It was during a phone conversation with a GP recently that I realised how little I know about my second-born daughter, Ivy.
“How much does she weigh?” the doctor asked me as I stood clutching my phone and staring at my ten-month-old like a deer stuck in headlights. “Er, honestly? I have no idea.” I replied. “Ballpark figure?” she pressed on, her voice surprisingly clear of judgement. “Hmm, I couldn’t even tell you that, sorry.” I said, sheepishly. Yet, still the GP was determined. “Okay, what about her height?” “Nope! Couldn’t tell you that either…”
You can imagine how the rest of the conversation went. Suffice to say, by the time I hung up, I realised not only did I not know how much my baby weighed or measured, I also didn’t know if her sleep schedule was considered “normal”, what other babies her age were up to, or even if Ivy had met any of the milestones for her age group. The most remarkable thing about this? I also, didn’t care.
My laissez-faire approach to parenting might seem surprising to some, but it’s an even greater shock to me considering I was the exactly opposite with my firstborn Cella.
A classic Type-A personality, it wouldn’t be untrue to say I approached pregnancy and motherhood like it was an Olympic event and God how I wanted that gold medal!
I didn’t just want to be a good mother – I was determined to be The Best Mother In The World and to that end, read all the baby guides I could get my hands on (underlining the important passages in yellow if you really must know). I bought designer clothes, washed and ironed them and hung them not only by size, but by type and colour (Did I mention I was also a Virgo?).
I bought the right “stuff”, read the right “words” and bought into the dream that motherhood would be like one big J&J commercial. And then baby Cella was born and everything Went. To. Shit.
She emerged from the womb screaming and continued to do exactly that 24/7 for the next year. Cella was diagnosed with severe reflux around the time I was diagnosed with severe maternal disillusionment disorder (symptoms include a general feeling of being overwhelmed and under-prepared, and walking around with a general WTF??? demeanour).
How could I parent a ‘broken baby’ when she clearly didn’t tick any of the boxes I’d read about? At first I gave it a good go; I watched the clock anxiously making sure she followed the routines. I pureed only organic meat and vegetables, changed her wardrobe from 000 to 00 the second she turned six months, and worked like a psycho to encourage her to meet the physical milestones the other babies in my mother’s group were meeting.
During the day I smiled through gritted teeth when others beamed about their seemingly perfect babies sleeping through the night and as soon as I got home I’d be on the phone to Tresillian.
“I’m sure my baby has autism” I’d cry. “She’s not doing any of the things the other babies are doing.”
“Dilvin, you can’t diagnose a three-week old baby with autism, she’s probably just being a baby,” they’d reply.
Sleep studies and schools followed but they didn’t make a difference. Cella, it seemed, was just a live wire who was determined to go about things in her own way. And me? I wasn’t used to being so out of control and I was utterly miserable. “I don’t want to have any more children” I told my husband and I meant it. Cella became resigned to the idea of being an only child – until she reached 3 and a half and I changed my mind. I got pregnant.