Having a baby is such an intense shock to the system. For me at least. Despite wanting it so much, despite preparing, despite how ready I was. You cant be fully prepared, not really. You can only feel prepared because nothing will ease you into it, otherwise, your first birth would just be easy. I experienced more pain than I ever thought possible (and cursed at my friends who told me it ‘wasn’t that bad’).
I experienced more fear than I’ve ever felt, although, admittedly pethidine really chilled me out. And of course, more love than I ever thought existed. His heartbeat, since the day I heard it, was the most important sound I will ever hear. That, and his breathing at night. How incredible and at the same time, utterly, shit scary. Poke him… go on. Put your mind at rest.
I was really looking forward to not working. In my ‘career’ post-recovery from addiction, I’d worked my way up to a middle manager, with a brief spell as a deputy in the absence (firing) of my manager. I hated it and loved it at the same time. I loved that I was capable of earning good money and could look after myself but it wasn’t a great place to work.
Someone in my house? Oh no, it’s ‘our house’. That’s a serious commitment. I can’t kick you out.
I just would not leave. Even though it was killing me. I gained two stone in weight. My hair all fell out and I repeatedly fell asleep at the wheel and had to pull over to sleep on the side of the road. I think I was frightened that I had only gotten that far because the manager there had terrible judgement and I wouldn’t get that lucky again. Lucky is a funny word when I look back on it as nobody who ended up working there ever felt ‘lucky’. It was awful.
I eventually took a job that wasn’t managerial. It was well paid, I had lots of experience and I liked it. Nobody was blaming me for everything from above and nobody hated me from below. I lost the stress weight and regained a full head of hair and after three years going steady, I was ready for the next chapter of my life.
It wasn’t like I had a rainbow fairytale of expectations of motherhood and marriage. I knew it would be hard at times, but as I said previously, you don’t really know until your in it. Having recovered from postnatal depression and getting the hang of everything, along with the help of some therapy, I started to see a lot of what I found so challenging stemmed from me, needing to allow myself to be supported and surrender my independence.
Something in me desperately needs to be self-reliant and intensely independent to the point where it just isn’t helpful and this is a symptom of childhood trauma.
I was unaware, beforehand of just how intensely distressing I would find it to be reliant upon my husband to be the manager of the money and not have my own. My husband is the most reliable man I’ve ever met. Possibly the most reliable man in the world. Which gives you some idea of what C-PTSD does to your ability to trust in others.
I mean, his reliability is one of the reasons I fell in love with him and yet it still wasn’t enough to calm the fears I had of being dependant on him while I take care of our son. Something in me desperately needs to be self-reliant and intensely independent to the point where it just isn’t helpful and this is a symptom of childhood trauma. The struggle before parenthood was becoming a joint homeowner and before that, it was co-habiting.
Someone in my house? Oh no, it’s ‘our house’. That’s a serious commitment. I can’t kick you out. It’s been a real challenge each step of the way trying to share and let a perfectly safe and reliable person in and may I add, a very patient person. I am lucky he loved me enough and was secure enough in himself to stick with me through all my fears. As lucky as he is that I put up with his psychopathic tendency to leave little piles of bitten fingernails everywhere.
When you live with trauma, it is within secure connections that we heal. This goes for partners, family, friends and work. Any important connection, when it proves safe and secure, reprograms that part of us that was previously let down.
Giving up a stable job with salary was the last surrender of independence. To become a housewife and stay at home Mom. I did cheat a little and started saving when I found out I was pregnant. I would have to ration it sure… but that kept me from feeling like I might die. Yes, dying seems melodramatic but honestly, that is the same fear level we are talking. As those savings dwindled over the years so did my ability to breathe.
Having a stash of savings is like when you keep a little alcohol or ‘something’ to take the edge off in that special cupboard. You don’t ‘need‘ it but you know its there. A nice little security blankie. Irrespective of whether you ever open the cupboard or think about the cupboard, should the cupboard disappear, it would feel a little edgy. Maybe its the addict in me. Or maybe that’s why I have an addict in me? Answers on a postcard.
