Fear of minestrone: when the unspoken weighs heavy on a new mum

Unlock the box
Release the chains
Unleash this faceless beast

Too heavy it is
To drag further
Now fat from midnight feast

On the tatters of my weary soul
By anguished cries

Let go your grasp
Leave me in peace
Share wisdom
But then be gone

And you will be free
To vanish
And I will free
To move on.

I wrote this, unsurprisingly, in the middle of the night, when I was lying in bed in a wide-eyed panic, unable to sleep, even move, frozen with fear. It’s hard to know the precise cause of it, this fear. It’s an intricate web that I have tried to untangle many many times. If I can find the root, I can tackle the cause, I convince myself. But I can’t find it. Because it’s not that simple. It’s fear upon fear upon fear.

The anxiety attacks started almost six months after my baby was born. A strange time for them to start, which made it hard to pin point what it was, or why. To my panicked brain, it felt like carbon monoxide poisoning, my lungs unable to get enough breath, a sharp tingling through my fingers, toes, even arms and legs. One night, I moved us out of an idyllic off-the-grid hut in the middle of the night in fear of my whole family’s life, so convinced I was of this poisoning. Except the toxic was actually coming from within.

It turned out that what was squeezing the breath from my body, was fear. A messy minestrone of post-traumatic fear – for my baby, because of our birth, and also for myself, because of the rapes that forced themselves to the forefront of my mind in the birthing room. These two are the meat and vegetables that have seeped their juices out to become a rich sauce of mistrust for all people and things.

What I do know from trying to pick individual bits out of soup is that you can’t. And that makes them quite hard to cross examine, bit by bit. So I am slowly learning to accept that it’s impossible to know where it all starts and ends – birth, flashbacks of rape, parenthood, massive responsibility, sleepless nights – for me it all happened at the same time, it’s all part of this soup. All I know is that the result was anxiety attacks and that I can’t critically analyse or logic my way out of it, which is my default. Because all the reading and explaining away and double locking and triple checking in the world doesn’t rid you of demons that lie within you. The only thing that will get me out of this is releasing the beasts themselves – talking about difficult things that were never my burdens to carry, although I felt them to be. Because society doesn’t want to take on difficult subjects like birth trauma and rape, I carried them quietly, heavily, inside.

And so this poem speaks to that – the realisation that when your body’s alarm bells scream in the night, it is because your inner voice can no longer take being silenced. Your body screams because it has lessons to teach you. Because it is exhausted and can’t carry the heavy burden of misplaced responsibility and at the same time juggle the multiple demands of motherhood. Because it needs to grieve, and be angry. And because it needs to be heard. And if it isn’t heard, these demons will eat up your soul until there is nothing left of you.

The more that we can openly talk about difficult subjects like birth trauma, rape and mental health challenges, the more normal they become. The more normal they become, the easier it is for vulnerable people to feel like they do not have to carry these things inside to make life easier for everyone else. Easy is not real. And real is not easy. But it is necessary, and healthy, and will make the world an infinitely better place.

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