"I wandered through pregnancy in a state of dread. It was going to begin all over again."

The tiredness was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I fell asleep on the toilet, at the hairdressers, standing up, like a horse. I forgot appointments, time and again, when I’d seldom been late for an appointment in my life. I was shocked and embarrassed. What was wrong with me? The answer though was plain: I had a newborn.

I’d been tired during the pregnancy, but this new tiredness was something else again.

As the months passed, I began to notice stories in the news about the mothers of new babies… Like the mother who fell asleep in the bath with her baby and awoke to find her baby drowned. The mother co-sleeping, waking to find the baby dead at the foot of her bed. The six month pregnant mother who fell asleep inside, while three of her children perished in her car in their driveway. I tried not to imagine the horror of these families’ grief. I did not judge. I thought, I can see how that can happen.

My baby was one when I became pregnant again. I wandered through that pregnancy in a mild state of dread. It was going to begin all over again. The sleeplessness, the night feeds, the constant pressure to attend to this little being. In short, the banal and wearing workload that a new baby brings. Except I would have a toddler too this time. As much as I looked forward to meeting my next child, I didn’t. The local maternal nurse tested me for post-natal (or was it pre-natal?) depression. I rated my sadness out of ten. I rated my dread. I passed the test, or perhaps I failed it. Not depressed. We moved house.

I was blessed with a second healthy baby and I did do it all again, this time, without a mother’s group. Without the tentative new friendships that I’d forged in my last suburb with new mums like me. No one came knocking – no welcoming neighbour or new maternal health nurse. Not this time. Dazed and exhausted, I ploughed on, pushing a double pram to half empty playgroups trying not to look too desperate for an adult chat about books or films or anything other than babies. I went each Friday. Each Wednesday. It took months, if not years – until my eldest made it to kindergarten and I made real friends.

In the meantime, I read news-stories of frazzled parents leaving their babies in their cars and going off to catch a train, or to shop. Parents finding their children, hours later, long gone in their little car seats. Pale and still. And I thought: There but by the grace of God go I.

When my children were small, I did everything humanly possible to make sure that they both slept in the daytime at the same time. So I could sleep too. And, sometimes, it worked. I had one friend, an old friend, who came each Monday with lunch and he was a ray of light in an otherwise long dark tunnel. A bachelor himself, he changed nappies and entertained one child while I changed and fed the other. And I had a supportive partner too. Each evening and on the weekends, he was there to help and share the load. Though to be honest, I don’t think he truly understood how at sea I felt. Without fail, within a week of each of our sons being born, from Monday to Friday, he was at work. He left early each morning.

Image: Anna George.

One day, at a park, my baby was squirming in my grip and I stumbled and we fell. I can remember eying the rocks of the garden as we went down. I can remember cupping my baby’s head in my hands. When we hit the rocks, my arm and hand bore the brunt of it. My elbow puffed up and my knuckles swelled. But my baby’s head, his small warm head, was intact in my hands. An unbroken egg. Once I was back on my feet, I hid behind the slide as I cried, tears of relief and dismay.

Today, I look at parks, busy or empty, and feel a shiver of relief that I am not in them.

But I don’t regret my children and never have. The hardship around having them does not define my relationship with them.

Even while I was in that dark place, I saw clearly in moments of brilliance. Usually in crowded public spaces.

When, as often as I lost my own children, briefly, terrifyingly, at parks or in shopping centres, I found other people’s. Like the little girl lost at the Melbourne aquarium, sobbing silently as she circled the full café searching for a familiar face.

And the small boy at the lakeside picnic ground clambering across the grass, running from tree to tree, searching for his family. And I did what I hope other people would do for my children. I held their little hands and spoke to their upturned faces and wordless fears; and I led them back to safety. As I walked beside them, I was conscious absolutely of how precious they were and how missed, in that very moment, they would be.

Anna’s George’s gripping new novel The Lone Child is on sale from Monday, 31 July through Penguin Random House RRP $29.99.