24. What if Captain Hook had kids?

This week I stepped down as El Capitan and my co-pilot stepped right up. His chest may be missing mammaries, but he’s got a clean license, broad shoulders and the constitution of an ox. He’s been waiting in the wings for some months now and he’s ready. Daddy Day Care is open for business.

When I was pregnant I knew I wouldn’t be taking my full maternity leave from work in order for Saint Luke to take time out with our impending offspring. It made total sense to us then, and even more now Freddie is actually here. It still surprises me exactly how surprised people are by this arrangement, it’s almost as though they don’t realise Luke had any part in creating our son and heir. Shared Parental Leave isn’t some sort of kooky alternative dreamed up by madcap employees who have a Zen Den and free Vegan lunches. Since April 2015, SPL has been an option at all companies because Nick Clegg made it so; so why should Luke’s leave be at all surprising? Perhaps it’s because only 1% of new daddies have taken up the opportunity, and I’ve been trying to work out why…

Maybe it’s because a lot of mums don’t want to give up any of their Maternity Leave, because it’s a bit like giving away your last Rolo – really really hard? Perhaps it’s because dad earns more money than mum or doesn’t know the words to Bah Bah Black Sheep? Or maybe it’s because men are so used to being told that they’re just not as good as women at parenting, and now they’re not as keen to try?

In a café last week, a lady who had been cooing over Freddie (as he attempted to eat his fist), remarked that I must have Luke ‘well trained’ when he sniffed a poo and quickly carted our bundle off for a costume change. Well trained? I don’t think so. If he was well trained he’d be a Michelin starred Chef, a master masseur, or a dog. And I’ve lost count of the times people have marvelled at how ‘hands on’ Saint Luke is. Of course he’s hands on, his hands are very clearly attached to his wrists thank you very much, he’s not Captain Hook. Luke doesn’t want to be trained by me or receive patronising pats on his back from admiring strangers (unless that stranger happens to be Emma Stone.) The fact is, we’re both piloting this parenting plane, trying to be the best we can be and doing almost anything we can to get a giggle from Fred. Of course there are things that I can do better, like breastfeeding and Luke’s better with explosive nappies (due to the strong constitution I mentioned earlier). Luke likes to carry Freddie like a rugby ball and fling him up over his head, whereas I prefer to count his creases and snuggle him in bed. Freddie thinks his daddy is hil.ar.i.ous but I’ll never forget his coat. You see the three of us are in this together; there’s no i in Team, and no gender specification in Parenting. Surely this isn’t revolutionary in 2017?!

But on Luke’s parental leave, every day he will be faced with a societal leaning towards women taking the parenting helm, from the Mother and Baby icons in the Sainsbury’s parking bays to the Mum & Me massage oil at home. And I wonder what awkward conversations he’ll be faced with in ladies loos because that’s where the majority of nappy changing facilities are? Despite daily messaging that reinforces Stepford-like stereotypes, Saint Luke is man enough to man-up in a ladies loo and do what he’s got to do.

I’m not judging people who have chosen to stick to more traditional roles if that’s what works for you (there’s a lot to be said for tradition, like booze for breakfast on Christmas morning). I’m suggesting that we should all start this journey on a level flight path, whether you are a man and a woman parenting, or two women, or two women and a man (you kinky buggers). We are all parents, and should stop feeding the myth that men are inferior to women in the rearing department, or that mum’s owe a debt of gratitude to dad’s who dare to do.

So although I can’t fathom why only 1% of men have opted to take Shared Parental Leave, I do know that Saint Luke is the best co-pilot I could possibly hope for. I’m not especially grateful because he’s a man, I’m grateful because he’s mine. And when I skip into a job that I love, I have the warmest feeling inside knowing what a precious time my boys are having together – I know this because I’ve been lucky enough to do it too.

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Lady bays in Sainsbury’s

23. Taylor Swift and my mermaids at sea.

Over these past months, I don’t know how I would have kept my head above water without Saint Luke hoisting me up over his shoulder, and my family inflating lifejackets close by. They’ve blown the whistle when I’ve been drowning not waving, and kept a warm towel on standby. I will be forever grateful for every breath of support they have given me whilst riding these wondrous waves. But today I’m pondering on what could be the greatest romances of my life -the flotilla of females that have helped me find my way.

