Lying dormant, hibernating from the frostiness outside, a sofa slow cooker gently simmering away, wrapped up in a TV glow and feeling those now familiar belly rumbles, a bubbling hot pot cuisine.
“You’ll know when you feel him,” I’d been told, but these miniature suds and somersaults hadn’t felt like anything other than unsettled tea.
Then the sonographer, at the twenty-week scan, had highlighted this as more than just dinner swimming in stomach acid and, since then, the babbling and warbling had been gaining momentum by the day.
I took Clifford’s hand absentmindedly as the telly box sun shone and reflected off his beard bristles and rested it on my tummy. Almost immediately Nugget jerked and kicked at Clifford’s fingers. Clifford startled bolt upright, his face lit up with something other than Breaking Bad as he whipped his hand away in the standard response to being poked. Tentatively he placed his now highly alert palm back on my bump. On cue Nugget did it again. “Oh my god, my son is moving around inside my girlfriend,” Clifford exclaimed with all the practical simplicity that I love him for. “How mad is that?”
It was mad. Suddenly there was someone more important than us, projecting their little being into our world so massively, another presence on the couch, another member in this little unit that had somehow just jumped from being a relationship to a family.
The second trimester wasn’t all calm but it was a fucking margarita paradise compared to the first. I have always worried about my mind, a way more vulnerable vessel than my body from the past thirty-three years involvement I’ve had with both, and pregnancy, birth and the aftermath are no exclusion from this apprehension. That’s not to say I haven’t had any calamities with my Relaxin* flooded ligaments, the twinges and aches that only get worse and of course consuming a doubled diet and worrying about muffin tops and touching thighs. But none of that really bothers me like the thought of hormone imbalance, increased anxiety and isolation. Once you’ve been under the cloud you will do whatever it takes to stay on the sunny side and a lot of what I had experienced in the first trimester and heard about the postnatal period hadn’t left me flooded with enthusiasm. Being pregnant has solidified what I always knew about depression and how powerful hormones are – incredible and integral – but rulers and tyrants of lives.
Our old place, with the shedding skin walls, stair rail as curvy as a snake and profound cracks wasn’t really suitable for Nugget’s entrance. It gave the appearance that it would and could collapse any time a train trembled past the window, the entire thing shifting wonkily on an acid trip and I still thought a lot about Roland, the rat that had inhabited the space with me for three terrifying days when I couldn’t leave the elevated sofa and table top, stuck in a constant game of the floor is lava. When we started looking for places to move, still in the first trimester, the task felt daunting, exhausting and riddled with angst. Clifford wanted a larger place but to get this we had to move further out, which flared up my paranoia about becoming isolated and having to severely adjust my life in ways I wasn’t ready for. Also, the issue of money and the fact we didn’t have any. We looked around some dishearteningly miserable places which sat barely inside our budget lines and, at times, it all felt quite bleak.
But scrabbling my energy back in the second trimester, one foot now eased off the hormone booster-peddle emitting double doses of inconsistent thought and worse case scenarios, I was able to see with a bit more clarity. We started viewings early, to avoid moving when I was heavily pregnant, which happened anyway, but meant we got to see a lot of places and we didn’t compromise on anything, something which seemed less and less likely the more places we viewed. Nothing was going to tick every box; no place would meet every requirement we both felt was so vital… And then we found it, our new home in Hither Green.
It’s barely a ten-minute stroll up the road from our old place but it’s a voyage through to another dimension, a time warp in our lives. I have woken in the night, wondering how my life skipped a few beats to an actual house where I can see my son taking wobbly drunk steps across the carpet to the pebbly, vegetable back yard, an actual tarmacked space for our car (for two!) underneath mummy and daddy’s bedroom window. Little boys in dungarees stagger about on tricycles amongst the cats, an altogether more middle-class breed of feline with glossy long white coats and upturned expectant faces for love, in contrast to the hardened, rough and ready rat-catchers that take the prowl down on Lewisham high street. Two bedrooms, a downstairs toilet (Clifford’s bathroom, to contain his socks and floor pants) and it’s just so fucking quiet! Quiet and still connected to everything we know and love. Somehow, we’ve fallen into the best of both worlds, a sweet spot we thought didn’t really exist for us in the city, with the park and it’s rolling London views just across from our little red door.
The future is big and scary and for all his matter-of-factness cool and real-world calm, I know Clifford feels this too. But there is one thing which makes it less frightening, the one little thing that is causing all of this monumental change. Because the truth is that since I’ve felt Nugget here, I’ve felt far less alone than I ever did before. When I take myself out for dinner or I sit at home drained of enough energy to move or manage my social anxiety, I’m never alone. Nuggs moves, as if to say, I’ve got you mum, and I know that whatever happens next we’ll be alright because we’ve got each other.
*Kickin’ Back, Relaxin’
Collapsed on the pavement in Peckham, I’d fallen on my ankle for the third time. The first had been a spectacular fall outside my house, grappling along a wall so as not to fall on my front, resulting in a throbbing ankle which I still stupidly limped to the station on. The second time was at home when Clifford was abroad, the same ankle buckling beneath me and it was so excruciating I couldn’t even get back downstairs to turn the lights off. Luckily, I’d already eaten and the oven was off so, feeling very sorry for myself, I just hopped into bed, pulled the blanket over my head and cried myself to sleep. The third time, on my lunch break at work, I propelled myself over the main road in Peckham and again into a wall, narrowly missing taking out several people. It was one time too many and my work friends answered my road-side plea, came out of the office to rescue me and packed me into an Uber bound straight for A&E.
I was seen very quickly, I guess on account of being pregnant, and they gave me an x-ray, which they assured me was fine for Nuggs because it was on my ankle and far away from my tummy. The ankle wasn’t broken but they explained that when you are pregnant your body releases the hormone Relaxin’ which does exactly what it says on the tin, it relaxes all your ligaments and joints ready for the main event and in doing so it isn’t really picky about what it loosens up. Increased flexibility with the added uneasiness of damaging something. On top of that my centre of balance was shifting, so the body that I had built up a firm understanding with for my entire life was now suddenly working in a completely different way, morphing into a brand-new carrier of my weight all together.