Monday, 15 August 2016


'But I want to watch the SICK mummy. The sick video. That video where Jessica is really sick. I want to watch it again.'

Nearly eight years since my twin daughters were born so terribly early, a younger sister bounces on the sofa. Blonde curls bobbing, robust arms and legs pumping. Visiting a time when she might have had two big sisters, a time when she might never have come to pass at all.

So I roll the reel. For what feels like the two hundredth time this morning, we will again watch the video where Jessica is sick. It is a montage of photographs I made of Jessica's first year of life, an activity seemingly beloved of parents but especially parents of premature babies where the transformation is particularly startling. Where what is usually hidden by flesh is revealed. It's this video here

This is not the sort of video I intended to show my two year old daughter. Our fancy-schmancy TV uploaded all of our photographs and videos to a cloud accessible directly from the TV and she somehow clicked around and found it. And, for some inexplicable reason, took a shine to it.

Back again to 2008. The chords of the music that I never really liked, the opening photographs of a tiny, red baby that looks as though she has been burned or skinned. All those machines. And over the course of four minutes or so she transforms into a baby like any other.

The first couple of viewings I sit and hold back tears. The next few I just sit. By what feels like the twentieth I don't feel anything of much, only boredom.

I've cycled through and through these days in my memory for nearly seven years. Some days I cry, some days I don't. Some days it hurts, some days I find it hard to summon up any feeling at all. Like anything else over played, over thought, material that my fingers have run across over and over, it becomes worn away.  I have become habituated.

"Pretend I am the sick one," she insists. Lying down and sticking her tongue out.

"And now I am the dead one,"  she declares dramatically. She closes her eyes and sinks even further down amongst the cushions. Eyelids fluttering.

I sigh. I wonder if I should ever have shown her this video. I wonder if I should ever have told her that our family has its very own 'dead one.' I wonder how much money I should save for future therapy bills.

'Let's do something else now. Too much television will give you square eyes,' I say.


'When I am a grown up, you will be a granny and then you will die.' He looks at me coolly, appraising my chances. 'Yes, you will be dead. Then I will be the granddad and then I will be dead.'

He looks thoughtful. But not afraid. My little boy who has always been the one with the questions. Who once had an obsession with building a graveyard in the back garden.

'It is like a circle,' he says.

'Yes,' I say, 'it is like a circle.'

He seems satisfied and changes the subject, to how he is bored of the summer holidays now and wants to go back to school.


Yesterday a family trip to the museum took a dark turn when we were unexpectedly confronted with a major exhibition about the sinking of the Titanic.

Peering at a yellowed newspaper report of the disaster, a family of eight trapped under glass. They were not even supposed to be aboard. Yet there they were. On the boat, in the newspaper.

'They all died?' says Jessica. 'Even the baby?' Concern fills her voice and she turns her head away, eyes closed and face pressed into my rib cage.

'Yes they did,' I say, 'even the baby.' I think about how to spin this one, to make good the death by drowing of this small child so long ago. I open my mouth but close it again. Some things are beyond amelioration.

I finally settle on, 'It's sad isn't it?'

'Yes,' she replies in a muffled voice. 'It is very sad.'

She unsticks her face from my jumper.

'Can we go and look for Pokemon now mum? Please.'


The headphones buzz slightly. I readjust the connection of the jack.

The writer, Norah Vincent, is speaking.

'We've found, over time, we need all these pretences. It looks like a stage set, fabric we put together, that of culture and society that makes things run. It's not really there. Your brain is taking in what it can take in, what is really there would scare the living shit out of you and you don't have the ability to see it anyway. Really what is out there is mostly light and an atom is filled with space more than anything else. Everything we are touching seems solid but really it is made very much of air.'

<<taken down in note form whilst listening to the audio, all mistakes are of my own creation.>>

This is where I find myself, nearly eight years later. I pull my little scrappy blanket around my shoulders, made of books, paid employment, TV series, housework, Pokemon Go, wine, car maintenance, pets, Instagram, Two Dots. Whatever frail scraps I can find and stitch together.

I fancy that I catch glimpses of what is really there. The yellowed photograph of a baby who drowned in an icy sea years ago. The video of Jessica transforming from a raw foetus into a baby. Another baby dying in my arms. Light. Space. Solidity quivering. The starts and the ends, the threads all catching up one another and snarling. No possibility of patching and stitching together into anything coherent.

