Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Alcohol and the Creation of Life

When I started this piece, Mrs Cake and I were just embarking on the journey of a lifetime; the journey from being carefree, irresponsible but borderline perma-bored people to being creators of life, parents, teachers of the next generation. So, at that point I think it’s safe to say we both had our reservations about what the future might bring and, from a drinker’s perspective, I was wondering how my habits might be affected. What follows is a process of transformation as the piece is written over an entire period encompassing conception, pregnancy and birth. I think that comes across in the writing. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s probably a bit rich doing a piece about the effect of the procreation process on one’s alcohol consumption, but it is a real thing, and that’s what this blog is about – real things through an alcohol-shaped lens.

I can empathise with the ladies, who have to give up drinking for the whole term of pregnancy (barring the odd glass of wine) plus the duration of any breast feeding (though some people tell you that drinking while breastfeeding is fine) but, while I, as a man wouldn’t have to endure anything of that magnitude, there are still some interesting things to note. Here we go.


You see it on lame tv shows all the time – sitcoms and soaps – but I never wanted conception to be a mechanical affair where Mrs Cake goes, “I’m ovulating”, and I’m expected to make a salty deposit. That’s not romantic and it’s not the kind of love I want my child being borne of. Luckily we didn’t have to resort to that level of organisation. Mrs Cake did download an app that gave her a window of fertility, but we just used that to loosely plan er… occasions?

You don’t want to know too much about that anyway. Nevertheless, some regulation of alcohol intake looked like it would be required because alcohol affects male fertility – which is a shame because it can also help make sex uninhibited and adventurous – you know, the kind that you do want to conceive from.

So anyway, we used the app to help decide when I’d cut down on the drinking, and even factored in some time for some good old fashioned heavy indulgence.

I wasn’t fond of the idea of abstaining, but didn’t do too badly – on one work night out I had just two small beers (followed by a whisky), and didn’t drink until 1am the next day (Friday), when Mrs Cake went out. I promptly forgot on Saturday and Sunday, but it just shows, as long as there’s a reason and something to occupy me (FIFA), I don’t need to have a drink.

Soon after this came our Berlinsterdam adventure and predictably, abstinence went out of the window. Nevertheless, it was here that the er… seed was implanted, so to speak, and no longer would I have to abstain in order that my swimmers might not get cramps and fail to make it all the way to the promised land. It’s quite lucky really – it could’ve taken months and as a result this post might have turned into one of those 3000 word monsters I’m so useless at avoiding (- I think it did anyway).

So began a second phase in the alcothusiastic male’s experience of pregnancy…

Drinking alone (a bit more often)

As is the norm, as soon as Mrs Cake had peed on that little stick and the result showed “pregnant” she started researching what she can and can’t do/eat/have… alcohol, unsurprisingly is right out. That’s sad for her – especially with Christmas and New Year approaching, as it was at the time, and all manner of dos and get-togethers to attend – even more so given that you can’t really announce the happy news for three months, so at this stage a lady kind of has to be cryptic about the whole thing:

No, I’m fine for a drink thanks; I’m driving.

No, I’m not feeling well. Not drinking tonight.

I actually thought it would be fun to come up with some outlandish stories for why she wasn’t drinking, but that didn’t happen. Mrs Cake dealt with it for a while by ordering a soda and lime (50p), and telling people it was a gin and tonic.

From my perspective though, I’ve lost a drinking companion. I already miss making a drink and being able to ask her if she wants one too. I miss being able to offer her a taste of something that I’m enjoying immensely, or going down The Magnet on a Friday night after work for some distinct beers. Not to mention that full bottle of Gordon’s gin that’s sitting on top of the cupboard untouched. It just looks so… sad.

It had been suggested that maybe I could show some solidarity and stop drinking also but… I’m a booze blogger and, no matter how small my readership, it’s a good reason for continuing to drink the good drink – and some of the bad drink, too. And… 9 months! I doubt it

Anyway, I need to buy some credibility now, before the baby costs spiral out of control – once the childcare kicks in I’ll be reduced to writing about supermarket spirits all the time, instead of just occasionally, for fun.  I’m kidding. I’m sure I’ll find a way.

