4 Reasons to be Thankful this Christmas

Apologies for my silence on here, I haven’t quite had the headspace for writing the last few months.

Every time I’ve felt like putting pen to paper, sadness and anger flooded the page. It made me feel gross, like I was spreading negativity by sharing my dark thoughts.

So I’ve been trying to figure out my new normal, establish a routine post estrangement from my birth family. I’ve been trying to heal.

I attended a fantastic workshop over Zoom last weekend, led by the charity ‘Stand Alone’. Please look them up if you’re struggling with estrangement from family members.

It did me the world of good meeting others in a similar situation. Suddenly, I am not alone. The people I met are good people. Kind, empathic, intelligent, compassionate. I realized I am in good company.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I’ve also been pin-balled from one clinician to another while they try and work out what’s caused my blood clotting disorder. If there was one positive to breast cancer it’s that it cured me of my phobia of needles. Which is good, because I’ve been stabbed and pricked more times than I can count the last few months.

But I don’t want to talk about that today either.

I’ve been participating in weekly trauma therapy with an NHS psychologist. He’s a really nice man. Easy to talk to. A good listener.

I’ve only seen his eyes because the rest of his face is hidden by his mask, but his eyes are kind. Sometimes it seems they are filled with tears and I think ‘blimey is my life really that bad to make a grown man cry?’ Maybe he just has allergies. Who knows.

What I do know is that it hurts less with each new day. Talking about it strengthens my resolve. It makes it easier to embrace my freedom and throw my energy into my own family, the family I’ve built with my husband.

And that is what I want to talk about today.

Because despite all the horrible horribleness that I’ve lived through, I would do it all again in a heartbeat as long as my husband and I could raise our beautiful boys together.

Children are a gift, a true blessing. They are not possessions. They are not our servants. They are not spirits to be broken or tamed. They are not robots to be controlled, nor animals to be caged. They are not sent to achieve the things we failed at. They cannot hold together broken relationships or save broken souls.

Why didn’t anyone tell my parents this??

My Auntie shared a poem with me, many years ago, about how children are yours on loan and that a mother’s job is to nurture their independence and set them free. At the time it made me cry, I felt so terribly sad imagining my children of the future, if they ever came into existence, and the fact I would have to let them go.

In fact I put off having children for many years because I was afraid I would be a terrible mum. I was afraid I’d be like my parents. I convinced myself that my life was better without little people in it.

By the time I married my second husband and realised I did want children, I was in my mid 30’s with the nagging tick of my biological clock playing in the background like my personal backing track.

I got lucky because it turns out I could fall pregnant really quickly. The first time we tried, we were pregnant within a few weeks. Naively, I thought getting pregnant was the hard part. No one tells you that staying pregnant is the real journey.

To find out at our 12 week scan that our baby wasn’t developing properly, was the most shocking and painful thing I think I’ve ever experienced.

Our first son Pablo, had a rare lethal chromosome disorder, Triploidy. He had three of every chromosome, a destructive cocktail of genetic information. Triploid pregnancies usually end in early miscarriage, but Pablo was stubborn like his Mumma.

He stayed around long enough for me to collect his scan photos, hear his racing heartbeat. Long enough for me to fall forever in love with the promise of him.

But he did far more than that. You see when he was born sleeping at 14 weeks and we brought his tiny body home and began to plan his funeral, he brought Father George into our lives. At that time, Father George was the priest at St Nicholas Church in Saltdean.

We are not church goers. We didn’t even marry in a church. We got married in India followed by a civil service at our local Town Hall. But I read the Bible as a child and I had a deep longing to believe in a Godly creator who would welcome us to Heaven when we die.

So Father George came to our home and we cried and laughed as we shared our hopes and dreams for Pablo. He answered my clumsy questions about spirits and the afterlife with kindness and dignity and he made me feel safe and at peace that our son was in a better place.

He conducted a beautiful service at Pablo’s funeral, just my husband and I in attendance. He gave me faith in human kindness, he made it ok to mourn our first child who we’d barely known.

We don’t go to church now, life is so busy. And I’ve never felt comfortable with the violence and judgement represented in the Bible. But I believe in ‘God’ whoever that is. And I believe Pablo is a guardian Angel to his little brothers. He’s certainly got us through some tough times.

A friend invented a game recently ‘Opinion or Fact’…and I can’t say that my faith is based on facts or proof. It’s based on my opinions. It’s what I choose to believe. It’s what keeps me sane (as sane as you can be with Bipolar 2 disorder).

So Pablo is my first reason to be thankful.

Our rainbow baby L, took a little longer to conceive. But still, within a few months of trying, he was burrowed in my tummy growing beautifully and (thanks to Pablo and to God) he was healthy.

This pregnancy was not without event; I was diagnosed with swine flu in the first trimester and was very ill. But L was stubborn like his big brother and that nasty virus was no match for him.

There are no words to adequately explain the love I feel for L. He is my Sun. He is a passionate, brave and beautiful boy. He has a remarkable brain, the face of an Angel and he is very, very funny. Had it not been for L’s Autism diagnosis at 6, I would never had discovered that I was neurodivergent too.

