Hello and thank you for your interest in my new novel!
As with my other work, this book is not based on my life or anyone in it and the characters and plot are fictional.
I have drawn on some personal emotions of being a ‘mum without a mum’ and experiences of being a new mum, but, as with any novel, there’s a lot of research and a lot of reading behind it to get the plot threads in place and to start the protagonist on a journey you want to be involved in.
I hope after reading this first chapter, you do want to find out what happens to Alicia and join her through her first year as a mum.
The Mum without a Mum Diaries
A goodbye to the massive bumps with the Yogi Mummies, as we eat through our Gaviscon hangovers.
It’s our final group fat day as Lily’s booked in for a caesarean tomorrow. She’s a bit gutted that she can’t make much use of the golden thread breath we’d spent weeks perfecting in our yoga classes.
Mind you, Lily is all loveliness and serenity with an actual pregnancy glow. You’d hate her if she wasn’t so nice. She really doesn’t look pregnant from behind and her face is the least puffy out of all of us. She’s so polite and softly spoken that her voice will probably chill out the whole operating theatre anyway.
We all commiserate that she won’t get to have a water birth, though. No one would look at each other for a moment after that. Two pools available, three girls left in the running, almost identical due dates. Then the afternoon tea arrived.
I hadn’t been sick for three hours so I piled all available varieties of cake onto my plate. Marie tucked her bobbed black hair behind her ears and took a tiny piece. She’s the only person I know who can pull off that hairstyle with a severe fringe and not look like a Lego lady figure. She’s giving up all sweet stuff for lent so that she can start to drop the baby weight soon after birth. Most of her gain is on her ankles so I don’t think she has too much to worry about.
‘Lent is only about six weeks away,’ I managed to say through tumbling chunks of chocolate muffin. Couldn’t bear to tell them outright that, much like Jesus, Easter is my downfall. Plus, I deserve a shit load of food after vomiting daily for eight and a half months.
‘Yes, but Alicia, you’ll be breastfeeding and that burns around an extra 500 calories a day,’ Scarlett recalled. ‘I’m sick of having three chins.’
Someone mentions the 500 calories at least once every time we meet up, usually Scarlett or me. We’ve both borne the brunt of our unborn making our figures temporarily ‘bonny’, as my elderly neighbour put it. At least Scarlett’s hair has gone silky, soft and remained a gorgeous chestnut brown, while mine is tired blonde and straggled.
‘I never said I was definitely breastfeeding,’ Marie shrugged. Unfortunately, Lily was pouring tea at the time and ended up throwing it all over a scone I’d had my eye on.
‘Maybe it won’t work,’ Marie continued. No one had been this brave about the topic since Scarlett’s husband Tim accidentally rugby tackled a plastic doll in the ‘breast is best’ class and called breastfeeding ‘fucking inhumane.’
‘We wouldn’t be here as a species if breasts failed as often as our culture might lead you to believe they do,’ Scarlett said.
The waitress came over to clear up the tea spillage just as Lily had changed the subject to the fact we were all going to be meeting our babies this month. I thought that I heard the waitress whisper darkly that we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. I didn’t let it bother me as I saw her phone at the counter and the boys on her screen lock look like baby Krays.
Lilly couldn’t stay for long after that. Her baby’s getting delivered at 9.45am. Sounds more reliable than Amazon Prime.
Lily WhatsApp’d the Yogi Mummies to say baby Ella had arrived. She sent a happy, but tired photo joking that her fiancé Josh looked sexy in scrubs. Sorry, but only Zach Braff can pull off that look.
Looked up C-sections properly. I know Victoria Beckham planned hers by choice (Lily needed one as she injured her pelvis playing hockey years ago). Maybe I should have thought ahead as I’m a bit shit at golden thread breath to be honest (I can’t even breath out a stitch running around the block so I’m not sure how that will work with breathing out a baby). I only ever went to those classes because it was the only exercise that involved being allowed to sleep at the end. Lily looked like the least stressed post-birth mum ever. l looked up stories about emergency sections in case that happens to me and that’s when Jack found me crying and bouncing on my yoga ball watching Scrubs.
I don’t know what he was more shocked at – the ‘pregnancy prop’ being released from its squashed captivity under the coffee table or that I was bawling about no one really appreciating JD, and insisting that I don’t want anyone cutting past all my belly fat and pulling a baby out, even if he did it.
