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An Alternative to Firsts: Enduring Moments

My daughter’s birth was an effortless and exhilarating one—two pushes and she slithered into the one-handed grip of Dr. Lim. The difficulty I have as a mom is with everything that immediately followed during the first year of her infant life. A mother’s maternal instincts are supposed to activate naturally. A mother is supposed to remember milestones: baby’s first tooth, baby’s first word, baby’s first steps. Not so in my case. Within two weeks of my baby’s homecoming, I was stark-raving mad.

It began with a fear of holding my daughter and escalated to terrors that I would unintentionally hurt her, particularly that she might drown as I bathed her. In a panic, I called my natural father and his wife and confided my worst fear of all: I don’t want to become the next Andrea Yates. Moments later I packed the sleeping daughter into her stroller, tiptoed out of the apartment, avoiding my sleeping husband,and ran down the street, pushing her Graco stroller up the steep slope to Somerville Hospital. 

In my confused mental state, I imagined my daughter was the one who was sick—too much vomiting, a possible allergy to my lanolin-based nipple cream, I speculated. Her pediatrician at Cambridge City Hospital thought otherwise. After weighing and examining my baby, she separated me from her. I was taken to a locked exam room, minutes ticked away. The silence was excruciating. No news of my daughter. What was going on? I wanted to know. I screamed as loudly as I could for as long as I could. Not words, just pure unarticulated voice. The more I screamed, the less I was heard. Minutes turned into hours. 

In came a nurse with a needle. Within what seemed like moments, I began to feel heavy. It became more difficult to scream. I imagined I was screaming for my life. Still struggling, I screamed until sleep overtook me.

I awoke in McLeans Psychiatric Hospital. This is how I lost my daughter to her father.  

Thereafter, any time I asserted myself in caring for my daughter, her father insisted that I was manic and would call 911 to have me hospitalized again. The vicious circle of hospitalizations and discharges to my baby and her hostile father lasted for nearly a year until I finally broke the abusive cycle, at the advice of my therapist. Something had to be done in the interest of self-preservation, so I moved in with my own father until I could collect myself, shake off my persistent depression, and regain my confidence. In the meantime I filed for divorce from my daughter’s father, fought in court for joint legal custody with supervised weekend visitations, including overnight visits on alternate weekends. 

But during that traumatic first year, I missed so many of those important infant milestones. Sometime during a weekly Wednesday night supervised visit, while I was living in a rented room in Cambridge, my visitation supervisor noticed my daughter’s first tooth. Sometime while I was absent, my daughter took her first steps. My daughter’s first birthday passed without my involvement. 

As the noncustodial parent, I have learned to value the enduring moments over the many firsts I have missed. Lasting memories for me include the time my daughter greeted me the way I frequently greet her: “Hi, beautiful!” Or the way we would jump up and down on opposite sides of the jungle gym at the playground, chanting together, “Mommy’s house, Mommy’s house, Mommy’s house!” Or the time my daughter shouted, “Fire, Fire!” in the Edgartown Public Library while reaching for the toddler-sized firefighter’s helmet. Or the way she used to mispronounce Martha’s Vineyard “Monkey Fingers.”

Recalling these and other endearing moments is how I regained my daughter from her father.

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