Last week an occasional reader of DoctorDi contacted me and made some stunningly insightful remarks about one of my posts, about what it maybe indicated about aspects of my childhood. She wished me luck with the pregnancy, and told me to be kind to myself once the baby comes, because in her experience, people who become parents after an unhappy or troubled childhood are oftentimes confronted by many things from the past as they begin facing the challenge of raising kids themselves. As a phenomenon, this makes perfect sense to me, but I didn’t understand just how right she would prove to be, nor how soon the confrontations would begin. After all, this is just the start of Week 17; we’re not even halfway. Our little friend hasn’t even been born, and I have already made a protective intervention on its behalf, a move that is proving so painful and horrible I can barely stand it.
I am trying to do the right thing, and I feel like I am being true to my own heart and my own best instincts, but in the process I am inflicting hurt elsewhere – and how can I possibly justify that? Can I? I’m really not sure.
My methods do not flatter me. I am a harsh critic, of myself and others, and it’s only been over the past few days of headaches, heartache, insomnia and anxiety about what I’ve done that I have been forced to think about what it finally says about me, and I have to admit that I am inherently selfish. When I think back across the bumpy trajectory of my life, I see two primary forces driving me forward. Self-preservation and self-improvement are the dominant instincts of my life, and they always have been, ever since I was a little girl.
In other words, there have been critical times, and they began in childhood in fairly dramatic fashion, when I have been driven by something deep in my core to act in my own best interests. Being propelled in this way has saved, changed and defined my life. There is no question of that. There is a motor in me that says, ‘GO, keep going, push harder, carry on, survive.’
And in the process of answering this call, I have left people behind.
In my instinctive quest for survival, I have not been able to carry to safety those who are perhaps weaker than myself. I wish I were that heroic, but I’m ashamed to admit that I am not. I never have been. I have scrambled and clawed and fought, and though it has always been in the fervent hope that everyone else was similarly engaged, and would also emerge from the battle intact, I see now that there are differences in foundation, and not everyone wants to or knows how to fight.
I find my instincts toward this 17-week old little friend growing inside me are already overwhelmingly fierce. I have a belief system, I have particular values, and certain life philosophies that I hold dear and that are absolutely intrinsic to my personality and the way I live my life, and I wish to set the best possible example for my child. I see now that I have always lived my life by these same principles. And because of this fundamental personal philosophy, there are some paths that I do not countenance and cannot ultimately support. We live in a society and an age that seems to insist that we’re not supposed to think or say such things, but isn’t it a lie to pretend we don’t judge others? I do. I’m not proud of it, but I definitely do. Am I alone in judging? I wonder now, because the truth is, I don’t universally accept people’s life choices as all of a piece, all part of some wondrous, mysterious human tapestry; no, I respect some decisions and some people more than others. I respect the individual’s right to make their own decisions, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily respect what they decide.
This distinction goes all the way back to the first moment I knew I was on my own, that if I wanted to get away from my stepfather, I would have to get myself out of there. I was 12 years old. I will never forget this day for as long as I live, because this light-bulb realisation changed the course of my life. After all the talk of running away and escaping and starting afresh, my mother sat us down after school that day and explained to us kids that she was pregnant again. Pregnant. I knew exactly how that happened, and I knew it meant she wasn’t going anywhere. If she was still sleeping with him, then we were done for. I was especially done for, as at the time I was the one most often singled out for his particular brand of torment. It was probably this motor mouth of mine, this compulsion I have to blab what’s on my mind – and boy, I didn’t think too much of him.
I have to get out.
I have to get away from him.
It was her decision to stay; I could respect her right to make that call, I just couldn’t agree with it. Ever since, I have continued to feel these messages to my brain on a visceral level. It is an overwhelming sensation that I can’t fully describe, but I hope you may have some idea of what I mean. It completely carries me away.
And I got out, I got away from him, but I left others behind, and it hurt them and undoubtedly made their own lives harder. He was forced to change focus, and who was left in his field of vision once I was no longer around? I have always and will always carry an enormous burden of guilt around this, around my escape and what it meant for those who didn’t get over the wall with me. Huge guilt and a gnawing sense of responsibility for the direction everything took later. Even though I hold myself to a very different measure, against which I feel absolutely accountable for the state of my own existence, still I expect I will always blame myself for the way things have turned out for the others who were there.
But this force in me, this selfish need to protect myself and mine, being Llew and our unborn little friend, I find it is wholly undimmed. If I perceive danger, if I perceive a trap or a pool of quicksand or a threat to my hard-won way of life, I am filled with a resistance that is all-consuming, and I begin to fight it, whatever or whoever it is. ‘GO, keep going, push harder, carry on, survive.’
How very right this reader was – although I doubt this post will give her much occasion to cheer.