I've been wanting to write a post on this topic for some time, but couldn't find the right angle to approach it at. Today, however, I had my scariest experience as a parent, and it brought what I'd been mulling over sharply into focus. Having officially returned to work, 3 days a week, I've been consumed with adapting to my new life as a part time Mum, feeling like I'm living two lives. In one life, a grown up, professional person who's required to turn up and do a job each day. In the other, the dedicated and loving Mum of an almost one year old with shifting needs; adorable, lovable and knackering. Switching between the two has been challenging to say the least. Three days a week, I have to dampen down the flames of my all consuming passion for my daughter - I find if I don't think about her, I can just about concentrate. The rest of the week, I try to drink in every moment of her precious existence. I'm a slightly bemused superhero, ripping off my clothes and blearily pulling my knickers over my tights at a moments notice. My name? Captain-confused. Knackered-girl. Partially attentive employee-woman. Sometime Super-Mum. I bet Spiderman's tits never leaked milk through his lycra though, and Batman never blubbed uncontrollably in a shop doorway when he saw a baby in a buggy on his lunch break. Sometimes the transition is required too quickly. Last week at work, a volunteer asked me for a bunch of leaflets to take with her to an event. 'Mummy will get it for you in a minute' I said, distracted. A double life, working 9-5 at the office and then driving home at 120mph to make the most of the moments before bath and bed with a child who's spent her day with strangers and must become mine all mine again before I turn out her light.
Today, one of my days off work, was a reminder of the maternity leave I didn't fully appreciate until it was over. Iris and I went for a swimming lesson and my heart lifted as I held my sodden, splashing daughter in my arms, sharing her joy in the simplicity of the warm water holding up our buoyant bodies in the baby pool. We dried off together, then visited a friend, drinking endless cups of tea and chatting about parenthood as our kids happily trashed her living room. I came home to spend some time alone with Iris, hoping to read her a few of the books she's starting to take an interest in and share a snack of strawberries before climbing into bed for an illicit afternoon nap. She seemed a little out of sorts when we arrived back at my house, clingy and uninterested in lunch. I made myself a sandwich and settled her on the sofa next to me while I ate, giving her a fish-finger to munch on in the hope that I could eat mine in peace. The next thing I knew, she was vomiting copiously into my hastily cupped hands, not an experience I'm hoping to repeat any time soon. She seemed okay in herself, but fairly hot, so I took her temperature which was on the high side. When John came home, half an hour later, a rash had appeared on Iris' delicate belly, spreading up her stomach to her chest and chin, even appearing on the lobes of her dainty little ears. Together we took her temperature once more, trying to keep our voices controlled, though both of us were worried as hell. Finding it had risen even higher, we decided to take her to the doctors surgery which is mercifully a short sprint across the road from our house. 'I'm sure it's nothing to worry about' I said, but my stomach had begun to churn. I take back everything I've ever said about the nhs (the care we received during the birth of my daughter is a whole new post) as they saw us so quickly, without an appointment, and our gp had only praise for us rushing her in. As a new Mother, I err on the side of caution, and it's a shame that medical professionals can sometimes make you feel that you're having hysterics when you do so. Iris was checked over, and the doctor looked concerned. 'Her temperature is 39, and that's high. You need to take her home, take off her clothes (I'd mummified her in 47 layers of wool and loft insulation) and sponge her down. Give her Calpol and Ibuprofen. Check her temperature every hour. Keep an eye on the rash. It looks like a virus, because she's well in herself (Iris was, at this point, jumping up and down on my lap, punching me in the face and shouting 'Ducka Ducka Ducka Doy' - the mysterious phrase that has become her mantra in recent weeks, a combination, we think, of Duck (her favourite bath toy) and Doggie (her favourite member of our household - thanks Iris) and, because it's the weekend now, take her to A and E if things deterioriate. Did we have any questions? John had about 50, and they were all sensible ones. Thank god for the practicality of Dads. I was sitting in the surgery, but my mind had gone elsewhere. My imagination began to run riot, as I imagined her being bundled up and raced to Leeds General Infirmary. I saw it all so clearly, as if I was living it. How she'd be ripped out of my arms and placed on a trolley on arrival. How we'd have to sit in a waiting room, wordless and numb with fear, as doctors worked on our daughter. The word 'Meningitis' burst into my brain and ran riot, sending adrenalin rushing through my bloodstream. I saw us setting off down a road which would end with something so horrifying, so unthinkable, so paralysing that I dare not even write it here, but I have to. We could lose her. My child. The most precious thing I have ever called my own. My heart. My soul. My body. My life. She could die.
