I am going to be brave today and share with you, my story. Why brave? Perhaps, because these will be the most honest words I will ever write. I may face scrutiny or worse still, be judged. However, I’m not writing this for popularity, recognition or even acknowledgement, this is simply something I need to write; to get off my chest, for clarity, to be able to forgive myself and move forwards with my life.
Before I get to that part, let me take you back to the beginning.
I didn’t expect to fall pregnant at seventeen. Let’s just say, it wasn’t exactly written in the cards. But when one has an eating disorder, the contraceptive pill becomes ineffective, and over time, stops working altogether. Unfortunately, I was naive to this fact until two blue lines appeared on a pregnancy test.
I cried. I cried like I had never cried before.
My mind became a sea of muddled thoughts. I was drowning, unable to keep my head above water.
Truth be told, I always thought I’d be a terrible mum. I mean, I treated my dolls like crap. Tossing them into trees and blocking their air passages with Play-doh, hardly mother material. But here I was, a real life baby growing inside me and, miraculously, this once tomboy young girl, felt love. An unconditional love she had never experienced before.
Six months previously…
I naively fell into a relationship with someone who I believed cared about me. We worked together and often caught eyes with each other throughout our working day. It wasn’t long before he asked me out on a date. He wasn’t like the other ‘boys’, he was charming and mature. He was also nine years older and being only sixteen at the time, it wasn’t long before I fell vulnerably into his trap. Love-struck, I was blinded by what lurked behind his cunningly-constructed façade.
Until it was too late…
Just one month into the relationship, his charm peeled away to reveal a darker shade of reality. I remember the first time he hit me. He blackened both eyes. I felt shocked, scared and betrayed all at the same time. How could someone who supposedly loved me, do this to me? This soon became my normality. I was trapped, too frightened to leave. He had brainwashed me into thinking I was worthless. He convinced me no one else would love me.
As I looked into the mirror, I no longer recognised the girl who stood before me. Her eyes emotionless like frozen pools of hidden darkness. Beaten and bruised, she longed for someone to reach in and free her from a life in which she became trapped.
When I told my daughter’s father I was pregnant, his first response wasn’t exactly the Polaroid moment I had anticipated. He grabbed me by my arm, pushed me into his car and drove me to the abortion clinic. Drowning in tears, the lady behind the desk could see I was in no state to make such a life-changing decision. As scared as I was, I knew I’d never terminate my pregnancy. He took away my confidence, self-respect and integrity, but he wasn’t taking away my choice to keep my own baby. For the first time in our relationship, I stood up for myself and put my foot down. I was having this baby and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. As my bump grew, so did the guilt bubbling inside of me. I couldn’t have chosen a worse father figure for my unborn child – a thought that haunted my every waking second. I grew to despise this man, and yet I loved him at the same time…CORRECTION, thought I loved him. Little did I know, I never loved this man – It was an illusion, a sadistic trick of the mind. He was the puppeteer, and I, his puppet. He would manipulate my strings like a dancing monkey, and once he’d had his fun, in the box I would go, forgotten and consumed by darkness.
At the prenatal gatherings, he played the doting father-to-be, but in reality, he was self-involved and uninterested. Come due date, his Super-dad disguise hit the floor with a loud THUD, and yet again, he well and truly surpassed his parenting duties. Whilst he slept in the hospital corridor, my best friend picked up the cape and heroically stepped in. She was with me when my daughter entered the world.
That day, my life changed forever.
As I peered down at this perfect little person staring up at me – so beautiful she brought tears to my eyes – the darkness withered away and all I felt was a love I had never felt before. For the first time in years, I felt happiness, euphoria, I was floating in ecstasy.
My bubble soon burst.
As always, doting father came rushing in and put on his finest façade, unbeknown, he wasn’t hoodwinking anyone. My happiness soon faded as I realised I had to leave the hospital and come crashing back down to reality.
There was no disguising the sheer heartbreak on my mother’s face as I took her granddaughter back to the house I shared with her father. My parents did everything they could to stop me, but at the time, I felt like I needed to stand on my own two feet and, at least, try to save my relationship with her father. I later regretted this decision, as things went from bad to worse in one signature of a tenancy agreement. What should have been the best days of my life, bonding with my newborn, became tarred with gloom and desolation.
The darkness of depression hung over me like a black cloud, leaking melancholic tears upon my troubled soul. I was drowning in a sea of misery, entangled in the grips of despair and paralysed by fear.
