Monday, 5 September 2011

A weighty family matter

Tonight I shall continue the story of my sister and her life - my last post finished with the birth of her son and a mention of her depression. 

In the months following the birth of my nephew, my brother was diagnosed with a second brain tumour and began further treatment, Christmas came and went, I gave birth to my first child, my brother's tumour stopped responding to treatment and shortly after the birth of his son, he lost his fight for life. My sister, sister-in-law and I used to meet up weekly with our babies. We'd have lunch, chat and try to be a comfort to each other. We were all grieving in very different ways. I don't really remember much of that time, lost in that haze of bereavement but I know there were times when we laughed and times that we cried.

During this time my sister's depression was increasing and her dependency on others was also increasing. She was drowning in grief and it wasn't just grief for my brother but also for the life she once had, the life that she thought she'd had, the happy daughter that had been stolen from her, the security that she'd once known. My parents went away and my sister's dependence switched heavily to me and my sister in law and lost in our own grief, and trying to deal with being parents, we didn't handle it very well. We argued, over something ridiculous really, but that afternoon my sister attempted to take her own life. I will be forever grateful that she didn't succeed that day, and forever grateful to those that helped me and her. It took me a long time to forgive my sister for what she'd tried to do and for me to gain more understanding of depression and helplessness that she must have felt. I can remember the relief that I felt when I collected my parents from the airport, that it wasn't my responsibility anymore. I'm not very proud of how I handled things back then. Over the coming months my sister had counselling and she got better. It wasn't a sudden thing, it was a gradual process and sometimes she'd have backward steps along the way. The good days eventually outweighed the bad. Time passed, we healed but we continue to grieve and that will never change. My sister has a new partner now and life has changed a lot from that dark time. 

Whilst my sister was battling the dark cloud of depression, my eldest niece was fighting battles of her own. She'd fought her father in court and "won" but the scars left behind were far deeper. It wasn't a simple case of getting him behind bars and that was that. She was entitled to counselling from the NSPCC because of her father but she wasn't able to have it until after the court case. It took a year for it to get to court so by the time she went to counselling, she'd reached a stage of locking everything deep inside her. She was too old for a child counsellor and too much of a teenager to really open up to anyone new. When she turned 18, we discovered she had an eating disorder. She's now 21 and has just recently been admitted as an inpatient into a unit for people with eating disorders. My sister is documenting her experiences in a blog of her own so I'm not going to do the same. Life with someone with an eating disorder puts more pressure on a family than I ever imagined.

I mentioned in my first post that my sister fell off her pedestal for me when I was 12 years old. And I am sure I have raised some memories for my sister that have been difficult, she may well be wondering what I think of her now. She has faced a parent's worst nightmare and she has always been there for her children even when they have pushed her to the absolute limit. I have only touched on some of the things that she has faced. She doesn't consider herself a strong person but she is one of the strongest people I know. When I was 12, the sister I held on my pedestal was not really my sister but just who I imagined her to be. My sister is not perfect, who is? She still on occasion battles depression but she's winning the fight. I am proud to call her my sister. I am proud of how she has handled things, especially the last few years. Life has dealt her a difficult hand but she remains big hearted, generous, kind, and steadfastly loyal to her family and friends. She is an amazing person and I am honoured to be a part of her life. So sis, chin up and lets take on the next battle together, hand in hand. 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Part 2

It's possible I may have concerned my sister with which direction this series about her and her family might take but she need not worry, all will become clear. However in order to alleviate her worry, I have decided to continue the tale this evening. 

Yesterday I told you how we found out that my niece had been abused by her father and our lives changed forever. Naturally the police and social services were involved, however it took over a year to get her father behind bars. During that year, we rallied together as a family but it was almost too big for us to handle. During that time we first discovered that my brother was ill, and I was planning my wedding. My sister made the arrangements to sell the house that they had once shared as there was no way she could afford it on her own and started the wheels in motion for divorce.Now I get a little hazy as to the order in which things happened but during that year my sister sold the house she had once shared and her ex-husband halted the sale at the last moment, despite being in prison at the time. The result instead was that the house was repossessed but even that was not the process it should have been. As you might imagine with all this going on at the same time as my brother being desperately ill, my niece struggling with everything that had happened to her and the court case at which she testified, life for my sister was incredibly stressful and quite frankly awful. I was really quite worried about her at this time - she had some friends that I just wasn't sure about and she was going out a lot, drinking a lot. Frankly though it was nothing to do with me, there was nothing specific to worry about and goodness knows she needed the break. Everything just felt a little bit crazy. And then she discovered she was pregnant and it was as if the baby was sent to bring her life back on track. It might seem crazy to some but I truly believe that this baby came for a reason, despite all the odds. He came to give her hope again and to remind her of the future still there waiting. That it wasn't all hopeless as it all must have seemed. 

