“Nervous?” I ask my husband as he steers our car off the A470 and makes the turn towards Nelson.
He frowns into the rear-view mirror. “…I’m having some serious concerns about her nose.”
I take a breath and catch my own reflection in the passenger side mirror. I wrinkle my own nose – the nose that’s made me cringe at every side profile photograph ever taken of me since my teens. “…Yeah. Between yours and mine, she’s screwed.“
We’ve driven half an hour to see the tiny, terrible schnoz we’ve joked about for years – ever since Sunny and I first got together and wondered quietly what a much smaller version of the two of us would look like. The drive’s been relatively quick but the journey’s been much, much longer; I definitely didn’t expect to go throughtwo miscarriages along the way, and I definitely didn’t expect the one that stuck to happen in the middle of a global pandemic. Since piddling on that stick back in March – on one of those final days of blissfully ignorant freedom before the whole world locked down – it’s been a strange, frustrating and lonely few months to be pregnant. So far I’ve attended all my NHS scans and check ups alone – from the terrifying 12 week scan that brought back painful memories of last year’s empty, silent screen, to the 20 week anomaly scan, where I fizzled with excitement alone when I found out I was having a girl. Of course Sunny came to every single appointment and scan but he had to wait outside with all the other hopeful soon to be dads in their cars at the curb, nervously shuffling their feet waiting for updates via Whatsapp – good or bad. Now I’m 28 weeks, and the only way Sunny can actually see his baby before she arrives is to fork out for a private scan – a luxury not every couple can afford.
And there are so, so many out there just like us. It’s only now, 6 months after the Covid-19 Pandemic interrupted all our lives that the struggle new parents have been through during this time are being reported in the media, with questions finally being raised at PMQs, and NHS Trusts beginning to consider relaxing the strict rules that were slapped on antenatal and maternity services way back in March. Rules that have forced women to attend important screenings, scans and appointments alone. Rules that have relegated important face to face appointments to phone calls. Rules that have suspended longed for IVF cycles. Rules that have left women to be induced, prepped for caesarians and labouring in hospital all alone – separated from their support network and chosen birthing partner until they reach established labour. Rules that have kept parents away from their newborn babies during those precious first few days – treating partners as the lesser parent. Rules that have seen vital postnatal services and health visits vanish into thin air.
Worse still, it’s because of these rules that some women have been forced to go through the anguish of miscarriages and still births completely on their own. I remember my own miscarriages in vivid detail – the long and painful wait in A&E the first time clutching my belly in one hand and my husband’s in the other, and the weird crack in the ceiling of the scanning room I chose to stare at as I went through a third uncomfortable internal scan to confirm my second. The thought of having to go through all those moments without Sunny by my side holding me together when I was ready to crumble and listening to the important advice and instructions on medicinal management when I simply couldn’t is difficult to imagine, and yet so many women have been forced to do just exactly that over this strange and surreal summer.
Rules are easing, but sadly it’s an inconsistent story across the country as it’s down to individual NHS Trusts to decide how they manage their Covid Restrictions. So, while a new Mum in Bristol might have to labour in full PPE while her partner waits outside in the car, her counterpart over the bridge in Newport may find that she’s actually able to hold her partner’s hand from that very first contraction right through to the last. And that’s all without considering the threat of a second wave taking us straight back to where we started (in fact, not five days after my private scan up in Nelson, Caerphilly became the first county in Wales to go back into Lockdown). It’s utterly baffling that while we’re being encouraged to eat out in pubs and restaurants alongside total strangers, a couple from the same household can’t be together during some of the most terrifying and challenging moments of their life together. When I’m asked in the next few weeks where I’d like to give birth, I’m seriously considering putting “Local Pub” down on my birth plan with a request for an ice cold lager shandy and curry half and half on standby for when I finally pop. At least my husband would actually stand a chance of being there, and I reckon that pint would go down a treat.
