The thing about making a new year’s resolution to avoid spending money in your kid’s life, is that it inevitably spills over into yours. It would be a bit off, wouldn’t it, if I were waving Johnny into the garden while tottering out of the front door in a brand new pair of Louboutins: “Enjoy making your own fun, darling. Mummy’s just off for a mani-pedi, a new iPad and a copy of Vogue.”
So for the last few months I’ve been swapping clothes or - in the case of shoes – scouring community sites for bargain second-hands and holding out till my husband told me, on our romantic weekend to Brighton, that my ancient converse made me look, “very much like a tramp”.
(Okay, so this pic was taken after some gardening. They didn’t look quite this bad in Brighton. Quite.)
We’ve been making more food from scratch to cut costs (like bread and granola) and (Ma, if you’re reading, maybe stop here) making our own fun too. Because everyone who knows their birds, bees and educated fleas knows where too much free fun lands you in the end… That’s right, I’m pregnant.
That makes it sound like an accident, which it very much was not (one of the things I really excel in, you may have noticed, is over-thinking to the point of insanity). But even though this pregnancy was planned, it’s already thrown up some huge surprises.
Number one: think you know what pregnancy is like because you’ve done it before? Think again. Actually, hold your head over the loo, wretch awhile, and then think again. Nothing in the mild morning sickness of my first pregnancy prepared me for this. For three months I’ve felt so exhausted and car-sick it’s like someone ran me over then put me in the boot and drove me at speed over bumps and hair-pin turns while forcing me to read a book with really small print.
Do you know what really doesn’t make you want to plan free, interactive activities with your kid? THAT. Do you know what makes you fantasise about throwing him into a soft play centre so that you can rock softly back and forth in the cafe area? THAT.
But we didn’t. Instead, friends with kids rallied round and fed me biscuits while the kids ran amok. And I would regain my sanity, in short bursts, but for long enough to remember that this was better than soft-play, honestly. And then it started to lift. And I felt pathetically grateful to feel human again.
And suddenly it was time for the twelve week scan. The second time round is strange, isn’t it? You’ve walked down that corridor in the hospital before, you know how alien the cold sensation of gel hitting your stomach is going to be, and you recognise the machines around you. But, oddly, it’s almost more scary, more poignant than the first time.
I think it’s because last time round, I didn’t really understand what it all meant. But now, I know. I know what it means to have a massive love-bomb drop on your life, shatter the world around you and then rebuild it, beautifully but so that nothing looks or feels quite the same. I know that it does change and it does get easier but I also know that things don’t revert back to your old life over time: nothing will ever look quite the same and nothing will ever feel quite the same. And somehow, that knowledge makes the fear more acute that the thing that everyone is hoping to see emerge from the grainy interference on the screen won’t appear. And the terror and elation when it does – and a tiny, perfect astronaut bobs into view – is sharper too.
And now for a short rant.
Last week I saw my GP for the first time about this pregnancy. He asked me a lot of cheery questions (history of domestic abuse, drug addiction and contact with social services) and then sent me packing with two magazines. So we can assume that these magazines constitute the information that the NHS thinks most important and most useful for newly prospective parents to have. And aside from a few jolly features on pregnancy exercise and maternity wear, the rest is adverts. Adverts for all the stuff you’re going to ‘need’. Prams, slings, bottles, baby clothes, baby baths, baby shampoo…
Two days later we were sitting in the waiting room to be called for our scan. The NHS had thoughtfully installed a TV so that anxious couples can be distracted from the wait. And the TV plays adverts on loop. Adverts for prams, slings, bottles, baby clothes, baby baths, baby shampoo…
Do you know what I’d like the NHS to be advertising? I’d like a kind looking doctor, in person, in one of the magazines they’re handing out or on one of the television screens in their hospitals, to smile at me, look me in the eye and say:
“It’s okay that you’re nervous, it’s natural. It’s normal to feel like you’re not prepared enough for this enormous responsibility that’s about to enter your life, and it’s normal to focus on buying all this stuff as a way of feeling prepared and in control. And sure, buy some of this stuff if you want, some if it really might help a little. But I promise you that you will be enough.”
“I promise that if you’re anxious enough to care that you might not be good enough, then you are by definition going to be a caring, good enough parent. There wil be times when you struggle, whether you buy all the latest gear or none of it. But the impact you’re going to have on your child as a loving parent so vastly outweighs any benefit that any of these early accessories, or the toys and gadgets you buy later down the line, might possibly bring them, that it makes the whole lot of them pretty much negligible.”
“So buy some, if you want, but remember that they don’t hold the magic. You do.”