I know I’ve said this before, but when I became a single mother I just sort of accepted that I would only ever have one child. I just didn’t think our family would grow beyond two people. So to be here and now with my partner in crime, and a little son and a little daughter – it feels much like the stuff of dreams.
I think, when I had one, I was very sure of myself and where I was going and the kind of mother I was. I was content with my lot. And if I look back on the 18 months prior to me falling pregnant, I was living life to the full, we knew how to be a family of three and it came to us very easily.
That’s not to say that there weren’t bad days, tantrums, tears (from me and Bill), and days where my confidence fell and I’d wobble a little bit. But I knew that it would soon sort itself and we’d be back on track again.
And now, I have two babies. I have a four year-old son. And a five month-old daughter. They are three years and just over ten months apart. And life is so very different.
But that’s for many reasons. And none of them are bad – they have just presented me with a new dynamic and it feels like the universe has just turned around to me and said: “Now, what you going to do about this then, Little Miss Sunshine?”
It’ll be no surprise that, for us, the toughest part of the last six months is the fact that Daisy was born so poorly. I feel almost embarrassed when I think of the toys I bought for Bill, when he came to visit his baby sister in hospital, and the way I was already imagining the photos I would take of the two of them. And the way it was supposed to be. At least in my head.
As it was, the first proper photographs I had of my two babies together, as they were meant to be, were when Daisy finally came home after six weeks in special care.
And those six weeks sort of set a precedent for what was to come in a way. Bill was so brave. I keep thinking back to the early hours of the 21st April 2016, when I went into labour and I said goodbye to my son for the last time as my only child. He was woken, by Mark’s voice, and a gentle nudge, and he packed a bag full of animals and Teddy, and put his dressing gown on. And then he was told that he was going to be a big brother. And he said it was exciting and a bit like going on holiday. And I sobbed on the toilet, and held him close, trying to cope with my contractions, and he told me simply: “It’ll be okay Mama. Just breathe.” He was still three years-old. And he was so calm and so brilliant.
But I never came home to him that day like I said I would.
I didn’t come home to him for another five days. And the mother that greeted him, at Granny and Po’s front door, empty-handed, pale, swollen, empty and red-eyed, was not the mother he deserved.
But I left my baby daughter in hospital to come back for him. My boy was hurting and exhausted from the brave face he wore every day. And my daughter, whether good or bad, wouldn’t notice or remember my absence.
I was utterly torn.
And I spent much of my time sobbing quietly into jumper sleeves. Or into his hair as he curled up next to me, too transfixed by what was on telly to notice my sadness.
It was so hard. And one positive of that is that even the toughest day-to-day times now, don’t even begin to compare to back then.
But that said, I still find it tough sometimes.
Throughout the night, Bill woke twice and said he was unwell. This has been a bit of a habit recently because Daisy has been up a few nights teething, and woken Bill up. And so we’ve had a bit of a tag-team cycle this past week or so, which has been tough as I’m still recovering from this infection/bug/lurgy I’ve had too.
So last night, I wondered if he was crying wolf a little bit. You know how you never quite know? But I always try and stay calm and reserve my most loving and patient self for him, even though in my head I’m thinking “SLEEP HUMAN, SLEEP!” An hour or so later, Daisy woke and Mark got up to tend to her and he must have heard Bill crying too because we went in and he’d been sick. And we had to do a full bed change and I washed sick out of my tiny boy’s hair and Mark fetched him water. And I felt awful to be honest, because he still doesn’t know how to quite express what is wrong and I felt as though I’d just left him, thinking he was okay.
Luckily, Daisy was easily settled. But this morning I woke and had absolutely no energy for the day ahead. But I got up and both children were fed and occupied. I managed to eat, call school and let them know (he’s not allowed back in now until Monday – as per their policy), and cancel a dietician appointment for Daisy – some things just have to wait and I am not brave enough to bundle two children into a car, when one could be sick, and have them wait around in hospital.
My little boy has had to give up his faithful Ted, who was a sick victim, for the washing machine, and is instead carrying around a Halloween bucket as a sick bucket. He is under a blanket on the sofa with the iPad and he can watch it all day if he wants to, because he looks awful and he’s been quiet and tearful all morning.
Earlier, I gave Daisy her pre-nap bottle and she drifted off to sleep. And I saw Bill run for his bucket and burst into tears because he felt sick and it wouldn’t come out. “I can’t do it Mama.” He cried and his tears plopped in the bucket instead and I couldn’t comfort him with a sleeping daughter in my arms and I didn’t know what to do, because my arms were full, or I needed more arms, and I was worried about the torrent of sick potentially heading our way. I had to coax him upstairs with his lurid orange pumpkin bucket and get Daisy changed and off to sleep again in her cot. And all the time he was whimpering at my feet.
And how hopeless did I feel? How helpless did I feel?
You never really know who needs you more do you? The baby who can’t do a thing for herself and clings to you like a fuzzy koala bear. Or the little boy who is usually so patient but is desperate for you to help him feel better.
As it is, we managed it. He’s got a beaker of water. He’s had Calpol. He’s under a fluffy blanket and watching videos to take his mind off things. I’ve put that smelly teddy and his bedding in a hot wash, and the house is moderately tidy.
