“That wasn’t just piss, was it?”
In one thoroughly un-ladylike statement, it had begun. The imminent approach of motherhood. We all knew full well that this wouldn’t exactly be a standard pregnancy. There wasn’t much chance of me knitting little booties and joining breast feeding classes with a gaggle of overzealous young hatcheries. More like regular appointments with the GP, psychiatric liaisons and specialists to ensure that I wasn’t entirely losing my mind while off the lithium.
We had found out at just 6 weeks, I was coming off my night shift at work and just before handover mentioned to my staff nurse that my period was now 10 days late. After 18 months of trying I had little faith in my knowledge for my own body, after analysing every symptom with forensic detail every month. In honesty I was ready to just give up on the whole reproduction malarkey. After all what chance would I stand of getting pregnant with the respective father of my child bothering to roll over and actually do the deed with me perhaps once every two weeks. And even then if he wasn’t blazingly shitfaced. But alas, this month could be the month.
I jumped on the Harley as soon as I could get out of an unnecessarily long handover and went to the nearest supermarket to purchase a test. I remember thinking at the till that for something you piss on, these things cost a fucking fortune! I returned home and my fiancé was awake and sat on the sofa clasping a strong coffee like his life depended on it, which was potentially a realistic possibility considering what kind of state his liver may have been in from the previous night. I made my way to the downstairs bathroom and opened the test. I will spare you the awkward details of taking the actual test but as any woman knows that has had to take one previously, it generally involves lots of directional positioning, back splash and squinting. Like the whole process is trying to give you a snippet of the loss of dignity you may be expecting in 9 months’ time.
PREGNANT. I literally ran out of the bathroom, pants barely up in a fit of excitement into the front room. My fiancé was strangely rational about the situation and stated that I should make a doctor’s appointment to confirm it. I went to the surgery on my own, which was unknown to me going to be setting a bench mark of attendance to further events for my then partner. The GP confirmed that I was in fact incubating a human. I was adamant there and then that I was coming off the 1200mg of lithium I had been taking for the last 4 years, as I had read literature about associated foetal heart abnormalities in the first 12 weeks. As much as the GP tried to assure me that the risks were minimal, and to consider my options regarding my own psychiatric treatment. I was adamant, I now had something far more important than anything I had ever had in my life, growing inside me. And it filled every fibre of me with contentment.
So right there and then I went cold turkey. Well, more accurately irrational and moderately psychotic. Within the first 12 weeks of carrying bat (Just to slip that little nickname in nice and early) I had my first taster of the lack of traction my mind had on dealing with my already tumultuous life.
He was drunk, nothing unusual there. Slurring insults about me being a “self-harmer”, using my previous habit as a route to damage me now. It was ironically speaking the most open wound to go for, after all I could never hide a past that was a journey of angry red tramlines across my skin. But it was however, something I hadn’t given into since I was 19, and I was now 23. Regardless of how fucked my relationship had been, that was one thing I had never given into, it was too dangerous considering the prolific nature of my old “habit”.
After a few minutes of angry exchanges on both sides something I had never heard anyone say to me, let alone the man that was meant to love me was uttered. “Why don’t you just fucking cut yourself Rachel, you’re a fucking self-harmer, it’s what you do!”
In an instant my world fractured, he had crossed a line he had up until now never crossed (but would continue too many times after). A cloud of red descended behind my eyes and I was there again. Sat on my old bedroom floor, tool kit in hand, soothing my woes. In what must have taken less than 10 seconds I had picked up his coffee cup thrown it against the wall by his head (poor shot) and picked up a shattered piece of porcelain. Now with it pressed up against my left forearm.
“Is this what you fucking want then??!” I screamed in fury at the figure of someone I one knew.
“You won’t fucking do it, you’re a victim Rachel. Always playing the victim.”
Within a flash I had opened up a 25cm long laceration that wasn’t yet bleeding, in my now numb forearm. “Fuck Rachel, what you have done!!!?” He exclaimed. Like it was some kind of surprise.. Then the red began to come, more than I had experienced in my entire career as a self-harmer. And I was utterly terrified.
