A few things i’ve read, watched and thought on over the last week, plus some conversations i’ve had and some things i’ve done have colided to form a bit of a blog post. I’m not going to password it, but i am going to put it beneath the fold and i warn people in advance that i’m in no mood for confrontation, condemnation or consequence over it and i’ll be deleting flames without the slightest hesitation. The reason for that is that everything i’ve written is concerned with moving forward, acceptance and resolution, healing, not hurting – and i’m not going to let anyone’s views of what i write, or what they think i’ve written, colour that future. So now you know.
I’ve been rereading Charlotte Moore’s book, George and Sam, a tale of her two autistic boys and the life they lead. It’s a family, as i’ve said before, dear to me in an inexplicable quirk of fate; the two boys have Max’s long term best friend Luke, as their Uncle. I’ve known about them a long time, heard of them long before i considered autism something i might need to worry about. When i read the book first, i was overwhelmed by the strength, resourcefulness and acceptance that their mother showed in her writing. Reading it again, many things occur to me, more suited to another post but this time what i can take from her book is something else entirely, a resilience to and a recovery from grief and pain and an ability to not seek places to blame, least of all herself.
She writes about a number of things that i can imagine myself stumbling through. They ended their first pregnancy when they realised that the child had no limbs; i can imagine myself doing that, i can imagine the common sense of not, as she put it, forcing that baby to be a hero, i can imagine rationalising that in every way. But i suspect (though she isn’t writing specifically about it so she has almost certainly left out a great deal) that Charlotte belongs to the group of people i file in my head as “Kate” type people – move on, move out, put it behind you, don’t live in regret or remorse. Her book is open and honest and unpicks all the things that might have caused her boys’ autism, yet never once does she write “was it payback?” Had it been me, i know i’d have been consumed by that; my inbuilt parenting guilt-streak was well in place the minute i had Fran; “what did i do? What did i take? Was it the champagne i had to celebrate getting engaged? Was it the gnatbite ointment?” I was good at guilt from the second i was a mother, guilt is my crowning glory of parenting achievements. In fact, the only thing i’ve never laid at my own door is Maddy’s autistic tendencies; it’s written across Max’s genetic family in great golden letters and i can in no way lay it at the door of my own parenting either. I was a great mum to Maddy from the word go; good birth, decent breastfeeder, calm relaxed, gentle, thoughtful, open-eyed. I got it all right. Not my fault, just a thing that was, regardless of what we did.
Charlotte Moore also speaks of the births of her 2 boys; horrid, painful, grim experiences by the sounds of it, but she doesn’t dwell and she seems to have moved on. Kate again. Madison’s birth was horrid and at least as scary as Josie’s and yet Kate simply walked away from the trauma; i would have LOVED to have walked away from the trauma, it would have been great. I get no pleasure in wallowing in haunting experiences, i can assure you, but if that’s what happens, you are pretty much stuck with it until it moves on. I don’t seem to have a personality that can move on until something else monumental happens; unfortunately, all the momentous things in my last 3 years seem to have been traumatic ones and replacing one trauma with another is a bit exhausting. The effect is very much like scrabbling up a glassy slope and reaching a place, during the sunny afternoon, where you are surrounded by warmth and flowers, only to find that as evening draws in, the ground gets too slippery again and you are dragged back down into the grim, ashy, muddy darkened pit underneath. I can’t put it any better than that.
When it comes to the distress that accompanies bad birthing experiences, i think i can safely say i’ve seen enough varieties to know what i’m talking about. If i’d only ever done Maddy’s birth, i’d have thought that was reasonably awful and i’d have nodded along to bad birth stories like i knew what i was talking about. If i’d only ever had Amelie i’d think i’d know a bit about how disappointing a c-section could be, but also how good it can be, and if i’d only ever had Fran, i’d think i’d know a good bit about the exhaustion of a labour that didn’t progress. I’d be right, i would know a good bit. I can only tell you that the worst of those (Fran’s) makes it to about 4/10 in comparison to the welter of feelings after Josie was born, the terror of theatre, the anger i feel towards the people who forced me into that position. I doubt i’ll EVER find the courage to write that birth story up; i can’t even find the courage to get the notes that would mean that Helen could go through it with me, even knowing that could give me peace. Trouble is it might not and i have no idea whether it would be worse to find that Josie was never going to be born naturally or that she would have been.
