I was playing with my little girl the other day and we were having lots of fun. She was giggling and messing about with my hair, I was giving her lots of cuddles and kisses and the sun was shining. She is at such a lovely age. She is chatty and can sometimes be quite gown-up in her conversations (think 3 going on 33!), she is giggly with a funny sense of humour and we have lovely pretend play moments usually involving her making me cups of coffee and cake and playing at "Costa" (I have absolutely no idea where she gets that from).
It suddenly occurred to me that when my son was the same age this was when I started to be ill with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) in the very early stages of my pregnancy. From that point onwards, until about 6 months into my pregnancy, I was so ill that I was unable to look after myself, let alone my son, and I had to rely on huge amounts of support from family and friends.
The reason I cried? Because I realised that this was the period in my son’s life that I missed out on and during which I was not there for him as a mum should be. It was a very tough time and one during which I felt immense guilt at not being able to look after my son.
I remember one particularly low moment for both of us. My mum was bathing my son and he was crying and shouting “mummy, mummy”. I was lying in bed, listening helplessly to his distress, too ill and weak to get out of bed to go to him. He was only a few feet away and yet I was unable to help him and comfort him. When my mum brought him to the bedroom after his bath, he lay on the bed with me, we hugged each other and I cried and cried.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing and I now know many things that I didn’t know then.
I now know that children are very resilient, more resilient than we often give them credit for. They have an amazing capacity to bounce back from difficult times quicker and stronger than we imagine.
I now know that my “absence” as a mother didn’t have as profound an effect on my son as it did on me. I have had the occasional flashback to the trauma of HG (when something has triggered a memory as it did the other day), but I don’t believe my son remembers much (if anything) about that time, apart from the little anecdotes we have told him since, such as how he would rub my back when I was vomiting and how he once pleaded with me not to “sick the baby up”.
I now know that my son benefited enormously from spending more time with other family members, such as my parents and my husband, than he would have done had I not been ill. My husband did pretty much everything for our son while I was ill and my own mum was amazing, travelling from Lancashire on numerous occasions to care for me and her grandson. As a result they have formed close bonds that will last a lifetime.
I now know that, even though my pregnancy seemed like an eternity to me at the time, my period of illness was relatively short in the context of my son’s life. He is already seven and hasn’t suffered any adverse effects from the whole experience. I have years ahead of me to give both my children the time, love and attention that I so desperately wanted to give to my son then but simply couldn’t.
Of course, there is also one huge positive to come out of the whole experience and that is that my son now has a gorgeous little sister and the bond between them is something very special indeed. Yes, they squabble, but they also join in each other’s imaginary games; hold hands across the back seat of the car; plan where they will live together when they are grown-up and no longer live with mummy and daddy; make dens together under the dining room table; cuddle up under a blanket when they are watching television; wash (and splash!) each other in the bath and climb into each other’s beds in the morning before we get up. Only last week, my daughter came home from nursery clutching a picture of “Harry Potter” that she had painted for her Harry Potter-obsessed big brother. The look on his face, a mixture of pride and elation that she had done that for him, was an absolute picture.
None of these special moments would have been possible if I had not gone through those few, dark months of HG. So, yes, I missed out on a period of my son’s life and he missed out on time with his mummy but, looking back, it was a relatively short period in the whole scheme of things. In contrast, we as a family have gained so much in the long run and I have so much to be thankful for.