Can we ever really keep our kids safe?

This belief was quite quickly extinguished by all that I have described to this point. I couldn’t keep her safe even when she was inside of me, never mind when she was brought out into the wide open world.

We are not in control of a lot of things that endanger our children throughout their childhood and later lives, least of all illness.

As I sit writing this book, this morning I was faced with a dreadful reminder that the belief that a parent is somehow superhumanly able to keep their children safe simply not true – I cannot keep my child safe. Short of bubble wrapping her and locking her in a nuclear fall-out shelter, you cannot protect your kids from everything this world threatens to hurt them with. You cannot be there for them every second of every day. You cannot keep them safe.

At 11:15am on a normal Tuesday morning, I received a message on the WhatsApp group set up by her class teacher that included all the parents of the children in Isabelle’s class – The Green Class. This is not unusual, Teacher Lisa, often sends updates, reminders, pictures and notes on the group chat.

The message read: “Hi Parents, just to let you know that all the children are safe. We are on lockdown with all the children inside. We will keep them inside until we get the all clear from the police. Leslie Rd by Design Quarter (the shopping centre directly opposite the pre-school my child attends) is closed. No need to fetch the children at this time. We will keep you posted.”

I read and reread the message, not really comprehending the meaning of the message. I was the first parent to respond, “What are you talking about?” Shortly afterwards, my message was followed by a rally of beeps. “What do you mean?”, “What is happening?”, “What’s going on, why are there police at the school?”, “More information, please!”.

I did what any self-respecting millennial mother would do, went to a credible news source – Twitter – and searched for mentions of Fourways. Only one tweet came up, “What’s happening in Fourways? Cash in transit heist?” accompanied by pictures of a police helicopter landed in the middle of the intersection right by my daughter’s school.

The WhatsApp group then sprung back to life, with answers from other parents and the class teacher.

“Shoot-out at Design Quarter”

“Cash in transit shoot-out”

“Lots of shots fired, a police helicopter flew over the playground. Not sure the exact story yet.”

Twitter then delivered more information and more bystander footage of the scene. It seemed to have been a car chase between the police and armed burglars (who had just fled an armed robbery in a neighbouring suburb) that had come to ahead near my home and kid’s school. All the robbers were apprehended, two of them sustained gunshot wounds and one of the centre’s security guards was shot in the fracas. As far as the reports indicated no-one was fatally injured.

The children were fine. Everyone was safe and Izzy was collected by Mildred, her nanny, at the normal time, she fell asleep in the pram, woke up had lunch and played without a care in the world – none the wiser of the danger that unfolded no more than fifty metres away from her earlier in the day.

That morning’s series of events reminded me of another experience, except this time I was revisiting it anew from my mother’s perspective. Thirteen years ago, I was living in London and working in Westminster. It was a normal Thursday morning, as I walked up from the underground and my normal morning tube ride on the Jubilee Line.

The actual tube journey had been uneventful, just like every other day before it for the past ten months – platform queues, sardine filled carriages, armpit height standing space only, airless dark tunnel stops for leaves on the track somewhere along the 36.2 kilometres of track and my new silver iPod mini filled with illegally downloaded music.

I walked my normal route past Big Ben, past the parliamentary buildings and down the uneven side streets of one of the older parts of London. Arriving at my office building – Her Majesty’s Royal Court Services. I began my day a civil servant, an administrator, as usual by doing time in the post room, sorting post, once finished I made tea and returned to my desk to begin the tedious task of data entry.

We all had our tricks for checking our mail and wasting time browsing the internet without arousing the suspicions of our slave-driving boss – Angela. She reminded me of the Velociraptors from the first Jurassic Park. Silent. Stealthy. Sneaky. Deadly. But that morning just before nine ‘o clock Angela looked less Velociraptor and more terrified mouse. As she and some other serious looking people moved around the open plan office the noise began to surge like a Mexican wave in a sports stadium, as people began to talk. There had been an incident on the underground, and it was closed until further notice. No-one seemed particularly worried, there were often incidents on the tube – albeit none as seemingly serious as this. But our naïve minds could not comprehend anything sinister to be at the root of the problem.

