Tonight I stood beside my firstborn's bed, the dim lamplight brushing the contours of his face, I watched his chest rise and fall with the regular breath of sleep and started as he rolled over in bed, afraid I had woken him with my silent regard. He is six today, a Halloween baby and always our little pumpkin. I am wiped out after throwing a spooky birthday party for him and traipsing the local streets trick or treating, bringing home a haul of sweets that should keep him going until his next birthday.
As appears to be the case with children, each milestone you reach seems to race up upon you at an ever faster pace. I cannot believe the boy sleeping peacefully in his room below where I type is the tiny baby I held in a hospital bed, petrified at what I had gone and done, just six short years ago. I think the bond I have with number one was forged in such adversity that it has a quality that none of my other children can match.
I love all my boys with a passion that defies belief, but nothing is quite the same as the experiences you share with your precious firstborn. I am not sure this is an unalloyed benefit to either of you. I certainly made many mistakes with number one, and the intense gaze of parental attention isn't always a good thing, but it's certainly unique.
My first pregnancy was so magical. I found the whole sensation that something, another human, was growing inside me, so alien. I couldn't quite equate that burgeoning bump with a real live baby, and when my boy did arrive he was nothing like what I had expected. Conditioned by adverts on the TV which portray babies using six-month-olds who can sit up, smile and play, my newborn son was a revelation to me, and more in an apocalyptic sense than a pleasant one. His blank eyed stare chilled me, and I found it hard to wait hand and foot on this being that seemed to give nothing back.
We never got along with breast feeding and I still recall one night when he looked up at me, his dark blue eyes seemingly filled with malice as yet again I was unable to satiate his hunger. I almost flung him away from me across the bed I was so frightened by him. I would grimace smiles at him as I had read that you must smile at your baby, lest he feel unwanted, but every time I heard him cry I would cringe away from the inevitable painful battle that would ensue as I tried, and invariably failed, to feed him.
That said, although I found getting to grips with being his mummy unbearably hard, he is also the only baby I could devote myself to without distraction. When I look back at his baby days I recall holding my tiny son close and dancing away with him for hours, feeling proud that I could bear a child and still have some idea of what 'the kids' were listening to. I can't hear Maroon 5 or Keane without instantly being transported back to my old living room, holding my baby son close to my heart and weeping tears of love for him, wetting his bald and uncomprehending skull with the damp outpourings of maternal passion.
We went everywhere together, me and my boy, we spend every hour of his first few months learning how to be mother and child, learning how to love each other, and the result is an intense adoration that can, at times, exclude all others.
This is the boy who leaves me love notes under my pillow and the child who made me realise how much I loved being a mummy. I think with all my subsequent children I have been trying to recapture that feeling of wonder (tinged with a heavy dose of terror and trepidation) you have with your firstborn. I have since come to understand that you can't turn the clock back and that it is a feeling exclusively reserved for number one.
The others get the benefit of a more relaxed and confident mummy, but they can never experience that topsy turvy journey into parenthood, where you become aware of the depths of passion and despair that your child can stir up in you, where you experience the first kick, first birth, first night feeds, first crawl, steps, words and on and on it goes.
My first baby taught me how to care for him and for his brothers, and as he grows older I learn more and more from him. But no matter how old he gets in some part of my heart he will always be that blue-eyed baby who taught me how to be his mummy and for that I am forever in his debt. He owns a special place in my heart that no one else could ever share and that will be my birthday present to him for the rest of his life (although at six I think he preferred Rosie, his sparkly pink unicorn from Build a Bear!)