My first true love came with matching pink poof-ball skirts, pinky-swears, prank phone calls, and games of make-believe. We were young enough for it to be effortlessly uncomplicated and naive enough to believe it would always be that way. But then came boobs and boys and booze in Stoke Park and a complex social hierarchy that repositioned on a whisper. Contributing to the gossip mill had the power to propel you into new heights of popularity. Having an attractive older brother could buy you into elite echelons, and a ‘free house’ made you cooler than the Arctic Ocean. Competition was fierce in the face of delicate egos that took but a breath to bruise. Insecurity ran deep as we all desperately tried to work out who we were and who we wanted to be. We loved passionately with BFFs sworn into the sisterhood with friendship bands that couldn’t be broken, and fought viciously with evil eyes that could tear them apart. Growing up is impossible to navigate unscathed but it’s those battle wounds that mark and make us.

Thank goodness for those uniformed years, during which the greatest lesson learned was how to be a friend (and sometimes, how not to be.) I’m grateful that social media did not exist to exacerbate and document all the mistakes I made en route to adulthood.

At University the waters were deeper, but it didn’t take long to fish out my kindred spirits. Under one roof there was nothing we didn’t know about each other through shared dreams and GHDs. Leaving playground tactics behind, these girls lovingly challenged me and inspired me, shaped me and threw shapes with me on Hooch soaked dance floors until time caught up with us and it was time to grow up and grow on. And although we now live cities apart, there’s no distance that a hilarious joke can’t cover and via the wizardry of Whatssapp we’re able to remind one another daily that we’re there and care. I loved them then and I love them still.

As we venture out in the wider world of unchartered waters, the depths are deeper still, yet fresh friends have risen to the surface like mermaids. They have come to light at work over laptops and lunches; at book clubs and in blogs; in coffee shops and on holidays; through friends of friends and friends of boyfriends and friends of their friend’s wives. Emerging like Poesidon from the sea, these wonder-women have taken shape through common ground that is mutually inclusive, with enough similarities and disparities to make for an interesting chat. True friends want the best for each other, see the best in each other and bring out the best in one another.

The newest recruits to my crew came bearing baby bumps and NCT membership. Seven months ago we were six strangers in a hot room learning about labour. Over warm squash in plastic cups we spoke about perennial tears, peccaries and pethadine; about post-natal depression, miscarriage and meconium in your waters. We whispered with tears about our fears and laughed about them too. We decided we’d meet again once the babes arrived and sheepishly swapped numbers…

I’ve since learned that there’s nothing quite so bonding as pavement sweeping pelvic floors, and that I do not know how I would have coped over the past months without these girls. They’re there with 3am wisdom when it feels like the rest of the world is asleep; always ready with advice, moral support and a calming lack of judgement akin to Buddhist monks. We’ve talked without limitations about what our bodies have endured and the darker places our minds have meandered. We’ve shared in each other’s joy and wonder, bound by an experience that has so profoundly changed us. Where would we be without our girl gang? What a true romance.

Taylor Swift has a Squad, my mum has a Sewing Circle, and there’s probably not much more than crop-tops that differentiate them. With or without babies or books, or tapestries or work, or whatever it is that pops you in the same boat, we all need to keep our friends close so they can breath wind into our sails. So take this post as a little reminder to give your pals a text to say thank you, because without them you might just sink at sea. (And Taylor, give me a call yeah?)

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22. The Guilt Game

At 2am last night I took a moment to ponder this latest role of mine. Once upon a time I would be unlocking the front door about now, my ears still ringing with music and my heart still skipping with joys of the night just passed. But tonight I am clutching Freddie with one arm whilst frantically Googling ‘infant insomnia’ with the other. My right foot is waving manically in front of the nightlight to create shadows that might just entertain him for a minute whilst my left foot thumps blindly at Ewan the Dream Sheep to kick-start his sheepish beat. I’ve been ‘shhing’ and rocking with limbs flailing for two hours now, like a possessed one-man-band, and I’m thirsty but my glass is out of reach – that’s ok, I think, I’ll just drink next week. Everything is fine. Freddie is fine. I am fine. This is Motherhood.

This is motherhood and it is more than fine – it is beautiful and bewildering. For the most part it’s joyful and for moments it can be devastating. It’s almost always exhausting and exhilarating and sometimes, it’s just a bit boring. It’s tiptoeing like a ninja at nap time, and singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ 52 times. It’s poo up to your elbows and wee in your eye. It’s hilarious and hapless and a thousand kisses before lunch. It is a bubbling hotpot of love. ‘Oh look, he’s just blown a raspberry!’ Love in abundance. ‘Oh wow, he grabbed the brown bear!’ Love beyond compare. ‘Incredible, he rolled over! Our boy rolled over!’ Love X Infinity2. Our home is now home to an orgy of lashings of love because we’re just so damn pleased with who we created. I had three hours sleep last night but who cares?! Let’s all sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ again! Hooray!