In the scanning room up in Nelson, our daughter’s nose finally appears on screen. It’s absolutely massive, but lovely all the same; it’s ours. And even though I know Sunny’s laughing just like I am, I don’t get to see it because of the mask he’s been forced to wear. As moments go, I’ll take it – even though the truth is that I’ve been dying to watch his reaction to seeing his daughter for the first time for months, years even. And while I’ve been really lucky so far compared to most – during a time where people have lost so much – for me and for many other mums to be it’s the loss of those first special moments that are going to stick in my throat, as well as the thought of what other less fortunate parents to be are going through – the loss of an experience shared for better or worse.
Head to ButNotMaternity.org to find out more on how you can help get NHS Trusts to update their rules and allow partners to attend scans, appointments and births, and tweet your own experiences of pregnancy and birth during Covid using #ButNotMaternity.If you’re in Wales, sign the Senedd Petition here. ♥
time to level up your bog standard chicken salad sandwich…
I’m currently writing up this post at 4am with bat hair and Bungle snoring soundly at my feet (git). Turns out that one of the many charming side effects of pregnancy is a total inability to catch some Zs at night. AND THE BABY ISN’T EVEN HERE YET. From 2am until 5am I can currently be found either wrestling with the massive doughnut pillow I bought off of Amazon (you know, the one that’s supposed to HELP me sleep), or scoffing biscuits in front of back to back episodes of Escape to the Chateau in the dark. I’m knackered. And I’d quite like to move to France – apparently derelict chateaus go for pretty cheap.
Thankfully, when it comes to a lot of the other pregnancy symptoms – I’ve got off likely so far. I haven’t had any morning sickness (other than a weird one off the other week that could just as easily be put down to polishing off a large chips from the local chippy…), and I’ve been able to carry on eating pretty much all of my favourite meals and foods bar the few that I’m not allowed – like sushi. But I’ve even got that covered now; as soon as I saw these Katsu Onigiri over on Pinterest, I knew I had to give them a go myself and come up with my own recipe, and here it is. Crunchy chicken katsu fillets, lots of fresh greens and pickles coated in sushi rice and wrapped in nori – polished off with a drizzle of sweet and smoky Tonkatsu Sauce. Yum!
Chicken Katsu Sushi Sandwiches
4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper to season
1 large egg, whisked
50g plain flour
100g panko bread crumbs
150ml vegetable oil
300g sushi rice
1 tbsp mirin
1 avocado, sliced
4 spring onions, sliced
pickled purple cabbage
sesame seeds, to garnish
For the Tonkatsu Sauce:
4 tbsp ketchup
4 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp runny honey
2 tsp soy sauce
First, cook your sushi rice according to the pack’s instructions, stir in the mirin with a wooden spoon and then set aside and leave to cool.
To make the Katsu Chicken, first wrap the fillets in clingfilm and tenderise with a rolling pin until slightly flattened. Next, unwrap and season then with salt and pepper. Set up a production line of bowls, each filled separately with the flour, whisked egg and panko bread crumbs. Coat the fillets in flour first, then dunk them into the whisked egg, following up with an even coating of panko breadcrumbs.
Add the vegetable oil to a shallow frying pan and cook the katsu fillets over a medium heat, ensuring they’re golden brown and fully cooked on both sides.
Next, make up your Tonkatsu Sauce; add all the ingredients to a bowl and stir until completely blended.
Now you can make up your sushi sandwiches! First, lay out a sheet of nori and add a thin layer of sushi rice in the middle. Next layer up with your sliced avocado, spring onions and pickled cabbage, followed by a katsu fillet. Give it a good drizzle of Tonkatsu Sauce, then mirror a layer of avocado, spring onion and pickled cabbage on top – finishing with a bit more sushi rice. Sprinkle cold water around the edges of your sheet of nori, then fold the corners inwards – parcelling up your sandwich. Slice in half and then garnish with some more Tonkatsu Sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Repeat step five with the other three fillets. 🙂
Have a lovely week (and pleeeeeeeeease send sleepy thoughts my way 💤 )!
“Just so you know, I’ve only had miscarriages so far, so my expectations are pretty low,” I say to the sonographer as I unbutton my jeans and slide onto the bed. It’s the peak of the CoVid19 Pandemic and she’s wearing a mask, and while I can’t see a sympathetic look I can definitely hear one in her voice as she gels my belly and kindly suggests I look away from the screen for just a moment while “we have a look and see what’s going on in there.”
