I’d decided on a girl’s name before I was even pregnant, but the boy’s name took time, debate, discussion.
We thought we’d better have it nailed down before I went into theatre, just in case all those people who said I was definitely carrying a boy were right. Good thing we did.
The fact that I’d had a c-section before only made me more nervous about it. I knew what was to come, which bits I liked, which bits I didn’t, and that you never quite know what your body is going to do after a human being is removed from it.
I also knew how incredible it is to be presented with your baby. I didn’t dare let myself look forward to it until we were on our way there.
There were two of us on the surgery list that morning. Two second-time mums who knew everything and nothing about what was to come. We wished each other good luck. She may well have been in the bed next to mine for the next few days, but we never saw each other again. Maternity wards are funny like that. I hope they’re all OK.
So much of the prep felt familiar. There were the same gowns and compression stockings for me, the same fresh blue scrubs for Leon. The same paper bracelets on my wrists.
But some things had changed. They give you little white netted knickers to wear now, so the surgeon can just cut them off when they’re ready to start. No more wondering whether you should walk down to surgery pantless like we did in the good old days (2017).
I was first on the list and before we knew it, they were ready for me. Time to go.
I took my last pregnant waddle down the corridor, wearing the same flip flops I bought for our stay when we had our daughter almost four years ago. Where on earth did all that time disappear to?
From the moment we got into theatre it was ON. This is a room full of people who bring babies into the world everyday. They know what they’re doing and they know the pace required to make it happen. The momentum alone carries you through.
I tried to take it step by step, ticking off all the little bits that scare me. Cannula – done. Spinal – done. Weird lie down on the bed with a quickly numbing lower half – done.
The radio was on and Lewis Capaldi was playing. The anaesthetist asked everybody to say their names and I confirmed mine, she read out my NHS number and it began.
I kept a tight hold of Leon’s hand and my eyes on the flowers painted on the ceiling. I like this bit. When there’s no turning back and I couldn’t run away even if I wanted to.
My blood pressure dipped and I panicked. The anaethetist worked her magic then got back to chatting to us about our house move, our daughter, our jobs. I almost forgot that people had their hands inside my body. Almost.
She peered over the sheet shielding us from the procedure and said “It won’t be long now”.
I started to cry because this was it, what the last 39 weeks and three days had been building up to. When you’re cut open on the operating table, pumped full of drugs and awaiting the arrival of your child, you’re allowed to feel a bit overwhelmed.
‘Gooey’ by Glass Animals came on the radio. We weren’t organised enough to arrange a birth playlist, but later agreed that was more perfect than anything we could have come up with anyway. The second I hear it now it takes me right back to that room.
All of a sudden the surgeon said “Good morning!” and we realised that somebody new had come into the room. He was talking to the baby.
I looked up at the light above where they were operating and I could see a head in the reflection coming out of my body. I could see his hair. Before I knew it they were holding him in front of us. A boy! A beautiful boy!
I remember my mouth was wide open in amazement, my face soaking wet. They whisked him off to clean him up and sort him out. He screamed, as you’d expect, and I could hear Leon telling him everything would be OK.
They brought him over, placed him on my chest and he calmed right down and closed his eyes. Like you do when you get in after a long day, take your shoes off and lie back on the sofa. Nothing to worry about here, you’re home.
I hope I’m always that place for him. For them both.
Someone said “I think he likes that.” And so did I, so very much.
I’m 39 weeks pregnant and we’re a month into living in a new house. I’m huge, exhausted, excited, distracted, anxious… so it’s fair to say my thoughts have been a bit of a jumble of late.
I turn 36 today and it was only when I acknowledged the mental chaos I’m currently experiencing that I realised what I want to say to mark yet another birthday.
And it’s this: The older I get, the better I get at figuring out WHY I feel the way I do. With each year that passes, I gain a little more self-awareness. And that’s more useful than any birthday gift you can wrap.
Becoming a mum has helped a lot. I can’t expect my daughter (or her imminent sibling) to undersand their feelings if I can’t comprehend my own.
I try hard to make time to work out what’s behind my response to situations. Am I tired? Hungry? Feeling inadequate? Intimidated? Distracted by a timetable my daughter has no idea I’m trying to keep us to? So enormously pregnant I fear my stomach may BURST any minute?
Because nobody’s response to anything is just about what’s happening in that moment. There’s always more to it. Our history, our physical and mental wellbeing, our worries, our hopes, our fears… they all play a part. It’s a wonder we get through the day we’re carrying so much invisible weight around.
When I consider where my reaction is coming from, I handle things so much better than when I don’t. And I feel happier with who I am too.
But of course I’ve only learnt this by reflecting on all the times I haven’t managed things so well. I’m a fallible human being so I’ve let my insecurities, bad habits, and misunderstandings get the better of me LOADS of times. And I’ll 100% do it again. Age can’t magically protects us from that. But the better we know ourselves, the better we get at slowing down and seeing things for what they are.
