Such a timely prompt! Today is my son’s 15th birthday and I’ve been looking through old photos, journals, etc. and found an article I wrote for a National Childbirth Trust magazine about “my birth story.” This is it:
Other birth stories I’ve read remind me a bit of fairy tales – not that they aren’t true – simply that they always seem to end shortly after the birth with the whole family snuggled up together. I can almost hear the words “and they all lived happily ever after.”
But that’s not how it was for me and my partner. It’s not that Tom’s birth wasn’t a huge event in our lives – just that the magic moment wasn’t his birth or the first few hours cradling him in our arms. That wasn’t the end of the story, just the beginning.
I suppose in lots of ways I was really lucky. Unlike much younger friends who spent years trying to conceive, I became pregnant as soon as we decided to start trying. While other friends struggled with horrible morning sickness I got off with no more than a passing aversion to garlic. Still other friends recounted emergency caesareans, having their waters broken, episiotomies and painful tearing; my labour left me physically unscarred and in fact feeling really well, so there’s no story there.
My fairy tale starts with Tom’s birth. Right on cue, in the dawning moments of his due date, my baby began his push to freedom. For three days, he pushed and my body withheld its help. After 24 hours in hospital walking around trying to “make it happen” chemical intervention was offered – and accepted. If I was disappointed, Tom’s relief was obvious. Sixteen minutes after the drip punctured my arm, he surfed into the world on a wave of synthetic hormones. None of this head-first-then-shoulder stuff. My skinny, wrinkled, pointy-headed son took his chance and hurtled screaming into the midwife’s arms.
Unfortunately, he kept on screaming. In the hospital he wouldn’t feed. I asked for help, begged for help, even threatened to stand in the middle of the ward with my howling son until someone helped. What I got wasn’t much more that a nurse holding my breast in one hand, Tom’s head in the other and shoving them together. Things got better when we went home, but breastfeeding was always a bit of a struggle for us.
And Tom kept screaming. Endlessly. For weeks.
He wouldn’t sleep – and Tony and I barely managed a couple of hours sleep between screaming bouts. Everyone said he had colic. The emergency doctor to whom I took him one Saturday night didn’t even bother to examine him. He simply asked if he was my first child then told me categorically that all first children get colic.
I tried to find out what caused colic. Wind? Allergies? There is no agreement about this. Infacol, gripe water, herb tea, giving up dairy products, I tried it all. Tom kept screaming. My health visitor was soothing. “He’ll grow out of it.” “The first six weeks are the hardest.” Then when it didn’t get better, “12 weeks and he’ll be a different baby.” He wasn’t, but since popular wisdom said he could no longer have colic, opinion shifted to his weight and naturally his eating. “He doesn’t sleep because he’s hungry, try giving him a bottle” and “Once he’s on solids, everything will settle down, you’ll see.” I rejected the bottle and breast-fed more often. At twenty weeks I started shovelling baby rice down his throat. He ate it happily enough but didn’t sleep any better. The Health Visitor tried another “he’ll be all right when …” but gave up when I asked as sweetly as I could manage if he might be all right by the time we sent him off to boarding school?
Tom’s nine months old now. The first seven months were total hell. Sometimes I really hated him, mostly I hated myself. But somewhere in the last couple of months I’ve slain the giant, or rescued the treasure, whatever. I’ve got through all that stuff you have to do in fairy tales to get to the ending.
When you read this we’ll have been to New Zealand for six weeks, Tom, Tony and me. Maybe while you’re reading we’ll be snuggled up together somewhere, beginning our time of “living happily ever after.”
So am I living “happily ever after”?
In so far as my child is whole, healthy, mostly happy, successful at school, funny, kind, proudly individual and still hugs me every day – hell yeah!
There are regrets; I wish I’d been able to have another child. I think Tom would have made a great big brother. I wish I’d worried about him less, tried to fix stuff for him less and trusted more that he would be able to solve his own issues in his own time (actually, I’m still working on that one); and knowing other mothers who have built great long-term friendships with their kids’ friends’ mothers, I wish I’d been better at the playgroup stuff instead of hating playdough and finger-painting and longing for “grown-up” company.
When Tom was little I used to have nightmares about losing him – and always because I had failed him in some way. I’m a bit more relaxed now, but I only have to turn on the news to know that every day parents do lose children – in many different ways. All I can do is try not to think about the bad stuff, enjoy the good stuff and work on the basis that there will be much more good to come.
So yes, I’m living happily ever after – one day at a time.