Tuesday, 30 March 2010


A game for amusing a small child, in which one covers one's face or hides and then returns to view saying "Peekaboo!"

I watched that stupid fly on the wall documentary about a maternity unit last week. The one that I had been planning to avoid. I had just settled Jessica to her night-time bottle and the television remote was on the other side of the room. When the announcer piped up with the title of the next programme, I was just about to get up and switch the channel when he mentioned it would be about 'special care' babies. So I thought I would watch it. Because I really like to poke my own healing wounds with a nice, sharp, pointed stick. I'm just that kind of person.

The documentary followed the journeys of two babies. One of whom was a surviving twin, one of two girls born extremely prematurely. I made it through the first ten minutes then I had to switch it off. The sight and sound of all those familiar machines, the tiny limbs, the alarms beeping, was making it hard to breathe. 

But I simply had to find out what happened. If those babies made it out of the NICU. I suppose the people who make this programme are bargaining on that. So I watched it on-line the following afternoon when I was supposed to be working from home. Very bad I know and not at all like the conscientious employee that I generally am. Honest. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Strange, seeing your own most horrific experiences laid bare for anyone to view. Those parts of you that are bruised, those bones that will never set straight, broadcast into other people's front rooms, to watch on their television, for . . . hmm, I'm not sure. Is it for entertainment that we choose to watch television programmes like this? Or to understand? I'm not sure.It made me feel slightly revolted over all those documentaries I've watched in the past, that I might have cried over but then I simply . . switched off.

But I can't switch this one off. Because this one happened to me. Sadly. It plays across my internal mental screens every single day. My very own phantasmagoria of hospital and tubes and wires and very small human beings. I'm still here, sitting in that spot. The same place I was sitting as her heart stopped beating. I'm still here, taking out these same old memories and holding them up to the light. Turning them this way and that, trying to make sense of them, trying to understand.

What was once an understandable grief is turning and twisting into something knottier, older, more familiar, something which settles in, rearranges the bedclothes over itself and call my brain its home. A worry doll. Something to run my mind over and over until I am sick of it.

I hate myself more lately. The feeling that it was all somehow my fault has come back to sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ears again. Like Sinbad and The Old Man of the Sea. Stupid bag of meat, he says, you would have let them both die. No wonder, look at you.

Other people have long forgotten that anything out of the ordinary happened but I'm still holding it close to my heart, letting it permeate my brain. Still expecting it to be mentioned one day. But it isn't. I would bet that nobody else even thinks about it at all. Except me. And I can't seem to think of anything else. Perhaps I'm overcompensating? Trying to set a lop sided world to rights. Where nobody speaks of unspeakable things. Perhaps that's why I feel I need to think about them all day long to set the world back in balance.

I can hide behind my job, a computer, a book, lose myself in the soft mutterings of the radio, drown out my internal wailing with the tunes on my iPod.
I can hide in my house.
The weather outside is bad. It's cold. It's raining. There is no need to go outside. Not really.
I can sit here in the warm and maintain a virtual farm if I so desire.
I can hide behind Jessica. I've been hiding behind her since the day she was born.
Because if I just stare at her hard enough, my eyes won't drift to the side.
Because if I can make myself grateful enough, it won't hurt.

Those things that were me, rise up and evaporate away.
I can't even remember what they were now.

I am not sure how to step around these memories. To stop hiding.
My life needs to go on.
Jessica's life needs to go on.
My husband's life needs to go on.
Our lives will go on.
Whether I'm ready for that to happen or not.
Georgina's life stopped. It's been stopped for a while now.
Short but complete.
Spooled out in its entirety.
There is no more.
A lifetime of wailing and gnashing my teeth won't buy her back a single second.
She doesn't need me to hide her or to hide away because of her.

Maybe it's time to stop hiding. To return to view.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


It's late. The house is quiet and dark.
My husband has gone out to the pub with his friends.
Jessica is still ill and is sleeping, a little fitfully, in the room next door. I'm listening to her breathing on the monitor, it sounds as though a very small Darth Vader has come for a sleep-over. Snortling, as my husband calls Jessica's, occasionally rather noisy, night-time breathing.