I remember for some reason being particularly worried about stains on the carpet so ran into the tiled porch way where it would be more convenient to clean up. And then what should have been really concerning me entered my head. I was 12 weeks pregnant. I began sobbing inconsolably, my fiancé by which point had phoned an ambulance as he couldn’t stem the bleeding which was now tightly wrapped in a cookery apron I had brought him from out last holiday in Sorrento.
I don’t really remember much from the journey to hospital, or even out of my front door. The severity of the situation was really something I hadn’t accounted for. I’d always been so careful before, I had never thought I was capable of inflicting this kind of mutilation, let alone when I should be protecting my unborn child. One thing I will always remember from the trip in the ambulance barring the blue light was the flame red haired paramedic. And the motherly nature in which she cared for me, like she could see the utter torment in my eyes. She was the only thing I focused on, not the beeps, the cuff inflating or the cold of the ambulance. Just the lines on her face and the kindness of her dark brown eyes.
N.B – I many years later sat in an ambulance while escorting a patient to hospital with the same flame haired angel, she has asked when my patient had been transferred into the care of the nurses how my baby was, how I was doing, and if I was still married to “that massive dickhead”. It was a thoroughly cathartic moment.
At hospital I knew what was coming barring the usual routine medical treatment, questions of how could I have done this when I was expecting? Which at this stage was something I barely had the answers for myself. So between the 56 stitches I was meticulously interrogated about the current status of my mental health, home life and medication. I had however at this point become an expert liar when it had come to anything regarding my relationship, and as for my mental health I had always been able to make my insight appear to be a passable excuse for the occasional “slip up”. I was discharged to home with no further action required. If I had been more honest I sometimes think that I could have avoided the massive shit storm that was to unfold in subsequent months.
The months past with little significant event barring getting married. As I said, significant event. However a month after we were not long back in the country after honeymooning in Palermo. He was once again drunk, but unusually abusive with it. Don’t get me wrong I had been quite accustomed to the contempt we both felt for each other, but today he was particularly sadistic. I had shut myself behind the bedroom door with a blanket and a pillow not knowing how long I was going to need to be there for. Unclear of the time I woke to something violently pushing against my back. “Thud, thud, thud”.
I wedged my feet against the big wardrobe that was in front of me hoping it would give me some leverage against the door being forced open. But no such luck. The door cracked on the hinge side, slid from behind my back and then straight onto the floor. The most humiliating event of my life had just happened. I had wet myself in fear behind the door while trying to stop him from coming in. I had lost any humanity or dignity I felt that I had previously clawed to hold onto. I felt hollow. He grabbed me by the hair and slammed my head into the wall while I was still on the floor, making everything go hazy for a second. Still to this day he would deny this event ever happening, I don’t know whether he was just truly that fucked up or if he doesn’t want to recall the day he made his pregnant wife piss herself in terror.
I’ll skip forward a month. You know to the bit where I started, that part of the story where you thought things were going to have a logical start? That bit. I was taken into the hospital following my waters breaking, after being classed as a “high risk” pregnancy. Due to my mental health apparently hospital was my only option. And after 13 hours and an uncharacteristically small amount of swearing my boy was born. Admittedly I did look at him at first and see his slightly squished up little face and question if this was really the product of me and my then husband. My mother, bless her, seeing my questioning face pointed out “they look a bit more normal in a couple of days darling”.
One thing they don’t tell you in hospital when it is your first child is that no matter how long you are giving birth for, you will then remain awake for however long it takes for your new human to settle. Which in my case was three days.
The hospital decided to keep me in for a 3 day monitoring period, due to my mental health. I’m unsure what they were monitoring because after three long days with no sleep, no meds and a very awesome (if slightly squish faced) little baby to look after I was once again, discharged with no further action. Three months after having my baby, a woman who was admitted to the same hospital jumped with her new-born in her arms from a bridge killing herself and the child. She too had bi polar, she too was in the grips of puerperal psychosis.
