Four years ago, she was a week overdue. I remember going to my obstetrician and saying that I couldn’t stand it any more and could I please be induced. Ha ha. I can only laugh at my ignorance. If I had my time over again, I would stick with the indigestion and the back pain for another while. My ankles weren’t even swollen, for God’s sake. I spent the next two days wandering around the maternity hospital on an oxytocin drip looking enviously at the mothers clutching their new born infants while the obstetrician complimented me on my “concrete cervix” (which was to come in so useful in my next pregnancy). Mr. Waffle met a colleague who whispered “don’t tell your wife this but my wife has just had an emergency caesarian after two days in labour”. Eventually I was wheeled into the delivery room and the Princess was dutifully delivered at 1.26 in the morning on April 12. A girl! Within minutes of birth, she was nearly drowned by her father who had, with extreme reluctance, agreed to bathe her. She slipped out of his trembling hands and was promptly submerged in water which made her furious and terrified him.
Despite this clear evidence of ineptitude, the hospital staff went away and left us with her. We looked around anxiously. Surely this couldn’t be right. We had no idea how to mind a baby. Why did they think we were in hospital? We were brought back to the bedroom. We changed her nappy. She screamed and screamed. “What will we do?” I asked panic stricken. “Call a nurse!” said Mr. Waffle. The nurse came and asked in appalled tones “why is this child naked?” and wrapped her up. You see, in our anxiety to change her properly, my husband and I had removed all her clothes and were together fumbling with our first tricky nappy. Mr. Waffle went home leaving me with a sleeping baby. He telephoned his mother and mine both of whom were sitting up anxiously waiting for news. Meanwhile, little though I realised it, I was enjoying the best night’s sleep I would have for many years. She really did sleep quite well that first night (hurrah for the epidural). The next morning the hospital staff came and chided me for lying in bed when I should have been showering. But hang on a minute, who was going to mind the baby while I showered? I had to leave her alone in her cot. I flew into the shower and, somewhat dizzily, washed and put on my new hospital pyjamas (a present from the best dressed diplomat who thinks of everything). She was still there when I got back. Then I had to wash her.
I will never forget the horror of those first baths: laying out all the required items, checking the water temperature, ineffectually attempting to sooth the Princess, taking her temperature, dabbing at the umbilical cord, poking at her with cotton buds. All this in a room as hot as Hades with many other new mothers, a number of bossy midwives and only a limited number of baby baths. On the first morning of her life, the Princess settled in to what would be a long term pattern. She howled. While she was actually in the bath, she was happy enough but she was deeply unappreciative of my fumbling efforts to dry her, dress her, weigh her and stick a thermometer up her bottom while filling in all the details on the chart provided by the sadistic hospital authorities. The weigh in became a daily test as she continued to lose weight. I stayed in hospital for seven days waiting for her to gain a couple of grammes. I have detailed elsewhere my obsessive and, in retrospect, daft efforts with breastfeeding. It was was very, very hot that Easter and the whole world seemed to be out in summer clothes while I was in hospital with the angry, tired and hungry Princess. I was not enjoying myself and neither was she. We had loads of visitors and presents and that was fun. I spent hours on the telephone and that was fun. What was not fun was looking after my baby. We did not bond. We were both tearful. I worried about her constantly, though she was a perfectly healthy baby aside from being slow to put on weight. Despite my obstetrician’s advice to “relax and enjoy your baby”, I did not.
It was wonderful to get out of hospital and challenging to secure the Princess in her car seat. At home, there were more presents and flowers and a photographic print from my loving husband but I was just so tired and nervous, that I didn’t appreciate them. I remember Fluid Pudding saying that she found the arrival of her first child difficult because before she had been selfish. When I read those words, I smacked myself on the forehead. I was selfish but I just didn’t realise it. I expected to be able to make a cup of tea and read the paper whenever I wanted. I expected to be able to go out or stay in without as much as by your leave. My life was my own and I could do as I pleased and, though, intellectually, I knew that would change, I hadn’t really taken in how drastic the change would be. Suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to sleep, I could barely find time for a shower, I spent all my time carrying a baby. Looking back, I am sometimes amazed by how overwhelmed I was; she was only one baby. But she was a difficult baby. She cried in the car. She cried a lot. Maybe she was hungry. Maybe she was just contrary. But there was only one of her. By the time the boys were born, I was used to the curtailment of my freedoms, I knew of the pleasures to come, I was much more experienced and I found looking after them much easier.
In those early weeks there were a couple of things that saved my sanity. We went to the French Mama’s wedding in Normandy when the Princess was three weeks old. How we packed, how we prepared. How proud we were when we were able to change her and feed her in a motorway lay by. Feeding was no joke as it involved cooled boiled water and sterilisation on the move as well as a failed attempt at breastfeeding. We stayed in a lovely chateau. The weather was beautiful, the food was great and the wedding was entertaining. The hotel staff were very kind, microwaving bottles in the middle of the night as necessary. The mayor let us use his office to feed the Princess after the wedding and she slept a lot. It was like getting our lives back. Briefly.
My mother came to stay with us. Did I mention that the arrival of our first baby coincided with the collapse of our then washing machine? My mother spent a lot of her trip mopping up water. I can’t understand why we weren’t a bit more assertive with the landlady, but we weren’t, we just kept mopping. My mother also cooked and rocked and soothed everyone’s jangled nerves. A couple of bouquets of flowers arrived a week or two after I got home from random people whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. That was surprisingly lovely.
It was hard, though, and I think the hardest part was the realisation that weekends away and dinners out and all the things that we had taken for granted were going to have to be shelved, possibly indefinitely. This proved to be a slightly pessimistic assessment but it certainly felt that way at the time.
But just when it seemed that the howling and the misery would never end, she started to smile and then she sat up and she crawled and she stood and she played and she talked and she walked. How we love her. She is so funny and loving and stubborn and clever. I cannot tell you how proud I am of how brave and independent she is. I love recording the things she says and does so I won’t ever forget how amazed we were by her cleverness, how frustrated by her stubborness and how overcome by her charm. By way of conclusion (finally, why am I becoming more and more long winded?) I offer two examples from the recent past.
Last week the Princess did a course on “incredible india” (something her aunt has some issues with), this week she did a sports thing. I do feel guilty that her holidays are so often taken up with courses because her father and I are at work but I admire how she just trots off to another new bunch of people and a new set of rules and gets on with it. She is so small, yet so composed. I suppose she has to be, she hasn’t got any choice. Last night she was telling us all about her sports course and how they sang a song about the fire brigade. I thought she had finished this story when she asked me “What am I thinking about? Something very important”. “Your birthday tomorrow” I hazarded. She looked at me pityingly “That is very important Mummy but, ahem, hello, even more important, a house on fire”. I suppose you had to be there but her “ahem, hello” was delivered in masterful imitation of an outraged American teenager. We all laughed.
The other day, I dropped a full litre of milk on the kitchen floor and she put her head round the door and said “Uh oh, Mummy, ‘all the sweet buttermilk watered the plain’”. In celebration of her fourth birthday, I give you my brilliant, funny, wonderful little girl’s rendition of Kitty of Coleraine.