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 ๐Ÿ˜‰


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)ย 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)ย 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)ย My brother’s psychosis

I put my family first now. My first priority is my family. No exceptions.ย 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)ย 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)ย 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.


21 thoughts on “Happiness is a Choice”

  1. Of course I stayed and read through. I know some of your emotional stories, similar stories are etched into my heart and play in my mind like black and white silent films whenever I close my eyes. The main thing is that you are here, present and correct(?) and living for now. You are honest and tenacious and I love your honesty.
    Merry Christmas joy warrior!

  2. Rose, I hope with everything inside me that the process of writing these words and sharing them out on this blog allowed you to not only take ownership of them, but also to let go of them. I hope the writing was therapeutic and that you now feel cleansed and ready to face a beautiful, healthy and stress-free 2014.

    I wish you all the best.
    xoxo nancy

  3. Wow Rose, what a fascinating read. That is so sad about your childhood ๐Ÿ™ I have an angry alcoholic father so even now I be a r the scars of that impact on my life so understand your situation to a degree. I had 2 thoughts when reading this though that you may like:

    1. Clearly your mum wasn’t wasn’t a wonderful parent but given her own upbringing she did remarkably well not to repeat that pattern. Doesn’t make life with her right, but it is something to be thankful for. Living with mental illness in the family is so challenging as it makes the ill person completely self involved which doesn’t help with the parenting part. ๐Ÿ™ For what it’s worth some of her behaviour seems to indicate a degree of guilt. I know my dad feels it too. Sucks at expressing it though.

    2. Finding a great man is actually also an amazing outcome and a testament to you, Rose! So many women choose men who replicate their shitty parenting experiences (Iโ€™ve been guilty of this so many times) so it is AWESOME you moved outside of this and got yourself a good one.

    Go you!!! Merry Christmas xx

    • Yes – that is very true. I am truly grateful that my mother didn’t turn into her mother. Abusive, angry parents can destroy entire lifetimes ๐Ÿ™ I know she does carry guilt. Sigh. It’s a black hole of emotional instability!
      I am so sorry about your father – I didn’t know this and his behaviour must have (and continue to have) a very distressing effect on your life ๐Ÿ™ Jeez – I guess we can all only hope that we do a better job at expressing love and being there for our kids!

      I too have chosen terrible men in the past – I cringe now even to think of it.

      Have yourself a wonderful new year and here’s to lots of blogging adventures in 2014!! X

      • You know Rose, after reading this post and writing that comment I felt spurred to do something about my father. He didn’t seem to be talking to me anyway so I though what the hell. I sent him a very straight to the point email asking him to fix himself. To stop being an alcoholic and being angry and mean and hating the world. He didn’t mention it when I called at Christmas and seemed in good spirits so either he didn’t read it or was trying lol. I’m glad I did it though. It’s out there now and I don’t need to hold it within me any longer.

        Happy New Year lovely xx

        • Oh bless you – I hope he realises what an amazing daughter he has, even if he is struggling to sort himself out. That is very brave of you – I am too scared of the consequences to ever say anything to mine even though it might actually be just what we all need. Good on you – the choice is his, but you have made your feelings clear and you can’t be more honest with yourself and the world than that.

  4. Dear Rose,
    I have read the whole post. I can’t make comment on your family as mine has been reasonable good.
    It took my wife and I 7 years of IVF 11 full stim cycles to have our 1st child. Nothing at all went to plan. Emergence C section, breast feeding well that just never worked. Then once we figured out he needed to be breast feed (don’t get me started on breast feeding associations if your body does not work you need to do the best for your child) he was allergic to normal formula. It feels some days that everything we have done was done the hard way and against the normal tide. But we now have our own wonderful family.
    I wish you and your family all the best for Christmas and the new year.

    • My goodness, you have been through so much. 7 years is a long, long time – you must be an incredible couple to have stuck to it and made it through – i have heard of others losing their marriage through less. Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy new year, thank you for sharing your story X

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Rose. You certainly have been through A LOT – and I definitely think it explains so much of your underlying unhappiness. I truly, truly applaud you for taking the high road and CHOOSING to be happy. So many people do not, and it takes a great deal of inner strength to do what you are doing. Some people take YEARS of therapy to get to where you have landed. I pray that 2014 holds lots and lots of joy for you. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing. I’m sure your story will help many. xo

  6. Thanks for sharing your story Rose. My husband had a difficult childhood and while he is an amazing father and fatherhood gives his life great meaning, I think there are times that certainly do highlight what was lacking for him. Particularly at Christmastime but that love for his kids and severing toxic family ties make him appreciate what he has more than he dwells these days. But it was a long road getting here. Much love to you. xo

    • It always makes me so sad to think of the failures of parents. It is a testament to your husbands character that he has moved on and become a fantastic dad – I am glad he managed to find a way to overcome his past – it is a brave and lonely road sometimes!!

  7. Oh Rose. *Hugs. Very brave of you to tell your story. I am beyond words right now. But yes, no matter how crappy life had been, there will be things to be thankful for. Wishing you all the best in the coming new year.

  8. Chiming in late because I was out of touch over the holiday last week, but I’m in such admiration of you right now. You are a strong, amazing woman and an even more AMAZING mother! Really and truly. Wish we lived close by because I would love to help give you some of that support you seem to be missing, and it’s important. It doesn’t matter if it comes from family or someone else, but going it alone is tough. Sending you lots of love and hugs!

  9. We had similar lives growing up. I remember once you commented on one of my posts about my relationship with my family being similar to the one you had with yours, but I had no idea how similar. I think if it wasn’t for my mother occasionally clicking on the link to my blog, I would probably tell more about my childhood, or lack therfore. But like your mother, mine too has been on a handful of drugs for as long as I can remember. I play it down when I talk about my childhood. I pretend that we became close during my adolescence because telling people the truth of how I had to make sure that a 45 year old woman ate her lunch, so that I could inject her with insulin, or make sure all the doors were locked before going to bed because once she had taken her sleeping tablet, that was it – she was dead to the world, and I was left to look after myself. Honestly I am so angry at my mother for making me be the parent growing up, but then I feel bad because I remind myself that she had a traumatic childhood with no proper role model to learn from. As you wrote, once you had your child, you knew what kind of parent you weren’t going to be. I really hope 2014 brings you what you really and truly want Rose. All the best. I’ll see you in my ‘reader’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    • That’s exactly it – they made us be the parent ๐Ÿ™ I’m so sorry that you had such a similar upbringing. My heart truly aches for children like you and I who had an emotionally absent mother while growing up. It has definitely affected my parenting and my self-esteem, and it is a very difficult thing to deal with – made harder by the fact that I always brushed it aside until I became a mother myself and then I was totally unable to stop thinking about it.
      Ah, I have no answers, but I do know that literally forcing myself not to think about it has helped more than any self-analysis has. It was what it was, and like you, I remind myself of her own traumatic childhood and the reasons for her behaviour.
      I envy people who are close to their happy and capable mothers. I just hope one day I can be that way for my children.

      • It is a battle. My aim is not to have the same relationship with my kids and if we can succeed in that, we’ll be ten times the parents ours ever were! Xx

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