As I watch the Manchester tribute concert….

I tucked the children into bed tonight and stood for a moment, looking down at each of them. Child 3 was sound asleep, and I leaned down and kissed him, gently, on his warm, soft skin. He didn’t stir, sunk in the depths of his baby sleep. Child 2, as is her usual delaying tactic, reached out her hand and asked to hold mine, ‘just for a minute, Mummy.’ Child 1 wanted to tell me many, many facts about some space probe or something he is reading about. Usually I can’t get away fast enough, especially since the birth of child 3, because I’m tired and we’re at the end of a long day in which I have already heard far too much about the space probe, and in which child 2 has already crawled all over me too many times. But tonight – tonight I waited, and I held my daughter’s hand and watched as her innocent, pure little face smoothed itself into sleep. And I waited and I listened to my son tell me all about this probe that he is so fascinated by, and I gazed at his face, lit up by his fascination for it, and I felt lucky. I felt so lucky. 

Because two weeks ago some parents, who felt exactly as I do about their children, waved them goodbye as they walked away from them into a pop concert. They probably drove home, or watched them walk down the street, thinking fondly of what a good time they’d have. They had probably listened to them talk about the concert for months, years even, and had felt happiness that their children, the most precious objects on their earth, would soon be experiencing such excitement and joy. They probably watched them walk away, those children who were everything to them, and maybe they wanted, just for a moment, to run and grasp them back, to freeze these moments in the way you do as a parent – take the perfection of these creatures you made, each miraculous inch and each miraculous bone – to kiss their hair and hold their hands. Perhaps they didn’t want them to go – perhaps they felt sadness that they were growing up too fast – perhaps they saw in those moments the years ahead in which they moved gradually further away. But they let them go, those parents, and thought of the experience they would have and how they would see them later.

But they didn’t see them later. For those parents, their lives were destroyed in a single moment. I think of them all the time, those parents who are just like me, and they didn’t know. They didn’t think that they needed to snatch every moment with their children, to hold them more tightly when they said good night, to watch them sleep and imprint on their memories the slight curve of a cheek, the silkiness of some strands of hair, the shadows cast by a fan of dark eyelashes. They didn’t know that only a few hours later, that would be all they would have. That it would always be all that they would have, in this unimaginably bleak and awful new existence. 

It is too trite to say that my heart breaks for them. It is too trivial to say, as I sit here with all three of my beautiful children safely asleep upstairs, that I cannot imagine how they will go on, with just those memories. It is too superficial to cry tears for those people who dropped their children off at a concert or a train station and never imagined for a moment that their lives would, only a few hours later, be bleakly, horrifically, irretrievably changed. So instead I will stand by my children’s beds for those moments longer. I will hold my daughter’s hand for as long as she wants me to. I will listen to all those tedious details about the space probe and then give my son an extra kiss goodnight. And I will hold the baby those moments longer in the middle of the night, feeling unutterably fortunate, and think with fathomless dark horror and hopeless, futile tears, of those parents whose children never came home. 


The first month….

And so the first month of his life has been and gone, just like that. In the blink of an eye, he has emerged into the world and become a tiny, definitive person, with likes and dislikes and a personality and presence all of his own. As with the others, I can’t really remember a time when he wasn’t here, or a life in which he didn’t exist. 

It’s been a month of….. 

Getting to know him: the way he likes to sleep, curled into my side, his face turned trustingly into mine. The evenings that he’s spent wide awake and wide eyed, overwhelmed by his brand new world. The times he’s stopped crying, instantly, when I’ve picked him up, his soft head nestled beneath my chin. The moments when I’ve put him down and he’s turned towards the sound of his sister’s or brother’s voice, murmuring his baby sounds, watching them with what feels like wonder. The way that during the day, he likes to sleep on me, his little heart beating against mine. I sit watching him sleep, his cheek resting against my chest, and wonder how it is that a month ago he wasn’t here, and yet now he is everything. 

