Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (7 page)

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The nurses were all convinced it would only be a matter of hours. Five shifts of midwives and sixteen hours of labour later, I was only 4 centimetres dilated. The decision was made to admit me for an emergency caesarean.

When they finally handed my little boy to me, I was beyond exhausted. The labour had taken its toll on me physically and emotionally, and I was drained after the stress of emergency surgery. But the moment I took the tiny bundle, wrapped in a silver foil blanket, and put him to my chest, I was overcome with euphoria. It was a feeling of complete joy like I had never felt in my life before. There was relief that he was okay, and that the ordeal was over, but mostly it was just pure happiness. A kind of bliss.

The next day, I couldn't move – I was utterly immobilised from the caesarean. Friends visited throughout the day. In between, the new little man in my life and I snatched moments together in our bliss bubble.

Greg phoned, and I told him that he had a son. But because I couldn't see him, it was hard to really gauge his reaction. As he had missed the birth, he decided he would wait until I returned home before leaving the monastery. I was relieved because I didn't want to have to worry about him doing something weird in front of the nurses. So I settled in and enjoyed three days of getting to know my baby. Flowers and cards and visits from friends reminded me how much I was loved and, for the first time in a long time, I could let go and let someone else take care of me for a change. I felt nurtured and cared for. I felt safe.

If there was a bittersweet note to any of it, it was that I didn't have my mum there to share in the joy. I felt as though I had been admitted to a secret club, a club that I realised now my mother must have known. And I so wanted her counsel on how to behave in that club, what to expect. I wanted her advice, I wanted her to come and see the little boy I had brought into the world, and I wanted her to be proud. I wanted her to know him.

I had decided to call him Luke. Luke Geoffrey Batty, born 20 June 2002. The Geoffrey was after my father. And Luke seemed to suit him perfectly: his shock of brown hair, his blue eyes. He looked at me as I cradled him in my arms, and it was almost as if he could see right through me – as if he knew me.

Because he was three weeks premature, Luke weighed only 2.7 kilos at birth and was jaundiced. He spent the first few weeks sleeping a lot, which – when finally we returned home together – gave me time to continue nesting. There was a lot of cleaning kitchen cupboards, as I recall, a job I never usually did, but somehow felt compelled to undertake now I had a newborn in the house.

Our first weeks together were a comedy of errors. Like all new mums, I was feeling as I went. Was I supposed to bathe him
every day? Was once a day sufficient? And what about feeding? How often and how much? We fumbled along together, finding a rhythm. It was June in Victoria, so bitterly cold at night. I would snuggle with him in my bed, exhausted but very happy. I had never been more fulfilled in my whole life. Here was a little human being who was completely dependent on me – and I thrived on it.

Dad and Josephine were due to visit from England any day. Their excitement over the phone had been palpable, and I couldn't wait for them to meet Luke. I had been home a few days when Greg returned from the monastery. He was over the moon. He was so gentle and nurturing with Luke. There was a kind of wonder in his eyes as he nursed him. This great hulk of a man was reduced to jelly by the slightest smirk or facial tic of his newborn son. I remember thinking, whatever Greg was, whatever problems he had dealing with life in the adult world, he clearly had the capacity for unconditional love. Here was a man with his son – and it looked for all the world like he would do anything to protect him from harm.

He asked if he could stay with us for a couple of nights. Because I'd had a caesarean and was having trouble moving around, much less carrying Luke, part of me was secretly relieved. He began to help out by chopping firewood, keeping the wood stove fed and making sure I was eating properly. He had attended enough birthing classes to know that the father could help during the night by waking when the baby woke, changing its nappy and bringing it back to the mother for feeding.

After a few nights of not much sleep, I awoke one night to Luke wailing in the crib next to me. Greg decided Luke was waking up not because he was a newborn and was hungry or lonely, but because he was cold. And so he wanted to take Luke
into the living room and sleep with him next to the wood stove. I wasn't having any of it. I was adamant that Luke remain in the bedroom with me.

