Matrescence: the process of becoming a mother

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or, feeling opposing feelings, all the time, all at once.


And becoming a mother during the covid pandemic.

12 weeks - fatigue and nausea dominate. Everything other than cheese, bread and chips makes me gag. I find myself thinking of Jella a lot. Loss of that, growth of this. My body grows forward while my mind stretches backwards. My body grows life while my mind thinks death.

The 12 week scan shows it’s there, wiggling away, growing in the right place. But, ‘Just one problem, a small hematoma’, and, ‘be careful’. My twitching mouth as I silently fixate on the words. Everyone is looking at the tiny heartbeat on the screen, I’m scrambling at the edge of a hole. Why is there a hematoma and what does be careful mean? So fragile, suddenly. So desperately precious and I had better not fuck it up.

I am now the vessel. My body and this delicate life.


in a bewildering way that is completely out of my conscious control, my body is growing something inside of itself.

18 weeks - the constant nausea has left and I now mostly find myself floating in the wonder and magic of being pregnant. Senses heightened in peculiar ways (soap smells so fucking delicious I want to eat it) and I’m all the time reminded of memories I forgot I had. Stretching reality, awake dreamworld. Hesitant to admit it to myself but I sense the life is a she, and in some fleeting way she reassures me that everything is going to be alright. Surrender, release, let go.

I have my first proper vivid dream of Jella, she emerged from the edge of some woodland and I asked her, ‘Won’t you stay for a while?’, my whole self longing to feel her fur, to breathe her smell, just for a while.

20 weeks - Covid, quarantine, the absurd ritual of washing the shopping. Not allowed out. Family visits are from a distance, through the fence, no bump-hugs. Be extra careful because you’re pregnant. Don’t go anywhere - ok, not so bad for us, we have a house to build and friends quarantining with us for a month. Doctors appointments postponed, Angus can’t come to the scans anymore and mask-wearing throughout makes the whole thing more agonisingly distant and unknown. Birthing women might not be allowed a birthing partner. Suddenly Angus might not be allowed to be there for the birth of his first child and I’m faced with the possibility of giving birth for the first time, alone, without Angus there. Fucking terrifying. 

38 weeks - I don’t really understand what’s going on but I’m told to sit down behind the curtain, two straps are pulled around my bulging stomach. Baby’s heart rate. For 30 minutes I’m listening to the rhythm trotting out of the machine, wondering if I should be wondering if that rhythm is normal, whether and to whom I'm allowed to ask. A queue of socially distanced, masked women wait to do the same. Despite what unites us and that this is likely the only time we've been out of our homes in a week, nobody talks to each other, nervous suspicion. I feel a bit like a factory farm animal. It’s really hot and it is hard to breathe behind the mask. The nurse raises her eyebrows at the printout and gives me a sugary lollypop from a drawer to eat. I don't know why. ‘Baby needs to wake up, we need it to be moving more.’

Baby starts flipping about like it's having a party in there, baby is fine.

39 weeks - the doctor says we need to start to encourage labour to begin. Like all of a sudden I have conscious control of it all. She says she wants to check my cervix for dilation. Whilst her fingers are inside my vagina she does something forceful and uncomfortable that makes me out-loud yelp. A cervical sweep (an action to separate the amniotic sac from the cervix, which may induce labour). She didn’t ask. I feel like I’m supposed to thank her or something, but why do I feel violated?

40 weeks - Three hours of consistent contractions that feel stronger than the usual Braxton Hicks. We think babe is coming so we make a through-the-night journey to the hospital in the North of the country, the only one that will allow Angus to be with me throughout the birth. As we arrive at dawn, to the street outside the hospital, the contractions ease off. We check into a hotel. False-labour. 

Days pass trying to walk her out, to REALLY not get covid (haunted by the thought that a covid-positive birth might be hideously similar to the quarantine plastic tent scene from E.T.).

The rivers through the forests, 

eye contact with the otter, 

the bullfinches, 

the family of black cats that live on the roofs outside our hotel window, 

hot baths, 

dinners on our laps on the hotel bed. 

And each morning again at the check-in desk, awkward. Yes, can we pay for another night. 

‘Are you going to have your baby today?’

But try to relax, the baby won’t come out if you’re all tensed up.

41 weeks - baby is in an optimal position, in other words, it's head is wedged between my thighs and any time I walk anywhere I'm sure it is just going to slip out. All appears well. The doctors are positive and friendly and I need to go in every other day for them to check the baby. Induction booked for 42 weeks.

42 weeks - longing for this to happen of it’s own accord. Oscillating between believing that my body knows what it’s doing, having done the past 9 months just fine without me, and thinking my body might not know how to press the ‘start labour’ button. In a last ditch attempt to do something, I have a glass of champagne in the bath. Contractions kick in that night. Two days of them. Two days of no food and no sleep and I’m ready to give up. 

Angus holds me, breathes with me, keeps my forehead cool with a flannel and makes sure I'm eating the ridiculous red jelly pots (the only food allowed), but as another night approaches, we're both waning. A new mid-wife for the night shift, Patricia, glides into our dark room. She's practically luminous with kindness and for a moment I think I'm tripping. She has the encouragement and safety that helps get me through the next hours. 
And then I need to push and out it comes, slowly and surprisingly peacefully. I hold this strange, hot, wet, blood-smeared body to my chest, watch her crawl up to find a nipple. Not flooded with unconditional love in the way you hear about. Relieved, a strong instinct to keep her safe, and a desperate need to eat something and sleep. 

