The Hardest Thing

I was lost for a while.

I didn’t realise it at first, through every nappy change, every bowl of pasta tipped on the floor, every reading of Tabby McTat. Every chunk of hair yanked out by chubby fingers. And the scarier stuff, like all the early mornings soothing my tired and anxious husband as he wrestled with fears bigger than himself, all the late nights talking about our relationship, picking us up and hoping he didn’t drop us again. Toddler tantrums, baby grumbles, mummy meltdowns. Daddy on the other side of the universe (or so it felt).

Pick up, dust off, get on.

I got lost under the waves that were rocking my family. I tried to hold us together, and I’m proud to say that I did. But it came at a cost. And that cost was me.

Not even my self worth, or my free time; just me, the grasp I had on who I was without the other people around me. Like looking in the mirror and seeing their faces but never mine.

I don’t regret a thing. I carried us all and we made it through.

But I stopped being a person in my own right. I was only mother, wife, counsellor, mediator, therapist, personal shopper, accountant, chef, life coach, cleaner, nurse, teacher. It’s sometimes hard when you’re buried underneath so much responsibility to even notice that you’re struggling to breathe.

So I started to break a little. Bit by bit the burdens grew heavier and I was less able to hold them. My self esteem plummeted with every new ‘failure’. I apologised when I was ill, when dinner was late, when I slept in. Guilt was my shadow. I criticised myself for wanting time alone or checking my phone when I should’ve been playing with my kids. I tortured myself for causing my son’s speech delay. I went from solving our problems to blaming myself for them.

I realised it had gone too far when I spent the days before Christmas focusing on everything I’d done “wrong” and apologising to my family for not being good enough for them. I was too busy hating myself for not being the wife and mother I should be to actually enjoy my beautiful boys. Christmas, a time I look forward to all year and always fills me with magic and warmth, was lost to me. I was lost to me.

So I began the new year with a resolve to find myself again. So far that looks like apologising less, keeping a happiness journal, watching movies alone, listening to music that made me feel alive when I was a moody teenager in bad eyeliner and baggy jeans, crocheting more, sometimes saying no and often saying yes. And it’s working, albeit slowly. I can feel the change in how much enjoyment I’m taking from my sons and how much clarity I feel with my husband. I’m getting there.

When I was pregnant with Tristan someone warned me that the hardest thing I’d have to do as a parent is put myself last, but they were wrong; far harder is having the strength to stand tall and put myself first.

Every Last Drop

This time would be different.

I told myself every day. I read all the books, joined all the relevant support groups, and revisited my experience with T. What had I done wrong? What should I look for this time? Who could I ring if the same problems cropped up?

I was so prepared. I knew almost everything there was to know about why breastfeeding is sometimes difficult and all the things I could do to avoid it. I studied pictures of tongue ties, talked to my friends and family about what I’d need from them in terms of support, practised positioning with cuddly toys (and at one point with Joey, the Sheffield Slings demo doll). I even expressed colostrum during my final weeks of pregnancy and froze it in tiny syringes to use if we had any latching difficulties in the early days. I wasn’t going to give birth “properly” but I’d make damn sure I was going to feed him the way nature intended!

This time would be different.


The first thing L wanted to do was feed. He lay on my chest and frantically searched for my nipple, and when eventually he fed he stayed latched for 45 mins, constantly suckling, waves of oxytocin washing over both of us. I glowed with happiness and all my fear fell away.

That first feed was as easy as it would ever be.

I worked through pain, sleep deprivation and shallow latches during my hospital stay. I utilized all the help I could. I refused any formula top ups. I WAS GOING TO DO THIS. I told myself it was just a matter of time before it would get easier.

