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In the beginning…..

In the beginning 
It is Saturday night, and a young woman, well youngish woman is celebrating her birthday. It is very much a traditional English celebration in that she is in it overcrowded, smoky pub with her mates. But there is something unusual about this woman, something that sets her apart from the other people in the bar. Ah yes, I see in now, she is drinking lager by the half, that is strange. Yeah, kind of, you’ve almost got it. Look at her belly for Christ’s sake. 

She is surrounded by friends, who, much like herself, have no real responsibilities or worries. Her only burden in life right now is to make sure that she pays the rent on time. After that, she just needs to make sure she has enough money left for beer, food, hair dye and gigs. 

In many ways, this woman is much like everyone else. She goes out to work, reads the odd book, cooks, cleans — well, sometimes cleans — visits her family, and goes out with friends. But all this is about to change, something extraordinary is about to happen to her, something which will transform her life forever… 
 
In three weeks (a little earlier than expected), this woman will squeeze a small, chubby and slippery baby out of her vagina — a boy, it turns out. And for the next 18 years (to begin with), she will feed and clothe him, nurture him, care for him and sometimes bollock him. 

She will lie with him all night when he is ill, she will congratulate him when he says mummy for the first time. She will listen to his problems. She will forgive him when he is vile, and she will protect him even when he grows taller and stronger than her. She will try to instil in him a strong moral compass, confidence, and a desire to be kind and helpful to others. And even though she will sometimes tell him he’s a cocky little sod, she will love him, and she will do all this without question because she is a mother. 

But alongside all these mushy feelings of love, purity and wholeness she will also experience something else. Shortly after giving birth, she will come head-to-head with blind panic oh and exhaustion, it’s an interesting mix. 

Within hours, if not minutes of having that baby she will realise that she knows absolutely bloody nothing about looking after a tiny, but needy ball of flesh. Terror will enter her soul. What was she thinking? Why hadn’t she read the books her mum gave her? Why hadn’t she listened to other people’s boring stories about their babies? There were leaflets, she was sure there were leaflets. Then there was the health visitor, why hadn’t she written down what the bloody health visitor had told her? Maybe she had, perhaps she’d made some notes. Perhaps they were hidden under the dirty nappies, the piles of clothes, the dirty plates or was the cat was just sleeping on top of them. God only knows, for she certainly didn’t. 

After the panic comes terror, real, deep-down, white-knuckle terror. his feeling is similar to panic, but it’s a kind of subcategory. Having a baby really brings you in touch with your emotions. 

The terror forms as she quickly realises, that she needs to know everything there is to know about babies, and she needs to know it immediately. Oh, God, but she is so tired, too tired to learn anything. She is in no condition to study, surely, she’ll be the worst student in the world. 

But a baby waits for no one, and the training begins immediately, starting with a short introduction to breast pads and maternity bras. Before she knows it, she will be on to the next level and learning how to work various baby contraptions, like a breast pump (electric and handheld) and door straps. If she’s really unlucky, she will become knowledgeable in postnatal depression, piles, and engorged nipples. 

But she will get through it. The mother will learn how to breastfeed her baby while ordering the groceries online. She will master speaking to the council on the phone at length while also cooking dinner. She will learn how to hold a baby safely while drinking a glass of wine. (Yes, it’s OK I did say ‘a’ glass). She’ll be able to read a book while rocking a Moses basket with her foot. And she will learn how to fold up a pushchair while simultaneously arguing with a bus driver. She will achieve things that she never thought possible, like fitting a child seat into a car without biting her partner’s head off when he stupidly asks, 
“Do you need some help?” 

After just a few weeks of being a mother, she will master getting a cardigan on a baby. Over small, unruly arms, arms that refuse to bend and trousers on legs that seem to be auditioning for Riverdance. Then one Friday night when all her friends are enjoying themselves in the pub, she’ll be at home skilfully composing a song. A never-ending song about a red bus that goes to Peckham, to buy some bananas. She will sing that song from the end of CBBC Bedtime Hour until the News at Ten when her baby finally falls asleep. 

After several months, she will be able to get up at six and triumphantly get to work on time even though she has only had five hours sleep (which by the way feels like a luxury). And believe it or not, she will learn how to look at her body again without grimacing, which is no mean feat. For even now she had stretch marks. In fact, the wide area below her belly button looks a lot like an ordnance survey map of the Peak District. 

Yes, she doesn’t know it yet, but from this unforgettable day onwards she will be embarking on an arduous and as it turns out very expensive journey. It will be a journey that puts untold demands on her. From that day forward she will have to learn how to juggle her family, work, money, and a social life with being a parent. And she will have to do this for something for the rest of her life, well maybe not quite that long. 

So, she had better make the most of that half a lager, drink it slowly and enjoy every sip, because a tsunami is coming, and there is no turning back now. 

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