The first week in September can only mean one thing. The obligatory First Day at School and Nursery photographs. Up and down the country, proud yet emotional parents are posting pictures of their tiny children with freshly washed hair and a big nervously excited grin on their faces. Dressed in huge oversized uniform that will hopefully fit them by Easter, ironed and labelled within an inch of its life, carrying a bag big enough to actually fit all of Santa’s stash. These photographs make me smile, but there’s a little pocket of my heart that is filled with sadness.
In a year’s time, my daughter will be of ‘school age’ and my friends will be the ones holding back the tears in the playground as we wave goodbye to our babies. In a blink of an eye she’s gone from being a vulnerable bundle in my arms to an independent, headstrong child ready for her new chapter in life. Perhaps a little more ready than I am. If I’m honest, the thought makes me feel sick and fills me with dread, all in one swift emotional punch to the stomach.
She’s been my sidekick, my life-skills apprentice and the one person that takes up the majority of my thoughts, worries and my heart. Letting her skip through the actual and metaphorical doors of ‘big school’ is something that I already have to emotionally prepare myself for.
I’m not just an overly-anxious mummy. My baby girl has life-threatening severe multiple allergies. Our every day life is filled with constant stress and worry. Imagine a swan, with its serene effortless glide on top, yet moving underwater you will see the frantic fury of it’s legs paddling away. And have you ever seen how protective a swan can be over her young? I’ll say no more… I can connect so deeply with that majestic yet slightly terrifying swan. Seeming to appear relaxed and positive, yet inside constantly thinking – scanning surroundings, risk assessing, clocking people, what they’re eating, what their hands have touched. After 3 years it’s instinctive now, and I almost don’t realise it’s happening.
I have a beautiful niece who is 9 months old. Last month I was feeding her whilst she was sat in her high chair. I turned for a split second, and when I looked back she was slumped over with her head resting on her tray. Within less than a second my brain had jumped to 300 miles per hour and my adrenaline was pumping. Oh god, a reaction? Anaphylaxis? Her epi pen is in her medicine bag in the hall, where’s the phone…. Then in that same split second, the realisation that it wasn’t my child in the high chair, it wasn’t a reaction, there are no allergies and she had just bobbed her head down because she was tired! Relief, guilt, and anxiety washed over me in equal measures. I didn’t know how much I carry around without realising.
Starting school is emotional for any parent. Choosing the right school for your child; wondering will they fit in, will they make friends, will they get on okay without us there to protect them in this world. Then add the very real and lurking threat of school potentially being a risk to their life, and you kind of understand how I’m feeling right now.
Knowing what’s best for our children is so difficult, it’s so stressful. She’s my baby, and since her first anaphylactic reaction to cow’s milk at six months old I’ve spent my entire motherhood fiercely protecting her against all her allergens, all of them a constant threat to her survival. It feels very real and very present, lurking whenever we’re out and about. Subconsciously on high alert always. Always risk assessing, scanning, listening to her breathing, watching her skin and learning from previous reactions. She’s super sensitive and we’ve found contact reactions to surfaces, people, and toys, plus reactions through the air to milk particles or to other people’s clothing after they’ve consumed dairy.
So to pass her over to a busy class environment, to not be in control anymore, it’s terrifying and it’s real. This is the first step of having to let go a little in the tapestry of life.
To hand her over to somebody else, to smile, say “have a lovely day darling” and leave relaxed to go about my day feels like an impossible task. The inner control freak/protector in me feels like only I can do it all for her, I’m her Mama. I carried her, felt her move inside me, I brought her into the world. I had those special bonding moments of midnight feeds where she needed me and me only, time and time again. I held her in my arms during the scariest moments, the traumatic moments, and the fear of that never leaves you. I was with her in the small hours, sat in a hospital room while everyone else was sleeping, watching her breathe and listening to her alarms and monitors go off. I know her little body’s reactions and symptoms like the back of my hand. I know her. I love her.
We adapt and we amend to keep her safe and included as much as possible. My whole life as I knew it changed once when I became a mother, and again when multiple allergies were thrown our way. The level of responsibility is often overwhelming for us, so to put that on someone else; someone who hasn’t shared those tender or traumatic moments, someone who isn’t invested emotionally, to know she’ll just be one of a number in a class, it’s scary. There I’ve said it, it’s scary to the point that it keeps me awake at night, while my mind plays over and over what to do.
Will she be safe? Surrounded by children that have consumed cow’s milk, the one thing we’ve spent our entire time protecting her from. Are we throwing her into the lion’s den? Will the positives of schooling really outweigh the risks to her? She’s clever, sociable, has a passion to learn, and would desperately love school. But is that enough? Does that make us effectively gamble with her life?
It’s so hard to know what to do, but there’s no putting off thinking about it. It’s happening and we need to make a choice. But for now, I’ll kiss her goodnight, I’ll breathe her in and I’ll embrace this moment in time. She’s here with me and she’s safe, in the nest that Mama made for her.
These incredible words were submitted by Katie Kinsella to be part of the Motherhood Collective, a new online community and safe platform to share words and stories. I am truly honoured to be able to feature such beautiful and honest thoughts. Katie is an inspirational mother to so many, particularly to me, and her family are truly incredible. Thank you Katie for sharing this with us all.