As a mother I think we all fixate on little things with our first child, and my focus was definitely my ability to breast feed. This had been one of the major reasons why I hadn’t continued my therapeutic dose of lithium. I wanted to be able to do what should be the most natural thing in the world, and to me it was the definition of being a woman. As I fed my child I felt that all was right in the world, he was mine and I was his and my fuck I would make sure that no one would ever try and break that.
It was mothering Sunday by the time I arrived home, and the weather was exceptionally shitty for the second week in March, in fact it had just started snowing. I invited mum and dad over to have a roast as it was dads first chance to meet his grandson. I was pushing myself a bit far by trying to get it all sorted with a new-born but this wasn’t unusual for me. If shit needs doing you get it done, right? After the meal and obligatory cuddles I packed them on their way, ready to crash out and get some rest.
I clearly recall walking upstairs and getting into the bed, the sheets felt they were interwoven with fibres made of pure electricity. And as they came into contact with my skin they super charged me and filled me like a battery with an unnatural amount of energy. I couldn’t have been upstairs for any more than an hour and id risen out of bed over 30 times. Unable to settle, physically unable to stop and relax. The creaking floorboards must had alerted my husband who came upstairs to see what the hell I was doing. He looked at me and I knew he had noticed that something was very wrong. He may had been a dick, but after almost as many years working on psych wards as me he knew the signs that something was out of the norm. He rang mum who was over in a flash, and both of them took turns looking after Bat and watching me through the night. My mind was not my own, I still to this day do not know what I was thinking apart from the irrational fear that I would cause harm to my baby bat, therefore I needed to kill myself. I’m glad I don’t remember too much else.
What I am about to write still to this day causes a lump in my throat. I remember going upstairs to my bedroom to fetch the bottles and pump. Came downstairs and began expressing as much milk for my little boy as I could, then sterilised all of the milk bottles lining them up neatly for whoever would be making his next few feeds. I knew I wouldn’t be. This was like my final cry as a mother, I knew that I would soon not be around to feed my little boy but I wouldn’t have anyone think id left him without thinking about his immediate needs.
By the morning I was being restrained on the sofa with my mother one side and husband the other, little bat in his dark wood mosses basket in front of us. The worst part, as a qualified Prevention & Management of Violence & Aggression tutor I had literally shown them both how to keep me under wraps. And yes, I work with both my mother and now ex-husband…and yes, it’s fucked up.
The police were called and two officers turned up on my doorstep, they relinquished the need for my family tag team by putting a set of cuffs on me for my own protection. At this point I didn’t even have the strength to cry, let alone kill myself. One officer was just amazing, broad welsh accent with a face like he’d been hit by a small truck, but a heart of gold. Coincidently I also ran into this character at work when he returned an AWOL’ed patient to the ward I was working. We exchanged a knowing look and no words were spoken, I wish I’d thanked him now. The crisis team arrived a few hours later, police still in attendance, baby sporadically crying for milk, mother unable to respond. They decided I needed to be in a more “secure therapeutic environment”. I wished they would just say it in plain English. “You need to be sectioned and on a ward. Just this time you wouldn’t be on the payroll.”
I was transferred to my local open acute psych ward under section 2 of the mental health act traveling under police escort, four days after giving birth. I had been assessed for a mother and baby unit close by during my pregnancy, but unfortunately due to the fact I had given birth 3 weeks early they had no available beds. Which granted, sucked. My only option was the open ward in my home town or a unit over 300 miles away where I could take my son. Not much of a choice but you make do with what you have.
Over the following week I had my medication upped 200mg every day until I was back at 1200mg, and the odd rapid tranquilisation to manage the fact that I was indeed out of my mind. After a week my section was rescinded and I returned home to my boy. On the way home I shopped for formula milk, and a new bra to contain my ridiculously large milk boobs. Usually I would had enjoyed the prospect of slightly larger tits, unfortunately on a psych ward I had little need to draw any attention to them.
On the day I returned home my husband was drunk. No settling in period for me then? But I didn’t care. Now I had my boy and I would protect him from anything that walked this earth. Even me.
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