So at least I know why I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. And I try to bear that in mind when I feel like overreacting to the smallest thing. (What do you MEAN the bakery has run out of jam doughnuts?! I NEED ONE.)
I’m about to have a baby and become a mum of two. It’s no surprise that I’m feeling 400 emotions at once.
What I like about being older is my understanding that there’s no point wasting energy fighting tricky feelings. It’s better for all of us if I acknowledge and lean into what’s driving them instead.
Whether it’s the nervousness I feel about the physical turmoil involved with birth and its aftermath, or the desperation I feel to bring our baby into the world safely and do a good job for them and their sister, it’s all OK. I can’t have all these wonderfully grown up experiences without them.
The only promise I can make is that I’ll do my best and keep learning from every high and low that comes our way. I’m confident my 37th year will be filled with plenty of both…
I had an idea last week to write a list of things I wanted to keep in mind while we all stay at home to help reduce the spread of Coronavirus. I’m so glad I waited until we’d actually experienced a full five days at home trying to live and work and look after our toddler before I wrote it. Optimism is essential right now but so is a strong dose of reality, which I think we all got this week.
This is not an attempt at advice. There is no pandemic experience on my CV. This is just a list of stuff I want to keep in mind to help maintain my perspective (and sanity) in the weeks and months to come.
It’s also an excuse to communicate with the outside world. Hello out there, I do hope you’re OK and staying safe. If nothing else, this should at least help you pass a few minutes.
1.You don’t suddenly have to become a different kind of parent
When this all kicked off, the internet became flooded with tips for things to do at home with children, which is great.
But as always, if we’re not careful, we can suffer from the flipside of social media: comparison syndrome. As I’ve discussed before, since becoming a mum I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time feeling inadequate because I don’t have the exact same skills and ideas as every other mother on the planet.
But I want to remember that I don’t suddenly have to become a nursery nurse, children’s entertainer and Blue Peter presenter all rolled into one just because we’re suddenly spending so much time at home. Yes I will try some new things and find nice ways to entertain our daughter. And we’re adapting our routine to make the best of the current constraints. But that will do. Normal life was working well for us, so the closer I can keep our days to feeling like they usually do, the calmer we’ll all feel.
2.Television is not the enemy
People talk so much about children and TV so I won’t harp on – all I want to say is this: my toddler, just like me and her dad, needs to wind down sometimes. She gets tired, she needs a bit of space, and she likes to catch up with the characters she loves. So at certain times of the day, we let her watch some telly.
This period we’re facing is bizarre, unsettling and weirdly knackering, so I’m sure she will end up watching a bit more than usual, should it make sense for us and her in the moment. An excess is bad for everyone, but the odd dose of comfort won’t do anybody any harm.
3.What I wear has a huge impact on how I feel
I gave birth to our daughter in November 2017 and we were then indoors most of the time for months. That period taught me (along with a million other things) how strong an impact my appearance has on my mental wellbeing. To feel like the day is worth doing, I need to look in the mirror and see somebody who would be happy to open the door to a human being who doesn’t love them unconditionally.
I don’t mean I need to put on a chuffing dress and heels to feel like a person, I just need actual clothes. My pyjamas are the best things in the world at bedtime, but if I’m still wearing them too late in the morning, and I’m not doing so because I’m resting, I start to feel sad. So getting up and dressed like I’ve got somewhere to go is a must for me.
4.We won’t all feel the same way at the same time
At separate points this week, all three of us had a moment when our current living situation proved too much. Leon got stressed out. I had to leave the room as the mess, noise and unwillingness by some residents to just EAT THEIR DINNER was doing my nut. And then – because why should she be left out – our toddler declared, if only through her body language and disproportionate irritation with her snack bowl, that she too was finding this situation to be bullsh*t.
It sounds ridiculous, but I hadn’t realised that we wouldn’t all necessarily be in the same place emotionally at the same time, and that that would be a challenge to manage in itself. Sometimes our daughter just needs us to hold her. Sometimes Leon needs to go out for a run by himself. And sometimes I need to eat an entire easter egg in front of The Mindy Project undisturbed. If we can all just do our best to give each other what we need during this time, it’ll make getting through it easier.
5.Any amount of time outdoors is worth having
We can’t go far and we can’t go within two metres of other people, but we can still go outside. Even just ten minutes outdoors can make all the difference. It’s easy to feel like it’s not worth the effort, that if you’re not going out somewhere proper then you might as well not go out at all, but even just a small dose of fresh air can make everything look brighter.
We’ve started going for a run about in our local park in the morning to let off steam and it’s become the highlight of our day. I hope that when this is all over we carry on treasuring every opportunity we have to play together outdoors.
6.Gratitude does everybody good
It’s good for people to know we’re grateful for the difference they make to us, and it lifts our spirits too to step back and acknowledge the things we appreciate. I said at the start of the year how grounding and therapeutic I find jotting down a list of things I’m grateful for each week, however small. I definitely want to keep doing this, to help me spot all the lovely moments that are punctuating our days as a family during this peculiar time, whether it’s fresh air, good health, cuddles with my daughter, or every bite of Cadbury’s chocolate I can get my hands on.
