The days after the revelation are a complete blur to me. The strangest thing was that my daughter was perfectly calm, happy and unperturbed by the situation. She had absolutely no idea that anything awful had happened, and neither me nor any of the professionals involved at the time knew quite how to explain it to a four year old. Instead we agreed that the best thing to do would simply be to tell her that my partner – who we will refer to beyond this point as ‘X‘ – was gone, and to keep her routine as calm and normal as possible.
This was easier said than done, when there were constant phone calls and visits from various officers and professionals, as well as my concerned family and friends. I didn’t sleep for days. I couldn’t stomach food, and was still bringing up bile regularly. Trying to mask my shattered nerves and twisted stomach and red, teary eyes so as to shield my daughter from the immense upset around her was probably the hardest part.
The police interview and medical assessment and collection of evidence, those were a very close second.
It was a lot like when you have to take your young child for their first immunisations, and you know that it will hurt them a little but that it is the best thing for them. A lot like that particular knot of parent-guilt, but magnified by a thousand and accompanied by the
constant urge to throw up.
The first obstacle I had was telling people what had happened. The police knew, the local authority knew, but it is their job (sadly) to handle cases like this. I didn’t know that my friends or family would handle things quite so well. It took me a whole twenty four hours to tell my father, and after his response (an awful lot of profanity, sympathy and resounding, unconditional support) I immediately called my best friend, realising then that I needed these people around me more than ever. You are not obliged to explain a situation like this to anybody if you don’t want to, but I strongly advise you to pick the people you love and trust the most, fill them in on what’s happened and enlist their support.
Every day there would be someone checking up on us, and not one of them knew what to say. I don’t blame them at all. I wouldn’t know either. Every day I apologized for the state of my usually-sparkling house, for the fact that I hadn’t showered or changed my clothes
in days, and every day I was told not to worry about it. The weight of the situation had knocked me down, because unlike my blissfully unaware daughter, I understood what had happened. It took my best friend, my family, a constant supply of Diazepam and a team of
seven professionals to carry me through the first month after it happened. Without them I wouldn’t have managed to hold things together, let alone make it to where I am now.
Every family will deal with this kind of situation differently, but there is just a little advice I can offer (backed up by the professionals who worked with me) for those of you experiencing the numb chaos that happens immediately after a disclosure like this. That advice is,particularly with younger children, stick to your routine. Obviously if there is a certain aspect of that routine that will upset or trigger your child then eliminate it, or change it as best as you can, but the feeling of everything spinning out of control is challenging to us as adults, and even more difficult for a child. Routine means that even if you feel sick, numb, exhausted, angry or confused, you can go through the motions on autopilot – which is not my advice for day to day parenting but in these circumstances may be the very best that you can do.
In my own experience, my daughter had absolutely no idea that something terrible had happened. She knew that something bad had happened,and that there were a lot of new faces (police, family support workers, victim support workers) all making a bit of a fuss. She seemed to understand that these new people were here because of X being gone. However, keeping her routine as normal as possible and shielding her from all the raw feelings meant that she didn’t feel like everything was out of control – which I’m guessing is one of the reasons she remained so confident, playful and happy afterwards.
My only other suggestion for this period is that you try to look after yourself. For me this was bare minimum – I had friends reminding me to get a glass of water, to eat or to shower, because frankly I didn’t have the energy or the motivation to do any of these things. I completely forgot that I, too, was a living, breathing organism that needed certain care to remain healthy, and dedicated all of my time and energy to the situation at hand. Even if this is you, and you feel like a shower is a waste of time when you could be sleeping, crying, making phone calls or just hugging your kids, please do try. You need these things.