This is a very long and rambling post, with no intention at all other than to empty my head of thoughts before the end of the year.
Skip to the end if you just want the low-down without the waffle 😉
Happiness has been sorely missing from my life for a large part of the last four years. I think I have maybe been suffering from undiagnosed post-natal depression. That’s not to say that I haven’t been happy at times. I would say that in the last four years I have often been painfully, crushingly, aware of how lucky I have been and how lucky I am to have what I have. But it has been the kind of happiness that hurts – it hurts because it arrives as a rainbow out of the blue amid a rain storm that I have been unable to escape from.
At this point in time I am concerned that my thoughts have become trained to endlessly run along the same grooves of despair.
I am doing much, much better than I was in August. The one year anniversary of my miscarriage (the big one, as opposed to the other ones), was a black pit of pain. But I am not really OK yet.
Since I always get reflective at New Year, and I do love to start the year on a positive note, let’s go back and take a look at the things that have thrown me completely off-track. Let’s run through the things that have defined the last four years of my life.
The day I gave birth to my first son.
If I could pinpoint the beginning of this emotional journey it would be this event. As joyous and miraculous as birth is, the absolute trauma of a long and difficult childbirth isn’t easy to forget. Mainly because what is demanded of you afterwards leaves you no time to recover, to regroup, to heal. You have to do these things in the background, while you care for a new living person who needs you almost constantly, 24 hours a day.
I came home as a physical wreck. Blood transfusion, near hysterectomy, second degree tear and bruised nipples from the midwife’s degrading and dismissive attempts to ‘help’ me extract milk.
I suffered agonising constipation which was mistaken for a womb infection. I had antibiotics on top of the myriad painkillers and was terrified about breastfeeding and giving my baby antibiotics.
The exhaustion was unbearable. I couldn’t breastfeed after the first 11 days because I was in so much pain. My nipples were bleeding, crusted-up, and my entire chest was sore. My mother-in-law said she didn’t know why I was struggling when I could just formula feed. Parents came to visit and sat on the sofa waiting for cups of tea while we wandered around like sleep-deprived torture victims. People called me on the telephone and I had no recollection of speaking to them.
The first time I actually laughed, at something on the TV just before Christmas, I was astonished at the sensation and I realised I had barely smiled since the night I had gone into labour, six weeks previously.
Let’s just say I didn’t take to motherhood like a duck to water.
Failing to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding was SO important to me, but the physical state I was in left me with no staying power to get through the first few weeks. My own parents also formula fed. I had no real support and didn’t know where to look for it. So I gave up.
For 19 months, every single time I gave DS1 a bottle, I felt the sting of failure. Statistics say that most women do not breastfeed, but I must live in a statistical anomaly because out of the 20-30 new mums I have met over the last four years, I only know two that didn’t. I was the failure, the one who stood out. The one who gave her baby a substandard start in life.
My brother’s psychosis
When DS1 was 6 weeks old, just as I was starting to claw my way back to a more normal daily routine, my father called me and told me that my brother was in the psychiatric ward at a hospital 20 miles from me. It didn’t matter a fuck that I was still struggling to cope with getting dressed in the morning, suddenly I needed to be the strong one yet again (I won’t go into my family history here). Could I visit? Would that be OK? I called my mother. Could I take her too? Could I pick her up and drop her off?
Snow was falling, roads were lethal, the weather was below freezing. And I was driving an almost 60 mile round trip to collect my mother, visit my brother, drop off my mother and return home, with a 6 week old baby in the back of my car. In my total sleep-deprived and naive new-mother state I actually tried to take DS1 into the secure mental ward with me the first time I visited, and I was called back as everyone panicked about a baby going in. I had to leave DS1 with my mother and we took turns seeing my brother. When I was inside I could see why. These people were all male, all drugged-up to the nines, and some of them were batshit crazy. Seriously. My mother waited in the corridor with DS1 in a pram while the men that were on a lower security level walked past, freely eyeballing my newborn.
Looking back of course, it is completely clear what I should have done in this situation. But the fact is, my family thought it was appropriate to ask and I have never been very good at saying no.
I did several other visits, on icy roads, leaving DS1 at home with hubby. I was so tired I could barely drive properly and in the depth of winter it was dark at 3:30pm. When I was there, my brother barely spoke to me. He was too busy listening to the voices in his head.
The reality of my family
Having children has meant that I have had to face up to the reality of my family. I had ignored this issue for so many years that it has been a real shock and disappointment to me to realise how little support I have from my direct relations. It’s not that they don’t love me, because they do. But they do not have the capacity to help me. I have always been the strong, reliable, responsible one. The one to fix things, help them out, sort things out. Suddenly, for the first time in my life I was the one who needed support. I need emotional support, I needed physical support. Babysitting would have been a gift. But when both your mother and brother take anti-psychotics and your father is emotionally distant and busy with his own life… well, you get the idea.
Nothing made that whole situation more painfully obvious than the new mums I was friends with. They all had parents popping in and out, helping them out, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the baby so they could sleep, you name it. I was the odd one out again.
The reality of my childhood
Ghosts in the nursery have haunted me so terribly. They have kept me awake at night, left me in tears and sprung a burning rage. Being a parent has harshly shown me the reality of my own parents’ failings. They didn’t abuse me, but they didn’t really do anything else either. No haircuts, dentist appointments, no attendance at parent’s evenings, no interest in my friends, no lifts, no real involvement in my life at all.
