Pregnancy diary: week 24 – BOGOF on scans (except I didn’t pay a thing)

Cute little nose showing, as baby looks right at the camera 😉

It seems like ages ago that I sat in the waiting room for our (what turned out to be) 13 week scan and saw a poster asking for pregnant mums to take part in junior doctor training by having an extra scan. Now, 11 weeks later, I’ve actually had the scan. In fact I ended up having two, each on consecutive days! When I arrived for the first on Tuesday, the lady checking me in rather gingerly asked if I might possibly have time to come again later in the week. She looked quite desperate to fill the slots (I can only assume not enough people had signed up, or had cancelled last minute). So I couldn’t resist agreeing to come again – I’ve been there, done that, and bought the desperate person t-shirt myself, trying to get as many participants as possible for my PhD experiments and for the project I’m currently working on in my job. After all, I’d get to see baby again, and I knew Tom was having a random day of annual leave on the Wednesday so I could get to work earlier and take a longer lunch break for the scan. There was a small remuneration and free car parking involved (not that I used it on the second day as I was on my bike), but that wasn’t enough on its own to attract me to help out. This is the kind of thing you have to not mind giving up your time for.

Scan 1

The scans were taking place in a training suite, not at the usual maternity hospital ultrasound department. It was actually a lot easier to find than the usual place, which I still find difficult to find in the hamster maze of corridors that make up the hospital! I was greeted by the above-mentioned lady and shown to a waiting area. A short time later I was called through by a young doctor (she looked younger than me – she probably was, it’s possible, even though this makes me feel old). I was greeted in the scanning cubicle by another junior doctor, two sonographer midwives and a fetal medicine consultant (who incidentally works at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital where I was born – doubt he was there then, again he looked too young…).

After a few basic questions like how many weeks pregnant I was, the first junior doctor got on with the scanning. Her first task was to figure out what position baby was lying in (head down and back to my left side), and showed the consultant what she’d concluded using a Winnie the Pooh stuffed toy. She was right. Then came a good look at the head. They talked amongst themselves about various things, most of which I understood, even though they were tossing about names of brain parts like they were piece of fruit in a bowl: bla bla bla cerebellum, bla bla bla ventricle, bla bla bla mid-line etc. It’s times like that when I’m pleased I work in a neuroscience lab, even if I’m not a neuroscientist by training myself. She established that baby’s brain looked normal and measured the head circumference. All good.

A great view of the eyes (closed), nose and mouth

Then she moved down to the abdomen, and checked the stomach and measured its circumference, which again was normal. A small journey upwards (in baby, so downwards on me – that must be a confusing thing when learning to scan) and she checked the heart, showing its four chambers beating together nicely. Baby was in a good position for viewing the heart apparently, unlike at our 20-week scan when I had to go for a walk to try and shift him/her into place. Not that he/she stayed still you understand – there were plenty of kicks, twists and general fidgeting movements throughout the scan. Poor doctors, I thought, having to learn on such a wriggly baby. Still, if they can do one that active, they can do any!

Next she moved down to the femur (thigh bone) to measure it. At that point the sonographers advised me to look away and they turned the screen around out of my view, in case I happened to catch sight of whether baby is a boy or a girl. After the leg was successfully measured (it took several attempts as baby was moving so much), she moved on to what they were calling the ‘AFI’. It became clear from the fact that they were measuring the amniotic fluid around baby that the ‘AF’ stood for amniotic fluid, and the next day I learned that ‘I’ stood for index.

That was the end of the first doctor’s turn, and the second one took over and did exactly the same thing. By the time she was on her last measurement, after 45 minutes of lying on my back, I was starting to feel a bit lightheaded – this is quite normal in later pregnancy when you lie on your back for long periods, because baby presses down on blood vessels so restricts the blood flow. I mentioned it and they were very good, flipping me over onto my left side straight away, as this is the best position to be in for blood flow when lying down. I soon started to feel better. The next question I was not expecting….. the consultant asked me whether I was feeling well enough to lie on my back for a 3D scan! Was I well enough?! Of course!! It wasn’t like I was about to faint, and I wasn’t going to pass on a free 3D scan!

Looking upwards at perfect little fingers

So he took over, showing the doctors how to change the probe to the 3D one and scan in 3D. It was incredible. He focused on baby’s face, and the detail and definition that we could see were amazing. The pictures on here, although good, don’t show it as well as on screen, where the sepia colouring and movements seemed to give the picture an even more lifelike quality and definition. At first it felt slightly odd and freaky to be seeing my unborn baby in this much detail, but soon I was just filled with an amazing feeling of being in awe of the fact I was seeing this! Baby had one of his/her hands constantly up by the head, and this is what was captured in the pictures that the consultant printed out for me. All five of them in the cubicle agreed that this was one very cute baby. I guess they have to say that though, I mean you wouldn’t tell a pregnant mum that her baby is ugly before it’s even born.

