The end of maternity leave

I started my maternity leave almost exactly nine months ago. At the time it seemed like an endless, beautiful stretch of time streaming out in front of me – time to give birth, time to get to know this tiny stranger, time to spend with the other two. I couldn’t remember with any degree of precision my other two maternity leaves (well, one actually: one period of maternity leave began immediately the first one ended- that’s what happens when your second child is born almost exactly a year after the first), only that they were a haze of sleeplessness and small, flailing limbs and soft hair and screaming and crawling and boredom and occasional despair and feeding and cleaning and meal producing and kisses and smiles and, mostly, the sweetest of loves.

This maternity leave has been all this, but it has felt different. Perhaps because I’m so aware that this, this most unexpected and perfect of gifts, is the last. Perhaps because, by comparison to the others, it’s been so short. Perhaps simply because I’ve done it all before. I’ve known this time disappears in the blink of an eye, time rushing away like the tide, and the next time I look up he’ll be a toddler, a little boy on his first day at school. My first maternity leave was a lovely whirl of NCT and lots of babies and coffee and cake. This time around it’s just been me and him, bookended by school runs. My time with him alone has been short, and I have guarded it jealously. We spent mornings pottering, and afternoons asleep, his little face turned into my neck, his soft breaths huffing against my skin, his tiny hand in mine, fingers intertwined. Every morning we took child 1 to school and I listened to spellings and times tables and Minecraft monologues and saw his intent, sweet face in the rear view mirror. ‘I love your face,’ I said every morning to child 1 and every morning he ducked his head and laughed and I stored up these few precious minutes for when I return to work. And every afternoon we would walk up to child 2’s school and wait for her to come flying out of the classroom, hair everywhere, a beaming smile for both of us. Those moments morning and afternoon with the older two have been another lovely, unexpected gift. I will miss them.

And now maternity leave is almost at an end. It seems it has flashed by, those months in which he turned from a fragile, tiny newborn into this, my gorgeous, blue eyed, endlessly smiling boy. He is the loveliest of babies, my sweet third child, with his huge smile and reaching arms and chuckling laugh. The thought of leaving him every day is an impossible one. Leaving him at nursery, watching his face crumple and having to ignore his little arms stretched up towards me, felt as though I was tearing my heart from my chest. I’ve spent eight months making him happy. My every instinct is to protect him, after all, not walk away from him. The gradual detachment process that I know parenting is made up of did not begin so early with the other two- in fact, full time work did not begin for me until they were much older – and my heart, imprinted indelibly as it is with his tiny fingerprints, objects to being apart from him even for a few hours. I’m obsessed with his little face, besotted by his smile, captivated by his soft head beneath my chin. The thought of the majority of my waking hours being spent without him threatens to split me in two.

And yet. I love work. I have missed it. All my adult life work has been a huge part of my identity. Not like being a mother – not like that. Motherhood will always be the greatest part of my self. But being a teacher is a joy and a privilege that I have always been grateful for. Watching a child’s face light up as they grasp a previously seemingly insurmountable concept – that’s wholly worth going to school for. Its the best job in the world. On days when my heart threatens to break over leaving him, my little love, I remind myself that I can be both. Being a mother doesn’t stop me being a good teacher, and being a teacher doesn’t stop me being a good mother. I am fortunate to be able to have both, and to be going back to a new job in a school I love.

And so this time next week when I will have returned to work, and he will have spent the longest period he ever has without me, I will remind myself of this. My maternity leave has been a gift. It has given me the greatest of joy. I have been fortunate every day to have those hours with him. And now it’s time for the next chapter.

Thank you, my littlest one. It’s been the greatest and most wonderful of adventures, suffused at every stage with joy and love. I’ll never forget it.


How far he’s come….

The educational life of an SEND child is often a rollercoaster – it’s sporadic and challenging and changeable and frustrating. Some days it’s two steps forward and you’re celebrating and some days it’s four steps back and you’re cast into gloom again. It’s hard for any child to remain on an even keel at school, and for a child with special or additional educational needs, it’s a constant challenge.