7.Make time to read
Reading makes me feel calmer than pretty much anything else. Because this crisis is so distracting, I’ve found that I’ve defaulted to sitting and scrolling through my phone rather than thinking about what would be a more relaxing use of time. The more lost or unfulfilled I feel, the more I find myself on my phone but it usually just makes me feel worse. So I want to actively decide to use the rare chunks of time I have to myself to read a book instead.
I always feel a lot more fulfilled when I’ve found time to make something. Whether I’ve tried a new recipe, drawn a picture with my daughter or written a blog, I feel better for it. I’m not overwhelmed with free time – that concept flew out the window the second I became a mum – so I want to make the most of any opportunities I have to be even slightly creative. For example, baking a batch of rice crispy cakes could class as a form of artistic expression, couldn’t it…?
9.I will never regret having extra time with my family
Extra time together in all its forms, however tricky to navigate it may be, is a gift. I’ve another blog brewing about how much I already know I’m going to miss our daughter being two years old, so I want to remember that this is actually all bonus time with her. And though I wish it was in different circumstances, having her dad around so much more than usual is great.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re a week in, I’m shattered and would not say no to a bit of space if it was available to me. But there are numerous lovely moments to be found amongst the chaos, and we’re lucky to have them.
10.Make the time to communicate
Just because Leon is working here, it doesn’t mean I’ll know how his day went unless I ask. Sure, I’ll know that our daughter decided to join him for a conference call and serenade his colleagues with a rendition of Baa Baa Black Sheep, but there might be other stuff he needs to unload. We still need to talk to each other.
Our daughter remains a two-year-old and, as such, not the best at articulating how she feels. Although this situation is exasperating at times, I need to make sure I stop and explain to her what’s going on, and help her tell me what’s up too. This will never stop being true, our current situation has just highlighted how quickly things will crumble if I don’t.
And regular check-ins with other friends and family are important as well. Finding the energy to get back on your laptop after a day’s work for a video call is a bit tough. But it’s worth it to share laughs and updates with people I don’t get to see everyday. A pandemic is a crazy and scary thing to live through. I want to remember how important it is to stay in touch and help each other through it.
11.If we look back on this time and our biggest complaint is that we felt bored and cooped up, we will be the lucky ones
There are thousands of people who are putting themselves at risk everyday by carrying on doing their jobs. And there are plenty of others for whom this crisis is much scarier than it is for people like me.
Having to stay home, work without childcare and cope with how strange and apocalyptic life feels right now is hard, and I’m all in favour of allowing ourselves to acknowledge every feeling we experience.
I also know that it will help me to keep going when this period feels endless if I remember that these are all entirely bearable hardships, and that if we all just keep doing as we’re told, we’ll help bring this crisis to an end.
Our daughter was born and all of a sudden all those moments of time to myself that I’d never realised were such a big part of my day evaporated. Goodbye solitude, I’ve got company.
You don’t appreciate how many parts of your life constitute alone time until they reduce down to seconds grabbed between feeds, cuddles, and attempts to persuade your child not to dive head first off the sofa.
I look back on all those times I went to the toilet without somebody there to squish my tummy. On all those showers I had where I didn’t feel the need to poke my head out of the cubicle every 30 seconds to shout “ARE YOU OK?” to the little person in the cot in the next room. On all those train journeys I spent reading a book rather than supplying snacks to the small dictator in the pram, perched on the edge of my seat, waiting to see which of the items I’ve selected will be deemed acceptable today. (Fruit, mummy? Really? Try again.) Did I appreciate all that freedom? Of course I didn’t.
Nobody appreciates time until something changes your relationship with it, and becoming a parent definitely does that.
But while I find the lack of freedom hard, having such limited windows to myself has forced me to make the most of the time I do have more than I ever did before.
I’ve learnt to snatch moments to myself, however brief. Ten minutes with Friends on in the background while Leon gives our toddler a bath and I cook dinner. Forty minutes on my laptop on a Sunday morning before everybody else wakes up. Thirty minutes slumped on the sofa on a Friday evening in the gap between my return from work and Leon’s arrival with our daughter after nursery. I don’t mind admitting that I LEG IT home for that sit down. You’ve got to get your rest any way you can in this game.
When time feels so precious, you don’t let yourself waste it. I now know just how much it’s possible to get done in half an hour. Want the house tidied, a tray of brownies baked, and a week’s worth of washing put away? Get a parent whose toddler is taking a nap on the case – and they’ll still have time to negotiate you a new mortgage deal, too. I’ve been amazed and delighted by how the limits on my time have helped me focus my mind and get sh*t done, because I simply don’t have time to fanny about.
I’ve also changed how I think about how I use my days off work. I used to think annual leave had to be used for a holiday or a trip away, or at least for a fancy meal out. And of course it’s great to keep some for those treats, but now I also keep a handful to do the things I can’t do the rest of the time. To sit in a café and write a blog. To go to the cinema by myself. To listen to a podcast with swearing in it without worrying that I’m going to damage the next generation.
