After Death

It’s been 10 days since I found my Mum. I am feeling a lot better than I was in the first week. I spoke to my brother today and he echoed my own feelings when I asked how he was doing.

“Yeah… better,” he said, and he sounded like it.

He was a lot brighter than last time we spoke. He’s lost his mobile phone (this happens often), so at the moment I can only speak to him on a Thursday when he visits my Dad. He is more resilient than I thought – I have worried about him every day since Mum died.

As for me, I am still restless at night, although I am very firm about not thinking about what happened. I simply put it out of my mind and focus on anything else. I know well that mulling over things in the dark is the absolute worst thing to do, as I spent so many hours of my life doing it over my miscarriages, hospital treatment, and the births of my children. There is nothing you can do to make anything better at night, so the best thing is not to give the thoughts any leeway. Thinking of what I saw and the last conversations we had could turn into something that would haunt me forever.

The nights aside, I am doing okay. My Mum was so dreadfully sad and so unwell that I think there probably wasn’t much that could have altered the course of events in the long run. I am still going to make an official complaint to the NHS as I do believe that her treatment in the last couple of months shortened the time she had left, and that her symptoms were sidelined when they should have been investigated. However, all they can do is maybe apologise (if that), so I don’t care for the outcome, only that I register my voice.

I’m in the midst of all of the practical things that you have to do after death. Funeral arrangements, notifying distant friends and relatives, sorting through possessions. I have removed four car loads of stuff from Mum’s flat in my seven-seater. Every bag and box packed by me and brought down in the lift. Two car loads I recycled. Two car loads I brought back to our house and distributed the contents in piles upstairs, in the loft, and under my desk. There are at least two car loads still to come, plus all her furniture which will have to be taken away as I cannot store or use it.

This is the third death that I have personally cleared up after in the last few years and I can tell you that sorting out what is left of someone’s existence takes hours and hours and hours of your time, most likely spread over months. The older I get, the less I like stuff. Having too much of it in the house makes me feel chaotic and overburdened. I have inherited a huge collection of things from Mum, who was a bit of a collector. It has reinforced my already solid commitment to minimalism. We can’t take anything with us when we go. All we do is leave it to someone else. Every piece of paper, every letter, every document, every diary, photograph and trinket – it all gets seen by someone when we die. Our life is laid bare, our secrets (if there is physical evidence of them) outed.

As long as we have the basics – utensils to eat, somewhere to sleep, something to keep us clean, access to good food, the luxury of an interest or hobby – what else do we really need? Life is better lived than collected.

I will most likely set a date for the funeral tomorrow as I am seeing the funeral director that managed my Uncle’s funeral last year. I liked him a lot, so I’m glad he will be looking after Mum.

I feel like I cannot grieve in peace, or sort my own thoughts out, until everything is dealt with. The stuff, the endless stuff, the funeral, the ashes, the paperwork. It will be months before I can put this behind me, just as it was with Eric and my Nan. I feel resentful of the administrative burden of death.

Getting our lives in good order, and ridding our homes of unused and unnecessary possessions will make for an easier time for our loved ones when we go, whenever that time may be. I certainly hope that when my time comes, my affairs and belongings are simple enough that my children can deal with them without excessive pain and aggravation.

Goodbye Mum

A week ago today, I found my Mum’s body in her flat. 

I see her every Tuesday with my daughter, F. We’ve done this routine ever since her brother died last August. Mum saw Eric three times a week and they spoke on the phone every day. Sometimes more than once. So when he suddenly passed away, Mum was devastated.

The grief never subsided. She picked up a bit before Christmas, but then seemed to regress again after the new year. The shitty weather in this country – months of cold, damp, dark, grey days – does not help. She had two spells in the psychiatric ward as she was struggling so much and her psychosis seemed to be causing her ongoing problems. They discharged her three weeks ago, handed her care back over to the normal mental health unit. In my opinion she was worse after this than she was when they admitted her the first time.

I had tried to call Mum on the Monday, but she hadn’t answered the phone. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to face up to it. She wasn’t really well enough to leave the house as she had become physically very weak and had a severe tremor that had worsened over the last 6 weeks, leaving her unsteady on her feet. I told myself she had been readmitted to the hospital and hadn’t yet remembered to call me. However, with hindsight I was just postponing the inevitable.

