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What I didn't expect . . .when I was expecting

Forget embracing the glow, beaming with pride and eating for two -- being pregnant in LA is a battle of the bumps in which only the fittest survive, writes Celia Walden

'Pregnancy sucks. Making a human being is really hard," announces Elizabeth Banks in What to Expect When You're Expecting, a film just released that looks at five interconnecting couples experiencing the thrills and humiliations of having a baby in Los Angeles.

The film which takes its name, but little else, from the overtly practical self-help bestseller, makes it clear that Angelenos don't do hard.

They do iced cinnamon mochaccinos, vegan spray tans and yogaerobics; they do dog tarot, goat placenta facials and non-ironic cowboy boots, but they don't do moon faces and varicose veins -- and they certainly don't do fat.

I wish I'd been given a rule book when I first moved, five-and-a-half-months pregnant, to LA last year; that the scowling customs official at LAX had stamped my passport with one hand and handed me The LA Pregnancy Bible with the other.

By that stage, of course, I'd already broken Rule One and told people that I was expecting. "Darling, you could have got away with saying that you've had breast implants and air-travel-induced oedema for at least another month," frowned my actress friend when I told her the news. "Out here you don't tell anyone you're pregnant until you absolutely have to."

This threw me. Back at home people can barely wait for their 12-week scan before blurting out their condition, but I had waited more than five months. Back at home people are, well, proud.

In Los Angeles there's pride and there's excitement -- but it's hidden beneath layers and layers of abject fear.

For a community of women whose lives are centred on imposing order on their minds (through therapy) and body (through dieting, exercise and every other means at their disposal), that loss of control is downright terrifying.

Here's where the Pregnancy Plan comes in. Everything from the internal to the external needs to be impeccably choreographed.

That means employing an army of people to "manage" your pregnancy. You'll need a celebrity obstetrician, a nutritionist and a parenting philosophy guru. Then there's the dermatologist for pregnancy facials, the personal trainer, the pregnancy Pilates instructor and the reflexologist.

You must also have a photographer on hand for the 'Bump and Belly' snaps (think Demi's Vanity Fair cover), a crystal reader to predict your child's nature and an acupuncturist to perform the popular "Quiet Baby" ritual at three-and-a-half months ("It really works," one mother assures me. "He almost never cries.")

Then there's the paediatrician. "Have you started interviewing them yet?" I was asked at six months pregnant. Interviewing? Don't you just take whoever you're given?

Lying about how far along you are is de rigueur (if someone's "tiny for eight months", it's usually because they're five or six), but that little porky will only get you so far before you're left to Havisham-out your pregnancy in the Malibu beach house. Still, when the optimum pregnancy physique means looking like a snake that has swallowed a beach ball, pregnancy binges are off the menu.

Out in La-La Land, where pregnant women get a slap on the wrist for gaining more than 3lb a month (25lb is the recommended grand total) the weekly weigh-in becomes an increasingly torturous affair.

I blame Beyoncé for turning pregnancy into an Olympic sport. She gained only 22lb (a meagre one and a half stone). "Most of that was water," she assured journalists.

Ask Kim Barnouin, the vegan author of Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven -- A Gutsy Guide to Becoming One Hot and Healthy Mother, why motherhood is no longer an excuse to let yourself go, and she'll tell you that when it comes to waistlines, there are no "time-out" moments for the LA woman. "There's an impossibly high bar set by famous women," she shrugs. "And the pressure on those women -- Victoria Beckham, Heidi Klum or Beyoncé -- is still greater. I hear pregnant celebrities talking about how quickly they're planning on losing the weight when they're done all the time.

"Rather than enjoying those miraculous few weeks, these women would rather concentrate on the pleasure of someone saying, 'I can't believe you just had a baby!'" says Barnouin.

For some Hollywood mothers, vanity or ambition (why miss out on a film role simply because babies have such an absurdly long gestational period?) can mean going to extraordinary lengths. "If pregnancy were a book," the director Nora Ephron once said, "they would cut out the last two chapters." Out here women try to do just that.

"I'll have pregnant women asking to have elective caesareans at 35, 36 or 37 weeks," one obstetrician tells me.

"Although it's completely unethical, some doctors will do it." Just as unethical is the C-section/abdominoplasty combo, a combined caesarean and tummy tuck, which some surgeons will do, even if most don't recommend it.

"Combining a C-section and a tummy tuck can be dangerous but that doesn't mean that there aren't doctors who will do it," says the plastic surgeon Dr Alex Villicana.

Due dates are enshrouded in secrecy -- not to avoid the banks of paparazzi outside Cedars-Sinai, but to give the scarring time to heal. There's another reason too. "Even after the event, people never tell people what the birth date was," the actress friend explains. "A model back on the catwalk after 'two weeks'? Another one back in bikinis after 'a month'? All I'm saying is: check out the size of their babies."

Which may go some way to explaining why some actresses' sons or daughters look to me like toddlers in their first publicity shots alongside their super-slim mothers.

And now for the final "chapter". You've filled in the Placenta Apothecary forms (everyone who's anyone has their placenta ground down and made into capsules), completed your prepared childbirth course and you've bought the La Perla "birthing gown".

Once the anaesthesiologist is on standby for your big moment, there's only one thing left to do -- and that's book the "birthing suite" at Cedars. For $2,673 (€2,117) a night you can have a modest two-bedroom affair with a flat-screen television, but ideally you want the $3,784 (€2,997) three-bedroom option.

You never know when you might want to have people over.

It also includes a complimentary smoothie maker -- oh, and it overlooks the Hollywood sign. And in LA, that's as natural as your childbirth is going to get.

Irish Independent