A little while later…

So we’re well under way now. Everything is normal and it looks like there really is going to be a Baby Cake. I’m secretly hoping for a girl so that we can give her the middle name Caol Ila, and Mrs Cake is feverishly waiting for the day she can have a guilt-free drink again.

For a while it was useful to have a designated driver every time we went out, but eventually we reached full-term, the period in which I might be expected to drive Mrs Cake to the hospital at any moment, so that meant one potential month in which opportunities to drink would be severely limited. I was ready though – something had been changing in me psychologically, somehow, and by that stage I was all prepared to be a dad, doing dad stuff, fixing things, you know – being responsible. I’d just deal with it, and build up a box of booze to consume when the armistice was over.

I’m going to turn you over now, to a diary I sort of kept throughout my “dry period”.

1st day of self-imposed alcohol exile

I deliberately had one or two more drinks yesterday than I normally would on a Sunday but, knowing that I had a stressful week ahead, I didn’t really push the boat out, wanting to make sure anxiety was at a minimum. So I’m feeling ok in that respect. Also, it’s only the first day and I’m literally not bothered so far.

Day 2

Tuesday. I would typically have this as a drinking day, and it would be nice to have that to look forward to today as I had a particularly stressful morning – my monthly management accounts meeting, followed by delivering a half-assed presentation to some GPs about how we’re going to have to arrange to pay them differently.  Then, just shedloads of work. Well, it is what it is. No drinking. Fine.

Day 3

It was a beautiful day, the kind of day in the UK that feels like a missed opportunity when you haven’t used it to sit in the garden, drinking. I thought about how nice it would be to have some grappa. Then I thought it would probably be ok to have a single beer from time to time, since that wouldn’t make driving impossible. Then I realised that one just wouldn’t be enough, so it would be better to have nothing.

Day 5

This was the one day on which drinking was to be allowed – Mrs Cake’s leaving do. I celebrated with three beers and then a large glass of Caol Ila to finish the bottle. I’ll be putting that bottle aside now to see if I can figure out how to make it into a lamp.

Day 6

An invite to Pablo and Veronica’s barbecue led to a few more impromptu drinks. I was reluctant because Mrs Cake was looking like she was about to drop, but she insisted I have a few. Our hosts had also got in some interesting beers, some fancy Polish vodka and a bottle of cider brandy which, once we got started, I wanted to try. I tried to stick to just a few centilitres of beer and a drop of the spirits, though my glass of brandy turned out to be more like a double. It’s hard to tell when you’re not drinking full measures, but I didn’t think I’d be ok to drive if it came down to it.

Day 7

Back to abstinence for the Sunday. No problems, but a busy day of visiting my parents and then Phil’s new baby had made me very tired and very grumpy. A nice glass of something would have been a welcome accompaniment to the Glastonbury coverage we were watching, but it wasn’t to be.

Day 8

Day 8 marks the official full term countdown – two weeks to the due date, so it literally could be any time now. I should probably have waited until today to start the whole debacle, but I must have been confused – I was trying to start off my own bat, rather than waiting to be told it was time to stop. I wouldn’t have liked that. Mrs Cake is hoping she holds out another 4 weeks so that she can enjoy some relaxing time at home before everything gets out of control. I’m hoping it is considerably quicker than that. I’m tired of waiting and I don’t want to fall behind in the Distinct Beers Challenge – which you’ll be able to read about in an estimated five or six weeks. I’ve also got a massive cigar and something special to open on the special day. Hoping the good weather holds out until whenever that turns out to be.

Day 8 is also a 5 a side night, this time played in pleasant summer evening heat. A shower beer would have been lovely afterwards, but I made do with a big bottle of Lucozade.

Day 9

Tuesday, a traditional midweek drinking night and the hottest day of the year so far, but no drinking in the garden will be partaken of this evening. Instead I’ll bring the bin in, do a circuit, post on the blog, play the guitar, watch some telly and stretch a perineum. Then a book and bed. Who says you need booze to have fun?

