Even in the Abyss things can get better

I am not sure if that moment was a bit of a wake up call for both of us, but things did get better.   After Kennith received my email he came home early and he tried to chat to me.

Kennith – bless his cotton socks – has always been the one who will extend the olive branch first – I am the one who will hold a sulk for days if need be.  I know  it appears that I slate him, but he really does try very hard to be a good partner and a great dad.  Sometimes with our relationship in such turmoil, I forget what a good guys he is.

I don’t think I was really open to a discussion. I felt exhausted by the process that we had been through, but also relieved that a decision had been made – even though it was painful and awful.  I can’t quite recall how things began to change at home, but they did.

I think the issue was that I could not really afford to move out anywhere initially, and would need to still remain in the house until I had made a plan.  I just was not sure what the plan was.  It was not like he came home and I had my cases at the door, with my cactus balanced on top.

The sun went down and then it came up the next day and we were still two people who had a house, two kids and some problems to work through.  I think to Kennith’s credit, he could have just thrown in the towel and agreed with me that it was “over cadovers” but he felt there was still a reason we should try to make this work.

It was gradual process and every step might not have been recorded, but it did get better.  We both worked on being a couple and getting rid of some of the animosity we had been carrying around.

We tried to learn to communicate with each other – rather than just wait for the other person to take a breath so you could get your say in.  Kennith put a huge amount of effort in being present, and I put an effort in making him feel less isolated from the family unit.

I tried very hard to stop being angry and so resentful all the time.  I had so much anger within me, and struggled to express it in a constructive manner.  I think he also tried to listen to what I was saying, which was a huge help when you feel you are not being heard.

I think it took at least a year for things to gradually get better until they were on what we could call stable ground.  We just started doing things differently and behaving differently.

When things had stabilized a bit, Kennith and I decided to leave the kids at home and went overseas for a just over a week to see friends and family – my brother’s first son was being born and we were trying to time being there for that.

It was great to spend some time together doing our stuff.  I missed the kids terribly and pined for Georgia especially, but it was great to be able to enjoy each other’s company again.  It really was a great experience to be together even if it was just walking through the streets and stores, but it was nice to reconnect and be big people again.

A month or two after getting back I started a new job which offered me a great deal of challenges and also made me feel more secure and fulfilled.  Though it required a huge amount of juggling it definitely made me feel much better about myself.  I realized a big part of me required affirmation in what I do for a living – I really get my kicks from doing a job and doing it well.

I think the thing about expecting a baby, and preparing for the impact of a baby is that you spend so much time thinking about the baby, and the sleep deprivation, and whether you are going to buy the right pram and cot, that you forget about the impact this person is going to have on your relationship.  Not for a second had I factored this in as an issue.

Kennith and I had been together for more than 7 years when we decided – it was not an accident – to have Connor.  We were stable and prepared.  We had never had a “get out” fight in all the time that we had been together.

I could never have accounted for the amount of trauma and strain a baby would introduce to our lives and relationship.

I am not saying that the birth of Connor was to blame for all of our issues, but the introduction of a third person into a stable relationship was definitely a catalyst that we just had not factored in, and were ill equipped to recognise and deal with.

Some of the issues that came to the fore was how much baggage I was dragging with me about my own upbringing and childhood.  I thought I had that securely locked away but the introduction of my own child just seemed to bring that all up.  I suddenly had real “mother” issues that also impacted on my relationship with my own mother and my son.

When friends tell me that they are pregnant, I really wish I could tell them how stressful that first year is.  How it will literally shake you to your roots, and make your gums bleed.

You will doubt yourself as you stand in the bathroom at night crying in desperation and loneliness.

You will begin to despise your partner because your life has changed so dramatically and theirs seems to have remained the same.

You will question every decision you have made, and feel you know nothing and are the most worthless creature on the planet.

But at the centre of it all is this round little baby whose cuddles will warm your soul, and whose smell will ease the pain.   He or she is the calm in the storm – and it is a bit of a storm – the kind where people take canned food down to a cellar and stay there until the dust settles and then they come out to see what form of life survived.

Most moms I have spoken to remember the acute loneliness of the 2am feeds, and feeling so isolated and desperate while everyone skipped to work.  It really is one of the most difficult challenges I have ever had to face in my life, and you know I can’t even put it on my CV as an achievement.  It’s such a sense of despair that your soul literally cries!