Lily replied to our congratulations and ‘do you need anything’ messages to say that her mum is moving in for the month to help so she’s got it all covered.
Gave myself an unsuccessful pep talk in the mirror. Mainly consisted of repeating, ‘Alicia, you can do this, Alicia you can do this…’, until even my own name made no sense.
Jack put his marking away and took me out for breakfast. I kept crying into my chicken nuggets and chips (this baby deals in McDonald’s before midday) to the point where three hungover teenagers with the type of long hair they all have nowadays to hide the anger in their eyes (or the weed), stopped eating their piles of food, pushed their fringes back and left. I didn’t blame them for eating their burgers on their BMXs rather than deal with a blubbering mess of a pre-mum moaning about having no mother of her own.
Jack reminded me that his mum had offered to move in with us for a few weeks after the baby comes. He then had to buy me another round of chicken nuggets for making me feel worse.
When we got back, I thought Jack would need to do some lesson planning. Instead he made a living room carpet picnic of ginger ale soda, ginger tea, ginger jam on toast, ginger snaps and some cold chicken nuggets. Ate the nuggets. I know it helps with the sickness but after I’ve had this baby, I am going to burn everything we’ve bought with even a hint of ginger in the fire pit at the back of the garden.
Jack wasn’t his usual go-getter teacher on the first day of term this morning. He didn’t even whistle while ironing his shirt.
‘Does the new head of department start today?’ I asked, legs tangled about my pregnancy pillow.
Unfortunately, yeah,’ he muttered.
‘What’s her name again, Gemma?’ I asked casually like I hadn’t already looked her up on Facebook, Instagram, twitter and LinkedIn.
Could hear someone coming in as Jack was leaving. It could only be Beth, my Mac-eye palleted, contour faced, swinging skirted, herb carrying, confused hippy/scouse babe, and best friend since my first day at St Edmunds Catholic High School for Girls, when she sat down next to and said, ‘we’re going to be mates.’
‘Totally forgot my key and my phone,’ she said, collapsing onto the bed.
‘And the fact you don’t live here,’ I replied.
Today she was lilac scented. It was heady and sweet but reminded me of insomnia.
‘Luckily J-Lad let me in, but he didn’t look very happy to be going to teach the next generation of weather pattern pushers. I thought he’d refused that head of department job, so he can hardly be bitter?’
Couldn’t be bothered going through that again, so told her about Lily’s mum moving in for the month. Beth snorted and said how if that was her mum, it would have meant coping by herself while an uninterested woman smoked and played cards in the corner while nursing a can of cider.
I’ve been thinking about asking Beth to be my second birthing partner. A lot of the Yogi Mummies are having their mums there too. Beth’s always been like a sister to me, but I’m not sure the bond could withstand vag juice spilling on her shoes.
Jack came back from school in a ‘thoughtful’ mood – so thoughtful in fact that after he cooked tea, he finally put together the changing unit for the nursery. He was lovely all night, even putting up with me asking him not to watch an episode of Planet Earth that he’d been looking forward to, because at least one animal always gets done in and I can’t cope with the cruelty of nature right now.
Tried to drive to McDonalds. Ankles too fucked to walk. Pulled over and threw up into a plastic bag at the end of the road.
Tried to drive to McDonalds again. Pulled over and threw up in a plastic bag at the end of the road. Missed the plastic bag completely.
So upset I called Jack, who thought I was going into labour and was nearly out of the school gates until I calmed down enough to say that I was just sick of being sick and I’d wet myself in the car again.
Beth, who is a ‘freelance writer, designer and thinker’, at least according to her wordpress website, came to help. She said I would have to learn how to be a ‘Big Mum’ as I’d be cleaning worse than this up soon. Mildly offended, I asked her what a ‘Big Mum’ is and it turns out she means proper grown up women who always follow guidelines and get red wine stains out of the carpet using yogurt.
Looking at my baby photos. Sometimes I just want to climb back into those times and hug my mum. Other thoughts: I hope that my own baby, who at the moment is doing a River Dance on my belly, isn’t a pure ball of fatness like I was.
Thought Jack would be in a better mood finishing the first school week but he started doing more DIY.