Day 10

Britain’s hottest day in 9 years. A bit of a drink would’ve gone down a treat, but one’s not enough and if the baby happened to come today – they come when they want, according to the midwife – I thought about how torturous it would be accompanying Mrs Cake through labour with an alcohol induced tiredness. It’s probably not worth it.

Day 11

That’s 5 consecutive days without enjoying an alcohol cuddle, a record for quite a few years. I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle, but I felt really low today and the thought of a tasty grappa or special whisky might have cheered me right up and made another Thursday night in front of the telly less of a chore.

Day 11

Friday. Usually a special day, a day of celebration that another week has ended and we’re another step closer to death. But how are you supposed to celebrate? What is going to set this evening apart from any other evening when there are no special drinks, nowhere to go and nothing to do? What do non-drinkers do on a Friday? Don’t say go to the cinema. I’m not going to the fucking cinema. I don’t think a single film has been made in the last 5 years I’d actually want to leave home and pay money to see.

I’ve also started thinking; what if I lose my interest in booze? What if I don’t have time to write the blog anymore? What if the miniature Cake is born, and I pour myself a drink, and taste it, and go… meh?

More pressing than that; what am I going to do tonight? And tomorrow night?

Well, those quandaries were answered by Mrs Cake picking up some cans of Holsten Pils for me and promising not to drop the baby on Friday night. So that was pretty special. As soon as the armistice was lifted I couldn’t help myself immediately make plans for getting smashed, and considered finishing off the Bushmills by tipping it into one of the cans. I soon reined myself in though, and set a limit of two cans and a glass of something special. I almost forewent the something special because with so many special bottles awaiting appreciation and only one opportunity, I was having trouble deciding. You don’t want to choose badly and waste your chance. It led me to conclude that, if I did want to cut down on drinking spirits, I’d just have to make sure I only kept one bottle of whisky at a time. That way there would be no compulsion to keep dipping into my collection – there would be no collection to dip into.

For the record, I didn’t enjoy the beer as much as I should because it wasn’t cold enough but the something special was Maxentia Grappa di Nosiola. I did enjoy that, and you’ll be able to read about it at some time in the future.

Day 12

After a long day out and almost sinking into despair at having to make dinner without alcoholic encouragement, I decided to allow myself one further can of Holsten Pils. That did the trick. And it’s back to abstinence for Sunday.

Day 13

Friday and Saturday’s relaxation of the rules had done the trick. I never even thought about having a drink on Sunday. I did allow myself a look at one of two unopened bottles in the collection, but actually drinking something never crossed my mind. One week to go now to the due date.

Day 17

Days 14 through 16 passed without incident, but Thursday saw Pablo and Veronica come over for tea. I’d put a couple of beers in the fridge for sharing, but Pablo only wanted to share one. No problems there then.

Day 18

Friday once again and B-Day gets ever closer. I decided it would probably be ok to have a beer and a special spirit, but I still had an anti-climax feeling about the whole thing. Mrs Cake sensed this and agreed that it would be a good idea if I were to have a few emergency Café Crème cigars.

Day 19

One beer after a long day out. And the last of the Café Crème.

Day 20

Sunday. I was happy to spend a whole Sunday without the perpetual thirst I often get from having overindulged on Saturday.

Day 21

The actual due date.

Day 22

Nothing to report. The fact that I never even thought about having a drink on a Tuesday – as you know, a usual drinking night – shows how much of my relationship with alcohol is habit. While I intend to return to usual behaviour after the birth, this is interesting to see. I would expect it to be much harder to break the habit as far as Friday and Saturday is concerned though.

Day 23

A couple of days ago I put a beer in the fridge, and wondered whether that would be the one that would celebrate the birth. I think that is likely given that it’s a large one and it’s 8% alcohol – and that the day is moving inexorably closer, though it doesn’t feel like it much of the time. Apparently Junior Cake is now 3/5 of the way engaged, so soon this nightmare can come to and end… and another one start.

Day 24

With Christopher coming over for band practice, I was thinking maybe we could crack open that beer and share it, but Christopher only wanted ice water, so it remains for another day. There probably won’t be a chance for another casual drink before the birth now.

