Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: Why, as a mum, I can understand where Charlotte Caldwell gets her strength from

By Kerry McLean

When I told my granny that I was pregnant with my eldest 13 years ago, she couldn't have been more excited. She's a woman who has spent her life surrounded by children, and nothing makes her happier than having a house stuffed to bursting with wee ones, all running about playing games and making a racket.

My sister and I were both 30 years old when we had our first child, and my granny didn't hide the fact that she thought we were dragging our heels when it came to keeping the family numbers up.

When I shared my good news with her, as well as the expected congratulations and hugs, she imparted some nuggets of wisdom.

She told me that now I was going to be a mummy, I would always worry about my children, even when they were grandparents, that I would never know a greater, more all-consuming love than the one I have for my babies, and that my heart would never be my own again. As is the case with everything our grannies tell us, it was a 100% correct.

I've always been a fairly emotional person, and there are times when I feel like I've been less blessed and more blighted with an overly developed sense of empathy - something that seems to have grown to ridiculous levels since becoming a mum.

One of the first things I had to buy after bringing my first little bundle home from the hospital wasn't nappies, Babygros or anything baby-related. It was instead waterproof mascara because I suddenly discovered that mere songs, adverts, in fact anything with babies and families and a big dollop of schmaltz, resulted in my tear ducts flying into overdrive and in me looking like a badly drawn member of the rock band Kiss.

If happy images of families can cause a tear or two, that's nothing compared to the waterfalls brought about by those stories that make your heart feel as though it's cracked a little, the true tales that we read about day and daily in the newspaper, of children in peril and parents doing everything in their power to help their offspring, smoothing over the bumps life throws at them.

Some families seem to get more than their fair share of bumps to navigate. Over the last few weeks I, like half the country, have been left in awe of Charlotte Caldwell, the Co Tyrone mother of Billy, the little boy with severe epilepsy who has been making headlines around the world.

Refusing to take no for an answer when it came to her son's health and wellbeing, she fought tooth and nail, contacting anyone and everyone she could think of who could help get her son the medication she feels is the only thing that keeps his 100-plus seizures a day under control.

I've read interviews with her where she talks about the horrible possibility that Billy's next seizure could be the one that takes him from her for ever. When that's your biggest concern, no wonder tackling the world's media and the highest level of government holds no fear.

From the age of eight months until he was three years old, my son suffered from febrile convulsions any time he was unwell. His temperature would skyrocket in seconds, he would start to shake and then his entire little body would stiffen and his eyes would roll into the back of his head.

The first time it happened, I honestly thought I'd lost him. I'd never heard of febrile convulsions, so when his eyes rolled and he lost consciousness, I thought my beautiful boy had left me. Over time I learned how to handle them, but that terror you feel when seeing your child mid-seizure never leaves.

What we went through with Dan wasn't a dot on the page compared to what Charlotte copes with, but it does give me an understanding of where her strength comes from.

Becoming a parent may mean that your heart is never your own again, but it doesn't half give you the toughness and tenacity of a tiger when it comes to protecting your own.

Belfast Telegraph

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