And what’s even sadder, is that we all know it, but no one talks about it and prepares new mums.  I wonder why that is.

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Sometimes when it is broke, you can’t fix it

Each session was harrowing, and I ended up either crying in the session or as I left.  As I am a natural talker about my emotions, and Kennith carries his cards pretty close to his chest, I found myself talking and talking and just blah blah blah – my friend Alice calls it emotional vomiting.

The result was that I felt there was this HUGE spotlight on me for each session and I just wanted to move some focus on to Kennith.  He would just sit there and listen. When the therapist would try to engage him, he would have a short answer and the focus would revert back to me.  I found it exhausting and did not find that we were making any real progress.  We just never seemed to get to the nitty-gritty of the problems.

In my mind I had rationalized that Kennith’s attitude was  that, if I only changed the way I behaved and my expectations, to come in line with his, then things would be great.  It felt like there was pressure on me to change and conform and adjust, but there was no pressure on him to do anything of the sort.

Many of my issues were wrapped up in emotional baggage, that I could not explain or express in neat logical point lists.  I often felt that “I wanted” or “I needed” something, but did not feel that those reasons were being validated.  Kennith is very logical and likes things in a list with definite pro’s and con’s.  He struggles with raw emotion as a decider in an argument – while my engines run on raw emotion.

The final straw came when we went out one evening.  We had agreed that it was his turn to drive, which meant that I could have more than two glasses of wine.  Maybe the fact that this was a Food and Wine Fair might have added some undue pressure.

After two drinks he decided to have some whiskey and some more whiskey, and was not really showing any signs of stopping.   I felt the only option was for me to stop at two, or both of us would be unable to drive.

I got really annoyed.  I felt he could not be relied on.  I felt he could not be trusted to stick to an agreement.  I felt that everything was about him, and what I wanted or needed was irrelevant when push came to shove.    Clearly there were more issues here than just us going to the Food and Wine Festival.

It is funny that is how women rationalize, discuss and argue.  It is never about the dishes being left, or the toilet seat not being put down.  There are bigger issues at play, and all the guy hears is “toilet” and “dishes.”  For us by the time we ask for something, it is a much more loaded argument.

I felt that we could not go out and have a decent evening.  We actually just did not want to be in each other’s company any more.  I am talking for myself, but that is how it seemed from Kennith’s actions, and from my point of view I really did not enjoy his company anymore.

A few days before this incident I had gone to visit a lawyer who specialized in divorce, as I wanted to know where I stood.  We were unmarried and had two kids, I had no idea what the laws was and what would happen in the event of us going our separate ways.

I had also met with an estate agent and gone to view alternate places to live.  My situation was quite bleak and I felt this was all going to implode really quickly, and needed to start making emergency plans.  Again my natural character of feeling better when I am doing something, rather than standing and just watching the situation and feeling helpless.

The day after the Food and Wine Fair incident, I sent Kennith an email – and cc’d our therapist – basically saying that I think we had gone as far as we could, and I wanted out.

I really had had enough, and felt that I could not communicate that verbally without getting very emotional and not being able to remain objective.

I knew that financially I would not be able to take the kids with me and move out.  I had mulled this point around for days in my mind, and really tried to work out all the possibilities of how this was going to work.

At this point, all I could think was “I need to get out” – I just could not see us fixing this and I felt like I could not bear another day in this situation.

I came from a pretty deprived situation, where my mother was out at work all the time, and had absolutely no time or urge to spend any time with us.  I felt that I did not want to be so pulled into the pressures of earning a living to support my kids, that I would not be able to spend any time with them, and have to rely on after care facilities and permanent daycare arrangements.

I calculated that I would need to work two jobs to support myself and them – and I felt that Kennith and I would not have an amicable separation. I had not discussed this with him, nor how far this had progressed on my side, so I had no real idea of how he would react or what his support would be, but I was fairly sure based on our present situation that things would be drastically strained and I would not be able to present a list of demands and have them met.

I had ruminated over this endlessly, and run this every possible permutation.  I did not want to leave Connor and Georgia, and had spent many weeks crying over it – but I felt that I had no choice.  If I took them with me to make me feel better, it would disrupt their lives, they would end up staying at aftercare until 6pm as I would not be able to afford someone at home.  It was all a waking nightmare!!!

