When I found myself pregnant with Polly in 2008, the state of my mental health had never been better. At the ripe old age of 29 I’d already been on a remarkable journey.
I had survived a dysfunctional childhood, and self-destructive young adulthood. I’d dragged myself through two mental breakdowns, and experienced the highest highs and lowest lows.
I had travelled the world, and met my awesome husband along the way. I’d made the most wonderful friends a person could wish for. Which is just as well, because at 25 I estranged myself from every single member of my family.
I’d also learnt (the hard way) that the answers to life’s problems could not be found at the bottom of a bottle.
Believe me, I’d searched every external crevice for happiness, and realised that it comes from within.
I learnt that to be happy, I would need to look in the mirror and like what I saw
I had to distinguish between my wants and my needs, and get to know who I really was. I’d need to forgive myself for the things that I wasn’t proud of. I’d need to truly let go of the past so I could make peace with it.
I was in such a good place when Polly came along. Even a traumatic birth didn’t stop me from loving her fiercely from the second she came out. To be honest I didn’t properly recognise it as traumatic until I was giving birth to Clara two and a half years later. That’s a whole blog in itself though.
I walked everywhere that summer, staring at my beautiful baby in wonder. Had I really made her? Could I really be that lucky?
By the time I became a mum I had overcome so much, that I honestly thought the hardest bits were over.
Oh how naive I was
I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that my own children could push me to the edge of my sanity. That I would watch my mental health deteriorate and feel powerless to do anything about it.
Friends with kids had somberly warned me about newborn sleep deprivation. They’d said to watch out for pesky teeth, and strange changes that occur when babies are going through growth spurts.
A good friend, who’d had two kids very close together, had said to expect one seriously tough day a week. A day so bad I’d be reaching for the gin before the witching hour was over. One that I’d want to completely forget about as soon as the kids were asleep.
That’s not going to happen to me, I thought, no way. I’d leave a sensible age gap between my kids, having them super close sounds like a nightmare.
My girls are 2y 7m apart, and take it from me, the age gap is the least of our troubles
At seven months pregnant with Clara I found myself sobbing to my ex boss.
“I’m so exhausted, I don’t think I can last another three weeks until my maternity leave is due to start.”
Fortunately he’s a family man himself, and one of life’s good eggs. He let me tie up my loose ends and finish that day. If only all work managers were like him.
Back then I had a toddler who would get up ten times a night as standard, have huge meltdowns at 3am, and refuse to go to her daddy. As well as that we had a very noisy neighbour on our hands, who would be up all hours.
We managed to muddle through though, and cope. Somehow.
When Clara was born I did everything I could to enjoy her baby days. Knowing how fast they’d go, I drunk up every delicious drop of that gorgeous girl.
Polly was jealous of her sister, beyond what felt normal, and it was heartbreaking watching her regress. Nursery was more of a hindrance than a help, but we thought we were doing her good by letting her socialise. She was diagnosed with an allergy list as long as my arm, and so began years of exclusion diets. More frustration. More difficulty.
Fast forward fifteen months, and a prosecco fuelled evening lead to Freddy being conceived. (Hubby has never touched the stuff since!)
By then I was back to work, and the girls were both at nursery. Clara slept through from ten weeks old, which was just as well, because Polly was still up all night. Challenging behaviour was the order of the day.
I found myself wondering on an hourly basis how I’d cope with three children when two already seemed like too many
Freddy’s pregnancy was the toughest, but with two kids to keep me busy it went fast. Two maternity leaves in three years.
Polly started school and struggled massively from day one.
“She’s fine when she’s here.”
Oh how I loathed those words, and the patronising delivery of them. The inference being that we must be doing something wrong at home. Clearly the meltdowns and night time antics were either exaggerated or our fault.
Polly’s allergies weren’t getting better, so we had her tested for every gastrointestinal disease under the sun. Nothing. When a leading gastro paediatrician told me the tests had come back in normal range I knew what was coming next.
Autism. Diagnosed a year later
By then it felt like we were a broken family, and we desperately needed help being put back together. No such luck. When you live in London under the Tories, you’re on your own.
Polly was on a clear cycle by then. Sleep and post-school meltdowns would get worse as we neared the end of term. Then we’d plough all our energy into making her happier over the holidays only to watch our hard work unravel when she went back.
My poor baby girl was severely overwhelmed by school, and they were doing precisely nothing to help her.
Home education wasn’t a last resort, but I wasn’t going to sit back and let it get that bad. Eighteen months later, and here we are.
Yes we’ve made progress, but the set backs can send us to square one in a heartbeat
We’re now the noisy neighbours. Our kids are loud. They have meltdowns and tantrums multiple times a day. Individually they’re awesome, collectively they make me want to cry.
I have good days and bad, but just lately there haven’t been many good ones. The challenges have been never ending, and keep on coming.
My previously rock solid marriage can feel as shaky as a dingy in the middle of the ocean on a stormy night. Most days I want to punch my husband in the face when he leaves the house to go to work, because he gets a break from it all.
Sleep is better than it’s ever been, but it’s still rubbish. Freddy’s in our bed every night. Polly’s often up. And although Clara sleeps, getting her to bed can be a tiresome task. She’s not getting enough Zzzzz’s and unlike her brother and sister, who are used to running on empty, she can’t handle it.
Home education often means being a prisoner in my own home. If Polly is anxious and exhausted and I can’t convince her to leave the house. Most days I have fun things planned for us to do, but usually we do none of them because we get caught up in Polly’s rage. She’s taken to using me as her punching bag. At least she isn’t being so violent with the younger two.
Eight years ago, when I was nearing the end of Polly’s pregnancy, I thought I had it all sussed out
Surely motherhood was like everything else? The harder you worked, the more rewards you would reap? I’d just work my butt off, and give my absolute all to my kids. Surely that would equate to happiness?
To be completely honest, even if it was possible to go back in time and tell my thirty year old self how it would actually be, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.
My plan was fail safe. I’d just love my kids more than everyone else loved theirs, and not make ridiculously stupid decisions that would mess them up in later life.
Once again, I’m learning the hardest way that it’s not that simple though. So here I am, eight years later, feeling more clueless now than ever before. The game is constantly changing, and I have no frigging idea what the rules are.
People warn you about maternal and post-natal depression. Nobody tells you about surviving chronic stress due to challenging children.
The emptiness you can feel when you give everything to your kids and get treated like the enemy.
The cycle of self-loathing that’s created from having toxic thoughts about the little people you created.
The loneliness you can feel, even though you can’t take a pee in private.
All any of us can do is try our best, and hope that when all is said and done, it was enough
**sharing for world mental health awareness week**