This week, a good friend of mine had her second baby, and I went to a baby shower. Every day events, both of them – but only in the sense that they happen every day, to so many people, in so many lives. But not at all every day in another sense – in that other sense, they’re as far from everyday as anything could possibly be. I watched my baby shower friend, whose first baby is due in five weeks, and thought about how much her life will change, and how beautiful and miraculous and wonderful that change will be.
The world is full of people who will tell her horror stories – ‘I didn’t sleep in three years, and that was only when I had a nervous breakdwon.’ ‘Birth nearly killed me.’ ‘I consider going to the supermarket on my own quality time to myself.’ (I do actually think this) But people tell you very little about the fact that while giving birth changes your life in every possible way, in every way its for the better. All the things you will give up – and yep, it’s a long list – well, they ceased to have much meaning for me the day my first child was born.
Every now and again,of course, my friends and I sigh over Life Before. Those were the days when we went out for lunch and stayed in the pub until closing. And we didn’t have to take a rucksack full of Lego and colouring pens and feel a bit panicked that any minute it would be necessary to leave. Those were the days we spent Saturdays shopping or watching the entirety of a box set, back to back, without freaking out about what time the child will wake up in the morning – instead of at the zoo – again- or in the hell of soft play. Those were the days when the house was tidy and things stayed where you put them. Those were the days when I worked until six and then had an entire evening to myself instead of leaving working at half four, wracked by guilt, and started again at half seven. Those were the days when I not only spent time with my husband, I was actually awake at the time. We even talked. Those were the days before guilt, before I questioned every decision I made, before I had to worry about phonics and bullying and endless permutations of child friendships and birthday parties. And those days were fun, they really were. But all of those days – those happy, contented, lovely days – pale into absolute insignificance beside the joy I have now.
I find these joys everywhere. I find them in the sweetness of my daughter’s smile, in the way she awakens sleepily in the morning and gives me a huge, automatic smile before holding up her arms because she doesn’t want to put her feet on a cold floor. I find them in the perfection of my son’s face, his little brow furrowed as he narrates the complicated battles between his knights and soldiers, lost in his own world. I find them in the way they both fling open the door when I arrive home in the evening, screaming ‘Mummy’s HOME!’ I find them in the tightness of her little arms around my neck, her voice whispering ‘I love you’ in my ear. I find them in the way he throws himself upon me last thing at night and the way he wishes me good night. I find them in the way she delights in spotting every single butterfly in her Biff and Chip book, and in the way he screams with laughter over the nonsensical words in ‘The BFG.’ I find them in the softness of her skin, the curve of her cheek, the perfection of each and every one of her bones. I find them in the way she talks to each of her toy cats and her My Little Ponies, just as if they’re real, and in the way he reads stories to his cuddly rabbits at night. I find them in the way they change and grow, every single day, my sweet, beautiful boy and girl, in the way they overcome their challenges, in the way they’ve become the most amazing little creatures with all their own thoughts and wants and worries. I find them in the way they make friends but still think of each other of their best friend, in the way they create whole imaginary worlds together. I find them in the way I love them, fiercely, all consumingly, beyond a depth I never knew existed, with every tiny piece of my heart.
I could never explain the pure joy, the great beauty, the almost-overwhelming obsession of being a parent. I could never hope to put into words the way they have changed my life for ever, into something greater, something more lovely, something more worthwhile. But I look at those who are at the very beginning of this journey, whether with their first or second child, and my heart swells at everything they have to come.
It might happen every day – but becoming a parent is the least everyday, and the greatest and most wondrous thing of all.