Siblings. My pride in their love of him has battled with an innate protectiveness and abject fear. They have little understanding of how they could hurt him and some days all I’ve seemed to say is ‘don’t do that!’ Some nights I’ve gone to bed and cried because I’ve felt like a terrible mother, torn continually between my love of the older two and a fierce, overwhelming need to be with him. Even when I’ve known they have their dad, that they’ve had fun and love and attention, there have been days when I haven’t been able to shake the paralysing guilt. Some days I’ve shouted and they haven’t had enough of me and when, after finally getting him to sleep, I’ve put him down and gone into their rooms and found them sound asleep too, their little innocent faces turned towards the door, waiting for a mummy who didn’t come. And some days we’ve gone out as a family and I’ve watched them walk with pride beside him and stroke his head and run to fetch everything we might need and my heart has swelled with their joy in him.

Fear. Giving birth makes you raw, vulnerable, helpless. Some days I’ve felt flayed just from having him alive in a world that could so easily hurt him. I’ve seen the worst of images flicker in my mind, seen his pushchair disappear beneath the wheels of a passing car, dreamed that he’d slid from my hands into the bath, imagined him unmoving in his cot. I’ve taken his temperature a hundred times. Ive watched his chest rise and fall. I’ve woken in the night and counted his breaths. This, the greatest of loves, is accompanied by the sharpest and darkest of fears. 

Mostly, though, it’s been a month of love. Just like the others, I couldn’t imagine how I would feel until he was here, this little creature with the soft hair and the tiny wrinkled hands and the round cheeks. I couldn’t remember how he would so quickly become everything,that the three of them would make up a world that I feel fortunate to inhabit every single day. 

 And it’s been a month of the purest of joy. When he gazed up at me this morning, his eyes seeming to fix on mine, his arms thrown above his head and his mouth stretched in a hesitant, wondrous smile, I wanted time to stop, just for a minute so I could have it for always: frozen on that moment, that joy, that love. 

Mornings in the brave new world of maternity leave….

5-6am- wake up and feed the baby. Have a little stress about the time he’s feeding, because whatever time he feeds, it’s inconvenient for the school run and his next feed. Put him on my chest when he’s finished and lie there with him knowing i really should  go back to sleep and I’ll regret this later, but cannot bring myself to move his warm little body back to his bed. Optimistically plan how I’ll move shortly, be extra organised this morning, and have packed lunches and breakfast done by 6am. 

6.30am – realise I’ve spent much too long admiring the baby and his little breaths, mourning how these tiny newborn days go by too fast, and feeling unreasonable grief that he’s already grown out of his first babygros. Put him in cot. Hold breath, waiting. He doesn’t stir so creep, ninja like, from the room, still holding my breath in case it wakes him. He’s silent and I pull the door to, congratulating myself on a job well done. Meet child 1 outside the door, who cheerfully shouts ‘Morning Mummy!’ Get the baby back to sleep. 

6.45am – wake child 2. Persuade her that no, she cannot stay in bed all day no matter how warm and cosy and much nicer than outside it is. Point out the clothes laid out on her chair, which she will then ignore for the next 45 minutes. Find child 1 reading his book. Suggest he could get dressed before reading. This is greeted with a vague agreement which is designed purely to shut me up about any dressing that needs to be done and make me go away so he can ignore his clothes and read more. Go downstairs, safe in the knowledge that they are both awake if not actually doing anything productive. Filled with a misplaced sense of satisfaction that the morning routine has begun, wash bottles, attempt to find time for breakfast, do packed lunches, get their bags ready, occasionally shout up the stairs for status updates on the dressing, (‘I’m on my pants now Mummy’ from child 1. Ominously, no sound from child 2) and get in the shower. 

7.15am- return upstairs and find child 1 reading his book in his pants. Only his pants. Take deep breath. Think dark thoughts about maternity leave. Resolve that this morning, there will be no shouting. Tell him we’ll be late for school. Child 1 displays no sign of being bothered about this at all, probably because, thanks to my abject horror of being late, it has never happened in all the time he’s been going to school. Find child 2 still in bed. She’s awake, but her pile of clothes remains forlornly untouched on her chair. Take more deep breaths. Threaten the removal of television this evening. While this doesn’t disturb her hugely – the evening is much too far away for real concern at this time – she does at least get out of bed. 

