Favouristism: 'He knew he wasn't wanted': A mother repeats her own mother's behaviour by rejecting her son

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JANE SMITH had loved her first three children from birth; with her fourth, a boy, it was different. 'I never saw him as an attractive baby, never thought he was good-looking like the other three,' she recalls. 'He knew he wasn't wanted, I'm sure of that. When he was about 11 or 12 he said, 'You were never there for me when I was small'.'

Married at 18, Jane was pregnant at 19 and had three children in as many years. At 27 she became pregnant again, despite having been fitted with a contraceptive coil. 'The youngest had started school and I'd begun working. I was enjoying my first taste of freedom,' she says. 'Thomas was neither planned nor wanted.'

It was 1968 and the Abortion Bill was just going though Parliament. 'I was about three or four months too late to benefit from it,' she says. 'But in any case, my doctor assured me I would lose it because the coil was still inside. He said the coil would produce a natural abortion, so I was waiting for nature to take its course.'

Instead, the pregnancy continued, until she went into labour two months prematurely. It was a difficult birth and she was very ill afterwards. 'I didn't see him for 36 hours, he was whisked straight off to an incubator. I felt incredibly detached; I didn't see him or touch him and I half didn't expect him to live.'

Thomas was a difficult baby. 'Perhaps because he was premature, he screamed non-stop - he didn't go through the night until he was three,' she says. 'I'd had three big, bouncing babies who all went down happily in their own cots. I didn't recognise what he needed - to be cuddled up in my bed.'

Jane felt most resentful when her other children were in their teens and beginning to make their own lives; Thomas was about 10. 'I remember thinking if I hadn't had him I would be free to do what I wanted. It was then I decided to send him to boarding school. It all seemed terribly rational, but I know now he should never have gone - it affected him very badly.'

Now 23, Thomas has just finished a psychology degree. But he has suffered from serious emotional problems, particularly over sexual relationships, and he had a near-breakdown in his first year at university. Both he and his mother, now 51, have undergone several years of psychotherapy. 'It was only about three years ago that I realised how much I hadn't wanted him,' Jane says. 'I've had to work through that - to forgive myself for being that bad mother.

'I love him very much now: we're much closer. He is able to talk to me - something he could never do as a child. But even now I can still feel resentment towards him.'

Her other children, she says, have always got on well with Thomas, despite the age gap. 'They all adored him. Funnily enough, the rest of the family always said he was the favourite. I think I tried to compensate materially for what I didn't feel for him.'

The hostility she felt towards her youngest child, she believes, was not simply because his birth was unplanned; it was also a repeat of her own mother's rejection of her. 'My sister was five years older and the favourite,' she recalls. 'I was conceived and born in the war when my mother was under tremendous stress.

'I now realise that because my mother hadn't been there for me, I directed my rage at my son. Perhaps now we've both worked through it we can stop that pattern; hopefully all his children will be favoured.'