One

I have a one year old. How the hell did that happen?

Happy first birthday to Sunny Boo, little Bean, beautiful Ois√≠n. It is a singular joy being your mum and watching you grow from a mini Bean to a human Bean. At one, you still love the cats, you love music and dancing, shaking your head and jumping up and down on your bum, bibbling, pretending to have a tantrum then laughing, Chu and Where’s The Cat (‘at!), the light of the moon and little eggs laying on leaves, hurling yourself onto teddies, talking to the bookshelf, cleaning your high chair tray with a cloth, watching other people, being carried up the stairs by your dad still makes you dance with happiness every night. You still love your little baby gym- you couldn’t even reach the dangly toys when we got it and now you can lift the whole thing up to tip over, and those toys are well chewed. You love the feel of the wind in your hair. You love being sang to, sometimes when I sing to you at bedtime you flip out so much I have to stop. You are hilarious and make me laugh more than anyone else. You push books to us to read and flick back to your favourite pages. When you have night terrors I feel like I’m walking an ancient path, responsible for such a small life beginning to make sense of their world, a sovereign being in your own right, but being carried around by your daddy and a cat always makes it better. You have weird taste in food and love anything strong, you turn your nose up at mild cheddar and yomp down the vintage stuff, smoked salmon and celery. You make the most amazing noises (the cats have their own special ones) and sometimes wake up in the night to babble with slightly unnerving clarity. You’re the most sociable and sweet baby I’ve ever met, you share your happiness with everyone around you, looking into our faces with a grin. You have the best selection of smiles, the softest skin and the longest eyelashes. Having you has made me reevaluate what’s important, made me kinder, happier, given me the closest thing to the answer of what the universe means that I think I’ll ever get. You’re the best and we love you. And thanks to everyone who’s been through this year with us, helped, hung out, given advice, made him giggle.

Oh, and happy 8th birthday to the cats too!

One year ago today:

IMAG0922

Now:

Therapy Tales No. Etc- Death and Trauma. Fun.

Therapy is ending soon.

Losses, fears, love- that’s basically it. Losses of things I loved- including animals (I know pets die, but mine in sudden, cruel ways I can’t go into here but which haunt me) and people. They all died lonely, premature, unfair, painful deaths. As soon as I really understood what death really was (which happened when I had another loss- my friend who killed herself when I was 15), I have been completely heartbroken ever since. Of what life is. Of feeling. Of finality. Of memory. I can’t bear it, any of it. That’s when the fear really started. I’d always been afraid of my parents’ death, i obsessed over it. But that was my first big loss, of someone I’d seen so recently, so young, so similar to me. We were all steeped in bullshit pop music mythology, playing with self harm. But she died. Alone. And I was unforgiven for something. I never got to explain or say sorry. And she died. Died. Death. Forever. My first cremation, too.

Memory is important to me. Memory is evasive to me. I have convoluted memories of my own childhood. ¬†Different from my siblings’ because we’re different people. Everything is kind of mixed up, muddy. Then my own brain conspired against me, and I don’t remember a lot of my periods of illness, or the life that existed, inevitably, as life does, within them. And I had my own fractious relationship with the truth when I was young. ¬†When I look back I realise it was because I found it so hard to be living the life I had, so created another, not even one that was easier, but one I felt could justify the pain I was in without ever being honest about what was really causing it (it still feels churlish and trivial, and now I am at the other extreme of exposing honesty). ¬†Other people have memories I don’t, largely negative and embarrassing. My own bad behaviour haunts me not just because it hurt those it was directed to (or caught within), but because I know it has become part of the memory arsenal, that chorus always waiting to be summoned, or to butt in, uninvited, and to hurt. And I hate that. I don’t want to be someone’s bad memories. Maybe if I can be better now, I can replace it or erase it? And all I want is to give my son happy memories. Robert says I’m morbid, which is true. He keeps us in the present- he thinks, “experiences”, I think, “memories”. Already living in the past tense.

Memory is all we have, really. In the end, if we’re lucky, that’s all we have. Since my dad died I have dug deep and cling to the good memories I have of him. Further and further away. It’s hard to remember happiness. It’s not the visceral gut punch of despair, more the balloon in your hand that drifts away, bright and then small and smaller. Physical pain is hard to remember (I couldn’t describe now what my contractions felt like, even though I know they hurt), but emotional pain recalls itself constantly. So I often only remember the bad things clearly (and how bad they were), and it feels like they just happened. How jealous I am of people whose parents weren’t like mine and who they went out to lunch with and they didn’t die like my dad did. Even those who did die but in ways that people had some sympathy for (alcoholics dying, lowest of the low, fuck their children, the way we were treated by the medical staff, my baby brother and sister, fuck them forever and forever for it, for every person afterwards who turned their face away from me), ¬†I have to unfollow people on Facebook posting happy pictures with their parents. Out at lunch! Having drinks! Doing normal things.

