Looking back at those two months I spent without my daughter, the Peanut, I feel like I was being torn in two. I could never pin my brain down and constantly flitted between rational and irrational, love and pragmatism, optimism and despair. I would settle on something for five minutes only to feel part of my brain breaking away in another direction.
One day I would wake up feeling sure of myself, confident of what I wanted to do — that I wanted to have the Peanut back with me. The next morning I would have visions of our life together. Just the two of us alone in a small home. My life as her carer, rather than her mother.
I can remember trying to stop the constant shuffling in my head and feeling incapable of any focused thought. The counsellor I was seeing at the time kept trying to tell me that I couldn’t force this decision. That this wasn’t an intellectual decision. That it would just happen, but that frustrated me even more. I like to think things through. I like to weigh things up. I like to consider my options and draw pros and cons lists. But no matter how I tried, this one never made sense when you put it on the scales.
To a purely rational and pragmatic mind, taking the Peanut back didn’t make any sense. She was with a foster family who adored her, and I was alone, without a permanent place to live and months away from going back to work. I’d been given another chance. A chance to start a fresh and live my life. But when I even tried to make some headway towards that life, my resolve crumbled and I collapsed in on myself. I tried to apply for a part-time fixed-term teaching job at a school I’d love to teach at. The job would have been perfect and would have taken me through until the summer. At the interview, I had that sensation I get when I’m sick. I’ll feel OK at home in bed or curled up on the couch and then when I get into the real world or try to go to work the sickness overwhelms me and I can think of nothing else. I sat in the reception of the school and felt a huge wave of anxiety tip over me.
I was not ready for this.
In the interview I ended up crying in front of the panel. They asked me something I couldn’t quite answer straight away, and it felt like I would need to tell them what had happened. I panicked and instead of any number of straight forward and vague answers, I let the tears spill onto my cheeks. While the principal and other interviewing staff were kind, I left feeling humiliated and foolish. I drove home crying and hitting the steering wheel with the heels of my hands. Frustrated that I had crumbled but also annoyed that I’d put myself in a position like that. I was so keen to get going, but it wasn’t my life anymore.
I wasn’t ready to start life again. Starting life again meant admitting I wasn’t taking the Peanut back. And while a huge part of me wanted to move on, a bigger part of me wanted her back and I couldn’t move forward until I had acknowledged that.
I wanted her back, but I wasn’t brave enough to look at that version of my life in the eye and accept it. I was still hanging onto some vision of my life I’d had before she was born. I also wanted to not want her. I wanted it to be simple. I wanted to be able to erase this part of my life and start again, move on. But I knew that was impossible. There was no going back from this, and while I could have left the Peanut in foster care, the only real way forward for me was with her.
I’ve never had to make a decision like this before. I’ve tortured myself over break ups I felt mixed up about and job offers I questioned, but nothing as all consuming as this. Nothing that felt so edge-of-the-cliff monumental. Nothing that reduced me to mush every time I considered the options.
I felt like I was damned either way. I either took her home and resigned myself to a life as a carer of a highly dependent daughter for the rest of my life. A life where I may never meet someone new, because who wants to get involved with a single mother with a special needs daughter? A life where work may be too hard to balance with the Peanut, and I’d have to give up my career and live off the government. Or, I give up my daughter and spend the rest of my life hating myself and my decision. I’d spend the rest of my life thinking about her and wondering how she is. I’d spend the rest of my life seeing her progress and milestones through photos.
I pictured my life with the Peanut. I pictured our house and saw only the bad. I saw her in a wheelchair, me watching TV beside her. I saw me getting older. More tired. I saw a life unfulfilled. I saw this image over and over, any time I truly considered taking her back. I pictured us in a dingy flat. Mould on the walls. Crappy furniture. Me getting up at all hours to attend to a baby, child, adolescent Peanut who didn’t know I was her mother.
It took me a while to realize this thinking wasn’t just unhealthy — it was depressive. I’ve never been depressed before, but I certainly think I was teetering on the edge there. I think I probably fell in. I’d been sad and in crises mode for so long that my brain was becoming accustomed to it. I was dealing with the total collapse of the life I had. Aside from my friends and family, nothing looked the same. I could laugh, but I hadn’t felt happy in months. I couldn’t go a day without crying and even talking about the Peanut made me sob.
Once I started to come out of that, with the help of both counselors, my friends and family and medication, I could see things more clearly. (I debated including the fact that I used antidepressants to help me through this time but decided to put it in, as I have discovered some of my students read my writing, and I want them and anyone else to know there’s no shame in getting help. And that with that help, it’s possible to come out the other side.) I could now visualize our future without that dark haze hanging over it. I began to see sunlight pouring in the window of the house we would live in. I could see us going for walks on the waterfront and meeting friends for coffee. The image started to change to a house where I wanted to live.
It didn’t happen quickly. In the beginning I still felt like I was taking two steps forward and one step back. But then something did happen that changed things.
This beautiful place will get its own blog post, but I truly feel like I owe my state of mind and sense of calm to that vacation (they should send all new special needs parents away on a retreat. Scrap that, they should send all new parents on a retreat). I came back positive, optimistic and calm — but most of all happy. Happy in the moment without thinking too much about the future. Happy with the Peanut as she is. Happy to face what comes next, even though it will be hard. But also determined to make it work. To keep my career and sense of self while still being the mum the Peanut needs. I know it won’t always be easy, but it’s going to happen.
For anyone who knows me, I hope it’s clear just how much of a transformation has happened in the last few months. I feel like a different person but still me. I’m stronger, more resilient, braver and gutsier. But I don’t feel hardened. I also feel kinder, more accepting, more empathetic and more laid back. I don’t take the people in my life for granted, and I cherish new and existing friendships. I now feel like I can enjoy the moment in the moment without always looking to the next thing.
I feel like there were a few moments when I was teetering on the edge where I could have gone the other way. I’m so glad I didn’t. Words don’t really do justice to how thankful I feel to be where I am and not in some other place. When I pictured my life and it seemed like nothing but bad things, I couldn’t see what I see now. I couldn’t picture the feeling of watching the Peanut sleep and feeling this swelling in my chest of love and pride and protectiveness. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to hear my baby girl giggle and light up when I touch her face. I couldn’t understand that my love for her would trump all the other worries.
It’s going to be hard at times. The lows will feel much lower, but already the highs have felt so much higher.
This post originally appeared on The One in a Million Baby.
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