This morning, I tripped over 4 pairs of shoes that had appeared to have had a growth spurt in the night and bulked up to hulk proportions and came spilling out from under the bed where I had stuffed , pushed, kicked and screamed them into submission to fit. The trip made me fall onto the pet rats cage and bang my toe on the box I keep my work stuff in. As with the shoes, overnight , the contents of this box appeared to have opened several cans of spinach and performed a Popeye type boom and grown somewhat and the contents of the box were spilling everywhere. Conscious that if I carry on like this , I might become the subject of a channel 4 documentary, I decided to clean the box out. An unhealthy amount of celebrity magazines found themselves in the recycling bin and if you have ever lost any wires or plugs, come and see me , as they seem to have all congregated in this little red box. This however , is not a one off.
I cleared my desk out in work last year as I was starting a new job. Everyone else had lots of highly important papers while I had contents that resembled a washed up porn stars handbag enroute to a Cher tribute act. It contained :
A learn how to bellydance kit
64 hair bands
9 unopened cans of diet coke
16 keys to open the way to a forgotten land
5 mindfulness colouring books
8 pairs of shoes
A pair of leather chaps
6 tubes of nail glue
23 odd socks
A mother’s day picture from my dear child of an assassination
A stapler called Moira
4 packets of antipsychotics
A miniature rhino
A homemade hotline bling phone
A cardboard cat that has been to the north pole
A Heat annual from 2007
A holy bible signed by God himself
Oh – and a photo of my kid.
Moira is never being thrown out. She has stuck with me through the good times and the bad. That’s friendship for you – she came with me to my new job though in all my years, I have never learnt how to put staples in her. Still, I will keep her on my payroll as she is practically part of the furniture and that is needed in an office burning with hot desking.
Instead of chucking the rest of it in the bin,I sat cross legged on the floor and reminded myself about about all the times I had with the hair bands. They had seen me during the stage where my hair resembled a Jeremy Kyle guest and had roots down to my ears. They had been there when all my hair fell out due to stress and childbirth and supported me emotionally when my new baby hair started to come through creating a mid forehead fringe circa 1987.
And then I will always treasure that mother’s day picture my son drew for me. Granted , it did make me consider if I was raising a psychopath as while the front of card had an adorable drawing of a very round me with what appeared to be a full length beard and one testicle next to the words “mummy is the sweatiest mummy ever” ( he meant sweetest I am assured ), on the inside, there was a picture of a full blown police chase and someone falling out of the sky with their lungs hanging out. “That is the bad guy mummy. He will go splatter bang cos the police are on the warpath”.
What is this ramble all about I hear you say loudly ? Well this weekend I was reminded of the power of possessions for parents and the memories they hold and how they can help us deal with and close the chapter on difficult parts of our lives. This weekend I went through Joe’s baby clothes , in the knowledge they can’t clog up the laws attic for much longer and it was a heartwarming, sad , joyful, difficult task. I never knew wading through bin liners and space bags could bring up so many emotions at once.
I walked up the stairs and saw the two bags of baby clothes and plastic bowls and almost held back from going in. These were clothes that were with me during the worst , my experience of Postpartum Psychosis and then the best of times, my recovery and beautiful life now. I sat on the floor and opened the space bag and watched the clothes come back to life as the air filled it. The first thing I saw was a huge blue and white woolen blanket and within a second , I felt my eyes becoming wet. I pulled it out and smelt it and my head started to slow dance to the memories it brought back. My mum had knitted this when Joe was born but it hadn’t been used for him. This blanket instead literally kept me warm with my mums love. The night I woke up thinking I was buried alive in a coffin, screaming to be released from the cold hard winter grip of Postpartum Psychosis , just a few hours from floating to the dark clouds of thinking of death and half a day away from being admitted to a psychiatric unit, that blanket served to shield me from that bitterness. As I sat and rocked back and forth in bed , convinced at any moment that utter darkness and doom was to descend upon me , John went and got the blanket and wrapped me in it . He said that your mum isn’t here Eve but this is . I wrapped it round me as tight as I could and buried my head into the wool, inhaling the smell of my mum on it, knowing her fingers had created it . My mum flew over two days later to give me that love in person but while she wasn’t there , this blanket would serve as her stand in.
Under the blanket were the tiny cotton reminders of those early days – Joes clothes. I lifted each one up , amazed at how small they were and lay them in my forearm as I tried to remember what he was like in them. First the vests. Little white vests that looked like they would fit on a doll but were the garments that kept my boy warm when he was at his tiniest. I turned one of the around and let out a laugh – on the back was a yellow poo stain -parents all understand these feral stains , the result of poo explosions , which end up in your child’s ears, their feet , your fingers and everywhere else except in the bloody nappy. When it happens you stand and wonder how the dickens you will get the vest off without smearing your 2 week old in its own face with something that resembles a chicken korma and actually contemplate if you should cut the vest off or chuck the entire baby in the bin and order a new clean one from the shop and get it delivered in the Tesco delivery with the baked beans and bag of wonky carrots.
As I went though each item,my heart and head were becoming full of emotion. These clothes were with me and Joe during the worst time – my illness. I pulled out one top, a little beige top from Gap that I bought as it looked like a top John had and I could dress Joe up like him and stopped and stared at it. I remember this top so well as it is the one that I couldn’t dress Joe in on John’s first day back at work after I gave birth. We said goodbye to daddy and I lay Joe on the bed on his spotty changing mat and tiny little legs were kicking around . His wrists and ankles had little rolls on them where my milk had been helping him grow. He was utterly perfect and squishy and a total delight but I was terrified of him. I stood and stared at this sweet smelling gurgling little boy and felt my hands shaking and my teeth chattering . I lifted his ankle to put his trousers on and I couldn’t do it as I was twitching so much. I would stop and breathe in and out and try again , trying to put his smooth precious shoulders into the top where he would look like daddy and I found it so hard. Here I was with my own child and I couldn’t even dress him as I was so scared and I cried. And cried. And cried.
