I have had this post on my mind for a long time now. And I’m not really sure where to start.
Mainly because it involves the f-word. And by that I don’t mean ‘fuck’ (sorry Grandma), I mean feminism. I think.
But it’s less than that. Or more than that? No, part of that? I supposed whatever ‘it’ is depends on your perspective.
I want to start with a story that, if you have been around for a while, is something you may have heard before. Because it’s a huge part of who I am today and a huge part of why I am the kind of mum I am.
And by that, I mean a very guilty mum. A mum who is forever chasing her tail and putting Peppa Pig plasters on the cracks of her own motherhood.
So, it was May 2012. It will have been 27th May 2012, actually. I remember the date. I was 39 weeks pregnant and I looked like I had been competing in Man vs. Food by that point. I finished work that day for maternity leave. And I cried. I cried with relief mainly. Because I was exhausted. And I cried because I knew I’d be coming back very soon too. And it felt more like a holiday with all-inclusive vagina stitches, stretch marks and breastmilk. I was being ironic there by the way – having a newborn baby is not like a holiday. But it is lovely, in its own way.
As short as my maternity leave was, I never felt any panic about my role outside of motherhood. I had my magazine issues planned, I’d pretty much arranged my own maternity leave and calculated my own pay, and the holidays I was eligible for. I remember leaving and handing over a big pack of information to my friend and former colleague (we both moved on), Eve. I don’t see Eve enough at all anymore. And Eve, if you’re reading this, we should probably change that. I miss you.
The thing is, I knew. I was able to predict what was going to happen to me in a way. The return to work was literally there in the distance. There wasn’t even a countdown for it really, because I’d accepted my fate, like a large pill that took a long time to go down. And eventually, I knew that was my fate and I couldn’t change it.
And I knew that work would miss me too. Not because no one else was capable. But because I was good at my job and my absence was more the sort that makes the heart grow fonder (I use that phrase loosely, you must understand), than leads you to forget.
So, for me, I was able to get on the bike again pretty soon after I fell off. I was battered and bruised, the seat was sore, and I carried a lot more baggage than the last time I rode, but I was still able to put my feet in the stirrups, and, what started off as a wobbly ride, became second nature. Before long I was reminded of the time, a long time ago, where I shouted: “Mum! Dad! Look at me! I’m doing it!”
But with that came a heavy mountain of guilt that I will never be able to erase. I will not get those early months of my son’s life back. He was so small. So small. If you’re close to an 8 week-old baby you’ll see how small.
I remember the last day before I went back to work and I lay on the bed in his old nursery. And it was warm and so sunny in that yellow and blue room. And I remember feeding him and as I did, my tears started to fall too, onto downy baby hair.
But I did it. I managed. And I made it. And in time it gets easier. When they start preschool and start learning and you realise the positive change in them and you can’t blame that or feel guilty about that. But even yesterday, I turned to Mark in a humid swimming baths, at the side of the pool, and I grinned at him and he grinned at me as we watched this little blonde boy swim. He could barely walk once upon a time. And now he’s, well, he’s this tiny fish.
I won’t lie that I am extremely excited to take this time out with my second child. Not least because I feel like, after years of playing, I’ve unlocked a secret level of the video game I’ve been trying to master, and I get another chance at being my son’s mother again.
For a long time, shamelessly, I have looked ahead to this time as being one of the best times in my life. Because I will be able to concentrate on raising my children. Teaching them. Helping them to grow. And not wondering what I’ve missed that day. Some people have asked me if that will be enough for me, because I’m such a ‘creative person’ or a ‘hard worker’. But I’d just like my shot at being a mother.
But right now, I am writing and my daughter is twisting and turning in my body and sometimes she can be so (for want of a better word) violent that I worry I might actually wet myself. My body is slowly being taken over and I feel like, at 21 weeks pregnant, I have begun the decent to 38 weeks and three days pregnant, which will be my last day at work. I’m a growing snowball, hurtling towards the bottom of a mountain that I spent my whole life climbing.
Yes. I feel like I might be falling. Not floating.
It’s all I want this time around, but I’m actually terrified about taking a break from the world I spent years trying to build up around me.
I desperately wanted to make it as a child. I remember wearing orthopaedic shoes to school and vowing that one day I would get a pair of those ones that light-up when you run. I don’t think I ever did. But that’s probably okay, as shoes don’t really turn me on much as an adult. But things like that made me determined to succeed. And I was raised by proud parents, in a privileged village, where it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t succeed because I was a girl.
