April fool’s day. Those words make my stomach clench. I woke up this morning feeling physically sick and also a strange sense of surprise/apprehension. As my subconscious re-calibrated itself and reassured itself that this april fool’s day, I was safe(r), the sickness faded and so did the edgy surprise and apprehension. Partly I hate the day simply because of what modern day society has turned it into – another commercialised day… but also the idea that it’s seen as ‘okay’ to spend a day completely unsure as to what’s real and what isn’t. I don’t cope very well with reality being messed around with, and so it throws me. But mostly the day scares me because of anniversary memories. The abuse ring was a ritual ring – any day where any excuse for a ritual could be used was a terrifying ordeal for me and the children. Abusers pulled ‘pranks’ on us that went to an entirely new level of ‘prank’ – incredibly sick, dangerous, and traumatising. I have most of the memories but a few more trickled to the surface today which left me speechless and shaking. I guess if I can still reel in shock I know that they still haven’t shattered my capacity to give a damn. So I let myself sit in shock, let myself shake and cry, let the waves of pain and terror crash over me, one by one, and gently fade. I’m exhausted now but okay.
I could write a blog post about what april fool’s day consisted of – what evil and horrific acts we were forced to endure and witness. But actually, I want to use this april fool’s day as giving an answer back to the abusers. I want to throw their own sick tricks back in their face by writing something which proves they didn’t win. I won’t spend this time pouring over what happened and letting them still get to me today. I’ll spend this time writing out everything I’m grateful for – everything they failed to starve me from or rob from me.
So…here are all the things that I am grateful for, past and present:
- I am grateful for days like today, where I wake up in the morning to see the most beautiful yet haunting thick fog blanketing the world. Fog unnerves me, when I’m in it, because I can no longer see escape routes or who is around. But I equally can’t deny it is a strangely beautiful sight. And even more beautiful is when the sun comes out and soothes away the fog, removes the blanket, and the world is transformed – seemingly from Autumn to Spring in a matter of hours, and the rest of the day passes with bold blue skies, a warm breeze, and the sound of spring waking up. I am grateful to have had the chance to feel the sun on my neck, the breeze tickling me as it passes, the chance to grumble at winds as it ruffles my hair. For the chance to feel the icy rain soaking my skin – sometimes it soothes my angry heated cheeks, other times I loathe the rain and can’t wait to find somewhere warm and dry. But I have still had the chance to feel it. I am grateful I’ve had the chance to worry about sunburn, to swear as my umbrella turns itself inside out, as the cars drive past and drench me as they go through puddles, to have spent days lying in the grass as the sun keeps me warm. I am grateful for all of this. I know of children who were not allowed outside, were not allowed to be seen, to officially exist in any means. They never knew what the sun felt like, the rain, the hail or snow. Their lives were inside a brutal place where they were abused by adults, and loved by children. I am grateful to have been able to feel the weather. To have been given that simple, free, chance. I remember my own daughter’s face the first time she went outside, almost a year old. Her confusion, bewilderment, curiosity, nervousness, exhilaration…all in one expression. The most pure facial expression, helping me to see how much I took for granted – just simple pleasures like knowing the warmth of the sun…
- I am grateful to have met so many incredibly brave, complex, inspirational and loving children. I am grateful for the memories of them grinning at me cheekily, gappy teeth and eyes full of smiles, even with blood on their face and dirt on their skin. Our laughter which echoed through the corridors. Our little army of gigglers. I remember one little boy yelling to an abuser, after ‘misbehaving’ – “CATCH ME IF YOU CAAAAANNN!” I remember us all staring, with our heart in our mouths, as the skinny mucky boy took off at lightning speed, laughing his head off as the livid man chased after him. The boy knew his punishment would be severe. So did we. But his laughter and downright cheeky courage was contagious. We all whooped and laughed after him, cheering him on, deep down bracing ourselves for our own punishments which would come later. For a few moments it didn’t matter – we were children. I remember hours later, after we cleaned each other’s wounds, and held each other following the punishments. The little boy was resting against a wall, breathing heavily, badly hurt. We all were anxious for him. He saw us looking at us and gave us a painful, but genuine, smile. ‘Did you see his face?’ He whispered, then closed his eyes and fell asleep. Even in that pain, the comedy of the trauma (?!) spurred him on, and we grinned again at the memory. (The man’s face had been an absolute picture. I so desperately hope he’s reading this.) The children were heroes in their own right, their compassion fuelled me on, and my compassion fuelled them on. We were a team of the most desperate, intense and close kind. Tiny children would stand up for other children, we would soothe each other at night time, tend to each other’s wounds. I would stroke their hair and tell them silly stories, and fall asleep holding a few of them – their heartbeats being my lullaby. After checking everyone was still alive in the morning, the madness would re-commence. And our humour with it. I genuinely don’t believe I could have survived without the humour. I saw the children at their lowest, at their most broken, at their most hurt…and they in turn saw me at my worst…and we also saw each other at the best we could be in such a hellish place. We came to appreciate each other’s hurt and each other’s wonders, understand and be grateful for