But I don't care to look too long. Because Norah Vincent is right. It would scare the shit of me if I could see the truth. Even the tiny glimpses of it I do catch scare the shit out of me. And I couldn't begin to understand it anyway. It is all light and space. Pushing on the edges of my brain, of my abilities.

Georgina. Made of air. Caught up in her own tiny circle and sent to who knows where.

Saturday, 2 July 2016


I have been reading a book.

One of the characters gives birth to a baby.
A baby that everyone believes is a dream as the mother is older and her pregnancy seems to last for two years.

She births the baby alone. The baby is tiny with blue eyes.

A strange and unbelievable tale.

And although I was younger and my own pregnancy, far too short.
You are in my mind.

You never leave it. You are there all the time. My might have been.

My own tiny baby with the blue eyes. That seemed to see everything. Seemed to know everything.


Perhaps because of the book you were in my dreams.

A strange half-dream dredged up from a deep guilty afternoon nap.
It was your sister's face that was uppermost. A gaze of sadness and disgust.

I thought to myself so THAT is how Jessica looked as Georgina was dying. Which isn't the truth. Just a glutinous sticky thought peeled from sleep.

I didn't know she was there.

When you were dying, it seemed as though it were just you and me.

But obviously that is impossible.

She was there. She was in the room when you started to die. But not really. She was too busy trying to die herself. Two small brains firing away.

You finished dying somewhere else. Another room.
They move the dying to other rooms you see.
Away from your sister.

I'm still so sorry. Even after all this time. I'm just so sorry.

I only wish there were some way I could undo all of this.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


I listen to an interview with a funeral director.

'It's overexposed me to death, and it's created burnout and depression. At the same time, it's allowed me to see beautiful aspects of humanity: compassion, empathy, tolerance. A close experience with death changes us. It changes all aspects of our being.'

He is not wrong. It does change us. Since I held my dying daughter I think of death every day.

Not in some quivering, hide in the corner, shuddering, fearful way.

Just that I do. Think of death. Everyday. In a weird inverse Buddy Holly kinda way.

Every day, it's a getting closer. Because it is. For all of us.

I think of my own death. I ponder many deaths.
The deaths of my parents.
The death of my husband.
The deaths of my children.

Somehow I think I will be there, to hold their hands, to tend to their feet. When they are dying. Heaven forfend. Please, please may I die first.

But conclusions?



The same funeral director was re-interviewed recently. He said that he had tried to find words. Words to speak to death. Then he realised that there are no words.

I think he's right.


Re-reading this blog gives me a similar feeling to re-reading my teenage diaries. Squirming-ly embarrassing.

My own attempts to understand what had happened to me when it felt as though the world had blown up in my face. What had happened to my daughter. That same small circle of grief that has been described and described and described, accumulating and accumulating words. Woven and re-woven and re-woven into a great, big knot. Senseless and tangled.

But I see the love and care, in that network around me. And I can't regret it. I'm glad I tried to speak, to write. So may people were kind to me when they didn't have to be. When I needed kindness so much.


I tried. I think it is part of being human. We are inclined to try. I tried to speak to death. To that strange death of someone who had hardly begun.

So many of them are very present to me. They are thought of. Those babies who never lived or who barely lived. A strange presence of someone who never knew them at all, only of them through the words of their parents.

I was bewildered.

Now I am resigned.


But I'm not defeated. My hands open. My fingers relax.

I surrender to it. I stop fighting it. Because there is nothing to fight against.

It wasn't me. (That was the longest fight of all)
It wasn't her father.
It wasn't her.
Or her sister.
Or medical incompetence.
Or a punishment.
Or a blessing.

She died.
That's all.

She died.

I still hate it. I still wish it had not happened.


If it be your will.
That I speak no more.
That my voice be still.
As it was before.  . . . 

Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well . . . .

All your children here. In their rags of light. . . 

And end this night.
If it be your will.


video NSFW but it was so beautiful that I wanted to share it and it's worth the annoying five seconds of adverts before hand.

It reminded me of all those times it felt as though I were drowning. I don't generally feel like that anymore, seven years later. But, just sometimes, I slip. Back under.

Miss that tiny child, miss all that she might have been.

And love her still.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Nearly seven years later

I sit at work. It is a hot day. Summer again. I don't like summer as much as I once did. These days it makes me feel slightly uneasy.