Memory is the twoheaded monster. My memories of my dad are awful, Sometimes they engulf me and I feel like tearing my skin off in agony that I can’t go back, can’t change something, can’t intercept this awful image and make it different. That was it. And his memories. I think that’s perhaps worst. HIs life which he didn’t deserve. That he was so desperately unhappy. That he died like he did, and that I knew he was afraid of it. And there are tears pouring down my face as I write this. To be afraid without comfort. Without hope. I wanted to be there when he died to be a hand or a face or a word, and I wasn’t.

Me being there wouldn’t have changed the outcome, he would have died anyway. But I wanted to do something, anything.

My friend Brendan died not long after my dad. He was an alcoholic too, was trying to recover. He died of an accidental overdose and my last communication with him was a voicemail he left on the Monday before he died asking me to meet up, saying he was nearby, just passing, are you in? get in touch, and I was so up my own fucking selfish arse I never did and then he died.

In therapy we talked about safety behaviours and my big one is having my phone on me and being always contactable. I have a three hour commute to and from work and most of it is underground. I went for a rare night out on Tuesday and had a panic attack on the train as I visualised (fear not feelings etc, but it felt like a promotion, it felt like destiny), Robert screaming over our baby, screaming and screaming and I wasn’t there. That if he died I wouldn’t be there. What would his last memory be? Be held, be there, be loved. Not alone.

(Howl)

This is hard to write. I’ll come back to it.

It’s also about fear. I used to have nightmares about my dad dying from his drink. But he did anyway. It happened even worse than I screamed about. So why should I trust my fears aren’t real? That the worst won’t happen? It did. All the worst fears I have (dying myself is a worst fear that will inevitably be true, but I fear dying young, leaving my baby, Robert dying, my baby dying, my mum being unhappy and dying) came true so why not these? It’s hard not to take my anxieties as facts. They happened. ¬†And with Robert and my baby in particular, who are my husband and my son, I love them so fiercely, I think, my love must insulate them from suffering, from death. But it doesn’t and it won’t. How can I ever accept that? I know it’s a childish and possibly a bit narcissistic but there it is. When Robert has the slightest bit of discomfort, my refrain is, “What can I do? How can I fix it?”

We talked about my intrusive thoughts which often take the form of, when I’m speaking to someone, imagining them dead. And realising they have the same expression, that I am just superimposing my dad over everyone’s faces, just reliving it constantly.

We didn’t even get on that well when he was alive. We had some beautiful moments, a lot of understanding, and he was a good person. But I often hated him for what he put us through. I used to fantasise about him falling downstairs and breaking his neck just so he’d shut up. Stop shouting. Stop drinking. Then we’d be free. (I hate this freedom. I hate myself).

So the therapist talked a bit about trauma and how events can be too big for the brain to process so they never become memories. They’re always happening instead. A sort of PTSD. And how if you break them down they can be processed and become memories and stop being so present. I’m skeptical. I have some extra sessions before we quit but feel like we’ve pulled a thread and I want the jumper back. And I don’t want to do the homework. I don’t want to write it all down. I want to keep pushing it all out. I don’t want to break it down. I don’t want to break down.

I cried a fair bit after that session and Robert gave me a lot of hugs when I came home. And then abruptly I just stopped talking about it, as I do, Silly, trivial, depressing.

Yeah.

(Stay with the feelings)

Musings on Mumhood- Feminism, Love and Grief

Edit: for some reason this post is showing as May 18th. I wrote it on June 11, so go figure!

I’m currently writing this at 11.30pm, in the garden, where a fairly stiff breeze is blowing. This is the only place I know I won’t run to the baby if he cries (Robert is in the house with him, in case you think I’ve just left him). I’ve wanted to get some thoughts down about motherhood for months, but it’s been rather hard to write. Not just due to the new occupant of my lap. But because my feelings are hurricaning through me and evolving every day.

When I was pregnant, I finally kicked a nasty, expensive habit that garnered me more than my fair share of tuts and frowns.

Bad for your health. And your vocabulary.

Bad for your health. And your vocabulary.

Part of the reason I read these exploitative trashmags¬†is that I love peoples’ stories. I don’t think anything is banal. When I was pregnant, I would walk down the street with a person in my body (!!!), thinking, “And this will be you”. The fact that he would be walking down a street lost in his own thought was absolutely mindboggling to me. I find it endlessly fascinating that there’s a story behind every face, that every person dwells within their own private universe. ¬†In a way, there’s nothing more ordinary, and nothing more amazing.

In January,¬†Eva Wiseman wrote an article in the Guardian- “The seismic changes of having a baby”.¬†I read it when it was linked by various Facebook friends. The consensus being, “Big deal. Woman has baby shocker”. Commentary on how self obsessed her article was.¬†Big deal indeed.