She has a chest infection which, whilst it isn't great news when combined with her ex-preemie lungs, she seems to be coping with pretty well. I'm just hoping to steer clear of the hospital. To that end I have spent the day studiously spooning honey & lemon linctus into her mouth, and reading 'Green Eggs and Ham' in various silly voices. I've tried to replace 'Green Eggs and Ham' with other books whilst Jessica seems distracted but she isn't buying them. Even 'The Cat in the Hat,' Despite the same author, same rhythmical nonsensical thing going on but no, no dice. I'm sure I'll be murmuring the words of 'Green Eggs and Ham' in my sleep tonight.

For the first time this week, a number of people have said to me something along the lines of 'shouldn't you be over this by now?' Including my husband. Even I'm starting to wonder.

It is strange. I hadn't really noticed how long it has been or how much I still talk about either Jessica's premature birth, Jessica's health or Georgina's short life and death.
Perhaps I should be thinking about it less frequently?
Mentioning it less often?
Writing here less?

My mum mentioned an Afrikaans saying to me the other day which roughly translates as 'that which is upon the heart, rises to the lips.' Whilst this is not the case for some people (my own mother included), whose self-possession I can only envy, it is the case with me. That which is on my heart inexorably rises to my lips. Despite my frequent promises to myself to be more self-contained, more dignified.

Regardless of how inappropriate it is or how boring it is or how often my listeners have heard it. It still comes out.

My poor husband, he tries to introduce a hundred other topics but I will bend them all back to my heart, our girls, Georgina and Jessica.

When the doctor (a general practitioner who doesn't know Jessica's history) mentioned that he didn't like the sound of her breathing, the whole story bubbled up to my lips with an eagerness that took me by surprise. I still want to tell people. I still want people to understand that when this child was born she was no bigger than a 500ml bottle of soft drink. That she had a twin sister. That her sister died. I'm not even sure why I would want to tell people this story any longer. Why can't I let it go?

Something within me is so deeply, deeply hurt by what happened.
And I'm ashamed for feeling so hurt. For being so very ungrateful.

I seem to have lost my resilience.

One minute, I am all happiness. I look at Jessica and I am plunged headlong into wild elation. I still can't believe it. I still can't fathom it. Not many children born at that gestation survive. How is it possible that something so unlikely should happen to me?

The next, all despair. I miss Georgina. I miss her terribly. I ache. I wonder what she would have been like. Not many children who are born alive in this time, in this place, die. How is it possible that something so unlikely should happen to me?

All at once.

And I can't seem to turn it off. This continuous up and down of screeching emotion. I'm tired. I miss Georgina.  I miss her so very, very much.
I'm so very grateful and happy that Jessica is here, breathing with her noisy lungs in the next room.

I wish I knew what the future held. But I'm stuck here, for the time being.

"But I can see, 
The planets are aligning for me, 
And I dare not breathe for then 
The clouds will come and then deny me".

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Driving home through the early evening gloom this evening.

The grey light catches on two tall, skinny girls loping up the pavement.
Two heads of long, fair hair.
Bags slung with casual grace on slender hips.
All elbows and knees and friendship bands and lip gloss.
Head gently bent together, bodies turned slightly inwards.
Their trainers hit the pavement synchronously.
They move on, unaware, engrossed in each other.
Unaware of the woman driving past
In a car not a few metres from them.
A woman whose gaze is caught on them,
whose heart snags on the sight of them.
Who suddenly finds it hard to draw in air, to catch a breath.

The sight of those two heads leaning so conspiratorially together.
The casual intimacy of  those two inclined bodies, that leaning towards.
The secrets, the memories that I imagine thicken the air between them.
Those two girls, probably not even sisters, maybe not even friends.
Those two girls who seemed so close, who appeared so familiar.
Walking home in the early evening of a cold, grey March day.

They'll never be my girls.
My daughters will never walk together.

Who knows, perhaps they would never have walked that way together anyhow.
Perhaps they would have been distant, have fallen out with each other, have been on a 'no speaks' since the age of three, been embarrassed by each other.

Perhaps it is because my own sister has been visiting, making me sentimental about sisters.
Perhaps because Jessica has been ill and sits in lonely state on the sofa, watching cartoons with glazed red eyes, wrapped in a Waybu.loo blanket with her arm around her teddy bear.
I still see a shadow next to her, her equal in misery.
I still hear two coughs where, in reality, there is only one.

But I like to think of Jessica and Georgina as those two leaning girls.

But I'll never know.
They'll never know.


It is a very long time.
Longer than I realised.
An expanse that unfolds and unfolds continually.
Without her.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


A: "Is she your first?"
C: "Yes."

