This morning son number two crawled into our bed, curling his drowsy little body around me, tickling my nose with his silky soft dark hair. He nuzzled into me whispering 'I love ju mummy' and as he relaxed into a doze waiting for 'wake up time', when the alarm blares us all into reluctant action my mind wandered back to his baby days.
I always think that number two was a bit short changed, he came along when we were in the depths of a financial readjustment (read we were broke and struggling to keep a roof over our heads). I was stressed over meaty questions like whether I should go back to work and if so whether anyone would want to employ me after two years of brain atrophying birthing and mothering. My other half and I were communicating in the eloquent marital language of moody silences and bitter recrimination and in the midst of all of this was a tiny, vulnerable baby that just seemed to heap more responsibility onto our already bowed shoulders.
Add to that an only-just-two-year-old brother who was still a baby himself and saw no reason to limit his demands just because mummy had another little soul to nurture now, and I was at breaking point. Which is probably why, when I look back now, very little remains in the baby memory bank for number two.
What does stay with me though are the best, shining moments of my tiny little man's first days, weeks and months. My first night with him will always rank as one of the happiest moments of my life. Those hours with my newborn baby son, his body robust and solid despite arriving two weeks early, padded with fat, his head soft with a dark velvet fuzz, his lips eagerly seeking me out and suckling as if his life depended on it. Such a pleasant surprise after his older brother who reacted to breast feeding as if it were the cruelest form of torture.
Although I was exhausted after a long and tricky labour, I felt that immediate and instant rush of love for this sturdy, sweetly crinkled baby. As he snuffled against me I was suffused with a tenderness and adoration that took me months to achieve with my first son, such was my shock at the transition from independent woman to sole carer for someone utterly dependent.
When my first son and I were delivered to the maternity ward I clung to my husband as my anchor in this storm of black emotion. I begged the nurses to let him stay with me, terrified of being left alone with this alien stranger and when he left I forced myself to keep the sleep I craved at bay, too afraid to take my eyes off my son for a moment lest some unknown disaster befall him.
In contrast when number two arrived I shooed my husband away, I wanted to be left alone with this wondrous creature so I could wallow in this brand new love affair. I stared at him not in fear or anxiety, but to drink in his perfection, to suck up every moment of this thrilling new being I couldn't wait to get to know. I slept fitfully waiting for him to wake up so I could scoop him out of his hospital crib and hold him close, allowing him to drink in my milk, while I drunk in his beauty.
I fell in love that night in the most profound and pleasurable way and the memory is one of pure happiness. In the morning when my husband reappeared he tentatively opened the door to the ward, worried that the same tear streaked visage of black despair would greet him, as it had just under two years previously. Instead he found me smiling with my baby boy cradled in my arms, like a latter day Madonna and child. How he must have heaved a sigh of relief.
While things naturally didn't stay quite as rose-tinted once the rigours of domesticity and the demands of sibling rivalry kicked in back at home, I still recall shafts of joy in this tense time. As a newborn son had a perfectly round head, dusted in fine, black, velvety soft hair and puffy, inqusitive little eyes, giving him he air of a mole recently emerged into the light - so my dad bought him a knitted burrower and laid them both side by side in his cot. M and his mole.
Now mole has been swapped for his constant companions, his 'anmals' a disreputable rabbit and his two starry night girls, one pink, one purple, whose ears he sucks to send himself off to sleep, rendering them smelly and sodden, but so very essential and adored. But I keep the mole in his precious box, so one day I can tell him all about how I used to stand, staring at them both over the cot rails, as I stroked the sable fuzz on my baby mole's head.
He was the cuddliest baby of all four. I used to call him 'scooped up', because the moment I saw him I had an irresistible urge to scoop him up into a hug. He would often drift off to sleep on my shoulder, dribbling contentedly until we transferred him, floppily relaxed into his cot to slumber on. Even now, once he is asleep you can carry him, draped over your shoulder from sofa or car seat to bed without him stirring.
His early contented and calm nature has given way to a cheekier little boy, who has little interest in following orders, but is quick with a sloppy kiss or an infectious giggle, which gets him out of trouble instantly. We often try to tame his wilder side with varied success, though I suspect we are secretly proud of his intransigent nature and wilful independence - at least I know I am, as it reminds me so much of myself.
The other factor that works in his favour is that he is genuinely a beautiful boy. He has shining dark hair, milk chocolate eyes, chubby, dimpled cheeks, smooth, olive skin and a squidgy little tummy. He is perfectly symmetrical, I know I checked using Photoshop, and his gappy-toothed grin squashes up his whole face into a vision of joy.
But his physical beauty isn't his only appeal. He has an answer for everything, which he delivers in a comically dramatic style. He walks into any room and instantly has a friend, he strides into his nursery and announces 'I'm here', as if with his arrival the fun can really begin. He can talk the hind leg off a donkey, and he instinctively knows just when you need love and comfort, he can twist me around his little finger and drive me up the wall. He shares his love equally and generously, and is a jolly ray of happiness that can pierce the blackest mood.
I realise now that first night was just the beginning of a life long love affair between me and my number two.