My daughter turns 1 today which is cause for much celebration; not only is it her first birthday but it marks the fact that my husband and I have made it through the first year without divorcing. No mean feat when you consider that's 365 quarrels over who's the most tired. So as we wish our darling Delphine a very happy birthday and reminisce over the moment she came to be, all while secretly punching the air saying, "We made it," five things have dawned on me:
1. I'm a better mum than I ever thought I would be.
Before I had my daughter Delphine, I had changed precisely no diapers, ever. I'd only given a baby a bottle under duress and I'd never had more than a passing conversation with a toddler. At 8 months pregnant, as my husband put together a changing table that filled half of our one bedroom apartment, I had a meltdown. I cried to my mother that we had no idea how to look after a baby. Her advice was a beacon of hope and still stands as the single most valuable bit of guidance I was given, "Take advice from others if you want to, but your baby will tell you exactly what she needs." And so my daughter has. This unspoken dialogue, which I feel in my gut, has navigated me through the most challenging of times during this first year as a mother. It has been astoundingly accurate at times when all sense could go out of the window if I didn't stop and listen. Mothering instinct is a wonderful thing.
2. You can recapture that lost sense of genuine wonder.
I may have been subjected to it 2,000 times, but whenever my daughter hears "Five Little Monkeys" her face ignites with such delight that my hardened, cynical heart leaps. As it does every time I see joy radiate from her if she's presented with her favorite toy, her father walks into the room or I do a ridiculous dance. Unabashedly, I sing all manner of made up songs in the hope I'll be rewarded with gleeful baby hand claps. Over time, you inhibit this sense of exuberance for the sake of not wanting to appear silly. To misquote Justin Timberlake, I'm ecstatic to be bringing "silly back."
3. Human beings are amazing.
Watching my child master hand-eye coordination to feed herself, the first time she pulled herself up to stand, those tentative first steps as she cruised along TV unit; all these magnificent moments of development remind me that every human had to learn how to do them. It happens at such a young age we forget a time when we couldn't do them. I have new found appreciation for skills I have long taken for granted like balancing on two legs, using a knife and fork, and going to the bathroom unaided.
4. Being selfless makes you happy.
I put myself first for, say, the first 35 years of my life. I moved from London to Sydney to New York, only with myself to consider. That's not to say I didn't think of others once in a while, but I look back and see how my actions really only began and ended with myself. Since having a child I understand what it means to truly put someone else first. I haven't entirely lost who I am through parenthood, but my daughter's needs top trump mine, every time. And I love it being that way. Becoming a mother has also given me a greater sense of compassion and humanity. I stopped eating meat in January after watching meatvideo.com (it's very distressing so if you insist on watching it, be prepared). Suffering affects me in a far greater way than before, and if changing my habits will affect change in some small way, then that's what I want to do.
5. I owe my parents a debt that I can never repay.
I remember being a child of 5 or 6, looking up at my mother and father in their late 30s and thinking they had all the answers. Now I find myself aged 40 with a 1-year-old and realize they, like me, were just trying their best. Mum and Dad need to be commended for getting me through to adulthood and being behind me every step of the way. Their love and support has been unwavering, even through some of my not-so-well-conceived decision making. They patiently waited their turn to be grandparents and their love is distilled to it's purest form for my child. They flew to New York to be part of the celebrations. Words won't ever convey how much I appreciate all they have done for me but I want them to know; I know.