How did I fight my way out to become the kind of mother I wanted to be all along?
Anyone who has been following my articles will know that my motherhood journey has been anything but easy so far; postnatal depression, partner psychosis, serious illness, surgery and hospitalisation, and now homelessness... and he's only 17 weeks old!
It has been very difficult, and has broken my heart many times that my dream went so sour. 18 years of wanting a baby and the reality has been so impossible that I actually considered giving him up because I felt like I was failing him horribly.
I didn't give up. I fought hard and I did what I needed to in order to get well, and I used the supports that were available to me, from medical professionals and community supports through to psychiatric supports and counsellors. I took family members up on their offers of support, and for a few weeks there, my parents were Little C's full-time caregivers so that I had a chance to recover from the hell I'd been through.
It has been a tough road, but Little C and I made it through stronger than ever. He's thriving; he's talking already, if you can believe that! Clear words, easily understood by anyone. Maybe the hell didn't affect him as badly as I had feared.
So how did I make it through? How did I fight my way out to become the kind of mother I wanted to be all along? How did I land on my feet despite months of freefalling? How did I find the strength to figure it all out without losing my son?
Love for my son. That's how. No matter what was happening, I loved my son and I knew that I'd lose him if I didn't get it together and that was not an option. My love for my son gave me the strength I needed to do what it took.
1. I played with him.
Even when I was so done in that I all I wanted to do was curl into the fetal position and give up, I made myself play with Little C. Even when I couldn't look after him and my parents were picking up the slack, I made sure I spent time with him doing fun things. We danced together. I sang to him. I tickled him and giggled with him.
It was hard at first, putting on a brave face so he didn't see my pain, but the more I played with him the easier it got. His smiles and giggles spurred me on and it got easier to laugh with him for real.
2. I made the effort.
Despite being exhausted, I would make an attempt to feed him. In the early stages I could only last ten minutes or so before I had to hand him back to my Mum, but then it got to 20 minutes, then an hour, and then four hours, and after a few weeks I found I could look after him for most of the day and I'd started taking him out for walks again and taking him to the shops and making the rudimentary attempts at re-establishing a routine.
Now I can look after him almost full-time with very little thought, and it's coming naturally again like it did just after he was born.
3. I joined a mother's group.
Little C was the old man of the group at 15 weeks old when I joined, with all of the other babies ranging from 4 - 8 weeks, but that's okay. I joined in and took the time to encourage the new mothers who were struggling with their crying babies. I comforted them that they were doing fine and that babies cry because I know how easy it is to feel like a failure. They in turn complimented me on how well Little C is coming along and how happy he seems and how friendly he is.
I made some friends in the group and started meeting up with them for coffee, and we started sharing the stories of our journey so far and I found out that many of them had struggled as well, just in different ways. There was no competition about who had it tougher, we just acknowledged that we were all struggling in our own way and that we felt better for the mutual support being offered.
Some were struggling because they were trying to raise their baby alone with no family support. Some had sick kids, like the mother of a child born with a heart condition. Some were used to being judged because their partner was also female. Some were struggling because their baby was colicky and nothing seemed to help.
Some of us bottle feed and some breastfeed and nobody tells the other that their way is better, we just watch each other's babies while we or they go and prepare a feed or go to the toilet or grab a cuppa or something to eat. We support each other and there's that feeling that hey, I'm doing okay, and I'm not alone in this.
Joining a mother's group was an awesome help!
4. I rejoined the community.
Prior to pregnancy I was active in a community group with other people who live with a mental health condition. I used to do many of the sport and creative activities. I've missed that, and so I set aside time to start doing activities again. My mother has Little C on a Monday and music group is on a Monday and so I'm back to playing the keyboard, which I love.
It's a way to remember that I am a mother AND a musician and that there is more to me than chief cook and bottle-washer. I'm rediscovering my identity, and that's been powerful in my recovery.
5. I worked on my relationship.
Technically I am defined as a single mother by officialdom because I am the primary carer for Little C and I am responsible for the decision-making and daily care, but I'm not actually single. My partner is not capable of helping me raise Little C at present, but he does spend time with him. It's been a hard road to make that happen due to L's illness, but we worked on it together and now he's able to spend more than a few minutes at a time with our son.
That didn't help us with our relationship though. That's been a whole separate struggle which has required us to negotiate regular times in our schedule to be alone together. That's where Little C's grandparents come in; he stays with Grandma on a Wednesday night and with Nan and Pop on a Saturday night, and those are "date night" for L and I. I sleep at his place and we have time to just be a couple. Then on Sundays we have family time and do something together with Little C so that Little C still gets to be part of a family.
Down the track we plan to live as a family again, but in the meantime this is working.
6. I kept reminding myself that I'm a good mother.
My previous article, 5 signs you're a good mother, came from my own experience of feeling like a failure. I had to actively remind myself that I was a good mother because I was putting Little C first and making sure all of his needs were met, even if I couldn't be the one to meet them for a little while.
I have reached a place now where I know I am a good mother because I kept his life stable when it was all crashing down around us, and I managed to do it well enough that he doesn't even seem to realise anything happened at all.
I know I'm a good mother because his life was barely interrupted and he appears to have come through all of this without a scratch. It was touch and go for quite a while there though, and I had to keep reminding myself, "You're a good mother. You're doing right by your son. Every decision you make is in his best interests. Be kind to yourself."
It took a lot of repetitions before that began to sink in, but it was worthwhile.
7. I kept Little C as my focus.
No matter what was going on, there was a beautiful little boy who depended on me, and that little boy is happy and healthy and exceeding expectations. The hardship I went through means very little when I am holding Little C and he wraps his arms around me and buries his head against me and goes to sleep, because he feels safe and secure and knows that I am his Mummy and I will look after him.
These moments with Little C are what I live for now
The unconditional love from my son makes it all worthwhile. He is my world, and for now I am his. I am going to make the most of that connection while I have it, because one day he'll grow up and have his own life and I don't want to miss a moment of this special time I have with him.