I was ready to be a mother at the age of four, it was 1978.
My first baby was a vinyl doll that I called Sheila Carter. Because, when you are four everybody needs two names, especially babies. I loved that baby with every iota of my little self. One late afternoon, after playing in the playhouse, I tucked her in to her purple paisley sheets. She was a tired baby. I patted her little rotund tummy and ran inside.
After dinner, it was bath time for me, then bed. My parents were very strict. They said I could not go outside to get my baby from the playhouse, that I needed to learn to be more responsible with my toys. My little mother-self cried until sleep overtook me. The second I woke, I ran out to the playhouse. But Sheila Carter was gone. Vanished.
It was the ultimate lesson, but probably far harsher than my parents intended. “Perhaps a dog ran off with her?”, they wondered aloud, “or maybe the neighbourhood kids?” The next birthday, we went into the city and found me another baby. I held her in my arms but she didn’t feel like Sheila Carter. I loved her; and I called her Kate. And I never left her anywhere. Even as I write this, I smile, because I still know where my doll Kate is. Wrapped in tissue, in a box in the corner of my wardrobe. She’s safe.
When I grew up, I longed for babies of my own. Real babies. It was unfashionable to long to be a mother, but I did. The whole way through my first pregnancy, I rubbed my belly and smiled to think about my beautiful bubba, tucked up in there, all safe and growing. I felt so connected to her.
The moment she was born, I knew the terrible truth. She looked at me with the most piercing gaze. And wailed in the most heart-wrenching way. The sound of that cry told me she didn’t want me. That I wasn’t responsible enough. Skilled enough. I wasn’t good enough to be her Mum. The midwife took her in her arms and she stopped crying. I scrambled up a smile for all the people who were looking at me to see my maternal joy. I was terrified.
And that is when I first saw the teeth of the dogs, ripping her body apart. It was terrifying. Her tiny body was being shredded and I couldn’t stop it. They put her back in my arms and I checked her all over. She was intact. They hadn’t ripped her apart after all. No one in the delivery suite seemed to notice what had happened so I knew it was in my head.
I knew with sudden certainty that I had to keep the images secret. I knew they’d think I was crazy. I sent that baby my thoughts, the way I had when she was still in my tummy. In the privacy of my mind, away from the probing goodwill of the nurses, my husband, the obstetrician, I whispered,
OK. I’m your mum. I don’t know if I can keep you safe, but I will do everything I can! Don’t hate me baby. Please…
For the first six months of her life, the dog attack images haunted my waking and my sleeping. Her little body limp in their jaws. Being carried away from me. Torn limb from limb. It was always graphic. There were always a pack of dogs. They were huge. I was petrified that the images were a premonition.
When I heard dogs barking I would panic. Stop the pram. Turn around. Get away. I couldn’t sleep, and neither could she. She screamed a lot. We cried a lot. Looking back, I think she felt my panic.
Then one day I was taking a knife out of the kitchen drawer. Instead of an image of dogs I had an image of myself. One quick thrust into her abdomen. It would be over. I dropped the knife and leaned my head on the bench, shaking. My husband wanted to know what was wrong. I told him then, told him about the scary dogs I was seeing. But I didn’t tell him about the horrible vision of me and the knife.
He sent me to the doctor who told me it was normal to feel on edge when you are sleep deprived. He said that mothers could become hyper vigilant and perhaps the images were just a psychological warning system, alerting me to possible dangers to baby. It would pass. I just needed sleep. He was wrong. It didn’t pass. But I did manage to keep my baby safe.
I wish I had the help I needed at that time. I managed safety for my girl. But my anxiety eclipsed joy and love for some of the most precious years of her life.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my son that I knew the only way to truly keep my children safe was to get proper help. My anxieties were crippling me. I saw a skilled psychologist who helped me. She worked with me and helped me to address what was happening in my head. By the time my son was born I was able to be calmer. And so, he was calm too.
I have a beautiful relationship with both of my children now. They are 11 and 8. Sometimes when I am looking at photos of those baby years with them, I take a sharp breath in. We made it through, safe… and sane. My daughter comments on what a cute baby she was, and I see it too, now. See the cuteness, the sweetness of her, how much she longed to be loved. I so wish I could go back in time and kiss that little blonde head. Wrap her up against a heart now quiet and steady. Instead, I kiss her now. She looks at me with shining eyes, “- love you, Mum,” she says breezily.
And we are truly safe.
Useful articles and resources on post natal depression
Click here for information on the Baby Blues.
You may want to consider hypnosis for post natal depression if you’re finding the baby blues are really starting to get you down but you feel like you can work your way through it with a little help.
For information on the rare condition of Postnatal psychosis, visit our article in this section.
Also, see our section on Support Groups for Mental Health and Depression.