Pregnancy has given me an even sweeter tooth than usual. I like to make these chocolate and granola cups to cure my cravings - cheap, quick and easy!
On paper my situation looks a little hopeless. 28 years old, unmarried, living with partner in a rented flat, pregnant after just a year-and-a-half relationship, our respective parents only having met last weekend, no savings, no prospect of buying a house, no career to speak of, and a tonne of debt. 2012 had been a challenging year to say the least, with all its financial pitfalls, failing to get a business off the ground, and my partner losing his job twice. If you were an astrologist you'd probably put it down to my Saturn Return; if you were a realist you'd probably call it 'life'.
So needless to say, when I took a test last September in a Sainsbury's toilet on my lunch break and discovered I was expecting, it felt like someone was playing a cruel joke. 37 weeks on however, and although there has been no waving of a magic wand, I feel a lot more at peace, and dare I say it, 'ready' (or as I can be), to enter the world of Motherdom. Gulp.
My pregnancyI've been quite fortunate that I've had a pretty uneventful pregnancy so far in terms of health issues and aches and pains. You seem to only ever hear the negative stories (and I've heard a lot with my sister being a midwife), so perhaps, actually, it is quite normal to have a plain sailing 9 months, it's just that no one talks about it.
Either way, I consider myself lucky as some women can really have a terrible time. With that in mind, I have very little to talk about in terms of the physical transformation that my body has gone through, as amazing as it has been. No, instead, the thrilling theme throughout my 30-something weeks of bun baking, has been, 'lists'. Yep, lists. Those little scraps of paper, envelopes, notebooks, and mental lists have fast become my friends and foes since finding out my news.
Enter... the listIf I were to sum up the last 9 months, I would probably describe it as one giant spring clean. It can be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde situation trying to find a balance between my perfectionism and procrastination, but there's nothing quite like an impending new little life to put things into perspective and kick you up the bum.
I've become quite the writer of these lists, my finest being 3 pages of A2 paper, categorised according to which room in our flat the job referred to, and highlighted according to urgency. It was Blu-Tacked proudly to the living room wall for all of about a week, until I realised that having visitors reading 'practice perineal massage' really wasn't ideal.
Since then it found itself living more subtly amongst a pile of other maternity paper work on the dining table, and subsequently hasn't quite had the desired affect I'd hoped; i.e. hinting at my partner to help me out with this mountain of pre-baby 'to-do'.
I'd heard that pregnant women entered some kind of nesting mode towards the end of their third trimester, but I'd seemed to have gotten the bug from day one. I guess I was in a state of panic at the thought of bringing a baby into our mess of 'debt and scraping by', and saw this as one last chance to get things sorted. So in honour of the list, here is another, list, to the pros and cons I've found with writing lists. (Have I said 'list' enough?)
First off... the negativesWell not a lot really. Let's face it, lists are pretty effective at getting you organised and giving your brain a bit of a rest, especially if yours is sieve-shaped like mine. The thing is, once you write that little job down on that piece of paper, it feels set in stone: it's on 'The List'. You can strike a line through it, rub it off, or start all over again, but the fact is you know you've got rid of it, and the list knows you've got rid of it, and...oh dear...I'm not painting the best picture of my mental state of mind here, am I? Pregnancy probably has turned my brain temporarily into soup, but I can assure you I'm quite sane, it's just that, like I said, there's an ongoing battle between my perfectionism and procrastination, and it's never been more apparent than when comparing my reaction to a list to, say, my partner's.
Mr A, let's call him, wouldn't know a list if it jumped off the page and stapled itself to his a***.
I guess I took the list to a whole new level. Instead of just writing things like, 'buy nappies', 'paint baby's room' etc. I was writing 'stop leaving clothes on the floor...we are not teenagers anymore...get more organised...stop leaving the lid off your shaving foam...check current milk is finished before opening new one...' Eeek, I was simultaneously turning into my mother (it had finally happened), and using the list to have a passive-aggressive rant at Mr A.
I would lie awake at night fretting about setting a good example to Nugget (baby's nickname - we don't know the sex). Tiny little things that would turn my mind inside out in the wee small hours, like 'I don't want Nugget to turn into a slob because we haven't been organised or tidy enough,' 'how do I get Mr A to back me up with this when he doesn't seem to care?,' 'I'm sure my dad never used to leave the toilet seat up, or dirty pants on the bedroom floor...was he always like that or did Mum have to train him....?'
