I am so very honored to have Hayley Lau here today. This guest post is very important to me. It is a shining example of Permission-Based Healing, though I don’t claim to say that Hayley was influenced by my work when she wrote it. In her courage, Hayley is one of the deepest writers I know. She digs into the dark and the painful and what she brings back is better than gold: relief and the true kind of comfort that comes from the removal of self-judgment. Bear in mind that this post may trigger strong emotions for you, but it’s going to be worth it. Prepare yourself for this special kind of soft strength by giving yourself permission to experience any thoughts and emotions that come up in response without judging yourself, and I trust that you will get why I am so thrilled to publish her work here.
Hayley is a writer, artist and modern-day mystic. Her first book of poetry and prose, Sinking Into Self: Allowing the Wilderness of the Creative Spirit is one of the best ebooks I ever read. It’s available as a free download, and I’ve already read it three times! It’s full of the “gosh, I wish I’d thought of that” kind of writing. She blogs and delves into the creative process, ordinary courage, and wholehearted living at heyellie.com.
And if you are one of Hayley’s friends, hello and a warm welcome to you! Come take a look at the free and loving Mama’s Comfort Camp community.
Now passing the mic to Hayley:
Dearest daughter Ellie,
I remember the moment I felt you in my stomach. Not just a random assortment of shifting cells, but you, even though at the time I was convinced you were a boy. I held you in my hands as best I could, with walls of flesh between us – but really, we were barely separate. I cried as I held you and I wrote you a letter and wondered who you would become.
And then it got harder. There was the fear. And the impossible dependence on your father that he could never live up to. And the loneliness. And the fear. I valiantly decided that it would all be okay, and relegated my fear to the furthest dungeons of my mind.
When you came out of me I was dazed. I didn’t understand you, all pink and slimy and screaming. But I held you curiously and put your face to my bosom like I was supposed to. My breasts were so full and painful that it was a relief that you were there. I watched the visitors hold you, I watched your father hold you, and I didn’t get to hold you except when you were feeding, and that wasn’t the same. I didn’t know to ask.
A nurse came in that first night, after your father had gone home. She said, “You should get some rest, we’ll take your daughter.” And I was confused, so I believed her, and she wheeled you away. I didn’t sleep very well, but I tried my best. In the morning I went into the room where they kept the babies all lined up in a row, and you were crying but nobody was looking after you.
Something horrible reared up in my gut.
I should have been looking after you. I was your mother, and you were less than twenty-four hours old and I had already failed you. I swallowed those tears, like I swallowed all the ones that followed when it came to you.
When we took you home, your tiny, limp body, under-grown and buckled in the car seat, it felt like an adventure. We spent lots of time with you and a camera. I was fascinated by the way you yawned, your lips stretching as far as they went, yet your open mouth was so small. You slept a lot, and we watched a lot of movies in those first few weeks, the three of us.
And then your father went back to work and I slowly began to hate you, although I never let that word enter my conscious mind.
I gave you everything I had and still you wanted more from me. I wanted my old life back. I wanted to be able to leave the house without an hour of preparation, two changes of clothes, and ten grenades of fear that you would start screaming in public and I wouldn’t know what to do.
I didn’t know what you wanted. Why wouldn’t you stop crying? What was I doing wrong? Why was I, your mother, completely unable to calm you? I felt faulty and rejected when you turned my breast away in tears. Why couldn’t you sleep? Why couldn’t you just leave me alone? Wasn’t I entitled to just one single moment of peace? At least people in prison had the chance to sleep at night and to do even just one thing they wanted in the day time.
Every moment of my life seemed populated with things I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to change your clothes. I didn’t want to clean up your poop. I didn’t want to get up to feed you in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to prepare your food. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to stay at home.
And yet, on some level, I obviously did, because I did all those things and more besides. I wanted to spend all day watching TV and eating ice cream but you wouldn’t let me. I wanted to be away from you but I wouldn’t let me and I blamed it on you. I walked around in a desperate, lonely haze for two years, waking up only occasionally to rage at your father for choosing to go out for drinks rather than help me with you. I cannot even express how lonely I felt. At least, if you weren’t there, I could go out and see people. But I was chained to you and it was suffocating. The disconnection from myself felt like dying.