Probably not a lot, I reply in my head.
I’m cynical and pessimistic by nature, but after two miscarriages my expectations aren’t just low, they’re practically non existent. I’ve become so cynical in fact that the two days leading up to the scan have been spent cleaning the house from top to bottom and planning quick and easy meals for the rest of the week, convinced that I’m going to be spending the rest of it in bed, because yikes, is there anything worse than miscarrying in a messy house with dog floof all over the floor and anything more complicated than beans on toast on the menu? I’ve planned out my miscarriage with military precision; I even get my husband Sunny to pick up a massive pack of sanitary pads when he pops to Costco to bulk buy baked beans , bog roll and cider. When I leave for the hospital I find the clean floors and lack of clothes slurping out the side of the washing basket oddly reassuring – at least that’s one thing I can actually control in this crazy situation – one where feeling overwhelmingly helpless is the norm. Plus, I don’t want Sunny to have to worry about any of that stuff – he’ll be in for a tough few days too. Men might not go through the same physical struggle when it comes to miscarriage, but the emotional struggle’s much the same – and in some way, worse.
My first miscarriage happened back in the summer of 2018 after what can best be described as a honeymoon pregnancy. After a long weekend with my in-laws where I’d felt more knackered than I usually did hosting, I missed my period and was so excited to take a test that I did it at four in the bloody morning. Giddy at seeing those two blue lines, Sunny and I ended up taking Bungle around the block for a dawn walk – talking vividly about what colour we wanted to paint the spare room that would finally have a purpose other than for piles of ironing, what names we liked and what life was going to be like in eight months time when we suddenly had what everyone has eight months after peeing on that plastic stick, right? A baby. So blissfully convinced were we that we actually stocked up on eight months worth of Pregnacare right off the bat and even cancelled a looming dream holiday to the Far East because of the threat of Zika. So I was shocked and completely caught off guard then when suddenly, I started bleeding two weeks later – so shocked in fact that I didn’t really process it all until months later (and you better believe that I’m pissed off to this day that my uterus is still somehow ruining holidays just like it did with badly timed periods when I was a teenager – typical).
I’d known what miscarriages were of course, I just didn’t imagine for a split second that I’d ever have one myself. Weren’t they really rare? And aren’t we taught growing up that if you have sex when you’re ovulating then – whoops! – you’ll get pregnant and – bam! – have a baby? No one bothered to mention that as many as one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. One in five. With most occurring during the first trimester – before the world even knows that you’re pregnant. Because of that, they tend to happen silently and behind closed doors. Even worse, they usually happen for no obvious reason whatsoever. A string of doctors and nurses at the time told me that, “It’s just bad luck” , that “It just happens sometimes, we don’t know why”, but “don’t worry, you’re young; you’ve got plenty of time”, and “you’ll be fine! Most women go on to have a happy, healthy baby next time”. (“Next time”; exactly the words you want to hear slap bang in the middle of a miscarriage.) All well meaning of course, but wildly unhelpful – because when you’re left without anything or anyone obvious to lay blame at other than plain old “bad luck” you go hunting for something or someone else to lay the finger of blame at – and when you come up empty then inevitably that finger ends up pointing inwards. I immediately blamed myself; I must have done something wrong. There was no other way of explaining it. Maybe I’d worked too hard, or drank too much tea, or used some random skin product pumped with chemicals… or maybe there was just something fundamentally wrong with me. It took months for me to accept and to recognize that it wasn’t anything I’d done, and even longer for me to want to try again.
Almost a year to the day later, I had another positive test. This time there weren’t any early morning walks or discussions about names, just nervous looks, shrugged shoulders and a collective “Well, let’s just wait and see”. For a little reassurance, we booked an early private scan and were surprised and excited when – although it was way too early to detect a heartbeat – there looked like there were not one but two eggs developing. Twins! Despite being told we’d have to come back in two weeks to confirm a heartbeat, Sunny and I went away feeling like we’d clacked all the way up to the highest point of a rollercoaster and were about to breeze down the other side. Phew!