7.25am – physically tear child 1’s book out of his hands. Stand over him while he gets dressed. 

7.30am – make breakfast. Naturally, they want entirely different things. Agree to this for expediency’s sake while muttering more dark thoughts about spoiled children and the house not being a hotel, etc. 

7.35am – referee five arguments and a physical fight while they grudgingly eat their separate bloody breakfasts together. Have a little stress about how the baby hasn’t woken up yet and will now definitely want his feed in the middle of the school run. 

7.40am – consider own breakfast again. Realise I don’t have time.  Eat a chocolate biscuit. I’ve only just given birth, after all. No one will expect me to be thin until at least Christmas. 

7.45am – remove evening television from both children. Try not to scream like a banshee about the fact that they are ONLY EVER NICE TO EACH OTHER DIRECTLY BEFORE BEDTIME. Fail. 

7.50am – choose between waking the baby for a feed that doesn’t fit in with his three hourly pattern in any way, drying my hair, and putting on make up. Ignore the screeching from the other room. I’ve already taken away the television. I have no way forward from here. Leave them to it and hope there is no actual bloodshed. 

7.55am – think longingly of work and how at this time I could be peacefully replying to emails with a cup of tea. 

8am- panic that we should be leaving. Shout instructions about teeth and shoes into the abyss of the children’s general unbotheredness. Remove second book of the morning from child 1. Remember that I had every intention of listening to child 2 read this morning. Continue to feed the baby (with wet hair) and reassure myself that, you know, she can read now. Whole novels. Surely the hideousness of reading every morning can now be despatched, even though it did make me feel like a really good mother. There’s another child now. I have the hell of Biff, Chip and that bloody Kipper to do all over again in a few years. Child 2, still without her shoes or coat on, comes to remind me that we haven’t read. 

8.05am – makeupless, and still with wet hair, stuff all three children plus bags and lunches into the car. Perform complicated manoeuvres involving moving the baby several times from car seat to sling in order to complete two drop offs. Remain patient when children, whose only job is to bring their own book bags and water bottles, leave them several times in the hallway and the car. 

9am – drive merrily away from child 1’s school, the baby asleep in the back, singing along full pelt to some Time Tunnel 90s classic that reminds me of my university years. A day of sitting on the sofa with the baby asleep on me, watching a few reruns of 16 and Pregnant awaits.

 I love maternity leave. After 9am. 


The moments that matter…. 

Child 3 is more than two weeks old now. He was born in the earliest hours of a Wednesday morning, arriving into the world, like his sister, with considerable speed and efficiency. Despite my fears over his size, amplified by helpful comments from medical professionals such as ‘he’s a big chap- he’ll be a rugby player’, he was born easily (although not without a huge amount of pain – I had managed to forget how awful it is, and I never, ever want to do it again) and without difficulty. He has begun his time in the world just as he arrived, quietly and without any great fuss, settling quickly into a life where his needs come alongside an older sister and brother, and where he spends a great deal of time being transferred from car seat to sling to pram on school runs and trips to gymnastics. When people have asked me how it’s going, I’ve said ‘fine; it’s completely fine.’ They often look doubtful, but it really is. So far. He’s a good baby, and although he wakes every three hours for a feed, he also settles immediately back to sleep after each one. The endless midnight hours of walking the bedroom floor that I remember so clearly with his sister are thankfully, conspicuously, absent. 

I have, naturally, social media obsessed creature that I am, documented his first two weeks on Facebook. I have tried not to post endless pictures – although I am so besotted by him that I have no real judgement- but I’m certain there are many of my Facebook friends who happily scroll on by his little face, possibly thinking ‘give it a rest.’ Which is, of course, completely fine – I do the same with pictures of people’s dinners, and selfies taken through an Instagram filter. But a chance comment about Facebook today made me think about what we post, and what sort of impression our social media pages give. 

