Tag Archives: abuse

Judgement

As a parent you become accustomed to judgement.

Personally I’m aware that professionals look at my file and make assumptions. That is their job after all, risk assessment. Social workers are not an unknown phenomenon in this house.

I make myself seem like the villain in this piece and that is not the case. As far as I know my kids aren’t on any register. We’ve only had a few cursory visits. Cups of tea and friendly chats with thoughtful eyes cast over our books, the state of the kitchen floor and  the fruit bowl.

My mind wanders while talking and I consider the possible tick boxes. Half filled fruitbowl, slightly manky bananas (good -five a day, obviously not newly bought for visit) Kitchen clean but not pristine (tick) children’s books in evidence (tick) children’s work on walls (tick) reward chart on pinboard (tick) Offer of various teas, earl grey option (double tick) last weekends Guardian under coffee table ( hmmm) They recycle…. All seems good so far but consider the mothers  file. (Questionable)

Yes, I know I sound off the paranoia scale and if you read the Daily Mail you’ll be doubting The Man’s capabilities to put together information from the past to this extent. Until you’re in the lens though you can keep your thoughts to yourself. Why is it as a victim I feel so guilty?

Crying in bed after a bad news day Steve and I talk softly. It’s just after some headlines, how can you not consider sterilisation as a sentencing option? Smoothing my hair he idly suggests licensing parents. From here I can see the sweep of long eyelash shadows cast on her cheek by the bedside light. I try to imagine my hands shutting the microwave door, pressing the buttons. It seems inconceivable. I roll over pressing my face into the pillow, squeezing my eyelids closed until the blood fireworks blossom. They can’t cover my mental picture of my hands doing something equally heinous with lighter fluid and a kitchen knife.

Sobs choke me and I shudder – “Why is it stupid to believe in redemption and hope..” the words bubble up jagged, beaded with blood. I’m struggling to breathe. His hand stays heavy on my back. ” Take a breath Laura, hold it, breathe out.. and another… and another. Calms word tether my hysterical heart. Gently he reels me in till reason regains the steering wheel.

After another minutes gentler crying I choke out, ” They’d never have licensed me.” He turns onto his back and looks at the ceiling. Wiping my face with the back of my hand I flop inelegantly over and put my face on his shoulder. It’s raining outside and we lie in the yellow cave made by the bedside light listening to our breathing. He knows better than to turn off the light tonight. Ida’ll press the switch with glee when she arrives in our bed for a cuddle in the morning when clean white light streams in past our flimsy curtains.

I know I need to stop this. Flinging myself on these tabloid staples like a kamikaze ship wrecking myself. Breaching my hull on the gaping jaws of headline rocks. I silently reiterate my lectures to Zeph about statistics, about news having something to sell – same as anything else. About the draw of an out of the ordinary, extreme, hardly-ever-happens event. About the global village and the modern stream of information we have to learn to erect boundaries for ourselves against.

My stint in the bookshop covers the rise of the white-jacketed misery memoir. The scattered few eventually coalesced into its own couple of bays of weeping children peering out pleadingly. Believe me, I’m no champion of the genre but was startled one lunchtime when my manager launched a diatribe over her salad about how they were all made up. “Hardly all of them” I offered diffidently and didn’t know how to reply when she snorted scornfully. “Things like that don’t really happen” she declared and gesturing with her fork she elaborated on financial rewards and publishers leaping on bandwagons.

All true.

Looking at her, my face stiff, one hand rubbing a finger over the foam spilling from the split in the battered coffee-stained sofa I think about how to put the wasps in my head into words.

Impossible.

I’m here to say that those things do happen. As a statistical anomaly, though I doubt that’s a comfort to the flesh under the hand, strap, chain or malice. 

I’m also here to say that that’s not the end of the story. Of course on bad days I feel like it is. I say that people sit in judgement. The hardest judge, the  harshest words, the most implacable gavel all come from me.

I judge.

Everyday.

On the bad days I find myself wanting.

On good days I remember the lessons I’ve learnt. I treasure my beautiful things, notice the moment I’m in and think the best of everyone, including myself. I understand we all have back stories, that I’m the only person in my race, I can even value my past but that’s what it is, behind me, a fraction of the whole. 

On bad days I wonder how badly I will infect the most precious things in my life. I was diagnosed with post natal depression after Zeph was born. It was very expected. It’s hard moving surely under the pressure of every single person you know waiting for you to fall.

At the time I remember thinking it was hard to see the distinction between plain old depression except the extra agonising, excruciating layer of feeling I was infecting the best thing, Zeph, with the worst. Me. 

After Ida I saw a different psychiatrist. After she’d read my millstone file she offered a different diagnosis of Post traumatic stress disorder. Different label, slightly different drugs, same old scramble out of the hole. The therapist I saw then talked a lot to me about this year. The year Zeph is eight. I really didn’t want to listen.

Now I am relieved someone said it out loud to me. It’s partly why I’m up late rambling at the electronic page. I love writing this blog. I’m genuinely thrilled and warmed and sustained by people reading it but I don’t think I’m writing for an audience. It’s not properly mummy or crafty or gardening or cooking although I mother, craft, garden and eat.

I’m writing to please myself  and as I said previously I’m casting out thread into the world. This thought moves my fingers to ramble on. About the relief of saying-writing it out loud. In case someone else hears-reads it and feels less alone.

This summer Zeph has been eight. Every day I look at him and see me. Lazy, book reading, chore-dodging, imaginary game playing, messy, affectionate and ornery. I look at him and my heart swells with love and pride in his remarkable self.

And eight year old Laura hammers her furious fists on the tissue thin walls of my stunted heart. She is wild with rage and jealousy. When he is difficult or stubborn or ungrateful or as wilful as any other eight year old boy she leaves welts with her nails and hisses about how he doesn’t know how lucky he is.. is she wishing her pain on him?  When my mother fondly defends him and chides my mothering she lodges in my throat like a poisonous toad spitefully croaking. My jaw aches from keeping her bitter hurtful words behind my teeth. About keeping your own damn children safe.

Slowly I have come to see that the biggest damage she inflicts is the suffocating urge to keep her a secret. Like a pus filled boil she needs to be lanced. I need to pull the curtains and let the clean light in. Jealousy I need to speak your name. It’s not shameful, it’s just an aspect of me, part of my intricate, complicated, colourful psyche.

Some of the best advice I ever had came from a friend. Standing in my mum’s kitchen, her bicycle in the garden, holding a mug of roobos tea she eyed me with compassion. Further along the path her gaze held empathy and understanding. “It’s okay to be angry you know..”

and it is. My love is forged and tempered like the finest steel. It is beaten by doubt, rage, hate and falability and is all the stronger for that.

Today I am handing down the sentence of the rest of my lovely life whatever it may hold and, wielding my gavel elegantly, I’m handing it out to you as well.

Birthday Blues

It’s nearly my birthday and I’m mired in gloom. My family is as usual, frustrated at my resistance to celebration. Usually I’m ready to celebrate the opening of an envelope so I know they find it baffling.

Before having the kids I often attempted to let it slide by unnoticed and on reflection that didn’t make it any easier. My life is better recently, I’ve reclaimed lots of stuff but my birthday remains stubbornly awkward, unwieldy, jagged and painful.

I couldn’t give you one clear reason. Partly it stems from the special birthday “treats” from my uncle. There was the painful year my M&D forgot the day. My fourteenth when I was a long way from home, trapped and lonely and then the next one, back here and just as alone. Then the slow patina of misery from maintaining a pretence of happiness to protect my family. The grinning and bearing. Over years it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The last few have been better as it’s very easy to get borne away on the flood tide of kids happiness. Their joy in cake and candles and wrapped up presents. The focus is on them which means I get to breathe and the time passes.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or self-pitying. I know I’m not these things (no matter how it sounds.) I also know that lots of people struggle with “occasions” I think of my shy aunts surprise fortieth party when it suddenly occurred to me as she slowly came up the stairs to the awaiting tribe that I should have positioned someone at the foot of the stairs to stop her bolting.

My new life plan of living in the moment should solve my problems *brief pause for hollow laughing* I guess some hills are steeper than others.

And the steepest of those shall be littered in crackers.

