Yesterday, as I stood deliberating over the best nappy offers in Tesco, I noticed a heavily pregnant lady and her partner stood beside me eyeing up newborn nappies. “..and I told her, this baby isn’t going to change anything!! We’ll still be out every weekend!” I heard the woman say with such conviction. “Oh I know!”, her partner said, as he hesitantly threw a packet of nappies into the trolley, “It will be just the same but with a baby in tow!”.
And I stood there, fighting back a snort of laughter, resisting the urge to tell them, “You are so wrong, your whole world is about to change and you have no idea what sacrifices you will have to make!”.
And your whole world really DOES change! Not just because of the sudden arrival of the baby, but because that tiny little baby will impact on every single area of your life. And for the next 18 years (at least!) that baby will BE your whole life and as expectant parents you just cant even comprehend how different life will be. You can try to imagine it, the sleepless nights and the dirty nappies, but the rest of it? The number of sacrifices that you are going to have to make? Inconceivable.
And as I pushed my trolley around Tesco, laden with nappies, baby wipes and fifty-seven million pints of milk, I started to think about all of the things that I have sacrificed for my children. And by the time I had got round to the check out, after three toilet dashes from Eva and a melt down from Megan, I had lost count.
It’s no big surprise that this is the top of my list, I assume it’s the top of every parents list. I used to swear that without a full ten hours sleep a night I couldn’t possibly function. I would lie in bed until noon, given the opportunity, and even then moan that I was tired for the rest of the day. But it turns out that actually I can, and do, survive on far less sleep than I ever imagined.
And its crazy because after that initial new-born stage all of my children slept through, and there is every opportunity for me to be in bed, fast asleep, well before eleven each night. And yet I lie there each night and my mind just will not switch off. I make little lists in my head – pack Evas lunch box, find Lewis’s PE bag, don’t forget Megan’s at playgroup, remember to buy Harry a new juice cup, must take the washing out of the dryer, take Lewis for new school shoes, submit the gas and electric readings, pick up prescription from Tesco, buy a birthday present for the children’s parties. And most nights I am still awake in the early hours listening to the sound of the children sleeping, the clock ticking and working out just how many hours it will be until my alarm goes off. And usually it’s around five.
2. My appearance.
In a life before children I was presentable the majority of the time. I had my hair professionally highlighted every six weeks, regular trims, an actual hairstyle that required not only washing it, but styling it with hair products and heated appliances. Now? I find myself slapping on a box-dye in between rare salon visits, using dry shampoo like its going out of fashion and slapping it back into a messy, and yet not quite messy enough to pull off the “messy”, bun. Even if there was time to brush it, let alone style it, one of my children would wrap their chubby little fists around it and pull it out by the root.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have been caught dead in flat shoes. Now I’m like Bambi on ice on the rare occasion that I break out the heels! Because when you’ve got a baby on one hip, the two-year old on the other, the three-year old clinging onto one hand and juggling the baby bag in the other, it’s all about practicality and making it through the day without breaking your neck.
Same with my clothes. I used to love buying nice clothes, and by nice I mean ones that aren’t necessarily a cotton wash. I’m talking about clothes that require hand washing or even, god forbid, dry cleaning!! Clothes that have tiny sequins that little fingers could pull or jumpers with an open weave that you can wrestle an entire baby fist through. Clothes that aren’t necessarily black, that would show the stains of dirty little hand prints, clothes that look beautiful but are entirely impractical and uncomfortable. Because when you’ve got a baby it’s all about comfort, and now 99% of the time, I’m wearing my old, worn jeans and a top I’ve picked up in Tesco.
It’s the same with jewellery. If it dangles, sparkles, twinkles or is removable….it will be snapped/broken/bent/stolen in seconds. And as I don’t fancy having my ear lobe sliced open or near decapitation by my own necklace – it’s just easier not to bother.
3. My body.
I can’t complain too much, in terms of my size I have remained a steady size 8 my whole life. I have friends who are still battling 5 stone of baby weight and living a miserable existence on Ryvita and cottage cheese, so in that way, I have been very lucky. And covered in my (100% cotton) clothes, I can just about pass as still having an alright figure of sorts, but underneath these clothes? That’s a very different story!!
Your stomach, regardless of how slim you are, shall never be the same again. There will always be some degree of sagging/stretching/crinkly looking skin below the belly button that even if nobody else can spot it – you can!!
Your face, once glowing with pregnancy hormones and youthful expectation? Give it a year and you’ll be battling crows feet and eye bags that no amount of miracle cream can shift. And if that’s not bad enough, your hair, safely tied up in your messy bun, will start to sprout grey hairs faster than you can say Nice and Easy.
As for your boobs? They are perhaps the biggest victim of my pregnancies. Imagine inflating a balloon to maximum capacity and then deflating it. Five times. Well……….that!!
4. Time with my husband.
And by time with my husband, I don’t mean that, because really, how hard is it to find thirty seconds once every few weeks anyway? I mean holding hands without having prams to push and tiny hands to hold. I mean having a kiss and a cuddle without one of the children muscling in between us or needing a nappy change. I mean conversations that don’t revolve around the children, the consistency of their nappies, the weekly shopping list or the arrangements for the many football/parties/social events that the children are attending that put our own social lives to shame.
I can’t even remember the last time that we went out for an impromptu meal or the last time we managed a trip to the cinema. Even watching a DVD at home together results in one of us snoring on the couch and the other one constantly muting the film as they are sure they can hear one of the babies crying.