But now I am older and I am worried that, the closer I get to my due date, and nine full months out of work, out of place, out of meaning, left with one of the most over-abused titles in the world. ‘Mother’.
Because it feels like it’s not a good thing to be sometimes.
And I will to write this next bit and it’s a hard thing to write because you have to be very politically correct and “this is Davina, please do not swear” these days.
But being a parent is the most important thing you will ever do.
You might not know it yet if you haven’t had children. But it is.
It’s not to say that other things aren’t important. They are, oh yes they are. I lost over three stone and got into a size 14, that is important (life goals). I turned down The Daily Mail once, that was important (and very cool). I went to uni with an excellence scholarship, that was important because I wanted to prove myself. I learnt to sing when doctors thought I’d have trouble speaking, let alone anything else, and that was important. I spent a lot of time as a teenager raising money or volunteering my time, and doing a performance at a local school for children with disabilities, and their parents, is still a special memory for me.
These are all important things and I am proud of them all. They can’t be taken from me. They’re mine to own. Completely attributed to me. They’re mine.
But they don’t compare to how I feel about my son. And being his mother.
Something does change when you start loving someone else more than yourself in that way. You see things differently. It’s just different. And it’s not a divisive thing, or a right or wrong thing, but it’s a real thing.
We have to stop women from feeling so conflicted about this. And how it impacts on the life you might have had before.
Why do people do a wide-mouth-frog awkward smile when women explain they raise their children for a living? Why are women made to feel awkward because they had to take half an hour to express breastmilk in a server room, with two sheets of A4 paper and some sellotape acting as a makeshift blind for the tiny window in the door that protects her milky nips from the rest of the office (true story). Why has no one invented a machine to make people experience morning sickness for a week so they have more than a weak sympathetic smile for you when you do the decent thing and hold-in your spew in front of them? Why do we come across as the lazy side when we leave early, just because no one was there to see us start early? Why can I manage talk to very important people and clients, but never find missing socks?
The closer I get to my due date, the more I feel like layers of Charlotte are being stripped away. Maybe that was my (admittedly struggling) sex appeal that went first. My ability to put my shoes on without wincing at the mass that is accumulating around my middle. The next thing was my sense of style, because I look like a dumpling now. And then, slowly, like shedding a skin, my self worth is starting to go.
I know that, this time, I will be replaced. And I might have to take my personal things (the shit that clutters my desk) with me. And I might come back and everything will be different. I might not know how to use the coffee machine if there’s a new one. There will be new processes and things for me to try and get my head around. There’s a good chance my first day back will be emotional and terrifying. There will be new people that will not know who I am and people will say: “Oh yes, she had a baby.”
Do you know how scary that is?
And it occurred to me today that – in this rat race of a world we live in, in that you’re only as good as your next pay cheque, or the things you achieve – that you are always replaceable. Bae, you ain’t Beyoncé. You can’t send people to the left, to the left. Unless it’s part of your job I suppose. But the thing is, when you die, I’m not 100% that these are ‘deathbed moments’ to look back on.
And, when I come home, I can’t be replaced.
When I teach him how to write a W. How to cook and not burn the house down. How saying ‘stupid’ is unkind. And how we should always check if people are okay when they cry. How the colour of our skin doesn’t matter. How he can use my makeup if he wants, no it doesn’t matter if he’s a boy (and yes, it is a bit like paint, Bill, you’re right). How if someone pushes you in the playground, you don’t push them back (adults seem to forget that one pretty quickly). How people will forget what you say, forget what you do, but never forget how you made them feel.
And how loved he is.
I’m raising a good person. Soon to be two.
I’ve given up a lot to do that right.
The world wants good people, doctors, nurses, teachers, entertainers, creators, game-changers, game makers, heroes, lovers, fighters (depending on the fight) and more people that write music like Elton John.
When will society recognise how hard it is to raise them to the point that they can go out into the world and become those people?
And when will I find my place? And recognise that I’m important too?
That mothers are important too.*
*I deleted this sentence four times, before keeping it, because it felt cheesy. But then I realised that it feels cheesy because no one ever says it. And I feel like I’m surrounded by mums, every day, who are constantly questioning whether they do enough, are enough, or if they can have it all. Or simply just be accepted for what makes them happy.