When did you realise you were a grown up?
On my 12th birthday, I wrote a poem for my parents entitled Response-ability. It was all about the wonders and virtues of being, you guessed it, Responsible. I recited it for them while they were eating dinner. They gave me glowing reviews. I thought that would make me happy. I just felt sick.
When I was 17, my father travelled to London with me and then onwards to Staffordshire, to deposit me at University. He was supposed to stay for a couple of days to help me settle in, then fly back home to Israel, where he was based at the time. On the day we arrived, it took a lot less time to get me registered and into my accommodation than we expected. A few hours after I arrived on campus, my bags not yet unpacked, not yet having met anybody on my corridor or seen a potentially friendly face, my Dad announced that if he left straight away, he could catch a train back to London in time to get an early flight back to Israel the next morning. I’d been looking forward to having dinner with him at least, had been hanging on to a last Chinese meal, just me and my Dad, before I had to face this whole new life on my own. But I couldn’t say anything. He wanted to leave. So I let him.
I’m 40 now, and a mother. I think that’s supposed to make me a grown up. When I’m watching cbeebies with Jake and the presenters are using scissors or putting something in an oven or elaborately painting something plastic with PVA glue and leaving it to dry, we are told that this is when a grown up is supposed to help. Sometimes I forget that I’m the grown up. Other times, I feel a vague sense of panic and then reassure myself that it is okay – in this instance, grown up means someone with advanced motor skills.
I got a letter from a friend today. She wrote that I seem to have flowed into motherhood really naturally and asked if that was how it felt to me. I laughed. Because the image of motherhood that I had before Jake arrived is so different from what it feels like. When things are going well, when Jake and I are in tune and connecting, when it all flows, is when I feel least like I imagine a grown up is supposed to be, and most like a child – or at least, most like the way Jake is a child – open, spontaneous, trusting, joyful, but with (marginally) better control over my digits and limbs and the ability to get things out of high cupboards. When things are going badly, when I am stressed, angry, tired, irritable and unable to connect and go with the flow, I also feel like a child, the child that I was back then. Not the well-behaved, obedient, responsible child that made my parents so proud, but the one underneath – the silent, thwarted, lonely one.
When I was pregnant, we moved house in my third trimester – a month before Jake was due. I’d already decided I wanted a home birth and the midwife I’d had up to that point had been supportive. But moving meant registering with a new GP, meeting a whole host of new faces involved in my care. I’ve blogged about it here, so I won’t go into the details again, but I was faced with a lot of hostility when I asked for a home birth. I was feeling very vulnerable and angry that I was not getting the care I wanted. I did not want to be doing research on maternal death rates due to post-partum haemorrhaging when I was 38 weeks pregnant. I went into high-functioning responsible mode - I spoke to lots of people, asked a lot of questions, remained calm while a junior Doctor who really should have been in a boy band told me that the risks were too high. All the while there was a part of me wishing someone else could deal with it all while I hid under my duvet until it was over. Then it hit me that it was entirely up to me. I had to speak up for myself, I had to make the decision and believe in it. I had to believe in myself. This baby was going to come out of ME. Could I do it? Did I have it in me? That question had never been so crucial.
Two days before Jake was born, it clicked. I was flooded with a complete and very physical belief that everything was going to be fine. I could feel it in my body. I was undeterred in this belief and everything went smoothly. Jake was born at home after a 7 hour labour. I didn’t bleed to death and we didn’t have to see the inside of a hospital. I could say that the moment I made that decision, I was being a proper grown up, perhaps for the first time in my life. But to me, it felt like an act of grace, a gift from something, somewhere bigger than me. Either that, or super kick-ass hormones.
For more on the Scintilla Project, go here.
For more on the Scintilla Project, go here.