There was silence in my house for the first time in ten months. Although I knew I should feel relieved, my body was numb, and it hurt to think. I tossed and turned in my king-size bed, fidgeting until even my sheets fell off. I’d planned on getting a mattress protector a year back, but then the baby had arrived a month early.
When I’d given birth, they’d taken the baby from me, said she wasn’t breathing. I sat in that hospital bed, alone, trying to stop tears from pouring and blurring my vision. Jeremy had left me as soon as he found out I was pregnant with his child. He was afraid of commitment, that bloody bastard. Still, I couldn’t hold him responsible for the baby’s near-death. I’d delivered her, after all. When my mother drove me to hospital, instead of wasting time on an ambulance, I’d suspected that it was my fault if anything went wrong. I wasn’t good enough for special treatment, and neither was Madison.
The nurses had given her back, told me she was healthy, and I had held Madison in my arms. I had just felt cold. Madison was a baby; that was all. I’d seen babies before, worked as a family photographer when I was young, and dealt with my fair share of happy parents with blubbering babies. They all looked the same to me. Bald, and ugly, and red, with chubby cheeks and tiny teeth. Madison was no exception.
My mother had driven us back home, singing to an ABBA song at the top of her lungs. Her voice was unpleasant, scratchy, and off-key, but she was acting as a happy new parent should. I’d glanced at Madison from the rear-view mirror and tried to offer her a grin. Madison was a loud baby, crying and crying and crying, and my head had ached. I couldn’t force a smile.
Ten months later, and there was silence. It was the first time Madison hadn’t wailed at night. I wondered for a second if all my hard work was over, but quelled that thought down. Ever since Madison was born, I’d been working hard on diminishing my negative thoughts. I knew I should get up to check on her, but I didn’t want to move. Madison would be okay until morning.
I woke up later that day with an ache in my spine and a clear head. I’d had persistent headaches since Madison entered my house, but there were no pangs today. With no howling to keep me awake, I’d had a good night’s sleep. It was midday, and Madison was still silent. I tried to feel anxious, but I was too happy from the sudden quiet. I knew I should wake her, but my stomach was gurgling. Breakfast seemed more appealing to me than spending time with her.
I sprinkled my porridge with raspberries and helped myself to a big bowlful. For the first time in months, I could appreciate the taste. My mother had been getting worried. She’d noticed I hadn’t been eating as much when Madison arrived and had insisted on making dinner for me every Sunday. I’d refused, told her it would confuse Madison if she visited too often. It was a lie; I hadn’t wanted to tell her I couldn’t stomach more than one meal a day. My throat was full of mucus, and I always felt sick. I’d lost a lot of pregnancy weight already, and even I had started to fret about my new eating habits. A week ago, I’d decided that I should see a doctor about it. I stared at the almost empty bowl in my hands and smiled. The doctor could wait.
I’d just finished eating my porridge when there was a knock on my door. I placed my bowl in the sink alongside my other unwashed dishes and sighed as I answered. The only person who knocked was my mother. She didn’t like the doorbell, said it was too loud, that it made her ears hurt. She’d always been particular about things like that.
“Jane, it’s great to see you!” my mother said when I opened the door. She was holding a bouquet of roses in one hand, and a bottle of wine in the other. I stepped back to allow her in. I didn’t check the date anymore, but I was sure Valentine’s Day was a few months away. “Here, these are for you.”
I thanked her, told her to put them in the kitchen, and then glanced down at my attire. I was still wearing my nightie, which was dirty from when I’d spilt a glass of wine down myself. My hair was a mess, static and frizzy, but my mother ignored that and strolled past me, chattering away. I envied her. My mother had always looked well-put together whenever I’d seen her, and today was no exception. Her suit was crisp and clean, and she looked so neat compared to my dusty house. There was a time when I used to look like her, smart and pretty and presentable. I’d stopped caring about my appearance in the recent months. I never went out of the house. I’d utilised my maternity leave to my full advantage, so work was on hold. The only time I left was to grab the bare necessities.
“Where is my darling granddaughter?” my mother asked. I hated her fussing tone. Madison was just a baby, and an ugly one at that.
“The baby’s in her crib,” I told her, rubbing my arms. I wondered if she could see the worry on my face, could tell I hadn’t tended to Madison yet today. Still, I knew my mother would look after the baby, and I could have a break, at last.
Madison’s room was full of dust. The walls were white and bare, with little cracks where the wallpaper was peeling. Jeremy had helped me decorate as I had never been much of a designer. He’d done a good job before I’d told him what the room was for. He’d shouted at me and then walked away, left me alone in an unfinished nursery that I had to try and decorate while pregnant. I’d painted the crib a bright green, but had lost motivation after that. Madison’s room was white, with a splash of colour in the form of her green crib. It wasn’t brilliant, but at least it was something.
My mother smiled at Madison as she slept. The baby was dribbling, and it was disgusting. I wondered how anyone found that cute. My mother, though, seemed to find Madison adorable. She was speaking in a soft voice, poking Madison’s toes, and laughing. Had she been that happy when I was a baby? She’d told me once, when I’d first found out I was pregnant, that I was the best thing that ever happened to her. Now, it seemed like Madison had taken the number one spot from me without trying.
Madison’s stomach grumbled, and my mother lifted her from the crib. She told me to go to the kitchen while she redressed and changed Madison. It was her treat, she told me, and I nodded, pleased I didn’t have to soil my hands for once. My mother was a dab hand at looking after children. She’d been a respected teacher for years and worked as a nanny for a bit too. She had excelled at both occupations, had a maternal energy that was impossible to quench. I’d envied that trait in her for years and thought when my first baby was born, I would gain that trait too. Ten months later, and I still felt nothing when I cradled Madison to my chest.
I sat on my kitchen chair, waiting, letting all my negative thoughts unload. I was a terrible mother, I knew that, but I did my best. I cleaned Madison, fed her, calmed her when she cried on days when I couldn’t find the energy to shower. Even when I wanted to scream and shout and tear my hair out, I couldn’t go through with it. Madison hadn’t asked to be born, and it was my duty to look after her.
“Jane, come quick!” my mother shouted. I scrambled off my chair, hit my toe, and let out a pained grunt. I ran to the lounge where my mother stood in front of the open door. She hushed me and pointed towards Madison.
I stood in the doorway, confused, as Madison crawled towards us. I’d seen Madison crawl before; she was a fast learner and had figured out how to crawl when she was six months old. My mother had told me I should be proud I had such a clever child, but I couldn’t see what was so special about it. Any creature could crawl if they put their mind to it. I went to say something, to ask my mother why she’d brought me to the lounge, when she shushed me again.
I yawned, and that’s when it happened. Madison stood and walked towards us. I held my breath. I hadn’t expected her to walk so early. The doctors had told me it could take up to eighteen months before she took her first steps. Here she was, walking towards me, with her arms outstretched. Madison giggled as she stumbled, bright and happy and so beautiful. She walked five steps before collapsing onto the ground and clapping her hands. I covered my mouth, let out a choked laugh, and started to cry.
My mother asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t answer and continued sobbing. My baby sat in front of me, babbling nonsense, and then cried along with me. I couldn’t explain what had happened. Seeing Madison walk had awoken something within me. I felt connected to her. I’d thought I wasn’t fit to be a mother, but now I felt like I could do anything, as long as I had Madison beside me. She was my daughter, my baby, my responsibility, and I knew, deep down, that I loved her.
For the first time in ten months, I knew what it was to be a mother.