The timing was all wrong. We can see that now. Or more truthfully, we can admit that out loud now, for I suspect that we both knew that this was the case, long before we spoke the words.
We were twenty-four when we announced to the world that we were going to be parents. Twenty-four years young, I think now, but at that time, age was irrelevant. All of the boxes were ticked: we were married, home owners, had stable jobs and were sensible young adults. Tick, tick, tick and tick. And we didn't really go out to nightclubs or pubs much, anyway. Big tick.
So why was the timing all wrong?
It’s such a romantic concept – creating another being through an act of love, having this being grow inside you, move inside you. And then holding it, loving it, cherishing it. Playing ‘happy families’ while others look on admiringly, secretly wishing they had what you had. Tick.
The timing was out. In fact, the blue lines appeared only weeks before our tropical holiday – 14 days in an isolated resort with exotic food and overwhelming humidity. I fainted, I vomited and I spent many afternoons curled up in our room, the holiday halting. But the romance of it all still lingered. We could laugh (eventually) and we looked forward to the sickness passing.
Then it was the bump, the immobility. Weekend bike rides together were abandoned. Tennis racquets were tucked in a dark, webbed corner in the garage and long walks at dusk became groaning shuffles around the block.
The timing was not right, according to the scans, but I didn't have a say. My body transformed in a matter of hours from firm and radiant to torn and haggard. Time stood still while other babies and then my own screamed through the darkness. Time felt like it had flown when, 48 hours later, we were leaving the hospital as parents, responsible for this fragile life.
We struggled, as I assume (and secretly hope now) all new parents do with the basics of baby care and settling. We passed the baby like a hot potato when our strategy of walking up and down the cold corridor patting, jiggling and whispering was having no effect. We felt the failure and anger acutely.
While friends spoke of lacy lingerie, I battled with clips and nursing pads. They flaunted cleavage; I hid lumpy, leaking breasts. They shopped for figure-hugging oufits and I hugged my baggy clothes close to me.
We’re told that it’s natural to have a period of ‘adjustment’ when a wife becomes a mum, a husband a dad and the partnership a family. Life has been shaken about, tossed into the air and the pieces are falling erratically. It is a time of massive self-discovery, not all – or much – of it pretty. Patience is tested. Tolerance is tortured. Planning, organising, pre-empting and problem solving are skills that you wish you had acquired and mastered much earlier in life.
The timing wasn’t ideal – we’ve grown old. Not yet 30, our lives have become Saturday nights on the couch, comfy undies, t-shirt bras (that’s just me) and mounting frustrations. Big things, small things, simple and complex things:
I often think about how things could have been different – in another time, done over again – but when I wake up each morning, this is what I have. My reality is hurried meals, family-friendly accommodation, bleary eyes and sometimes boiling blood. There is frustration, tears and longing.
And yet, the being that grew inside me, moved inside me and now challenges us each and every day, somehow makes the timing irrelevant.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem