I can admit it now. Now that my babies fill every part of me with love, and their cries pierce my heart. Now that they are a year old, and the past is firmly in a box tied with ribbon at the back of my mind. I can admit that I didn’t love them.
Labour exhausted me; a twenty four hour battle which bore no resemblance to the four hour panic that had been my first experience. Two healthy girls lay in a cot next to me. I just wanted the world to go away and let me sleep. I knew how grateful I should be; barely sixteen months earlier I had been in the same room alone, my newborn boys whipped away to Special Care with frightening urgency. This was the moment I had longed for, so why did I feel nothing?
The midwife eased me into a wheelchair to go up to the ward and placed a baby in a crook of each of my arms. And that was the moment it really began; the descent into a madness I never knew existed, and would be trapped in for the next six months. They were the wrong twins – my twins were the boys born sixteen months earlier, fought for and cared for until suddenly two became one. I recoiled into the chair, looking up at my husband with a look of panic in my face and tears rolling silently down my face. He knew. He understood. He felt it too.
Those early weeks are a merciful blur as I waded through the treacle of inertia that was the onset of post-natal depression. It seems extraordinary, looking back, that I didn’t realise from the outset what was wrong. I was consumed with an all-pervading numbness and felt nothing for anyone or anything. I was neither sad nor happy, never cried nor laughed. I dressed myself and the children, paraded the buggy through town with hair and make-up in place, visited toddler groups and friends, gave no hint of the increasing sense of despair I felt inside. I felt as though I was floating above myself; participating in life yet at the same time totally detached from it.
The fog in which I was operating grew thicker and harder to negotiate. I became incapable of completing the simplest of tasks, once finding myself still clutching my toothbrush at lunchtime; the tap still running upstairs. I had wandered out of the bathroom mid-brushing, and simply forgotten what I had been doing. One morning I called my husband from the car, parked on the drive-way with the children in their seats, unable to remember how to switch on the ignition. Sentences trailed into silence and I would forget the names of friends I’d known for years. Decisions pushed me over the brink of panic; I became unable to select from a menu or speak to shop assistants. I was losing my mind. And I was losing my way.
Far worse than my indecision and inertia was how I felt towards my new babies. Or more accurately, the way I didn’t feel. Oh, I’d have rescued them from a burning building, but I didn’t love them. I didn’t feel a connection with them in the way I knew I should; in the way I felt with my other children. Buried beneath the thick layer of confusion, I knew this was wrong, and I was consumed with guilt. Another woman would have loved them, nurtured them, been a better mother to them. I dragged myself out to baby groups and sat watching the new mums with their newborns; kissing them and chatting to them. I tried to copy their behaviour, to kick-start the bonding process, but my babies were strangers to me and I felt like a fraud. I stopped going. People would stop me in the street, my triple buggy a source of wonder and curiousity. To a man, they would comment on the wonder of twins – their remarks cut through me like a knife, re-inforcing the twinship bond that my boy would never again experience. I couldn’t see what I had, only what I’d lost. I’d hear how well I was coping with three so young, how amazing I was and how lucky. The words made me sick; I was falling apart inside and no-one could see.
During my difficult and risky second pregnancy I had taken to marking the days off the calendar, inching my way towards each milestone of comparative safety; 24 weeks, 28, 32… I had continued this practice out of habit and one day found myself standing before the calendar, hand poised above the page. Why was I doing this? Why was I marking off the days? What on earth was there to look forward to? Life stretched out before me, bleak and uninviting. I was trapped in a life I didn’t recognise and could see no escape.
I can admit all this now. Now that life is good again and the madness at bay. I can hold my babies close and breathe silent remorse into my cuddles for the temporary absence of their mother. She is back now, and she loves them more than they will ever know.
Photo credit: Eric Setiawan