No matter how prepared you think you are to be a parent, babies have a knack of hurtling into our lives and transforming it in an instant.
And practically as soon as they’re here us parents are looking forward to the first time they do something. Usually it starts with their first smile, then a laugh, then perhaps sleeping through the night (unless you’re my children that is!) or sitting up on their own.
Once they’ve achieved those ‘firsts’ and they’ve been duly logged in the red book, plastered on Facebook (because it didn’t officially happen if it wasn’t posted there, right!) and shared with all your family and friends, then the next little first is on it’s way. Walking, talking, starting nursery, then school…. The list really is endless.
Of course, they’re a cause for celebration, especially when it’s your first child and you’re still at that ‘he/she is the most amazing thing in the world’ stage (we’ve all been there don’t worry!). But for me those firsts are always bittersweet, because they also signify the imminent end of something so precious.
Sounds pessimistic I know, but I think it stems back to the fact that my husband and I didn’t have the easiest route to becoming parents.
It first hit me when I packed away the first lot of newborn clothes when my eldest grew out of them
Our first son was conceived through IVF, and our second conceived naturally after various failed IVF attempts and miscarriages.
Consequently, with the first I felt incredibly lucky and savoured every moment, never imagining I would be fortunate enough to have a second, and with my second, I did exactly the same – knowing he was my miracle second-born, and my last baby.
It first hit me when I packed away the first lot of newborn clothes when my eldest grew out of them – the white fluffy hooded cardigan that he wore to have his birth registered at Hammersmith and Fulham Register Office, the striped Joules Babygro that had been so big for his tiny body when I first put it on him in hospital – I couldn’t hold back the tears.
Because whilst my husband found it exciting that out baby was getting bigger, I was overcome with sadness that he would never be a newborn again. That I’d never feel that adrenaline rush of holding him in my arms for the first time, the excitement (and terror) of driving him home in the snow and then placing his carry-seat in the middle of the living room and wondering what on earth to do next.
Another significant ‘last time’ was when I finally stopped breastfeeding. Whilst I’d had a terrible labour, I was fortunate enough to have two babies who took to breastfeeding well. Therefore, it was never a chore or a discomfort for me. In fact, I came to love that special quiet time with the little one nestled into my chest, the way they looked at me with their milk-drunk eyes.
That last feed was followed by lots of tears – and it wasn’t the baby’s!
The dread I felt about giving up breastfeeding the first time around didn’t get any easier with the second. Because I didn’t see it as exciting that they were embarking on the next chapter in their lives, but more that I would never hold them close in such tender moments again. That last feed was followed by lots of tears – and it wasn’t the baby’s!
And whilst not every ‘last-time’ is as momentous, there seem to be so many of them littering those early years, just slipping through your fingers without you being able to stop them – the last time my boys slept in a cot, drank milk from a bottle, crawled, woke up in the middle of the night for a feed, performed in their nursery play, sat in their baby car-seat, and so on.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t celebrate most of these milestones (especially the sleeping through!), but I also felt a sense of mourning too, that they were gone forever.
The first day at nursery for example, well, that was nothing compared to the last day at nursery before starting school.
Carrying that folder of paintings to the car with my mature, excited 4-year-old who couldn’t wait to start school, I was fighting back the tears. There were so many memories associated with that building, not to mention the wonderful staff who had taught my boy so much, creating an immeasurable amount of happy moments along the way.
There was my eldest son’s last nursery Christmas play too. While everyone else was smiling as my little ‘snowflake’ danced away to the music in his quirky costume, I was gulping back the emotion knowing that the next time I watched him in a Christmas play it would be at big school.
The same feeling crept up when his first day at school approached. I thought about all those little things we did together, playing at the local park, popping to feed the fish at the garden centre, seeing friends at our Funky Pants music group on a Friday. And whilst he was excited about the next step, all I could think about was what I would be missing.
I’m slowly getting used to the fact that nothing in life stands still
Thankfully though, children have an incredible knack of keeping you busy, so there’s never time to wallow for long. And with each little last-time I’ve realised that it’s a bit like the saying about a rainbow following the rain, for every teary, nostalgic moment, there’s always an exciting new phase around the corner.
While I’ll never approach the boys growing up with the optimism of my husband, who can’t wait for them to be old enough to go to rugby games with him and pop to the pub for a pint together, I’m slowly getting used to the fact that nothing in life stands still.
Moreover, that being a parent teaches us to evolve with our children, to face the next adventure head-on, even if we’re still wiping away tears because the last has ended.
And that with children you really never can predict the excitement, love and joy that the next stage will bring.
Don’t get me wrong, there are countless tough times and challenges along the way too, but when you look back through the photos, or suddenly recall a forgotten memory, they pale into insignificance compared to the happy times.
Here’s hoping I’m fortunate enough to have many more years of these with my boys yet to come!