Friday, January 23, 2009

A Mother's Intuition

I was a really great mum. Until I had kids.

I never thought that I had a romanticised view of parenthood - I always understood that it was going to be bloody hard work, but assumed it would be in the most rewarding way. I thought that it would come as second nature and that, like most other things I had done in my life, I would be pretty good at it.

So it came as a huge shock to discover, once I became a mother, that I had absolutely no talent for it whatsoever.

I had spent 18 years working in marketing and advertising and had dealt with my fair share of petulant creatives frequently throwing toys out of prams and clients with personalities that would make any boot sargeant crumble. I excelled in managing teams of people, delivering work within both jaw-dropping and ludicrously penny-pinching budgets plus achievable and absolutely what-the-hell-are-you-thinking impossible deadlines.

And as intelligent as I was (note the past tense - ha!) I was still living with the assumption that motherhood would be a doddle compared to all that. How hard could looking after one baby be? After all my years of hard grafting I felt entitled to take the opportunity to start living the life of reilly as a stay-at-home mum. Yeah. Right.

My introduction to motherhood was not your typical 9 months of swelling, bloating, indigestion and nesting. After just 22+ weeks of the easiest pg I went into labour and delivered our first son, who lived for approximately 47 minutes (but who's counting). However, that's another story.

My second pg was not quite so textbook - involving complete bedrest from 3 months onwards, which I glibly assumed was going to be the biggest challenge that I ever faced in life. Sitting still was not something that I had ever excelled at - but I was prepared to do whatever it takes and, like most things in life that I put my mind to, I actually became quite good at that as well. Son 1 was born 10 weeks early after several false alarms and regular stays in the delivery ward. To have a son perfectly healthy and 100% alive, albeit a little bit on the small size, was an incredible relief and I was overwhelmed with happiness. I had a baby. And I was overjoyed and couldn't wait for the time that we could take him home and I could begin my new vocation in life.

After 4 weeks in special care Son 1 reached his 4lb target weight and we were given clearance to take him home. What should have been a day of celebration was simply a day of maximum trepidation. Now I know many new parents have the same fears and feel completely ill-equipped to face the task inhand of caring for a newborn without someone being there 24/7 who actually knows what they are doing. I knew without a doubt that that person was not me. And certainly not my husband. Son 1 had been tenderly cared for night and day by a team of the most experienced and caring nurses you could ever hope to encounter. He had been attached to three machines that all regularly went beep, telling us that yes, he was still alive and not only that but his heart rate was X, his blood oxygenation was Y and his breaths per minute were Z.

He was attached to the machines until half an hour before we took him home and the sudden silence was deafening. I kept looking at him closely and wondered, how on earth am I going to know he is okay without all the beeps?

The first few weeks at home were stressful, but from the other mums I talked to that seemed par for the course. So I assumed everything would get better. I would suddenly develop a sense of parenting intuition that was simply taking its time to kick in and Son 1 would settle down and all would be hunky dory. That wasn't really the case. The weeks stretched into months and I still felt no more equipped than the day we left hospital. Son 1 was gorgeous and I never doubted my love for him - but I was, in all honesty, absolutely terrified of him. Every morning when my husband left the house to go to work it was all I could do not to attach myself to his ankles screaming 'PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THIS BABY!!'

I read every parenting manual published (bad idea - not to be recommended) and had a textbook answer for every situation. But when Son 1 didn't respond to my textbook sourced solutions I was fraught. I spent most of my days feeling a failure and a fraud. I hated myself for being so crap at something that was meant to be one of the most natural things in the world. And I knew without a doubt that the fact that I was constantly so on edge was causing my baby to be even more miserable and inconsolable - it was a vicious circle that I had no idea how to break.

Until one night when Son 1 was crying for seemingly no reason and I was attempting to cuddle and console him without success. As had become the pattern, he screamed in his cot but it seemed the crying got louder and he became even more hysterical when I held him. I walked and patted. I swayed and rocked. The decibels increased and I could feel the tension and absolute desperation welling in my chest. 'I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT' I screamed. 'TELL ME WHAT YOU NEED - JUST TELL ME! I'LL DO ANYTHING'.