For parents of non SEND children, it can be hard to understand this challenge. It can even be frustrating, because your child comes home talking about little James in the corner who misbehaved ALL day but still got a merit and when your perfectly behaved child didn’t. Or little Charlie on the next table, who didn’t get to go out at lunchtime because he was disruptive but the teacher still took his mother aside at the end of the day to say how well he’d done in the afternoon. Or little Ellie in the next class who got a head teacher award but she was on the thundercloud the week before. It can feel as if your child, hard working and committed as they are, is ignored in favour of these more challenging children. And I get it, I really do. But I also understand that some children face challenges every day that others would never understand.

And the reason I know this is because I have two incredibly different children. Child 2 is a bright, smiley, cheerful child, a little ray of sunshine who is desperate to please her teachers. She works hard and is determined to do well. And I am so proud of her. But she also finds it easy to go into the classroom, sit down, and get on with her work. She has nothing that stops her doing that. Her path at school is smoothed by her own abilities and her determination to triumph and to please. Child 1, bright though he is, finds nothing about school easy. His dyspraxia manifests itself in too many ways for his path to be smooth. He struggles with writing- that cornerstone of education- because of his fine motor control. He struggles with staying on task and focusing because his thoughts are all over the place. (He compares it to having a head full of bouncy balls and he can’t ever capture one- I try to imagine it and try to imagine how he ever stays on task if he feels like that) His processing is slow and his short term memory isn’t as it should be as a result. As with many dyspraxic children, creative writing is a huge problem. He might read four books a week, resulting in an impressive vocabulary, but he finds it difficult to transfer that vocabulary to paper in any kind of creative way. Just writing the answers to sums makes his hand hurt. He can’t hold the pencil as well as other children. He can’t swim after a year of lessons. He can’t ride a bike. Things that come easily to most children – including his sister – are hugely difficult for him.

So our life in education has been that rollercoaster I mentioned. In his time in state education he had two teachers, a SENCO and a TA who really got him – who understood him and that life was hard for him, and I am so grateful to them. But too many others didn’t. Too many teachers are untrained in teaching SEN children. They try, but there are too many children and too little time. Too much to do and too little funding. Too much pressure on writing at an age when some children absolutely can’t cope with it. And poor little Noah sank. He tried, but the bouncy balls in his head stopped him concentrating. He tried, but he couldn’t write anything like the other children of his ability. He tried, but he was misunderstood and became disruptive and difficult. And he began to hate himself, my poor boy who loved to read and play chess and learn. He was trapped in a system that doesn’t allow enough for difference and for children who need more. And he did need more, and the state system could not provide it – lack of funds, lack of expertise, lack of time. It was no one’s fault – except the government, but that’s another story – but he sank. He was in despair. We were all in despair.

It’s been almost two years since we reached rock bottom and he moved schools. Since then, it’s been up and down, as i have come to expect. He has been much happier. That has been the important thing. So much happier. But his problems in the classroom, especially his his writing and inability to focus, have still, at times, dominated his experiences of school.

Then he started year 4, with a new teacher, and his whole life changed.

Last night, he sat down at the table and wrote a piece of creative writing. He got it out of his bag voluntarily, and wrote two long paragraphs in perfectly legible joined up handwriting. He thought about the words he wanted to use. He spelled the words perfectly. He used the word ‘susceptibility’ correctly. He didn’t look up once and he didn’t ask me for any help. The bouncy balls were still.

This morning in the car, he finished learning his tables. In September, he knew only three. Now he knows all twelve, with perfect recall, and at speed. The processing speed that has been so difficult for him is radically better.

In school, working the Montessori way, he completes and finishes his tasks by himself. He is engaged, enthusiastic, committed. He doesn’t need a TA by his side any more, cajoling and persuading. He understands the value of work. Sometimes he comes off task, but the teacher can guide him immediately back on again. She greets me at the door every day, exclaiming in delight about how much he has achieved. Her expectations are high: despite his challenges, he will work as hard as anyone else, and complete the same work as everyone else. She offers support to enable him to do this- she is a tremendously skilled teacher, especially of SEND children – but her expectations means that he rises to them.

The difference in him is profound. He is confident. In some areas, he is skilled and celebrates those skills. In others, he is still behind, but he understands now how to overcome some of those challenges. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how he became this different child in education, after years of not coping very well, but I know that he is different.

On the way to school this morning, I asked him what had made the difference. He thought about it for a long time. His teacher, he said. ‘She knows I can do it, Mummy,’ he said. ‘She helps me but she knows I can do it.’ We owe that teacher a great deal.

He has also been given time – time to mature, time to grow up, time to recognise the value of work, in the way that most SEN children, at the mercy of government targets and a new curriculum that asks for so much, so young, do not have. He is fortunate indeed, and it is heart breaking to think of all the little Noahs, unable to do what they are asked and sinking more every year, that exist in education.

There’s a long road ahead, full of ups and downs. He has a long way to go, facing new and different and the same challenges. But today, this week, this month, we’re going to celebrate. We’re going to celebrate what he overcomes every day, the full marks in the spelling tests, the pages of creative writing and cursive hand writing, the newly found love of maths, the commitment and focus, so recently so far out of his reach, and the joy and pride he feels in being able to complete his work. We’re going to celebrate how far he’s come.

The first six months….

I don’t know how it happened, but child 3 is six months old. One moment he was a tiny newborn who refused to be put down, hated the pushchair and lived in the sling, and the next he was a six month old who’s roughly double the size of most other babies his age and is (fortunately for my general health and especially my back) a bit more willing to be apart from me, at least by a few feet. 

What strikes me most about these first six months is that they have been full of contradictions.

 I have loved and feared, fiercely, in pretty much equal measure. 

I’ve watched him sleep, his little face turned towards me, trustingly, and thought I couldn’t bear it, the hugeness of this love. I’ve felt such fear: I’ve seen in my dreams his pushchair plunging beneath the wheels of a passing car, his tiny form slipping from my sleeping grasp, his helpless body falling headlong to the floor from my reaching arms. 

I’ve been elated – how did I manage to create three such perfect little beings? -and  I’ve been terror stricken that the world could get hold of them and harm them beyond measure. 

I’ve been obsessed and I’ve been bored. I’ve felt as though I could never know him too well, be with him too much, have enough time to know and to love him. And I’ve woken to days when the dreary routine of feed, change, get to sleep, feed, change, get to sleep, threatened to overwhelm me with the grinding, hard sameness of it all. 

I’ve wanted to be with him and I’ve wanted to go to work. He has been everything during those daytime hours where it’s just the two of us, my sweet, smiling boy who looks for nothing except me. I’ve felt so lucky to be at home with him and those lazy hours have drifted by, aimless, beautiful hours in which nothing mattered except him. And sometimes those hours have dragged. I feel useful at work. I feel like I’ve achieved things. It’s hard to get to the end of a day in which all I achieved was getting a baby to sleep three times. I missed my students, my friends, the joy of seeing a child’s face light up with getting a concept that previously seemed insurmountable. 

I’ve been a good mother and I’ve been a terrible one. I’ve been patient and I’ve walked the floor and I’ve rocked and pacified and soothed. And in my head I’ve shouted and screamed and begged for sleep. 

I’ve loved the older two beyond all measure as they’ve grown older and wiser and into the most amazing big siblings. And I’ve found them the hardest work imaginable, when all three of them have needed me and I haven’t known where to turn. 

This time, though, these first six months, I’ve cherished all the little moments, as instructed so often in with my first two, and because this time I know they don’t last for ever. This time I know these days melt away into the night, and soon they are weeks, months, years. Soon that baby disappears and in its place comes a person with views and difficulties and strengths and complexities. A person you love with every ounce of your being, with everything you are, but it is, nevertheless, a more complicated love. That first love for your baby is fresh, new, entirely uncomplicated. I have tried to take these moments and box them up, capture them, store them away for ever. Most of all I have tried to take joy in those moments as they happen, clear, shining, sharp. 

