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Saturday, 2 August 2014

Preparing for motherhood in 21st century London

HE SHOT up from where he was sitting, “Ma’am, would you like a seat?” he asked, alarming adjacent passengers who looked guilty for not spotting my bump.

I was only travelling to the next stop on the tube, but, hey, carrying the weight of my unborn child in the sweltering heat wasn’t fun any more, so I accepted the offer.

As I sat down, I realised he had just called me “Ma’am”?

Before pregnancy, I was able to get away looking like a teenager in my jeans and leather jacket because I am Oriental, and like many of my country folk, I am blessed with the Asian youth potion.

But it appears that if you’re pregnant, you’re immediately assumed to be old enough to be called “Ma’am” — sometimes by women who certainly look more like a “Ma’am” than you do.

The reason being, as you may suspect, the brand new fashionable age for motherhood to start in the UK is 30 on this side of the 21st century.

Just two years ago, the average age for first-time mothers in the UK was 28.1, according to the Office for National Statistics.

So, what are the realities of being pregnant in your 30s in 21st century London? I can think of at least three big, and perhaps, humorous, angles — career, tube travel and antenatal classes.

Career

Men reading this will probably want to turn the page now, but don’t. This has the potential to affect your life and gain you insight into what women want — career-wise anyway.

An article in the Evening Standard this month alluded to the fact that most women leave motherhood until their 30s because, apparently, that is the age when we have finally got our education out of the way and are financially sound.

To strengthen their argument, they interviewed one woman who spent her 20s working her way up in a media company and has now transcended into an occupational nirvana state of being able to work from home and look after her baby at the same time.

Slightly more cynical, the Independent revered in the fact that the reason we do not even dare to consider parenthood until we hit our ripe old 30s, is that we are simply uncertain about our employability, which shows that the uncertainties from the Great Recession still hangs above some of us.

These theories are somewhat complementary, but have failed to address one specific social group of individuals — those of us who spent most of our 20s having the time of our lives and studying for a postgraduate degree, thus postponing adulthood and the working world as much as possible.

That it was only in our 30s that we are finally ascending the career ladder and finally seemed to have figured out what we truly want in our lives.

And just when you’re finally ready to make a career commitment, the child arrives, and you make a conscious choice to take a hiatus from your career and accept that it will be on plateau for a while.

Men who have continued reading up to this part will now realise that this may be the perfect scenario when your bread winning capabilities will be most welcomed.

Understand that the free-spirited girl you knew in your 20s hasn’t changed, but motherhood has made her grow into someone more responsible than before.

Tube travel

I have never had so many niggle with London’s most popular transport system as I did in the past 36 weeks of my life being pregnant.

I’ve heard about the pregnancy glow, the nausea and the fatigue of the third trimester, but no one warned me about the superhuman sense of smell that being pregnant gives you. And smell being my most acute sense pre-pregnancy anyway, one can only imagine the things I can pick up more than 10 yards away when endowed by the heightened pregnancy olfactory receptors.

There’s the aged and burned tracks while standing on the platform, the strange smell of oysters in the tube lines that go underground and the even stranger smells one experiences when trapped in the armpits with assorted spicy flavours of complete strangers in the height of summer.

The only saving grace throughout this pregnancy for me was the “Baby on Board” (BOB) badge, which signals to the world that I am indeed harbouring a little one, and haven’t just had too many pies for lunch.

Saying that, it is not to be expected that one who wears the badge will get a seat. Throughout my first, second and third trimesters, I often encountered these awkward situations:

When nearly the whole carriage fights each other to give up their seats and all eyes are on you that you wish a hole would open up from below.

When people pretend to be asleep or fixated on their smart phones, after you’ve caught them spotting you in the first instant.

When the whole carriage is packed in mid summer and the tube temperature rises to 45 degrees underground, and you’re lodged under an armpit.

When young girls stare at your bump but it doesn’t occur to them that you’re in need of a seat, and you wish that karma gets them back when they become pregnant.

When tourists examine the BOB badge and wonder if they can get themselves one from Camden market, completely oblivious that it means you need a seat.

Antenatal classes

Antenatal classes are for you and your partner to prepare for labour, birth and your new life as a parent. They vary from the free ones organised by NHS hospitals to the upmarket ones on offer by private organisations.

As I sit in my fifth antenatal class, I marvelled at the fact that we are being spoilt by an array of information which our parents never had back in the day.

I mean, after seven hours of taking in information of “safe sleeping guidelines”, “pain relief options” to “what does your baby’s nappies look like”, you kind of want to go out and get drunk.

As I take away this valuable information, I wonder if parents in London are encouraged to be a bit too careful?

My husband and I watched a documentary entitled Babies by Thomas Balmès, which follows the lives of four babies around the world -- Mongolia, Namibia, the US and Japan for a year.

Not suggesting new parents to try this at home, but the Namibian baby looked extremely content lying butt naked in the sand, chewing at bits of tree bark he finds on the ground. The Mongolian baby looked equally happy as he sat in the middle of a herd of cows and a slightly dangerous-looking bull.

In comparison, the American baby appears to have a rather sterile life stuck at home, with her only entertainment being to hang out with other babies at a baby yoga class.

It shows that wherever your baby is born, they start from the same place and will always thrive whatever the environment, whether it is London or the wilderness of Namibia.

> Samantha Hiew has been in the UK for the last decade. Follow her stories on http://samanthahiew.com 

Tags / Keywords: Central Region , Tale of Two Cities , Samantha Hiew , London , motherhood

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