Mum. Mom. Mama. Madre. Mere. Ma. Mam. Mummy. Mommy. Maman. Mutter. Mother.
The moment I realised that I was, in fact, all of the above didn’t come the day my son was born.
Of course, I behaved like his mum from the offset. I cared for him and nursed him as a mother would. To all intents and purposes, I was this child’s maternal parent and we bonded right away, no doubt about that.
Becoming a mother is everything they say it will be and at the same time, nothing of the sort.
For me, it was experiencing physical pain like never before and then none of it mattering once I locked eyes with my baby. It was losing the person I was before but in the best way, and hating her ignorance as I did so. It was getting my letter to the Hogwarts of Mums, looking around and thinking ‘Wow, you guys are like me. You all did this too, you all get it.’.
It was a gravitational pull to a new stranger and not belonging to myself anymore.
And yet, it was five weeks later, sitting outside a coffee shop with my own mother, my sister, my child and my dog, that I was struck by the all-encompassing and sheer weight of the fact that I was now responsible for this little boy.
My mum and sister left the cafe to nip to the chemist, leaving me quite alone with a juvenile Labrador and a newborn. I felt like a child babysitting someone else’s family.
I looked to my left and saw Sherlock watching the cars pass by. I looked to my right and saw my baby fast asleep in his pram, blissfully oblivious to his guardian’s bewilderment at her current circumstances.
Holy shit, I thought. These two are mine. I am responsible for both of these living creatures, and in a crisis, they’re going to look to me. Moreover, if they’re the ones causing the crisis, everyone else will look to me.
My sister returned and a waitress came to the table.
‘Are you alright there, girls?’
‘Erm, yes we’re just waiting for our Mum...’ I replied pointlessly.
What I meant was, we’ll wait for her until we order.
What we looked like were two young girls at a lost children’s collection point.
I felt like quite the tit. This brief, but telling, interaction whereby the act of ordering three lattes was completely beyond my mental capacity only further confirmed my surprise at suddenly finding myself to be the responsible adult.
I’ve seen people post on the internet joking about looking for an adult in the room before realising that it’s you and contrarily, so far in life, I’ve been pretty good at handling adulthood. I eat vegetables every day, regularly vaccinate my dog and do my own business taxes. I’ve usually got things in hand.
But sometimes I fail miserably, usually from an overbearing will to please and politeness that breaks into the realms of stupidity.
If I don’t like the food in a restaurant or I’m full, Sam will watch, broken, while I discreetly (Sam may disagree with that point) scoop any leftovers into my napkin and hide them in my handbag to dispose of in a faraway bin, purely so I don’t offend the kitchen when my plate is taken away. As if the cook at The Red Lion is going to give a flying fuck that I found his carrot batons to be overcooked.
When tourists in my village asked for directions to the church, I accidentally sent them in the opposite direction and just hoped that they’d find A church on their walk. My point is, the aforementioned encounters do not lead the mind to believe that the person is ready to be the one who is responsible for another human life. But the terrifying and simultaneously charming fact of giving birth is that you just don’t have a choice; you learn on the job.
I endured 24 hours of labour, a pretty brutal emergency C-section and breastfed my baby when he was fresh out of the womb (though not looking altogether that fresh, but there’s another story in itself) and yet the real moment of ‘Hang on a minute... I’m a mother.’ didn’t come when I first heard his cries, first saw him or even first held him.
It came weeks later, on a grey afternoon in June, sitting alone outside a busy deli with my four-legged and two-legged charges, trying to look vaguely like I was in control, take ownership of the fact that I was now mum and mother and mama, and watching the old couple I’d just misdirected, with the very best of intentions, eagerly march off down a road that I was 80% sure just led to woodland.