I am a mother. I have three daughters (ages 5.5, 4.5 and 15 months). They are wonderful, precious souls who I will cherish and protect until my dying breath. Every day I marvel at their uniqueness, their endless capacity for joy. They are the most important thing in my life and I strive, above all else, to be the best mum I can be.
Since I became a mother for the first time in 2007 I have experienced unimaginable joy and marvelled at the mystery and beauty of unconditional love… I have wept uncontrollably for hours because I was filled with such indescribable happiness… I have wept uncontrollably for hours because I was filled with such unbearable pain. I have contemplated suicide and wished I never had children.
G and I tried for almost 3 years before our Monkey was conceived. From the moment my internal alarm went off, when I was 30, until the moment I pee’d on that little white paddle and saw the two blue lines it was an emotional roller-coaster of ‘maybe’s’ and ‘not this time’s’ and internal examinations and masturbating into jars (G, not me) and ‘we can’t work out what is wrong maybe you just need to relax!’
We had decided, together, that if it didn’t happen naturally we didn’t want to go down the IVF road. By then we were already living in Asia and were contemplating adoption if all else failed. I had stopped working and we were living together in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had definitely RELAXED!!!
Then it happened! She gave us a couple of scares early on but our Monkey hung in there. By the time she was born, we had moved to Bangkok and G was back at work. She arrived, with a rush, on a Friday afternoon and from the second I laid eyes on her I was in love.
My experience as a first time mum was fabulous. The Monkey slept well, she fed well, she was healthy and beyond adorable. She rarely cried. I took to motherhood like the proverbial duck. On reflection, I must have been one smug bitch. Nodding sagely at mother’s groups while my peers described the sleep deprivation, the feelings on inadequacy and all the other very normal experiences of early parenting, I would cradle my little bundle of pink, squidgy perfection and think to myself, “I have no idea what you are talking about!”
I was nailing the mum thing, G and I were both disgustingly doting parents and we fell in love all over again too. So much cushy, soft focus happiness. It was outrageous!
This goes some way to explaining how, when Monkey was barely 6 months old, a particularly bad case of food poisoning turned out to in fact be a pregnancy.
That was the sound of a bursting bubble.
Fuck, fuck, fuck! OK! Fuck! No, it will be OK. Oh shit! Stupid men, stupid sex, stupid me for not using contraception (I knew that breastfeeding was not a guarantee of protection and Monkey had been such a good sleeper. Of course I was ovulating!) Stupid men, blame him, that will work.
Morning sickness, breastfeeding, morning sickness, breastfeeding! …not quite the same experience as my first pregnancy.
Nonetheless, I soon recovered from the initial shock and started looking forward to meeting little Bodhi. I had decided this one was a boy and nobody was going to tell me, or the hormones coursing through my body, any differently.
Move forward 7 months and out pops our Pigeon. G was besotted, again! I was furious with her for not being a boy. I was furious with her for making keeping me from Monkey. I was furious with her because she wouldn’t settle. I was furious with her because she wouldn’t sleep. I looked into her perfect little face and my first thought was. “Well, you better have a good personality cos you are one ugly little fucker!”
Writing this now, I have to stop to wipe away the tears welling in my eyes. How could I have been so cruel? How can you be ‘disappointed’ with a baby?
Things went from bad to worse. Pigeon didn’t sleep. She screamed. She whimpered. She wailed. She dozed for minutes at a time on my chest or in my arms, but she DID NOT SLEEP.
What was I doing wrong? Why wouldn’t anything work? Why did she have to some along and ruin everything?
G was called in to work on shift at a crisis centre for stranded Aussies (For those who are familiar with recent Thai history, the yellow shirts had taken over the airport and brought the country to a standstill, nobody in or out). He was working from 7am – midnight. Monkey was 14 months old and trying to comprehend all the sudden changes in her life…. and Pigeon would not sleep.
I was alone and desperate. As I became more and more sleep deprived my state-of-mind continued to deteriorate. I withdrew from G. I had no-one to talk to. I was in a foreign country with a toddler and a baby. I was up to my eyeballs in nappies and night feeds and pacing the floor all night. I thought I was going mad.
Eventually, Pigeon’s sleep issues started to improve… a little… and by the time she was 4 months old she would sleep for 4 hours between about 6pm and 10pm at night. I would get the children to sleep, go to the shower, turn it on, sit on the floor of the bathroom and weep as the scalding water poured over me. I thought about making it all go away. I though about going to sleep and never waking up. I though about walking out the door and never coming back.
Being in Bangkok, it was difficult for me to reach out and get help. I finally admitted to myself that I had Post Natal Depression but there was no network or clinic or even a GP to help me or diagnose me. In desperation, I rang my old GP from Australia and told her what I was going through. Having had depression once before in my early 20’s I was a familiar with anti-depressants and which one worked for me. Being in Asia, I was able to order the medication over the counter. I waited a few days, picked up the drugs and started the slow and arduous journey out of the abyss.
In retrospect, I am unbelievably proud of myself for finding my own way back. I wish I had had someone to talk to, a professional or even a friend with a similar experience, but my circumstances were such that I was very much alone. Nonetheless, as the fog slowly cleared, I was able to make better choices.
Pigeon, as it turned out, had silent reflux which, with medication and time improved and so did her sleep. I also believe that she was profoundly influenced by my pain. She is a very sensitive soul and has always been very much an empath. When I finally started to smile, so did she. Then she started laughing, and so did I.
… and then we fell in love!
Again the tears roll down my face.
I think perhaps she had always loved me.
Falling in love with my second daughter was like seeing colours for the first time. My bond to her, my overwhelming need to protect her is so firmly routed in our shared experience of her first 7 months in this world and the long and arduous path we took together. There is guilt there too. I still lie awake at night hoping I have not hurt her in some deep and invisible way. Mostly, however, there is a true, mad, vast, unbreakable mother’s love.