During her first pregnancy, my wife got the train each day to and from work and I learned that it was a difficult game. At some stages you won't look pregnant but you'll feel sick. Other times you'll feel really tired and need a sit down. You may feel fluid building up on your feet and your shoes won't fit properly. Finally you'll get big and heavy and you'll be struggling to carry a load of gifts that your colleagues bought you on your last day in the office.
If you're one of these people, this advice is for you. Take it or leave it but hopefully it may help a few readers along the way.
Part One - How confident are you?
You're in a department store and your baby has just filled his nappy. Are you comfortable approaching a shop assistant and asking where their changing facilities are? Or will you wait until you get home?
You've just popped to town for a couple of hours and your baby has filled her nappy for the THIRD time. You used the last spare nappy in your bag during the last change. Will you stop a random parent in the shopping mall and ask if she has a spare nappy you can have? Or will you let your child sit in the dirty one until you get home?
Being a parent takes confidence. You often need help from random strangers. They'll rarely feel comfortable enough to offer, but be more than willing if you ask for help. It's something you learn, quickly. My wife was often too nervous even to call and order take away food, now she's sharing packs of baby wipes with complete strangers in Costa Coffee.
You're on a train and you need a seat, but they're all taken. Other commuters can't guess you are pregnant. They genuinely may not have seen your "Baby on Board" badge. They may not even hear you if you ask. What will you do?
The other day I was watching a TV show with my headphones on. A lady tapped me on the shoulder. I pulled my headphone off and she asked:
"I'm pregnant, can I have your seat?".
"No problem, you're going to make a great mum".
Why? Because she's confident. Because she's not afraid to approach random strangers and ask them for help. She'll go a a long way.
Part Two - Do you like filling in forms?
Does anybody like paperwork? Actually, my wife seems to love filling in forms. Names, addresses, dates of birth. You've got a lot of that to come. You'll need to do birth certificates, registration at your local doctors, applications for child benefit etc.
But there's a form you can fill in right now. It's on the South West Trains website. You won't find it by accident. Search the site for "pregnant", it's not there. Search the FAQ, it's not there. But somewhere, hidden within the 'Travelling with us' section you will find the magical "Mums To Be First Class Upgrade" section.
Making journeys to work a little easier for expectant mothers. Expectant mothers who hold a weekly, monthly or longer season ticket can apply for a First Class Upgrade which allows you to sit in First Class when there are no Standard Class seats available.
To apply, you will need your MATB1 form which is given to you by your doctor or midwife no more than 20 weeks before your due date. To be eligible for the Mums-to-be upgrade pass, please complete our Mums-to-be application form and enclose a copy of your MATB1 and current season ticket.
Here is a direct link to the form in case you need it.
First Class is the carriage near the toilets. Handy for when you need to throw up or have an emergency wee when baby pushes on your bladder. It's yours, for no additional charge. You just need to fill out a form, a skill you need to develop. Do this and, even if you aren't confident, you can get a seat.
Part Three - The alternative.
I arrive at Waterloo twenty minutes before my train is due to depart. I'm the first on on board the train. I take the seat of my choice, take off my coat, put my items in the overhead rack and make myself comfortable.
You arrive 2 minutes before the train is due to depart feeling fat, uncomfortable and out of breath. The train is mostly full with standing room only, but you insist on taking the carriage closest to the exit barrier at your destination station. You cram your way on and, seeing your pregnant, other standing passengers allow you to move away from the door to a more comfortable location. Perhaps towards the seats.
Most of the seated people don't see you. Those that do will intentionally ignore you. They arrived in plenty of time for the train and maybe, just like me, they made a conscious decision not to get an earlier service as no seats had been available. They aren't going to give up their seat for anybody, they made a concerted effort to get it. If you need a seat, there is one back on the platform and the next train, which is still half empty, leaves in ten minutes.
If you really need a seat, you will ask. You won't just stand and glare at people. You won't just get angry as people, who arrived in plenty of time, don't fall over backwards to offer you their seat.
First class is over there, you could be in it. Did you fill out the form? Oh, it's still in your bag as you haven't got any stamps yet?
You see, I'm not allowed in first class. I'm not pregnant. If I was, I'd fill out a form and have a nice cosy seat on the way home. Just because you didn't it's now my problem? There are empty seats in first class, one of which you could be in, but now you want mine? Not a chance.
There is a pregnant lady on the train pretty much every day. Should I yield every day and give up my seat? Why should I give it up one day but not the next? How can I choose one mother over another? Surely either I always do or I always don't? But you don't even need to be here, you could be in first class. You could spare me this dilemma. You could get the next service that is four platforms away and leaves just 12 minutes later. But getting this train was more important than getting a seat? Fair enough, in that case it's not my problem and you can stand.
This is the harsh reality of being pregnant on a train and why, despite spending 6 months picking my wife up from a station as she was too tired to walk home, I rarely give up my seat on a train. If you'd like a seat though, do feel free to tap me on the shoulder - I'd be delighted to oblige.