We were discharged and so began nights of constant nursing, my tiny boy attached to me permanently. I cried, I liberally applied Lansinoh, I panicked that I must be doing something wrong, but I never considered giving up. My milk was slow to come in and by the time it did Leo had lost 10% of his birth weight, but where some parents would be worried by that drop, Thom and I were ecstatic as it was nowhere near Tristan’s 14%. I kept going. He fed so much that most nights there was no point in going to bed. I stayed downstairs, surviving on bad TV and lactation flapjacks made by a lovely friend. It was a strange, delirious time, but I was determined. His latch improved and my confidence grew.

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And he gained weight. A baby of mine gained weight on my breastmilk! I wept with relief. I was doing it! I was feeding my baby! I relaxed. I told myself it was going to work, that it would all be worth it. Slowly and steadily parts of me started to heal. I saw so much of Tristan in Leo, so I could feel as though I was atoning for the past and feeding both of them. I started to forgive myself.

But then he lost weight. Not a lot, but enough to make the midwife suggest supplementing, enough to make her want to carefully study my feeding technique, enough for her to blame my fear and negativity for my poor milk production; enough to send my mental health spiralling.

Yet still I refused to top up. When it was just Leo and I together, him happily nursing at the breast, his almond eyes gazing up at me full of love and trust, I knew we could do it. It was just matter of time before it fell into place. This wasn’t Weight Watchers, a small loss could be explained by anything. We had this, he and I. We were still finding our feet, but we had this.

Until he was next weighed and he’d lost yet more weight, this time not a small amount. We were immediately referred to the children’s hospital where my precious breastfeeding relationship with my son became entirely medicalised. I saw everything through tears. A doctor quizzed me on how often I’d been feeding him and outright accused me of lying when I said he was constantly on the breast. My baby was prodded and poked. My heart broke. I carried on nursing him in our hospital bay, tears streaming down my cheeks, as I kissed his head and told him I was sorry. Thom reassured me that it wasn’t my fault but I knew there was something about me that wasn’t working, or something I was doing wrong. The doctor had said as much.

Thankfully Leo was well and healthy, but despite that they wanted to keep us in to monitor his feeding. I simply couldn’t do it. I needed my home, my eldest child, my bed, my cats, my safe haven away from there. I couldn’t take any more scrutiny or accusations of neglect. And so we were discharged and immediately started giving him formula at home.

That first night I cried more than I ever have. I couldn’t bring myself to give him bottles because I knew he’d frantically root for my nipple if I held him so close. I was suddenly scared of breastfeeding him, even for comfort, because my attempts at nursing my children had landed them both in hospital. My body felt toxic, criminal, dangerous. I had failed again, and this time it was even more devastating because I’d had the briefest taste of success.

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For a few days I couldn’t bear to let him try to breastfeed. I was too scared. But with whatever strength I had I started to express my milk and give it to him in a bottle. Seeing it there, actually seeing it and knowing it existed, and watching him drink it happily and hungrily helped me see value in what little I could do. And so I tentatively let him nurse at the breast, and through the pain of knowing I couldn’t do it exclusively there was also a warmth, a lightness and a relief. I could feed my baby, I could give him everything I had, however little that was. I could give him that inimitable nursing relationship and still be strong and brave enough to pull him off my breast and offer him a bottle, even though it would break my heart every time. And so I did.

It wasn’t until later that I gained the confidence to talk to a lactation consultant. She asked me lots of questions about my experiences with Leo and Tristan and some things I didn’t expect about my breast development during puberty and pregnancy. After a long, long exchange and many tears I finally learned about Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). An answer, after 2.5 years of self-loathing and guilt.

I refused to believe it at first because it felt like I was giving myself a free pass. It had to be my fault, it had to be something I’d failed at. To accept there was a reason behind it would mean I had to forgive myself and make peace with my body, a body I’d learned to hate so much.

It’s an ongoing process. Some days I don’t believe there’s anything or anyone to blame but myself, and others when I look at the evidence and vent in my IGT support group and realise I did everything I could. Absolutely everything.

So what does our feeding relationship look like now? It’s formula and bottles. It’s breasts and nipples. It’s pumps and hand expressing. Sometimes Leo will want to switch from bottle to breast mid feed, which I can tell you has put me on the receiving end of some strange glances while out in public. But I don’t care because I will give my son what he wants and needs, no matter how ridiculous it looks to the outside world.