Glancing back over the last two weeks, I know I’ve captured, largely, the love and obsession I have with this, my third and last baby, and his precious, fledgling relationship with his lovely siblings. I have captured moments in which I can’t believe I could love anything this much, moments in which my love of him overwhelms all else, moments in which I look into his little dark eyes and the perfection of him threatens to crush my heart. I have captured this, him, now, his perfection and sweetness and purity and vulnerability, and I have captured my wonder of him: this most glittering and profound of loves. 

There are many moments that I have not captured. There are the moments when heart-stopping, horrifying worry threatens to overwhelm me- the minutes and hours when I’ve been convinced that something’s wrong with him that I can’t fix – that he’s too quiet, or too sleepy, or not hungry enough, or not awake enough. There’s been many moments of irrational, electrifying fear, where I’ve become obsessed with his temperature, or the amount of milk he’s taken. There was the moment that I came back into the room after going out to the kitchen for a minute and found his seven year old brother walking towards the door with him. ‘I’m just taking him upstairs for you Mummy,’ he said brightly, and – after taking him from him and talking to him about how he can’t lift him, how easily broken he would be, how vulnerable he is- I cried for half an hour about what could have happened. I haven’t captured the moments when he has refused to go to sleep in the evenings, over stimulated and over-tired by all the activity of our house in the afternoons and early evenings; when I have had to walk the floor with him and listen to him cry helplessly against my chest. I haven’t captured those moments when I’ve been so tired I snapped at the other children, or the ones when I thought I simply didn’t have the energy to read them a bedtime story and after they’d gone to bed I felt a failure as a mother. I haven’t captured the moment that child 1 cried on the third day and said he felt a bit left out, or the way child 2 has curled up on my lap, even though she’s really too big now, and cried over nothing, defeated by her exhaustion from a school day in which so much is demanded of her. I haven’t captured the moments where I couldn’t get him to latch on no matter how hard I tried, and where we both cried with frustration, or the many, many hours I’ve spent expressing to try to mitigate it. 

And maybe I should have captured those moments. Maybe when I’ve been guilty of showing our new lives as a family of five through a glossy Facebook filter. Maybe when I look back on it I’ll wonder if it was a true reflection of these first weeks. But, you see, in the end, those moments above recede into complete insignificance when I think of the last two weeks. Because, while they were hard and emotional and upsetting, they were also unimportant beside the true and important moments of the first two weeks of child 3’s life. Those moments were ones in which I held him close against me, his tiny body warm against mine, his little face heart-swelling in its perfection, and thought I could never know greater love or greater joy than this. They were the ones that mattered. They are the ones I’ll never recapture. They are the ones that I hope I can always remember – that when life moves on and I go back to work and we become buried in those every day, busy, mundane hours and days and months – that will still glow, jewel-like. In a year’s time, or two or three, these are the moments I want to remember: a tiny head tucked into my neck, the softness of his brand-new skin, the sound of his breath in the darkness, the way his little hand clutches at my top, his dark eyes that stare searchingly into mine, and the way my heart swells each time, lifted by a love without end. 

These are the moments that matter. 

To my third child….

And here you are, my littlest one. You have been in the world now for less than twenty four hours – this time yesterday I had not yet met you. I had no idea what you looked like (a mirror image of your brother, as it turns out) what you weighed (9lb 3oz but you still seem tiny to me) and no sense of who you are as a little person (very, very quiet on day 1) And now it couldn’t seem any more odd that yesterday I didn’t know you. Because today you are too precious, too definite a person, too important, to remember a time when you were not here. 

Your birth, strangely difficult as I found it, has now receded into insignificance. This time last night I couldn’t see how I would survive it – that I would live always locked in a battle of searing pain, contractions that I knew you were bringing you closer but couldn’t welcome, and the horror of the pain that was still to come. Today, I remember only that it brought you to me. It seems far distant now. 

