Motherhood was not something I ever craved, at least not immediately. I had no connection with small dribbly babies when I was growing up and my brother born three and years after me was not the sort of child to change my mind either, he was a horror on tiny thin legs. Always sickly, and constantly in trouble. He pulled tablecloths off and put things down the toilet, he locked my mother out of the house in winter, he started fights with bigger boys (and I had to fight them off to save his life).
I gave birth to our first child in an Auckland Women’s hospital. I was in New Zealand and totally isolated on a new estate, I had few friends and no family around, the move to the house had happened while I was in hospital. I was 12,000 miles from my English home. So I was alone in a new house with a new baby. Husband had no leave – even the first day he was expected back at work after collecting us.
A steep learning curve began. We had secondhand everything. Well, the bassinette, cot and pram were all second hand. New clothes came in many small parcels from England. Kerry was allowed to roll around on a rug in the sunshine often naked. She could crawl at five months. I fed her myself for six months, and then I decided she could learn to use a cup early; I didn’t use bottles. At eight months she drank from a cup. Before then I had started her on small amounts of cereal, fruit, eggs and vegetables, I tried her with tiny spoons of everything. She was a small agile baby and was able to walk around the furniture at about seven months. Before she was 19 months I had the second baby. So how would the experiences I had be today? I would have had some visits from a social worker I expect. I imagine my wisdom would have been questioned. I did have the Plunket nurse visit me in 1960, but mostly I was on my own. My daughter and I learned together. I think she was already wise.
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We would have had a baby bonus….oh what a joy that would have been, real cash! As we had nothing. Some extra cash would have been welcome. But nothing came to us in those days. Even when I returned to England the ‘Child allowance” was pitiful and was only paid for a second and third child.
The local nurse in charge would have advised me not to give my child any solids until she was at least six months, perhaps even a year? What utter tripe. All my children had solids well before they were four months, and guess what? They all eat well, are not overweight, and are active 50-something-year-olds, all three do marathons or exercise regularly, none of them ever had an allergy to any food. Not bad seeing their mother knew nothing about babies.
Now for families there are school payments, child care, and benefits for Mum after the birth. How different it would have been if we had those benefits. I swapped my hair dryer to obtain a twin push chair so I could go for walks with the three children. I did without new clothes for a good few years, and when we returned to England I had to cope without a washing machine for many months. Two children in nappies at night; and a new baby. That was probably the hardest winter of my life. Imagine all the equipment mothers expect now, and compare that to mine. I had a baby bath, second hand pram, and third hand cot. Yet the children didn’t suffer, they were warm, they were loved and in spite of me not being the motherly type, we managed very well. The vast array of equipment they need now seems pretty unimportant, and in the end it’s the mother that matters not the money or the glossy cot.
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