After about 10 minutes of 3D scanning, the session came to an end and I was thanked several times, given my photos to take home, and handed some tissue to wipe the sticky gel off my tummy. What an amazing experience, I thought, and couldn’t wait to go home and show Tom, Andrew and Granny the pictures. I was also looking forward to doing it all again the next day.

A bit shy, looking down to the left, hand in front of face

Scan 2

I don’t think it would have been possible to beat the enjoyment of the first training scan, so I wasn’t bothered that the second one didn’t quite have the same ‘wow’ factor. This time I was in a cubicle with just three people – two midwives who were training to become midwife sonographers, and one midwife sonographer doing the training. I had thought it was doctor training, but it made no difference to me who they were, I just got to see baby again. Interestingly I met a male midwife for the first time; I knew they existed in small numbers, but it was nice to actually meet one in person.

Today’s trainer obviously had a very different approach to teaching compared to the trainer the day before. She was much more hands on, literally, as she was quick to grab their hand on the probe and move it how she wanted them to, whereas the consultant had done much more verbal explaining, with the odd occasion of doing it for them by directing the probe himself. She was also very talkative, and engaged more with me (than the consultant had) as well as with the trainees, who were very quiet and kept their eyes on the screen for most of it. I’m not sure whether they were just concentrating, or trying to avoid interacting with her too much, as she was very enthusiastic and keen to show them everything she knew about what they were doing. It was hilarious, being a kind of fly on the wall (OK, not quite such an inconspicuous one!) witnessing this interaction between a slightly eccentric, but eccentric in a lovely way, trainer and her trainees.

So this is baby's head on the left (the skull bone of the forehead is showing bright white), and the blob at the top right is the arm and hand near the mouth, just as in the 3D photos. In fact if you imagine looking down on this picture from the top, that's what the 3D scan was picking up.

Of course I made the mistake of warning them that I had felt a bit lightheaded towards the end of yesterday’s scan. This provoked a reaction from the trainer of constantly asking me if I was OK and turning me onto my side frequently, and also praising me several times for giving so much of my time by coming twice and repeating how grateful they all were. She said it was good for them to learn to scan a woman on her side, so I shouldn’t worry. I wasn’t worried, it wasn’t that bad, but I let this slip before I’d had chance to experience her personality.

The trainees basically did the same measurements as the ones the day before had done, so by the end I felt like I could have a good shot at measuring if I’d been given the chance (no not really, it looks incredibly difficult to scan!) Again there was lots of wriggling, but the trainer was keen to point out that this was a good experience for them. This time baby was in breech position, which helped to explain all that wriggling the evening before. I think this baby must turn around all the time, and I just hope he/she gets in to the head down position and stays there before it gets too tight on space in there.

There was no 3D scan on offer at the end this time, but the hilarity of the printer breaking down kind of made up for it! I tried to explain that it really didn’t matter if they couldn’t give me pictures today because I’d had such good ones yesterday, but the trainer, as you might have guessed, was not having this as an option. She pressed the print button several times, 11 in fact (that’s how many photos eventually spurted out when it was fixed), and fiddled about trying to get it to work, whilst making lots of noise about this technology failure, complaining that this machine wasn’t as good as the one she normally uses, and generally making a big fuss. She figured out that she could save them onto the hard-disk, and insisted that the administrator would sent them to me. But just in the nick of time, before I was about to be brave and try and leave, a technician arrived and sorted it all out using the reset button. Again I got a flood of thanks, and of course apologies for the hardware failure, and at last was on my way back to the office.

I thought I should include some of the 2D photos too in this post, given the faff of the printer failure - I feel I owe it to the midwife sonographer who was desperate that I had them!

So here we are at the end of week 24….

…and as you can see, it’s been an exciting week of seeing baby. This should be the last time we’ll see baby before he/she is born, unless there are any complications that require more scans. I’ve tried showing Andrew the 3D pictures and explaining that the baby in the picture is inside my tummy (pointing to tummy), but he looks at me as if to say ‘are you crazy Mummy?’ He’s still too young to understand, and we’re hoping that this will be a good thing when baby is born, that he’ll just accept that this is what has happened without being old enough to think about it too much.

Outside the bump - not such an interesting view as inside!