I adore my girl and value our time together more than anything else in the world. Being her mum is also the hardest work I’ve ever done, so I do my best to take moments to myself where I can, so I can give her all I’ve got when we’re together.
Because we’re together a lot – most of the time in fact – which is exactly how I want it to be. Nonetheless, one of the other things I’ve found most surprising about life as a parent is how lonely it can feel, despite the fact that you’re in company almost constantly.
It’s the weight of the responsibility, I think. On the logistical front, it’s being the one in charge of deciding everything that we’ll do, when we’ll do it, and what we’ll need to have with us so that we survive the day/avoid significant social embarrassment.
And on the emotional side, the desperation that (when it’s just the two of us) only I feel to get things right for her can feel a bit isolating, too. All I want is to make her happy and to create days that make her feel loved, inspired, amused, interested, and, let’s not forget, sufficiently pooped so that she’ll sleep well, for all our sakes. It’s a lot to be responsible for getting out of a day, and when things don’t go to plan – which is all the time, by the way – it can get you down.
I am of course not on my own. My husband is just as much a parent as I am. But for two days of the week, he’s at work and I’m at home looking after our daughter. And on the days when I do go to work, I do the majority of the childcare around it, because he works longer hours than I do. As a result (and because we live in the society that we do), it’s me who takes responsibility for most of the bits and pieces that keep us going day to day. The meals we eat, the endless supply of milk our daughter requires, the admin that gets our bills paid and keeps the roof firmly over our heads, and so many more things that find their way on and off the ever-growing list that lives inside my brain.
I am incredibly happy and grateful for our life and feel appreciated for my efforts, I just sometimes feel a bit alone in my role, too. I expect we both do.
But as our daughter it getting older (all of a sudden she’ll turn two next month) and she’s getting better and better at communicating, she’s taking an increasingly active role in our time together, and it’s making me feel so much more… accompanied in everything that we do.
She can now express opinions (which, of course, can be inconvenient/tricky to manage, but let’s focus on the positives for now, shall we?), so she can tell me what she thinks of the ideas I have for us. The other day I told her we were going to the farm and she said “Yay! Yarm!” and it made the whole trip that bit more joyous because we were in on the decision to go together.
For a while, parenting feels like something you do ‘to’ your child, rather than with them, because you just have to make decisions on your own. It can be a lonely job, being in charge all the time, so it’s nice to start getting some feedback. It’s most definitely not always positive, but when it’s good, it makes the meltdowns worth facing. And every meltdown teaches me more about how to empathise and communicate with a child who still has so little control over her world.
When you’re expecting a baby, you understand that you’ll probably feel pain during the birth, tiredness after sleepless nights, and a relentless need to go for a wee every 20 minutes for the rest of your life, but you don’t think about what responsibility for your child will feel like in practice. I didn’t realise how much effort I’d have to put into feeling content as an individual (as well as a mum), but I’m glad I have as it’s made all the difference.
Though a lack of time to myself can be trying, knowing that I’m making every moment I do get count helps me feel like I’ve had a break, even if it’s a short one. And when the pangs of mum-life loneliness kick in, I’m lifted by how much more confident I now feel to make decisions for us, to try new things, and to talk about what a roller coaster motherhood can be.
Every year to mark my birthday, I write a list of lessons I’ve learnt or things I want to say at this point in time. It’s a therapeutic ritual and I recommend it.
So here are 34 things I know about myself and the world now I’m 34 – yet another age that doesn’t feel anywhere near as old as I thought it would…
1. I know that when I sit on the sofa with a drink at my feet and think “I’ll definitely remember that’s there, there’s no way I’ll spill it,” what I’m really saying is: “I look forward to kicking that all over everything in a few minutes.”
2. I know that cheesecake is the world’s most overrated food and I do not apologise for this opinion.
3. I know that there is one person in every group of friends who is in charge of organising get-togethers and who LOVES to complain about how nobody else ever does it and then FREAKS OUT if anybody else ever tries. And hello, yes, that’s me.
4. I know that a solo trip to the cinema is one of the greatest gifts a person can give themselves and I’m just sorry I didn’t realise it sooner.
5. I know that the more energy I put into trying to make somebody like me, the less I will end up liking myself.
6. I know that periods can be a painful, inconvenient nightmare, but there is something undeniably joyful about selecting your biggest, most comfortable knickers to get you through those first, bloated hours.
7. I know that one of the things I find scariest about being a parent is the amount for which your children will forgive you.
8. I know that there’s a huge difference between someone who wants you, and someone who wants you to want them, and that unfortunately it’s not always until you’ve experienced the former that you can recognise the latter.
9. I know that splitting the backside of my favourite pair of jeans open taught me this about clothing: Just because you can do something up, it doesn’t mean it fits.
