30 Floors Up

Today is my 30th birthday, a day that should by all accounts feel like a notable step up the ladder of adulthood. I’m typing this from the bedroom while Tristan sleeps peacefully beside me, and the only awareness I have of my age is a strange feeling like I’m stood at the top of a 30 storey building looking down at the ground and pondering how high I am, and not really knowing how I got there.

Turning 30 years old isn’t important to me because of some societal expectation that all women should fear the loss of their youth. I don’t care about that. In fact, I feel more free from the pain and fear of my adolescence and early twenties the more distant they become. And that brings me to why this age feels significant.

My early adulthood was an endurance, something to be survived. I fell to my lowest, hit the ground at a violent pace, then fell even further, through the darkest places, and finally, at the age of 24, landed in a cushion of apathy, self-destruction and disassociation. It sometimes felt as though the fall would never end and the darkness would never stop growing, but in many ways the psychosis that followed was worse, like the world existed behind a thick pane of glass with those I loved banging frantically against it to try to bring me back. Most heartbreaking was that I simply didn’t care.

But today I am thirty years old and this morning I looked at my hands and gently traced the lines and imperfections with my finger. I have scars, accidental and deliberate, and I admired those too. My brown hair is spun through with whisps of silver. My body is fat and flawed and though I don’t love it, I value it fiercely and I’m grateful for every trial it’s endured and every second of joy it’s allowed me to live.

I am thirty years old and this morning I smelled my son’s hair, a mixture of sweat, milk and sleep. I drank him in, held him close, and marvelled at his energy and joie de vivre as he jumped on the sofa and carried on conversations with his toys.

I am thirty years old and I’m pregnant with my second child. I can sometimes feel his or her movements in my stomach, a reminder as if to say, “I’m here!” and I don’t begrudge the sickness or restless nights or pelvic pain because every moment with this little one is a gift to be treasured.

I am thirty years old and I am married to a sensitive, kind and beautiful man who loves me and keeps me safe, and accepts my failings. A man who truly sees my soul and doesn’t flinch or hide. A man who has never once put me down or thought me weak. A man whose eyes first met mine across a busy room more than 8 years ago, who looked at me as though he already recognised me from another life, or perhaps the one we had to come.

My life is vast and wonderful. Every second of it is a glorious blast of light that I never could have imagined from the darkest depths of my illness. I’m beyond blessed; I’m living the kind of life I didn’t think ordinary people could easily achieve, much less a scared and damaged girl with baggage spilling out of every corner of her mind. Mine is a story of patience, strength, fear by the bucketful, and a good deal of fight. I had help along the way, from friends, family and most of all the man I now call my husband, but the decision to keep going always, always came from me. I dusted myself down and carried on somehow, and I thank myself and my courage every day for what I gave myself, which is a life, a real, beautiful life to be grasped with both hands.

I am thirty years old and I didn’t always think I’d be here to see this birthday. I believed with every conviction that one way or another my illness would beat me. It’s not something I spoke about or something I feared; it simply was, and that’s why today isn’t a milestone for me, it’s a tribute to survival and a war fought and won. To glance at everything around me, everything I have and all I’ve become, is to look upon a private battlefield covered in daisies; pretty little miracles growing out of tired old earth, and the best view is right here, from thirty floors up.

Here We Go Again!

It was back in March, on Mother’s Day, during a chilly walk through Eyam with Tristan asleep in his pram that I first talked about the fourth member of our family:

“Even though I’m incredibly happy right now I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something’s missing. Someone is missing.”

We talked about the pros and cons and hypothetical timelines, all the while knowing we weren’t quite ready for another leap into chaos. So we left our words to hang in the cold air and went home, unaware then that just by talking about our child we’d conjured him or her into existence. Not literally of course, but in our thoughts, nestled at the foot of every conversation about the future.

You see, we hadn’t thought we’d have another baby so soon after Tristan. The year following his birth was long and difficult and I had a lot to work through. We were happy, but it was the sort of happiness that’s finely interwoven with other things like exhaustion and confusion, and a whole host of feelings that are too small and fleeting to identify but come together to weave the complicated lace of new parenthood.

And of course I wasn’t well. The illness I had was what’s generally considered ‘invisible’ but the dark circles under my eyes, the weight loss and gain, the tears, the anger, the apathy – they were far from hidden. I wondered for a long time whether I’d ever feel whole again, or at least fixed, but I soon realised that wholeness is a concept I left behind the moment I became a parent. My son takes pieces of me wherever he goes; part of my recovery was accepting that and even enjoying it.

This baby has a piece of me now. In some ways he or she has all of me while I feed, nourish, and keep them safe.

So much feels different this time – the debilitating sickness for a start.  Yet one striking similarity was the speed with which we conceived. From a decisive agreement to start trying in July to staring at the second pink line on a pregnancy test was a total of 2.5 weeks. Like with Tristan there was hardly time to pause for breath before we were catapulted back into the familiar spiral of dates, sickness and food-aversion. We’re very, very lucky and I’m grateful every day for our fortune, but a downside of that luck is the sudden change of pace and direction, seemingly out of the blue. It’s like we set off an explosion in the relative tranquility of our lives and only afterwards realised what it meant. I spent the week after the positive test in a state of shock, peeing on sticks day after day to be absolutely certain.

The hows and whys aren’t what matter though, not really. The fact is that I’m growing another life, and looking at my sleeping son right now I’m overwhelmed by the thought of there soon being two human beings to love this much. It’s terrifying and I know there’ll be days when I think I can’t do it. I wonder if I’m strong enough, if truly there is enough of me to adequately nurture two little lives into fully grown awesomeness. Yes I’m scared, in some ways more than I’ve ever been, but what holds me together, what keeps me from collapsing under the weight of so much uncertainty and doubt, is the knowledge that in four short months I’ll meet a person who will change me in ways I could never anticipate. He or she will challenge me, inspire me, worry me, and educate me, and I will try to spend every day showing my gratitude for it.

I’ve already had my world turned upside down once before. Now it’s about to happen again I know to hold on, and most of all to appreciate every single second.