I am feeding my child. I am breastfeeding my child. There are some things it can’t do as well as perhaps it should, but my body is not a tragedy. How can I hate my breasts for not working properly when my little boy adores them, when they are his favourite place to be, when they work so damn hard to give everything they have, however little that is?

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Slowly but surely I think I’m healing and learning that there’s more than one definition of success. All thanks to this beautiful little person and the support of some truly wonderful friends.

I saw a breastfeeding support worker last week who hugged me and told me I was doing brilliantly. Perhaps soon I’ll start to believe her.

I Still See You (A Letter to the Father of my Children)

Looking back at photographs from just a few years ago it’s clear how much we’ve both changed. We’re so old now. My hair is flecked with grey throughout and your face is etched with the faintest wrinkles, both testaments to the gauntlet of parenting we’ve been running for the last two years.

I remember in the early days of our relationship how I’d wake up before you and silently reapply my make up, subtly of course, so I’d look as pretty as possible for you when you woke. I’d slip back under the covers and pretend to be asleep, knowing you’d soon stir, turn to me, kiss me gently and whisper, “you’re so beautiful.” Our world was full of little fantasies we had time and space to cultivate – every sight, taste and smell could be planned in advance, every glance through perfectly styled hair expertly performed. Every moment our hands touched could freeze time because there was so damned much of it.

These days I rarely wear make up and at the moment we don’t even share a bed. You’ve seen me bleach my upper lip and go without shaving. You even walked in on my midwife giving me an enema when I was in labour with our son. We talk over Facebook Messenger when one of us is on the toilet, and our conversations are more likely to be along the lines of, “What are we doing for dinner tonight?” and, “We need more bin liners in the next shop,” than, “Let’s go out to an expensive bar on a work night and fondle each other until it makes the clientèle uncomfortable!” 

I want for all the world to throw myself into our relationship with the kind of abandon that led us this far, but while I am still the girl who became the woman who became your wife, I am also a mother, and the two are not always compatible. I can’t switch motherhood off. I am changed down to my bones by the boy we both love so much. But inside there is still a little fire burning quietly, a fire that’s alive with my youth and passions, a fire that yearns for freedom, romance, sex, and metaphorical wind on my face without the knot of responsibility that made itself at home in my gut as soon as our son was born. It yearns for you. It yearns for us singing together in the dark at 3am, eating out just because, sleeping in til midday, hopping in the car and driving nowhere and everywhere with the windows down. You and me so full of passion we believed we could set the world alight with it.

I haven’t forgotten us. I’m still your lover and your friend. I still get butterflies when I hear your key in the front door and my heart is always calmer when you’re near. I love how your body and face has changed since you became a father, as though you wear your strength and knowledge like armour. I sneak a quick look at you when you get dressed in the morning and I feel the same girlish lust I felt in my early 20s (I sometimes catch you doing the same) and your kisses, though more rare, still send electricity to my toes.

I wrestle with my individuality and my role as a mother, but I know that you do too. Fatherhood defines so much of who you are and what you do now, and you’re tremendous at it. I’ve never known a man more dedicated to his family than you are. I know how it feels to worry that you’re losing yourself in the day-to-day and the 9-5, in the bathtimes and snacktimes and nappy changes. I know that you miss your time spent exercising, gaming or recording music. I know you miss having me to yourself.  I know you miss your solitude.

We created something beautiful in our son, and in less than six weeks we’ll meet the latest member of our little family. Life will explode in chaos again and it might be harder to connect for a while. The time we once had so much of will disappear before our eyes as our children grow far too quickly and our grey hairs and wrinkles shower us like confetti.

But before we jump back in to the swirling vastness of new parenthood I want you to know I still see you. I see your fire blazing just like mine, two beacons on a stormy horizon. I see you every day, the boy who became the man who became my husband, and I love you beyond words.