B: "Does she have any brothers or sisters?"
C: "No."

C: "How old are your boys?"
D: "Just turned one. Argh, twins are such hard work. It just never ends."
C: "Oh, I'm sure. I really can't imagine, you must be exhausted."

E: "Do they know why Jessica was born so early?"
C: "No. Perhaps an infection of some description."

F: "How old is she?"
C: "Um, eighteen months."
F: "Oh, same as my little girl. She wasn't due until September but she decided to come in the middle of August instead."
C: "Oh really? They'll be the babies of the class won't they, being born in August."

G: "Wow, I just can't believe how much she's grown. A true answer to prayer."
C: "Yes. She is amazing."

Poor Georgina. Your life was so short and now your own mother is unravelling the thread of the hours that you had. Taking that tiny piece of cloth and tugging on its frayed edges so that the time come spilling out into my hands and on to the floor. Only to disappear into the earth.
As people have slipped through this place since time immemorial.
I will follow you one of these days. Edited out.

You will always be my daughter.
You will always be tiny.
You will never be called a miracle or an answer to prayer.
You will always be dead.

I will always sit here, shaking my head in disbelief, holding my breath and waiting for the doctors to tell me different news. Part of me still waits in that August, of two years ago.
As though the sheer force of my want for you is strong enough to force me backwards through everything that has occurred since.
My hands are still clenched and I watch the numbers on your monitors rise and fall.
I feel as though the space occupied by my body, all my atoms and hairs and organs, must somehow be visibly twisting towards you with the desire to make you live.
And they've never completely come back to rest.
I remain somewhat out of alignment, in a state of tension, still trying to change that which is permanent.
Because I don't want you to die.

I still can't believe that you did, my girl. My sweet Georgina.
Oh how I wish you hadn't died.
Every single time my lungs fill with air, every time my heart pulses.
I wish they were your lungs, your heart.
I wish.
It's stupid and futile.
I'm stupid and futile.
But I can't help myself.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Drama Queen

I feel a little sheepish about my previous post. Thank you for all your kind comments. You are all so understanding and sweet.

I promise that I have taken Jessica to the children's centre many, many times without so much as a whiff of melodrama. Not even the teeny tiniest hint of any awkward question or bitterness. Without a mention of dead children. We have left that self same centre on many occasions without me crying into Jessica's hair. However that particular, unrepresentative visit to the children's centre is the only one, in all probability, that will ever feature here. Because I found it upsetting for reasons that I brought upon myself. Nice Catherine, real nice.

I worry sometimes that a stranger stumbling upon this blog would imagine that I live my days in agony, that I weep continuously, tearing at my hair and rocking myself back and forth in a corner mumbling 'My babies, my babies, why did it happen, why did you come so early, why did my Georgina die, I am so sad, I am so very, very sad.'

And that, when I'm not occupied doing the former, I storm around green, hairy and grinch-like snarling at pregnant women and people with twins who both lived and anyone else I consider luckier than myself.

Yes, I have been known to do all these things on occasion. Sometimes, on particularly bad days, I might even manage two or more of these simultaneously.
Storming around in a rage AND weeping.
Tearing my hair AND mumbling in a corner.
Storming AND weeping AND tearing hair AND mumbling. Now that's a sight.
Yes, even now when all it seems so long ago.

But there are in between days. When I don't feel so terrible. And because I don't feel so terrible, these days remain undocumented.

I'm going to go off on a bit of tangent here but bear with me. I'll get back to my drama queenish main point by the end of this post. Promise.

I've written in a previous post that, after the twins were born, my taste in literature started to travel in a dubious direction. I had the misfortune to read, in quick succession, two books by the same author. I'm not going to mention her name in case she (a) googles herself one day (b) has such a massive ego that she actually bothers to click on every single mention of herself and reaches my blog as the ten millionth hit and then (c) takes offence to what I've written and picks a fight with me. Unlikely but . . . .still.

Her books have pastel covers with nice, fluffy titles. They look innocent enough. However, the two most recent efforts featured dead babies. And not even well-written, well-rounded fleshed out dead babies with names, the hopes and dreams of parents attached to them, with photographs, with details.  Instead we get the kind of 'dead babies as plot device / character development' efforts that Tash wrote about so beautifully here. Both featured mysterious women who had kind of lost the plot. And why had they gone slightly round the twist I hear you cry? Yup, dead babies.

