All change. Again. This time my family of men, big and small, have packed lock, stock and barrel and headed Down Under. Plus one. We spent 3 years in the Mother City, my beloved Cape Town, but, for various reasons, decided it wasn’t the best option for our family.
Leaving SA for Aus is interesting. We encountered some surprising hostility when we mentioned our plans, usually from strangers. It was as if we were somehow defecting. South African expats who berate the country from a distance are not well received by those choosing to stay, but we’d never do that. We’ve always been upfront about the fact that if it were just husband and I, we would almost certainly have stayed. It’s the boys, three of them now, that swing the vote. SA and especially Cape Town has so much to offer, but, for us, Aus has more. Leaving was a wrench – my most precious people are still there. One of my buddies of bosom is pregnant with her 1st son and I’m missing it. And unlike previous international moves, I don’t plan to move back again anytime soon. Not easy.
But here we are, starting from scratch, with a 6YO, 4YO and the 6month old Sprout. And despite how sad and terrifying it is, I’m also excited about the whole new world. But we’re going to need to talk about the spiders…
One year ago yesterday, I went shopping with my husband and toddler in Kingston. I was eight days overdue and grumpy. I’d been having Braxton Hicks for two weeks and was somewhat over false alarms. We were strolling down the pedestrian walkway when sharp cramps shot across my lower back. My first son was induced so I’d never gone into labour naturally before but for some reason, I knew this wasn’t another false alarm. I was nervous and apprehensive, but mostly I was excited.
During an episode of X-factor later that evening, we decided it was time to head into hospital. Cue a frantic drive from Kent for Granddad to look after older brother and an equally frantic drive through the streets of London by spectacularly well-prepared husband. I was slightly distracted by the ever intensifying contractions but not enough to miss the fact that husband enjoyed every minute of his ‘justified’ Stig impression. We did the hour long journey in 25 minutes…
We arrived at the very lovely Portland Hospital just after 11pm and the Beatle was born 7 and a half (long) hours later. A year ago today.
It’s been a beautiful year with a beautiful son – happy first birthday, precious son, I love you with all my heart.
There is nothing quite like the shock to the maternal psyche that is meeting your brand new baby to discover that your first ‘baby’ has overnight become enormous. We don’t notice them grow – I think that is a kindness nature grants us to stop us mourning the loss of the baby stage. We know that they’ve changed but we aren’t ever actually aware of the changes taking place. I think, in our heads, they are still our tiny babies. That is until you find yourself face-to-face with a newborn and the illusion is unceremoniously shattered.
Just before I left for hospital to have the youngest of my boys, I went into my first-born’s room and stroked his sleeping head. I silently promised him that no matter what the next few weeks and months might bring, nothing would change my utter devotion to him.
And on the first day in hospital, I pined. Despite the fact that I’d struggle to tell newborn pictures of them apart now, the little baby in my arms seemed foreign and unfamiliar. I wanted my baby, the one I’d spent 19 months nurturing. I took me by surprise that it wasn’t the 19 month old I was pining for, it was his newborn self. Seeing my new son made me realise what I’d lost and could never, ever, get back.
That first day was slightly hellish. I was exhausted, uncomfortable and in the grip of some very powerful hormones. The elation I felt after my first birth was conspicuously missing and I was consumed by feelings of guilt and a very real sense of loss. In the midst of all that, there was this tiny new being who desperately needed me. I suspect he was hoping there’d been a mistake and at any moment this slightly hysterical, constantly sobbing woman would be ushered from the room allowing his real mother to take over.
I couldn’t tell you when or how the tide turned but at some point in that first 24 hours, it all changed. I’d been going through the motions of feeding, nappy changing and putting him down to sleep, mostly while tears dripped off me onto him. And all the while, he’d been slowly and without warning wriggling his way into my heart.
The moment that I realised for the first time that it was all going to be alright was when he was being returned to me after a couple of hours in the nursery. I heard him crying all the way along the corridor and I knew he was crying for me. I couldn’t get to him fast enough. It was done, I was in love. Still am.
I’ve done it, taken the plunge, jumped in at the deep end and several other (not necessarily swimming-related) clichés. I quit.
To be fair, I’m probably not going to be winning any ‘Employee of the Year’ awards – I started at my firm five months pregnant, went on maternity leave for a year (got to love British maternity legislation), returned to work four months pregnant and swanned off on maternity leave again three months later. My firm was forced to pay me a ‘return to work’ bonus despite the fact that I was already on maternity leave again, because to refuse to do so would have been discrimination on the basis of pregnancy (a big no-no in the UK). Admittedly this seemed unfair even to me, causing me to worry about the bad karma I might be attracting.
I was all set to return after my second year of maternity leave and duly submitted a flexible working application. Having returned to work three days a week between babies, I was hoping to agree something similar this time around. My boss was having none of it. Every request I made was turned down with extensive reasons. As is the norm at any top ten London law firm, to go back full time would effectively mean not seeing my boys at all during the working week. I would leave before they were up in the mornings and return after they’d gone to bed. I realise that there are thousands of parents for whom this is unavoidable but I am lucky enough to have a choice, and it took me about four seconds to decide that resigning was the only option for me.
