I was never against the idea of having children, eventually, but I wasn’t determined to do it either. I’d never considered that one day I would take on someone else’s child. I fell in love at 25 with Daniel, a recently separated single parent, who I’d known (and secretly adored) since my teens. His previous relationship had been turbulent and his ex had left the country with her older children (from a previous relationship), leaving Daniel and their child behind. Up until this point I had been single, living with my best friend and doing everything girls in their mid-twenties do. I saw friends, went out a lot, and spent my money freely, without hesitation. My life was about to change so rapidly I barely had time to consider the compromises I was making or appreciate all the wonderful things I was gaining in exchange. From the get-go Daniel was clear that he and his two-year-old daughter came as a package. We couldn’t have a relationship unless I accepted that. I agreed to give things a go, knowing that if it didn’t work out it would be far worse than the usual break up because we had a toddler’s feelings to contend with as well as our own. I approached Amelia with caution but immediately she hugged me and perfectly mispronounced my name. I was her “kaf-friend” (it’s Katherine), and she was my mate. She was as unexpectedly funny, interesting and unique as any new friend I could have hoped to meet.
People would often presume I was her mother when we were out and we all behaved as though I was.
I spent all my spare time with the two of them and quickly developed a sense of comfort within this new role. People would often presume I was her mother when we were out and we all behaved as though I was. At two years old, she was still wearing nappies and learning how to form coherent sentences so it was far easier for me to step into this type of relationship than if she’d been older. We were both developing new skills and this helped to bond us. After six months, we all moved to a new area to start again, as a family. Amelia’s biological mother was rarely in touch and, although she missed her, Daniel provided an incredible all-encompassing level of support. I remember she said to him, “you’re like my mummy and my daddy all at once”. He was everything to her and I was in awe of his devotion to this amazing little character. We started doing everything together. She’d stare intently as I waxed my armpits and I’d have to explain to her nursery teachers why she’d been caught ripping sticky tape from her own underarms and reminding the staff that they looked like they needed to do it too. In the evenings we’d read Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and I’d often find myself teary because it seemed so poignant. But more likely because I hadn’t realised yet that I was pregnant and hormonal. We decided to tell Amelia right away and wanted her to be as much part of it as we both were. We watched endless YouTube videos of foetal development and laughed at the oddness of it all. She would cackle loudly at the other-worldly faces of the digital unborn.
I had a relaxed attitude to pregnancy and birth which was out of character because I’m certainly no hippy. I did lots of yoga at home, often with Amelia sniggering behind the door or crawling underneath me while I tried to practise my breathing seriously. I learned quickly that children are little precision mirrors – they tell you the realest truth that you’d otherwise rather avoid. There is no hiding and it was precisely this loss of privacy that I struggled with at first. My naked body was no longer my own. There was always a three-year-old scrutinising it and asking endless questions about womanhood, inspired by my rapidly changing form: “why are your boobs massive and dark? Why is there a brown line on your belly? Will the doctor cut there to get the baby out? Are you too fat to bend down?” Raising children helps you to realise that none of this stuff really matters. My adolescent vanity didn’t matter and it was pretty liberating to let go of. I’d find her dressed in my tights and heels, pretending to read one of my books, reeking of my perfume. She’d emerge guilty-looking with concealer all over her mouth, having mistaken it for lipstick. At the time, these little acts of imitation irritated me because I was so used to my things being only mine but now I feel so guilty about that. I can see that these were really the most heart-warmingly affectionate acts.
I still dread the day when she inevitably screams in petulant rage, “You’re not my real mum! You can’t tell me what to do!
Disciplining Amelia was tough because it made me question my own fairness constantly and because I still dread the day when she inevitably screams in petulant rage, “You’re not my real mum! You can’t tell me what to do!” She has chosen me as her mother but she can just as easily make the choice that I am not her mother. I hope that this fear of rejection doesn’t govern how I raise her too much. I want to treat her and her brother equally but I don’t think that’s completely possible all the time. I delivered my son at home with Amelia there in the early stages shouting things like, “why are you in the bath with your bra on?” She’s constantly interrupting difficult moments like these with hilarious observant comments. Within a few hours I’d given birth to a screaming boy in the dining room. Amelia’s pride was astounding. She had no fear or doubt about her brother, just total love and ease. This was a turning point for all of us. Our family was united. After his birth, she tentatively started to rename me. “I can call you whatever I like”, she’d state as she tested the water. “You certainly can. Whatever you’d like”, I’d reassure her. Eventually “Kaf-friend” was a thing of the past (I doubt she remembers now) and instead I’m Mummy or Mum, depending on her mood. I’d lie if I didn’t admit that I beamed when I heard this for the first time. Amelia is six years old now and more curious by the day. She wasn’t born mine but she became mine, gently over time, through a series of shared experiences. We have learned so much of what we know about life, family, ourselves and each other together that now we’re inseparable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.