What i have learned, mostly courtesy of living with Max, is that the people who would say “well just dig yourself out a shelf in the nice spot where you can live” simply don’t get it. They’ve got no understanding of the slidey spot, they don’t live on a slidey spot. They live in a world of linear progression, where everything is as it is and once you’ve moved on, the past is passed. Kate manages that with aplomb; Kate lives life in a series of hurdles that never reoccur and which never prove insurmountable but the trick she has, the thing that makes her human and lovable, is that she knows i don’t and that despite not understanding my way, she acknowledges and encompasses it and so is a person who everyone loves.
One thing notably absent from Charlotte Moore’s book is anger, though here i suspect she may have skated over a few details as her references to her marriage breakdown are few and curt. I admire her for that, the ability not to take a tool you have, a book that will be published that no one can really stop and not use it to vent a spleens worth of fury and let down and rage. The thing about anger is that it can be real or imagined, deserved or undeserved but that doesn’t make it go away. I’m a complete master of anger, or perhaps completely unmasterful of anger. I’ve got a dreadful, almost uncontrollable temper and the wonder of it is that most of my friends who know me online have never seen it.
My sister knows all about my temper, which i get from both my parents who also have tempers they’ve struggled to control in their time. My sister can tell you all about me hurling books at her head (intended to hit) and punching lightswitches through walls. I’ve mastered my outer temper with great difficulty, it only tends to surface now when i’m very tired or very hormonal and Max knows it well enough to sidetrack it. A long time ago, i can clearly recall losing my temper with him enough that he held me at arms length so i couldn’t hit him. If you’ve never seen me angry, you’d hardly believe it.
I knew i’d changed a lot when a year or so ago a lovely friend brought a little bit of spite to my attention; it ought to have sent me into a total rage. But i learned something about myself then. I’ve lain awake all night after fallouts by email with friends, ones where i have inadvertantly made a mistake, or they have, or both of us have – i’ve had conversations in my head and been REALLY REALLY angry, but on those occasions i think i knew i had let myself down somehow, even though i wasn’t sure how and even if i was raging at the other person, i was also having a baffled moment of autistic-like confusion. What had i done this time? When it came to the petty little bit of nastiness, i knew i didn’t deserve it and that meant it was almost funny in those critical moments.
Oddly enough, it probably also saved my sanity and even my marriage. Because i WAS angry at the time; i was furious with myself for the stupidity of letting myself get pregnant by accident, furious with Max for not being able to accept that pregnancy, furious with myself for the situation we then found ourselves in which could have been saved if only i had been responsible, furious that none of my friends except one or two saw through me frantically protecting our situation and unutterably full of rage that i wouldn’t listen to them. I look back now and wonder WHAT ON EARTH i was thinking? Why did i not just RUN RUN RUN and not come back until the resolution i knew in myself was coming anyway had just come about on its own? Why put myself through the effort of the 2 weeks of talking about it? I had good reason to trust my instincts but i didn’t. I can only say that it all made sense at the time, that the logic and practicalities of it still make sense now. If you know something is disasterous and not to be in a million different ways, why go on? Even now, having talked it through endlessly with so many people (thank you) there are still so many bits of it all no one knows and the worst of all those bits are the anger.
My greatest luck was that i got a reason to vent all that anger into one convenient spot for a nice long time and be supercillious with it (and unpleasant, and unforgiving and unworthy of the better things about myself that there are). I got a year of snorting in derision about something while i controlled my anger, dealt with it, honed it and compacted it down into something manageable and now, thankfully, we can talk about it and start to forge ways into the future where that rage is not raw and lawless and desperate to hurt someone else. Max was saved the full onslaught of all that (though i don’t think he knows it, i think he probably imagines he saw all of that) without me ever really discussing it with him. I think i did no more than read out the offending thing to him and then it was never mentioned again; it was like a private weapon i kept to myself, my own personal boil lancing pin.
I’d consider myself fairly good at putting myself into other people’s shoes; i read an interesting article at the weekend that worked along the lines of saying that sympathy, imagining yourself in other people’s shoes, is a pointless exercise. The example was “If you imagine that you, in your comfortable middle class life, would hate to work for £3 and so, to assuage guilt, campaign for a minimum wage of £5.35, you do it mainly for yourself. You imagine it must be awful to work in a sweat shop for 20p an hour, and it probably is, but if making the minimum wage 40p an hour meant that the factory owner could only employ half as many people so the other half and their family died, would you have done any good? Not really.”
