The Woman Who Disappeared

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I had disappeared. And I didn’t know where I might be found.

‘I just want to feel like me again,’ I said, tearfully, two weeks into motherhood. Perhaps a wander out alone might help? But the half hour spent loitering without purpose at the shops just left me feeling anxious. As I meandered the aisles, I felt bereft, as if part of me was missing. Who was this impostor purporting to be me? The woman I had known before would never have felt a lump form in her throat over such an innocuous task as choosing a shower gel.

‘Starting to look like me again,’ I said as aesthetically I took control with straighteners and eyeliner and mascara. But even the successful donning – albeit with effort – of a once favoured pair of jeans, rediscovered after nine months without wear, didn’t bring me back. The person I saw in the mirror, staring intently as if searching for recognition, was a stranger.

‘An evening out will do me good. Like old times.’ But old times had never been like this. My eyes fixed to the screen of my phone, wondering if it was too soon to call again, before flickering briefly away to my watch, silently willing the dinner to be served quickly and bring about a swift conclusion to the evening. And the wine, which used to make me giggly and chatty and merry and glad, just made me feel tired, and more than a little despondent.

‘It will be nice to get back to normal.’ Yet this felt anything but. The once familiar seat, the desk still piled with notes scribbled in my handwriting, the keyboard upon which my hands used to dance easily, felt alien. How can just a few months create such a distance?

I didn’t feel like me anymore.

And then I realised: this was me now.

The person I had been before had gone and she was never coming back. How could she? Where once I had carried my heart around in me, now it existed outside, encapsulated in my precious daughter. And nothing would ever be the same again, not now I had the consciousness of my child with me at all times. I would always be checking my phone, thinking about her, worrying about her, missing her and carrying her with me. Which meant that never again would I feel as I once had. Whatever I was doing, be it working, socialising, or simply going about the mundane chores of my daily life. This search for me was fruitless as that ‘me’ didn’t exist anymore.

This is me. And as soon as I recognised this fact, I could stop looking and relax, accepting myself for who I was now without worry or fear or regret. I didn’t mourn the loss of the person who had gone before, the person who had disappeared forever in the moment my daughter was born, though I was glad that she had existed. This now, this person, was who I was always meant to be; mother, above all else, at the core of who I am. All the other things that used to define me – work, play, likes, dislikes – were still there, just less important.

I’m not searching anymore for that woman. I don’t need to.

Because this is me, now.

The Pramshed

Lessons From My Daughter

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In all your beautiful newness, your freshness tangible, I feel daunted by the task ahead. As I look upon your face, your eyelids flickering uncertainly, I realise that there is so much you need to learn. Lying in my arms, so helpless and fragile, I promise to be your guide upon the journey to becoming you. And I think: there are so many things that I must teach you.

 

But the truth is, you are the one who has taught me.

 

You have taught me to be brave. Together we have travelled through fraught days and anxiety-filled nights when your daddy and I have tried desperately to decipher your needs and wants which you have frustratingly vocalised in an earth-trembling scream or a cry of disgruntlement. And for each need met, for each sob stopped, for each flicker of contentment, my fear has diminished and my courage has started to build, piece by piece.  Until now when I go forward confidently, bravely, unafraid of the concerns that used to consume me.

 

You’ve helped me to discover what matters in my world. Your arrival has reordered my priorities and what once held great significance now seems irrelevant. The material concerns, the worries about perceptions, the things connected to my ego no longer hold my attention as once they did. It is those priceless moments, those parts of my life which can’t be quantified, which have shifted to the front of my focus. You’ve reminded me that richness isn’t always monetary.  

 

You have changed how I view myself. You’ve shown me that thinking about how I might appear to the world aesthetically is pointless and meaningless. And when I look upon my less than flat tummy, I view it with pride – after all, it is a thing of beauty because it carried you.

 

You have taught me to listen to myself. Because of you I have found my voice and dared to use it. You have helped my esteem to flower and grow into a positive force within me. Because from that early, scary, start when I was stumbling in the dark, I have learnt that I do know what to do – once I started to believe in myself, the answers became obvious.  

 

You’ve empowered me to always be honest. Since there has been you, I have realised that I want to be your role model, to always live my life with integrity. No more do I hide away my hopes and dreams, my thoughts and ideas. Now I aspire to always live truthfully in the aspiration that this will reflect upon you and you will feel, in turn, able to do the same.

 

You’ve showed me how strong I can be. That even at the end of those days beset by exhaustion and confusion, you’ve helped me to discover a hitherto hidden power to carry on. For you I burrow deep and scour those reserves to keep on keeping on. I know that inside me is a potency which has been gifted to me by you; it is a maternal strength which will keep me fighting on, always.

