Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written a series of posts about my experience with S’s birth and first few weeks of life.
Many people have commented about my ex partner’s behaviour. There were some clear signs that he was an abusive person, attempting to intimidate and control me. But while I was writing these posts, I also noticed some smaller, more subtle points, that many of us would not automatically think of as abusive or controlling. I thought it might be useful to collect all of these into a post, so as to illustrate the point that domestic and emotional abuse are not as obvious as one might think.
- The night before I went into labour, I was told, You’re being a dick again. There was no further explanation of exactly what I had done that was so wrong; was it the falling asleep? The not eating dinner? The being ill? Whenever I was accused of being a dick there was never any concrete explanation: this is what you did; this is ow you avoid this happening again. There was no way to avoid it happening; it was not under my control.
- When my contractions stopped at the hospital, the inference was that I had deliberately stopped them, to be difficult. I was inconvenience, as was the baby being born; he’d had to get a baby sitter, and needed to get back home. He rarely left his home when he wasn’t at work, because there he was the king of his castle, sitting about in his pants and having his children (and partner) tend to his every whim. Outside of the house, he was outside of his comfort zone, and in the hospital people might notice what he was doing – he had to be on his best behaviour, and this was difficult for him. He wanted to get home as soon as possible, so I needed to just get on and give birth.
- During my labour, I felt a lot of pressure not to make a fuss, not to make any noise, not to be the centre of attention and become a drama queen. Throughout my pregnancy I had been accused of over-reacting, attention seeking and being difficult. If I did that while I was in labour, he might up and leave and I would have to go through this without him. Similarly with painr relief: it was made clear to me that I should go “as far as possible” without any drugs. I didn’t want drugs any way, but my changing my mind would not have gone down well. Afterwards he bragged to people that I had gotten to 10cm dilated without pain relief, as if this was somehow his achievement.
- When I asked him not to rub my back while I was having contractions, his response was why am I not allowed to touch you?! It made it sound as if he should be able to touch me wherever and however he wanted. This was a general theme of our relationship that didn’t stop while I was in labour, or after the birth. I was grabbed, squeezed, pushed and punched whenever he felt like it. My body was not my own, and it was not for me to say where or when he could touch it.
- After S’s birth, he told me that when I had a big contraction and the monitor I was wearing lost S’s heartbeat, the midwife had not been in the room (other people tell me she was there). He had saved the day by pressing the button to call her, having seen that something was not right with me (actually, the midwife pressed the call button to get assistance). He also told me my body had squeezed my baby so hard I had stopped her heartbeat (is this even possible? In actual fact I just had a big contraction, and the monitor couldn’t pick up a heartbeat thorough the contracting muscle). This was playing on my insecurities about being a mother and being capable of looking after a child. I had often worried that I was simply “not built” to be a mother, and he played on this as much as he could.
- Throughout my labour, he was on the phone: to his mother; his babysitter; his friends; his sister; his boss. He was on Facebook and texting people. Before he had even cut the umbilical cord, he was on the phone to his mother rather than comforting me; I was not important.
- After S had been born, he told me that when S’s head had first come out, the cord was around her neck and I had almost strangled her at that point by continuing to push. Nobody else recalls this; it was not in my notesl I do not recall the midwife asking me not to push, and neither does my sister in law. As far as I recall, once S’s head had emerged, her body was so small it just followed without any more contractions or pushing. Still, I was made to believe I had yet again almost killed my child before she had even been born. I was that much of a bad mother!
- My being kept in hospital for so long was a major inconvenience.More than once I was told he was wasting his two weeks’ paternity leave. On the days he didn’t visit us, it was because his house had fallen into such a state while he’d spent “every waking minute” (from 12-4) in the hospital with me, instead of doing the housework (or rather, making his children do it). It was my fault his house was a mess; his assumption had always been that I would have the baby, come home and spend my days in his house being a good housewife. What he had actually been doing during this time is going home and sleeping with his ex. And probably others.
