The Need For Female Communication

Or self-indulgent blogging?

Last night I dreamt I was pregnant again…
It’s happened a few times recently, and in every dream I’ve always had very mixed feelings about it.
I can see (outa the way Freud) a few reasons for these dreams and mixed feelings:
1. I’m getting too old to have any more children (I’m not saying all 42-year-olds are too old to have children, I’m just saying that, 17 years after my first of 3 amazing body-stretching tricks, I feel ancient). I suspect that this realisation can spark dreams of babies and fertility for many maturing women. So to find out I could still have children would make me feel younger and feminine. But…
2. Pregnancy was always lovely in my imagination but horrible for my body. I suffered with a lot of pain/discomfort/sleeplessness/headaches/low-blood-pressure every time I was pregnant. It was like being quite unwell and completely exhausted for 9 months. I didn’t have the ‘good’ bit, struggled to walk, and suffered constant pelvic pain in the last 3 months. So, to go through it again would be horrible.
3. I love babies and have an idealistic notion of what me being a good mother could be like yet I feel I never fulfilled that. I was totally shattered and run down and suffered from non-stop viruses and overwhelming feelings of being swamped and stupefied constantly. I guess there’s still a yearning to go back in time and get it right and enjoy it.
4. I am confident about my own ideas about parenting now but when I was 25 I let other people boss me around even when it went against my instincts. I wouldn’t do that now. And, to a certain extent, I suppose I let my pre-parenthood life control the new mother.
5. After juggling/struggling, trying to cope and feeling like a failure for many years I’m finally doing something for me now that involves stepping outside of being a mother and it’s making me feel guilty and selfish but also more well-rounded and I wouldn’t want to go back. I would feel trapped.

Number 1 child decided to be born on the day we took over a shop and started a new business from scratch. We had to put the house on the market and hurriedly make the stinking, semi-derelict flat above the shop suitable for us to inhabit. Richard was at the shop almost constantly and I was responsible for keeping the house looking presentable to sell, doing the packing, and fitting in the care of a new baby and all the washing somehow. I was also eager to be involved with the shop as much as possible and making sure the flat would be ready on time. I frequently ran into the bedroom, shoved my face into a pillow and screamed into it. I had a baby that cried frantically every time I put her down, I had no idea there were such things as baby carriers that you could actually wear for any length of time and so I charged around the house like a maniac whenever she fell asleep. It would be another five years before I had a mobile phone. But I had no one to call or text anyway. It was 1995, there was no NetMums available to me, it would another 3 years before we got a computer and another year or two after that before I discovered other mums online. Even then I kept my emotions to myself; I’d got used to pretending.
I couldn’t share with anyone how ill and awful I felt, I didn’t talk to anyone (apart from on the 2 completely fruitless visits to the GP) about how I was struggling with exhaustion and constant ill-health. I didn’t tell anyone that I couldn’t stand day-after-day doing the same damn things, saying the same damn things and having a husband that worked more than full-time including every weekend, every Bank Holiday, every school holiday – even in the summer evenings when I knew everyone else was having family time, and he was always on-call. Life was very intense and very tiring for several years. Breast-feeding my first child was a disaster because I never got any peace and I didn’t have anywhere that I felt comfortable and safe. I felt as if I was being hammered into the ground from the head down and it was useless to fight it. So I drifted from day to day for years with regular headaches and a permanently detached feeling. I often saw no one for days. I was working as hard as my husband – with no lunchbreaks, little sleep and no toilet breaks, and no conversation but no one was paying me for it so I didn’t feel I had the right to complain. I often thought, ‘This is what it’s like to be a single mum. I don’t have anyone to talk to.’ My husband, who had been talking to people all day, would come home and fall asleep.

I didn’t talk to anyone.

I know now, looking back, that it was a very difficult time and I feel sorry for the young woman I was then, trying to cope with young children on her own and a busy life.
People tell you that talking about yourself too much is narcissistic, it’s navel-gazing, self-centred, self-obsessed. So you don’t do it. You bottle it up. You pretend, you hide, you lie. Or maybe, like me, you drink too much, you put on weight, you try to numb-out the problems, find false happiness in things and food and you wonder what’s wrong with you, and why everyone else is coping so much better.

