This is a guest post by someone I very much admire. It takes a lot of strength to leave an abusive relationship and move into a women’s refuge and even more when you have a tiny baby and a young child to look after.
This is not a place of embarrassment or humiliation – it is a place of bravery and pride, of finding strength and leaving to make a better life, a safe life. That takes courage.
Fourth Trimester In A Women’s Refuge
I have never been in a relationship that wasn’t abusive. Two that have involved children.
The first time, I came home early and saw what couldn’t be unseen – then arguing in the lane, he’s sat in the pushchair…
I grab my sunshine boy, two years old, and put him in his carseat. Two weeks before this, in his childhood innocence, asking aloud why his mother was being shouted at. Driving, driving. Can’t go home. I end up at my grandmother’s house drinking sugary tea and crying my heart out.
The second day, I go to work. I come back to my mother’s to find him ill with shock, he’s thrown up all over himself. “My twowsers…” upset he’s wet his pyjamas with vomit. How to be a mother when your heart is breaking.
It breaks twice, you see. Once for you and once for them.
When all he’s ever known is home. Sleeping with your baby boy in your childhood bed. Barrage of messages to your phone, began sweet and now turn scary.
Pale and wan, now with energy to just focus on this little one. It was always you two anyway. Packing up the house in two hour slots, you cannot leave him longer.
On my back as we go up in the lift to file the papers. Hiding under the desk as we try to find a home. We stay local, the park and softplay, but it’s embarrassing. They all see me and they know.
Then – too soon, too soon, I know it’s too soon, but he’s so convincing. So charming, so perfect. Fast forward 18 months and I’ve locked myself in the bathroom having a panic attack in the shower. I am not even afforded privacy as he breaks the lock, the last of my boundaries decimated. I want to stay, to find a place.
The baby. The last time the baby will sleep with both her parents. How to be a mother when your heart is breaking.
It breaks twice, you see. Once for you and once for them.
She only made it to eight weeks of age unbroken. And now I am scared. I pack frantically.
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We go early from school and drive, we hide. We come to refuge. They gave him lego to build and I was hungry and the baby wailed.
“I’m coming home where are you where are you where are you please don’t leave me I love you this isn’t about you you’ve brought this shame on yourself when can I see my daughter you are keeping me from my daughter.”
……………… then silence.
I make pasta, go shopping. Feel angry, then not. Feel tired, feel hot. The first few days my heart beats a paranoid tattoo when we go out, my voice desperate and shrill, to keep my babies close to me. Feeling the weight of a thousand eyes searching for me.
There are women here from all backgrounds, with and without children.
Domestic abuse doesn’t discriminate – you can be the most educated, right-on, feminist, pro-woman woman and still become a victim. You can think you know all there is to know about unhealthy relationships and still get sucked in. Like a frog in a slowly boiling pan of water you often don’t realise until it’s too late – I jumped out just in time.
Domestic abuse isn’t just being hit. It can be insidious control that slowly dominates every part of your life, it can be subtle manipulation and coercion into things your soul tells you is wrong. It can be somebody seeking to separate you from those you hold dear, your own children.
Sadly, you can love somebody and yet come to accept they are incapable of reciprocating, incapable of treating you as an independent human being. If they won’t put you first, you have to put yourself first by removing yourself from them.
The fourth trimester is the period after pregnancy where baby is adjusting to life outside the womb and the mother is adjusting to being… a mother. As birth workers we encourage new mums to take it easy and practise self-care, minimising the amount of work and activities they have to do, instead emphasising just feeding, cuddling and bonding with the baby.
In other cultures women of the family come and help with cooking and chores and ‘mother the mother’ after the birth, but in our culture new mums are just left to get on with it unless they have family nearby or hire a postpartum doula.
Everybody laughs when I say I have loved it here in the refuge but I really have.
Being around women who chat to you, who care, keep communal spaces clean and tidy. I have even had my washing brought to me dried and folded, by different women. I have my own space. I have my own food cupboard which was more than I had at “home”.
If you have a life, birth or other story you will like to share, please contact me HERE.
When I came here I had the biggest brain fog and could barely communicate. I felt like a goldfish in a bowl with water in my ears. Now I am one of the chatty ones.
The memories that have been made here already – the children playing with the tunnels in the lounge, the calls to the police like signals being sent out from an island, the time we had to rescue Brian the rabbit from the cruel landlord who put up an eviction notice and a padlock. When my son got his big toe hurt by the door and the nail fell half off.
The amazingly kind and inspirational health visitor who was thrilled to see breastfeeding, who really “saw” me, and told me I’d never end up here again. The best part – everybody here loves the children and talks to them like they are the brightest, most beautiful creatures in the world, as indeed they are.
So I am one of those – do as I say not as I do, spending my fourth trimester in a women’s refuge. The baby cwtches up and feeds in her sling as I carry my son’s bathroom things up and down the stairs every day, as we load the washer and dryer in the communal washroom. As I cook pasta (again) and cover it with nutritional yeast to assuage my guilt. At night I tuck her in next to me in the squeaky single bed and she latches on sporadically, unconsciously.
It’s actually been the perfect place for a fourth trimester mother. How?
No visitors. No men. The only people who are allowed in are the police and medical professionals. So I can stay inside cosy and safe and don’t worry about entertaining.
There are a million posh self-care products in big baskets around from generous donations and many clean bathrooms.
It’s quiet and private. There are three layers of security to get in.
Everybody here is so, so supportive of breastfeeding and constantly admire how content the baby is when she’s permanently attached to my boob!
The housework gets done. All I have to do is wash my dishes and not make a mess.
The tumble dryer! I’ve never had one before and I love it.
There’s enough space, toys and activities for my son here that I don’t really have to leave.
The hard parts have been mainly to do with my son and food. We are totally out of routine and everything takes twice as long, it has been hard to stick to boundaries and rules with other children around. The hardest part for me has been people cooking massive things of meat in the communal kitchen.
The windows don’t open and the smell permeates everything. I’m just holding onto the thought of a lovely contaminant-free kitchen in my future with all my stores and spices and delicious home-cooked meals. The other hard parts are that the heating is constantly on and the smokers in the garden mean that the smell comes through my open window sometimes. No wi-fi is the worst as I can’t work.
So the baby is now three months and my fourth trimester is coming to an end. She is reaching for toys, chewing on everything and holding herself perfectly upright. I don’t know how long we’ll be here but I expect we’ll get moved on soon, it is the last place I expected to spend these early days with my newborn but ultimately it happened to be what we needed.
If you have been affected by domestic or sexual violence there are many organisations that can help. Womens Aid, New Pathways (a sexual assault referral centre in South Wales), The National Domestic Violence Helpline, Safer Wales (for all genders), Refuge and more.
Domestic violence can affect everyone, men and women and seeking help is not shameful, it is brave, staying is not weakness, it is a symptom of the abuse you are suffering.
If you feel it would help to be put in contact with someone who has been in this situation please let me know and I can put you in touch with someone.
My love and light goes out to all living in an abusive relationship and those who have got out, escaped and are surviving or thriving.
Samantha Gadsden walks with women on their life’s journeys. She is an experienced Doula, based close to Cardiff in South Wales, mother to 4 children and wife to Eddie, more information can be found on her facebook page, Samantha Gadsden Doula and her website, Caerphilly Doula. SOS Doula, Telephone and online support is always available.
If you are interested in writing a guest blog or sharing a life or birth story please feel free to contact her HERE.
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