There’s just one week to go until we publish Katy Colins’ emotional and utterly uplifting new novel, The Best is Yet To Come! Can’t wait that long? Start reading the first chapter below…
Izzy wished she could stop crying. She sniffed loudly and glanced at her phone – there were still six hours until Andrew came home. Six hours until she would be rescued. Three hundred and sixty long minutes left to endure, unless he called to say he was going to be late, again. That may tip her over the edge. She had been proud of herself this morning for managing to hold back the tears until his car had left the drive. He had been too busy connecting his phone to the car’s Bluetooth to see her stare out of the rain-splattered window at him, visibly overwhelmed by the prospect of another day with no purpose other than to survive. The cold, grey February day loomed long, not helped by the swollen sky and determined rain clouds to scupper any plans she might have had to brace the outdoors.
She grabbed a tissue, the last in the box, and blew her nose. Some days she couldn’t exactly remember why she was crying but right now it was because she had reached her limit. This bone-aching exhaustion was certainly slowly killing her. Grit rested in her eyes, her limbs constantly ached and pounding headaches were never far away. If she could just get more than three hours of sleep in one go then she was sure she could take on anything the world threw at her. She cupped her hands over her ears to drown out her newborn daughter’s cries. The torturous sound made her heart feel like it was being stabbed with a thousand jagged pieces of glass.
Izzy had decided to try the ‘cry it out’ method, one that her mother-in-law had suggested – among many other snippets of advice – in a bid to get Evie to sleep. It had seemed so simple. You made sure your baby was fed, clean and winded – then you laid them in their cot to sleep. You checked on them when they cried, after three minutes, but never picked them up in the hope that they would eventually settle themselves.
Anything was worth a shot at this desperate stage. In the five weeks since bringing Evie home from the hospital Izzy had tried everything – from using stuffed animals that played lullabies on a loop, to rocking her, to blasting white noise from her iPhone. Nothing worked. She was ‘lucky’ if her daughter managed to settle for a couple of hours each night.
According to her phone timer, it had only been forty-two seconds since she last checked on her. Izzy bit down on her bottom lip as the steady cries grew in volume from upstairs. All she wanted was five minutes of peace, downstairs, on her own. Enough time to enjoy a hot cup of tea, or even take a super-quick shower and wash her greasy hair instead of constantly relying on dry shampoo. Enough time to sit in silence and clear her head. If she was really honest with herself, what she wanted was to have her old life back. She could never ever say this out loud to anyone. Even just thinking it made her feel a little bit sick. But it was true. She had imagined maternity leave to feel like one long, lovely weekend with idyllic family outings discovering local hidden gems that she’d never had the time to explore before. Or long, lazy pub lunches as her peaceful baby napped, or even time to dedicate to a new hobby, but it wasn’t like that at all. Right now Izzy longed to have a purpose; some place to be, something that fulfilled her, as she clearly wasn’t cut out to be a mother.
Izzy glanced around the messy lounge to find the remote control. Perhaps she could turn the volume up really loud to block the crying out. The room had been taken over by gaudy plastic and stuffed toys. ‘Welcome to the world’ new baby cards in every possible shade of pink you could imagine cluttered the surfaces, she should probably get round to taking them down. A once shiny helium balloon in the shape of a baby bottle was slowly deflating in the corner. Four bunches of flowers, all way past their best, were shedding brown petals across the carpet that needed a decent hoover. Damp, sicky muslins were discarded across the sofa. Half drunk, cold cups of tea and snotty, balled-up tissues from her last big cry lined the side table. She couldn’t see the remote anywhere in amongst this chaos. She began flinging cushions to the floor, her exasperation growing in sync with the volume of Evie’s cries.
Sleep training was hell. How did other mums do it? How did they let their babies cry and cry and cry? It was taking all her willpower to stick it out until her phone alarm went off. She glanced at her screen, it had been one minute and seven seconds – she wasn’t even halfway. Just then the chime of her doorbell startled her. Who the hell was that? The postman had already been and she certainly wasn’t expecting visitors this time in the afternoon. She wiped her wet eyes with her sleeve and shuffled in her slippers to the front door, flinging it open.
Izzy stared at the delivery man standing on her doorstep holding a parcel. He was in his mid-eighties, with neatly combed baby-fine white hair, much older than the usual Amazon delivery guy. She couldn’t remember what life-changing gadget she’d ordered this time that promised to fix everything. Desperate to get through another night feed she had taken to scouring the internet for anything that guaranteed a decent chunk of sleep. One-click ordering and next-day delivery was both a blessing and a curse.
‘Hello.’ The many wrinkles on his face reminded her of an overcooked jacket potato. ‘I’m Arthur. From number thirty-nine.’ His voice was deep and low. The kind of voice used to being spoken over. That was the house opposite, the one on the corner of the cul-de-sac. Perhaps the parcel wasn’t for her and had he actually come to complain about the noise. He probably presumed something terrible was taking place inside, thanks to Evie’s ear-splitting screams.
‘I’m sorry to bother you but I’ve had this delivered to me by mistake,’ he said, clearing his throat, holding out the slim brown cardboard box. It was the exact same shade of brown as his trousers and his thick overcoat that was missing a button.
‘It’s been labelled correctly, but it’s been left at my door by accident. I’m sorry if it was anything urgent. I did try and call over yesterday but you must have been out.’
Izzy had been in all day but she’d ignored the doorbell. Yesterday had been a rough day, even worse than today, if that was possible.
