We wake in a line of three, drinking tea before another day of heat. Lilith, fed before any of us, gets propped up onto daddy for her morning smiles and squirms, whilst I reach over to open up Vol 1 of ‘Wildling’ magazine. ‘For free-spirited families, to tell stories of those who are treating family life like an adventure’. Within its thick matte pages I am pictured in the forest, dancing in black and white, 5 months pregnant with Evan, the baby of mine of whom at the time I was oblivious to the ill fate. I smile to be included in this tidy tome of motherhood, photography and philosophy, children’s fashion and idyllic travel scenes. The editor, my friend Rebecca Lindon, I photographed pregnant in the forest long before I ever became pregnant myself. She was the closest I’d ever first got to the full and rounded, blood mystery of a woman ready to burst with life. Since then I myself have flowered and burst twice over, and many nights I dream, confused, that I am flowering all over again.
In the three months since Lilith’s birth, my eyes have taken countless photos, my mind has written hundreds of words, and every time I thought of coming back to my blog I feared losing the magic to the limits of photography and language. The eventual, imperfect effort is always worth it, for we all need creative release. Since being babymoon novices intimidated by Lilith’s most inconsolable cries, M and I have a more skilful confidence in soothing her, rocking her, dancing her round to sea shanties to be rewarded by the first cooing interactions from her one-dimpled grin. I, with zero prior experience of children and having always been quite intimidated by them, now behold maternity as the most majestic vocation and hold in my arms my own beautiful teacher.
Now I’m here, really here, finally here, in the land we were diverted from last time: the land of parenthood, filled with squeals and spit-ups, toys and tantrums. The joy Lilith brings may only distract from the sadness of losing her big brother, but has positively thrashed away every bit of bitterness, as my eyes now turn gladly round at other families with an intrigue in all the other flavours of babies.
Turned 29: my first birthday with babe in arms
Her eyes that once turned slowly like a landed alien – as a video on my phone now fascinatingly recalls – now dart around wisely, connecting all the disparate things, slowly realising her hands are attached to her body and the breast is attached to me. She has started to notice me mid-feed, her pupils fixated upwards on the wizard behind the curtain as she takes in my face like a movie, mouth moving all the time as though intently munching on popcorn, with her sighs that meet with gulps, or ‘sulping’ as I called it, that funny sound that has helped amuse me during babymoon’s toe-curling latches. Then a wide smile loosens her grip and she squawks in an attempt to laugh. In those eyes I see myself, how they are deep-set; and I see Matthew, in how they are narrow-set; and hints of Evan in the sweet little pencil sketched eyelashes when they’re closed. Eyes open, her crisp pale blue irises are unlike either of ours. As vibrant as the summer sea, they invite compliments from our adoring families as well as strangers, along with the talking point of her mop of hair, born as black as mine and now transitioning strand by strand into golden, as we yet again ponder her evolution of appearance.
I regularly grumble about life’s petty issues, and my neverending to-do list weighs like a knot in my stomach, and yet, I am living my motherhood dream. Distracted by putting our perfect child at the centre of all priorities, rushing to her shrill cries for attention or food, and then satiated, falling asleep on me like a monkey, her two pink petal lips droop open like an windblown flower whilst I type an email yet again missing the question marks my one hand could not reach on full stretch across the keyboard. Out and about, a strapped carrier leaves me hands-free, still delaying a pram in favour of having her slumber on my chest. Guilty it’s been many months since my regular exercise routine so I seize every opportunity to wear her, in determination of building the strength to carry her long-term.
