June 6th 2020: Things That Matter

June 6th 2020: Things That Matter

Dear Edith,

You’ll learn as you get older that summers in Scotland are incredibly unpredictable. It can quite easily go from pouring rain and “Mum’s taking a hot water bottle to bed” to temperatures that are hotter than parts of Spain.

This weekend just past a big heatwave coincided with Scotland beginning to relax some of the rules around the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Non-contact sport is starting back up (and your Granda’s already had at least two rounds of golf), garden centres are opening and we’re allowed to hang out and sunbathe in parks.

The most exciting thing, though, is that you’re allowed to socialise with people again, provided you observe proper social distancing and do it outside.

And that means your Auntie Megan could come and visit.

One of the hardest parts about being pregnant in a pandemic was knowing that when you were born the first few weeks were going to be nothing like we’d planned. I remember out of nowhere having a massive crying fit a few weeks before you were born because it hit me that your auntie wasn’t going to be able to see you when you were tiny and new, and it really upset me. We had no idea how long the restrictions were going to be in place and how long it would be before she’d be able to come and visit. I sat in the bathroom and cried so hard your dad heard me from downstairs.

It wasn’t how I envisaged you meeting, but I’m so glad that you did get to meet while you’re still a baby. Hopefully as things get better we’ll be able to see family further afield – you have family in Plymouth, in Derby, in the Highlands who are all dying to see you. Photos will do for now, but it’s not the same. You are so loved already.

There’s a lot going on in the world. Americans are currently protesting and rioting after a police officer in Minnesota killed an unarmed black man eleven days ago by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes. You’ll learn – because I will teach you – that black people in America (and elsewhere) have faced years of oppression, injustice and indignity. There are “Black Lives Matter” movements all over the US, from Minnesota to California to New York and Seattle. The protests are mostly peaceful, and the violence largely stems from the police response, which is indiscriminate, violent and terrifying.

I hate the world that I’ve brought you into, and at the same time I watch the tide starting to turn with some small amount of hope.

I hope I can raise you to be unafraid, to be able to stand up to people with racist or homophobic or transphobic or sexist views whether they’re strangers or friends. The latter is often hardest, but it’s also the most important.

To be able to question what you see and realise that sometimes things aren’t as cut and dry as they appear, and to be able to take circumstances into account before you judge.

To be as angry as I am when you see injustice and cruelty and inequality, and to be as motivated to do something to help.

But most importantly, to have empathy and love and compassion and a drive to make the world better for people who don’t have our privileges or circumstances. Because that’s what’s going to change the world.

May 28th 2020: Learning To Stop

May 28th 2020: Learning To Stop

Dear Edith,

You’re six weeks old! Yesterday we had a big milestone: you and I went somewhere on our own. Granted it was the hospital for a hip screening ultrasound, because being ten days overdue put you into into a higher risk category, but even so.

I was pretty nervous about it because I had visions of you needing your nappy changed or a bottle and having to try and juggle a screaming, uncomfortable baby in a public place completely by myself, but you behaved impeccably, your hips are fine and we all left happy.

(Incidentally, the Dreaded Dirty Nappy occurred and was dealt with in the car park of Asda on the way. Stripping and changing a baby in the back seat of a Honda Civic for the first time was another surprise milestone.)

It wasn’t a hugely enjoyable experience for either of us.

I knew in some part of my brain that babies grew and changed quickly, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how different you’d be every single day. You sleep a bit longer at night. You make a slightly different noise when you’re lying on the changing mat kicking your legs. There’s a little less of your fluffy baby hair.

We’re getting into a rhythm. You don’t sleep particularly heavily during the day, so from the time I get up until the late evening it’s a blur of bottles, nappies and walking around the room singing whatever comes into my head. In between those there’s laundry to do, bottles to wash, things to tidy that I’ve thrown down in a hurry because you need changed or fed or another round of Row Row Row Your Boat.

I’ve really surprised myself with how much I enjoy it. I’ll be filling the kettle to make you a bottle and I’ll suddenly think wow, this is great.

Around 10pm you fall asleep and I can gingerly put you into the pram, where you stay for a good two or three hours until you wake up hungry. And, as much as I enjoy being a mum, I really, really enjoy those two or three hours too, because I can just sit. I write these letters. I turn the Playstation on and zone out. I read, I scroll through social media. Sometimes I don’t do anything at all.

The days are everyone else’s – yours because you need me, your dad’s because he works here at the moment and needs to be able to do it in (relative) peace, other people because I feel like I need the housework to be done in case people think we’re lazy or a bunch of slobs. But the nights are mine, and I relish them.

For that past couple of nights, though, I’ve been tired. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve hit a point where I can’t be replenished after a full day with three hours of video games. I sat on the sofa tonight after you’d eventually dropped off and thought about tomorrow and my entire body completely rejected the idea of getting up in a few hours and starting again.

I’ll feel better once I’ve had a sleep, but right now I am fatigued and tomorrow seems like an impossibly large mountain to scale.

We took you for a walk today. It was a hot, cloudless day and you slept from the moment the fresh air hit you. When we got back, I wheeled the pram into Granny’s back garden and parked it on the patio, expecting you to wake up and start squirming as soon as I stopped. But you didn’t. In fact you didn’t even twitch.

Delighted, I considered the possibilities. If all it took for you to settle was to be outside, if you slept in your pram in our front garden, I could weed! I could paint the fence! All those things I thought I’d do at some point whenever I looked out of the front window, perhaps they’d finally get done.

