A year ago today I had spent the morning rolling around like a hippo in the toddler end of the local lido, avoiding the heat and trying to de-swell my massive ankles. That icepop-guzzling-heavily-pregnant me had no idea what the next year would bring. Well, of course I had some idea. Everyone tells you: sleep, cinema trips, new wine bars – little; nappies, tears, giggles – lots. But looking back I was so focused on getting through the labour and getting a healthy baby out the other side of it, that I hadn’t thought much more about the realities of anything beyond that. Least of all how I would feel and what I would learn about myself in the process.
Little did I know it would turn out to be the most utterly wonderful, utterly transformative and utterly challenging year of my life, in so many more ways than I can express. As the year comes to an end and I find myself once more at my desk, with B in nursery, I feel fundamentally changed. So now I’m pulling a Marty McFly and writing back to that pregnant hippo with a few highlights of what she’ll find out about herself. The beauty of time is you can never know what lies around the corner.
1. You’ve haven’t just got a year.
Maternity leave. A seemingly never-ending stretch of time ahead of you just to look after your baby. Think of the things you could do in that time without work. Think of how sorted you’ll be by the time you go back. You’ll have it ALL figured out. Sorry love, I hate to break it to you, but you won’t. But that is so ok it’s not true. Don’t panic – just relax and enjoy your time. A baby is for life, not just maternity leave. The first year is just a construct, a period of time defined by society and the government as sufficient to get yourself sorted and to have motherhood nailed. But it’s not the end – if you haven’t finished the nursery decor, if you haven’t made your career plan, that’s ok. If the baby still isn’t sleeping through, or is still taking ten naps, it doesn’t matter. You have more than a year and life is not defined by a work contract. You are someone’s mummy now, and the learning never stops.
2. Your story will happen the way it happens.
Only you can live your story, and only you will experience it in the moment. You will hear countless tales from friends, family, fellow mums, passers-by about their story. This may make you feel like your happiness is just something everyone else feels, that your tiredness is something you should just get on with, that you should be doing things in some way differently. But the thing is, anyone else telling you anything about their story is telling it to you in hindsight. They have a magic retrospectoscope which allows them to encapsulate in a sentence, a word, their weeks of sleepless nights, their breastfeeding journey, their labour. They are telling their story with a beginning, a middle and an end. They have an artistic licence to craft a finished article. You, on the other hand, you are living your story. You are in it. One day you too will have a story to tell, but right now you are creating it. If it is fun, enjoy it. If it is hard, live it, have faith that it will pass. Above all, trust yourself.
3. Your love will grow.
When you look back at photos of your uni freshers week or first weeks of school, you forget that at the time they were taken, you didn’t know those people that well. You didn’t have any memories with them. But as they grow into lifelong friendships, we imprint fondness on to those memories because of the journey we’ve had together since. It’s the same with your baby. You won’t know her at first. You will know her in a primitive sense, but you won’t really know her. This will come in time. Your love will grow. It will grow as her personality grows. It will grow as day by day you will make memories, some good, some less fun. It will grow as your friendship builds, and the smiles get more frequent, and as you look back with the retrospectoscope (yep, you get one too) you’ll imprint the early memories with your knowledge of her now. So it will feel as if you’ve always known. But at first you might not – you don’t know her yet and that’s ok. Don’t panic. It will grow.
4. You’ll go bonkers at some point but you’ll get through.
Whatever this year throws at you, you will cope. You are strong. You will make mistakes, you will get obsessed with tiny details that matter to you, you will be exhausted, but you will cope. You are strong. At 3am, on the fifth day of the fifth week of teething, after five months of refluxy screaming, you will lose it. But you will get through. You are strong. Because there will also be giggles – so many giggles. And cuddles. And kisses. And fun. Lots of fun.
5. You will be amazed at what you learn to do one-handed.
Ahem. Buttering toast. That’s what you’ll learn. You are WINNING.
Now put your feet up, rest and enjoy those ice pops. A little bird tells me it might be a long labour…
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