'I didn't intend to be a single mum at 28'

Wed, Sep 5, 2012, 01:00

For Nessa Toale, single motherhood meant getting used to parting with her daughter when she was just six weeks old

IN THE maternity wards at Our Lady of Lourdes, pregnant women and partners came in and families went out. Nurses never asked after my baby’s dad. Looking back on it, I guess it was strange no-one asked, even once.

My baby was lying sideways. In the event of my waters breaking I would need medical assistance immediately so my doctor felt I should be in the hospital in the three weeks before my due date.

Another woman had already been there for two weeks and would be staying for longer than I was. The big difference between us was that her partner called every day and I did not have a partner. I was so self-conscious about it that I kept my curtains closed whenever I could.

But after two weeks on the ward, I relaxed about not having a partner. Getting to know the other women helped. Once I was able to explain my situation it didn’t seem like such a big deal. The 2011 Census made me feel even less alone with its figures: half a million people in Ireland live in single-parent households.

I shouldn’t have given a hoot about what anyone thought. Doing things the normal way was never exactly my style.

I knew early on in the pregnancy that I would be a single mother. But I also knew the baby would have a dad who loved her and would be there for her. Even though he and I had known each other for almost half our lives we were not suited.

On the morning of the 18th September 2009, I prepared to get my stomach sliced open after having a lovely, long needle inserted into my spine.The doctor made the first incision at 9.14am and baby Beth was born at 9.24am, crying. She was brought to my mother, all wrapped up in some kind of insulating jacket. I looked over from my disadvantaged point at her in my mother’s arms.

At 9lb 3oz, she was no lightweight and, although I was happy to see her, I didn’t have this overwhelming maternal feeling.

They had to take her away while the doctor stitched me up. I wanted my mother to go with her; she wanted to stay with me, her baby, but I insisted. I was terrified and knew I could deal with it better alone.

In recovery afterwards, I longed to get back to Beth, to hold her and kiss her, to experience the rush of being a mammy.

It didn’t happen when I got back to her. It happened six weeks later, when I was changing her and it all just flooded over me. I picked her up, bare bum and all (a definite risk), and cried with relief. Until that point I couldn’t feel anything.

I don’t know why it took so long. Maybe it was the circumstances, maybe it was the birth. I believed I was the only one who didn’t experience an instant bond. I know now that I’m not alone, and I cried the way I found that out too.

I appreciated that being a single mother was going to be difficult, especially during the first few years, but nothing could have equipped me for this little screamer.

Beth looks just like her dad. My family and friends were afraid to say but I could see it. It was just a pity she didn’t get his laid back, laissez-faire attitude too. She had yet to bond with him but, in all fairness, I had yet to bond with her too.

When the time came for her to start spending large amounts of time with him (his bachelor fridge now contained bags of breast milk), it was hard to let her go. Most mothers don’t have to do it until their children go to school or, at the very least, after six months’ maternity leave.

After a few weeks, Beth was spending hours away from me, soon progressing to full days and overnights.

I missed her terribly, worried about her and wanted constant updates. But she wasn’t mine to hold on to. As soon as she was born she became part of her dad too.

Only a few weeks old and already she had a side to her life which was nothing to do with me. Even now, tears are in my eyes at the thought of handing my tiny baby over to “the other side”.

Beth turns three soon. I can’t remember what life was like before her. I often wonder what the hell I did with my free time. She lives with me and spends three days a week with her dad. It’s easier now.

She is the light of my life. She gives me purpose and has altered my attitude to everything.

She likes to use her dad to annoy me and vice versa. Although she loves us both, she will often tell me she likes Daddy best or, ‘No Mama, I don’t love you I only love Daddy’ – a little grin and glint in her eye.

Tickles make her give up the vital information. Admittedly it is hard for me, as I know she sees me as the stern parent: the one with the “bold step”. We butt heads constantly and I can see glimpses of the stroppy teenager she will become. She wants to be head of the house and, as it’s only me here, I guess she sees me as fair game.

She is a daddy’s girl through and through. Even though I pretend it annoys me, I’m secretly delighted. Part of what makes me happy in this life is knowing both her dad and I can raise her to love both of us without fear or recriminations. She knows she is loved and that’s all I need to be happy.

I did not have a life plan like many others do. However, I didn’t intend to be a single mother at 28 years old, no job and living at home. Now, at 31, while other things in my life have changed, I am still a single mother. My life changed direction when I became pregnant and I don’t regret a single moment.

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