I love twitter for many reasons, but some days it can be vile, and today was one of those days. People rushing to say ‘I told you so’, so gleeful and smug that they ‘knew’ something wasn’t adding up, that they had quite forgotten this isn’t a game of Cluedo, but actual real life for someone, for a family, for a neighbourhood.
After the shock, the rush of judgement. At this stage I understand that Mikaeel’s mother has been detained by police; she has not been charged or found guilty of anything. Still they are baying for blood, the lions are pacing, salivating, impatiently awaiting the moment when they will have their victim tossed into their den to be torn from limb to limb, to the accompaniment of roaring crowds.
I don’t know what happened to that poor little boy. But I’m not judging his mother now, and what’s more, I still won’t be standing in judgement if it turns out that he died at her hands.
I might, once, have been inclined to join in with the chorus of incomprehension, of condemnation, of complete and utter conviction that I wouldn’t be able to kill someone whatever the circumstances, and never, ever a child. I think for many years that was my reaction whenever I heard of the occasional sad cases that were paraded across the media.
But then something happened to me. After my third baby, I began to lose the ability to cope, and it didn’t come back in a few weeks, like it did with the bigger two. Instead I just carried on spiralling slowly downwards. Luckily my mum lives nearby and was great at taking the baby off to give me some space and time – which I wisely used to run around manically trying to get on top of all the chores, rather than doing something really sensible, like catching up on sleep. Despite this help, I was exhausted, dealing with constant vomit during the day and constant feeding from a hungry baby during the night – reflux is no joke, let me tell you. And of course keeping a bright brave face for the school run ‘Oh yes, we’re doing great, thanks, yes, busy as ever, yes, gosh, must run, oh coffee would be lovely sometime but I’m just so stacked at the moment’ roughly translated as ‘I can’t smile for much longer, please just let me go home, no I’m not doing coffee with you because that’d mean I have to keep it together for 45 mins and that’s sure as hell something I haven’t done for a while’.
I thought I was just tired and it would all get better when I could just get some sleep. I remember clearly when I realised it wasn’t going to get better, sleep or no sleep. My youngest was 2 by this time. TWO – I can’t believe now, looking back, that this was my normal for so long. I heard on the news about a desperately sad case of a mother killing her child. And, instead of my gut reaction being one of incomprehension, it was something different. It was fear. Fear because right at that moment, I could sort of see the path that this mother had taken. I could see how someone could become so desperate, so unable to cope, so far away from themselves, that they would do the most horrendous thing imaginable. I don’t mean by this that I was ever in danger of doing something awful. But it was terrifying to realise that I could understand someone else’s danger.
I went to the doctor at that point. Well, not quite at that point – it took a crisis about which I am not yet ready to write to finally get me there. But I went, and thank god I have a lovely, sensible GP, and a supportive health visitor, and that massive, comforting NHS safety net which immediately did its stuff. I’m lucky. My skirmish with the post natal black dog was relatively mild compared to what some people go through, and once it was identified and treated, life did, over time, return to how it was before.
But one thing hasn’t returned to how it was before. And that is this – I cannot bring myself to stand in judgement. I cannot join in with the chorus. I don’t know what happened in Scotland. But I do know how easy it is to deny – and to hide – mental illness. I have caught a glimpse – thankfully, only a glimpse, of what it is like to be so far away from coping, so far away from yourself, that you cannot rationalise anything, anyhow.
I can’t imagine why a mother would kill her child. But I equally can’t imagine that a sane woman would kill her child.
And that is why I’m not judging.