"The one question in a baby book that brought my world crashing down."

“I thought I wasn’t good enough as a mother.” I was flicking through Pixie’s blue book, when I stumbled across a page that stopped me. At the eight week check a series of questions included: Does your baby smile at you? Instead of checking yes or no in the box, a small, lonely word is written… Seldomly. Just reading it had the same effect now, nearly two years later, than what writing it did at the time. Tears rolled down my face. Today, that baby is a toddler that is quite happy, thank you very much. But that question and that small word, neatly written, brings a rush of emotion back to me and epitomises my experience of struggling during those early months. Just a week before writing that, I had sat in my paediatricians office and worked up the nerve to ask him if he thought there was something wrong with my baby, as she hadn’t smiled. I started crying as soon as I asked it. He looked at me strangely and I could read his mind… ‘Uh oh, we’ve got a nutcase here’. He laughed and asked me what on earth I meant and I managed reel off a few medical reasons that might be responsible, no matter how incredibly rare. He peered at my baby, and insisted he could see the hint of the smile. He told me I was worried about nothing and hurried me out of the office, scared I was going to drown him in my tears, or lose the plot, or both. The thing is, I couldn’t articulate to him, what this lack of interaction symbolised for me. Back then I had an infant that quite literally, wasn’t sleeping. Not in the awake-4-times-a-night way all newborns are, but in the no longer than 10 minutes on me by day, 30 minutes by night. I had tried convincing myself it fell in the ‘normal newborn behaviour’ basket, but the wheels were still falling off my coping mechanisms. Somehow, the fact she hadn’t smiled at seven weeks was representative to me, of all my failings as her mother. To me, she hadn’t smiled because she was unhappy, because the life she’d landed in wasn’t satisfactory, that she couldn’t form an attachment to her mother, and the big one – that her mother wasn’t looking after her properly.

"I struggled along another month or so before I vocalised to my husband the thoughts I had every day."

A mother who feels she is failing as a mother, feels she is failing in the most profound way in life. Cliches aside, a mother's job is to nurture and protect her offspring. If I couldn’t do that what use was I? I had an unhappy infant, and I was an unhappy mother. Because I was unhappy and exhausted I was constantly making the bigger two little people unhappy with my lack of time for them and persistent grumpiness. The cycle of my failure seemed endless. The pressure on myself was high to begin with. I wasn’t able to admit that my baby wasn’t sleeping well.  I’d never been a child health nurse when I had my other two, so I felt okay to muddle along. With Pixie, I felt an expectation that I needed to be seen to succeed with her. If I struggled with feeding, settling, coping or any part of my parental responsibilities, to me it undermined my professional knowledge. Not only was I a crap mother, but I was also really failing in my professional role to boot. This just compounded my feelings of being a useless individual who wouldn’t be missed if I took a holiday from my family. That theme that I wasn’t a good enough mother was central to my experience with post-natal depression. I struggled along another month or so before I vocalised to my husband the thoughts I had every day, that I was a terrible mother  to my baby &  children, and I wished I could just disappear for a while. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to disappear. It was a relief to share it, and the catalyst for doing something about it. I can’t say it was easily fixed; the next months were a difficult, frustrating and sad journey of learning to deal with my feelings, overcome the debilitating and re-discover my life. But eventually I managed all of that. I stopped kicking myself for my faults and started acknowledging that I was a mother with a lot on her plate doing the best that she could. The fog of misery and the cloud of despair eventually receded.

"Two year olds – even the most placid of personality - are stubborn."

Now, the baby that wouldn’t smile is a just turned two-year-old Pixie. If she’s not smiling, she’s about to. She has a twinkly, cheeky beautiful smile that warms my heart. It might not have been an unhappy life that prevented her early smiles, but regardless, her smiles now are those of a child that knows she is loved and treasured.  It took a long time for me to see it, but I am a good enough mother. And that’s enough. I am living with a two-year-old. Again. Third time round. You know the first time you feel a contraction when in labour with your second child? You thought you’d never forgotten the pain of childbirth, but that first pain makes you realise that indeed, time had dimmed the memory slightly. You have that ‘why am I doing this again’ moment of sheer panic, the realisation that if you really had remembered the reality of the pain, you would not have come back for more. Well, that’s kind of how I feel about living with a two-year-old right now. Even the most placid of personalities - are stubborn. I am stubborn too, but it is tempered by the fact I have to also be sensible and adult. Much as I long to join my daughter on the ground kicking my legs and sobbing face down in the concrete, someone has to keep their shit together, and seemingly that’s my role. I tell work colleagues and friends about my daughter's antics, and I am quite sure they think I have taken artistic license to my description. We (semi-affectionately) call her Feral Beryl or the demon child and they look startled. Then they have an experience with myself and her and they are suddenly understanding. Even the estate agent selling our house the other night said within fifteen minutes of meeting her, ‘Wow, she has some spunk, pity you guys when she’s a teenager’. He found it funnier than us because it’s the truth and we’re terrified.

"She never fails to make us laugh."

When she started replying ‘Trouble’ when people asked her her name, we surmised child care had also nicknamed her. Trouble she is, from dawns crack to the wee hours, where last night at 1:00AM she was found to be on her hands and knees barking like a dog. If you have or have had a 2-year-old you know the picture. It’s tiring. But there are upsides: 1. She naps.  I am only still semi-sane because she naps. I worship anyone who has a two-year-old who doesn’t nap. 2. She is also awesome contraception. There is no chance of any funny business if even a smidgen of a chance of another two-year-old in two years and nine months remains.  I feel the waves of cluckiness invading in the special care nursery at work, and I channel her (or two year olds in general). Gone. Simple. 3. At child care they marvel at her ‘spirit and determination’.  Surely that will get her great places one day? Places that aren’t prison? 4. She gives me a legitimate reason to drink wine. She also never fails to make us laugh, every hour of every day. She makes me want to cry nearly as often, but at least there’s a silver lining. Best of all, she also loves as fiercely as she lives. At the end of the day her only moments of relative stillness and calm are a long cuddle where she forgets she is a lioness who thinks she is six-years-old, and as she puts it ‘I wanna be your baby, mumma’. And  that will sustain me for now. Until then I will simply remind myself of the great parenting mantra 'this too shall pass.'

How old was your baby when they first smiled? Have you ever dealt with post-natal depression? Want more? Try these:  Parents share their least favourite thing about their children. 8 photos of your kids you need to stop posting on social media.