Something isn’t less special, less beautiful, because it’s commonplace. Every day is filled with unfathomable, unpredictable¬†ordinariness. Dreams, seasons, love. And grief isn’t less black and deep and consuming because it’s something that happens to everyone, every day, everywhere. Nobody (well, I hope not) tuts and rolls their eyes and says, “Big deal. People die everyday”. So why do we do it when people are born? Why,¬†outside the climatic yet somehow bland scenes of a romcom, is it less amazing?

It’s a peculiarly misogynistic view to hold, this woman’s world of babies and childbirth. How dull, how droll. How very trivial. From woman to mummy, from one judgement to another. (I saw a tweet from a supposed feminist about another feminist, scorning an article they’d written sarcastically saying, “Did she mention she’s a mother?” I blocked her). Women across the world are judged on their status as a mother, or potential mother. Being a, “real” woman is partly¬†judged by your attitude towards or your ability to reproduce. ¬†Our reproductive capacity is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of being¬†female. ¬†It’s when domestic violence often starts or intensifies. It’s a visible, very visceral sign of your sexual activity. You can die because of it- through pregnancy, through childbirth, or through not being able to have a baby. Women are murdered because of it,¬†women kill themselves over it. And the first year postpartum is one of the riskiest periods in a woman’s life- where suicide is the biggest killer. Yeah, this shit matters. This is not trivial. ¬† The people I’ve spoken to most about parenthood have been men. It’s applauded for the dads to say how amazing it is to have a child, but for mothers, there’s ridicule. So what.

I can understand a distaste of the oddly consumerist and competitive side of parenthood. Who’s having the “easiest” pregnancy, to the easy baby, to the best pram, the milestones. That’s trivial. But sharing these things is part of the culture of parenthood. Part of life itself. ¬†Sharing the darker aspects- feeding problems, illness, relationship problems, postnatal mental health, postnatal physical health, sexuality, the huge shake up of your identity, your body, your mind (hormones are real fuckers), wifework and the distribution of labour and for some, regret- is only just beginning to find the light. And so it should. As I said, this shit matters. Motherhood is a feminist issue.

The whole experience has stripped me down and shaken up my values. I love my job, I care about my job, and I never thought for a second I’d not want to go back to work. I used to joke that I’d leave the maternity ward and go to the pub. ¬†But I would happily stay off to look after the baby. ¬†And the Daily Mail would write that shit as, “How Women Are Turning On their Careers for Babies”. Which is bullshit. I’m going back to work, and I’m not a different person. This is a new part of me, a new spoke on the wheel. ¬†It’s frustrating sometimes, exhausting often, but I never knew how easily it would come to love someone, to do those frustrating, exhausting things. How fulfulling it would feel to change a pooey nappy because it means I could kiss his toes and make him laugh, and how much joy I’d get in those tired hours. I had prepared myself for “not feeling it”. People warned me about it. After all, it makes sense. Here’s a person you’ve never met, you don’t really know, who, for a while, can’t give much back. It might take time to love them. And it did- about 10 hours. And since then my love has grown and grown to strain my heart against my chest, to spill into the world, to everyone in it.

And it frightens me. It terrifies me. Throughout pregnancy, I consciously tried not to connect. I felt at every stage I could lose it, and he could die. I tried to protect myself by keeping myself at a distance. Which is very hard when the distance goes as far as inside yourself. ¬†In the quieter moments with Robert on his nightshift I’d play him songs (him! It was him all along in there) and talk to him and feel his kicks in response. And it got harder and harder not to connect when I’d have my panicked morning frappucino (cold and caffeine, the perfect way to get your baby to move) and he’d give me a few pissed off kicks. But it was terror, almost constant terror.

I feel the same terror, mingled with bliss, never a hope of separating one from the other. I’ve sat, so many nights, with his downy head under my chin and cried over it. My fear of death has come back tenfold, because the absolute best case scenario is that I won’t see how my son’s life pans out. (Did my dad feel this way about us before he died anyway?) From both me and Robert, and through both me and Robert, there will come that inevitable terminal separation. Forever and forever from the one who I grew with my body. And that we will break his heart one day, and mine breaks over and over again.

Now my life seems to be measured in his days and weeks and months and years, and not my own. And it feels so very small. The grief is raw, and I try to centre myself. I grieve each clothes size, each little thing that was there that’s already gone- gone! forever! The way he’d sigh after finishing a bottle. Moro! Squealing with delight at Saturday in the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Not being able to reach Monkeys in his bouncy chair. Being so tiny, and now not so tiny. ¬†I used to think babies were hams. That’s the word I used- they’re angry and pink and wibbling. But every day! he does something new. He’s babbling now, giving us long lectures in his language we’re only beginning to understand. He rolled over this week and was so shocked he burst into tears. First, a second of silence, then he caught my eye and his lip began to wobble. I picked him up and called to Robert upstairs. This week, he also stroked a cat. He’s just noticing them, particularly fascinated by their hovering question mark tails. I held his hand- his tiny hand- and pressed it onto her fur. He unfurled his fist and began to laugh- a belly laugh (I understand that phrase now, as I held him he bellowed, and I understand that one, too). And it was utterly beautiful. This little moment of discovery in the world, and as near to death I feel I am sometimes, I am born, again.

