You'd think alarm bells would have rung when my husband was drinking wine while I waited to go to hospital in advanced labour. A week later, when I told that story to my in-laws, I still didn't see how odd it was. As anyone who has been through labour will tell you, you can barely think about anything. And once your baby arrives, you can barely think about yourself, let alone your husband. But why wasn't he thinking about me?
I'm 35 years old, and last year I had my much-wanted second baby. To everyone else – even to me – I seemed to have a pretty perfect family life: I had a beautiful daughter, a healthy new baby boy, a lovely home and a hardworking, loving, caring husband. Yet all of a sudden, away from Instagram and Facebook, behind closed doors, it went horribly wrong.
After my first child was born, my husband had been faultless; he was a great dad. They do say baby number two can shake even the strongest relationship. I remember hearing this, and sitting in my lounge telling one of my mum friends that I wasn't worried at all about that happening – all I was worried about was giving birth. What a happy fool I was.
Having a second baby is hard. If you have your babies close together, like I did, you will likely have a confused, displaced toddler on your hands, and double the responsibility on your shoulders. It is exhausting. We were both physically and emotionally shattered, barely getting a few hours' sleep a night, which is when the rows began.
Soon after my husband's paternity leave ended, I felt abandoned. He was working late and staying for after-work drinks. I desperately needed him, I was barely keeping my head above water with the kids. I wouldn't go as far as to say I had any postnatal depression, but I wasn't coping. Our house was a mess. I was a mess. He was a mess. I was so caught up with trying to make the kids happy that I didn't properly register his drinking spiralling out of control.
The drinking had gradually increased a few months before our second baby arrived. Pre-children, we'd both enjoyed big nights out together and neither of us knew our limits but back then, it barely mattered. Through pregnancy and breastfeeding, my lifestyle had settled dramatically; I didn't have the energy for a late night or a hangover. He, however, would carry on finishing one or two bottles when I'd stopped after the first or second glass – a casual Friday or Saturday night at home. By the time he had gone back to work post-paternity leave, he seemed to be drinking daily. I didn't think about how he was reacting to this new situation – or maybe I chose to ignore it.
Six weeks in, after another stupid, exhaustion-fuelled row and a few drinks, he left. He furiously packed a bag and was gone. I didn't even know what we'd been rowing about. Things had disintegrated so rapidly between us, I could hardly register what was going on.
Then it hit me like a lorry. I never in a million years imagined this man would desert me or our children – and never quite so brutally, with no real explanation. He was just gone, and there I was with no choice but to continue. The first night alone with my two babies – who would wake each other up crying, all through the night – I was incredulous. I'd always felt safe and secure with him, prior to this. I kept thinking he'd gone out to calm down and would walk back through the door any moment. I tried calling and texting but the phone didn't ring and the messages didn't deliver. My number was blocked.
Despair was creeping through me and I spent the next few days fighting tears, with a huge lump in my throat. I wanted to scream with frustration at being abandoned and ignored. But I couldn't, not in front of the kids, who were at my side 24/7. It took me a few days to tell my family he was gone. It took me a few days more to tell his – it turned out he had blocked them, too, and this was the first they’d heard. He was unreachable.
I didn't want my friends to know my life was falling apart, that my 'perfect' family was no longer. I'd reply to texts saying all was well, that we were just exhausted
I tried emailing him. And this became our method of communication over the months he was gone. He gave very little in the way of answers, apart from that he was angry with me. My dad asked me if I'd been nagging him constantly; I hadn't, or had I? I began to question everything. He never really asked about the children but I forced information about them on him. Whatever he felt about me, how could he bear not to see them every day? I pleaded, begged, tried to placate him, but he was furious. He was so full of fury and hate for me but agreed to see the kids for an hour or two at weekends, in the park – difficult and awkward times for both of us.
I couldn't bring myself to share the agony I was feeling with anyone but my family. I didn't want my friends to know my life was falling apart, and that my supposedly 'perfect' family was no longer. I certainly didn't want people to talk. I kept an almost radio-silence; I'd reply to texts saying all was well and we were just exhausted. No one suspected a thing.
I quickly learnt to cope, and we were just about surviving, the three of us. Anything went in our house – Frozen DVD on at midnight, bribery snacks, pyjamas all day, all of us in my bed through the night. I was never alone. I cried silently in the night while they slept next to me, or sobbed desperately to my mum while my dad distracted my daughter.
I had made moves to contact a solicitor as, financially, I needed assurances and the bills were going unpaid by him. I think the serious threat of divorce must have jolted him and I guess he 'came to his senses'. But it wasn't as simple as him coming home, explaining where he'd been and why; his anger didn't disappear overnight, and neither did mine.
He saw his GP and was prescribed a high dose of antidepressants and beta blockers for anxiety. He also began therapy. Bit by bit, but so painfully slowly, I felt like we were beginning to move on. The kids gradually softened to him; he'd been missing from both of their lives for months.
I still wanted answers. He'd taken out loans for a huge amount of money in the few months away, and I needed to know why. I knew the alcohol was a problem by this point and he finally admitted it. He eventually admitted to cocaine use, too. Drinking at 11am on a working day, to numb his anger and anxiety – later fuelled by the coke on an evening out. This didn't surprise me, really, not after the year I was having. He was failing at work and, for a man previously so well groomed, he looked terrible.
I'm now left with a much more realistic view of life
He's never really been able to tell me why he left and what he was thinking. He can only put it down to some kind of breakdown and depression. I used to believe that things were perfect, that he was perfect. I'm now left with a much more realistic view of life.
People might wonder why I took him back. It was mainly because of my children. While he now strives daily to make their lives better – to help pay back debts so we can move into a big enough house, to give them occasional holidays and the happiest childhood we can offer – I will carry some hope for our future. He no longer drinks, and I'm in total control of our finances. There is still a huge amount of trust to be rebuilt but amid the chaos of family life, I think we are finally on the right path. Things aren't perfect but the difference now is he is able to admit fault and get back on track.
Someone once said to me: "Marriage is by no means easy, for it to work you must be prepared to accept the traits of the other person that you don't like, and focus on the things you do." If it happens again, I won't take him back.
Perhaps it will work out long-term, perhaps it won't. But I find it helpful to remember that behind all the picture-perfect Instagram posts and Facebook updates, no one is having the 'perfect' time.
I found a strength in me that I didn't know I had. You often hear mothers say, "I couldn't cope without the support of my partner" – I know I've said it before myself, and that was with one child – but you can, many parents do. I did.