They are gone now, those first six months. I’ll never have a newborn again, never feel the tiny grasp of those little fingers around mine, never feel the softness of just-born skin. I’ll never have that curious mix of sleeplessness mixed with absolute euphoria, those nights that I thought would never end, but that I longed to freeze for ever. I’ll never hold a small, wrinkled hand, or nestle a little body inside the sling. 

But instead I have this: this beaming little ray of sunshine who tries to charm everyone with his huge smile. These reaching arms, this face lit up with excitement, this little creature who turns his face into my neck and holds onto me with everything he has. It is an ironic fact of parenthood that while others stop finding your baby, no longer so small and new, so interesting and cute, you love them all the more. He’s a real person now, with his likes and dislikes, his shrieks of excitement and his smiles of joy. He’s resolute, definite, irreplaceable. 

And so, mostly, just as on that very first day, these first six months have been just this: six months of profound, searing, flaying, depthless love. 

Writing her own story…

Child 2 starts a new school tomorrow – her junior school. She’s not a great lover of change, so the road to this beginning has been a little pitted with holes – she has been, by turns, nervous, excited, frightened, enthusiastic, and downright obstructive. But with the help of a couple of trips to Smiggle (brightly coloured stationery hell to the uninitiated), a fluffy rucksack and pencil case, and a unicorn lunchbox, she’s arrived at enthusiasm. And while that enthusiasm is delightful and a relief, it’s also frightening. Because I don’t want it to be crushed or destroyed. She’s easily hurt, my sweet girl, and I don’t want to see it. I want to see her run out of those gates tomorrow afternoon bubbling over with excitement about her first day and all the amazing things they did and all the wonders of a new school. 

Before I was a parent, I thought the hardest part would be the discipline, or the neediness, or all the work. It isn’t any of these things. It’s the ability to let them go, and to know that you can’t control what happens to them after that. I want to get hold of her teacher and beg them to see her, my beautiful, kind, scatty, generous, loving, day dreaming little girl – really see her. I want to gather up all her friends and tell them to be nice, to be kind, to love her.  I want her to be confident, to work hard, to be encouraged. I want nothing terrible to happen to her. I want no one to be unkind to her or to hurt her. I want her to love and be loved, to learn and to be encouraged, to find only the joy in school. I look at her excited little face as she sorts through her new stationery and pencil case for the thousandth time, and I wish her only brightness and wonder. 

But, in this life and any life, this isn’t possible. I can’t protect her from everything. If I did I would be doing her a great disservice. She needs to strong, to be confident, to be sure. Never experiencing adversity will give her none of this. My looking after her and smoothing her path and solving her problems would be wrong. She needs to learn to live for herself. Even on the days I don’t want her to. 

So I will watch her walk away tomorrow, ponytail bouncing, the fluffy  multi coloured rucksack that she is so proud of on her back, her face shining with excitement and youth and hope. I will not acknowledge the part of me that, in letting her go, feels flayed and raw and vulnerable and fearful. I will instead think only of her joy and enthusiasm and a whole new book opening in front of her, its pages as yet clear and untouched and unmarked, ready for her to write her own story. 

The hell of holiday bedtimes.

Bed time has gone to hell. We’re on holiday. In a caravan. I like caravans and this one is actually nicer than my house, so it isn’t the caravan that’s the problem, mind. I’m by myself with three children (the husband has fewer holidays than I do so I often take the children away with friends. He said he’d miss us but waved us goodbye very cheerily and shut the door at great speed) and the caravan only has two bedrooms. That’s the problem. 

Bedtime goes something like this: 

8pm: miss the optimum bedtime for the baby due to dinner with friends/ pretending to yourself that the baby will be fine (they’re so flexible!)/ vodka. The baby cries as you race, too late, through the rain to your caravan, trailing bags and bottles and bumbos and children on scooters. You hurl yourself and the baby into your room, terrified you will miss the bedtime moment altogether and the baby will tip over into the abyss of overtiredness that will write off your whole night. You issue a stream of instructions to older children as you go, involving teeth and pyjamas and bringing scooters in and shutting the caravan door. 