I don't think of myself as a stupid person. Those who know me might disagree, but I like to believe that I'm reasonably intelligent. I understand and abide by the rules of life. I've always worked for a living and am happy to pay tax so that we can all benefit from the many amazing things our society takes for granted; safe roads, clean water, assistance in an emergency, vaccinations for our children, free healthcare and bins that are occasionally emptied, once in a blue moon if you live in Beeston. Though I once shoplifed a mascara from Boots, I generally stick to the rules and regulations that society imposes upon us. I like to think I'm in control of most things, but that was before I became a parent. Pretty soon after coming home from the hospital with our newborn bundle, I realised that being in control of a baby was like trying to catch a fart. We wanted Iris to sleep at night, but she wanted to sleep during the day and be up all night. We asked for practical presents, but she received a ton of tiny ballgowns. We preferred her to eat healthy green veg, but she begged to differ on more than one occasion, flinging sprouts into the air with glee as she gobbled the chocolate bunnies her visiting grandparents brandished. When you're pregnant, you imagine a perfect, pliable baby that lies lovingly in your arms, and that may be what you get in the first three months, while they're learning that their limbs belong to them. After that, you're dealing with a tiny and very determined person who's completely separate from yourself and has their own room trashing agenda, often involving eating loo roll and hosting an ear splitting disco at 3am. But that's not the worst of it. That you can and will handle, though sometimes it feels like an impossible task. What you might not be able to handle, is that life can and will dicatate the fate of your baby, and no amount of wishing, and hoping, and praying, and feeding them only organic food can change that. As a Mum, it's something I'm finding hard to live with.
Almost a year has passed since Iris burst, screaming, into the world I knew before. Though I've grieved heartily over my former life (no more getting off my tits on a Friday night or fitting into Topshop clothes, or any clothes come to think of it) I've finally let go and embraced the change. Now, Iris is my life. She hasn't just consumed it, she's become it. My life depends on her survival. She's the master of my waking thoughts and I dream of her every night. Since I saw her tiny heartbeat, at 6 weeks, the beat of my own has drummed out her name. I'm a Mother, I get it now and I've stopped kicking against it like a bewildered horse shut in a stable. I'll never be free from dividing up my time and my thoughts and my body so that my child takes her share, a share that's much bigger than my own, and I wouldn't have it any other way. There are raisins in my handbag and a tube of teething gel in my pocket. I've sold all my 'hot to trot' dresses on Ebay. I get up, instantly, at 6am if I have to. I no longer even bother to grumble or nudge Daddy in the ribs - it's a bonus, in that I'm now on time for work three days a week. I've accepted motherhood, and I'm more than happy to give my life to my child, because she deserves it, because it's rightfully hers.
Today, though Iris didn't turn out to be critically ill, I stared into the face of the most horrifying fact I've ever stumbled across. Despite any declaration of selfless love we make, despite our desire to raise our child with truth, honesty and the utmost care, she might, at any moment, be taken from us by the world, and there's nothing at all we can do about that. I always knew the world was cruel, but it's a whole new ball game to realise that it wouldn't even let me plead for the life of my baby, or take into account the seconds, minutes and hours I've spent ensuring her survival. It wouldn't even let me lay down my life for hers, though I'm sure I'd do it in a second. I don't believe in God. We chose to have our daughter named in a non-religious, humanist ceremony, rather than having her Christened as both her father and I were. There is, for me, no old man up in the sky that can hold out the hands I sometimes long to put her life into or offer us the chance to see each other again in beautiful after life. She's all mine, and though I often wish it weren't so, I know that if she somehow ceased to be, I couldn't be either, and I wouldn't want to be without her. I didn't mean to let this post get so utterly depressing, but sometimes, when I'm looking at my daughter's innocent, sweet, naked body, I ache with sadness that I can't guarantee I'll always be here to protect it, and that she wont always inhabit it - these are the realities of existence, but motherhood wants to defy them through love, all enduring, unconditional love.
