It’s a phrase heard by so many women and families, and one that many of us are now keenly aware of, trained to avoid and to challenge at all costs. A simple, well-meaning phrase that can shatter, destroy, devastate. Think I’m being over dramatic? I’m not. Telling a new mum that the horrendous, life changing experience she has encountered is ‘just one of those things’ can be hugely damaging. Telling her that her feelings are not valid, she’s not entitled to feel that way and she needs to focus on the positive can be huge damaging. Telling her all that matters is a healthy baby can be hugely damaging. Because the thing is that is all matters. All of it. Every word spoken, every note written, every slight glance given. This is her experience, her moment and her once in a lifetime pregnancy. It’s not just another day. It’s not a little blip in the road towards a positive outcome. It’s not all that matters….
My second baby was born amidst beeps and wires. A stranger’s hands plucked him from my body and thrust him into the world. A stranger’s hands held him close, and willed him to take a breath. A stranger’s hands were his first experience of human contact, in a cold and sterile operating theatre. His little blue body was taken away to have tubes inserted and his chest massaged. And he did it. He breathed. He turned pink. He screamed!
And all the while, I slept.
And when I awoke, there was this baby. He was wrapped in a blue blanket and though I knew that I was supposed to have a baby, I couldn’t help but wonder who he was. Why were they placing this baby on my chest and telling me to feed him? Why did my arms feel like lead? And why, oh why, did I want to run away and scream into the sky?…
One of the things that has always haunted me since my son’s birth and the first, very difficult, years of his life is the guilt. Guilt over what I should have done differently. Guilt over the way I found it so hard to be his mum. Guilt over the things he missed out on, because I was such a mess. My memories of the first year of his life are dark, almost shrouded in shadows of fear and despair. I don’t remember smiling. I don’t remember him smiling. I don’t remember baby giggles or first smiles or excited clapping. I don’t remember anything but sadness. I remember he cried a lot. I cried a lot too. I remember he rarely slept. I slept even less. I remember he rejected me constantly in favour of daddy. But I rejected him too.
And then recently we came across some long forgotten home movies, shot in the weeks before and after he was born. My first instinct was to shut them down, turn the TV off and hide away from the horrible reality of what I was like back then. I didn’t want to see that woman, pretending to be a mother. I knew I’d see the truth in her eyes, and I was terrified of seeing that blank nothingness that filled my days back then. I couldn’t- shouldn’t- watch, and yet I was impelled to do just that….
Eight months ago I was referred for and started CBT. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I didn’t know what to expect and I actually planned to blog my way through it, thinking that maybe my journey might help someone else in the same situation. I wasn’t ready though for the intensity of this one. I wasn’t prepared at all, and I can only apologise for the blanks over here. It’s been hard. Really hard. So what has CBT taught me?
I am resilient. I’ve had to be. I cannot crumble. I cannot allow my mind to tear apart or my body to crumple to the ground. I do not belong there. I am strong. I can have my bad days, my want to stay under the cover days. I can have my anxious days, my sweating palms on the steering wheel days. I can have my fat days, stupid days, useless days. I can have them, as long as I pick myself up again afterwards. And I always do….
I haven’t been able to write much lately. Most days have felt as though there’s a fog hanging over life, with the briefest of snags through which the sun dares to poke a tentative ray. But the snags have been few and the light has been short lived, because I always seem to end up back where I started. Lethargic, uncaring, unwilling. I’m almost four months into my CBT sessions and I can tell you that they’re not getting any easier. Each week is now preceded with feelings doubt, dread and doom because I know what’s coming. And the days immediately after I am exhausted, and not just emotionally. My bones seem to take on the weight of whatever my mind cannot cope with, and I know that one day my body will collapse and bring it all tumbling down after it. Unless I get back up and fight. This is what I know I must do, and this is the hardest thing in the world for me to contemplate right now. I haven’t wanted to write at all, but this is everyone’s business and you need to know.
You need to know what it’s like. To sit in that small room with it’s strange temperature fluctuations (or is that me?) and it’s bare, empty walls. To sit in that not quite comfortable chair and open up your heart to lay it all bare in front of a relative stranger. To leave that rooms to fall into the arms of nobody, to know that once this hour is up there is nobody there to give you a hug. You need to know what it’s like to have to reach so deep inside yourself that what you see there makes you cringe, makes your skin crawl. What you see there makes you want to beat your fists against the wall and wail and scream. What you see there is both a shock and yet just what you expected all along….
CBT is hard. I started this course of treatment before Christmas, and I intended to update this blog, and Maternity Matters, regularly with my progress. I wanted to show others what it was like, so that maybe I could help someone else along in their journey. But it’s hard. It’s really hard. Most days I don’t want to talk about it, let alone write it all down. I’ve told people snippets of what is happening, but I cannot fathom the energy to lay it all bare. I cannot allow the prickles to seep into everything right now. It’s easier to leave it all in that little room once a week, and it will probably stay there for a long time. Because right now I don’t feel strong enough at all.
I had a post in my head a few weeks ago,entitled Happy. I was in the middle of a ‘high turn’ and things were bright, happy and calm. I was spending delicious days with Elsie, really spending time with her and loving every minute. I was thankful for people around me, and I was loving being busy with work, stimulated with the team I work with and positive about life ahead of me. I knew. I knew it wouldn’t last. It never does. It always comes to an end, I just didn’t realise it would be so abrupt….