I spent several hours in the birthing pool during my long labour with L and I think it left its mark on him because he is most vibrant, most alive, when he’s in water. He is an accomplished swimmer and loves nothing more than diving into the sea, a river or a mill pond. He is fearless, impervious to the cold and his obvious joy when in water is truly infectious.

L has an encyclopedic knowledge of Transformers and a collection worthy of a museum. He spends hours making review videos, stop motion animations and skits. He dreams of being a famous YouTuber and celebrates every new subscriber like he’s won the lottery.

They call the first child you birth after a pregnancy loss, your rainbow baby. L is definitely my rainbow. He is bold and colourful and he commands attention. He can also be elusive and private, it’s not easy for him to articulate complex feelings.

L bore witness to my battle with cancer at 3.5 years old. He has also seen me broken and beaten by the estrangement from my birth family. These are not things an innocent child should have up bear witness to.

But with my trademark honesty and his remarkable resilience, we have navigated these situations together. He knows I’m a bad ass warrior. He knows I’m don’t let things beat me. And he knows I love and accept him unconditionally.

L, our rainbow is my second reason to be thankful.

When L was 3 my husband and I decided to try for another baby. We both had siblings and wanted to give L a playmate. A best friend and confidante to grow old with.

It took longer this time, and I spent a small fortune on early pregnancy tests in my desperation to find out if we’d conceived. We were blessed with a positive test in June 2014. The line was so faint I kept thinking I’d imagined it, so I repeated tests every day watching the line get darker.

According to my calculations, we were 4 weeks pregnant when I went to hospital to discover the results of a recent breast biopsy. Hand on heart, I was not afraid. I’d had a non malignant breast lump in my 20’s. I expected this one to be the same.

Those of you who’ve read my earlier blog posts will know this story, so I’ll keep it brief.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I told them I was pregnant and they advised me to have a termination so I could start chemotherapy right away. Still raw from the trauma of losing Pablo, I refused. Within a week my right breast was removed along with the lymph nodes from my right armpit.

H was stubborn like his big brothers. My surgery was no match for him! H continued to grow strong inside of me, and by 15 weeks gestation it was safe for me to start chemotherapy.

We call H our Warrior because he fought so hard to get to us. But he is also our Miracle. Had we not discovered we were pregnant at exactly that time, our chances to give L a sibling would have been destroyed.

My cancer treatment and my ongoing medication to prevent reoccurrence, means I can no longer have children. So we really are blessed that Pablo sent us H, just in the nick of time.

But the real miracle is the way the existence of H, the promise of him, kept me safe through my cancer treatment. Had I not been so focused on growing a healthy baby and delivering him safely, in all likelihood I’d have crumbled. My history of poor mental health could easily have been my undoing, conspiring with the cancer to finish me off.

But H had other ideas. Delivered early at 34 weeks he was our tiny perfection. We were all besotted with him. He was such a calm, easygoing baby. How blissful it was to carry him around in the sling, his body warm against mine.

H is something of an enigma. The shy and anxious toddler blossomed into a hilarious entertainer. He is confident and cheeky, he is very outspoken! He is emotionally very mature, he talks about his feelings easily and is very sensitive and caring to others.

He has a colourful imagination and explosive energy. He bursts into a room, leaping, shouting, kung foo kicking. He wants to be a master of parkour. He is fascinated by his body and how he can teach it to move the way he wants. He is a master of disguise with his many costumes and face paints.

H, our Miracle, is my third reason to be thankful.

Without wanting to sound dramatic, having children most definitely saved me. Literally. I have spent so much of my life wishing I was dead. I have encountered so much physical and emotional pain at the hands of my abusive parents. I have been manipulated and judged and rejected and broken down so many times. When you’re constantly told you’re a bad person, that everything is your fault, when your own siblings reject you for daring to tell the truth and expose their shameful, dysfunctional upbringing, it’s only natural that you look for a way out.

But then I met N. And somehow, he saw through my crazy, spiky exterior. He made me feel so loved and safe, he made me believe I could be a good Mumma.

And I am. It turns out, it’s the thing I’m best at. I am raising strong, resilient, kind and confident young men. And I’m smashing it.

This would not have been possible without my patient, loyal, kind and hard working husband. It’s not easy loving someone with long term mental health issues, especially when that person doesn’t love themselves. But somehow he does it. So I guess I’ve got 4 reasons to be thankful.

As for our sons, (or our sons who lived, as L likes to say) they are everything we ever hoped for.

Our sons are free spirits with their own unique personalities, interests and passions. They are encouraged and invested in to pursue the things they choose, and they care about. We have taught them that they have a voice and can make decisions.

Our sons know that grown ups makes mistakes and that the can and should apologise to their children when they mess up.

Our sons know the value of family, what it means to be a team. The four of us spend quality time together throughout the week whether that’s walks on the beach or bedtime stories, Friday night movie night or family exercise sessions.