But alongside the warmth of lovely Love comes its mean spirited cousin, Guilt. Guilt seeps into the generous open pores that Love has created and breeds bile under the surface, like acne. Yes, guilt is like acne on a Disney princess. And right now, an abundance of guilt plagues me in a way I’ve never known before, despite my Catholic school training.

I feel guilty for co-sleeping and subsequent sleepless nights. For failing to set a routine, setting a routine and failing at said routine. Guilty for longing to go to Sainsbury’s on my own, and losing myself in the condiments isle to buy more time. Guilty for air pollution. Guilty for not knowing the real words to any nursery rhyme and having to wing it in Baby Sensory class. Guilty for not signing up to more classes. Guilty for Freddie’s boob addiction, bottle phobia and that second glass of wine. Guilty for putting on Peppa Pig so I can go to the loo. Guilty for the donut crumbs on his head. Guilty for counting down the minutes until bed then scooping him up too readily when he stirs. Guilty for the sirens that wake him. Guilty that Saint Luke gets up with Freddie at 6am and guilty for resenting Saint Luke who sleeps through the night. Guilty there’s only a few months left until I’m back at work and guilty for uttering the words ‘child’ and ‘minder’. Guilty Freddie has a cough. Guilty for dressing in the morning, pretending I can’t see the faint splatter of sick on my jeans. Guilty for not brushing my hair. Guilty for not being as glam as the ‘Mum’s Who Can’ on Instagram. Guilty he’s too hot or too cold, he’s bored or overstimulated. Guilty I haven’t made the most of my maternity leave and written a book. Guilty I haven’t had time to make the bed. Guilty I forgot to ask Saint Luke how his day was. Guilty for daydreaming about the holiday we’ll be able to take in eighteen years once Freddie’s left home. And guilty for never ever wanting him to grow older, grow up and away from me. Guilty for writing that bit before about it being a little bit boring. Guilty for never wanting to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bloody Bus’ ever EVER again. Guilty for not feeling guilty enough!

And breath.

I don’t suppose I’m the only parent who’s dabbled in the guilt game and maybe that’s not a bad thing? Perhaps we’re guilty just because we care? Because we’re learning and we’re trying our very best and maybe if we stopped feeling guilty then we’ve stopped interrogating what is and isn’t best for our babes? So if you see me traipsing naked down Clapham High Street, thrashing whips across my back, shouting ‘shame, shame, shame’- it’s probably because I forgot Freddie’s hat. And that’s ok! I’m not sleeping at night anyway.

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I’m guilty as a girl can be.

And then came Fred.

Forgive me, it’s been three months since my last blog post, and I really don’t know where to start?!

On September 18th, amidst the chaos of this annus horribilis, our son was born. Freddie. All 9lb 13oz of him arrived in a whirlwind of sweat, blood and tears… and sick and lucozade and amniotic fluid. It was a 36-hour whirlwind in fact, so determined was our little boy to milk his grand entrance. And now with all my new found wisdom, let me tell you what I did not know before:- there’s no anti-natal course, no friendly advice, no book, no language in this world that could have prepared me for those 36 hours and all those that have followed since.

It all kicked off with a text to Saint Luke; ‘Any chance you could leave work early? I ‘might’ be in labour. Scared face emoji. Dancing girls emoji’. Eight hours and an uncomfortable Uber ride later, there is no emoji that can capture the moment my waters broke and I threw up concurrently. Nobody warned me that ‘breathing through the pain’ is as useless as the ‘sushi’ emoji and I’m certain there’s no ‘contractions’ emoji because your phone would spontaneously combust the moment it was used.

Big Ben loomed over the hospital, with long hands teasing us with minutes that lasted a lifetime and hours that skipped in a blink to sunrise. The next day came and passed in a haze of drugs I refused and drugs that I welcomed and midwives sent from heaven from the beginning to the end of their shifts. Kayne West was there too, crooning ‘now that that don’t kill me, Can only make me stronger. I need you to hurry up now, Cause I can’t wait much longer.’ As it happens, our baby couldn’t wait much longer either; his little heart raced faster sounding an alarm that sent twelve people into action. Luke joined the same chorus donned in scrubs, shouting at me to PUSH, and YOU CAN DO IT, and then finally, IT’S A BOY. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you what happened immediately after that… it’s all a bit of a blur. No, no words of advice could have prepared me for that.

I woke up petrified. In the dark of the night I didn’t know where my baby was. And then I saw that he’d been tucked safely in my arms with St Luke close beside. We did it, my boys, we did it. My heart has never felt so full.

