A tiny bit pregnant…

Sunday morning. Herbert is having a lie-in. I’m wandering around the kitchen, fretting. My period has started and then stopped again. This is most peculiar.

The thing that’s bothering me most is: how will this affect my charts? I am poised with a Basal Body Temperature thermometer (don’t panic, it goes under your tongue) and a sheet of graph paper to track my every hormonal move this month. But, during my training session with the charming fertility nurse, no provision was made for false starts.

Was that a period? I am wondering. Do I count that as Day One? I gaze at the pristine tracking sheet in front of me, which I am loath to ruin. I do love a chart.

Perhaps it was my cervix bleeding? We did, after all, have sex on the last night of our holiday, only for the blood to dutifully appear the next morning. I thought I’d put all that behind me. But maybe not.

What’s more, I had spent the whole week in slight trepidation, not wanting to kick back too much and overdo the booze, but feeling frustrated at my own timidity too. The arrival of my period was a huge relief. I could, finally, have a proper glass of wine. Or three. And maybe a little nip of frozen vodka to send me to bed. I was not going to miss this one guilt-free opportunity of the month.

Perhaps this is why I take a pregnancy test. Sheer guilt. Sheer uncertainty. A quiet, unexamined thought says: If it’s positive, at least you’ll know where you are in your cycle. As if positive pregnancy tests are of no significance at all, and crop up all the time in this household.

I dutifully pee in a plastic cup, dip in a testing stick and then get in the shower. I get out, dry myself, and then think how stupid the logic of my test had been. Nevertheless, I glance at it, and think I see something.

I squint. A faint pink line, so pale it’s nearly invisible. I hold it to the light. Yes: definitely something there. I put it down on the sink, and walk into the bedroom, where I find H propped up, watching TV.

‘I’ve got a second line on a pregnancy test,’ I say, in a flat voice.

Before he can even answer, I’ve walked back into the bathroom to look again. Still there. I return to the bedroom.

‘What does that mean?’ asks H.

‘I don’t know.’ I go back to the bathroom again, and so on: back and forth a dozen more times until H suggests I bring the test in to show him.

He squints, just as I did.

‘Hardly anything there,’ he says.

‘Yes, but my ovulation tests were all like that.’

‘Hm,’ says H.

‘And they say you never get a false positive.’

‘Okay.’

‘So I think I might be a tiny bit pregnant. Not properly. Just sort of on the verge of.’

‘Is that possible?’

‘I don’t know. I wasn’t really prepared for this eventuality.’

 

It is only the next day, after we’ve umm-ed and aaahh-ed and felt generally confused, that it all sinks in. I turn up for my weekly acupuncture session, and say,

‘Before you start, I’ve got a faint second line on a pregnancy test.’

‘You’re pregnant, then,’ says Emma the acupuncturist, grinning. ‘Am I the first one to say congratulations?’

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When counselling is anything but

First of all, full disclosure: I’ve never had an abortion, or had to consider it.

But I wanted to tell you a story that I think is relevant to the current debate surrounding Nadine Dorries’ proposed amendment to the Health & Social Care Bill.

Ten years ago I was a teacher, working in an girls’ school. As part of the school’s obligation to provide a moral and religious education, the school organised an afternoon focusing on abortion for the sixth formers. We were told that this would be an opportunity for the students to explore and debate the ethical issues around abortion, and as a sixth form tutor I was obliged to take part.

On the day, it turned out that the head of sixth form had only managed to book a Christian abortion counselling organisation. It had, apparently, been impossible to find a pro-choice group. We sat through an hour’s lecture on the evils of abortion, presented in the most lurid and biased terms possible. The speaker focused solely on very late-term abortions. I remember seeing a photo of a foetus having its spinal column severed by a surgeon. It was, deliberately, hugely disturbing, and completely lacked any context regarding how rarely this sort of procedure takes place, and the benefits that some women may find in ending a pregnancy.

At one point, one of my students ran out of the room in tears. It was known among some of the staff that she’d recently had a termination herself. At the end of the talk, the speaker told the students that her organisation provided free counselling for women considering abortion, or who had already had one. Anyone was welcome to access their services. As I took my group away, I noticed people from the anti-abortion organisation gathering around to comfort the girl who ran out.

On the face of it, the amendment to the Health & Social Care Bill sounds perfectly innocuous – providing counselling for women considering abortion, and ensuring that they don’t come under any pressure to undergo an abortion they’re unsure about.

No-one could argue that women shouldn’t be offered support. No-one could argue that abortion is a decision to be taken lightly. But it’s vital that any counselling received is unbiased. Effective talking therapies rely on an absolute bond of trust between the client and the therapist – in particular, the client needs to feel free to express every element of their opinion and thought process. I don’t believe that this is possible if you already know what your therapist – strongly – believes.