I am struggling with a bit of recalcitrant code. I run, re-run, de-bug. Fiddle faddle. It still doesn't want to play nice, doesn't quite want to do what I think it should.

I adjust my head phones. The endless burbling in my ears stops boredom and too much idle conversation. Both of which I am prone to getting sucked in by.


A song plays. A song that featured on the OC - showing my age here. A song about the seven people who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart upon reentry.

And my brain fizzes. The transition between space and earth, womb and life. The pause, when you realise that you are going to die. That there is no chance you will survive this.


Boys and girls in cars, 
Dogs and birds on lawns,

And for a moment I bask in it. This luck of mine. This undeserved moment in front of a screen. With the sun shining in the window. The pesky code. The pasty office workers. A sandwich and a cool drink, I am giddy and sick with my own good fortune.


Put your jackets on
I feel we're being born

All that anticipation. That moment just before. And that little conversation about jackets and the turn of phrase, 'we're being born.' Reminded me of my girls. Maybe not even aware that they were together. But they were. About to be born. 

And I feel as though I am spinning far above my office, my screen and my bit of coding. Maybe as far off as a space shuttle. 

From here I can touch the sun.


My typing is interrupted by Jessica. I'm not at work now. Back home and reflecting on how I felt earlier.

It is too hot and she wants another drink of water. We briefly debate whether she wants the hot meals provided by the school or a 'packed lunch' of sandwiches when she starts her new school in September. She wants the latter. She says it is my decision what goes in the packed lunch but please not to put a chocolate in her lunch box as she will get in trouble. 

And now she is back in bed.


I briefly wonder what Georgina would have wanted? What she would have said? There is usually a small shadow conversation, in the wake of these everyday exchanges. With someone utterly gone. Burnt up on entry. 

This is all I wanted to bring home to you.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A certain house

'It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time.'
- W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz


Over six years later, I went back to the hospital where Georgina lived - if she ever really did - and died. I always meant to go back. I've frequently gone to meetings for work in a building just around the corner. The drive down toward the hospital always tempts me. In case she might still be there. Just checking, I would tell myself.

But I never could quite bring myself to do it until last week.

I walked down past the butchers where I used to go in and buy a pork pie for my dad. The butcher was cheery and always asked how much my baby weighed now. My dad and I would sit in his parked car, looking out at the dismal sea and eat our lunch whilst the NICU was closed for ward rounds. Not really knowing what to say to one another but unable to stomach any more of the hospital canteen after the first six weeks.

Past the petrol station where my husband and I went to a buy a newspaper the morning after she died. I remember feeling as though the ground were unstable, my hands shaky, freezing cold in the late summer weather.

Last week I went in and bought a phone charger, joked with the chap behind the counter, smiled at the workman coming in and attempting to hold the door open for me. I insisted that he come inside first, it was freezing out there. The last time I was here, I thought I might never be able to speak to strangers again. That I would open my mouth and all that would ever emerge would be some half strangled screech of woe. Yet here I am, smiling and bantering with brushed hair, make up and some attempt at workwear. I don't know whether I feel disheartened or pleased about that really.

I walked on clutching my plastic bag of phone charger and sandwich. Past the cemetery that I thought was a bad omen, looming ominously next to the hospital. I turned the familiar corner and was met by utter confusion. Half the site was in the process of being demolished. Other buildings, those of the more photogenic historical sort, being repurposed into flats.

I walked towards what I felt should be the front door of the hospital but it is no longer the front door. Deliveries only. I whirled about confused. I finally found the current entrance and reception. On the opposite side of the building.

The NICU is long gone, that was relocated very shortly after Jessica was discharged. I had hoped to find the chapel - with its cold echo and stained glass. But even that was gone, replaced by a multi faith room with cosy carpet. Which is good progress my liberal, inclusive brain believes. But my heart wanted that old uncompromising chapel with its prayer book. I wanted to see if my writing was still there, from 2008. I would have liked to have seen what I had asked for, all those years ago.

I wandered out again. Trying to locate anywhere that might be anything to do with her and her sister and that time of my life. I tried to think where I had wept, talked with my husband about what to do, screamed scaring some passing child. For a moment I considered running onto the building site and trying to snatch up a brick before the builders told me to piss off. Because maybe it might have been a brick that had something to do with Georgina.

