This morning I woke up with a magna doodle in my hand on which I had impressively drawn a cow in my sleep. You should know that I don’t keep art supplies nearby in case of midnight inspiration, it was 6-something in the morning and Girly no1 was in bed demanding I draw farm animals. Girly no2 had been awake 3 times in the night, for the fourth night in a row, and I was that level of tired where I felt sick. The tired when you think you have sat up and held a conversation but actually you’re still lying face down in your drool-coated pillow with your eyes closed. Really though, I had no right to be that tired because although I had been awake it was Husband who had tended to no2’s tears. He’s good like that. He’s very good in fact. I’m a very lucky lady. Although sometimes, just sometimes, I wish everyone wouldn’t bang on about just how lucky I am. I should paint a picture here before you cast your screen aside with a mutter of “ungrateful bitch” under your breath. I may well be, but hear me out.
I was always massively nervous about having children. Until I got together with Husband, I never really liked being around the same person or people for a prolonged period. I’d get bored or we’d start to fight. I worried that when I had children, I would get bored, and wish I could get away from them and just go hang out with someone else for a few days. And I knew that you weren’t allowed to do that. I knew it wasn’t ok to take a holiday from being a parent (you see how well prepared I was?!)! Also I have always been very committed to my career from a young age. I’m proud of what I have achieved and hope that it doesn’t stop here, I’m a career girl through and through. So the deal with Husband, when we agreed to make little people, was that we would be in it 50:50. The nights, the looking after, the pick ups, the drop offs, the shitty nappies….all of it. 50:50.
Husband and I were living in London when we found out I was pregnant with Girly no1. I told Husband the wonderful news by throwing the weewee stick at his face at 4 o’clock in the morning and shouting “I’m fucking pregnant” then bursting into tears (standard). When I told my mum, she thought I was going to announce that I was dying. Our flatmate thought we were telling him I had a brain tumour. It took me a while to look happy about it! Although we had agreed that I would come off the pill, I wasn’t actually expecting a baby to happen. I had convinced myself I was infertile, I think it was all the Grazia and Stylist articles screaming at me about fertility falling off a cliff after 30. I was 32 and assumed I had flushed all my eggs down the toilet. The night we found out we went to see the Jonathan Ross show being filmed with a bunch of friends. Jack Whitehall and Bradley Walsh were on and if I see either of them now I fleetingly get that ensemble of emotions – terror, nausea, excitement, childishness – The Chase is a thrilling watch for me. We couldn’t concentrate on a word they said, we just kept looking at each other. Husband was delighted and I don’t think he ever felt anything other than excitement and motivation. I, on the other hand, was all over the place. Maybe it was the hormones. Or maybe it was the belief that I wasn’t a real grown up and shouldn’t be allowed to be in charge of a baby. I was also scared about what would happen to our marriage. I took a long time to accept my new “pregnant” status but I had almost accepted it by the time she arrived. Moving to our family home in Hampshire changed our life radically – prosecco in front of the fire, boozy BBQs, Sky box sets and Sunday afternoon painting sessions – it was all part of the transition. Our marriage changed. I fell in love with my Husband all over again and for totally different reasons. We found a whole new level and I suddenly understood why couples stay together for the sake of their children. He grew a sparkly halo that only I can see and my tummy goes funny still when I look at him. It wasn’t all hugs and kisses though. It took us a good few months to find our happy place again. At 3am when the baby had woken up for the 4th time and was screaming for reasons unclear, if Husband and I had “alternative views” on how to proceed, we didn’t handle it well. I wanted to bite him. Or punch him with a knuckle duster. Or kick him with boots that I had put rusty spikes in. Or just for him to get out of the house with the baby so I could go back to sleep. I pause here to applaud, woop, high five, give a standing-ovation, award medals, hand oscars to women who do this alone. Whether you have a shit partner, chose to do it alone or you’re a single mum for some other reason, well fucking done. Because without Husband, there is no way that me and my two daughters would still be here in one piece. It took us time to figure out how to keep our marriage a happy one. There were many what’s-wrong-with-the-baby-fights, was