Before I knew it, the disagreement escalated into a full-blown argument, with Greg shouting that he knew what was best for him. I tried to defuse the situation, telling Greg we were both tired and we would talk about it in the morning. But just as I turned to walk back into the bedroom, he picked up the big tea chest that I used as a coffee table and lifted it above his head, threatening to throw it across the room.

I raced over and started grappling with this six-foot-two man, screaming at him to put the tea chest down, even though, upon my release from the hospital, doctors had advised me not to strain myself for fear of tearing my stitches. I didn't think at any point that either Luke or I were in danger. It never occurred to me that either of us might get hurt. Greg was quite simply angry and this was his response.

The next morning I told him I wanted him to leave and that he wasn't to return unless at my express invitation. He seemed confused. He was aware my parents were arriving within the week – and really wanted to meet them.

I was incredulous. He had never contributed anything financially to the costs of Luke's birth. He had no job nor any prospect of one, he had watched as I had been forced to ask my father for the cash required to tide me over until I could return to work – Dad has always ensured my financial security, and I am so lucky and very grateful for that – and yet Greg wasn't even remotely ashamed at the prospect of meeting him. I told him it was quite simply not going to happen. That even if he had no shame, I certainly did, and there was no way I was going to present him to my family. And so he left.

When finally Dad and Josephine arrived, we shared such a special time all together. They were enraptured with Luke, and I was just so happy to be able to share this most incredible moment in my life with them. It was probably the closest we have ever been as a family. I felt the loneliness drop away, and a surge of empowerment came just from their presence. I was part of a family that, for all its idiosyncrasies, was underpinned by love and loyalty. The thousands of miles that separated me from it on a daily basis made it hard to feel the love and support most of the time – but here was evidence that it existed.

I made a point of not speaking about Greg during Dad and Josephine's visit but, of course, his presence still loomed large. He was the father of my child, and my parents were naturally interested to know what role – if any – he was going to play in the raising of their grandchild. Too exhausted by new motherhood to pretend otherwise, I let it be known – in that subtle, unspoken way daughters do to their dads – that things were less than perfect on the Greg front. Dad – or Josephine – must have been intuitive enough to put two and two together and deduce that I was feeling anxious, and so they convened a meeting at the local Legal Aid offices to see about my rights.

Going home to England had always hovered as a possibility at the back of my mind. Ever since arriving in Australia and setting up a life here, England had always been there as my back-up plan. If it all gets too hard, I would tell myself, I'll go home. England was where my family was, where the farm was, that symbolic patch of land on the River Trent to which I always knew I could retreat. The farm, the place where I grew up, the place where my forebears had worked the land, the place where that stout, draughty old farmhouse sat as it had done for over a century, was my safety net.

Keenly aware that all was not right in my world, but unable to give expression to his unease, my dad had made noises about me bringing Luke back to England to live. The intimation was that he'd help set me up in the village and lend a hand where he could raising his grandson. And it was an attractive offer. Even entertaining the idea of a life without Greg in it made my heart soar a little bit. The very idea that for the first time in a long time, I wouldn't be doing everything on my own – that I could lean on others without feeling like a burden – was enough to make me cry with relief.

And so we sat together in the Legal Aid office and laid out my predicament. The Legal Aid officer was polite and listened indulgently as I enumerated all the reasons why going home to England might actually be the best option for both me and Luke.

When I'd finished, the Legal Aid Officer pointed out that moving back to the UK would be easier said than done. This was because both Australia and the UK were signatories to the Hague Convention, she explained. From what she said, I came to understand that if a child was taken from one country to the other without the express permission of both parents, the parent left behind could apply for the child to be returned to its country of origin.

I only heard half of what she was saying, because suddenly my mind was consumed with one thought only:
I'm trapped
.

‘But what about access?' my father enquired. ‘He makes no contribution whatsoever to the raising of the boy, he has no job nor any prospect of one. Surely that limits the access he can have to the boy?'

Unfortunately, the Legal Aid officer explained, the size or quality of the contribution a parent makes to the rearing of a child has no bearing on rights to access. Greg didn't have to
contribute a cent in child support, and his right to see and spend time with Luke was unaffected.

