I am more swiftly cut down by things that happen to my children than anything else in this world. When my children cry, when they are unhappy, when life does not go their way it hurts me far more than anything that happens to me ever could. It was like that for me almost 30 years ago, when my first child was born, and it remains that way for me today.
I remember the day I found out I was to be a mother. I was just nineteen years old and I was delighted. The first thing I thought was: “At last I will have someone who will love me exactly as I am.” In my mind children had to love their parents so it was a sure thing and my thoughts were all about what I wanted and what I needed.
In those days I was suicidal but this gave me hope and I decided I would put off killing myself until after the child turned 18 and no longer needed me.
I wasn’t a very maternal girl. I had spent too many years being made responsible for the care of my younger brothers and sisters. Other people oohed and ahhed over babies but I thought they were dirty, noisy, demanding little things that distracted people from paying attention to me.
Children were even worse because they misbehaved and constantly got me into trouble for not stopping them! I figured it would be different with my own child because I would have nobody to answer to but myself. My own baby, unlike other people’s, would love me because it would have to.
People asked me if I thought it was fair to bring a child into the world without a father but I had a ready answer for that. I said no father at all is better than one who molests you or beats you and nobody could argue with that.
The pregnancy was fairly unremarkable all things considered. I had minimal problems with things like heartburn or trips to the toilet but the delivery was not so uneventful.
I went into labour the day before Christmas. Labour stopped for a few hours on Christmas day then started up again but I did not go to hospital until the day after Christmas. By then I was exhausted and so was the baby. They told me labour had stopped on Christmas day because the baby had almost died. They told me off for not coming in sooner and hooked me up to a machine. They said it would monitor my baby and let them know if he got into distress again.
My son was delivered using suction and forceps because the machine that was monitoring him said he was in trouble. They left me bleeding on the table and ignored my frantic pleas to be told how he was until after they had resuscitated him. A nurse whisked him out of the room and the doctor came over to sew me up. He said my son was OK but it had been touch and go and it would not be possible for me to touch him until he had recovered from the ordeal of his birth. My baby was deemed “too tired” for me to be allowed to touch him.
After I had been sewn and cleaned up I was allowed to look at him and then get some sleep. When I awoke they sent me to be milked by a machine.
When the other women’s babies were brought to them for feeding I would go down to the nursery and watch the nurses hold mine and feed him my milk from a bottle. I was forbidden to touch him in any way. They said my touch would tire him further whereas theirs would not.
One day I stood beside his crib, aching as always, to hold him and it was too much for me. I burst into tears and begged to be allowed to touch him, just stroke his head or hand, anything and the nurses relented. I was given permission to touch him with just one finger. I was not to touch his head or body – only his arms or legs. There was to be no pressure, no holding, no gripping of his limbs – no more than the lightest of strokes.
I ran a trembling finger over his hand and a sense of failure overwhelmed me. A mother’s touch is supposed to be good for a child but mine was harmful and dangerous to my baby. It fit with what I already knew – I was worthless and should never have been born.
As I gazed at this perfect little creature, barely feeling the warmth of his skin in my effort to touch him lightly enough not to harm him, I knew he would never love me. He would resent me forever for bringing him into the world. As I wondered what I could possibly do to make things right his tiny hand closed over my finger and he gripped it tightly. My heart broke.
He had such an uphill battle in front of him. He had been handed the worst possible start in life – no father and me for a mother. What had I done? How dare I inflict myself on him when he was so tiny, so helpless, so vulnerable? He was holding my finger because he had nowhere else to turn. I was all that stood between him and everything bad in the world. In that moment my whole world turned on its axis. I was no longer the most important person in my life – I was nothing – I existed to serve this precious little human being and serve him I would!
I decided I had to keep him, at least to start with, because I was the only person I knew who had any idea how dangerous the world was for children. I was the only one who could make sure he would never be molested because I was the only one who knew what kind of people could, and would, molest children.
I vowed I would do my very best to be a good mother but, I silently promised him, if the day ever comes when you have so much as one bruise inflicted by my hand I will put you up for adoption. If losing him turned out to be the only way to keep him safe from me I would make even that sacrifice for him.
When my mother came to see him she made a promise too. She promised me if she ever thought I was not taking good enough care of him she would report me to child welfare and see to it they took him off me.
It was not a good start for him or me and it got a lot worse before it got better!
It was, however, the start of a whole new direction for me. Suddenly the girl who cared about nothing and nobody, not even herself, cared about someone and cared deeply. Suddenly I had a goal, a reason for existing, a purpose to fulfill.
It was my job to raise this special human being and I committed everything I had, everything I was, to doing the job as well as I possibly could. I knew he would never love me. I was not worth loving but he was! He was worth the sun and moon and stars and I vowed I would turn myself inside out and upside down for him. I would do whatever it took to give him what he was worth no matter what the cost to me.
Shifting my focus from me to him was the first step towards a far better life than I ever dreamed it was possible for me to have.
Prior to this nobody could reach me. I was a self-absorbed zombie bent on self-destruction. My love for my son became a doorway through which the world could get at me. Hurt him and you hurt me, be nice to him and you were being nice to me, ask me to do anything and make it look like it would be for his good and I would do it.
It was through this door, the door of my love for my son, that God was able to enter my life.
I didn’t become a Christian to get to heaven. I didn’t hand over my life to God to get anything for myself. I handed it over hoping God would help me stop abusing my son.
He also helped me stop abusing myself!