The fun thing about living in Belgium is that they like to party. And it’s not just students (although they’re no exception, of course). It’s a traditional family thing, like the national worship of chips, chocolate and really good beer. Between Hallowe’en and Easter you have two or three extra festivals, one of which is the Carnaval, which (ironically enough) is taken very seriously.
The noise, when it woke us, was so loud we thought the heating had broken and was about to explode. Then we noticed a sort of regularity in it, accompanied by the occasional yell, and Bf explained that we’d fallen victim to Belgian tradition.
The Carnaval has people dress up as these nasties called “Gilles” who throw clementines at people really hard. And when I say “really hard”, I mean one of the girls in my class has a black eye. Apparently you pay money for the honour of being allowed to lob fruit at peoples’ faces, which I find a bit disturbing, so I tend to steer clear of the Carnaval.
However, one of the less avoidable Carnaval traditions is where a drum band go around town, starting at 3am, and pick up all the Gilles from their homes so they can parade them into the town center and then feed them a breakfast of champagne, smoked salmon and oysters (and strictly nothing else) first thing in the morning (the challenge of which, I imagine, is keeping said meal down for the rest of the day).
Apparently, several of these charming fruit-throwers live close to us.
I groan. Take a look at my phone. It is 4:30am. Feeling murderous, I bury my head under my pillow and wait for them to leave. It takes ages, but eventually the sound of drums fades away into the distance.
Only to return fifteen minutes later.
This occurs several times, until my brain decides it’s had enough and will no longer allow my ears to troll it in such a manner. Wide awake at 6am on a Sunday, the morning after we discovered that yes, I am pregnant, which news did not aid us in our quest for sleep. The urge to run outside in my pyjamas and scream at them grows, and I only manage to control it because the noise is coming from behind our flat, which means they’re in one of the parallel streets, and I’d have to run quite far in the cold to find them (it is still February). Also, they have the excuse of Tradition, should they choose to throw fruit at me, whereas I’m just a crazy woman in a pink nightie and I’d probably end up in jail.
So instead I get up, browse facebook and twitter for a while, and try to avoid the temptation to shout my news from the rooftops (everyone’s awake anyway). The problem, now that I’m back to freaking out, and not in a good way.
What if I hate being pregnant? I don’t have too many symptoms yet, but what if I do? What if I’ve harmed the baby somehow by drinking before I knew I was pregnant? What if it’s an extra-uterine pregnancy and I have to have an abortion? What if I have a miscarriage? What if the baby’s stillborn, or blind, or mentally disabled? Can we handle that? What if the baby’s just difficult and I can’t handle the crying and go crazy and end up hurting it somehow? What if it’s twins? Or triplets?? What if I get birth trauma PTSD, or post-partum depression? What if all this worrying makes me have panic attacks and I trigger an early birth? What if my weird menstrual cycle was the sign that something is wrong and the pregnancy ends up non-viable? What if all the maternal instinct I usually feel towards every baby and child I come across perversely vanishes when it comes to my own child? What if the baby dies? What if I die? What if we have a car crash, or I catch listeria or toxoplasmosis while pregnant? What if Bf dies??? He’s epileptic, what if the baby’s epileptic, too? How do you deal with a baby seizure? What if I never find a job after having it? What if I get even more hypersensitive than I usually am and end up crying all the time? How do you distinguish that from depression, by the way? What if the things that work as a nanny or a teacher are completely useless to a mother? What if I fall asleep while feeding the baby and choke it, what if I faint, what if I drop it???
This continues for a while until I realise it’s getting ridiculous (what if I forget the baby’s in the pram when I fold it up and it gets crushed???), and I know that Bf is freaking out in exactly the same way, so I need someone else to talk to. The problem is that you’re not supposed to tell anyone before the 3 month mark, when the risk of miscarriage goes down. Where I previously found this rule to be perfectly ridiculous (my mum never did it, and we all turned out fine), my insane spiral of angst has persuaded me that it’s a good idea, because if something bad does happen, I really don’t want to have to ring my grandparents and tell them. They’re too old for that.
After consultation with Bf (who also feels the need to tell someone else), we decide that he can tell his sister, and I can tell my mum. We decide not to tell our roommate yet. She knows something’s up, but she’s not there often enough that she can guess (I think).
That afternoon, I ring my mum. I try to speak quietly because my roomie’s next door.
“Hi Mum, it’s me. Guess what?”
Quietly, “I’m pregnant.”
Raising my voice just a little, “I’m pregnant.”
Then I pull the phone away from my ear a bit because otherwise I might go deaf.
“IT’S ABOUT BLOODY TIME!!!”
I know Mum has been waiting for this for a while, but given the amount of pressure she didn’t put on me (compared to, say, my grandparents who’ve been saying “Come on now, make us a wee boy!” ever since I was twenty), I wasn’t expecting such a loud reaction. So, the first thing I do as a dutiful daughter is to thank her for not piling the pressure on.
I can hear another voice in the background, and that is when I realise the flaw in my secrecy plan. It’s my mum’s turn to have my littlest sister Nan over for the weekend.
Mum puts littlest sister on the phone (she is 15, by the way). Nan is in gleeful hysterics. I try to convey my wish to keep it secret-ish for a while.
“Can we tell Lil?” Lil is our middle sister. She’s more discreet than Nan, and I’m quite sure that if she learns that I told Nan but kept it secret from her, she’ll be offended.
Sigh. Never mind. I guess that leaves Dad.
I do manage to persuade them to let me tell the others, and to keep it within the immediate family for now.
Mum asks what I’m going to do about my studies, and my answer is “Er, wee-ell…”
“It sounds like a good excuse to quit, doesn’t it?”
“You can tell me, I won’t judge you for it.”
See, there are reasons why I decided to tell her first, other than the fact that she’s my mum.
She’s also a rock of common sense, dismissing most of my earlier worries with such convincing ease that I wonder how I ever made such a mountain out of them. Her take-away message is “Ach, you’ll be FIIINE” in that half-exasperated, half-amused tone she uses when I’m fretting over nothing and she thinks I’m being ridiculous. This is far more reassuring than anything a doctor could tell me, because she’s my mum and of course she’s always right. (No, seriously though, objectively speaking she is, if not always, then usually right.)
The next day, when I have the results of my blood test back, I ring Lil (whose reaction is much more discreet, though I can hear the joy in her voice) and Dad who, though happy, doesn’t seem too surprised. I wonder if he guessed that it’d happen sooner or later, or if Nan (who went back to his the night before) was too excited to keep it quiet.
That said, I’m secretly glad they all know. If anything does happen, I’ll need their support. Which leads me to wonder if I should tell a few of my closest friends, as well? I mean as long as it doesn’t end up all over facbeook, it should be fine, right?