10. I know that realising I’d done the above just seconds before I left the house to go to brunch taught me you should ALWAYS CHECK YOUR REAR VIEW BEFORE STEPPING OUTSIDE.
11. I know that I sometimes absentmindedly rest my hand on my stomach, trying to protect a baby who now lives out in the world.
12. I know that there will come a point when I have to stop calling my daughter a ‘baby’ and I will get there in my own time. Do not rush me.
13. I know that the way you feel when you see your partner unexpectedly tells you everything you need to know about whether you’re spending your life with the right person.
14. I know that each of us has to take responsibility for our relationship with the internet and to choose to live a life where we feel in control of it, and not the other way around.
15. I know that it’s hypocritical of me to talk to my daughter about the importance of sharing when I find it so very difficult to share her.
16. I know that carrying a yogurt in your handbag is the riskiest game a human being can play.
17. I know that just because you’ve walked into a room and feel like you’re wearing the wrong thing, it doesn’t mean that you are. It’s always OK to dress like you.
18. I know that of all my life goals ‘That I will one day get on top of the washing’ is by far the most ambitious.
19. I know that the more evenly spread the balance of power is between two people, the better their friendship will be.
20. I know that every friend you make isn’t necessarily meant to be in your life forever. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t still worth knowing each other.
21. I know that if you value your time and your energy you shouldn’t even think about chopping a butternut squash. Just roast the bastard for an hour and a half and then do what you need to do with it. Save your blood, sweat and tears for a more worthwhile activity.
22. I know that just because somebody’s on their own it doesn’t mean they’re lonely, and that just because somebody’s in company, it doesn’t mean they’re not.
23. I know that if you want to make a dream a reality, you have to start being able to talk about it whilst looking people in the eye.
24. I know that though migraines are the bane of my life, they have taught me a lot about how much activity, stress, and socialising I can handle. Your body knows what you can take, so listen to it.
25. I know that I’ve never been to an actual swamp, but I have been in the bathroom after my husband has been in the shower, so I’m pretty confident I know what one looks like.
26. I know that it’s always a good time to remind the person you’re spending your life with that you love them just as they are, mess or no mess.
27. I know that you have two choices: spend your time doubting whether there’s space for you and your creative work, or spend your time creating that space by doing it.
28. I know that the gap between what you imagine putting your child to bed will look like (reading them a bedtime story, rocking them to sleep, singing them lullabies) and what it actually looks like (being repeatedly kicked in the face/poked in the eye whilst you lie down with them to help them ‘settle’, saying ‘Yes, that’s a lovely tongue’ when they choose this moment to show you their entire mouth, getting so good at pretending to be asleep yourself that sometimes you do drift off) is VAST.
29. I know that there will come a time when I don’t sit with my daughter in my lap every night, reading her the exact same books before she goes to bed, and I miss it already.
30. I know that we trick ourselves into thinking that we’re working towards an end point in our lives where our achievements will be added up and evaluated. And I know that the older you get and the more milestones you tick off, the more apparent it becomes that that end point doesn’t exist.
31. I know that one of the greatest gifts my daughter has given me is total abandonment of my sense of self-consciousness. I will sing in the street, I will moo, baa and neigh on the train, and I will dance like she’s the only person watching. In so many ways, she has set me free.
32. I know that the moment things go wrong, you realise just how happy your life made you as it was, but that we don’t have to wait till then to notice.
33. I know that at 34 there’s still so much that I want to do, but that for the life we’ve built so far I am grateful.
34. I know that it never ceases to amaze me since we started our family how quickly our time together passes by. And that all I really want for my birthday this year is more, so much more of it.
You’re about to discover just how strong you really are. That’s the sentence I find myself saying to friends about to have babies.
I say it because it sounds wise and reassuring, but also because it’s gentler than saying “That child is going to DESTROY YOU – but don’t worry, you’ll cope.”
The trick to parenting is resilience. Without it, you’re screwed. But the good news is, you can’t help but develop it.
As I see it, these are the three main things that simultaneously test and build your resilience when you’re a parent.
1. The fact that you don’t really have a choice
My daughter is almost 16 months old and at no point in her life so far have her demands been negotiable.
When she wants milk, she wants it now. When she wants a snack, she wants it now. When she wants me, for reasons only she understands, to let her into the bathroom so that she can grab a clean nappy and wear it around her neck like a scarf, she expects this opportunity to come about THIS INSTANT.
Since the moment she was born, it’s been our job to give her what she needs, when she needs it. No matter how tired, emotional, confused, scared, fed up, distracted or lost we felt, we had to keep going.
What it means to be truly at someone’s beck and call 24/7 takes some getting used to. You know that’s what you’re signing up for, but not what the reality will feel like.
I’m grateful that I don’t have a choice in the matter, that it’s my duty to serve her, and that I’m unable to function if she’s unhappy. Because it means I don’t have time to stop and think.
I don’t take a moment at 3am when she’s calling for me, to ask if this particular moment is convenient. And I don’t make time to notice that I’ve made her breakfast everyday for almost a year and a half now and never once has she even offered to make mine.
This is my job and I need to show up for it, rain or shine.
But of course that doesn’t mean your wellbeing isn’t important. Strength comes from giving yourself permission to matter too. To speak honestly about how you feel, to do activities with your baby that fill you both up, and to acknowledge that if you’re happy, they’re happy.
2. The fact that the best and worst bits will be a surprise
Your resilience is tested every time something happens that you weren’t expecting. Which is all the time.
Every single one of our best and worst moments has come out of the blue.
I didn’t expect to find breastfeeding so difficult.
I didn’t expect to realise in the middle of Heathrow Airport after we’d checked in our luggage, been through security, and ordered an ill-advised salad with a well-advised side order of chips, that those spots on our daughter’s ears were chickenpox and we wouldn’t be flying anywhere today.
I didn’t expect to spend 28 hours in hospital with her whilst she had antibiotics pumped into her little veins to rid her of an eye infection.
I never expect her to fall over but she does, all the time.
I often lie awake at night worrying about all the things that could happen and trying to work out how I can become organised enough to ensure that they won’t.
It’s a tough moment when you realise that there are only so many to-do lists you can write and parenting articles you can read. Surprises will still occur. But with every one that does, you gather more evidence that you can and will cope.
3. The fact that your heart lives in your child’s hands, and they can crush it whenever they like
I can find the words to describe most things, but I can’t describe the way I feel about my daughter.
When she was born, the love was so overwhelming that it broke us; more than the sleep deprivation or the attempts at feeding, or the c-section recovery. The hard and fast tumble in love with this baby was almost more than we could handle.
But of course, only almost. You get used to functioning in a world where you feel this way.
You get used to feeling genuine physical pain when your child cries.
You get used to how brutal it feels every time one of your efforts to give them a good start in life is rejected – a homemade muffin chucked on the floor, an attempt to get them dressed that ends in tears, a lovingly-read bedtime story during which they get up and leave the room.
You get used to feeling guilty every time they get ill, sad, hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, frustrated you won’t let them eat paper, displeased with one of their socks… basically every second of the day.
All I want on this earth is for my daughter to be happy, but because she’s a human being, she’s going to experience a lot of other emotions as well. As her mum I have to become resilient enough to handle that reality.
Because it’s not just me who needs to be able to cope. I have to help her grow up ready to face the highs and lows life will throw her way, too.
Our daughter will turn one this month, so I’m going through the inevitable nostalgic phase ahead of her first birthday, looking back on this time last year with rose tinted glasses firmly in place.
Pregnancy was so great!
Recovering from the birth didn’t hurt that much, did it?
Weren’t those first few days with a new baby just magical!
I relive the moment she was born everyday. I wrote about it soon afterwards to help make sure I wouldn’t forget it, but really there was no danger of that.
When we’re having a tough day or a tricky moment, I look at her face and I see the baby who was handed to me almost a year ago. I see the tiny person I’d kept warm all those months who’d finally come out to say hello. I see all our naivety about how challenging this job would be, and all our potential to get it right. Sometimes it feels like we’ve travelled so far from the start that it’s difficult to connect that baby girl with the one crawling around our house now, determined to gnaw on everything in sight. But they’re both my girl.
I feel guilty for feeling nostalgic, like I’m saying that I preferred her at the beginning to how she is now. But I understand from other mothers that EVERYBODY feels this way. Everybody misses the start, because we had it all to come. It doesn’t mean we’re not enjoying this moment too – I am, she’s so much fun – we’re just doing it whilst also stunned by how quickly time passes by.
I’ve been asking myself whether motherhood is what I thought it would be, and the answer is: of course not. When I imagined having a baby, I imagined cuddling them on the sofa and sitting reading them a story in their bedroom. That was about it. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Parenthood is the steepest learning curve I’ve ever climbed but I wouldn’t change a thing. It feels good to have finally grown up.
I have more to say about this first year – I’ve been writing another blog in my head for days – but I needed to talk about this first and then move on. To acknowledge the weight of nostalgia on my mind as we approach this milestone, and to give myself permission to feel it. I really can’t be bothered to add ‘Spent too much time thinking about how wonderful it was when she was born, and crying over newborn photos’ to the list of stuff I feel guilty about, so I’m simply not going to do it.
Nostalgia only comes along when something in our lives has been so good that we want to go back and do it all again, so I’m grateful to have such an incredible reason to feel it. If a year this emotional, challenging, joyful and life-changing doesn’t justify celebrating with a piece of cake, a party hat and a look back through the photo album, I don’t know what does.
I know that being married to you is just like being in a long term relationship with you, except people don’t ask when we’re planning to get married any more, because we’ve already done it.
I know that choosing a lawyer for a husband is, on a practical level, the most useful selection I have ever made.
I know that when you told me that there’s no situation you can’t physically carry me away from, it’s the safest I have ever felt.
I know that you were lying when you said it was still true when I was heavily pregnant with our daughter, and it meant just as much.
I know that when they told us that the first year of marriage would be the hardest, they weren’t chuffing joking.
I know that we survived that year and all it threw at us – my panic disorder, our collective career-related nightmares – because we tackled it together.
I know that Japan will always hold a special place in our hearts because we went there during that time. We listened to Life’s a Happy Song from The Muppets soundtrack over and over again as we travelled around, because we’re super cool people, and because it gave us hope.
I know that marriage is about helping each other be the best we can be.
I know that you’re never going to be someone who puts a finished toilet roll straight into the recycling bin, and I accept that about you.
I know that I’m never going to be someone who lets a simple domestic foible go without writing about it on the Internet, and it’s good of you to accept that about me, too.
I know that having a baby has made me need you so much that it scares me.
I know we’ve been together for 13 years, but I still get excited when I receive a text from you.
I know that your idea of watching a film is pressing play and sitting still for two hours.
I know that my idea of watching a film is pressing play and then walking from room to room completing 897 domestic activities, and then sitting down and falling asleep.
I know that no matter what I’m going through, if I talk to you about it, I’ll feel better.
I know that marriage means knowing when to step up. When I had a panic attack at Heathrow airport on our way to Australia, you told me I could go home if I wanted to – even though you really didn’t want me to. And when, 12 hours later, we were stranded at Hong Kong airport and you were worried you wouldn’t make it to Sydney in time for work, I got us onto a flight. Because your feelings are valid, and so are mine.
I know that the love we feel for our daughter is unconditional and that our love for each other is not.
I know that realising this, and the shift we felt when this small human being took pole position in our lives, will only make us work harder at the marriage that brought her to us.
I know we’ve realised that it’s best for everyone that the period of time when a couple plans a wedding doesn’t go on forever.
I know that it’s not healthy for my entire sense of self-worth to come from the fact that you love me.
I know that I owe myself a lot more credit than that.
I know that, now that we have a baby, we have to help each other make time to be ourselves. To go to the gym, to see our friends, to write – making space in our lives to be who we are, is a two person job now.
I know that it was a privilege to crumble alongside you beneath the weight of responsibility we’d not quite prepared for on the day our daughter was born.
I know that we’re doing all we can to become the parents she deserves.
I know that if we believed in ourselves as much as we believe in each other, we wouldn’t have a single thing in this world to fear.
I know that during my speech on our wedding day I said that as long as we’re together everything will be OK.
‘Should’ can be an unhelpful word, particularly when we use it as a weapon with which to beat ourselves.
Life is fast and competitive and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our awareness of what other people are doing. I enjoy feeling connected to people I know and people I don’t via social media, and getting little insights into lives that are different from mine. But I can also feel myself drawing unhelpful comparisons. Noticing things that other people do that I don’t, and interpreting them as evidence of my failings.
But just because something exists as a possibility, it doesn’t mean that you should do it. It’s just one of the options. Do it or don’t, no-one cares.
My problem is that I hear ‘should’ when it’s not even being said. I confuse hearing somebody say “I am doing XYZ” with “You should be doing XYZ.” I see people talking about how they’re raising their children or building their careers or decorating their homes, and forget that what they’re saying has no relation to me.
I’ve always struggled with the fear that I’m not doing the right thing. I don’t mean morally or legally – fear is such a dominant emotion for me that I’m always pretty confident I’m on the right side of the law. No, I’m worried about doing The Optimum Thing.
If we’re on holiday and looking for a restaurant, I’ll worry about choosing the ‘right’ one. What if we’d have had a better time elsewhere? What if that table by the window would have enhanced our experience? What if sitting this near the loos ruins the ambience? What if it’s actually this thought process that’ll ruin our night?
And now that I’m a parent, I – like every single mother on earth, probably – worry that I’m not doing everything I ‘should’ do for my daughter. Should we be at a class? Should we be socialising? Should we be playing educational games indoors? Should I be doing more to make the most of her – whatever that means? As if just loving and caring for her with everything I’ve got isn’t enough.
Parenting is relentless decision making. And what’s harder than being the person who has to make them all, is the realisation that nobody’s going to come along and let you know if you’re doing it right. You just have to trust yourself in the moment.
When our daughter was very small, I used to imagine there would be a time in years to come when she’d say to me: “Mum, you know that day when I was so upset in January 2018? It’s because I wanted you to heat my milk up/put me to bed/ turn off that unbearable episode of Gossip Girl.” But as the sleep deprivation started to wear off, I realised: That’s not going to happen.
You’ll never know if you did the right thing, because the right thing doesn’t really exist. There’s no list, charting all the options in order of preference, nor is there a jury waiting to judge you on your choices. We have to be our own adjudicators.
It’s true for all areas of our lives. There’s no adjudicator who’s going to come and tell you which career path you ‘should’ have taken, which date you ‘should’ have gone on, or which Netflix series you ‘should’ have chosen to best entertain your baby. We did what we did based on the information we had at the time – there’s no other way to do it.
