Friday, 30 July 2010

Un-slumpification: Progress Report

Back in May, I was stuck in a slump.
As, my dear friend Dr. Seuss says, un-slumping yourself is not easily done. He's right. 
It's particularly hard being that you have to un-slump yourself. 
You can't just grab a passing friend and ask for help. 
At risk of sounding a little new age-y, un-slumpification has to come from within.

So . . my un-slumping . . .how is it going?

I'm going to write a little bit about Jessica for a few paragraphs here as some of the minor slumps were related to her.

Slump #1 on my list was Jessica's failure to grow. 

Jessica's growth has always been reasonably good considering that she started off at a puny 670 grams. But it hit a little bit of plateau over the spring which had me panicking that I had not been making enough effort with her food. Which made me slump.

On Friday Jessica had her routine appointment with her consultant where she was weighed and measured. She weighed in at around 12.5 kilograms and measured just over 85 centimetres in height. I was pleased (if more than a little shocked). I knew she had grown since the spring but I had no idea just how much. 
As her doctor said, in Jessica's case it is a battle between her prematurity and her genetic inheritance and, thankfully, genetics appears to be winning out. The doctor also tells me that her rate of growth bodes well for her lungs. Perhaps it's time to lay off the custard?

So slumps 0 - Catherine W 1 
(although apart from passing on genes for 'big' I had absolutely nothing to do with this win but I'll take the credit anyhow)

My other Jessica related slump # 4 - Jessica's lack of speech. She vocalises a lot more, mainly saying something that sounds like 'gunk, gunk, gunk' over and over again. 
Louder, quieter, kindly tones, angry tones. 
Gunk, gunk, gunk, gunk. 
Believe me, I would gladly part with a couple of my teeth to find out what, exactly, gunk means. But she's only nearly two. Younger, really. Nineteen months? Probably a bit younger than that even when you consider that her first few months were spent pretty much up against it. 
I suspect that, when you are struggling to say alive, developing verbal skills isn't at the top of your list.

I think I'll leave this slump at a draw.

Slump # 2 was my pregnancy related slump. 
Despite my good intentions to walk away from this one and quit whilst I am ahead I find . . . I just . . .can't. 
Not yet. I'm not ready to let it go yet. 
So my husband and I will be setting off to the fertility clinic, ready to spend a fair proportion of our little pile of savings on attempts to find out what has gone awry. If anything.
But it just seems like a bit of a battle.
To get pregnant in the first place.
To stay pregnant for longer than I managed to the first time round.
It makes me feel weary.
But I still want to try. So there it is.

Another draw?

But that major slump? The death of Georgina slump?
That one still has me beaten. Hands down.

When you are a child and you first come up against those big questions . . 

is there a God?
what the heck am I doing here?
is what I call 'green' the same colour that everyone else calls 'green'?
what happens when you die?
why are some people born into lives of misery and poverty and others to the lap of luxury with a silver spoon and all?

 . . . .you really think about them. You think and think and think. They keep you awake at night. 
You wonder how those big, slow adults can bumble about so implacably, so stupidly. 
When they don't have any answers.

Then one day, I suppose, you either reach a conclusion that suits you, that gives you a structure to hang your life upon. Or you just put those questions away in a box marked 'unanswerable', shut the lid and pop the box up on a high shelf.

There are many things that I no longer think about. 
Some because I know that I can never hope to grasp the complexities of the issue with my limited brain power. Sure, I can try but I can almost feel my intellectual capacity sputtering away at its extreme edges as I grapple with questions of philosophy and ethics, religion and science. They simply aren't for the likes of me to answer.
Some because I believe that they fall into the category of truly 'unanswerable.'

But now I am entering a second childhood. Because some of those questions have been made personal rather than theoretical. They are no longer something to toy with, to try and be clever about, an opportunity to show off  how many books you might have read. 
Now they make a difference. 
I wake up in the night pondering questions without readily apparent answers. 
But I still ask them. I don't even know who I'm asking them of really. Some large, fuzzy parental figure? 
I'm not expecting a response.

Why did Georgina die?
Why did Jessica live?
Why was the outcome so different when they were so similar?
Why did it happen?
Was it something I did?
Was it something that I could have prevented?
Why do people who appear to hate their own children, who abuse and torment them, get to have living breathing children when so many good, kind people don't?
Why is pregnancy and childbirth so wondrous and amazing for some and so tragic and terrifying for others?
Why are some people allocated long lives of eighty years and, others, only three days?
Did Georgina know that I loved her, how proud I was of her, how beautiful she was?
Does she know still?
Where is she?
What is she?

