I am living on borrowed time so this will be brief. M is sleeping. He could wake at any time. So to the point: I feel rejected. I feel guilty for feeling rejected. I feel like it’s a stupid thing to feel and it’s not the point, not at the moment. Mouse is ill and suffering. He is 15 months old. He has either eczema herpeticum or ezcema coxsackium (aka hand, foot and mouth disease). He is in pain. He’s feeling rubbish and not himself. He has horrible red, messy spots around and in his mouth and dark red crusty spots all over his back. His limbs have red spots all over him. After 24 hours in St George’s hospital, we are giving him antivirals every 4 hours and antibiotics every 8 hours. We have lotion to bathe him in and three lotions to rub all over his body, including a steroid cream. He’s having a rough time.
We are having a rough time too. It’s hell. I know there are many worse things that could be happening and I’m grateful to be alive and for everything else. But this is me venting even if I’m not entitled to.
Last night he was screaming in pain/discomfort. He was arching his back, thrashing around, hitting out. He didn’t want to be picked up. He didn’t want to be held, or have his head or back stroked. He didn’t want to be cuddled and would arch out of my arms when I picked him up, as if I was the one inflicting pain. It made me worry, panic. I called out to my husband, thinking we should give him Calpol. Then my husband, D, came in, ‘Papa’, and he picked him up just fine. He stopped crying. He leant into his father’s shoulder and rested his soft head there. I couldn’t believe it. What? So it was just me? I was the one he was screaming about? It was as if my touch on him was scalding him, that’s how violently he reacted. And then Papa picks him up and all is well.
It feels awful to write this down. But it’s not the first time this has happened. My son genuinely prefers his father over his mother. And I’m not sure what to do about it or how to get over it. Because surely this happens right? Surely I’m not the only one being rejected? I ask around my friends, friends of friends, NCT class people. No, they say, looking at me wide-eyed. That has never happened. Hmm. Ok.
D and I have approached parenting as equals. We are strived towards an equal relationship with M. When breastfeeding, I expressed so that he could do a couple of the feeds every day. We both wanted him to have that experience and it was good for me to take a break. M was a slow feeder and his typical feed would last for over an hour and a half. At the beginning he fed every 2 hours because he was premature and a low weight. So being able to skip a feed, for me, was essential.
When D went back to work, he would come home and do bath and bedtime. Sometimes he couldn’t get back in time but he tried to and most of the time he did it while I either collapsed on the sofa or tidied up the detritus of the day.
I went back to 4 days a week of work when M was 7 months old and D took additional paternity leave for 3 months. It was a fun time to look after M. He was crawling and exploring and his personality was developing. He was learning about solid food and was enjoying exploring all the shapes and textures and tastes. It was full on, of course, and exhausting. D’s confidence with M grew and he became fully independent from me. Previously I had a better idea of what was needed and when, and was better able to pick up on M’s signs that he needed a drink/food/nap etc. I would prepare the bag for the day in record time and had mastered leaving the house to less than 20 minutes. After paternity leave, D was equally good at all that. He realised what I had learned only a few months before, how important organisation was when looking after a small child. You needed to have everything prepared otherwise you couldn’t leave the house or get anything done. D bonded with M and it was beautiful to see and be part of. I missed M terribly and felt guilty every day. Still do. But I was so happy for D to have this time with M and for D and I to be equally enjoying our son.
Perhaps because of that time, D and I very much co-parent. I can leave him to do anything with M. He’s more than capable of looking after him all weekend. I don’t have any hesitation or worries about his care of him. Of course we do things slightly differently. But he knows M as well as I do. We are in this learning curve together and I love that. I cherish it and I am so grateful that the man I married wants this as much as I do.
Everybody remarks on how lucky I am. This irks me somewhat. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s not luck that made me choose to marry D or decide to have children with him. I made a rational decision about both matters. There was method to the madness and it was my method and we talked a lot and decided on the madness together. Yes, I am fortunate to have met such a brilliant man and to have other good things in my life. But luck did not play such a big part.
So I can’t help feel that I’ve made this problem for myself. I’m quite sure that some other mothers look at me and think: well, there you go, trying to shirk your mothering duties and look what happens: rejection. They may be right. By creating equal parents for my son, I have given him the choice to choose his favourite. He has chosen his father. I have to live with this and hope it’s not a permanent thing. Fathers often have to sit back whilst children recoil from them and run to Mummy, or insist on having a cuddle from Mummy and nothing else will do. They all get through this rejection so I will just have to too.
But it’s not fair, I cry. I carried him for 36 weeks, I went through the pain and nausea and worry. I had the haemorrhaging, the cutting open, the pain, the bruising, the body stretching, the haemorrhoids, the constipation, the swollen, throbbing breasts that cracked, the struggle with feeding. I gave up my life, my fledgling career for 7 months and dedicated myself entirely to M’s survival and thriving. I’m now a burnt out working mum, rushing from court to chambers to nursery, looking after and loving my son constantly. Working part-time does not mean that that you are not a full-time mum. Psychologically, emotionally, you are there all the time thinking about him, worrying about him, marvelling at him. I struggle to maintain a social life and working life and sex life. I feel I’m failing at most things most of the time. I’m getting through it and every time I see him learn something new or even look at me and laugh, I know I’m winning. But then to be hit away, screamed at and so clearly rejected after all that? It’s hard.
M is awake. He needs someone and I’m the only one here. Here goes.