Early Motherhood – Coming Home
The first of these posts can be found here.
We came home from hospital on a Thursday afternoon, my sister driving very slowly and carefully.
It was raining, and had been almost the entire time I’d been in hospital. When we got out of the car, the ex wouldn’t let me carry S up the steps to the flat (I live on the first floor) in case I slipped and dropped her.
Coming back into the flat after so long away felt strange. When I’d left, I’d been heavily pregnant, but ultimately answerable only to myself. It felt weird to have brought this baby back with me. We put the heating on, and sat in the living room. My sister and her boyfriend had bought S a bouncy chair, so I put her in that. She looked so tiny in it; there was no point in fastening the straps around her because even pulled as tight as they would go, they were massive on her. She sat on the floor in front of me, wrapped in several blankets (as the ex had decreed she should be). It felt wrong to have her on the floor, in a chair like that, so far away from me; she had spent most of her time in hospital curled up on my chest. I didn’t want to pick her up though, and be told off for holding her wrong or doing something else wrong.
The ex didn’t like the idea of me being alone in the house with S, so we had arranged that my sister would stay with me for the first couple of nights. I went upstairs to sort out S’s Moses basket, make sure there was a bed for my sister and so on. When I went into my bedroom, horror struck me – the roof had leaked while I’d been away. And not just a little bit; it had clearly been leaking for the entire week and a half. There was water dripping above the window, and the wall was damp almost down to the half-way point. Worse, some furniture was against the wall with the pram attachment of my pushchair had been against that wall, and everything was wet. I went into the bathroom, and dirty, brown water was leaking through in there too. When I came downstairs to the kitchen, I saw that the water dripping from the ceiling onto bare floorboards upstairs had come through above the sink.
I was distraught, and had no clue what to do. As I took time to think about it, I realised there was no way this was the first time this roof had leaked; if it was this bad, it must have leaked when the last tenant was here. I was livid. I called the council’s repair line and told them I had just come out of hospital with a premature baby, and they needed to come and sort this out immediately. Then I had to call back, because half the radiators in my house weren’t heating up. Within a couple of hours, there were men on the roof clearing what turned out to be a blocked down-pipe and a foot of standing water above my bedroom. Two men from the council came to assess the internal damage with clipboards, and a man from British Gas came to sort out the radiators. By this point, S was due for her next feed so I was sitting on the sofa with a blanket over me, while the ex showed the men the problems.
After a while, the people left, and the place began to warm up a little. My sister left for work, but said she would be back later this evening. As the radiators began to warm up, we could smell paint. Before I had moved in, the council had decorated the flat – every wall with magnolia paint, every door and radiator with lashings of white gloss. Since the heating had never been on since, the radiators were now heating the gloss. It was bubbling and causing quite a strong smell. The ex went mad and told me there was no way I could stay here with S with such a strong smell, it would damage her lungs. I called the council, but by that point it was after 5pm and everyone had gone home. Their out of hours service was not much use. We moved upstairs to the bedroom, where we turned the radiator off and plugged in an oil-filled radiator. Eventually it was decided that S could not possibly stay here overnight, and that we would stay at the ex’s house, coming back first thing in the morning for a visit from the midwife.
My sister gave us a lift to the ex’s house. His children were being looked after by a neighbour, so we went over to surprise them with S. Everyone was crowded around me, wanting to look and touch. She was still so small and delicate and precious to me, I didn’t want all these people poking and prodding, and I still didn’t feel able to hold up my end of a conversation. I just sort of stood there, clutching my baby, until we left. As we walked across the green to the ex’s house, one of his children did something up ahead of us. He shouted across to her really loudly, and S woke with a start. I asked him to please not shout and he told me off for over-reacting.
The rest of my evening was spent sitting on the ex’s bed, holding S. His children took it in turns to come in and see us and ask questions, and were then sent away. Not sent to bed, or to get ready for school, or to tidy their rooms, just away. “Go away now.” I remember the youngest one standing outside of the door, crying. The room was small and full of junk. The ex had boasted to me while I was in hospital that he had cleared it out, and made space for S and her things so that we could stay at his house. Once we were in the room, with the Moses basket and a changing bag, there was nowhere to put your feet on the floor. It crossed my mind that once S was too big for her Moses basket, he might make me put her in a cot in a different room to sleep. One of the rooms that already slept 3 children and had a snake in a tank with a dodgy door. One of the rooms with no door and a big lumbering dog that wandered about throughout the night.
I was scared to leave the room to go to the toilet, afraid of what might happen in my absence. When we finally went to sleep, I had set my alarm to wake me every 3 hours in the night. S’s Moses basket was as close to the bed as I could get it, and I moved down towards the foot of the bed so that I was closer to her. The ex told me off because I kept the bedside lamp on all night, but I needed to be able to check on her. In hospital it is never dark, and I had always been able to see her whenever I looked over. He told me I was being ridiculous. Every time my alarm went off in the night, the ex huffed and told me to hurry up and turn it off. One time he made a big show of rolling over and putting a pillow over his head. I sat in his bed, feeding my baby, and cried. I had no idea how this was ever going to work. I had put all my energy into concentrating on getting home. I’d thought that everything would be ok once we were out of hospital, but now I realised that even with him next to me, I was on my own.