Today is the 30th December 2016; the penultimate day of this year.
This time, a whole year ago, I was pregnant. I was about 24 weeks or so, if my memory serves me well. Daisy had made herself quite at home in my vastly growing belly. And I was due to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and my lovely Dad’s birthday, at our house. We were getting a takeaway, and various family members were going to drop-in on their way to something far more glamorous and glitzy. But I was quite content for what the next evening had in store. I could tuck my baby boy in bed, and see in the New Year I had been longing for.
2016 was the year our family would grow by one. We’d be a fearless foursome. Stronger together. Never apart. Bill would turn four. We’d get one last summer of babyhood before he started school in September. I’d finally finish our house. Sort the garden out while my baby girl slept in the shade. We’d go to a friend’s wedding in Malta and I’d fit in the dress I bought in the sales. I’d breastfeed again. I would enjoy my maternity leave. Meeting friends I’d made in a postnatal group. Nipping into Manchester to surprise Mark for lunch. Introducing Daisy to our friends and colleagues. I’d spend the early newborn days in pyjamas and I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself to be anything other than how I wanted to be in those moments.
I had high hopes for 2016.
And I have had conversations with Mark before about my approach to life. Because I place too much hope into things. And I always have done. I am an eternal optimist, and sometimes I have a habit of making a fool out of myself by believing in things so much, that, when they let me down, fall through, or never materialise, I am left in a heap of disappointment, wondering: “Why?”
Of all of my dreams that I had for 2016, many of them did not come true. And obviously – some of them included getting a body like Beyoncé, and that was never going to happen was it? But some of them were really simple things. Just day-to-day experiences, like lying on the sofa with a newborn baby, while visitors came round with cards and balloons, and hugs of congratulations. Staring at my day-old baby in her crib next to me and marvelling at her as Mark slept beside me and Bill dreamed away in his bed next door.
For a long time, I battled with the cards that I had been dealt. I didn’t want them. I didn’t know how to play them in this game of life. And I was happy to throw them down on the table, walk away from that table, and refuse to play.
NICU, battling the guilt of passing on a syndrome, fighting a tracheostomy diagnosis, learning how to pass tubes down a screaming baby’s airway, feeling isolated, feeling lost, having to be a carer and a nurse before even contemplating being a mum, feeling like I’d let my son down, feeling like I’d let myself down, crying every day for months, worrying my baby would stop breathing, watching the saturations monitor like a hawk, hospital after hospital appointment, watching myself gain weight but not being able to stop comfort eating, feeling jealous, feeling like I’ve failed – all of it was mentally and physically exhausting. Sometimes I would just pray for sleep. And I would spend most days wondering when it would get better.
Would it get better?
But here and now, at the very end of the year, I realise that, while there was much I had hoped to achieve, but didn’t, there was so much that I did.
I had a baby girl. We named her Daisy Nelle. She was and is perfect, and has brought us so much joy, even in the moments of worrying ourselves sleepless over her. She is crawling, waving, kissing. She says my name. She beams at every soul who gives her the time of day. And she has an insurmountable strength that I think will take her very far. Daisy does not believe in obstacles.
My son, on the other hand, is a giver of strength. A sensitive, hopeful soul. In the weeks when his sister was in hospital, he was the only person who could make Mark and I smile. He gave me someone to keep trying for. I learnt to laugh again because of him. He turned four. He started school. He took on brotherhood like it was the role he had been waiting for. I owe him a lot. He kept me strong this year.
I have Mark. Still. Even now. We began on such a rocky course, we met and fell in love in circumstances that neither of us would have chosen had we had been asked many years ago. I didn’t envisage having two children by two different men and having to bare my stretched, child-bearing body to someone new who I desperately wanted to love me back. I wanted to give him the best of me and instead it felt like he got the rest of me. But we have overcome so much together. We gave each other a daughter, and when I watched him hold her, in NICU, a tangle of wires, arms and baby, with a tenderness and a visible pain, I promised myself I would love him forever. And I mean it. There is no one in this world for me but him.
I achieved even when I didn’t think I was. I made a choice on a whim to join a club to lose weight and here I am, two stone lighter. I look like how I feel I am supposed to. I feel proud. I feel strong. I feel, sometimes, even beautiful. And that’s not just because there is less of me to take in, and that beauty is all in relation to size (because we all know that is bollocks), it’s because I loved myself enough to do something to make me happy. Taking control of my body was the first step I made in taking control of my life again. I picked up those cards that I was dealt and I thought: “Come on then. I’ll play. But I’ll win.” And you know what? I think I am.
I didn’t reach 10,000 subscribers on YouTube, or Instagram, by the end of the year, but I worked hard enough, while everything else was going on, to be able to hand in my notice at work and tentatively make plans to work for myself. I might fail, and that’s actually a probable thing. Not just me being coy or modest. I don’t have the certainty of a guaranteed wage every month, but I can only promise myself and my family that I will work as hard as I possibly can. The opportunity, as it presents itself, is the biggest blessing. A chance to try – just that chance itself – is enough to make me feel like I have come very far this year.
I didn’t finish our kitchen. I have a single pair of white cupboard doors and the rest are still brown. I could try and say that this is a metaphorical thing, but really, it just looks a bit stupid. I should have left them as they were for now, and resolved to do it when things were more steady. I should have probably asked for help. I should stop trying to fix things and leave them as they are most probably. But I tried, and failed, and there is always next year.
And therein lies the point. While nothing is for certain, of course, next year is just two days away. And, as far as I know, next year is mine for the taking.
But, unlike the Charlotte of a year ago, who anticipated 2016 with great enthusiasm, and a whole lot of added pressure, with a list of things that must happen, should happen, would happen, I just want 2017 to be the year that I live.
I don’t have a script to follow this time. I don’t have lines to learn or a new character to welcome to my story. I am utterly done with writing chapters that life cannot fulfil.
I wrote a story for 2016 and it was a masterpiece. There was a heroine, and she had health, wealth, happiness and love. Every page was filled with details and intricacies. Every chapter had me wanting more. Until one day, it was soaked by rain, and I could not remember the words, or what happened next. The pages stuck together, the ink flooded into pools of black, and it swirled into patterns that meant absolutely nothing to me.
I could not read it anymore. No matter how hard I tried. This was not the story I was expecting when I first opened that book. Instead, in my hands, I had a beautiful, beautiful mess. My story was rewritten. And so was my family’s. And it did not, at times, make any sense at all. It was not, at times, fair. But its pages were bursting with life, bursting with love, and bursting with the very essence of me.
But now it is time for that book to be shelved in the dusty tombs of my mind. Placed on a shelf, the last in line for the following year, next to 2015, 2014, 2013 – a long line that dates right back to 1988.
And now, I have in front of me, an empty book, an empty diary, the number 2017 etched on the front. Its pages are new and crisp with promise.
But it shall stay unwritten this time. It can fill itself, while I go and find out what 2017 has in store for me.
I don’t even want just to ‘be happy’. Because sometimes you need to be sad.
I just want to be.
So dear, dear 2016. You brought me a lot of grief and sadness. But you also taught me a lot about myself. And you were also so very beautiful. And for that reason, I will never forget you.
2016. My beautiful mess.