Day 26

I put a small beer in the fridge to allow a safe Friday night drink. It actually turned out to be a 12 percenter, which gave me a nice buzz but made Mrs Cake worried that I wouldn’t be ok to drive.

Day 27

I wasn’t going to, but I ended up sticking another small beer in the freezer for 45 minutes. I checked first that it was only 5.4%. Still no progression, though by this stage the whole process has started to feel like when you’ve been queueing for two hours to go on a scary ride. Then, when you’re strapped in and staring into a dark tunnel that you could hurtle into at any moment, you realise you might not want to take the ride after all. Then, with Mrs Cake being nearly a whole week late at this point, there’s a delay, leaving you sitting, gazing into the abyss with no idea when the ride is going to start.

Days 28-29

We reported “reduced movement” to the hospital today (Sunday), and ended up going in for a few hours. Mrs Cake was hooked up to a monitor which showed fairly frequent “tightenings” that, along with the administration of a “sweep” led the midwife to send us home with the caveat, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re back here tonight”.

We went home fully excited and expecting labour to begin any moment. This continued into Monday, at which point we realised things weren’t progressing so quickly after all. Nevertheless, in terms of access to alcohol, I felt any drinking would be out of the question now until after the birth itself.

Day 31

Wednesday was my last day at work, and the day before Mrs Cake had an appointment for being induced. I was tempted of course to have a beer that night, but by this point... you just never know, do you?

And then…

At 11 Mrs Cake announced she was tired and going to bed. It would be an early start on Thursday to make it in time for our appointment, but I wasn't quite tired yet, and thought I might watch a bit of golf.

As Mrs Cake left the room, she made an odd, surprised sound and announced that she thought her waters had broken. On calling Triage we learned that we should go in. There still hadn't been any contractions, and the hospital told us they were busy, so we figured it would be fine to have showers before we went in - anticipating a long night.

At 12 we loaded into the car, and it was then that the contractions started. Four and a half hours later Sylvie Cora was born. We debated whether to keep the intended middle name of Caolila but, cool as it would be, naming her after my favourite whisky just didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Nevertheless, I would finally get to drink that celebratory beer and have that massive cigar. And some grappa.

We didn't get home until 1930 on Thursday evening, and I'd managed precious little sleep in the hospital, so I'd intended to go straight to bed, but Mrs Cake encouraged me to stick it out until bedtime. I decided to have the celebratory beer.

I got a good sleep that night, with Mrs Cake taking care of parenting duties. Friday though was rainy and therefore not suitable for sitting out in the garden celebrating. I also didn't want to leave Sylvie for a second in case I could do something to relieve Mrs Cake from her duties. She had to do all the breastfeeding, which was almost constant, but if there was rocking or changing to do, I wanted to be able to. I still had a couple of beers and reacquainted myself with the world of spirits (Ballantine's 12) a little later on.

Saturday was much better. Sylvie slept for most of the day, we took her out shopping, and the weather was glorious, so it was time to get outside. As I sat out there, enjoying the Casimiro grappa more than ever before, I realised how much things had changed. I mean, we obviously thought she was the cutest thing we'd ever seen, but the first day in the hospital had just been surreal. We didn't really feel like it should be happening. We felt the same, and were apprehensive about the responsibility. Now though, I realised I'd gone from being worried about what the future might hold to eagerly looking forward to it. I can't wait to see her grow up, start interacting with things, smile, all that kind of stuff.

I had opened an email account for her as soon as we'd gotten her home, and started sending her e-mails so that later she'll be able to share the experience and see what a difference she has made to our lives. I'll be recording all the firsts, sharing funny stories and all the amusing things she says and does... but as far as the blog is concerned, it should be business as usual. I’ve always thought that people should retire from Facebook and the like as soon as they’ve had kids to save all their friends from endless baby photos and endless updates of uninteresting things that have happened so, while I’m not going to apply such a hardline stance to myself, the blog will continue to be entirely about booze but, as is the case with all our friends and family, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sylvie turns up in the stories from time to time.

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