On the evening of the Food and Wine Fair, whilst sitting outside waiting for Kennith and getting angrier and angrier, I had decided that if the worst was that I moved out, and left the kids with Kennith .  If that was the hardest decision I was going to make, then I needed to make it now and not let it stand in the way of getting out of this hell.  I was dying, and this situation showed no signs of getting any better.

I figured that at least the kids would have stability in their day and a safe home environment.  I had no idea how it would work and what it would really feel like having to leave them.  I knew that right now I just needed to get space between myself and Kennith and do it with as few casualties as possible.

Kennith was not a bad father, he was a little absent, but maybe when he took full responsibility for the kids he would change.

Once I accepted that as being the most difficult decision I had to make, and I made it, suddenly I could cope.

Surviving the first few months

Within the first month after we got home with Georgia, Kennith had Kilimanjaro to climb and spent some time in Zanzibar.  I was at home looking after a new born and a 3-year-old.

Clearly he got the better end of the deal.  After the MBA Kennith’s horizons had shifted and he wanted to be challenged more at work, and his views on life also started to shift.  He had definitely changed, in a good way.  I think for him, he was also going through some fundamental changes in his life in terms of what was happening in his head.

While pregnant I had been approached with a job which was near to home and allowed me real flexibility – it was not hang challenging, but the idea of easy really appealed at the time.

When Georgia was 28 days old, I headed to work. We had a lovely Xhosa speaking nanny at the time, and she was really wonderful with Georgia – I also used to work flexi time, so it allowed me opportunity to pop in and visit with her when ever I wanted to.

I felt okay, I went to work, I chased around collecting kids and bringing them home and life sort of ticked by.  The relationship between Kennith and I was limping by.  I was focused on the kids, and he was out conquering the world.

At a birthday party we attended, a mutual couple we are friends with, announced that they were in the process of starting divorce proceedings .  I always viewed my friend’s relationship as solid, and felt that if they could not make it who could?  Definitely not us based on our present state of affairs.

It really sent me into a bit of a tailspin and I began insisting that Kennith and I start doing couple therapy – I was not sure it would work, and had no idea what it involved, but if I was doing something, then I was sure I would start to feel better.  Things were pretty bad and we just did not know how to make it better.

Eventually Kennith agreed and we went along to couple counseling.  I thought that we might have found a 3rd person who could fix us, because hell, we sure as well were so far down the line, that we could not fix ourselves.

It’s a ……….. baby

Kennith needed to go home and go and sort out a hospital bag for me, as I had nothing prepared. I called my mom to update her as to what was going on and ask that Connor stay on a few more days.

They wheeled me in around 18h30 and I was terrified.  I am one of those people who can prepare for anything given the time to get my head around it, but do not do well with things being sprung on me.  This felt a bit like an ambush.

Suddenly every old wive’s tale relating to c-sections was going to come true and I was going to feel everything and the baby was going to be in distress and and and …… The surgery went fine, I was scared, and the doctors were great.  They spoke about where they were going to go for sushi after they finished putting my uterus back together, which I thought was nice and jolly of them.  They pulled screaming baby out of the warm gushy spot that had been it’s home for 9 months and dangled baby over the curtain divide.  The problem was that the genitals were so swollen that I had no idea what it was and had to ask Kennith.

Of course it was a girl – my female intuition was so far off.  I could not have been more shocked than if they dangled a giraffe over the divide.  There just was no portion of my mind that had allowed for this to be a girl.  I was thrilled, shocked and stunned.

I was even more stunned by the way the hospital was behaving.   Once the doctor’s had checked her over and she was fine, they put her with me in surgery while they were stitching me up.  It was a bit awkward, so I handed her back to Kennith fully expecting her to be whisked away to neonatal care for observation as they had done with Connor.

They wheeled me to post-op and Kennith and baby walked behind – it was all very strange.  In post-op the nurse was latching the baby and offering me tea.   The name we had of Callum or Calub clearly was not going to work for this little cherub, so she remained nameless for the first few hours while we toyed with a few options.