Three days later the three of us ventured home, Freddie in an ill-fitting hat and car seat we didn’t know how to assemble. It felt bizarre to see the busy world tick on around us after what we’d been through and so we hurried back inside to slow down time a little longer. Cocooned in our home we spent hazy days and nights on the sofa, watching Freddie sleep and feed, feed and sleep. He roused rarely, to peer through foggy eyes as Saint Luke and I peered down at him marvelling at his every breath and very being; we quietly soaked up every minuscule moment.

Everyone prepared me for ‘day three’ when ‘your milk comes in’ and your hormones explode in a fountain of tears – except my tears never came – probably because I didn’t want to blink incase I missed a bit. There were no tears, or fears, or angst, or panic in the ranks – just a bubble of bliss. Long days of discovery tiptoed into weeks, into months and now here we are, three months has passed and we’re running again. Except now there’s Fred and absolutely everything feels different.

Our whole world has been altered by a boy we don’t really know yet – I’ve got parmesan in my fridge that’s been in our lives longer than him. Maybe baby you’re the next Bowie? Or one day you’ll be the president of the United States? Perhaps you’ll be as clever as Lucy Booth, or as funny as Manuel from Faulty Towers? 2016 has taught us that anything can happen Freddie, and nobody can ever really prepare for the unknown ahead (not even Scouts). One thing I know for sure is that the three of us will have one hell of an adventure, and I can’t wait.

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20. Warrior Women and Elton John.

You know that scene in Jurassic Park when the camera zooms in on a cup of water vibrating in anticipation? Well, at the very end of my pregnancy, my life is very much like a perpetually trembling cup of water. Similar to the T-Rex’s imminent arrival, my baby’s entrance is fast approaching, which is both terrifying and awe inspiring. The scene playing out on repeat in my head may involve fewer pre-historic teeth, but believe me, it’s just as petrifying.

Nobody ever talks about being petrified pre-labour, as though being scared goes against Mother Nature’s intentions for us. I appreciate that childbirth is the most natural endeavour in the world (blah blah blah), but I find it comes naturally to me to order fries with my burger, not concede to mind bending pain. 40 weeks into my pregnancy, I realise I’ve forgotten to become a yogic hypnobirthing guru, exercise my pelvic floor or batch cook healthy frozen meals. I don’t know how to assemble the pram and I thought perineums were flowers? I’m simply not prepared! What on earth have I been doing these last nine months (aside from eating crisps and Googling ‘funny baby faces’)?! I’m not ready and I’m shit scared. There, I said it. (Cue Jurassic Park theme tune – zoom in on cup of shaking water.)

But regardless of your aptitude to Google, can we ever fortify ourselves for life changing events? This last month has taught me that we can never truly emotionally prepare for what life throws at us. Some surprises (like the one that’s kicking my ribs right now) bring soaring joy and wonder, and some bring enough heartache to knock you from your feet.

On the 9th August, we lost a wonderful friend to her almighty battle with cancer. Almighty because like the bravest of warriors she warded off the c-bomb with wit and aplomb, refusing to let illness define her. She was brave whilst never bragging of her strength; she was strong whilst never seeking sympathy or praise; she was a fighter and for a while I thought she might just be invincible. Lucy Booth lived her life to the fullest, overflowing with laughter and love. When I was in the midst of Lupus haze, she’d text me to remind me to sip drinks rather than gulp, and keep a generous store of ginger biscuits. She text me to reassure me that resting doesn’t mean giving up, and it’s ok to admit you’re not infallible. She text me just to tell me that she was thinking of me, and all the while she was enduring the hardest struggle herself. She was someone rather wonderful, an inspiration, and I feel blessed to have known her. The last time we met, we went shopping for baby clothes – life can be so shockingly cruel.

Two days later, we lost another brave woman from our lives – Saint Luke’s dear Nana passed away following a sudden and short illness. The day before her funeral he found a collection of letters she’d written to the loved ones she was leaving behind. The letters detailed practical advice, such as ‘buy a cheap coffin and make sure the priest doesn’t waffle on’, as well as reminders to ‘look after each other, love each other and never hold grudges.’ Nana Beryl also wanted to remind everyone that she hadn’t always been ‘a crabby old woman’ as she describes her wartime childhood steeped in nostalgia, simplicity and charm; a time when she knew nothing of the life that she was yet to lead. And without that spirited woman, who reflected ‘we didn’t have much but we were happy’, there would be no baby growing inside me now – a great grandchild she was but moments away from meeting. Yes, life can be so shockingly cruel.

