An Absent Mother Apologises

Before I’d even had the chance to press the down button, I heard the cables grinding in the shaft, lifting the elevator to my floor. Inside I heard the hungry squalling of my newborn son, twelve hours old. I pressed the button then, stabbed it really, multiple times, hurrying the doors to open. Finally they did, and the nurse looked surprised to see me.

‘On your way down, were you?’

Next to her, in his roller-crib, my son was crying.

‘Yes. I couldn’t sleep.’

I think at that point our wristbands were checked and cross-checked to make sure we belonged to each other, but it’s hard to recall. After all, it was about 5am. I pushed Riley back into our room, put him on my breast, and cried myself. Not just for the horrendous labour – although that was a factor – but because already I could sense something was… off. I was agitated and feeling guilty that I’d requested he be taken to the nursery. Just for a while, so I could sleep. But the sleep never came and instead I was alone in a dimmed room feeling lonely.

My colostrum was not enough – in birthing a big baby it was normal for them to be hungrier, I was told. Only with the occasional supplement of formula was he satisfied and eventually discharged at a heavier weight than his birth one. We went home and he thrived on my milk once it came in, but the ‘off’ feeling worsened, deepened, and it sickens me to admit that when I look at some of the photos of those early months, I can only recall fragments and feelings. I felt absent in my own life. Not many things come back to me as distinctly as the memory of putting one foot out of the bed, then the other, and padding along a corridor to two silver doors and the sound of my present and future being returned to me, his cries echoing inside the elevator.

Here he comes, I thought.

Here he comes.


My dear son, four months after you were born I was referred to counsellor care. She came to our house to talk me through my feelings of guilt and despondency triggered by my postpartum anxiety attacks.

‘I’ll suffer through until he’s five, I suppose, and he’s ready for school,’ I said. ‘Then I… can think of what happens next.’

She leaned over and said to me very slowly, ‘Karen, five years is a long time.’

She was right.

And she was wrong.

Happy fifth birthday, Riley. I can’t take back those early in absentia days, not that I hope you (or your sister) even remember them, but I want you to know you’ve coloured our lives in ways you could never imagine.

I love you.

Pin It

Karen Andrews is the creator of Karen Andrews. This is one of the most established and well-respected parenting blogs in the country and is a two-time finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition. She is also an author, award-winning writer, poet, editor and publisher at Miscellaneous Press. Is an exercise junkie (when she finds the time).


  1. Rachael says

    Oh Karen :(. What’s so sad is how many of us go through this. My big boy just turned 7 and gosh I still feel awful that he was apart from me at all after his birth :(. Oh so much anger actually. Lots of love xx

  2. says

    Oh Karen.
    I understand that guilt, that feeling of being absent.
    With much love, to you on your birthing day.
    He will love you all the more for your honesty.
    He loves you because you are you.
    tiff recently posted..The excavator driverMy Profile

  3. Shelly says

    Happy birthday Riley! I look forward to giving you your birthday present in person when I see you next week! Love Shelly and Matt xoxoxo

  4. says

    You’ve caused tears in my eyes. This is such an incredibly powerful story. Reading this would not only help those experiencing the same challenges, but allows mums like me to understand a little of what some women experience. A story with a wonderfully, happy ending though. Happy Birthday Riley.
    Thank you so much for sharing. :)
    In turn, I’ll be sharing this on Facebook and Twitter. I think there’s a lot of women out there who would gain from it.
    Kellie recently posted..FEATURE- Activities for preschoolersMy Profile

  5. The Brave says

    As new Mums we never feel adequate enough – it’s a baptism of fire! Thankful a newborn can not remember those hideous first days as we clumsily find out feet, forever wondering if we have done irrepairable damage….

  6. says

    Dear Karen, I clicked on your link from Kellie’s facebook page and tears ran through my eyes. I have suffered Postpartum Depression and I feel so guilty for it as well. Thankfully I have learned that you are never alone in this world. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Happy Birthday Riley. xx

  7. D.Paul says

    Karen, I’ve been reading and re-reading this post. Each time I read it, it still makes me ache inside, even though I’ll never know the distinct joy and pain that is motherhood, what with my having that Y-chromosome. Well-written and thought provoking, with some crisp, resonating images; though I wish you weren’t so hard on yourself. It seems, though, that comes with being a good mother.

  8. says

    Oh, that was very sad and very touching. We all go through that stage, and I think it’s part of our birthing process. But we need to handle it very well with the help of our families, friends, and sometimes counselors. Don’t worry, you’re a great mom and I’m sure Riley loves you for that. Happy birthday to your boy.:-)

  9. says

    I’ve only just found this now, but am so glad I did. On the eve of my son’s 3rd birthday it gives me comfort that I wasn’t the only one feeling the same was as you were, and that with time you truly do grow and learn from it all.

    Poignant and perfectly written – thanks so much for sharing this. Its helped more than you can know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge