When we began to share our happy news that we are expecting a baby it was a strange experience.
Not only did I feel peculiar sharing such a huge life-altering slice of news with friends, family and strangers after keeping it safely contained between just the two of us, but a small part of me feared the reactions we would receive. Not because I expected horrified intakes of breath or pitchforks to be raised — even through the early hormonal fog of the first trimester I knew we were sharing GOOD news — but because you never really know if people think you’re going to be any good at being a parent. Aside from almost fantastical conversations about becoming a mother when I was still an age that babies were a distant dream like earning more than I spent or buying furniture from a shop that didn’t start with I and end in KEA, I’ve never sat down and asked those who know me best, “So, do you think I should pop one in the oven? Do you think I’ve got what it takes? Or should we get a dog first and see how that goes?”.
These are rather the questions you ask yourself and your partner because, quite rightly, it’s nobody else’s decision to make.
So when we did tell friends and family our happy news, I’m not sure what I expected, but when the floods of “Congratulations!” rolled in, I found myself thinking, “That’s odd.” Or rather, “That’s lovely, but it’s still odd.”
I realised then that “congratulations” is a term I associate with success already achieved, most importantly through a ton of scar-leaving hard work. It’s a term I lapped up when I got my first Brownie badge. It’s a word I accepted proudly when I passed my GCSEs and A-Levels and got a place at the university of my choice. It’s praise I accepted when I got the undergraduate degree I wanted and then completed a possibly completely unnecessary Masters in European Law. It’s a word that brought tears to my eyes when I published my first and second books. Because, yes, I worked flipping hard to do all those things.
But “Congratulations on getting pregnant!”. It didn’t really feel like it applied. Without going into too much detail, we were lucky. It happened quickly and naturally. Besides, surely the hard work was just about to begin? And isn’t it set to continue for, well, the rest of my life? Surely the earliest you should congratulate me is when the kid is 18 and he or she has made it to adulthood, hopefully relatively unscathed?
Besides, when I think about bringing up a child, I’m not sure I even know what success looks like let alone how to achieve it. Regardless, I can already say with my hand on my heart and the fingernails of my other hand in my mouth, quickly getting chewed down to the cuticle, I’m extremely confident that as a mother, I’m going to have just as failures as successes. I’m trying to make my peace with that before they actually happen when I begin riding a rollercoaster I’m unable to get off laterthis year.
Of course, despite it nurturing an already blossoming flower bed of doubt and self-distrust, I accepted the countless “congratulations” we received and I did my best to smile and answer questions about when the baby was due (“end of July”), if it was a boy or girl (“too early to tell”) and how I was feeling (“I’m fine!!” I’d say in a voice like Ross from Friends in that “FAJITAS!” episode). Then I would go away sit down by myself and allow the many concerns that kept me company inside to come to life and have a very loud, uncomfortable conversation with myself.
It was only when one of my best friends pulled me in for a bleary-eyed hug and whispered the following words into my ear that I felt something close to potentially deserving of all those “congratulations!”.
“You’re going to be such a fantastic mum!”
And then again, when we told a couple we both know.
“You’re going to be amazing parents!”
And in an email from a friend who lives on the other side of the world.
“That kid’s so lucky to have parents like you!”
Now, I don’t know if I’m deserving of these not-yet-realised accolades or if over the years I’ve subconsciously reduced my friendships down to just the most generous of souls, but these were the words that made me feel good. These were the words that made me feel like yes, I can do this. These were the words that helped me silence the doubt that my voice alone is sometimes too quiet to shout down.
I don’t know much about being pregnant — I’m only halfway through my first, and I spent much of my first trimester expecting a cheeseburger to show up in the first ultrasound scan — but I do know that regardless of how planned the pregnancy was and how prepared any first-time mother feels before the pregnancy test shows a positive result, during the many months that follows she will ride wave after wave of anxiety, fear and doubt. She will question the silliest of decisions (“Should we find out if it’s a boy or a girl?”) and she will fall apart when faced with the hardest (“Do you want to have the combined test?”).
So, if you do find out a friend of yours is pregnant or their partner is expecting and you feel they’re going to prove to be a fantastic parent, then tell them so. You honestly don’t know how far that vote of confidence will go. It could even make them become the brilliant parent you know they can be.
(Photo taken in the garden of this beautiful villa we stayed in near Lucca, Tuscany.)
Frances M. Thompson
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