It begins with a twinge.
You feel it deep down in your belly, in that secret space that harbours hopes and holds tight your strongest desires.
Then there’s the flutter in your heart. The swelling when you hear a child’s disproportionate laughter at a family gathering. The melting when they kiss your cheek goodbye. The pounding as you watch them lay their sleepy head on their mothers shoulder.
You notice it, this palpable urge, when you see a newborn in the street. Its mother looks tired, harassed, overwhelmed and yet you think to yourself, “That’s what I want.”
You peer into the pram and see the shiny cheeks, the feathery hair, the impossibly small fingers clenching and stretching and clenching and stretching and it seems like the most interesting thing you have seen all day.
You watch your partner play with your niece and nephew. Making up games and shrieking their way around the backyard. He swings them high in the air and they cling to his legs like little monkeys when he tries to leave. His eyes meet yours and within his lopsided grin you see his thoughts too, “I want this for us.”
It’s awful timing. It doesn’t make sense. It’s all out of order and you know it could be a disaster. It’s not part of your five-year plan. You’re not even married! You’ve booked a flight to Paris! Your plan is to turn 30 in France and drink champagne and then possibly keep travelling. You’ve finally finished studying. You are a qualified art therapist and the world is your oyster. Now is not the right time to get pregnant. Be sensible! Stop getting distracted by size triple zero jumpers......but how can a fingernail be so teeny? Focus!
And then it happens. It happens within a month of those whispered stirrings.
You start the day as a couple, eating lunch out and buying wine for the afternoon. Then in the back of your mind you hesitate with the wine. There is a chance. A small, little chance that your period it not late because of stress or a miscalculation or one of the other reasons that have been skirting your periphery this last week. There was that night you think to yourself, that night with the dancing and the wild intoxication of the possibility of it all. So you do a test.
And you know it’s a bit of luck and a lot of science but when you see that little pink, second line appear and watch your boyfriends face morph from wonder to joy to panic to euphoria, mostly it just feels like magic. You finish the day as a family.
Then, finally, she is born and a thousand emotions compete for your attention, bottle necking on the tip of your tongue as you try and explain to your pregnant sister in law how it is exhausting yet exhilarating, all at once.
Your daughter is perfect, the most perfect thing in the world and she never seems to want to sleep and goodness gracious it is feeding time again and how did you ever get so lucky/tired/bewildered/grey? Your days pass in a blur of steps on the steepest learning curve of your life and your nights are spent feeding her and feeding the fire as it snows outside your window.
The quiet moments in between hold this little family of three as you see her first smile, her first roll, and thank the heavens above, the first night she sleeps through. The minutes that you spend staring at her stretch into days, then weeks and months. You watch her watch the world. Your heart grows an extra chamber that beats only for her.
Suddenly, it is November again.
Your baby has started walking. She is hilarious, stubborn, feisty. She’s affectionate, brave, and astonishingly beautiful. She’ll be turning one in a week. One! This dot of a thing that you first met via an ultrasound and whom now rules the house and has your husband wrapped firmly around her ever growing little finger. This person that started as a twinge on a February day just last year, has grown into someone more extraordinary than you ever could have imagined.
She’s standing up, leaning her chubby mitts on the lounge room wall. She’s watching you as you do your hair in the mirror.
“Dadadadad” she babbles as she watches your every move.
“Nell, say ma-ma-ma. Mamamamama” You exaggerate your speech to try and get her to say it. Just once. It’s been months of nothing but dada and animal noises during Dear Zoo.
“No, say ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma.”
You go back to brushing your hair, getting ready to go to your part-time job that is nowhere in the realms of art therapy but in a children’s toy shop instead. They let you leave in time to put her to bed and celebrate the endless stream of photographs and stories about your child. Not to mention the staff discount. \
Her perfect face appears next to your shins and she looks you in the eye.
“Mama” she murmurs.
Yes, you think as you scoop her into a hug, I certainly am.
“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown. In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”*
As our children grow and become more independent, we might become a wee bit complacent about their existence, lost in the daily grind and focusing on the world outside the home. But it doesn’t take much to realise how shockingly fragile human life is, and how quickly childhood will be over, though the connections and feelings that bind us will remain for eternity.
* Tony Morrison (American novelist, editor, and professor)