There is no loneliness in the world like that of being a new mother who doesn’t like her baby very much. There is no societal definition of failure like that of a woman who wishes she had never had a child. There is no prison sentence that compares to the overwhelming realisation that having a baby means you have lost your right to freedom, independence and choice for at least the next 20 years of your life. Even convicted murderers have the right to eat and sleep and choose a book to read.
When I was pregnant with my son I couldn’t grasp the concept that there was an actual human being inside me. When he was born, I had no sense that he belonged to me. It was as though I had been given someone else’s baby to look after. He was a big, swarthy, unusual looking child, so different to the babies in other people’s prams. People didn’t quite know what to say when they met him for the first time
My son was (and still is!) a huge challenge to feed. He cried (and still does!) for hours a day. He fought (and still fights!) sleep tooth and nail. All this resulted in an overwhelmed, exhausted baby and a mother who would fantasise about committing a minor crime so that I could go to prison for 6 months to have a break from the relentless unhappiness of my son.
I hated being a parent more than I can express. I resented my son for being difficult, resistant and unattractive. The lactation consultant I saw in hospital blamed my ‘selfish choice’ of having an elective Caesarian as the root of all the evil. My mother agreed with her. My Paediatrician taught me complex swaddling techniques as a ‘solution’. My husband thought they were all idiots. 6 months later my Obstetrician (quite rightly) referred me to a Psychiatrist.
The Psychiatrist was incredible but at $300 per hour, unsustainable. My husband was supportive but was working at least 70 hours per week. My friends had kids of their own to worry about. My mother was psychologically and practically absent. The visions I had of her coming over to keep me company through the lonely hours, bearing home cooked meals evaporated into thin air.
My son was so hard to breastfeed. When I put him to the breast he would arch his back, scream and pull away. I had to clamp him to my breast with two hands whilst naked from the waist up. My technique was clearly incompatible with feeding in public, so I stayed home alone. I had his tongue tie cut. I put him on reflux medication. Nothing changed. He was hungry and unsettled but I couldn’t bring myself to give him formula. I was brainwashed by the propaganda spread by the Nipple Nazis that giving formula to your baby is to fail them as a mother.
I was utterly and totally alone. With a baby I couldn’t stand. Marking the days off the calendar with a red pen. Hoping that it would get better when he got to 6 months, when he was on solids, when he slept through the night, when he could sit, walk, talk.
I felt short changed at not experiencing the overwhelming love for a child that makes ‘all the hard work worth it’. I felt angry for being ‘punished’ with a difficult child when I’d done nothing wrong. But most of all, I felt profoundly lonely.
20 months later my daughter was born and I fell in love at first sight. She slept, she fed, she smiled at the world and the world smiled with her. My son, four and a half now, continues to weep and weep alone. It was only when I had my daughter that I realised I had not failed at parenting. My son has a difficult temperament. My daughter has an easy nature. My daughter and I have a ‘goodness of fit’. My son and I do not. I love him more than life itself, but I find it hard to like him most of the time.
I work hard on our mother-son relationship. I read parenting books, I see a psychologist, I get up every morning and think ‘I will be a better mother to him today’. Yet, he continues to be angry, teary, hungry and plagued with nightmares.
A Developmental Paediatrician I saw a few months ago told me there was nothing wrong with him but thought getting his tonsils out might help. $750 is a lot of money to pay for one appointment with a specialist who can’t come up with more than that. My husband thought he was an idiot. And then went back to work. My mother didn’t even know I’d taken him to see a Paediatrician. She would have thought I was the idiot if I’d told her. My friends clicked their tongues at the expense of the unhelpful appointment. But deep in their hearts they think that if there’s nothing wrong with the child, then there must be something wrong with the mother.
Some women aren’t meant to find mothering easy and satisfying. Some children aren’t meant to be easy to love. We live in a world where we choose to have our carefully planned 2 children rather than having 10 ‘gifts from God’ that we didn’t really ask for. We’re expected to like all of our children equally as opposed to there being ‘mother’s favourite’ like there was a century ago. Because we choose motherhood we are expected to revel in it, unlike many of our grandmothers who only had to tolerate it. We’re meant to find personal satisfaction in procreating after years of being taught to have meaning and identity in being a career woman. The sexual revolution of the 1960s may have broken some shackles. But it inadvertently created many more.
Every day I try to be a better mother to my son. Every night I tell him I love him and think about how much I failed him again today. Every night I read another parenting book. Despite my best efforts, he continues to wake up every day and rage against the machine.
Although if I’m really honest, so do I.