We turned on the radio and heard in shock as the news anchor explained that there had been three explosions at 8:49am on the underground – Circle line and Piccadilly line. Authorities were asking citizens to remain calm, stay indoors and off the streets. The cause of the explosions was yet to be confirmed. Initial reports suggested that there had been a massive power surge on the Underground’s power grid that had caused certain power circuits to explode.

I quickly sent a message to my housemates to see they were ok. They were. None of us seemed to grasp the significance or weight of the situation. I checked my email and my dad had emailed me, from South Africa, saying that he and my mom had heard there was a problem in London, some sort of explosion. Was I ok? What was happening?

I responded with a brief email, that was skirting annoyance, to say I was fine, I didn’t know what it was all about it seemed like some sort of technical issue. And that I would call mom later when I got home.

An hour later a bus blew up in Tavistock Square. It became crystal clear this was not a mistake, not some technical disaster, this was planned and directed, it was intended to terrorise and hurt innocent people. This was an example of a term that had only entered the collective language of the man on the street in most parts of the world four years earlier when we watched a second plane fly into the twin towers in New York City – this was a terror attack.

At this point, London went into self-defence. All public transportation modes in Zone 1 (central city) were shut down. We were told to make our way home, either by foot or taxi (good luck with that) or get to Zone 2 or 3 transport routes. I SMSed Michelle, my housemate and closest friend, she worked on the other side of Westminster in Soho, we agreed to meet at Big Ben and walk home together along the Thames.

Then I tried to call my mom, having by now well and truly lost my snarkiness and replaced it with the overwhelming desire to collapse in a ball and shout – “I want my mommy!”. But my call would not go through. I tried to send a message, no luck. I tried to call again. Not working.

Others in the office were experiencing the same thing. It was later reported that by 10am many of the mobile networks were unable to keep up with the volume of activity on their networks. There was also speculation from the BBC that the telephone system was shut down by security services to prevent communication between the terrorists and the use of mobile devices in detonating any more bombs.

After walking 3km alone, I found Shell, on the banks of the Thames and we discovered that several boats had been put to use as an impromptu ferry system transporting people from the centre of London to outlying areas along the river – whether these boat owners volunteered or were sequester, I have no idea, nor do I care. We got on the first boat that had space and we were taken to Canada Water which was a short and non-high profile walk to our house. We were safe, we could breathe again, we could stop pretending to be brave. Besides, no terrorist would want to bomb Canada Water, unless it was someone with a violent hatred of the Canadian geese that cluttered the waterways there.

I was only able to contact my mom in the afternoon. And while I had been kept busy navigating the streets and riverways of London to get home. While my friend and I had had the comfort of not being alone, by having a hand to hold. My mom and dad had none of that. They were 13 087.9 kilometres away with no contact, no information and no idea of whether I was safe or in danger. Dead or alive.

And the same applied to each and every one of the “children” with whom I shared my home – three Australians, one New Zealander and one Brit who parents lived outside of London. That day the city was filled with scared children missing them moms. And the world was filled with worried parents beating themselves up for not failing in their responsibility to keep their children safe.

I can only imagine what that felt like. And yesterday morning I got a taste of what it had felt like for my mom over a decade ago and many times before and since. Helpless. Useless. Defenceless. As the desire to keep her child safe was once again proven futile and impossible.

I would like to say that being a victim of a terrorist attack is highly unlikely, but in today’s day and age, it’s not as unlikely as one would like to believe. This year alone, according to Wikipedia, there have been 901 attacks around the world and almost 5000 fatalities.

Thankfully, Southern Africa is not a hotbed for terrorist activity, so us moms don’t have to worry about it as much as say a mom living in France or even worse Afghanistan.

But I don’t have to tell anyone living in South Africa, what our country lacks in acts of terrorism and mother nature, like hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados, it makes up for with horrific crime statistics.

I am not going to go into the stats, cause those of us who live here know them all too well. But suffice it say that every day our children leave the house – at whatever age – they stand a good chance of falling victim to crime, and that crime is often violent.

Part of the criminal danger that we feel we must protect our children from is that of predation. I have used this term as a holdall for many threats to children – from sexual abuse to trafficking.

Recently my Facebook feed has been overflowing with reports and videos of children being abducted, which obviously has caused widespread panic amongst parents. Some of these are absolutely true and my heart breaks for their families, but some are fake and spread in order to ignite fear and anxiety, for what purpose I cannot begin to fathom. But I also cannot fathom a young man stepping onto a train and blowing himself and a few hundred people around him to smithereens.

And this lack of ability to understand what makes evil tick is the crux of why the belief that we can protect or keep our children safe is misplaced – the world is often a crazy scary place, filled with people trying to make it burn and they have a far greater capacity to devise evil ways to hurt and torment than you could ever think of to guard against.

Surely, the best way to protect is to teach and the best way to keep safe is to empower. This is a philosophy that I first heard ten years ago, long before Izzy was even a twinkle in my eye when I heard of a woman named Lenore Skenazy. She had been dubbed by the American media and seemingly, the public too as America’s Worst Mom.

What was her crime? She published a column in the local newspaper describing her decision to let her nine-year-old son take the New York City Subway home alone. She had raised her child on the philosophy of free-range parenting, which purports that a child who has never had to face strangers or walk alone or is far more likely to fall prey to predators as they lack the experience and protective instinct to recognise danger.

She essentially was a proponent of street smarts for kids. She even went further to say, modern parents need to fight against our popular “belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers, unstructured playtime and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

Her approach to parenting really resonated with me and the type of childhood I would wish for my child. I wanted my child to know greater independence and less parental oversight. I wanted her to be empowered and have more free play and less scheduled activities.

The notion of going into tiger mode and cracking the whip on my four-year-old to perfect a Brahms Concerto on the violin whilst reading two grades ahead of her age also made me feel queasy. Life is hard as an adult. Why would I want to force my child to sacrifice their childhood to satisfy my ambitions and desire for excellence and perfection? If I wasn’t able to achieve to my own high standards, why would my child?

I might go so far as to say that this insane drive is less about your child’s destiny fulfilment are more for personal vanity that verges on narcissism. Too far? Too far, ok, sorry, no more psychobabble, no more presumption.

Just the thought of helicoptering around my children and keeping one hand on them at all times to cushion their fall exhausted me. Not fun for me and definitely not fun or empowering for my child.

I know some of you are muttering under your breath – “lazy bitch”. And you might well be right. But where you see lazy, I see the space and trust for my child to take on the world in incrementally bigger steps. If being lazy means my daughter will be empowered to know her own boundaries and those of others in relation to her. If being lazy means raising a self-sufficient confident young woman who knows how to look after herself in a crazy wonderful and dangerous world.

If being lazy means my child avoids feeling the pressure of adulting’s impending hamster wheel for as long as possible and is given a pass to coast every now and then in an area that doesn’t excite her. If it means not obsessing over my child’s grade four maths mark because it will almost certainly never impact her life or future. If being lazy means not culturing my own organic yoghurt or not stone grinding artisanal flour to bake preservative free sourdough. If being lazy means letting her eat flings for supper every now and then because it’s fun and she is a kid. If being lazy means letting her watch Timmy Time and Charlie & Lola on TV every day so I can read a magazine, make a poop or just stare at the ceiling. If being lazy means leaving my child to develop her imagination, curiosity and creativity as a means to combat boredom and empty time because I refuse to entertain and stimulate her every waking moment.

Then yes, I guess you are right, I am lazy AF. I am 100% here for lazy.

But I feel like we have gone mad. I saw a quote from one of my favourite mommy bloggers turned author, Bunmi Laditan, in which she describes parenting in 2017 as “make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional and social needs are met while being careful not to over stimulate, under stimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed foods-free, GMO-free, negative energy-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritarian, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free, two-story, multi-lingual home, preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development, also don’t forget the coconut oil.