Put a pizza in so he wouldn’t have to cook tea, and tried not to baulk at the smell of melting cheese. Got my bottle of Gaviscon, and sat Jack down to see what was going on. He said he was fine and just wanted a night in with me on the sofa. When he went upstairs his phone buzzed, but he must have taken off those alerts that let you see who has messaged you, so I went to unlock it using the first digits of his old house phone number but I couldn’t get in.
Fuming all night.
You see when I met Jack he was a bit of a ‘lad’, which is why Beth always called him ‘Jack the Lad’ now shortened to ‘J-Lad’)
Since our two-year-time-out after uni (which is never to be spoken of in terms of who we passed that time with, etc), we’ve had a strict trust policy, so he shouldn’t really have changed his passcode, and I shouldn’t really know that he has.
We met before we were ready. It was early on in uni, on the sticky dancefloor of the Blue Angel – our favourite student bar. This is a place that sounds romantic but serves fat frogs and plays 90s pop medleys to willing participants. Due to the enthusiastic DJ and the chatter and bad singing from the other students drowning out his voice, I only noticed on our first date that he was Welsh.
Even if he will say ‘I do’ like he’s about to say ‘I do have to bring the cows in from the field now’, I’d still marry him. If he asked me. I won’t go into that debate now and yes a baby is more of a commitment than a wedding.
I could do with a ring on my finger right now. Jack is still all smouldering, with gorgeously tinted skin from all those mountains he climbs, and bright blue eyes that too many girls get lost in. Meanwhile, I look like a smouldering orang-utan.
Maybe he’ll ask me on the baby’s due date, which is tomorrow.
No baby. No ring.
Kind of glad the baby hasn’t made an appearance yet. Suddenly remembered how I didn’t even manage to look after a flour baby in year eight. And David Bowe has died. Shit day. Definitely not one to be born on.
Yogi Mummies group has gone a bit quiet since Lily had the baby, although Scarlett has posted a few tips on staying mellow during the worst stages of labour. Beth said that means she definitely isn’t in labour herself yet.
4pm My waters have broken. It wasn’t like in the films – I’ve wet myself more than that even before I was even pregnant. Something literally ‘popped’. Maybe the sound was inside my head. I felt a small gush of liquid that was it. I went to the loo and there was a red-brown stain in my over-sized knickers so I grabbed my phone and called Jack to come home and then rang the hospital and discovered that the staff there are very suspicious about people who ring up and say their waters have broken.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Well it’s my first so I’m not 100%, no.’
‘So maybe it wasn’t your waters breaking?’
‘There was a red-brown stain!’
‘Red or Brown?’ Felt like I was ordering a bacon butty and she had the sauce.
‘You’ve had a show.’ Long Pause.
‘Can I come in?’
‘Yes, we do have to check you out,’ she sighed.
6pm In early labour, bouncing on the yoga ball with Jack gently massaging my lower back. We’re getting the TENs machine out soon. Life is good.
Balls to yoga balls. Another shit invention. Worse than a twatting Tens machine. Can’t stand Jack touching me. Or talking to me. Or looking at me.
Along with the agony ripping down my spine is another sort of torture that I first felt when the police knocked on the door two years ago and told me about the crash that she didn’t survive. Why hadn’t she warned me about giving birth? No wonder I’m an only child.
But I want her here.
I just want my mum.
I’m looking into the eyes of someone who is half-me, half Jack, and who looks far too big to have just been removed from my body. Well, she was, judging by the tag team of midwives working on my lower regions, umming and ahhing over whether I have been ‘torn through’. They keep sticking needles into me like I’m some kind of cervical pin cushion. Panicking slightly that I have a broken bum hole but otherwise I’m fine. She’s looking at me.
She has these incredible dark blue eyes, hands that grab at the air before settling on my skin and a puckered mouth that searches in a way I find fascinating. She has only just hit the outside world and already seems to know my potential for hosting a quick post birth snack with my boobs.
She also has that new life smell of loveliness and innocence, a softness better than the best brand of washing powder. I don’t even mind that she has weirdly long nails (no one warns you in the antenatal classes) that have already created little marks on my skin. I don’t notice their effect on my bruised and tired body. For the first time in months my insides feel light and my throat isn’t on fire. It’s like the cutting of the umbilical cord, done in a rather haphazard way by Jack, released me from all the pregnancy symptoms.
