Family & Education

My son was born — and I turned into my mother

'Ever since my baby’s arrival I’ve spent hours dreaming, hoping and praying that his future will be bright, happy and healthy.'


What university did you go to?” I asked one of the two anaesthetists towering over me on the operating table minutes before the arrival of my son. And it was in that moment I made the seamless transition from daughter to my own Jewish mother.

While my husband sat beside me, holding my hand for comfort, himself quite nervous at the unplanned c-section that was about to happen after four days of a failed induction and one scary panic rush to the labour ward that turned out to be a false alarm, I was relieved to be at last surrounded by people who had studied for seven years or more at university and was excited to find out if any of them had gone to Oxford.

I was even ready to marvel (if somewhat nervously) at the fact they were probably younger than I was. Nothing is more sobering than lying paralysed from the waist down knowing someone born in the late 90s is part of the team about to make an incision across your abdomen and deliver the baby you’ve been growing for nine months and then sew you up again in half the time it would take you to do a Peloton class.

No sooner had the words left my mouth than I realised I’d made the transition. And as one of the doctors lifted my son above the curtain that kept my eyes off the cut, an enormous rush of emotion washed over me. No longer just somebody’s daughter, I was also somebody’s mum.

“Nothing prepares you for motherhood” is what everyone and their best friend’s auntie wants to tell you in the nine months up to it finally happening.

And such a generic turn of phrase really does so little to explain the experience that I wonder why anyone bothers trying.

Ever since my baby’s arrival I’ve spent hours dreaming, hoping and praying that his future will be bright, happy and healthy. I imagine him 80 years from now, being interviewed about being one of the thousands of “lockdown babies” and what it was like, or rather what we told him it was like, to be born in the middle of a global pandemic.

He knew nothing of the anxiety surrounding his arrival, the masks, the isolation, the restrictions that meant we were the only ones to hug and to hold him for the first weeks of his life.

Maybe he’ll tell people about the first time he met his granny and grandad over FaceTime and eventually about his socially distanced walks with Granny who had to be careful because, while she desperately wanted to hold him, she couldn’t for a very long time, as her own health rendered her vulnerable to the illness that loomed and threatened.

He will have some odd pictures of a bris that was done over this thing called Zoom. The mohel (the best in Europe of course, for my son), dressed in full PPE. There were plenty of tears (mostly mine).

I will tell him why it was important and I hope he feels pride that while the world was in chaos we carried on with age-old tradition. But I’m already grappling with the possibility that he might not.

In the four short months I’ve spent as a parent I feel that I’ve learned the truth of every cliché. Yes, your whole world changes, yes, the guilt is sometimes crippling and it’s hard to convey the enormity of those emotions.

Perhaps it is the lack of of sleep but everything I do feels huge and important. I ache for the family he will never know. Sometimes my grief is so insurmountable it paralyses me and I can’t find my breath. But I do, because we’re playing peekaboo and he likes it.

I wonder how I will make sure his sense of identity is strong enough that he never feels he has to hide who he is or conform to ideas of how other people think he should be. Most of all I hope he feels pride in everything he is. And that this — and every — new year will be sweet for him.

How will I make sure he is kind, and happy? He’d barely opened his eyes and already I wanted to protect him from the people who will hurt and disappoint him.

“This is exhausting, when do I stop worrying about all these things?” I asked my mum. “Are you kidding me?” she replied. “Never.”

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