For Families In Panic Or Calm, Dealing With Kids Sick Or Well

Failing at Motherhood

Most “failures” in life turn out not to matter. They cause momentary embarrassment or disappointment but in the grand scheme of things fade surprisingly quickly and often turn out to be blessings in disguise-  they lead on to better things.

In old age, the time of reflection, true failures and successes are more obvious and for many women being a success as a mother matters most. Many of us consider ourselves to have made mistakes, got some of it right and even with the phrase “we’ve done our best” it was not good enough. We’re not trained for motherhood, and neither are our children who ultimately become the judge and manifestation of our success or failure. It is however a partnership.

Designer babies don’t exist even when the odds on sex, hair colour or sporting ability may now be selected. Children and circumstances are mainly a lottery and the hand we are dealt is happenchance. Nature is clever and we love our babies unconditionally when they arrive and promise ourselves that we will do our best to nurture and protect them come what may.

Each mother and baby are unique and present an ever changing dynamic. The psychologists tell us that even children from the same family present different reactions and consequences. Thus those born “Special”, needing more attention, energy or love than the majority, present challenges most of us wish not or cannot imagine.

Those mums with sick or disabled children are dealt a heavy hand. It seems society does not want to involve themselves with other than perfect children, incase the malady rubs off on their own. Which is an illogical yet instinctive response. Disability however described is considered taboo- a dark secret before either the mother and child have begun the journey.  (I include Dads who take on the role of mother in this instance because some have excellent nurturing instincts too).

All mothers want to be good mothers and there is a wealth of advice, too much in fact – enough to always prove you’re wrong. For most of us, the well meant advice is enough to give us feelings of misgiving. Only the super self confident overcome this feeling of inadequacy.

As old age creeps up on me the idea of what’s important in life changes and with it my idea of failure.

As a grandmother I reflect on the patterns of my behaviour. Although living in the moment, I can mull over past events without any need to change them. I see the snowball effect of the paths I chose.

Such a simple event as the trauma of a stillbirth at the age of 21 still has its memories for me despite being buried by time and common sense.

We can seldom do much about the big failures in our life because they are out of our control.  I did not become the ballet dancer I trained to be, my husband left me, I never wrote that book, I failed an interview…Yes we can work on self development exercises but it’s the ordinary everyday failures of things that we took for granted – that other people seem to find easy or outwardly overcome – that eat into our self esteem.

These failures reinforce our belief system and gather like flotsam in the wind. Before you know it you are a terrible cook, no good with children especially other people’s kids, no good at organising anything because it’s bound to go wrong.
Why do we buy into the myths of today that a perfect mum or child exists?

Mothers feel guilty all the time because we are surrounded by media telling us “ how to be a perfect mother” or about super mums who work in high powered jobs while looking after kids, cleaning the house, shopping and cooking nutritious food for all.
NO THEY DON’T it’s mission impossible except with loads of help.

Most of us have to muddle through as best we can and remain calm and sweet tempered. And for most it’s a 24/7 role with no sick leave.

An example:

I always wanted to be a mum and have children but I got pregnant when young before my life had really begun. Too soon, I thought, but lets get on with it. My was I naive.

I was very healthy and so was the developing baby but at the beginning of the ninth month I woke up in the morning and didn’t feel pregnant. “The baby is dead” I found myself telling the doctor. “That is a usual fear towards the end, since there is no room for the baby to move, but everything is fine” said the doctor at the teaching hospital.

Three weeks later contractions signaled the birth. And as I’d anticipated a dead baby girl was born/died. My Victoria was not to be. Starved of oxygen they said. It was better that she never was, since she would have been severely disabled or sick. I had no time to get to know her,  because she was whisked away as she emerged into the world, never to be seen.

I was removed to a remote part of the hospital incase I was infectious, where other misfits were placed. “What’s wrong with you?” I was asked by a doctor.

Somehow the word stillbirth did not surface. Or was it also a live death? Silly things confused the issue. Do you register a birth and then a death (Yes, you do register both). I received a letter in the post reminding me that it was a civil offense if I did not register the death. I felt an instant failure. I seemed to embarrass friends and neighbours alike, not knowing what to say. There are congratulation and welcome baby cards but somehow nothing for sorrow and death. It was easier for others to ignore me and avoid the issue.

Along with the shock came guilt- was it my fault? Was it divine justice, did I not deserve to be a mother? What to do with the presents, cot, pram etc, now littering up the small flat. Deep sadness and sorrow took over from the excitement and the positive anticipation of before.

As they say, there is no book of instructions for the depression that consumed me. After about six months, my father, a silent but educated and wise man opened his hand to reveal a couple of pills. “If life is so hard take these pills,…..and if not it’s time to just get on with life”. I had not realised how numb I’d become but the obviousness of the alternatives presented made sense.

Now I am old I reflect on the stillbirth and am angry at a society that does not have words to recognize the dilemma. Both the practical and the emotional difficulties that occur. I was lucky that I had two children later but my subsequent pregnancies were full of fear that something would go wrong again or they’d die through my neglect/or bad.

I am apprehensive about my children. I also realise that I find myself apprehensive about anyone’s pregnancies at a time when they are full of joy. it’s difficult to be enthusiastic especially if they are unaware that things can go wrong. I am socially inept at such times. Reason has buried the dead as no longer relevant but my emotional memory never fades. Emotional Isolation, and bereavement for someone I never knew shouldn’t be dismissed as rationalisation takes over and life carries on. Yet my pregnancy was not an illness and so no medical discussion took place.

I felt I’d failed my first daughter, that it was all my fault. I wanted reasons but my Victoria was not meant to be and nobody knew why.

I love being with kids, especially my grandchildren and cherish their very existence. treating each as a wonderful piece of magic.

I was lucky and went on to have two lively children and had “a successful life”  but that early failure always haunted me. I metaphorically held my breath waiting for my kids to be taken from me and while I wrote this account I burnt the soup. Was my subconscious telling me something?

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