It’s seven years today since I became a mother. Here’s what I looked like just before we went to hospital. For the record, no, I was not carrying quads. I was 38 weeks pregnant with one baby who had grown to gargantuan proportions thanks to my insatiable craving for chocolate milk.
At 6:52am on Friday, 2 May 2008, my boy was born and my life changed, utterly and completely, and forever.
I could talk ad nauseam about how hard it was early on, how much I struggled with the tiredness and the sameness, the lack of stimulation and quite likely a bit of undiagnosed post-natal depression, but that is truly in the dim, dark past. I could talk about how I eventually blossomed as a parent, and reminisce fondly about how I was so determined to learned the words to the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song that I sat late one night pushing play, stop, play on Hugh’s Songs of Sodor DVD until I had all the lyrics written down and could memorise them from my cheat sheet. I could talk about how worried I was until Hugh finally started walking at the grand old age of 22 months, or how amazed I was when he started to teach himself to recognise written words when he wasn’t yet four.
But the fact is, none of these stories or anecdotes or memories will convey to you what it feels like, to me, to be a mother. Being a mother has changed everything about me, yet made me more myself. It has worn holes in my heart, but made also made my heart bigger, more open, and much more robust. On occasion, it has broken me down to the point that I’ve felt like I’m just fibres of being flapping in the breeze, but then steadily, and without me even realising it, motherhood has built me up into a person that I didn’t know I had the capacity to be. I never thought I would have the chance to be a mother, and when it did happen it was almost an out-of-body experience for a long while, so to be completely and utterly charmed and affected by it continues to be a shock. I am comfortable in the role – happy and fulfilled – but still regularly feel surprised that, for real, this is me.It is most definitely me. Seven years on, I regularly look at this beautiful, funny, smart and tender-hearted creature and feel such pride that he’s mine. As he grows I become more aware of how Dave and I are shaping this human being, so he can grow up and take his place in the world. He’s going to be a man one day – hopefully someone’s partner, maybe someone’s dad, definitely someone’s boss.
As well as marking my seven years as a mother, today marks two years since I finished the last day of active treatment for breast cancer. I would never recommend cancer as a way to find out about yourself – self-help books and a meditation course would certainly be cheaper and considerably less cell- and soul-destroying – but it did offer me some incredible moments of clarity. I found out that short hair really suits me, and perhaps a little more significantly, that being a mother is a privilege that cancer denies to many. It may still deny me parenting my child into adulthood, as I wait in the limbo land that is remission.
This stark knowledge has focussed my attention on the importance of the mundane, which is, in reality, what being Hugh’s mother is all about. I make his lunch every morning, his sandwiches cut into triangles because I know he likes them better than squares. When I am walking up the stairs in front of him, I make pretend farting noises and poke my bum out, just to see him fall about in paroxysms of laughter. I lie next to him in his bed for a few minutes each night – like you did when I was a baby Mum – and he presses himself up against me, lovingly patting my hair and raining kisses on my cheeks. I trim his nails when his piano teacher sends a note home saying they are too long for accurate ivory tinkling, and then at his request paint his fingernails and toenails alternating red and blue, his school colours. He helps me make cupcakes after dinner and then I ice them when they are finally cool enough at 10:30 on a wet Thursday night, because he wants to share them with his classmates and teacher the next morning to mark the impending milestone of his birthday.
Seven years a mother. Two years a survivor. Inextricably linked. 2 May, 2015.