When we arrived on Tuesday morning, she didn’t answer the buzzer at the communal door. I was about to call her when another resident came out, so he let us in. We went up to her flat and I put my arm out and pushed on her door. It was like part of me knew what to do. The door opened – she had left it on the latch.

I walked in and called her name a few times. It’s a one room flat with a small kitchen and bathroom, so after passing the kitchen and looking in the lounge/bedroom I was about to leave. I thought maybe she was better than I had thought and had walked across the road to the shop to pick up some food. Failing that I thought I’d go back to the car and call the hospital and maybe go and see her there.

I was about to leave. I passed the bathroom and noticed the light was on. The door was almost closed. I called again, “Mum?”

I pushed the door a fraction, not wanting to disturb her if she was on the toilet, or feeling unwell, but also certain that she wasn’t in there because she would have heard me calling. Then I saw her legs in the bath.

As soon as I saw them I knew immediately that she was dead. She would have answered my call. I said “Oh,” out loud, catching my breath.

I had to be sure what had happened. I pushed the door a little further and stepped half into the room, holding F back so she didn’t see anything. The bath is behind the door and I had to lean around it. She was lying in the bath, slightly to one side, her face just under the water. She looked like she was sleeping… except as I tried to look and and not look, my eyes scanning the scene as fast as possible so I didn’t have to see the detail, it was immediately obvious that she had been there for some time.

Getting help

I called the police. They came out really quickly (it felt like forever while we sat in the lounge/bedroom). They were brilliant, cannot fault them at all. More police came, and then CID, and then eventually they decided it wasn’t a crime scene. They called the undertakers and two big men with iron handshakes, dressed immaculately in black suits came to take Mum to the hospital. They left her rings on the side, and she was gone. It took three hours in total.

The police all left, and we were alone. I went into the bathroom and rinsed the bath out as I couldn’t leave what was in there to dry. Then I drove Francesca home. The rest of that day, and the next are a bit of a blur. I collected the boys at the end of school, drove to my brothers but couldn’t find him, so drove to Dads. Then I drove home again. I got the kids into bed and then stripped off, and scrubbed myself down in the shower as all I could smell was Mum’s flat and the strange, sweet, rotting metallic odour from the bathroom. A week later and I still catch it multiple times a day.

I got three hours sleep the first night, between 1:30am and 4:30am. I had to leave all the lights on because I was terrified mum was going to come and get me, all bloated and dripping and angry, for allowing her to die that way. The next day I did everything on autopilot, still in shock and utterly exhausted. I drove down to her flat with the intention of starting the clearing out process (it’s rented and I have four weeks to empty it), but all I did was sit on the bed crying while F watched children’s TV.

I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen.

Piecing it all together

Gradually, I have rebuilt her last few days. I saw her on Tuesday and arranged for a GP to call her about the tremor. On Wednesday she went to the GP to collect a form for a blood test. I spoke to her that evening. On Thursday her friend Ted drove her to the hospital for her blood test. I called her that night. On Friday a man came in the morning and cleared away an old fish tank and a cabinet she no longer wanted from her flat. She also had a meal delivery I had just arranged for her. Then Ted took her out for a coffee. They said goodbye in the afternoon and I spoke to her at 4pm. She sounded sad, hopeless, and angry about her health and NHS waiting times. It was a week before she had another call with the GP and would get her blood test results. We spoke for less than four minutes and despite my attempt to convince her that we were going to get it all sorted and she just needed to wait until next week to get results and we could go from there, she sounded dismissive. I signed inwardly. And I asked her, “What can I do to help Mum?”

“I’m alright,” she said after a long pause. “I’m alright.”

We said goodbye. After that she ate dinner, ran a bath, and never got out of it.

She’d been dead four days when I found her.

Moving on

Life doesn’t stop when someone dies. It carries on with all its noise and mess and laughter and chaos, oblivious to the enormity of your shock and grief. After four days, I slept properly. After five days, my appetite started to return. A week on, and I have already removed two car loads of stuff from her flat and I am feeling better. I have lots to do. Lots to keep me busy. Plus of course the kids – nothing waits.

