked down at myself. He had changed me. I was no longer a city girl at heart.

Which is the background to the following dialogue:

My grandma rang my mobile this evening. I am devoted to my grandma, and will overlook habits in her that I wouldn't tolerate in other people, like, for instance, phoning me in a non-emergency situation when I'm holiday.

'Are you having a lovely time, darling?' she asked.

'Yes, thanks. It's gorgeous.'

'And has Jack taken you out walking?'

'Yes, of course.'

'And what's the weather like?'

'Really sunny and . . .'

'Oh!' she said excitedly. 'Oh, that is good news. It means you'll get your baby.'


'Darling, I have always said, the best way to fall pregant is to go for a walk in the sun.'

I didn't tell her how times have changed.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Month One, Day Twelve

Having failed my ovulation test, and having not achieved some deep spiritual awareness about a newly-created life inside me, I decided this morning that I definitely wasn't pregnant so spent the day on the beach getting sloshed.

This, I confess, is one of my favourite ways to pass the time. I do it often. Not shamefully often, but often enough. I consider my inability to stop drinking after one glass of wine an inherited trait, much like being short. Asking me to give it up would be like expecting me to acquire supermodel levels of tallness when I am already fully grown.

So this thought brought me, inevitably, to some more. Like, for instance, all the precious things I will have to give up when I do eventually find myself with child:

1. Drinking
2. Sleep
3. Time
4. Privacy
5. Sanity

Each one of these alone strikes me as being a sensible reason not to go ahead with this barmy plan to populate the world with more victims of my genetic heritage.

I am also, at this stage in my life, quite ignorant of pain. The worst pain I have ever encountered was the red wine hangover after my twenty-first birthday. To be fair, it did spread from my head to my eyes and half-way down my face, causing some paralysis on the left-hand side, but I accept that this does not enter levels of excruciation that real people with real illnesses have experienced.

And then I muse upon the issue of birth.

It is not something I want to do, and I wish there could be a way round it. In my twenties, I used to tell myself that advances in medical science over the next decade would probably enable me to grow my children in a terracotta pot on the patio. But this has not happened. Relieving the pain of childbirth with anything other than a giant needle in the spine is not a priority in medical science. (*Brief injection of feminist anger* I am certain this would not be the case if childbirth were done by men.) So we have to just scream and bear it, and see it as some kind of necessary rite-of-passage into motherhood. Birth is just the beginning. It's afterwards that the real pain, the real self-sacrifice starts.

'A woman's capacity for sorrow is becomes immense when she has her first child,' I once read.

I can see this. I can this with terrifying clarity (though I do not limit it to mothers). All of a sudden, you have a baby and your entire well-being becomes dependent on a being that is nothing but a helpless set of emotion arranged round a gut.

In my day job, I look after a baby. He will be one next week. I've looked after him for two or three days a week since he was five months old, and he has become a major and important part of my life in ways I hadn't predicted when I took the job to earn some cash to supplement the grant the Arts Council gave me.

This is him.

He is the best. He's one of my favourite people. On the days that I look after him, I cease to matter. He is the only thing that is important. I find this liberating. It gives me someone to take my mind off me and my egomaniacal desires. Thank God for that.

I think everyone should have someone in their lives more important than they are. When my second novel was in the hands of publishers earlier this year; when they were having their long-drawn-out acquisitions meeting because editors wanted to buy it; and when they finally came back with a reluctant and apologetic no, all I needed to do was pick up the baby, throw him into the air above my head, and see him laugh. That put the book firmly in its place. It didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was that the baby was still laughing, still trusting me to catch him.

'It's a huge responsibility, looking after someone else's baby,' Jack said recently.

It's not a burden. It's a pleasure. But after he'd said that, I started having dreams where I lost the baby, or dropped the baby, or did something else that meant the baby was no longer here. I would wake up devastated and for the rest of the day, I'd have to make serious, concerted efforts not to remember how bad that dream felt.

The well-being of at least ten adults relies on this baby always being ok. I am one of them. Sometimes I say to my mum, 'If I feel like this, imagine how his parents feel.'

She looks at me as though I am talking about something very mundane, very obvious. 'Well, yes,' she says.