But that’s the thing about miscarriages, they really are a rollercoaster – lots of breathtaking highs followed by stomach lurching lows. Two weeks later the scan confirmed that nothing had developed; I was experiencing something called a “missed” miscarriage, where the embryo had stopped developing but my body hadn’t quite clued in to what was happening yet. I had to wait another month before I actually miscarried – a month of phantom pregnancy symptoms and trips back and forth to the EPU at our local hospital to reconfirm what we already knew (side note: in The Heath EPU waiting room there’s a completely horrendous bit of waiting room art that Sunny and I titled “Tulips in Hell” and had us laughing through all those long waits in between scans – because laughter really is the best medicine in my book). Instead of a happy 12 week scan snap I took home a DIY at home miscarriage kit and spent the next few days in and out of a towel-lined bed with Bungle curled up beside me (at least I still had my fur baby). Again, I blamed myself. What the hell did I do wrong this time? I’d been so careful. And so I decided that there must be something wrong with me. One miscarriage could be put down to bad luck, but two? That was a pattern in the making.
I watched other pregnancies happening and seemingly perfect flat pack families popping up all around me with utter bewilderment; why was it as easy for them as heading to IKEA and whipping up a Billy Bookcase in the space of an hour, while for me – for us – it was impossible? The thing is that it’s not just the immediate loss that hurts with a miscarriage, it’s the loss of what could have been – and that echoes long after the actual event. You grieve for the future you were planning that was within arms length, now suddenly taken away, and – even though it’s no one’s fault – you’re constantly reminded of that on a daily basis, surrounded by it. It slaps you in the face when you’re least expecting it – a character in your favourite TV show falls pregnant, someone you follow on social media posts a scan snap or pregnancy announcement… or some absolute bellend asks you if you’re ever planning on having kids (can we just agree right now that that’s NEVER an okay question to ask someone???). It’s a difficult subject to bring up in a conversation even with your closest friends (“Oh hey, how are you?”, “Not bad, had a miscarriage – wbu?”) – and because of that, it tends to be an incredibly lonely experience – where you feel like an utter failure but have absolutely no idea how to make it right other than to keep on trying.
I was desperate to know why it felt so difficult for me and seemingly so effortless for everyone else; either it really was just that easy and I was full of scrambled eggs, or no one was really talking about how hard it actually – secretly – was. Where were all the miscarriages and missed miscarriages? With a one in five statistic they must be out there somewhere.
Whereas I’d stayed quiet during the first miscarriage – silenced by my own shame and sadness – I decided that I was going to be honest and open about the second. I posted about it on Instagram and was encouraged and comforted when my phone lit up with other women sharing their own stories of miscarriage in my comments and DMs. Women who’d had one, four, more. Some who’d gone on to have happy, healthy babies, and some who had struggled naturally and moved on to IVF – some with success, some not yet. What I found was that – contrary to how I felt – I wasn’t alone. None of us are. We’re all on the same difficult road – just at different stages – and what’s more – as discouraging as it can be to hear it – it really is sometimes “just one of those things”. All those feelings of guilt and failure are completely normal but totally unfounded, and whilst I still couldn’t shake the cynicism or regain the positivity I’d held pre-miscarriage – knowing at least that I wasn’t alone or special in any way really helped. It baffles me that in 2020 schools are still educating young women about sex and their bodies simply by chucking out free samples of Always and frightening them off sex with stories of STDs and teen pregnancy – missing out massive chunks of vital, useful, and – most important of all – honest information about their own bodies. Perhaps if I’d known how common miscarriage is – how it’s often a very normal part of the journey to motherhood – then maybe I’d have been better prepared to deal with it emotionally. It was never going to be easy of course, but knowledge really is power – and for women especially, knowledge is never more important or valuable than when it comes to our own bodies.