The simple solution through all of these difficult challenges that I have written about throughout the months such as, postnatal depression, our horrendous lockdown situation and the general challenge of being a stay at home parent, was always just to go back to work but I just knew, in my stubborn soul, that I would regret not seeing the three years through to the end.
Then there is the usual work routine of ‘it’s 5pm, fuck this, fuck that, I’m off’? Try saying that to your two year old. Those little CEO’s don’t give a shit!
The reason for the three years is because it is at that age, the government assist with childcare costs and it actually becomes worth it to have both parents at work. You can instead work part-time before they are 3 years old and receive tax relief but it still doesn’t really amount to an awful lot in exchange for the time I would lose. He is after all, likely to be my only child and that could be some really special time I might regret taking even if it was really tough going sometimes.
A workplace structure always provided me with great security, routine and comfort, despite all of the bad experiences, redundancy and toxic workplaces that send you bald etc. I am at my most comfortable when I have a job. My last (and soon to be current again) job, in particular, felt very secure and that did a lot for me. When you live with trauma, it is within secure connections that we heal. This goes for partners, family, friends and work. Any important connection, when it proves safe and secure, reprograms that part of us that was previously let down.
If we were going to compare work to being a parent, work generally comes with a set of instructions and when you do them well, someone is generally happy with your efforts and then you get your cheque in the post. The role of mother, as we know, doesn’t come with a manager to guide you on how to do your new job. I would have to use my instinct and Google… a lot.
There is no worse punishment than warm flat, shit pop.
Then there is the usual work routine of ‘It’s 5pm! Fuck this, fuck that…I’m off’. Try saying that to your two year old. Those little CEO’s don’t give a shit! They are savage little minibeasts who know, instinctually that you desperately need them to just go to bed and they will hone in on that weakness like some sort of psychic dictator and MAKE you play the ‘get back in your bed’ game until you eventually just fall asleep in their bed while your ‘after work’ beverage (for me it’s the Aldi rola cola) goes warm and flat on the kitchen counter. There is no worse punishment than warm flat, shit pop.
Forget about financial incentives, one to ones and little pats on the back here and there. You get paid in extreme highs, lows and beautiful fleeting moments.
I also learned in my time at home that I have a ‘reflective sense of self’. So, for instance, I only know I’m funny because people laugh at my jokes or that I am kind because a few people called me kind. If you remove all the mirrors from a person who needs to see in them to know who they are then you are inevitably going to be balancing on the edge of an identity crisis. I mean my son thinks I’m great but he also chins me on a regular basis and tries to rip out my hair. It’s a mixed bag of signals.
I’ve spoken about it in all my stories, I just genuinely felt I was invisible. Of little or no importance. I didn’t matter. Lots of triggering feelings. As I write this now in our third major lockdown I realise you don’t have to have been a stay at home parent anymore to relate to some of this. Working at home comes with some of these challenges too I’m sure.
Basic human needs such as social connection, rest, mental stimulation, creative expression, to be seen, to be heard, to be appreciated and to feel a sense of achievement… all go largely unmet.
When one feels invisible, the door is ajar for little intruders. For me, there was self-doubt, a lot of guilt, for choosing to have a baby and then feeling as though you aren’t enjoying it and shame, because you have a blessing others would kill for and here is you, struggling to smile and drowning in depression.
I started comparing myself to others as a way to gauge if I was ok but I was coming up short on social media. I was coming up short on the back of the judgemental but unsolicited advice some, unhelpful but well-meaning people liked to dish out. That definitely isn’t the answer for anyone.
Basic human needs such as social connection, rest, mental stimulation, creative expression, to be seen, to be heard, to be appreciated and to feel a sense of achievement… all go largely unmet. You don’t bother to dress yourself anymore as you don’t really see the point to it. Before you know it, the shower has become Mount Everest. The darkness really can swallow you whole without you even seeing it coming.