Today brought your first meeting with your brother and sister. I will always remember the awe on their faces as they tiptoed to the crib and peered in, searching for the brother they have anticipated and talked of for so long, realising that here, now, finally, you had become a real entity to them. I will always treasure the real, bright love in your sister’s eyes as she held you for the first time, bursting with pride. I will never forget the way your brother stroked your tiny hand with his finger, struck silent by its softness and fragility. 

I sit here now with you snuggled close into my neck. I can feel your tiny, huffing breaths on my skin, feel a small, helpless hand flung against my chest. All this time as I’ve carried you it’s been this – you and me, our hearts beating silently together and apart, part of each other. But this isn’t separation, my little one – this is the beginning of a story of the greatest of loves. I have no idea who you will be, but the pages are blank and full of promise and possibilities. I held you against me all day today and thought of this beginning, and of your new life in your brand new world, and it begins with this: the clearest, brightest joy, and the purest of loves. 

The four phases of realising you’ll have to give birth again 

Phase 1: horror

Approximately thirty seconds after the cross shows up on the pregnancy test stick, you realise in absolute, stop-still-and-freeze, horror that you’ll have to give birth again. Previously quite rosy coloured memories of your children’s births, polished by years of telling, become distinctly less rosy in the light of this new realisation. Yes, they were comparatively easy and straightforward, when you think of all those horror stories you hear, but, you know, it’s all relative. They still felt like every bone in your body was being broken at regular intervals, slowly and agonisingly. You remember that ever since, you have assessed all pain on two separate scales: normal pain and birth pain. No pain you’ve experienced since, including broken bones, has ever made it above a 3 in the birth pain category. 

Phase 2: denial

You enter a phase of blissful denial, and you welcome every second. The twenty four hours you spent in labour for the birth of child 1 is forced from your memory. Instead, when the prospect of birth looms, you focus on the two hours of established labour for child 2. You can do anything for two hours. Anything. And your over-riding memory of the birth of child 2 is that it didn’t hurt as much as you expected. The knowledge that this was just in relation to the birth of child 1, where your introductory ‘welcome to the world’ text also included the words ‘I am never, ever doing this again; people that do are insane.’ is summarily banished from your mind. It will be fine! You’ve done it before! Your body knows exactly what it’s doing! And no one would ever do it again if it were really so terrible, would they? (You will not think of the brutal truth that no one, when conceiving their children, planned or unplanned, is focusing or even thinking of the hell of birth at that time, and after that it’s too late) 

Phase 3: re-emerging horror

You stumble across an old episode of ‘One Born Every Minute.’ Sadly it’s not that one where the blonde girl with the weird husband gives birth in the pool with barely a squeak, but one in which a woman loses it around 3cm and only regains any semblance of control when the epidural enters her spine. You want to change channel but instead you are transfixed. You want to think of yourself as more of the blonde woman, spreading serenity and bliss with every wave of the pool, but you have an uncomfortable recollection of screaming at both the midwife and your husband round about the transition stage in the birth of child 1 that they shouldn’t fucking tell you to calm down. (The venom was such that they didn’t do it again) You comfort yourself with thoughts of the birth of child 2, where you were genuinely confused when it was time to push because it didn’t seem to hurt enough, and there was no swearing or screaming. Then you remember that the pushing stage hurt so much that you really hated child 2 for at least the first three minutes of her life. It was great that she was born and everything, and everyone else in the room was celebrating, but you were still on that bloody awful torture she had caused during the fifteen minutes of pushing. You try to focus on the fact you get a baby at the end of it, instead, but your brain is stubbornly refusing to forget the pain. 

Phase 4: acceptance 

You become resigned. You suppress the panic that, irretrievably, this baby has to come out of you somehow, and there are no ways that don’t hurt. You remember that four hours after child 2’s birth you were walking out of the hospital feeling just a bit tired. You live through the birth of your sister’s second child via whatsapp and this lovely sanitised way of experiencing it dulls the fear. The fact that it’s a nice quick birth in which she copes admirably is helpful in this. You cuddle your new baby nephew, the minuscule weight of him warm against your shoulder. and are overcome by the thought that soon you will have one of these tiny creatures of your own. 

