Welcome to my weekly blog on impending fatherhood. I’m Jim, my wife’s name is Daisy, I turn 50 in September and Daisy is 37, and we're expecting our first child - hence The Geriatric Dad Blog! This is a proper, ‘in real life’ read from a man's perspective, so I hope you enjoy and follow the series as we go from pregnancy tests, to first scans, through all the ups and downs of impending parenthood. This week - the first trimester...
As I write this, my wife Daisy is approaching 14 weeks pregnant.
Fourteen weeks! I can scarcely believe it.
This means (obvs!) that we’re now well into the second trimester, which – according to medical pros – should be the easiest of the three main periods of pregnancy. The time when ‘bump’ appears, the time when Daisy starts to ‘bloom’. When the sickness and nausea fade and the energy returns.
I guess we’ll find out in due course!
But for now, less of that. In this week's blog, I want to run through some of the experiences Daisy and I went through during the first trimester, written from my perspective. Hopefully recounting them will be of some help and reassurance for dads and mums-to-be who are going through similar experiences (or are about to).
The anxiety of the first trimester
Our first trimester was - how shall I put it - difficult. Especially as we were deliberately keeping the news largely secret from family and friends, which meant support outside of the NHS was somewhat limited.
Let's not sugar coat this. At times, pushing through trimester 1 was like navigating a narrow, windy lane in a heavy mist; unable to move backwards, unable to see what was just around the corner as we inched forward.
Anxiety-inducing is an accurate description of those early weeks.
Frequently, I felt helpless. Utterly useless. There I was, a near 50-year-old geriatric father-to-be, watching and witnessing his wife going through major hormonal, physical and mental changes; unable to truly empathise with or genuinely understand what she was experiencing.
Unable to do much to help, other than give constant words of encouragement and reassurance.
Unable to promise everything was really going to be ok (to guarantee it would be ok would be a lie, wouldn’t it?)
There are many things that contribute toward this anxiety in those first few weeks.
I didn’t realise for instance that, for someone Daisy’s age (she’s about to turn 37) there is a significant chance of losing the baby in those first 12 weeks.
And I do mean SIGNIFICANT.
Incredibly, around 1 in 5 pregnancies for someone who’s 37 end in miscarriage, the vast majority occurring during the first trimester.
Yep, 20 per cent of all foetuses conceived by women of that age do not get to the second trimester.
TWENTY PER CENT!
I came across this stat the week after we’d had the positive pregnancy test. And it didn't do much to reduce worry levels! Of course, the better way of looking at it is that there’s a 75% chance of making it into the second trimester with a healthy baby, which are decent odds if you’re a gambler… but I don’t always think with the odds.
To try and minimise risk as much as we could, of miscarriage or of any other problems occurring, Daisy and I read up carefully on the potential reasons why miscarriage and fetal deformities and or generic problems might happen in weeks 1-12.
We promptly found there are many every day things you might do that, really, you should avoid doing. Or think carefully about.
Some were obvious (booze, drugs, ciggies) some more obscure.
Some were controllable (diet), some not (chromosomal abnormalities).
I’ll cite a few examples.
1: Decorating = NO
Daisy had just started to paint our kitchen area, before decorating the bedroom we are going to turn into a nursery.
This had to stop when we found research that suggested fumes given off by wet paint as it’s lathered onto walls might not be good for baby.
But we still need to build a nursery and decorate it, so we’ve hired a handyman to do it for us now, being careful to ventilate the house and for Daisy to stay distant from the paint during the decorating process.
2: Putting on nail paint = NO
Then there was the danger from Daisy’s nail paint.
SODDING NAIL PAINT!!!
Yep, you read that right. Chemicals in certain nail paints can apparently increase the risk of defects forming in the foetus.
Poor Daisy: if there’s one thing she loves, it’s to paint her nails, usually a hideous pink colour. So she decided to give up having beautiful nails, just to be on the safe side.
3: Research dietary supplements = YES
The wrong foods in your diet, a lack of the right vitamins and iron – this was important, so suddenly our weekly Tesco order was full of recommended supplements, especially key for us given Daisy adopted a vegan diet some years ago.