Learning to swim, and learning how best to learn how to swim

I don’t write anything about swimming for a while, and then two posts come along at once! For a few weeks now, I’ve been reflecting on how Andrew’s and my swimming sessions are going. He loves the water, that is clear to see, and he has great fun splashing about, chasing toys and other children. I’ve been trying to do some specific exercises with him that I found on a great website called uSwim. In theory these look great, gradually building up to letting your child swim unaided in the water. But I’ve been finding with Andrew that he’s simply too distracted by being interested in everything else going on in and around the pool. He rarely looks directly at me for more than a few seconds, even when I try and keep his attention with singing or talking. This means it’s incredibly difficult to set up a situation in which I can count to three with him looking at me, and then let go. He’s pretty good at holding his breath, and doesn’t mind being let go of for a few seconds, but I don’t feel like we’re making much progress, because he would rather just go off on his own to chase the toy that he’s got his eye on, than do things on my terms when I say it’s time to go under. He tries to wriggle away from me, and he’s confident to do so, but he doesn’t have the strength or skill yet to swim completely on his own – he just flounders for a few seconds before I scoop him up out of the water again.

My glamourous assistant modelling his arm bands - I know it looks a bit odd with his nappy on and not trunks, but I don't have enough hands to take a picture at the pool whilst carrying all our kit, so home photos will have to do for now until I can enlist the help of a willing grandparent photographer!

So…. I had a scout about online, and got Mum to ask a friend who has kids and is a keen swimmer, for advice on buoyancy aids for toddlers. I had thought, and again came across this advice, that it was best to not use buoyancy aids at all. But as I’ve just explained, I don’t think in Andrew’s case that this is working. Some suggested a woggle/noodle float – a long thin tube-shaped float that you can wrap around them, or get them to hold onto. I’ve tried that as they have them in our local pool to use for free, but again Andrew is interested for a short while, before he exchanges his interest for another exciting toy/float/person across the pool. In the end, all things seemed to be pointing towards the Delphin System arm floats.

The Delphin System: 1 red, 1 yellow and 1 green disc on each arm, clipped together to make the arm bands

These are like traditional inflatable arm bands, in that they fit onto the upper arm and give buoyancy in the same place. However, they don’t need any blowing up and deflating each trip to the pool (I’m not very good at generating enough puff for those kind of things at the best of times, let alone when I’m having to keep an eye on an active toddler!), and they can’t be punctured by sharp objects. Instead they are made of a lightweight material similar to what kickboards or those big floats you see during splash sessions in pools are made of. They are shaped like thin discs, with a hole just below centre for the arm to go through, and a blue foamy bit in the hole which adjusts to the size of arm – they are apparently suitable for ages 1-12 years. The discs clip together so that you can have more than one on each arm; the idea is you start with 3 discs on each arm, and gradually take them away one at a time over the course of your child learning to swim. It’s supposed to build confidence and allow you to easily adjust the buoyancy as they get stronger and more skilled at swimming.

Being cheeky and trying to hide from the camera around the back of the table, giggling about it to himself at the same time!

So that’s the theory, but how do they work in practice? I decided to take the plunge (financially) and buy a set with some money that Andrew had been given as a present. From my Googling around, the cheapest I found was £26.39 (including postage and packing) for a set of 6 discs from SOS Swim Shop. On Tuesday we had our first trip to the pool with them, and I was very impressed! For the first time in a while, Andrew was much less frustrated and we had no whinging about the fact that he wanted to go his own way – this time he could do as he pleased. It took a little while for him to get used to the buoyancy effect and how he should move to go with it and not resist it, and I think that will take a bit longer to get completely right, but overall he reacted very well. He figured out that his head needs to stay above the water, or he needs to hold his breath if it goes under slightly. He was best when swimming on his front towards me or a target object, and I encouraged him to kick his legs to keep the forward motion. Again, this will take some practice to get right, but for a first attempt it went well. Of course I didn’t just let him go completely unsupervised, but I found my hands were much more free to encourage him and help direct his body in the best way, like using a finger to push his tummy upwards to get him onto his front rather than upright in the water so he could move forwards.

Mummy, this isn't the right time to have arm bands on - are you mad? We're not at the swimming pool! By the way, the blue circles you see on the left-hand arm band are how the discs clip together - they slot into indents in the adjacent disc, like you can see on the right-hand arm band.

As the weeks go by, I’ll try to put some updates on here as to how we’re doing. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has the problems that I’ve mentioned with their young toddler getting distracted in the swimming pool. All the discussion I found online whilst researching buoyancy aids seemed to be from parents with older pre-school-age-ish kids, and distraction didn’t seem to be the main issue, but rather gaining confidence in the water – we don’t have that problem, probably because he’s been swimming since just 6 weeks old. Please let me know if you found this post useful and/or interesting. I’d love to hear from anyone who shares my love of taking a toddler swimming!