I mentioned this to Granny, and she said “you don’t always have to be doing something” and as stupid as it sounds, it was a revelation.

I realised that every time you’re peaceful, whether it’s in the Mamaroo or sitting with Dad for a moment, I’m looking for something to fix, as if you’re a little tornado ripping through the house rather than an infant. It’s like I’ve geared myself up for how much work babies are so whenever I’m NOT busy it feels wrong. I feel lazy.

I think what I keep forgetting is that even if I’m not constantly moving, having a baby IS hard work. I’m not even talking about physical effort – you pour everything you have mentally and emotionally into every waking moment. You’re awake quite a bit so there’s a lot of singing and bouncing you on my knee and reading the Gruffalo while you wriggle about like a fish and desperately trying to think of things to amuse you. By the end of the day I’m pretty sure when I try to talk a Windows shutdown noise from the 90s comes out of my mouth instead.

Currently there’s cat hair on the side tables, I haven’t used the hoover for at least a week and I don’t even know what’s at the bottom of the pile of stuff on the dining table, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s OK to sit and read a couple of chapters of a book or play a game on my phone for a little while. Maybe I should finish that cup of coffee that sits permanently cooling on the table.

Maybe I work give myself credit for, and it’s OK to slow down.

May 22nd 2020: The First Letter

May 22nd 2020: The First Letter

Dear Edith,

I’m writing this, the first letter to you, on the sofa just after midnight. You’ve just turned five weeks old. I feel like this is an introductory lesson on just how quickly babies grow and change. It can’t possibly be five weeks since you were a tiny, fluffy-headed newborn who wouldn’t even entertain the idea of sleepingin the pram, and insisted on lying flat on someone’s chest with your legs drawn up like a little frog.

I originally wanted to start Letters to Edith for somewhere to put my anxieties before you were born. I had the worst luck while I was pregnant, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised that your due date was smack in the middle of a global health crisis and government-mandated lockdown. Between freaking out that you’d stopped moving (you woke up, without fail, every time they got me on a heart monitor) and panicking every time they announced a new set of rules for the hospital, it wasn’t the greatest time to have a baby.

There was, however, one fear that stayed with me from the very early days right up until I was in hospital: that I wouldn’t bond with you, that I’d forever feel like I was looking after someone else’s child.

It’s not that you weren’t wanted, at any point, but I certainly didn’t feel like a mother while I was pregnant. For the first sixteen weeks I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is extreme and unrelenting nausea and vomiting. I’ll probably write more about that later, but it put me in hospital and ruined my physical and mental health. For nearly half the time I was pregnant it felt like an illness. I thought viewing pregnancy as an uncomfortable biological process rather than the run up to having a daughter would leave me feeling rather detached at the end.

I realise as I’m writing this that I’m trying to be clever about it. The truth is I was terrified I wouldn’t love you.

But when I was lying on the table in theatre and I heard this wet, choked little cry behind the screen I burst into tears, because I felt it. It was like someone had inflated a balloon in my chest. I couldn’t breathe, there was no room for anything else, and I thought I’d probably fight anyone who tried to take you away from me for any reason, even if it was one of the midwives.

The first five weeks have been a struggle, physically and mentally. There have been a lot of tears, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of times when I’ve felt like the worst mother in the world, like I should leave you with your Dad and disappear somewhere.

But the one thing I haven’t struggled with is loving you. You’re my daughter.

This isn’t exactly what I envisaged when I thought about life with a newborn. We’re in lockdown, I spent quite a lot of time unable to move after having a caesarian, and the combination of the two has blown open all of the things I was looking forward to doing with you.

The first was take you to meet your Great Granny, the one who you take your middle name from. All the staff and volunteers in the care home have been beside themselves waiting for you. Even before you were born, before the lockdown, we were given little knitted hats and booties and blankets, because April is typically just about as cold as January in Scotland.

I wanted to walk round the park with your pram. The first time the fact that I was going to be a mother really sank in was when we bought it, and I stood in the middle of the pram shop with my hands on the handle and I could suddenly visualise a tiny baby lying there, ready to go on whatever adventures were ahead. I couldn’t wait to take that pram out. Just now we go to the end of the street, turn around and come back. Living on top of a steep, steep hill means it’s a struggle to walk up at the best of times, never mind pushing a pram and nursing a healing wound from a caesarian section.

I wanted to see the looks on the faces of everyone in our family when they arrived in the hospital to visit us – your Grandma, your Auntie, your uncles if they were over from Spain. I imagined for weeks what it would be like to watch everyone come into the room, having anticipated the arrival of this first grandchild, or niece, and see you for the first time. Your introductions instead have been over video calls, with me holding you up to the camera and your little face all scrunched up. People can see you, but it’s not the same. I think that’s the biggest reason I’m desperate for things to return to normal – the idea of people watching you grow up virtually makes my heart hurt.

It’s not easy having a baby at the best of times, but the constant threat and isolation constantly hangs over me. I’m so proud of you, and I can’t show you off. I’m so motivated to be the best mother I can be, to take you places and show you things and watch you learn and socialise and enjoy life, but right now the world situation seems like it will never end and the prospect of endless days and weeks shut in the house while you grow is agonising.

I don’t know when the pandemic will be over, or what’s going to happen afterwards. I don’t know what you’ll have lived through by the time you read these letters. But every time I stand over the pram and watch your little chest going up and down (because the anxieties didn’t go away, they were just replaced by new ones) I realise that it doesn’t matter. Because you’re here.

You’re here and we love you.