They were distant, distracted, and heavily consumed by their own problems.
I looked for much-needed love and approval in inappropriate places, sleeping with people who treated me badly, when I was too young to be doing anything of the sort. I had no respect for myself because my parents never gave my place in their lives any value.
I could cry and cry for the girl I was, for the desperate need for love and affection I had that no one gave me.
Yes, I sorted myself out in the end. I got myself into and through university. I built a career, earned money, did all the right things. I even met and married a wonderful man.
When I had children, the fierceness of my love for them and the fact that I would do anything for them, made me realise how utterly empty my own childhood had been.
Family life makes me so sad, because I didn’t even know that I missed out on that love until I became a mother.
I have lost two grandparents in the last four years – my maternal and paternal grandmother. My paternal grandmother died when DS2 was 3.5 months old, just before Christmas 2011. My maternal grandmother just over a year later – Feb 2012.
Over Christmas 2012, as my maternal grandmother was rapidly losing ground to lung cancer, my mother became very stressed, unwell and distressed. My mother has been on some form of medication as long as I can remember. She suffers from anxiety, psychosis, panic-attacks and depression.
We have never argued. When you have an emotionally rocky mother, you do not rock the boat.
Until Christmas 2012.
Now, I know that she was under so much strain, losing her own mother, who was a cruel and abusive parent (force-feeding, beatings, verbal and physical abuse to all of four of her kids from when they were born to when they left home), but we had a row over Christmas because she told me she was moving back to the town my Nan lived in so she could care for her.
160 miles away.
I moved her out of this town and down to where I live 8 years ago because she was so ill she was living in the mental hospital and neither her mother, nor her two brothers were doing anything to help her. Since she has been here she has gained independence, become emotionally stable, started driving again, and living a more-or-less normal life.
When I asked why she was moving, she said:
“Because I have nothing here Rose!”
Things got dredged up. I ended up referring to her walking out on me and my brother (he was 9, I was 15). Leaving her kids.
“Oh so we’re back to that are we” [Um, I haven’t ever mentioned it in 22 years, but yes, I guess so]
She started to cry.
“I gave you everything…”
She stopped after this. She didn’t elaborate. She spent most of my childhood depressed and asleep on the sofa, so I am unsure what she was trying to say. Maybe she knew this because she changed her approach:
“You wouldn’t have come with me anyway, you were too busy off with your mates.” she spat out the word mates.
“You’ve never liked me!”
“You and your middle class friends, I was never good enough for you.”
She criticised my husband, threw more insults about my opinion of her, talked about her hurt feelings on half a dozen occasions that I had been totally oblivious to, including the day DS1 was born.
Then she hung up.
I tried to call back. She hung up again.
Several days later, she called. She eventually, reluctantly, said sorry.
And she never did move.
When I asked her about it two months later (when my Nan passed away), she sort of laughed.
She laughed a dry laugh, like it wasn’t funny at all, and said:
“I think you’ve figured out I’m not moving Rose.”
As someone who has never, ever had a cross word with her mother, I can’t forget this. I have never seen this side of her before. There was such nastiness in her. Such anger.
I can’t stop thinking about all the things she said. All the times I have apparently offended her.
Whenever we see each other now, I feel nothing but apprehension. Am I offending her? Saying the wrong thing?
If I am honest, I no longer want to see her. I still love her, but I do not like her.
But for the boys’ sakes, I pretend everything is OK. Because I don’t want to deny them their grandmother.
My Third Baby
I’ve talked a lot about TTC on this blog, so I don’t need to go into it here.
It’s enough to say that this has been in the background of all the above (or maybe in the foreground), since we first started trying in April 2012.
This brings us to 2014. The future.
If you are still reading, my god, good on you. You deserve a round of applause for sitting through the contents of my head for this long.
When I lie awake at night, these are the things I think about. My family, my childhood, my miscarriages.
I want to lay them to rest.
I want to bring peace with me into 2014.
So to summarise, I choose happiness.
And this is how.
1) The day I gave birth to my first son.
I had a beautiful, healthy baby boy. It took me a while to recover. I did the absolute best job I could do given the support and knowledge I had at the time. Through it all there was nothing but love for my baby boy. My own love for him is the strength that carried me through.
2) Failing to breastfeed.
I didn’t know how to get support. I didn’t have any family support. I did the best job I could. My boys are beautiful, healthy, and never had asthma, eczema or ear-infections. I did the best job I could do, given my circumstances at the time. Not being able to breastfeed did not and does not in any way diminish my love for them.
3) My brother’s psychosis
I put my family first now. My first priority is my family. No exceptions. I had to ease myself into that position after being the responsible one for so long in my childhood family. It was a transition I had to make, and I had to see it for what it was.
4) The reality of my family
Before I had kids, I did everything without help from my family. I am not going to resent the lack of support now, when it has never been there in the first place. I can’t rely on them. I can rely on my husband, and if necessary, we can rely on paid childminders. I chose to have children. I do not expect anyone else to look after them.
5) The reality of my childhood
It is what is it. I can’t change it. I only need to let the love I feel for my boys be the salve in the wounds of my own upbringing. My love for them is enough for all of us.
6) My mother
I must accept that this will always be a difficult relationship. I can’t change it and I can’t change my mother. The boys love seeing her and she loves seeing them. As long as that is true, so be it.
7) My Third Baby
I can’t say if this is a possibility or not. But I can stay positive. I can remain relaxed and always remember to be grateful…
…that I already have so very much.