8.15pm: you tiptoe silently, ninja like, from the bedroom, inwardly triumphant that you’ve missed the overtiredness and the baby is asleep. Bring scooters in. Shut the caravan door. Find child 1 and child 2, pyjama-less and wih uncleaned teeth, talking earnestly about Minecraft in the living room. Issue instructions again. There is some good humour at this stage. You even manage a little joke about the lack of any kind of listening. You admire your own mothering skills and indulgently think about how lovely it is that the children are on holiday and enjoying it so much. It’s so nice they are getting on so well. A late bedtime here or there won’t hurt anyone. 

8.30pm: the children are in bed listening to an audiobook in their tiny coffin like room. The baby is still asleep. The bottles are washed and in the steriliser. The caravan’s a tip, but you can’t have everything. You congratulate yourself and sit down to eat the crisps and nice biscuits you’ve hidden from the children in this little hidden oasis of alone time. 

8.40pm: Child 1 appears and demands to know why you’re eating the chocolate chip cookies he picked out himself in the supermarket. 

8.45pm: you switch off the audiobook. There is silence from the tiny room. You get a drink and peruse the TV listings. You won’t watch anything because it’s almost 9pm and the last time you saw 9.15pm was eight years ago before child 1 was born, but you like the pretence that you might. 

8.50pm: Child 2 erupts, screamingly indignant, from the tiny room. ‘He HIT me, Mummy!’ She hiccups/shrieks through floods of tears. You establish, calmly, because you are still calm and earth motherly, that he hit her because she kept poking him. You think this is quite reasonable actually, because she can be so bloody annoying, what with her hysteria and her poking, but you dish out empty threats about the removal of screen time anyway. Child 1 is unbothered, because he is aware that on holiday is the only time you are not mental about screen time and its Terribleness. 

9pm: the shrieking has woken the baby. You think murderous thoughts about how this is your crisp and biscuit eating time, and go and persuade him back to sleep. Because you always love doing that twice in an hour. 

9.30pm: back on the sofa, you open the crisps. All is silent. You congratulate yourself. Holidays with three children are totally manageable. You haven’t shouted once. You’re magnificent, really. 

9.35pm: Child 2 appears, raging about something to do with child 1. You don’t know what, because you aren’t listening. Your earth mother calm deserts you and you hiss pointlessly about how you have spent the ENTIRE DAY fulfilling their every wish and need and how you wouldn’t actually choose to spend the day on Camber Sands with a four month old baby and all that sand, and how you spent a fortune on bloody parking and sweets and those swingboat rides because an entire beach full of sea and sand wasn’t enough entertainment, and how you are TIRED and SO DONE and all you want is five minutes’ peace. This isn’t all you want; you want a full night’s sleep too, but anyway. Child 2 slinks back to bed but you’re over it so you force child 1 out of his bed and onto the sofa. He begs to sleep with you but you say no, you aren’t rewarding him for poor behaviour. Righteously, you fetch his duvet and pillow and mutter reassuringly to yourself about the importance of Following Through. You don’t really care any more but you know it’s important. Every book you’ve ever read about child behaviour tells you so. 

9.45pm: you return to find child 1 in tears. He misses home. He misses Daddy. Can we go home? Now, tonight, this minute? His lip trembles and big tears fall from his beseeching eyes. He rarely cries so you find yourself a bit undone by it all. (You haven’t known real maternal guilt until you’ve shouted at your perfectly innocent older children for waking the baby) You let him sleep in your bed (while warning him of the Direst of All Consequences if he wakes the baby) 

10pm: child 1 is nearly asleep. You are reading and have managed to calm down, but only just, because you are bitter about the lack of crisps and biscuits. Child 2 materialises out of the darkness. There are more tears. She’s lonely. She’s scared of the dark. She can’t be by herself. Rather than erupting from the bed and screaming terrible things, which is what you want to do but it will wake the baby, you grit your teeth, count to ten, and bribe child 1 with extra Minecraft time to go back in the room with child 2. 

