- Five surprising things I've learnt since having my second child.
- Love without marriage - the couples shunning 'I do'
You meet and date and fall in love. There are dinners for two, movies and holidays to the beach. You move in together, argue playfully over wardrobe space and who's the messiest cook. And then one day, he asks and you say yes. Or maybe you ask, and he says yes. There's a ring and a smile and the whole world looks like a promise.
You buy a gown, book a celebrant, dance clumsily, happily, as your family and friends look on. And afterwards, even though nothing has really changed, something feels different now you're husband and wife.
Or maybe you don't get married. Maybe you can't. You're in this life together, though. That's the only thing that matters. You plan your future, talk about kids and dogs and having a house of your own.
And then there's a positive test; the lines are faint, then strikingly clear. You shriek. Or perhaps you sit silently, just looking at it and reflecting on all it means. Maybe you've been trying for a little while. Maybe it happened straight away. There's shock, or relief or perhaps a little fear. You keep the secret for a few weeks, hold it between the two of you. It feels nice not to let the world in on something so world-changing.
At the first scan there's a black and white screen and the feeling of cold gel across your stomach. Your partner grips your hand and squeezes. And it's suddenly real now there's a heartbeat. You imagine it beating inside you, the tiny throb of it.
On the way home, you wonder if it's a boy or a girl. Maybe you decide to find out. Maybe you want a surprise. Your belly grows and you stand side-on in the mirror, marvelling at your changing shape, the curve that's housing your little one.
You go shopping together, overwhelmed with all the bits and pieces a baby needs. There are cribs and prams and tiny socks. And it felt real when you heard the heartbeat, but the growing person who kicks day and night makes their presence felt now. You toss baby names at one another. Maybe you can't agree. Maybe you decide you'll meet them first.
And the weeks slow down as you trudge, cow-heavy to work and back. Your partner tells you you're beautiful and you pull faces, scrutinise your belly bursting out of the only clothes left that fit.
At last, after months of anticipation and the slowest of days, it's "go" time. And there's sweat and tears, exhaustion and adrenaline. Your baby is placed on your chest, exquisite. And maybe it's love at first sight. Maybe the love comes later. Whatever you're feeling, you feel it intensely. Your fingers learn every crease and feature of this perfect, familiar stranger.
In the shock of the new, you pass one another, zombie-like in your house. You're so tired you find yourself arguing over the silliest things, things that never bothered you before. You feel your relationship stretched, pulled in different directions. You collapse next to one another and suddenly sleeping together is more important than sex. You miss its place in your days and nights but your limbs are heavy and your mind is a fog.
And there's a moment, maybe in the first few days, maybe in the first few weeks, when you look at each other and wonder what you've done. You don't recognise your life, your body, your relationship. You mourn the loss of it, of the "us" you used to be.
And the weeks go by and the milestones pass. There's the first smile and the relief of it takes you by surprise. It's just what you needed, right when you needed it. And for a moment you forget the exhaustion, your unwashed hair and the house turned upside down and inside out. You drink it in and share a moment of "we made this." And then, "we've got this," too.
And slowly, ever so slowly, you recognise yourself again. You watch your partner, baby strapped to their chest, and you think your heart can't possibly handle how much love you feel. But oh how it does - it fills and stretches and fills some more. And these moments of tenderness carry you through.
Finally, your no-longer-a-newborn baby starts to sleep a little longer. And you're side by side again on the couch with twin glasses of wine, taking the first tentative steps towards the new "us."
And the story continues. Only the stage is strewn with toys. There are sleepless nights, tantrums on the supermarket floor and dates that end at nine because you're so, so tired. And you'll laugh and you'll argue. You'll get frustrated. They'll want sex and you won't. You'll want sex and they'll be thrilled. You'll cycle through illness and health, colds passed back and forth. You'll chant, "this too shall pass," through the days of teething. And it will. And it does.
But it will be as mad and fun and messy, as easy and hard and wonderful as you imagined it would be. When you met and dated and fell in love.