Sorry for the gloom. Silvery stuff today is; the end is in sight, Z was still chatting about last night on the way home from school today, the sunshine penetrates to my bones, I’ve manoeuvred the last slab into place – now I get to plant up the (vast) gaps, painting eggs after school is messy fun – the kids insist theirs have to be hard-boiled and not blown, after some hasty boiling we have a couple –  Ida steals Lexys and we find her eating it under the table. Bad baby. Luckily it all ends well.

Smiling.

Nothing like biting your friends heads off and pissing them off.

Does everyone denigrate the place they live in? My hometown is on the greyer edge I suppose. To small to be urban, too large to be rural, a financially depressed demographic , no university, no large employers and a failing industrial tradition. Our spa failed next to Cheltenham’s, our docks failed against Bristol’s shipbuilding, our canals are stilted and the cattle market closed. Stroud’s sheep sold better and now they excel in the hippy arts. 

Essentially though it is the same as any other place. Full of people. I take myself to the places I go. It seems I am inescapable and I presume the same goes for the rest of you.

You hear a lot about how people don’t smile in England. Especially in London, Grimsby, Swindon…Gloucester. In cosy rural idylls and primitive fishing, coffee growing communities smiles are ten a penny. Or goats head – or LET’s or whatever passes for bartering tools there.

I do not find this is this case. Let me assure you cynical lip lifters – I’m no Pollyanna – I’m sure many could spring to my defense here especially N and L who are bearing my current miserable brunt. I’m sure a lot of this is statistical – If you only try out the smiling a couple of times you are almost certainly going to receive and remember confusion or rebuttal. Which leads you to say that people do not smile in Gloucester. If you maintain the habit of smiling and saying hello to people as though they are good friends you’ll inevitably get a higher success rate. Obviously you ‘ll also get people asking if they know you and a full range of nutters, aggression, incomprehension and irritation but they’ll be easier to forget when you have a few beams back in return. People you see everyday on the way to school, at the bus stop, outside the shop will become part of a regular network , seem familiar and your grey streets will seem kinder.

I think my key word here is seem. Because it’s all about the seeming. Personally and privately in my heart I am convinced the world is seventies concrete smeared in the algae of cruelty and coldness. In the icy vault of my inner being which is forever misshapen and flawed I think the people roaming around on their hind legs disguised under cloth costumes are the kind of metaphorical wolves who abuse and torture for amusement and to pass the time. Every man I see could take my children and break them. With broken bottles,fists and flaying pornographic gaze and open up a void in them to match my own and  every woman could turn their head or provide an appreciative audience whilst braying their approval.

Or they could be the kind of person who’ll smile back and return to their day of doing the best they can, failing sometimes chock full as they are of their own past and good intentions.

Which world do I prefer for Zeph and Ida? (I’m kind of hoping this question can stand as rhetorical) So I stamp down what I’ve decided to label my madness and presume the outside world and the people in it, even in this corner are inherently beautiful and to show the kids by my example that this is so.  In the early hours I will worry that this is wrong. That I should be warning them of and preparing them for all the wolves under the sheep’s clothing. Or at the very least I should reveal to them that it’s all just veils of seeming.

This way lies madness and also a truth along the lines of just as colour is formed in our own heads by the angles of light hitting our retinas our perception of this world is formed in how our heart accepts it.

Is this liberating or another millstone? Every survivor will recognise the therapist talk which at first run-by strikes you as trite. That you have choices about your legacy. That you can choose to move forward. That this makes you the string puller and not just a puppet. Also means that this wallowing around, substance dependency, inability to function is something you’re choosing. You can F right off was my first response. Not my continuing one as my present life testifies.

 What does all this ranting waffle mean? Ummm… that seeing the BT’s is a muscle you have to flex. That Z’s book day costume of a wolf has crept into my subconscious. That I’m a right mardy self righteous cow. That I am authentically myself wherever I’m sitting, be it the British museum or Haven. That softplay places are filled with children who are all savages despite their class. That I’m going to keep smiling and serenely assuring myself that most people smile back.

Must get on with that wallpaper.

Breast is best?

I don't care what it is - put something in!

Well – lots of clucking and furore over a new report published today about breast-feeding – this isn’t the report but an article in the Guardian today which I thought was pretty concise.