Life that had been so crazy seemed to settle back down. She still had the repossession to deal with and as I said that didn't happen as it should have done. Everything took a long time to happen, longer than it should have done. There were no guarantees that she would be housed, that she could be initially placed in a bed and breakfast with her three children, whilst pregnant. Thankfully when the day finally came, she was housed and by some miracle she was housed directly opposite my house. That evening her waters broke and the next day her second son was born. I was her birth partner and that day is very precious in my memory. I was already pregnant with my first daughter at this time, and my sister in law was also pregnant and I was looking forward to us all having babies so close in age to each other. 

At this time it felt to me like life was on the up, or at the very least was settling to a new kind of normal. My sister was beginning a new life which seemed more hopeful than it had just a week earlier, my brother was doing well, I was excited about my new was full of hope. The truth was very different - my sister was battling severe depression and my brother was shortly to be diagnosed with a second tumour. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Family matters...

This post is not so much about me as a student midwife but about me as a person, about my family. I've already told you all about losing my brother after all. I know I've mentioned my sister but I don't expect I've told you much about her and her family. This is all heading somewhere but I just feel that the background is vital....there is no point me telling you the ending without you knowing what came first and I believe that the whole story plays a part in where we are today. It's a part of what makes me who I am. It's a part of what makes up the relationship that my sister and I have today.

My sister is 5 years older than me. As a child I idolised her, I wanted to be just like her. I don't really know why...she wasn't very nice to me - I was her nuisance baby sister. Our mum used to occasionally dress us the same - not a problem for me but I am sure it was pretty embarrassing for her. She wasn't really mean to me but she'd want to sit and read her books and I wanted her to play with me so she'd often tell me to go away and leave her alone. If she wanted to play however, she'd make out she was doing me a big favour and sit and play with my flower fairies and my little ponies with me. We used to share a room until I was 10 and she was 15, and we moved house. We had bunk beds and we both wanted to sleep on the top bunk so she'd tell me to stay awake and maybe she'd let me sleep on the top bunk. I am sure I was often asleep when she came up but I can certainly remember the occasions when I managed to stay awake and she wouldn't swap.

However for me, her halo slipped when she was 17. She had a new boyfriend and we didn't see much of her. When she was at home she'd be in her room, when she wasn't in her room, she was a typical teen and all you'd get was hormones. Then all of a sudden she left home. My parents were out one day and my sister was "in charge" of me and my brother. She left a note for my mum with me and she left. As it turned out, the note was to tell my parents that she was off to live with her boyfriend and she wasn't coming back. My parents were devastated as you can imagine. I was only 12 but I can remember a lot of hushed conversations at home. One day at school, one of the girls asked me if my sister was pregnant which I denied. When I told my mum however, it turned out to be true. There followed discussions with my sister and her boyfriend and his parents and eventually it was decided that they were going to get married, and they were both going to move back in with us. My sister's halo didn't slip because she left home, it didn't slip because she was pregnant, it slipped because she upset my parents so badly.

I recall it being around this time that I was allowed to get my ears pierced whereas my sister wasn't allowed until she was 16. My sister moaned for years about this fact - she didn't realise that in part it was because of her I was allowed mine done early. I don't know what I did, but my mum told me I was a big help to her at that time. Anyway my sister married her boyfriend and shortly before she turned 18 she became a mum. I have loved being an Auntie ever since and I was honoured to become her baby girls godmother. My sister and her husband moved into their own place and a couple of years later had a little boy. Life got better and they managed to buy their own house and 5 years later had another baby girl. I was so proud of them. They hadn't made the best choices but they'd pulled their socks up, worked hard and made a life and a home for themselves. I used to visit my sister weekly at that time, her youngest daughter just a baby. We used to go shopping a lot.  Life went on....there were ups and downs but generally life was good, life was "normal", life was uneventful - oh wasn't that nice! Then followed a catalogue of events that sometimes blurs in which order it all happened. It's the part of our lives that we sometimes think people wouldn't believe. However I am going to focus on the events directly involving my sister and her family, although it was around the same time as my brother falling ill and me getting married.

My eldest niece was 13. My sister and her husband had separated and although we were all initially shocked, it certainly seemed to be the best decision. Then came the bombshell. My niece confided in a friend at school. Her father had been sexually abusing her. Our lives changed in an instant, although of course, hers had changed some time before when it had all begun.

There is so much more to say that it is simply too much for one post alone so I shall tell the next part of the tale next time....