- While S was in NICU, I was repeatedly told this was no big deal. At least one of his other children had suffered with the jaundice S had. Yet again, I was making mountains out of molehills, and seeking attention by crying.
- He refused to ever change S’s nappy or clothes; she often cried when she was disturbed by having her clothes or nappy changed, and he didn’t want her to associate him with being disturbed. Instead, he stood over me and watched my every nervous move, tutting that I was so awkward, telling me I’d done this wrong or I should have used that. The nappy was too loose or too tight; didn’t I have one in a size that would fit her tiny frame? (never mind the fact he had refused to go to the shop and buy some nappies for premature babies). I should have put a different babygro on her; didn’t I have a cardigan that would fit her? I was wrapping her up wrongly in the blanket; I should wrap her in two blankets so that she didn’t get cold. I was using two blankets over night (in the heated ward), wasn’t I? The concept of babies overheating and dying from SIDS clearly had not occurred to him, and I was too scared not to do as I was told, so S was bundled up in so many layers and blankets you could barely tell them there was a baby in there – until one day a nurse came to take her temperature and told me to remove a couple of layers. Obviously, the next time he came in I was told off for that too. After all, he had 6 children and they were all fine; he obviously knew more than the hospital staff. Put another blanket on her.
- Every time I wanted something from a shop or from my house – nappies, clean clothes, baby wipes, cotton wool, anything – I was an inconvenience. I should have packed my hospital bag better, shouldn’t I? (S was born 5 weeks early; the week before I had gone into hospital I had shown him where my hospital bag was and he had laughed at me for even having begun to pack yet)
- While he did eventually relent and bring things to the hospital, he usually refused to take anything home – so I ended up with two weeks’ worth of detritus in piles around my bed, something the ward staff commented on several times.
- He took S’s tiny babygros home to wash, but refused to buy non-bio washing powder to wash them. Or to separate them from the rest of the washing in his house or use fabric softener. All of her first babygros were discoloured by the time we left the hospital and I hated putting them on her delicate skin for fear they would cause an irritation.
- For the last few days S and I were in hospital, I was so down and miserable at being stuck there. My misery and exhaustion could not compete with his though; he was having to visit me in hospital. How do you think it makes me feel, having to leave you both here every day?
- I was repeatedly told throughout my pregnancy and while we were trying to establish breastfeeding, that I would not be able to “hack” it. I had always said that I didn’t want to use formula, and intended to breastfeed for as long as I needed to. He would tweak my nipples often, and when I complained that he was hurting me, his response was You’re far too sensitive; you’ll never be able to breastfeed. When I began breastfeeding, this changed: now I would only be able to “hack” it for a couple of weeks, a month tops. I was incapable, see. Not cut out to be a mother; not a good mother; not fit to be a mother. Those words weren’t said out loud at the time; they didn’t need to be, because every single part of my being a mother was undermined at every available opportunity. (incidentally, I ended up breastfeeding S until she was 17 months old, and I’m a pretty good mother as it happens)
- He never once organised for someone to collect his children from school for him while I was in hospital so that he could stay longer. Instead he would arrive at 12 and announce he would need to leave by 2:30 to collect his children. This was his passive-aggressive way of asserting control and making me feel guilty. His children and lack of childcare were used on a regular basis throughout our relationship – inference being that if I were a good girlfriend/mother of his child, I would be in his house and taking care of his children at all times so that he could go out and do as he pleased, whenever he liked. He would send last-minute texts in front of me to get a neighbour to collect the children from school, aiming of course to make me feel guilty for being such a burden and demand that he stay with us for more than a couple of hours at a time. He would often try to have me make these requests on his behalf – after all, I was the reason he wasn’t able to collect the children from school himself, so of course I should organise the childcare.
- When we finally brought S home, I was obliged to dress her in the outfit he had bought for her even though it was for a 3-6 month baby and mine was too small even for newborn clothing. The fact the outfit was so big the arms and legs were rolled right up was my fault. After all, it was my fault she had been born early; it was my fault she was jaundiced; it was my fault she weighed only 5lbs. Later on, when people commented that 5lbs was a good weight for a baby born five weeks early, he somehow took the credit for this – explaining that it was in his genes to have big babies, and that he had looked after me so well (!) throughout my pregnancy, which was why S had been born so healthy. It sounds ridiculous to think of this now, but it was said without irony.
- As we left the ward and walked with S to the car, I was repeatedly told I was holding her wrong; I looked really uncomfortable holding her; she looked awkward; I was about to drop her; I wasn’t supporting her head. When we got out of the car at my house, I wasn’t allowed to carry her into the house in case I dropped her. Yet again this was telling me: you’re no good at this; you are not good enough to be a mother; you are awkward with your own child; you cannot be trusted to take care of her.
- I was not allowed to spend my first night at home, even though realistically there was nothing wrong with my flat. I had to stay at his house. The following night S and I were allowed to stay at my house, but my sister was drafted in to stay with us. He did not trust me to be alone with my own child.
- The first time S slept for more than a few hours, I was told She would have always slept through the night if you had let her! Never mind the fact she would have slept through and probably died or suffered brain damage because of her level of jaundice. The doctors had only allowed me to bring S home on the understanding that I not allow her to go for more than three hours without feeding. The inference was that I had been deliberately stopping my child from sleeping through the night.
Throughout my pregnancy I would tell my midwife, I wish he would just hit me, and then I would know. Everything he did could have been taken another way; I might have been over-reacting; perhaps he’d just had a hard day. Perhaps I really was expecting too much, and not being supportive enough of his situation (a common complaint from him).
Throughout our relationship, before and during my pregnancy, he would move suddenly as if to hit me, and often came at me with a knife in the same way – but he never actually made contact. He would stir his tea with a dessert spoon, and then press the hot metal against my arm. When I complained I didn’t like him doing these things, I was told I was over-sensitive. I couldn’t take a joke.
He knew that if he actually hit or cut me, I would know for sure that he was in the wrong, and that would give me what I needed to leave. Instead he made me permanently scared that he might hit me.
There were regular displays of his strength; he would hold me down, hug me a little too tight, perform pull-ups and lift weights in front of me. There were stories of having been set upon by two or three men, but having managed to fight them all off. A story of winning a fight against a couple of men who were well known locally for having later kicked a young man to death and gone to prison. Then there was the time I woke in the middle of the night to find myself in a headlock because he was “dreaming he was being attacked.” And of course, there were all the times he hit his children or told me about having “had to” hit them. The fact he didn’t worry about his front door having no lock, because nobody would ever dare to come into his house. Stories of the time he had woken up to find he was physically fighting with his wife (note: he was fighting with her, and not beating her). He told me about other times, when he’d had his wife by the neck against the wall, even when she was pregnant. I was terrified. She had deliberately antagonised him into doing it though; I would be ok if I didn’t deliberately antagonise him. Once he boasted to me that he had hit her in the face, with a frozen bard of chocolate while she was pregnant, but it was ok because “she started it.”
After I’d stopped seeing him, been to counselling, and felt stronger, I gave him a chance nobody thought I should give. I gave him the name and number of a lady who works for Splitz, and runs extended, long-term counselling sessions for perpetrators of domestic abuse. I told him that if he would sign up for the counselling, I would begin talking about his having regular access to S. He avoided the subject for a couple of weeks, before saying to me one day (while he was recording the conversation without my knowledge), “you make out like I hit you or something.” Because he hadn’t hit me, he’d done nothing wrong. I was doing my usual trick of over-reacting, making mountains out of molehills, lying.
Many women who are in horrible, abusive and controlling relationships will not have black eyes and bruises. They may never be physically attacked. That doesn’t mean they’re not living in hell. My ex didn’t need to hit me to keep me in my place; he had broken me mentally over a period when I was very vulnerable. I did as I was told. What he hates about me now, is not that I have taken his daughter away from him; his actions have proved many times over just how little he cares for her. What bothers him is that he can no longer control me. I escaped, and he hates it.