Help Please! Some Non-Googleable Pregnancy/Childbirth Questions

If you have looked after babies and/or given birth to them, I need your advice and opinions (please). I've obviously been googling pretty much everything pregnancy and baby related, but there's some stuff that just comes down to experience. So, I'd appreciate some opinions on the following:

1. What's the one piece of advice you'd give someone who's having their first child?

2. What's the one (perhaps non-super-obvious e.g. not 'a car seat') baby item that you'd recommend buying?

3. Similarly, anything you bought that was completely pointless?

4. What actually helped you during childbirth? Either in terms of preparation, aftercare or on the day(s)? I don't know yet what kind of birth I'll be having so any advice on this is very welcome!

5. How bad is the post-giving-birth pain/discomfort? No-one seems to talk about it much but the one book I've read made it sound beyond hideous. Is it beyond hideous?

6. This might make me sound completely stupid, but what did your newborn enjoy in terms of stimulation? Is it all person-to-person stuff, or were there 'toys', lights, etc that they liked? I feel like once we get to the 'sensory play' stage I am sorted (used to teach children with PMLD) but not 100% sure what the very early days are like for this...

7. If you experienced depression/suicidality/anxiety/mood disorders pre-pregnancy, did you experience a return of these symptoms pre- or post-natally? When did it happen for you? Were the warning signs/presentation/treatments similar to what you experienced/what worked for you in the past? NB: I get that this one is very personal, but I would absolutely love to hear about people's experiences in this area - feel free to email me if you don't want to comment! So far I've been relatively stable through pregnancy but given my history this is a big concern for me.

8. Finally, most importantly, WILL IT ALL BE OK?

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda: The Guilt Trap

I am so guilty of feeling guilty. It's my MO. For example:

I wake up. It's 8am and it's Saturday. I have no plans until, say, 1pm. Woo-hoo, free morning, I think. Perfect chance to watch bad TV and relax. Actually, I should really write a blog post. Or maybe I should write a letter. Before I do that though I should really reply to all those WhatsApps. I am such a bad friend. Or I could go swimming - I would have done that yesterday but I was too knackered. No, really I should clean the house. I can't believe I haven't changed my phone contract yet, I should have done that months ago... Tied up in knots and completely unfocused, I then proceed to watch the bad TV anyway, only now I'm not enjoying it, because I feel guilty about all the other stuff.

Sound familiar? (Please say yes, don't make me feel weird here.) 

Recently (as in, very recently, like the last week) I've decided to make a conscious effort not to do this. I know from speaking to friends who are raising kids that guilt can be a big issue; it's stress about the difference between how things are going and how you feel they should be going (or how the books/forums/well-meaning-but-interfering relatives tell you they should be going). One friend told me she wished she'd been more relaxed as, on reflection, she'd been doing a better job than she thought she had at the time. I want to be so aware of this (now and when I have a child) as I can only imagine how easy it would be for me to to get caught in an anxiety/guilt spiral, especially when the stakes feel so high. 

So I'm starting now. I'm trying to be mindful, not just during meditation, but while I'm doing things. If I'm reading, I'll read. If I'm swimming, I'll swim. If I'm worrying, I'll worry. One thing at a time, and trying to bring myself back to that activity, not thinking I should be doing something else. 

This week I'll mostly be practicing enjoying doing not much at all - easy - and not feeling guilty about it - much trickier. 

The First Trimester: The Book, the Windmill, and the Booties

Day 1: I am four weeks and two days pregnant. Every time I remember I grin. I flit between excitement and dread and obsessively google miscarriage statistics. I go to the toilet at work and see the thing that I've been most scared of: bright red blood. Obviously I freak out. I somehow get to the EPU and cry at the first person I see. I pee on a stick; feint positive. This is not good news. I know I'm having a miscarriage, I'm terrified it's ectopic. They do a scan, and Pete's confusion - 'I didn't realise it was going to go up' - makes the whole thing a bit funny. The scan finds nothing; this is awful and a relief. We leave Kings and head home to wait for the blood results. A friend texts saying she loves me and hopes I'm ok; I realise later that someone has driven a van into the crowd on Westminster bridge but at that moment I just appreciate the sentiment.

Day 2: A lovely nurse from the EPU calls with the blood results. I am definitely no longer pregnant. I think I'm ok. I burst into tears at random moments and the loss feels deeper than I would have expected, but it's ok because at least I know why I'm sad.

Day 5: As we queue for check-in at Berlin airport (we've been away for my birthday), I google 'fertility after chemical pregnancy'. I tell Pete, fuck it, let's try again this month. We've waited seven months to get this far, we're now painfully aware of just how badly we want it.

Day 28: I promised myself I'd wait until New York before testing. Arriving in the hotel room, I open my suitcase and pull out the pregnancy test I've brought with me. Pregnant: 2-3 weeks. It feels surreal.

Day 30: Over a Shake Shack lunch (where I cry because my burger is wrong) I tell Pete that we're now further than last time. More cautious optimism. He goes back to work and I do an audio tour of Grand Central Station. At one point I sit on the floor and put my hand on my belly. It's definitely all fries and grape Fanta but I know there's (probably, hopefully) something in there. In the gift shop I see a Grand Central children's book and I know I'll be buying it and hiding it from Pete until it seems less insane. It's a show of faith; I'm telling the universe I think this one might stick, and grow.

Day 39 (5 weeks, 4 days): The nausea, hanger and breast pain are kicking in now. We tell our parents. It's early but everyone's in the same room because it's my Dad's birthday weekend, and that never really happens. They're all excited, but in the same cautious way that Pete and I were 11 days ago.

Day 64 (9 weeks, 1 day): Early scan day. We've caved and spent 100 of our hard earned pounds on an early private scan. There's no medical reasoning for this, but my anxiety cannot wait another month. I cry when I hear it's heart beating; I was convinced there would be a problem. I'm stunned. We send our parents pictures and videos, the excitement is catching now. I tell Pete about the book I bought in New York; predictably, he thinks I'm insane.

Day 80 (11 weeks, 3 days): The nausea is easing. It now feels like the end of a hangover rather than the middle of one. Everything is starting to feel a bit more real now: we've told some close friends and I am properly addicted to Mumsnet. We go to Bournemouth and Pete's Mum gives us a windmill that she saw and bought for the baby. I'm so touched; it's confirmation that someone else believes this is really happening.

Day 90 (12 weeks, 6 days): 20th June. This date's been etched in my brain for over a month now. After some blood tests, we have our scan. There's still a baby in there! It has a beating heart! And a stomach! And two kidneys! And a brain! And legs! And arms! The sonographer complains that it's hard to get the measurements because of all the wriggling. I am unsure what she would like me to do about this. I watch my unborn child do backflips and hit itself in the face: s/he has made me laugh for the first time. The measurements put me a few days ahead; we're actually 13 weeks, 4 days. We get our risk results back: less than 1 in 20,000 for Edward's and Patau's Syndrome. Even I cannot catastrophise that.

Day 94 (14 weeks, 1 day): We meet friends in the pub for a pre-comedy night drink. They give us a wrapped box, inside which are a pair of Peter Rabbit booties. We're (probably, hopefully) going to have a baby. With little feet. And we are going to be responsible for covering those little feet. Shit just got serious.