The sideboard in the hallway has three drawers. They’re the type of drawers you stuff junk into when people come round. Now and then I look through them and find things I’ve not seen for ages, my shiny red coasters, decks of playing cards, Grandma’s tea cosy, remote controls we no longer need.
Recently, I’ve trawled those three drawers for baby photos of my youngest son. He’s been asking where the photos of him are.
I tell Stephen King Junior it’s because Mummy was so busy with three little boys, and it’s because we didn’t have much of a camera, that back then the iPhone was just a glorious dream. Still, three drawers of junk and no baby photos of my youngest son. That’s sobering.
It’s because I had PND. I was depressed. I was surviving. I was trying to get on. It was because I didn’t like him and there’s no way I can tell him that.
Post Natal Depression took my son from me. It made him, his difference from his brothers, his place in the family, how beautiful he was, his babyhood, disappear. I couldn’t see him.
I was diagnosed when he was four months, I took anti depressants for a year, I came off them and was no longer depressed but the destruction had been done.
I didn’t know my son. I didn’t want to know. What I knew of him was fear and I clung to it; good, old, reliable dread.
It’s not that I didn’t look after him. I dressed him, fed him, bathed him, held him. We did all the mummy-and-son things, walks, pre-school, blocks, train track, sandcastles, playgroup. But most of it was carried out in silence.
It hurts like hell to not love your child like you love your others. Love doesn’t come naturally after all. I did battle with my youngest knowing I had it all wrong and no idea how you make it right.
He must have been about three when the epiphany came. I don’t know what brought it, a sunny day, a sticky hand, a stickman painting, big head, little arms. Doesn’t matter. Suddenly I knew my silence was damaging and I had to change it. If Stephen King Junior didn’t already know I had a problem with him it wouldn’t be long. He was smart.
You have to talk to this kid, I told myself. You have to say the loving things you say to his brothers to him. He has to hear that stuff. And like positive reinforcement, a mantra, if you say it, say you love him, it will come. If you speak it, you will feel it. Do a hopeful, fingers-crossed fake it ‘til you make it thing and see what happens.
So I built us one loving affirmation at a time.
Mummy loves you.
You’re a great kid.
Gee, you did that well.
I love you, matey.
It felt weird at the start. Counterfeit. But I kept it up and it worked. Over walking up our stairs hand in hand, over a lunch of baked beans sitting side by side at the kitchen bench, I love you. Over snap shots of my littlest bloke licking the bowl, hanging out at the Zoo, and sitting on the floor drawing pictures of dinosaurs, I took hundreds of photos and said I love you.
When you’re used to being scared of something, someone, it’s hard to trust positive feelings when they come.
Loving my little boy snuck up on me. I didn’t know how truly, madly, seriously deeply I loved him until I sent him off to school. That day, that week, I cried in the car, in the shower, at the clothesline, in the supermarket in front of the baked beans. And I’d never been so happy to cry.
There are almost no photos of my youngest as a baby, that’s true. But there are plenty of photos of him at the Zoo, in the sandpit, drawing pictures, turning from three years old to four, and always with a big smile.
loving and loved, Stephen King Junior