I’m sitting in a coffee shop with my baby. Only no one else knows my baby is with me. It’s neatly tucked away in my womb and a baggy jumper means the strangers surrounding me have no idea I feel kicks and turns and even hiccups every once in a while.
It’s the nicest secret.
Before I was pregnant, when other people were pregnant, I always thought it was weird to start imagining the fetus as an actual baby before it was born. But it’s impossible not to. Almost as soon as you see the pink positive line you start to feel protective. You’re suddenly aware of chemicals and caffeine and aerosols and aspartame. I wonder why I was so disinterested in damaging myself but suddenly so afraid of damaging this unknown hitchhiker in my belly. The responsibility feels overwhelming at times. It’s not just you anymore. You’re building a human with whatever resources you have and lots of other people have a stake.
And as the weeks pass, the future changes and shapes. You start to imagine family camping holidays and whether your kid will be open about social networking and sex and whether you and your partner will lock horns over parenting styles – after all, he likes organisation and getting up early, while you like lying-in and chaos. He believes in respect and tradition, you believe in kids being the centre of attention and swearing for the sake of it. And you think about all this before you’ve even considered whether you want a water birth or pethidine or your mum there (or all of the above).
Actually, substitute ‘you’ for ‘I’ in those last two paragraphs. I’m assuming you will feel like me and that’s a stupid thing to assume. Plus, you and your partner might be in perfect harmony about EVERYTHING.
For me, the past has become less important. I used to let my mistakes eat me up. Now I feel like I have to let it go. Let it go. (Should I let my kid watch Disney? Well, Frozen is quite good. OK. And I doubt I’ll have much choice anyway. I’m just its mum. I won’t buy it the dolls though. Unless it really, really wants them). It’s like I’ve made some peace inside myself, or like my brain is clearing some clutter to make way for the great sponge of anxiety that’s about to start filling up in there. Either way, for now, it feels all right.
Oh. Hang on. I’m crying again. This time the trigger was an old man walking past the café window with a shopping trolley full of four-pint bottles of milk.
Five minutes before, a Demis Roussos song came on and I had to wipe away tears at the thought of my baby discovering music. Can you remember the day you discovered music? I can’t. But I bet it was bloody brilliant.
I thought being pregnant would make me want to be around my extended family all the time. But it’s made me want to be self-sufficient. To retreat to our little family of two, soon to be three, and learn to cope alone and create memories of our own. I know this will all change completely when the baby bomb has dropped and I’ve forgotten what the insides of my eyelids look like. I know then that all the amazing family we have between us will be like a comfort blanket. I can’t wait to have that time with them all. Proper family time when work is forgotten. I’m hoping I find a new role and don’t slip back into my middle-child-striving-to-prove-herself place. I wonder if that ever changes – the way you fall back into your family template when you’re all together. Probably not.
I feel older. I feel like I’m embarking on my second life (Remember that? Second Life. That virtual world where you created a character and lived a parallel existence? We had a meeting at work about that once. About how EVERYONE was going to have a virtual life and how it would lead to all sorts of weirdness. Oh God. Virtual worlds. Where will they go? How will I keep up with my kid, the digital native. Or the ‘post-modern, third-generation digital native’. Or whatever term we’ll be tagging them with then. What world lies ahead for our kid? Will it protest against inequality? Will we have solved inequality? Is there even a solution to inequality? Must not pass defeatist attitude onto kid. But healthy cynicism, that’s ok right? Hmmm).
Ooops, crying again – Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger is playing. It reminds me of the sixth form café bar. Lunchtime, when we used to pile into Emma’s battered Fiesta and take a trip to McDonalds. Should I ever take it to McDonalds? Some of my happiest memories involve Big Macs with mum. Hmm, but now we know stuff.
And then there’s the fear of what you’ll be like as a parent. With social networking, it’s easy to become one of those middle-class mums who accidentally posts the odd humble brag or fifty. “Oh God, late for work again! Lottie insisted on reciting the first ten pages of the dictionary before we could leave. Incessant child #loveher #greatestthingthateverhappenedtous #lifechanging”. Or pictures of blended Moroccan chicken tagine poured neatly into 500 Tupperware tubs for freezing.
For now, I’m not going to worry about all that. I might never really worry about it. For now I’m going to enjoy this new feeling of being an incubator. Of hanging around with someone all the time. Someone I don’t know and can’t see but someone I know is there. I went to see Grandma yesterday. She’s in a residential home and has lost loads of weight. She’s stopped talking really, except when she reads television subtitles aloud. Sometimes she cries and sometimes she laughs but she doesn’t seem to do much else. I showed her my big belly and tried to help her feel some kicks – but she’s not strong enough to push down and connect with her great grandchild. Or maybe she just didn’t want to feel it. Because she knows somehow that she might never see it or know it. That made me sad. That it might not have any great grandparents at all. But I didn’t either. And maybe it’s too much to ask. It would be nice for the baby to meet everyone who loved and influenced us. But their love and influence is under our skin forever. And we will pass on the good. And probably some of the bad. It’s inevitable. But I do know, all the time, we’ll be trying our best. And I hope that’s enough. Who knows? They tried their best, didn’t they?
Hitchiker. Incubator. Old man with milk trolley. Love.
PS thanks to Fran Stickley for the hitchhiker thing. I can think of it as nothing else now. I’m sure it’s holding a little hand-painted cardboard sign that says ‘The outside world’ on it.
Of course it’s not. I sound like an idiot. Obsessed with her unborn child. Pinning stories to it already.
Let it go.