"SHE'S MY DAUGHTER,
SHE JUST CAME INTO THE WORLD
BEFORE I MET HER"
I met my first husband when I was 20 and spent that decade totally focused on my career.
On my 30th birthday we started trying for a family and I was somewhat expecting to fall pregnant that same month(!), however, to summarise the subsequent - very painful - five years that followed: we didn't conceive.
I underwent 4 rounds of unsuccessful IVF and eventually we chose to embark on the adoption process, only to decide - as we were nearing the end of it - to separate.
I found myself divorced and childless at 35! At this point I had been informed I have a condition that makes it hard for me to conceive so I was fully resigned to being childless.
Fast forward to 2017 when I met Mike. We'd both had a difficult few years following each of our separate divorces and so we were conscious not to rush into anything too quickly. However, after 6 months, we decided I should meet Isabella, his daughter, who was 4 at the time. As I'm a massive over thinker and planner, I ended up doing lots of research on 'meeting your partner's child' and then, finally, armed with a fool proof plan - and my cute dog as a buffer! - I met her in December; we decorated Mike's Xmas tree together.
I was 'daddy's friend' for many months, again, taking it slowly, but the following June, on Father's Day Eve, I suggested that we make Daddy breakfast in the bed the next day. She said '...are you having a sleepover?' (the first time I had done so) and I said 'yes' and she did a fist bump and shouted "yes!!".
I would love to say that the transition to being a step mum has been easy but it has been really challenging, particularly in the early days. I had no friends in the same situation, found the early feelings of uncertainty and jealousy very difficult for quite a long time and struggled with determining my place in her life. I wasn't her step-mum for a long time. I can remember the first time we were on our own in a shoe shop and a man referred to me as 'mummy' to Isabella. I fumbled for the right words and quickly corrected him 'oh, I'm daddy's girlfriend'. Of course, every time it happens now, neither of us flinch, we just giggle together.
Weirdly, things changed over night when Mike asked me to marry him. Even though I'd been in her life for 2 years and nothing else changed, Isabella suddenly started introducing me as her step-mum to everyone and coined her own name for me: 'Mimi'.
On our wedding day, we framed it as a day that the three of us cemented our status as a family, rather than simply Mike and I getting married. We did family vows, cut the cake together and even danced our first dance together!
I myself was a step-daughter from the age of 5 and I think that has been really beneficial to my approach to parenting. My step-dad was 100% my dad and I am so grateful that he chose to be my parent and raise me. I lost him in December just gone.
3 years ago, just as the global pandemic had started, my period was late. I put it down to stress. A few weeks later I jokingly thought I should do a pregnancy test. I will never forget my whole body shaking when it turned positive - something I had waited for for so many years ...and we hadn't even been trying! Being told a few weeks later that we had lost the baby (on my own because Covid prevented Mike being with me) was just awful. Our most recent pregnancy ended in July this year, following another loss in March - and we were hopeful as the previous week we had seen a nice strong heartbeat - but devastatingly, again, it wasn't meant to be.
When I open up about our loss I often receive comments of '...but you have your stepdaughter!" and on the one hand, they are absolutely right; I feel so lucky to have a little girl (now 10) who writes me mother's day cards saying 'you're not a step mum, you're my mum', but, it also highlights everything I could have had with every child I haven't been able to carry to term.
I daydream of what a combination of Mike and I would look like - would they be creative like him or studious like me...?
So, the hard things about being a step mum? You can feel like you don't have the ultimate say over the life of the child you give everything to. I am also conscious she could be taken away from me tomorrow and there would be nothing I could do about it - and yet, I want to (and will) continue to invest in our relationship. Also, no one ever recognises step mums - even though we are the ones CHOOSING to do what we do! For years I over thought every interaction with her and that does still happen, but I've definitely relaxed over time!
However, fundamentally, I want to highlight all the amazing things about being a step mum. We chose each other. We met and it definitely wasn't love at first sight but we both worked each other out over time. We were open and honest with each other, apologised when we both got it wrong, and chose to love each other. I love having a girl in the house - she is my theatre buddy (Mike hates the theatre!) and she gives the best cuddles ever. I have taken on the role of 'bonus mum' (what we call it) with the same vigour I do everything and I know it will take work to continue to be a positive relationship as she enters her teenage years and beyond, but I simply can't wait to see the young adult she will become. She is such a sweet, caring child; the other day she said 'you'll be Nanny to my children one day'. I wanted to cry. For such a long time these were things that were never going to be part of my life - being a mum or being a nanny, but she gives me the chance to have all of those amazing family experiences I thought I had missed out on.
She isn’t my stepdaughter, she’s my daughter who came into the world before I met her.