There is no denying that it has a chaotic hue, but I remember the day Phoebe was born as good as any. That day three-months ago when she finally decided to leave the comforts of her warm n’ wet cocoon and venture into the world to see what the fuss was all about.
It was a day when the realisms of life rushed my emotions like some rocket-fuel opiate, Phoebe’s arrival so poetic it could have inspired Bob Dylan back into the realm of genius song writing. Yet it was also far too fragile for all that, too intimate and personal, a moment of wonder so enchanting and beautiful that the mystery of life was dispersed for just a flash, the world letting me in to see all it’s complexities, it’s mastery and imagination, albeit for no more than a second, no, less than that, a second split into a thousand intricate pieces like the bright white shards of a exploding firework, purity shining through the cracks like solar flares, during that creation of life.
But the poetry doesn’t stop there, because as odd as it is to say, her arrival was nigh perfect timing, the sound of clocks striking two at the very moment she snatched her first breath, the weighty chime’s of Big Ben signalling her arrival as they rung out over the old rood tops and chimney pots of London with a wholly unique reverence, one that signalled my transformation from Just William to that of Dad.
Phoebe is truly beautiful, and for the past fifteen weeks I’ve not been able to tear my stare away from hers, her big Atlantic eyes sparkling like flutes of champagne in a late summer’s sun, her smile carefully carved by the angels themselves, beaming wider and wider until it’s the same bowed shape as an orchestral harp.
But for once only, this blog isn’t about Phoebe. This one is dedicated to someone else, her unutterably beautiful mum, Victoria, the magnificent Madre to my bambino and my co-creator of life.
So let me begin with where it began.
As an impending Dad, my new role as a protector rode to the front of my abilities like a knight ready to lead his troops on a crusade. I scrutinised everything about myself, every single insignificant detail. I tore down my facades and dissected my attitude and defiance and character, hurling each of my traits into the spotlight like they were nervous kids in an extravagant school production. I examined everything about my being, my strength and morals and integrity, wondering if I had what it took to stand up and be the foundations from which my new family could thrive and grow and succeed and laugh. It was a brutal self-examination and one that I fell at the feet of all too often. I panicked. I struggled. I cried. I beat myself up to the point of losing all confidence. I just couldn’t help but give in to my petrified thoughts, the dark mass of doubt spreading across my mind and poise like a thick dense fog that slowly swallowed me whole. I don’t think my potential to be a good father ever diminished, but the battle to realise my potential got harder and tougher as I clenched my fists and squared up to my own damning demons and self-defeatist mindset.
But amongst all the uncertainty there was one assurance that never faded, like J. Gatsby’s green light of hope. There was one thing that I could latch onto with my usual total confidence, and that was Victoria, and more specifically her capabilities as a mother, for I never doubted her.
I remember first relaying these beliefs when I broke the news about impending fatherhood status to my own Mum. It was on a walk through the charmingly colourful and prehistoric meadows of Syderstone Common, the dew still hanging heavy on the ferns and bushes and long wild grass, the air crisp on my face and hands, the skies a pale heron blue. But whilst I can’t remember the nervous platitudes I dipped into or the plethora of words I used to tell my Mum I was going to be a Dad, I do distinctly remember telling her one thing.
“There is not a single twinkling doubt in my mind that Victoria will make a wonderful Mother, not one doubt whatsoever.”
They were my exact words.
And just like Nottingham’s own, Mr Robin Hood, I was absolutely dead on.
But it hasn’t just been her role as ‘mummy’ that has left my jaw-agape and my pride swell like a puffer fish nervously floating about a coral reef, but rather the strength and grace and class and courage Victoria has exampled over the past year, for she took on her role as soon-to-be-mum and stood firm against every single stunning shard that burst from the spectacular myriad of new beginnings we know as pregnancy and birth, and she did so with a steadfast commitment and staunch devotion to our unborn Phoebe, the likes of which I have never been privy to before.
It didn’t matter what Victoria had heard about pregnancy or birth, whether it was the joyous scenes of rainbows and roses and all things sugary like a fifties sweet shop, or whether it was the shudder inducing horror stories of pain and struggle and whatnot, she just wanted to experience every part of the spectrum in the way that life should be experienced. She wanted to feel every emotion and sentiment and hardship and craving, and for that attitude I can’t commend her enough, I bow my head and swoop my tall black top hat in great applause, like the memory of a bygone gentleman.
