What is it like to have a child?

I was asked – what is it like to have a child? To have children? The person asking was trying to decide whether or not to have children and if they did – when? Is there a perfect time? When do you know you’re ready? Do you just know?

And I said – I have no idea, because really I don’t. I don’t think you can prepare – not really. You can buy the cot and buy some nappies and read the books but everything falls away when you hold your baby for the first time. And then again and again and again it changes.

The car seat capsule is no longer just a car seat capsule that you bought because the price was right or it looked safe or the bored teenager at the shop said “this is our most popular model” or it was gifted or given or shared or hired.

You put it in the boot “just in case”. Maybe joked about how weird it will be when one day you will turn around and in the back seat will be your baby. Your baby.

You’re going to be a parent I mean how? You’ve got the capsule. That’s the main thing you need right if you’re giving birth at the hospital. You’ve got to get this baby home and then you parent right? That’s how it works surely…

When we left the hospital the first time with our first baby – I crawled into the back seat on reflex. We had been together 37 weeks and I wanted to stay as close to him as I could. I sat right next to him. Still sore. Head spinning from lack of sleep. Nursing an aching heart.

He looked so tiny in the capsule. He wrapped his tiny fingers around mine. I touched his tiny ears. Marvelled at his perfect little nose. Gently stroked his cheek.

His beautiful big eyes gazed up at me and I thought – this is all I want forever.

And that is what it’s like to have children. Every day very normal things are filled with wonder because your child is here and you get to parent them. You were lucky enough to have this child and they’re exquisite because they’re yours and you love them so much it feels like you’re carrying your heart around everywhere.

The second time around the capsule was again magical as I climbed a little more confidently into the back seat and sat again, his little fingers around mine. I marvelled at his tiny ears so like his brother, his perfect nose. I gently stroked his cheek.

And he gazed up at me, just hours after his birth, and I told him about his brother. Tears streaming down my face. Still overwhelmed by the beauty and enormity of the moment.

My love tumbled out in an incoherent mess of words – You will love your brother. He already loves you. We love you. We are so glad you’re here. Welcome. Look at you! You’re the best, most beautiful baby, we belong to each other. We will look after you, keep you safe, love you so much. I promise, we promise. It’s going to be so good my little one.

And I thought again, please, let me just have this forever.

And it’s often said we don’t get moments forever. Of course, they grow like weeds and get so tall out of nowhere and they get a haircut (and you’re like – you are not a baby when did this happen). Of course. And no futures are promised to us, how fragile we all are. Some moments aren’t forever.

But that’s not the end of the story.

We are told we will never have that moment again and I don’t know that that’s very fair in many ways. The specific moments are, of course, different – frozen in time – but that same hum of breathtaking, heartbreaking love revisits you over and over and over. The feeling, it stays.

When my boys are playing – shrieking and whooping with delight, chasing joy – suddenly the sun hits golden hair just so and I catch a smile, and in a rush that hits me so hard tears prick my eyes I see their little ears, perfect noses, flushed cheeks and those beautiful blue eyes.

And I think, no – you can’t prepare for this specific type of magic.

The warmth, the comfort of truly being so content in a moment because my gosh we get this, my gosh we are so lucky we get this. Maybe not forever but for now. And around the corner is four-years-old (how?) and nights slept all the way through (I hope, I hope) and new battles and challenges and moments of gold and moments of grey and heartache and broken bones and first days of school and sleepovers and everything all wrapped up into lives lived.

But for now, let me have this moment forever. I have this moment forever.

This is what, I think, it is like to have a child.


8 Comments on “What is it like to have a child?

  1. That’s lovely, and so true. I think that the one thing my husband and I were not prepared for was the overwhelming fear. We were prepared (oh so prepared after years and IVF) to love this baby SO much, but neither of us were prepared for the terror of this little bundle being entrusted to just us. The first time he got hurt (briefly, his Dad tapped his head on the ceiling when he lifted him too high) we ALL cried, all three of us. I still sob when he really, really hurts himself, but only after I know he is OK and not permanently maimed and the relief tears come. I know babies, I have been around babies, but this one is MINE and, nearly two years on, I still marvel that I am his Mama. I thought this again today when he got hurt and bypassed my mother (the most motherly person I know, with decades of adoring mothering and grandmothering practice) to run to ME, because I was his Mama.
    So if you can live with having a piece of your heart living outside of your body for ever more, doubling (or tripling, or quadrupling, depending on how many you have) your capacity for joy and love and terror, but not being in control of it or what might happen to it, then you’re probably “ready”!

  2. Beautiful, Emily, I totally agree. My girl will be 20 in a month (??!!) & it’s not so rarely that I look at her and my eyes water with how glad I am that I get to have her in my life. They’re magic.

