I read an article on the BBC today about mothers who in hindsight regretted having children. The sample interviewed indicated that around 8% of women wished that they’d never had children. Reading this statistic – which was so much higher than I would have imagined – was a really pivotal moment for me. So much so that I forwarded the article to T (who was sitting across the dining room table from me). “You regret becoming a mother?” he asked, looking up from his laptop for the first time that morning. Actually, no, I explained, that’s what most surprised me on reading the article. Had you asked me five months ago, before Whoopsy was born, I would have sworn that my name would top the list of women who regretted having a child. After all, I spent all of my pregnancy regretting getting pregnant so it would follow that I would regret the outcome of the pregnancy. But honestly, I don’t. Despite the tears and the arguments that his unexpected arrival prompted, regardless of the stress of reorganising my entire life in eight months, I do not regret Whoopsy one little bit. He was an accident. But he wasn’t a mistake.
It’s not that he brings unbridled joy into my life on a day to day basis. No one who wakes up demanding food at 2.30am or who covers your face with slimy drool when you pick him up can bring that much joy. And it’s not that he’s my best buddy. Yet. He’s four months old – he may no longer be a potato with eyes anymore, but he’s hardly a cultured companion. However, he makes me laugh with the unwavering adoration, bordering on obsession, he shows towards his jumperoo. And his head smells like nothing else in the world, all musky and inviting, his light hair fuzzy from rubbing against his bed. And it warms me when his little hands grab my hair and refuse to let go. As painful as it is, I like to think of it as a sign of affection as he attempts to drag me along to where ever he is being taken. I love him most when he lies (fairly) calmly with me and watches Masterchef. And there is nothing cuter in the whole world than his little pout when he’s sad or the tremble of his bottom lip when he’s threatening tears. In another universe I would have had more choice over when he decided to join the party. But without him, the party would be missing the late nights, the vomiting, the comas from drinking too much, the wild screaming, the sloppy kisses. And what kind of boring party would that be..?
That’s not to say I don’t occasionally feel a twang of regret when I recognise another aspect of my life that is forever changed, or altogether gone. I was sitting in a pub a few weeks ago with Whoopsy waiting for a friend to arrive. I got up to change him and asked the table next to mine to watch our stuff whilst I was gone (It was mainly the full pint of beer I was worried about). “We will”, one joked “but we’ll rummage through your pockets for cash”. “Cash?!” I retorted, gesturing at the baby “I have no cash. This thing has taken all my cash”. “Yeah, I’ve heard they take everything”, he responded. “Including your soul”, added a woman sitting with him, darkly. She knows.
Having lunch today with some recently married friends, who are starting to think about when they’ll throw out a couple of mini-mes, the conversation moved onto baby making and I warned them to achieve everything they want to before dropping some hatchlings because most things unrelated to babies are paused for a while. For some people, amazingly, it’s just a short while until normal life resumes but I imagine that to be the minority. I feel like I’m beginning to function within this new regime but I imagine that it will be many more months before I feel that I am a productive member of society again. We got talking about what I feel I’ve sacrificed as a result of Whoopsy. The following list, really, is just for my own account. One day I know I’ll want read it back to remind myself of who I was before I co-created a human being.
- Interior design. My habitat sofa – that no one is allowed to eat on – is covered in baby puke stains. My shelves are full of plastic tat that makes various animal noises. My new rug is hidden by a baby gym so fantastically colourful that I have a mini stroke every time I look at it. Even the nursery, painted with an exquisite mountain mural, can’t be appreciated for all the dirty baby grows and stray muslin cloths lying around. Our bedroom has just about survived the intrusion of the neon jungle animal-themed items, but since I no longer sleep in there that is of little consequence to me.
- My pre-baby body. I was fortunate in that I had what people call a ‘neat baby bump’. What they mean by that is ‘Hey, you didn’t get fat..!” After Whoopsy was vacuumed out of me, the bump literally just fell in on itself and within days I had the flattest tummy since I was eighteen (Don’t worry, I’ve put it all back on sitting around eating cake with other NCT mums). My internal body, though, feels like its been at the centre of a four vehicle pile up. Every little part of me aches including body parts that I didn’t think had nerves. My nails are split, forever ruined. You can trace my route by following the clumps of hair that fall out of my head on a daily basis. I know of people who have become pregnant again at this point and I am confused at how their body is able to build another baby when it can’t even rebuild itself.
- Conversations in which people ask how you are before asking after the baby. The good news is that you’ll hear from people – friends, family, health workers – far more frequently now. The bad news is they don’t give a shit about how you are. The worst news is that you’ll often find yourself telling people about the consistency of your baby’s shit just to make conversation. Two today, just for information, both a chicken korma colour and consistency.
- Self-care. Other than the occasional day that I actively decided not to wash myself because sometimes I embrace being a filthy sloth, there hasn’t been a single day since Whoopsy was born on which I haven’t showered. This includes days when I could barely walk let alone stand for long periods of time. I also usually manage some basic make up and a quick hair brush because my biggest fear in life is joining the mum gang of women who stop giving a shit about their appearance. All power to them, if they’re happy. But I would only ever join that group through sheer laziness rather than a commitment to an alternative anti-capitalist shower-free post-razor lifestyle. Before Whoopsy was born I splashed out on some beautiful well cut pyjamas so that even on the worst days, days when I did nothing but sit on the sofa with a newborn and cry, I would still feel vaguely attractive. The self-care aspect that I haven’t managed to maintain, however, are things like eating enough fruit and veg (it’s easier to take a biscuit out of the cupboard than it is to peel an orange), reading a book for pleasure (no parenting book has ever, ever been read for pleasure), going to cultural events that feed my mind or reading a Saturday morning paper over a huge mug of coffee. I have the ability to carve time out to do all of these things, but I tend to be on my phone Whatsapping people videos of Whoopsy farting instead.
- Freedom. Well, this is an obvious one, isn’t it? When Whoopsy was three months old I hightailed it to Disneyland with two friends for a long weekend of glitter face paint, giant margaritas and the It’s a Small World ride, leaving him with T. I heard through the grapevine that my instaposts were the subject of gossip at a party made up of people who I hardly know, but who were apparently horrified at my ability to leave my very young child for a number of consecutive days. Terrible mother that I am, I am very capable of reclaiming my former life on occasion… as long as the freedom I desire is less than a week long, and works to T’s schedule, it’s mine. But beyond weekends away, I’m constantly reminded that I can’t just spontaneously make life decisions that don’t also work for T and Whoopsy. I keep spotting these amazing opportunities. A work placement for entrepreneurs that supports them to build tech solutions to solve social issues. Nope, no salary. A term at a new cookery school to learn how to go from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Nope, no childcare. A last minute holiday to Ibiza in a 5* hotel at a majorly discounted rate. Nope, no kids allowed. And so it goes on. It’s not that I now live in a prison made of babies. But I don’t think I quite appreciated just how free I was before Whoopsy bowled into town.
And.. point made.. Whoopsy just woke up so that’s the end of my writing time. Yes, Tiny Overlord, I am coming…