Diary of a drunk mum


Jowita Bydlowska


Photo: Getty

It is now July, a month after my son was born. I'm having drinks with a new friend who wants to help me out with my artistic project. Nice guy.

I used to be an alcoholic, I tell him as I order another round, but I'm not now. This is my day off, that's all. I never get days off now. The baby. It's a lot of work, as they say.

It is, he agrees.

Jowita Bydlowska.

Jowita Bydlowska.

But I don't really drink, I say. Not any more – much. Not much at all. I drink just like anybody else. Not much at all.


He nods. Sure.

Because it's not that much. It's not that big a deal, really. Can I even call this a relapse? A problem with drinking? Please. Do I sit behind a rubbish skip with a paper bag? No. I do not sit with a paper bag behind a skip. Do I fall down, break legs? No, I do not fall down. I don't fall asleep on park benches, don't leave the stroller in stores with Frankie in it. I don't yell and shout and throw purses at my boyfriend in a drunken rage. I'm nice.

I wash. I wash Frankie. I don't forget about his formula if I have a little too much. But I almost never do have a little too much.

But if I have a little too much, I'm responsible. I drink after he goes to sleep. I don't forget to check on him before I do. I manage. Everything is manageable. And it's not really a relapse; it's nothing. It's just like anybody else.

When Frankie was born I was completely sober. I drank alcohol twice when I was pregnant but it was nothing, nothing that took a hold of me; I was responsible. And anyway, I felt too sick to drink. Frankie was born to a sober mother.

And after Frankie was born some friends came over. There was champagne. We celebrated. Just like anybody else would. Then there was another big party, to welcome Frankie into the world.

So many nice, friendly people showed up. They brought presents, stiff paper bags filled with bottles. We took the bottles out of the bags, naturally. As they appreciated the newborn, we read the labels on the bottles while holding them by their necks, tilting them in another kind of appreciation.

They drank. I drank, they drank, we drank, Frankie slept in his bassinet. And after that, there were still people coming by with presents, a procession of people. Scotch for my boyfriend, wooden ecological toys for Frankie; this was after all the parties.

Sometimes it was just one person, one bottle. It was nothing. It was celebrating. So I've been drinking a little since my friend's wedding. God no, not that much, technically, practically nothing, a sip here and there in the stream of celebratory sips.

And now, not much at all. Every other day, if that. Mostly wine, it's civilised. I drink it with meals. I try to learn about wine. You can pair one wine with fish, another with red meat.

I don't say any of this to my friend. But just in case I say, Yeah, I've got it under control.

I know you do, he says, like I'm not even there.

I say, Another one?


My friend matches me drink for drink. He is at least twice my size. We talk about babies. Or I talk. The C-section scar is still raised and red and crazy-looking. Really something. He doesn't want to see it. That is fine with me.

Things are starting to spin slightly. I tell an anecdote about baby's projectile poop and my friend laughs. There are a few more rounds of drinks. He asks me about the art project. We'll get to it, I promise.

I talk more about babies but he cuts me off and says he has to pick up his own kid from soccer practice. He asks me if I'm going to be okay going home in this state. I'm fine.

I get back on my bike. I make one stop on my way home. This liquor store is close to home and I try not to come here too often. The behind-the-skip types are shockingly observant. You'd think they would be out of it, but no. Some of them have started saying hello when they see me. But today I risk it and stop by to pick up something extra for later on.

I didn't have a drink, you're pissing me off with these accusations, I say to my boyfriend when I get home. He sniffs me again. Please.

How was your meeting, he wants to know.

It was fine. We talked about art.

Your project?

What else.

You sure you're going to be okay if I leave?

I'll be fine. You're being really weird.

I'm sorry, he says.

When he gets back, I'm unconscious on the floor. He relates the whole story to me later, through clenched teeth. The baby is in his wicker basket. The baby is screaming, possibly trying to outdo the bombastic sounds coming out of the speakers. All the lights are on. The boyfriend notices I've changed my dress while he's been out. I notice this, too, on waking the next day.

The story continues. First, he turns off the music. He talks to me. Tries to talk to me. My ear against the carpet. He suggests I get up. I do nothing. He orders me to get up. Nothing.

Eventually, he lifts my head and slaps me, hard, across the face. Nothing. He pulls me up to my feet and lets me drop. He drags me to the bathroom and splashes my face with cold water. He shouts. Nothing.

I am eventually dragged to bed, upstairs, deposited there with my clothes on.

Downstairs, in the wicker basket, the baby is soaked in piss and milk and not calming down. After my boyfriend rocks him for a while, the baby finally falls asleep.

