Tomorrow my boy will be eight years old.
My darling boy; my longed-for second child.
Utter dickhead that he is.
At a stand-up gig last week, havin’ a fag outside with one of the other comedians, we got chatting about our kids. ‘They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,’ said the other comedian. ‘Eh?’ I said. ‘Your life must be proper shit, mate.’
Now then. You all know how careful I am to avoid sweeping generalisations and stupid categorisations, to never descend into extreme embellishments or lazy lies in order to make a pithy point. Especially when it comes to matters of gender because we really need to stop that shit and let the womens grow beards while the mens openly weep, without judgement based on confining expectations of binary gender behaviours and traits. Ahem.
But I suspect it won’t come as a huge shock to my vagina-wielding readers to learn that the comedian whose kids were the best thing that ever happened, was a fella.
I have never said, nor have I ever heard another mother say that having children is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. At least not one who posseses the merest hint of honest self-awareness.
This is partly because of what they do to our nethers. Ditto our tits. Ditto our sleep, our self-esteem, our careers, our pay, our sense of humour and our mental health.
It is also because, for me anyway, the moment I became a mother, a significant part of me died. Forever.
Like a snake shedding its skin, I had to shake off the old me – the one who pleased only herself and viewed the world only through the prism of her own needs – and leave it behind.
I had to dedicate myself to this tiny wriggly being even though my new skin was still so raw. Most importantly, I had to never allow myself to look back at my old skin. To look back at your old life is treachery; suggests you regret the child, resent the child.
But oh, how you do, sometimes.
Not every day. Many days raising children are filled with joy. Their presence can be deeply fulfilling. And the love you feel for them…there is no love to rival it; nothing so heart-swelling, so simple, so overwhelming.
But there are just as many days where the whole thing feels unrelentingly harrowing, an endless marathon of negotiation and responsibility, of exhaustion and loneliness and boredom. Perhaps especially if you’re mumming full-time, as I did.
The day I had my boy was, without hesitation, the best day of my life. Compared to the trauma of my first labour, it was a gloriously quick, easy and painless planned C-section. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on him, to plop him on my shoulder and listen to his little breaths delivered directly into my ear, to pat and rub his back and gawp for hours at his perfect little mouth.
Even so, even during that time of pure blissed-out new babyism, I could feel bits of me ebbing away. The path ahead seemed terribly long suddenly and it was a path I already knew so well, with our eldest being eleven years old by then.
Within hours I was thrown back into the reality of not enough milk, not enough sleep, not enough of me to go around. I would waste precious hours when he was asleep, staring in wide-eyed terror at his up-and-down chest, certain that I would be unable to love and care for him enough, would never be good enough. Again.
I’m fairly sure that my (now ex) husband was not suffering the same. In all aspects of nethers, tits, sleep, self-esteem, career, pay, sense of humour and mental health, he remained unchanged.
It’s only now that we share equal custody of the boy that his dad has felt the impact of raising a child alone, half the time. And it’s only now that I have felt the wonderful freedom that comes with raising a child alone, only half the time.
This week has been maternal mental health awareness week. The primary focus is, rightly, on post-natal depression. I had it with both my babies and I deeply believe that it was caused partly by that shedding of old skin, that silent, devastating death of self that happens when we become mothers.
Whether or not we suffer PND, this is why we are unlikely to say that our children are the best thing that’s ever happened to us. Because we know it’s complicated. Because we had to leave our old skin behind.
I adore my boy. Of course I do. He’s the best life-ruining, utter dickhead I have ever met. And whilst I can’t crawl back into my old skin, can’t ever go back to being who I was before I had my kids, I have grown, in recent months, a new skin. It’s a skin that has elements of the old me, of bits it turns out I didn’t need to leave behind, but this new skin is much thicker, is reinforced with experience, with a lowering of expectations, with a belief that I am realistically good enough for him. And good enough for me.
That I am enough.
And yes, in the background of that lush pic of me hugging my boy on the eve of his eighth birthday is a vat of fag-ends and a bucket of wine; two bits of the old me I never did shed.
She lives on! The mental bitch…