A Fictional Story

A Fictional Story For A College Project: 

 

A young woman is happily married and has just had her first child.

She had a list. A list of duties that she could read and follow and tick off as she completed them throughout the course of the day. A list that would provide she did not forget anything. A list to guide her in being a mother. Firstly, after the toil of dragging herself out of bed, she would complete the obvious; feed, wash, dress. This was followed by a kiss on the forehead as she had read online that it was important for a baby to experience affection early on in life. She also knew from watching on television that this was how she was supposed to act, so she assumed the position of actress performing the role of a mother deeply in love with her newborn child. That role did not include crying uncontrollably as she waved a sunny yellow rattle to her baby’s delight. It did not include manically examining every part of her child in fear that she had failed him and he had contracted a rash, a cough, a fever. It did not include quitting her running club and failing to eat despite her husband doing everything he could to persuade her. Ironically, her friends and acquaintances had noticed her weight loss. They had complimented her on losing the baby weight so quickly. Unfortunately, the only physical manifestation of the disease eating her up inside was one that was in fact acceptable for her newfound role. Nobody saw inside. Nobody understood the deep despair and hopelessness that was devouring her soul. The feeling that you have lost who you were forever and that you will never find connection with this tiny being who deserves so much more than what you can offer. Somewhere down past all of the tasks considered important was sleep. That was one that she was yet to tick off. For some reason, despite her utter exhaustion, she could not will her eyes to close or her mind to hush. She could soothe the baby into a slumber in a matter of moments, a slumber she longed to share. Yet when the sun set, and the dusky night began to creep across the sky, she lay in her bed free from the list, abandoned to her thoughts and the darkness from outside crept through her body.

After weeks of arguments, her husband finally made her agree to see their local doctor. They had just left their third storey apartment in the city centre for a leafy child-friendly suburb and so were not familiar with the local doctor. Nonetheless, she kept her promise and made an appointment. Sitting nervously in the practice waiting room she felt embarrassed that she was wasting valuable time. The old lady who had come in after her coughing and wheezing was surely more deserving of the doctors time than she was. When her name was called she gingerly entered the room. The GP was slightly overweight and immaculately dressed. He looked bored. She told him that she had been feeling tired, that she had been struggling to sleep and had lost her appetite. The doctor concluded that perhaps she was anaemic. It is relatively common during pregnancy, he explained. He listened to her heart and lungs and took a blood test. He reminded her the importance of getting a good nights sleep and proper meals when looking after a newborn. He laughed incredulously that one could not possibly look after a child properly if they could not look after themselves. She felt embarrassed that she had wasted his time and blurted out that she had been having migraines also. He looked surprised and then scribbled down a prescription for pain killers before advising her to tell him the ‘real’ problem first the next time, so as not to waste time on trivial complaints such as sleep. She thanked him hurriedly and rushed out of the practice, hands shaking opened the door of the car. The baby’s car seat stared accusingly at her from the back seat and she burst into tears. She rummaged through her handbag for a tissue and the prescription fell into her hands. The doctor’s jagged, illegible handwriting seemed to move on the page taunting her existence. A mother walked by the car with a buggy and two little girls clutching the sides of it. Their carefree chattering hurt her ears. She turned back to the prescription.

The emergency department had reached a new record. The junior doctor on call looked around in disbelief and made a silent bet with herself that there would be a headline about this in the news the next day. Everywhere she looked there were patients on trolleys, angry relatives pacing up and down, frantic colleagues, nurses and healthcare assistants rushing aimlessly around trying to gain some sort of control on the mayhem. She grabbed the urgent list and read the details of the next patient. A young woman, 32 years old, presenting with a suspected suicide attempt. A wave of apprehension swept over the young doctor. She was not experienced enough to deal with this. She desperately scanned the room before concluding that she had no other choice. After taking a deep breath, she entered the room. A disheveled man was pacing the room. He clearly could not keep still. In the bed lay her patient. The patient lay motionless, in perfect contrast to her agitated husband. The doctor had to move closer to see that she was in fact awake, staring blankly into a space in front of her. The man was stroking his wife’s hand, gently reassuring her that the doctor had arrived. He looked exhausted and terrified but relieved that finally the pressure of what had been going on might be taken from him into somebody else’s hands. The junior doctor pulled up a chair beside the bed and asked the husband to take a seat. The husband collapsed onto the chair next to her and explained that he had come home early from work to find his wife writing a letter to himself and their child with three packets of pills beside her. He had instantly grabbed the drugs and called an ambulance and then held his sobbing wife in his arms until the help arrived. He started to cry, blaming himself for what had happened. 

