My Daughter

by Lori Dwyer on July 11, 2012 · 8 comments

I’ve missed more than twelve months of my daughter growing up, and I think the regret I feel for that– low and distant right now, with the heady feeling of thunderclouds in the distance– will intensify over time.

In fact, I think this is one thing I will grieve for harder than most others I have lost.

I think this one might really fuck me up; in five, maybe even ten years time. I used to enjoy every second spent with m children– I adored being at home with them. We were inseparable, and my world revolved around them.

We do OK, now, the three of us; we feel like a family, whole, without a piece missing. But instead of reveling in my children’s youth, their toddlerdom and preschoolhood; I am, instead, surviving it. And some days it feels like only just.

I think the last time I really saw my daughter she was sitting in a red IKEA high chair. She must have been eating a milk arrowroot biscuit after she woke from her nap, but I don’t remember that. I only know because my mum told me there was one there, and a freshly opened packet on the counter too; directly After, when she was allowed into my house, escorted by the police, to retrieve some clothes for my children.

My Bump was just a baby… she’d only just begun walking.

And then, the screaming. A pale yellow sundress that I never saw again (thank God). And the memory of holding my daughter’s tiny body against my own, pressed flat against my stomach and chest, one hand on the back of her head so I could run, fly without my feet touching the ground; while the other hand pushed open my back gate so furiously it hit the wall behind it… screaming. Feeling as if I was in one of those dreams where you are terrified, but your voice is just a squeak; even though I can feel the power in my hysterical screams, I can feel my diaphragm vibrating with the force of them against my daughters (Tony’s) legs, it’s not loud enough, it’s never going to be loud enough.

They tried to take her from me, some well meaning neighbor, so I could talk to to the police, give them the details they needed. She is clingy, screaming, wanting to come back to me, and I sob to them “Please give her back, please, please, I need her” and I cry into her soft baby hair and kiss her head and whisper that everything will be alright.

I hand her to my mother just minutes later.

And I don’t see my daughter again for over twelve months.

I’m vaguely aware that there were two small children sharing the house with me in Paradise. I remember my son’s room because it was the scene of so many painful exchanges about Daddy, right on bedtime.

I have no idea what my daughters room looked like.

I know she started talking just after Tony died, because I blogged about it; and I remember her first word was ’Daddy’, and then ’yeah’, but I couldn’t write that down at the time– it hurt too much. I remember, vaguely, my cousin commenting one day on what a mess her hair was, and when I got home I brushed it into a short, fountain like ponytail on top her head. And I cried, because I had, so many times in the past, giggled to my husband that I couldn’t wait for her hair to be long enough to play with.

Photo by family photographer Kirstin Cox.

I don’t remember much else. I know that for a long time she was the only joy in my day– I was in so much pain, and her brother was racked with grief, but the Bump remained largely unaware of her loss. Watching her made me happy– she was what I had always wanted, a gorgeous little girly–girl, and she was funny and sweet and sunny. But I watched her as if she was… even to say ‘a character in a movie’ gives it too much depth. I watched her the way you would lay back and listen to music coming faintly from the house next door. I watched her the way you would view dappled sunshine coming through a shade of leafy trees on a pleasant, bright day. She calmed me, gave me a feeling of peace and pleasure; but my connection to her was minimal.

My Bump will be three years old this September. I found her again just the other day, and she took me surprise. When did this child learn to speak, to say so many words…? And what order did that all happen in? She runs, too… I don’t recall much of the development of her walking; but I’m sure a lot of it was aided by a pink plastic stroller, because I blogged about that too.

I held her against my chest the other day, and I was amazed at long she’s grown. When did she get so big, my baby? Who allowed her to continue growing while I was in a fog, while I was unable to pay attention?

I’ve felt an innate connection with my daughter since her birth– how could I not, when it was so glorious? She fed easily, slept well. And she was my much longed for little girl. While I’m in love with my son, our relationship is different and difficult; where I love my daughter like breathing.

I feel the connection even more intensely now. Because she was there. She was m lifeline. In that whole ugly tableaux, she is the only pretty thing… a daisy in a pretty yellow dress, my baby girl who I clung to as the only solid thing in shifting in a nightmare.

I’m aware of that, and I become more aware as that feeling of connection grows. I wonder if it’s my mind desperately trying to accommodate a level of emotional depth for my kids in a manner different to what it was in the Before, just to enable me to parent them as intensely as I once did, and perhaps allay that thundercloud of regret before it breaks.

I’ve seen so many parent/child relationships that become symbiotic– they feel indebted, guilted, chained to one another; to the point where the becomes manifestly unhealthy. I don’t want to do that to my children. I don’t want to
do it to myself. I’ve held my daughter once as I was drowning, and she was so tiny and buoyant she floated. The older she gets, the heavier she becomes, and the more weight the burdens of her parents will carry. I refuse to become so co–dependent on my children that I transfer the responsibility for my happiness into their hands. The connection I feel with my daughter is based in an event she probably (hopefully) won’t ever remember; and, as such, it belongs only to me. I can’t expect her to share it, and, to be honest, should I still feel this way as she grows older (unlikely), it’s one thing I may never mention to her (and back off, smarty pants… I know. Oil into water. I’ll deal with that one at a much later point.)

I doubt I’ll ever tell her…. That not only did she prove to me I was braver than I thought, but that I feel as if those few minutes in screaming hell tied us together for eternity, with a bond based in that eternal femininity of mothers and daughters, but with some earthy magic that’s deeper than that, enabled by matching DNA. I’ll never tell her that it’s as if I passed parts of me onto her that day, that my soul recognized it’s shiny coating was about to shattered into millions of pieces… so it took some of those pieces, and, through the power of such an intense emotional space, transferred them, skin to skin, to the person who was closest to me… all the innocent parts of me, the sweet naivety, the belief in human nature and trust in people. My child like vulnerabilities… the bits that made me lovable, perhaps.