The screams got louder and he arched away from me, pushing me with his little fists and kicking his feet. Oh my God. This poor child. What on earth had he done to deserve someone who didn't seem to have a single mothering gene in her body? I suddenly felt completely deflated and incredibly sad. My love for Son 1 felt overwhelming and I collapsed into the rocking chair with tears streaming down my face. I am so sorry, I whispered. So, so sorry. You deserve so much better. I love you so much. I love you. I love you. I love you.

As I repeated my mantra into the top of his downy head, tears dripping onto his fine baby hair, Son 1 suddenly relaxed completely in my arms and nestled his head into that sweet place in the crook of my neck. I continued to rock and tell him that I loved him. I felt it radiating from my chest through us both and intense calm overtook me for the first time in months. I sat and savoured the moment. Maybe, just maybe, I did have some mothering intuition after all.


  1. Hi Nicola, thanks for stopping by and I have to add my voice to the others who already said it; what a great blog and welcome to the fold... Keep at it - and if you're interested, A Modern Mother recently set up a Ning for British blogging mums (no, I had no idea what the hell a ning was before-hand either). Visit to take a look. Oh - and was assuming you are a Brit from the 4000 miles reference. Apologies if you're not!

  2. Aah. Wouldn't go back to those days if you paid me. I hadn't a bloody clue, despite being the oldest cousin of many, babysitting my way through my teens and generally being "good with babies". My first was very high maintenance, and I think partly due to the fact that I was very wound up and generally not that happy with how I was handling things. Poor mites. Oh, how we shape them without knowing.

  3. Potty Mummy - thank you so much for the lovely comments. I am all aglow. And I have 'applied' for access to the Ning (whatever the hell a Ning is....must add that to my CV).

    Expat Mum - I agree. Both boys seem to have emerged relatively unscathed at 5 and 3 but who knows what neurosis's are waiting to unveil themselves as they get older. I dread to think. Better save that thought and get back to my G&T - I don't need to generate any more grey hairs this evening.

  4. Hi, just found your blog. I can related, I had a NICU baby too (five weeks in special care). And I was scared as hell to bring her home. Take a look at More than Just a Mother, she had the NICU experience as well, and so did Nappy Valley Girl. I still don't really think I'm over it.

    A Modern Mother (

  5. Hi Thames! So lovely to hear from you. I always remember what my OB said 'it's just a shame you don't get to have the 2nd baby first'. I didn't get it when she said it but it was so true. I was so much more relaxed with the 2nd. And a good friend of mine, who has an 8 year old, professes that she is an expert in 7 yr olds - 8 yr chance!

  6. This is a really lovely post and a terrific blog! It's so bloody hard that first child and so bloody tiring ever after. But it does get easier. Having said that I don't think I needed a drink so much as when my kids were little!

  7. Having been with you through a lot of son 1's life and am still with you (albeit 4000 miles away), I can see you coming through the other side of it.
    Trust your mothering instincts.

  8. Modern Mother, thanks for pointing Nicola in my direction - we've been chatting already ;)

    Big hugs to you honey. I lit a candle for my boy today, and I lit one for Mack too xx

  9. Great post.
    Thanks for sharing your ups and downs. We all have them of varying degrees...
    I actually LOVED the newborn phase. I find toddlerhood the hardest!

  10. That was a beautiful post and I remember those times so well.

  11. Fabulous post. Brought back some of the old memories. My first was in SCBU too but for just a couple of weeks. I remember we were able to spend a couple of nights in the parents' room with hime before they let him out...for some reason it felt like a test and we couldn't believe it when they let us take him home. Trust ever step you make and you'll do fine.

  12. Just added you to my Best Of the British Mummy Bloggers list on

  13. Well done, the books don't tell you to be yourself and once you were, the magic kicked in!

  14. I can't imagine how scary it must be to bring a tiny baby home from the cocoon of hospital life.

    The ones of us who know we have no clue have less far to fall than the ones who think they know it all. Small comfort, I know.

  15. Nicola, thank you for sharing your story. My daughter was in SCBU for a week (she was only a month early, so not too small) and I can relate to much of what you have said here. My sister was also premature (7 weeks) and I remember how tiny and fragile she was when she came home (after about a month).

    I am so sorry about the loss of your son, as well. It is something we all fear and I don't think anyone who hasn't been through it can truly know what it is like, but know that we share your pain as much as we are able.