Each little outfit had memories attached to it. One little yellow one with the words ‘hello world’ on them. When I left the mother and baby unit , I had a community psychiatric nurse come and visit me every day. One day, during our chat, someone came in and said they thought some clothes were too small for Joe now and had put them in a carrier bag for me to take to the charity shop. One of these was the hello world outfit – it was the first outfit I had bought when I was pregnant and made me smile whenever I saw those words . I didn’t want to give the outfit away and I was even more devastated that perhaps I hadn’t noticed my own son was too big for his own clothes. My mind had been taken from me in the grip of mental illness and I was muddled and confused and I found that very hard to deal with. My CPN however was wonderful and said , whatever Eve, it’s a gorgeous outfit. Dress him it in. Keep it forever, it’s special. It’s ok to want to keep some memories Eve as there will be a point where the good memories will totally blur out the bad.
Later that day, I dressed him in it and he looked lovely. And today,nearly 9 years later, Joe has dressed one of his teddies in it and its sitting on its bed , saying hello world to Joe everyday . She was right. The good memories do take over the others.
The little Superman baby grows, the tiny socks that he would never wear and fling off the side of the pram, the smart shirts he would wear at family occasions where everyone would say he looked so handsome. They all have memories attached to them.
But I also know I can’t keep everything forever. Some of the clothes he wore once when we went to get a bacon sandwich and that isn’t a memory with any meaning attached to it . John and I sat and went through Joes clothes and worked out which ones meant something to us as a family to keep forever and which ones could go to a charity shop for other children to have. I have a built in ‘I want to keep everything forever and always’ glitch but , as I am coming to a time where I see that our life has moved on from my illness, it is time to let some of the things that don’t hold a significance , go. The jeans I don’t think he ever wore, the matching socks he hated in favor of odd socks, the clothes with no stains- they went. They don’t have the memories.
My baby sling was there in its box on the bed and the sling is special to me. I was too scared of my own baby to be near him. I couldn’t pick him up, his very presence frightened me. So when I went into the mother and baby unit, I was encouraged to wear him so I could feel his heart beating next to mine. The only thing I would do for him was breastfeed , so he would feed in the sling and during my walks around the grounds of the hospital, while I was learning how to be with him and not be scared , I would wear him and John and I would talk and walk. The sling helped to do the most important and groundbreaking thing I ever needed to do – be near my baby- and I will keep it forever.
My friend Heidi shared with me a quote which I think sums up the power of wanting to hold onto some memories while knowing it is ok to move in from others : “ Being a mother is about learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed”. I think this is so powerful. I saw my strength in ways I never thought possible in recovery and dealing with the fears I had never been told about – being frightened of my own baby.
Becoming a mother provides us with love, tears, good times and bad. I have been at the depths of hell with Psychosis , cried with sleep exhaustion tending to a child who woke up 17 times a night and then having to turn up to work at 8am to deliver a presentation , been pooped on and cleaned up vomit that decorated my feet instead of the bedroom floor. We have all clapped and had hearts filled with love when we hear our little one say mummy for the first time and have 765467 photos on our phone of them holding a fork or stuck inside the wash basket covered in butter which you have smeared all over them to try and pull them out (that was a delightful afternoon). These memories , to others, may be deletable, but to us , they hold meaning and our finger hovers over the delete button wondering if in 25 years we will find that photo of them wrapped in the cling film to be a memory holder or one that just adds to the pile of others.
I will never have another baby and that is absolutely the right choice for me and our family but folding the clothes and saying goodbye to them , without the option of keeping them for the next one, was bittersweet. Saying goodbye to some of these clothes has been hard but as my beautiful son grows , now so does the room for his new clothes and new memories.
It’s strange I have such a connection to clothes considering my track record. One day last year, I went to work and presented myself as a highly competent and fully functioning member of society. I then got the tube at the end of the day , collected my child from school, clapped at his picture of a soldier with 6 eyes, walked the half hour walk home to abide by my fitbit rules of do 98000 steps a day or will spontaneously combust, cooked a lentil dhal, washed my hair whilst writing a letter to the school, shaved half of my calves to the sock lines and tended to my bed ridden husband who had sneezed at weekend and was apparently hanging at deaths door.
I then at 5.40 said I am going to the pub. Lentil dhal had been rejected so opened tin of beans, put chips in oven and left husband with instructions to turn to gas mark 4 for 20 mins when our child starts acting feral.
I left the house, smoothed my frizzy hair with a value baby wipe and began my merry walk down the road and noticed my bum felt cold. I investigated why I felt so chilly and opened my coat to see my tights , my pants through my tights and my bra. I appeared to not be wearing any clothes.
I had forgotten to put my clothes on.
I was 37 years old. I have two degrees.
I forgot to put my dress on. I wish I had been attached to clothes at that moment.
So here we are now. We have a lovely box of clothes that holds all the dearest memories – the baby grow Joe wore after I gave birth, his first little stripy hat, the white vests. All the special things that hold a multitude of memories. And what is so gorgeous now, is we are at that point where our dark memories have been blurred out by the good ones. Some of these clothes were with us as we worked through the fears we never knew existed and as we found our strength and for me, they are more than a factory produced piece of cotton. They show us that we got through that time.