When I look back on my life before my daughter was born, all I do is search for her.
Where was she on our wedding day? Where was she on that city break? Did my mum hold onto her while I took my A-levels? Did she sleep by my bed in halls?
I search our photos for a pram just out of shot, or a tiny hand clutching my trouser leg, because I struggle to believe there was ever a time before.
I knew that having a baby would change my life, I just didn’t know how.
I didn’t know that whilst the tiredness, relentlessness, and lack of moments to myself would be hard to adjust to, it would be the weight on my heart that would change me the most.
I knew that I’d love her, but I had no idea what that love would feel like. She’s starting nursery now, and I had to fill out a form explaining what she needs to be happy. A form about me would just say: HER. Bring me her. Show me she’s OK and everything will be fine. She’s what happiness looks like for me now.
Our baby will turn one this week, and the oddest thing about this milestone is how simultaneously quickly and slowly this year has passed by. I’ve lived every second of the last 12 months, and yet it’s slipped through my fingers. There have been days when I’ve been awake for and aware of almost every hour, but I’m still not sure how quite so many of them have gone by.
One minute she was a newborn who lay down for most of the day, and now she’s a little person, on a one-child-mission to destroy our lounge. I can’t tell you how a year has managed to sneak passed in the life of a girl whom I swear we only just brought home.
Back at the start, once the initial weeks of fear and feeding and figuring it all out were done, I realised that I didn’t know where to put myself. I wasn’t sure what day-to-day life with a baby was supposed to look like once you’d got your sh*t together. But then I joined some classes and groups, I tried doing too much, I tried doing too little, and I found a balance that worked for us. Maternity leave is an education in how to cope when you feel lost. You’ve got to do it your way, the only problem is that it’s you who has to work out what that is.
Motherhood has changed who I am and confirmed who I’ve always been, all at the same time.
Becoming a mum wiped the floor with me – it shattered my heart, rewired my brain, and stretched, scarred and knackered my body more than even the most high-tempo zumba class ever could. It’s fundamentally changed how I see the world, and given me a sense of purpose like nothing I’ve ever done before. It’s slowed my desired pace of life right down, and made me see the benefits of a life lived locally.
It’s done all of this whilst also cementing everything I’ve always known to be true: That I need fresh air everyday. That too much small talk leaves me cold. That I never wanted to go out on Saturday nights anyway. That I need to be creative to feel alive.
The trick, if you can manage it, is to let the person you’ve always been find a way to thrive in this new world. It’s not easy – I’m still working on it. We all just have to keep on working on it.
We’re moving into a new chapter now – I’m going back to work part-time, and our daughter will be looked after by somebody else whilst I’m gone. She went to nursery for a few hours last week, and I went to a café to write this. I cried into my hot chocolate as I typed, and then later my scrambled eggs. I’m just not used to being away from her.
It’s funny because so much of parenting is about trying to secure time away from your baby. You work hard to get them to nap so that you can rest. To play with a toy long enough for you to drink a hot drink. To. just. stay. there. whilst you go to the toilet for once by yourself. But it’s all short term, they’re always close by (she can push the bathroom door open now anyway). I hope she knows that I’ll still be close by.
This time last year I was about to have a baby, and now I have a one year old, a toddler waiting to happen. Time’s flown by, we’ve all changed and grown up, and discovered just how strong we can be.
All I want for this baby on her very first birthday is to bring her as much joy as she’s brought me.