I hated thinking like that. I've never wanted to be the type of woman who continuously slags off the opposite sex, but I slowly started finding myself feeling like that. I felt very alone at times, with this monstrous list tapping his watch and telling me time was ticking. Why didn't Mr A do anything off the list? Why didn't he have anything to add to the list? did he not want to get things ready for the baby too?
I remember one evening, during dinner, huffing and puffing and ticking the jobs off one by one that I'd done, when Mr A said: 'So, how we doing with our list then?'
At that moment I wanted nothing more than one of those automatic, tennis-ball-serving-machine thingys to rapidly fire scrunched up balls of 'list' continuously at his head.
'You mean, HOW AM I doing with OUR list!?' Don't get me wrong, Mr A has lots of wonderful traits and I can't wait to bumble our way through parenthood with him, but his excuse of 'just being a laid back kind of person' was really starting to wear thin. Writing this I can't say that things improved overnight, but after several heart-to-hearts, and a few hormone-fuelled strops, we seem to be more on the same page now in terms of 'preparation'. I had to take a bit of a look at myself and realise that, just because I'd written something on a list didn't mean it was gospel and had to be achieved, you can't expect men to approach pregnancy the same as women; the chemistry just doesn't work that way, and that actually, I could be a slob at the best of times and was using 'the list' to project all my gripes about myself on to Mr A, to take the heat off of me. I'm certainly not perfect.
And now for the pros:In short, I've really enjoyed how being pregnant has helped put things into perspective. One of the biggest 'spring cleans' I've had is to do with money. Before falling pregnant, my financial situation was a mess. I was back freelancing a few days a week at a cupcake bakery where I'd worked before failing to get my own cake and craft business off the ground, and Mr A simultaneously losing his job. I didn't have a penny of savings, 3 overdrafts, credit card and energy supplier debt, a mobile phone bill that was always double the contracted amount, and was being charged at least £100 a month from my bank for unpaid direct debits and fees. It was horrible and I couldn't see a way out. At one point Mr A and I literally didn't think we'd be eligible for any form of financial help. No maternity pay as I was yet to register as self-employed, and no benefit as our joint income was just above the threshold, but our debt meant that we had no disposable money to support a child.
There are plenty of websites out there to advise you on how to put your finances in order, but I can't stress enough how the simple act of listing all your incomings and outgoings can really help as the first step to organising your money, seeing where you're overspending and where you can save. I don't know why I hadn't done it sooner. It took a few days of becoming best friends with an Excel spreadsheet to make a financial planner, writing down what I spend every day, and some grovelling phone calls to my credit lenders to come to new payment arrangements, but finally I feel in control where before my head was buried in the sand. Our new situation certainly isn't ideal, and we still have to scrape by, but at least we're not spending our days on edge worrying what charge we're going to be hit with next by the bank, and where we're going to find that extra money from. I'm now registered self employed, and receiving a maternity allowance which will take me up to the end of December. Once the baby is here, we can look into what extra help we might be eligible for with certain bills, but in the meantime it all feels a lot less daunting.
I can't live without my little financial budget spreadsheet now, and another list that is fast becoming my friend, although still a work in progress, is the food one. Again, I hated it at first; trying to magic some kind of plan out of thin air of what we're going to eat from day to day. It didn't come naturally to me at all. As much as I love being organised, I am equally easily overwhelmed by choice and details, and didn't find this an effective combination.
Ideally I'd like to only spend £15 a week for the two of us to eat, and although this is extremely tight (maybe impossible) and I haven't achieved it yet, I certainly find that writing a list each week helps dramatically with penny pinching. I'd say to anyone who's trying the whole 'organised food list' thing for the first time, to stick with it, and gradually you do find it becomes more routine and second nature. Some tips that I have found helpful so far:
- You should know this first one by now... always make a list.
- Checking your cupboards/fridge/freezer before starting your list. Can you use any of it to make meals for the week?
- Every time you find a recipe you really enjoyed, and was affordable to make, add it to a meal planner list. It really helps to refer back to this list each time you're planning your food shop, when you've got no inspiration, or trying to find more than one meal that uses similar ingredients.
- Make a master shopping list; ideally an electronic one that you can alter easily. This lists everything you use on a regular basis, and I use it to make my weekly lists from. I've even gone as far as organising it according to supermarket aisles, i.e. 'fruit and veg, dairy, bakery, dried/store cupboard goods, frozen, household', etc. Probably a bit sad I know, but it really helps me to visualise my shopping list, and jogs my memory when I get stuck on remembering things we need.