But that’s where I discovered the fine line of talk and action, as well as stubbornness and bravery, because she didn’t let her ambitions slide off her tongue and through her teeth just to go up in a wisp of thin white smoke like the extinguished flame of a burned out church candle. No. She succeeded in her want to be an all-encompassing mother, to feel all she could feel and withstand all she could withstand, and she did so with the elegance of a royal white swan. She didn’t once complain as her body explored the dramatic changes of a pending mother and she didn’t once slip toward cantankerous as she overhauled her lifestyle for the yet-to-be-Phoebe. No, she remained beautiful, her smile wide and her glow like that of an easterly sun across Norfolk marshes. Quite simply, Victoria set out to be the mother she knew she could be, and since day one the verdict has remained the same; she was absolutely born to be a ‘mummy’.
Victoria fully committed herself to the cause, but by the time the due date came and went she was as ready as any to see the back of that long-haul pregnancy. She was ready to escape the nine month expansion of her body and meet the little girl she’d developed and carried in her for so long, and with that we went straight to the book of old wives’ tales, fables and myths. We partook on a long walk through the festively lit streets of Central London, between the bold and old architecture, as we dodged the blurred flurry of Christmas shoppers sprinting about the place. With still no arrival, we tucked into a nice and spicy curry, before I watched Victoria slurp back a whole pineapple with strangely satisfying groans. We don’t give much credence to such rumour and hearsay, but those tricks of the trade sure as hell worked, and the next morning she was in full blown labour... although it wasn’t quite as we’d expected, with Victoria flat out refusing to believe the birth of Phoebe was her immediate reality, instead carping on about stomach-ache or something as I ran her bath, the far from easy feat in that flat - nothing compared to childbirth I’m sure, but not far off rocket science.
It’s how she handled the finale of that long ordeal that amazes me beyond words though, the courage she showed truly ineffable. That moment the child wants to arrive and you realise time is up and life is about to change suddenly becomes paralysing, but for us men it’s capped at a mental war. For the women though, it's a whole lot more. It’s the physicality of what's fast impending, the rush of hormones and emotions in those very moments, the heavy drumbeat of thoughts as you look to your new future, it's terrifyingly beautiful. It is the most incomprehensibly overwhelming experience anyone can go through, as the life you created wriggles its way toward consciousness, and then the world.
So with our hospital bags packed and my mind fighting for clarity, we got into the taxi and were off to hospital, the sound of Victoria’s heavy breathing my main concern as I tried to ignore the taxi driver’s attempts at midwifery in the politest possible way. Then it was into the hospital, the reception, the elevator and then the waiting room, or as it became known, the battleground. I didn’t want to start my day with conflict, but I was forced to engage in numerous showdowns with the stickler-for-protocol receptionist, my gut feeling versus her professional opinion like elevator music to the waiting women, Victoria somehow exercising the composure I wish I’d had, the equanimity I needed. My war wasn’t because I thought we were more special than the others in line, it’s not that I wanted to jump the queue of heavily pregnant ladies, or battle the hospital staff for the sake of increased hysteria or another adrenaline kick, I simply knew Victoria. I knew her mindset, her attitude, her urgencies, her tone and her thresholds, and in that moment I knew I had to get her in front of a midwife as soon as humanly possible, with or without the receptionists cooperation. Sure enough, my gut instinct prevailed, and when we finally saw a midwife all was made clear.
“Ok Victoria, I’m just going to check how dilated you are… Okay, I can see the head.” They were the midwife's very words.
Now I may be a man with a compulsive daydreaming disorder, unrestrained ambitions and a whimsical view on life, but even I knew that it was go time, that the guitars were tuned, voices were prepped and we were about to rock n’ roll.
In that second, my responsibilities became clear. I wanted to fulfil my role as spokesman and as Victoria’s voice of reason. I wanted to be the support she required. I wanted to uphold her detailed birthing plan with meticulous honour... but it all happened too quick for everything to run smoothly and every request to be met, things like ensuring the right people are called and calls for a water birth are answered. But I learned then that having to make detours and compromises should not be the catalyst for panic, but far from, for our basic human instincts are the greatest tool we own, that taught feeling in our gut as good a measure as any.
I remember the contractions that Victoria fought through. I remember the big bright rays of sunshine that danced across the damp roof tiles outside our hospital window. I remember tearing up as I phoned our family members and friends we consider being family to tell them the news. I remember trying to help in any way I could without treading on the pro’s toes. I remember the foul hospital food, my role as Victoria’s rock and encourager and backbone. I remember Victoria’s unbelievable strength and ridiculously high pain barrier as she remained committed to her desires as a mother, wanting to feel every excruciating detail of the phenomenal experience, refusing to numb herself with any drug whatsoever, which kind of pissed me off because I really wanted to suck down some of that damn gas and air in the hope it would be a nice leveller for my nerves. However I quickly realised I wasn’t exactly in the position to ask for drugs as a solo enjoyer. Hell, it would have been a completely irresponsible request given Victoria was doing the whole shebang on nothing but willpower and true grit, the sellfish trooper.
