Charlotte and Allegra

Name: Charlotte

Child: Allegra Jean Simpson, 14 months

Location: Gorton, East Manchester

Expectations of Motherhood: All my life I’ve never once doubted that I wanted to be a mother even though I felt a bit ambivalent towards other people’s children – I only really liked them if they were cute, quiet and snot-free. I started to go a bit crazy when I was 28 and still single – I was the only one of my friends who was already fretting about my biological clock. But when I did fall in love I stopped worrying about it so much because I was so happy with my relationship. Then I sort of accidentally (having not tried very hard to prevent it) got pregnant on honeymoon. The timing wasn’t ideal and I was a bit wary about the whole thing but still thrilled (although I was secretly worried I might not love my baby as much as my cats). I guess I hoped I’d be a similar sort of mother to my own mum. I wanted to give my child time rather than money, to do lots of reading and creative make-your-own type activites and to bring my child up to be a Guardian-reader.

Reality of Motherhood: It was surreal to begin with – we just stumbled along in a sleep-addled haze trying not to break the baby. I was overwhelmed by how lovely our little girl was and relieved to find that that there was definitely no contest between her and the cats but I suppose when she was a newborn it was hard to know exactly who I was in love with – she was just this precious little bundle of potential. But every tiny developmental step has enabled me to know Ally a little bit more. There’s no way to describe the feeling when she smiles, giggles or reaches out her arms to me. Every night I tell her I love her and one night a couple of months ago, I asked her if she loved me and she said “yeah”. I cried. I don’t really have any concept of motherhood. I only know what it is to be Ally’s mum – and Ally is just the most amazing, fun and entertaining person. I love spending my days with her and teaching her about the world. It’s such a privilege to be able to introduce someone to the sea or an elephant or Nutella for the first time and to be able to share with her everything that I love – people, books, places, foods, animals – everything is new to her and it’s all tremendously exciting. I learn so much from Ally too. She is desperate to take me with her on her expeditions of discovery and destruction. Of course I’m writing this on a good day. Ally slept appallingly for the first eleven months and refused to take any food or liquid that didn’t come direct from my breast so there were many, many times when my reality of motherhood was only that I physically ached, I never got to touch my husband and my kitchen, clothes, hair, face and beautiful daughter were smeared with wasted yoghurt and soggy bread. But even at its hardest, I always knew deep down that I am luckier than I ever imagined was possible.

Taking your child/children home for the first time: We had a bit of a false start as we were sent home from hospital a few hours after she was born only to be back again in A&E within 24 hours. We then stayed in a paediatric ward for four of five days because Ally had problems with her blood sugar and with latching on. The second time around I was just so happy that we had our little girl at home and we had no more silly hospital rules to obey. It was lovely.

The best/worst advice: The best advice has been practical – a breastfeeding counsellor who magically stopped feeding from hurting and, months later, a chat with a paediatrician who told me that if I wanted Ally to eat and sleep normally I’d just have to cold-turkey breastfeeding. She promised me that healthy babies will not let themselves starve or dehydrate no matter how angry they are. Tough advice to follow but it changed our lives. Conversely the worst advice came from health visitors who wouldn’t engage with Ally’s weaning and sleeping problems. They were so obsessed with the wonders of breastfeeding that they didn’t care that I was being woken up every hour or that Ally barely ate solids at 10 months. They just kept telling me everything was going really well!

The hardest parts of being a mother: The worrying: I want to wrap her in cotton wool but I know I need to teach her to be confident and brave. Also finding yourself again. I miss reading, working and seeing films, plays, exhibitions etc whenever I feel like it. I know I need to keep up my career and my interests to set a good example to Ally – and also so that she doesn’t grow up with the pressure of feeling that she is my life and my happiness depends on her. But it’s so hard to conjure up the time to make it a reality.

The best parts of being a mother: Watching Ally sleep (especially those rare moments when she goes to sleep on me); going in to her first thing in the morning and seeing her grinning little face; feeling proud pretty much all the time of all the things she can do and how gorgeous she is; the fact that it’s made me lift my game and use time more efficiently; having such a fulfilling extra dimension to my relationship with my husband.

Hopes for your family: I’d like Ally to have a brother or sister one day. I’d like us to move to a house with a garden, closer to our friends. I want Ally to grow up happy, healthy and good (but also keep her wicked streak!)

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums?: Go out and meet other mums. Go to groups and make the first move to make friends with people. If the people you meet seem unfriendly, keep going to different groups until you find some nice ones – I don’t dare imagine how hard the last year would have been without my mum-friends!

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