How to parent in literally every generation before ours: Feed them sometimes.”

I want my child to have the freedom to grow and learn from her own mistakes, to feel boredom and to stretch her imagination, to not feel the pressure of life and the need to succeed and achieve just yet. There is plenty of time for that to consumer her. I want my child to have confidence and independence. To feel she has some sort of control of her own world and the maturity and poise to accept that not everything is within her realm of control. To feel equipped to deal with life’s curveballs. To feel safe, powerful and formidable despite living in a world that is not always safe.

Maybe I am not quite free-range, because Lenore Skenazy in all her controversy and questionable practices still pitches herself as having all the answers. As know how this parenting-thing works. That her plan for raising a child is the right plan. But I call bullshit. There is no plan for parenting because a plan requires prediction and anticipation. Because isn’t motherhood all about the trial & error? The experiment? The hit & miss?

Maybe I am more of a Unicorn Mom. A mom who’s not perfect (and would never presume to think she is). A mom who enjoys the odd glass of wine or gin and tonic. A mom who has no qualms about escaping the house and her children to indulge in me-time – when she can get her hands on said mythical time. A mom who knows the only way to survive is to laugh at herself, her kid, her situation. If you can’t laugh, then you will have to cry. A mom who is not afraid to say out loud that she doesn’t always like her kids, won’t lie to herself and others about feeling #blessed every damn minute of every damn day. A mom who is not necessarily confident in herself or her decisions, but could not care less what you think of her or her choices. A mom who always tries her best and never gives up.

Yip. That’s definitely me – all magically sprinkling environmentally friendly glitter everywhere, farting rainbows and shit. I am totes a unicorn.

And my daughter will definitely be fierce enough and empowered enough to look after herself, and until then I will keep trying to never be too far from hand.

To Two or Not To Two?

That is the question.

So, Izzy is 20 months old today, if this were a leap year and February had a 29th day. Despite our rocky beginning, she is spectacular. A feral bundle of grit, crazy, sass and sweetness packaged in blue eyes, blonde hair and dimples. And we are very much bonded to one another.

But here is the dilemma…

The plan (I use that word knowing full well that planned parenthood is an ironic oxymoron) was to always have two children. In 5.5 months I turn another year older, my daughter will by then be two years old and I need to decide within myself if I am actually up for baby number two.

I thought I would share the things I know, the things I don’t know, the things that keep me going back and forth over what I want:

#1: The value of a sibling

Siblings are a gift. A gift that sometimes you wish you could return, but for the most part a gift you could not imagine life without.

I want to give that gift to Izzy. I want her to know the feeling of having a lifelong side-kick or a partner-in-crime. I want her to have a person – someone she can rely on, bitch to when her mother is unyielding or her father is too uptight, someone who gets her and wont judge her too harshly. I want her to have someone who laughs at her jokes, even if no-one else does, someone who tells her the hard truths that no-one else will. Someone who knows her history, someone who shares her history.

I also want Izzy to know the responsibility and privilege of being that person to someone else.

#2: Economies of scale are rare

As much as we try to fool ourselves, saying things like, “once you have one, a second won’t make so much of a difference.”. WRONG!

Take the money spent, take time spent, take shopping trips, running around, doctor’s appointments, nappy changes, lunchboxes packed, and everything else you currently do and times all of those things by two, or at best 1.5.

Then take your energy levels, your patience, your focus, your time spent on you (wait while I wipe the tears of laughter and despair from my eyes), your time with your husband – alone, your spare cash (again I am overcome by such naïve optimism) and divide that by 4. If you are questioning my math, either you are one of those perfect mom unicorns that I don’t believe exist (#weknow) or you do not yet have children and live in that blissful bubble of ignorance – in either case, this blog might not quite be the place for you.

Kids are black holes when it comes to emotional, economic, mental and physical resources. And while the return on investment is precious, a lot like a gold nugget or a diamond, it does not balance the scales of every deficit created. You will be in debt on some level of resource for the rest of your life and let’s face it the greater the number of kids, the bigger the debt.