It would be brilliant if David Cameron announced funding for self-referring, walk-in, value-neutral counselling for any woman who needed it. In the landscape of cuts, though, it’s hard to imagine this happening. Instead, vulnerable women may be forced to use services provided by biased, proselytising organisations whose express intention is to prevent abortion.

A fascinating and furious debate took place in my classroom after the talk. Quite contrary to my fears, my students saw straight through the excessive manipulation they’d endured, and led their own, far more moderate debate on abortion. Not everyone thought it was a good thing, but both sides of the debate were united in their disgust at being spoken to like children. I was proud of them. But the sight of that girl in the folds of the anti-abortion counsellors still snags in my throat. She deserved much better therapy than that.

 

Don’t Tell the Children

I am peeing in a plastic cup. H is in the bath, probably deciding whether he should watch or not. I’d like to say we’re the kind of couple who retain our erotic mystique by not performing bodily functions in front of each other, but we only have one bathroom so sometimes needs must. I should make it clear, though, that we both draw the line at pooing. This occasionally means we run into the bathroom and yell at the other party to get the hell out of the bath, but it’s a boundary worth drawing, I think.

Today, it’s in aid of an ovulation test, and, frankly, I’m attempting to share my pain. I last caught myself ovulating two months ago, and that was on day 9 of my cycle. Not a peep last month. Today it’s day 14, and I suspect this means I’ve missed the boat again. There’s something miserable about dunking your little stick in a pot of your own urine every day, only to get the single control line, day in, day out. It’s such a non-event that it doesn’t really merit a conversation; but its effect is cumulative misery. Still nothing.

‘I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t bought a duff set of sticks,’ I say to H. ‘The ones that registered an LH surge cost £35 from Boots. These ones were a fiver for 50 from eBay. Maybe they’re just shit.’

‘Cheaper though,’ says H.

‘Yeah,’ I say. I count under my breath as I watch the stick turn gradually pink, and see the familiar control line appear.

‘Why don’t you try both at the same time next month?’ he suggests. ‘That way, you could see if both types say the same thing.’

It’s a good idea, particularly seeing as I have a whole drawer full of the cheap tests remaining. I balance the test stick on the sink and begin to put on my makeup. Then I glance down.

‘Bloody hell,’ I say. ‘Would you bloody believe it? It must have heard me!’

I wave the stick in front of H’s nose, and squints at it. ‘Yup,’ he says, ‘that’s definitely a second line.’

‘We’d better get busy in that case.’

The following evening, I’m still registering a faint second line, so we decide we ought to make a second attempt at the baby-making sex. Seeing as I recently learned that sperm live for up to five days inside your uterus (which, in my view, counts as an infestation), this amounts to sending in reinforcements, which will mass around my fallopian tubes, waiting for one of them to feebly cough out an egg.

We’re both hungry, so we decide to go out for dinner first, and so, inevitably, we’re both feeling sleepy and bloated by the time we get home to bed. H takes off his clothes, and belches loudly.

‘I’m guessing you’re not much in the mood,’ I say.

‘Well, ordinarily no,’ he says, ‘but that doesn’t mean to say we won’t have sex. Maybe you could go on top; I think I’d be sick if I had to bounce around too much.’

‘So romantic,’ I say. ‘Maybe we should try spoons instead?You can’t burp at me from that angle.’

‘Sorry,’ says H. ‘I’ll try to stop.’

I lean in and kiss him. ‘I’ll get my vibrator. I think I might need it.’

‘Fair comment.’

‘Maybe some lube, too.’

‘Oh.’ H’s face scrunches up into something resembling devastation. ‘It’ll take it so much longer for me to come if we use lube.’

‘I tell you what,’ I say, ‘if tonight’s the night we conceive, we’ll tell our offspring that it happened some other way entirely. We’ll pretend that we were having amazing, romantic, spontaneous sex somewhere glamorous.’

‘It’s fine,’ says H. ‘If we conceive this month, we’ll have no idea whether it happened tonight or last night. Last night was fun. We can just push tonight out of our minds.’

‘Agreed,’ I say, smearing myself with lube and firing up the vibrator. ‘And anyway, I believe it’s mostly considered inappropriate to talk to your children about the sex that conceived them.’

‘Yeah,’ says H, ‘that too.’

And then, weirdly, we end up having surprisingly pleasurable sex, free of burping and complaining. Or at least, that’s what we’ll tell the children. When they’re old enough.

 

This post will self-destruct in a fortnight.

The Sex Lives of Neanderthals

A sexy neanderthal?

I hope you enjoy my interview with archaeologist (and great friend) Dr Beccy Scott, who sets us straight on the assumptions made about the sex lives of Neanderthals and early humans.

What you don’t get to hear is five minutes of us giggling and saying, ‘Shut up! You’re making me laugh too much!’ at the beginning. Given this inauspicious start, it’s surprisingly enlightening.

This interview was recorded over Skype, so apologies for the occasionally fuzzy sound.

Click here to listen in Podbean.