‘I’m cutting that?’ he’d said uncertainly as we both looked down at the rubbery and bright blue rope-like thing connecting me and the baby. The midwife handed Jack a pair of scissors in response.
‘Do you want to eat it? The midwife asked casually.
As I wasn’t Kim Kardashian, I had no plans to serve something that looked like a second liver with some roast potatoes and veg or convert it into black pills that look like rabbit pooh. I remembered the antenatal class leader talking about the placenta for about an hour, until someone piped up with, ‘can you just show us how to change a nappy?’
Jack’s next new dad challenge was to dress the baby, while the midwife tugged at the remainder of the cord, summoning the evil afterbirth (I mean come on – a birth AFTER the birth).
Jack was clutching a handful of baby clothes and looking utterly confused.
‘What do I put on first?’ he said. Reluctantly, I took the gas and air pipe out of my mouth. But then one of the midwives noticed him brandishing about five over-sized vest things (we’d bought 0-3 months and not newborn) and offered to help.
‘You’re allowed one other visitor in here you know love,’ another of the midwives said gently. ‘Why don’t you give your mum a call?’
Oh God. Less than half an hour after giving birth and it had started already.
‘My mum’s dead. Can I have my friend here instead?’ I said it quickly. The first post-birth stab in the heart. At least I knew I could count on Beth to distract me a bit.
‘I’ll ring her,’ Jack said, before kissing the now dressed baby, kissing me and heading outside to call my best friend. He was back in seconds.
‘She’ll be here in two minutes.’
‘She’s been waiting in the car park.’
‘I’m going to get a quick wash,’ I said, as the midwife stood up satisfied that I was whole again and none of my holes were broken. Hobbling to the ensuite, blood running down my leg. The smell reminded me of a butcher’s. The water was hot on my skin and sore on my bits. There were no mirrors in the bathroom and I quickly realised why as my saggy belly premiered in the shower. It looked like a deflated balloon.
Home from hospital. In laws yet to arrive. Got a message on the Yogi Mummies group that Marie had a baby boy called George. Lovely if traumatised family photo. I sent one in return. None of us spoke about the actual birth because it would test even Mother-Earth-Scarlett’s sanity.
Jack sat me down, and brought me a cup of tea, duvet and chocolate, and asked carefully if I wanted to let my dad know about the baby. I said I couldn’t think about that yet and lifted her onto my boob using the nose to nipple method as a way of ending the conversation. ‘The Latch’ – a cross between sticking pins in my nipples and clamping them.
Jack did the nappy change. The deal is that he can do them as all the feeding is on me. Glad of this arrangement, even if I’m already getting cracked nipples. The baby’s first pooh in the hospital looked like motor oil.
Martha the Martyr, also known as Jack’s mum, arrived, with his dad Neil shuffling in behind her. After exclaiming over the beautifulness of the baby while maintaining a careful distance from my boobs, she placed a muslin cloth over where I was feeding. I took it off. She pursed her lips.
Then she asked what we’d called the baby.
‘Oh what a…name,’ she replied, glancing at Jack.
‘You missed out the word lovely, Mum,’ Jack said.
Then she started on pain relief. Before I could expand on why I hadn’t had any, she was cooing over me.
‘Oh what a brave girl you are. I would never have expected you to refuse drugs.’ Couldn’t admit that I was too far gone for every drug I screamed for.
Felt like a relief when the baby finally stopped feeding and Martha could turn her attentions away from me. Neil asked for height, weight and toilet habits. Realised he didn’t mean mine before I got to the last one. Felt like I was passing an orange, the first time I had a wee. Thinking telling him that would have meant him never asking me a question ever again.
Martha and Neil stayed in the spare room for the night. Me and Jack hardly slept. The baby fed ALL night and even when she was briefly asleep in the Moses basket at the side of the bed, we either watched her or the tick on the angel mat monitor to make sure she was still breathing.
After Jack made me breakfast in bed while I fed the baby (dropped jam on her head twice), he went out to get more tenor lady pads. The bleeding is unreal. Neil went with him, not knowing what the errand was. Martha was milling about upstairs after deciding who the baby looked like from her side of the family. Thankfully Beth arrived while I was googling 101 reasons why a new baby might be crying for no reason.
