Things have changed a bit in our house lately. Not the dodgy boiler (still cutting out at random – all.the.swearwords). Or the wall marks of a child who has now taken to rubbing toys against the paintwork (weirdly arty and hypnotic actually).
Nope, things have changed big time. Hallway trip hazards on wheels have now doubled. The spare room isn't so spare anymore. We had another baby. Seven years on.
He’s rather fabulous. Despite another c section and, now I’m on the wrong side of 35, technically being a geriatric mother (all.the.swearwords) - the general post baby euphoria, tinged with exhaustion is in full swing. This time I should know what I’m doing. Its second time around. For the most part that’s true. Nothing is easier, but everything is familiar. I know how hard the early days can be, so come to it more prepared. I know how nightmarish feeding can be, so come to it slightly calmer - we’ll just ignore the fact I’ve flashed a boob at both the postman and the local Liberal Democrats candidate in one week (window opposite front door to be clear, it’s not my general greeting to visitors).
But I’m not a true second timer. Not really. Everything first time around was so totally unexpected, so breath-catchingly frantic. It was hour by hour, leaving little time to stop, stand back and take in the wonder of it. I was a normal-ish first time parent for four amazing, but incredibly difficult months. We’d tell ourselves that whilst there was clearly something wrong, it would be something fixable. Then it changed.
So whilst the weight and warmth of a small, snuffling child in my arms at 3am is undeniably familiar, it is unmistakenly different. Sometimes I’m so thrown by not being stomach-lurchingly worried, I worry I’ve forgotten to worry about something.
Its both wonderful and a window to a time I’d forgotten. Whilst things for my biggest boy haven’t been great over the last few months, things for us have drastically changed since then. We’re not looking for a cure anymore, or constantly waiting for test results. He’s just J. Our fabulous boy. His quality of life is infinitely better. For the most part, his pain is extremely well managed and the heartbreaking full body spasms that were relentless in babyhood are nowhere to be seen. The things that are hardest are just hard for us, not him. The life threatening events terrify us - but he has no idea these things have happened. His life is a happy one and I am eternally grateful for that. Even regaining consciousness in hospitals doesn’t phase him (LOVES large pedal bins – hospital cleaning staff are his rock stars).
But back in his early weeks and months, things were so different. Neurological activity was relentless. It just kept coming. By seven months old, there wasn’t a single hour of the day that wasn’t repeatedly interrupted by one episode type or another. Then the hospital admissions started. The testing was constant. We were always waiting for the result that never came. So many of the conditions he was tested for would have meant his time with us was short. We had swung from excited first time parents, to parents living in a state of fear and shock in matter of months. I remember that time so well, and yet not really.
That’s why it floored me slightly pulling out all the old clothes and toys. To anyone who is expecting a baby, let me warn you, there will be some overly emotional moments in the early days. It’s literally biologically impossible not to. You will cry. Yes you will. You will. Seriously, you will. Not even over anything difficult – I could’ve cried over a particularly nice cup of tea on day five. Hold it back and there’s a risk of going full nuclear and hugging random strangers, so I’d just run with it.
There was no association with the clothes. But then there it was, a toy I’d almost forgotten about. When I clicked the button and heard the sound, the rush of memories and inexplicable emotion were palpable. It’s an old projector toy – no longer sold. It used to attach to the side of the cot, playing a tune and projecting onto the ceiling. J could never really see the projection, but he loved the songs and every now and then we’d let out a silent cheer as his hand connected with one of the brightly coloured buttons on it. It was a silent cheer because it was always at night. He never slept. The constant neurological disturbance kept him up every single night. So most nights, I would end up in his room, listening to that tune on repeat. It was a time of indescribable exhaustion. Silently all consuming. Few of the world’s intrusions are there at 2am - and so that is when you think. That sound, that tune, was a window straight to that time.
I couldn’t pass that projector on. It was precious and tainted at the same time. No, initially I put it to one side. But wrapped it carefully – to be kept.
Until I began to think. Really think (a rarity to be fair). Then I realised. That rush of emotion, the sadness it was tinged with. It wasn’t what I thought. It wasn’t about the fear we had, the worst parts of his condition, or remembering the soul crushing exhaustion of that time. It was none of that. It was something far more normal and yet bizarre. I missed parts of that time.
I missed the moments in between. Watching him under the soft light of the projector. The stillness of 2am and the absence of day to day tasks. Rocking him gently through the night. The simplicity of our little flat, with its inherent warmth from a lucky location over the building boiler room. The interruption of the constant traffic noise, not brining disturbance, but a sense of innate connection. Laughing at the sound of the student flat upstairs coming home, wondering how drunk they would be and what the odds were one of them would fall down the stairs again. Mostly, just being with my baby. Still part of the world, but in our protected bubble. My memories don’t trigger sadness remembering the hard times, its about missing the special moments that peppered that time.
And so that slightly faded toy will be passed on. It will come to mean something different and yet exactly the same. It will be about so many of those same moments, but part of a different story. It has come full circle and so have we.
It has also reminded me to push back the temptation to will time to move on – to focus on when things will be easier, rather than appreciating now. Because it is difficult now. It was always going to be. The time my two boys spend together is a frantic juggle. Running between a baby who needs constant feeding and holding; and a 7 year old who also needs to be fed, cared for and monitored for medical events. Then add in the fact that J has recently become very loud and very prone to throwing things and the mayhem level steps up a gear. I run back and forwards, but constantly worry I’m letting one of them down when my attention is on the other for too long. J still struggles at night, now with the addition of a constantly beeping oxygen saturation monitor. But we are managing that juggle - and as hard as it can be, there are so many truly amazing moments as part of it.
Because deep down I know that no matter how difficult a day or night is, this time is precious in it’s own way. I know that one day, an older me will eek the final sounds from a faded toy, battered by the hands of two children, and feel that rush of emotion. Not at the memories of how hard it was – but because she misses that time.