That probably sounds evangelical, and I am, in a way. I can see why people worship their children.It’s okay to, as people. The problem is when we see them as extensions of ourselves, which they aren’t. From the second they’re born, they’re their own person. Which is frightening in itself, with all that being a person entails. I don’t know how I’m going to cope the first time someone’s horrible to him. When he’s hurt or disappointed. For the first few weeks I was afraid to take him to places I wasn’t sure were child friendly as I knew I’d disintegrate if I saw a tut, or someone mumbling about bloody kids. They’re part of our lives, part of our society. There are some places they don’t belong (we tried to take him to someone’s birthday dinner, thinking it’d be sedate, but I was on the train home 30 minutes later) but that’s okay.

Another reason why I cry is his childness makes me ache for mine. In as much as he makes me wonder and look at the world anew, my small self is huddled inside, nerves as exposed as my heart feels. When he cries- from hunger, or fear, or loneliness- I feel the fear and loneliness of my own childhood. I rush to make it right, to put arms around the lonely one, to wipe away the tears and soothe the fear. And now I feel every child’s fear and it means I can’t watch or read as much as I used to. It causes me physical pain. I find myself crying at the big things- news reports- and the small, FUCKING ADVERTS. (Fucking meerkat bastards). I feel like a layer of my skin has been sloughed off, and sometimes, I want the hardness back. Give me back my cynicism (it’s still there, somewhere). It’s agonising sometimes. Sometimes too much.

I’m not always walking around in a blissful daze. He can do my head in, too. The sheer relentlessness of it is a shock. This person (person!) is utterly dependent on you and it’s so daunting. And grinding. I miss the days of not worrying whether cot death has taken him (my head plays these awful scenarios, screaming), or worrying that something else will (please don’t take him, take me instead). Today, he was driving me up the wall. He’s going through a Baby Phase, you know, baby stuff. More of the mindblasting world to make sense of. I set my alarm so I could be there when he woke up (as Robert sleeps with him, not me, due to medication). He gave me this gorgeous smile and started kicking his legs excitedly and laughing. Which was a good start. And proceeded to go through the day refusing to nap, going on baby lectures, hating to be held, wanting to be held then hating it, lots of bottles, and a three hour battle to get him to sleep.¬†Then he does that thing- that melty heart thing which is why you eventually don’t care, have a second wind and want the whiny exhaustion to last forever. A three hour bedtime and finally get him to lie down, pick up a book and he coos in anticipation, holds his hand out for me to hold, giggles and makes cute noises with rapt attention the whole way through. Then a few songs which he smiles at so much I gave up with his dummy. Lie next to him and he sleepily gazes into my eyes and rests his little hand on my cheek. What a babe. ¬†This was the book.

book

It’s given me more love for everyone, and unlikely allies have emerged. People I didn’t know really cared have been on the end of Twitter, Facebook, a phone, with blankets, toys, little hats, clothes. He’s bedecked in the love and the kindnesses of others, and it’s beautiful. He’s an adored and doted on nephew and grandchild. It’s given me a new love for my husband, too. He was amazing throughout my pregnancy, throughout the labour, and he’s a wonderful father. Utter, utter gentleness and love, and pride. Watching them together is a delight. Just him talking- about any old thing- makes¬†Ois√≠n giggle and whoop with delight. He smiles so broadly when he sees him, they adore each other. Robert’s better than me at taking him out, he shows him the world, shares with him so many things. He’s going to be the stay at home dad, and it’ll be hard. The whole stay at home thing isn’t set up for fathers. But what a role model he will be. He’s just a baby, just a child, but the world will try to teach him he’s a boy, and what a boy is supposed to be. And Robert will be there to teach him that a boy can be gentle, and kind, and loving, silly and emotional, as so many boys are, but told they shouldn’t be. He will grow up with the very best boy to teach him. And I hope I can do teach him well, too.

So, my little baby, when you can read, and if you ever read this, I love the hell out of you. Sorry for the sort of swear word but I’m sure you’ll have heard a lot of those by now. It’s because you’re half Irish, and this is our punctuation. And I’ll love you, whoever you are (and I’m getting an idea, my curious, giggly, reachy little Bean) and whatever you do. Nothing you do will ever make me not love you. You’re pretty ace. Now go back to sleep. xxx

PS: I don’t read trashmags anymore. They make me cry.

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