There’s something that no one ever warns you about having kids. Or perhaps they do, but it is incomprehensible to you before you have them. I mean, I’m sure people told me, but I just didn’t really get what they were saying to me. Maybe I just didn’t want to hear, maybe we are genetically predisposed to not get it. The thing is, you find out. Pretty damn quick, and then you realise that it’s too late.
I didn’t actually plan my eldest child. That would have been stupid. I was 21, in a violent relationship and had a class A addiction. Ok, so I was obviously pretty stupid, but not that bloody stupid as to plan to bring a baby into my messed up world. Kids were not in my game plan, not that I actually had a game plan, but if I had, having a child would have been at the back, something distant, a target for my mid thirties.
I don’t know really why I took a pregnancy test (there was no real reason to seriously consider pregnancy) but I do know that I was alone, my partner was in prison for not paying a fine from years before that had finally caught up with him. I was driving from my house 100 miles to borrow the money to pay to get him out and I stopped and in the toilets of a service station, I pissed on a stick. To my utter terror, two little pink dots appeared. Well, I was utterly terrified when I bothered to read what that meant! I was pregnant. I was having a baby. Within minutes the terror turned to a strong feeling of protection and amazement. I had a baby inside of me. The ferociousness of that feeling was breathtaking. I remember going to pay for the fuel and telling the cashier; I just found out I’m pregnant, and her look of bewilderment at my random imparting of this news.
Within minutes I acknowledged this sudden turn of my life and now my life was completely changed. I knew without a doubt I loved this baby and wanted it, even though I knew that my partner would be furious and a terrible father.
And really, in that life changing moment, I should, in hindsight have realised what it was that I had never been able to realise before, but I didn’t. I focussed on getting through pregnancy, where I would end up with my beautiful baby and my life would be amazing. All I had to do was to bring this baby into the world safely. I still didn’t know the truth.
I was induced into labour many many weeks early due to complications, and then I couldn’t wait to give birth; to meet this baby who was a part of me, as much a part of me as my hand or face of nose.
And then he was born, after an excruciating labour, a long and torturous night, this tiny perfect baby. He was no longer in the cocooned protection of my abdomen. I cuddled him to me and held him and kissed him and stared in awe at his gorgeousness, and then it happened; for the first time. They said that he needed to go to special care. He was too small and unable to maintain his temperature, but it was ok, they were going to sort him out in special care and I could go see him later. The midwife, took him from my arms and as she turned away I realised, I realised this terrible thing that no one had told me about: it was agony. The baby that I had been in sole charge of, that I had nurtured and caressed and been fully responsible for, who was part of me, I was no longer able to protect. I still loved him as much, maybe more, however whereas before he was part of me, now he was separate. I wasn’t solely able to account for his safety and wellbeing. It was like a little piece of my heart was out there alone. Anything could happen to it. Even if I was there next to him, I was no longer able to have the illusion of being able to completely ensure he was safe.
As he got older, it got worse. There is a piece of me out there, every minute of every day, that I can’t live without, and yet over which I have limited control. If anything happened to him I would surely die. My natural instinct is to keep him close, keep him safe. And yet, to be a good parent, I’ve had to try to ignore the flutters in my heart when he walks out of the front door. I’ve had to stem the flow of my own veins and tears when he has been injured or upset. He is a part of me but I’ve had to accept that he is also fully his own self, with his own ways of crossing the road or dietary tastes. He could, one day make a decision that breaks my heart. If anything happens to him it will surely kill me too. It’s like walking around blind, deaf and dumb: at any moment your entire world could come crashing down around you. Your heart ripped away and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can’t even see or hear when it is coming.
The stupid thing is, that even after finding this out, after watching a piece of me walking around unprotected, I didn’t ever think that having another child would mean another little piece of my heart walking around, jeopardising my life, as I know it. Or with the third. It just didn’t register, until the very moment that I had to let them go for that first time, and then it would hit me, a part of me was out in the big wide world without me to protect it. And that is huge. That is scary. And so I suppose it is no wonder that no one tells you, or if they do, that you might hear it, but you can’t understand. Because if anyone asked you, at any time, whether you’d like to live with your heart open and vulnerable, the very thing that keeps you alive, unprotected and uncontrollable, you would never ever agree.