"You look like you've got such a strong bond with her. You have, haven't you? You've bonded with her?"
The question hangs in the air for a moment. I'm at my six-week post-natal check with Mouse, just over three years ago. We sit in the doctor's room on the top floor of the busy practice. She is a locum, and she doesn't remember me from a few years previously, when I was a patient at another surgery and terrified that I had skin cancer. She's kinder now, softer, but still I don't feel that I can be honest. "Oh, definitely." I reply.
I think I have bonded with her. I can feel her without looking at her - I sense when she's awake even if she's not in the same room, her smell is permanently on my skin, I know each and every little noise that she makes. And yet, in my very darkest hours when my body is begging for sleep, I resent her. There. It's out. I resent her for changing my life so completely, like taking an immaculately organised drawer of treasures and upending it all over the floor. The treasures are still there, but not in their right place, and some of the really fragile pieces may have broken with the trauma and I don't know if they can be fixed.
Suddenly, she dictates everything. When I sleep, wake, eat, wash, leave the house, sit down, return home. I can't have a conversation with my husband unless she is otherwise engaged with milk or asleep. I miss him. We've barely been married for a year and most of that saw me pregnant and changing. I don't know how to be his wife without also sustaining another person. I feel so much pressure. I need to shift this baby weight. I need to meet new people. I need to socialise with the people I've already met. I need to join groups. I need to maintain the house and have a meal on the table for 6pm.
What I really need is to sleep. To lay down. To ask someone for help. To not have to pretend that I've got this. To admit that I don't know what I'm doing.
At my lowest point, I hand her to my husband and say, "There was nothing even wrong with us before. We were fine, just us two. Why did we ever think a baby was a good idea? I don't even want her." I don't even want her. I actually said that. I can remember exactly where I was stood when I said it, in our old kitchen, with the fake marble floor tiles cold against my feet despite the June warmth. Two plates were in front of me, I was trying to assemble dinner. I don't even want her.
She takes, without shame. Nothing comes back - she can barely even focus on me, she looks past me. There are no smiles yet, no coos. I google "why doesn't my baby like me?" and get thousands of search hits back. It turns out a lot of new mums don't think that their baby likes them.
And then, one day, we're laying on the carpet of her old bedroom and I'm singing to her:
Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And I'll catch you baby, cradle and all.
That's not how the lullaby ends. It ends with the baby falling along with the cradle, but I can't bring myself to sing that line. I suddenly realise that I've been loving her with the barriers up, because I can't take the pain that one day I might lose her. That I'll have to leave her. That we won't be here together forever. That one of us will have to live without the other. Have you ever grieved for something before you've lost it, because you're frightened of how strongly you feel?
I haven't bonded with her, because I've been protecting my heart. What did I write on her birth announcement card? "She is so new, and yet we have known her forever." I need to let her in.
I let her in.
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