You know the drill by now – I’ll turn 33 this week, so, as is tradition, I’ve written a list of things I have to say at this point in time. This time it’s some of the lessons this period has taught me. My 33rd year has been dominated by pregnancy and my daughter’s first seven months in the world, so they’re mostly about that, with a few bonus points chucked in for good measure.
(Here are the lists I wrote when I turned 29, 30, 31 and 32, in case you’d like to catch up before we get going.)
1. I’ve learnt that you have absolutely no idea what it’s like to have a baby until you have a baby and that, even then, you only really know what it’s like for you.
2. I’ve learnt that the return of mid-length shorts to the world of fashion could not have come at a better time. I spend most of the day bending down to pick up my child and I need to be able to do so without fear of arrest.
3. I’ve learnt that optimism is heading down to theatre to have a caesarean section with your knickers on in the hope that the surgeons will just cut along the waistband.
4. I’ve learnt that marriage is having to take those knickers off and hand them to your husband to store in the pocket of his scrubs. The spiral of indignity started there and ended… hang on, when will that be?
5. I’ve learnt that when you have a baby your body changes. Mine is bigger, it’s wobblier, and it’s scarred. Of course it is, I housed a giant child for nine months and then had her cut out of me. I am grateful for everything my body let me do and I am happy to look a little different as a result. Women, there’s enough nonsense out there about how we should or shouldn’t look. The least we can do is refuse to add our own voices to the noise.
6. I’ve learnt that instead of thinking ‘What would Beyoncé or Oprah or Emma Thompson do?’, it’s more useful to think ‘What would I do in this situation if I wasn’t worried about what anybody else thought?’
7. I’ve learnt that having a baby makes you look at your parents completely differently. Finally, true empathy and gratitude starts to kick in. Oh wow, you did all this for me. Holy sh*t, this is hard work. Thank you, thank you so much.
8. I’ve learnt that when I look at a picture of my daughter on my phone, I think: That’s my heart right there. That is a photograph of my heart. Oh no wait, that’s 76576 photographs of my heart and my phone memory is full AGAIN.
9. I’ve learnt that marriage is hard when you’ve started a family because you both spend all your time cuddling somebody else. It’s important to make a little room for each other too when you can.
10. I’ve learnt that if you want to eat an iced bun you should eat an iced bun because life is short and cake is delicious.
Picture by @ben_cameron. I’ve learnt that he can articulate my feelings in a drawing.
11. I’ve learnt that, whereas I used to be too afraid to wear a jumpsuit because you have to take the entire thing off to go to the toilet (what if somebody walked in?), so many people at our local hospital have now seen me do so much more than that that I no longer care. Join the freakin’ list, lads.
12. I’ve learnt that there is a serious gap in the market for a wearable drinking vessel for breastfeeding mums. No activity on this earth makes you thirstier, and yet you don’t have any hands free to hold a drink. Come on, someone, invent something.
13. I’ve learnt that people who show up at your door with food during the first few weeks of your baby’s life are the greatest people in the world.
14. I’ve learnt that perfect strangers think you don’t know very much about your own child. “She’s tall isn’t she!” Yep. “She’s a big baby isn’t she!” Uhuh. “She’s long for that pram isn’t she!” SHE USED TO LIVE IN MY BODY. I AM AWARE OF ALL OF THESE THINGS.
15. I’ve learnt that all it would take for me to be interested in the World Cup is a nice man in a blue waistcoat in charge of the England team.
16. I’ve learnt that one of the greatest gifts motherhood has given me is the opportunity to say “Come on then, let’s get you home!” into the pram when I need to get out of an awkward social situation.
17. I’ve learnt that it’s hard when you’re in charge of a small person’s life not to see everything else in the world as utterly trivial. But it’s important that you don’t.
18. I’ve learnt that no human being on this earth yields more power than a baby who finds themselves momentarily without a nappy.
19. I’ve learnt that the reason it’s so difficult to just be ourselves is because who we are never stops changing.
20. I’ve learnt that when people tell you to make the most of your free time before you have a baby you think ‘Yeah yeah yeah, what does that even mean?’, and then you give birth and you realise exactly what that would have meant, but it’s too late.
21. I’ve learnt that I’ll feel sick for the 12 hours before I’m going to be away from my daughter, but that, if it’s to go and do something fun, and she’s in safe hands, I will feel better when I get there, and that the time away will do me good.
22. I’ve learnt that it is possible to feel nostalgic about things that you found really difficult. Pregnancy was tough – my back hurt, I had migraines all the time, and I became so enormous that I could hardly walk. But still, sometimes I miss it. I miss carrying her around with me, and the freedom only retrospect has made me realise that I had.
23. I’ve learnt that any mother you see feeding a baby will probably have been through quite a journey to get that child to eat in a way that works for them both. I thought it would be simple, but it wasn’t.
24. I’ve learnt that my hopes and dreams outside motherhood are very much still alive and well, it’s just that I have to use my free time more wisely now to make sure they happen.
25. I’ve learnt that the second you start to get used to whatever stage your baby’s at, they’ll move onto the next one. Don’t you dare start to think that you know what you’re doing.
26. I’ve learnt that I wear make-up for my own benefit. When I first became a mum, I discovered that I felt better if the face looking back at me in the mirror looked as nice as I think it can. It was my view I was concerned with, not anybody else’s.
27. I’ve learnt that having a baby increases your ability to hold a grudge. I’m sorry, was that a negative word/thought/exhalation in my daughter’s direction? Goodbye forever.
28. I’ve learnt that it’s good to do things that scare you. Maternity leave can be daunting as hell, as I wrote here, but it does help if you leave the house, try something new, and meet people. If you’d told me last year that I would join a choir and be up for singing with them in front of other people, I’m not sure I’d have believed you. A lot can change in a year.
29. I’ve learnt that you discover just how good your hearing is when your child is born. I’d be able to hear our daughter crying through a typhoon. I can’t hear my own mobile phone ring when it’s in my hand, but at least I’ve got her covered.
30. I’ve learnt that if somebody sat you down and really made you understand what the first few weeks of having a baby are like, you simply wouldn’t do it. So thank goodness they don’t.
31. I’ve learnt that if somebody had sat me down and tried to articulate how incredible seeing our baby being born would feel, they still wouldn’t have been able to prepare us.
32. I’ve learnt that I feel like I’ve aged a lot more than just one year in the last 12 months.
33. I’ve learnt that, even though it’s been hard and tiring and more emotional than a season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, I wouldn’t change a single thing.