Still, when I found out that I was pregnant for a third time – and just as the country was heading into the Coronavirus Lockdown – I was pissed off. “I’m having another miscarriage, yay!” I announced sarcastically to Sunny one morning back in March, practically throwing the test at him while he was buttering his toast (…eww). I regret that massively now – but what I said came completely out of fear for what I knew was probably going to happen next. Whilst going through the sickness and fatigue of the first trimester under Lockdown may have seemed ideal on the surface – it was a disaster for me. With everything closed and being actively told to stay at home, it meant there was literally nothing for me to do other than to sit around and wait for the third miscarriage I was absolutely certain was going to happen – and because of Covid, I wasn’t going to get the reassurance scan at 8 weeks that I’d been promised after my second miscarriage. So, I spent weeks on the sofa waiting and worrying. Even though my pregnancy symptoms stuck around most days I didn’t feel like I could rely on them; they didn’t mean anything – I’d still felt pregnant all the way through my missed miscarriage, after all. And on the days that I felt completely fine I became convinced that my symptoms were dropping off and I was about to miscarry, ala miscarriage numero uno. The only saving grace was that Sunny started working from home because of the pandemic, so I was never alone or allowed to wallow for too long.
When I finally reached my 12 week scan, there was a massive sense of relief. Either way, the waiting was over. Miscarriage Hat-Trick or Third Time Lucky – at least we’d no longer be in the dark.
I’d made up my mind to write this post just before I went for my 12 week scan – whatever the outcome. Really, I should have written it sooner – in the midst of my perceived “failure” rather than from the relative safety of “success” (and I use that word both reluctantly and very cautiously). No one was more surprised than I was when the sonographer – not two seconds after telling me to look away from the screen – tapped a button and said, “Yep, everything looks good.” For the first time ever I saw more than just empty static on the screen and didn’t have to have an awkward internal scan. Everything looked normal – heartbeat and all. The only downside was that – because of CoVid restrictions – Sunny couldn’t be there to see it. And as of today I’m 21 weeks and sporting a very shy baby bump. This isn’t a happy ending by any stretch – I’m still terrified that things could go wrong at any second, hence the question mark in the title of this post – this is just for now a tiny, baby step forward (…couldn’t resist that one).
If you made it through all that then you deserve the gin and tonic that I’m not allowed. If you’ve been through a miscarriage yourself or are going through one then I’m always here to listen if you want to talk about it (and I genuinely mean that), whether that’s here in the comments, privately via email or over on Instagram. 🙂 Failing that, The Miscarriage Association is a great place to look for helpand advice.
I’ve been pining hard for Florida the past couple of weeks. I don’t know whether it was the sudden blast of warm weather, or the whole Lockdown “who the hell knows when you’ll be able to leave your own home let alone the country” situation… but I’ve been aching for warm waves, sunset pizzas on the beach, thunder storms, outlet malls (remember shopping?)… even the mosquitos (I’d happily offer up my legs in an all you can eat offer in exchange for just ONE day in The Keys). But most of all I’ve been pining for the food. When I was out there last August, I ate really well – from fast food to fresh fish (the best in the world – especially down south), as well as some of the best Cali-Mex Fish Tacos I’ve ever tasted – loaded with cheese, aoli, fresh avocado, slaw and fruity salsa. Hot weather, poolside food at its finest – and the Blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos that I chowed down on in the Florida Keys? Oh baby. I dream about them.
If you break those down to their basic ingredients then on the face of it they’re actually not that hard to replicate; tortillas – got ’em, cheese – arguably better here, avocados – always one in my fruit bowl, and salsa – well that’s easy. The trouble is that it’s near impossible to get your hands on Mahi Mahi (the meaty but soft fish otherwise known as Dorado) here in the UK – and even if you did, it’d never be of the “catch of the day” quality you’d get in a tropical climate because it’ll have been frozen in transit (and honestly, fresh cod just does not cut it as a substitute – I’ve tried).
Last week, the Fish Taco cravings got a little bit out of control and I started hunting around for something else to substitute in for the Blackened Mahi Mahi (Blackened is the term for the special blend of spices that season the fish before it’s cooked). I landed on Halloumi (I’ve always got a frozen stash for dinner times when I can’t decide what to cook and end up whipping up a quick Halloumi Hash) – and d’you know what? It wasn’t a bad sub at all – in fact, it was pretty damn good. It was soft and chewy – just like Mahi Mahi – and took on the flavour of the “Blackened” seasoning really well, crisping up around the edges in the pan. Along with a sweet and crunchy Mango and Red Pepper Salsa – as well as all the other added extras you’d expect in fresh Tacos – they were quite possibly the best Veggie Tacos I’ve ever tasted – and definitely the best I’ve ever made. Full of fresh ingredients and pretty easy to make, they’re perfect cold or hot – and are even better with a side of crispy Tequila Fries.