It’s better than all those sweet, harmless, indulgent characteristics being destroyed, I suppose… and I cant think of anyone I’d rather have them than my daughter.

She is such a sweetheart, my Bump; all hugs and kisses and “I love you, mummy”’s; and she’s attached to her people– her Chop, her Nonna, her Poppy, as she refers to them– ‘her’s, and with reverence. But she is shy and hesitant with strangers.

It only occurred to me the other day, reading this post, how much she really has changed, while I’ve not been paying heed. I’d forgotten she used to be so confident, so brave, so fearless. Now, she’s a timid child, afraid of dragons, monsters… everything. She flinches at loud voices. I jokingly told her the other day that my belly button was going to eat her and she shied away from me, real fear in her eyes.

Who knows if that’s a product of what happened, a product of how I’ve been, or if it just would have been the way she grew eventually, anyway? It’s impossible to predict, and I try not to dwell on it… there’s no point. (Worries, like rocking chairs… they give you something to do, but get you nowhere.)

But I do know she still has nightmares. That I heard her sob and cry out the other night, and I ran into her room to find her half awake, half kneeling on her bed, crying out “Up there!! Up there!!!” and pointing to the roof.

I settle her, asking what was in her bad dream while knowing she’s too young to articulate it; and when she’s asleep, I attempt to settle my shaking self… it could have been anything she was dreaming of. One of the birds she used to love… I’m not sure when she stopped being fascinated by birds, either, it’s only just now occurred to me that she no longer points them out and listens for their songs. She could have been dreaming about one of those dragons her brother has her so upset over.

I don’t know. I try not to think about it too much. The best I can do is make her feel as safe and as secure as possible… we’ll ford any other raging streams as we face them, as we get there, as they scare us. As the need arises.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm

My beautiful husband committed suicide in 2002 when my daughter was 3 and I was 33 so I can very much relate to this post but am finally learning, ten years on, to not be so hard on myself.
I lived in that foggy land for a long, long time but my daughter was always at the centre of the decisions I made along the way and she is a well-adjusted, happy kid (at the moment anyway!).
For a few years she had night terrors periodically but they stopped a long time ago.
I do regret that she doesn't have any siblings but have stopped beating myself up about that too – it's just how things have worked out for us.
Wishing you peace.


Spagsy July 12, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Roots and wings. That's our job. Three year olds have a funny way of taking leaps and bounds. I hope she is able to articulate her nightmares. Draw them, or get her stuffed toys to act out the bad dreams.

You aren't alone in the blink and you will miss it of children. We all have had a fog at some point in our children's lives. What's important is that we come out of the fog and enjoy as much as we can. In your case especially as there will be times where you will be in and out of the fog. I, like everyone else who loves and supports you, hope that time lessons the thickness and length of the fog you find yourself in at times.

Any mum who has suffered PND will be able to understand the utter confusion of missing out on a time in their children's life. I was there but I wasn't present.

For beat yourself up over it. What's important is that you are present now. And enjoy it.


Drea July 12, 2012 at 12:53 am

I spent so much time trying to ensure my little girl didn't grow up with a fear of the dark (like me), of the monsters in the wardrobe (like me), but still she has them. She has night terrors, and fears of monsters, and the wardrobe now, after 6 years she's afraid of the wardrobe door being open and I have no idea who gave that to her. She was sleeping without a nightlight for a while, but now she's back to having the light on again.

I think kids develop these things irrespective of the things we do. I have tried hard to avoid scary shows, stories etc, but her fears are there. There's probably nothing you can do to avoid her having fears, even if that day had never happened.


Andrea G. July 11, 2012 at 11:27 pm

You know, Lori, I think all moms feel like that: that we miss out on details as the kids grow. One day you look at them, and ask "when did you get so tall?". Please don't guilt yourself over needing to have time to yourself After. It makes perfect sense. Keep pushing forward and know that we love you!


Mrs Woog July 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I am so happy that I have met the bump and the chop. They are a credit to you. Bloody marvellous beings xx


The Flying Drunken Monkey July 11, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Oh honey you're getting the biggest hug next time I see you. The Bump is only a little older than Lily but they seem so similar. We really must get them together soon.
It's good to hear you've started seeing her again. I don't think it was a bad thing that you weren't. It was what you needed.
Lily has nightmares like that too. Not often but they happen. Things must seem HUGE to those little people and everything must be so scary.


Vicky July 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I remember so much of my daughter's first few years, and I remember so much of everything with Mr 5 life to date.

My eldest son – its from about three that I have tangible memories. I look at photos of him before that time and see me in them with him. see photos of him that I have taken, and there is nothing but blackness, a fog like a heavy blanket.

He is nearly 14 now. And is the most beautiful soul. I call him my snaggy boy, because he has a heart as huge as a house. and compassion that blows me away constantly.

I may not remember – but I don't think he does either.


Sarah K Reece July 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Hi Lori,
I hope I'm not intruding, it's painfully sad to read about the way your relationships have been disrupted. I have struggles with this myself from my own trauma history – I found it helpful to read up about attachment, there was one particular book called Treating Attachment Disorders by Karl Brisch that I saw some of my own challenges in and gleaned some useful ideas from. Trauma stuff can create intense bonds, and also numb or shut our bonds down, sometimes weirdly at the same time. You don't just have to wait it out though, you can try different things to find that warmth and comfortable connection again, maybe not all the time but at least some of the time. That's been my experience anyway. The frustrating thing is that damaged attachment is often perceived as traumatic too for both parties, anything you can do that improves things will probably help to reduce the ongoing costs of what you've all come through. It's a hard road.


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