Today my son turns 9. Nine! As his arrival was, as you know, extremely traumatic, and I suffered for so long afterwards, you might think that his birthday is a triggering event. Not so. I remember his first birthday, when I invited so many of his baby friends along (15 plus parents), that our tiny terrace house was stuffed to the gills. It was a celebration, so much more than a first birthday – a hurrah to celebrate surviving our first year. It felt like a huge moment as a family, we had somehow kept it all together despite fighting a litany of battles on so many fronts. I have always celebrated Sam’s birthday, I will never ever let what happened in those initial months to overshadow a day which is, rightly, all for him.
Post-natal depression is a thief though. It sneaks about like the Artful Dodger, picking any pocket of joy and stealing it away, while your child is the desperate Oliver, crying out for more – more love, more attention, just something more from their mother. At the time I was simply unable to give it. From the moment of his birth, when I was first presented with a teeny tiny, scum covered baby, head crushed by the forceps, for a few seconds before he was rushed away to special care, it had been one long torturous, frightening journey. Six long hours later we met him for the first time, on a silent, dark ward at 2am, on which we whispered and gazed at this tiny 4.7lb ounce of sleeping flesh. I loved him always, I cared for my son and I did my very best every day to make sure his needs were met.
But I knew that I hadn’t got that deep maternal love which everyone goes on about. I knew that there was something in the way, but I couldn’t work out what. Even worse, I didn’t actually care! I just didn’t have the fight in me to battle myself with guilt over this lack of maternal emotion. That’s a sign of a properly poorly mum.
However, I got my moment. I remember it distinctly, I can summon it back to my mind easily and every time I get to live the joy all over again. We had moved back to our hometown, and I was finally, at last after 7 months, able to relax a bit - I had family around me to help care for both Sam and I, while my husband worked weeks away from home at a time. I think my body gave me permission to let my son in, really in. To take his rightful place right there in my heart, where the special relationship between mother and son exists. I looked into his eyes one very ordinary day, and all of a sudden, it felt like a little valve had quietly popped open. I looked at my baby and I felt love. Real, true, overwhelming, love. It brought tears to my eyes, and I could literally feel it making its way around my body – the hormones and love endorphins seeping into every part of my body, a definite warmth as it crept into all the parts which had lain cold and dormant. It was unbelievable. Amazing. I feel lucky, actually, that I got this moment when I did. I don’t feel that the previous 7 months were a failure on my behalf, I actually feel grateful in a strange way – it meant so much more when it came. And I really noticed it happen, and boy did I appreciate and savour every single second.
I want to say to every mother out there struggling to bond with their baby – it will come. It might come later, but it will come. The love you feel for your child will be strong, passionate, all embracing and unconditional. It will be no less valid because it came later. It will be no weaker. In fact I believe it may even be stronger, as your heart had to fight a silent, emotion sapping adversary in order to get it. I wish I had known this 9 years ago.
I have never looked back from that time.
This is a day of celebration! My lovely boy is 9. He is funny, caring, eccentric, an adventurous spirit and a source of boundless energy. Sam is passionate about animals, is kind to his friends and he is fun to be around and I am forever thankful that he is here. He’s also unbearably messy, forgetful and has no concept of time…he’s far too busy living his life to worry about tidying his room. Just like his mum.
Happy birthday Sam.