We managed to part company on relatively good terms which is surprising given I was immediately put on gardening leave (security would have been informed that I was not to enter the building unaccompanied, nice!) and we had to get through the unpleasant task of negotiating my termination payment. Negotiating with senior partners at a law firm is not the barrel of laughs you might expect it to be.
So for now, I be full time mum-of-two. Never thought I’d see the day…
My oldest friend has never given up smoking. She hasn’t smoked a cigarette in over six years but she’s never given up. She just isn’t smoking today. Tomorrow might be a different story. I feel the same way about breastfeeding. The babiest of beans is now nearly 10 months old and has pretty much lost interest in the whole breastfeeding malarkey, what with all the distractions of walking, burbling and devising new and interesting ways to torment his older brother.
I won’t lie, a big part of me is delighted. After nine months of pregnancy and ten months of breastfeeding, my body will be my own again. I will not miss feeding bras for even a moment. I will happily embrace guilt-free drinking and nurofen will, once again, be my friend. No food is off limits and my body will stop clinging to its fat stores to ensure we’ve got enough to go around. And let’s not forget the tiny, surprisingly sharp, teeth…
But another part of me is sad. Very sad. I read somewhere that there is no closeness on earth like that between a mother and her baby, and we’re never closer to our babies than when we’re feeding them. I’m not even going to attempt to describe the phenomenal feeling of oneness, I could never do it justice, but for me breastfeeding is an oasis in the wall-to-wall chaos that heralds the arrival of a new bundle of joy. It’s a time when no one else exists, just me and my baby. And whilst the fact that he can speed around the room, keep himself entertained and interact meaningfully with us are all undeniable signs that he’s growing up, the end of our breastfeeding relationship is the milestone that seals the deal. The baby is gone. The toddler is beautiful, I’m every bit as in love with him, but the baby is gone. I’m not sure I’m ready to accept that yet. So for the moment, I am still breastfeeding – just not today.
I am suspicious that my toddler is not massively happy at his new nursery. The wailing, sobbing and gnashing of teeth that resulted from dropping him off this morning was a fairly large clue. Yesterday, when Daddy asked him what he did at school, he said ‘I cried’. ‘Why’, asked my husband. My little one’s response? ‘Because Mommy wasn’t there’. That’s enough to derail me completely.
I asked him about the crying incident and he said that he’d cried because he’d lost me. Lost me? Does he think that when I leave him at nursery, that he’s lost me. It’s gut-wrenching to imagine him embarking on a futile search of the nursery trying to find his lost Mommy. Just as gut-wrenching as it was peeling the clingy mess off me this morning and hearing the howling behind me as I marched stoically back to my car. I made the mistake of looking back and seeing the tear-flooded eyes filled with pain and desperation, his hands frantically shoved into his mouth in an attempt to find calm. Naked separation anxiety, for both of us. It’s a killer.
And all of this while I’m grappling with going back to work in less than a month. Sucks really.
The month that has passed since my last post has seen us leave my beloved home country, South Africa, after four long lovely months, to return to the UK. International travel with two small people is not for the faint-hearted. Admittedly flying is not my favourite past-time at the best of times so flying with a baby and a toddler is pretty close to my idea of hell. I completely understand why most airlines will not allow a parent to fly alone with two children under the age of two. They are simply trying to safeguard the sanity of the adult (and any other passengers unlucky enough to be seated nearby).
We left Cape Town on the day that the football world cup started which meant that the airport was wall-to-wall vuvuzelas, flags and marauding bouncy South Africans – beautiful to see on any other day, not especially helpful when trying to maintain the kids’ routines including bottles at the right times and naps in buggies. This was not helped by a lengthy stint at passport control where we made the unhappy discovery that the kids’ visas had expired making them, technically, overstayers. (Good going Mum and Dad – make criminals of the little ones before the age of three). Poor husband was left to convince the unimpressed passport controller that this was nothing but an oversight on our part as both boys are in the process of obtaining South African citizenship, while I simultaneously spooned unappetising sweet potato puree into baby and reassured toddler that this was a minor setback which would not prevent us from going ‘up, up, up in the sky’. Result … we were losing before we even set foot on the plane.
Cue twelve hours of tantrums, wailing and general gnashing of teeth. The kids weren’t particularly well behaved either. I was seriously considering locking myself in the bathroom and denying any knowledge of the rest of the family when I heard those beautiful words, “Ladies and gentleman, we will shortly begin our descent into London Heathrow”. Ah, but the joy that was that 48 hour period was not over yet. For some reason, we thought it would be a clever plan to drive direct from the airport to our new abode. We were wrong. Apparently two over-tired, grumpy little people plus two utterly exhausted, exasperated parents plus one empty house with no food, beds, towels or kettle to improve the situation does not for a happy family make. The good news is we’re in and mostly unpacked now, broadband is installed, the weather is beautiful and Wimbledon is in full swing. We all miss home every day but this is where we are. For now.