I’m not surprised Churchill referred to his depression as his ‘black dog’, because in my experience depression is the worst kind of bitch. Even when you are classed as ‘over it’, you can hear and smell it somewhere nearby, panting in the shadows, snuffling around and threatening to shit in your path.
Earlier this week I felt a little overwhelmed by what I think (and hope) are the stuff of normal, common all gardening parental anxiety. They spiralled and wormed their way into my mind like the worst kind of dizzy headache. Where will Spider-boy go to school? Will we ever have any money? Have I destroyed my career by having kids? Have I destroyed my children by working? Am I any good at parenting? Are my relaxed days good for everyone or evidence that deep down I’m still feckless and lazy? Do I have expectations that are too high or not high enough? What happens if I never sleep again? Can you get so tired you forget what love is? And on, and on, and on.
With my first child, these were the symptoms of a disease. I spiralled and stumbled and became undone each thought cascading into another until I lost myself and was happy to drown. At the moment, I suspect I’m just wallowing in these waters (albeit with the trepidation of someone who’s already been out of their depth). As I said, depression is a bitch, and I suspect I’ll always be able to hear her if I listen carefully, roaming somewhere near my house, howling in the dark.
But this is a post about love and comfort. Slightly shaken I took two mornings *off* this week wondering if I was stricken or just, you know, tired and a bit emotional (and frankly, not drunk enough). I went back to bed ’til midday, just newborn and I, and we snuggled and cuddled, he in his nappy and nothing else.
One of the days he was snuffly and cross and not in good sorts himself. Still beautiful you understand, proud ballooning belly, wide wide smile, the only crooked thing on his gloriously symmetrical face, but also grizzling and crying and fussing while he fed. I tried all my tricks, placating and soothing, rocking and rubbing, playing, shhhing, kissing and almost gave up. I lay down next to him with a sigh and he looked over and grabbed at my face, pulling it towards him with his tiny insistent arms. His hands on my cheeks and hair, his too sharp nails digging in. I went with the move and he pulled me close, like a clumsy lover, my face into his, until his lips rested on mine. He gazed up at my eyes and breathing back at me fell asleep. He wanted our breath close and hot, needed it to feel safe. As he started to snore it dawned on me, the light of the sunny day we had been missing streaming from the edge of the blinds, that perhaps he was holding me because he wanted me to feel safer too.
It may be wishful thinking; children have every right to be selfish (parenthood has confirmed to me the absolute truth of that teenage cliche I didn’t ask to be born, because however annoying that may be in 11 years time, it is a true accusation and one I don’t have an answer for). But it whizzed me back to 2007 so fast my stomach lurched. I remembered another bright day, light hitting my face from the crackleglaze of the institutionalised windows in a horrible, dirty side room where Spider-boy and I had been placed. He was 15 days or so old, and we’d been readmitted in a bloodsoaked frenzy to the sticky, hot postnatal ward which smelled of rust and powdered tea and fear and bliss all churned together.
There he was, as too fat for his goldfish bowl crib as I was too small for the pregno shaped nightie. His presence was partly pragmatic, because I was breastfeeding him, but also a legal requirement. As he hadn’t been registered we were told he didn’t exist as a separate entity from me. He was still ‘Baby thatwoman‘, nothing without me and our matching tags. It was between visiting hours, scary and the height of Summer. There were things I wanted to do but I was pinned to the bed by some nasty needles in my hand. Mr Thatwoman was firefighting his new job and sorting the house hoping we’d be back soon. I started crying, and a little hand reached up to touch my chest. It rested there as Spider-boy snuggled in, and I felt better.
A fundamental truth of parenting knocked my imagined future apart. I realised that he could comfort me even at this very young age; the relationship was two-way and being offered. It had never occurred to me that right from the start this was possible, yet here I was, something tiny and fragile and legally non-existent holding me and caring for me when I felt broken.
I know that it is no certainty and no right of mine to expect it, but even knowing that my boys have held me and cuddled me back, whether on purpose or as an accident of motor skills, makes me feel better and more optimistic. Seriously, how fucking lucky am I? To have had a two-way love from the start? To have had been able to grasp and find love even in moments of potential blankness? It certainly gives me hope, even if it was depression was barking at the supermoon…