- Overlap ingredients: Try to get into the habit of applying one ingredient to more than one meal to save money. For example, if I'm planning to make falafel wraps for one meal, and I know that a packet of tortilla wraps from a supermarket includes 8 (which is too much for just one meal), I either choose to freeze half of them, or use them to make flatbread pizzas or burritos. 2 meals out of one ingredient.
- Make your freezer your best friend and learn how to use leftovers: Again, it can seem a pain at first, but soon becomes an easy habit.
- Whiz up stale bread to make breadcrumbs and freeze them in portion sized bags...great for making breaded chicken, or falafels/fritters. Do the same with vegetables that are on their last legs...they can be used in stews, pasta sauces, and stir-fries.
- If you know you often have food left over from your evening meal, plan to have it as your lunch one day during the week. This way, when writing your list, you don't have to come up with as many ideas for lunch as you can substitute one or more of these days with leftover meals.
- If you buy large portions of meat, i.e. chicken breasts, sausages, etc. think carefully about how you're planning to use them. Often I find what's in the supermarket packets is a bit too much for one meal for two people, so I separate it into portions, keep what we're going to use for the week in the fridge, and freeze the rest. It stops expensive food going off in the fridge and getting thrown away, and also means you now have meat for the following week's meal...one less thing to buy!
- Make bulk, freezable meals: Think about your favourite one pots, i.e. bolognese, vegetable stews, curries, lasagnes etc.; most of them are quite inexpensive to make and very filling. On the weeks that I know I have less outgoing bills, and therefore a little more money to spend, I buy mince, chopped tomatoes, and vegetables in bulk, cook it all up to make a giant bolognese, then decant it into portion sized containers and freeze it. That way I have a large stock of go-to meals each week, working out cheaper than cooking an individual one each time, and saving me having to come up with one extra meal each week.
- Don't be afraid of supermarket value/economy ranges. I used to steer clear of these as I was convinced they were full of salt and other hidden nasties, or of lower quality. I now know that often they're cheaper because you're not paying for branding, fancy packaging, or extra ingredients. When it comes to vegetables, the price is usually lower simply because they haven't been hand picked to all look the same size, or a certain colour. Other than that, there's absolutely nothing wrong with them. It's always worth comparing the back of the packet to that of a branded product; just in case there's something in there you're not happy with, but so far I've had nothing to complain about when it comes to economy ranges.
- Keep stocked up on cartons/tins of economy chopped tomatoes and pulses. Very cheap and great for making emergency sauces, especially when it's so easy to add your own herbs/spices to oomph up the flavour. Pulses are particularly good for bulking out meals.
- Visit your local greengrocers/fruit and veg market. I was a bit nervous to do this at first. ('What, I'd have to talk to someone?') I'd become too comfortable with the silence of self-service supermarket shopping, but once it was drummed into me how much more you get for your money at a market, both quantity and size wise, it was hard to ignore this option. And again, if you find what you've bought isn't getting used...freeze it. This works particularly well for fruit and making smoothies; much cheaper than buying branded smoothies from the supermarket.
- If you're a keen baker, or even if not, try knocking yourself up a cake or batch of cookies as your treat for the week. You'd be surprised at how much cheaper it can work out, especially as we all tend to have flour lurking at the back of the cupboard, and eggs that we can't find a use for. Although it can seem hard to resist, it's not likely that you're going to eat a whole victoria sponge in one sitting, so often this one treat can last a whole week, costs less than buying from a supermarket, and is sometimes healthier as you can control the ingredients and avoid the nasty artificial ingredients some shop-bought bakes have.
I can't quite believe I've waffled on about my love/hate relationship with list making, but there you have it, it really has been what has seen me through the last 9 months. It's definitely felt like a form of catharsis at times; a bit of a spring clean of the mind, body, and soul. You get so inundated with information, tips, advice, do and don'ts when your pregnant that it's easy to feel like you need to tick off an impossible checklist, and if you don't, then you've failed. But list writer or not, it's important to take a step back from it all, regain some control, and remember to enjoy these special months.
I've personally found it helpful to be able to write down all the things I think I need or have to do, and then come back later, take a second look, and re-evaluate what can be done now, and what can wait. A baby is going to be born whether or not you have a breast pump, have filled the holes in the walls, or defrosted the freezer, and parenthood, as I've been told, is something you learn as you go no matter how much preparation. So, with that in mind, and with just 2 and a bit weeks to go, I think I feel ready...I hope I am...I'm going to have to be, because list or no list, this baby is coming.