When I had my third baby. It was obviously, like any birth, a momentus occasion and the first time I’ve done it without the direct presence of my parents. They now live away and mum is currently experiencing her longest low for a while.
My mum is bipolar. Ever since I had my first child she spiralled into a pattern of rapid cycling. Manic highs and dark lows interchanging every few weeks and sometimes within a day.
So for birth number 3 we relied on my lovely brother and sister-in-law and fantastic friends and baby 3 arrived, and did so the quickest and calmest of all 3, so all was good.
But its not hard for me to think about how my mums bipolar has loomed large in my baby’s early life. Both the highs and the lows.
In baby’s first hours I was lying in hospital recovering and waiting to go home. It was early and I’d only spoken to my husband and sent the text to announce. My parents called me. I was beyond exhausted but seeing ‘mum n dad’ pop up on my display warmed me and I didn’t hesitate to answer. Dad congratulated me and said he was proud and happy. It was good to hear. But in honestly it was Mum I wanted. He passed the phone over. She began to speak hesitantly in her quiet, nervous and shaky depressed voice. “hello. Ummmm well done. I don’t know what to say. I never know what to say or do. Its so stupid. I’m so weak.Ummm how is he, baby Sam?”.
I didn’t call my baby Sam.
I don’t know where that name came from for her. I gently reminded her the name I’d chosen. Mum apologized and stumbled for a minute telling me she didn’t know what to write in a card and that she hadn’t hit me a card yet. I said I didn’t need a card and just that I looked forward to her meeting him and having a cuddle. We said goodbye and hung up.
I know it doesn’t matter that she couldn’t recall his name but, at that moment it was truly like a pounding to my heart, hammering home the knowledge that my mum (the mum I wanted) wasn’t available to me. It hurt more than I thought it would, and I’d thought I was prepared. I felt so very sad.
The second bipolar impact for me with baby 3 was a week later, when my parents met him. Mum was still low and I knew this. I wasn’t expecting great things but figured she’d hold him at least. Mum was sat with me on the sofa, she was extremely anxious, rocking a little, unable to attend to communication well and largely inaudible. My baby lay on the sofa between us swaddled. He mumered or twitched in the delightful way new borns do and there it was; a large and genuine smile on mum’s face. It wasn’t forced or exaggerated but entirely natural, so much so that mum didn’t seem aware that she was doing it. I looked across at my husband and saw he’d seen it too. A moment of pure joy amidst the mental horror. The power of a newborn. It made me so very happy.
Often, when Mum is low she will worry obsessively that she can’t recall events or memories and when she’s high she is moving so fast through life that she doesn’t take any small moments in. It’s a known family trait that if we ask our parents to recall something about us, she can’t do it.
It used to upset me. But now? Now I hold on to the fact that whether mum remembers it or not in the future, I know she felt it then and I will treasure that memory always and for the both of us.