An excerpt from

Kindness and Lies

 

‘Mothers are all slightly insane.’ JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

 

Motherhood, or LMBAHS — Left My Brains Around Here Somewhere — as it’s known by those of us who’ve experienced it, is a journey to weirdness. Being a mother is intimate and intense, profound and painful, almost too much to bear — and I’m not just talking about the labour. 

Although, once you have experienced that level of pain, the rest of your life is a cakewalk. I’ll say one thing for having a baby: however awful it is, stitches in your stomach, tears in your perineum; it’s not really wasted. You’ll never fret about Excel spreadsheets, burnt scones or how short your legs are, ever again. Once you’ve had a baby, any day you’re not pushing something the size of a frozen chicken out of your vagina is a good day indeed. 

‘Childbirth gives women a gigantic set of balls,’ writes Caitlin Moran in How to be a Woman. The high you get when you realise it’s over and you didn’t die can last the rest of your life. ‘Off their faces with euphoria and how brave they were, new mothers finally tell the in-laws to back off, dye their hair red . . .’

Nothing is impossible, after you’ve had a baby. You will look back at the person you were before and see her as weak, spineless, spoilt and overly fond of sleep. Inconsequential, undefined, like a picture not coloured-in right. Motherhood changes you. It’s the nuclear bomb that blows your previous life to smithereens, a paradigm shift worthy of Inception. I don’t think women know just how strong they really are until they have a baby, and just how little men have to do with it.

Apart from providing that essential loving spoonful, men haven’t ever really been a big part of reproduction and childbirth. In Edwardian times, as the happy event approached, they tended to feck off and map a continent, relying on a telegram to learn whether the wife had survived or if they’d have to marry her sister. By the age of Queen Victoria, if a man happened to be nearby, hovering uncertainly, the midwife generally charged him with heating water and finding towels, knowing this would occupy him for the duration.

Fathers were starting to get a bit more involved by the middle of the twentieth century. At least, they knew where the hospital was. Staying outside, in case they fainted or proximity to the birth canal put them off sex forever, each awaited his chance to say, ‘Well done. Good work. Bravo that woman,’ before retiring to the pub to ‘wet the baby’s head’.

The economist’s father was already at the pub when he was being born, returning to shuttle the baby from the birthing suite to the maternity ward, slaloming the bassinet from side to side and managing to bash it into the walls several times despite the width of the corridor. ‘I don’t know how he survived,’ says the economist’s mother, ‘but it might explain his oddness.’

My own father paced and chain-smoked during the early contractions, but was inside the delivery room holding my mother’s hand and ‘looking very romantic’ as I entered the world. My grandmother said that kind of thing ‘was never done in her day’, but she supposed it was ‘good for the men to see what we went through’. 

Sophia’s father was by my side at her birth. ‘Ew, what’s that?’ he asked, unhelpfully, before leaving to get a Moro bar. 

‘Don’t you ever fucking do this to me again!’ I screamed.

‘I won’t,’ he promised. 

To his credit, he didn’t...


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