I’m good at deadlines, but there’s a big one coming

And unlike most jobs, in this case the work starts – not ends – when the deadline falls

It quickly becomes clear that the big baby deadline comes with a bunch of other mini deadlines in the preceding weeks. File photograph: iStock

It quickly becomes clear that the big baby deadline comes with a bunch of other mini deadlines in the preceding weeks. File photograph: iStock

 

Being a writer means being used to a deadline. Those dates in the diary provide the framework for my productivity, even if sometimes I find myself shuffling them around, borrowing time from one project to fit in another.

Deadlines – dates provided by an editor I don’t want to let down – are what keep me on the straight and narrow: so much so that occasionally I worry having a job in which another adult holds me responsible for every 1,000 words has spoiled me somewhat. I’m not terribly good at setting my own deadlines or working without a strict delivery date.

I also have a terrible habit of – and it’s common among journalists – leaving everything to the very last minute. I work best under pressure; it’s part of the job.

Perhaps there is no ‘right frame of mind’ to receive a list that includes notes like ‘make sure to pack only dark-coloured towels and underwear [alarmed-face emoji x 3]’

Now the biggest deadline of my life is approaching. The arrival of my first baby is imminent, but I’m finding that  a deadline-based career hasn’t been particularly useful preparation. There is a due date – but unlike the ones I am used to, it’s confusingly flexible, with the baby unlikely to actually appear on the date suggested by the hospital.

“Think of it as ‘due month’,” a midwife says, explaining that the baby could arrive a couple of weeks either side of the deadline given. I nod because it makes sense, of course it does – but the vagueness makes me uncomfortable. “Just tell me what to do, when,” I want to say.

It quickly becomes clear that the big baby deadline comes with a bunch of other mini deadlines in the preceding weeks. For example, I have to pack a hospital bag – a far more onerous task than packing for a holiday. I always leave packing to the last minute, and that generally works out fine. I shove some clothes and toiletries into a case on the morning of departure and chant “keys, passport, phone” over and over as I leave the house and head to the airport.

This last-minute approach will not be feasible when it comes to packing the hospital bag. By the time it becomes clear that I need the hospital bag, I will be in quite a lot of pain or there will be some degree of medical urgency. I must pack the bag well in advance of this “due month” then, it would seem.

The official HSE advice, available on the website, is opaque and unhelpful: “You should pack a bag in plenty of time to bring to the hospital so that you are ready to go when your baby is due.” Another website suggests the 36-week mark, so I take that as my deadline.

I ask my sister, who is much better at packing and has much more experience in giving birth than me, what I should pack.

“Are you in the right frame of mind to receive this list?” she asks.

“Yeah, of course, just send it through,” I say.

Then it arrives and I realise that perhaps there is no “right frame of mind” to receive a list that includes notes like “make sure to pack only dark-coloured towels and underwear [alarmed-face emoji x 3]”.

The list is full of items I haven’t heard of, like nipple shields and breast pads. And then there are the items I need for the baby. The baby is wriggling around inside me but has until this point been fairly abstract; now I need to pack little outfits for the baby to wear, out in the world, and it all becomes terrifyingly real.

I feel that it would be irresponsible to bring them home to a house where poetry sits amid nonfiction and the cookery books are mixed in with the novels

My husband and I start to spend hundreds and hundreds of euro on the baby, buying a buggy and a cot and a selection of teeny-tiny little hats. We begin to think seriously about a name – and then realise we have to think about a middle name and a surname, too.

Then there are those tasks not directly related to the baby or the birth but that need to be completed imminently all the same. I have to do a tax return before I can claim maternity benefit and I have to wrap up the work projects I won’t be able to focus on when the baby is very young.

I find myself treating everything as a deadline: the “due month” becomes the “month in which every aspect of my life must be sorted”.

The baby won’t care whether the books on the shelves are categorised by genre. But suddenly I feel that it would be irresponsible to bring them home to a house where poetry sits amid nonfiction and the cookery books are mixed in with the novels. So I set aside an afternoon to deal with that. I arrange to get my teeth cleaned and my hair cut. I start googling life insurance.

Eventually, as I tick off the items on my to-do list and as the hospital bag fills up, I begin to feel a sense of focus. This is my favourite bit of any task: the deadline is nearly upon me but I’ve cracked it; the job is no longer overwhelming. Calm descends once again and self-doubt dissipates.

I allow myself a moment to feel triumphant. But then I remember that this is a deadline like no other. It’s not over when the baby arrives; that’s when the job really begins.

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