Blue skies. Sunlight dappling through trees. My toddlers, with dirty feet and bare legs. Sliced carrots and hummus, polystyrene cups of ‘yaya’ – nothing fancy, but enough. Armfuls of baby, my grey shadow curled at my feet. This is the maternity leave that I have been waiting for, the two weeks’ hiatus from reality.
In the weeks leading up to the girls’ birth this consumed my thoughts. I could almost feel it: the warmth of the sun on my closed eyelids, the tickle of the occasional ant running over my leg. The sweet taste of the raspberries, the watermelon. Adult conversation: a chance to catch up with Kirsty, to laugh with her again. Toddler babble: exploring their expanding vocabularies, matching words to concepts – “Say ‘buttercup’, say ‘cloud’, say ‘cucumber, please‘.”
I wanted this so badly. The first consecutive two weeks spent with my toddlers since returning to work after their birth, a chance to know the little ones before donning office heels and kissing them goodbye. Whilst the other women in my ‘due month’ group monitored their temperatures, I watched the weather forecast and willed them to wait for the sun.
Of course having newborn twins isn’t easy, don’t misunderstand me, and newborn twins plus toddler twins are almost enough to turn anybody grey, but these are the memories that I want to treasure forever, that I want to look back on when I am old and feeble and my grandchildren can hardly believe that I was ever a mother, that ever we rocked our babies like they rock their babies and fed them stretched out in a meadow full of overgrown grass. When my toddler boys and my tiny girls are quite big and they sit out in the garden to argue into the night and we retire to bed early, both glad and a little wistful to give them that freedom, I want to remember that we had these moments, these hazy sunlit days where my eyes met hers over a cacophony of child and we felt so pleased, so unspeakably proud, to call them all ours.
I know that I’m not a ‘natural mother’ in the way that she is, even though I grew them and birthed them and her role started out so differently. I know that this morning I tried to fake it for the visiting midwives and when the baby urinated down my dress I very nearly dropped her, and that even though they grew under my heartbeat somehow it’s on her chest that they comfort the most easily. I know that I can’t vocalise these sentiments aloud, that I’m too British to use words like ‘love’ and ‘happy’ as though to voice it would be to tempt fate, or to offend those who don’t have what we have right now. I know that I’m more likely to refer to them as ‘little sods’ and to complain about a sleepless night than to tell a friend how happy they make me, how they captivate me.
But they do. And these moments are so beautiful to me. I want to hold on to this gorgeous, warm afternoon so badly, to pull it out of my pocket sometimes when I am in the office missing my babies and wondering if they are missing me. It’s not something to take for granted, a job that I adore and colleagues who make me glad to find myself on the Underground every morning. When I think of my job I am so grateful, so excited to be a part of the team. I love what we do, I love the energy and the way that we all feed off of each other and suddenly it is dark and we are all still in the office. But god – on Monday I shall be back in the office and my babies will be growing up without me again. And it is going to go so fast.
Months ago, somebody told me to stop being so selfish, to stay home and feed my babies. You find these trolls on the internet, people who say inflammatory things with no consideration for other people’s circumstances, for how their words might find a soft place to pierce. They don’t think about how their words might not hurt at the time but could still fester, could start to sting months down the line. At the time I didn’t bother explaining that going to work was how I feed my babies, that for every comfortable stay-at-home mum feeding her babies there must be somebody like me behind the scenes, going to work. It didn’t seem worth it. I was confident in my choices, proud to be able to provide my family with nice things. And that troll? I don’t even remember her name.
But that’s not to say that my heart won’t feel bruised when I close that door on Monday morning. When I miss that first smile, that first word. When I feed them myself for the last time and I hear those words in my head, stop being selfish. I’ve been trying to remind myself that it’s not just for my own benefit that I go to work, that we all need for me to be the working parent in this family. But it’s hard when you can’t explain that to the toddlers who are wearing your shoes and sobbing at the door, it’s hard when you can’t explain to the baby that loves to breastfeed that you won’t be there for that in the morning, that your supply is going to plummet and perhaps you won’t be able to feed at night either. It’s just hard. Sometimes the right thing to do isn’t the easiest thing to do, even when you love it too.
Sometimes you need blue skies and to stay up past bedtime to have a picnic in a meadow. Sometimes you need to fortify yourself on bright memories, to store them for the drought like a camel in the desert.
I am going to miss them so much.