#3: The world is overpopulated

Many reading this are probably saying, “Whoa, she is way overthinking this!”, but the reality is that every single human being on earth today has to consider their impact on future generations, we are all responsible to find ways to reduce our toll on the planet.

Recently, I was faced with a scary diagram on Facebook, that hammered this thought home. Canadian researchers identified the number one lifestyle choice for reducing greenhouse gases – “have one fewer child”. This action has by far the biggest impact, at 58.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide saved per year. The next closest action is living car free, which saves only 2.4 tonnes per year. Even switching to a Vegan lifestyle doesn’t even come close, saving only 0.8 tonnes.

Part of my internal debate around this matter, stems from not wanting to bring another child into a world that may not have the space for her/him. Space to live a healthy, happy and safe life. I cannot in good conscious simply want to have a child and selfishly not worry about their future and their children’s future on this earth. I must be conscious of the life my children and their children and their children will eke out on this one size fits all planet of ours.

Shew, see what I mean about the size of this decision, and here I thought deciding to have the first one was a big decision. That was when I still lived in the blissful bubble of ignorance.

#4: The grossness of birth is seared into my memory

Another big deterrent is the level of grossness associated with giving birth. I don’t care what anyone says, giving birth is not beautiful – the child is beautiful, the moment is beautiful – the act and what follows in the days afterwards is not.

Just some of the highlights of my experience of birth include the joyful device known as the catheter, having my lady parts shaved with a disposable razor by a nurse in a shared ward, “hemorrhoids the size of Kimberly” (the doctors exact words, not mine), the spoon “massage” from a nurse to get my breast milk flowing that resulted in bruised and battered boobs that had a good flow of milk, blood clots the size of cricket balls slinking out of my uterus and body for days afterwards, their size and severity causing me to think I was bleeding internally (I have since been told these are a treat we all get to enjoy regardless of natural birth or birth via C-section), and endless suppositories, some of which I am equal parts ashamed and proud to say were administered by my saint of a husband.

Giving birth is a messy, undignified affair. Who on earth would ever put themselves through that more than once in their lifetime? Oh right, almost 3.8 billion people – the female half of the world’s population.

#5: The bad feelings are not extinguished

When it comes to my fight with postpartum depression, I have won many battles, but the war is not yet over. The feeling reminds me of Voldemort from The Harry Potter books – no matter how hard I fight it, no matter how much I weaken it, it just will not die.

Even now, 20 months on, the feeling lurks in the dark places, when I am tired or stressed, when Izzy feels overwhelming, when work feels overwhelming or when my life as I knew it seems a distant memory never to be relived.

In those moments the feeling tries to drag me back under, but these moments are few and far between. The good feelings are far more dominant than the bad, and now Izzy more often than not takes my breath away in a most wonderful way – those are the feelings I cling to, when the other feeling tries to snake its way back into my life.

But it has taken a long time to feel the deep love that was advertised. I can recognize it now, but for at least the first 16 months I wasn’t sure I had it.

I know I can carry on fighting because, now, I know the feeling lies, it cheats and it steals. The feeling blocked me from the joy that should have been mine, the joy of unconditional love, of creating a new life with the love of your life. It stole my husband’s partner, the one he knew and needed. It stole some of his confidence in me and my commitment to our family. The feeling lied to me about Izzy and her role in all of this and it cheated her out of a present and emotionally engaged mom when she was at her most vulnerable. The feeling stole all this from me, from Izzy and from my husband.

But I also know the feeling, like Voldemort in The Goblet of Fire, will return with renewed strength at the worst possible time – post the birth of a second child. This is my biggest fear. A fear that my doctor cannot dispel, because research has shown that a woman’s likelihood of suffering postpartum increases with each and every childbirth. That’s why a mother of three can be debilitated after her third but have breezed through one and two. Ultimately, my doctor and I have agreed that I should expect another bout, as my chances of relapse are almost unequivocally certain.

And should I decide to have a second child, I will need to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for my second internal world war. As will my family, little Izzy included, another innocent casualty to consider when making this decision.

