Seven and a half years ago our cosy world of coupledom changed. With a sudden rush to hospital and the shock of labour starting nine weeks early, our journey to parenthood had its first real test. I thought I was ready to embrace being a mum; I thought I knew what love was; I thought I knew what commitment meant; I thought I knew who we were, as individuals and as a couple. I had it all planned out. I’d read all the books, secured a nursery place, bought, begged and borrowed all of the oh-so-essential baby equipment. I’d even played a CD to our dog, which had nothing but sounds of babies crying and gurgling so that our lively Spaniel would accept our baby when he arrived. Oh how perfect everything was going to be. Our baby would fit seamlessly into our lives and we would be great parents! Our lives didn’t have to change that much. I would still ensure I look after our baby, get my sleep, drink hot cups of tea, make time to do my hair every morning, take care of myself and you, have romantic and fun couple time with you, walk the dog, go to work (where I would still give my all), keep the house organised, and learn to cook – be an ‘everything’ mum and wife. Bring it on! I was ready. Or so I thought…
Along came baby number one. A tiny, premature, perfect boy. We were smitten but in shock. This wasn’t was we had been expecting – the extended stay in hospital, coming home without our baby and instead travelling to visit him in the neo-natal ward day in, day out. We learnt how to change nappies though the restrictive holes of an incubator, we had our first cuddles trying not to dislodge the myriad of wires hanging attached to our son, and we learnt about love and fear all at the same time. We weren’t prepared and it was a very testing time for both of us. We looked to each other for strength, for direction, for answers! Everything changed in our world – emotionally, financially and practically. Once our son was able to come home I found the transition from being a career woman to a new mum very challenging. I also found that we had to re-think our relationship and how we related to each other and to this new little being that we had somehow made. I felt as though we were starting again! Did you recognise this tired, somewhat fraught, disorganised, tearful, emotional woman by your side?
Two years (and many dirty nappies and nights in) later along came baby number two. A full term, not so tiny, perfect girl. We became a family of four.
As I write this I wonder how I have changed in your eyes? Am I still the person you fell for before our first baby came into our world? Look closely and you’ll see that I’m still that person but a with a ‘mummy upgrade’ now installed! I still make time to do my hair, but instead of having the time to wash, dry and straighten all before breakfast, I now make do with a few swift rakes of the brush and a stretched hair band. I ensure I go on the school run in clothes that fit and which, at least nowadays, are without the tell-tale drips of milk possets down my back. Instead of getting dressed in my smartly ironed clothes and going to an office every day, conversing with adults and tapping on a computer from 9-6, swapping stories of exotic holidays, drunken nights out and office gossip, I’m now self-employed, wear whatever I want (usually un-ironed), and work bloody hard day and night, for our family, myself, for you and for all the other parents I now support. I keep the house organised by having big cupboards where all the ‘miscellaneous’ mess goes and I now view cobwebs as interesting decoration. (In fact I even have my own pet Tarantula to prove that yes, I know there are cobwebs gracing the corners of every room but it’s only because I love spiders so much…) Our time as a couple often involves a quick “I’m more tired than you” conversation as we both collapse on the sofa at the end of the day. As for the bedroom, well, most of the jumping around that goes on in our bed nowadays is from the kids playing trampolines…
Having children has certainly tested our relationship. What was once a relatively selfish world we inhabited as a couple has morphed into a little person dominated reality show, where all of our personal beliefs, flaws, weaknesses and strengths are constantly exposed by two little innocent beings. We can’t hide from who we are and how we behave when every action is watched, every word is questioned and every ‘end of our tether rant’ listened to, stored up and repeated to grandparents or to friends in the school playground. We now have to navigate the normal relationship ebbs and flows with less sleep, less energy, less money and less time. And it’s not easy. But it’s all worth it (most of the time!). When things get tough, and boy does the responsibility of parenthood get tough, we have managed to find a way through together. We are not perfect, as parents or as spouses, but who is? I do know that we are both constantly amazed at just how much we love our children, and how we just can’t imagine our lives without them.
We all have expectations of the kind of parents we want to be, and how having children will affect our lives, but I now know that most of us find a way to muddle through and we follow the path that feels right to us. You and I are learning to listen to our own feelings and needs as individuals and combine this with the feelings and needs of our family, or at least find a compromise! We continue to try and figure out this amazing, crazy, exhausting, inspiring life of ours together, as a family. And I have realised that we don’t have to be those ‘everything’ people I once aspired to when we first met; we just need to be ourselves and teach our children that being ourselves is more than good enough.
I’d like to thank you for being on this journey with me, for being an incredible dad to our children, for cooking amazing meals, for working long hours to ensure that we are all looked after. Most of all I’d like to thank you for covering me with a blanket when I fall asleep on the sofa, yet again, as soon as the children are in bed, and for loving us all day in, day out. We are so proud to call you husband, dad and friend.