My body hoarded the baby selfishly; a dragon wrapped around gold. Or at least, that was how I felt about crawling past forty-one weeks, how my mind tried to smother the anxiety that my body was broken, inert. My babies, I told myself, always go late, and I made myself remember how it felt to creep past forty-one weeks with the girls and the rush of relief that I felt when my waters broke with a reluctant trickle one morning. Still, I was afraid. The final weeks of pregnancy do that to me, strip away my confidence in myself and leave me wound as tightly as my daughters’ musical carousel. Every time somebody speculated as to why the baby hadn’t come yet, I wanted to cry. I felt ready, so ready. And yet there was always a reason to delay: sick children at forty weeks, my own cold at forty-one, a surprise hole in the birth pool. I wondered if this was why the baby would not come; I wondered if I was the problem.
At forty-one plus three, when I was thirty minutes more pregnant than I had ever been (and goodness me, was I counting every one of those minutes) I requested a sweep from Edward Scissorhands. We laughed about it: “Am I bleeding?” “.. No?” “Then you’re not being vigorous enough!”. I barely dared to hope, and yet on my way home I deviated into Sainsbury’s and bought all of the ‘ready meals’, and whilst my daughters napped and the boys watched the laptop I asked Kirsty to paint my nails and to help me shave my legs. We snapped a photo; I held a pumpkin for scale. And that night, following an afternoon walk with the four whilst they were still just the four, and a vigorous march to the next town over with my boys (their small, cold hands in mine), the slow descent into labour began.
[Video by Hannah Palamara Honestly Feminine]
Forty-two weeks exactly, before birdsong, when it was still dark outside, I felt the curious sensation of one being unzipped and then suddenly, astonishingly, there was Vita. A wet, bloody head tucked beneath my chin, and I always think that this time I won’t cry and inevitably I do. Her birth felt like magic; she was the rabbit inexplicably pulled from the hat. And I was the magician.
Vita Marina Calliope, 8lbs 1oz and with a head like a British Bulldog. That unzipping sensation came back to haunt me, with two hours in theatre to stitch back together the star-shaped damage she caused by smashing her way out, and with the fortnight I spent mostly in bed following her birth where sitting or standing, much less moving, felt impossible.
We brought her home (on the bus, two buses, and I will never understand how I managed to survive those bus rides; I can only assume that the intravenous painkillers were still swimming through my blood). She met her siblings and my heart felt like a hot air balloon, swollen and floating. My sons sung her lullabies, my smallest girl called her ‘Beeta, my baby’ and little Olympia mostly ignored her in favour of me but she doesn’t dislike her and for now, that feels like enough.
Vita’s birth was magical and empowering, but the recovery hit me like a sledgehammer – over, and over, and over. Recovering physically from Vita’s birth was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Years ago, I walked around nonchalantly on a fractured ankle for three weeks before it was diagnosed. But this? Almost broke me. I had so many plans for my maternity leave with Vita – daydreams of woodland walks with baby in sling, of teaching the girls to count to twenty and the boys to read – and I did none of it, I only spent two and a half weeks in a nest of towels and duvet, curled around a little girl. I was afraid that I would never heal; I was afraid that I would be damaged forever. But slowly, slowly, the bruising receded and things began to feel more normal. On the day that she turned a fortnight old, when the sky was velvety grey and the leaves not yet brown but that gloriously rich shade of ember, I left the house for the first time. My legs were as wobbly as Bambi, but it felt wonderful to be independent again.
Our little girl smiled early, first at us and then, by her third week in the world, at her siblings too. Of all of our babies, she is perhaps the easiest; she is peaceful and content, engaged and delighted by everything. And greedy; she took to breastfeeding like jam to toast and was well above her birth weight by her ten-day check, but she is quite happy with a bottle as well. She is, as my grandmother put it, a dear little soul. She fits in well here. We are so fortunate. And so happy. Mothering five little ones certainly brings its challenges, but I am so glad that we decided to bring her into the family so soon – she is absolutely meant to be here.
After three weeks away from work, including the three days of labour before she was born, I returned to the office this week. I’ll write about that separately because I always have so much to say about balancing motherhood and my career, but it was equally as heart-wrenching to walk out of the front door as it was the right thing to do.
And that was our November! What a beautiful, wild month it has been. How lucky we are. Scroll down to see my favourite photographic captures from this month.