#6: Broodiness

Despite all my misgivings, despite all the reasons why not, my biology is betraying me. I want it, I want the pregnancy, I want the kicks to my liver, I want the ultrasound heartbeat, I want the baby breathe, I want the scrawny chicken legs and arms, I want the first gummy smile, I want the tiny hand holding my one finger, I want it all, I want it all over again.

And even more, the eternally gullible optimist in me wants what I didn’t get the first time – the instant bond, the profound feelings, the exhausted joy, the presence of mind, the presence of heart and soul, the wonderment, the content cherub baby and the happy family.

I am able to momentarily fool myself. “Maybe next time will be different?”, “Maybe it won’t be so bad?”, “Maybe it will be a fleeting feeling.”. Maybe all of these things could be true. But I just don’t know and no-one can tell me with 100% certainty what the next time will be like.

#7: The next time might be worse

It could very well be worse. What if the new baby never sleeps? What if he/she doesn’t eat? What if he/she is sickly? What if the depression and anxiety lasts even longer? What if it is even more profound? What if I need to be hospitalised? What if I am so mentally distressed I do something to hurt myself?

That’s a lot of “what ifs”, a lot of maybes and a lot of unknowns. How can I be expected to make an informed, responsible decision if I don’t have all the facts, if I can’t predict the outcome, if I there are so many variables? And therein lies the rub, I cannot rely on absolutes. No-one can, not when it comes to children. Because as I have already established in previous posts, nothing goes according to plan. It is uncharted territory, always new, always changing, always different. It’s a leap of faith, a risk.

The only absolute at your disposal, is the answer to an incisive question: Do you believe the potential gain outweighs the potential risk? Can you manage that risk by focusing on the gain? Yes or No.

I wish I had the answer. Not yet. But I will let you know, when I know. Well, when I know what’s right for me and my family anyway, you will need to make your own arbitration.

 

Myth Busted: NOT All Mothers are Pre-Programmed to Love their Child

Turns out I was one such mother. Shocking admission, right? Imagine how I felt…

I have always loved babies and children, and this love was only cemented by having been an aunt to two nieces and four nephews. From around my late twenties I was seriously broody, but we only felt “ready” (bahahahaha) once we were well into our thirties.

So, when I fell pregnant I was beyond thrilled, finally it was my turn. After seeing friend after friend after friend fall pregnant and 9 months later witness them moon over their precious miracles, now I would get to experience it for myself. I would have my own beloved miracle, a creation that would illicit feelings so profound that they would overwhelm me.

I did experience overwhelming feelings, only they weren’t of love and wonderment, they were the total opposite. In those first few weeks, I struggled with my feelings towards my daughter, I honestly can’t say I loved her, in fact I more and more felt I didn’t even like her.

I have already shared the story of my daughter’s birth and to say it was not how I fantasised her arrival would be an understatement. And ultimately, I don’t think that helped my attitude. But the moment that signalled the beginning of my unravelling was the first weekend we brought her home – she screamed and screamed and screamed seemingly in unbearable pain – and I realised I was entirely unprepared for the mammoth job of looking after a tiny baby. But really, deep down what I realised was that I wasn’t sure I wanted the job at all.

Izzy has been an incredibly difficult baby – the picture of discontent for pretty much the first 12 weeks of her life. And while I am sure that her troubles contributed to my dark feelings and thoughts, they were not soley to blame. Add one unhappy baby, tortured by severe reflux and colic, to a woman with wild hormones and a history of depression and anxiety and you have the makings of the perfect storm.

In those first few weeks I quickly realised that you should not believe every hashtag you read. People do not portray the whole truth on social media. #Blessed, #lightofmylife, #lovebubble, #noregrets, #wishthistimewouldlastforever and #heartontheoutsideofmychest – these set me up for failure. Why was my experience not lining up with EVERYONE else’s? Why did I not feel what EVERY other mom seemed to feel? Why was I not getting it right, it looked like it came naturally to EVERYONE else?