I’m still in my pyjamas, and I’m exhausted to be honest. But sometimes it’s nice to sit in Mark’s ratty, but sturdy and comfortable office chair and type at the desk, watching passersby in my peripheral, out of the window to my right, and asking every few minutes: “You okay buddy?”
Daisy is sleeping and she needs it. I wish I could join her, but I am feeling thankful that, for the first time ever, I have been able to drop everything and be there for my child when he is poorly. So many times I have left him in the capable arms of Granny and left for work. And today I get to be what he needs and it’s a comforting feeling.
Having two children is amazing though you know? I know that there’s a lot to say about how much extra work it is. And how they start to outnumber you the more children you have. But for every sleep-empty night, sick-splattered sheet, and makeshift sick bucket (that’s going to need disinfecting ready for the end of the month), there is a whole lot of joy too.
My little boy has completely fallen in love with his sister. He has been so thoughtful, from the get go. And while I was in hospital holding back tears over my poorly baby, he was holding her and stroking her gently and all he said was: “She’s beautiful.”
He calls her ‘Baby Girl’. And he rushing in to love her, kiss her, hug her and smother her every morning. I wonder if he loves her more than anyone else. Because he’s so selfless in his affection. He offers up toys. He shares the iPad and tries his best to stay patient when she wildly slaps at the screen and changes what he’s watching. He was so excited when she started weaning, and, out of all three of us, he was the first one to feed her – when our cleft nurse, Dianne offered him the spoon and gently helped him feed his sister for the first time.
He wants the best for her. He’ll tell her when she’s being naughty. And we’ll talk for her and I wonder if he actually realises that it’s not her talking, or he’s quite happy to pretend because that way they get to talk. She is brutal and clumsy and completely unaware of any social rules, as most babies are, she slaps at his face, scratches him, dribbles on him, and kicks him when she’s in the bath. And he barely notices.
When we read books to them every night, we barely get a few pages in before Bill is distracted because Daisy is lunging for him so she can cling on to his face and squeeze him close. He makes her giggle and she has a dirty laugh for someone so small, let me tell you.
She adores him. Her face lights up whenever he is around and if she cries, she will be comforted by any of us. As though she has three parents, three guardians, three people who would fight and do anything for her.
And one day, I know my feisty little girl will fight for her brother too. It feels like Shakespeare’s “though she be but little, she is fierce” was written with that daughter of mine in mind sometimes. My little Hermia.
I suppose, what I am trying to say is that, I think, when you are about to introduce your second child to the world, you think that you know what to expect this time around. And in fairness, in many ways you do, but nothing quite prepares you for the very new aspects of having more than one, does it?
Nothing prepares you for the next step of sacrifices. The same as before of course, but double-time. But now it’s sacrifices you did a few years back and they are coming back into your life again and you know what to do, and run mostly on autopilot, but then you are still learning because your eldest is going through new stages that you don’t understand yet. School runs. Letters after letters, and party invites that you consider taking a loan out for, just pouring out from their book bags. Homework. Is he left-handed? Should I get him a special pencil? I don’t know. Is he doing well at school? Is he happy? Then back to milk, nappy, cuddle, milk, I need you, I’m so small, please hold me, why’s it dark, your hair is excellent to eat Mama.
You are living in two time-zones and it’s like having permanent jet lag.
Nothing prepares you for how different they are. You know that they will be different because, well, that’s humans for you. But you didn’t understand that, even as mewling, froggy-legged things they are different. They look the same sometimes, but different. They were born different, birthed different. One fed like a champion from me. One never could and never will because of her cleft palate. One was the world’s worst sleeper. The other one is the sort of baby you dream of when it comes to sleep. One was sitting by 23 weeks old. The other is wobbling around like a Weeble. Almost there. But then you start wondering – she’s doing okay right? It’s not our syndrome is it? One is fair, fluffy blonde, sensitive gentle skin that goes golden in the sun. The other is darker, more olive like her parents. And yet – the same eyes. Just different shades of blue. Techniques that worked for him do not work for her. And you just marvel in those differences because you’ve never met two more fascinating people in your whole life.
Nothing prepares you for their relationship. You fret over age gaps. Is it too small? Will they fight all the time? Will I despair? And then, if like me, and you find yourself with a larger gap – almost four years – you worry if there will ever be anything to have in common at all. Especially when they are half-siblings and you don’t really know what that will mean. But my goodness, they find each other and it’s almost like two souls have met again, reunited, meant to be. They are so fond of each other. They are cut of the same cloth. And you know it won’t be long until the camaraderie starts and the secrets, and the whispers. Something you will never get to be a part of, but you’re happy with that so long as you can watch their relationship and their love for each other grow. The parts where they fight and hit each other – yeah, not so much. But it passes. It always does.
And nothing prepares you for the way your heart grows. You don’t halve love, you multiply it. I’ve never been one for maths, but this is the most beautiful sum in the world. You will never run out of love to give. You have a tribe now. Christmas dinners get bigger, another space at the table is needed amongst grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins. As our family grows older, there will be jokey bickers over the last piece of pizza, and there will be a huge tangle of limbs as everyone squishes on the sofa for family movie night.
Those are the things that I love about our family growing. Knowing they will always have each other should anything ever happen to us. More of us and more love to give.
And I guess, that’s why, one day, we’d like to make our two, a three.
I really do hope we are lucky enough to see that happen. There’s space right there for another. Look, you can see it.