I am sitting in the living room, ploughing chocolate bourbons into my face while my 2.5-year-old has an apocalyptic, unbridled shit fit on the other side of the door, all because she wants me to re-enact, word for word, an episode of Charlie and Lola that I haven’t even bloody SEEN. Meanwhile, my napping four-month-old wakes prematurely, starts to scream and I’m thinking – God, wouldn’t it be great to drop the kids off at Mum’s place tomorrow while I sit in a dark, quiet room for a few hours.
Except I can’t, because in 2001 I left Dublin and moved to the UK. I only came over for a New Year’s Eve piss-up, for God’s sake, but twelve years later find myself still here, married to a Londoner – who I have twice allowed to get me knocked up – and I’m now a stay-at-home mother living in Brighton. And it’s at times like this, when the racket from the hallway hits such a crescendo I’m waiting for social services to turn up, that I look mournfully at my snot/puke/milk-covered trackie bottoms and really miss my family.
Yet I’m definitely not alone – certainly not in the ‘when-did-my-cute-toddler-turn-into-Satan’ thing – but in that my husband and I are effectively raising our children alone, without the blessed presence of family around the corner. As with many, many young families these days, there’s no parent, sibling or cousin to swoop in unconditionally and help out when the situation gets desperate, and the irony of it all isn’t lost on me – I couldn’t wait to get out of Dublin and put space between us, and now I’d probably sell a kidney to have Mum live here too.
Out of the ante-natal group we attended before the birth of our first daughter, only one of the six women had family also living in Brighton. The rest of us had gravitated here from all over the UK – in my case a different island entirely. We were all about to embark on the single hardest thing we had ever done and, I believe, because we all knew that none of us could crawl, weeping and milky, to our Mums’ houses in those hideous post-partum weeks, we all turned to one another and became the firmest of friends.
After the initial shyness of those classes, which no matter how cosy they try to make them ALWAYS feel like an AA meeting, all the mums-to-be met up for brunch. We waddled into a café like a line of geese and, before the coffee even arrived, had covered such mouth-watering topics as perineal massage, varicose veins in unspeakable places (guys, you don’t want to know) and tits with more lines than a Tube map. ‘So apparently you poo yourself when you start pushing, the midwife just wipes it away! Here, try the black pudding – it’s delish.’ That kind of thing. How could you not love them?
And after we all gave birth – the six babies arrived within nine days of each other – we would email and text each other all night during our interminable nocturnal feeding sessions. No correspondence, before or since, has ever made me feel more supported or made me cry laughing so much. ‘My fanny is in RIBBONS, my nipples are BLEEDING, and the PRICK is just lying there snoring again.’ Or ‘I finally felt brave enough to leave the house today. I got stuck in traffic, ran out of petrol, the dog shat all over the back seat and then I couldn’t work out how to get the FUCKING car seat into the buggy frame.’
Over the next 2.5 years, we have seen each other through teething, weaning, behavioural problems, marital strife, toilet training, financial woes, miscarriages, illness and broken bones. We have watched each other’s babies turn into toddlers, sharing in all the brilliant, magical stuff that comes with it. We’ve supported each other when some of us had to endure putting our kids into crèche to return to work. We have provided cake, tea (wine) and a sympathetic ear for each other more times than I care to imagine. Yes, we all have our other halves to talk to, but only a fellow mother can really understand what we’ve been through. The physical gorgeousness aside of pushing something the size of a grapefruit through your most intimate area, there are the hormones, the body image, the career sacrifices (for some of us anyway), the broodiness when you want a second one, despite the fact your fanny looks like a chewed orange from last time. Only your mum friends will get all that. And so, even though I miss my family like mad, I’m kind of glad I didn’t have them around. I know I would have gotten too comfortable sitting in Mum’s kitchen. I wouldn’t have been forced to get out there and meet these brilliant new people, who I’m sharing the adventure of my life with.
Suzanne with her away-from-home family. (L-R) Laura, Emily, Peigh, Suzanne, Clair and Harriet