‘I have felt more alive with happiness during this first year of motherhood than ever before’
One regret is not being more present during her first few days; I was too anxious to enjoy them
There is one constant in the first year of motherhood: you’ll always feel like you’re completely winging it.
Funny how time can seem elastic, changing shape despite always being made of the same amount of hours in a day. The days have been long, but the year has been short.
In some ways, it feels like becoming a parent happened a few weeks ago. Other times, it’s almost as though the baby has always been there.
How is it that there was a point where I never knew her?
And that this point was only 12 months ago?
A year. A milestone I never thought I’d see. Amazingly, I don’t seem to have mucked up too much yet. The baby is healthy, happy and always ready with a smile for everyone. I can’t take credit for that last bit, much as I wish I could.
Does every parent believe their baby to be the most beautiful thing in the world?
I still can’t get over this bit. My baby has the long toes of a prime donna ballerina, tiny pearl fingernails, the eyelashes of a top influencer. Every day, I catch myself in disbelief that this dollop of peaches-and-cream perfection came from my body, my genetic pool. I’m pathetically grateful that she is healthy, and I give more gratitude for her health than I ever did my own. It’s terrifying to think how much I could potentially mess her up in the future.
On my last morning as a non-parent, I lay in bed peering over my massive bump. Feeling . . . not nervous, not elated, not petrified but more curious about what lay ahead that day. I didn’t know it at the time, but every cell in my body would undergo a complete transformation. It would be the last morning that I would wake up and not feel pecked with worry. No one tells you that every belief you have about yourself and the world is about to be shaken vigorously by the ankles.
In those first few months, emotion roils over you in waves that barely let you breathe. I was felled by other people’s generosity. I could feel the cynic in me melt away. I was humbled at how naturally good and generous a parent my partner was. I was blindsided by the amount of work involved in taking good care of a newborn.
But what was a shock to the senses has now just become normal life. We finally hit on a routine where (it looks like) we know what we’re doing. I don’t notice the work much anymore, or at least, I’m less miserably indignant about how much of it there is.
A few days ago, I went through my phone’s camera roll, and found pictures of Isola’s first few days. She looks as serene, puckered, tiny and helpless as any other newborn. I’m in some of these pictures too - bleary-eyed, musty-haired - but I can barely recall some of these moments. All I recall is the low-level terror of trying to keep an entirely helpless infant alive.
Was I so spun out with anxiety that I forgot to enjoy them?
Was I waiting for the roof to crash in when I should have cherished every second?
I think this is possibly the one regret that I have from the past year; that I haven’t been more present in these moments.
Certainly, I have enjoyed Isola’s company more than I ever could have imagined. I have felt more on the grid, and alive with happiness, this past year than ever before. But more than once, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve spent time with my baby while keeping one eye on the clock, waiting for bedtime to roll around. I feel guilty even writing it, but on some days mothering very much felt like a job. As in any job, I was waiting for the moment I could clock off. But on reflection, whiling away those lovely moments with her with a mind to catching Bake Off later seems ... well, a bit mad.
The baby is neither walking nor talking yet, and we await every small milestone without fully waving goodbye to the infant that goes forever once she learns something new.
It’s a vile cliché, but babies don’t stay little for long; a thing that’s both good and bad. But there is one constant in the first year: you’ll always feel like you’re completely winging it. There’s no definitive moment where you will feel like a ‘real mum’. If you work, as I do, you’ll be so busy and pushed for time that even going to the loo will feel like Galaxy Bar-grade levels of luxuriant Me Time. You’ll have to eat breakfast in the shower and you’ll only shave one leg (no one will pat you on the back for it, so it’s up to you to give yourself a metaphorical high-five).
You will become everything that you previously mocked and judged during your child-free years, and there’s not a thing you can do about it. All you can do is embrace it, keep yourself strapped in, and try and be present in those moments more, even the awful ones, so as to stave off that bitter tang of nostalgia.
To paraphrase Meghan Markle, I survived, and then eventually thrived (well, ish).
And if I can, anyone can.