Me and Mine - A Family Portrait Project January 2016

When this family photo project started now three years ago, I couldn't have predicted that this would be the post I would be sharing for the start of this year. Me and Mine was founded to encourage us all to take a minute to capture a moment, a snapshot of our little families whether it be a selfie in the car, a grainy Sunday morning shot all together in bed before the sun comes up, or a fancy posed shot where you've dragged your tripod to the perfect spot!

It doesn't matter about the actual photo, it's the fact that you took the photo that matters! I look back and see my babies turn to boys, and small boys turning into young men. In the last six months Sammy seems to have blossomed in every way. Big teeth, legs that have grown without us noticing until I see him in trousers on a Saturday morning and they are flapping up above his ankles (their school uniform of all-year-round shorts has hidden those lanky legs!), and he's started the countdown to his 7th birthday with endless discussions about ideas for his Horrible Histories-themed party!

Seven feels so old to us. Will it be the year he naturally slips out of calling us Mama and Dada? He's now too heavy to carry on your hip, so when a bleary and teary-eyed striped boy appears at the bottom of the stairs in the evening – upset from a bad dream or needing an extra cuddle to settle him – we get him to stand on the bottom step, lean on our back and carry him upstairs like a sack of potatoes over a greengrocer's shoulder.

And this month a new little boy came into our lives, and made our small boy seem like a teenager and our biggest boy like a gentle giant!

For me, Me and Mine isn't just about Rich and I and our two sons. When my sister had her first baby almost three years ago, I felt this rush of love for someone who wasn't technically mine but felt like mine. And I know my sister feels the same about my boys. When we are all together we just fit together – our children are interchangeable between us and we are ticking-off days on the calendar until our niece Yasmin comes to stay for her half-term mini break. She comes to stay and, quite laughably, barely gives them a second glance as she says goodbye. It's not that she won't miss them, it's just that she is happy and safe at Auntie and Uncle's house and, for those days and nights, her familiar routine moves to our house.

I don't know for sure whether my bond with her is so strong because I saw her being born, but I wouldn't change it for the world. When my sister announced that she was pregnant again last year, I didn't dare assume the same would happen again but, luckily for me, it hadn't crossed her mind that I would be anywhere else but right there in the delivery room.

I'd had a "go bag" packed for a week or so as we got closer to the due date, and then on a Saturday night just over two weeks ago, we heard a familiar sound: an incoming FaceTime call from Natalie. The conversation went a little like this, in amongst tears of laughter. "I think my waters might have broken... but it could just be a big wee!" We debated the suspect water that her husband Andrew had the pleasure of cleaning-up on the kitchen floor and then a calming and considered Rich poked his head over my shoulder and reminded her that she was just a few days shy of her due date and that it was probably best to give the hospital a quick call! Within a couple of minutes they phoned back to say the midwife wanted them to go in for a little monitoring as Natalie had been worrying she wasn't feeling the baby move as much as normal.

We put the phone down and I raced upstairs. Hurriedly grabbing my wash bits from the bathroom whilst Rich was trying to convince me to slow down and wait until we knew what was happening from the maternity ward. But I had this overwhelming sense of urgency and just wanted to get in the car as soon as humanly possible! It's a good hour and 50 minutes to get to them but that may well have been the other side of the world at that moment. 

I had one foot out of the door when they rang just before midnight after a few calls back and forwards to say she was definitely being induced. Her voice sounded so brave but wobbly. My heart felt like it was being gripped when she said I'm so frightened and all I wanted to do was be by their sides. So at 2am I met Andrew in the car park – he'd come down to pick up their bags from the car and we walked back into the hospital just as the snow started falling, laden with overnight bags and supplies from the M&S petrol station shop I had blasted into en route.

Within an hour and a half Natty was started to make the sounds. Those distinctive groaning, but not quite the mooing sounds when you know things are really getting going. The Sister on the reception desk wasn't convinced when I popped down the hall that the induction was taking effect so quickly but, after I scurried back up the corridor for a second time in 10 minutes, the lovely midwife on duty to monitor Natty came to check her over and gave a wide eyed look to Andrew and I. My phone bleeped and Andrew had sent me a text saying he didn't think we were far away from seeing the baby and we signalled with our hands, our nervous guesses of the time it would be born to each other as Natty buried herself over the side of the bedrail and into the bed as a contraction took hold.

He guessed 5am.

He wasn't too far off! At just after 4am the midwife gave Natty some reassurance that she was now in established labour and that they would start running the water for the birthing pool. Luckily the pool room was literally three steps across the corridor from our room and we helped Natty hobble across, after what felt like the longest time in the world to run a big bath! As we got into the room I turned to Andrew and gave him a big hug and said a sort of this is it, good luck message and as we broke the hug he said "What do you mean, you're not going anywhere are you?!" He thought I was leaving them, but really I was just trying to give him a boost of confidence and energy!