Leaving the Legal Aid office, a pall descended on me. I came away believing that I could never return to England while Luke was a child. It would all depend on Greg's determination to bring us back and, knowing Greg, he would never willingly let us go. Only much much later did I learn that we may well have been able to return to the UK. If only I'd known.

Mindful that Dad and Josephine were only here for ten days, I put on a brave face and determined that we would spend what little time we had together basking in the reflected glow of the newest arrival to our clan.

But just as I had become used to having them around to help, they had to leave. I remember the taxi coming to collect them from my house to take them to the airport, and I stood on the doorstep with Luke in my arms, quietly sobbing.

As the car disappeared from the driveway, I felt suddenly very alone. It was just me again, with no one to rely on but myself. And now I had a little human life depending on me too.

9
Red Flag
From Luke's Baby Book

[in Rosie's handwriting]

6 April 2003

     
I've just put you to bed, little Luke, and you were so tired you fell asleep while drinking your milk from me. We had a lovely day together, playing with toys, crawling around (and you're now getting around so well), playing in your little farmyard and bouncing in your ‘Jolly Jumper'. Each new day brings even more joy into my life and a sense of fulfilment I never believed possible.

     
I knew I would love you but I didn't realise it was possible to love you this much.

     
Sometimes I worry in case something happens to me and I can't be with you to watch you grow and develop. I lost my mum when I was six years old and I dread the same thing happening to you.

     
You have crèche tomorrow and you love the girls there. You are always happy to be dropped off and seem to have a great time playing. You now recognise me when I come to collect you and your
face bursts into smiles and chuckles when you see me. If I don't pick you up straight away, you get very upset. I wish I didn't have to go to work but I know you're happy in crèche and I know you're safe so I don't need to worry.

     
Your dad came here for the day yesterday and you had a great day together. He loves you very much and I know he wishes he could be with you all the time. I worry about how well you may get on with each other as you get older, but for now, you're his little boy and he loves you.

     
I still worry that your dad and I haven't been able to settle our differences and create a family environment for you, but I'm trying hard to be friends so that we can enjoy time with you together and you don't miss out on spending time with your dad.

     
We both love you very much, no matter what.

     
Mum

     
xx

From Luke's Baby Book

[in Greg's handwriting]

4 April 2003

     
Saw you crawl for the first time last week. Look out world, you're on the move. Today you've eaten more than I have, and so solid and strong I think I should wrestle you now while I can still win. You are a joy and pleasure to have as a son.

I look back on the experience of Luke being a vulnerable, dependent baby and I realise it fulfilled every need I'd ever had. I had never thought I was the maternal type until I had Luke: and then I couldn't imagine my life without him.

I became a breastfeeding queen – and relished the experience. I couldn't imagine how anyone could not like breastfeeding. A lot of my friends found it hard work, but I just loved having the ability to meet Luke's needs. Together, Luke and I had quickly developed a routine, which as a baby, he seemed to really thrive on. I took great pride in preparing really nutritious food. Because I was going to be doing it all on my own, I had read all the books and listened to all the advice. I took motherhood very seriously and was studious when it came to being the best mum I could be.

As he developed and I went back to work, things changed slightly. Our routine was thrown, and more and more people became involved in our lives. It was easy to lose confidence. Everyone has their opinions of what you should be doing, and so I learned quickly to listen politely, try not to take their opinion as criticism but ultimately to trust that my own intuition was the best guide.

I suppose the thing that surprised me the most was that by virtue of giving birth, fellow mothers – whose connection to me was otherwise vague to non-existent – would confide the most personal things to me. We were all on this journey together, the same mad collection of hormones coursing through our veins, the same heady mix of joy and exhaustion dominating our days and nights. I felt I belonged to something big and fundamental, and it felt nice.

When Luke was first born, I was astounded that people came from far and wide to admire him. The hospital ward was filled with flowers and cards, and friends came from everywhere. In the street, complete strangers – old and young – would approach and stare adoringly at my baby. And I was so very proud of him. He was a thriving baby who met all the development milestones. He was beautiful, with rosy cheeks and big blue eyes.