Then four hours later, still sober and coherent, we welcomed our (not so) little girl to the world at a healthy weight of 9.2lbs. Without comparison, it was the most poignant and warm and real and emotionally charged experience there has ever been and will ever be, the acknowledgement that together you have created a heartbeat, a beautiful bundle of purity that you will look after for the rest of your lives with a Cheshire cat grin no matter what divine challenges get hurled your way. You have responsibilities like you’ve never had before. You're required to sculpt and educate and protect and guide and love and enjoy and hold and heal. You are suddenly someones everything, their absolute world. It’s a moment that chokes you up like nothing you can possibly comprehend or experience or fathom until you’ve been there. It chokes you up like there's a tight fist around your neck, a golf ball sitting thick in your throat, your heavy gulping no match for it as the emotion almost bounces on a bungee that holds all the power in releasing those tears. It's an experience that chokes you up more than ‘The Notebook’ on a hangover.
Then after one night in hospital to ensure Phoebe Isla Huntingdon Howell was feeding without any issue, and with a large deliciously smelly Pizza Hut added to our overnight family much to the envy of others, we headed back to the North Norfolk coast, and this is where my pride has really blossomed and bloomed like never before, because despite the unique experiences and understandings of pregnancy, and the tear-jerking bewilderment of birth where my nerves jangled like a pocket of loose change, Victoria’s courage and mettle and pluck to move to Norfolk is one I am so proud of and grateful for. Her valour to move out of the bright lights, past the meadows of elephant grass and the wild sticks, and into a backcountry so far removed and retreated that we’re at waters edge, is a sacrifice I am indebted to. It is a sacrifice that has seen her move from her comforts zones, from her friends and family and knowhow, all so that we can give Phoebe a better lifestyle, one with the freshest of sea air and stately home walks and a spacious home, the chance to adapt to our new roles. That to me is the ultimate sacrifice, the bold decision to give up all you know for your family.
But here, in the wilds of North-West Norfolk, Victoria has proved her talents as a ‘mummy’. She has fallen into Phoebe’s bright sparkling eyes and devoted herself completely, without complaint and with a heart so full she can’t contain the overspill of adoration that manifests itself in vocal love half a dozen times a second. It is the ultimate bond, and the pinnacle of joy to behold. Phoebe is her Mum’s everything.
But then I always knew she was going to be. Right from the very day we got the news, Victoria’s eyes lit up like halos on a angel, her attitude snapping like dry kindling as she flourished from a young woman into young mum. But it has not been the change I had feared for our lives are only fuller. We have much more responsibility, yes, but our eccentricities have only been heightened by our love for Phoebe’s laugh, our quirks and foibles only exaggerated by our new lust for life that was born out of our daughter, our mad, mad traits all too cherished as we hope Phoebe to become one of us mad ones.
To us, and especially Victoria, the entire spectrum of requirements that accompany being new-parents is a thrill and a joy and a pleasure and a desire. The sound of her waking in the middle of the night is a call for laughter as the three of us rub our eyes and lark about on the bed, the sounds of ‘good morning’s’ reverberating around the house as Phoebe wakes up with big n’ wide eyes and a bigger n’ wider smile, the house vibrating with the sound of us imitating her soft and cute noises as we chat to the little one, or the moment Victoria and I couldn’t hold back the river as Phoebe had her first giggle, an uncontrollable fit of laughter as bright and pure as the waters of Lake Como.
Now I know more than anyone that sitting pretty as the subject of a brief blog on my small-time website aint exactly a call for cheers or the clink of glasses, but to me this is the lush green flower-specked peak of the proverbial mountaintop, not least because I rarely give a voice to the part of me that wants to sing, and so, in what is a seldom occasion, this is a small toast of someone that truly deserves recognition for her new role as an unbelievable mother, because the beautiful Victoria has been unbelievable, and because of that support I have no doubt that Phoebe will continue her journey through life with an unrivalled contentment, because of the love that shrouds and swaddles her I know she’ll never cease smiling and laughing and pleasing and exploring, and that is the highpoint, the zenith, the pinnacle of praise any parent can hope to receive.