I don’t know if I will regress, but I already feel like I am healing. It’s like an old wound is finally closing. I have written thousands of words in my journal and lengthy emails to my closest friends. I have realised, with surprise, that I actually lost my Mum when she moved out, back when I was fifteen and my brother was nine. I can still see her walking up the road, brown suitcase in hand, heading to the station. My brother crying so much. She was never the same after she left. We grew apart, I couldn’t find common ground. She behaved in ways I coudn’t understand and no longer seemed like the mother I’d know from days long gone. She had always been distant and unaffectionate, but she was somehow more normal when she was married.

I have grieved the loss of my mother for 28 long years. I have wanted her back, and wished things were different for almost three decades. I could never bridge the gap that her leaving opened between us. She cut off all her hair, moved in with a woman I didn’t much care for, got new animals I hated (a screeching parrot and many dogs that wee’d everywhere in the house). She became something I couldn’t relate to. While I was striving to get my degree and start a career, she seemed to drop out. Then her health deteriorated and the psychosis became a problem. I lost her so long ago. Her death feels like the end of a period of black grief that has overshadowed my entire life, especially in the years since I became a mother myself.

It’s getting late and I need to sleep, so I’ll stop here for now.

Mum Back in Hospital

I’d told Mum I’d take her to the hospital for a routine blood test on Wednesday because she’s a bit wobbly on her feet and is suffering from agoraphobia (she does’t want to go out).

The three kids and I drove down to her flat straight after we’d spent the morning walking around a woodland trail. When we got there however, she came to the door and told me that she had to go back onto the psychiatric ward. Apparently the crisis team had sent a doctor over for another evaluation and the doctor had decided she wasn’t fit to be at home. She really didn’t want to go back, and to be honest I’m not sure what the benefit was to her when she went in two weeks ago, so I called the crisis team to ask.

It turns out that Mum is not taking her medication as prescribed. I know she saves up her sleeping tablets – she skips a day and then takes two. It’s the only way she can sleep at all, and even though she’s done that for years the health team don’t like it. However, they also said that her behaviour was worrying them as she was sitting silently instead of answering the doctors questions. And apparently mid-conversation she was doing things like throwing herself down on the floor.

I have to say, I have never seen my mum throw herself around. She has told me all sorts of stuff that has gone on in her head that is clearly not true, but I’ve never, ever seen her physically act like some mentally disturbed patients do. Maybe she doesn’t do it around me, I don’t know.

Then they dropped the bombshell – the thing that I’ve suspected for a while, but was ignoring because it’s so upsetting to deal with. They said that her memory is really poor and they suspect it might be the early stages of dementia.

I have known for a long time that this would be the route we would go down. Her memory really has been terrible for ages and the doctors have flagged it in the past as an issue. Her physical health is not good, but her mental health has always been so poor. I feel very sad. I’ve read about and heard about what it is like dealing with dementia. There’s a lot of public awareness over the condition here, and the prevalence of dementia in over 65s is around 7%.

It’s going to be really, really tough. I know that if there are things I want to know or ask, I need to make sure I do that before in the years to come she forgets who I am. And that at some point she will no longer be able to live independently and I cannot care for her physically so she will have to go into a home. I will have to watch her deteriorate before my eyes, and worry about whether staff are treating her properly. The end will be slow and difficult and hard to predict.

I think back to when I was young and I remember that although I could always tell my Mum was an older person – her hands were dry and her body wobbled more than mine and my brothers – she was still healthy and living in a way that dries up and disappears as bodies get old.

Mum said many times that she didn’t want to be admitted. I talked to her and persuaded her to pack up some stuff. Then me and the children dropped her back at the psychiatric hospital.

I looked her in the eye and told her to get herself better and get out of there. I hugged her, and left.

The Trouble With Mother’s Day

The trouble with Mother’s Day is that I don’t really like it very much.