The next 6 months were a blur. The relationship crumbled around me, rubble beneath my feet, impossible to repair. My loved ones feared that if they didn’t save me from this relationship, I’d end up dead, either dying in the grips of his violent hands or taking my own life. The truth was, I could never leave my daughter with this man, and as much as I longed for an escape, I knew she needed me. Deep down, I knew I had to break free from the shackles of a relationship so detrimental, I was putting both my daughter and my own life at risk. Shockingly, the thought of leaving him terrified me, even more so, than pursuing a life of physical and mental abuse.
If it wasn’t for my best-friend driving over to the house and demanding I leave, perhaps I would have never mustered up the courage to break free? The following scene plays as clearly as the day it happened. While my daughter’s father was out working, we swiftly loaded the bare essentials into the car. My body trembled as thoughts of him returning swam erratically inside my head. I could hear my heart pounding against my ribcage. As we drove away, I looked back one last time and watched that chapter of my life dwindle into the oblivion. For the first time in years, I was free. A weight had been lifted.
I felt alive.
The adrenaline soon wore off as I realised this wouldn’t be the end of my troubles. I wasn’t wrong, this was just the beginning. The shackles were still wrapped around my wrists, digging holes into my skin, forever a reminder of past mistakes. The years to follow were Hell, there is no other word to describe them. I fought court battles, only to be snubbed, shunned and disregarded. He continued to manipulate me in every way he could. The strings may have been cut, but every time he came within close proximity to me, it’s as though an imaginary force had me dancing like that monkey all over again. He had this control over me, always did.
I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.
Due to the courts negligence, my daughter was yet again exposed to risk from her father. From observed visits to overnight stays, it broke my heart every damn time he took her from my grasp. It broke hers even more so. The guilt stifled my every breath, as an emptiness clawed from within, yearning to be filled. I didn’t feel complete until she was in my arms once again, safe and free from harm.
For a while, it was us against the world. We were survivors, our love unbreakable. Rose-tinted memories fill my mind of days chasing clouds and playing in fields of green. A saddening realisation as our rose-painted bubble burst and leaked reality over dreamy reminisces. Things were far from the picture-perfect scenes playing loops inside our heads, for that darkened cloud was only a zephyr away, ready to dispense its melancholy upon us once again.
That darkened cloud I describe is, of course, my daughter’s father.
Over the years, this innocent little girl was exposed to things she shouldn’t have been. She often came home shell-shocked, upset or confused. As a parent, I felt like I was failing her. Legally, her father was entitled to see her, but I often questioned, was this really in her best interests?
Perhaps, I should have fought harder? Maybe, I shouldn’t have given up? These thoughts plagued my mind for years, and still to this day I question whether I’m doing the right thing.
I felt guilty when I met my future husband. I felt guilty when I had more children. I felt guilty when I felt a stronger bond for my boys. And more than all of the above, I felt guilty for forcing her to see a man who caused her so much pain and upset – her father. Through pleas, tears, kicking and screaming, I forced her to go with someone she didn’t want to see. It broke my heart into pieces, and I knew it broke hers too.
Every time she came back from her father’s care I felt like she had his residue over her. It would linger for days. I’d find it difficult to throw my arms around her, when otherwise, it felt so natural. As time trundled by, the walls began to build and our bond broke, piece by little piece.
When my daughter was born, I experienced all the typical feelings a mother would have for their newborn. My love for my daughter grew with every tiny heartbeat, our bond unbreakable, or so I believed. For years our bond was indestructible, it was us against the world. Nothing and no one could have come between us.
My daughter’s behaviour changed, and as time went on, I began to see parts of ‘him’ in her. I could see ‘him’ in her mannerisms. In her facial expression. In her attitude. I could see ‘him’ in the way she could switch on the crocodile tears at the drop of a hat. I could see ‘him’ in the way she would glare at me if I said anything untoward. I could see ‘him’ in the way she could lie so effortlessly. I could see ‘him’ in the way she would lash out at her brothers with a glint of satisfaction in her eyes.
I tried to fight off these negative feelings, knowing only too well that they were tainting our once close relationship. One day, it dawned on me, I didn’t like my own daughter.
I… didn’t…like… my…own…daughter
I said it out loud. Each word would stick in my throat as though they were clawing their way back in, trying desperately to jump back into my subconscious, never to be spoken again. Sadly, the wall had already been built, and with only a few holes exposed, we struggled to see eye-to-eye. Occasionally, we would reach out to each other, but too often, we’d pull away.
Truth be told, I always thought her father was to blame for my lack of maternal bonding. I believed the constant tug of war between parties had created a wedge between my daughter and me. To an extent, he did get in the way of our bonding. Let’s face it, he didn’t exactly make things easy for either of us. However, his access came to a halt when my daughter witnessed him kicking his then girlfriend. She called the police, and that’s when social services stepped in. I told him I wouldn’t allow him access unless it was arranged through the courts. He refused and said she’ll find him when she’s older. My daughter was just eight at the time.