At 4:45am a hot plate of meatballs, cabbage and gravy appears and it will probably always be the best plate of food I’ve ever eaten

Frida Sima.

We were called to frequent post-partum appointments to measure the baby and check her development. Everything normal, healthy. The doctors and nurses coo over her easy-going temperament and I feel lucky that Frida has been seen by anyone. Word from the UK is that a significant proportion of women and their babies haven’t been seen in person by a doctor or nurse since they left hospital. We’ve also been incredibly lucky to have the continuous support of my parents, sister and a couple of close friends, checking in. It’s unbearable to think about the new parents who, because of covid or not because of covid, haven’t had that support.

Yet it wasn’t until we had a new (female) doctor at Frida Sima’s nine month appointment that someone from the health system asked, ‘And how are you doing?’.

9 months in, 9 months out, a doctor asks me a question that makes me wonder if prior to that I had mattered as more than the vessel.

Yes, I’m fine. I delight in the smell of her head, her intoxicating, infectious chuckle, how blissfully perfect it feels to hold her while she feeds, to provide the only thing that calms her instantly. Her little fingers twiddle my hair as she sucks herself into dream-land. How could anything matter to me more than this?

And yet, is it ok that breastfeeding is sometimes exhausting, even though I’ve chosen to do it? Two bouts of mastitis. I don’t want to stop, intuitively it doesn’t feel time for us to stop yet, but, responsibility is heavy. Breastfeeding is sometimes the hardest thing I love to do.

And it’s being switched on, 24-7, keeping a new creature alive. We’re told by well-meaning parents of adult children, ‘That’s it now, for the rest of your life, don’t expect it to get any easier.’ And I stare at the pile of books I’m not reading. If I’m not going to sleep while she sleeps then shouldn’t I at least be productive?

Sometimes I feel I’ve completely lost myself. I’m mourning whole massive chunks of my identity that there is no longer space for. As she blisses out on my tit I fantasise about a home studio that I’ll one day be making art in and plan out the logistics of taking a two year old to a festival next summer (LOL). I wonder if, generationally, this aspect of new-parenthood is a relatively new kind of bittersweet. The current trend of having babies later in our twenties or thirties or fourties - allowing more pre-baby time to discover what does and doesn’t drive us, who we are aside from becoming parents, and then having a baby and giving all of that up again.

The photos on the wall that she reaches for are usually the ones of Jella. We hand them to her, she pokes at the flat images, grins and giggles, as if Jella is a creature she already knows. Perhaps that's just a truth we'd like to believe.

I'm sometimes so occupied with feeding and watering the baby, I forget if I’ve fed or watered myself. Thankfully Angus is here to keep the food and drink game together. And I think about how we used to watch those mangy, female street cats turn up to scrounge morsels of food at the cafe. Skinny, manky fur, sagging tits and a litter of kittens somewhere. How the instinct to keep their young alive overcomes the instinct to care for themselves. 

New life, matters more.

And there’s the loneliness. Universal covid loneliness. For us it has been no post-natal classes or opportunities to meet and share with new parents. It hurts that some of our closest and oldest friends and extended family outside of this country, including her Great Grandma, haven’t been able to meet her yet. That they haven’t been able to really know us, as new parents. We’re thankful to be close to one couple with a baby the same age as Frida, but most of our friends are child-less. When lockdown eases, for the first time in our lives we’re the ones leaving the parties early.


We made the decision to have a baby now. 

This new thing that brings joy and fulfillment in ways that we couldn’t have imagined before we had her, ways that we can’t find the words to explain to our childless friends.


And still we miss the crowds, the music, dancing with no early bed-time because a little life is depending on us.


So conflicted, so all at once. Who are we now? 

And I wonder if it’s normal that every now and then fear takes a more suffocating hold than the child-less me had ever experienced. I live out in my mind what would happen if I somehow died, the weight of the pain of this new, helpless, little life that I’m here to protect. They tell you about post-natal depression, but what about post-natal anxiety? For the first few months the heavy dread that let itself in, uninvited, each evening, when sleep felt like the only sanctuary. I’d find myself wondering if the reason nobody tells you it’s sometimes going to be so hard or really warns you about the expanse of physical and psychological disruption, is because if they did, humans would stop reproducing.

In many of the same ways the life of the non-birthing parent is also turned upside down, but perhaps because their bodies didn’t birth the baby and they aren’t bleeding and/or lactating, there's a quietness, a shame, around their disruption that as a society we also need to be more honest about.

 The way her newborn bum fit perfectly in your hand,

Watching her pick food up and stuff it into her mouth, 

The roar she sometimes does when she stands up,

Her little hand reaching out to hold ours,

And yet it's for all the reasons, and that we've had it comparatively easier than so many other new parents, that overall my pregnancy and labour was without complication, that it feels uncomfortable to talk about the hard parts. I think there's a sense of needing to feel and appear grateful that sits universally in the awareness of new parents. We have this beautiful miracle, but even when life is changing for the best, change is hard.

We continue, because for all the ways it has dissolved our sense of self, there's a thousand more ways that it is wonderful. Because in it's turbulent, unpredictable way, it gets easier. Because the love grows so enormous, so without words, that nothing else seems to matter.