This is one of a series of posts about S’s birth and my first few weeks of motherhood. The first post in the series is here.
The morning after I had looked after the ex’s children overnight, I was exhausted and miserable. I could not see a way this was going to work at all. I was barely able to cope with looking after S and getting into a routine at my house, without having to add in several nights a week at the ex’s house, being poked and prodded by his children and expected to do everything he wanted.
That morning we headed home for a visit from the health visitor. I’d only met her once before, but she seemed nice. She came in and sat down opposite me and asked how I was. I burst out crying. I felt I was doing everything wrong, and that I shouldn’t be finding everything this hard. Normal people didn’t find motherhood this hard; the ex kept telling me, “it’s just a baby, anyone can do it, it’s not difficult!” As I cried, the ex stood leaning against a table on the opposite side of the room, watching but not saying or doing anything. She reassured me, and told me I needed to take better care of myself. She said I didn’t look well, and that I was a high risk for postnatal depression and needed to bear that in mind. She told me to stop setting an alarm to feed S overnight, and to only feed her when she woke. That scared the crap out of me, but I agreed to it. The ex saw her out, and as she left I could hear her telling him he needed to reassure me I was doing a good job. He said he kept telling me I was. That night I left S to sleep and didn’t wake her to feed her. She only woke once. When I texted the ex to tell him, he replied with “she would have always slept through if you had let her.”
Over the next couple of days I didn’t see the ex much. Instead he would go home from work, and send me texts saying his daughter was crying her eyes out because I wasn’t there with S. I remember one evening, S had been feeding constantly since about 5pm. I would put her down after feeding, and have enough time to go to the toilet and maybe change her nappy, before she wanted feeding again. Nobody had told me about growth spurts, I didn’t know what was going on. I was so hungry but there was nothing in the kitchen I could just grab as a quick snack in between feeding. I felt like I was pretty much stuck to the couch. At 9pm I gave in and called the ex. He had left my house at 4pm and gone to pick his kids up from the neighbour’s house. He was still there when he answered the phone, and he was drunk. He seemed to be getting drunk in the evenings a lot lately. I told him what was happening, and that I didn’t know what to do. I thought since he kept reminding me he’d already had 6 kids, he might have an answer for me. All I remember is him saying “oh well” and pretty much hanging up on me. I sat and cried and wondered for the millionth time, how the hell am I going to make this work?
I spoke to the health visitor on the phone and explained (through massive, heaving sobs) that I was having trouble settling into my new life, and that the ex expected me to be spending a lot of time at his house. I think as far as he was concerned, my place was somewhere we would just have for the sake of appearance, so that I could claim the benefits I would receive as a single mother, and so that S and I had somewhere to stay from time to time if it got too much at his house. He wanted us living with him. He was cross that I had been housed in an estate on the opposite side of town from him; he had expected me to get a place round the corner from him, so that he and his kids could come and go as they pleased. He’d also talked of bringing all 6 kids to my house to stay over once or twice a week. The disruption this would cause for everyone, the fact their school was a long way from my house, the fact I only had 2 small bedrooms, was of no concern. I blurted out all of this, telling her I couldn’t cope with it; I couldn’t even cope with me and my baby in our house, surrounded by all of our things – much less coping with us plus the ex, 6 children, the chickens in the bathroom, the dog, the cat, the snakes, the front door without a lock, the mess, the lack of space for our things, the noise, the chaos. It’s not that there was a lack of routine; there was a distinct resistance against routine. He didn’t like for anything to be predictable, in any way.
Looking back, I realise now that the refusal to have any sort of routine was another way to assert control over people. He was entirely unpredictable, in every way possible. You could never say for sure, “if I do this, he will be pleased… if I do that, he will be cross.” It changed hourly.
He had also been pestering me for sex. I don’t mean just asking when we would have sex, I mean telling me exactly how many days it had been since we’d had sex (not since he’d had sex; I found out later he’d been sleeping with his ex girlfriend the whole time, and probably others as well). He told me we should be trying for another baby already, because he thought children should be close in age. There are 11 months between his second son and oldest daughter, and 13 months between his two youngest girls. He wanted the same for S. When I told him I was still in pain, still bleeding, and sex was the furthest thing from my mind, he demanded I pull down my underwear so that he could inspect the situation. When I still said I felt uncomfortable having sex yet, he demanded oral sex. I tried, but my heart wasn’t in it. He made an excuse and left, and spent the next day sulking at home, refusing to visit us even though he wasn’t working.
The health visitor told me that I should give myself time to adjust, and not to go to the ex’s house for at least a week or so; he could come to visit us at my house if he wanted to see us, but it was important that we get used to our home and settle in properly. She told me if he had a problem with this, I should tell him, “the health visitor has told me to do this,” and that if he wasn’t happy I should give him her number, and she would explain it to him. I was petrified of this; he would be angry to think I had said anything negative about him to her.
That Thursday afternoon, he had an appointment for hypnotherapy (for his “anger issues”) after work. In the hour or so in between, he came to see us. As soon as he came in, he turned the heating up, complaining it was too cold. I asked him not to, because I couldn’t afford the gas bill. He told me not to be so stupid; he wasn’t going to see me go without, he would put money on the gas if I needed him to. Five minutes later, he went upstairs and closed a window I had left cracked open to keep air circulating. I distinctly remember him coming down and saying “the window was open in the baby’s room!” He always called her that, never by her name; she was just “the baby.” He sat on the sofa, holding S and we barely spoke. He asked if I was coming to his house the next day and I said I wasn’t sure. He asked what I was doing over the weekend, and I said I didn’t know yet. I didn’t want to tell him I definitely wasn’t coming to his house for a while, because I was scared of what his reaction would be.
His appointment was soon, but I felt that we’d hardly seen him. I suggested I get ready and we walk with him to his appointment. It was his first one, and I knew he was nervous so I thought it might be nice if we walked him down there. He said ok, and I started getting things together. I said to him, if you put S’s snowsuit on, I’ll get my shoes and the sling ready… He said he couldn’t put her snowsuit on; he was too stressed. I bit my tongue, and went and got the snowsuit myself. When I came back, he asked if I had given S a bath at home yet. I told him no, because he had told me throughout my pregnancy that all of his kids’ first baths had been in the bath he had his first bath in, and that he had done them, and should do S’s first bath too. He had still not been into his loft to find the bath though, and I doubted he ever would; still, I was scared to go against his wishes, so S was yet to have a bath. He made a comment and I replied, “well to be fair, you don’t really seem bothered about the bath, or anything else; you don’t even change her nappies.” At that he stood up, plonked S down in her bouncy chair, and stormed out.
Five minutes later, he called me and asked, “how do you expect this to work if you refuse to spend any time at my house?” I didn’t have an answer, and he hung up. Later I received a text message: “At the end of the day, if you want to keep S from her brothers and sisters, her kin, her family, on your head and your conscience be it!” I replied that I had been finding things really hard and had spent most of the last week crying, that I had been trying to still do everything he expected but was finding it tough and had never realised things would be this difficult. I tried to explain that my life had changed massively in the blink of an eye, and I needed time to adjust. The response I got was: “You’re the one making it blatantly obvious with your totally cold and uncaring attitude toward me and my children that you don’t want or need to be with me. Mind you, you are totally set up now aren’t you, I have set you up with everything you needed, wanted. I no longer have a purpose, no need to pretend to care for me or the kids!!”
I now know that by this point he was actively pursuing another woman, who lived a lot closer, and had a baby boy not much older than S. Within a week, she would be his new girlfriend.