Three times in the last five weeks… Three times! And that’s a lot really — I’m exhausted. Am I talking about sex? No. Dates with my husband? No. Attempts to start weight lifting again? Nope. Trips to the Emergency Room, that’s what I’m talking about. And those were just the (dubious) highlights — in between all that fun and excitement were days and days and days of dragging everyone from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, seeing the pharmacist so often that he now greets us like old friends, and spending hours on end stuck on the couch comforting one miserable, clingy child or the other. Absolutely everything else has had to fall by the wayside — the house is an utter tip and we’re probably overdrawn. I’ve been so snowed under, I never even got the chance to write about the second trip to ER… I started, but never got finished. For now, I’ll just tell you that it involved a really frightening amount of blood. E2’s blood — who else?
And there we are, the source of all the commotion — always the source of all the commotion. I really don’t want to be this way, but I am now completely glass-half-empty about my younger daughter — she’s been training me in it since the day that was born. If there’s something she can catch, some food that can set her off, some way something can go terribly wrong, it will happen for her. Even the allergist said, she was just destined for this, all this medical hassle… Some kids are.
But if that’s true, then I am so glad I could be her mother. Because that kid — the kid with all the allergies, the horribly restricted diet, the terrifying undernourishment, the (now almost confirmed) asthma, the utterly out-of-control immune system — that kid needs a really support system; that kid needs someone always watching over her; that kid needs an advocate. And I am lucky enough to be able to be just that for my daughter.
Sometimes I really regret becoming a stay-at-home mum. I’ve been out of the workforce for nearly five years now, and I know my career prospects are pretty much shot. When M starts on about me bringing in some money, I think of applying to Starbucks or something… and then I get nervous that they wouldn’t have me. And other mothers I know are starting to go back to their careers — or, indeed, have never really left — and they have kept continuity and are going back to jobs they are excited about and feel empowered by. I look at them and can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy… and a bit of guilt for having thrown so much a way.
But the other day, I looked at my daughter’s smiling face — she now finally truly well for the first time in nearly two months — and I realised that all this time, I’ve been free to be fully there for her. Day after day, I’d been able to wake up (or indeed, not sleep all night) and just be able to do whatever was needed of me that day. I never once had to make a choice between my daughter’s needs and some other obligation, never once felt that conflict that so many other parents have to deal with. I had some very hard judgment calls to make in those two months — is she breathing well? do I risk waking her to check? do we go to hospital now or wait…? — but I never had to look down at her and choose between risking my job to stay home again or sending her to childcare while she was still sick.
If I have sacrificed all — and I believe I have — then it has been worth it, because she has needed that level of dedication… not just to thrive, but simply to survive. It took love to get through those first fourteen months — nothing less than real love would have sustained someone through the days of nonstop screaming and the endless nights of no sleep until dawn. If she’d been in daycare, I honestly believe there would have come a point where the hired help would have lost patience, or lost faith, and just put her in a corner to cry through her pain alone. Because I nearly did. I did leave her to cry, for a while, now and again, and I love her. If I couldn’t handle it, how could anyone else have?
So, when I hear about my contemporaries going back to work, or talk to my friends who have flourishing careers, I can’t help the jealousy that immediately flares up, or stop the self-doubt that creeps along afterward. And when M asks about the money, I can’t help but feel guilty that we are always so skint. But, when I look at my daughter, I realise that being a stay-at-home mother — for all that sometimes feels so wrong about it — is absolutely right for us, for her. And I know how very privileged I am that I’ve been able to do it, and I am deeply, deeply grateful.