Hi Antonia of four years ago,
I know. Your husband has left for Australia for a month’s work commitment and left you in London with a four month old and you’re pretty sure you have PND. I know you feel like you don’t know how to raise this little girl but this will be the making of you. I know that makes you want to cry even harder because you realise loneliness and pain will be a great teacher and you really hate being alone and you’ve been through enough pain already. I know you want to throw your iPhone at the wall when your husband tells you he’s been at the beach and he’s not even hiding the cool Australian beer he’s drinking whilst Skyping. I know he lacks a sensitivity chip and I know that doesn’t make things any better. I know too that you agreed to this so you also want to throw that iPhone at yourself. But we all make mistakes, that is how we learn. It is rather awful, I know.
Come here Mama and have a good weep. Have a good cry about how you’re going to manage the next four weeks. Believe that yourself in four years time is looking back at you and just wanting to wrap her arms around you and say ‘I know’. That she understands you’re bored and angry with everybody giving you ‘helpful’ suggestions about how to make your life easier and how to get baby to sleep and how you should nap in the day like an old cat. You just want someone to acknowledge that it is all rather shit and you are doing a good job. You are managing to keep baby alive, fed and clean and you are remembering to feed the cat.
I acknowledge now that the loneliness is compounded because all your friends work during the week and so there’s very few people to hang around with. It feels like the world forgot about you and it is in part true, you’re not imagining it. People don’t like babies on public transport and people don’t want to offer you their chair in a busy cafe when you have a buggy the size of a car and you look like you’re about to cry at any minute. This is London, they don’t have time for it. There’s probably even fewer friends around than before because all you talk about is the baby and not being able to breastfeed and people are getting very bored of that. You can’t go out drinking or to the movies so the isolation is growing, you’re not imagining it, you’re not weak, it is rather horrible. That’s why your husband should be hear to listen to you moan endlessly because he contributed half the magic formula to make this child and is responsible for half the anger and injustice you hold inside of yourself. But he’s not, he’s just told you he needs to pop to Fiji for another business meeting. You are contemplating not answering his calls until he’s back in the UK.
But after all the crying and the sobbing and the sleepless nights staring at a baby monitor waiting for baby to wake. After rolling over in the night and seeing no one next to you to give you any sort of advice or words of wisdom, or even a hug, you will start to pull yourself together. No really you will. It seems such an outrageous idea, but you’ve tried everything else. You may as well get up and out. There’s no food in the house for one thing, you have to get out if you want a fish finger sandwich and some more Kit Kats. You will take your bottle of formula out into town and feed your baby proudly even though you think the whole world is happily breastfeeding. You will realise that your baby girl cries but that if you are to get anywhere you will need to toughen up to that sound and reassure yourself that she is not broken, she has just inherited your vocal chords.
You will find some peace in having a horribly messy house and wearing the most awful clothes all day long and not shaving any part of your body. You will snigger when you open a bottle of wine at 6pm with your daughter on your lap and take a sip of cool sauvignon and not having to justify it to anyone. You will relax when you realise what you need to do is sleep train your daughter and not have to explain all the crying in the middle of the night to someone else. You will revel in watching a bit of TV in the evening now that your daughter is sleeping better, and you will box set Oprah shows shamelessly.
You will spend time getting to know your daughter without trying to fix her, or you. You will realise this is what you signed up to and make a concerted effort to make it a better and happier situation. Your daughter will in return start smiling at you and it couldn’t come soon enough. Suddenly you seen the sunlight in her soul and you smile. You are falling in love and there’s no feeling like it. You now have a best friend for life. You’re not so lovely any more.
Obviously it’s about now that your husband walks through the door expecting cheers and jubilation and of course there are weeks of resolve to go through to figure out why life had to get some damn difficult. There are following months of trying to explain what it’s like looking after a baby by yourself falling on deaf ears.
It’s alright because it will only take about three years for him to understand. Yes there is a heavy note of sarcasm there. TV shows and films make us think we can resolve relationship misunderstandings within hours or days. That’s not real life. Partnership is hard work and communication is hard. It’s wrapped up in subjective perspective, anger, denial, guilt, shame. The layers have to peeled apart as and when you both feel ready. It takes the two of you working on it, chipping away at the confusion and mess and building things back up again.
But you’ll get there. It will become the family joke about the time when Dad went snorkelling in Australia and you were left home to raise the baby. You have a sick sense of humour and that will help you enormously.
And do you know the awful bit? All that pain and anger and confusion, it is the making of you. You are ten times stronger than you were before. Your relationship has weathered a horrible storm and you’ve built reinforcements in response. You’ve never been good at languages but you’ve finally learnt a new one – communicating with your husband.
I might have to whisper the next bit because I hate to think the love for your daughter would have ended up any differently… but four years later and I’ve just tucked your daughter up into bed. We’ve had the funniest conversations whilst she’s been on the loo, she’s given me the most outrageous hug anyone has ever given me and a very precise kiss on my cheek, she is now snoring happily with her long legs nestled under a duvet and her shiny hair fanning out over her princess pillowcases. She is the picture of health and perfection. All that bottle feeding and self doubt and critical parenting didn’t affect her. She is tremendous. She is everything you ever wanted and more. Something has tethered you two together with an unbreakable bond.
So don’t hate your husband. Open a beer and plan your snorkelling trip, that’s after this episode of Oprah on catch up of course.
All my love. I know.