From Party Time to Parenthood: One Mother's Journey
As I sit here writing this, a voice in the back of my mind wonders ‘Just when was it that I became an adult? Where was I? How come I missed it?’
Sometime in the last two or so years, I grew up. I’m not sure exactly when, but it might have been somewhere around the time that I peed on a pre-packaged stick and it, in turn, glowed positively pink back at me. Definitely the most profound, life-changing moment I have ever had in a loo. After about an hour of shock, disbelief, and a few more pee tests just for clarity - I succumbed to an inner compulsion that unleashed in me the deepest primordial wail of grief ever heard in non- Jurassic times. How could this happen to me? I was not ready for this! How could I be a mother!?
People always ask if it was planned or not. Sort of a weird question to ask, if you think about it. All I could say that while I didn't have twelve months worth of ovulation dates etched into my yearly planner, it couldn’t really be considered an accident either. At my age, a woman knows how not to get pregnant. I was 31 at the time. It may sound juvenile but in these modern times, a 31-year-old can be too immature for parenthood, whilst an 18-year-old might be a surprisingly well-equipped candidate. The longer you put off settling down, the harder it is to do. Like learning a new language or mastering the martial arts – some things are better left to the young ones. Or the much, much older ones. But I was only 31! I hadn’t planned on even thinking about spawning wee-ones until I turned 35. I was certain I’d be ready then, because my fairy godmother was sure to appear on the eve of my 35th, and with one wave of her wand she would magically transform me into the kind of woman who wanted to do grown-up things like having kids. Plus, due to age-related fertility problems and increased risk of foetal complications, I’d rationalised that 35 was the latest I could reasonably leave it. Had risk-free pregnancies been a common occurence among the nifty-fifties, I would have forgone it until then.
At 35, I’d want to grow up, settle down, be a mom. But at 31!?
Thank God for the next 36 weeks that ensued. There is a reason (beyond foetal growth and development) that the human woman is pregnant for 9 months (10 if counting by weeks, go figure!?). Somewhere during those months of transmutation, where my physical being morphed into an over-grown weeble, my emotional maturity finally peaked and I realised that becoming a parent wasn’t something you ‘got ready’ for. I realised that, qualified or not, I was already a mother - the amazing foetus developing inside of me was a testament to that. Life changes dramatically, non-reversibly, in one instance after that little drugstore test. But it takes several weeks, even months, for your mind to catch up. In this regard, fathers have it both better and worse, all in one. They can use those nine months to celebrate their virility, drink and cavort, and relish their last months as non-dads in pretty much the same manor they had been ‘celebrating’ life before the embryo ever entered the picture. Much to my envy; nay - jaded resentment? (Pregnancy hormones do crazy things to a woman’s brain, as does the imposed virtuosity on lifestyle). But then on the other hand, throughout all those months, dads are also deprived of that crucial protagonist who moves the plot forward and gives the whole story realness – the baby growing inside. I still haven’t worked out who has a harder time of the transition.
I have to admit that during those 9 months, I never really read any ‘How to…’ pregnancy, parenting or baby books. I’d reckoned that those months would be the last in my free adult life, and I so opted to cherish and preserve them by reading only literature (or doing anything) that was of my own interest and had nothing to do with family. Admittedly, I mostly just watched TV, as per usual. Conversely, my partner did read a do-it-yourself manual entitled Fatherhood: The Truth, by Marcus Berkman. In a sense, I ended up sort of reading it too; he laughed out-loud so many times during that book, I couldn’t help but bid him to read each quip a second time to me, so that I might have a good laugh too. I needed something to laugh about – I knew what was in store for me over the coming months was none too funny.
And then, ready or not, the day came. Not as we had planned, or rather, how I had willed it to go in my well-laid birth plan that included a soothing water birth and a romantic view of Westminster Palace. Three weeks before D-Day (delivery day), a student midwife discovered that - what we had always assumed was a bum lodged under my rib cage - was in fact a head. The head of a baby who had not yet turned upside down like a good girl. Oh no, already she was giving us defiant attitude! I started to worry about how hard I had been pushing on that bum-head, attempting to dislodge it from beneath my sternum. In any case, I was given a two week deadline to ‘turn her’ or going under the knife would be the only option. Well, not exactly the only option. I was told by the lovely midwives that I could try to have her breach the ‘natural way’. But also that none of the doctors had much experience delivering babies bum-first, and that it would probably involve cutting and the aid of some apparatus that looked more suited to a plumbing or construction project than a birthing room. Nothing about THAT sounded very natural to me!
So I put every waking thought and all my efforts into attempting to turn her in utero, which turned out to be our very first mother-daughter power struggle. The External Cephalic Version - a barbaric grotesque procedure by which three doctors push on your abdomen with great force and manually attempt to turn the baby - failed. As did the sessions of hypnotherapy and moxibustion (a Chinese alternative treatment that involves holding giant herbal cigars, lit, to your toes). Yes, it WAS crazy! Absolute lunacy! But each was worth the effort – I had to try! This girl (me) who had previously mourned for herself at the very idea of parenthood, was now doing everything in her power to make sure she would ‘get to’ suffer the undeniably worst part of motherhood – labour! I can’t explain it; all I know is that it must have been part of the evolutionary process my brain went through on the pregnancy journey. I wanted to deliver my baby like every other woman, in the God-given natural way – even if it meant indescribable pain and genital deformation. When friends questioned my determination, I told them that to have a planned caesarean felt like cheating; like running a marathon only to get a lift the last kilometre of the race. The fact that I hated running and always believed runners to be closet masochists never dawned on me at the time.