Today started out amazingly. My two boys – completely of their own accord – snuck downstairs and made me a bowl of homemade muesli (oats, cashews, raisins – they mixed it themselves), and then brought it up for my breakfast. I was half-awake and heard them go down, but I assumed that they were going to secretly eat the cake that we brought home from a party on Saturday. How wrong was I? Steve had helped them with cards and presents, but the breakfast idea was all theirs and I was so happy about it!

Even Francesca, this morning, as the boys came into my room to give me my breakfast, rolled over and said,

No! Mummy’s sleeping!

So the day really did start wonderfully and my little trio were awesome.

Then we went to visit my mum.

When we arrived, we buzzed but Mum didn’t answer for ages. This always means that she has taken sleeping pills and hasn’t woken up yet, and today was no exception. She was in her pyjamas and had clearly only gotten up to let us in. I said happy Mother’s Day and handed her a little flower in a pot I had bought for her. She took it off me and said nothing. She wandered into the kitchen, put it down somewhere out there and then came out and shut the door behind her. No “thank you,” or any other comment.

I gave her the card and she did at least like this. She said thank you and commented on it with approval, so I got that bit right.

I asked if she was sleeping okay and she explained she’d taken some sleeping tablets she’d bought off the internet (don’t ask – I have no control over what she does, honestly). She stumbled around for a bit and then started getting things out that she had bought the children.

Mum is always buying stuff for them – not just a little bit here and there, but two or three things every time they see her. I know she wants to treat them, but she is confusing love with STUFF. And the worst thing of all is she buys them totally unsuitable stuff that she finds in charity shops. She is obsessed with antiques and is always buying them 20 year old toys and models. Last time it was two sets of CB radios from the 80s and two cap gun sets from the 1950s (I looked them up – they were selling for £60 on ebay). Today is was colouring books and crayons (which are actually quite cool), a microscope from the 1970s, model planes, and two fidget spinners.

She buys compulsively all the time. And it drives me crazy. Firstly we live in an 840sq/ft house and we have no space for the inflow of things from her. Secondly, I hate material stuff. Thirdly it teaches the children to be excited about presents rather than about seeing Granny – they always say I wonder what Granny has got for us this time! Fourthly, that money would be SO much better spent on clothing for the three of them. Or to help me out with the weekly food bill. Or to cover school trips, or maybe to save up for a weekend away. She wastes it all on stuff that ends up broken and either in the bin, or in the charity shop bag at our house because there is no room for it. Fifthly, she sometimes buys totally random shit because she doesn’t really look properly at what it is. Example: a few months back she bought Lucas a tin of football boot studs.

hate her obsession with buying crap.

And then, she sits down and tells me she’s sorted out Eric.

My uncle died last year and she had his ashes stored in the cupboard at her house. We were going to wait until it was a sunny day in the spring and then take them to the pier, where he wanted them to be scattered – as requested in his will.

Unbeknownst to me, Mum was getting antsy about the ashes being in her flat. She didn’t want them there. She apparently asked my brother for help, but he said he wouldn’t be down for a few months, so she took it upon herself to deal with it.

She took them on the bus to the pier and tried to scatter them, but she was approached by a couple who told her she couldn’t scatter them into the sea without permission (if I’d been there I would have told these interfering arseholes where to go for so callously poking their noses into a 68 year old’s grieving time). So she got back on the bus and instead of taking them home and calling me, she just scattered them in the park across the road from her flat.

Now, I was upset about this. I was upset, because my mum runs her life by the motto “it’ll do”. She uses it as an excuse for her behaviour and always has. When she doesn’t want to put the effort into something (which is a lot of the time), she just does a half-arsed job and says “Oh, that’ll do.”

When my uncle died, she turned up at his funeral wearing an ancient old jumper and scruffy trousers. I was upset about it because you make an effort at a funeral. You dress to show respect to the person who passed away, and to show respect to yourself. I told my Dad afterwards that if I die before her he needs to insist that she makes the effort to dress properly when I’m gone.

And because Eric’s clothes were cleared out of his flat long before his body was released for cremation, Mum got him a charity top t-shirt and a pair of HER old jeans and knickers to dress him in. I spoke to the funeral director and then managed to convince her that he could go in just the funeral gown, which they provided. Can you imagine if he was alive, what he would have thought about going to the crematorium in his sister’s jeans and knickers??? 

