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…