The last time I will see two blue lines on a stick will be a week before my thirty fourth birthday. It will mark twenty years of avoiding getting pregnant with a celebration of finally achieving it.
It was not as easy as the school teachers had warned when we were sixteen, rolling condoms over bananas, while we hitched up our skirts and hid cigarettes and all sorts in blazer pockets. There were whispers of having to double up on condoms just in case or you risked it. Even better if you just made sure you were standing up the whole time or drank really hot tea or was it you had to take really hot baths? Google was in its infancy. We had the big sisters who warned us off, Just be careful as if any of us knew what meant.
Instead, it will take 18 months of peeing on sticks, and checking cervical mucous and taking my temperature, and perfunctory sex to no avail. So careful. And Nothing. My body freezes up. Too much pressure. Until it doesn’t, when I had stopped being so carefully organised. A pinch of chaos. Hey presto. New life, one brand spanking new and another completely transformed.
It will take me another six years to feel like my body is mine again, and that will only be in small pockets of time snatched back from the school run, and early cancelled meetings, and late nights post bedtime. But, when I does, it returns transformed.
I gained a ferocity I did not know I had when I became a mother. I would easily take a life for his. It’s a point of fact rather than a provocation. That surety of purpose has imbued the rest of my life with a sharp edge to it. The ache that comes with raising a child is there in every moment. For every celebration there is the grief of letting go. There is a darkness, that possibility of loss that knocks the wind out of me, every time my mind runs through every imaginable risk factor scenario. To lose this is tantamount to living death. And yet we live with this possibility every day. It adds bite.
Mothers are predators. We are wary guardians. Fierce competitors. We feel the life force we have held and nursed from conception to birth and beyond, and it makes time tangible. I get dizzy thinking of the kick against my stomach, the wooshing feeling of my son turning over stretching into my ribs. Full as an egg. Rippling with life and possibility. The whiplash impact of then looking up, seemingly minutes later, to watch this miraculous boy read, and tell jokes and ride a bike.
His entry into the world, born ‘encaul’ – a sure sign he will never perish at sea – the midwives tell me as they stitch me up where he ripped into the world, and I laugh like a banshee high on gas and air and oxytocin and adrenalin. I have never seen so much blood, exacerbated by the birthing pool, like a scene straight out of Jaws my husband says. But I feel like the shark. Ancient, magnificent, teeth and blood and survival. The rush of hormones and endorphins is intoxicating, I feel high for days.
The sharp edge of it now lies beneath a veneer of every day chores and routine and ritual which is essential to keep our waterborn son afloat on land. His neurodiversity needs these anchors, and it’s our job to provide them. My ferocity is channelled into securing resources and funding and support, but with a quiet surety so as not to alarm the prey. I am incisive, well researched, clear and forensic. My teeth now metered out in emails to councils and teachers and childcare providers. To whom it may concern, Do Not Fuck With Me. All the Very Best.
The rage however once unleashed cannot settle. I can’t contain it, manage it. It has to find purchase somewhere. This residue wrath unleashed with motherhood, I have nowhere to put it.
But it was there before, in the years prior to parenthood, and then I could outrun my rage. I could lace up my trainers and hit the hills beat out the fury with every step, every mile, every race. Now in the quiet routine-filled days it paces and paces and paces, there is a growl in every syllable, snapping consonants. At my best I manage to channel it into my work and it finds its way transmuted into a full-blown work addiction that results in recognition and more responsibility and more hours at my desk. At my worst, I seethe through the washing cycle, grid my teeth so badly my dentist recommends a retainer. It wipes my memory clean of all the gratitude I have and sets me on edge for days.
While I write up a schedule for my husband to follow while I am out of the house for a week I have such a visceral reaction that I have to go and splash cold water on my face and breathe, my head between my knees for a full minute. The expectation of sacrifice is both too much and everything. This transition to mother, at the expulsion of self. The grief of losing what you were, the fear of never regaining it back.
Who is your life for? A line in an email from a friend, a gut punch.
Confronting the riptide, seeing where I take myself. In all my reading the messages are clear. Anger is an invitation say the gurus, I just had no idea to what.
Not until I stopped grinding myself against the axel of the washing and the school run and the inbox and pulled some time back. Who is my life for? My rage, my fury, my anger was yelling at me to look after myself. Anger is a warning, a boundary alarm, an invitation, a pilot light. Stop messing around say the soothsayers, There are consequences to not using your gifts
I start to see the outlines of where it may be directing me through the conversations I have late at night, on text, with my maybe friend, maybe co-conspirator. Perhaps, they say, You should explore that idea.
Which one, I wonder while typing back, the one where I am both? Good and Bad? Mother and other? His and hers? Right & Wrong? Here and There? I feel the tug of the riptide. Being taken up in that current. I am all of this and everything in between, and I realise then I have been trying to pick a side because I thought I had to. I thought I could pack up all of my darkness, demons, deviance in order to Be Good, and didn’t realise how much I had missed them. How much they offer me. What they bring, the creativity, the disruption, the opposition. The freedom.
Creating space for them in the hum drum whirring of the daily routine is both essential and threatens to blow it all out of the water. Small acts of daily rebellion to appease my need for disruption, tipping up the routine to get my hit of chaos, allowing for a taste of the forbidden to keep me on the straight and narrow. When poison is the remedy. When the risk is the reward. Careful, I say to my son as he learns to climb a wall, clamber up a tree, over a fence, think about where you are putting your feet. I dig my hands deeper into my pockets and wonder if I am being careful enough, or too wary – never allowing myself the view from the top.
I can see everything from here! He shouts, triumphant, having lost a welly, his jumper snagged on branches, the faint outline of a sharp scratch or two in his knees where his trousers are rolled up. I consider climbing up too, remembering the thrill of it, years before, the fear as the trees swayed, the rush of vertigo. But the branches are small, the day is long and I am tired and there are things to be done and calls to be made. I take a picture of him instead, wide eyed and wonderous. And we head home, pockets filled with sky.