I phoned the doctors the other day to make an appointment. As usual, this required being put on-hold for so long my clothes started going out of fashion. As an electronic version of Livin’ the Vida Loca violated my ears, I remembered it was in a doctor’s surgery that it hit me properly for the first time that I was a parent. I don’t mean the mechanics of motherhood, ie: a baby exits your body = you are a mother. I mean the first time I felt an almost dizzying sense of responsibility, terror and love in one breathtaking hormonal surge.
There are, of course, any number of events that might bring you to the dazzling realisation that you're a parent. Being elbow-deep in liquid poo and not batting an eyelid is one. Giving a stranger the evil eye if they sneeze within ten yards of your sprog is another. But for me it was a trip to the doctor’s.
Emily had been a couple of weeks old. I’d taken her to see the GP because she’d shivered or something (oh come on - she was my first-born!) and I needed to book a follow-up appointment. “Is the appointment for you?” the receptionist enquired. “No,” I replied, “It’s for my… for my…” I serial gulped before managing to splutter: “Daughter” while the receptionist, clearly used to every variant of human behaviour, eyed me impassively. I was surprised by my reaction. After all, I’d been a mother for – ooh – days. Surely I should be used to this whole maternal malarkey.
It was the first time the fact that I was responsible for protecting, nurturing and, with any luck, not psychologically traumatising another human being hit me like a well-filled nappy lobbed off the upper tier of the Eiffel Tower.
I'm clearly an expert at delayed reactions as I went through the same thing when we got our dog (while I'm not comparing a baby to a puppy, as any parent/dog owner knows there are many similarities in the early days, namely getting eff-all sleep and cleaning up endless crap).
After decades of canine abstinence I’d finally convinced myself, or more specifically my sceptical husband (Him: “But why would we complicate our lives even further?”), that a dog would be a very good thing for our family (OK, for me).
Enter Boo, a quivering parcel of puppy goodness. After a couple of weeks we set out on our first walk together post-vaccinations (his, not mine). I’d had visions of Boo clumsily romping after butterflies while I looked on indulgently. Instead, he plonked his diminutive rump down every two steps and refused to budge. And then it happened: that sudden: "Oh shit, what have we got here?" moment. Whining pathetically at the end of a smart blue lead was a living creature that would be entirely dependent on me for the rest of its life. Everything I did from now on would require the factoring in of this small, vulnerable creature. Not so much different from a baby after all!
Why do I have such form in the denial department? I wish I knew. Probably a fear that good things don't happen to people like me (woah, Onions, deep!). It had also happened when I was just about to give birth for the first time. Despite having gone through an entire pregnancy, it was only as I was being wheeled into the delivery room mid-expletive and the midwife asked “Do you have a nappy?” that I finally got it: a real, live human being would soon emerge from my body.
Her dad and I couldn’t have been more stunned if we'd been asked whether we had an egg whisk. And, no, while we had vests, babygrows, blankets, even scratch-bloody-mittens, we did not have a nappy. The midwife, of course, had. As with the doctors’ receptionist, she'd seen it all countless times before.