Earlier on this week, Ella, my eldest daughter, turned ten years old. TEN!
I can’t believe I’ve been a Mum for a decade. As clichéd as it probably sounds, it really does feel like only yesterday that I gazed down in awe at the tiny ET look-a-like blinking up at me just moments after making her arrival into the world. I was 23 years old and with hindsight, nowhere near ready to be a mama. I’d never even changed a nappy – the husband (who had previous experience from when Sophie was a baby) had to show me how to do it.
On the first night in hospital after Neil left I held Ella in my arms until she slept, laid her gently in the clear plastic cot and swaddled her in the rough hospital blankets like the nurses had shown me. I needed a wee and had no idea whether it was ok to just go and leave her, or whether I had to call someone. Paralysed with indecision I stood uncertainly until my bladder eventually made the choice for me and I gingerly walked to the bathroom, still sore from giving birth just a few hours earlier. Less than a minute later I returned and peeked in at Ella, expecting her to be fast asleep.
What happened next will haunt me for the rest of my life.
She wasn’t asleep at all. She was blue. Spasming and twisting and heaving, her face scrunched up, her mouth open in a silent scream. Not breathing. Her body arched in a position unimaginable in one so tiny. An inhuman noise ripped out of my throat – the howl of a woman about to lose the one thing that she had never loved more. Completely panicked I stood helplessly and then the woman in the bed next to me shouted at me to pull the emergency cord, snapping me out of my horror. Frantically I willed my fingers to work, and a midwife immediately raced in, picked Ella up, turned her upside down and banged her hard on the back, over and over and over. After what felt like an eternity but was probably in reality only seconds, the great lump of mucus that she had been choking on fell out of my baby’s mouth and into the cot and finally, FINALLY she made a sound. A high-pitched wail like a siren. I watched silently, completely numb, as the midwife checked her over and then gently placed her in my arms. My legs gave way and I sat on the side of my unfamiliar bed, holding her tightly and rocking her backwards and forwards, in shock.
The midwife left and it was just me, my baby and the woman in the bed next to mine. I started to sob uncontrollably, the terror and adrenaline and hormones and tiredness all hitting me at once. I felt an arm around my shoulders and the other Mum gathered me to her, enveloping Ella and I in her warmth as she let me cry. I didn’t sleep that night.
We stayed in one more night and then we were allowed to bring Ella home, even though I was still struggling to breastfeed her and she cried constantly. She choked again at six weeks old and this time it was my husband who saved her life, her tiny body heaving in the Moses basket as his strong hands forced her airways to clear. I was a wreck. Months of anguish followed – everything I gave her was instantly projectile vomited back up, she wasn’t thriving and I felt like I was drowning, wondering at all the other women I could see who all seemed to have it so…together. Their babies cooed and smiled and slept. Mine screamed like a banshee, every item of clothing we all owned was drenched in baby sick and all I wanted was for it all to stop.
Eventually Ella got diagnosed with severe reflux and I was diagnosed with Post-Natal Depression. With support from my incredible health visitor, my husband and our families, I gradually got better, though Ella continued to struggle with the reflux until she was almost two. And let me tell you, reflux when weaning and on solid food is not fun at all.
I’ve never really written about this before. I’ve wanted to. Needed to. Truth be told I’m not sure why I’m writing about it now but my fingers are typing and I’m not really in charge. I guess because it’s our story. She’s the one who made me a mother and although we didn’t have the easiest start or the best bond to begin with, she’s made me who I am today and we’ve more than made up for it in how close we are now (give or take the odd inevitable mahousive argument!)
Anyway, turning ten seems like a bit of a milestone and I wanted to document it. I remember being enormously excited to be entering into double digits when I was her age. She even said to me the very next day “Mummy, I definitely feel much more grown up now that I’m ten”.
In our house, birthday celebrations for the little ones seem to go on all week (no such luck when you’re a grown up) and as her actual birthday was on a Wednesday this year the weekend each side of it has been full of birthday fun.
She decided against having a party, instead opting for a trip to the cinema with her sisters and best friend on the Saturday. We went to see ‘Moana’, which was AWESOME (definitely worth going to watch it, especially if you have girls – it’s a brilliant message) and then came home for a takeaway Pizza Hut pizza.
On the Sunday my Mum and Stepdad (Ella’s Nana and Grandad) came to visit for the day. They brought presents, I bought a doughnut cake (as requested by the birthday girl) – good old Asda! – and it was an absolutely lovely day.
As I said, her actual birthday was on a weekday. I definitely think there should be some kind of rule that you don’t have to go to school or work on your birthday! She’d begged me not to go to London like I normally do on a Wednesday, so I rearranged things and worked with clients online instead while she was at school. We opened all her cards and presents in the morning and she was so overjoyed with every single thing she received – my heart felt it might burst with pride at how thankful she was, even with the most modest gifts.
This weekend Sophie has come to stay and we’re all going out for a meal with the husband’s parents (Ella’s Nanny and Grandad) as well. She’s so excited!
I’m so proud of the thoughtful, kind, caring and talented girl she’s becoming. I know the upcoming teenage years will most likely be challenging (but then, what part of parenthood and growing up isn’t?!), but for now I’m contented to just enjoy the version of herself that she is now, knowing that she’s not who she’s going to be yet, and watching her learn and stretch herself and try things and make mistakes and get back up again and challenge herself and get to know herself.
Ella my darling, one day you’ll read this and all I want you to know is that you are loved so very much – far more than you will ever know – and the day I became your mama was one of the best days of my life. Happy 10th birthday! 🙂