I didn’t like my daughter much as a baby.
My husband and I were very excited when we found out after nearly two years of trying for a baby that I was pregnant and we were finally going to have the baby we had dreamed of.
Chloe was born at 9:55am on 10 July 2009. She was limp, blue and not making any noise! It seemed like forever they were working on her as I lay there watching them pump air in to her. I couldn’t see what else they were doing. She was eventually given to me and I remember looking at her and feeling overwhelmed and daunted – she still had made no noise and was so very still. I wondered if there was something wrong with her.
After her birth, my world went spiralling in to a pit of darkness, hatred and despair. I had no help with Chloe and after the two weeks my husband had off work I was completely alone with her. After a couple of weeks I developed a deep feeling of dislike towards her.
After months of struggling with such horrible feelings about my daughter and a developing hatred towards my husband, I finally sought help with my local GP. She diagnosed me straight away with postnatal depression and prescribed me an antidepressant. I was close to suicide and was in such a bad place that my doctor told my husband to be with me for a couple of days when I started to take my medication in case of side effects that could make me worse.
I didn’t take my medication as I refused to believe I had a problem but not long after I had such a bad breakdown that my husband struggled to get Chloe away from me. He yelled at me “Take your medication!” and I stopped and looked at Chloe. I could see such fear in her face that I was ashamed of myself.
After nine months of struggling with postnatal depression, refusing to take any medication or even acknowledge I had a problem – not to mention my little girl suffering from a mother who didn’t want to hold her or be near her – I finally took my antidepressant tablets. Within a month was feeling somewhat back to my normal self and very much up to forming a loving bond with my baby, who for so long had wanted her Mummy’s love.
Unfortunately, I could never get back the time I had lost. Chloe is now nearly 18 months old and is a fiercely independent, strong-willed toddler. She is very clever and enjoys her own company as much as she enjoys being around people. I think to some degree, the depression I suffered moulded my little girl this way as she was forced to deal with things by herself – no Mummy to pick her up when she fell and cried or help her when she found something difficult to do. She had a Mummy who would seem to love her and care for her around others, and then detach from her when we were alone.
Did I cause her to be an unaffectionate little girl? I look at other toddlers and their mums and how they interact, how they cuddle and kiss and I wonder if I will ever have that. Or did I lose the right to it because I was such a bad mother?
Chloe amazes me with how quickly she has developed from crawling to walking and now often running! Not to mention climbing anything and everything she can get to. I have never had sleeping or eating problems with her. She learnt things quickly due to her independence. Everyone who meets her is amazed by her, the only thing she seems to lack is affection. Of course I hope that, in time, she will learn to love to kiss and cuddle.
If I could go back in time I would seek help earlier and I would shower my little girl with so much love – but then would she be the smart fiercely independent little toddler I love so much now? Just because we are women does not mean that we will know how to be a mum when our little ones enter the world! We must learn, just as our little ones do.
I tell Chloe every day that I love her and make sure that I cuddle her as much as possible. Every now and then she surprises me with a huge hug and a very loving, cheeky smile.
“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