This time two years ago, I was just preparing to move into this flat. I had just gotten back together with S’s father for the last time. I thought I had seven weeks left of my pregnancy.
Mentally, I was completely broken by the stress and strain of what had been going on throughout my pregnancy. I was totally under my ex’s control, and he knew it. Having gotten someone else pregnant, and then found himself a new girlfriend in the last few weeks, he had made me beg him to take me back. I now believe both the pregnancy and the girlfriend were deliberately done in order to get me to tow the line, to put me in my place. And they worked. He knew I was petrified of becoming a mother alone. He had made sure from very early on that he pointed out to me every single thing that I would not be able to cope with.
You won’t be able to hack breastfeeding. It hurts, and you won’t manage. A couple of weeks, tops and then the baby will be on formula.
You won’t cope with a baby. You can’t even look after yourself.
You’re so stressy over the slightest thing… just wait until that baby gets here and it’s screaming all day and night!
Alongside this, there was the constant assertion that it was just a baby. I was only pregnant, it was no big deal. Having a baby is easy; just look at all of these losers around us, all of them doing just fine with their kids. It shouldn’t be hard. It’s the easiest thing in the world, anyone can do it.
I saved up my holiday entitlement from work, which allowed me to leave at around 32 weeks. The plan was that I would move into my flat, and then spend the rest of the time until the baby was born, decorating his kitchen. I’m not even joking; that was his plan for me. And I was just being difficult when I tentatively suggested I didn’t want to be climbing up ladders to paint a ceiling when pregnant. At 34 weeks, I put my double bed together myself because he had told me I had to sleep at my house that night (I worked out much later that he had someone else coming round to sleep with him that night, so couldn’t have me there). It didn’t really occur to me that this was not something a relatively heavily pregnant woman should be doing; after all, it’s just pregnancy. No big deal.
|A strategically-cropped photo of “us”
– me trying desperately to look happy and comfortable
Around this time, a friend came to visit me. The friend I named S after. She is a very dear friend, who I’ve known for a long time. She lives a couple of hours’ drive from me, but when I had my breakdown
she visited regularly to check on me. She had seen me earlier in my pregnancy, when she had driven down and helped me remove my things from the ex’s house one of the times we split up. At that point she had tried to gently tell me I was better off on my own, and I had half believed her. She had never met him before, but on this occasion she did. He had me invite her to his house, and got the children up early in the morning to clean the house from top to bottom with as much bleach as they could lay hands on. I was instructed to meet my friend at my house, show her around, whatever – he would let me know when I could bring her to his house to meet him.
When we got there, the house stank of bleach and I was very conscious of the fact that although it was tidy by normal standards, by anyone else’s standards it was a state. My friend was very polite about it. She met him briefly, but then he went out – a local girl had just had a baby and had a very hard time in labour so he went to visit her. My friend left shortly afterwards, and I looked after the children until the ex came home. Looking back at photos of that day, I am struck by the fact the children are all wearing their “best” clothes, their hair combed and sprayed into place. They were prepared for my friend’s visit.
Later that evening I texted my friend to ask her what she thought of my boyfriend. Her opinion was more important to me than most. Her response made me cry: “he seems nice enough, but I would have hoped for you to meet someone who took care of you, rather than the other way around.” When he asked me what she’d thought of him, I lied. I’d learned by then that it was best not to give him reason to think I’d made him look bad.
If I had to pick words to describe myself this time two years ago, I would choose words like:
It’s hard to explain to anyone how I got to that point, and also how I got back from it. When I talk about it, it feels like I’m talking about a different person. More than one person has expressed shock and surprise that I ever ended up like that. People who knew me before, and those who have met me since, cannot fathom how I allowed any of this to happen to me.
I am one of the lucky few: the minute I had my baby, and was able to comprehend that it was my job to keep her safe and happy, something clicked in my head. I knew deep down, even with all of the mind games and tricks that had been employed against me, that this was a dangerous situation for a baby.
Someone called me inspirational the other day. People tell me I’m strong. I don’t feel like I’m either of those things… but if I had to choose between those words, or the four above, to describe myself, I would come down closer to inspirational and strong than the others, any day. Even on a really bad day.
Incidentally: Yes, breastfeeding did hurt a bit to start with, but I did it until S was 17 months old. I look after both of us just fine, and she has never once screamed all day and night. In fact until she was teething, she barely cried at all.