Our sons understand about different brains and neurodiversity. They value their differences and are honest about the things they struggle with. They will NEVER be shamed or judged for being different.

Our sons know that mental health is just as important as physical health. They know they can trust us with their feelings and worries. They know they can come to us if they need help to calm down or diffuse their anger.

Our sons know there is a whole big wide world out there to explore. They love to hear stories about our travels, about our diving adventures. Our sons know they have our blessing to discover that world, and make their own adventures.

Our sons know we are proud of them. Of course academic progress is wonderful to see and they are both very bright & keen learners. But we are just as proud if not more, of their kindness to others, their imaginative creations be that a YouTube video (L) or a cardboard box fort (H).

We are proud of their crazy dance moves, their building in Minecraft, their joyous relationship with water be that swimming in a pool, the sea, a lake or river.

We are proud of their love and devotion to our cats, such gentle, caring souls. We are proud of their passion for the magic and mystery of Christmas and the fact they are still ‘true believers’.

We are proud of their ever growing independence, L with his eagerness to experience puberty and grow his YouTube channel so he can emulate his online heroes. H with his unique ‘cool dude’ sense of style and ability to immerse himself in his fantasy world where he can be Spider-Man, a Zombie, Michael Jackson or a dinosaur.

One day, our boys will want to leave home. They’ll want to travel the world. They’ll fall in love. I hope they’ll give us grandchildren to love as much as we love them.

One day we’ll have to let them go. Part of that journey is accepting they’ll have secrets they don’t want to share. Respecting their freedom and choices. Allowing them to take risks. One day, maybe, they’ll berate us for mistakes they feel we’ve made.

I’m not scared about that. We aren’t perfect. Our sons aren’t perfect. But we are held together by a mutual love and respect. Our sons feel safe with us. Our sons trust us. Our sons are proud of US.

So I have 4 reasons to be thankful this Christmas. 4 beautiful blessings. And thanks to the support of my lovely husband, I am finally learning to make peace with my past and focus on our future.

Footnote:

Just one day after writing this blog and feeling lighter and happier than I have in ages, a parcel arrived in the post for our sons.

A parcel from my mother and brother, professing their love for L & H.

They have not seen or spoken to our sons in over 6 months. They chose to sacrifice their relationship with our sons when they began their horrible campaign of threats and lies against my husband and I. A campaign they started because I dared to stand up and protect myself, to put an end to being manipulated and mistreated.

How to explain the feeling of violation, intrusion. How to rid myself of the utter disbelief that my mother can attack and slander me, poison my siblings with her lies, refuse to admit or apologize for the physical and emotional abuse she has continued to subject me to while she hides in her victim disguise.

Please don’t pity her. She is not worthy. If she ‘loved’ my sons she would not have abused me, their mother who birthed them. If she ‘loved’ my sons she would not have slandered and threatened my husband when he wouldn’t be manipulated and sucked in by her wicked charade.

My mother is a bitter woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse at the hands of my father and her own parents. She has truly suffered and I wish things had been different for her. I used to love her so much and I tried so hard to make her life better.

She could have chosen to be different to her abusers. She could have broken the cycle. She should have wanted more for her own children. But my mother is weak woman looking for a scapegoat. Someone to punish for her unhappy life.

My mother has engineered a sustained campaign to undermine and discredit me. Meanwhile, my siblings have behaved like cowards, terrified their own dysfunction will be exposed if they admit the truth about our past.

And their partners? The ‘sister in laws’ I befriended and loved? There is nothing sisterly in showing support to my face and lying behind my back for their own selfish gain. Nothing sisterly in blind ignorance because the truth makes them uncomfortable.

They are complicit. They have chosen to bury their heads. And they have to live with the consequences of their behavior. They have robbed their own children of a relationship with the cousins they adored. That is their sorry choice.

The parcel will be returned today. As will every parcel, every card that they are foolish enough to send. They chose lies over truth. Wrong over right. They are not worthy to know our children. Our children who love and trust us and who know why Mummy had no choice but to break free from her birth family for her own safety and well-being.

As their parents we have to make hard decisions to protect our boys from the narcissistic reach of my mother and siblings. It brings me no pleasure. I never, ever wanted to hurt my birth family. I never wanted my sons to lose contact with their Nanny and Uncles. I never anticipated that my siblings and grandparents would choose sides. Why was that ever necessary?

All I asked was to free myself from my mother’s grasp because she was killing me. She was KILLING me. SHE had a choice. She could have chosen to act with dignity, to accept the end of my relationship with her and to be grateful that I was prepared to let her still be involved in our sons lives.

But she chose to retaliate, to poison the family I loved and was loyal to, to spread lies and encourage that family to either attack or ignore us. They made their bed as the saying goes and now they must live with the consequences of their choices.

I still have 4 reasons to be thankful, 4 blessings.

I will not rest until my heart is free of hurt and my beautiful family who I built with my husband are beyond the reach of my toxic past.

4 reasons to be thankful. 4 blessings.

Lizzy Van Tromp

21.12.20

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