But there is another reason why I didn’t talk to anyone. I wasn’t happy being a practical machine and I didn’t know it yet and I even if I did I didn’t want to admit it because I didn’t want anyone to take over – either to try to change things or suggest inappropriate solutions – I wanted support and understanding. I wanted the right to complain that, even though everything seemed good on paper, I wasn’t getting the chance to enjoy any of it. And I wanted, somehow, the chance to get it right and feel some sort of control over myself, rather than being pushed from one demanding situation to the next. Although we lived (and still do) in a beautiful area, I was stuck indoors – apart from the one day we tried to squeeze out of every week to go to town to shop frantically for everything we needed. We very rarely saw the beach a mile from our doorstep or went for walks and never had a holiday. If we weren’t kept awake by a crying baby it was groups of people yelling in the street on their way back to their campsites, caravans or holiday homes or peeing up the alleyway by the flat. I could have been living anywhere. I was miserable. I started to hide. Already a person crippled by shyness, the limited social skills I had before motherhood vanished.

I’m writing this because every now and then I get cross. Cross with a society that thinks it’s self-indulgent to talk about ourselves. I’ve recently read about woman journalists who have been attacked for talking openly about the less rosy aspects of motherhood. But if I’d had the chance, opportunity, permission, confidence to talk about myself, I think my life would have turned out a darn site better and so would the lives of those around me. If I’d known that women everywhere were feeling similar things, suffering the same physical and emotional strains as me then I would have felt less abnormal and things could have been easier to accept.

To have one’s youth, social-life, figure, strength, health, sense of identity (such as it was!), sleep and freedom and home taken away all at once when at the same time you are getting the chance to do the most important job in the world but for no money no recognition and no status is ENORMOUSLY overwhelming at any age but especially so when you are still young and haven’t found your own way in the world. I still believe that the enormity of it all didn’t hit me for years and can see now how the sleep deprivation was completely debilitating.

How do you explain or admit that the best thing in the world that has ever happened to you has also caused some of the worst things? That in theory everything is good but in fact it is very, very bad.
I remember when our first two children had a really nasty case of chicken pox. I think they were about 4 and 2 years-old at the time. The health visitor had commented that it was particularly nasty outbreak. We were shattered anyway but after several nights of fever and itching and crying, and days of non-stop grumps, we were fed-up. My husband’s parents laughed at us and said, ‘Well you wanted to have children!’

So that’s it, is it? We had children – we couldn’t complain about it.

The National Lottery started up about the same time as our first child was born and for a while we both bought a ticket on a Saturday but eventually I said I wouldn’t bother anymore because no amount of money could make my children sleep at night, get rid of my headaches or fix any of the anxiety or stress that was making my life difficult. Then as the shop became more successful we moved up the property ladder. I was pregnant again. I didn’t know it at the time but I was suffering with SPD (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction) – a pelvic disorder that made moving around, lifting, carrying, housework and sleeping difficult. I just assumed everyone found pregnancy difficult and I had to put up with it. Child number 2 came along a week before the Easter holidays in 1997 and – as anyone with a seasonal business in the South West will tell you – that is the worst time of year to have a baby. I was left at home on my own for days with a brand new baby again, sometimes only seeing Richard at ten o’clock at night. Only this time I had a toddler too. The SPD didn’t ease until weeks after the baby was born and in that time I felt as if my groin was tearing. The houses in the modern echoing street in which we lived were turning into holiday homes for rich people and rental accommodation. The comings and goings were erratic and noisy and my need to hide away was escalating. I felt I had no privacy and I wanted another adult at home with me to answer the door, the phone, close the curtains at night, fetch me food and drink while I had quiet time with the new baby, and someone to play with our 2-year-old. I was also losing the ability to make adult conversation and on the rare occasion that we did go out I said nothing at all or spoke in nervous gibberish. I began to panic. I used up all my energy pretending I was okay every time I had to go anywhere and then I would get a crashing feeling and need to be at home immediately. But it was never quiet at home. The village had become a holiday village. So we bought a house 3 miles up the road in the middle of a field. It was incredibly stressful, the children were still pre-school age and the second move came with a bundle of building jobs. I wish I could go back in time, ease some of that young woman’s pain, tell her not to worry about the practical things so much.
I’ve always felt as if people think I don’t have a right to complain about anything – at just 29-years-old I seemed to have so much – and yet I often felt terribly frail as if I was paddling on the edge of life.

