As far back as I can recall I felt a difficulty in my relationship with my mum. I can’t explain it much better, except to say, that I always knew it felt more than the commonly described ‘mother-daughter’ challenges.
As a young child I remember finding mum incredibly hard to relate to. I recall a knowing that she didn’t feel in control and don’t understand stand my feelings. We often communicated by shouting and it never felt wrong or rude; that’s what she did to me. I felt it was needed to really get through to her.
I guess for a long while we were different creatures, from polar universes. I know, for instance that my mum, until out of uni, lead a sheltered life. In comparison, my transition at 11 into a raging hormonal, not afraid to be heard, rebellious, social, drama queen was most likely a shock. Years of screaming rows, slamming doors, lying, and me staying at friends for longer than the usual night away, ensued.
Now I know many will say they have experienced much the same as they entered teenage years but, like I said earlier, I come back again to this feeling; something just wasn’t right between mum and I.
At 16 I began A-levels and given my experiences of mum’s already faltering mental health, I perhaps rather obviously chose Psychology. I can clearly picture my first lesson, a small classroom of girls and a new, young and enthusiastic teacher. I can see the text book in front of me now and the image of the teacher writing the first topic up on the board; “Attachment”. What I learnt in that first lesson, and what I consequently went home and devoured alone, was an epiphany for me. The classic ‘missing piece of the puzzle’.
When later that day, I found myself in the kitchen alone with mum (a situation generally avoided by us both), I tentatively asked mum about my birth. Incredibly, there and then, mum informed me, quite matter of factly, that it had been far from the birth one would hope for.
I’m a twin. We were induced early as my heart had stopped growing. We were born tiny. Two things followed our birth that for me are significant. Firstly; I was the smaller twin and so spent time in an incubator, while my brother was deemed medically OK. Secondly; Mum developed Postpartum Psychosis and was committed onto the psychiatric ward. Even today, mum has only shared briefly, things about that time that paint a pretty bleak and uncomfortable picture. Not least the bleakness is caused by mum unable to recall; I think a mixture of her illness, the meds, and the trauma.
This is 30 odd years ago. There wasn’t a priority placed on us babies being with our mother, gaining that crucial time for bonding and nurturing. My brother, as the weller twin was allowed to be given at some points to mum for cuddles etc. I was kept with the nurses.
The impact of this tale and having never known such significant stuff, till I asked, was massive for me. My mum and I; our challenges, well it all began to make sense. We had not had that crucial time to bond. It was also clear from mum’s re-capturing of this time that she has been traumatized by her experiences.
I later learnt that my Granny (who was also diagnosed Bipolar), first suffered at the hands of depression when she had her first babies ( my mum and her twin sister – see the pattern!) and so my mum also missed out on crucial first moments of her mummy’s time.
Now, whilst I don’t reckon that these experiences for my mum or myself are the everything for us, it’s hard to ignore the significance and, I have no doubt that for me, this beginning and the subsequent difficulty in relating to mum, have impacted me ever since. Whether the familial depression tendency was the cause of the negative birthing experiences or, whether the lack of strong attachments made at birth are underlying the depression, I do not know. It’s probably a nature vs nurture debate that could be discussed endlessly.
Sadly my mums experience of mental health information and services and medication ever since, dispensed by (male) professionals has never fully acknowledged her trauma caused by this first experience.
My mums mental health has impacted enormously on my relationship with her and vice versa. My crucial teenage transition at 11 coincided with my mum’s mental health deteriorating. Her depressions were deep and long and she became unable emotionally to give me what I needed and I, as the teen described above, became all to aware that our roles were beginning to reverse; I would become a carer and she my charge (some of the time).
What I do know is that the combination of our poor first moments together and my having to relinquish my chances to be parented to mums Bipolar mean that even now, in my 30’s, I WANT MY MUM. or should that read NEED? It is a desire that I’m constantly and consciously aware of. A lot of the time I’m well versed at swallowing that desire back down because I can’t rely on it. I’ve become an expert at seeking out ‘maternal’ support from elsewhere. Most often I just decide to be ‘ok’. Sometimes I’m pretending I’m OK. But what my early beginnings instilled in me was a protective behaviour; ‘if in doubt, rely on yourself. You can’t rely on your mum’. That may sound harsh and it’s certainly not always a healthy approach. But my awareness of it means I’ve worked hard in my 30’s to try different approaches.
Because, we are never too old to try, to learn, to be aware and to gain some understanding. I no longer hold any hard feelings towards my mum. The bipolar, yes. My mum, no. And I’ve created ways to help myself so I don’t crash quite so hard when she can’t be what I need. We can be incredibly resilient, us humans, but it takes some love and some hard-work.