Before we’d even really considered the idea of having an actual real-life baby, my boyfriend and I discussed at great length (usually fueled by at least one bottle of the Co-op’s finest £5 Malbec) the kind of parents we wanted to be.
You come in to contact with a lot of different parenting styles over your life, and it’s funny how they shape your vision of what you do want and what you definitely, definitely do not want.
You look at your own parents, maybe your grandparents. You look at friends and relatives. You look at strangers in the street and people on TV shows. And you look at people on social media, both Instamums and decade-ago acquaintances lost to the crevices of your Facebook feed.
And the one thing we knew was that we didn’t want who we are or how our lives look to change that much.
I wanted nights out with cocktails and bad singing, I wanted overnight work trips that looked 427532675 more glamorous than the reality, I wanted manicures and solo coffees and time to do all the things that feel as if they bring my mental health back into the golden sparkly zone. The things which refilled my cup and allowed me to step back and see just how glorious my life was, even when it felt like sleepless nights and leaky boobs were threatening to bring me down.
But I’m not sure I ever anticipated just how hard those things would be to entwine into new mum life.
Because those newborn days are so crammed with intense love, but they are also beyond all-consuming, and it is hard after a lifetime of living selfishly to suddenly have to dedicate your every move to someone else. Every single shower and hot cup of tea and mouthful of dinner has to be fought for and is no longer a given, and it’s an entirely new way of living with can take some adjusting to.
So I started setting myself little goals and communicating them to Chris.
Wanting to get to the end of the first week post-baby having applied my make-up just once. Getting to the end of the second week having left the house for a manicure, whilst Chris drove around town to keep the baby asleep so that he wouldn’t scream for boob whilst I was choosing my Shellac shade. Getting to the end of week three having eaten one avocado-laden brunch out of the house as a family. To the end of week four with time to write a blog post and check in with the outside world.
We took him into London at six weeks so I could work, and left him with a grandparent at seven weeks so I could wolf down a massaman curry at a local restaurant and enjoy my first Pornstar Martini in over a year.
At nine weeks I tackled London solo with the pram, and had my first night out with the gals from my NCT group.
And then we did overnight hotel stays and ordered chocolate pudding room service, we booked a family holiday abroad, and I started trotting off for meetings with a breast pump in my bag.
And then, earlier this year, I decided we should go to New York.
My original plan was that we would take Atti with us.
It would be a challenge! Something fun! Everyone would think we were crazy! But we could do it! LOOK AT US TRAVELING THE WORLD WITH A BABY NO BIG DEAL!
My boyfriend, however, did not share my rose-tinted vision of pushing a buggy through Central Park. So we were very, very, very lucky when his mum stepped in and offered to take some annual leave to look after him whilst we trotted off on our own.
I was obviously pretty apprehensive at first. Overnight sleepovers? No problemo. But an entire FIVE nights away from our teeny tiny nine-month old baby? I dunno, maybe not.
Weirdly, Atti’s wellbeing was never something which I ever questioned. I knew he would be looked after. I knew he would be safe and loved and happy. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a small kid – so the legend goes, I once spoke more Polish than English (I cannot say more than about four words in the language now) – and it has always been one of my most treasured experiences, so I didn’t hesitate that Atti should have the same.
But I worried that what I was doing was selfish. That it made me a bad parent. That it was a sign I was more than happy to put myself before my baby. I worried that the guilt of all of the above would stop me enjoying the trip. And I worried that society and social media would judge me for abandoning my little creature, providing proof that I was in fact as awful as I sometimes believed.
In the end, the way I began to justify it to myself was to repeat that mantra about how you can’t look after someone else unless you’re look after yourself, but also to look at other online mums who I admired who had done similar things and appeared to be thriving. (I say appeared because you never really know, do you?)
I am forever inspired by Fleur De Force’s continued travel and work ethic since becoming a mum, and look to friends like Erica Davies as proof that you can still be an awesome parent and say yes to lots of opportunities.
And I realised that so long as your kids are safe and fed and they know that you are there in the background, ready to drop anything and everything the minute they really need you, it doesn’t matter how you fill the rest of the space.
And so we went to New York just the two of us, and as soon as I got over the pangs of guilt that hit me right in the feels at about 30,000 feet whilst sipping on champagne, I had a really, really bloody excellent time.
In fact, I realised I actually really do quite like my boyfriend and came home ready and raring to read ‘That’s Not My Kitten/Princess/Pirate/Tiger’ on repeat for at least the next six months.
And what could be better than that?