But, in truth, I could no longer identify where any of those places were. I remember, shortly after she had died, looking at the hospital from the pavement and thinking that, maybe, I knew which windows they were, the windows to the rooms in which she lived and died. All these years later I turned and turned but finally had to admit to myself that I had no idea at all.

So I walked back to my car and I drove off.


'Everyone has their own shit,' she sighs.
'Yes, yes I know,' I reply.

It's just that sometimes all I can see is everyone else's shit.
Well - that's not strictly true.
It's more like everyone else's imaginary shit.
I end up paralysed with it. All those people, who pass so close to me physically and I have no idea what is really going on. Realistically, I couldn't bear it even if I could know. Even my guesses leave me feeling frantic and gulping for air.

And calling all that stuff your 'shit' is really such an awful misnomer.
All that death, illness, problems. Anything slightly less than shiny and we label it 'shit' and stick it away. Something to be embarrassed about.

Mine is still my compulsive need to make light of pregnancy, childbirth and twins. Thus the reason that I am even having this awkward 'shit' conversation in the first place. Because I am aware that my attempts at joking my way through something incredibly painful to me is ending up by trampling all over somebody's else's 'shit.'

Oh hell, what hope is there for any of us realistically? I cringe at everyone I hurt before and I cringe at everyone I hurt since. Once I should have known better.

But what troubles me the most is the part of me I like the best. Isn't that sometimes the way? You don't really get down to the nitty gritty until you are clearing up the shit? And, speaking as someone who, for the first time, is down to one child in nappies - I know that of which I speak. Maybe all my walking on egg shells, trying not to upset anyone, is where I am going wrong?


Sometimes nothing good or wise emerges. I look back at my writing and so much of it seems . . hysterical. But I am rather envious of the person that could feel so much and try to write it down. Rather than the plodding person I am now, of incremental tryings and reachings.
Sighing and giving it all up for lost.
I feel as though I have been relegated back to my proper size now. No more messing in the big leagues of death and life. Now it all hangs on whether we get to school on time, whether anyone will ever deign to eat a vegetable, whether anyone will ever stop screaming for a whole consecutive hour.
So often I feel defeated. Ill at ease.

But you can't be defeated. With three small children. One small child. No children at all.
Your little reachings and ploddings are necessary to them. To you. To everyone that knows you and cares about you. You might wish to be more enthusiastic and fun. You might wish to have a coherent thought. You might wish for a whole bunch of things.
But you cannot just sit and wail.
You cannot just sit and wish.
That is their job. The children's job. Be they here or not.
Your job is to get up and plod.

Perhaps this is the job of all adults and I was just somewhat late to the party.

You had your day in the sun, your day of wailing and wishing.
My mother tells me the story of her sketch book, ground to a halt in 1979. The year I was born. Her final effort a victim to my baby-ish scribbles.


We moved away.
From the house where I expected her.
From where I rubbed my belly, full of two babies at once.
From the house where I cramped and cried the night before her and her sister were born.
From the house where I cramped and cried when her little sister was born.
Delivered into my own hands.
A circle completed.
As far as it could be.


I miss her.

My old house felt haunted. Full of visions of two daughters, twins, two curly haired heads bent together in conspiracy. So brief. But very persistent.

My new house feels a little haunted too. Her absence has shaped everything that follows. Her brother? Certainly her little sister. She probably would not exist had her eldest sister not died. I might have dreamt of four children but even three is not totally economically sustainable.

Yet this is the house I was due to arrive at, at this given time.

A house without her.
The house that once contained her, gone. Filled by another family now.
The hospital, changed.

All too late.

It's been too late for a long time.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


Taken from here

If I should die before you do 

you wake up
from death,
you will find yourself
in my arms,
I will be
kissing you,
will be crying.

–Richard Brautigan

I didn't die before you did.
That is the problem.

But when I wake up from death.

If I should wake.
I hope to find you.
I hope to hold you in my arms and kiss you.

Should such a thing be at all possible?

I will be crying.
That much I am certain of.

If I still have arms, a mouth and eyes.
Or any vague semblance of them.
If you are there.

I will hold, kiss and cry.
Look and look.
As best I may.

If I should wake.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Small comfort

'The thing is - nature is so exact, it hurts exactly as much as it is worth, so in a way one relishes the pain, I think.  If it didn't matter, it wouldn't matter.'

from Levels of Life, Julian Barnes