I had no idea how I was going to be a good mother when I became a single parent at 19 but I had some pretty firm ideas about what was not going to happen.
My son was NOT going to be molested! Nobody would ever do to him what they had done to me.
My son was NOT going to be lied to the way grown-ups had lied to me.
Beyond those two things I was pretty uncertain about the whole mothering thing. I knew I did not want him to ever feel unloved. I wanted to love him exactly as he was and never demand he try to be someone else. I was determined I would never lie to him, never allow him to be molested, never beat or abuse him and, in return, I hoped he would never lie to me and might even come to love me some day.
I thought, if I could be a perfect mother, my son would grow up to be the one man in the world who would not be ruled by his genitals.
My good intentions went to hell from day one because I didn’t understand that babies do not think or plot or plan and I could not separate my infant son from the male race. I had a huge grudge against men. There was a deep contempt for them inside me that often turned into pure hate. I was already convinced my son hated me and that conviction only grew as the days passed.
When I was exhausted and my son woke me to feed him I thought he was deliberately trying to wear me out. When he urinated on me as I changed his nappy I thought he was expressing his contempt for me and, as I grew more and more tired, my negative thoughts and feelings got worse and worse. My anger grew and grew along with my certainty this child was just one more man in a world full of men who were out to use and abuse me.
One thing enraged me more than anything else – his erections.
I had been told about the infections and harm that could come to him if I did not pull back his foreskin and clean his genitals properly but it seemed like every time I touched him to clean him he got an erection.
Every time it happened I felt as if he was telling me that one day, when he was big enough, he would use me the way other men had used me whether I liked it or not. I became certain that, some day, my son would rape me too.
I began to get rougher and rougher with him. I sometimes avoided cleaning his genitals and I was less and less keen to respond to him when he cried. It wasn’t long before I got into the habit of slapping him on my way past his crib when he woke me for a feed to punish him for waking me.
I knew it was wrong. Every time I took my anger and hate out on him I would be overwhelmed with guilt and I would pick him up and hold him close and sob my apologies to him. I made endless promises to him and myself that it would never happen again but it always did.
When I went for my post-natal check-up I told the doctor I was afraid I might hurt my son and he asked me if I thought what I was doing was OK. I said no, of course it isn’t OK, that’s why I am telling you. He said as long as I knew what I was doing was wrong I would not go too far.
My neighbours did not agree. Every so often it would get so bad I would start screaming at my son at the top of my lungs and he would scream and cry in fear. My neighbours would call the police.
The first time the police came I was both afraid and relieved. They were going to take him off me, I was sure of it, and I thought it might be the best thing for both of us if they did.
The police made me strip my son so they could examine him for bruises and then they sat down and talked to me. I told them what was happening. I said I was afraid I might hurt him one day. I said so far I have always been able to stop before bruising him. I told them about my vow to adopt him out if I ever did harm him.
I talked and talked and talked. I wanted them to take him if that was going to be the best thing for him so I told them everything. They gave me cigarettes, drank coffee and let me talk for over an hour. They asked me questions and I answered them.
No, I have no partner or boyfriend. No, no friends either, only the neighbours who were being nice to my face and calling the police behind my back. No, my family live in the next town and I could never tell them these things. No, I have no money to go out or have fun, after I pay my rent there is only eleven dollars a week left to buy formula and pay for the gas and electricity I use. No, sometimes I don’t have enough money to buy food for myself because I spend what little I have on smokes or second hand books. No, I don’t get much sleep because I have nightmares if I try to sleep at night and my son wakes me whenever I do get to sleep.
At the end of their visit the police gave me the address of some charities who would help me out with food if I needed it. They gave me some smokes and one of the things I needed more than anything else in the world – hope.
They said for all the things I was doing wrong I must also be doing something right because my son was not behaving as if he was an abused child. I asked them what they meant and they said abused children are fearful of strangers but my son was not at all fearful of them even though they were in uniform and had just made me strip him so they could examine him. They said he was behaving like a happy, curious, confident little boy so whatever I was doing was not, at this point, damaging him noticeably.
Their visit gave me hope that I was not the worst mother in the world.
I continued to go into melt-down occasionally and my neighbours continued to call the police when I did. The same officers were always sent and, after a while, just the female officer would turn up. She would always examine my son for marks then give me a smoke, have a coffee with me and let me talk. She said they were sending her by herself because they knew all I needed at these time was a bit of support. She said she hoped the day would come when she would no longer need to respond to calls about me but, in the meantime, she enjoyed catching up with me.
I will forever be grateful to the police for handling me and my case so sensitively and so well and I will forever be thankful that anonymous neighbour cared enough about my son to call the police every time I went into melt-down and needed help.
Things were not, however, going well and I knew it. What I did not know was what to do about it.
It looked like all my good intentions and all my best efforts were not going to be enough to make me into a good parent.