As I sat in the hospital with Youngest Daughter that morning I wondered if anything would ever be ok again.
Because she was under 18, when we got to A&E they sent us to the paediatric area. We sat there in silence, separated from the examination cubicles by an incongruously cheery picket fence, surrounded by children’s toys and books and fading pictures of teddy bears and clouds.
I didn’t know what to say, I don’t think she did either. We were in the hospital where she’d been born, just a few hundred metres from where I’d welcomed her (screaming furiously, of course) into the world. It was the first time she’d been to that hospital since she was born. It didn’t seem possible that we’d returned there because of something so utterly incomprehensible.
When I’d picked her up from school (E still had the car, so my amazing friend from work had immediately dropped everything and driven me to the school and then driven us to hospital), Youngest Daughter had immediately burst into tears and I had just stood there and hugged her whilst my friend and the teacher who had been looking after her looked on. As we drove to hospital, Youngest Daughter sat silently in the back of the car. It was so strange, I wanted to hold her tight and never ever let her go, but at the same time, I wanted to scream at her, shake her, ask her what the fucking hell she thought she’d been doing. I blamed myself. I knew I’d taken my eye off the ball, I’d been so wrapped up in how hurt I was, in how much pain I was feeling, that I hadn’t paid proper attention to her, I hadn’t seen how much pain she was in.
I didn’t know what to do, what do say, where to look, how to look. It didn’t seem real. Youngest Daughter reassured me that it was a moment of madness, that she hadn’t really intended to harm herself and that as soon as she realised what she’d done, she’d immediately spat the pills out and made herself sick. But… But… She’d still experienced that moment of desolation. She’d still been in so much pain that, even momentarily, she’d thought taking those pills was an option. Even if only for a few seconds, my baby – my feisty, funny, infuriating, dark-eyed, empathetic, artistic, sensitive girl – had considered taking her own life.
We were joined behind the picket fence by a girl of a similar age, in a school PE kit with a nasty cut to her leg. I wished it was so easy to see what was wrong with Youngest Daughter. At that point, I would have given anything for an injury we could bandage up, bathe, mend and administer painkillers for. I remembered when she’d been little and she’d fallen against a wasps’ nest and been stung multiple times, even though it had really hurt, and she had sobbed her heart out, I was able to hug her and kiss her until the pain was gone. I wished I could do that this time. I wished that a bar of chocolate as a reward for being brave would be enough to make all the hurt go away.
As we had blood samples taken to ensure her system was clear of the paracetamol, talked to the charge nurse about why we were there, spoke to the doctor about what had happened and then, eventually, spoke to the specialist mental health nurse, my brain was trying to accommodate a massive change – my child had a problem that I couldn’t help her with on my own. Not only that, but it was a problem that I was responsible for. I was the only parent there, I knew she was struggling, I should have seen.
When the charge nurse asked her why she’d done it, Youngest Daughter mentioned school, friendships, exams, and then her Dad and me breaking up. Clearly it wasn’t just finding out about E’s marriage that had caused it, this had been building for some time. I didn’t, and still don’t, blame E for this, but obviously the hurt from the break up (including how upset she’d seen me being) had contributed towards her mental state and I suspect that finding out for certain that her Dad was married was the final straw for her.
When we got home that afternoon, I texted E about what had happened and saying how selfish I thought he and P were for getting married without telling the kids. I then, almost immediately, texted again apologising for being so angry and explaining that I didn’t blame him, but that keeping his marriage secret was definitely a contributing factor to what had happened. He eventually replied asking if she was ‘physically ok’. I replied saying ‘physically, yes’, and that was it, I heard nothing more from him.
He was equally reticent in contacting Youngest Daughter. She know I’d told him what had happened and she became increasingly upset when he didn’t call or text her, about what had happened. A few days later he sent a couple of inconsequential texts re the weather and asking how school was, which I’m certain were his way of trying to open up a conversation, but to Youngest Daughter they made her feel like he was ignoring her and dismissing what had happened. If what she had done had been a cry for attention, she certainly wasn’t getting it from E.
I honestly think that he responded this way because he simply didn’t know what to do or say. I know that he loves her and wants to do the right thing, but ever since this has happened, his approach has been ‘I’ll step back and leave well alone, because I don’t want to make things worse’. Of course I understand why he feels that way, but he excluded himself from the family, not the other way round. If he wants to be her Dad, if he wants to restore his relationship with her, at some point he’ll have to make the effort.
Later that day I told the boys what had happened. Oldest Son went a little bit pale and just asked ‘why?’. I told him I thought she was struggling and that lots of things had caused it. He was concerned (so concerned in fact that he refrained from winding her up for almost a whole week), but accepting. Similarly Youngest Son quietly asked why, but didn’t question what had happened further. To both of their credit they have never mentioned it to her – even in the midst of the most ferocious arguments. Oldest Daughter, was, as ever, amazing and just offered her support to Youngest Daughter by texting, calling and just ‘being there’.
As we came out of what was possibly the worst week our lives, I looked at my children and, yet again, I was so incredibly proud of them. Even in the face of something as frightening as what had happened, they had pulled together, they had supported each other and they had supported me. I was incredibly grateful to and for them. Youngest Daughter had a way to go (she was now being referred for counselling and assessment via Children’s Mental Health Services), but, even though I was worried, I was reassured and incredibly proud of the love, support and acceptance she had from her brothers and sisters.
I’m relieved to say that, whilst everyone remained watchful and aware, things returned to a comforting normality at home pretty quickly. The following Saturday, as I heard the exasperated screechings of the third argument that day between Youngest Daughter and Youngest Son and the strangely reassuring sound of a moodily slammed bedroom door, followed by an irritated yell from Oldest Son to ‘shut the fuck up you two!’, I smiled to myself, and felt that everything would probably be ok after all.