 

You have revealed to me the amount of empathy I have within. You have made me think kindly more often, and in thoughtfulness of the emotions that others may be enduring.  Because of you I try to reach out in consideration more, in appreciation of the challenges and concerns people may be enduring.

 

You’ve shown me how to have so much fun. Pure, unadulterated, innocent fun which fills me with a soul-lifting joy. Whether it’s Daddy and I holding your hands whilst you dance to the theme tune of your favourite television programme, or singing nursery rhymes in public, you have given me a youthful playfulness I thought had been lost forever, pushed away by the overbearing responsibilities of adulthood.  

 

Above all else, you’ve shown me that my capacity for love is infinite. That just when I think I must have reached a limit of affection, I find some more in my heart. And you’ve shown me that ultimately love will always win, beating out sadness.

 

You’ve changed me. The old me is gone and in place is this person who I didn’t know existed. I have always been looking for meaning in my life and you showed me what it is.

 

You have set me free.

 

You taught me to how to be me.

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I Didn’t Sleep

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I didn’t sleep.

For the two nights that you spent making your descent into the world, your pushes and shoves becoming more insistent as you drew ever closer to your journey’s end. ‘Mummy,’ your sharp movements told me as you determinedly moved forward. ‘I’m coming. I need you.’ As you made your tricky traverse, your progress felt keenly throughout my body, slumber eluded me. And so I stayed awake, waiting eagerly, to see your face, ready to scoop you into my arms and give you succour and comfort as you transitioned from the dark to the light with an earth-trembling shriek of confusion.

 

I didn’t sleep.

The night we brought you home, your precious, tiny body so small and alien within the four walls of the home that had once only provided shelter for two. Uncertain and anxious, I drifted in and out of slumber constantly, waiting for you to awaken and let me know, with your vociferous cries, that you needed me. I stayed beside you, watching you, a faithful servant, ready to do your bidding, even if I wasn’t quite sure what that might be.

 

I didn’t sleep.

For the six months that you lay beside me in your crib, wrapped in the bedding that I hoped would replicate the warmth of my arms. I woke night after night and watched you breathe, my hand gently hovering above your chest, feeling the soothing rise and fall, and the sweet wisp of your breath on my arms. It gave me peace and comfort, at least, for an hour or two, when I would jump up again to feel that unmistakable movement and allay my constant concern, for a while at least.

 

I didn’t sleep.

When you moved across the landing and into your own room, into a cot that seemed too large for you, so different from the crib in our room that you’d easily outgrown now. How could you be so big and so small all at once? I’d wake in the night and look around for you, panic gripping my heart until I saw your blurry face on the monitor. I’d lie for a while and just watch you, watching the grainy motion of your chest. But it was never enough and I’d tiptoe into your room and stare at your face just to reassure myself that you, magical you, were real.

 

I will not sleep.

When you stay away from us with friends for the very first time. I will fret that you’re remembering to brush your teeth and are being good for your hosts. And I’ll worry too that you’re getting along with the others, that you’re not being teased or bullied in the way that young girls can. I will hope that you’re not awake all night yet my own eyes will struggle to close as I worry for you on your big girl adventure, so grown up but always my little one.

 

I will not sleep.

When you pack your bags and leave for your own home. ‘Finally. Dad and I get the house back,’ I’ll laugh. But inside my tummy will churn and the worries will flurry around my mind like a thousand fireflies flashing across the sky at sunset. Will you have enough to pay your bills? What will you eat? Will you remember to lock the doors? But most of all I’ll think about how much I’ll miss you, the beautiful girl who has been down the landing all these years. I’ll tell you though: ‘It will do you good to be independent,’ and you’ll smile a gorgeous, proud smile as you take this momentous step into your new life.

 

And I will not sleep.

The night that you’re awake waiting for the arrival of your own child, knowing that you’ll be feeling every movement he or she makes as they travel along to meet you, their mum. I will be hoping for you, my girl, to stay safe, and for the new life to arrive quickly, minimising the pain for you. And my heart will burst with pride, knowing how fortunate your precious bundle will be to have you as their mother.

 

And now, at the end of each day, we three seek out slumber; you exhausted by the sheer effort of growing and your daddy and I overcome by the tiredness from the busyness of the hours preceding. But the welcome of sleep is temporary as it’s a bridge that keep us at a distance.  And as I watch you snoozing contentedly, I look forward to when you will rouse again, so I can see your smile, hear your voice, feel your strong little hands grip onto my neck. I feel like a child the night before Christmas, waiting for the glorious gift of the morning when I will wander into your room and scoop you up into my arms and see my world light up once more.

Dear Bear and Beany
Prose for Thought