Memories of your children growing up are the stuff that families are made of. Your baby’s first word, their first steps, the way they fall asleep flat on their backs with arms above their heads all conjure up images that warm the heart and bring a smile to a parent’s face. But for some parents it’s not this simple.
With both of my pregnancies I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. The percentage of women who suffer from morning sickness has been quoted as anywhere between 70% and 90% but Hyperemisis is uncontrollable nausea and vomiting which persists all day for anywhere up to the full term of the pregnancy. This made for a miserable 9 months and second time around I was running around after a toddler who was only 22 months when his sibling was born as well as contending with the persistent sickness.
By the time my second child was born I was exhausted. She had been extremely active in the womb kicking for up to 8 hours at a time, and usually starting in the middle of the night. This was a foretaste of what was to come. She slept in fifteen minute bursts and for no more than 2 hours a day. She cried incessantly yet there was nothing physically wrong. My husband and I slept (we actually listened to her cry from another room) in shifts. It was tough.
So how does this relate to memories of your children? Well, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. My husband and I shared the same pregnancies and childbirth. We have the same children yet our memories are so different. Why can’t I remember? Is it because I was so exhausted that it was just enough for my body to get through the day? Was asking my mind to remember moments as well that bridge too far? Did my pregnancy illness drive a divide between me and my children? After all, pregnancy and childbirth are designed to naturally encourage bonding between mother and child, yet being excessively ill throughout did not foster this. I am quite open in saying that I am still waiting for that great surge of motherly love that so many women claim to feel. I do love my children. I have fought for them and defended them but I am not blinded by love to their faults. They are not an extension of my being. I do not live through them. My husband remembers the first words. He remembers the silly things they did. He remembers playing games while bathing them, the tears and the tantrums. My children often ask questions that start “When I was little did I….?” and I can’t answer them. My memories of them as babies are so vague and mostly fuelled by the photographs we have. I remember my daughters first words were actually a baby-signed sentence (“Look, birds, sky!”) but I have no recollection of the actual first spoken word by either her, or my son. I don’t remember their first steps although I know that they both started to walk at 10 months. I don’t remember the times they would crawl on our laps and put chubby arms around us.
As we reach the new academic year I hear daily the stories of Mothers and children torn asunder by the education system. Tales are told of how brave the children were on the first day of school, of mothers sobbing into tissues and of the pride at seeing your child in their uniform on their first day. I feel cheated by these stories. By being told them over and over by so many people I feel that I am being deprived of the full parenting experience. I feel that somehow I am less of a mother for not having these life changing moments. In reality its as if I have tucked the memories away in a jar full of smoke. The smoke moves and swirls around offering tantalising glimpses, but never fully revealing the picture. I remember the bumps and bruises, illnesses and crying, but not the joy and pride or landmark occasions. I absolutely cannot remember the details that make up the whole.
Does the fact that I do not have these memories make us less of a family? I think not, although you would need to ask them too. My husband remembers their past but I live in their present. To me they will never be younger than they are. I will not hold them back to keep up the pretence that they are my babies. I live in their present. I enjoy their present. Although shared memories may be the stuff that families are made of, it’s the day to day things that bond a family together. Living the moment together, hearing and seeing the now. If this is what keeps families united then I am doing a fabulous jump of sticking my family together like superglue and I think the odd lapse of memory can be overlooked.