A letter to my pre-mum self on the eve of the birth of our daughter
You were right to have that impromptu date night tonight, thinking that you won’t be able to go out for dinner spontaneously for that much longer. In fact, your days of spontaneity are pretty much up, my friend. In a few hours you will turn over in bed, wonder for a horrified moment if you’ve pissed yourself, and then accept the dawning realisation. Your waters have broken. This is happening.
(By the way, kudos to you for not giving the waitress the stink-eye when she sat you at the counter earlier tonight. She has clearly never been pregnant, otherwise she would realise the nigh-on impossibility of hauling a 39 week baby bump, clad in a maternity maxi dress, up on to a bar stool and balancing there for the duration of dinner. Next time, ditch the British politeness and ask to wait for a table.)
In a little over 24 hours, in the dead of a sultry summer night, on a continent that is not your own, you will welcome a healthy, beautiful (you’re biased but, you know, you’re allowed to be) baby girl to the world. The next day or so will be intense, but you’ll be lucky to have a relatively straightforward delivery. When they place that slippery, squalling, mohicaned bundle on your chest you will be filled a love so deep you finally have a semblance of understanding about what your parents meant when they told you as a child they loved you ‘more than you will ever know.’
I don’t want to scare you Anna, but this year will be your most life-changing yet. You will feel a sense of responsibility you’ve never known – not just for that tiny person who depends on you to survive every day, but also for the wider world as you wonder and worry and pray about the kind of place she will grow up in. Your role as a wife, daughter and sister will evolve too, as you adapt to a new adult understanding of the sacrifices your parents made for you, the compromises you have to make yourself and in your relationship, and the overwhelming love your daughter will be wrapped up in on both sides of the Atlantic. Your heart will burst as you witness how much love the people you love feel for her, and you will be caught in an ever-growing spiral of gratitude that you are privileged enough to experience this.
Sure, there will be days when your overwhelming sentiment is ‘FML.’ Like when you finally crawl back in to bed after a projectile poo situation necessitates two nappy changes, a full change of clothes for you both and disinfectant spray to the walls, only to discover that you missed a bit on your foot and it’s now streaked across the sheets. Like when you have to leave the ‘Mommy and Me’ yoga class you’ve meticulously scheduled your entire day’s routine of feeds and naps around after ten minutes because she is screaming blue murder at the sight of a F**KING CEILING FAN. Like when you’ve re-stacked the bookshelf for the fourteenth time that day and she cries when the dog-eared board book copy of Dear Zoo hits her toes as she pulls it out AGAIN. That was all you, my sweet darling.
There will be tougher days, too. When you’re both exhausted from sleep regression-induced night-wakings and you’ve rocked and swayed and lullabied your way through the entire lunchtime nap and yet she still stares at you wide-eyed from the comfort of you aching arms. When you’re reduced to tears by those sharp new teeth drawing blood when all you bloody well want to do is feed her. When your normally busy bee who won’t sit still for two minutes is suddenly snuggling, watery-eyed, in your lap and you flinch as you realise touching her forehead feels like scalding yourself on a just-boiled kettle. On those days, more than any other, you’ll wish your mum was round the corner for a rest, a cup of tea, and the assurance that she will get better, instead of being thousands of miles across the sea.
But, above all, there will be joy. Joy in the faces of grandparents as they witness her standing alone for the first time on a glorious New Jersey beach. Joy in her wonder as she watches the sun catch the ripples in the Florida swimming pool. Joy in your own grandmother’s clasped hands as she is presented with your jet-lagged infant daughter for the first time under the twinkling lights of the tree and knows nothing else could make her Christmas complete. And it won’t just come on the holidays and special occasions you will be fortunate enough to enjoy; there will be joy, too, in the everyday. In the excitement as she’s pushed around the apartment in an empty cardboard box. In the fun of rolling herself up in a pile of fresh washing still warm from the dryer. In the sudden realisation that, at nine months old, she is sat in the corner of the living room turning the pages of a book and chatting to herself; that your nightly bedtime stories have produced a baby bookworm.
On the eve of this life-altering event, Anna, I won’t offer you specific advice – I am endlessly learning myself, as you will from each new experience you have this year. I can’t tell you what will work for your baby at any given stage – and even if I could, it will change when the next phase kicks in. But on those tough days, you may find it helpful to remember a few key things.
Firstly, nothing lasts forever. It might seem like an eternity until Daddy comes home, until the end of winter, until she learns that opening drawers and doors will inevitably end in trapped fingers and tears, but a year from now you’ll look back and wonder where the time has gone.
Secondly, make the most of help when it’s available – from C, from visiting family, from a babysitter when you’re comfortable with that. Parenting can be a tough game, especially away from home, and you need to give yourself a break whenever you can. Use that help to make time for your relationship too – you are already a great team, but you need each other now more than ever.
Lastly, and most importantly, have confidence in your instincts. You will come to know your baby better than anyone else, and nothing you can read in a book, or scavenge on the internet, or hear from someone else will trump that understanding of what is best for her. You have everything you need to be a great mum. You’ve got this.
Good luck, my friend. And enjoy. You have the adventure of a lifetime ahead of you.