First baby in Wales

by Katie Leeks

 

It’s been really hard adjusting to life in a tiny village.

We’ve been here almost eight months now. I am used to half familiar faces knowing my name, my baby’s name, my life history. I’m no longer surprised when I see a sheep standing in the middle of the road. Talk of hunting, shooting, hounds, cows and tractors fail to go over my head anymore. And I’ve given up expecting to be able to pop out to the shops for swimming nappies, Grazia magazine or a decent coffee.

There is very little indulgence here. The winter is cold and harsh and people chop their own wood before night sets in at 4.00pm. There are no fancy restaurants to distract you from the daily grind, and even if there were, you couldn’t afford to eat there because the economy is completely ruined (or so the TV keeps telling me...)

But this morning, as I drove through the snow capped mountains and watched flakes fall to the ground I thought of how lucky I am to be living here.

We went to mothers’ group in a church and a little old lady held Nell while another one sang Bible songs on a guitar. It was all very peaceful until a toddler absconded with the John the Baptist doll and another tripped over her own feet and upset a table full of candles.

It’s a simple life here of cups of tea and women who have five kids and who say, “It’s all I've ever wanted!” as their youngest pulls their hair and their eldest sneaks off to impregnate someone.

Most people have heard of Melbourne. And some people have never travelled to the town 30 miles away. Why? Never had the need. It’s a simple life.

While Nell sleeps, I can hear the village children and their dogs playing in the street. It’s a snow day, which means no school. There are no sounds of traffic in the morning, just roosters and the river beside our house. Sometimes a tractor will chug past and Nell will stir for a moment before the world becomes silent again.

My midwife recommends drinking a pint of Guinness before bed, to get the extra calories I need for breast feeding. My health visitor tells me to have Nell in bed with me. My husband dips her dummy in his beer when it falls on the ground at the pub. No one raises an eyebrow...except for me. I can feel my preconceived ideas about motherhood slipping, merging, melding with old fashioned advice and the tiny being staring up at me.

It’s just so different here. I’ve thrown away my Gina Ford book and started reading Becoming a Calm Mom instead. I still wonder when I can paint Nell’s fingernails....

In Melbourne, the sun is shining, people are spending their days at the beach. If we were there, Nell would probably have licked an Icypole by now, instead of a beer-soaked dummy. She would sleep with her arms flung above her head instead of all swaddled up in a fleecy blanket. Her Australian Grandmother would show her the garden instead of her Welsh Grandmother singing quietly to her in a language I cannot understand. And her Australian cousins would laugh and play and squeal with delight in her company.

Here, her cousins take turns passing her between them, three quiet little girls, a fireplace and a system for getting equal time holding the baby.

I’ve always wanted to suck the juice out of every experience. I have been addicted to new things, the thrill of change, the oddness of a strange situation.

And this is no different. The snow falls and dogs bark in the street. Nell sleeps upstairs and my midwives tell me some women take to motherhood like a duck to water. These last nine weeks have felt more like I am a cat being thrown in a bath, but we are getting there.

The fire burns. The river runs. The snow falls. This is my experience of being a mother. So different to anything I ever imagined. Overwhelming, strange, beautiful.

 

© Katie Leeks

“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.

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* Gloria Steinem