She eventually found her voice. ‘Thanks.’
Evie’s cries were getting louder, shooting down the stairs, under her skin and into her bones.
‘Oh,’ The old man looked as if he had only just heard the terrible noise. ‘I’m sorry to have disturbed you. I hope I didn’t wake—’
‘No, she wasn’t asleep. She’s allergic to it,’ Izzy said.
‘Oh, oh dear. I—’
‘She’s not! It was a joke, a poor one,’ Izzy explained hurriedly. ‘She’s fine, just fighting a much-needed nap.’
‘Ah, OK…’ He shifted on his feet as if waiting for something. ‘Shall I just leave it here or…?’
The package! She took it from his large veiny hands, the movement making her dressing gown flutter open. The old man’s gaze fell on her pink faded unicorn slippers that matched the pyjama set she was still wearing at ten past two in the afternoon. He kindly turned away as Izzy quickly grabbed the dressing gown tie and pulled it tight. Great, she cringed, she had just exposed the large wet patch around her right boob where her breast pad had leaked. She was suddenly aware of her own body odour, a heady mix of sweat and puked-up breast milk. It was days like this when she felt like she was in someone else’s body, living someone else’s life.
‘Thanks for dropping it round,’ she coughed, swallowing back tears of mortification.
‘You’re welcome, dear,’ he said softly, a sort of worried look dancing across his large hazel-coloured eyes behind his thick glasses. ‘Take care now.’
Izzy closed the door, letting out a weary sigh. She tore open the cardboard and pulled out 101 Ways to Mother Like a Boss. Another baby how-to book from her mother-in-law. This must be the fourth one she had sent her in as many weeks. Izzy knew she meant well, clearly wanting to do something to help, but it was so far off the mark. When did she have time to sit and read an entire book? What was wrong with sending a stonking box of posh chocolates or a gift basket filled with fancy smellies? She tossed the book on the stairs where it would remain, unread, until she next did a clear-out for the charity shop.
‘Why not sort out your own problems instead of getting involved in mine?!’ she grumbled, fully aware that talking to yourself was the first sign of madness. Her phone alarm began to beep, the three minutes were up. Thank God. Her nerves couldn’t handle the cry-it-out method ever again.
Izzy raced to pick up a red-faced Evie from her cot and bring her back downstairs. She fell to the sofa, aware of the tingling sensation in her boobs. It didn’t seem possible but perhaps she was still hungry. Izzy unhooked her feeding bra and momentarily winced as Evie latched. She may never sleep again but at least she had cracked breastfeeding, that counted for something, didn’t it? Within seconds her daughter was calmer. Izzy wished she could say the same about herself. Her ears were still ringing from the traumatic experience. She lolled her head back on the sofa to ignore the state of the lounge. She had literally achieved nothing today apart from tend to Evie and re-boil the kettle but never actually make that cup of tea she longed for. Did other mums feel this way or was she the only one? Her Instagram feed was full of perfectly made-up new mums celebrating the wonders of motherhood and how they hashtag cherished every minute. Izzy did not cherish every minute.
She looked around for the remote; the only way to blot out the self-doubting thoughts was to fill her tired mind with rubbish telly. Reality TV shows had become her lifeline, her escapism from the monotony of newborn life. Sure, it was probably frying what little of her brain cells she had left that hadn’t been eradicated from the torture of sleep deprivation, but it wasn’t like she had to be up on current affairs for any office discussions. The last person she had spoken to, bar Evie and Andrew, was that old man, she was sure he’d said his name was Arthur. The realisation troubled her. She tried to cast her mind back to when she’d had a conversation that wasn’t mindless small talk with a supermarket cashier. Apart from the congratulatory messages from colleagues and friends she hadn’t heard from anyone properly in weeks, but then everyone was so busy with their own lives. She realised that the last adult interaction outside of her home was probably with the midwife who had discharged them from her care.
Izzy was convinced that appointment had been a mistake, she wasn’t ready to be booted out into the big wide world with a baby. Couldn’t they see how white her knuckles had turned from tightly clinging on to the sides of the straight-backed chair in the clinic? Didn’t they – the qualified professionals – not have doubts that they were handing the most precious thing in the world to someone clearly so incompetent? But no, apparently not. She had been left in charge of this tiny, unhappy, demanding baby all on her own once Andrew returned to work after his paternity leave ended. Not that he was much help whilst he was off but it was better than fending for herself. Back then happy adrenalin raced around her body, shielding her from the devastating hormonal rollercoaster she was about to ride solo.
Surely there should be some advanced level of training required for keeping a human alive? It was a big deal. Everything she’d learnt at her antenatal classes had vanished the moment she was handed her tightly swaddled daughter after a ‘textbook’ labour and birth. She’d nodded dazedly as beaming midwives congratulated her and clucked around before leaving her leaking, sore and bone-tired. It felt like she had gone into battle, but instead of time to recuperate she was then sent straight back into another war zone, this one without any troops for support.
Izzy was convinced Andrew was working longer hours to avoid spending time in the bombsite of their home with a sobbing irrational wife and a frustrated pink-faced daughter. He didn’t know what to do with either of these demanding women.
‘Oh give me strength!’ she groaned as her eyes finally fell on where the remote control was – hidden behind an empty family bag of Kettle Chips, way out of her reach. Her frustrated cry startled Evie, who tugged at Izzy’s cracked nipple.
Izzy began to cry once more. No one told her it was going to be this hard.