Home, Smokey Home

Our happiest day was the worst day for many others.

Our first child was born on the Black Summer’s worst day; New Year’s Eve 2019. News reports called it Black Tuesday and the iconic image of the apocalyptic scenes on the beach and lives lost (human and non-human) will stay with me forever.

In our little family bubble we were happy welcoming our daughter into the world. As first time parents we were over joyed and immediately in love with her. An exciting time for our family too as she would be the first grandchild for my parents. Inside the hospital we were protected from the outside world; the heat, smoke and news of the devastation.

When we went home for her first night with us we soon realised the outside world creeping into our bubble in the form of smoke. We live nowhere near the fires, which we now realise are raging around Sydney and the state, but the smoke is so thick that it comes into our house.

It came in through the window cracks, under doors, even through the floorboards of our old fibro house built in the 70’s. It was inescapable and smothering.

With a new baby, and being an asthmatic myself, our home was not the safe place I thought it would be. I had created a beautiful nursery, filled it with all the gifts we had been given and made a place with everything we would need to care for our baby. But now it was too dangerous to stay. I was coughing and struggled for air, reaching constantly for my puffer for relief. My baby showed no signs of distress or discomfort but I knew it was not a healthy environment for her developing lungs.

Our second night with our daughter we spent at my parents’ house. Here we could escape the smoke and heat. We spent 3 nights there all up. We had packed up all our supplies; cot, bottles, wraps, nappies etc. Even our cat, Pippin, was packed up and brought along with us; it was enough to fill my car to the brim! Unfortunately I was unable to bring my three rabbits with us, luckily they survived the heat and stress of the smoke in their shelter.

It was here at my parents’ house on the 3rd of January that I had an emotional breakdown whilst sitting watching the evening news, trying to breast feed (unsuccessfully) and seeing all of the images from the bushfires. Most vivid in my memory is a field of blackened sheep lying dead on the ground. I froze; I felt sick and started to cry uncontrollably. 

I was filled with emotions, and even today writing this it brings tears to my eyes. I was just so scared, fuelled by hormones and sleep deprivation, thinking “What sort of world am I bringing my baby into?” A world where these sort of devastating fire seasons will be the norm? And global warming having such devastating effects with other natural disasters.

It made me hug my family tighter and retreat back into our bubble. To protect myself I had to turn off the news reports and focus on my family. I couldn’t handle the emotions I was feeling and I needed to be away from the topic for my own wellbeing and mental health.

I don’t want to seem like my experience is on par with that of those who lost their homes. I was fortunate that the flames of the fires were not directly threatening our lives so I was able to focus on the daily routines of life with a newborn; feed, sleep, bath, play, repeat.

We have since moved home, a suburb over.

Nicole Webster

My name is Nicole Webster. I live in Western Sydney with my husband, daughter and cat Pippin. I am an early childhood educator with a passion for quilting and scrapbooking.

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Location: Seven Hills, NSW

Summary: Our first child was born on New Year’s Eve 2019. It was a time of mixed emotions for us as we welcomed our daughter into the world before we realised what was actually happening around us. We could not return to our old fibro home because it could not keep the smoke out.

Featured image: “Smoke at Manly Dam” by Laurie Wilson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0