Iris is one of the lucky ones though. However much I berate myself daily for not being a perfect mother, she was born with a specially constructed plastic Tommy Tippee weaning spoon in her mouth and a chance at a full and long life, just due to geography. We all hear on the news, every day, about countries we don't live in and worlds that are far removed from our own by miles and miles, where children die every second due to lack of clean water or begin their lives already inflicted with HIV, through their parents lack of education (though you'd think John and I were in the third world due to our lack of contraceptive know-how sometimes - hello Iris!) Babies are born into conflicts that their mothers don't buy into or understand and lives are lost because of politics and religion every day whilst we're perusing supermarket shelves stuffed with organic meals in disposable jars. I'm sometimes embarrased by how much I love Iris. After all, I have every reason to believe that she'll survive into adulthood and will be the one wiping my bottom when I'm old and grey, just as I'll no doubt be wiping my mothers...though I'm sure I won't wipe it just right and I'll get an earful of abuse.
That leads me to the title of this post. Just one egg. Female, adult humans, on the whole, lay just one egg. Don't ask me how anybody has twins Holding a screaming, squirming newborn, hungry on the hour, every hour during the night, I often praised the god I don't believe in for having just the one to contend with. I got what most people get, just one egg.
When I was pregnant, every Tom, Dick or Auntie Mildred would ask me the same set of questions. By the end of nine long months, I felt like having a t-shirt printed up with my answers so that I wouldn't be required to speak to another blue-haired old biddy, or, in fact, anyone at all.
Q: You're pregnant!?!
A: Am I? But I always use... (thinks for a second) Bugger. I thought I'd just got all fat and cross and developed a thing about Cream Horns.
Q: When's it due?
A: April and yes, that's Spring, how wonderful, leaping lambs and all that. Yeah, of course we planned it that way. We didn't just have sex in July or anything like that.
Q: Is it your first?
A: Do you see a displaced toddler hanging off my arm asking why I don't love it anymore?
Q: Do you know what it is?
A: Erm, yes, we're pretty sure it's a baby, but have you seen the film Alien? Anything could happen.
Do you people have a book called annoying questions to ask a pregnant person or what?
Now that Iris is nearly one, it seems that a new set of questions have been issued to random passers by, family members and friends alike. Some of them I can handle. Is she sleeping through the night? Well the only answer to that one is yes, to avoid a tirade of unwanted advice (rock her, ignore her, cuddle her, gas her, smother her,) but since you ask, she isn't, as you can plainly see from my haggared face. Is she eating well? Her nappies suggest that a good amount of solid food has passed through her system (somtimes they suggest she's been to an all-you-can-eat Chinese Restaurant.) Those questions are fine, but the one that baffles me, when I'm just getting to grips with being a mother of one who's recently gone back to work is....are you planning on having another then? Within a day of being back at work, a colleague cooed over photos of Iris just beginning to toddle then hissed 'when's number two due?' I'm assuming she didn't think I already had another one in the oven, although some friends have already had to stenuously deny baby number two is already expected (and examine their exercise regimes.) Once you've given birth to one, planned or otherwise, society expects you'll 'get it all out of the way' and expand your family asap - bugger your complete lack of time, money or the fact that you haven't had sex for six months.
I had an induced labour (after my waters broke but my lazy baby couldn't be bothered to get going.) Though I remember, in minute detail, my induction being administered, both vaginally and intravenously, I can't recall much about when the first wave of (albeit chemically enhanced) contractions hit me. One minute I was fine, and reading Carrie's secret sex and the city diaries. The next, I was dancing on hot coals with pains radiating from deep in my belly to far beyond. In under a minute, I went from lying on the bed, chaste and fully clothed, to ripping off my knickers and doing a river dance of agony on the spot, screaming 'give me pain relief.' So much for my planned, natural water birth. When asked by childless friends to describe the pain, I'm at a loss. It hurt, but so does stubbing you toe. It hurt so much that I wished I was dead is my normal response, but that doesn't quite cover it. What's worse than dead? I wished I was that, and then some. The most enduring thought from my labour does stay with me however. Perhaps not enough time has passed, and many women must say this, but I remember with all my heart feeling sad that this baby, the baby that was causing the current trouble, would sadly be an only child. 'It's terrible' I sobbed to John, jumping from one swollen foot to another. 'I never wanted an only child, but that's what we're having.' Though he told me to concentrate on the giant head that was splitting apart my pelvis at the time, I could only feel terribly sad that though I'd imagined a big family, I'd be having just the one, lonely only. They say the memory fades, but I still remember the absolute, sure knowledge that I'd never put myself into that position again, dancing a jig while satan poked me with a cattle prod.
