I moved through my 20s ferociously and at a speed which is at once blurry-fast and treacle-slow in my memory. With my husband by my side I finished university, got my degree, got a better job. My husband was promoted.
We bought a little house we could barely afford – a 100% mortgage, search fees paid on a credit card – and very quickly after that we had our son, a small and wan and sickly baby boy who cried weakly all the time and did not feed happily and bounce joyfully in the way his sister had.
After my son was born I spent many hours in tears, feeling trapped in my unrecognisable post-pregnancy body, feeling judged by my baby who did not seem to love me. Watching him get thinner and ever less happy. Hearing, once, from a pair of passing Jehovah’s Witnesses that if my baby wasn’t happy, I had probably sinned.
I mean, I knew I had sinned. But I couldn’t believe my baby’s suffering was my fault. I was so, so low during that spring.
During the heatwave summer of 2003 we ducked in and out of hospital stays and outpatient appointments until finally we learned that our son’s kidneys and bladder were plumbed slightly wrongly into his tiny body and he would never function quite normally. His fretful anger had been, in fact, caused by discomfort and pain.
The scene was set for a lifetime of similar appointments and possibly surgery but at least we had an answer, and at least we now had medicine that helped him to be comfortable. My boy started to grow a bit, and thrive a bit, and at the end of the year my daughter started school and I went back to work.
I was still training (endlessly training!) to be a solicitor. My working days were truncated by my new part time hours – I finished at lunch time and I spent my afternoons, still uncomfortably suited and booted in my work clothes, at toddler groups and in parks with my baby boy before scooping up my eldest and trundling home from her school.
And then I would begin the daily routine of dinner and homework and baths which has drummed in the background of my entire adult life and has always formed, it seems to me, its very rhythmic core. There was comfort in the boredom of it. I felt like I was doing things well. Tasks were ticked off lists.
I took mothering very seriously. I bought Baby Mozart DVDs and every wordy guide to motherhood I could lay my hands on. I puréed organic vegetables and bought only wooden toys. I bought craft boxes for my daughter and scrimped for her to do any activity she named – dancing, drama club, Rainbows, piano lessons.
I bought expensive, soft cotton clothes for my children, while I lived myself when not at the office in one tattered pair of jeans that I’d bought in my horrifying new size, and two Dorothy Perkins button-front shirts, chosen not for any style but for easy breastfeeding.
I had no identity beyond being a trainee solicitor on weekday mornings and a mother for all of the rest of the time, and that suited me quite nicely. I was invisible as a person and I knew that I was. I honestly think that I thought I was happy. I was definitely too busy not to be happy.