And if we keep shining we’ll always find each other, no matter how rough the waves become.

Yours forever,
your wife and friend, Lindy xx

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30 Floors Up

Today is my 30th birthday, a day that should by all accounts feel like a notable step up the ladder of adulthood. I’m typing this from the bedroom while Tristan sleeps peacefully beside me, and the only awareness I have of my age is a strange feeling like I’m stood at the top of a 30 storey building looking down at the ground and pondering how high I am, and not really knowing how I got there.

Turning 30 years old isn’t important to me because of some societal expectation that all women should fear the loss of their youth. I don’t care about that. In fact, I feel more free from the pain and fear of my adolescence and early twenties the more distant they become. And that brings me to why this age feels significant.

My early adulthood was an endurance, something to be survived. I fell to my lowest, hit the ground at a violent pace, then fell even further, through the darkest places, and finally, at the age of 24, landed in a cushion of apathy, self-destruction and disassociation. It sometimes felt as though the fall would never end and the darkness would never stop growing, but in many ways the psychosis that followed was worse, like the world existed behind a thick pane of glass with those I loved banging frantically against it to try to bring me back. Most heartbreaking was that I simply didn’t care.

But today I am thirty years old and this morning I looked at my hands and gently traced the lines and imperfections with my finger. I have scars, accidental and deliberate, and I admired those too. My brown hair is spun through with whisps of silver. My body is fat and flawed and though I don’t love it, I value it fiercely and I’m grateful for every trial it’s endured and every second of joy it’s allowed me to live.

I am thirty years old and this morning I smelled my son’s hair, a mixture of sweat, milk and sleep. I drank him in, held him close, and marvelled at his energy and joie de vivre as he jumped on the sofa and carried on conversations with his toys.

I am thirty years old and I’m pregnant with my second child. I can sometimes feel his or her movements in my stomach, a reminder as if to say, “I’m here!” and I don’t begrudge the sickness or restless nights or pelvic pain because every moment with this little one is a gift to be treasured.

I am thirty years old and I am married to a sensitive, kind and beautiful man who loves me and keeps me safe, and accepts my failings. A man who truly sees my soul and doesn’t flinch or hide. A man who has never once put me down or thought me weak. A man whose eyes first met mine across a busy room more than 8 years ago, who looked at me as though he already recognised me from another life, or perhaps the one we had to come.

My life is vast and wonderful. Every second of it is a glorious blast of light that I never could have imagined from the darkest depths of my illness. I’m beyond blessed; I’m living the kind of life I didn’t think ordinary people could easily achieve, much less a scared and damaged girl with baggage spilling out of every corner of her mind. Mine is a story of patience, strength, fear by the bucketful, and a good deal of fight. I had help along the way, from friends, family and most of all the man I now call my husband, but the decision to keep going always, always came from me. I dusted myself down and carried on somehow, and I thank myself and my courage every day for what I gave myself, which is a life, a real, beautiful life to be grasped with both hands.

I am thirty years old and I didn’t always think I’d be here to see this birthday. I believed with every conviction that one way or another my illness would beat me. It’s not something I spoke about or something I feared; it simply was, and that’s why today isn’t a milestone for me, it’s a tribute to survival and a war fought and won. To glance at everything around me, everything I have and all I’ve become, is to look upon a private battlefield covered in daisies; pretty little miracles growing out of tired old earth, and the best view is right here, from thirty floors up.

Equality of Life

I haven’t been feeling well recently for one reason or another, and naturally haven’t felt up to getting my Nigella on every night, or trying to coax my sticky, sweaty toddler into or out of the bath. Even attempting the super-wordy-rhymey works of Julia Donaldson has been too much at times, and don’t  mention the cleaning of cloth nappies… Just nope.

But of course this is okay because I have a ready, willing and able husband to almost 100% take over and sort out dinner, bathtime, laundry and a bedtime routine that involves more running around and screaming than two out of three of us would like.