The fight was over.
I had envisaged doing a happy dance if I was ever to receive such good news, but in reality, I felt nothing but sadness for a little girl whose father clearly did not care.
We moved towns and started afresh, but even with the dark cloud gone, I found it difficult to bond. My heart yearned to make amends, to fix things, to make things right, and yet, it still felt as though I was in that tug of war. Pulling, yanking and digging my feet into the ground but to no avail. For on the end of the rope was my daughter – pulling against me, tugging and digging her toes firmly into the earth. Perhaps I was naive to believe things would magically get better when her father left the scene? The reality was, these wounds would take years to heal.
How could a mother not have a bond with her child? An alien concept that many simply cannot understand. A taboo, to be swept under the carpet. I trawled the internet for answers but only reached brick wall after brick wall. And when I did stumble over articles remotely related to my thoughts and feelings, they would be written under a pseudonym, blanketing their shame, with comment sections of abuse and judgement. Shocked, I started to believe that I, too, was a terrible mother.
It took me years to realise that this wasn’t the case. I was a good mother, I was just lost and misunderstood. I tried everything I could to make things better, but I was failing. I was failing because I didn’t know how. The truth was, there were no magic answers. There was no click your fingers and we’re close again. I needed to stop searching, to stop pushing and accept that the healing process takes both time and patience. All I needed to do was believe that one day we WILL have that healthy mother/daughter bond once again.
I used to be envious of those mother and daughter relationships that appeared so natural and effortless. Mother’s linking arms with their daughters during shopping sprees, laughing together and sharing secrets. The guilt would suffocate me. I always had an image in my head of my daughter and I having meaningful conversations during spontaneous road trips, much like I enjoyed with my own mother. In stark contrast, we’d find ourselves sitting in silence with nothing to say. An emptiness filled the air like the void we felt inside.
These days, I no longer feel jealous of those close-knit mother and daughter relationships, nor do I feel uneasy when we sit in silence during car journeys. Silence feels okay, and we have our entire futures to have deep and meaningful conversations with one another.
I’m under no illusion that a wrecking ball will fall from the sky, smash our wall into pieces and we’ll miraculously have the mother-daughter relationship of our dreams, but we are, however, making progress, brick by falling brick. We released the unrelenting rope from our tired hands and surrendered. Surrounded by rubble, we started to help each other rebuild our relationship. Sometimes the bricks didn’t fit in the way we had hoped, but mostly, they would slot into their rightful place. As the rubble danced reminiscently around our feet, I swept it up and…
I let it go!
I didn’t want to rake over old leaves, nor did I want to hold a grudge. I wanted to forgive myself and move forwards with my life, our lives.
Like scar tissue, the wounds of yesterday will never completely heal. They will always be carved into our skin. We only need to look at them, to revisit parts of our past we’d rather forget. The truth is, for years I felt like the chapters in my book were jumbled. I even felt like some pages needed to be ripped out, burnt, never to be read again. I was ashamed of my mistakes. I wanted so badly to rewrite my story. The reality is, we only have one book, and as much as we’d like to rewrite our past, we can’t. The beauty, of course, is that the future can be written in any way we wish.
I love my daughter, there’s no question about it. From the moment she took her first breath, my natural instinct went into overdrive and I developed a longing to protect her for the rest of my life. Although at times I felt like a failure, other times, I could accept that I had tried my best.
It was only when I let go of the burdens of my past that I found myself truly free from the shackles…
…and what a beautiful feeling it was!
Free from guilt, I was able to rebuild a healthier relationship with my daughter.
“I don’t like you!” slowly turned into… “Actually, you’re not so bad.” And eventually, it turned into “I enjoy spending time with you.”
As my daughter grows older, I realise she will need me more than ever – to teach her, to guide her, to throw my arms around her and tell her everything is going to be just fine.
We’ve come a long way since those days of standing in the rubble, but we still have a long way to go.
Although I am aware we don’t have the bond we should have, I will never give up. I will always keep fighting, only this time…
…we will be fighting together!
* * * EndNote * * *
I’ve been sat here for at least half an hour now, finger hovering over the ‘publish’ button. The truth is, there were several times when I thought of scrapping this post…click, drag and delete, but something kept telling me “No! You need to keep writing!” As nervous as I was about sharing this today, if I could help just one person feel less alone in their thoughts, then hitting that ‘publish’ button would be more than worthwhile.
Writing my story has not only helped me to come to terms with my feelings, but it has also helped me to move on – without regrets. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to do, however, I needed to let go of the ‘shame’ I felt, and by posting this, I feel like I have achieved that.
Thank you to everyone who has read this with an open mind.