A BIT like Batman watching Gotham city, I spent much of September observing the movements of boats and planes around Cork Harbour. Batman might be nocturnal, but if they’d given the job to Catwoman she’d have worked it around pregnancy and new motherhood no problem — being awake night and day is part of the deal.
During my second pregnancy, I thought a lot of the friends who warned me on my first to enjoy the “princess pregnancy”. They were more right than I ever could have imagined.
First time round, I wrote a series of articles about pregnancy pampering, about making the most of this special time, and about finding time for yourself before the biggest life change of all kicked in.
Boy, do I look back at that time with envy. Because nothing on earth could have prepared me for the first year of my son’s life, the needs of a refluxy baby, and the loss of self and self-care that comes with motherhood.
Two years on, my son is a healthy, happy, entertaining joy to be around. But being pregnant while looking after a busy two year old is an entirely different ball game.
The first pregnancy means dropping everything and adjusting to an entirely new routine of check-ups, pregnancy yoga, pilates, swimming, reading all the books, spending hours discussing names and birth plans and the best buggy according to Which? magazine.
The second felt like it happened sort of by the way, between creche drop off and pick up and work and making sure there is milk in the fridge for the morning and we all have clean socks and brushed teeth. Normal family life, in other words, which doesn’t leave an awful lot of time for self-care or reflection.
When my midwife asked me at my last appointment if I’d done a course of reflexology I looked at her as though she had two heads. Creche fees have rather eaten up the reflexology budget, I’m afraid, but it did make me think about the drastic differences between this time and last time.
Every pregnancy is different, of course, and while otherwise it was luckily safe and uneventful, unfortunately I was laid low for much of this one with crippling pelvic girdle pain, formerly known as SPD, a painful condition affecting one in five pregnant women to various degrees. It can go from minor sharp joint pains to being totally immobilising, with some women becoming temporarily wheelchair-bound or hospitalised for periods during pregnancy. It would have been one thing without a toddler to chase around, but with a very active small boy who loves nothing better than a game of chase in a dangerous location, at times it was very difficult to cope.
A LUCKY GENERATION
Writing about self-care in the context of a second pregnancy is a funny one, because whenever I think about pregnancy, my maternal granny comes to mind.
A small, birdlike woman, a ball of nervous energy who hardly ever sat down, Josie had nine children, without a thought of self-care, meditation or mindfulness, although she was a regular Massgoer and visited the church weekly to do her hour. My mind boggles when I consider that she spent more than seven years of her life pregnant.
She didn’t work outside the home, but as someone who welcomed work as a sanctuary where I could go to the toilet by myself and sit down for more than three minutes without a pile of laundry or a toddler grabbing my attention, I’m not sure that’s much of a get-out clause for our generation.
I try to imagine doing the same with three, or four, or seven or nine, and I feel emotionally exhausted at the very idea, not to even think of the physical effort of keeping that many people fed and washed with no labour saving devices. No wonder the washing machine was such a welcome development.
Now that we recognise the notion of self-care, however, there are still some ways for a busy, exhausted working mother to get a little time to herself to emotionally and physically prepare for the new arrival.
Maternal guilt is not new, but even the idea that the first child was exposed to classical music, yoga chanting and all the rest in the womb, while the second one will probably be born singing the Fireman Sam theme tune and addicted to fish fingers, is already a source of it. So here’s a little inspiration for when time and money are both short in a second or subsequent pregnancy.
Budget: In my first pregnancy I did a weekend GentleBirth course, a mix between a standard antenatal class with information on labour, birth plans and the hospital system and a mindfulness programme for expectant mothers and their partners.
This time around, being both poorer in time and cash, I settled for signing up to the GentleBirth app, which has a range of guided meditations for pregnancy and new mothers. Founder Tracey Donegan narrates the meditations - ranging from five minutes up to about twenty five - and she has the most soothing voice you can imagine. For pregnancy insomnia, the Sleep Sanctuary track is a total winner, while you can listen to some others in the car or while doing housework.
Two other things that helped me to wind down were basic but surprisingly useful: reading and listening to music. Most of us have the TV on in the background for much of the evening, or we binge-watch shows on Netflix. Turn off the technology! Instead, make a relaxing playlist of your favourite music (not whale music - music you actually enjoy) or turn on the radio, and read a book.
Break the bank: This one requires both cash and time but if you haven’t had the chance to do a regular course of pregnancy reflexology, yoga or massage, a spa day is a quick fix that will leave you feeling better. And it might be easier to get a babysitter for a single day than for an hour once a week. Escape Spa at the Imperial offers a consistently excellent range of treatments — so good they’ve just been named Spa of the Year 2018 at the Hair and Beauty Awards. Their Voya Organic Prenatal Voyager is a really luxurious package including a full body exfoliation - perfect when you haven’t been able to reach below your bump for the past few months - as well as a full body, facial and scalp massage. If you’ve never had a facial massage, it’s worth it for this alone as it’s one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had. It’s 90 minutes long and costs €155.
For those having back or joint problems or just finding the bump heavy going, the dry floatation bed at Escape is an absolute winner — it’ll be your first time lying comfortably on your back for months, and even if you don’t fall asleep, you’ll feel like you’ve had a good night’s sleep after it! They also offer a range of other treatments suitable in pregnancy and prices range from €65 for the Voya luxury pedicure, the best I’ve had anywhere.
Be free: The best way of looking after yourself is of course exercise, but if you can’t move very much then finding a good spot to just be outside and soak up some fresh air and the great outdoors is the next best thing. Your mother was right — fresh air cures a multitude, and it can be even better on a blustery day.
When you’re running all the time from pillar to post and spending most of your time in the car, the office or doing housework, taking half an hour to just get outside a couple of times a week feels like a real luxury. You can bring the kids, just forget about the tranquillity and focus on the benefit of the fresh air!
In the city, Nano Nagle Place is a haven of tranquillity where — despite the religious iconography everywhere - you can go and just sit in a cocoon of calm. The gardens are large, serene and go from traditional convent garden to Japanese style zen. It’s free, but if you fancy food while you’re there you should check out the phenomenal cafe on the grounds, Good Day Deli for locally sourced, sustainable food.
If you fancy some more space — pregnancy can be a little claustrophobic — and you have time, head East or West to one of Cork’s beautiful beaches. In East Cork, Ballynamona Beach is near Garryvoe but rarely busy, and you can watch incredible bird life soaring and swooping over the dunes with the Ballycotton Lighthouse in the distance. West along the way but still just half an hour from the city, hit Garrettstown to sit and watch the waves of the Wild Atlantic Way. And if you’re really feeling active, a quick paddle is just the ticket for swollen ankles.
Next week Deirdre writes about love and logistics since baby number two arrived.
Deirdre O’Shaughnessy is editor of the 96fm Opinion Line and blogs at deshocks.com.