  3. Yes! It is a new kind of love. I just gazed at my boy for days after he was born and drew hearts on his beautiful little face with my finger. And I never thought I’d be like that. And I cried at the thought that even when he’s all grown up I’ll still be his mummy. My darling boy is nearly two and he is the absolute light of my life. If you never experience this love you’ll never know you’re missing it, but once you have it, you know a different kind of love.

  4. I love this post, it shows ONE beautiful experience of having a child. I think the title is misleading, however. This is not ‘what it is like to have a child.’

    Because let me tell you what it was like for me: My birth was rough. I lost a lot of blood. I stared at my child after he came out, and all I felt was curiosity. Just a sense of: ‘oh, look at this mucky little thing.’ The following months were rough. Emotionally and physically. Every time I looked at him, I didn’t feel love like you describe it Emily. Only … he was mine, you know. He was mine and I had to look after him. He was not a good sleeper and a voracious eater. I spent that first year battling wave after wave of exhaustion. My depression flared up. And I dealt with it because I had to look after him. I asked for help, I cried, I argued with my husband and we got creative around how to argue less in the future. Looking back, I think the flare-up was an invitation for me to change. And I did. Having a child was a catalyst for that. I felt, not love, but responsibility in that first year, and I am so very grateful for the mothers who had written articles on the internet to let me know that that was enough. That it was ok that I wasn’t in love … to have patience because that love would come in time – in one year, or two, or three …

    After my little one turned one, I started to recover from the ‘metamorphosis of motherhood’ … it actually took my body that long to recover physically from the birth. I started ‘feeling like myself again’ and felt able to emerge into the world. And it was only after he turned one that I started feeling something sweet and smiley. I looked down at my little toddler (he was already bumbling about by then!) and saw his little smile, and felt his little arms around my neck … and what do you know, there was such a beautiful sense of love inside me. It came as a surprise!

    Anyway … I just wanted to post this here because it was so very important to me during that first year to know that IT IS OK NOT TO BE IN LOVE WITH YOUR NEWBORN. Because perhaps there is something else you need to feel first? Perhaps there is some change you need to be open to? Perhaps there are some barriers that need time to come down :-). Just know this: it is always ok what you are feeling, even if it isn’t what you or anyone else expects.

    • Thanks for your comment Liz and I’m sorry you had a difficult entry into parenthood. This post absolutely is just one parent’s view. That’s the nature of most personal blogs – I’m just one mum writing about how life is for me. I found most of my parenting journey has had big ups and downs and my first child was in particular such a shock. Waves of exhaustion is something I still feel every day with my second – I’ve written about all of the ups and downs and this is one of the times I’m sharing one of the ups. I think that’s important to do. Having struggled with depression during my pregnancies (which I’ve also written about) I totally understand the disconnect. To me, and I’m speaking only from my own experience as we all are, that disconnect was a sign that I needed help. I reached out and talked to my midwife and though it was terrifying I’m glad I did, I got help, I got support, and best of all – I got that connection. I’d encourage any mums feeling that to talk to their GP or midwife. It was the best thing I ever did. It saved my life and my baby’s life. Life is messy and it’s not wonder every day – I’ve tried to show that in my body of work. One blog post doesn’t really represent my life as a whole and I try to caveat everything I say as “I” and “me” and hope that’s enough for people to see I’m talking only of my experience and saying – hey, maybe you, out there in the world feel this too? And ahead of my first most people told me “don’t expect love at first sight” so I was surprised when I was bowled over. So everyone really is different and we really all do get different messages. But I do appreciate that I should have put more caveats around this one or changed the title, so for that I’m sorry. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      • Thanks Emily for your reply … and oh my goodness there is no need at all to apologize or tone down your beautiful post! I guess it (the title mostly 🙂 just triggered something in me, which is why I wrote and posted the comment. And yes, I completely agree that disconnection is most definitely a sign that it’s time to reach out. I have not read any of your other Mama posts (I came on board post-Tarzan :-), so I might go and have a little peruse now that I know there’s more there. And finally: thank you for your down-to-earthness and honesty and humour. I love, love, love what you do <3 – Liz

  5. Beautiful post. I remember having a similar conversation with a friend who was umming and ahhing about having children, and one of her concerns was children would get in the way of her relationship with her partner. I remember thinking how can you ever really explain parenthood, in all its magnitude, difficulty and beauty? Like Liz above, I too had a slower start to falling in love with my first and year 1 wasn’t much fun, but I said something to that friend along the lines of it’s like another person comes into your life who you end up loving as much as you love your partner / other beloved people in your life, and who loves you as much as those people do. (And that yes it can put distance between you and you partner, because it’s a massive change and there are inevitable adjustments, but at the same time hopefully you work it out and discover that it can bring you closer.) That was the only way I could explain it.