When I feel quiet, when I feel sad, overwhelmed, exhausted, drained, unwell, confused, lonely, deflated, I remember that people don’t like you being honest about your feelings especially if they think your life is somehow cushier than theirs. I remember that I’m tall and I don’t look frail. I remember that I live in nice area and it sounds wonderful. It’s beautiful here – outside of my head. Inside it’s like a rubbish dump on a frozen wasteland with no blanket.

So I write about it.
Because it’s still all in there from years ago, I still feel physically and emotionally wrecked, and it needs to come out.
Because someone, somewhere out there, needs someone else to be saying these things so that they know they are not alone, not mad, not a freak. We all struggle. And tough things happen to even the most sorted-looking people. And if they don’t talk about them they may never get over them.

It’s now 2 ½ years since our youngest started school, and after 17 years, Richard tries not to work evenings anymore and can occasionally take a few days off in school holidays – but never enough so we can ever have a family holiday together and he’s still always on-call. We now have a dog so we are forced to go for walks and can finally enjoy our own patch a bit more when the shop is less busy. I still feel our lives are often negatively dominated by tourism and the daily uncertainties, curveballs and insecurities thrown at us from having our own small business but that I have no right to complain because it pays the mortgage.
Unfortunately I still suffer from the years of anxiety and feel as if I will always be padding on the edge of life – never quite able to give myself permission to fully immerse myself in any enjoyment. And I still feel physically crushed by years and years of plodding from day to day with little sleep on the conveyor-belt of total unending brain-wrecking anxiously executed domesticity.

It’s ridiculously difficult to explain how I still have to lift myself up from that persona daily. Yes – every day. Even now.

And I still get that crashing feeling and need to go home. Regularly.

I wish I’d had someone write something like this for me to read 15 years ago. It’s not depression, it’s not insanity, it’s just the result of being too tough on myself for too long.

I’ve found a few “men slating women who write emotional blog posts” blogs and they made me laugh. Why are they reading them if they’re not interested? And if they’re not reading but merely criticising something they haven’t read then that’s not very clever, is it?

12 thoughts on “The Need For Female Communication

  1. I really appreciate your honesty in this post and can certainly see reflections of myself in this. I’ve always been told by others that I’m a coper. It’s nice that they think that by in reality I know that I am just a person trying to cope. My son is older now but being the mum to a teenager comes with a whole new set of pressures and I frequently feel that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m in the doldrums at the moment and it helped me to read this. Thank you.

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    • We have 2 teenagers and 7-year-old now. There’s no such thing as an easy age, is there? But each age does come with its own rewards on top of all those challenges. I think we’re all feeling our way and making many mistakes in the process.
      Sorry to hear you’ve been in the doldrums. I often forget about the power of music to cheer me up and as soon as I listen to something I love (e.g. right now it is Nigel Kennedy playing Vivaldi’s Spring) I brighten up and wonder why I didn’t think of it earlier.
      Take care

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      • I took your advice and listened to the wonderful Yo Yo Ma playing his chello in my ears as I walked to work today 🙂

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  2. Rachel, what a brave, brave post. You are so right: people see all the physical stuff that you have and just assume that everything in the garden is rosy. Like you, I have a lovely house in a good area where there is low crime and good schools. The recession hasn’t affected us like it has the rest of the country and life IS good.
    But….
    You know what I mean and you put it far more eloquently than I could.
    Sending you hugs.