His face remains too pink hours later, irritated by all the accumulated snot and tears. He is barely five kilos and his arms and legs remain curled up – they are still formed to fit in a womb. His eyes can't focus yet; there are still soft spots on his skull.

My boyfriend sits with the sleeping baby in his arms, watching him breathe, all night. He didn't care if I was okay, he tells me. He was just watching the baby. Breathe.

There is no reason to hate me or to panic, I say when I get up the next morning in my different dress. This isn't going to happen again. I'm so stressed about the art project. I drank to calm my nerves. It backfired. But I'm not going to do that crazy thing again. Drink so much. I'm not going to drink at all, actually. I shouldn't anyway.

My boyfriend is silent.

I love you guys, I say, and kiss the baby's head over and over. The smell of his head is milk, honey and sweet almonds, tears and spit. The combination - it's intoxicating. I would never do anything to hurt you.

Okay, my boyfriend says.

I really do love you. So much. This is the last time, I promise. Okay. Believe me?

What choice do I have? he says.

My boyfriend and I go on holiday by the ocean. We are staying at a cottage rental that we've found online. The baby is coming with us, of course. I sing to the baby as we take off. I'm a little shaky on the plane. I don't like flying. Plus, I haven't had a drink in almost 24 hours.

I bring a couple of sneaky little bottles, hidden at the bottom of the suitcase, behind the lining. Suitcases were designed for liars.

I have to drink straight out of the bottle because our cottage is just one room, kitchen and dining room together, so there's a chance of getting caught if I mix. That's fine by me. More efficient this way.

If my boyfriend is inside the cottage, I have to sneak quick, brutally large gulps of pure vodka in the bathroom. I brush my teeth after and put on extra deodorant so that the smells will block each other. When the boyfriend is outside or napping, I drink with my head in the suitcase, right there behind our bed.

Each day we drive out to different beaches with the wicker basket, with the baby inside it. Here, the beaches are wild, huge, with people barely scattered on them. Sometimes we miss having people around. But most of the time we don't crave company. The baby naps and I nap a lot, mostly sleeping off my mini-hangovers. They're not real hangovers.

A few times during the holiday I manage to buy some booze when we go grocery shopping. I tell my boyfriend I'll meet him inside the grocery store but instead I follow him to the liquor store first. I tiptoe through the sliding door into the liquor store entrance. My boyfriend never looks behind him. The baby never makes a noise. I don't get caught.

I never breastfeed when I drink. I make up some lie about nipples chafing. The baby is fed formula every other night. I drink every other night.

When I don't drink, I think about it. I go through the day in a half-daze, thinking about it. Because I don't drink as much as I would at home and I generally don't get too hungover after drinking, only once do I wake up sick enough to vomit into the toilet. My boyfriend and the baby are still asleep in the bedroom when this happens. Just in case, I puke over my fist to mask the sound.

The boyfriend and I rarely fight during those two weeks, and I maintain the balance between tipsy and not-there perfectly well.

The baby smiles for the first time ever near the end of our two-week holiday. I'm hovering above him when it happens. My hair is long and sun-kissed, with wispy ends. I move my head left to right, letting the wispy ends brush oh-so gently over his beautiful, serious face. Back and forth. Back and forth.

He smiles. Time stops. A baby just smiled for the first time ever. This is why we are all here on this planet, I think to myself. We take hundreds of photos of him smiling.

Edited extract from Drunk Mum by Jowita Bydlowska (HarperCollins, $25).


  • I am lost for words. What a selfish perspective. What of the child?
    I work in welfare, I see the catestrophic effect such self indulgence has on the child.
    Yes alcoholism and the abuse of any drugs is an 'illness' but there is illness and there is a degree of self control.
    This woman is not fit to be a parent.
    Just last week I was visiting a colleague who is a foster carer. She lives in a middle band suburb of Melbourne and has been foster caring for close to 20 years. In this time she has looked after (some of mere nights others for years) over 300 children.
    Over 170 of these children have been infants (some as young as 2 days old) and of these ony 5 - yes 5 of 170+ - have NOT been born addicted to drugs or with feotal alcohol syndrome.
    This is one carer, one woman looking after children generally from her catchment area (ie no more than 15km from her home).
    These children are bought into the world by a mother not unlike the author who cannot care for the child. Her drunking and drug taking have inflicted a lifetime of developmental delays, psychologist appoiontments etc all sorts of heath and mental issues. But none the least they are taken from their mother, they are abandoned again and again.
    Such indulgence and contritiion from the writer.
    This is not romantic, this is not poetic and this should not be dressed up and softened like the writer has done and the editor of Sunday Life is complicit in selecting such an exerpt that encourages sympathy for the mother.
    Reality is children do not get to stay with their mothers, they are removed, forever damaged.

