When you’re 24, pregnant and everyone calls you highly neurotic about, well, everything, it seems like a really good idea to hang curtains.
We’d just moved into the flat I used to live in (I once had a weird habit of moving back to the same homes, over and over again, I’ve broken it now) and I was determined to “raise this baby the right way”.
She was a surprise. An incredible, delicious surprise I would discover much later on, once the fog of no-sleep-new-baby and holy-shit-my-father-died lifted a few months later. I took for granted the way she would sleep through the night early and I could always get her to nap if I just laid down and let her twirl her pudgy fingers through my hair. She still does this, ten years later, except she twirls her own hair nowadays and it’s a telltale sign she’s tired (If I ask her if she’s tired, while she’s mid-twirl, she will vehemently deny it. Still)
But that’s post-fog. Let’s get back to the curtains.
It was a week before she would arrive. My alleged neuroses over EVERYTHING were at an apex and I knew I had to head to the doctor for what would be our final pre-natal appointment. Weirdly, I felt calm, even though my brain was all “hang the curtains. it has to be today. don’t let anyone else do it. yes, everyone says it’s dangerous. ignore them. you’re fine. hang the curtains”. I had my little schedule all jotted out in my head — go see dad in his hospital bed, pop upstairs to see the doc, come home, hang curtains.
On that Friday morning, surrounded by boxes and the like, I had THE URGE. I’d finished the “baby room” (what a laugh that was. I knew from the moment we came home with her that she’d use that room far less than we originally thought) and was working on getting the lounge into some semblance of a living space.
I came out of the bedroom and looked around me. I HAD TO DO THE CURTAINS RIGHT NOW. Call it pregnancy hormones, neurotics, nesting, ridiculous self, whatever. They had to be done.
So I hoisted myself onto a chair (not an easy task. I couldn’t even get out of bed unaided at that point) and hung them. My arms tiring more quickly than I wanted, but I got through it, grunting as I went.
Then I left the flat, and began my schedule. Dad, with his “darling, you don’t have to come here every day” platitudes (yes, yes, I really actually have to, sorry. it’s selfish. I don’t care) and my pseudo-pretence at “being okay” while watching the man who made me, wither away in some hospital bed with too crisp sheets and an uncomfortable pillow.
At the doctor’s, I smiled and said “I’ll be seeing you this weekend” and he chided me, again. We had a charming understanding that I was “know it all new mom who Googled too much” and he was the professional. It helped us along, as we could constantly poke each other, humorously, while he made sure I was doing okay with this gestation. He told me, laughing as he spoke, that he was going on holiday that weekend, and that my baby wasn’t yet ready to come (there’s still three weeks to go, stop Googling) so he had full confidence that he’d see me again the next week. I said:
“Call it maternal intuition. But I’m ready. She’s ready. I don’t think she knows about holidays yet. Maybe you can tell her about it when I see you this weekend”.
Leaving the hospital, I stopped in at the cafe, picked up a vegetable curry pie, and meandered home. We lived within walking distance of the hospital, with no hills to make it hard. So I walked. I loved those little walks, even though they were a skip, really — except for me, the waddling wideass who took a full fifteen minutes to get home.
As I walked into the flat, settled down to eat my pie, I looked to the right, assessed the newly hung curtains and said, out loud: “okay baby, I’m ready”.
Fast forward to that Saturday afternoon. It’s raining, he’s setting up an old school Scalextric track at his folks, I’m talking to mine. And the urge to pee is so strong, I have to go back to the bathroom three times before I’m done.
I call my doctor, and say: “Look, guy, I know you hate me but, really, it’s happening”. He laughed and returned to his fishing, after telling me to “stop Googling, or you’ll give yourself labour”.
I walk back into the lounge, and sit next to my dad who’d been discharged for the umpteenth time that morning. I look at him, grab his hand and say:
“It’s happening. I don’t know why I know but I know. My doctor says it’s not but I know — it’s happening. Can I just sit here and let it happen?”
“Your mother and I have done this three times. It’s not like we’re inexperienced”.
So I sit, and wait. The rainy afternoon happens and I’m neurotic all over again, as I feel a little kick that turns into a big one banging against my belly. My dad sees the shape of a foot against my dress and laughs.
It would be the last time I hear his golden laugh.
By the evening, I’m in the hospital. By the next morning, I’m a mother.
By the next month, I’m at my father’s funeral.
By the next year, I’m sitting in my office when everything goes dark and I don’t know why until the phone rings and then I’m rushing my daughter to the emergency room.
By the next five years, I’m kissing my mother goodbye for the last time.
By the next ten years, I realise that what everyone called neuroses, was just instinct.
I finally trust it.
Also published here.