As the days passed my mood disintergrated. I became completely disinterested in everything. Food became a subject of contention as my mom and husband tried to get me to eat something, anything. As far as diets go, it was effective as I lost 15kgs in six weeks, but I certainly don’t recommend the postpartum depression eating plan.

Sadly, the primary object of my disinterest was the miracle baby that for so long had been my wish. I felt empty, a shell, a husk. I barely engaged, except to reiterate that I knew I was not capable of doing this baby thing, or to unexpectedly burst into tears. I retreated into myself and my phone – Candy Crush became an obsession (still is if I am honest). Looking back it is incredible how I managed to remove myself emotionally and mentally – even her inconsolable crying didn’t reach me. A lot of the time I silently relinquished my responsibility to everyone else, anybody else really, knowing if I didn’t react someone would attend to her. I honestly would have given her to a stranger to look after if I thought they would agree to do it.

As I was still breastfeeding, I was forced to interact with her regularly, but I wasn’t present, I would sit and stare out the window while she fed (wishing to be anywhere but in that rocking chair, with her) or I would stare at her as if she were an alien being that I would never understand or connect with. Once she was finished, I would hand her over to my mom, sister, sister-in-law or husband and either go back to bed or to my phone.

I had been told that breastfeeding offered the most special moments a mom could experience. So many times I had heard that these moments, just the two of you, quietly bonding, were priceless. But for me the price seemed too dear. Being alone with her was my worst nightmare. And at 3 ‘o clock in the morning, in the darkness, in the quiet, in the rocking chair, I couldn’t be more alone. Alone with her and my thoughts. These were not moments I would come to treasure.

Daytime was a little better, because there was almost always someone with me, but whenever that someone looked like they were getting ready to leave, I could not help the tears from streaming, the voice from cracking, the nausea from rising and the sweat from prickling. My poor mother literally gave up three months of her life to care for two children – her’s and mine.

The lack of sleep exacerbated my depression, so my psychiatrist recommended that along with a change in meds (The Betty Ford clinic would even raise an eyebrow at the number of pills I was taking everyday – #yestohappypills) we employed a night nurse – without her help, I don’t know if I would have survived those first 12 weeks. Instead, I only had to survive 12 hours each day. The nurse arrived at 6pm and would take over till 6am the next morning. I began counting the hours from about 9am in the morning to her arrival, and glorious relief. Adversely, as dawn drew closer my anxiety sky rocketed. As soon as I heard the birds start their morning song, my stomach became a pit of dread and the tears welled at the thought that I would soon have to take over caring for the baby, my baby.

At 4 weeks I stopped breasfeeding with the hope that it would alleviate the stress and anxiety I was experiencing. But even without breastfeeding, I was still living in groundhog day. Every day was the same, living feed to feed, every three hours. Change, feed, vomit, cry, rock, sleep, hold. Repeat. I had nothing but time, but no time at all. And time passed achingly slowly. I wished it away, I wished her life away, desperate for her to reach these milestones that were promised to make things easier. 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months… but of course for Izzy the adjustment meant 10 weeks, 16 weeks… the goal posts constantly moving away from me.

Now I am going to risk sounding heartless, but I think her helplessness was what disturbed me most, her neediness, her reliance on me. I couldn’t bear it. It was too much pressure. I was struggling to keep myself going, how could she expect me to keep her going too. She had trapped me, like a shackle, I was no longer free to go and do as I pleased. Try peeing while you hold a newborn, good luck if you need a number 2. I was anchored to a rocking chair and the anchor was my baby – my world had become the size of a pea, a very dry shrivelled sad pea. The long term permance of this shackle amplified the feelings of claustraphobia, would I ever get my freedom back? And of course, these types of thoughts and feelings are always coupled with the guilt of feeling and thinking them.

My friends and family were amazing during this time, regularly visiting and putting up with their ghost of a loved one. In that time, my mom-friends all confessed to how dark their thoughts had been in those first weeks, and they were dark indeed. Morbidly, this made me feel better about my own thoughts. As I often fantasised about getting in the car and not coming back, finding her a new family that could love her better than me, I even considered hurting myself, but worst of all were the times I wished I could turn back time and leave things the way they were – before Izzy.