I know that these questions are childish. They are all the incessant 'why? why? why?' of a young child. Come to think of it I wonder if Jessica's gunk-ing might mean why?

Life has always been unfair. Beautiful and appalling in equal measure. I suppose it doesn't reflect particularly well on me that it is only when life was unfair to me that these questions keep me up at night again.

These questions feel like a great pool of muddy water. I've got a big stick and I am compelled to go and give all the mud and debris in the bottom a good old stir from time to time. 
When I'm angry or sad, I go and stir up all the mess and unanswered questions. 
Bits of dead leaves and empty insect bodies all bob around on the surface. 
All this stirring about doesn't make the water any clearer. 

But sometimes I think I see a pattern, I think I see an arrangement in all the junk and muck that I've brought up to the surface. 
Not anything that could be viewed objectively, not something that I could point out to another. 
Not even an answer to any of these questions.  
Certainly not anything pretty.
But something . . . reassuring. A comfort. 
In the beauty of that tiny child. 
In that short almost life. 
In those almost breaths. 
Nearly. So nearly.

Or perhaps I just think I see something there because the alternative is too hard to live with. 
Perhaps because it is my job to find patterns in things that appear random and chaotic.
And we all know what they say about statistics 'lies, damned lies and statistics.' 
Because you can force any old bunch of stuff to appear to say something to back you up, if you try hard enough. If you want it so say something, you can usually make it. If you are ingenious enough.

But still . . . I think I see something.

Another draw?

So I'm winning by one on the slump front. 
Not bad.

I'm off on holiday today too.
Definitely a win.
Take that slump. I'll beat you yet.

Friday, 23 July 2010

On Beauty

When I was younger, I had a friend named Georgina.
Georgina was very beautiful but was also (annoyingly) very depressed about her own physical attractiveness.

With no hint of irony, she would sigh to me over our bottles of beer "Oh Catherine, you could never understand. Nobody takes me seriously. Men never want to befriend me, they are only interested in getting me into bed. Other women are jealous of me and think I am out to steal their boyfriends. It is very lonely being beautiful."

I watched her flick her shiny hair back, away from her perfect face.
I took sneaky glances out of the corner of my eye at her long, thin limbs and her tiny waist.
I wondered what it would be like to inhabit a body like Georgina's. I still do.

As my friend so kindly implied, I don't have much to offer in the way of physical attractiveness.
But I always took consolation that losing the little I did have, with time, wouldn't worry me.
As Mr. Dylan says "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

But I suppose I underestimated my own vanity. 
Because when those few small claims I had to physical beauty left me, it still hurt. Just a little. 
Which seems ridiculous in light of the some of the other things that I have lost in recent years.


My husband and I were walking down a busy London street. 
I was pushing Jessica in the buggy and moaning on about how much I wanted to go to the Whole Foods Market and La Pain Quoti.dien on Kensing.ton High Street. Not that I'm obsessed with stuffing my face or anything. Well, maybe a little.

My husband was nodding and kind of grunting in response, as he often does whilst I rabbit on, when suddenly his face was transformed. A look of interest kindled in his eyes. His nose stuck out a little more, like a dog pointing at its prey. For a brief instant, I believed that I had managed to convey my excitement over our proximity to high quality baked goods adequately and that he too was salivating over potential food purchases.

But, with a flicker of tawny hair and jiggling breasts, I soon saw the real reason for his sudden perkiness. 
An attractive young girl running for the bus. With all the vitality and glow of youth travelling in her wake.

My initial thought was, as it is with many things these days due to that pesky shard of troll-mirror that got stuck in my eye at some point in August 2008, Georgina. Everything and anything can be refracted through that interfering piece of glass and be turned into something to do with either birth or death. 
Funny that.

Oh my heart. My poor old sore and weary heart.
My Georgina.
She will never grow up and be beautiful and run for the bus. Unaware of her own jiggly beauty. Unaware of the stares from the eyes of all those lecherous older men who should know better. 
Her hair will never be long and tawny. 
It will simply never be.
She will never have the glow or beauty of youth although she will always be young. 

And isn't it strange how there is no room in my imaginings for a spotty Georgina? Or a fat Georgina? 
Or a painfully shy Georgina who would rather die than wobble about so alluringly on a public road?
Although she would have been no less perfect in the eyes of her mother for that. But death imparts a certain, strange perfection. Or perhaps I thought that, by giving her the same name as my beautiful friend, I could gift beauty to her. Like a fairy godmother.


I remembered the one fabulous meltdown I had when Jessica was in the special care nursery. When she was on the intensive care ward I had numerous messy and public melt downs but in special care, just the one.

