baby

'For 11 years, I was never scared of my husband. Then we had kids.'

This post deals with child abuse, and could be triggering for some readers.

St. Patrick’s Day. 

In years gone by, it would have been a great excuse to hit a (preferably Irish, but really anywhere serving beer) pub, and drink Guinness or whisky for the single time in 365 days. 

I can’t remember St. Patrick’s Day for any other reason now. St. Patrick’s Day exactly 10 years ago was the nail in the coffin of my marriage. It took a lot longer than that for it to end, but I can look back now and trace the death rattle to March 17, 2012. 

It was the first night I slept in my car because I was afraid my husband would kill my child. 

I told everyone the next day I looked so tired because the baby had croup and had kept me awake. Really, I spent the night crying by the side of the road. 

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The first lie: If I don’t tell anyone, we won’t be “that couple”. They’ll ask me why I’m with him, and I won’t know how to answer.

I didn’t know who I was anymore. When I tried to picture the future, it was a black hole. I couldn’t see one. 

If this story has a subtext, it would be: the things I told myself, and other people, to present a picture of “everything is fine”. It doesn’t start and end with croup.

I met David through friends. He was quiet. So quiet. I’d later come to describe him as “painfully shy”. 

After we separated, most people in my life told me they didn’t care much for him – ranging from “I didn’t like him” to “I didn’t trust him” or just “I didn’t ever feel like I knew him”. They didn’t tell me this at the time. 

Enter lie number two: I’m the only one who understands him. Yes, he’s quiet! Yes, people seem like they avoid him! But I understand him. I see the real him.

But here’s the kicker. A handful of people I was very close to did like him, quite a lot. And here’s the thing: they were all women.

Cue lie number three: If women like him, he can’t be a bad guy.

I’ve always been a girl’s girl. My best friends are all women. My sister and I are thick as thieves (whatever that phrase means). I befriend the wives and girlfriends of my partner’s friends. I get along with the sisters and the mums (except for... David’s).

So, if these women in my life think he’s great, he’s great, right? Perhaps. 

I also never told them a scrap of what went on behind closed doors, because I wanted us to last. And I didn’t want people talking behind their hands about us at barbecues. I wanted us to be golden and different. Not the couple bitching about each other and fighting at parties. 

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I digress. 

We were together for 11 years before we had a baby. That’s not brief. You know those relationships, where everything moves so fast? That wasn’t us. We had ups and downs, but most of it was good. Until we had kids. 

When I think about it, I can see that I had been managing everything. 

I was the breadwinner, he was the one trying to make it in his chosen career. And there were all sorts of reasons why he couldn’t make it – but all of them were about other people. 

One boss is a selfish prick. Another is a downright bitch. All of the people who work there are morons. None of them understand him. If he could just get a break. 

But I believed in him. I loved him. I was happy to do it all. 

I ultimately proposed to myself. We had been together for eight years. My mother, the World’s Greatest Catholic, only had a few years of life left and she wanted us to get married. The last time I remember her standing on her two feet is on my wedding day. 

So, I proposed to myself. I bought my own ring. I made up a proposal story so people wouldn’t pity my unromantic story. I researched the locations, I made the invitations, I bought his clothes and those of the groomsmen. I roped in the family and friends to help with flowers and cars and cake because we had no money to outsource it. 

To be clear, I chose this, actively. And in hindsight, I would look back and tell myself that it was just the way we worked – I sorted the stuff, and he showed up. 

After the wedding, I found out I was pregnant. I wasn’t supposed to be. We weren’t at a place in our lives where we could have a baby. I was still the breadwinner, he was still waiting for his big break. She wasn’t planned. 

We both went into shock. We weren’t ready. 

When she arrived, Alice was a hard baby. And this challenge – this call to step up, to be the ultimate selfless parent, to put who you thought you’d be on the shelf for a while – this challenge, was the beginning of the end. 

Alice cried. All. The. Time. She started crying her first night home from the hospital. And she kept crying. Screaming. Purple in the face, I can see your tonsils, ears ringing SCREAMING. And not just for a little while. 

On her best day, she screamed for 13 hours. 13. Hours. People have since told me there is no way a baby can scream for 13 hours. I wish I’d filmed it and we could have a little screening, because she could. And she did. 

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It was awful. And David couldn’t do it. That first night home from the hospital was the first time he called her a “f**king bitch” and yelled at her. 

Once he said he would put her in a cold shower. I don’t know if he would have done it – he told me later he didn’t really mean it. 

It grew from there. 

It stopped being Alice that made him angry. He was angry that the house got dirty too quickly. He got angry when it rained on a camping trip. He got angry when cords tangled in a drawer. He got angry when an appliance didn’t work the way he wanted it to, when people didn’t act the way he expected them to, when life didn’t go the way it should. 

And when he was angry, he was really angry. Mean angry. Swearing, slamming doors, punching things angry. 

But he didn’t hit me. 

In fact, of all the things in his life, I didn’t seem to make him angry.

People who believed in God made him angry. Politics made him angry. Books and movies he thought were pretentious made him angry. 

But I didn’t make him angry. 

It’s been a while, but lie number four: He’s never angry at me, so I have no right to resent him.

He never really did get angry at me. But he was so angry at my children – the core of me, the heart of me and the two people I loved more than I loved anything in the world. 

That’s right – children. Enter baby number two. My Philip. I had serious doubts about whether we should have another child. It had been horrific and I felt like we had just escaped. 

Alice had turned into an active, funny, playful little child. David understood her. She wasn’t affectionate, or clingy. She loved wrestling and running and climbing and toilet jokes. He could do that. 

So we decided to have another baby. 

