“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
We are getting ready to celebrate Reuben’s first birthday, next weekend. With that fast approaching it’s got me thinking about the year that has been. If anything describes it perfectly, Charles Dickens words do – it has been ‘the best of times and the worst of times’, the ‘season of light‘ but also ‘darkness’, and a ‘winter of despair‘ followed, I hope, by a ‘spring of hope’. In truth, this has been the single, biggest, life changing year I have ever experienced. I have not known emotions and struggles to this extent and length before (and I have had a fair few difficult times to navigate). But with the hope of new seasons beginning sometime, I decided it was time to reflect on what has passed and share some of what’s it’s truly been like.
It’s been the worst of times….
“Darkness and Despair” are words I do not use lightly. But they are honestly how I have felt much of the time. I did not expect this. Yes, my pregnancy books explained that my hormones would be crazy after the birth, but I had no idea that I would find everything so hard, so quickly, and for so long.
I enjoyed nothing about being pregnant – for various reason, some of which you can read here. I also enjoyed nothing about giving birth, or being handed my baby, after the Doctors had re-joined my middle, following c-section. In fact, I hated this process so much that I left the hospital and walked home, 24 hours after the operation, much to everyone’s advice to the contrary. The truth is, I was terrified. I am not sure I have ever felt such fear in my life. I felt absolutely and utterly out of my depth, like I was about to drown at any moment. I knew I needed to be in my own house, to at least have something familiar around me. I honestly remember sitting on the sofa, holding Reuben, who was just a day old, and feeling that ‘fight or flight’ sensation coming over me. I considered, for a good few minutes, handing Reuben to my mum, walking out the door and not coming back. But something deep down in me knew I had to ‘fight’. And fight I did. And fight I have. In fact, sometimes I feel like this last year has been a constant fight – a war against myself.
For most new mums, there are struggles – little sleep, demanding baby, or sick baby. Household chores, no alone time, no time to brush your hair and teeth, never mind the luxury of a shower…I think I knew all of that was coming but I didn’t expect to FEEL, so powerfully, the way I did. If I look back at my internet history, for this time, I find google searches titled – “I hate being a mum”, “I cannot believe this baby is mine”, “I can’t cope with motherhood”. I was terrified of feeling how I did, I felt guilty and secretive about it – on top of being exhausted constantly. Oh and also embarrassed, that I had ‘failed’ to breast feed my baby.
Truthfully, the two words I would use to describe how I have felt for most of the year are : Lost and Alone.
Alone probably seems like a strange word to use – considering part of the struggle was I was never actually alone, as Reuben was with me 24/7! I also was surrounded by wonderful family and friends, and have a mum who did more than I could ever have asked of her. But the aloneness was internal, not external. It was a deep void within me that I could not fill. Some days it was easier to block out than others. But it was always there. And I could not articulate it to anyone – even now I find it hard to express it in words, although today I am not afraid to admit it. It was a dark and looming presence that invaded my heart and soul and would not leave.
As well as feeling alone I felt very lost. Lost in my new ‘job’ as a mum, with no belief that I was any good at it, or would ever get the hang of it – I lived for each day to be over. Lost, because I had no idea where my life was headed, or even who I was anymore. I looked at myself in the mirror and did not recognise who I was seeing. The person I had been was gone forever and I was constantly at a loss to know who I would be next. I felt powerless, useless and frightened. There were days I could shake it a little, others where it hit me like a brick, and some when I got a glimpse of my ‘location’ and could settle. But deep down, right to my boots, I felt LOST.
I wish I could say that those days lasted only briefly, but they didn’t. My “What to Expect…” book told me about the baby blues and promised they should pass quickly. But this felt like more than the baby blues. My training as a Counsellor made me meant I knew there was something going on deep inside. I talked to a few people from time to time, read other people’s blogs and lived on chat room forums. Perhaps there was some comfort in the fact that others struggled too. I wish I could tell you what helped me turn some corner, I can’t. Yes, I know the ‘theories’ I practiced on myself, and they may well have helped. Yes, I should be able to tell you that my faith held me together but, in truth, I have felt farther and more isolated from God this past year than ever before. If faith has been the thing to bring me through it has nothing to do with it being ‘mine’, it must certainly be God’s – the faith and belief He has in me.
It’s been the best of times…
Despite all of this, there have been moments of “light and hope”. But I often feel dreadful that I did not enjoy being pregnant, celebrate holding my baby for the first time, and embrace the first year of his little life. I’ve had to come to realise that there is no going back, just forward. Over the last 3 months things have been a little different. Not really internally but practically, at least. Perhaps it’s partly because I have become a bit more ‘confident’ in my role and ability as a mum. Also because Reuben and I have found a routine that works for us. Definitely because he sleeps 7pm-7am, loves going to the swings and sees being pushed around Asda in a trolley as an ‘outing’!
But it’s Reuben who has helped me in the worst of times – he is a little dote. Yes, I know all mums say that about their kids but to me, he is. His smile, especially first thing in the morning or after a nap, melts my heart. The love I feel for him is something I have never known before – I couldn’t manufacture it (and I did try) nor can I deny it. He makes me laugh, cry and burst with pride. And he actually seems to think I am something special! As hard as it can be for Gavin, I have to admit that I love it when he needs me – just me – no one else will do. I love teaching him things and watching him learn for himself. He’s determined and stubborn (yes, he gets it from BOTH of us), loves fun and will giggle to himself when no one is watching. These past couple of weeks he has started to ‘tell himself a story’, when I put him to bed – listening to him over the monitor is such a pleasure. He is demanding and exhausting, constantly on the go and always hungry!
Reuben has brought me moments of joy, unlike anyone else has, or could. He has reminded me what it means to be truly alive, for the ‘worst of times and the best of times’ can only be experienced when your heart is beating. I am delighted to celebrate his first birthday with him, there have been times I’ve wondered if we will make it this far.
I am emerging from this year as a different person – I am not sure who that person is yet. I still miss who I was before, but I hope I will like who I am yet to become. Carrying a baby and becoming a mum has changed me forever, and it’s not a change I was up for, believe me!
With Reuben’s first birthday almost here, I can truly say this has been the “best of times and the worst of times”. I would be lying if I said that the difficult days are not still present, for they are. But, I live in hope that maybe the worst of them have passed, or perhaps the worst of me has passed. Which ever is correct, I am ready for the ‘season or light’ and the ‘spring of hope’ – I long for it to begin!
Returning to this one year and 5 months later, I now know that was I have is Postnatal Depression, or in fact Antenatal Depression - beginning in pregnancy. How I wish I knew that back then. For the truth is, there was many more months of hard times to come. I am glad I was spared from that reality when posting this back then. But the 'season of light' and the 'spring of hope' have truly begun now...catch up with my PND diagnosis and journey in my more recent posts!