10.15pm: you are precisely where you began two hours ago. You have eaten no crisps or biscuits and you haven’t watched any telly. Child 1 has actually gained Minecraft time. Only one child is asleep. 

You go in search of the vodka. 

How to win at sleep regression

First of all, get your baby sleeping through the night. This is very important. Sleep regression is hell with any baby, but it’s a particular kind of hell when your baby has been sleeping through the night and you’ve been smugly congratulating yourself on his wonderfulness, and, consequently, your own amazing parenting. ‘Oh yeah, he can be a bit of a nightmare during the day but he’s so good at night!’ You say breezily. Even better if he’s been such a good sleeper since the beginning that you’ve never felt that sleep deprived at all. This ensures that when sleep regression hits, you’ll feel every hour of it. Every long drawn out, floor pacing, frustrating, rocking, crying, hour. At the end of week 1, you’ll be crying. By week 2, you’ll be homicidal. If it lasts into week 3, you might need to be committed. 

Once you’ve established that it’s not a horrible, unwelcome fluke that he doesn’t sleep through the night any more, you hit the Internet with a vengeance and discover that 3-4 month sleep regression is an actual thing. Google tells you, as is google’s wont with any type of motherhood question, that it’s your fault. You’re feeding him too much. You’re not feeding him enough. You’re comforting him to sleep too much. You’ve broken his trust because you let him cry that once for 35 seconds while you fled downstairs screeching at your husband that you needed more milk and what the hell is he doing, not providing it instantly, the very second that you needed it? You need to rock him to sleep or co-sleep, because that’s what animals do in the animal kindgdom and humans are very neglectful, putting their own selfish needs for sleep and worries about cot death and suffocation ahead of that.  You need to teach him to self soothe. You’re not cuddling him enough. You’re cuddling him too much and spoiling him. You leave the internet feeling a wrung out husk of your former self and with no solutions. To make yourself feel better, you turn to your birth group Internet forum (yes, these are actual things. They’re a whole blog post in themselves) You discover that the forum is full of despairing parents ready to throw themselves off bridges over the lack of sleep/ the broken sleep/ the fact that their babies have NEVER slept and are now sleeping even LESS and they didn’t even know that was possible/ the fact that they were a perfect sleeper and now they…well…aren’t. You instantly feel better, because misery loves company and also you don’t want to feel like it’s just your baby because that would be a whole new world of worry. 

You resolve that this sleep regression will not beat you. You decide, in the middle of the night out of desperation, to sleep train, because it’s definitely best to sleep train right in the middle of the baby’s worst patch of sleeping ever, at 2am, and during a growth spurt when they need food. You give up on sleep training somewhere around the third cry, because he’s just too little, and the way his face crumples and he stares up at you beseechingly through the darkness breaks your heat. You’ve never been good at sleep training. You google some gentler methods. You pick the baby up and put him down approximately  one hundred and seventeen times. You keep your hand on his chest, because every baby loves a hand on its chest instead of being snuggled into its mother’s arms. It’s practically the same thing. The baby has no truck with this. He cries. And cries some more. You eventually feed him to sleep like always, because food is the answer to everything (except when Calpol is the answer) and you’re exhausted and he falls asleep perfectly contentedly and you feel validated. Look, you’re practically an attachment parent. You’ve learned from the animal kingdom and he’s a happier baby for it. Until he wakes up again two hours later. You have only just gone back to sleep because: google. And also the fact that you got yourself unwittingly and somewhat foolishly embroiled in a particularly vitriolic anti-vaccinations thread which seemed of paramount importance at 2am. 

You curse google and sleep regression and babies and everything else in the world.  You look at his cot resentfully through the darkness and think dark thoughts about your husband, sleeping peacefully and obliviously. You stumble to the cot, longing for sleep, and he smiles up at you in the dim light and your heart melts. 