What really was incredible is that Kennith had known since 12 weeks at the first fetal scan that it was a girl.  We have a great doctor at the fetal assessment centre who has yet to get it wrong.  She told Kennith it was a girl at 12 weeks, 3 days – and confirmed it when we went back in at 18 weeks .  Kennith managed to keep this a secret and did not breathe a word to anyone.

He had gone through the entire process with me of picking boy’s names and the associated discussions.  We had even bought a blue and green dragon fly light for the baby’s room.  He had gone along with it all, without giving it away for a moment.  I was convinced he had let it drop on two occasions that it was a boy – which had only further reinforced my knowledge that it MUST be a boy.

Georgia remained with me even when they wheeled me to the room and she was left with us to feed and bond.  Eventually at about midnight they came by and asked if they could take her to give her a wash.

The hospital was great and the nurses were really good.  The main motivation for wanting to go natural (and initially I wanted a home birth … ha ha ha… I am screeching with laughter at the recollection – I am such a woos for pain, there is no way I would have got past the first contraction. ) I just did not want to be pushed around by the nurses.  I wanted some control over what was going on.  This was 180 degrees from the birth with Connor.  I felt much more in control, and the nurses had a very different attitude – I was more of a client than a patient, and they definitely were not as pushy as I remembered.

Kennith made the relevant calls to friends and family to announce the arrival of our girl, but it really was tinged with a veil of sadness.  As people were saying congratulations, they were also passing condolences on for Kennith’s sister, Melanie.  The day after the birth Kennith attended the funeral – and then came back to spend the evening at the hospital.

We were both exhausted, and though happy that we had a healthy girl, there was an undercurrent of unease and real unhappiness which would set the tone for many months to come.

Is it possible this could get worse?

In the middle of the night, Kennith’s cell phone rang. It was his dad calling.  Kennith’s younger sister, Melanie, had died.  Kennith’s dad was driving in from Gansbaai to go through to the hospital where her body had been brought it.  It really was that phone call you dreaded, and it set the tone for a horrific weekend.

Kennith went through to the hospital to meet his father and his aunt.  Kennith’s grandmother had some heart problems, and had not been well for the last few months.  There was concern that the news of her grand-daughter’s death might bring on another heart attack, so they wanted to drive to Gansbaai to break it to her in person.

I was ill with a chest infection (for a change), bad flu and 38 weeks pregnant.  I decided to drive through with Kennith to my mom who lives in Hermanus and take Connor with me.  I thought I could go and sleep at my mom’s home and she could assist and look after Connor, because there was no way I could cope by myself.  I also wanted to offer some support to Kennith.

My mom offered to keep Connor with her for a few days and bring him back to Cape Town the following week, to give me some time to rest as we were both looking very grim.

We got home and we absolutely zonked out for two days.  On Sunday afternoon I woke up and decided to make some comfort food as we had not eaten properly in days.  I was scratching for a pot and the effort had me wheezing and trying to catch my breath.  Clearly I was in great shape to attempt labour!

At about 10pm I felt worse that I think I have ever felt. I also had not felt the baby move in ages and was panicking.  I was struggling to breath and asked Kennith to take me to the ER as I felt that if I felt this bad, the baby could not be fine – it was not possible.

The ER doctor was great and listened for the heart beat and all was fine.  He suggested I go onto a morphine drip, but there was a risk to the baby and I would need to be monitored.  I decided it was too big a risk, and we went home.

The following say we had our OBGYN appointment at 12h00.  I dragged myself in there feeling half dead, and really just hoping someone would pull out a gun and put me out of my miseries.

She checked the baby who was doing fine – aren’t they always, while you cling on to life with your bleeding fingers??  The baby had not dropped and I was no where near going in to labour.  I really wanted to suggest a c-section but I felt so embarrassed as I had been fighting so hard for the last few months to insist on being allowed to go natural. And to ask now I felt would just be embarrassing and such a defeat – I had really kicked up a fuss to get my own way.

Kennith came to my rescue and asked “if we do a c-section – when can we do it?”  The OBGYN suggested I go upstairs to the ward and have a few hours of physio to try to clear up my chest, try to sleep and we do the c-section that night.

I was so relieved that the decision had been made for me. Some times it is great to just sit back, let go of the steering wheel and let someone else drive for you.