I could hear the sirens of the ambulance getting closer, coming for me. It was the first time in my life I’d needed an ambulance. I saw the concern on the faces of my husband and sons. I could hear the bustle downstairs as the ambulance crew entered the hall. I registered black cases of equipment in their hands as they entered my bedroom to join the midwife and maternity nurse.
“Can you hear me? Blink your eyes if you can hear me,” said the male paramedic calmly. I blinked. They took my blood pressure, temperature, threw questions into the room – working efficiently and assessing what to do next.
“It looks like her body has gone into shock,” the paramedic said to his silent audience.
I was put into the ambulance and driven back to the very maternity ward where I had given birth to my third son three days previously. I was prodded and questioned but no one was ever able to give me a definitive answer as to why I’d gone into shock – but sleep deprivation was the likely culprit.
I hadn’t slept for the best part of a week. The newest addition to our family had shown his disdain for night rest before he’d even been born. He had lured me into believing he had an exit plan when contractions rippled for an entire night, strong enough to ensure I didn’t shut my eyes as my partner and children slept. The next morning however, contractions stopped completely. They began again the following night, this time for real, marking two nights without any sleep.
We took our baby boy home, but nights proved to be grueling: if he wasn’t held upright in my arms he didn’t close his eyes. The sleepless nights tallied up to five before my post labor body protested and I landed in a hospital bed.
It turned out he had silent reflux; it’s why he screamed when we laid him on his back. Help came after my unexpected night away from home, primarily from the Dutch Youth Health Care services.
“The road ahead will be tough until this little man turns four,” said our family coach stroking my newborn’s head. “We call these the tropenjaren and you just have to ride them out. After that family life will get a little easier.”
Her predictions rang true. Looking after a newborn baby with reflux who wouldn’t settle unless I held him, an eighteen-month-old toddler who was completely dependent on me too, and a highly sensitive four-year-old struggling with starting school was an impossible task. But I did it, day in, day out.
Night after night, one of my sons would wake. I ended up feeling as broken as my nights were, half fearing that if something didn’t change, I’d end up back in hospital. Another part of me hoped to end up back in hospital – at least then I would get a night’s sleep and a few quiet hours without being pulled in different directions.
There were days it felt like I was screaming into a long dark deserted tunnel. For a long time, barely coping was the best I could manage. Each day was a long, exhausting challenging; I felt drained and I had nothing left to give.
And then as quickly as they had descended on me, the topenjaren ended. They slipped away, not bothering to utter their goodbyes – they just upped and left. As my youngest child blew out the four candles on his monster truck birthday cake. I realized that it was the start of a new time in our lives. Well, in my life at least.
These days, weekday mornings are a hive of activity as we get three young children ready and out of the house to school on time. These are the most chaotic moments of our day, our week. These moments also provide the most striking contrast to what awaits me when I return home alone from the school run. Each morning, I let myself back into an empty house and I am greeted by silence. No one runs to the front door to throw their arms around me to mark my homecoming.
There are mornings that I feel weightless. There are mornings I have sat with my head in my hands at our dining table, amongst the remnants of breakfast, and I have sobbed until my heart empties. I have shed tears for the many baby years that have graced our home, the first smiles and gurgles, the first steps and the first words. I have cried for the toddler years we’ll never see again, the years of unbridled curiosity and tantrums. Tears fall for all the moments that are now just the fading memories of three boys’ childhoods.
I've cried as I consider my path in life, one that suddenly seems so unclear – I have momentarily lost sight of my identity.
For nine years I have been a stay at home mother, stealing time during naps and concentrated play to write, to work. For almost a decade my time has been spent looking after little people; days ticked by on auto pilot being a mother, meeting my sons’ basic needs. I was never alone. Not even to go to the bathroom. Now that has all changed.
The hours in between school runs are now mine. I have the time to do the things I longed to do when I didn’t have the time or sanity to do them. I know I should be jubilant, and most days I am, but other days all I feel is utter confusion. I have entered into a whole new phase of motherhood that nobody warned me about.
Happily, I’m getting used to a lot more me time as the weeks and months pass – and I’m learning quickly that I’m actually never alone for that long.