Right old can of worms. I’d like to point out that even though this is a review of quite a lot of research and is itself unbiased, statistically it is not a compellingly huge amount and we are not privy to the funding of all the research being examined. (see the unicef response for more on this…)

I’m not sure why such a wholesome subject as breastfeeding often seems to get a bit thorny – it’s all back to my swings and roundabouts rant. To me it seems perfectly obvious that breastfeeding is the best idea – it’s what they’re designed for after all, it’s free and convenient, and has innumerable points of advantage for your baby. I have some lovely friends who are powerful and compelling advocates of breastfeeding and indeed – one who is a trained professional in the art. (actually she’s just posted this pretty interesting response from unicef.)

but I do have some issues. With a few nipple nazi’s who choose to judge other mothers (sisterhood ladies, sisterhood) without any understanding of some of the more complex issues some women have to deal with.

I managed to breastfeed for a while with both my lovely babies. Zeph managed about five months before I had to admit I needed stronger anti depressants than I could take and safely breastfeed and I also needed to return to some stronger medication I had taken pre pregnancy. Mid a pretty hefty and debilitating, though anticipated, bout of post natal depression I struggled with this decision. Convinced finally that my son would probably prefer a saner happier mother who could leave the house, and indeed was still alive, I purchased formula. Which he thrived on.The production of this bottle at baby groups and amongst people I had considered friends resulted in a level of heckle I was unprepared for. Most of these people were unfamiliar with my intimate personal details and history but I found myself more and more enraged at the need to defend my decisions or indeed explain them. Just as I never felt the need to justify myself to the ignorant who were offended by my public breastfeeding I didn’t see why I needed to defend my bottle to well-meaning but essentially ignorant hippy yummy mummies, smug in their well insulated bubbles.

Ida managed a much longer run, I had dealt with a lot of earlier issues and managed my post natal depression on the lower dosage of medication. I eventually had to wean her at about 10 months as I had to begin cancer treatment. Luckily I’d done baby led weaning and she was eating really well as she refused every combination of formula and drinking container you can imagine and after some fantastic help from a Macmillan nurse – NOT my health visitor who was of very little help and indeed deeply alarmed by the baby led weaning – I decided to just let her drink water and continue eating her varied and nutrient rich diet.

I was a lot more secure and confident with Ida, I think most people are with their second,plus I had learnt to avoid toxic groups. We weren’t so clued up with Z. In my optimistic excitement I paid for a NCT course, hoping to make lots of supportive friends and get some helpful information. I was pretty anxious about being a parent for lots of complex reasons. One of which is a history of quite intense abuse in my childhood. One of the multifold effects of this personal history was a huge pile of anxiety about breastfeeding and how I’d feel about it. I was intensely worried about how I’d feel about it, the complicated sexual feelings I was afraid of, the common fears many abused women share relating to their complicated chemical sexual responses hardwired from their abuse. That  somehow I would damage my perfect innocent child, eroding normal boundaries and somehow tainting him from the start.

I was hoping the evening session on breast-feeding would inform me and without over sharing and freaking these “nice” people out I would be reassured that nurturing and mothering was not purely bound up in my ability to input milk from my mammary gland. Oh how very wrong I was reader – how wrong!

Now I don’t blame the NCT although I have since avoided them like the plague. Hopefully (surely, surely?) that wasn’t representative of the whole but, dear lord, I blame that smug narrow-minded woman. Luckily my determination to at least try, some great support from my CPN team and Steve I did manage to breastfeed but if I had failed would this really have been the end of the bloody world? No of course it wouldn’t have.

Is there a point to this rant…hmmm, I’m not sure. I’m surprised at how cross I still am. I feel like maybe I should have been more open with those Mums and shocked them into silence instead of trying to fend off their intrusive and un sisterly probing whilst trying to spare their feelings. I’m also sad to recognise that was partly because I still felt ashamed of my past and maybe that’s why I feel so enraged right  now.

I suppose it’s because it’s such an emotive subject people are so vehement but in conclusion I think I’d like to say… It’s best but not the be all and end all – and hurrah for sisters and boo to sitting in judgement.

 The end. Sorry about that folks 🙂  It’s Idas party tomorrow so will have good pics of chocolate owl cake, much cheerier!