parents

"Why bringing my baby home wasn't a joyous time for me."

Nicole with her family.

For most women, bringing a baby home from hospital is a joyous occasion.

But for Nicole, the noise of her child’s cries brought back frightening memories of a childhood involving “a lot of screaming”.

“My dad left when my brother and I were babies because mum had paranoid schizophrenia and was in and out of hospital and lived in a fantasy world,” she says.

While her grandmother took over parenting responsibilities, the two matriarchs often fought and Nicole’s mother’s erratic behaviour – such as turning up unannounced at Nicole and her brother Jeff’s primary school – would often leave the pair frightened and confused.

“(T)he teachers would hide us, because mum was raving that people were trying to get us and we had to go away together and hide from people and kill ourselves,” Nicole says.

Despite these difficulties, Nicole finished high school, moved, found work interstate and met her husband Mike in 2000. Life, for a time, felt “amazing”, she recalls.

Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is sponsored by The Benevolent Society. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100 per cent authentic and written in their own words.

It wasn’t until she fell pregnant with her first child at 36 that the effects of her difficult childhood manifested.

“Sienna was born about five weeks early and right from the start, she was always crying,” Nicole says.

“When I brought her home, Sienna couldn’t be with me because she was crying all the time. As soon as I heard her crying, it set something off in me, I just found it really difficult to cope.”

Reduced to “a blubbering mess”, Nicole took Sienna to a private hospital and through an ante-natal program there, started to learn coping strategies, she says.

“I got more confident to do simple things like feed her and bathe her and go out in public.”

But the support was expensive and once she left, there was no follow-up, Nicole tells. So when she fell pregnant two-and-a-half years later, she sought out further assistance.

A local public hospital put her in touch with The Benevolent Society and a case worker called Annette visited her at home and in hospital after the birth to reassure Nicole she “wouldn’t be alone this time”, Nicole says.

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“She was ringing me all the time and just being a support for me. It made a huge difference.” Annette also encouraged Nicole to attend an Early Intervention Ante-Natal group for mothers with a history of trauma. “The Benevolent Society was always a phone call away,” she says.

Nicole has a happy marriage, successful job and a home.

Nicole started to attend group therapy sessions, to which she could bring her two children to play on the on-site playroom. She describes the sessions as “very special, and really beautiful”.

“We (the other parents in the group and I) could just vent and they made us realise that we were actually good parents. We all had our anxieties but it really kept us on the up and up.”

Nicole stayed involved with the society for five years. During that time, she says it equipped her with skills and a support network that was lacking within her own family.

“I feel that I had no role models. I didn’t have anyone to ask, ‘What age did I walk? Was I breast-fed, or bottle-fed?’… I felt like an orphan,” Nicole says.

“(My therapist) would make sense of it for me; she would explain about how my childhood affected me as an adult. She’s taught me (that) though I have my ups and downs, I’m a good person and I’m doing the best that I can.”

Now 47, Nicole has a happy marriage, a successful job in the travel industry and a home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

But most of all, she’s empowered by knowing how to nurture and care for her beautiful children during their crucial first years of development.

“I know that because I’ve received all this support, my children will not suffer like I did. When I’m sad or upset or depressed, I’ll be able to explain to my children how I’m feeling,” she says.

“Unlike what happened to me in my own childhood, I know I will be able to fill their life with love and laughter.”

If you know anyone who is struggling with the above, like Nicole did, reach out and help them.

What sort of support do you think parents need when their kids are little? What help was – or is — available for you as a parent with very young kids?

Having loving parents who play with you, read to you and provide stimulating early learning opportunities builds vital neural pathways that set you up well to be able to make friends, concentrate at school and cope well with everyday life.

But many children in Australia have parents who can’t provide this kind of supportive environment – usually because they themselves grew up without it. It’s hard to know how to be a good parent if you’ve never experienced it. 

Helping every parent to be the best mum and dad they can be will help the current generation of children get the best out of life. It will help them to do well at school, make friends, get and keep a job and stay out of serious trouble.

Join The Benevolent Society’s Acting Early campaign to help all Australian children develop their potential and contribute positively to our shared community.

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