*

The semi-rural idyll of Menzies Creek was both my comfort and my oppressor. The silence of those golden mornings in the bush, the light playing on the ferns, the sun-dappled gums were a daily joy. To wake with my little boy, wander out into the backyard and soak in the first of the morning's rays were moments of bliss. And yet, by lunchtime, the silence that had been so golden became oppressive, and I began to crave adult company.

Greg, to his credit, was incredibly hands-on with Luke in those early months. He would want to bathe him, change his nappy, burp him, feed him or take him for a walk. But because Greg hadn't read any of the parenting books or spoken to other mums, as I had spent the better part of the last six months doing, he didn't always do things properly. He always did things with the utmost affection and the best of intentions, but never quite right. And so a level of contention started to develop between us. It all came to a head over Luke's sleeping routines. I had read that when a baby stirs they need to learn to settle themselves, and so I began to make a conscious effort not to run to Luke and pick him up every time he cried. Moreover, I started to become stricter about instilling a routine in Luke's life – when he would wake, feed and sleep.

On one occasion, when Luke was about three months old, Greg was visiting, and I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. After Luke had been fed, burped and put to bed, I took the opportunity to have a nap too. I made a point of telling Greg that if he heard Luke stir he was to leave him in his cot and I would get him up.

A few hours later, I woke up in a daze. I walked into the living room and there was Luke in his bouncinette, perched
precariously on a pile of books and folders on the kitchen table. ‘What are you doing?' I yelled, as I scooped the bouncinette up into my arms. ‘Why is he awake? Why is he on the table? Why can't you just do as I tell you?'

Momentarily taken aback, Greg was silent for a moment, then began to seethe. He looked me straight in the eye, rage bubbling away inside him. ‘Woman follows man, man follows God. If man follows woman, it leads him to the devil,' he said evenly.

I looked at him puzzled, my head still fuzzy from having just woken up. ‘What?' I couldn't get my head around it. ‘What do you mean?' I continued, incredulous. ‘As a woman I cannot have a direct link to God?'

There was a flicker of hesitation from Greg, but then a lifting of his head, as if in defiance.

‘This is my house, Greg. I provide everything. But you're saying I am not good enough to have a relationship with God?' Why I felt the need to enter into a philosophical discussion, I'm not sure. Normally, he would spout nonsense like this and I would ignore it. But this time, I'd had enough.

‘No,' Greg continued. ‘Because you are a woman.'

I stared at him in disbelief. ‘Just get out,' I said. ‘Just leave now.'

And so here we were again, on that now familiar roundabout of Greg inveigling himself into my life, behaving perfectly normally for a period of time, helping me out with Luke and around the house – encouraging me to drop my guard – before hitting me with another doozy.

Here was a grown man who apparently thought it was perfectly okay to sleep under my roof, eat my food and drive my car, but still believed that I was the lesser person. It defied explanation. I was once again astounded by his sense of
superiority, delusion and entitlement. Looking back, it's obvious to me now that all of that was a manifestation of something much more sinister: born of his deep-seated (but never acknowledged) inferiority complex. In his heart of hearts, he knew he was a failure as a father, a partner and a provider – and so he resorted to intimidation.

Greg had a funny relationship with religion. It was the haven to which he retreated when confronted with a world he couldn't navigate. He would cite entire passages of the Bible, reeling them off by rote, using them to make a point, but completely missing the bigger picture: that Christianity was a religion based in compassion, generosity and kindness to your fellow human being.

As the months progressed and winter turned to spring, I started to make the most of my surroundings. I loved being outdoors with Luke and my dogs. I would strap him into the Baby Bjorn and march all over Menzies Creek. The dogs tolerated Luke well. They had been my children before Luke was born, but they seemed to take their relegation to second division with good humour. The only trouble the dogs caused was between Greg and me. We would argue all the time about whether they ought to be indoors or outdoors. He wanted the dogs outside, where Luke wouldn't be exposed to their germs. But I argued they were family: that I'd had them five years, and they had lived with me all that time inside the house. It would be unfair to suddenly banish them.