You look at your first two children as they sleep. You watch their chests rise and fall, reach out to touch a hand curled against a flushed cheek, gaze at the shadows cast on flawless skin by long eyelashes, and you remember that you’d give birth every day for the rest of your life to get these two. And one day soon, the emergence of another little being, no matter who he is, no matter how the birth, will cast any amount of pain into insignificance.

 You cling desperately to this thought and wish beyond all wishes that vodka was allowed in pregnancy. 

In the dark of the night….

Since the beginning of this pregnancy, I’ve had some kind of pregnancy insomnia. Almost every night I wake around three and lie for long moments, staring into the darkness, wondering if tonight is a go back to sleep night, or a two hour wakefulness night. Most are the latter. 

It’s in these hours of wakefulness that I feel most afraid. There have been distinct phases of emotion in this pregnancy: in the first phase I was fatalistic- whatever happened would happen. I was 38, with two previous miscarriages (although they had been a long time before); the concept that this one would make it was one with which I didn’t engage too closely, out of fear. Then came a distinct phase of joy and happiness: seeing that little being on the scan made me remember the miracle of it all – his little heart thumping, his tiny legs flailing, his hand reaching out, fluttering in the smallest wave. And now – now we’re back to fear. 

With a third pregnancy has come a raft of new fears and worries. In a society where two children is the norm, I have this ridiculous notion that maybe two children is it: that with my lovely, healthy two I’ve worn out my credit somehow. As he kicks and squirms I am filled with fear that he isn’t as healthy as he seems; that by bringing him into the world at 39, the third of three, I’ve somehow moulded him in a way that I shouldn’t have, that his little body won’t work the way it should. I’ve become preoccupied by the things I should and shouldn’t eat, by BPA in water bottles, by the environment in which I live. I think about the birth, about the horror stories I’ve heard, about the fact that in a single few moments, something so natural can go so wrong. And there your life turns, in those moments, from all that it was before, to all that the after holds. 

And there are other, much more minor worries. With my first two, I took two years of maternity leave, followed by two more years of part time work. With this final child, I plan to go back to work at Christmas, when he’ll be eight months old. Quite apart from concerns that should be more pressing, like who the hell will look after him, the thought of it all seems daunting. I don’t always feel like the best mother to the two children I already have. I spend a huge amount of time at work, or working at home. Who could blame them if they grow up thinking that a pile of exercise books is more important than they are? I’m often tired, snappy, impatient. I don’t always give them the attention they deserve. How will I manage to split myself three ways, to give enough time to my beautiful sweet girl, my wonderful boy, and a baby? 

And will I love him the way I love them? After all, my love for them has had six and seven years to find its rhythm, to grow and to swell, to imprint itself upon my heart. Will he be too new? Too newborn? Too tiny and washed clean for me to feel that love that clutches at my heart? Or – undoubtedly more probable – will I love him immediately the way I loved them, definitive, definite, all consuming – so that I can no longer go out into the world without feeling vulnerable and raw, surrounded on all sides by things that might damage his tiny perfection? 

As I near the end of my sleeplessness in the night, I know in my heart that all of these worries are entirely pointless. He is what he is, my small, almost-formed boy. My worries about how we will cope are first world problems, precipitated by the reading of too many blogs and too much media coverage of how women can’t have it all. He will be a privileged, well cared for middle class child, surrounded by food and books and toys and people that love him. He will have siblings who worship him and parents who give him everything, including the twin examples of work ethic and determination. 

And he will have love. All the love that any child could have or need, from his family, from his siblings, and from his parents. One day soon, I’ll gaze into his little face and all of these middle of the night fears will recede into nothing beside the perfection of the little creature he is. It is always this image that I hold close to me as I turn over and go back to sleep in the darkness of another night.