A year ago, her enormous, bump-juddering hiccups broke my waters, and my body gave this soft little bundle up to the world.
A first child bursts into life, painting a brand new scene. A second child arrives like a jigsaw piece, moulding into the family picture already surrounding it.
I'd expected my first months with Gwen to have the same shape as those I'd spent with Austin. Opening my eyes each morning to see a beaming face, which radiated joy for the simple fact that he was waking up next to mum and dad. Spending the day sharing private jokes, transmitted through our broad grins. Setting off on adventures together, where a few hours out of the house would often be as challenging (and thrilling) as voyaging to a foreign country.
My closeness to Gwen was different. Austin and I had been merry marauders; happy travellers, tripping out into the world together. Instead, Gwen and I became a unit. She spent her early months strapped to my chest while I fed, read to, danced with, nappy-changed and chastised her older brother. Whenever I glanced down, her solemn, pointed little face would be gazing up at me. Inspecting my every move. Smiling in response to my words. She barely cried; all she needed to do when she wanted milk was nuzzle her chin into my chest.
Today, at 17.01 precisely, Gwen will take a monumental step closer to becoming a woman, shaped by the people around her, and by her own spirit.
She is beautiful. And calm: through our long and stressful labour, her heartbeat never flickered. Her face lights up when we crouch down to play with her. She loves to dance, and wriggles her shoulders about in glee when I pick her up. She squawks when she spots flying birds. When a stranger speaks to her, she nestles her face into the safety of the closest shoulder: mine, the Daddy D's, or Austin's.
To all three of us, over the last year, she has grown to be the jigsaw piece we never knew was missing.
Happy first birthday, Gwendoline Joan.
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