Vicky Charles, 32, from Salisbury, is mum to Samaire, 15 months. Vicky struggled when Samaire's father left when she was just three weeks old – but now, she and her daughter are a team.
How long had you been with you partner when you got pregnant?
Just a few months. But even at that early stage our relationship wasn't healthy – he was emotionally abusive to me, and once I found out I was pregnant I was terrified – both of having to stay and bring a child into what I knew was a dysfunctional environment, or leave and go it alone.
What happened when you went into labour?
I went into labour at 35 weeks. I was staying at my partner's house as I was in the process of moving into a new flat. In the night, I started leaking fluid. In the morning, when it hadn't stopped, I called the hospital, but it wasn't until lunchtime, after several rows with my partner about whether I should go in or not, that I finally arrived at the hospital to be checked out.
How was the birth itself?
Once I was in hospital, I was hooked up to a monitor and given some painkillers, as by this point contractions had started in the form of period-like cramps. Then, my waters went completely, but my contractions ground to a halt.
My partner was not happy about this, as though I'd inconvenienced him, and eventually left. When he did, I cried: this was not what happened on One Born Every Minute!
What happened then?
The contractions started again in the night. Around 10am, they induced me. My partner arrived shortly afterwards and I used a TENS machine and gas and air as the labour progressed.
Eventually, my daughter Samaire was born at 8:21pm, weighing just 5lb, 3oz.
Samaire was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a short while – what happened?
Because she had been born five weeks early, Samaire was under the care of NICU, but on the ward with me. However, when she was three days old, they checked her jaundice levels and told us she would need to be in the unit itself to go under the lights.
Luckily, she was only in there for two nights, and then they let her come back down to the ward. The NICU nurses were fantastic, and put a lot of work into helping us to establish breastfeeding.
How were things when you got home?
When we eventually got home after two weeks, I discovered that the roof of my new flat had leaked. My partner decided Samaire and I should stay at his house.
I desperately tried to keep up the three hourly breastfeeding routine. I was determined that she should put on weight, shake off the jaundice and be healthy, but I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.
Not only was I exhausted but – or so my partner kept telling me – I was clearly no good as a mother.
When did you partner leave?
Although I was deeply unhappy, my partner had made me doubt my own mind so much that I was scared to end it with him. However, once I was back in my own flat, he stormed out after a petty argument. He clearly wanted the relationship over and I found out later he was sleeping with several other women by this point.
Not long after, the health visitor came round to visit again. I told her that I wasn't sure I could cope on my own. She looked at me and said, "You're already coping on your own." And that was it.
How did you manage?
Things were really difficult for me to start with. I was still convinced I was no good at any of it, and that I would be found out, and my baby would be taken away from me. I felt so alone. And guilty – that I had brought Samaire into this bad situation, living in a grubby council flat with a single mother who didn't know what she was doing.
I felt she deserved to have a much better start in life, and that I had failed her already.
Where did you find support?
My health visitor was my main source of support. Every time I saw her or spoke to her, she gave me a pep talk and showed me how Samaire's weight was creeping up the charts. She also told me about the Freedom Programme, which was a lifeline for me. It's a support network and advice service for women and children who have suffered violence.
When did things start to get better for you?
Quite soon after my partner left, I stumbled across a Facebook group. It was primarily a breastfeeding community, and I would go on and write down all my fears and concerns. The things the women in the group said really struck a chord with me and I began moving towards what's known as 'attachment parenting'. I started using a sling and bed-sharing with Samaire.
For me, maintaining that bond with her helped me to get through the hard times. As time went on, my confidence grew and I realised that actually, yes, I did know what I was doing.
How are things for you now?
Samaire is almost 16 months old now. I'm still breastfeeding her and she often sleeps in my bed. We have a very close bond because when I was scared and alone, I clung to her for dear life.
Money is tight but I work hard to ensure she wants for nothing.
Everyone comments that Samaire is so happy and contented. I feel like I've finally found something I'm good at: taking care of my daughter.
How do you feel, looking back?
The last couple of years have been a real struggle. But I can't feel sad or angry about any of it, because look at what I've got!
Every single day I have one of those heart-stopping moments where I look at her and think, "I made her – all by myself!" I am so immensely proud of us and the struggles we've survived.
Vicky blogs at Single Mother Ahoy!
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