Originally published: 11.03.18
Four years ago I entered a writing competition on the theme of motherhood, at the time my daughter was 5 months old, and had only come home from hospital a few weeks before. So this is what I wrote.
I never used to want to be a mother, in fact the very thought of it scared me. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted less, and yet, when I gave birth to my first child I felt love like I’d never felt before. From the very first moment his big blue eyes opened and gazed around him I was head over heels in love, my whole world was turned upside down by this massive rush of affection. This beautiful little boy was the most amazing thing to ever happen to me and my heart ached with the strength of the emotion. I’d had the most horrific pregnancy, I’d been sick every day right up until his birth, had spent the last three weeks of the pregnancy in hospital because of it, and still it all felt worth it. He was worth the horror.
About a year later we discovered I was pregnant with child number two, this time I was excited, I was scared of pregnancy obviously, but excited by another child to love.
This pregnancy was just as tough, while I was slightly less ill I also knew I’d be ill right up until the end again, which did make it tougher to get through.
Three months before my due date I started to get much worse than I had been, and in horribly familiar scenes I was taken back into the hospital. Except this time I had to go late at night, leaving my son sleeping, to wake confused and upset when his mother wasn’t home.
I wasn’t too worried though as I knew I’d be rehydrated and be back home the next day. Except my body just wasn’t rehydrating, no matter how much fluid they pumped into me. Then came the biggest surprise of all, my waters broke.
At first, as there were no contractions, they just wanted me to stay in for 24 hours then go home and come back for regular check ups. Except during a routine monitoring they discovered that the baby’s heart rate kept dropping. Over and over again.
I was ten weeks early and the baby couldn’t wait. There was risk to delivering so early, and even greater risk to not deliver. So I was rushed into theatre to have an emergency ceaserean. If I thought pregnancy had been tough, it was about to get tougher.
I was due to have a local anaesthetic so I’d be awake to meet my daughter, but it failed. I felt them start to cut me open. It was then decided that I needed a general anaesthetic and I closed my eyes and the world faded away.
I’m not sure how long I was under, but I eventually came to in a recovery room with my husband by my side, and our daughter nowhere to be seen. She had, unsurprisingly, been taken straight to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and placed on an incubator as she couldn’t breathe for herself. Due to the anaesthetic and the pain from the caesarean it was 24 hours until I got to meet my daughter for the first time.
My first moment with her couldn’t have been any more different to my first moment with my son. I was wheeled into the Intensive Care unit and directed to a nearby incubator, in the incubator was this tiny little thing, she was so small she didn’t look like a baby. All scrawny legs and arms. You couldn’t see her face, she was covered almost entirely in tubes and wires, keeping her breathing, monitoring her heart, feeding her. She didn’t look like a baby, let alone mine. There were no big blue eyes looking around, no chubby grasping fingers, she was so vulnerable that I couldn’t even touch her. Just look. All I knew was that someone had said she was mine, but I had no recollection of her birth, she could have been anybody’s baby. She certainly didn’t feel like mine. In a room of incubators she was indistinguishable from all the other babies.
In theory I could visit her any time, there were no restrictions. If I woke in the night I could wander up from my ward. I could spend the whole day with her if I wanted. As I watched the other SCBU mothers do their constant trek up to see their babies I stayed in bed. I didn’t want to see her.
When she was three days old I got to hold her, still the rush of motherly love did not come. All I wanted was to get out of hospital and get home to my little boy, as my husband was having to spend so much time at the hospital our son had gone to stay with his grandmother. I missed him so much it hurt.
It was then I started to resent my daughter for keeping me away from my son, and rather than go to see her I’d sit in my bed watching videos of him and crying.
The day I got released was wonderful and heartbreaking, it had been over a week since I last saw my son, and as they tend to do at eighteen months old he’d changed a fair bit. I felt like the worst mother for being away from him for so long, I felt like I’d abandoned him.
The next day, having to wrench myself away from him and go back to the hospital – caeserean wound still aching – was so tough. Then the next day and the next. For seven weeks I was doing daily trips to the hospital, waiting for her to be well enough to go home. Missing my son every single day. I didn’t want to be there at all, most of the time I’d have been content to have left her there and only had one child. I already felt like I only had one. During times where I was away from the hospital I could even forget she existed. When I was away from my son it felt like a piece of my heart has been torn out and left behind.
She wasn’t mine, all her needs were taken care of by the staff. I had to ask to hold her, to feed her, to wash her, to change her. I couldn’t even provide milk for her, my supply was just never enough. The nurses were more mother to her than I was.
This tiny little thing didn’t need me, and I didn’t want her. I hated her for forcing me to be away from the one I thought of as my “real” child.
Eventually she came home, and I pinned all my hopes on bringing her home being the change I needed to love her.
I continued waiting.
There was no blossoming love. Instead I was exhausted from night feeds and all the constant care that a new baby needed. Then she started to react to her milk, and she would scream from morning to night, she’d only sleep when she’d exhausted herself too much to stay awake. My son had been the same, except with him when he cried I longed to soothe and protect him, with her? I just wanted to run away.
Now not only was she this alien thing who’d kept me away from my son, she was this screaming creature who prevented me sleeping. I loathed her. My own child, a tiny baby reliant entirely on me, and I hated her. In the dead of night when everyone else slept I even entertained visions of throwing her across the room.
While others would hold her and coo over her, I’d plaster on a fake smile and pretend to be charmed by her. Inside though I felt like running far from her. I didn’t want to hold her, to smile at her, to talk to her.
At the same time though I felt this gaping hole in my heart, I wanted to love her, I wanted to see what everyone else saw. Motherhood had brought me so much joy the first time round, I’d felt like I’d finally found something I was good at. I loved being a mother, it felt natural and comfortable. But this? This felt unnatural and wrong. I hated me as much as I hated her. I knew it wasn’t her fault, she hadn’t asked for any of it, and she needed her mother now. My maternal instinct had gone into hiding though. I didn’t know how to coax it out, or if I could.
She is now twenty one weeks old chronologically or twelve weeks developmentally. The last few weeks she’s started smiling and babbling, we even got a slight giggle from her the other day.
I’m starting to love her finally, I still don’t feel for her like I did with her brother, but she finally feels like my daughter. It is still tough at times, I still don’t feel like I am completely bonded with her, and her screams still leave me wanting to escape. It’s a long hard road this time around.
The guilt still persists, I know all the things a mother should be. It’s hard to ignore all the expectations, especially when you’ve internalised them. I feel like I failed her, like I still am. I’m not a mother, I’m an un-mother. I’ve been undone. I hope with time things will improve more, I’m sure they will, but will I ever lose the guilt of these early days? I don’t know. Do I fear being open about them? Yes, I feel like an abomination, a freak of nature, a dreadful parent.
Will others judge an un-mother?
My writing was shortlisted, and I received some feedback, one of the comments was “You would have gained more points if you insisted on how you started to love the baby.” At the time I couldn’t write that, I was still very early on and struggling. So here’s my update.
Reading back all those feelings are so alien and cut so deep, because now I cannot imagine being so disconnected from my little girl. She’s 4 years old now, and I see so much of myself in her. Not only that, she looks so much like my own mother. This beautiful and headstrong girl is not just a glimpse into the past but also a glimpse of the future. I’m so proud of her and all she’s achieved, and all she can achieve. She is my world and was worth the heartbreak and pain, I’d do it all again for her.