Our Christmas tree is, like, six and a half feet tall. Perhaps, to some of you, that doesn't seem so big, but when you look at it in the context of our teeny-tiny cottage, it's enormous. If I want to be able to access my back door, or the computer desk in the corner of our living room, I have to set it up so the back half is squashed into the corner, the branches bent upwards as if they never came out of the box. I can only decorate half.

And they're such adult decorations, too. The baubles and floral arrangements are insanely fragile and almost painfully refined. No bold primary colours here; no cheesy but unbreakable Rudolf figurines. Instead, we have delicate bouquets of golden leaves, glimmering, rust-coloured berries and little tiny harps. None of it is right for our house, or our lifestyle. None of it makes sense at all - except to us.

On the twenty-second of December, 2006, I wrote about our family's hierarchy of trees - the biggest at our Grandparents' place, where we all gathered to exchange gifts on Christmas morning, my parents' slightly smaller version, and our own, little desktop tree - just big enough for two. I wrote about how, over the years of our marriage, I had looked forward to upsizing our tree as we built our branch of the family, and about how, that year, I took it upon myself to re-evaluate our status in the scheme of things, to sit down with infertility and renegotiate what it could and could not have, and to, basically, buy a fucking big tree with a whole stack of very adult-looking decorations. Which is no longer right for our lifestyle.

But I put it up anyway, because it means something to me, this tree. It means something to me when The Prata Baby - bless his little heart - unpicks the very delicate, very refined bouquets in the earnest misunderstanding that the individual pieces are supposed to be separately distributed amongst the other decorations, or when he brushes against the very delicate baubles in his rambunctious charging around the house. It means something to see the playgroup craft activities taking over the branches, one by one, cutting an as-yet small, but nevertheless unforgiving line through the tasteful cohesiveness of the display. It even means something when I lift a broken decoration out of storage and wistfully place its pieces in the bin. Life is changing, and evolving; the past is gradually being chipped away. But I can still see the imprint of our history. And I can still taste how it felt to draw that line in the sand to say gosh, infertility, I can't stop you taking this or that. But these things here - they're mine. They're mine and you're not having them.

Merry Christmas to all, and special greetings to those still waiting for life to smile on them.

That's one other thing that happened in the prenatal class. The midwife was doing a brief overview of possible complications and signs to call the hospital about. "So if you notice any of these signs of pre-eclampsia, or even if you're unsure," she sub-concluded at one point, "it's safest to just give us a call and get checked out. Pre-eclampsia can be serious. Worst case scenario, you might even start having seizures and we'll have to admit you." Uh, no... worst case scenario, you die and your baby dies, too.

But, see, it's awkward to bring that sort of thing up.

I've been taking a prenatal yoga class. I was kind of just looking for the exercise, like I got last time, but for logistical reasons (see: work, babysitting, transport arrangements) I ended up taking about a quarter of this whole yoga-based prenatal course. It's a pretty useful format for prenatal yoga, actually, and I recommend it to anyone who can stomach instructors with high-pitched, breathy tones of voice who use oracle cards to the same extent as they use plastic pelvises*.

Last week, the topic was "dealing with the unexpected". We heard the story about ending up in Holland, rather than Italy, and then we were asked to sit with a partner and discuss our worst case scenario as a prelude to an empathy exercise. At first I tensed - I can think of some pretty bad scenarios, and it's not very polite to freak people out. "You go first," I blurted clumsily to my partner, before we'd even properly sat ourselves down.

"Damn. I was going to say that," she replied, and sat thoughtfully for a moment, before stealing a hesitant glance in my direction. "Well, this is my second time around," she explained, "and after what happened last time, I realise how useless it was to spend all that effort worrying about how I might handle the pain or about various interventions that may or may not be needed. I think as long as my son survives-" she touched her belly- "that's really all that matters."

I nodded gravely. Then, as gently as I could muster, I ventured, "It sounds like things didn't turn out well last time."

"Oh!" she hastened to assure me. "No, they did, they did. Everything went perfectly, in fact. No no no. I just realised, afterwards, how short and insignificant the birth experience was in the grand scheme of things. This time around, I know we'll be ok as long as everything turns out in the long run. That's all. So yes - my worst case scenario is that my son dies. Er... what about yours?"

"Well, it's hard to choose," I replied, feeling a bit reassured about my natural response. "I mean, your baby dying - that's bad. But then what if you died? Or both you and the baby? Or one or both got a very serious injury - in extreme cases, that sort of thing might even be worse." I stopped myself short. "Basically, I agree that I'm fine as long as it turns out ok in the long run. I mean, in the story, everyone actually landed, after all." As we were nodding, the instructor chimed the bells to signal the end of the activity and invited us to assume the lotus position and re-centre our energies using deep, cleansing breaths**.

