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.
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.
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.
Right, I think I’ve gone wrong somewhere. I’m not a fan of smacking so I’ve been trying to institute the naughty corner as a time-out place for my two year old. I probably would have been more inclined to set up a naughty step but as his nursery school uses a corner, I thought consistency was probably the way forward. So naughty corner it was. I picked a corner, waited patiently for the next full-blown floor-pounding tantrum (not a long wait!) and off he went to said corner. He wailed in the corner for a bit and once the storm had passed, we went on with our day. ‘Excellent. Easy as..’, I thought.
When little pumpkin and I encountered our next difference of opinion, I sternly informed him that he was headed for the naughty corner. ‘OK’ he said sulkily so off he went. We had a couple of similar run-ins resulting in more corner time. However, I realised something was amiss when one evening at bedtime he was offered the options of either sitting quietly on the couch drinking his milk or going straight to bed. He responded with ‘naughty corner?’. Um, not actually one of the options on offer my love.
My suspicions were confirmed on shower night. My eldest son definitely mistakes hair washing for some kind of torture. Whilst I was struggling with a sobbing, slippery, naked toddler, I was slightly alarmed to hear him howl between sobs ‘I want to go to the naughty corner, I want to go to the naughty corner!!’ Not exactly a raging success then.
I guess I could use the threat of a shower to deter misbehaviour but then I’d only have myself to blame if I ended up with the grubbiest teenager this world has ever known.
Ps while I’ve been typing this, little one’s pet stuffed penguin has been escorted to the naughty corner and told to stay there until he’s ‘finished’. Wonder what Pengu did to deserve that…
Given my eldest child is only two, I’m pretty new to the whole school thing. I’ve managed drop-offs and pick-ups and so far the foul-mouthed toddler has not dropped me in it (as discussed at length in a previous post). I’ve managed to learn other toddlers’ names and have sometimes even asked a fellow parent about the wellbeing of the correct child (not always but sometimes – give me a break, I’m not getting much sleep). So it was all going brilliantly until my little one brought home a book of tickets with an attached note suggesting that parents should sell them. Actually I think the exact words were ‘parents are REQUIRED to sell ten tickets each’. Required? Really?
Of course my husband’s initial reaction was to tell the school to get knotted. My son has only been attending for a nanosecond and is enrolled on a temporary basis. I was tempted to return the book with an attached note simply saying ‘um, no!’ but then fretted about the little pumpkin being ostracised on account of his unco-operative mother. My problem with the concept is that I resent being forced to hit up friends and family for money. I’m not a fan of being pestered for money and can’t bring myself to do it to others. In this instance it’s for a worthy cause so I’m shelving the rebellious streak and buying the book of tickets myself. At least this way I can feel sanctimonious and smug about my charitable donation.
This was all a frightening insight into my future. I’m guessing this is not the last time one of my little lovelies will return home with something I am ‘required’ to sell. If I am to stick to my guns about not annoying my loved ones, in future I may be forced to randomly approach strangers in the street for donations – otherwise this could get expensive.
Two pregnancies and two babies ago, I don’t think I really believed in the existence of porridge brain. I strongly suspected that it was the creation of over-tired mothers who were looking for an excuse to fail to remember anything. I now not only believe it exists but am living proof. Given I studied for seven years and practiced law for six before falling pregnant for the first time, you would think I would have gotten the hang of retaining information. Apparently not. My memory is now distinctly sieve-like. Amusing at times but somewhat daunting when faced with the prospect of returning to work.
Admittedly some of the problem is that I’m just not all that interested at the moment – I am far more enamoured with my babies than I am with the finer points of legal argument. And whilst I amuse myself immensely by imagining what my colleagues would say if they could see me in full swing at a baby Gymboree session, that’s about as much head time as work has had whilst I’ve been on maternity leave.
I am more than slightly concerned that I’m going to be asked a taxing technical question at some important client meeting only to discover that all I can remember are the words for ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round’. And I’ve been warned by other returnees that when colleagues ask after the little ones, they’re looking for the short answer, preferably the one that doesn’t include a trawl through all the photos on my phone or a blow-by-blow description of routines, feeds and nappy contents.
So between my porridge brain and my inability to make small talk without somehow steering the conversation back to my precious puddings, even money says I don’t last a week.