There’s a slight problem though.

This is a typical exchange after Big T has put Little T to bed while I relax with a book or endless lost lives on Farm Heroes Saga –

Husband: Finally asleep! Just couldn’t switch off as usual.

Me: I’m sorry…

Husband: Why are you apologising?!

Me: Because you had to do it.

Husband: I didn’t have to do anything, I love spending time with him at bedtime, especially if I’ve been at work all day.

Me: Are you sure?

Husband: Positive. Relax, you deserve some time off.

*five minutes later*

Me: …I’m sorry.

Now I don’t know precisely what it is that makes me apologise and set feminism back 50 years in the process. It could be that being a mother and looking after my son is my ‘job’ and Big T taking over feels tantamount to me going into his office and designing a thingumy on the whatsajig while he puts his feet up with a magazine and farts the Game of Thrones theme music (I’m not entirely what he does for a living which makes the analogy tricky, but you get my meaning). I couldn’t do that and nor should I, but when he gets home it’s expected that he should roll his sleeves up and dive head first into the dribbly ocean that is parenting. And he should, I know that, but in a modern society where mothers often work to provide for their families I feel that as a stay at home parent I should be working just as hard, giving 100% even when there’s only a trickle in my tank, to keep up with these amazing women who do it all, and the men like my husband who pick up where they left off that morning with rarely a second to themselves.

There’s also an element of my upbringing at play. When my parents were still married they each had their specific, often stereotypical, roles within the family. My dad went to work and earned money, my mum stayed home and cooked, cleaned and wiped the snot from our noses. It wasn’t inherently a bad thing; roles were clearly defined, no one seemed bent out of shape, and although I’m certain my mum wished for more help I doubt she was surprised that it wasn’t forthcoming. Things just were and that was mostly okay. Within the white, middle class, suburban community I grew up all the families I knew looked much the same.
Fast forward 30 years and, at least on paper, my relationship with my husband mirrors that of my parents. He earns money while I stay home and bake cakes and make stuff out of shoeboxes and dried lentils. It’s hard then to separate our situation from the one I grew up in, where all expectation fell on my mother to take care of absolutely everything, from shopping and nit removal to bedtime and diarrhoea. I’m in a 21st century marriage but I feel all the pressures of my mum’s 20th century role, and because I do less than she did, and rightly so, I sometimes feel as though I’m getting a free pass and my struggles aren’t valid.
It’s not specifically about my parents of course, they’re merely the nearest example; I see the same dynamic in many couples their age. Lots of wives and mothers I meet from older generations are often keen to point out to me how wonderful, caring and involved my husband is, how rare that is and how lucky I am to have him.  The problem with that kind of rhetoric is that all it serves to do is convince me that what T does is somehow above and beyond what is expected of him, yet again reinforcing my belief that I should be doing more.

I’m not blaming other people for my reactions to any of these influences, that’s all firmly on me, but it’s an internal battle I rarely feel like I’m winning. I find it hard to shake the sense that T is doing me a favour by parenting our son. How messed up is that?

In taking on all responsibility for Little T I’m not only denying myself the support and help I need, I’m also impeding the partnership that defines my marriage to my husband, and perpetuating the outdated idea that men aren’t capable of being exceptional parents. No one wins. T is an excellent father, objectively, without my input, and more importantly he should be, because the decision to bring another human into the world was 50% his. And what kind of example am I setting to my son by openly modelling draconian ideas of female roles? Hearing me apologising and gratuitously thanking his father will not help nurture him to be the man he deserves to become.

It’s time to let go of the apologies and the guilt. It’s time to respect my husband’s role as a parent as well as a provider, and it’s time to congratulate myself on the mostly-great-but-sometimes-just-okay job I do as a stay at home mum. And it’s probably time to sit back and eat cake, just because.

I owe it to my son to show him the meaning of equality.

