I was born in Poland in 1968, to university educated parents who weren’t quite ready for parenthood and, maybe, not even for marriage. I was born 6 months after their wedding, which is a big clue to their state of mind, but who knows? Maybe they were madly in love, determined to spend the rest of their lives together and really excited to have a baby?
That’s not what my childhood felt like.
We spent the first few years living with my dad’s father and stepmother, in a three bedroom apartment in, where we had one whole room to ourselves. My dad’s mum died of a heart attack when he was 8 or 9 and to this day he has not come to terms with her loss. My grandfather promptly found a “carer” for his two children and married her to make it look nice. My memories of their relationship centre on constant verbal abuse from him, which she took because she was “lucky” to be in the situation she was.
I was born in the middle of the northern summer, in July, which perhaps explains my love of holidays, even though it meant I always missed out on class birthday parties at school. Birthday parties weren’t really a big thing in Poland. I never had one and got invited to maybe two while I lived there. All special occasions were celebrated with family and family friends, not friends of the children. Life in Poland centred around adults and children were trained to be just like them at a very young age.
My parents tell me that I was sick a lot as a baby, suffering lots of ear infections and throat infections when I was older. I remember taking course after course of antibiotics and having a full on tantrum at having to take yet another injection, when I was about 5 or 6! They ended up having to import special tablets just for me from Denmark or somewhere. To this day I am not very happy about needles..!
My babyhood and early childhood was spent mostly in the care of strangers. Despite living in a Communist regime, there was no such thing as welfare. Education and healthcare might have been free for us, but wages were pitiful and both my parents had to work six days a week just to make ends meet. Or so I’m told. So, from about six weeks old, I was either in a creche, or in the care of one or the other of my grandmothers.
When I developed PND after my first child was born, my mother admitted that when I was one, she had a nervous breakdow and was admitted to hospital. I was sent off to the country to live with her mum. She is a bit vague about it now, but I’m sure she once told me that I was there for six months. Probably not the best thing for small child.
I have mixed memories about my childhood. On the one hand, there is the family violence that I witnessed with just about every member in my extended family. Not all physical, most of it was verbal and emotional, but it all had a huge impact on me. Emotions were OK to express if they were negative. Praise, love, affirmation, encouragement were not in my family’s emotional vocabulary. On the other hand, I have wonderful memories of family holidays, walks in the park, walks in the fields, walks in the snow at midnight on Christmas Eve… I remember how hard my parents tried to keep me believing in Santa for all those years. I think I was about 8 or 9 before I stopped. I remember the clothes my mother made me for special occasions and the big celebration she organised for my first communion.
So, I think everyone tried their best. They all did the best they knew how, noone really intended to cause me harm, but perhaps they needed a bit more insight into themselves and into what a small child might need.