But I couldn't help trying to think up ever wilder scenarios all afternoon, and when Mr Bea came home, it was his first instinct, too.

"What would be really bad," we found ourselves musing, "would be a coordinated terrorist attack on the hospital during the birth, wherein you and your partner and baby were taken hostage, tortured, and then eventually and horribly killed in some grizzly way or other..." there was a pause here whilst we ran through some grizzly modes of death inside our heads... "one by one and in front of each other. For an ignoble cause you were violently opposed to."

It's not just us, right?

*Although naturally cynical, I tend to think most of this hippy-dippy stuff is just one way of expressing otherwise perfectly sensible ideas. Which is kind of what my mother said when she saw my oracle card. After she stopped sniggering.

**Or in other words: everyone sit down now and shut up. See what I mean?

Short Version: we went to our prenatal refresher class at the hospital.

So. Anyway. Let's refresh the page on that old sleep debate.

We went to our prenatal refresher class this week. Last time we didn't take the hospital class, instead choosing a privately-run series geared towards expats living in Singapore. We chose this course for two reasons: the content was created specifically to bridge a few gaps for people used to other hospital systems and western cultural practices, and also we could actually get to the classes without having to rearrange our entire lives or spend a fortune on taxis.

This time we took a hospital class. We mainly wanted to tour the hospital, and hear what they had to say under the heading "coping strategies for dealing with siblings". I was a little disappointed in their coverage of the latter, but there were a few good suggestions as well as some references for further reading, and in any case I am less worried about that subject nowadays. The hospital tour was very worthwhile. I was comforted to note that their foetal monitors are much harder to tip onto the floor in an amazing cacophony which causes staff everywhere to leap around in fright than the one we used last time. Also, they served great biscuits.

I was amused by their talk on pain relief. Granted, the last class was a full series with much more time to discuss details at length, but last time we learnt about a range of techniques for managing pain, from breathing and massage, to TENS machines, to prescription drugs. This time, just the prescription drugs. "You have three options: gas, pethidine, epidural." Uhuh. Because I remember doing a lot of things last time, and none of them involved pethidine or epidurals, and I only used the gas mask to beat against the side of the bed and throw across the room* - which wasn't a mode of use they even suggested. Perhaps a quick-list of other options wouldn't have been overloading things. In any case, that doesn't worry me at all, because I can always bone up on my breathing techniques elsewhere, and I am not sure I'll bother hiring a TENS machine again anyway.

What stuck out for me - apart from the quality of the biscuits** - was the bit where everyone introduced themselves and told us a bit about their family. There were eight or ten couples, and all of us had a single toddler at home, in the two-to-three-year age bracket. After all that, after everything that's happened... how did we get to look so normal? Sometimes it's as if someone took our infertile lives and hit "refresh".

*I tried it over my face and couldn't stand the sensation. It was interesting to learn that they have dispensed with the mask at this hospital because apparently I am not alone. You can now get your gas on a T-piece, which means I might actually be tempted to breathe some in this time, who knows.

**Tim Tams. Mmmmmmm. I played the pregnant card heavily on those ones.

Short Version: discussion of parenting techniques as related to sleep.

We went to our prenatal refresher class at the hospital last night. But that's not want I want to talk about.

I want to talk about a sleep article I couldn't finish in one of the magazines they gave us in our sample bags. I couldn't finish it because it made me mad. Now, a lot of people follow a lot of different philosophies when it comes to sleep, and I'm ok with that. What I'm not ok with is people presenting one particular philosophy as if it's The Answer To Sleep Issues Everywhere. This is a huge disfavour to uncertain parents and causes untold (not to mention unnecessary!) distress to both parents and children.

I have binned the entire magazine in disgust, which I kind of wish I hadn't because it would have been more productive to write this to them, but so far as I read the article and for what it's worth, I would like to supply what I believe to be the correct answers to their quiz questions.

1. Rocking your baby in arms is not wrong and is not habit-forming. The baby was rocked frequently in utero and patted on the bottom by your beating heart 24/7 for nine months straight. By the time your baby is in arms, that horse has well and truly bolted, and nobody is to blame for that. Given that the baby is born used to being rocked through no fault of your own, there is nothing wrong with either continuing indefinitely or weaning your child more slowly onto self-settling techniques, if you choose to do so. I know one or two parents who swear by the cold turkey approach to rocking and patting, but they would both agree that, in the short term, it is the most difficult approach and that it won't suit everyone - parent or child alike. Almost all parents I know (not to mention a huge proportion of well-qualified experts) prefer something between the two extremes of cry-it-out-from-birth and give-them-anything-til-they-grow-out-of-it. Do not be afraid to choose an approach which involves rocking - there are pros and cons to all approaches and you will have to weigh it up in the light of your individual situation. Never forget - they will all sleep eventually, so the only thing you have to worry about in the long term is surviving the short term! The answer, therefore, is in fact b) it's fine as long as you're coping with it.