I have just one egg. Through being Mum to Iris, I've made a number of wonderful friends who have babies - something every new Mum needs to do ( like Roses need the rain and poets need the pain, according to Bon Jovi.) The ones I love the most are like me, they have only one egg too. We talk endlessly about our eggs, and how much we love them, and loathe the sleepless nights and complete selflessness involved in looking after them. The ones I like less but envy the most, are the ones who have two eggs. They've done it more than once. They've been brave enough (akin to painting your face like Mel Gibson in Braveheart and shouting 'OOOOOOOOOOGAH) to repeat the experience of birth. Even when they've had the most hideous experience imagineable (and I refer you back to hot coal and satan's pronged fork) they've repeated it for the sake of another little, tiny person that looks good in teddy print and will grow up to support them with its job as a lawyer or doctor. The scary thing is, I've started having fantasies myself. When these mad friends place their newborn baby in my arms while they nip to the loo or tackle their toddler, I cuddle their bundle and my ovaries give my womb a nudge. My best friend from school recently gave birth to a baby boy, as her baby girl turned 18 months. Wrapping up a cute little stripy sleep suit as a gift I found myself fingering it a little too long and lovingly. Could I one day fill one of these with a little brother or sister for Iris?
You see, there's a terrible problem with having just the one egg. Take as an example, the experience of the Emperor Penguin: Emperor pairs gather together near a solid iceberg to each lay a single egg. There are no special preparations or nest. Laying typically occurs in May or June at the start of the bitter Antarctic winter. The Emperors are believed to have developed this winter breeding pattern to allow the chick to grow to independence at a time when food is most plentiful. After the female lays her egg, she passes it over to the male - though not quite immediately. Sometimes females sit on a newly-laid egg for hours before their mates finally get them: eggs are very precious commodities, and the changeover is a very hazardous transition. If the male does not manage to scoop up the egg very quickly, it freezes and the breeding season is over for a pair before it has really begun. So the females are not very keen to risk loosing their valuable egg. The female travels across the ice to feed in the fish-filled waters far away in the north. She spends the winter at sea. The male Emperor fasts through the winter during incubation of the
egg. Incubation is solely his responsibility. He positions the egg on top of his
feet and covers it with a warm fold of feathered abdominal skin. The incubation
lasts nearly two months. During the Antarctic winter, the period of darkness can
last more than 20 hours. Huddling emperor penguins may spend most of a 24-hour
period sleeping while they incubate eggs. Sleeping conserves energy while they
Who would want to be an Emperor Penguin? I'm one. And my partner John is one for sure. We have just the one egg, and we transfer it back and forth between us. We may not be living in sub-arctic conditions, but modern life is scary, and it only takes a fumble on the ice to lose our precious egg forever. While fasting doesn't sound like too much fun, I wish we could make like the Penguins and sleep for months with our daughter's tiny body in the bed between us, curled up safe where we can see her. Unfortunately, we have to go out and do the jobs that make the money that buys our egg the clothes, shoes, food and future it needs. I sympathise with the Emperor Penguin, because life sometimes feels like an endless slide on thin ice, and one false move might result in the devastating and utterly unimaginable loss of our one egg. If we had, for instance, another egg, tucked away at home in a box, it might, just might, make the possibility of losing an egg just a little bit more imagineable.
The next time someone asks me if I'm going to have another baby soon, I'm not sure what I will say. I can't imagine Iris being my only baby, I've enjoyed seeing her little life unfold way too much to say no to a brother or sister for her. Whilst I still feel the pain of her birth all to keenly, I can't say I want to do it again right now. I know women have second and third and fourth babies after vowing they wouldn't. The fact that we've survived the hell of childbirth leads me to belive we'll do it again, however traumatic it was. For me, an induction followed by a 12 week stay in a psychiatric hospital due to postnatal depression, I have more to fear that most if I repeat the experience. Why then, do hold a friend's newborn and remember only the good things; the sleepy, warm baby in our arms, the expertise we learnt that we'd like to repeat? The feeling that once might not be enough, that just one egg seems too fragile.
What do I do? Nothing special. I'm just another Muther.
This is my blog about modern motherhood. I have a 1 year old daughter who, though planned, was the biggest surprise of my life. I would compare being a new mother to riding a Vaseline smeared unicycle naked and blindfold through a field of landmines whilst every enemy you'd ever made jeered from the sidelines, pelting you with tomatoes full of wasps. A bit nervewracking then. If you tried to take my daugther off me however, I'd stab you in the head without hesitation...and with a corkscrew. It would be nice to use my corkscrew for something again. Love, hate, be indifferent but whatever you do, share with others to raise my ratings.