each other’s uniqueness, and by accepting and soothing their hurt, we were accepting and soothing our own. That place was hell of the most evil kind, and yet I know there are worse places, and I know many children today around the world are in similar places. I could never try and pretend the humour made it worthwhile. The humour made it survivable. I am grateful for the children and their humour, their hope, their courage. Without the ring would they have even existed? Some, definitely not. Am I therefore grateful for the ring? No… I despise it. But I am grateful for the precious shards of light the ring unintentionally provided. Nowhere is all black, even such a place as that. I am grateful for my memories of those children, of our time together, grateful for knowing some escaped before me, grateful for their smiles and tears…for reminding me therefore that pain and smiles can exist together. I am grateful and honoured to have had the chance to try and soothe and comfort the children, to have been in such a precious, frightening, heartbreaking and yet humbling place…
- I am grateful to have experienced pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood – albeit tragic, traumatic and short-lived. It is often hard for me to look at my pregnancies and babies with anything except grief and heartache, with every good memory tainted by what would come next. But it doesn’t escape me – I have experienced the most beautiful, profound, difficult and amazing things I believe a girl/woman can go through. Had I never been a mother, I would be so far away from the person I am now, I am sure. Yes maybe less grief, less heartache, less desperation to be somewhere else. But also I think less prepared to fight. And I am aware that in some situations I perhaps look at something differently to a non-mother. It’s no better or worse. I’m just perhaps more aware of what a child’s cry is translating as, what a touch on their arm could mean to them, and the strong emotion surging through the mother every time she thinks of her child. Watching mothers’ and their children, on a bus for example, is both very painful and very comforting for me. I recognise and remember that gentle smile, the way my hands moved slightly differently, just to make sure I didn’t accidentally scratch my child with my nails. I see the mothers’ firm yet lovingly gentle hands and arms holding their children, and my arms twitch with the memory. I see them looking past their child – just fleetingly, almost unconsciously – just assessing risks. Any sharp corners? Anything to trip over? Watching maternal instinct is the most incredible thing to witness, and especially if you know what to look for and can so strongly empathise. I will realise I’m making the same quick glances around the child on the bus, will feel my body has shifted in my seat; ready to dive up/put my arms out/get in the way – to either catch, steady, or prevent a child from falling or hurting themselves. It’s the most natural thing in the world, I don’t notice myself doing it, I just realise that after a while my body has moved position entirely. Once a mother, always a mother. My children aren’t with me, but that doesn’t take away from me who I am: a mother.
- Pregnancy: my pregnancies were secret, and I didn’t know about places such as good hospitals who would do checks to make sure everything’s okay. The abusers had their own doctors, and if I was lucky I might have a check once or twice, but otherwise I was on my own with it. But I had witnessed pregnancy and childbirth from an age really too young. I learnt as I went along. I learnt pretty soon that, for whatever unknown reason, pregnancy = head living down the toilet for first few weeks. I read up a lot on the topic, and had a lot of hands on experience with the other girls and women, so fairly soon I knew a fair amount. I knew this hideous sickness was in fact normal. The swollen ankles, the *backache*, the sore chest, the ‘I’m too hot…now I’m too cold…nope I’m too hot’. My hair growing at some bizarrely fast rate. But also the feeling of deep calmness. I felt myself panic less, unless I was absolutely threatened, but even then I would be aware of trying to keep myself as calm as possible. The panic wasn’t for myself but for my unborn baby. I remember the feeling of intense protectiveness, starting sometimes before I even knew I was pregnant, but certainly increasing after the first kick. The sensation when your unborn baby kicks you for the first time. It’s one of the most bizarre and beautiful feelings in the world. What felt like butterflies or hiccups for me suddenly became a very definite kick. Sometimes it was hard for me not to feel completely freaked out by it, actually. But mostly I just felt comforted – each kick felt like a little message, ‘it’s okay mummy. I’m still here, you’re doing just great. Keep going.’ It was hard to feel lonely when pregnant. Even when being raped, I’d sometimes feel the baby kicking like some total nuts thing (some were more calm). It was as though the baby was going ‘OI! Get off my mum! Kick kick kick!!’ We were never alone. I hear women saying pregnancy is the most beautiful and ‘glowing’ part of your life. I would hesitate to say I was ever ‘glowing’. But it was, in a completely strange and miracle kind of way, quite beautiful. Even in the last few weeks when the baby would be either kicking my ribs or headbutting my bladder (thanks), it was a strange comfort. Each unborn baby had it’s own very unique personality. Some I could predict at exactly what time in the night they’d start having a disco. Some were calm. Some were apparently gymnasts in the making. Many died far too soon. The agony of feeling my baby die inside of me… it’s like I felt part of me die too…but I’m also grateful my baby could maybe feel I was still holding them, they were still within me. I know there are women who cannot get pregnant, and have that heartache. My heart goes out to them…and I have to count my blessings that as much as each baby ended in tragedy, and I should never have been pregnant in the first place, I at least experienced pregnancy. I experienced that wonder.