2. You do not "have to" start with the daytime sleeps. A lot of experts suggest - assuming you want to work on sleeping at all - that you start during the day time rather than at night, because that might be easier on you. If this is true, then by all means start with the day sleeps. A lot of parents find that they are more alert and patient at lunchtime that in the middle of the night. However, other parents will find that it is easier to work on bedtime or night sleeps - they will be equally tired more or less around the clock, may find that their child settles better at night when the environment is less stimulating, and/or may find it easier to stay calm when a second parent is at home and able to help out. The correct answer, therefore, is d) none of the above - assuming you want to work on sleep, you should start at whichever time is easiest for you, whatever time of day that is.

3. There is no bedtime. In Singapore, it is considered normal for children to take long afternoon or evening naps, then stay up until 11pm, then sleep in. In Australia, it is considered normal for children to take long morning or lunchtime naps, then go to bed by 7-7:30pm, then rise at the crack of dawn. These ideas persist year-round, regardless of changing daylengths or sunset times. Parents in both countries drive themselves spare trying to make their babies and their lifestyles fit these cultural norms. There is no good reason for this self-berration.

Some children do sleep better on certain "schedules" and I encourage you to consider starting with what is "normal" where you live - not so much because you'll get fewer busybody comments, but because this is no doubt a joint venture between nature and nurture with nurture playing an undeniable role, and the "normal" pattern where you live has probably evolved to fit in with the usual pattern of day to day activity where you live - both within your household and within its immediate vicinity. The likelihood, therefore, is that the "normal" baby schedule where you live will, indeed, suit your baby better than something borrowed from halfway across the globe. And who knows? Maybe there's also an early-riser gene and it's more prevalent in Australia than in Singapore, and it's just that I happen to have missed out. However, you should see the "normal" baby schedule where you live as a starting point or a guideline, to be adjusted according to the needs of both yourselves and your baby, and readjusted whenever normal development, a change of season, or a change of lifestyle demands. So the answer, dear magazine editors, is e) go fuck yourselves.

Gah. That's as far as I got.

Feel free to add your own priceless sleep advice in the comments, just in case one of their readers drops by.

Short version: finding secret sisters in infertility.

Sometimes the things people say make you wonder. At a party, several months ago, a woman noticed I wasn't drinking. "You don't drink?" she asked, by way of polite smalltalk.

"Usually, but at the moment I'm pregnant so I'm not drinking," I replied.

She smiled broadly. "That's really great!" she enthused.

"Thanks, yes, we're pleased."

But she wasn't finished. "It's just really wonderful news. I'm so happy for you. I just think every child is such a blessing, really," I nodded, accepting her kind words whilst thinking uneasily of all those who wouldn't agree so far. Then she said it: "You're really lucky to have the chance to fall pregnant and to carry a child like that."

It makes you wonder. Sometimes it makes you follow up, but only if you can work out how. In another situation, as background for a particular anecdote, somebody described this couple they knew whose eldest child was adopted, and whose youngest was conceived the old fashioned way, long after they'd given up on that possibility. "That happens so often," said someone else. "People conceive naturally after they've adopted because they stop stressing about it." And that was the last thing the second woman said, because the first woman corrected her at some length, quoting statistics from several studies on the incidence of spontaneous conception in infertile couples, both in the presence and absence of adoption, as well as on the role of stress in infertility.

Wait! I forgot. That first woman was me.

Later that day, a different colleague stated that I must be feeling tired and heavy now that I've hit the third trimester. "Not that I'd know from personal experience," she added. "Never having been through the third trimester of pregnancy." She looked at me keenly and continued. "First trimester I've experienced four times, and even bits of the second on one occasion."

"Oh. Gosh."

She looked down. "It was ages ago. I'm over it now."

"It must have been horrible."

"At the time, but I'm over it now. It was ages and ages ago. I decided I just wasn't meant to have children."

"Still, an awful..."

"It was ages ago," she said brightly, looking back up. "I'm over it now. You must be starting to feel tired and heavy, though."

Like a secret handshake. Sometimes, I'm not quite sure how to return it. I'm always glad for those who are.

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