Being a parent is painful, it's extreme. I don't think I am ready for it.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Month One, Day Eleven

So that's that, then. Assuming the hot baths haven't killed them all off, there should be around 250 million miniature swimmers hurtling towards my egg, which may or not be suffering from alcoholic poisoning.

So now I am waiting - waiting for a sign to let me know that conception has occurred. Certainly, nothing as alien and momentous as the beginning of life could happen in my own body without me being alerted to it.

I think I am waiting for a noise, or an explosion, or perhaps some God-like voice speaking a language I've never heard before, whispering that I am With Child. Then I will run my hands knowingly over my belly, my face suffused with serenity and devotion. I'll be deeply aware of every newly-made cell dividing and growing, unknowable to all but me. This is going to be the quietest, the sweetest romance.

'Your boobs will hurt,' my friend told me. 'That'll be the first sign.'

Now and then, I hit them to see. They don't hurt.

But surely, something must happen. There were 250 million of them. I know lots of them are slightly stupid, and they swim in circles or in the wrong direction, but out of 250 million tiny little sperm, it is reasonable to expect that one might find its way to that huge, scented moon of an egg.

Women's eggs have a scent. According to The Great Sperm Race on Channel Four recently, once the egg is released, the tantalising aroma of lily-of-the-valley wafts down the fallopian tube to lure the sperm closer. They catch one whiff of it and go crazy, battling for all their might to be the first one to penetrate that outer shell.

I find it deeply astonishing to think how we mimic this behaviour in our social lives. When all's said and done, we are nothing but reproduction.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Month One, Day Ten

According to the instructions on the pack, today is the day I need to start ovulation testing.

I am not the sort of woman who takes tests lightly. I prefer to pass them with flying colours.

I shut myself in the bathroom and stare at this odd plastic stick I am expected to - well, to pee on. What I am aiming for is two dark purple lines. That's it. That's the pass mark, the A*, the badge that will allow me to take my place amongst the creme de la creme of fertile ladies.

I'm sure there should be some work I can do beforehand - a little bit of swotting, revision, reading. Surely some neglected Victorian poet must have composed Lines on the Begetting of a Baby that I can dig out from the archives of the Bodelian Library and commit to memory to recite as I go.

But there is nothing. Nothing. My body either works as it's meant to, or it doesn't. I am out of control, helpless to the whims of my ovaries.

I wait the required two minutes and look at the stick again. There are definitely two purple lines. What I can't tell is whether they're the right sort of purple lines. According to the instructions, they must be the same colour. If the second line is lighter than the first line, I am not about to ovulate. If it's the same or darker, I am.

But the line is two-tone. Part of it is dark. The rest of it is sort of cloudy-looking and pale.

I do not know what this means.

'Are you going to be much longer in there?' Jack calls from outside.

I toss the stick in the bin.

I have failed my ovulation test.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Month One, Day Nine

We’d been together about four months, and things were looking as though they might be getting serious between us, when I raised the issue of babies. We’d gone for our first ever weekend away - a lovely old farmhouse in the Cotswolds – and were talking hopefully about Our Future Together.

‘We’ll buy a house.’

‘We’ll go on hundreds of holidays.’


‘Iceland, Romania, South Africa, Vietnam. . .’


‘But you know children will get in the way eventually.’

He frowned. ‘Of the holidays?’

‘Of us.’

I waited for him to agree, and then for a discussion to ensue, during which I would say I want children, he'd said he doesn't want children, we'd try and compromise ('Maybe we could have half a child.'), we'd realise we can't compromise, and then agree to go our separate ways.

Instead, he said, ‘Let’s keep talking about it, then. I know children are important to you.’

‘I’ve never told you how important.’

‘I think I know.’

And that was that. Children became part of our plan.

But I remained slightly haunted by the fact that one of the first statements I’d ever heard pass his lips was that he didn’t want them. So I was always cautious, never quite sure when to say,
‘The time has come. I want to have a baby.’

Wait til he’s relaxed, a friend advised.

So this evening, eighteen months after that first conversation, and on the first full day of our holiday, I summoned all my courage and went for it.

He was lying in the giant bath in the giant bathroom of our holiday cottage. Radox anti-stress bubbles came up to his neck (anti-stress bubbles on holiday? I must be very hard to live with).

