We went to see three nurseries when baby was 4 months old. Living in London you hear all the time that places are limited so we felt we had to get out there early to get into the queue. Plus I used to make myself cry at the thought of her going to nursery. I got so upset thinking about another woman comforting her when I wasn’t there that I could actually get myself into a state.
The one we picked was the first one we saw; it had a fantastic reputation and was really small. There are only 4 babies in the baby room. It felt like an easier step away from me than a bigger nursery where she would be in with the toddlers in a large environment. Once we had picked it and I could see where she was going I immediately felt better about leaving her. Those horrible nagging fears were very much put to the back of my mind once she was booked in.
And then the time comes to get her in there, she was 11 ½ months old. What an enormous thing it must be for a baby. I worried that she had really only had contact with me and her Dad so in order to open up her world a bit I took her to Ireland to my family for a couple of weeks and then to Spain for a couple of weeks, again with family, so she could get used to being around other people and more importantly to get used to me not being there all the time. I know there is no way to prepare babies for nursery but this felt like the only thing I could do to help her.
Settling in day 1 – two hours and I stay with her. Easy. She loved it. A room full of toys and me and another adult playing with her.
Settling in day 2 – two hours on her own. She is fine, two hours of playing flies by and a pick her up and she is happy to see me and I feel happy that she was ok.
Settling in day 3 – 10am to 2pm on her own. Day went well. She ate and slept and seemed to have a good time.
She does 3 days a week at nursery. I am lucky I am back to work 3 days only. But after what felt like a good start she picks up a virus and starts going in to nursery exhausted from a few nights of bad sleep and I novelty of all the toys starts to wear off. There are tears at drop off every morning and even on pick up. It is heart wrenching. Being back at work has its up side, I am enjoying so many parts of it but the guilt and sadness at leaving her is hard to deal with at times. And then it steps up a gear..
Her birthday and she is sent home sick. Again. Birthday party postponed and I take her home. Luckily that was her last day that week. The party is reorganised for the following Monday. The deal is I am to show up at 3pm for tea time and bring cake. I can’t deny I was really excited about it.
I get there bang on time and she is already sitting in the toddler room. The tables have been changed so it’s one long table and she is sitting at the top of it looking down the line at the other babies. I sit in a miniature chair next to her. I am there a fair amount of time before she turns around to see me. My heart breaks when she turns around. Her eyes are full of tears, she has been sitting there silently crying and no one was comforting her, no one seemed to notice. My heart aches. I don’t want to make a huge deal of it so I just start chatting with her and help her eat her crumpet. She keeps putting her arms out to me to pick her up. Eventually I do and she sits on my knee. I can see she is trying to work out what I am doing there and why we are not leaving.
The party starts, it’s a bit of a damp squib I have to say, bit of music and she wears a hat and gets to see her cake. She doesn’t get to eat it but I don’t think she understands the joy of cake just yet.
At some point early on in the party she starts cuddling in under my chin and acting all shy. I say aloud that she isn’t normally shy and ask her what’s wrong. Her key person says that she is the shyest kid in the nursery. She goes on to tell me that she doesn’t take part in any of the activities. She sits back and watches on her own. She would sit quietly with the cuddling toys all day if she was allowed to. They have to really push her to play and she never joins in the group activities.
It was like hearing someone describing another baby. None of what she said sounded like my kid. My kid is bubbly, laughs all the time and has a wicked sense of humour. She laughs when other people fall over. Her key person then says she has not seen anything of the baby that she was the day I stayed with her during settling in. Don’t forget all of this is happening during her birthday party while I am sitting in a miniature chair at a miniature table with several miniature people around me.
I was gutted. I picked her up and got her out of there. I bumped into my mum friend on the way home and burst into tears. I couldn’t relate what she had told me with the baby I knew.
In the weeks after that going to work was harder because I felt so bad about how she was at nursery. I longed to go home and get her out of there.
The worst thing was I started to notice that when I brought her to play groups and baby classes she WAS shy. She wouldn’t stray too far from me and she was definitely a lot more introverted that the other kids.
I couldn’t help but think that leaving her in nursery had damaged her, made her weary and shy. I didn’t remember her being like this before nursery and as the weeks went on I saw more of the baby that nursery saw than I did of the girl I thought she was.
I can’t tell you if she was always shy or if nursery changed her somehow. In my heart I feel sad because I do think it has made her worry about the world. She now knows that she could be left and that has made her, well, sad.
It’s been 10 weeks now and she still cries on drop off every morning. She is still reluctant to join in all the activities. She walks well at home but only takes a couple of steps there. She chats and babbles incessantly at home but never makes a sound there. At 13 ½ months she seems self conscious and lacking in confidence. Could that even be possible at that age?
I’m sorry to say I don’t have any answers on how to fix this for her. I have to work and we can’t afford to hire a nanny to look after her. Nursery tells us that she is getting better. And we have to trust and believe them.
But the guilt I feel every day is palpable.