So I really oughtn’t be petrified of labour because such a blessing is nothing less than magnificent, just as Elton John imparted when he crooned about the circle of life! We all enter the world and somehow, someway, we make our place in it. If we’re very lucky we’ll have made an impact before we leave, just like Nana and Lucy.

I’m ready. I’ll uncross my legs, take off my tights and look forward to meeting our new recruit. You only get to enter into this world just the once my darling baby, so you may as well arrive with a big bang (like the dinos.) Ok. Let’s do this.

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Me, Lucy Booth and Betty

Read Lucy’s blog for a lifetimes worth of inspiration!

19. Mother Lush

A funny thing happens when you give birth, quite a few ‘funny’ things I should imagine, but one thing above all others, scares me the most. I’ll get over the pain, I’ll brush off the blood and gloss over the grisly details of labour, but I will be undeniably changed the moment I am re-labelled a ‘mother’. Mother; a title so recognisable, so powerful and so all encompassing for those who wear it. Am I woman enough to don such a title? Can’t I be a demi-mum instead? Or a mother-in-training? Surely I’m not worthy of the same title as my own materfamilias. I can’t possibly be Mum, because my Mum’s taken that crown and wears it better than I could ever hope to.

It’s true, I’ve known her all my life, but Mother Lush surprises me every day with her undeniable brilliance. I lay naked on her chest the day we met, alongside the pulmonary embolism that left her gasping for breath. Heroically, she looks fondly on this time we had together, cocooned in white sheets and hospital bleeps. Just the two of us. Mother and daughter, forming a bond as fierce as fire.

Growing up, I believed Mum to be the font of all knowledge. Why have I got freckles? ‘They’re fairy kisses.’ Why won’t Jamie Emsel love me? ‘Because he’s obviously very silly.’ How do you spell queue – the kind you stand in? ‘Cue.’ Somehow Mum’s know everything, even when they don’t.

And as life would have it, we’ve both grown older. My hair has dulled and my forehead creases. Mum’s hands have bent in peculiar ways to mark years of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. She’s grown older, but has managed not to grow up with the resilient spark and spring of Peter Pan. Her limitless energy and lust for life is fuelled entirely by love for her family.

I can confidently say that I’ve never encountered anyone more awe-inspiring, although admittedly I’ve never met Beyonce or the Dalai Lama. (In fact, the Dalai Lama could probably learn a thing or two from my mum, like how to freestyle a victoria sponge without a recipe).

Awe inspiring, because mum displays levels of selflessness unfathomable to someone like me who has never before been responsible for keeping someone else alive. Awesome, because when I moaned about tidying my room, she never once reminded me that her internal organs rearranged themselves so she could carry me. Inventive, because she’s created text-speak such as ‘C U SN, PTS’ (call you soon, popping to Sainsbury’s.) Devoted, because when her brood arrives home, she’s never happier than dancing amidst the chaos we bring. Hilarious, because she sings along with no idea of the words, and really doesn’t care. Devoted, because she’d drop anything (but a chocolate) at any time or hour to be there if we needed her. Formidable, because her love for her family is endless, and she asks for absolutely nothing in return. And for all these reasons, plus a trillion more, I need my Mum now as much as I did the day I was born.

I apologise for this saccharin post, particularly since I’m aware that not everyone is lucky enough to have a role model quite like mine. If it’s not Mum then I hope there’s someone else that can help you on your way. I promise that I’m as grateful as I am lucky to be able to learn from the best and in two months time, I’ll be giving it a good go. I’ll be taking the lead from my Mum who is every bit the Mum I hope to be. How I can begin to say thank you for that?

For a start, thank you for carrying me in your tum for 9 months mum, I owe you one. X

 

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Happy Birthday mumma x

18. The importance of being unexceptional.

Does anyone aspire to be average? Nobody hopes for a mediocre meal or a moderately good night out. When your friend goes on holiday, you don’t wish them a fond farewell and a fair to middling time. When you jump on a rollercoaster, you won’t find anyone screaming for it to ‘Be Mooore Ordinaaaaary!’ But this week, I’ve found myself applauding unexceptionality* (*not a real word, but it should be.) According to the docs, my pregnancy is distinctly unremarkable, run of the mill, every day, average. They’ve pulled me out of the ‘high risk’ club and into the dime a dozens. Hallebloodylujah!

Aside from a few very minor appearances, Lucian Lupus is sulking in the wings as something adorably average has stolen the show. I’d argue that there’s no better performance than that of my own tummy jerking and jilting into peculiar shapes, as my baby pirouettes, kicks and flicks. I want to stop strangers in the street and demand they watch. I grab my friend’s hands and force them to feel. Films are paused, conversation is stopped and dinner burns whilst Saint Luke and I stare endlessly at my tummy as our offspring weaves and schemes inside me. Seriously, someone needs to make a reality show about my tummy, because as bonkers as this might sound, there’s a human being growing inside it! It’s got eyelashes and taste buds and fingers! TEN of them!

