Having a child creates change. Some of it will be good change, like getting out of having to go to that boring lunch or hen do because you now have the ultimate excuse up your sleeve: ‘childcare issues’. And best of all, unlike the death of a fictitious grandparent, there is no limit to how many times you can use it.
However, there are many other child-enforced changes that bring far less sparkly outcomes. It’s safe to say that having a child destroys your life and ruins everything that you previously enjoyed.
The ‘stuff’ sneaks up on you. It begins deceptively slowly – a harmless if garish playmat appears in front of the sofa. “That’s ok,” you think, “It’s just one item.” In fact, it’s a nice hint of ‘child’ in a room that otherwise screams ‘functional living space for two adults who like watching The West Wing’.
Before long, though, the playmat will be joined by some cuddly toys which beget some books which will breed a baby bouncer, and then you are surrounded by a one-metre-tall singing robot with an LED head, a fluffy twerking llama, and two shipping containers of Duplo. By the time your kid is a toddler your living room will be crammed with a mass of plastic detritus, as well as one or two obligatory wooden items bought by child-free friends.
I already dream of the day when my daughter only wants to sulk in her room and the siege on my living room is ended. Never again will I need to worry about anyone seeing if my new spherical vase is, in fact, a ‘bouncy ball’. And when that happens, I assume I’ll go up into the loft, fish out the dancing llama, clutch it’s twerking body against my chest and sob as I reminisce about the dreadful magical years when my feet were never safe from an unseen plastic minion.
The demise of a lazy Saturday morning is up there with the biggest losses any first-time parent has to face. Once you have a baby you can kiss goodbye to lay-ins, late brunches and afternoons in the pub in favour of 6.00am starts and being in the playground by 8.00am watching your child patrol the swings like a nightclub bouncer pushing away other toddlers while screaming, ‘NO! MINE!’ in their faces.
At least once a month my husband and I try to work out how we managed to while away all those kid-free weekends. What did we do with all those available hours? Aside from sleep, shag and eat shakshuka?
Just as John Lennon imagined a life with no possessions, I imagine a weekend without having to pause Sunday Brunch while I clean up another human’s faeces.
In my old life, BC (Before Child), my aim was to move to America and become the next big thing, like a younger, female Hugh Grant with better teeth. I would live a jet-set lifestyle and become best friends with Kristen Wiig and end up replacing James Cordon as host of The Late Late Show. The world was my oyster.
In my new life, TDSY (The Dry Shampoo Years), my main aim this week is to try and get Ratbag to eat a raspberry. Success has shape-shifted from the vast, the international, the stratospheric (with me at the centre of it all), to the small, the fundamental, the domestic – all rotating around a small child who loves pink wafer biscuits more than some members of her family.
That’s not to say having a child totally erases a parent’s personal sense of satisfaction and self-pride. I still want to work and succeed for my own fulfilment, and also so I can earn money to buy a brow lift. But while I am still more than happy to bask in the glow of any success of my own making, overshadowing that is the utter elation I feel when witnessing my daughter’s tiny achievements.
She put the triangle-shaped block through the triangle-shaped hole? WHAT SWEET VICTORY IS THIS? She correctly made a ‘twit twoo’ noise after seeing a picture of an owl? READY THE RED ARROW FLY- PAST!
You could argue that the reason some parents scale down their ambitions when they enter life with a child is because having a baby makes you less selfish. This is the common narrative, but I don’t buy it. I have always thought that having a baby, rather than being a selfless act, is the most selfish thing a person can do. ‘I adore me so much I’d like to make another tiny ‘half me’ that I can cuddle and kiss before introducing them to the All Saints back catalogue.
Yes, having my daughter has made me less overtly self-obsessed, but that’s largely due to me being so busy nurturing the piece of myself that is within her. Children are a physical manifestation of the ambition of their mothers and fathers. They are our hopes and dreams. What I’m saying is, if my daughter doesn’t win an Oscar by the time she’s 18, I will expect a public-funded enquiry.
My C-section scar lurks just below the top of my knickers. My breasts are deflated, dragged down by the time they spent being a constantly-replenishing-vending-machine.
My stomach is spongy and quivering, like a panna cotta that’s been out of the fridge for too long. My body has decided that it’s best if it keeps hold of some of the four stone I put on when pregnant, presumably for a rainy day.
For the first year after my daughter was born, I would look in the mirror and not understand what I saw there. That wasn’t me. On my bad days, I go through a horrid ritual where I’ll get out of bed, go into the bathroom and stare in the mirror to see how disappointing the body I’ve woken up in is today. I wonder why I haven’t ‘snapped back’ like the women I see on Instagram.
On my good days, though, I stare at myself and know that my body has given the ultimate sacrifice. Just like Bruce Willis in Armageddon when he gives up his own life in order to explode an asteroid heading towards earth, my stomach selflessly relinquished all hope of ever appearing in a crop top again in order to create my Ratbag. How dare I think these horrible things about my perfectly imperfect flesh. I look utterly knackered because I am utterly knackered and yet, even if I may forget it sometimes, I know what size pants I wear is the least interesting thing about me.
Pre-baby, my body was a show home – bright, aspirational and tastefully lit by stylish lamps from Heals. But then my baby moved in and the walls got scuffed, the carpet got stained and one of the lamps got broken during a game of indoor frisbee. The ‘show home’ became a ‘home’. It’s now very unlikely to feature on any Pinterest boards, but what it lacks in chic decor it makes up for in stories and heart. My body has incubated, born and nourished my favourite thing in the world, so the least I can do is cut the trash talk.
Becoming a parent heaves the remains of your old life into a skip, covers it in petrol and flicks in a lit cigarette. Everything is different. You are constantly tired both physically and mentally. I am forever chastising myself about some new aspect of parenting I am failing at. What if I am not playing with my daughter enough or reading to her enough, teaching her enough, nourishing her enough, seeing her enough, leaving her enough, loving her enough, disciplining her enough?
What if trying to be a good mother is making me a bad wife? Is it possible to do both properly?
As a couple, having a child has forced us to reevaluate everything we had previously thought set in cement. Our daughter has irrevocably changed our priorities, the little rat.
She has ruined my life, undoubtedly. But unlike in the first year where all I could see was a swinging wrecking ball amid a cloud of devastation, now I view it more as demolishing something in order to rebuild a new unseen future, like an episode of Grand Designs. And what is an episode of that show without some mounting jeopardy like, ‘bespoke hand-crafted 12-foot window doesn’t fit’, or ‘crucial delivery of waterproof membrane is delayed in Belgium’.
Yet regardless of what issues the couple building the house face, there they will be at the end – sitting at a dining table, cradling prop mugs of tea in the sensational home they have battled to turn into a reality. Creating this fresh life has meant sacrificing their old one. It has cost them everything in order to become their new everything. You can’t have one without destroying the other.
My own post-child ‘life rebuild’ continues every day. It’s still a bit of a construction site. Not all the walls are up, and I definitely still have occasional stints in the on-site caravan but, day by day, I see the progress and beauty of our new hard-fought existence built on the foundations of our old one. It gives me certainty that becoming parents was worth the initial wreckage.
I have no idea whether I’ll end my life being a mum of one or a mum of two, or perhaps a mum of one and then surprise twins, or maybe a mum of one and owner of new tits. But what I do know, is that the child I have has been worth all the mess, all the noise and all the destruction.
She has ruined my life in the best way possible.
This is an edited extract from My Child and Other Mistakes by Ellie Taylor (Hodder Studio, £16.99), out now