You were born six months ago today in a blaze of spring sunlight; now autumn has crept into our bones and that seems so long ago. You were born quietly, mewling rather than crying, and the moment they passed you to me between my wobbly legs, as I stood in front of our living room fireplace, will stay with me forever as one of my most precious memories. You were pinky-blue and so slithery, a defenceless little thing that slept most of the time, as long as you were in our arms or on my chest.
And now here you are, commando crawling your way around the living room floor as I type, trying every now and then to stay up on all fours. You haven’t been a newborn for a long time, yet today for some reason feels like the definite end of that newborn stage. I loved those confusing, feeling-around-in-the-dark early days, I loved the fact that you would curl up and fall asleep on my chest, the way your head would loll back when you were milk-drunk, the way your arms moved involuntarily, as graceful as a ballerina. I was lucky to feel like that, I know.
But I love these days too. I love seeing more and more of the little girl you will be – your determined nature, your friendliness, your immense curiosity about the world. And most of all, I love seeing you develop and learn to do things. It’s amazing to think of all the things you have learnt to do in the last six months, and to think that you’re still going, that you won’t stop learning and developing.
I love you, my little girl. You have filled our hearts with such immense love and joy that there are not words good enough to express them.
Just please, please, let these next six months drag their heels and go really slowly, okay?
I always thought that spoiling children was something that happened a bit later in their lives. That it was about giving them too many presents for their birthday, or letting them have their own way when really they shouldn’t – a spoilt brat suggests the latter, no? But since becoming a parent I feel like I’ve been bombarded with information about how babies – little babies! – can be spoilt and form bad habits from the day they’re born. How nursing, rocking or comforting them to sleep means they will never fall asleep alone. That letting my daughter sleep in my bed will mean we never get her out of it. Warnings of how picking up or hugging babies every time they cry is “giving in” to their apparently manipulative demands.
And you know what, I’m fed up. So I’m saying bollocks to all that.
You cannot spoil a child with love. You cannot hold or hug or just plain love a baby too much. Babies thrive on love. They thrive on attention and affection, not because they’re greedy or manipulative, but because they’re tiny little human beings who learn to relate to the world through us.
So yes, I feed my baby to sleep every night. When she wakes, I either rock her back to sleep or I feed her again. Of course, there are nights when I’ve trundled upstairs for the sixth time in two hours when I just wish she could fall back asleep by herself, I’m only human after all. And nights when I start to listen to those critical voices and wonder if I haven’t made a rod for my own back. But I know, really, that I am doing what feels – and is – right for both of us. Just as I know that this will not last forever – it might not even last another six months, let alone a year. Before I know it she will be thirteen and headstrong and I will forget that I ever worried about ruining her with these “bad habits”.
These things don’t teach her that she can manipulate her parents. They don’t teach her that she will always get her own way. They teach her – they show her – that she is loved. That when she cries I will comfort her, that when she needs me I will come running. At the moment I sit at the centre of her universe; I know I won’t always be in that position, but these things will never stop being true.
I don’t know what I expected motherhood to be like, but I’m not sure it was like this. Not this heaviness – not heavy with dread, or sadness, or tiredness (though there is plenty of that), or displeasure, no, but a heaviness born out of love and a primal need that I can’t find the words to explain, but which I feel in my bones every time I hold the soft, round weight of my daughter. Through her I feel in many ways born anew, and yet never before have I been so aware of my own mortality and frailty, or of the passage of the earth around the sun, the year disappearing in a blur of days where happiness is an unexpected giggle and the soft hand of Lydia clutching at my side.