Snapshots of a Life Well Loved

I’m what many people would call an ‘oversharer’, the irritating brand of parent who posts multiple pictures of their child to Facebook every day, and later on maybe just Instagram if self-awareness kicks in and leaves an unsettling sense of shame. (It’s okay to overshare on Instagram, its target demographic of parents, fitness fanatics, and amateur chefs all pile together in a big narcissistic orgy and no one has to feel bad about it. That’s its ‘thing’.)

I know it’s annoying. I know it’s tedious to log on to Facebook and be assaulted by static images of my son using a spoon or walking down a tree-lined path flapping his arms like an inebriated bat, or squinting uncomfortably in the sun and making a face that bridges the gap between pain and glee. I know it’s repetitive. I know it seems as though my relationship with my child is enacted through the medium of my phone camera. I know.

Some people may wonder whether I value my son’s right to privacy, and I agree that’s a real issue. I’ve wrestled with myself over how much of his life I share with the world and whether or not I’m being respectful of his autonomy. Truthfully I feel uncertain about it even after turning it over and over in my head for months on end; I don’t own his life to throw it out for everyone to see. I don’t own him. But I do own myself and for now sharing is helping me heal in a way nothing bar intensive therapy ever has before, and at this stage in our journey together what benefits me benefits him too. It’s an easy mistake to assume that as parents we should throw ourselves on the fire to provide our children with a certain kind of life, but our relationship is symbiotic; to borrow an overused analogy, I need to put my own oxygen mask on first. When he’s a bit older I will ask him how much he’s happy for me to share and of course I will respect his choice and be proud of it, no matter what it is. And in return I will ask that he respects my own decision to share my story.

Because that’s what the photos, the blog posts and the Facebook statuses are about – they’re a celebration and an acknowledgement of a life that so far has been difficult and amazing. They are me saying, “Look where I am, look at what I’ve achieved!”

Some people believe pride is a flaw, but you know what? For the first time in my life I am unspeakably, extraordinarily, astonishingly proud of what I’m doing every day. I spent a long time in jobs that didn’t last because anxiety built up like a pressure cooker and overflowed in waves, taking me back to square one, and later I worked from home in writing roles I neither cared about nor paid well. I didn’t have anything to talk about or feel proud of.

And then this happened:

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And suddenly I had a reason to feel as though my life mattered. I had something to say. I wasn’t studying for a PhD or working in my dream job or travelling the world, but I was making a human being. For the first time in my life I was doing something really and truly worthwhile. And that was just pregnancy!

Along came my pink-faced squish and a hurricane of love and depression blew me away like a flimsy polythene bag. I hated myself. I hated my baby. But I also loved my baby. I must be an awful mother! I hated myself some more. All the while I was dutifully taking photographs and uploading them to Facebook (that’s what normal people do, right?), and a strange realisation gradually crept up on me – sharing those photos was helping me feel better. Every positive comment was a different perspective for me to consider. Sometimes it was validation that I couldn’t be doing such a terrible job, other times a few simple ‘likes’ would be enough for me to feel that people were rooting for me and maybe I really could beat this. And just the presentation of being a functioning, successful parent with a beautiful baby made me momentarily believe that it was true. It was incredibly powerful. And addictive.

So I carry on sharing my photographs. Perhaps after reading this it’ll still be annoying and boring, but hopefully my friends will be able to understand why I do it, that I don’t think my life is more interesting than anybody else’s, or that they should want to see countless pictures of my son. It’s just a small glimpse of the happiness I’ve achieved and am so proud of, or a second of glee caught on camera on an otherwise shitty day to get me through without breaking down, or a way of convincing myself that I do have this parenting thing under control, that I’ve got this. And I can bet my reasons are shared by many other parents, whether they’ve suffered from PND or not.

There’s an argument that projecting a sugarcoated version of parenting can silence struggling mothers and prevent them seeking the help they need, and I agree, and I speak from experience; watching the perfect mothers around me made my shortcomings appear even shorter.  But that’s why I started this blog. Photographs are blissful snapshots in a day full of chaos, but my written updates are a window on my reality. I started writing here for myself, but if I can show just one new mother that she isn’t alone then every second of fear and panic I feel before I hit the ‘publish’ button will be worth it. I owe it to every other scared mum battling feelings of inadequacy to be more than just an Instagram profile. But that’s just me. How others project themselves is entirely up to them.

