Her friend nodded – and as she placed her cup back on its saucer with a noisy clunk, I flinched.
The coffee shop was busy, but I was on my own with Mabel (who was carefully picking up the raisins on her highchair one-by-one and dropping them silently on the floor) and I could hear every word of their conversation as they chatted away on the table next to me.
My lips pursed, desperate to turn to them – but knowing my eavesdropping would never be welcomed.
Because the thing is, I didn’t hate the newborn days.
And I’m really not lying when I say that.
I remember the difficult bits. The sleepless nights that feel like they’re going to break you. The belief that you will never, ever stop having to change those giant maternity pads. The pain of breastfeeding in the early days – and the constant worry that they aren’t getting enough. The pain that tore through my body when I forgot about the stitches for a moment and moved too freely. The unexplained crying that had you googling at 3am wondering what the hell was wrong with your baby. I remember it all. I haven’t forgotten.
But those heavy cuddles, the milky smell of the back of their heads, the chance to stare at their faces as they slept after months and months of dreaming, and the adrenaline and excitement of a complete shift in our family dynamic – that was enough for me. That was enough to make me look back with the fondest memories and wish I could keep doing it, over and over again.
Through the buzz of the café, the voices on the next table drifted in my consciousness again.
“It’s when they walk and talk that I start enjoying it,” she continued. “They become little people and I can finally breathe. That’s the best bit. That’s when it gets good.”
Right on cue, Mabel launched the empty packet of raisins across the room and demanded ‘UP UP UP!” As she attempted to fight her way out of the high chair straps to stand up, I sighed. I was only halfway through my cup of coffee – and after at 4.30am wake-up that morning, I was exhausted by her endless energy, her sass, her determination. I adored her – oh gosh, I really adore her – but just for a moment, I wished she could be a sleepy newborn alongside me in her basinet.
We left that café shortly afterwards and I thought about that conversation quite a bit over coming days. I knew I wanted to spin the way I felt into words – as I so often do as a writer – but I couldn’t quite work out how to tell the story without making it sound like I wasn’t enjoying Mabel at this age.
Because there are parts of this stage that I just adore. I go to bed every night laughing about her latest antics, flicking through photos of her beaming at me on a swing, and chatting to my husband about the new words she has suddenly blurted out or new skills she has suddenly acquired. In fact, I often utter the words: “I wish I could freeze time so she stays like this forever,” before yawning on the sofa and falling asleep.
But the truth is that I’ve always found motherhood a bit easier when my toddlers turn 3 years old and I’m able to communicate, negotiate, and explain. And not having to worry about them falling down the stairs, running off in the park, or trying to scale the tallest slide in the playground. I find it less physically exhausting when they master sleeping through the night, entertaining themselves to some degree so I can tidy the kitchen, and not having to lug a giant bag out with us wherever we go.
I think my point is that we are all different as mothers. And because of that, we find different parts easy – and different parts hard. We have different newborns, different toddlers, different patience levels, and different personalities.
And what one mother tells her friend, while sipping a coffee in a busy café, can be completely different to what another feels, eavesdropping on the table next door.
So despite my tongue wanting to leap into action to turn to them and say: “IT’S NOT TRUE! I LOVE THE NEWBORN BIT! MY GOD, I WISH I COULD GO BACK NOW AND DO IT ALL AGAIN! THIS IN THE HARD BIT! THIS IS THE BIT THAT DRIVES YOU TO THE BRINK OF MADNESS” I was right not to.
Of course I was.
I was right to stay quiet, pick up the raisins from the floor, and leave that café muttering ‘well, everyone is different’ under my breath.