It made me angry. I myself have a dead baby. Really? I hear your gasp. Yes, me Catherine W. 100% fully paid up member of the dead baby mama club.
My daughter who I loved and wanted and dreamt about and cherished was born too early and she lived briefly and then she died. Those are the facts. But Georgina was also a real person. Not just someone that makes me sad and slightly crazy and, if one of these novels is to be believed, will cause me to move into a commune, have sex with an unsuitable man, pretend to be pregnant and steal someone else's living baby whilst neglecting my oldest daughter. Causing her to be given away to foster parents and then lose her memory in a fire. No, I haven't made this plot up. This is a real, published work of fiction that (sadly) yours truly paid good money for.

Seriously, I'm not going to do any of these things. Well I wouldn't rule them out entirely because anything is possible but it really doesn't look likely.
Do people read these books and think that THIS is what I am like?
That THIS is how I live now?
That these are actions that I am teetering on the verge of committing?

Well it isn't how I live now. I'm not going to do these things.

My mother once said that I had a core of steel, a rock at the centre of my being.
When Georgina died, that little rock was put through fire, water and ice, stamped on by numerous people, squeezed in a vice. It cracked and changed.
But it didn't disintegrate. It's still here. I am different. But I am still here.

I am wondering if my blog has run its course?
Is it just becoming part of this conspiracy that losing a child will be the end, the undoing of your life?
Because I only write when I am sad.

I still have good days, I still enjoy the company of my mother, my sister, my husband and my friends. Admittedly the latter are fewer in number since all of this happened but the ones I have left, they are true friends.
I still laugh.
I still enjoy my life.
I am still happy. I am happier now than I ever was before.
Because I knew Georgina. Because Jessica is here with me.
I am glad to have been the mother of my daughters.
I am terribly sad that Georgina died but I don't want to become part of the same conspiracy that these pastel covered books belong to.
That women whose babies die go mad and bad and kidnap other people's children (can you tell that irked me yet?) have complete personality overhauls and never laugh again. We don't. Do we? Well, at least, I don't. I am sad, I am heartbroken, I am mad on occasion, possibly even bad. I am simply . . . different. Different because of Georgina.
Who only lived for three days but because of her existence I am changed.
In ways I can't even begin to describe.

The deaths of our children aren't the end. It feels like it but they aren't the end of us.
We are still here, figuring out how to live without them.
That's the hard part.
I don't think I'll ever get it down but I intend to keep trying.

Having said that, I'll probably be back to my drama queen ways for my next post.
But I just felt the need to set the record straight.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

How I Live Now

On Wednesday morning I decided to take Jessica to a 'Messy Makers' class at the local children's centre. I was happily puttering about, putting things in her bag to take with us, a little carton of drink, an extra cardigan and so on, when I double checked the class timetable and realised that I had misread the starting time. The class began at ten o'clock, not at half past as I thought.

Cue panic, immediate cessation of slow puttering about, quick thrusting of everything I had gathered up into the car and unceremonious shoving of  Jessica into her seat. I drove quick smart over to the centre, unloaded the car, staggered up the hill to the centre carrying Jessica and the bag and arrived some twenty minutes late rather out of breath and flustered.

I don't know if it was because we were late and everyone already in the class turned round to look at us, or because I was annoyed with myself for being late, but Jessica went very shy. She brought her shoulder up to her ear and stared stolidly into space for the entire class. Which is unlike her. Nothing tempted her, not the singing, not waving scarves around, not bouncing the toys up and down on the parachute, not the other children. Shoulder and ear remained firmly wedged together.

She only relaxed when the 'messy' part of the class started. The children had trays of compost to pretend to plant seeds and plastic flowers in. Then she dived in and put up quite a fight against a much bigger boy for sole occupancy of one of the trays of dirt.

But by then the damage was done and I had worked myself into an internal frenzy thinking, 'Why did I bring this poor child here who is obviously hating every minute of this? Is she shy because I'm shy? Is she somehow picking up on the effort it costs me to talk to the other parents and to pretend that there is no dead sibling, no memories of death and disaster? Perhaps I haven't been ensuring that Jessica plays with other children enough? Perhaps I am a rubbish parent? Perhaps it would all be different if Georgina hadn't died?'