It's a very special thing to be a birthing partner, to share one of the best ever moments of someone's life and I will always be grateful that Andrew was happy to share it with me. 

I dropped all the spare towels, the phones, her drink and lip salve (the gas and air made her lips so dry) on a chair by the pool as Andrew helped her into the water. Last time round she had felt so comforted by the water but this time it didn't feel right.

She thrashed around during minute apart contractions and Andrew and I exchanged helpless glances as we each held her hands and she clenched her fists. It felt like a tsunami was building – an intense, incredibly fast build up and there were moments when I felt like I was holding my breath and my heart was going to beat out of my chest.

It's the hardest thing to watch someone you love fiercely in pain and not really do anything to help. After just a few minutes Natty was desperate to get out of the water and onto a low bed against the wall of the room. The next 10 minutes raced by, a mix of tears, excitement, exhaustion and then elation.

Natty was up over the pillow, holding the bar of the pyrex dish as I call it – the little plastic crib frame – pushing against the wall with every contraction and the midwife was firmly telling Andrew and I to hold her on the bed, taking the strain of her force to push away from the wall. I held her shoulders and the gas and air and Andrew was at her hips and together it felt as though we were this three headed (in the nicest possible way) beast, channelling all our positive energy to Natty.

Just before half past 5, the midwife exclaimed, "Natalie I can see the head, it has lots of dark hair!" and Andrew and I both glanced down, with our hands trembling, on the verge of tears and both almost chanted words of encouragement as she went through her final contractions.

She was a superstar. 

At 5.26am we saw this little red person slip onto the bed and in a haze of tears I couldn't see what it was. Andrew, in almost a state of shock and awe, said "Oh it's a boy!" and we fell into a heap of tears. 

Natty was born to have a son and all the way through this pregnancy she had been convinced she was carrying a boy. Andrew on the other hand was sure it was another pink one and the combination of the intense and incredibly quick build up to the birth and a surprise to him of a son, made the whole room burst with happiness. 

It was like a movie. Natty went from excruciating pain and helpless cries of I can't do it, to this aura of completeness. Like a wave of serenity had washed over her body. I scrambled for my phone and took the most shaky 20 seconds of video as the midwife passed him up the bed and into Natty's arms. I can't watch the footage without crying! You can hear Andrew out of breath, with tears in his voice and Natty turning to me holding the phone saying over and over, in the happiest voice I've ever heard from her "I've got a boy, we've got a boy, I can't believe it!"

Maybe it's because it is their last, or because it was all so fast, but it felt like the room had exploded with joy! In about half an hour we were back in their room, watching her feed and as the sun came up, it was so calm, so still. Like the snowy driveways we drove past when we left the hospital doors. 

My mum brought Yasmin in to meet her new brother at 9am and we all headed home with no real fanfare, like he was always meant to be in the family.

Andrew's parents headed to their house, Rich drove the boys up and we had the most wonderful morning, all on cloud nine and a little delirious from not a minutes sleep!

We drank Champagne, hung blue balloons around the room and honestly gave little Logan, a perfect home coming.

So there are an extra couple in my Me and Mine photo this month: A small girl who brings me so much joy, who I can "borrow" for a girly fix and play tea parties and decorate a teeny bedroom with pink for. And now a small blue one, who makes my heart skip a beat when I see him in the boy's baby grows. I've waited almost 5 years to pass on all the plastic boxes full of mini booties, the tiny hats, the miniature outfits, hoodies with ears on. It feels like this side of the family is complete.

A 9lb 4oz brute of a boy, with legs so long and feet so big he's grown out of all the newborn clothes in just a couple of weeks! A boy who had no intention of being swaddled and placed in a fruit bowl for his newborn photo shoot last Friday morning, when I drove up for breakfast with a bubba on my lap and to snap some special photos for them. We couldn't have laughed any more at his eyes which had been so tightly shut for an hour that became as wide as they'd ever been, glaring up at us like a little bug.

Now we just have to wait for a small pink one to be born in America in April. Unfortunately there's nothing to pass on from me this time which means I have the tough job of Auntie shopping for a niece. Tutus and sparkly shoes here I come. Hooray!

It's a great privilege to be a mother but being an Auntie is just as much of an honour. You have all the unconditional love with less of the responsibilities! I get to love them like your own, protect them and help nurture them into the remarkable people I know they will become.

I look at my pair of brothers and hope that they will be as close as I am with my sister and brother. I will have my "go bag" packed just the same when we hear that baby Marini is on its way on the other side of the Atlantic. Except this time, it will be a suitcase! Mum, Rich and I can't wait to fly out when we hear her happy arrival to welcome them home, just like we did with Logan.

I am soaking up all the happiness at the moment and even just writing this post makes me well up. I don't quite know what I'd do without my family, my extended family and all my friends who shared this time with us. My bestest girl friends who text and messaged knowing just what it meant to me to have a new nephew. 

Come and join us and share your Me and Mine.