it food, nappy, over-tiredness? At 3am you try all of them multiple times and eventually something works. But getting to what works is like the Cyclone trial from I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. I felt like Husband always blamed it on her being hungry so I had to wake up and feed her. He thought I was too tight with calpol and gripe water. He wanted to take layers off because she was hot, I wanted to add blankets because she was cold. For the first three months nights were horrific. I began to dread sunset like something out of a vampire film. Eventually, thanks to our super duper family, we made it to the pub where we do all our best thinking. Old habits die hard and all that! We figured out that I couldn’t stay awake after 11 but if I got 4 hours then I could function again at 3. Husband could stay up much later but once he was asleep, waking back up killed him, so we split the nights. We agreed no fighting after dark. We agreed the Who’s In Charge rule. Whoever was on shift was In Charge. They got to make the decisions. Medicine, layers, food, bed location….they decided. No arguments. We put it into practice the next day and it changed our lives. It was the best thing we did and I believe it saved us from some very unhappy months. It is the one piece of advice I would offer any couple where the Dad is actively going to be involved. If you’re on your own, I wouldn’t say anything. I would never be so stupid. High fives to you again.
The impact of Girly no2 has been far less than the first time round. We found out I was pregnant through experience at just 4 weeks. I knew immediately – my cider tasted weird, everything smelt revolting, and walking past the butcher every day on the way to the station made me sick in my mouth. I managed not to throw the weewee stick at him this time and I even cracked a smile. We moved house again, 2 weeks before she was born (the same as last time), and we focused on keeping Girly no1 happy. This time was much easier. We had already given up every Friday night in the pub, the fun London flat mate, drinking from noon on a Saturday and refusing to leave the house before 2pm. We were now the ones inviting people round at 11am and having our child free mates snort in our faces. Life had a new rhythm and, to my surprise, I loved it. My biggest fear of getting bored of my child hadn’t happened (turns out she’s pretty cool) and I felt much better prepared this time round. We’ve had some pretty hairy moments since Girly no2 was born, but we’ve been quick to go back to our old rules. I don’t dread the nights this time, but that’s mostly down to my amazing Husband. Just last night he was out of bed at 3.30 giving no2 a bottle letting me go back to sleep. I got lucky in the relationship department. I have a dedicated husband who believes that as I do all the feeding by day, he should do the feeding at night. Because I spend most of my days pacifying an over-tired baby, he should spend his nights pacifying an over-tired baby. I change nappies so he changes nappies. We both clean up shit, we both clean up sick. It’s 50:50 just like we agreed.
I do know how lucky I am. He’s amazing and I am grateful. Compared with many women and many of my friends, I have so much support, not just from Husband but from our families too. Our girls have flocks of people around them that love them. But! Here is the ungrateful part. I am constantly faced with the the “we never had men help like that in our day” or the “you’re soooo lucky, I’ll take him if ever you don’t want him”. And to be honest, it pisses me off! Not because these aren’t true statements, but because they make it sound like I have it easy or imply I am being lazy. It goes back to this “you have it easy” thing that we’re so good at levelling at other mothers. I can’t turn around and say “Husband and I went into this 50:50 so that I could continue with my career and being me as well as being a mum” – it’s just not the done thing. I realise I sound like a complete madam, but I think everyone who has children does a great job. Why does he get lashings of compliments just because he’s a boy? I’m one that split my vagina getting her out! So I just have to stand and take it on the chin and smile my best smile and watch him smirk at me from across the room as everyone tells him how great he is. I suppose someone has to tell him….!
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is us, our marriage and most importantly, our family. Pre-baby, our priority was having fun. That goes completely when your baby arrives and it becomes all about keeping your baby alive and trying not to let their cry kill you along the way. At the beginning I think we lost it completely but because of the incredible support, a lot of conversation and nothing too heavy being thrown across the room at midnight, we got it back. Thanks Husband for our life. You’re alright.