I phoned the doctors the other day to make an appointment. As usual, this necessitated 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 for the first time that I was a mum. I don’t mean the mechanics of motherhood, ie: a baby exits your body ergo you are a mother. I mean the first time I felt an almost dizzying sense of responsibility, terror and love crammed into one overwhelming hormonal surge.
Of course, there are any number of events that might bring you to the dazzling realisation that you're a parent. Being elbow-deep in warm, liquid poo and not batting an eyelid is one. Giving a stranger the stink eye if they dare to sneeze within ten yards of your precious 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 (see - it was serious after all!). “Is the appointment for you?” the receptionist asked. “No,” I replied, “It’s for my… for my…” The receptionist, who had clearly seen pretty much every variant of human behaviour countless times, eyed me impassively as I serial gulped before managing to splutter: “Daughter.” I was bewildered by my reaction. After all, I’d been a mother for – ooh – days; I should have been used to this whole maternal malarkey by now, shouldn’t I?
It was the first time the fact that I was a parent, a human being responsible for protecting, nurturing and, with any luck, not psychologically traumatising another human being hit me like a well-filled nappy lobbed from an upper tier of the Eiffel Tower.
I'm clearly a master of denial as I experienced the same thing when we got a dog a few years back. While not comparing a baby to a puppy, as any parent/dog owner knows there are 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 deeply sceptical husband (“But why would we seek to complicate our lives even further?”), that a dog would be a good thing for our family (OK, for me).
Enter Boo (pictured), a dollop of quivering doggy delight. After a couple of weeks with no "Dear God, what have I done?" moments, 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 rear-end on the ground every two steps and refused to budge. And then it happened: I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the scale of what I'd taken on. At the end of a smart new lead, whining pathetically, 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. Just like a baby, then.
By the bye, the first time it hit home on a technical, as opposed to intellectual, level that I was going to become a mother was just before I gave birth 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 understood a real, live human being would soon be emerging from my body.
Her dad and I couldn’t have been more stunned if she’d asked whether we had an egg whisk. And, no, while we had vests, babygrows, blankets, even scratch mittens, we didn’t have a nappy. The midwife, of course, did. Like the doctors’ receptionist, she had seen it all before countless times.