“I love you, always be my best friend?” Freya said out of the blue the other night.
She climbed on to my lap, put her hands on either side of my face and looked into my eyes.
We had been snuggled on the sofa in the pre-bedtime wind-down, the blinds were drawn, the room cosily lit by just a lamp creating tall shadows on the walls.
“I love you. Always,” I said, earnest in my response.
She’s into the concept of friends at the moment. Her list includes granddad, Tilly, the weird lifesize toddler doll my mum got from a charity shop, her cousin in America, several children from her weekly playgroup and Kwazii (from the Octonauts).
Even though I know she doesn’t really get friendship and, as her mum, she might not want me as a friend, let alone a best friend, at certain points in her life – at least if my own experience is anything to go by – I couldn’t help the leap of my heart – especially at the other half of her words.
Becoming a mum didn’t come easily for me in the physical sense but also mentally it took some time to adjust – and I’m not just talking days.
When they first put that big ball of fury in my arms three hours after she was born I thought: “Oh, they’ve given me the wrong baby.” Now all bruised and swollen after a far from easy birth, she certainly didn’t look like the same baby I’d glimpsed before she was whizzed off to the NICU with a temperature. I even looked up at the midwife who handed her to me, expecting her to realise her mistake.
Mark had gone with Freya and, so he told me, was there all the time (his ears are still ringing from her non-stop screaming) so I knew she must have been the right one but that rush of instant love I’d read so much about just didn’t come.
Maybe I should have been braced for it.
After losing the first two pregnancies and with a sense of doom hanging over this one like an ever present storm cloud I had perhaps not bonded with my bump as fully as I could have done – not that holding back would have made it any easier if something had gone wrong, of course.
I think I thought that as soon as I had an actual, healthy baby in my arms, the emotion would just flow out and wrap around us like a cacoon.
But nothing happened.
Right then, back from theatre in the delivery room, I told myself that it would come, to just be patient.
I started wonder though, especially when she refused all but the first attempt to breastfeed (which I couldn’t feel as I was numb from the neck down due to being tipped up after the epidural) and then cried every time I went near her (or so it felt). Could she feel my reserve, was she reacting to it?
I remember my mum coming to visit the next afternoon and practically throwing the squalling baby at her.
I told myself it was just the bustling hospital environment, hardly conducive to quiet bonding. When we get home things will be different.
They only got worse.
For many months.
I’m not cut out to be a mum, I thought.
However, somewhere along the way – through the exhaustion and the sadness at seeing her in pain, beyond the frantic search for something she could drink and the quest for the perfect bottle – I looked at her one day and there it was, love.
It had crept up on me during those long days and nights, which now feel like they passed in a blur, when I wasn’t looking.
And there it has remained.
I don’t doubt it now, even on the toughest of days.
But in the throws of just getting on with things I hadn’t really thought about how she feels about me.
Every night after I’ve tucked her in, I leave the room saying: “Sweet dreams, I love you.”
Ocassionally she will mumble it back but maybe, the other night, she realised it had crept up on her too?