But as enthused as I am, strangers don’t like to be stopped, friends are unmoved to touch, and Saint Luke is hungry and wants to know what happens at the end of Peaky Blinders. In truth, there’s nothing at all remarkable about my ever so average pregnancy (although I’d argue that it would make a better reality programme than any of the Kardashians.) Ladies get pregnant and babies are born -that’s exactly how the evolution of the human race works you see. And life goes on.

But what if it doesn’t? What if it can’t? What if this beautiful baby that is growing and moving and delicately developing wasn’t in such an ordinary body, in such an ordinary world? This week I read about a pregnant refugee who slit her wrists after failing to stop her makeshift home in Calais from being demolished. Not just a refugee, but a woman – a woman like me with a baby like mine who knows nothing of the world and how cruel it can be… for now.

And as I sit in the comfort of my corner sofa, I wonder what was going through her mind as masked men in riot gear arrived to tear down the only shelter she had – did she feel her baby kick inside her? As they propelled tear gas into the squalid surroundings she called home – did her baby weave and scheme? As the crowd of activists barricaded behind the police, screamed for them to stop – did her baby pirouette and stretch? As her husband who stood beside her was beaten with batons, was her baby dancing inside her even then? With no dignity or hope left, was it the life inside her that led her to want to end her own? Her beloved baby, under stretched skin, kicking and dancing, weaving and scheming – no different from my own.

I feel sick with the injustice of it. I feel angered by reports of ‘migrants’ whose label has stripped them of humanity. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I didn’t have to hide for three months in a lorry to find a ‘safer’ home for my unborn. I feel guilt for the Mamas and Papas catalogue that lives under my bed, whilst there are women living without running water and babies below their hearts.

So forgive me if I stare at my tummy a little longer. Forgive me for pausing the TV to seek silence that allows me to savour my baby’s every move. I have got so much to be thankful for, the list is endless. But every day that I wake up cocooned in my pregnancy pillow, I’ll be sure to cherish the fact my decidedly average baby is able to grow within its decidedly average world (and that I wasn’t born a Kardashian).

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17. Did Stalin’s mum eat cake?

Last week was one of landmarks. We had our twenty-week scan and I turned, older. What a wonderful birthday present to have a tour of our baby’s organs! Like fascinated tourists we watched agog as our sonographer guided us on a bewilderingly detailed journey. ‘Here you can see the baby’s stomach, here’s the liver and on your right you’ll catch a glimpse of your baby’s spine. And if you just follow me, I’ll take you to the baby’s brain. Keep up. Photographs and novelty hats will be available in the gift shop.’ What looked crystal clear to our escort looked like a vortex of ever changing shapes to me, until we encountered the face and there upon it, a little up turned button nose that bought a lump so quickly to my throat. Saint Luke and I squeezed hands – he had spotted it too, and it was just perfect.

So I ate cake for two this birthday, at breakfast time. Officially ‘eating for two’ is not allowed in The Rulebook, which is made up of a small library of baby books stipulating precisely what I must do to be a ‘good mother’. It’s really rather overwhelming. What if that book is out of date? What if the authoress is a sadist? What if I don’t want to be a ‘yummy mummy’? What happens if I take the wrong piece of advice or god-forbid I find my own way?! Does that make me a bad mother? And let’s face it, a bad mother is the worse kind of bad human being. Did Gengis Khan have an inept mother? Did Hitler’s mum eat brie? Donald Trump’s mother almost definitely slept on her back. Oh god, why did I eat that second piece of cake?! Shame on me!

And so, it is my solemn responsibility to the future of humankind to read all the advice I can garner and increase my Rulebook knowledge of Do’s and Don’ts. Mostly Don’ts.

Don’t sleep on your back or on your right hand side. Don’t eat the delicious cheese. Don’t forget to make a birth plan. Don’t make a birth plan because you’ll only have to abandon it. Don’t do too much. Don’t do too little. Don’t spend too much money on maternity clothes. Don’t pretend you didn’t just eat that piece of sushi. Don’t lose your place on the NCT course. Don’t panic about the agonising, excruciating, mind blowing pain of labour. Don’t panic!