But also, I was terrified of surgery. To this day I still don’t understand why I was more afraid of surgery than labour! I think in my naïve little brain, I thought I would be in control during labour. Where as in surgery I would be frozen and paralysed, a helpless subject under the surgeon’s knife. Even though I was pretty confident in my hospital and the fact that I wouldn’t be meeting Dr. Frankenstein in the operating room, the idea of that kind of helplessness terrified me.
Despite my best efforts, it was not to be. My baby, or ‘Bad Baby’ as we lovingly called her on the eve of her birth, had other plans. That was lesson number one in Infant Parenting 101 – your ‘plans’ do not matter whatsoever. Baby is going to do whatever she does, and she won’t ask your permission. It was indeed one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Dear hubby and I went to bed one evening, for the last time as a childless couple, knowing that by noon the next day we would be parents. And we were. As my former work colleagues were having their lunchtime ciabattas, I was having my lunchtime baby. The whole idea struck me as so bizarre, that before we left for the hospital I made sure to change my facebook status to ‘Andrea is… having a baby’. Simply because I could. I can just imagine what a sad git some of my facebook ‘friends’ must have assumed I was, to soldier on through my contractions and make a detour in my labour process, long enough to update my status on the social networking site.
So we got to the hospital early in the morning, and waited in line for our turn to have a baby. Like queuing for an oil change. And then she made her grand enterance to this nutty world. Our amazing little daughter came into our lives very quickly on a Friday at midday, to the gentle serenade of ‘Radiohead Live at Glastonbury 2003’ in the background. It’s also a very odd thing, choosing background music for the birthing process. As peculiar as our choice may have been, I did have to wonder if the surgeons were ever forced to usurp control and draw the line (“I’m sorry m’am, but I don’t think I can focus properly, your Iron Maiden is too off-putting…”). Later, the surgeon did say it was the first time anyone had played Radiohead, but also offered that he had delivered babies to much worse.
As for the surgery, it was not as scary as I’d anticipated. I felt pressure but no pain, a bit like what it would feel like to have someone wash dishes inside your stomach. And it was all very quick – no longer than, say, washing the dishes after Christmas dinner? Once I heard her cry, time melted away and all I could think about was holding her in my arms. When I saw her perfect, unblemished face, I recognised her right away. It was as if I had known her my whole life, but had just never met her in person. I sensed that she knew me too. The fact that I didn’t know anything about babies or parenting never entered my mind even once. We knew each other, and somehow we’d figure it out as a family. And do you want to know something else? Since that moment, I have never once cared about the way in which she was born. She was safe and with me, and that was all that mattered.
The first time it hit me, for real, was that night in the hospital after the nurses forced my partner to go home, several hours after visiting hours expired. Alone with her in the hospital room, unable to stop her crying in her bedside bassinette, I realised that parenting her outside the womb was going to be a lot harder than the inside job. And so I did the only thing I could do to sooth her crying – I brought her into bed with me. And then lie there awake all night, afraid to take my eyes off her. Trying my best to keep her on her back, for fear of her smothering. Yet no matter how many times I turned her back, she insisted in rolling in towards me, curling up with her body up against mine. That was where she was comfortable, where she felt safe. And that was the first time I felt like I was her mother.
Incidentally, it only took about 2 days at home before I went out and bought the parenting books I should have read before I had her. Then, I bookmarked every how-to website on breastfeeding, burping, colic, etc, etc, etc. I did wish then that I had spent at least a little of my prenatal ‘me-time’ reading up. But I knew that it would never have happened. I’m the kind of person who does next to nil research about my holiday destinations in advance, then spends the week of my return reading up fervently about all the things I’ve seen so that I would know what they were. Why should having a baby be any different? So I read like crazy for a few weeks then gradually gave up, opting instead for an experiential education with my infant as the teacher.
Two and a bit years have now passed since that fateful day when I cried in horror after a pink pee-stick, like some kind of biochemical 8 ball, told me that my life was over. Little did I know then that it was only the beginning. I have lived more life in the last year and a half than ever before, and that is really saying something. Now nearly eighteen months old, my daughter is the most fascinating being I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Toddlerhood is a new adventure for both of us, and one that has inspired me once again to break out the books (is it life’s way of preparing you for adolescence?). As she discovers the world and herself, she simultaneously teaches me about the world and myself. Every day is different. And to my delight I haven’t had to grow up at all. In fact, I’ve been given artistic license to regress into childlike (childish?) behaviours in the name of entertaining her, thereby rendering me younger than I have been since my own toddlerhood. I love it!
And life, as it happens, must have been pleased with the outcome of this cosmic joke as I am now only a few weeks away from doing it all over again! I guess for me there is no such thing as ‘once bitten, twice shy’. Though if the love of parenting could be likened to a virus, this woman is now definitely infected!
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Post - script:
I wrote this hub over 6 months ago but never got around to publishing it, or any other hubs. Which says a lot about life with a newborn, even more about the transition from one to two kids. Stay-tuned for my follow-up hub on that one, which most like will have 'holy crap' or 'oh my God' in the title!
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