Today I read a newspaper article that broke my heart. It was a story that I missed when it must have first happened. Two years ago, a 6-week old baby was found dead on a pavement in Edinburgh. Apparently well looked after, the only explanation anyone can think of is that his mother hoped someone else would find him and look after him. Today he was buried. With no name. With no family. The only, single, heartbreaking redeeming feature is that 200 people came to his funeral, to pay their respects, to say farewell. The police are still trying to trace anyone who knows anything about him.
I've been reduced to tears before now by stories of illness, maltreatment or neglect of children, but something in this story pierced me to the core. This baby was nourished, cared-for, and probably loved. And yet his mother couldn't, or wouldn't look after him. She didn't beat him, or starve him, or abuse him. She left him somewhere, dressed, fed and safe. She may well have thought she was doing the best thing for him.
And in my innermost heart I know I was only a very few small steps from being that mother.
I remember walking along a pavement with LittleBear in a pram, wondering how bad it would really be if we stepped into the traffic. I was fortunate that it was a fleeting thought, that in truth my life and my baby's life were still too precious to me to ever truly consider such an act.
I remember a dream? A nightmare? A waking hallucination? I imagined that while I went to fetch a trolley at the supermarket, leaving LittleBear in the car, someone stole my baby. I was imagining this almost as a relief - I would be spared from being responsible, from having this huge burden of care, and sleeplessness and desperate cluelessness. And then, I became overwhelmingly and almost uncontrollably distraught, desperate to have my baby back, frantic that he would need feeding and I wouldn't be there, terrified that I wouldn't be able to convince the police that the baby that they had recovered was mine. How would I prove LittleBear was mine? And it was all in my mind. However, it was a moment that helped me to realise how much I couldn't bear anything to happen to my tiny, helpless little baby.
I remember phoning BigBear at work, in tears, utterly convinced that LittleBear hated me, and that I couldn't do it any more. I couldn't keep caring for him because he would never love me. And BigBear came straight home, and helped draw me back out of the pit into which I had talked myself.
I remember countless nap-times when I would phone one of my two dear friends (henceforth known to readers of this blog as Piglet and Tigger. They will know who they are). I would simply talk, and weep, and they would listen and assure me that I was OK, LittleBear was OK and that it would all get better.
I remember sitting on a sofa at an NCT friend's house. Two of us were there, feeding our respective boys. I (as seemed to be normal at that point) was in tears and asked, in desperation, "What if I always feel like this?" My friend gave the sweetest, gentlest smile, shook her head, and said with complete calm and confidence, "You won't".
I remember phoning our family support worker in tears, desperate for help and support. This was not the first time I'd done so. On this occasion the conversation then continued like this:
Maria: Is BigBear with you?
Maria: Can he hear me?
Maria: You need to get yourself to the doctor. Will you promise me that you'll phone your GP in the morning? Get an emergency appointment.
Maria: Tell him that I think you have Post Natal Depression. Tell him that you need help. Take BigBear with you.
Maria: Are you going to be OK tonight?
PB: I think so.
Maria: Are you worried that you might hurt LittleBear?
PB: No, never!
Maria: I'll call you tomorrow to see that everything's OK. Is that alright?
PB: Yes, that's OK.
Without BigBear, without my mother, without Piglet and Tigger, without my NCT friends, without my health visitor, without Maria, without my GP, would I really have had the strength not to simply give up? Even with the immense network of love and support I had, I was frequently utterly certain that LittleBear would be better off with someone else. That I was neither good enough nor capable enough to actually care for him.
If I had been just a little bit less fortunate, a little bit less loved, a little bit more alone, I could so easily have continued to believe that LittleBear would have been better off without me. I could so easily have acted on that belief. The thought that another mother did act on that belief makes me weep.
I know that I'm projecting my own feelings and experiences onto a story the truth of which I will never know. Maybe this mother was nothing like me. But she was a mother, and for some reason she left her baby. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the reason, it is a heartbreaking event.