If you’re a mum, you’ve got a birth story. A narrative of the events leading to that moment in which you were presented with your little bundle / dictator (depending on what mood they might be in). But the more I think about the ways in which my two little tyrants came into the world, the more I think their characters were established even before their first breaths or screams. And I think that I love the idea that these little people might have been hard-wired to be themselves before anyone or anything had the chance to influence that.
First, there was Bunny. She is sweet and kind and thoughtful. And while she is also developing an annoying habit of arguing with us all of the time, she is ultimately a people-pleaser. She wants people to like her, to think she is a nice little girl. She thrives on praise and, given the right incentive and recognition, will work hard to make the people around her happy. Unless she’s arguing with us.
She was born a minute after midnight; I’d officially been in labour for an hour, although it was probably more, but the maternity ward was so busy I wasn’t seen until I was sobbing. I knew she was coming before anyone else did; I knew that I needed to start pushing and for how long; I knew that even when I didn’t feel the final contraction fully I could and would bring her into the world. I remember marvelling mid-labour that I was actually having a baby and oddly, unexpectedly, felt completely in control.
I’d been so terrified of this moment. I’d complained (intelligently) that she wasn’t a twin: I didn’t want to do it twice. One of my friends had bought me a book about giving birth which detailed other women’s experiences and methods to channel your pain: famously dependable, tried-and-tested ways to give mum a peaceful labour. Apparently. I had devoured each story, nevertheless, desperate for some reassurance, but certain that most of the women in the book were bonkers or liars, or both!
But, there I was, half dressed in a maternity ward, pacing through the pain, visualising a coffee plunger, mooing like a cow and giving birth to my baby girl all through my own efforts. I’m not going to lie (like I’m still convinced those stories in the book did!) it hurt. A lot. But the point is I felt in control. And that illusion of control continued once Bunny was born. She turned our lives up-side-down, and everything was, of course, on her terms. But, after the first mind-blowing months, I started to feel like I was in charge (providing I gave her everything she wanted). So, I’d expected pretty much the same thing with number two.
Clearly, I was just as deluded as I had been before number one.
Chimp is two and a half years old, which means she arrived nearly three years after Bunny – and we are still in the danger zone. In fact, her terrible-twos started when she turned one, and I’m not expecting them to pass any time soon. She is just so headstrong, so stubborn, so sensitive. Of course, she is also funny and sweet and cute – but she seems to have an understanding of this far beyond her years and definitely uses it to her advantage. She constantly gets away with being cheeky; she predictably gets herself out of trouble with a grin and a giggle.
Chimp is the youngest sister in our little family, but she is nearly as tall as Bunny despite the age gap. She is also brutal. She can wrestle her nearly 6 year old sister to the floor in seconds and pin her down in a move that Hulk Hogan himself would have been envious of (and probably slightly terrified by). She loves to read and talk and has the most amazing giggle that starts in her belly and echoes around the room, heartily, unapologetically bouncing off walls. But the most important thing for you to understand about Chimp is that she is in control. Of all of us. And it was like that from the start.
My labour with Chimp was fast – 25 minutes of excruciating pain and she shot out across the bed. I had no control; there were no coffee plungers, no moos, no carefully counted steps with corresponding calming breaths. I didn’t even know I was pushing until the midwife told me I was. It started; she arrived, and I think I went into shock…
And that has been life since. Chimp is in control in our house: she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. And if you don’t give it to her, she’ll find a way to get it herself. Even if it means scaling the kitchen cupboards without a safety net.
I’m now the type of parent I used to shake my head at when I was ignorantly and arrogantly not-a-parent. Back in those days I would sleep when I chose to and use the toilet on my own like it was my God-given right (not like the biggest privilege I can now imagine) – and I would look down my nose in wonder at those parents who just didn’t listen to the advice of Jo Frost, Supernanny.
It really wasn’t that difficult to control your children – ha!
But I comfort myself that this is her character. She forced herself into the world from her very first moments in it, so why would that change? And, what’s more, why would I want it to?
I adore Bunny for her sweetness and her desire to please everyone, and I adore Chimp for her mischievous strong-mindedness. By some genetic fluke it would seem that we made them to be born that way. And, actually, when they aren’t squabbling or whinging or wrestling or snatching or fighting or moaning or arguing… they make a pretty awesome team. If they continue to learn from each other and work together, I actually think they could take on the world one day. So, why would I want to change that?
What’s your birth story? Can you see your kids’ characters? Comment below…