This is not what I expected. The other mothers said I would forget once I was holding you safe in my arms. But I cannot forget. I am still shaken, cold and shocked by your birth. The terror of your first few moments, your blue little body slowly brought back to life.
Me, screaming for you, legs still open, hastily cut chord hanging, scissors still attached. I cannot forget. I will never forget.
I almost lost you once, I cannot bear to lose you again. For nine months I held you inside me, now I hold you in my arms. It pains me to share you. I cannot sleep; I cannot rest; I must protect you.
From blue to yellow, my jaundiced baby, you must go under lights. You are rapidly losing weight. They order me to give you additional bottle feeds. The halls of the maternity ward are plastered with pictures of plump babies, content on their mother’s breasts. The walls preach to me that breast is best, and I so dearly want what is best for you. Already I have failed you.
An icy, wintery day, we take you home. The cycle continues: breastfeed, bottle feed, express, sterilise…..repeat. There is no day or night just a dark, black hole. I cannot climb out. You are crying out for me but I cannot calm you. My love for you is not enough to keep you safe; my milk alone cannot sustain you. Already, I have failed you.
I lie awake listening to you breathe. I cannot sleep, I must protect you. I must ensure you survive the night. I am terrified every moment; around every corner another hazard waits to attack. When I close my eyes I imagine the deadening thud of your head hitting the floor…… what if I dropped you?
I can’t shake the memory of your blue little face, your limp little body. I rock you for hours but you refuse to rest, I worry the lack of sleep will damage your growing brain. When you fuss over my breast and arch away from the bottle I worry you will simply fade away. My love for you is all consuming; my fear for you engulfs me.
Spring flowers bloom but I barely notice. I live in a dense fog, I am never fully asleep and I am never truly awake. I am overwhelmed with guilt. This should be the happiest time in my life, I should be incredibly grateful for such a beautiful, healthy baby. Instead I feel a giant gnawing knot taking over my entire torso. I have never felt such intense love, or such intense fear. I have never loved someone as important as you. I have never shouldered such an enormous responsibility. I have never had so much to lose.
One summer night, sweat pouring down my back, I set up a fan to cool your hot, sleeping body. Later, in another room, I cannot breathe through my fear. Panic rising up, bubbling to the surface, heart beating, chest heaving. My imagination runs wild. Every time I close my eyes and try to sleep I see all the troubles that might befall you. Irrational, yet oh so real to me.
I picture the fan blowing a hanging from your wall, the hook landing in your cot, you waking and putting it in your mouth…. your blue face. I can’t shake the memory of your blue little face. I am out of control, out of my mind. I cannot function. You deserve better than this, your daddy deserves better than this, I deserve better than this. I feel I am wasting what should be some of the happiest moments of our lives.
In a doctor’s waiting room now, I clutch you to my chest. Another anxious mother holds her baby close. Perhaps she is like me: never forgetting, always alert.
“There is a name for this,” the doctor says. “We can pull you out of this dark fog.”
Lots of talking and some tiny pills, your daddy whispers, “It will be ok, it will be ok.”
Weeks pass and the fog slowly lifts leaving only a fine mist. We bring you into our bed and together we sleep. In the morning light I wake to see you, nestled close to your daddy. You, a miniature version of the man I love. You are so perfect, so precious.
Your eyes begin to open, sleep abandoned. You see me and a brilliant smile erupts across your face. A smile so contagious it spreads to my eyes, my mouth, my heart. Finally, after months of never really sleeping, and never really waking, I am awake.
For the very first time, I am truly awake.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem