I’ve recently admitted out loud that not eating is my form of protest at everything. The things that can never be said; the things I can sometimes say to some people. I admit it. I use it to communicate what I don’t feel able to say. Being thin is so much more acceptable that other expressions of pain.
I can’t say I want to die. What have I got to want to die about? Who would want to hear that? I’m privileged: I’m an educated, white, middle class, cis, heterosexual woman. I’m not disabled in any way. I have no disfigurements. I don’t have money worries. I have a home, and a way to earn my own living. Only averagely bad things have ever happened to me. And I have children.
I had children because I thought that was what people did. What they wanted – to make a family, and a future. I thought it would make me happy. And it did, for a while. I need you to be absolutely clear on this: I love my children. More than anything. They own my heart.
I chose to have my first child. And a year into stay-at-home parenting I’d pretty much stopped seeing and smelling my own fresh blood dripping on to the floor from slashed wrists as I cradled her in my arms. I could feel the pain. See and smell the blood. It was so real; but only in my head. Of course I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid they’d take my baby away. Maybe everyone felt like that.
A year on, and it seemed it was time to have another baby. I felt this could be the end of the world. The fear was paralysing. The thought of creating another human being to contaminate was so very very wrong. But nobody says that. That’s crazy talk. A family is a blessed thing. Not everyone is so fortunate. Children are happy things, we all know that. And then the body let me down and I got pregnant. Shortly after, the alienation I feel around Christmas coincided with a bout of genuine flu. I thought I was doing the right thing. I drank plenty of fluids and I kept it natural: I didn’t take anything to reduce my raging temperature. And the bleeding started early on New Year’s Day. The Teletubbies were on. My baby left me. I’d killed my baby. I stopped eating. I drifted. I looked after my daughter. Played. Read to her. Answered the endless questions. Joined in her love of Postman Pat. All while disembowelled by guilt.
Then almost three years to the day of my first daughter’s birth, my second live daughter arrived. I absorbed myself in doing my best. Letting second daughter develop as her own person and at her own rate. She was so different. Slow to speak; only I and her sister could understand her. Bandy legged with hair that grew straight up and waved in the breeze like sea anenomes – she was another soul to protect and nurture. And self-destructively stubborn if not handled well. She looked like an alien, but she was my alien. And she was another invisible set of handcuffs for me.
I parented hard, determined not to repeat the experiences I’d had. Obviously, as Philip Larkin would have it, I’ll have fucked them up in other ways. But I feel there’s a glimmer of absolution in not repeating the things in your children that broke you.
I created a world around my girls. Careful, careful, careful to give them the space to develop as they wanted to. To give them a sense of self value. I worked for the good of the community. I made friends. And I kept my husband’s attempts to twist my reality in a small little box at the edge of my head. I worked so very very hard to give my girls a good daddy. To support him in giving them the best of himself to them. I willingly offered myself as the buffer. I only sensed the psychological games. I didn’t have the terminology or the self-belief to see what was going on. And I was broken in the first place, so my perceptions were unreliable.
I kept going because my girls needed me. I dealt with stuff, took my turn at toddler group and folded towels. I didn’t feel great, and I had some unexpected bleeding. But the body was so unreliable, I ignored it.
Eventually I made a GP appointment with some random doctor who pressed my stomach and asked if I could be pregnant. I said no. My whole being said no. The pregnancy test said yes. And the scan later that day said an 18 week old baby was living inside me.
I think I went through the right motions. Made the right preparations. Said the right things. I can’t remember. Then my third daughter arrived.
My husband acted as though I’d done this on purpose to trap him and ruin his life. I silently blamed the unreliable body that didn’t know what was going on. I felt punished. I didn’t eat and carried on being the centre of my children’s world. Time passed. He told me things had happened that I was sure hadn’t happened, but wasn’t sure enough of myself to refute. Everything turned out to be my fault. I gave up trying to understand what I’d done wrong.
And then I noticed he was doing it to my girls. Planting doubt. Withholding affection according to his mood. Undermining. Controlling. They were bewildered and hurt and they started to blame themselves.
So I put a stop to it. And that is possibly the bravest thing I’ve ever done. Said no. Enough. Not them. LEAVE THEM ALONE.
We separated and I made a new home for us. I dealt with all the ways he tried to undermine me. I made them a daddy they could love, but a daddy who wasn’t the primary parent.
I should never have had children. But they were there. They were people who needed protecting, nurturing, loving for exactly who they were.
But I should never have had children.
In having children I’ve trapped myself with moral responsibilities that continually remind me that the pain I’d cause by not being here would be greater than the pain I suffer by existing. I can’t have what I want. I can’t leave them. Not yet. I can’t leave them to him.
And sometimes this is more than I can bear.
The past few days have been one of those times. But I’ve learnt a few things. I made the right phone calls. I contained the pain and didn’t spend hours sitting on top of a car park full of pills waiting to sleep and fall. I let them sweep my house for pills. And I’m still here. A bit drunk, but we can all live with that. I’m on the good gin.
Anyway, I’m back.