Formula: take one anal-retentive, perfectionist Good Girl, add enough rampaging hormones to float a small barge, nine months’ worth of corrosive guilt and fear, performance anxiety too large for any little blue pill to overcome and the absolute knowledge that your child will soon die of starvation, because the lumps in the formula just won’t go away. Into this heady mix, throw an audience of Old Wives and a jittery mother trying her level best to make it all better by doing it herself. What do you get? Nuclear meltdown, that’s what. I was spitting mad with everybody. I felt the beginnings of a tantrum coming on (I recognise the signs when my throat clenches up and my temples throb). I was close to shouting at everybody to bugger off and leave me and my child alone, interfering, patronising old crones, the lot of them. I should have done it, too. It would have been terribly rude, but it would have made me feel better for a minute. As it was, the most I could manage was – gasp – shooting a very withering glare in their direction, accompanied by bonus passive-aggressive sigh.

Strained and jumpy herself – she could smell an outburst at a hundred metres – Mom caught my ostentatious sigh (as she always does), and asked what was wrong.

“Nothing!” I snapped, unconvincingly. “I’m fine! There’s nothing wrong!” Woof. Communication had never been my thing, I admit. It was always, Nothing, or Fine, neither response ever being true. They just served to stand in for the things I couldn’t say. Like blank Scrabble tiles. They can mean anything you want them to. Oh man, I’ve done it now. I should never have admitted that. If you ask me again, I’ll blankly deny it. Deny, deny, deny. It’s the Area 51 of emotional dysfunction; we just don’t go there. But this is one admission I know will come back to bite me in the ass before long.

While Mom changed and fed Steven, I hovered like a waitress on her first day. He didn’t seem particularly interested in the feeding part of the process. This was an ominous sign, one I should have paid attention to.

All the way through, I found myself doing a fabulous Obnoxious Moody Teenager impression. Panic and misery set in as I saw myself relinquishing responsibility for my child. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I was supposed to be doing all this stuff, warming hearts with my natural flair for motherhood. Had we been home, of course, this would all have been different. Instead of reacting defensively to my mother’s help, I would have welcomed it, I imagine. But there, out of my depth and surrounded by what I imagined to be a hostile audience, I thought I’d lost him. Given him up. So soon, without even having tried properly. I felt like an utter failure. And since I was damned if I were going to cry in front of everybody, it came across as sulking.

Alarm bells must have been ringing in everybody’s heads: “Look at that. It had to happen. Her mother’s doing everything. She can’t be bothered to look after her child herself. And that attitude…”

Worst-case scenario – sad but inevitable – Irresponsible Teenage Mother Lets Child Down, And Long-Suffering Granny Takes Charge. My dear mother was only trying to help, to take the pressure, the scrutiny, off me, and somewhere under the turmoil of my freak-out I knew that.

Still, I badly wanted to wrest Steven away from her, to screech: “Let me see to my own child, goddammit! Do I look like an idiot?” Or, “If one more person touches that baby, I’m going to fucking chop their hands off!”

I held it together and didn’t swear at any old ladies, but it was a close thing. My bitchy sighs and eye-rolling were noted by all and the rest of the visit was tense and awful. All the fun had gone out of it. I’d hurt my mother’s feelings. She thought I didn’t appreciate her help, and her own instinctive reaction kicked in – the one that goes, “Fine! I’ll never help you again! I’ll just keep away from you, that’s obviously what you want!”

I felt clueless, selfish and lazy. And on top of that, I’d hardly had any time with Steven at all. I needed to take him home, to lie with him on my bed, to talk to him, to hold him, learn about him and love him. At our own pace and in our own place. Home. Yet, there we sat. Drinking weak tea out of flowery porcelain cups, while struggling to keep our heads in line with those damn antimacassars. (That is what they’re called, right? Those crocheted jobs made fashionable in the 1950s and placed over the backs of chairs and couches to absorb the Brilliantine off the heads of the menfolk? Question: What the heck is a macassar and why do we have to be anti them? What has the poor macassar ever done to us? Where are the promacassars?)

I watched the smug, hateful grandfather clock all afternoon. Every time I looked, it seemed to have stopped ticking. It was always just five minutes after the last time I’d checked. Tick… tick… tick…

An eternity passed before the clock struck the magical hour of five o’clock, when all good visitors must go, when they begin to indicate their intention by fidgeting and making tentative, polite noises of, We Should Think About Making A Move… I barely restrained myself from whooping with relief, racing around to gather up Steven’s paraphernalia. I was half-way down the garden path, baby and bag in tow, while Mom was still graciously refusing one last cup of tea and fending off foil-wrapped slices of fruitcake and onion bread proffered on such occasions.

Just take the fricking fruitcake, for God’s sake! (Why always fruitcake, by the way?) Graciously accept the baked goods and do a runner before they remember the tea again! Takeaway confectionery is a bonus in any household. And stale confectionary could be used as building material or blunt-force trauma murder weapon, should the need arise.