I sat in the wicker chair beside him, and dangled my legs over the side of the bath.

‘That water’s very hot,’ I said.

He sighed blissfully. ‘It’s how I like it.’

I kept my voice casual. ‘Did you know hot water kills sperm?’

‘Are we trying for a baby?’

‘No, no, no,’ I said hurriedly. ‘Of course not.’ I paused, ‘Well, I’d quite like to. But only if you want to.’


I started smiling uncontrollably. Then I said, ‘So, could you add some cold water to that bath, do you think?’

He didn’t.

We had our first ever proper argument.

Month One, Day Eight

Holiday! We bundle bags full of walking gear into Jack’s car (my own car is too crap for the purpose) and head for the M1. The Yorkshire Dales.

In my fantasy life, the Yorkshire Dales are where I live. I own a small stone cottage on a ridge half-way up a hill. All around me rushes the sound of spring water. I grow vegetables and keep chickens in the garden and make myself boiled eggs every day for breakfast. I bake carrot cakes. I write beautiful novels. The world loves me and wants to know me, but I am an enigma.

Usually in this fantasy, I am alone, without partner or children (I don’t know why, and prefer not to analyse the reasons), but now and then, a hazy image of a man I’ve never met appears. The only clear thing about this man is that he has yellow hives bursting with fat bumble bees. They dutifully produce the finest golden honey every year, and I sell it to local visitors from an old wooden stall which I set up outside the garden gate. There is a sign, hand-written on an old piece of cardboard that hangs from a string: Home-grown vegetables and finest Yorkshire honey.

I sometimes share this fantasy with Jack (substituting the man I’ve never met for him). He says, ‘Do you know how much work would go into this vegetable patch and these chickens and the bees?’


‘Who’s going to do the planting and sowing and digging and slug-killing? Who’s going to clear the dead rats out of the chicken shed?’

I toss my head. ‘I haven’t thought that far ahead,’ I say.

‘It won’t be you.’

This is probably true. I want to live a simple, noble life close to nature without doing any of the work. I don’t say this out loud, though, in case it raises the question of whether this will also be my approach to parenting. I want the clean, angelic faces and adorable clothes, but don’t make me deal with vomit, shit and tears.

About three months after we first got together, Jack took me to stay with friends of his who used to be normal people. Now, they have been overrun by babies. They have four of them. Not one of these children ever sleeps. At least, not one ever sleeps in its own bed. If the parents want to have sex, they have to shut themselves in the dining room (where the children are afraid to go) and do it on a lilo. Both of these parents look ten years older than Jack. They never go out, never eat a meal that they don’t have to divide up and share with the small, parasitic bodies hanging around their legs; never enjoy a bubble bath without some child jumping in and weeing in it. . .

Only one child went to bed before midnight when we were there. The others were up, demanding our attention, screaming, vomiting. It was exhausting. It was endless.

By the time we left the next morning, Jack had slid into a depression I thought he might never come out of.

‘Are you alright?’ I asked.

He shook his head, disbelieving. ‘I can’t believe what has happened to them,’ he said. ‘They’ve disappeared. They look awful.’

This was true.

‘It doesn’t have to be like that,’ I offered hopefully. ‘Some people put their children to bed.’

‘But they’re still children when they wake up.’

There was no way of arguing with that.

Now, as we approach our beautiful old cottage in the middle of Yorkshire nowhere, I remember that visit, and begin to question this insane, primitive longing I have for a small person to come and turn this deep peace to chaos.

But we're on holiday, and according to the rules of biology (which I still have no faith in), I will be releasing an egg some time this week. And I have nothing with me to stop that happening.

Month One, Day Seven

Vicious hangover. Blurry memory. Vague images of talking with vigour and passion about subjects I do not give a shit about.

There’s no way I’ll conceive this month. It will take years for my eggs to dry out after what I exposed them to last night. The one solitary ovum that is due for release next week will stagger drunkenly down my fallopian tubes, crashing into the walls, then passing out and disintegrating before it even has a chance.

My eggs are alcoholics.

I am not responsible enough to become a mother.

Month One, Day Six

All I’ve done this week is obsess about babies. I need to go out and get pissed.

