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From the moment I realised I was pregnant, I was overcome with feelings of loss and grief. I was no longer an autonomous individual. This was the beginning of a journey that took me to a place of additional and unimaginable loss – loss of control. I was a self-confessed control freak, symptomatic of my lack of self-confidence. I never took on anything more than I knew I’d have the best chance of being able to cope with so that everything I did do was done extremely well. So to the outside world and everyone around me, I appeared completely confident and capable not at all someone who ever needed help.
The first real test of my attitude to having children was when my husband and I decided in July that we would stop trying to avoid pregnancy and if nothing had happened by the end of the year we would start actively trying to conceive, giving us plenty of time to get used to the idea again of having children. Less than one month later I was pregnant. At a very early ultrasound scan it was found that I was 7 weeks pregnant – with twins. I was absolutely horrified but simultaneously overcome with guilt that the ease with which I, someone who was so ambivalent about having children, could get pregnant and with twins! There were people, like my sister- in-law who’d been trying IVF unsuccessfully for years, who were desperate for children who couldn't fall pregnant and here I was doubly pregnant after one encounter with my husband! I felt awful.
A feature of my need to maintain some control was my extreme fear of the pain of childbirth, so I attended hypnobirthing classes and practised the exercises diligently. When I was handed a slip of paper at 35 weeks gestation informing me of the date of my planned C-section at 37 weeks, 5 days due to the presenting twin remaining in breech position, I felt absolutely devastated – ‘failure’ for not having the natural birth I had wanted. Two hours after birth, twin 2, Lulu, latched onto my breast perfectly and had a lovely feed. Twin 1, Nina, was smaller and had trouble latching on. The first or second night in hospital I was unable to settle Nina and felt horrified and ashamed when the midwife informed me that she must be really hungry because she hadn't been fed for a long time. I’d forgotten to feed one of my babies! – Failure. Again.
I was terrified of taking these babies home and having to take care of them myself being so incompetent and ignorant of their needs. Day 6 and the day to leave hospital came and I was anxious all day. I had such an overwhelming urge to burst into tears and ask them to let me stay in hospital, but I tried to ignore it. Once again I had worked hard to give the impression that I was in control and confident. I put my fears and anxieties down to natural first-time parenting jitters and forced myself to smile. But I remember vividly standing in the doorway of my hospital room ready to leave with the double pusher all set up waiting for my husband to return from the car.I was sweating, I was having heart palpitations, my mouth was dry and I wanted to throw up. I was looking at those two babies in that room gripped by fear and anxiety. I am leaving the controlled environment where there is expert help on hand 24/7.
Thankfully, my husband had made provisions so that he could take 8 weeks off work. He was there to help with everything: washing, cleaning, shopping, preparing meals, baby care. Instead of enjoying this time, I obsessed over how I was going to manage to do all this when he returned to work. It was with breastfeeding that my obsessional, rigid, all-or-nothing, one in, all in mindset really manifested itself into a monolithic beast on which I focused my need to try and gain control. It also represented the point of conflict between two competing interests on a single point of control – my body. I desperately wanted to succeed at breastfeeding and do the best thing for my babies, but at the same time I was equally desperate to have my body back. I had no support from my family to continue breastfeeding yet I had created this irrational notion that formula was akin to “poison” and refused to allow it, and I envied women who gave their babies formula without a care. No-one saw how desperate I was, and in my mind no-one cared, not even my family and my poor husband was helpless.
When the girls were 6 weeks old, my favourite uncle who lived around the corner had a major heart attack and died in ICU three weeks later. While my aunty’s house was full of people in one way or another, we were abandoned. No-one made the short trip 500 metres around the corner to visit us and see if we alright. It was made abundantly clear to us that the death of a person is a tragic event and the bereaved are in need of any and all support available. But the birth of a baby – especially two babies – is a “double” blessing and a time of wonderful happiness that clearly we were left to “enjoy” alone. Neither was my grief at the loss of my uncle acknowledged, despite having given a heartfelt eulogy at his funeral with 9 week old Nina strapped to me. My father was left, grieving for his brother, supporting his sister-in-law (my aunty), taking care of my mother as well as having to take care of my elderly grandparents. He tried to help us, and sometimes he was able to, but I never wanted to ask anymore of him than he was already giving to everyone else. I could see he was struggling, and he could see I was struggling too. Stalemate. My prophecy had manifested – my life was over.
I fantasised about getting in the car and driving away and never coming back. I even contemplated suicide, but realised that would be the ultimate failure to my babies. I had thoughts about harming the babies that completely horrified me. I had been sucked into a vortex of misery, hopelessness, worthless, despair, catastrophe. I looked at my babies and cried…every single day. I loved these little people that I wanted so desperately to escape from. I felt like a complete miserable failure as a mother, as a wife and as an individual. Who was I anymore anyway? I had no idea. My life before was a distant memory and I grieved the loss of that person acutely. I was lost, overwhelmed, and despite all my efforts – completely out of control.
I can’t remember the exact sequence of events that took place that brought me to the point of being diagnosed leading to the commencement of treatment. I remember my maternal and child health nurse one day asking me to complete the Edinburgh scale at a visit one day and informing me that it was a high score and I needed to see my GP as soon as possible because I could have depression. I remember seeing my GP and crying and crying. She wrote up a mental health care plan and we discussed which medication I would take. I felt like a failure, but she reassured me. By the time I left, feelings of failure had shifted to feelings of sheer relief. There was one bitter realisation that I continue to regret to this day and think that maybe I always will. That is, the realisation that my babies were 6 or 7 months old and I had spent all that time in a state of disarray, fearing them instead of taking joy in them, wanting to escape from them rather than immersing myself in the marvel of their development. I had lost the first precious months of my babies’ lives and the realisation that it was gone and I could never get it back was, and still is, the biggest regret and loss of my life.
On a positive note, what I have gained from this regret in particular, is a mental default reminder when either I or my husband feel or express frustration with the stage the girls’ are at and fantasise about the greater freedom that will come when they are older, I can always remind myself to stay in the moment and appreciate exactly where they are right now and not to wish their lives away anymore. Just yesterday, at the park, I noticed one of my girls’ shoelaces undone and stopped her so I could fix it. While I did it she put her arms around my neck, kissed me and said “you are good Mum”.