Iron, folic acid, various vitamins: we researched what we needed to do, spoke to the midwife and followed her advice.
4: Check medicines = YES
I was surprised too to discover that various common, everyday medicines in our medicine cabinet would potentially increase risk if they were taken.
This included some vaporub-style chest ointments, various indigestion treatments (like Pepto-Bismal) and ibuprofen.
Yep, humble ibuprofen is a definite no-no for pregnant women, though paracetamol apparently is ok.
All this highlighted how little we knew and how you have to be SO careful when taking medicinal products during pregnancy.
Any over-the-counter medicine you might take when not pregnant may need careful consideration before taking when you are. Always read the label and do your research would be basic, sensible advice.
Natural causes of miscarriage
Then of course there are natural reasons why a body might expel a developing foetus.
These could be chromosomal abnormalities, or a placenta that doesn’t form properly.
Potentially, there's a small chance the foetus might have lodged itself in a fallopian tube, resulting in a dangerous ectopic pregnancy (this was a real concern for us, as Daisy’s mum had almost died after experiencing a catastrophic rupture of a fallopian tube during an ectopic pregnancy some 30 years ago, after which she almost bled to death).
There’s literally zero you can do about such things, but it doesn’t stop anxiety welling up.
The first trimester is when all the major ‘bits’ of your baby form - when its anatomy is laid out, its organs develop. And nature, as miraculous as it is, is far from perfect. Things can and do go wrong and it’s really important to realise, if they do, it’s absolutely not the fault of the mother carrying the child.
Not that that makes baby loss any easier.
Cramps are usually normal
The more I read about the bodily changes Daisy & the baby were going through, the more anxious I became.
This reached a zenith when Daisy started to have quite severe abdominal cramps and pains 6 to 8 weeks in. What did they mean? Were they normal? She told me they were not dissimilar to the pain and cramps she used to get in the run-up to her period.
Now this was difficult to deal with.
Difficult because, again, there was nothing I could do. No protection I could afford her, no way of making sure baby would be ok. Every time she confided in me that she was in pain or discomfort, all I could do was try and reassure her as best I could that these feelings, that this experience, was likely normal and didn’t mean we were about to lose baby.
That they would pass, like the sickness she was also experiencing would most likely fade as time moved on.
But we sought advice anyway for reassurance, calling the local hospital maternity unit more than once.
They were awesome. Understanding, kind, sympathetic.
They explained that cramping was - most of the time - normal, that some degree of abdominal pain was to be expected as Daisy’s body changed in response to and in readiness for the new human growing inside it. But also that, if the pain couldn't be quelled by taking a standard dose of paracetamol, to call 111 for more advice, especially out of hours.
The 'viability' scan
All the same, to help alleviate our concerns we decided to book a private ‘viability’ scan for reassurance reasons just before the 7 week stage.
We felt it would help us if we knew the foetus had taken correctly, was in the right place and was developing as it should.
If it was ectopic, the sooner we knew about it, the better.
While it cost the best part of £70, it was money well spent (though it should be said that we realise how lucky we are to be able to afford to do this, and recognise that some pregnant partners can’t).
The company we used was welcoming and friendly.
Edward the sonographer explained in a deadpan voice what he was going to do as he liberally lathered lube onto a device that frankly looked more like a hedonistic sex toy than a medical aid, before gently sliding it into Daisy’s vagina (early viability scans are usually internal and somewhat invasive as a consequence - you should be aware of this before booking one).
Those seconds after the scan began were terrifying. Was the baby there? Phantom pregnancies aren’t unheard of… Was it ok? Was it in the right place? Was it alive???
After what seemed an age, Edward uttered words neither of us will ever forget: “I have baby. I have a heartbeat. Everything looks fine.”
Daisy burst into tears. I held her hand tightly. Our baby was viable. Now all we had to do was get through that first trimester, one step at a time…
Next week the anxieties muster up a level or two as we both contract Covid and have to call 111 (again!) as Daisy develops a fever. The dramas of pregnancy and becoming a geriatric dad don't seem to letting up in any way!