31 years ago today, and thanks to my Dad’s rather eager sperm, my poor Mother – one big haired, blonde, Shirley Rita Pink of Harston, Cambridgeshire – was enduring one of the five most painful experiences of her life (three of those other occasions were giving birth to my brother and sister and I, the fourth was learning to drive – something which I am brutally reminded of whenever I get in the car on a day when she has decided to wear shoes which she wouldn’t usually wear for driving, and ideally shouldn’t. Only joking Mum, you’re a great driver! As long as you wear the right shoes…). Mum has never talked much about giving birth and how it was for her, other than to say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Spectacularly. And my Mum is a woman who does not mince her words, I can assure you (she always says exactly what she thinks about run-away success Strictly Come Dancing, and she should know — she used to be a ballet dancer).
While a lot of people actually have annoyingly hassle-free pregnancies, where everything falls into place and the pain and the stress is minimal, Mum really suffered with all her births, especially my older sister Natalie – so much so that it’s remarkable this version of me even exists. Just imagine, or don’t, as I prefer…had I been born a few months earlier or later I might have never ended up as a freelance writer who is frequently able to choose his waking hour. I might have become a banker, I might have become anything else. And I’ve always despised early mornings, so I am grateful.
See, not only was Natalie the world’s most miniature premature baby, but with that came all kinds of terrible complications; Natalie had breathing difficulties and heart problems galore, and the stress of it all did its fair share to kick my my Mum in good and proper, too.
So one thing I have never quite understood about Birthdays, is why the Mums get so little recognition. OK, so I did my bit and somehow naturally got myself in the right position so that the delivery wasn’t too much of a nightmare — at least, compared to my sister’s exotic escape — but I had no idea I was doing that, did I? It was pure chance. I was probably just fed-up of being in that position for too long and fancied a change, as babies do. It was Mum who bore the strain. Mum who had to carry me for many months, and Mum who had to get through the agonising pain of having to look at my Dad who was getting off completely scott-free, not me. That’s why I often feel a bit weird about celebrating my birthday — the day when Mum had a horrendous C-section, and forever after her body was never quite the same. Although clearly I don’t feel that weird about it, nor have I ever protested along with many other like-minded individuals about how there ought to be a special day for Mum’s everywhere, something more personal than just a collective and commercially lurid Mother’s Day. Because this morning I gratefully accepted a number of gifts, and not once did I turn to dearest Mum and say, “Here, I feel bad accepting all these nice things, why don’t you have them all? Why don’t you take that £50 note? Would you like some 85% dark chocolate?” What I will say is that it’s probably good that I didn’t offer her the Alan Partridge book to be honest. I really don’t think she’d appreciate it as much as I will, and she’s never been much of a fan of dark chocolate (she says it’s too bitter).
Putting all the giving birth stuff to one side for a moment – watch where you put that hypothetical Placenta, please… – one of the things I really like about modern birthdays is the Facebook thing. So what if most of the people on your friends list probably wouldn’t remember your birthday were it not for the fact that Facebook automatically makes all your friends aware of it, whether they like it or not. Does it really matter that the Birthday is spoon-fed to them? Not to me. I’m bloody awful at remembering birthdays so I appreciate any help I can get. While it’s true that Facebook certainly does an excellent job of guilt-tripping all your mates into writing something on your Wall, even if some of them rarely speak to you – who, really, can resist writing on the wall when every time they log in they see that little reminder in the corner of the screen? – the act of writing on someone’s FB Wall is still something special. Sacred, in a certain kind of way that transcends the seemingly too-easy simplicity of it all. At least to me. What makes it even better, I think, is when people take it upon themselves to invent an ingenious way to say Happy Birthday. I don’t want to single any one particular person(s) out here, but it’s definitely something which helps to make the world go round. On Birthdays, you should always forgive bad grammar and spelling mistakes. You should always thank everyone for bothering: thank you all for bothering!
Lastly, Birthdays are, to some degree, all about the cards and the presents and the feeling that today is something to be remembered — for example, today will be remembered as the day I got a great jumper from my girlfriend, and the day that Nana Pink rang up to actually sing the entire long version of Happy Birthday to you… down the phone at me, without stopping once to feel besieged by embarrassment — a fine attribute which I fear only comes with age. I don’t care what anyone says about being materialistic, or how militant you are about giving and receiving gifts: it just feels good to know that someone has taken it upon themselves to give you something from the bottom of their heart. For me it’s never been about the size or cost of the item, and it’s certainly never been about asking for something specific. For me it’s just nice to know that someone cares you did exit the womb on this day.
Update: It’s been pointed out to me that this post could be perceived as inaccurate and unfair, and that it makes out that many women have easy pregnancies when this is in fact not the case at all. It’s difficult for me to say any more, without having a comprehensive understanding of it all. What I will say is that this post is based purely on my own limited experiences and I am in no way suggesting that these are the same as everyone elses.