Eighteen years ago, I became a mother. You arrived in the world one balmy June evening surrounded by rather stressful circumstances after a long labour and an emergency caesarean section. I didn’t get to see you straight away due to complications and woke up several hours later on the maternity ward, surrounded by family members.
I remember your granddad standing at the foot of the bed with offerings of pick n mix sweets and a sandwich he’d bought from the vending machine, which made me laugh as it was pretty typical of him, even in this situation (as you’d soon discover for yourself!). I tried to get out of bed to take a peek inside the plastic crib by my side but the pain soon made me stay put.
A midwife put you on my chest and I studied your face in awe as 7lb 15oz of perfection blinked back at me. Once our visitors had left, it was just the two of us together in this unfamiliar setting. Your cry reminded me that it was now my duty to feed you, to soothe you and to keep you safe.
As I grappled with my dressing gown, I heard a couple of auxiliary nurses whisper: “Look at her! She’s far too young to look after a baby!” and, for a fleeting moment, I began to wonder if they were right. The overwhelming responsibly hit me like a steam train as the drugs wore off, along with a sudden determination to prove these deprecatory (and frankly, unprofessional) strangers wrong.
A few days later, your dad and I took you home to our humble abode and embarked on the life-changing journey that is parenthood. The teething and sleepless nights, alongside the smiles and first words, forced me completely out of my comfort zone as a naive teenager but I tried my best to fulfil my promise to you.
As you grew, you were a serious baby. My grandma would often state that you seemed like an ‘Old Soul’ and had obviously been here before, with a contemplative stare and the way you would study strangers intently before deciding whether to grace them with a smile or not.
We attended baby groups together, made new friends and you hit more milestones. Three years later, you became a big sister and suspiciously eyeballed Lucie as I found myself back in the same hospital ward, recovering from another traumatic birth. You eventually warmed to her (thank goodness) and took on the sibling role beautifully.
During your first week at pre-school, I got a call from the teacher. Thinking that perhaps you’d come down with an illness or had a fall, I was informed that there had been an ‘incident’ and was instructed to collect you immediately. It turns out that a boy in your class had tried to stroke your hair so you pushed him into a radiator, knocking him unconscious. That ‘Act Now, Think Later’ reflex is something that never really went away after that!
From the age of seven, you’d insisted that you were going to be a midwife when you grew up. Of course, I pompously assumed this was a fleeting phase. We sat watching ‘One Born Every Minute’ together (at your insistence) as you barely flinched and I began to realise that maybe, just maybe, you’d already figured out your path, even at this premature stage.
By the time you were nine years old, our family unit finally fell apart after being built on weak, unhealthy foundations. We moved into your grandad’s house for a while, then subsequently found a new home of our own, beginning the adventure as a team of three. In between the move, I met someone else and you were always a little guarded, admitting that you worried about me getting hurt after we’d already been through such a turbulent upheaval together.
You grew up fast; it seemed like I blinked and suddenly, we were shopping for your high school uniform. A few years later, Neil moved in with us and, in 2014, the dynamic changed once more. Sadly, this was in a way that none of us could have predicted and left us facing a loss that we’d never quite ‘get over’.
I wish with all of my heart that I could have somehow protected you from having to experience such agonising emotions, wrapped you up in cotton wool and taken away all of the pain. That said, you somehow found the superhuman strength to accept the grief and heartbreak with a dignity that most adults struggle to muster.
You remained stubborn and, on occasion, we fought. This meant throwing hurtful words at each other in a fruitless bid to make the other one see things differently. You began dating and met your first serious boyfriend, who slowly became part of the family for a while.
When he knocked on my front door at 11pm one night, I saw you being propped up as he explained that you were drunk and he didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to shout: “Neither do I!” but instead, I thanked him for bringing you home and laid you in my bed with a bucket next to us, wondering if I was really cut out for this next chapter of parenting.
Our relationship settled and we became closer than ever. Later that year, I told you and your sister that I’d decided to start dating again and whilst you were understanding of the circumstances, that protective worry resurfaced. After a few average dates (and some pretty ghastly ones), I was ready to put the whole dating malarky on hold for a while – just as Adam came along.
You guys hit it off straight away. Within two short years, Adam and I married and we became a family of four. He became an ally for you and Lucie, a confidant, a shoulder to cry on, a taxi driver, stepfather and so much more. Seeing the relationship that the three of you have developed is heart-warming and I can’t thank you all enough for making what could have been a difficult transition so very easy.
Your boyfriends came and went and we’d always deal with the fallout together. Once you left high school, we bickered as you pushed to abandon your sixth form course after eight short months, claiming that you hated being stuck in a classroom. You then went on to secure an apprenticeship at a local hospice (regardless of my protests) and absolutely flourished; this was cemented earlier this year by you winning an ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award.
My heart fluttered as your tutor sang your praises and I watched you get the recognition you deserve. I admitted that I was wrong and realised that you really do know best sometimes (don’t get used to it though).
I know all parents say this to their kids but I really am so proud of who you’ve become. For having the strength to walk away from the things you know aren’t meant for you, for standing up for what you know is right (even when you feel weak and it hurts you to do so), for working hard every single day and fearlessly pursuing your own ambitions.
Next year, you’ll be leaving home to go to university and study nursing. This leaves me with mixed emotions as I want nothing more for you than to leave our sleepy town and go and meet new people from all different backgrounds and cultures, yet I know that seeing your empty bedroom will bring a tear to my eye.
As much as we joke about it, I actually can’t imagine you not being home every day and you’ll be taking a piece of my heart with you on that exciting new adventure. I promise not to ‘Be a Beg’ and smoother you but letting you go is already proving more difficult than I’d like to admit.
You may technically be an adult now (erm…Happy 18th Birthday by the way!) but some things never change. Those pure, uneventful moments when you nip in for a chat as I’m in the bath or we sing to rubbish music together in the kitchen are the ones that mean the most. Please never stop being my ‘baby girl’.
All my love,