“Sit there, Mummy.”
I looked behind me. There was nobody there. Just a door and a wall, blank except for a poster advertising free chlamydia testing.
The nurse tapped the chair beside her, without taking her eyes off my file. “How are we today?”
Apart from Princess Anne, Margaret Thatcher and Hyacinth Bucket, I wasn’t used to anyone referring to themselves in the third person. Instinctively, I looked over my shoulders. Nobody was there either.
It was just me, the nurse and a semi-circle of plastic chairs. She snapped her file shut and stared at me, her expression somewhere between quizzical and petulant.
Unsure how to answer, I reverted to schoolgirl mode. I stared down at my feet, or tried to. I hadn’t seen my feet, horizontal, for several weeks now. Ah, the penny finally dropped. She was talking to the bump and me.
“I’m fine, thanks,” I replied, with a subtle emphasis on the word I’m.
My name’s in the file, I wanted to add. And, as for bump, I was hoping you’d tell me that.
But I bit my tongue instead. I needed this woman on side. I could be begging her for pethidine in the days to come.
In any case, it was just as well. I wasn’t prepared for the loss of that badge of individuality and identity. My name. My tongue hurt. I hoped I wasn’t dribbling blood down my chin, but I needed the practice.
Even before I officially became a mummy, I started to become generic. Teachers, hospital and nursery staff no longer had to wrestle with the pronunciation of the word Ms or the lack of hyphenation in my double-barrel.
For some, things are now much simpler. I’m J’s mum. End of.
It seems churlish to take issue. Having a child is a blessing. And what does this attachment to my name say about me? Do I have an external locus of evaluation? In layman’s speak, am I plain insecure?
Don’t get me wrong. Motherhood brings with it a whole new identity. The changes are profound. It’s all good life-enhancing stuff. I’ve tried to sum up the ups and downs (and the overriding ups) in Motherhood, the good, the bad and the truly amazing.
Motherhood is a way of being, rather than just doing. It’s the most important job in the world. I really believe that. Honestly, I do.
So why do I find myself lost for words, stumbling in a panic, when my former colleagues ask me, What are you doing now?
I’d like to say something about the miracle of having a child, to explain the being/doing conundrum. I’d like to say that tickling little pink baby feet is more appealing than spending all day hunched over a spreadsheet. But, of course, I don’t. I may need to work with these people again, and OH has already told me that I’m starting to sound a bit whacko sometimes.
Instead, I mutter something about being a stay-at-home-mum. I feel myself flush red with embarrassment. I’m not ashamed of not working (in the wage slave sense of the word). It’s just that my answer sounds so pathetic and lame. Profound, it’s not.
Fast forward a few years, I haven’t returned to the office. Now I have a portfolio career, of sorts. True, there’s no Porsche on the drive. However, I’m independent and free (with enough latitude to be a bit whacko sometimes, if that’s what I want.) I have my own business cards, a bicycle and a coffee machine that works (well, mostly).
Mother, Lawyer, Writer, my cards say, under my name (which is in bold now).
I like the byeline. The subtext, I hope, is implicit. I don’t like labels. But, if you must, I’m not going to be tied down to one.
Mother, Laywer, Writer. I’m glad I resisted the temptation to insert, in parenthesis, the words, Manic, Resting, Struggling. (It was a close run thing.) I want the card to say, in a quiet sort of way, I mean business.
Above all, I want the card to save me from myself. I want to stop stuttering when I’m asked, What do you do now? I want to stop blindly clutching at other people’s labels, and putting myself down.
And I’ve got to stop replying without thinking, A bit of this, a bit of that.