My mum once left Eric waiting for her in the middle of town as they wanted to look in separate shops, but on the way back she decided to go and get her hair cut. After nearly an hour Eric thought she was lost, so he went to security and they put a message out over the shopping centre tannoy. She honestly couldn’t see what she’d done wrong.

There are billions of example throughout my lifetime I can use, but I’ll be writing all night if I carry on. I was upset about the ashes because Eric requested they be scattered over the sea. It was a denial of his last wish, because it was too much effort to take them home and wait for me to accompany her so we could do what he asked. Because she needed them gone, and the park would do. She told me not to get upset, and that they spent a lot of time over there, and she can walk past him all the time, which I admit is true, but I was upset anyway. I was upset that she had to face two dickheads telling her she couldn’t put ashes in the sea because I wasn’t with her. I was upset she hadn’t said to me that she wanted to get rid of the ashes sooner rather than later – that she’d even asked my brother, rather than come to me.

She told me I was so busy, and my life is so full, but that isn’t a problem when she gets my brother to ring me at 5pm, in the middle of cooking dinner for the three children, so he can ask me to drive over to the psychiatric hospital and pick her and take her home because she’s been released and she’s waiting out the front for me.

My Mum loves me, I’m sure, but her way of loving is not like other mothers. She never had a decent mother figure to learn from (hers was an abusive woman who beat all four of her kids and hated them for tying her down), so I know she has done the best she knew how to do.

But I have to admit that sometimes I just wish she was more of a mother to me than I’ve had.

And today, as every year, I have to avoid facebook. I posted early this morning and then stayed away. Away from the countless status updates tagging mothers and talking about how they are the best mum in the world.

Sigh. I love Mother’s Day for my kids, but for my own mum it always feels like a forced affection, and that makes me so sad.

And then this evening I ended up taking F to A&E. She was poorly yesterday, but today she has been complaining of head pain. Obviously headaches immediately make you think meningitis, and she has been particularly distressed. By 4pm she was crying so much and holding her head that I took her to the hospital -she’d already had calpol and I was so scared something wasn’t right. I am so afraid of losing her or the boys. My miscarriages have left a scar that bleeds whenever any of them are sick and it leaves me panicked and unable to think clearly.

A&E was heaving. Adults were puking in the main waiting area and there were loads of screaming kids in the children’s area. Pretty quickly a nurse looked F over, did the usual O2 sat/resp rate/temp thing and then gave her a big dose of ibuprofen to make her more comfortable.

Thirty minutes later, F was a different child. The ibuprofen had kicked in (I’m sure they give them a bigger dose at the hospital because my oldest son had one once and he was happy as Larry for about 5 hours afterwards), and she was wandering around, playing with all the toys, chatting away, just like normal.

We waited for two hours with no sign of a doctor, so I asked the nurse if I could take her home. She said that was fine. I was so tired and pissed off and hungry so we went home and F went to bed and went to sleep.

Now I am super paranoid that she really is sick, but the painkiller masked the problem. It just doesn’t seem normal for a 2 year old to have severe head pain to me. The nurse tried to say that a lot of toddlers point to their head when they mean their throat, but she hasn’t met F. F is articulate and smart and knows damn well it’s her head that’s hurting, and she’s had no trouble swallowing. The pain is worse when she’s upright, and it just seems meningococcal to me. I’ve had viral meningitis before and the head pain is no joke. She has no other symptoms – no vomiting, only a low grade fever, no rash, no stiffness, no sensitivity to light.

All I can do is wait until she either gets better, or gets worse enough that someone at the hospital will see her over and above all the other vomiting, sick kids in A&E.

I’ve had a crappy day really, and I’m feeling pretty low and down in the dumps anyway (I’m still coming off sugar I guess – 11 days into the braces and I remember from when I’ve done this before than my mood doesn’t really stabilise until about 2 weeks in).

The best part of my day was my happy morning with my beautiful kids, so I’m just going to focus on that and go to bed and check on F and hope that the morning brings us some peace and wellness.

Happiness is a Choice

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?

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.

My 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.

And now?

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.

 

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