Greg had these funny ideas about animal energy. He believed that exposure to animals somehow lowered your spirit – and so he became contemptuous of the dogs. As the years progressed, he would make comments about smelling the dogs on Luke and how Luke was being brought down by them.

In many respects, Greg was very over-protective of Luke – to the point of obsessiveness. Which is why, I suppose, I always trusted him with Luke. He didn't like strangers looking at Luke, and he certainly couldn't abide people in the street coming up and touching him. He tolerated my friends touching him, but only those who had children. His possessiveness towards Luke was sometimes overbearing.

One weekend, I consented to take Luke to visit Greg's parents. They lived in country Victoria, about two hours' drive north of Melbourne. I'd met them once or twice before and they were lovely people. But as I had never wanted to give them – or Greg – the wrong impression about our relationship, I had always steadfastly refused to visit them. I didn't see the point. But now with Luke in the picture – and with Greg so clearly proud to show off his son to them – I agreed to a day in the country. They were, after all, Luke's grandparents. They were the only family Luke had here in Australia. I figured I owed it to him to at least create a path for there to be a relationship between them further down the track.

Greg's parents were perfectly lovely – excited to meet Luke and very kind with me. Greg could not have been more proud – he just wanted their unconditional approval. But while he now had a son and they were inextricably linked to this baby, so fluid were the relations between Greg and his mother and father, they seemed unsure about exactly how much they would let themselves become attached. Of course, Greg was oblivious to all of this. To his mind, the visit was an important step in the recasting of our relationship. He took the visit to mean I was ready, finally, to be the family Greg always believed we ought to have been. The truth couldn't have been more different.

*

When Luke was four months old, I sent him to crèche. It almost killed me – but what choice did I have? With a mortgage to pay and no income to pay it, I had to return to work. I remember the morning I dropped Luke off for his first day of crèche. He cried as I left, and I sobbed in the car all the way into town. I felt like the worst mother in the world. Not even the fact that I had spent months beforehand expressing milk in preparation could extinguish the thought that I was abandoning my little boy.

I returned to my old job at the telecommunications company – and after two hours back at my desk, it felt like I had never left. The only change was I was now answering to a new manager, a young bloke who was very career focused. He had been sent from head office to whip our sales team into shape, and he relished the chance to throw his weight around. Crucially for me, he had no children. I could feel my heart sink by the day.

And so, I was thrust straight back into the ruthless world of sales, trying to juggle the increasingly impossible demands of a new boss desperate to impress head office with the daily (and nightly) requirements of being a mum. Most mornings I would struggle into work exhausted from the night before. But I felt I couldn't say to anyone at work that I'd had a sleepless night or that I was struggling. As a working mum, you have to be seen to be not compromising your role in any way. I was a wreck.

I would wake every morning around 6 am, express a day's worth of milk for Luke, get myself dressed, feed the animals and get Luke ready for crèche, where I would drop him at 7 am. Then I would battle peak-hour traffic to see clients all over metropolitan Melbourne or to attend the weekly sales meeting, which I would sit through with my mind racing, full of all the things I had to squeeze into the working day ahead, so that I could leave in time to make the mad dash back to crèche to collect Luke. I was
always the first to drop my child off at crèche and invariably the last to pick him up. The childcare workers could not have been more pleasant, and they loved Luke like one of their own. But I couldn't help but feel judged as I swung wildly into the driveway each night and ran inside to collect my little boy.

Once home, the juggle began: feed Luke, bathe Luke, change Luke, whip up something vaguely nutritious for my own dinner and try to get Luke down, whereupon I would turn on the computer and do all the work I had missed because I was scrambling to collect and care for my son. I was asleep most nights at 9 pm, curled up next to Luke in my bed. I knew the books all counselled against co-sleeping, but I felt so bad as a mother, denying my baby the intimacy he craved by being at work all day, I wanted to make up for it as he slept.

And so the routine developed. On more than one occasion, I would be halfway into work, speeding along the motorway or stuck in traffic, and the phone would ring.

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