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When is a mother not a mother?

Nearly two years ago I was rushed into theatre, given a powerful epidural and had my first child pulled out of me with what appears to be a cross between a plunger and a vacuum (ventouse delivery). It all sounds pretty horrific, and I did find it quite upsetting at the time. However the moment my son was placed in my arms it was love at first sight and I was riding a wonderful high of maternal love for a few months after his birth. I was extremely lucky, and I knew this. Though I don’t think I knew just how lucky I was. Despite a horrific pregnancy and a scary birth, I still got to experience something which might be common place in the movies, but isn’t necessarily so in real life.

Seems my luck didn’t hold for birth number two.

When I wrote my last blog post I was 27 weeks pregnant and feeling like it would never end, the nausea and vomiting had come roaring back despite the medication, I wanted more than anything to not be pregnant any more. I ended up getting my wish three weeks later.

I’d been taken into hospital as I was dehydrated (again) and needed to be on a drip, I’d been in a few days and had three bags of fluid and yet I was still showing +4 ketones. I went to sleep on the 21st of January expecting that the morning would bring a new bag of fluid and yet more anti-emetics, except I was then woken at 2am by a popping sensation and a sudden large gush of water. At 30 weeks my waters had broken, and in dramatic fashion. The midwife who answered my buzzer asked if I was sure it was my waters, then looked at the bed and realised I wasn’t kidding.

Obviously 30 weeks is more than a little early, so I was monitored to check I wasn’t going into immediate labour. It turns out I wasn’t, but in the course of monitoring me they discovered that the baby’s heart rate kept dropping randomly. At first they weren’t too concerned as it seemed to coincide with some minor contractions, but when the contractions stopped and the heart rate kept dropping they realised they needed to get the baby out.

Again I was taken to theatre, but this time there was no epidural or ventouse. It was to be spinal and Caesarean section, or that was the plan anyway. Except they had problems siting the spinal and when it came to time to start cutting me open, I could feel it very clearly. So the plan got changed, I was to be operated on under a general anaesthetic, and as my husband was whisked out of the room my last thoughts before passing out were, “what if this doesn’t work either?”.

When I woke up a while later (I have no idea how much later it was) I was in a recovery room with my husband beside me. But no baby. She’d been taken straight to special care, neither me or my husband got to even look at her, much less hold her. My husband did get to visit her, but as she was in an incubator and tiny – 3lb 1oz – all he could do was look at her, the first photos of her show this tiny little thing totally swamped by wires and tubes, almost her whole face was covered by tubes designed to help her breathe. For me, I wasn’t to see her until 24 hours after her birth as I was stuck in bed and there was no space to wheel the bed into the unit.

The first time I saw her I didn’t even recognise her as mine. How could I? I didn’t remember her being born, all I had was someone else’s word that this was the child they’d removed from my womb. In that room full of incubators and tiny babies covered in wires I had no way of distinguishing her from any other baby. So that rush of love I’d felt for my son was totally absent with my daughter.

It’s now three weeks on, she’s still in special care and while I care for my daughter I do not feel the same love I felt for my son. With my son I couldn’t bear to be apart from him, I could barely stand other people holding him, even my husband picking him up made me jealous. With my daughter I find myself reluctant to stay with her, wanting to get away to be with my son instead, wanting to be somewhere that isn’t a hospital.

While I enjoy holding her and looking at her, I feel very detached from her. But the worst bit is the feeling when I am away from her. You might assume the feeling is a deep longing to be with her, like I’ve left my heart behind with her.. that’s not it. The feeling when I am away is that I can completely forget she exists. I don’t feel like I have two children.

This is aggravated by the fact that, at the moment, all of her needs are taken care of by someone other than me. With my son his world was him and his parents, everything he needed we provided. We did everything. With her we do barely anything. The one thing I could do in theory I cannot do in practise. No matter how hard I tried I could not produce enough milk for her, and I was struggling with my back pain and depression so much that I needed to be on medication not compatible with breastfeeding.

I do not feel like her mother at all, on so many levels. Practically, emotionally, physically or mentally.

If I didn’t go and see her at the hospital she wouldn’t know any different, she’d still get all three care she needed. The nurses there are more mother to her than I am.

I just hope that when I finally get to bring her home I’ll feel that rush of love, feel like I have a daughter and fell like a mother to her. Because right now I don’t.

11 thoughts on “When is a mother not a mother?

  1. Wow. That’s an incredibly powerful post. I think you’re being amazingly honest and brave about how you’re feeling, and I can completely understand how you feel, despite not having had anything like your experience. It actually seems quite ‘normal’ to me that you would feel the way you do, because your role has been removed for the time being.
    I really hope that once she’s safely home with you, your feelings shift and you start to feel like her mother. Because you are. It’s only circumstances that make you feel like this at the moment.

      1. There is absolutely no failing on your part, none at all, and I do think that you being so honest about how you feel now will only be a good thing for your relationship with your daughter long-term.

  2. I can understand how you feel and I think that by putting this all down on your blog it will help you to start to “heal” but I also think you need to see a professional as you are a prime candidate for PTSD. Some counselling (Bliss may have contacts) may help you to put things into perspective and hopefully in the longer term help to build a loving relationship with your daughter. Good luck and I hope your duaghter comes home soon.

  3. I just posted a similar blog. I know exactly how you feel with not being connected to her. Even after my Emma (born at 31 weeks) came home I was too scared to get too close to her. I felt like she would get taken away from me again for good. I would avoid thinking about the future with her. I would only picture my other daughters and husband- but not Emma. I disconnected myself from her. She is now almost 2 and she is such an amazing little girl and I can’t imagine my life without her. I do have to see a psychiatrist and therapist quite often because of my depression after she was born. But things have been looking up for a while- hope it gets better for you.

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