‘She’s found her voice then,’ she said. ‘Erm, what a cute cry.’ I told her not to lie to me. ‘Okay then, what a fucking nightmare, I could hear her from the end of the path. Are you okay?’
I nodded but my bottom lip wobbled, and even Beth’s botox couldn’t stop the crease of concern on her brow. The baby had built up a rhythmic ‘wah’ ‘wah’ ‘wah’ that could have sounded funny if it didn’t dislodge some tearful emotion behind my ribs.
Beth asked if I was ready to kill Martha yet.
‘Keep your voice down,’ I whispered. ‘She’s only upstairs.’
‘She won’t hear us over this one exercising her lungs,’ Beth replied, walking towards the living room. Before I could follow her, a yell from the upstairs landing stopped me in my tracks.
I looked up to see a blonde shock of hair hanging down over the bannister.
‘I think that’s a food cry. Offer her your left side this time, remember?’ It was like being shouted at to breastfeed by IT from The Adams Family. ‘Alicia, did you hear me? I think Frances wants feeding.’
‘Her name isn’t fucking Frances,’ I muttered as I stepped into the comfort of our living room. The walls may be clinical white but the artwork more than makes up for it. We have framed photos of famous Liverpool stuff, from the Liver Birds in splashes of technicolour to a print of an original Cunard Shipping Line advert. A large checked multi-coloured rug finishes it off. The whole look is slightly ruined by the recent plaster work surrounding the new windows which had yet to be painted.
‘Why would anyone start working on their house at nine months pregnant?’ I heard Martha whisper to Neil when they first arrived at our home.
‘Why does she keep calling her Frances if you didn’t give into the name they wanted?’ Beth asked. She was jigging my perma-crying daughter up and down. I explained that Martha wasn’t too impressed with the name we’d gone for, particularly the middle one. A wide grin spread across Beth’s face, her orange lipstick lighting it up. ‘You used both names? I nodded and she laughed, for too long.
‘Of course I like the first one but you can’t keep the middle name,’ she said. I argued that it worked for Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Beth reminded me that they were ‘consciously uncoupled’ before saying that my baby was definitely crying for food. Despite feeling like my boobs wouldn’t be able to take it, I took my little Poppy Apple into my arms, her lower lip already bubbling into a sulky pout and eyes, tearless, but crinkled from trying. I remembered what mum used to say to me when I kicked off as a kid.
‘Who knitted your face and dropped a stitch?’ I whispered, then braced myself for ‘The Latch’. My grey maternity bra smelled like I’d rinsed it under a cow. Poppy’s cries were muffled as she head-butted my boobs.
‘If I could do it for you I would,’ Beth said. I told her not to be so disgusting but she said that in other cultures whole families move in and the village gets involved.
‘Sometimes the women get to stay in bed for like months and just sleep a lot and the nans even breastfeed the grandkids!’ Beth continued. ‘I mean, I know it’s important to have a mum’s support and all but that’s a bit too far…shit. Sorry Alicia.’
Martha came into the room then and asked if Poppy was ‘secured’ onto me properly. I said it was fine, but I wasn’t actually sure. It never stopped hurting.
Beth made me sit down, propped the cushions up around me, and got a massive tube of nipple cream and a box of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs out of her bag.
Scarlett had a baby girl. She sent a message saying how it was all amazing and an earthly bonding experience. She managed a water birth too. Fucking bitch.
Martha and Neil went home with lots of kisses for Poppy and threats to come back next weekend to us.
My right nipple is now purple. I wanted to put concealer on it but worried it would poison Poppy. Jack caught me crying and said he’d been researching what can help and he’s found a local group that come out to the house with knitted tits and stuff. Willing to try anything. He asked if I needed to increase my anti-depressant dosage.
Couldn’t admit that I’ve been flushing the existing ones down the toilet.
Opened the door to a woman called Sally who had a baby hanging off each boob. She called Poppy ‘Peter’ and said what a lovely complexion ‘he’ had. She was alright apart from that, reassuring me that I was doing The Latch right and how it would just take a bit longer for my boobs to adjust.
