parents

"I wasn’t prepared for the constant belief that I was getting it all wrong."

Nicola
Nicola

 

By NICOLA MORIARTY

A tree came down in out backyard recently. Strong winds caused the trunk to splinter and crack, and then it fell. We’ve left it there, for now. Eventually, we’ll borrow my Dad’s chainsaw, and we’ll take it to pieces, and we’ll bundle it into piles and the council will come and collect it from our nature strip.

But for now, it stays. Slowly growing drier, browner, more withered and curled.

Recently I drove with my girls to my parent’s house. We were visiting after preschool, and as I pulled up out the front, a thought crossed my mind. What I were to drop the girls off, see them safely to the front door, and then just leave?

What if I got back in the car without a word? What if I drove away, kept driving. What if I never came back?

My insides are that tree. I am dried up, withered and curled. Most of all though, I am broken. As though something inside me has snapped, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t paste the pieces back together. And lately, there is one word that is always, always on my mind. It’s forever there, at the base of my throat waiting to leap onto my tongue.

Failure.

I met a mother recently, who had just had her third baby. She looked incredible: healthy, glowing, gorgeous. I asked her how she was finding things – with three now. Fantastic! She exclaimed. Three is so much easier than two. She passed the baby over to someone else and pulled her two-year-old up onto her lap. Each move that she made was effortless. Flawless.

She is the sort of mother that I always thought I would be. I grew up surrounded by babies. My mother was a foster parent. After having the six of us, she began to take care of other people’s babies when they needed a home. Short-term foster care. From the age of two it was a part of my life. When Mum took a phone call from DOCs, I would be dancing by her side, waiting to hear the news. Is there a baby coming? How old? How long will he stay? When will he arrive?

ADVERTISEMENT
I wasn't the mother I thought I would be.
I wasn’t the mother I thought I would be.

Sometimes, Mum would let me take a day off school, just to stay home with her and play with the baby. Sometimes the baby’s cot would be in my room and I would help Mum in the middle of the night, nursing the warm bundle while Mum heated the baby’s bottle. Mum would always send me back to bed then though, sitting down on her own, wrapped up in her pale pink dressing gown, on the floral couch in the dimly lit lounge room, feeding the baby.

For just under twenty years Mum fostered babies. The last one, a ten-month-old Vietnamese girl named Sophie, became very attached to me. I don’t know why – perhaps something about me reminded her of her mother. When she left – to move on to long-term foster care, both Mum and I cried by the front door. Mum always sent a letter along with every baby to the next foster carer. The letter would give the next mother all of the details they needed about the baby – how she liked to sleep, how much milk she was drinking or what foods she liked if she was on solids – those kinds of things. At the end of the letter, Mum always wrote the exact same words: If you could give me just one phone call, just to let me know that she’s okay, I would be very grateful. And then she left her phone number. The foster mother that took Sophie never bothered to phone Mum. That was when Mum finally decided her life as a foster parent was over. She couldn’t take the heartbreak any more. Neither could I.

ADVERTISEMENT

I grew up always telling my elder sisters that one day I would have six children of my own. You won’t, they said. You’ll change your mind about that one.

I will not! I know what I want, and I want lots of babies!

My sisters were of course, annoyingly right.

When I met my husband, I told him I wanted a big family – maybe four children, I said. I’d realised six might have been a stretch.

When we had one, I said maybe three.

When we had two, I said maybe we’re done.

I wasn’t the Mum that I had thought I would be. It wasn’t effortless. All of my experience with all of those foster babies meant nothing. I’d always been proud of the fact that I could take any crying baby in my arms – rock them in just the right way, and get them to stop crying. I didn’t realise that that special skill vanished at three am with your own child. Your own little girl who has fed, been changed and should now be snuggled up in her bassinette but for some reason just won’t stop crying.

I wasn’t prepared for the days. The loneliness. The confusion.

I wasn’t prepared for the fear.

I wasn’t prepared for the constant belief that I was getting it all wrong.

That I was failing.

I remember with my first, I kept a notebook to write down every single breast-feed. The time, which side she started on and how long she fed for. I stressed and obsessed over her weight and over how much milk she was getting. One day I visited the clinic and when I was asked a question about how she fed, I pulled out my note pad and started pouring over the pages. After a few minutes, the nurse reached across and took the notebook out of my hands.

“Your baby is doing fine,” she said. “But I think you need to stop using this.”

.
I was okay – for a little while.
ADVERTISEMENT

I felt as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Freedom flooded my body, and I was okay – for a little while.

My second came along, and at first – it was fine. My husband could only take two days off work as he had just started a new job. But I wasn’t worried. I knew what I was doing now. I would be perfectly okay on my own.

I don’t really know when it all began to slide. But there was the moment that I found myself crouched on the kitchen floor, crying into my hands. And there was the moment when I screamed at my daughter because she wouldn’t eat her dinner and I threw her bowl against the wall, and there was the moment where I phoned my husband and sobbed into the phone, “You have to come home, you have to come home, now, now, now.” He panicked and got off the train at Parramatta, thinking that maybe he could catch a taxi and get home sooner. Then he realised that with the traffic he’d have been better off staying on the train – but by that point his train had already left.

I think that was the night that he asked me to go and speak to someone. That he suggested I might need some help. That I realised he was right.

I saw a clinic nurse. And then a doctor. And then a psychologist. Eventually I accepted the fact that I needed medication.

Slowly, ever so slowly, things began to creep back up. My days began to brighten again, my rage began to dissipate. I turned back into me.

Now, one year later, things have taken a turn once more. I don’t know why… a combination of things I suppose. I recognised the signs sooner this time, I tried my best to cut it off at the pass. I called my psychologist, I went back to my doctor, I asked for help… but Goddammit, somehow, I still ended up hitting bottom.

This time it was different though. I wasn’t angry, I was sad. I was tired, I was stressed, I was anxious, I was scattered, I was a mess. And that word was back – up in neon lights, framing my world: Failure, failure, failure.

But slowly, ever so slowly, things are beginning to creep back up again. My days are starting to brighten again; my despair had begun to dissipate.

I am turning back into me.

I am ready for whatever comes next.

Nicola Moriarty is a writer, student and mum from Sydney’s north west. Her debut novel Free-Falling was released in February of this year and she is currently working on her second novel. Find her website here.

If you or someone you know is suffering from PND please call PANDA on 1300 726 306 or contact your local GP.

00:00 / ???