5. Relaxation time.
Oh how I miss this. Pre-kids, I loved nothing more than a long, hot soak in the bath. I would fill it to the brim, sprinkle in some essential oils, light a few candles, put on a bit of Michael Buble and lower myself into those bubbles and feel the stress and tension of the day just melt away. Now? I can count on one hand the number of baths I’ve had in the last three years. In our house a shower is pushing it and so a bath is out of the question. Infact a bath has become the equivalent of a two day spa weekend. It will never happen!
6. Day Time TV
When I was pregnant with Eva the TV was my oyster. I had a little routine of getting up, watching Jeremy Kyle, This Morning, Loose Women, switch over to ITV2 for more Jeremy Kyle, Housewives of the orange county and then a quick wipe round, shove the dishes in the dish washer before Gaz got home and I could pretend to have actually done something constructive with my day. It was AMAZING! And then Eva came along and discovered Cbeebies and I waved a sad goodbye to Jezza and the Silver Fox. These days if it’s not Rastamouse, Mr Tumble, Peppa pig or Team Umi Zumi, then its Frozen. On repeat.
7. Nights out.
I still have nights out, I’m not a total recluse, and yet a night out once you’ve had children will never be the same again. You will never drink with that same wild abandon that you had pre kids, the kind of drinking that only those who know that they can spend the entire day in bed the following day can partake in. Laying in bed with a banging head, sweating out last nights triple vodka was almost a guilty pleasure. You’d sober yourself up to a point where the Mcdonalds drive through was just about achievable, demolish your double cheeseburger and fries like you’ve never been fed, and then spend the afternoon drifting in and out of consciousness watching re-runs of Friends and praying to feel human again.
With kids? It’s a case of two paracetamol and man up!! When you have four kids screeching and needing feeding, banging every noisy toy that they have ever owned and producing the most rancid nappies that test your gag reflex to the very limit, you soon learn to pass on the Jagerbombs, the round of Sambucas or that last glass of wine and you find yourself skulking off home at midnight and leaving your child-free friends to party!!
8. Being spontaneous.
Remember the days when you could just say “Lets go out for tea!” or “Lets book a hotel room, have a weekend away”? No, me either!! Having children kills your spontaneity. If you do want to go out for tea or a weekend away, it requires military planning, endless check lists and weeks of preparation. There is no such thing as spontaneity when even a simple trip to Tesco becomes a military operation. You can never accept invitations at late notice, rush out of the door at the drop of a hat or make the most of a sunny day with an impromptu picnic. Not with the four of them, not when the baby needs feeding or the bottles need sterilising or there’s four pairs of shoes to find and several thousand things, that you can’t possibly leave home without, to pack.
9. My friends.
Not all of them, but some of them? Absolutely. When you have children you change indefinitely and those who don’t understand or accept that wont last long in your life afterwards. Your friendship groups change, your social circles revolve around playgroups, playdates and couples nights planned three months in advance. You find yourself making new friends and bond over your mutual hatred of Mr Tumble, your love of F&F cardigans and the understanding that a cheese toastie down at Soft Play is as exciting as its going to get. You’re too knackered for random nights out, mid-week teas that fall slap bang in the middle of bathtime/bedtime routines and any spare time that you do have on a weekend you’d rather get on your PJ’s, order a take away pizza and grab an early night!
10. Foreign holidays.
This was one of our hardest sacrifices as there is nothing better than having a holiday to look forward to. I lived for those two weeks a year when we would pack a case, get a cheap flight over to the in-laws place in Spain and bask in the sunshine in utter bliss.
And then the three babies came along and it was absolutely out of the question. Because lets face it, the idea of getting six of us through the airport, pinning four of them in their seats for an entire flight and then spending a week making sure they didn’t burn/drown/run away would be as far from enjoyable as possible. And so we sacrificed our luxury, sunshine holidays for caravans down south or an apartment at Butlins.
11. My sanity.
Literally, from the moment of conception your sanity starts to run away from you. The worry, the paranoia, the panic about all of these crazy things happening to your body and not knowing if any of them are normal or supposed to happen. And in all honesty, having my children was the scariest thing I have ever done. Even with Lewis, before all of those other fears came into play, I worried will I be good enough? Will I know what to do? Will he love me?? And then afterwards, when being pregnant was the scariest thing in all the world, I felt every last scrap of sanity slipping through my hands as I worried would they make it here safely, will they be healthy, will they be ours to keep?
And even once they are here and the worry and panic is finally over, your sanity is then pushed to the limit with the relentless crying, the hourly night feeds and continuous nappy changes. There are days when they cry from morning til night, when you find yourself crying along with them in the corner, still wearing your pyjamas, hair hasn’t been washed in a week, and you wonder if you will ever survive with even an ounce of your sanity intact.
Because in all honesty, sacrificing these things for my children hasn’t been easy. There are times when I fantasize about jetting off to exotic locations and flaunting my pre-baby abs in dry clean only designer clothes. I think how amazing it would be to lie in the bath in the peace and quiet, nip out for an impromptu meal and a round of Jagerbombs and spend the day recovering in bed watching TV and snuggling up with my husband.
But when we made that decision to have the children I happily embraced every part of it because this was everything we had ever wanted. I have friends who say, “I don’t want to be just a mum'” and yet for me, if that’s all there is to life? JUST a mum?? Well I’ll take that and I’ll count my blessings that’s what I am.
Embracing these sacrifices doesn’t mean that I don’t miss our life pre-children, it just means that given the choice, Id choose this life a thousand times over.