The conception book tells me alcohol should be avoided, but I’ll see how the first few months go before I take such drastic action.

Month One, Day Five

‘What would you like to do in the next five years?’ Jack asked.

We were lying in bed on a Sunday morning, about four weeks into our relationship, back when we were still ravenous for information about each other, and neither of us were giving it. We both had A Past, and had learnt that sharing our innermost thoughts led only to Heartbreak and Destruction at the hands of the wrong people.

‘Oh, you know,’ I said. ‘I’d like to make more money, buy a cottage in the country, maybe have a child, grow my own asparagus.’

‘I don’t want children,’ he said.



We have moved on since then. Yesterday in Henley, I bought two books on conception and a pack of five ovulation tests. I’ve hidden them away. Obsession is never an attractive quality.

Month One, Day Four

This afternoon I after work, I drove to Henley-on-Thames. I don’t really belong in
Henley-on-Thames. I’m too poor, too badly dressed and un-made up, too full of loathing for the people who do belong there. But it’s the nearest town with a bookshop, and I needed books to tell me how to make my baby.

Henley is the town for Those of Immense Good Fortune. Here, the women have immaculate, articulate, Oxbridge-educated three-year-olds dangling from their wrists. These children don't have tantrums. They don't have tantrums because:

1. They go to yoga.
2. They have never, ever been frustrated. Their mothers took them to Baby Sign Language classes from the time they were six months old, which meant they were able to express their needs through signing, rather than through throwing themselves uncontrollably to the floor and
wailing because they only knew four useless words.
3. Ever since these children were weaned from the breast, they have consumed no sugar or E-numbers, and they’ve eaten only organic, anti-tantrum foods hand-grown by monks and sent to them from a remote farm in Tibet.

I don't know how Henley women get their children. I'm certain it can't be through sex.

Month One, Day Three

I always wanted children. I also always wanted a high-profile career. My life plan was like everyone else’s:

1. Do everything you have ever wanted to do.
2. Have baby.

I managed number one. I went to university, I travelled the world, I frittered away a large portion of my twenties in a Brighton gutter, I slept with inappropriate men (and women), I went back to university, I wrote a couple of novels, I published a couple of novels, I met a lovely man that even my mother approved of, I turned thirty.

I turned thirty!


‘I always thought I’d have my first baby when I was thirty,’ I said casually to Jack on my birthday.

‘Mmm,’ he said.

I left it at that.

Month One, Day Two

I decided the time had come to turn my attention to baby making when my last packet
of pills ran out and I didn’t get round to picking up more. Possibly, this was too a passive approach to motherhood, and I should have discussed it sensibly with Jack, and together we would have planned and waited for the Right Time. (NB. We have, often, discussed it, but it has been left to me to make the final decision about when to go for it.)

Now, of course, is nothing like the right time. There are at least a million reasons why we shouldn’t have a baby: I have no steady, reliable job and no paid maternity leave; Jack is scared of children; our house has stone floors that a baby would kill itself on; children are expensive and we aren’t rich; our family trees are both blighted with mad people, which means there is a high chance that our child will be born bonkers. . .

But equally, there is one very good reason why we should have a baby, which is, quite simply, that I will die if we don’t.

Month One, Day One

I have no faith in this, in any of it. My body is too unremarkable, too ordinary. Sure, for the last few years I’ve cherished it – I’ve stuffed it with blueberries and pomegranates and other magical foodstuffs guaranteed to grant me eternal life, so I could make up for the long years in which I crammed it with nothing but beer and illegal drugs. But I’ve never cherished my body as a wonder to be preserved. Hell, no. I’ve cherished it because it's the carriage that contains the rest of me, and the rest of me must go on forever.

But now, suddenly, I am paying attention. I am asking my ordinary, unremarkable body to turn miracle factory. For nine months, I want it to churn and pump and mould and create, to spill forth, onto the conveyor belt of my life, a baby.

I do not – I cannot - believe that something as simple as sex is going to do this. Babies are divine. There must be more to it than sex. I need books, instruction manuals, rules.

I probably also need to offer sacrifices to the gods.

Dear Goddess of Fertility and Abundance. I will offer you my true love’s head on a plate if you will only give me a child.