Nothing can prepare you for being a mother.
You grow a baby inside of you and whilst this small, vulnerable being is tucked away in there, she's safe. There's not a lot you can do wrong, as long as you make healthy choices for you and your baby. But then there's that terrifying moment when that tiny, fragile bundle is placed in your arms and you're tired and sore and overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. All you can do is hope and pray that instinct will kick in and being a good mother will come naturally.
And usually it does.
When a sleeping eight-month-old child is brought into your home in a car seat and placed on the floor in front of you for you to look after, it's different. This precious curly haired little girl with a chocolate-stained white satin summer dress on in the middle of winter is in the Looked After Child system. She has been brought to you to look after because you've been judged suitable to care for her needs.
And nothing is as you expect it to be.
When she opens her eyes, she doesn't cry, even though you're a complete stranger. She's learnt that crying gets no response. She makes no sound at all for the first two days. When you feed her, she eats and eats and eats and doesn't know when to stop. She's lost that regulation through months of not knowing when she might be fed again.
But over time, the instinct kicks in for both of you. You learn to love each other and understand each other. She takes her place with this forever family before her third birthday and learns that it's OK to call you mummy now. You can't imagine life without her in it. She's your Little Miss Sunshine.
The lying and stealing start towards the end of primary school. You're told this is attention seeking behaviour and so you give her more attention. You attend a parenting course and are told to be more consistent, but it makes no difference. You believe that all you have to do is show her love, but love hurts and she hurts you in ways you could never imagine.
You hide all that is precious to you. She makes you feel crazy for accusing her of stealing and feel guilty for searching her room and feel violated when you find the unused make up you got for your birthday stuffed down behind her cupboard. Which you planted there to make her look bad, according to her.
It's hard to feel like a good mother when you cannot control your daughter's behaviour and you feel everyone else is looking at you and judging you for the way she's behaving.
It's hard to feel like a good mother when teachers and therapists and doctors say what a delightful child she is and you'd made to feel that you're making a fuss about nothing.
It's hard to feel like a good mother when you dread your daughter coming back in through the front door, because you're constantly treading on eggshells around her and it's exhausting.
It's hard to feel like a good mother when your daughter tells you every single day that it's your fault that she's the way she is and that everyone would be better off without you.
It's hard to feel like a good mother when you're pushed to beyond what you can bear and you say or do something that you immediately regret but cannot take back.
It's hard to feel like a good mother when you can't make it better. You know your baby girl is hurting but you don't have the answers.
It's hard to live with all of that.
And then one day, you can't live with it anymore.
You do the unimaginable.
At 11am on 11th November, you turn up at a Social Services appointment with your daughter and all her belongings. You'll never ever forget that moment when you failed to be a mother. She doesn't believe you'll go through with it. She thinks you love her too much for that. The social worker doesn't believe you'll go through with it. She thinks you're too nice for that.
Because what mother gives up on her child?
What mother says 'I can't do this anymore. I can't look after my daughter anymore.'?
Because there's always the risk that you'll never see her again. That's what she's threatened. That she'll never ever speak to you again if you do this. What mother would risk that?
What mother finds it within herself to admit failure as a mother?
Your friends and family try to understand. They try to say the right thing. But no one understands. Not even your partner. No one can know how desperate you have to be to ignore that overwhelming instinct to hold your child close and protect her from the world, to hand her over to the care of someone else. No one can begin to imagine what giving up on their own child would look like.
It's the hardest thing you've done, probably the hardest thing you'll ever have to do. You have to live with that guilt and pain and sense of failure every single minute of every single day.
She does get back in touch.
You both find a way to move forward together, to build something new.
You will never ever find a way to live together again, but you love each other. You never stopped loving each other. And wrapped up in that love are all the fears and pain and distrust and laughter and fun and shared experiences and harsh words and hugs and abandonment. It's all there. It will always be there.
Your daughter is now expecting her own little girl. You're going to be a grandma.
She's vowed that she will not be a bad mum like her own mum was.
The miracle is that she doesn't mean you.