Fries(if you want to get fancy, brush them with lime juice and tequila before cooking 😉)
First, make the marinade by mixing together the smoked paprika, onion granules, garlic powder, chipotle chilli paste, oregano and olive oil in a bowl. While the Halloumi is still in its packet, pop it into a bowl and pour over boiling water from the kettle – allowing it to sit for twenty minutes. This will soften the Halloumi and improve the texture. Once ready, slice the Halloumi lengthways to make long “flakes” (like fish), then stir them into the marinade. Leave to rest for ten minutes.
Next, prepare the Mango Salsa. Dice the red pepper and the mango into small chunks, and then combine in a bowl with some fresh coriander and the juice of half a lime.
Prep your Taco Filling Station: warm your Tortilla Wraps, grate your cheddar, chop your avocado, and have your mango salsa, sour cream and pickled red cabbage close to hand.
Pour the marinaded Halloumi into a shallow frying pan (along with any dregs), then fry on a medium heat for around 10 minutes. The Halloumi should go a little crispy around the edges, but maintain its soft and chewy texture.
Next, assemble your Tacos! Generously fill each one with slices of Blackened Halloumi, mango salsa, avocado, sour cream, cheese and pickled cabbage.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I somehow ended up marrying a man who hates soup. I know! I mean, I love soup in all forms and all its glory. From chicken noodle to ramen to country vegetable, you’ll be hard pressed to find a week this time of year where I don’t whip up a bowl and slurp away to my heart’s content. I love it because it’s warming, I love it because it’s easy (…and – I’m just throwing it out there – it kind of helps that it usually comes with a hulking chunk of crusty bread). But according to Sunny, it’s not food, it’s (get this…)SUSTENANCE. Apparently it’s boring. It’s bland. It’s… bleughhh (whatever that means). You get the point.
So I kind of made it my mission this Autumn to find a soup that he will eat, so that I can eat more of the stuff (win-win, right?). And I think I’ve found it! We’re both big fans of Mexican Food, it’s our weekly jam; Burrito Bowls, Quesadillas, Chilli con no Carne (Quorn Mince, yo; it’s brilliant) are foods we can definitely agree on. He loves the beans and the smoky chipotle heat, I love the tomato and pepper based sauces and – let’s be honest – all the cheese. So I thought, why not throw all that (minus the cheese) into soup form? And that’s exactly what I did. Roasted tomatoes and peppers, chipotle chilli paste and coconut milk make up the stew, while the added onions, borlotti beans and butter beans bring in a little texture. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s absolutely delicious (and vegan friendly) – and best of all? The hubs totally agrees. Boo-ya. 😉
Creamy Mexican Red Pepper and Bean Stew
So good you’ll want seconds…
1 red romano pepper, chopped
250g mixed baby tomatoes, sliced
1 white onion, diced
1 can of butter beans
1 can of borlotti beans
good glug of olive oil
2 tbsp chipotle chilli paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli flakes
1tsp barbecue sauce(oh yes…)
1 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream to serve
fresh coriander to garnish
Set your oven to 180C. Throw the chopped red pepper and sliced tomatoes into an oven proof dish with 1 tbsp of the chipotle chilli paste, season with black pepper and then roast for 30 minutes.
Pop a deep cooking pot on the hob on a medium heat with some oil. Fry up the garlic paste and 1 tbsp of the chipotle chilli paste with the diced onion – until translucent.
Pour in the roasted pepper and tomatoes, then add the paprika, coriander and barbecue sauce. Stir until well-combined. Pour in the butter and borlotti beans, and then the coconut milk and water. Stir well to combine.
Crank up the heat and allow the stew to boil. Pop on a lid, turn the head down and allow the stew to simmer for about 20 minutes – stirring occasionally.
Season, then serve with fresh sour cream and chopped, fresh coriander. Yum!
You can watch a video of me making this soup over on IGTV. Have a lovely week everyone – keep warm! 🙂