Felt a bit in awe of her. Sally seemed like a ‘Big Mum’ type. She had massive boobs she wasn’t ashamed to flash outside the maternity bra when feeding (with normal nipples), a ruddy complexion like she constantly walked hills with her double buggy, and long unbrushed and unwashed (not that I could talk) but well-conditioned blonde hair. She had a great figure. Her babies played in the corner and didn’t cry once. They were excellent marketing props for her breastfeeding business.
Disconcerting that Jack is now so immune to nipples that he was taking notes while Sally was doing a live demo.
Cracked nipples. Like Purple milk volcanoes.
Jelly belly. Poppy’s pooh now has seeds in it. Sleep deprivation.
The Girls (official title for Cara, Lisa, Katy and of course Beth as they are my most long-term friends) called around collectively to meet Poppy. All brought gorgeous presents, apart from Cara, who thought it was normal to buy me a snot remover. Beth told me I had to let my grudge against Cara go. Told Beth she had no idea how it felt when someone said your baby scan photo looked like a black and white jacket potato.
Lisa loved the way Poppy vogues (she is a very expressive baby, I might put her into some kind of baby amateur dramatics group when she can hold her head up). She bought us a Ewan the Sheep teddy thing that sings lullabies. Gorgeous. Katy brought homemade lasagne and cream eggs.
All three of them made me tell them about the labour in vag aching detail, while Beth declared that she couldn’t go through it again. They get their knowledge from One Born Every Minute and Teen Mom so it was easy enough to do a censored version. After all they might want kids themselves one day.
Jack was in and out making tea and snacks, but otherwise distracted on his phone again.
Ewan the Sheep is a cunt. I can’t stop crying whenever his main lullaby comes on but it’s the only thing that makes Poppy sleep.
Keep dreaming about Mum. It’s your standard, clichéd dream, where we’re in the same room but she can’t see or hear me. In one I was holding Poppy out to her. Woke myself up crying so much that my face ached.
Jack asked again if I wanted him to come with me to see the doctor about my antidepressants.
Martha and Neil are back.
Neil’s contribution to the weekend amounted to proclaiming, ‘she’s got quite a big head for a baby hasn’t she, Alicia?’
Snot remover is amazing. I can breathe again.
Every time I have a difficult pooh I get a flashback to Jack stopping at the red lights when I was in labour. I was in so much pain that I thought I was ready to push or pooh, I couldn’t be sure, and there was NO traffic. I shouted at him for being too bloody British.
Nice moment watching Jack bath Poppy tonight.
‘Luke used to love helping to give me a bath,’ Jack said, which surprised me as his brother lives in Barcelona and they’ve never been close.
Before I could say how surprisingly sweet that was he added. ‘because he loved the fact I was ‘going away’ soon after. My bedtime was his favourite part of the day.’
Health visitor came to measure Poppy. Her head size was almost off the centile chart (Poppy’s, not the Health Visitor’s).
First Yogi Mummies meet up with all the newborns. Left the babies to vogue in their prams while we drank decaf coffee because babies seem to be allergic to sleep as it is and we’re all scared of even a drip getting into our milk.
The first thing Marie said was ‘bollocks to golden thread breath’ and how diamorphine was like being wrapped up in cotton wool and she missed it. Lily said she was annoyed because Josh is sleeping in a different room with headphones on.
‘But then I’m the one doing all the feeding and he’s gone back to work, so is there a point in both of us getting up?’
‘Yes,’ Marie said.
We all got our boobs out in public to feed, and pretended that we didn’t feel awkward about it.
Scarlett didn’t actually give birth in the water. Tim came to pick her up and told her to ‘stop talking shite’ as it was the scariest moment of their lives when she was dragged out for the final contractions, shouting that it was in our nature.
Felt my lip wobble when they all had a moment talking about how good their mums had been over the past couple of weeks. Was even tempted to contact my dad.
Martha and Neil are back AGAIN. Martha brought a feeding apron ‘for my dignity’.
Jack’s definitely hiding something, and it isn’t an engagement ring. The only ring I can associate with him at the moment is the annoying one from his phone, and it’s an unknown number. Can’t get my head around it.
I wanted to ask him about it, but when Poppy finally went to sleep, grunting away peacefully, I suddenly couldn’t get over the fact that my mum will never be involved in any of this. I just cried quietly and watched her sleep.
Cracked the passcode on Jack’s phone.