This Severance

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On Thursday 8th July 1971, ten minutes before the moon swam at it’s fullest, I came hurtling feet first into the world. My mum said her labour was intensely short. As she looked down, she saw two feet emerging as she insisted to the nurse in reception she was in labour. I was firstborn so this swiftness was unusual. As was the fact, in 1971, my parents were unmarried and I was, to coin a phrase, a bastard. As also that I was breech. The urgency was increased by the fact the cord was wrapped around my neck. Yes. Drama surrounded my entrance from the womb to the outside. Drama too had preceded my conception; my mother claimed she was raped by my father and that’s how she became pregnant with me. They were drug-smoking hippies in 1970 and, from the work I have done feeling myself, freeing myself out of my experience in utero, I was a sponge to the great stress and toxic anxiety that my mother bore

For 24 hours after my birth I lay alone in an incubator. My mother lay alone in a ward for ‘unmarried mothers’. My father wasn’t allowed in for this now seemingly very old-fashioned principle. In the months that followed, my mother maintained I refused the breast, that I was very colicky, a very unhappy baby. I know in my bones that even then I was afraid of her and was trying to pull away. I was afraid of the message she transferred to me. I was afraid of the despair she felt, afraid of her helpless charge that I knew she carried long before I arrived.

And so a pattern continued, thirty-seven years later. Less than twelve hours after our son was born so magnificently in the water, he was admitted into neo-natal for four shattering days. He had early on-set jaundice, which if occurring in the first 48 hours can be critical. He had his spinal fluid punctured, he wore tiny ‘sunglasses’ to protect his eyes from the UVA lights and an antibiotic drip filling his little body with all manor of chemicals. I held my breath for those four excruciatingly long days, pumping miniscule amounts of colostrum into a syringe every three hours, cradling him in my arms amongst the tubes that seemed attached in every direction, desperately needing to arrive, just to be with my beautiful new-born yet desperately trying to not think of his possibility of survival. One nurse named him ‘The King’, he was the largest and relatively healthiest child in the ward, and I clung to this. He did survive, Yes! But, like me, drama too had unfortunately met his arrival into this world and he and I spent the nine months that followed trying to catch up, heal, those first brutal days.

My daughter’s arrival held a majesty to it for the very reason it carried little stress. My pregnancy with her however was laced with it. In the two months before she was conceived I had had a miscarriage followed shortly after by meningitis. Again, I held my breath throughout the pregnancy for fear of losing her too. Physically I was on the floor; I struggled whilst my body coped to recover from meningitis and was pestered throughout the last two trimesters, by recurrent chest infections. Antibiotics became, sadly, my norm. Then panic seared through me when, at 28 weeks, they worried about her size and whether she was growing. Early delivery at around 31 weeks was considered. As the horrendous weeks of waiting passed, she was OK and thankfully she was able to go full term. I see now how I started to leave my body there and then, but at the time, in my heart, I just continued to hold tight and muster all the strength I could to get through the last stretch of the last trying trimester.

She was a healthy girl. Yes! Breastfeeding started well. Yes! She was bonny and relaxed and our son fell into her, deeply fell in love with her from the oft. Yes! So much relief but it was this, the relief, I expect, that enabled me, unexpectedly, to collapse, five weeks after she was born. Within weeks I had had yet another chest infection followed ten days later by another. Life then turned 100 percent 180 degrees upside down when one morning my breathing grew so laboured we called an ambulance. Whilst my husband was on the phone I could hear the siren. It utterly, utterly terrified me. Feverishly, I was whisked into hospital. My husband had to stay at home with the kids. Our daughter was too young and there stood too much risk to her picking up something. I lay shivering alone in A&E whilst they filled me with antibiotics, steroids, Salbutamol, Warfarin….

At this point my relationship with breastfeeding was severed, harshly, without my consent. My survival was key. I had no choice. I was admitted into a ward for four days. Because of the risk to our daughter, my husband was only able to bring the kids in for twenty minutes a day. I was bereft. I lay, pumped up on drugs, unable to sleep or rest, surrounded by three women whose ages stretched from 70 to 100 years old, wheezing, grasping for their breath. With their translucent skin and ghostly pallor, as they hallucinated throughout the nights on steroids, I felt I was skirting around the edges of death. It haunted me to my core. And, as if a shard of broken mirror being pierced into my heart, there was a sharp acuteness as I longed for the new life that I so recently bore to wrap in my arms. I felt I had been robbed and buried alive in a cemetery.