- Childbirth. Hmm. I won’t beat around the bushes here – it’s grim. There isn’t much about childbirth I’m grateful for, actually. Maybe had I been in hospital with friends and pain relief and compassion it would be a different story, but generally childbirth terrified me and hurt like I could not even describe and was indescribably lonely. Nobody should go through that alone. But, as I said in the mother’s day post a few days ago, the surreal amazement when I held my baby for the first time…somehow the pain fades. Somehow the trauma, even, fades. With Rosie I went from gasping to regain breath and control, to unintentionally holding my breath, absolutely mesmerised by her. It sounds like a cliche but I think at least any mothers reading this will understand – time literally stood still. My body even paused, just momentarily, for us. We were both soaked, both red in the face, both with mad drenched hair. We were both at our most vulnerable. We were so different and yet so so the same. You’d have thought that I would have grown used to it, the amazement, but I never did. I was stunned, each time – whether my own baby or when I was ‘midwife’ for someone else – I was completely stunned. This little person, this tiny girl, had been inside me one moment and was now wailing in my arms in some mad protest (‘what the ‘eff just happened, it’s cold out here and my hair’s a mess and I miss my squishy bed let me go BACK!!!!’ – my translation). I hate my body with a perhaps unhealthy passion, but in the moments where I held a baby for the first time, or watched a baby being born, I had to hand it to the body – it’s bloody amazing. Each time I couldn’t quite comprehend how it had happened except I knew, factually, how. The first cry from the baby, the first sound of a person’s life, what a powerful thing to witness and hear. The first time the baby opens his or her eyes. When Rosie and I made eye contact…I can still remember the lurch in my stomach. The rush of protection that stretched into every part of my body and mind. I could feel the change happening, as it does, the change from being a girl to a mother. So yes…I’m not grateful for childbirth, but I am grateful for the memories of being able to hold my babies for the first time, even if I was to lose them only minutes later. I’m grateful for that intensely emotional, fragile and powerful moment where my baby opened her eyes, cried at me, and nestled into my chest. Went from hearing my heartbeat from the inside, to my heartbeat from the outside. I’m grateful for all of that, even with the intense heartache and grief that followed, and still haunts me.
- I am grateful for my friends now…for their genuine compassion and care which so so powerfully undoes the damage, piece by piece…I’m grateful for their laughter, their silly smiles, their hugs and cups of tea…their patience, somehow, with me when I am so lost. I am grateful for their support to each other, for knowing they’ll always be okay, somehow. I am grateful to finally be in a place where boundaries are encouraged and respected, where I can lay down my own and not fear getting raped – or worse – as a result…and where I can know other people’s boundaries and have the chance now to finally be around people who are consistent, who I can be around without fear of putting them in a position they’re not prepared to be in, and also who I don’t need to fear will abuse me if I do accidentally trip over one of their boundaries. I’m grateful for the chance to have mature discussions when opinions are conflicted, rather than adults trying to beat their opinion into me. I’m grateful for my friends who have gradually helped me to realise I am worth something… I’m grateful for our trips to the sea, which the children never saw, and I am grateful always simply for their friendship.
- Music…my lifeline of communication, of releasing emotions, of turning dark emotions into something beautiful and into something which reaches people far deeper and better than my words alone. Music which can free people, as it so often frees me.
I am grateful for all of these things. Each of these the abusers have tried to rob me of, or destroy me with, in some way. But the truth is, they are all things I carry so deeply inside my heart, things which sing me to sleep now I don’t have the children’s heartbeat to soothe me.
So abusers. You haven’t got me today. I could have wallowed in what could have been and what was. Instead I’ve put into words everything I’m grateful for and everything you can’t take from me.
And so I am grateful in knowing that even if I died tomorrow, I have experienced and known some of the most beautiful moments and people I believe possible to know…