    Date and time
    May 06, 2013, 9:51AM
    • @Jade - This is an extract from a book and we don't know how it ends but judging from the article I think it's obvious that the author knows exactly how depraved she has become. The piece strikes me as far from poetic or sympathetic. I think almost everyone reading would find it horrific. I understand you're upset but I honestly don't see how Sunday Life is complicit in encouraging sympathy for the mother? It reads as a horror movie.

      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:19AM
    • I get that you have seen some terrible things in the line of work that you do, but that does not excuse a willful lack of empathy for someone suffering from a severe and debilitating mental illness. It is attitudes like yours that make sufferers avoid offical contact, hide their addiction and that can only lead to more harm to themselves and those they are supposed to care for.

      I do not think that this article in any way made alcholism seem romantic or soft as you imply. I think it is HELPFUL to understand that alcoholics are not all faceless drunks passed out behind coles on a Sunday morning. In fact alcohol dependence has many faces, and one of those faces is an alcoholic who outwardly appears to be functioning. Why should be not feel sympathy or empathy for someone suffering from addiction? That attitude is terrible.

      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:45AM
    • Jade, you have no idea how damaging this is for the author. She knows EXACTLY what is happening and how it will end unless she gets help. It's that long descent into the hell of alcoholism where you feel like you're voyeuristically watching someone self destruct while knowing all the while it's you you're watching. I'm a father of 2 who was (is) an alcoholic during the first 6 years of my children's lives. The author describes that time perfectly as it was for me. It took me many years to reach the point where my sober self was consumed by my drunk self and when it finally did I was lucky to have the strength to kill it in one lucid moment and begin the long process of recovery. My children are now young adults and I haven't had a drink for nearly 15 years. I think I have been a good father to my children and I am positive the author will be a good mother to Frankie if she makes the same decisions as I did. She may lose everything and everyone else in the process but if she values Frankies life she will hopefully find a way through. It's the unfortunates who find it impossible to resist and succumb forever to alcohol's sweet poison that deserve our pity, help and not contempt.

      Seamus O'Connor
      Potts Point
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:50AM
    • I would have hoped that your background in welfare would enable you to see the difference between "self indulgence" and "raging addiction".

      Also, your rant about drug-addicted babies and children with FAS seems to indicate you didn't read the article, in which the author clearly states that she abstained during pregnancy and her child was born to a sober mother. She fell back off the wagon AFTER giving birth, so this lifetime of developmental delays, psych appointments etc. seems unlikely.

      Red Pony
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:54AM
    • @Jade
      I am appalled by your lack of insight and your ignorance. I honestly hope that "I work in welfare" translates as "collect for charity" as one with such a black and white mentality, such a lack of empathy, compassion or simple humanity should not be on any welfare frontline. I hope you read this book, so shockingly brutally honest and soul searching, and realise your lack of experience and aptitude. My heart is broken that people like you are allowed to hold such important positions in our society.

      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 11:30AM
    • Jade, might be time for a new career given you are missing all the essential traits for a welfare worker i.e. open mindedness, empathy, compassion, non-judgemental etc.

      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 1:00PM
    • I agree with you Jade. What the following commenters may not understand is that the effects of neglect on a child's brain development at this age is the same and in many cases worse than the effects of abuse on a child's brain development. As a foster parent who takes these children into my own home to care for them when they are removed by protective services, Jade is spot on with her assumptions here. Let's not glorify this neglect, "the baby is soaked in piss and milk and not calming down", this is classic neglect. This child needs to be placed in a safe environment until the mother sorts herself out. And if she doesn't sort herself out there are 100s of fantastic permanent care families out there who would be more than happy to care for, nurture and love this child until adulthood.

      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 4:57PM
    • I think there is something that drives people to drink and become alcoholics. I didn't read all of this article (although I started) because it makes me think about my childhood and just makes me sad. My Dad has been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember. He never physically hurt my mum or his children but emotionally I am still scarred. However, I think about all that he has been through in his life and I can understand why he drinks and wants to escape his reality. He has had a sad life and I just feel like I wish he could be happy without alcohol.
      I hope this person in the above article is happy and is able to overcome their struggle because it will destroy her own and her child's life if they are raised by an alcoholic.

      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 8:38PM
    • Jade - you are spot on.

      It's a shame that some commenters here refuse to demand accountability from parents but instead make excuses for child neglect. I can only hope that they are never put in a position to protect children with those attitudes.

      St Kilda
      Date and time
      May 06, 2013, 10:06PM

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