And ultimately, that is what I wanted. I wanted my life back the way it was, the life I knew, the life where I was in control.

The shock of how permanent and devastating the change this baby brought was overwhelming, I couldn’t see a way through it. And the more everyone, and I mean everyone, told me it would get better, the more I didn’t believe them. Because as each milestone passed nothing changed, in some ways it got harder.

I was obviously not coping to anyone who took one look at me, between my seriously unwashed hair and pajama uniform (each pair often worn day and night for more days than I care to mention). Suffice it to say I was pretty gross, cudos to my husband for turning a blind eye (and nose) and giving me cuddles whenever I needed them.

I remember my first visit to the paediatric nurse, Izzy screamed the place down from the moment we arrived, through the consultation and whilst I tried to pay. The other moms were staring in simultaneous horror and relief that that was not their baby. The nurse and her assistant were worried enough about my state of mind that the assistant took Izzy and ordered me to go into their kitchenette and make tea. After about 10 minutes of “making tea” (i.e. crying and wishing for a different life), I retrieved my still crying baby and exited with a stream of pitying looks and words of encouragement. My amazing nurse and her wonderful receptionist still tell me that some of the moms who were there that day ask, “How is that mom, with that crying baby?”. AHA, I am now the stuff of legend, the mom that others measure their experience against– “OMG, Debs, you won’t believe this poor mom at the clinic… I won’t ever complain again when Ollie gives me a bit of a hard time.”.

As I have said in previous posts there are two sides to every story – especially those relating to motherhood. And while everything I have written above is absolutely true and absolutely distressing to admit, there was eventually light at the end of the tunnel.

After seeing a therapist several times, she managed to get me to realise that what I was feeling was OK, that I needed to reframe my language. I didn’t like Izzy, now. I didn’t enjoy being a mom, today. These feeling were time sensitive. She gave me permission to not like my baby, “What’s to like at the moment? She is not very likeable or enjoyable at the moment but that’s OK, she won’t be like this forever.”. She was completely right, no one in their right mind would enjoy those first 12 weeks of Izzy’s life, but 12 weeks in the great grand scheme of things is a drop in the ocean. It’s just almost impossible to see that when you are drowning in that drop.

Another thing many people tried to get through to me was that I kept saying, “I can’t do this!”, but I was doing it. And even if what I really meant was, “I don’t want to do this!”, I had no choice and as my husband resorted to reminding me (with the delicacy of a sledgehammer) – “You wanted this, you still want it, you just don’t see it right now.”. What I slowly realised was that actions speak louder than thoughts or feelings, I was caring for Izzy, maybe not in the way I hoped, maybe not with the joy people expect, but regardless she was thriving. A prem baby with severe reflux and colic – she was gaining weight week by week, catching up to the 50th percentile and reaching her age appropriate milestones.

I was actually doing a really good job – and my paediatrician, nurse, friends and family all praised me for it. And that felt good, knowing despite her mom being a bit of disaster, Izzy was getting all the right things from me. She didn’t care that I had these negative feelings. Why? I can’t say for sure, but I think that for a newborn the best sign of love is care – food when she is hungry, warmth when she is cold, changing when she is uncomfortable and a gentle touch when she needs comfort. She didn’t know that my feeling were left wanting, because as far as she was concerned, she was getting all that she needed. I was speaking her love language, even if I wasn’t particularly fluent or poetic.

I am embarressed to say that my daughter, with only a few weeks on earth under her belt loved me right from the beginning. And I was too disconnected to recognise it. I was the person her blurry squint little eyes sought out, the person who she wanted as her comforter, the first person she smiled for and the person she shrieks for most loudly. These latter signs I see, I see her now clearly, as a little person who is struggling as much as I have been. I didn’t hate her at all, I hated her problems and how they made her behave. I now take the wins, big and small, I only wish I had been able to see them sooner. But better late than never.