When my mother gave birth and looked down at me, she said she felt nothing.
Of course these days women are told not to worry if they don’t bond instantly with their child, that it might happen gradually.
So there we were, the three of us sitting in the hospital bed – Mum, Dad and me.
I know a lot of what happened next because she was quite open about it, but I don’t know everything.
For instance, I don’t know when she told my dad she didn’t love me.
Was it straight away, or did she ponder it for a while before taking him to one side and saying, ‘I think I might have a bit of a problem.
'I don’t feel anything for him.
'Is that bad?’
Home was a two-up two-down in a terrace of identical houses just outside Dartford in Kent.
My room was blue for boys.
People dropped by to inspect and coo over the new arrival.
It must have been weird for her, wondering what had gone wrong, why she didn’t feel anything for her new baby.
Did she think, ‘How come they all love him, yet I’m his mother and I don’t?’
One morning when I was about 11 years old, Mum told me she’d gone to see a psychiatrist.
She said, ‘He didn’t say much, he just sat there smoking in his big leather chair.
'I told him I didn’t love you and hadn’t bonded with you.’
It seems odd now to think she would chat so calmly and openly about it, but to her it was no big deal, it was just normal.
‘Your aunt paid for the psychiatrist,’ she said.
‘She was worried about us and I’d hoped she might take you away and be your new mummy.
'But in the end she said no.
'Such a shame.
'It would have been good for both of us.’
The silence sat between us.
So there it was – the confession I’d look back on many, many times as the moment that changed everything.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for my mother.
Certainly by the time my memory kicks in around the age of four, things had settled down.
Our relationship, although dysfunctional – there were frequent fights, tears, anger and dramas – felt normal.
It’s funny how the memory works.
The recollection of Mum screaming and yelling and shoving me out the door to go to school doesn’t make a dent.
But remembering my younger self in the school canteen with a desire to fit in and have friends makes me want to reach out and hug the boy I was and tell him it’ll be OK.
Then there was my 12th birthday…
We’d gone to a restaurant, all of us, me, Mum and Dad – and Dad’s girlfriend and Mum’s boyfriend, which wasn’t exactly the plan.
‘You thought it was just going to be me and your dad, didn’t you?
'We’ve both moved on.
'We both have new partners.
'Come on, open your presents.
‘I don’t want them,’ I said.
She grabbed the presents closest to her and slammed them down in front of me.
‘You horrible child.
'You ruin everything,’
I didn’t dare move.
I could hear her gathering her things to leave.
As she passed, she knelt down and said, ‘Like it or not, I do love you,’ and kissed me on the cheek.
My heart heaved so heavily I actually choked, and those tears that I just couldn’t work out how to stop washed down my face again.
Did my mum love me tonight?
Is that why she’d bought me presents?
I don’t know.
Puberty and teenage years coincided with the fights.
Night after night I’d lay in bed listening to mum’s boyfriends punch and kick her, and in the morning we’d sit drinking coffee and eating toast while she tried to cover the bruises and cuts with her make-up.
If I attempted to talk to her about it, or tell her how scared I was, she’d tell me to shut up.
Other mornings she’d simply smile and quite matter-of-factly say, ‘You know I don’t love you, don’t you?
'You do understand what that means?’
I left school and home at 15, lived on my own and went out to work.
Those were the dark years full of hate and anger and confusion.
I was terrified that if my own mother couldn’t love me, then nobody ever would.
So I made a decision.
Around the birthday you’re supposed to get the key to the door, I decided to become someone else.
Very carefully I gathered every scrap of ‘me’ I could find, every bit of my personality, my character, my essence, and locked it in a mental cupboard, replacing the whole kit and caboodle with somebody completely new.
It was my only way out.
The only way I could figure I could ever be loved.
Kill myself, and replace me with someone better.
I’m 51 now and have been happily married to Debbie, my soulmate, for more than 28 years.
After a number of jobs – including an estate agent, postman, private investigator, industrial chemist and helping victims of domestic violence – at the age of 32 I got into farming, quite by accident.
I was drunk and Debbie asked me to give everything up and start again.
She’d always been into animals and the outdoor life.
So what the heck, I thought, why not?
We now have two Great Danes and a smallholding full of crazy animals, including a one-eyed Collie who thinks he’s a duck, a boar with agoraphobia, a goat who will only eat stolen food, a cat with Tourette’s and a sex-mad micro pig.
This band, I’m proud to say, are my friends, and they saved my life.
My therapy is sitting with my 55-stone porker telling him my problems while he
lays in a muddy puddle.
He might be fat and smelly, but he’s a good listener.
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