Opinion

Saturday 16 February 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'I was afraid of how much I loved him... Now I love my baby with the fierceness of a tiger'

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Ciara Kelly

Today is my eldest's birthday. This day, 19 years ago, I lay awake in bed through the early hours feeling increasingly regular bands of pain spreading across my abdomen while I tried to wrestle with the notion that this was actually, finally, happening.

One week overdue - the longest week of your life - I was going into labour.

I woke my husband coming up to seven. "It's time to go to the hospital."

We drove across town to Holles Street in our battered Peugeot 206 just ahead of the morning traffic.

A mixture of terror, excitement and denial coursing through me, I found myself humming that old tune... "There may be trouble ahead..."

"Yes you're in labour, you're one centimeter," the midwife told me. "You'll have this baby by lunchtime."

Baby? What baby? I remember thinking. I realised that I had gotten my head around being pregnant but I had no real concept that that meant there was motherhood on the other side of it. And I still didn't know how I was going to manage that.

He was indeed born at lunchtime. But a reaction to the fentanyl in the epidural meant I was vomiting too much to hold him initially so I had to just look at him swaddled in his dad's arms as I puked into a cardboard bowl, his little purple face screwed up in sleep. He had eyelashes like a kitten.

A first baby is a nightmare for a new mum in terms of visitors. Everyone I knew, and a few I didn't, seemed to visit that night. Seventeen people traipsed through my room within hours, to say 'Hello' and see the baby. I hadn't been able to get up for a while after the birth so the first visitors arrived before I'd had a shower or changed my nightdress. I pulled up the sheet to my neck so the friends of friends photographing me, wouldn't see the blood on my top.

I remember trying to breastfeed but I could manage it only when the midwife was with me and I was lying on my side. I fed him that way for the first four weeks.

A close friend came to see me. "He's gorgeous," she said. (He was, my granny said, so good looking, he should have been a girl.) "I know he's lovely," I replied. "But it doesn't seem real. If someone took him away from me now, I'd say that was a lovely baby. But it doesn't feel like he's mine."

We went home. I was exhausted and it all felt like a dream. The first day I was completely on my own with him, he was two weeks old. I looked at him lying on the bed and hoped I could keep him alive until reinforcements arrived that evening.

I don't think I was depressed. I think I was terrified. I was afraid of the momentousness of being a mum to this tiny creature. I was afraid of how much I loved him and I was actually afraid to love him too. I was afraid of how vulnerable that would make me. I never told anyone. The whole first year was like swimming uphill through treacle.

Let us fast forward. He is 19 and I am no longer afraid to be a mother. I kept going. I had three more. It got easier. I did it - so I started to know that I could do it. I grew up as he grew up. And I fell in love with my son.

And now? Well now I love him with a fierceness that reminds me of a tiger. I honestly think I could kill for my children. I have a mixture of adoration, pride and delight about everything he and the rest of them do. But it wasn't instant. It took time and growth and overcoming my own fears and insecurities.

If you are reading this, and you haven't bonded instantly, and you don't know how to say it, don't think it means that you won't.

The sheer enormity of being a parent is daunting.

Sometimes it takes a little longer to get your head around it than you're led to believe. It doesn't mean you're a bad mother. And it doesn't mean that the crazy newborn phase defines your relationship with your child.

Take heart, it gets so much easier.

Happy birthday, Oisin.

I love you with all my heart. Mum xx

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk weekdays from 12-2.

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