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  3. What a wonderfully honest post – for all the negatives that the interweb brings, I just SO wish that it had been possible to read real words, like this, by real people when I was a new mum. I still look at my babies now (they’re 18 & 15) and wonder how I, or they, survived the whole thing.

    It’s not self-indulgent, or navel-gazing: it’s truth. And I’m glad that new mums will find these words and know that they’re not alone in the daily struggle. Good on you for speaking out.

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    • Thanks, Jen. Yes, I wish someone had said to me, ‘Oh, yes, that going mad with sleep deprivation and feeling like a failure and worrying you’ll get found out for not being perfect thing – that’s just all part of the process!’

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  4. Oh, Rach … if I could jump in my car, drive all the way to you and give you a big hug – but make it back in time to feed the hungry hoards – I would! So much of what you’ve said here resonates with me. I had a horrid, horrid time during Sophie’s first few years. It nearly killed me. Literally. She’ll be seven this year and only *now* do I *really* feel as if I’m finally putting myself back together. For ages, I’ve been trying to get back to the pre-Sophie Nat, but I’ve come to realise that the that Nat will never exist again. The Nat I am now is what I have to work with. I have to go forward and stop looking back. It’s hard, but I’m getting there.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Who cares if other people think it’s self-indulgent? We know it’s important to NOT keep this kind of thing secret. Someone, somewhere will be thinking that they’re the only person going through something, that they’re the only one who feels the way they do, but blog posts like this let them know that they are not alone.

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    • Thanks, Nat. I’m so sorry to hear you had such a rough time. It’s shockingly unlike the telly, isn’t it?
      Fortunately by the time we had Tess 7 years ago things had settled down and it was a much better experience – in terms of worrying about things less and going with the flow. I had also become more (quietly) confident and rather stubborn. I’d found out lots of information I’d been missing the first times around – including how to get more sleep and being honest about feeling unwell. I also think sometimes you have to learn to be a little but rude when all the baby “experts” try to stick their oar in.

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  5. Reading this was the first thing I did today Rachel and I know it is going to be with me all day. It is not the first time your writing has made me cry.

    So many ‘if only’s ….if only we had known, if only we had thought. Your writing over the last few years makes me feel that I know you so much better than I did when we were young and in England – I often wish that I could call in on you as if you lived just down the road again, but I’ve never wished it as I do this morning.

    Moving to Australia with babies was hard; we were very isolated, but we didn’t experience the sense of abandonment that you describe so well (if you are reading, Mum, I know we left others with that).

    I hope that your writing is helping you to anchor yourself firmly in the middle of life – it feels that way from here.

    Much love and admiration.

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    • Hi Jo, Thanks for your lovely words and kind thoughts.
      I’ve been thinking about the word, ‘abandonment,’ though, and I think it was more to do with difficult circumstances and lack of ability – or confidence – to ask for help in the way I needed it. My parents were still both working full-time, Dad had angina, my sisters were out of the country And also, perhaps, being an incredibly young-for-my-age, timid 25-year-old has a lot to do with it. I have to be careful what I say here… but I was easy to boss around then – even when I really didn’t want to do things. I knew other people would suggest to me what I could do differently and/or offer to babysit but that wasn’t what I wanted. I was scared that if I told people how I really felt I would look like I wasn’t coping and would get an array of coping strategies and many more of those visits I didn’t want instead of the friendly ear, empathy, and access to unbiased information that I so badly needed. This is where the Internet helped when I was expecting Tess. I looked things up, I read things written by other mothers that I didn’t have to accept or act upon, and I gave myself permission to do it my way. By then Richard was around more too of course and could do many of the things a new mum shouldn’t have to worry about, like answering the door and the phone and giving me time to have a shower, and those all important snacks and cups of tea, making sure I got a bit of peace now and again, etc, etc, etc… !
      R xxx

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  6. Beautifully written and heart wrenching all wrapped up together. I can definitely empathise with a lot of those feelings and am hugely glad that I was older when I had children. It would be so nice to bury our heads in the sand sometimes!

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