Your daughter arrives, and cheerfully announces she’s been woken by his crying and can she help? She speaks exactly as if it’s 8am and not 4am and sadly in her head it obviously is because then she lies beside you in the bed for the next two hours, not sleeping. You are not especially pleased to see her because right now you wish someone else was entirely responsible for all of your children and you were in a dark bed in a dark room by yourself anywhere apart from here.  You feed the baby and then also lie awake for the next two hours, worrying about the lack of sleep you’re having and cot death and the packed lunches you haven’t made for the morning and that bill you still need to pay and how you will cope if this continues when you go back to work and how you’re probably creating bad sleep habits FOR LIFE (look at the other child, bloody lying awake at 4am) and that girl who didn’t get the B you wanted her to get in 2007.

 Around 6am, precisely one hour before the other child will be up for the day, full of the joys of his ten hours of uninterrupted sleep, you fall into the depths of a dreamless sleep, congratulating yourself on the way. You’ve survived. You’ll be a zombie by 1pm, but right now, you’ll take it. 

Disclaimer: the child is now back to his lovely sleeping self so it turns out Google was wrong. But I’m saying that in a very un-smug, non tempting fate, whisper. 

All ‘that’…

We were out for dinner with some friends this evening, and, as is usual in the evenings or when he gets tired, I was standing holding the baby, endlessly swaying (which I now also do even when I don’t have a baby) and waiting for him to go to sleep. ‘I don’t think I could do that again,’ my friend said, watching me sway from her comfortable position of being the parent to two seven year olds who were sitting with our older two, talking like grown ups, being wholly un-needy, and doing some colouring. By ‘that’ I knew she didn’t just mean the standing up and swaying while everyone else had nothing more to worry about than their pizza and their drinks. She meant all of ‘that’ with a baby – the walking the floor in the evenings instead of lying on the sofa watching the telly, the waking up in the night to feed instead of knowing you’ll sleep the whole night through, the trying to persuade a baby back to sleep in the early mornings instead of a lie in while your older children get their own breakfast, the reading of Where’s bloody Spot on a weekend afternoon instead of reading a nice new Lisa Jewell with a cup of tea. And I know exactly how she feels, because when I was baby-less, I also used to look with faint horror at those newer parents, who were rocking, walking, entertaining, pacifying, chasing, comforting, holding, instead of sitting in solitary splendour and watching their children order their own dinner. We had reached a stage where the children were pretty independent – and at heart perhaps I’m pretty lazy, because I loved that. I loved turning over in the morning and going back to sleep. I loved not having to do up car seat belts. I loved not having to force little limbs into clothing, and not having to change nappies or get a high chair or persuade the baby to stay in a high chair or follow them around the house while they relentlessly try to thrown themselves down the stairs. I loved all of it. 

But now he’s here, here’s the thing. I didn’t love any of it as much I love him. It was nice, all that independence and me-time and Friday nights on the vodka and Saturday mornings at gymnastics reading my book and meals out where all I had to do was decide what food I wanted – but it didn’t, not even a tiny bit, compare to having him. Nothing compares to having him. 

 I didn’t know I would feel this way. I didn’t know that a third child could creep up on you and steal your heart as completely, as wholly, as overwhelmingly, as the others. I didn’t know that just as each of them changed me, shaped me, transformed me, he would too. I am obsessed by him, by the wondrous perfection of his innocent, brand new smile, by the softness of his perfectly round head tucked beneath my chin, by his tiny, finely shaped fat little hands. I am besotted by the way his face lights up with his huge, gummy grin when he sees me. I am captivated by how he hangs on to me grimly while he his in the sling, as though his ineffectual little finger hold could anchor him.  I could cry just looking at him sometimes, this little boy who is so ordinary to the outside world and so dazzling to us. I lie in bed with him in the evenings, tucked into the crook of my arm while I wait for him to fall asleep, and my heart swells thinking how lucky I am to have this brand new tiny little human, with his soft skin and his pursed mouth and his little bald head. I live my days sparkling in the brightness of his existence, this little gift that I did not expect. 

And all ‘that’ is nothing beside this – the wonder of a new little being who has, like his sister and brother before him, taken my heart in his hands and made it new.