June 23rd 2020: On Love And Struggle

June 23rd 2020: On Love And Struggle

Dear Edith,

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote anything. I haven’t been well. When people said “your body will never be the same after you’ve had a baby” I thought they meant I’d be a slightly different shape and pee myself when I laugh. Fortunately having a C-section means I’ve avoided the latter. So far, anyway.

I swing between being just having achy, sore joints and being a total wreck who can barely move from exhaustion. Theories on what’s wrong with me range from vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems and ongoing trauma from having a C-section, although I struggle to understand why abdominal surgery would result in my knuckles aching when I carry a mug of coffee between two rooms.

I did have a doctor say “there may be nothing medical science can do for you”, which was lovely. Remember this – doctors are notorious for fobbing off symptoms in women. If you ever need to see one for something that gets minimised or ignored, do not give up and do not downplay how you feel because you’re worried you’re being a pain in the ass. Being a pain in the ass is how to get things done.

Being physically unwell is only half of it though. It sucks, but the emotional struggle is worse.

Don’t worry kid, I know where the food goes.

I knew before I even got pregnant that I’d have postnatal depression. It’s been passed down through our family like some cursed heirloom in a horror story, one that you burn in the garden and find on the mantelpiece again the following day. I was expecting the thick, heavy sadness that seeps into the soul like mould. I thought it’d be endless tearful days, struggling to bond, refusing to leave the house.

Instead it’s somehow more insidious. It waited nearly eight weeks to let me know it was here. It disappears during the day and creeps in after dinner. It’s anxiety that stops me sleeping, a sick fight-or-flight instinct that means I’m constantly terrified and I don’t know what of.

I haven’t had the easiest time since you were born. I had an emergency caesarian section (long story, and one I’ll tell here at some point) and had no sooner gotten over that before I ended up with whatever mystery illness is plaguing me now. There’s very little time, if any, where I’ve been anywhere near on top of my game physically and a lot of the “heavy lifting” has been done by Dad and Granny. I feed you and cuddle you and lie you on the floor to watch nursery rhymes on the TV when you get bored of sitting staring at my face, but for most of the past nine weeks I haven’t been the one rocking you to sleep or putting you in the bath or staying up all night to feed you until your little eyes close.

I get tired and have to lie down in the middle of the day, and if you aren’t sleeping I hand you to Dad, or your Granny, or Grandma. Every time I do, I feel like I’m “shirking my responsibilities”, even though I’m ill and it’s not like I’m being lazy. The guilt is awful and I feel like a failure, and it haunts me all day every day.

But worse – and this is my major, major hangup – every time you’re not literally attached to me I feel like I can almost see your little Bond-o-Meter plummeting.

I’m sure everyone must be sick of me waiting “but what if she doesn’t love me?” at least once a day. I keep getting told that whenever I get up to go to the kitchen your little eyes follow me until they’ve basically rolled back into your skull, but that doesn’t matter to my head. It’s like the anxiety trope of “I assume people hate me for no reason all the time” but you’re only two months old, I can’t talk about it the same way I do with my friends or your Dad do when I need it, and that’s what’s difficult.

It brings me to tears. It makes me so stressed out I can’t eat or sit still. I’m jealous and irritable and and every time you smile for someone else I want the ground to open and consume me.

One of the most powerful things I took away from therapy in my early twenties was the ability to detach from my mental health and acknowledge it. I was able to recognise irrational thoughts and say “this is not real, this is my brain disease”. For some reason, even though logically I know it’s the same in this situation, I am really, really struggling with this right now.

You’re nearly ten weeks weeks old and you’ve lost that helpless, tiny little newborn-ness once and for all. You smile more and more, you’re so close to laughing (you did it in your sleep at Granny and Granda’s house the other day, which was hilarious and deeply creepy), I can see you little tongue going when I talk to you like you’re trying to form the same words I am. You make tiny, cute little noises back at me instead.

It’s only been two months and already I know watching you grow up is going to be the most fun. I know it’s going to make all the bad brain stuff worth it.

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