The loneliness can be suffocating and I would feel so much envy as I watched my husband receive his rewards and achievements as he continues to make a success of himself in his career. His trips to the gym would have me smiling through gritted teeth. ‘How nice he has the time and the energy to do that’ I would think.
I am actually really proud of the way I managed it after my initial panic which went like – ‘Well, that’s it, I’ve got nobody to give me a break from the baby and we are all going to die. I’m going to die first’
I knew I should be seeing people and going out more. I knew I could go to the gym too. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find the motivation to help myself. Any energy I had went into raising my son and making him happy. If that meant we went out with him washed and dressed and me looking like I was sleeping on the street, then that is usually how it went.
I finally found acceptance after our first year and I began to find my feet. The huge change just had me living in ‘survival mode’ which is what happens when you have a history of trauma. If something triggers you, you go into a ‘fight, flight, freeze or fawn’ state and that’s why it was such a struggle. I still felt all the things I have mentioned but I just knuckled down and I poured my energy into enjoying my son and our days together.
I wanted to throw in the towel many times. Just get in the car and drive away. I would make it no further than Sainsbury’s and sit for maybe an hour before going back home to my family… because that’s basically all I needed. An hour on my own.
Of course, then the pandemic hit. Felt a bit like, ‘Really? I get the hang of this and now we have some kind of biochemical war hit us’ (because it’s all about me of course) Lockdown after lockdown made things difficult but not impossible. I am actually really proud of the way I managed it after my initial panic which went like – ‘Well, that’s it, I’ve got nobody to give me a break from the baby and we are all going to die. I’m going to die first’ and lasted about three weeks.
I really had to get creative and I taught my son a lot of things I maybe wouldn’t have done if this hadn’t have happened. When we were allowed to travel we had the time of our lives on adventures, here there and everywhere, We packed in so much! Things we never would have done had we not been so restricted in the previous months. We have a catalogue of photos and videos of wonderful memories in an otherwise terrible year.
Lockdown number three, as I write this, has started to feel never-ending. It’s January, the most depressing month of the year and my son has no social life because I can’t take him anywhere at all this time and even going to the park locally, the weather complete shite.
He’s almost two and a half and it’s started to play on my mind that he still hasn’t interacted with other children regularly because of Covid. So, I have finally caved and broken the three year rule. I decided that it’s time to go back to work. With the continued restrictions this year it’s going to be what’s best now for both of us, providing the childcare remains open.
Once my previous job confirmed I could return and we found childcare ready for when I start, I, of course, felt completely overwhelmed with guilt. You can’t make it up, can you? All of a sudden I’ve gone from, ‘This the right thing to do. It’s what he needs and it’s what I need’ to ‘How can I abandon him like this? He will never forgive you. Seeing him 24/7 to evenings and weekends, my god, will he even know you’re his mother anymore?!’
It’s a lovely mix of guilt with a sprinkle of crippling fear, but, we are going to get through this, just like we have everything else.
Immediately, I became a this ‘gentle earth mother’ style parent. I waited out the tantrums, I was there to hug him when he finally accepted his fate. We lived in better harmony. All the pressure and the darkness of the never-ending abiss of ‘7am – 5pm’ (because 5pm is Daddy time) had lifted.
I had some time before I would get a start date for work and out of nowhere, I started to take care of myself. I have taken up yoga. Something that was on my to-do list for years to help with my mental and physical health. Yoga is super effective in the treatment of trauma symptoms and you can check out my social media I’ll be keeping a track of my journey until I write a piece on it. I also started to go to sleep to bilateral meditation tracks instead of Netflix. Who the hell was this woman and how long is she staying for?
As he slowly settles into childcare I am currently working through my own separation anxiety. A bit like the ‘becoming a parent’ deal, people who have been through it can’t really ever explain it or prepare you for it. It’s a lovely mix of guilt with a sprinkle of crippling fear, but, we are going to get through this, just like we have everything else.
Hopefully, once we have settled in and we are all living our new, albeit strange, lockdown version of life with a little extra money in the bank, we could look forward to more adventures with our much more precious, free time.
I honestly, can’t wait.
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