This trauma after birth didn’t take months to heal from. It has taken years. I suffered from post-traumatic stress in the months that followed. Hearing the sound of an ambulance siren froze me in an instant. I felt too weak, too scared to confidently hold our daughter. I stopped trusting myself. I grew angry inside. Why was my spirit able to carry me through my pregnancy, even though the storms had been so fierce, but run away whilst in hospital? Why? Why? Why?!!!! My heart felt dead and I wanted a spiritual defibrillator to come pump me back to here, to now. To revive my breath. I became lost inside myself. Why had I let myself down so badly? I was furious. And very, very vulnerable. BUT, for as long as I can remember throughout my adult life, I have carried a moto that has danced within me; I like getting lost because I love finding out where I am.

Investigating and exploring this over the last few years has enabled me to climb through a portal and see. It has taken time that has felt like centuries to see the abandonment and blind panic I experienced in hospital correlated, like waves shaping a shore line, to my childhood. It had enabled me to talk and explore and experience a light, shining into a crevice of a rock that I had bounded so tightly inside me, of the trauma and abuse I endured as a child. With help and guidance, that came with the breath of angels, I have begun to feel the pain and free myself of the terrifying fear that pervaded my nervous system for as long as I can remember.

And the closer I have come to the heart of this terror, within my very heart, I have discovered courageously my way to not to shy away. With anger this week at others, I thumped and raged into pillows and mattresses and saw, experienced, the black hole that has underpinned my whole for four decades and more. In the anger that I could continue screaming at another, I finally witnessed a mirror in my nervousness and complete fright of my existence. I have had for 43 years an alarm shrieking continually inside of me, petrified of being. Without blame of my mother, for I know too well she was unable, my nervous system hadn’t received the love, nurture and affirmation to embody and say yes to being here. I hadn’t been earthed and so, with a hole inside my heart, with no blame, I kept arriving, as if fossilised within, at this same place. Uncertainty of my presence in this life.

Ironically, I had needed to distance, make myself distinct, from my mother, even in utero. But too, like all, I needed to be mothered. I needed, like all, a charge, that came from the earth, to plug me truly into this world, into this existence. To let me know, it is OK to be here. And the severance that I needed to exercise on my relationship with her came with the need of the exact opposite. It was an impossible conundrum and one that has taken years to find peace with. It is actually only of now that I am beginning to have this dialogue from the centre out. It is only of now that my years of blindly searching, trusting my gut with mothering my own kids, is making real sense. I have sought to earth them. My heart has told me so but, not yet quite with the realisation of now, why the hole that can exist in our hearts in our relationship to existence, is so significant to our being connected. It is our privilege, our birthright, but for so many, we live with the quivering around it, too scared, for it is almost too unbearable, to go in.

There is no ‘right’ way in motherhood. Everyone’s passage is different and meets different needs to suit each mother and child. Every relationship changes and shifts and every bond is inevitably flawed with jewels of imperfection. Both my relationships to our son and daughter, have experienced difficulties, that have been born from the inside and out but, despite our flaws, I am grateful to this; the intuition that has brought me to now. The intuition that was conceived seven years ago to this week, as I became pregnant with our son, to listen to my heart. Despite my hole, it has served me well. Despite my spirit, running after my daughter was born, it has served me well. Despite my uncertainty to my place, my belonging, I am grateful I have listened to the whispers that have encouraged me to earth our incredible children. This severance that they and I have all experienced, and it’s expression, has served too my learning well; the pain that it has carried has been wholly under-lied by the connectivity of all.

And, as I learn, as greatly as we can sever, we are forever indebted to the fundamental energy that brings us back. The hole that has been in my heart is now filling with an outpouring of love and gratitude. And tender, growing confidence; I am here. My nervous system no longer screams with such ravage-ness at this existence. But it is, I know, a journey for me to continue to quietly discourse with as I gently navigate what was the land of my fragility, my very core existential angst, and integrate what was not. Amen to getting to lost.

Illustration: Kimhotep

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