Since becoming a mother I’ve learnt that, to be happy, I have to accept my choices as I make them, one by one. Decisions require my attention quickly; I don’t always see them coming. I can’t always nail it, and, if I’m not careful, I’ll spiral into a long and pointless thought process about what I ‘should’ have done instead.
But now I’ve realised how unhelpful that is, and how many moments with my baby I’ll miss if I spend all my time analysing what I’ve done in the past.
Instead it’s better to focus on making decisions that suit us both today. My daughter is the most important person in the world to me, and I’m that to her, too. So when I’m deciding how we spend our time, it’s OK that I do so with what I need in mind as well – my energy levels, my mental health – because if I’m well, so is she. As I’ve written before, the inherent guilt of parenting makes it hard to prioritise yourself, but with nine months of experience under my belt, I can tell you: you must.
So I want to park the ‘should’ and have a little more faith. In myself as a parent and as a fallible human being, and in the need for there to be healthy differences between how we all lead our lives.
Because time will pass, no matter how we spend it. And to hand more of our precious hours over to regret, rather than to joy, and to self-criticism rather than kindness, feels like the kind of waste we should all do our best to avoid.
I spent so much time thinking about giving birth that I didn’t have a moment to wonder what maternity leave would be like. It was just the bit that would come next. Maybe I’d go out for coffee sometimes, who knew.
And when I had given birth, the recovery (from a caesarean section) and the process of learning to look after our baby was so brutal that I believed I’d never do anything else again.
I remember standing in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, and not recognising the woman staring back at me. I remember thinking through every hobby and activity I’d ever enjoyed before – writing, eating in restaurants, washing my hair – and metaphorically hurling every one of them out of the window. You won’t be doing that any more, I thought, it’s just sweating and surviving for you now. If you get to eat a meal every now and then too, that’ll just be a bonus.
But then as time passed, the baby put on weight, and my scar began to heal, a major need to leave the house started to kick in.
But where the hell are you supposed to go?
Once the thrill of making it to your local supermarket, around the park, and to a café with the pram wears off, you start wanting to branch out. To see other people, to visit another part of town, and maybe even to do something energetic or creative. The baby needs to get out, too. They need fresh air, the option of a nap on the move, and the chance to look at other faces and things. My features are only so interesting, I realise that.
Whilst you know that you’ll be responsible for looking after the baby everyday, you don’t appreciate that how you both spend the hours around that will be up to you as well. Weeks can look long and daunting if you don’t have a plan or two to look forward to, or places you know you can go. You can feel a bit lost and alone.
I found it really, really hard to express this for a while because I couldn’t get passed the need to make it clear that I love my daughter. I felt so guilty for needing more in my day than just changing and feeding and napping etc. that I feared that I was being ungrateful and letting her down. But I realise now that when we have a varied week and we socialise it’s good for both of us, and not a selfish act, as my hormones might suggest.
Seeking activities and groups to join can make you feel a bit vulnerable. You basically have to build yourself a whole new community; one that’s available during the day, ideally nearby, and willing to spend time with you. It’s a bit like dating, except in many cases you see people’s breasts before you know their name (or maybe that is what dating’s like nowadays, I’ve been out of the game a long time).
Antenatal classes were great and gave us a lovely little group of friends in the same boat. The internet has also been a massive help. When the weeks were starting to look a bit empty, I went online (Hoop.co.uk lists activities to do with children by location) with a policy that if anything interested me even slightly, I’d try it once. I felt the need to be brave for myself and for my daughter. I want her to grow up believing that she can walk into a room and participate with confidence, so I need to start modelling that for her now.
So I went for it. I joined a boxing class, a parents choir, and started baby-wearing dance lessons. We started going to a nursery rhymes session, and to baby cinema for a much-needed sit down in the dark. I’m doing things I’d previously have been too afraid to do in front of other people – singing, dancing, exercising – and I’m doing it with my daughter – because of my daughter – and we’re both happier for it. We’re not doing activities everyday, I’ve just found some ways to give us a bit of variation.
Not everybody you meet at classes is going to be your pal and that’s fine, there are only so many more WhatsApp groups I can handle anyway. But you never know, you might make a friend or two, or at least find nice people to chat to whilst you’re there. Most of all it’s about knowing that you need to be somewhere at a certain time, that people are expecting to see you, and that you and your child will have a good time out of the house.
Of course, it’s important to strike the right balance between doing stuff and resting. Parenting is exhausting, so as much as I’ll say that we need to get out, we need to be at home too. We need sofa time and cuddles and to catch up with Grey’s Anatomy. We need a bit of time to do our own thing – in the same room but in our own space. I’m learning more everyday about us as a duo and what we need to get by.
You spend a lot of time in your head when you’ve just had a baby – alone but in company, at home with your small person – and it can take a while to give yourself permission to prioritise what you both need, and to find the courage to put yourself out there.
But when you do start, and you see the benefits it brings to you and your child, you know for sure there’s nothing to feel guilty about at all.