One of the things that has always haunted me since my son’s birth and the first, very difficult, years of his life is the guilt. Guilt over what I should have done differently. Guilt over the way I found it so hard to be his mum. Guilt over the things he missed out on, because I was such a mess. My memories of the first year of his life are dark, almost shrouded in shadows of fear and despair. I don’t remember smiling. I don’t remember him smiling. I don’t remember baby giggles or first smiles or excited clapping. I don’t remember anything but sadness. I remember he cried a lot. I cried a lot too. I remember he rarely slept. I slept even less. I remember he rejected me constantly in favour of daddy. But I rejected him too.
And then recently we came across some long forgotten home movies, shot in the weeks before and after he was born. My first instinct was to shut them down, turn the TV off and hide away from the horrible reality of what I was like back then. I didn’t want to see that woman, pretending to be a mother. I knew I’d see the truth in her eyes, and I was terrified of seeing that blank nothingness that filled my days back then. I couldn’t- shouldn’t- watch, and yet I was impelled to do just that.
The figures on the screen looked like my son and I. Oh, I was so young! And he was so perfect. Little tufts of white blond hair. Big blue eyes. A beautiful smiling mouth. Oh, I realised. So he did smile then.
And as our lives unfolded on the screen I was surprised to see that I smiled too. I could see it wasn’t really me, but for my son I was smiling. For his sister, I was smiling. I was smiling. But I only remember tears. Days out, Christmas morning snuggles, trying to crawl, playing in the bath, eating a crust of toast… all the small moments that make up motherhood- recorded forever. I’d always assumed nothing like this existed, that I hadn’t cared enough or loved him enough to even bother getting the camera out. But I did. I did!
I took photos of his tiny feet. I took photos of his bright, wide smile. I took photos of his little hand clutching my finger. I filmed him trying to climb the stairs. I filmed him climbing inside the kitchen drawer to play with his pots and pans while I cooked dinner. I filmed him playing with his sister on the rug. Normal things. We were a normal family, after all.
After so many years of assuming I had paid no attention at all to my beautiful boy, finding these videos has been a bittersweet blessing for me. a true revelation. A huge relief. Knowing that I was there, after all, is amazing. Knowing I cannot remember it hurts, but the guilt is fading a little just knowing that he didn’t suffer as I thought he had.
It’s time for me to tint my world with rose a little. Time to stop the self punishment. Time to move forwards. Maybe he was happy after all.