Philip was a dream of a baby. Alice was born looking out of the front door. Philip was born looking in. Philip was the baby I dreamed of having. 

He was born in winter, and I wore him like a blanket. He slept in my arms. I would do the housework with him in a papoose, and he would sleep. I would zip up a jacket over the top and take him to the shops. 

I would unzip so people could see his little sleeping face. He would be passed around at parties like a corn relish dip (thanks Mum). 

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David hated him. 

David decided that to “deal” with Philip, he would ignore him. He had nothing to do with him, aside from the bare minimum, for the first three years.

He hated that I “mollycoddled” him. He hated that I held him to go to sleep, even when he was a newborn. He hated that Philip was permanently attached to me. 

David refused to look at his child for the first three years of his life. 

He told me he felt like Philip was “taking me away from him”. My baby – all of maybe six months old – was taking me away from him, because I held him and fed him and unashamedly, and overwhelmingly, loved him. 

I felt sorry for David and told myself I’d do better. 

With Alice, we had “got back in the saddle” pretty quick afterward. David and I had good chemistry. Always did. 

With Philip, I got a raging infection. No one (least of all me) needs to know the gory details, but it was bad. And gross. And just bad. 

It took longer, and that was Philip’s fault too. Because he caused the damage. 

When we finally started to get back “in the saddle”, it was rarely enough. In hindsight, it was. But it wasn’t. I was the size 10 “hot wife” – that should have been enough to keep the fires going. 

The nail in the coffin was St Patrick’s Day. We were interrupted. Philip started to cry. He was nine months old. Philip never woke up. Unlike my beloved firstborn, you could put him to sleep and he would sleep. But he woke up. 

David was angry. I can’t forget it. He told me he would put Philip back to sleep. I don’t know why I believed him. Then I heard Philip cry.  That pitch changing, terrified cry. I ran in. And saw my husband – my six-foot, daily exercising, Ned Flanders with his shirt off husband – shaking my baby. 

I can’t unsee it. I grabbed the baby, he grabbed back. I won. I walked down the hall. He followed. I told him I would just take Philip “for a little drive”. 

The lies. I hate the lies. I would take Philip for a little drive – not because I was terrified that David would really hurt him – but because he just needed a little sleep. That’s the story I told David, and that’s the story he believed. 

And we slept in the car. I slept, finally. I cried to Phil Collins singing In the Air Tonight - and not just because I hate that song. Then I slept. 

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I came home and told myself I would never let it happen again. It was my fault – David just couldn’t do the baby stuff. I knew that. I shouldn’t have let it happen.

David eventually got night shifts, which meant that I could work in my teaching job, just a couple of days a week, and he could look after the kids in the day. 

I would drive home and feel the initial surge of joy – that going-home surge – until I realised that home is where I was most unhappy. Because I would walk through the door and be greeted with two silent children and a man telling me they had been little arseholes. And that he’d had a shit of a day. 

They’re not little arseholes. They’re great. They’re kids.

Lie number five: If I can be perfect and make life perfect, then he won’t be angry anymore.

Oh boy. Guilty! David would get home at about 8 or 9 o’clock. Long days.

The kids would go to sleep at about 7. That last hour, that hour before he got home? That was my busiest hour of the day. That was the hour I had to make everything right. Clean up the mess. Make the house look like kids had never lived in it. Make myself perfect (when Alice was a baby, hide that I had been crying. If he knew I’d had a hard day with her, he’d punish her. Wipe it away). 

Warm his dinner up. Have it ready. Be on the lounge – house spotless, wife spotless, little babies tucked up in bed. Then, he’d be happy. 

If it wasn’t just right, he’d be angry. Not with me, not really. But with life. Mostly: with the kids. 

If I could give the young men of the world some advice, I would say this. If you want your wife to continue to find you attractive, if you don’t want their stomach to turn when they look at you: don’t spend your day berating, threatening, criticising and even physically intimidating their kids. Not hot. 

After we split, the anger turned on me, and I thought thank God. Thank God he wasn’t angry at them anymore. Thank God he started being angry with me. 

Lie number six: It’s better for him to be angry at you, than angry at your kids. You can take it.

He started following me (sometimes in someone else’s car).

He hacked my emails, my messages, my social media and my bank account. He accused me of multiple affairs, publicly. 

He followed me on holiday with my kids and took photos of us.

After he moved out, he came back at night and listened to who was inside my house. He used his key to get back in the house when I wasn’t home. 

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When I asked him not to, he messaged me when I was at work to tell me he was in my house. I changed the locks – he threatened me. 

I know what it is to feel so hunted you physically hide in a corner, because there is nowhere else to go.

I know what it is to call someone and plead with them to stop following you, to stop breaking into your home, to stop telling lies which threaten your career and your ability to provide for your children. 

I know what it is to call the three closest women in your life and tell them that if something happens to you, he was the one to do it. 

And he told me to stop the fiction that he was an angry man and an abuser. 

At one point I went to the police. But ultimately I was too scared to press charges. 

But at least the rage wasn’t directed at my kids anymore. Right? 

So this year on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a different night to the one I’d have had in my former life. Sometimes I’m still scared – we have shared custody. He has my kids tonight, and I’m at home alone. I have to hope we won’t be another statistic. We’re not out of the woods yet. 

But I’m not where I was 10 years ago. Hopefully, in another 10 years, I’ll be somewhere else again. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts (an organisation providing support to victims of child abuse) here.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from the Child Abuse Protection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting this website. You can also call the 24-hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478).

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Advice and counselling for men concerned about their use of family violence: Men's Referral Service, 1300 766 491.

Feature Image: Getty.

*Names have been changed.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but their identity has been protected.