Much like Beyonce’s private jet, I appear to be harbouring a diva. My ever-changing vessel no longer belongs to me, or at least I’m no longer centre stage of this rig. And to add another layer of complexity, I’ve got Lucian Lupus lingering in the wings, like the curse that waits to crash Cinderella’s party. And so the list of Don’ts gets longer. Don’t forget to take your pills. Don’t stay up late because you’ll suffer the next day. Don’t ease your aches in a hot bath. Don’t do pregnancy yoga because your body isn’t strong enough. Don’t panic about the return of crippling Lupus symptoms bought on by the ‘trauma’ of childbirth. Don’t panic that the doctor used the word ‘trauma’, perhaps he said chicken korma? Yes I’ll have mine mild, thanks. But whatever you do, don’t panic!

But I am panicking. And you know what, it really doesn’t suit me! It’s a most unrecognisable feeling. I didn’t panic when I forgot to bring a calculator to my maths GCSE – not when I fell asleep off stage during a performance of Twelfth Night and was late for my soliloquy. I didn’t even panic when I got lost up a mountain in the Yorkshire Dales during a snowstorm wearing a summer dress and a denim jacket. I just don’t panic, so what on earth has got into me?!

Someone clever once said, ‘panicking is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere’. I feel much the same about The Rulebook – it’s giving me something to read at night as I exercise my pelvic floor, but it’s getting me nowhere! (and I’d much prefer to be watching Master Chef.)

So excuse me as I lay my baby books to rest for a while. I appreciate all their pearls of wisdom, I really do and I don’t profess to know it all, or any of it in fact – you see, I’ve never danced at this disco before. But for the sake of my sanity and as a birthday present to myself, I’m taking Fleetwood Mac’s advice above all others, and I’m going my own way. Admittedly that thought petrifies me, but I’m hoping that once I see that little upturned button nose, I’ll know just what to do.

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I’ll have my cake and I’ll eat it, twice.

16. A surprising Spring story…

My dearests, I apologise for my tardy blog post. I promise I didn’t forget about you, I just needed to wait for the right time – I needed to find the right words. You see, something quite wonderful has happened.

Let me set the scene. (Forgive me if this reads like an episode of Game of Thrones.) Two tiny ovaries were sleeping. Without command they slept for six months, protecting their owner’s body from itself, until one day, one ovary (the left one, which was by far the bravest) woke up. The weather outside was bitterly cold, but inside the ovary was warm and happy; it beamed with brawn. And as chance would have it, at the very same time an army of tens of millions were venturing on a hunting trip. They fought their way through dangerous obstacle courses that claimed many lives; some lost track and took the wrong path, some got caught in the treacherous terrain, some simple gave up the fight. Of the one hundred that remained, only one had strength, stamina and luck on its side and so it was crowned the winner. This was just the beginning of the champion’s fearless adventure…

Five tests, four months, three scans later, here I am today, harbouring one tiny miracle – a baby. Our baby!

My body has betrayed me in many ways since last summer and this is by far its most wickedly wonderful trick. For now, Lucian Lupus has retreated into the recesses, petrified of my ferocious womanly wiles. How could such a duplicitous villain possibly enter into battle with a body that’s preparing a new life? How could it stand in the way of a mother giving her unborn all the goodness it needs to thrive? BACK OFF LUCIAN LUPUS, I’M MAKING A HUMAN BEING IN HERE! And in the very act of doing so, I feel superhuman… I feel quite magical in fact.

In the first four months of pregnancy that are characteristically plagued by sickness and fatigue, my body has danced a merry jig! I feel better than I have in months! When my Super Doc reflected on my super test results, he mused ‘you’ll just have to keep getting pregnant’, at which point Saint Luke fainted into my arms.

My darling baby, I can’t quite believe I’ve got to wait until September to meet you! I’ve got so much to tell you, and so much to thank you for. You’ve already changed my life in many marvellous ways. I need to tell you that you came in the darkest of days when I was struggling to find any light. I want to thank you for casting the brightest of sunshine to warm my beaten body. I want to thank you for my re-born love of chips and revived repulsion for spice; for the excuse to buy new underwear and ask for seconds (twice.) I need to tell you that your Dad will be a rock that you can always depend on, and I’ll be fantastic at organising themed birthday parties. I want to thank you for allowing me to bring joy to so many people we have told about you; I wish you could see the look on their faces and sparkle in their eyes. I want you to appreciate the support you’ve bought from surprising places; you are so incredibly loved by a chorus of people who haven’t even met you yet. I want to thank you for putting my every ache and pain into perspective and for making me feel more empowered to fight than I’ve ever felt before. I want to tell you that I’m still a little bit scared and sometimes I can’t sleep at night because chocolate cake doesn’t count as 1 of my 5 a day (not even 5 slices). My brave little one, I want to thank you for standing up to my archenemy when you were only the size of a kiwi fruit and for putting the skip back in my step. Gosh you really are incredible. I’ve got so much to thank you for my darling, and I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure you know how much I love you (which doesn’t mean you don’t have to tidy your room.)