The mother lay in the bed too exhausted and drained to even think about what was going on. She knew she should be worried about the baby and who was minding him but she couldn’t muster up the energy to care. She knew that she had done something terrible but she couldn’t quite understand why everyone was so upset about it. She had done what she felt was best for everyone around her. Yet she felt the same relentless guilt as always. Only one thing had changed. She seemed to see that same guilt reflecting back at her through the eyes of her husband propelling her even further into her darkness that now she had failed as both mother and wife. She noticed that a young doctor had arrived and her husband was crying. She had only seen him cry three times in the duration of their ten year relationship. Perhaps she had finally fallen asleep and none of this was happening. Perhaps her body was punishing her for the enduring lack of sleep with this terrible, terrible nightmare. Her husband was holding her hand. It felt nice. She had refused to let him near her for so long she had forgotten how much she liked it.

The doctor had a peaceful way about her and spoke quietly. She worked methodically through a list of questions - protocol, presumably - waiting patiently while the patient struggled to answer. She seemed to understand how difficult it was to talk about feelings that had been buried for so long. She asked about sleep patterns, appetite and weight loss. She questioned about family history and whether anything similar had ever happened before. She nodded sympathetically as her patient wept that she had no reason to feel such a way. The distant sirens of ambulances, the moans and cries from the other patients, and the urgent calls from the nurses and doctors faded away into the background and for the first time the young mother opened up about her past five months of hell. The shame she thought would overcome her upon admitting her difficulties did not arrive and instead she felt calmer than she had in a long time. The young doctor didn’t prescribe her any medications, or advise specific therapies. Instead she listened. Finally, before leaving she explained clearly and gently that she would be referring her to a psychiatrist and that it was important for both of them to understand the seriousness of her illness. But that like any other illness, it could be overcome and she could return to her previous self. It was strangely comforting to hear. She felt a glimmer of hope and as her husband clutched her hand tighter beside her she understood he felt the same. It was ironic that in such a chaotic environment, she could finally find some peace.

From that moment onwards she was propelled into a whirlwind of motion. Her husband took leave from work and her mother moved across the country to stay with them and help mind the baby. She was checked into a bright room on the second floor of a big grey building overlooking a green expanse of field. She didn’t see the young doctor from the emergency department again but instead encountered a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, therapists, and social workers all striving to help her recover. All responsibilities were taken away and her sole task was to focus on her treatment. She attended daily sessions with her psychiatrist, and partook in group therapy. Ironically, she has been prescribed the same drugs that local doctor prescribed her. Through a paradox of science those pills that had nearly killed her were now pulling her back to life. 

Finally, she returned home to a house her family and friends had repainted in bright colours and scrubbed to perfection. She had a new list now. It was her psychiatrist’s idea. Every morning she would write down one single goal for the day. At night she would reflect on the positive things that had happened. As the weeks went on her list would grow longer each day. She gradually began running again, her appetite started to return, and she would spend some time on the phone to a friend. Gradually she began to discover a desire to hold her baby and feel his warm body curl into hers. He had grown bigger now and felt less fragile. Her old list that had centred around keeping him nurtured was replaced with a new list that rejoiced his daily triumphs. The darkness began to fade and she was starting to see light flooding in around her. She began to play with her baby for pleasure and no longer needed to remind herself of what had to be done.

It is late summer and she is with her husband in their bright front room. Her son is nestled into her arms worn out and dreaming intently about the seagulls he spent the day chasing on the beach. Her husband is sitting beside them, his excited whisper occasionally breaking as he discussed the new promotion he had received earlier that day in work. He is beaming with joy. The window is open and she can smell barbecue and suncream in the warm summer breeze. She closes her eyes, pulls her baby closer to her and is overcome with happiness.

Doug Leddin