by Andreea Mohora
I am originally from Romania. I came to Canada in 2003 to do my Masters degree. Less than year later, I met a man who I thought was going to be my life partner. He was everything I dreamt of when I was younger. Being so new to Canada, he helped me so much with everything. Shortly after I met him, I had to move to a different province. He kept helping me even then. I felt I owed him so much. Unfortunately for me, I was blinded by the fact that I needed someone to be my husband so bad, that I did not see everything.
Little by little things started to change. I started noticing little things, which later turned into big things. However, even then I was determined to make the relationship work. My instincts were never good from the beginning, so I ignored anything that seemed abnormal. All I knew from back home was that I needed to lower my expectations, that I needed to do what the man tells you to do, that I needed to not care about how I felt. It did not matter that I felt trapped when I was with him, that we fought about many things, big or small. All I had to do was to please him whenever he needed me, or as a “make up” after a fight. Against all the red flags, I persuaded him to leave his province and move with me. I was still thinking that he was the right person for me.
Shortly after the move, the relationship started to get very tense, at times with physical episodes between the two of us. After one of these episodes, I ended up with a concussion. My supervisor at the university, a medical doctor, recognized the symptoms of the concussion and after finding out how I got it, she sent me straight to the counselling services. The counsellor started working with me, but she also sent me to get help from the Sexual Assault Center. Between the 2 services, I started to learn about abusive relationships and sexual assaults. However, what shocked me the most was that they started to uncover the multiple traumas and abuses that I have been subjected to as a child. Not knowing any different, I continued to accept and allow the Canadian partner to do the same.
It took me 2 years and lots of tries to finally move out. Though the contact with that person continued and he was still able to control me for some years after that. Counselling allowed me to realize that the “crazy” symptoms and reactions that I kept having were just “normal” symptoms of post traumatic disorder. One of these symptoms was that I could not be close or intimate with another partner. Seeing how time flies by, I decided to have a family, on my own. So I used a donor and insemination to get pregnant. I now have a set of twins (boy and girl). However, during pregnancy, the PTSD symptoms got worse, to the point that I had to work with a counsellor prior to giving birth, because I did not think I could breastfeed my children. After I had them, I had a very difficult time. Due to financial restraints, I had to work up until 2 days before I delivered, and I went back to work 9 days after delivery. I knew nothing about raising kids, so I had to learn very, very fast. I brought my mom from Romania to help me out when I was at work. However, that did not allow me to connect and attach to my babies. I learned many things from her, and she helped me tremendously, but at the same her beliefs and traditions kept me from attaching to my children. When my babies were just over 1 year old, she had to go back to Romania. The moment she went on the plane, I could not hold it together any longer and everything crumbled under me.
For a few months I barely kept it together. I had no one I could tell how I felt and if I said anything, I was seen as an unfit mom. The nurses at the public centers kept questioning me about my choice of having the children on my own, or about the timing of my choice. I also kept telling people that I don’t feel any difference between the children I worked with in the orphanages in Romania and my kids. I cared for all of them the same way, I fed them, I changed them, etc. I liked my children, but there was nothing more. I had colleagues in Romania telling me how they were invaded with these feelings towards their newborns that they could not explain. I had none of that. Before my mom left for Romania, I was very scared to be on my own with the babies. She also contributed to that fear, always telling me that I would not be able to take care of them on my own. After she left I was terrified to be alone with them. Everyone outside saw me as this super mom. Yet, I felt I was a wreck. And I was.
During that time I would drop off my kids to daycare and then, for hours, I would drive around the city, I would walk through stores, just to not be home by myself. I could not think clearly, I could not focus, I could not work on school or anything else. I would be driving towards a red light and would think: “What if I do not stop? What if I go right through and get hit by another car?” In the middle of the night, when I would finally be able to take a shower, I would think I should fill up the bath tub with water and stay under, not come up. I never intentionally went driving to kill myself, or went swimming to drown, but the thoughts would come as I did things. I felt it was safer for my kids to be in daycare than with me. I did not hurt my kids physically, but I am sure I hurt them emotionally. Because I would get so mad about a little spill, or about broken toys, I would remove myself so I did not hurt them. I would close the door to the bedroom, just so I had some time for myself. But that made things worse for them. They would scream and cry at the door, needing me even more. They probably felt that insecurity from me, so they would cry at the daycare when I dropped them off.
To the outside world I looked normal, I looked like I had no problems. I was very good at putting on a mask, something I had learned when I was a kid. My kids were fed, dressed, clean, well taken care of, so who would think that I was struggling so much to just live day by day? I felt like an impostor!
Besides the depression, I also had this huge anxiety of losing my children. Part of it was due to PTSD, part was probably just the postpartum fears. I kept having these dreams that terrorists would chase us, would want to shoot us, would want to take my babies. I kept dreaming that I had to jump off the balcony with one baby, but could not take the other one with me. I felt like I had to choose between the two, which one was I going to save and which one to sacrifice? I kept falling asleep every night holding both of them to my sides, so that I had them close to me if I was to evacuate fast during the night. This anxiety was also fuelled by different medical professionals. I felt that the more I told them how I felt, the more likely it was for them to call child services and take my kids away. If I said anything to the nurses, they would be suspicious of my potential to care for my children. If I mentioned to a dietician that I was not eating much, rather than helping she sent a letter to the doctor saying how I was not taking care of my eating. Yet, she told me there was not much she could help me with, as eating disorder was not something she knew how to deal with.
Things got a little better with time, and I was not as depressed, but the detachment from my children continued until they were 2.5 years old. We went back to Romania to visit that summer and things got very heated there because of my abusive dad. So I took the kids and went somewhere else. My mom kept telling me that I would not be able to take care of my kids while away. Yet, another friend there assured me of the opposite. We went to a sea resort with an old friend of mine and she showed me a different way to be a parent: much more relaxed, less strict, less abusive. It was completely different than how my parents were with me and what they showed me. When we came back to Canada that fall, I started to connect more with my children. I was finally feeling something more for them. It took me months after that to feel connected to them, to feel attached, to feel they were different than the orphans I worked with. They were probably 3 years old when I could really say they were my children. It also took them another good year to feel less insecure and not to cling on to me as much.
My twins will be 4.5 in a few months, and I love them very much. Do I still struggle? YES. In fact, I just got over another episode of depression. My PTSD is very complex. It was explained to me that it not just one event that I need to get over. It is a lifetime of traumas and abuses. All these affect how I interact with my children, how I feel and react about certain things, about relationships, etc. But now, I am more confident that I can live and take care of my children and not let them experience what I have been through.
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” (Soren Kierkegaard)