Wednesday 24 January 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Becoming a mother was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life'

Dr Ciara Kelly Photo: David Conachy
Dr Ciara Kelly Photo: David Conachy
Being a mother is one of the scariest yet best things you'll do

Ciara Kelly

For me, becoming a mother was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

I hadn't planned it to happen at the stage it did. And there was more than one comment of 'I thought she was a doctor - well then, how did that happen?' at the time. But Mother Nature, the most famous mother of all, decided I was having a baby in the middle of my junior doctor training - which involved ridiculous working hours for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman - and the die was cast.

I wasn't that young, I was 28 and working in a responsible job - but like many women the world over, I didn't really feel ready. I'd thought I would have more time to grow up myself before I tried to bring somebody else up.

I can still remember the first time he kicked. It was at home in my parents' house, lying in my childhood, single bed when I felt a sensation like a butterfly fluttering inside my abdomen - I wasn't even sure what it was until it became a regular occurrence.

He used to hiccup a lot before he was born. It felt almost like my own hiccups - except they weren't.

We knew he was a he from the first scan when I asked the radiographer if she could tell what sex it was? I wasn't trying to find out, I just wanted to know if she could tell - and she replied with 'Yes it's a boy' which floored me as I'd been sure he was a girl. Even in the delivery ward when they examined me in the morning and said 'You'll have this baby by lunchtime' I had a sense of disbelief.

I could understand that I was pregnant. It was harder to understand I was actually a mother.

We took him home. And both of us just stared at him while he dozed, wondering what we were supposed to do if he woke up. We put him to bed one night, in his car seat with the light on as we'd worked out that seemed to be the only way he slept. And I can remember the fear on the very first day I was left alone with him about two weeks after he was born. Knowing it was down to me to keep him alive until reinforcements arrived that evening.

He had reflux, he vomited everywhere. I remember on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, hearing him in his cot and running to stop him destroying the sheets, holding him over the toilet as he threw up. I wore glasses at the time - they fell into the bowl with his sick. I thought, 'Welcome to your thirties'.

I once fell down the stairs with him in my arms. I thought I could hang on to him but he slipped from my grasp and hit the wall head first. I expected silence, full sure he was dead. I thought, 'You always knew it was too good to be true that you could have this perfect little thing'. His red-faced yells were a huge relief as we raced to Crumlin - not for the last time - bargaining with a God we didn't believe existed, to just keep him alive.

I realised as I hobbled, crying, on my sprained ankle, behind as my husband raced into A&E that I loved him far more than myself or anything else in the world.

He was back in Crumlin with suspected meningitis on the day I had my final GP exams. Eleven years of study seeming suddenly unimportant. Burning up, an unnatural shade of scarlet. So hot it was frightening. But that too passed and was forgotten.

He thrived. He grew stout, sturdy limbs that planted themselves in mud and sand and waves. He laughed. He had an infectious, cheeky laugh - that he still has today, 17 years later. He was joined by a sister, a brother and then another brother. Each one different. Each time I wondered could I love the next one with the fierce tiger love I felt for my existing children. Each time I found that I could and I did.

I thought today I might write about my own mother - whom I'm not sure I ever fully understood or forgave her shortcomings, until I became a mother myself. But instead I found myself writing about what it is to be a mother. It is joy and it is fear and it is the best thing I have ever done. Happy Mother's Day.


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