You got older, and I wanted you to leave me alone. I never said those words, but you knew from the way I kept turning away. I knew from the way I couldn’t quite understand how or why anyone truly enjoyed your company.
I kept telling myself that when I had more space to myself, I would be able to love you properly. When you started school or when I had a full-time job. I was overworked, I told myself. I needed to relax.
When your father and I separated, I stopped working and I learned to relax. But only when you weren’t around. When you were around, I became tense and uneasy again. It reminded me of the disconnection from myself that I felt when you were small and I didn’t want to go there again. It was too painful. I still wanted you to leave me alone. I was so afraid of you and the only way I knew to survive was to leave, but I couldn’t leave, so I was stuck.
When I told people about my concerns, they told me that I was a good mother, and that it was obvious that I loved you. I didn’t understand, but I did my best to believe them. I love you, I love you, I love you, I said to myself over and over and over again, to the exclusion of everything else. I love you, I love you, I love you, for years. I refused to let anything else enter.
I tried so hard to love you, but my heart only began to truly open up to you after I admitted to myself that I hated you.
I hated you for making me so lonely. I hated you for trapping me. I hated you for demanding more and more and more from me so that I had nothing left for myself. I hated you because you wouldn’t leave me alone. I hated you for ruining my life. I hated you for seeming to want me dead.
It felt like I was fighting for my life.
I cried and cried and cried old tears and I pushed you away in my mind.
When I closed my eyes I saw myself hiding under the kitchen sink, terrified of the baby on a rampage outside. I would surely be killed, I thought, and I held onto my knees, hoping my heart beats, which were so loud and fast in my ears, wouldn’t attract attention.
And the cupboard doors opened and you were there, my darling. There was no monster. It was you. My innocent little girl.
“Mummy, why are you hiding?” you said.
“Because I’m scared,” I replied.
“What are you scared of?” Your brow furrowed.
“You,” I said.
“Why are you scared of me?” you asked. And you looked so obviously childlike and innocent and sweet that I burst into tears.
I hugged you so tightly.
“Why are you crying?” you asked.
I pulled back. “Because I thought you were scary.”
“I could be scary,” you said, and made a face.
“I’m going to go play now,” you said, and you left me alone there under the kitchen sink.
Dearest Ellie, before you were born I had defences lined up like armed forces around my heart. I thought you were to blame for the extreme tension there, but you were just pointing to the parts of myself I needed to heal. You were a consistent teacher and, in my bumbling, mistake-filled way, I eventually learned the lesson that brought us sanctuary: We are on the same side.
I’m so sorry for the pain of feeling pushed away, if it still hurts you. You deserve all the happiness in the world. But I’m not sorry that it happened, because it brought me back to you, which brought me back to me.
Thank you for teaching me to really play. Thank you for the blessing of your small, warm hand in mine. Thank you for inspiring me every time you wholeheartedly give away something you value. Thank you for the leaf you picked up for me on your walk. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your limitless concept of time, which helps me forget it exists, too. Thank you for your made-up songs. Thank you for your giggles.
Thank you for being so honest about what you want. Thank you for thinking you deserve to have the whole world in your hand, because it makes me think, just for a moment, that maybe I do, too. Thank you for saying ‘no’ to me. Thank you for your smiling face, and your teary one. Thank you for your spontaneous hugs. Thank you for letting me hold you. Thank you for your glowing company.
It’s been a long, painful struggle, and it has felt like a fight for my life. Now I will spend the rest of my life fighting for you.
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You get it, right? If it was painful for you to read this, hugs for the hard. Both Hayley and I would love to know what this post stirred in you, so please share in the comments. So don’t forget to take a look at her book. Also, on her website, she’s been doing something I’ve been meaning to do here, but can’t quite bring myself to get over my fear of it, and that is experiment with not quite perfect but wholehearted vlogging (worst word ever!). I just love her videos. Especially the one on her book page.