I’ve been told the first time we met I was shuffling slowly up and down a blue carpeted corridor. Slumped body. Empty eyes. I barely registered being asked how I was with a slowly exhaled ‘Not so good.’ before moving on with my pram.
I say ‘I’ve been told’, because I don’t remember our first meeting or the following weeks. I was sicker than I’d ever been. Not many people would have repeatedly made friendly conversation with someone as unresponsive as I was.
She did. At a time when she wasn’t well herself.
When I finally re-emerged after several months of illness, I was delighted to find I had a new friend. A friend I never would have met in my geographical or professional circles. A friend who, like me, had spent the early months of first-time motherhood in a psychiatric hospital instead of at home.
We created an informal mothers’ group after we finally left the hospital.
We were too raw, and unable to tolerate the glowing veneer of perfection pedalled by mothers whose less traumatic experiences we could no more identify with than they could ours. Mothers who still naively believed how babies entered the world and what they were fed was worth expending energy thinking about or debating. Mothers who had not yet confronted what it meant to be on the knife-edge of existence. So, ours was an exclusive group of four: Her, me, and one baby each, who thrived on their formula and their mothers’ increasingly irreverent conversations about motherhood, together.
After my first episode of illness I eventually came off all my medication. Even done gradually, under the close supervision of my psychiatrist – it was rough. My friend came and sat with me. She made me laugh at politically incorrect jokes as my body twitched and ached its way through withdrawal.
We both debated back and forth whether to have second babies. We knew we wanted them. But the risk of getting so sick again talked us out of it dozens of times before we jumped off that cliff with our fingers crossed. I got sick when I was 17 weeks pregnant. She showed me her positive pregnancy test when she visited me in hospital. Our second babies were born three months apart.
Six weeks after my son was born, I was on my way back into hospital – manic, nearly psychotic. Words erupting from me continuously. Explosive verbal diarrhoea that covered everyone around me. We stopped at my friend’s place en route to the hospital to drop off our three-year-old daughter and do a load of washing. Our washing machine had broken down. Of course it had. She took the washing and made my daughter honey sandwiches for dinner, while my husband delivered me to hospital.