September 2017

Accidental parent

by Vanessa Murray

 

It feels like somebody is draining the fluid around me. I know something is wrong. I go quiet and still. Several hours later the light is blinding as I am wrenched from my comfortable cocoon. With the help of a surgeon’s knife the process is complicated but quick. I am jolted from my peaceful existence, unaware that I’ve arrived a month too soon. 

My Mum lies asleep, undisturbed by my screams. She looks pale beneath her chocolate skin. I don’t know how much blood she has lost, all I know is that it’s cold out here and I’m waiting for someone to warm me again.  They weigh me on the clunky old scales. “Two kilograms,” I hear the doctor say. I don’t know what that means so I cry.

It takes some time for the nurse to bath me. I am cold. I don’t know where I am. Am I alone? My mother is still present in the room but I can’t hear her voice. The nurse picks me up and takes me for a walk. I don’t know where I’m going, I have no choice but to trust the one I’m with. 

Outside the air is warm and filled with idle chit chat. Nurses yell at each other. Patients talk to their visitors. I wonder why there is a fly on my face. I’m in Africa, although this doesn’t mean anything to me yet. I pass my grandmother and friends. I will meet them later. The nurse is too busy to stop, it isn’t long and she drops me in my little wooden box. It’s made of wooden planks with a heat lamp underneath. Finally I feel snug and warm again. 

My mother wakes up and is shocked at the sight of me. I don’t know why, surely she knew I was coming? She doesn’t seem to know what to do with me.

“I am hungry!” I try to tell her. No words come out, just my high pitched scream. I continue yelling at her until I get what I want. She doesn’t care. She is so tired. The pain in her stomach doesn’t leave her. There aren’t enough nurses to help everybody so my grandmother carries me backwards and forwards from my cot to the room where Mum sleeps. I don’t realise that my grandmother has to sleep on the concrete floor of the hospital. That’s the way of things in my homeland. Without her, I don’t know if I would have lived to tell this tale.

At home I cry at night, with my mum sleeping soundly beside me. She doesn’t really want to wake up and feed me. She is only 14. Maybe she forgets who the child is? When I cry, her solution is always to put me on her breast. I like that. She doesn’t want to give me a bath, or change my nappies but I know I can always rely on the comfort of her breasts. 

While I am asleep my elders spend endless hours discussing how my mother will get back to school. I am oblivious to the pressures on her; all I want is to sleep and eat, while all she wants is to go back to school or play with her friends. She certainly doesn’t want to care for me.

Even though I am still small, I get a little smack sometimes. It always makes me cry. My mother doesn’t always know what I want. It’s hard to tell her when I can’t talk – shouldn’t she just know? Big tears fall down my cheeks as I wonder what I have done. However, it isn’t long before somebody comes and whisks me off the floor. I feel safe now and a cuddle is all it takes for my tears to dry up. There is tension in the air as my grandmother explains to my mother how to care for a baby. I’ve already moved on to play with some dirt on the floor.

Sometimes when my mum is really angry she will pick me up and throw me down. I am bewildered and of course I cry. It is a very confusing time for me.

I don’t know where my dad is. Later I will find out, neither does my mum. I don’t know if she will ever tell me about what happened to her. I don’t realise that the anger she feels might be related to what he did to her. I have no idea she is too young to be a mother. All I know is that when I look at her, I have two eyes dancing with smiles for her. I hope this helps to fill her heart with love.

What I’d like to say to you is that it doesn’t really matter, if your mum is young or old, or something in between.  All that matters is that she loves you as best as she can. I know that mine does.

Life isn’t always perfect with an accidental parent.

 

© Vanessa Murray

“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.

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* Gloria Steinem