Feeding her is a bottomless duty next down from breathing, but all part of the daunting commitment of parenting itself, and a privilege made so convenient by nature’s design. I need not reiterate the benefits, but amongst the more unusual pleasures of nursing is the relief she gives to me when a breast happens to swell wildly with white life, hard and urgent, and yields to her soft searching mouth, the loveliest pump, her plump cheeks expertly working, summoning the tide. The pang as I palpably feel the milk inject through and turn her dreamy nibbles into rapacious but steady, thirsty quaffs, and this moment finally gives point and purpose to those body parts that have always ever been inadequate since their first teenage budding, in a culture that has inverted everything and made self-loathing a rite of passage for Mother Nature herself. Now, the duo defiantly take centre stage for an exquisite performance, the delivery of a whole nutritional system; two flesh goblets explored by little fingers becoming ever more inquisitive as she drinks, fuel for the sweetest dreams as her frown softens into a full toothless Daffy Duck grin for some lucky onlooker in her babybrain subconscious. And then, full, away she pulls, sighs and snuggles back to the bosom that now languishes slim, its bulge drained and added to her own; and begins a series of irresistible, tiny raspy snores as she deepens into silent sleep, ‘sparko’, as Matthew will say peering over. As angelically expressionless as Evan but with full reassuring life emanating from her pores, I lay watching her for too long to the point that my eye muscles strain from short distance gazing, at which point I try slip away to shower, eat, or work till our lady’s next request.
From 7 weeks in, I decided I must at least try venture into my desire to use ‘real nappies’, and strangely every icky challenge I foresaw just made it seem more desirable. I embarked on a journey of cloth not quite tangible with papery plastic of the disposable, a pleasure that evidently belongs to thousands of other mothers in a world that the mainstream eludes. I still don’t quite know how to describe the fun in putting pretty designs in the direct passage of an infant’s waste, perhaps it’s the juxtaposition that should not feel right, but like a manual gearbox or an old film camera, has joy that cannot be rationalised, except for saving money and landfill. Or maybe it’s the appreciation for a healthy baby whose poop is more sweet than putrid, the gratitude for her healthy digestion filling yet another and another colourful change, filling the bucket as we swap one design to the next: pandas, elephants, and storytime rhymes; velcro bamboo and striped custom-knitted wool soakers… I open up another delivery of preloved nappies with the same scissors that cut Evan’s cord, and lovingly traipse a holdall of nappies for weekend trips away, to royally deck out my grunting monkeyface in pirates, owls and ladybirds from Hebden Bridge to Penzance.
The oft-asked ‘does she sleep through the night’, is met with a mental response that I myself don’t sleep through the night. I’ve never been particularly good at getting up or being woken up, but my body awakes itself at the same times it was programmed in late pregnancy, around the same time as her shut-eye grunting rummage for another instalment of warm sustenance, as I once again appreciate how wonderfully designed the female body is for providing exactly what she needs, in the right quantity, at the right time, without much effort from me other than to offer it with patience and compassion. Having slept with us from the night she was born, I am in awe of how bedsharing has humbly fulfilled my highest expectation, that we can sleep and dreamfeed in one union, her between us as lights lower to the single red glow of a Himalayan salt lamp dimmed clumsily with a cardigan. Night feeds are easiest for their physical proximity, yet other times of day I need a greater resilience and make me appreciate that I am not alone in parenting. Sanity preserved by being a tag team of two, handing her over to each other when crestfallen by failed attempts to soothe her wails, she either needs the stamina of my lullabies or the quick-thinking logic of Matthew: ‘she’s too hot’, after my half hour of over-fussing, has her instantly asleep flat out on her stomach, naked and cool. I still marvel how far my patience has stretched like elastic since her arrival, whilst still being my imperfect and volatile self with a long way to expand, as Lilith finds her feet, her voice and her opinion.
Evan is as important as Lilith, and Lilith is as important as Evan. I look forward to the day Lilith can console me with her own clever words. Her and I (and M) are all related to him, how lovely is that. ‘This kiss is for Evan’ my lips said to her warm soft head one day. Carrying her through nettles and without hesitation putting my limbs first, I again experience that same overwhelming power of love and self-sacrifice, now for a living breathing child on Earth.
With a nod to World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 Aug