It’s an interesting point. The trick to living neither on a slippery slope and all alone, or thinking that life is all linear, may be more along the lines of imagining yourself to be the other person first, before you jump into their shoes. Claire, my lovely friend Claire and i have everything in common and nothing at all; we’ve both sat on our own on a bathroom floor watching a pregnancy bleed away when we wished it wasn’t doing but she doesn’t hate me. She is capable of putting herself, as Merry, into my shoes and understanding that nothing, nothing at all slakes the desire to have another baby, not even the 4 already here and the 1 that isn’t. It’s like choosing to sit on a park bench together and share something, instead of wrapping ourselves up in a duvet and saying “you can never understand me.” It’s just a difference in attitude; i’ve been stunned endlessly by the people who know everything and hold out their arms. People who have lost babies they wanted, children they wanted, people with no children, 1 child 2 children. It never fails to amaze me that some people will offer love when i expect their disgust. I’ve got people in my life now who feel like they must have been sent from a god somewhere, people who say “we are different, but we are still the same.”
I think i’ve more or less got the anger beaten now; in the end, the only great anger came from my own self-knowledge. I knew exactly where i was walking, i predicted every emotion and thought, even to the depth of their intensity and i still walked. Walked like Doctor Who in the episode where he becomes human, walked like Harry Potter, directly into something i knew i’d hate and would destroy me but be better for everyone else. That’s the key thing; people imagine that doing stuff for the greater good comes with self-satisfied smugness and instant reprieve from the effects. Not in my experience; my experience is that giving up everything for someone else leaves you bitter, hurt and full of loss. The only advantage to martyrdom i can see is that in the olden days you died from it.
How can you not have to process some anger when you’ve wrecked your own life completely knowingly? I’m working on guilt, i’m almost bored of guilt and besides, there are mitigating circumstances there, and i’ve got a tricky patch to deal with over envy. The trickiest patch of all is regeneration.
The greatest horror of the last 16 months (yes, still counting) has been watching myself slide into utter madness. Thinking things that actually are despicable and being too horrified to utter them and let out the poison; i’ve been here once before, though less awfully. When i got pregnant with Maddy, i wanted a natural birth slightly more than the baby, i had to remind myself that a live baby was more important than a vaginal birth. I’ve had horrendous moments of envying people their miscarriages of wanted babies, because they can feel and show and have grief where i can’t. I’ve had an even more horrendous moment of thinking that if i had another, i could give birth secretly and if it died, well at least i’d be able to mourn properly this time and i’d have laid to rest my “can i give birth again” ghost.
Those are the thoughts of someone gone fairly mad, not operating properly or with normal parameters – and the only thing i can say about it is that it has given me an insight into how people become so twisted with grief and pain that they cease to operate within normal parameters. Not entirely sure i’m glad of the insight, but it’s there now, so i might as well make use of it. When the man jumped off the roof of a hotel with his kids under his arms last year, i was forced to admit that i could imagine how that would seem a sensible option to someone, driven to the outer edges of sanity by internal voices no one else can make sense of.
I got fairly close to that at times, i think i’ll be fairly close to that at times for most of the rest of my life. I’ve got no rights to grieve, but i’m going to spend the rest of my life doing it. An unpleasant prospect really but if i’m as whole as i am right now, without any pills propping me up, i might be okay. I’m much more reckless with my life now though, the spike of fear that has kept me off planes in the last years has gone because if i die, well, at least i won’t be so sad anymore. I think my fear of Max flying has gone for the same reasons. I used to fret terribly while he was in the air, now i barely think about it. It worries me to think i might be recklessly inviting disaster, almost as if i desperately want to have something to let all this out on to, but so long as i’m not egging my family members on to jump off cliffs, i suppose i’m on the right side of sanity.
We are, finally, cautiously, exploring the possibility that the only way to patch me up in any way, might be for a well timed, well planned, final baby. I doubt it will happen personally, i’m not sure i’m up to it and i feel time is running out, in several ways, not least my age. But we’re edging around it. Before i had Josie, i still wanted 2 more. 1 of those, unequivocably, has gone and if you think i have no right to say that, i can only tell you that every single time i see my 4 children together, i see the shadow of the 5th and i think i will do for the rest of my life. It hits me, like a punch in the windpipe, every single time. And if we did have another, i think i would be expecting payback, because i still wonder, most days, when that is coming.
But then that, as i think i’ve now established, is just the way i am.
Last week we watched an episode of Doctor Who which was unremarkable to me in every respect except one; a 1/3 of the population were hypnotised to the edge of self destruction, made to climb to the highest point and stand at the edge as if about to jump, but then didn’t jump, because nobody can by hypnotised into destroying themselves, it has to be done as an act of will. Whatever forceful arguments led my to the place i live in now, there is most certainly one truth; i’ve kept myself that critical one pace back from the edge for the last 16 months and i expect i can keep on standing that far back for the rest of my life too.