Happy birthday to my son, Ferdia. It’s been one hell of a year since this little boy burst into the world in rather a rush, kicking and curious and ready for action.
My beautiful blond boy has turned me into the kind of mother I always laughed at. My husband says he knew almost from the day he met me I would be that kind of mother. I will be the caricature proudly shouting about “my son the…doctor / binman / plumber / whatever”. Our smiling son is perfect and wondrous and I still believe this despite not having slept in one year. Or maybe because I haven’t slept in one year. Who knows.
Even through the fog of sleeplessness, so many things are clearer to me now.
I know why, on my birthday every year, my mother gets a misty look in her eye and recounts (not again, Mam!) the story of how I was born. In gory detail, and at some length. I never got it, before. I didn’t love being pregnant, as some women do. I never understood how the act of giving birth is transformative. I never understood how much it changes your life.
Birthing a baby brings you to a place between life and death. A place of pure biology that is raw, and animal, and mysterious. There are no words for the shape of it, the sound of it, the smell of it, the pain and – yes, pleasure – of it, is bigger, wilder, and more profound than words can convey. And when that baby comes it is not one birth but two, because a mother is born too.
When my mother remembers my birthday with soft eyes, then, it is not just my birthday but hers as well. I know why, now.
Of course, mothers are made as well as born. And those women whose love comes without the phenomenal pressure of the pull of one body to another are incredible to me. They are miraculous. There is much more to motherhood than birth.
But boy, is birth big. It’s the biggest thing a body could ever do and we take it so much for granted. Every birth should be greeted like a royal one with bells and feasting and celebration. People get medals for the simple act of running. There are no medals for birthing a baby, but then, there is no greater prize than a baby when that baby is wanted, and loved, and anticipated.
There has been so much learning in this first year. The pull of one body to another as the need of a tiny infant for its mother’s warmth is answered with an equal need. The pull of milk when the baby cries, sometimes when any baby cries, on TV, in a supermarket, anywhere. The desperate fatigue of the first few weeks when there is no night or day and the tiny creature brought out into the light is inconsolable about leaving their warm, dark cosy place. The sense of achievement – composed mostly of pure relief – at every feed, every nappy, every couple of hours’ sleep. The joy that peeps through the fog like a snowdrop in woodlands at the tiny signs of progress, the eyes opening, the fingers curling, the first little mewling noises and even when the proper crying begins. When the head starts lifting, when the first roll takes place. The first mouthful of solid food, the first totter, the first bruise. All of the firsts are mundane, really, but momentous too.
There is nothing like the dependency of a tiny baby to make you feel you are drowning. It would be easy, at times, to succumb to that drowning feeling. The love and support of my husband, of family, of friends, even of Facebook groups like Cuidiu during long days, late at night and in the early dawn light, kept me afloat. Messages of support dropped in my inbox like tiny lifebuoys, landing at 2am from colleagues going home from nightclubs, at 5am from other mothers on the early morning feed, at 7am from friends in faraway places on their way to work.
Becoming a mother, if you are lucky enough to have your own mother, makes that relationship so much deeper and more special. Mine got the verdict from her last session of chemo the week my son was born. I never loved my parents so much as I love them now because now I understand them so much better.
The world turns a little faster when you become a mother. The generational shift is immediate, and weird. Suddenly you are there, in the sweet spot, the squeezed middle, the happiest time of your life if only you can take a minute to pay attention to it. Be mindful. In the first weeks so many people told me to enjoy my tiny baby because he wouldn’t be tiny long. I was too terrified to enjoy him but now, as he grows in confidence and fun and takes on the world step by step, I am terrified still (I will be forever, now, I think) but now I am enjoying him.
They say the days are long but the years are short. This is only the first one and now, for now, while there is time to stop and think about my lovely boy and how it all feels, I can, and I am, and I hope I never forget how wonderful it is.
This article was published in the Evening Echo, Wednesday 27 September 2017.