A blue line. I didn’t even double check. Definitely a blue line.
This was going to be great.
I was the perfect mother in that moment… turns out it’s actually pretty easy to be an incredible mum when everything is theoretical. When you find yourself 8 months later holding a tiny, writhing human being, well… that’s when it gets slightly trickier.
My transition into motherhood began in a fairly mundane, undramatic fashion - happily married couple hope for child, child is conceived, normal pregnancy ensues (although let’s not mention the heartburn. Or the cankles. Or the “two weeks overdue”…).
My daughter came into this world unfashionably late in the summer of 2012, with the sound of the London Olympic highlights playing in the background - requested by my midwives. I wasn’t about to argue that my baby playlist was potentially more zen-inducing than the judo finals; It was visceral, it was spiritual, it hurt like hell. And suddenly there she was, a tiny person who hadn’t a clue what was going on, and she was somehow my responsibility. No amount of reading or head-knowledge could have prepared me for the overwhelming and all-consuming role that motherhood is.
I wasted far too much time when she was a baby worrying about doing “the right thing” for her, in an honest attempt to give her my absolute best. And yet I always felt I was falling short. Always failing her. Even when you know you’re the only person made for this particular role, you struggle daily with Imposter Syndrome. Surely someone’s going to figure out I’m awful at this?!
Our society doesn’t do very well at edifying and uplifting mothers - instead we are pitted against each other in so-called “mummy wars”, where conversations between parents inevitably become about whether little Timmy has cut any teeth yet (because Ella totally has), or “is he good for you? Is she sleeping all night?”, or what about if you’re doing Baby Led Weaning (he’ll choke!) or Pureeing (she’ll not learn to chew properly!)…it’s exhausting. And while there is always something you’re playing over in your mind that you’re failing miserably at, you longingly look at your child as they sleep, overpowered with adoration - no amount of self-doubt could displace your absolute certainty that this human is perfection itself, and somewhere you know that you play a role in that, if only for a fleeting moment.
In 2014 I joyfully saw that blue line again, anticipating the arrival of my second child would be much like my first, but this time armed against the nonsense that had consumed me and wasted too much of my energy when my daughter was a baby. However nothing on earth could have prepared me for what actually came to pass.
In late December 2014, my husband died very suddenly and unexpectedly when I was 4 months pregnant with our son. A rare undiagnosed, in his case asymptomatic, cardiac disease called Brugada Syndrome would eventually be identified as the cause, and on that most awful day I became a widowed, pregnant, single mum. All thoughts of Baby-Led Weaning vs Puree, or Breast vs Formula and so on were entirely pulverised by this overwhelming and unwanted change to our family. Those issues seemed entirely asinine to me in light of my reality. In an odd way, it was actually liberating.
Somehow, surprisingly, in the midst of this tragedy I discovered more beauty than I ever could have imagined. Yes, our family was abjectly torn apart, but those who remained rallied around us like the village we all hope for in times of crisis. And somehow instead of falling apart, I found myself to be a capable, even powerful woman who was about to face head-on a very genuine fear - the prospect of giving birth alone. Of raising two children alone.
As if a fire had been lit under me, I became transformed from the woman who worried that she was getting it all wrong into the woman who was certain she would not fail. She could not fail. These vulnerable, incredible little humans depended on her and her alone. That powerful maternal instinct dragged me through the darkest days of my grief, for their sake, and the three of us came out the other side all the stronger for it. I often ponder to myself how I would have fared if I had lost my husband without children to care for. I will never know the answer to that, but I know how primal and vast and deep my urge was to mother them with everything I had. It happened without me having to read a book about it - such is the powerful instinct of a parent who wants to protect her children at all costs.
A few years passed and as I reluctantly began to settle into this new life of ours I met someone who would turn it upside down yet again. Thankfully this time it was the good kind of life-changing, the “fall in love and get married” kind. Most importantly, he fell in love with the children as deeply as we did with each other, and the feeling was very mutual. Yet again our expression of family changed, and yet more steep learning curves presented themselves before us. These are big, complicated, messy mountains to climb, but we climb them together.
As I write this, I sit with my laptop on my knee looking down at my heavily pregnant belly, this time occupied by baby number three—the child I never imagined I would have. Every little squirm, every kick - I can now visibly see a reminder of how miraculous this process is. I spent so much time in my first pregnancy worrying about everything that could go wrong…this time I savour everything that has gone right. What a gift and privilege that is.
Ironically, having the rug effectively pulled out from under me has left me with a quiet confidence that I’m actually quite good at this mothering thing. I look at them and see what we have come through and realise we actually needed very little besides a deep love and affection for one another. From that, the rest flows.