Even in my most inspired / medicated creative moments, I couldn’t have written a plot twist quite like this. Like the most fantastical stories, mine has come with a spectacular change in fortune. Except unlike Game of Thrones, this story is true. And it’s our story Luke; our baby is the story of me and you. To be continued…

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Wind swept and blown away.

15. You won’t find me sober in a sailor’s hat.

I am officially on the mend, and for the first time in seven months I find myself stepping into life as it was, except the landscape has changed and the terrain is trickier. As I joyfully attempt to navigate myself back to normality, I’m surprised by the greatest hurdle I’ve had to cross – a raging torrent of booze.

Once upon a time I heroically struggled to find two days in the week that I wasn’t drinking, with a diary precariously packed to the rafters. I’d be at your birthday, bar mitzvah or bun-fight with bells on, always with a drink in hand. And why? Simply because I just love a Really Good Time. For me, alcohol has never been medicinal; it’s not a crutch to lean upon or a faithful friend. I’ve never been one to drown any sorrows and I’m certainly not an introvert looking for truth serum to coax me from my shell. The simple truth is that I enjoy the heightened emotions that come with a tipple or two, which is nothing but a good thing when you’re in an excellent mood 98% of time.

White wine gives my wild side a wild side. Life is louder, the crowd congenial, everything is funnier and I can dance like Britney. No really. Just. Like. Britney. And I never knew my legs could bend like this, and listen to my hilarious story and have I ever told you that I love you? Because I really really do, and let’s start a limbo! I LOVE this song. Everyone come back to mine for a party!

The following morning hits, and I awake in a sailor’s hat but can’t entirely remember how I came to be wearing it. Like a pro, I equip myself with an emergency lifejacket of carbs to keep me afloat. By midday my heavy head begins to clear. By 7pm post-work whistles are wet to toast the day that’s done, and conversation free falls from discussions to debates, to heartfelt outpourings with strangers who feel like your very best friend. Life is louder, the crowd congenial, everything is funnier and I can dance like Britney. No really! Let’s start a limbo! I LOVE this song. Everyone come back to mine for a party! Etc Etc.

Not for a moment do I regret my collection of anecdotes and hangovers, surprise receipts and monotonous repeats. I drink with a reckless abandon because I’m FUN, and FUN people are never the responsible driver. FUN people are never clock watching in the corner. FUN people never call time at the bar. FUN people never say never. GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE! Until now…

The cocktail of drugs I’m on leave little room for cocktails with umbrellas and cherries. For seven months the safety of my sofa has shielded me from the social grenade that is abstinence, but with my health restoring it’s time to step back into the throng, and step back sober. I’m treading nervously into unchartered territories of Sunday pub lunches without red wine; dinners with friends and mocktails; boozy client lunches with no booze?!?! Having annually failed Dry Jan, I’ve been shocked by the ease of my ride on the wagon. Restraint is painless when you’ve no choice in the matter. But I’m also astounded at how incredibly different dry-life feels. Immeasurably different. Unrecognisable in fact.

Life is calmer. The pace is slower and somehow more considered. I’m sharper at work, brighter even. I lose fewer weekends to hangovers, phones to taxis and secrets to strangers. I’m storm free and I’m in control. The peaks and troughs are less extreme. The ride is mild; it doesn’t make me whoop with joy, or throw up. I leave before conversations get loud and make less sense. I wake up fog-free. Dialogue is more sincere, and insincere chat less bearable. I’ve learnt to listen, really listen and I no longer forget.

But I’m acutely aware of the piety that is projected onto people that exhibit such self-control; I’m aware because I don’t get invited to as many lunches. I’m self conscious of the label that’s attached to restraint, and find myself proclaiming how much I miss the good stuff, and that I can’t wait to get stuck in as soon as I’m able. But that’s a lie – I just don’t want people to think I’m boring. And here’s the secret – perhaps I am a little less fun and a little more boring, and I really don’t mind.

Since Lucian Lupus knocked on my door, my priorities have changed. I’m no longer seeking out the next deliciously debauched adventure; I’m simply happy to feel well and able to enjoy life again. I’m fulfilled without dancing a limbo. I’m satisfied without hangover carbs. I’m content just being me. I’m still fun loving, I just won’t be waking up in a daze and a sailors hat, not for a while.

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Behind a bar I wasn’t supposed to be behind.