I remember how the walls closed in on me, yet staying within them felt so much safer than venturing out with my first born. He was what you might call a ‘challenging’ infant. Aside from the colic and reflux causing him to be extremely unsettled, from day one he was fiercely independent, extremely strong and very, very determined. Strangely it was these very traits that made me feel both insanely proud, yet like an outcast in every social environment that I entered.
My husband has great pride in retelling the story of how our son lifted and turned his head at one day old to follow my voice and movement as a walked across the other side of the room. He has always had a strength that defies his age – I lost count of the amount of times his daycare providers (at 9 months of age) would exclaim how he’d “give the world’s strongest toddler a run for his money”, or how they’d “never seen a child so fearless”. Our son was the type of child that literally scaled the bars of his cot at 18 months old to venture down a flight of stairs, over two safety gates and into the kitchen to set about making himself eggs for breakfast.
The flipside to all this ‘impressiveness’ was that at only 10 months old he was running through playgrounds, attempting obstacles way too advanced for his age or size, and engaging with other children assuming that they were as strong, as fearless and as ‘rough and tumble’ as he was. So often I found myself leaving playgrounds under the judgemental stares of new mothers, trying to explain to them that my child wasn’t trying to rugby tackle their darling, he was simply trying to hug them. Unfortunately my boy’s ‘hugs’ could knock over a grown man.
I’d take him to friends’ houses and as an infant and up to the age of about 10 months, he’d be like a snow storm of spew and tears. If he wasn’t throwing up on their brand new rug, he was crying hysterically ("0-100" we used to call him - there was no in between. He didn’t just whinge, he’d go from quiet to full blown hysterics in a matter of seconds). Once the spewing subsided, I had a 10 month old ‘runner’. He’d go into houses like a hurricane in fast forward, climbing shelves, pulling out everything in sight…just grabbing, grabbing, grabbing.
So here’s the thing. By 10 months old he was completely mobile, yet unaware of his own strength . He was fiercely independent so wasn’t scared of new environments or even remotely phased whether I was within arm’s reach or not. He was less than a year old and therefore had no real cognitive understanding of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Yet everywhere I went, I felt judgement. Self-imposed or not, the feeling was still very real to me. It was like I was somehow failing as a parent because I hadn’t ‘disciplined’ my child appropriately. I felt like I had lost control of my life. I got so overwhelmed that it started being easier just to stay at home and battle through it alone. Even having friends over became too much as I was worried that the kids wouldn’t get along or that one of them would accidentally get hurt.
I think I can honestly say that there was not a single time in that first 2-2.5 years where I was able to enjoy a cup of tea with a friend as my child sat quietly on the floor and played with toys, or chatted casually with other mothers in the park as my child explored. I was in a constant state of high alert, always chasing, always poised ready to catch, chanting ‘be gentle, be gentle’, ‘slow down, slow down’. Ready to diffuse situations - anticipating the next disaster zone.
I became like a prisoner in my own home feeling that nobody else understood what I was going through. Being told to “just get out of the house for a while” I wanted to scream at them, “don’t you understand what it’s like?? I CAN’T take him out. There’s NOWHERE I can take him.”
With the luxury of hindsight, and the benefit of having had a second (very different) child, I now realise that I shouldn’t have questioned my ability as a parent as much as I did. I shouldn’t have assumed that I was ‘failing’. I should have asked for more help. I should have tried to connect with people that were dealing with similar situations. It wasn’t anything I had done ‘wrong’…every child is born with their own unique personality, health issues and needs. Sometimes they share these with the majority, other times they don’t.
I often wish that I had been able to meet and interact with people who felt the same isolation as me. Whether the cause of it was real or imagined isn’t relevant - the feelings I felt were debilitating. If any of this is ringing true to you, please feel free to .
If I can help, I will. Sometimes just talking to someone who’s been there can help set you free. xo