Ultimately, who’s to say why other people post photos of their kids? Frankly, it’s not my business. But it isn’t yours either. So what if they do it just because they think their kid is the bees knees, even with a snot-encrusted nose and a fist full of masticated raisins? They should think that. Equally, it’s just as fine for other people to boast about their gym progress, or how much weight they’ve lost, or the kick ass job they did on that project at work, or how many unsuspecting females they ‘pulled’ the other night (wait,  that’s never fine). No one has to justify what they share or why. The only question that really needs answering is why it bothers you so much.

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We’re a house of snuffles, sticky cuddles and pathetic coughs, and we’re not sure where the illness ends and the sleep deprivation begins. Having a toddler with a cold is like having a newborn again except the cries for milk at 3am are joined by shouted accusations and fists to the eye, as though we did this to him ourselves and even if we didn’t why haven’t we made it better yet ffs. Oh, and I just wiped my nose on a muslin cloth that I forgot contains my son’s regurgitated breakfast. Oh, motherhood how I adore thee!

I’ve found that Little T’s second year is so far being punctuated by tiny anniversaries. It seems like every day I’m thinking, “A year ago we were…” or, “A year ago he was…” You might think it’s nostalgic to the point of being harmful to live like that, but I find it’s more a way of gauging time and progress, a bit like looking back at the starting blocks in the race, an ‘I was there but now I’m here’ sort of thing.

A year ago I was in a dark place. I didn’t like myself or my life and I wasn’t bonded to my son the way I felt I should be.
It was also around this time that I became obsessed with my baby’s appearance.

Little T was born with a light dusting of brown hair, the soft newborn kind that you can barely feel when you stroke it. I kissed that hair and inhaled its newness whenever I held my squish in my arms. It was beautiful and precious and I memorized every strand during those hard, early sleepless nights.
And then it started to fall out.
I remember Big T coming downstairs having just given LT a bath and handing him to me, a six week old bundle wrapped in a towel. I noticed immediately that he was almost completely bald on top, like a tiny Iain Duncan Smith – BT had washed his hair away. I was mortified, but we laughed about it because of course it’s funny when your newborn son resembles a Tory politician. It’s natural and it happens, after all.

A few weeks passed and before long new hair started to grow.
Blond hair.

Around that time, and totally coincidentally, I hit my lowest point. I felt as detached from my life and loved ones as I’d ever felt. I dreaded each second T was awake but hovered over his every breath while he slept. My fingernails were bitten to the skin. I was a shadow in the same room of the house each day. An empty little ghost.
And suddenly my brown-haired baby had been replaced with a blond imitation. I couldn’t see myself in him, and I couldn’t see his dad either.

Big T has naturally thick, black hair and large brown eyes. I’m also a natural brunette. It had never occurred to me that our baby could be anything else. And people started to comment on it –

“He really doesn’t look like either of you, does he?”

I got scared. And paranoid. I didn’t recognise my own child.

I began pleading to Big T over and over, “He is yours, I promise!” as though repeating it would banish the panic, but every, “I know he is!” did nothing to quiet my head. It started as fear that my husband would think I’d been unfaithful, but gradually became a belief that I unwittingly had been. Let that idea sink in for a second – I was so paranoid that my son was blond that I believed I must’ve cheated on his father. I was crazed over it.

My self-esteem plummeted, Little T’s hair kept growing, and the comments kept coming. “I can’t believe he’s so fair!” The only way I could handle it in public was to smile and laugh even though my mind was ravaged by fear.

And then it got crazier. And scarier.

I stopped believing he was mine.

