When I woke up, I sensed that a seismic shift had taken place within me, and as my boyfriend entered the room I knew instantly what it was.
“Elis,” I said, gripping his arms, my knuckles white with tension.
“What?” he yelped. “You didn’t drunkenly order a popcorn machine again?”
“No,” I replied. “It’s worse than that. I want a baby.”
It wasn’t that I’d said I never would, but until then I’d never said I would. I hadn’t had much contact with children, and even less with babies – my sister and I were the youngest of our 11 cousins, and I was so focused on my career that any of my friends who had reproduced seemed to just disappear from my life, swallowed up into an abyss of cancelled meet-ups and words that meant utterly nothing to me, such as “NCT” and “bassinet” and “I don’t think you understand – I can’t come to sing-a-long-a Dirty Dancing – I have a CHILD”.
I was not confident around all children: I felt like a total klutz, trying to impress them with stupid voices. I even asked a four-year-old once, scrabbling for something – anything – to say, if he knew how steam engines worked. Later, he drew a picture and beckoned me to look at it, then punched his fist through the paper and into my cheek.
But now here I was, surer, suddenly, that I wanted a child more than I wanted Carrie and Brody from Homeland to get together. I was ready to begin the next chapter of my life, and the baby would effortlessly fit into our chaotic schedules!
We tell ourselves stories without realising it: about what pregnancy will be, about what we’ll eat, how much we’ll cry with wonder at scans, how our babies will sleep (brilliantly, of course – what kind of idiot wishes for their baby to sleep badly?) and, in my case, about how much we won’t change our lives – and, crucially, about how we won’t want to.
I pictured myself doing gigs with the baby strapped to me in a sling, of it watching rehearsals excitedly from the wings, of me writing on the laptop as it slept beside me, me periodically stopping to gaze at its little face then eating yummy popcorn from my yummy popcorn machine. How wrong could I have been?
Although the births of my two children were straightforward, each pregnancy was not: both times, blood tests found me to be lacking in a certain hormone which could lead to issues or worse, and extra scans were factored in, along with heightened anxiety and ferocious 3am Googling.
With the second pregnancy, I ended up having three blood transfusions and being put under general anaesthetic due to being put on aspirin for said issue and it causing an internal bleed. (Don’t take aspirin on an empty stomach).
I’d pictured myself swanning around in kaftans and gobbling Battenberg cake and milkshake at all hours, ultimately clasping a beautiful baby, not this. Well, I did do all that too, but not in any kind of relaxed way.
When my first child was three weeks old, I took her into town and did a voiceover with her in a room next door with my mum. When she was very young, I started again on the task of writing my first book, and then it was published, and I went on tour. “I’ve got it all!” I kept shouting to anyone who would listen, including myself. “Nothing’s actually changed!”
I still spent a lot of time with her – as my partner does the same job as me, we fitted in around each other – but I carried on working and hustling and pitching at the same level as I had pre-baby. I barely slept. I had always defined myself through my work, and I didn’t know how to exist any other way.
And then I started getting tinnitus, dizziness and headaches, sporadically. It turned into a daily thing. I started having to cling to shelves in Sainsbury’s as the colours swam before my eyes, and crouch down in the middle of conversations.
My consultant took one look at my wan, haggard face and told me gently to imagine myself as a jug. Every bit of stress fills up the jug, and it takes one little bit of stress to make it overflow, and to induce a condition like this one. He put me on medication and a strict migraine diet and things gradually improved, but only after I had accepted that I needed to make some changes.
Instead of constantly running from thing to thing, I started to remove stress from my life. I stopped saying yes to everything – including every playdate and baby class going – and thought carefully about how to schedule work better and what could wait, having never previously considered maternity leave. I started cooking more, and knitting, and the time I spent with my daughter became more relaxed and playful.
By the time I had my second child in 2019, I expected less of myself, and everything was better as a result. At times I’ve been tempted to ramp things up again, as I think it’s in my nature to be busy, but I remind myself of the swaying supermarket shelves and settle for a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos or a box set instead.
And if stress gets high – as it inadvertently can, as we can only control so much, and also Hungry Hungry Hippos can be pretty nail-biting – I try and put in something simple like a bath, or reading a few pages of a book.
The stories I told myself about motherhood were about cramming more into my life – one hand on the baby, another on the laptop, a third hand (who is this woman?) on my partner’s hand and a fourth hand (why not?) on a freshly cooked risotto, but it turns out I just need two hands, and they don’t need to be doing half as much as I thought they did. I’d thought my world would implode if I let go a bit, but it turned out the only person who had expected me to “do it all” was myself.
‘Jane is Trying‘ by Isy Suttie is out now (£16.99, W&N)