Before I had children, I used to daydream about how one day I’d have two kids, ideally with a couple of years in between them, because that’s the perfect age gap, right?
In reality, there very nearly wasn’t an age gap at all. My husband and I are a ‘one in seven’ couple who didn’t have an easy time, er, getting one in the oven in the first place. It was an incredibly tough journey at times, but we hung on and eventually we got there.
Of course, our daughter was barely crawling before the ‘are you having any more?’ questions started. None of your effing business, I snapped in my head, while politely churning out a standard response: ‘maybe, we’re not sure yet… if it happens it happens… we’re in no rush’.
Then, WTF – I was pregnant again. Compared to the first time, it had happened quickly. We couldn’t believe it. Even more so because our daughter would still only be two when her sibling was born. We’d actually gone and achieved that perfect age gap.
Unfortunately, this wonderful turn of events swiftly came to an abrupt end. At about eight weeks pregnant I collapsed. Within four hours I was in hospital having surgery to remove a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and save my life.
The year or so that followed is a blur. I know there were bright flashes in the darkness, I’ve got photos to prove it; family day trips, birthday parties, walks on the beach. But it feels a bit like I wasn’t really there. I desperately wanted to get pregnant again straight away, to literally fill the void, to prove that my body could do it, to hold a tiny newborn again, like I was supposed to. It didn’t happen.
As the months passed, I slowly began to realise that my daughter was the reason I needed to get better, to focus on the child that I already had, not the one that I had lost.
Gradually, we started to talk about how having just one child actually might be a good thing. She was almost four and becoming more independent. Perhaps in the not too distant future we’d be able to experience a social life once more, outside of birthday parties and soft play. We wouldn’t have to worry about childcare costs or surviving on maternity pay again. We’d be able to afford more holidays, maybe a new car. We could finally sell all the baby crap in the loft.
Then the most unexpected thing happened. I fell pregnant.
But hang on, what about the age gap? This wasn’t part of the plan. By the time the baby arrived our not-so-little girl would be nearly five years old. She’d be starting school. They’d never be close enough to want to share a room together, play with the same toys, join the same clubs.
I was grateful that throughout my pregnancy she was genuinely excited, always kissing and hugging ‘the bump’ and talking about how her brother or sister was going to be her best friend. However, how would she feel once the baby was actually here? How would she cope, after almost five years as an only child? Sharing the spotlight with someone else, not just anyone but a totally helpless little creature who would require mummy and daddy’s attention 24/7?
In hindsight, I spent far too much time worrying about it. As soon her baby brother arrived it was like she’d never known anything different. She was, she is, a natural ‘big sister’ and she embraced her new role with gusto. From the start she got stuck in with practical stuff – running upstairs to fetch nappies, scrabbling about on the floor for his dummy, dutifully putting his scratch mitts back on after he pulled them off for the umpteenth time.
But, more than that, she just wanted to be with him. She would ask to hold him at any opportunity, she’d gently kiss and stroke his head and she’d lie next to him on his play mat and just gaze at him. In my post-birth emotional haze, just the sight of them snuggled together made me blub on a daily basis. I think these memories will take some beating as the most precious of my life. The weeks passed and the novelty didn’t wear off. He was 10 weeks old when she started school and it was him, not me, she was excited to see when we picked her up at the end of the day.
Now we are 10 months on and their love for each other grows daily. His little eyes light up as soon as she walks into the room, he calls her name, not ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, from his cot every morning. He trundles around after her in his baby walker like a little shadow. She plays with him in the bath, sings to him and reads him stories. She’s adamant that she will be the one to teach him to ride his scooter, help him with his homework and one day take him to Disneyland.
She will turn six in a few months time and he will be barely a year old. When he starts primary school, she will only have three years left. When he’s taking his GCSEs she might be living away at university, embarking on a career or travelling the world. She may have already met the love of her life and be on the path to starting a family of her own.
I’m determined that none of this will affect their relationship. Because we will nurture it. All I want is for them always to be there for each other. To always want to hug each other, to wipe the other one’s tears when hearts are broken and to support each other when we are no longer around. I truly believe the foundation for this starts now.
I guess I’ll remove my rose-tinted spectacles now in preparation for inevitable sibling squabbles, full-blown slanging matches and potential flesh wounds along the way.
These days I’m just incredibly thankful to have two healthy children. The age difference is irrelevant. It wouldn’t matter if they were 10 months or 10 years apart.
We have our perfect age gap. It’s 4 years, 9 months and 25 days.