My son’s entry into the world was not what I had planned for.
Rather than the relaxed, relatively drug free delivery I had been planning, where he would be born accompanied by music and soft lighting, he was dragged into the harsh clinical light of a hospital room surrounded by doctors and nurses, with his chord wrapped twice around his neck and his heart intermittently stopping. Just below his right eye, he still bears a scar from this very first experience of the world.*
Not long afterwards they took him away from my bedside, moved me into a single room so that other mother’s would not be upset by my crying and told us to be prepared for him to die in the next 24 hours. They took Instamatic photos of him so that we would at least have something to remember him by and told us that he had a very serious heart disorder.
When, after a thankfully relatively brief sojourn in neonatal intensive care, they allowed us to bring our son home – with the proviso that if he turned blue we would call an ambulance immediately – I slept fitfully, like a coiled spring, the slightest sound from his crib beside my bed causing me to wake up in a panic. Only I could keep him safe and keep him alive. Or so I felt.
That same boy, some 19 years later, is now about to start studying at Sydney University, news that he received at a hostel in the Czech Republic, as he is currently travelling around Europe, on his own. His heart still doesn’t work properly but seems to have been much less of a problem than was predicted. Fingers crossed.
There is a part of me that thinks – I did it! I got him through life successfully, and now he is flying the nest. Well done me. Well done him. One more to go, and then the world’s my oyster.
But the reality is that I’m terrified.
I had always assumed that this stage of my life would look quite different. I expected to be financially secure, able to fully reap the benefits of having had my children relatively young, and enjoy my late forties and fifties by combining work with the ability to see a bit of the world without the expense and responsibility of young children. I can see other friends reaching this point too. It always felt like this life development was kind of a pay off for a job well done parenting, and the quid pro quo for the sadness that parents naturally feel when the intensive part of their job is over. It would probably be a good distraction too.
In practice though, my financial situation is the least secure it’s been since I was in my early twenties. Having once thought my Ikea days were over, I now find that if I survey my home, I struggle to identify anything much that wasn’t purchased there. Like many other divorced women of a certain age, I am contemplating working until I am 70 in order to service a large mortgage on a small property in a suburb the people I used to know have never heard of, and will probably never visit. I’m not expecting there to be much in the way of spare money for exploring the world, or much time, given that I’ll be working.
And more than that – who will I spend my time with? Children flying the nest might have provided an opportunity to reconnect with your partner and then enjoy adventures together that you couldn’t afford before you had children. But now it is just going to mean an actual empty home.
I’ve thought about all this way too much lately. I think most of it is just fear because my future looks very much more uncertain than I would have expected at this point in my life. But at the same time, I’m conscious of how lucky I am to have ever been in the position where I thought my life would be different to this. I know how privileged I am to have the life I have anyway. And so whilst I feel afraid, I also feel reproachful – which is then rapidly followed by guilt for not being more grateful.
I suppose the trick is to try to stay in the present and appreciate each moment as it happens – without too much reference to what was, or might have been.
And I suppose the lesson is that – if I allow myself to look back for a moment to George’s birth – things rarely go to plan, but they can still turn out beautifully in the end.
So I’ll keep holding out for that happy ending – whatever that is.
*If you think that’s bad, you should see my scars…