Den and Harry

Name: Denise
Child: Harry, 5
Location: Manchester

Expectations of motherhood:
My husband and I had been determined that we wanted to live out a perfect fairytale. We’d been together for a long time and marriage had been important to us. The next natural step was to have children. As children who’d both been born as accidents and from unconventional families, it was important for us to do things ‘the right way’. Looking back, the fairytale couldn’t have turned out any more differently to our expectations. I’m a single parent now and I’m having to write a new story, and so in retrospect none of that actually mattered.

Never in a million years had I expected to become a single mum. We’d been obsessed with doing ‘the right thing’ as a couple and doing what made us look like the perfect family, but in the end it just didn’t work out like that. It sounds crazy now, to think I was so conservative in my attitude towards becoming a parent.

Reality of Motherhood: The bubble burst immediately at Harry’s birth in a traumatic 18hr labour. Harry was in the wrong position – back to back – and was eventually delivered by emergency C-section. It made me reconsider all of my original expectations of motherhood. After 3 days of trauma and looking after this new little thing, finally coming out of the haze, I fell in love with him. For days I’d felt disconnected because of everything that had happened in the birth. Then finally it was like a little door in my heart opened – I like to call it my ‘John Malkovich door’. As an adult you expect that you’ve experienced every emotion, but you really haven’t until you feel this unconditional love for your child. I imagine people have more children because it’s like a drug addict harking back to their first high. If you could buy that love as a drug, you’d be unbelievably rich.

Motherhood now, as a single mum, has meant a real change in my life, but I have realised that the fairytale can be rewritten and our relationship has developed into something really special.

Taking your child home for the first time: We were kept in hospital for 5 days. By the time we left they had diagnosed Harry with hole in his heart and we were told that eventually he would need an operation. Returning home was tinged with the worry of not knowing exactly what was wrong. We found ourselves dealing with the emotions of being new parents, sharing the same experiences as other new parents, but at the same time being scared stiff because of what was potentially going to happen to our poorly baby. 

I tried to enjoy him as much as possible in those early months. I indulged in doing the things you can do as a new mum – not having to get dressed, eating cake, etc. Other people expected me to look after them when they’d descend on us, but I wanted us to be spoilt. It’s a strange bubble you’re in while midwives, health visitors and parents-in-law breeze through your door on a daily basis. I really enjoyed feeling special for those first few weeks, and then it hit me that I was going to smell of sour milk for the next few months. I remember one occasion when I was in the supermarket with my new born baby, and everyone was smiling and looking at me. I felt so proud with my beautiful boy. At the checkout I remember seeing milk all over the till and in reporting it to the assistant. Her eyes glanced down to my chest – it was me!

Harry had open heart surgery at 5 mths, and it was a totally weird experience. Up till then he’d lived as a relatively normal baby boy. I remember becoming obsessed with breast feeding – I’d originally felt like I didn’t want to be bullied into it, but when it transpired that he was ill I did become a bit evangelical about the whole thing. It was the best medicine he could have and as a fairly helpless parent it was the one thing I could do to help the situation. I knew that the bigger and stronger he could be for his operation, the better.

Harry was in Alder Hey for 3 weeks and we stayed with him during that time apart from the 3 days when he was in intensive care. That time really opened my eyes to how lucky we were. I remember one time when I was making pot noodle in the hospital kitchen and came across a dad who was making a full sunday roast for his family in the kitchen. I said, “you’re pushing the boat out, aren’t you?” and he explained that they’d been in there for 18 mths with his daughter and he was trying to regain some normality. His daughter had a brain injury and he didn’t know when they’d be leaving. 
We were so lucky because Harry could be mended, and it was that moment when I went from, “why me?” to “we’re so lucky”. After his operation he recovered quickly and has managed to live life as a healthy little boy since.

Best and worst advice: There’s no one piece of advice that has stuck out to me, but it’s important to discuss problems with friends. Everyone has their own pearls of wisdom but not everyone finds the same thing works for them. Trust your instincts.  

The hardest parts of being a mother: Nobody tells you that at some point you will really dislike (almost hate) your child. You’ll love them, but you really don’t like them, and that’s ok and normal. Our relationship has changed since I’ve become a single mum because I have to be ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ now. He can go to his dad and experience purely good times, whereas I have to lay down the rules and discipline him. 

Recently the lines have blurred slightly between being a parent and child – in earnest, I probably discuss more with him than I should but I like to be very open with him because we’re a team. I don’t have to share him with anyone as a single parent – I have to cope with the bad bits but I get all the good bits and those dark moments have made our relationship so much stronger. 

I miss reminiscing with someone or sharing with someone about how amazing he is. I also can’t ever leave a situation and get distance from being a mum, like just saying I need a bath or my own time. I don’t have any family support nearby, but I have got a network of really good friends. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to get through this. I’m much braver as a person now too, motherhood has shown me that I am quite strong and can get through things.

The best parts of being a mother: I love him, he’s funny and has his own personality. He’s
my best friend for life and we have a lovely relationship. He’s also at an age where we can do fun things together like sneaking him into the cinema to see films he’s not really supposed to. 
He’s his own person and has an incredible personality and his own very valid opinion. I love that he’s great company – for kids and adults – and he is genuinely funny. I’m so proud that he has created independent relationships with adults who are my friends, and these are relationships that exist because they honestly like each other. At first when we did things, just Harry and I, it felt like someone was missing for both of us. Recently it feels like we are a complete family, just us two.

Hopes for your family: I hope he’ll be able to have a good relationship with his father. 
I hope that he felt loved by us growing up. 
I want him to always be happy in whatever he does and chooses to do – I think that’s all that matters.

What advice would you give new and expectant mums:
– Listen to your own voice, don’t be bullied by anyone.
– Don’t buy into false expectations and fairytales.
– It’s your book, you are the author, you have to write it.
– Whatever you choose to do, it’s the right way.
– You can feed them all the organic purees you want, and give them a great mixed pallet of tastes, but by the age of two all they’ll want to do is eat white food.
– Everything passes, everything is a phase.
– Enjoy it. Luxuriate into the first 6 mths, sleep when the baby sleeps and you’ll get enough.
– Give in to being a mum and meanwhile don’t feel bad about not being the best wife, lover, daughter, work colleague or project manager of your home renovations.
Take the time out the indulge in motherhood, this is the time to do it.

We get really hung up on what we should and shouldn’t do, but all that matters is having a happy child. There’s a tendency to buy into what people tell us to do in books, but people have been having babies for 1000s of years without them.

2 thoughts on “Den and Harry

  1. You two are the true A-TEAM…. amazing photos, amazing nuggets of wisdom. Life has a funny way of whipping out the blanket when we are in a comfy spot, and I am mega proud of the 2011 version of you. Miss you tonsxxxxx


  2. beautiful piece, and beautiful family . enjoying your little human and watching in amazement as he blossoms into his true self with your help and guidance . true love shines always and you two shine well bright .. a xxxxx


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