Did the midwife swap him when I was being stitched up after my C-section? Or when I was having a shower and the nurse promised to look after him? Did I mix him up myself at a sling meet? The possibilities swam round my head, and the more ripples they made the more plausible it all felt. He isn’t ours, of course he isn’t. 

Big T kept reassuring me, even suggesting we pay for a DNA test to put my mind at rest, but perhaps I knew that what I felt was so irrational that even scientific evidence wouldn’t have helped, and I refused. I’d look into Little T’s face and hate myself for rejecting him, even though I didn’t want to be feeling any of it. He was lovely, beautiful, precious – but he wasn’t mine.

Just typing this hurts. The whole situation was ridiculous, but it was real. It sounds crazy because it was; I was out of my mind. I don’t know who I thought the little baby in my arms belonged to, but I held his little fingers and kissed his perfect button nose and cried hopeless tears because I loved him in whatever frayed and tattered way I could and it wasn’t enough.

(I wonder now whether my belief that he wasn’t our child came from a need to legitimise my detachment, and his hair colour was just a catalyst for it. It’s hard to accept that theory though because it felt so real, too real to simply be my psyche’s attempts at justifying its failings. But it’s true that new parents are under tremendous pressure to feel all the ‘right’ emotions when their baby is born. As someone who rarely has the ‘right’ feelings in most situations, this was doomed to fail, and I knew that, even when I was pregnant. Towards the end of my pregnancy I had the increasing sense that I was performing a role in a play, the role of glowing, contented wife and mother-to-be, and doing it badly. Before I even held my boy in my arms I’d already fluffed my lines as his mother. Much like the hopeful teenagers who go on TV talent shows to be harshly told they can’t really sing, I felt devastated, as though my dreams and everything I’d worked towards had collapsed around me. All my life all I’d wanted was to have a child, and according to every book, film and parenting website I was failing at it. I don’t suppose it matters. It doesn’t help to understand; it doesn’t make it hurt less.)

Very slowly things got better. My son’s hair stayed the same but I became marginally less crazy over it. My mood started to lift but a trace of my paranoia lingered, and it made me ache slightly to see my two boys sharing a cuddle, thick black hair against fine yellow. I kept trying to find a reflection of me or Big T in the special little boy I loved (now in all the ways I was ‘meant’ to) but I couldn’t.

Until I found these pictures:
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And it hit me like lightning – “This beautiful boy is part of me.”
It was there in front of me. I studied the two photos obsessively, a mixture of amazement and relief buzzing through me like ten cups of coffee. I remember lying in the bath clutching my phone, stifling giggles and splashing my toes in the water like a little girl. He is mine!

At least, I’m 99% certain he is. You see, I’m not fixed down to my bones. I will always be paranoid, I will always find myself questioning my own happiness and waiting for it to fall apart; I will always look for a leaky roof. Perhaps one day the fear will grow again and it’ll become too much for me and I’ll accept my husband’s long-standing offer of a DNA test, but for now things are okay. Things are good. My son is my world and my husband is the gravity keeping me steady and sane (mostly), and far from regretting my son’s uniqueness, I love him all the more for it. He is so far away from what I expected, in all ways! He’s his own man, his own remarkable little human, and I don’t own him at all.

The way I handle the comments these days is to pre-empt them and mention Little T’s blond curls before anyone else does. To the outside world it probably looks as though I’m still obsessed with his genetics, bringing it up at every opportunity, but the truth is that I’m protecting myself from my crazy, from the germ of an idea that can so easily become a fixation in the head of someone whose neurological pathways are skew-whiff.

During the height of my delusions about Little T’s parentage I remember a night I spoke about it at length with Big T. We lay in bed together, my head on his chest, and we talked about the baby in the co-sleeper next to us, and how wonderful he was, how much we loved him, and how lucky we were to be right where we were in our lives and in that moment.
My husband, gently and softly, squeezing my shoulder as he spoke, asked, “What if he isn’t our son, just hypothetically? What difference would it make?”
I only needed a fraction of a second to answer:
“…None at all.”

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