I remember birthdays as a kid meaning presents, cake, friends, sunshine and maybe even a party. And, of course, the annual re-telling of the story of my birth.
I was born at 12.25, in Lincoln County Hospital on September the 10th, (“just in time for lunch” I quipped – every single year). My mum would tell me a little bit about labour, that it hurt but that it was a positive pain, because it brought her a baby. I would look at the tiny pink name-band which had been around my newborn ankle and try to imagine how small I had been, as I saw how much I’d grown.
It was my birth story, on my birthday. My triumphant arrival in the world. But I had no idea how much that day also meant to my mum until I became a mother myself. How much she was reliving the joy and pain of that day as the hands on the clock made their way towards 12.25, how emotional she would feel as she remembered going into labour and meeting her tiny stranger for the first time. How she would gloss over the true agony of childbirth to focus on making me feel special, and so loved.
Now my children’s birthdays are not only a celebration of them, but an internal nostalgia trip for me. The night before my youngest, Maisie, turned three I kissed her sleeping cheek and remembered going to bed three years earlier, keeping my labour pains a secret between me and my baby, in the hope my husband would get some sleep. I didn’t get a wink that night, partly because of the pain, and partly because I was excited that I had a chance to deliver my baby naturally, when 12 hours later I was due in hospital for a c-section.
I woke up on her third birthday and looked at her beautiful smiley face as we tickled and teased her, and as I put croissants in the oven I glanced at the clock and flashed-back to three years earlier, when I was just arriving at the labour unit.
As we went through her baby memory box later on the morning of her birthday, she tried to jam her three year old feet into tiny white baby bootees and stretched her first ever babygro over her legs and pulled her baby hat over her long golden curls. I told my daughter her birth story; how mummy had tummy ache all day which meant her baby was trying to come out, but she needed an operation to help and so Maisie wasn’t born until late at night. We looked at photos of her in that blue babygro decorated with little birds, so carefully chosen for her first day in the world and I told her how I heard her little cry when she came out, then she had breastmilk, and we put her in that little suit and her stripy hat and loved her from the first minute. She glows with pleasure whenever she hears her birth story, and frequently asks to hear it, or she tells it to me. Our fascination with our own beginning starts early.
While we are talking about the happiest moments, my internal clock is moving through that day’s events three years earlier. 5pm is the hardest point – the point at which I accepted my labour wasn’t progressing, and I would need another Caesarean, the point at which tears flooded down my face before I was swept away by another surge of terrific pain.
By 9pm, the birthday girl was tucked up in bed, but in my vivid recollections, she hadn’t even been born yet. I remembered the failed epidural, the fruitless pain, the gas and air, the spinal block amid rapid contractions, the cutting, the vomiting and the shaking before finally my baby was born at 9.50pm. Then skin to skin and the best cup of tea I ever drank.
Birthdays take on a whole new significance when you’re a mother. They are a celebration of life, of growing older, of happiness, of family, of love and of womanhood. They are a moment to pause, to remember the past and imagine the future.
I imagine one day in the future, my sparky, funny, anarchic daughter might be a mother herself, telling her child the story of their birth and remembering a flash from the past of her small self straining to put on her babygro and bootees from her own very first day in the world. And as she glosses over the true agony of childbirth to focus on making her child feel special, and so loved, she will be filled with a new understanding of how her birthday was also her mother’s birth day, and that two very different versions of the very same event can somehow both be true.
Thank you mum.
About Alison McGarragh-Murphy
Alison is the Editor of The Motherload®, and is also a radio producer and broadcast journalist, a mum of two and a wife of one. Since becoming a mother she has (mostly) gladly swapped a busy social life of gigs, pubs, art galleries and museums for dancing in the kitchen, drinking on the sofa, finger painting and hanging out at the park. She talks incessantly about not having slept for four and a half years.
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