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

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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.