Whilst the usual internal rant was rumbling on in the background and I was exchanging the usual pleasantries with the other parents of how old?  name? do you come here often? I noticed a young girl hovering on the outskirts of the group. She was wearing one of the centre's badges and, eventually, she came over to speak to me and Jessica. She was a work experience student, she loved children, she wanted to work with them when she 'grew up.' We were having a perfectly pleasant and civilised conversation.

Then she asked me if Jessica was an only child. And I just couldn't say yes. I don't know why. I usually say 'yes', she is an only child, my first child. Even though it breaks my heart a little to say that. But I didn't give my usual answer.

Perhaps because part of me wanted to hurt this young girl, to shock her. Perhaps there is some horrible part of me that I would rather not confront that just wanted to give all this hurt I carry around with me to someone else to hold for a minute.

So I said 'No, she had an older sister but she passed away.'

This poor young woman. Her eyes widened. Her face took on a look of panic, worse than mine was when I realised I was going to be late. She got up from the sofa and just walked away from me.

As we leaving the centre, a little later, I managed to track her down. I could tell that she wasn't happy about the fact that I was bearing down on her again, the panic on her face was obvious. She was obviously thinking 'oh gawd, the woman with the dead child, oh gawd, please, please, please don't let her speak to me again. please just make her go away.' But I didn't go away. I told her I was sorry, that I hadn't meant to wrong foot her earlier, that I usually didn't mention that I had another daughter who died, that these things do happen, children do die and it is terribly sad. She told me that's okay.
I wanted to reply that it isn't, not for me. It actually isn't okay.

I walked out of the centre and pressed my face against Jessica's hair, the sweet curve of her fuzzy little head. My tears ran into her hair.

And I want to say to Jessica what I have said a thousand times before.

I am sorry that I still haven't figured out a more graceful way to handle this, that I ended up apologising for talking about your sister, that I still don't know how to respond to that question about whether you have brothers or sisters.

I am sorry that I didn't see you until hours after your birth, that I wasn't with you for those first few hours. I am sorry that I wasn't by your side until you were three days old. All I can really remember from that time is your sister. The doctors kept telling me that she was struggling and I didn't want her to die without me.

I am sorry that I did not ask to bring Georgina over to your incubator to say goodbye, I regret that so very much. Absolutely horribly.

I am sorry that my body let you down so terribly, that I couldn't breathe for you, digest for you, maintain your blood pressure for you, stop the bleed on your brain, stop the infections that plagued you, stop the steroids making you so uncomfortable, stop the endless scratching of needles, the endless pokes and prods. That I never wanted to believe that this would happen to me and so went into that NICU very, very uninformed.  I am so very, very sorry that I could do nothing to help you. That all I could do was watch you.

I am sorry that your sister died. I wish she hadn't. I hope that you aren't too haunted or upset by your sister's death. I'm afraid that I can't protect you from it. I can't fix it, I can't bring her back for you. It seems like such horrible, horrible damage to be done to you at the very start of your life.

Perhaps you'll grow up thinking that everyone has a dead sister, in that strange way that children have of generalising their own specifics to the population at large. My own sister and I were agog when we realised that some people actually had cousins who lived in the SAME town. How could this possibly be? Because we thought that everyone was exactly the same as us. Perhaps it will just be normal to you?

Perhaps you'll grow up thinking that every mum is frightened of people asking questions about her children, that every mum cries when they look at their children sometimes, that every mummy's gaze sometimes drifts ever so slightly away to another face, a face that nobody else sees.  I'm sorry I'm not the mummy that I wish I was, that sometimes my rumbling monologue dries up and you look at me perturbed, as if to say why have you stopped talking, why aren't you really looking at me?

Perhaps you'll grow up thinking that many babies die, that many babies are born sick. I know that your cousin, E, is very confused about this. She asked me if, when she has her babies, they will be born with pipes, will they need oxygen when they are sick, will they have to stay in the hospital, will they die there. I wish that I could say "not yours my darling, never yours". But I can't.

My love for you is such a useless, valiant old thing.
It thuds and it thuds and it thuds away in my heart to little purpose. Other than to love you.
It couldn't help you then, it can't help you now, it can't help you in the future.
But it beats for you my little girl, my daughter.

I feel so sad and so angry that this is the mother that you get.

Not the mother of a couple of years ago, so sure and certain, so confident in herself.

You get the mother that lives how I live now.
The mother that cries into your hair.