When Jessica was transported back to the hospital in which she was born, the doctor who delivered her was there to greet us. She cried. I cried.
We talked about that morning. When the girls were born. We talked about Jessica and what the future might hold. We discussed potential issues. 
One of these was an umbilical hernia - a protrusion of body tissues through a weakness or hole in other body tissues - in this case, around her tummy button. 
The doctor, who had resuscitated Jessica as a 1lb 7oz newborn, suggested that Jessica might want to consider re-constructive surgery when she was older. To ensure that her navel looked pretty in a bikini.

And suddenly the fact that Jessica would grow up. 
Would care what her navel looked like. 
Might choose to wear a bikini. 
Suddenly all of these facts seemed absolutely overwhelmingly, unbearably luxurious. 
To sit and worry about her tummy button of all things.
Not death.
Not brain damage.
Not blindness.
Not leaky kidneys.
And the thought that Jessica might one day wear a bikini and want to flaunt a pretty tummy button.
That brought me to my knees. In that little side ward, with that young doctor looking at me so earnestly and talking about this re-construction as though it mattered. It absolutely ruined me.
I wonder if she might have an inkling as to why that particular discussion made me fall to bits so.



Back to my husband gawking at the pretty, running girl.

He says "What was that? Sorry, I got distracted" and smiles sheepishly.
I raise my eyebrows.
He says "It makes the world go round you know."
I raise my eyebrows again.

But I feel sorry for him.
I feel sorry for us.
Because I suspect that he will never look at me in that way again.
He did. 
When I was eighteen. Thinner. Prettier. Younger. Less creased up and bunched up. Less angry. Less bitter. Less sad.
Even when I was older, he could still look at me that way. 
I don't think he saw the heaviness that the years weighed upon my limbs or the sag that slowly pulled me down. Because he could still conjure the eighteen year old me from his memory and disguise myself inside her
Because he could remember the young woman that I once was.

I don't look at people that way any longer.
Wondering what it would be like to take them to bed.
I'm surprised he still has the heart. Or the other necessary equipment.
But, as he says, it makes the world go round.

My husband must have married me because, at the root of the matter, he found me a little attractive.
Biologically speaking. A fair prospect for reproduction.

Except, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving.

I have sets of matching lingerie.
I have a bag full of make up.
High heeled shoes.

They all sit unworn, unopened. Fossilised since the girls were born.

I could wear them, put them on, bat my eyelashes at my husband but . .  .they all feel like false advertising.
The artifice, that they always were, suddenly seems tawdry and desperate.
I can't bring myself to even try.
Because I can talk the talk but I can't walk the walk.
Much as I might want to.

Welcome, gentlemen! I have seen the day
That I have worn a visor and could tell
A whispering tale in a fair lady's ear,
Such as would please: 'tis gone, 'tis gone, 'tis gone.'

I can't give him anything. 
Not even a come hither look.
All that is on offer within this reproductive system is death, illness, despair or a vast indifference.
Take your pick. 
Of your Freudian dichotomy I can offer you, hmmm let me see . . . neither. 
No child. 
And nothing of interest either. Nothing to amuse.

And because I can't resist a little music.

'This song is for the soil
That's toxic clear down to the bedrock
Where no thing of consequence can grow
Drop your seeds there, let them go
Let them go.'

Monday, 19 July 2010


Reading back the last section of my previous post has me feeling a little  . . . sheepish. Baa.

Despite the rather negative tone of much of this blog, I am (at heart) an irrepressible optimist.

I still hope that one day I will pull a positive pregnancy test out out of my hat (and heavens knows it has never been done in that way before, sans urine) and 'abracadabra' give birth to a baby, at term no less, who is born healthy, pink and screaming. I also expect this to help. I'm not sure if it will or not but I am . . optimistic.

I still seem to expect that, one day, the grief I feel over Georgina's death will simply evaporate.
That the impulse that drives me to write this blog will wither, keel over and expire.
That the sadness and loneliness that fuels this strange place will disappear.
That, one day, my three dreary posts will be replaced by post after post about bunny rabbits and unicorns and how wonderful and frabjous my life is.
How Georgina's death suddenly all makes perfect sense and I am at peace with it (actually, momentarily, this is indeed sometimes the case).
That I no longer cry.
That my career has magically got back to where it was.
That my marriage and my friendships have bounced back to their pre-ill-baby-dead-baby fiasco days.
That I will post one final post and sing 'So long, farewell, Auf Weidersehen, goodnight', marking my graduation from this part of my life. The dead baby blogging phase? Didn't see that one coming I have to say. But then I didn't even see the dead baby part looming on the horizon.

This (mad) expectation isn't going to be fulfilled. And I know it really, in my heart of hearts.
I am not going to get the person that I was back.
But I have got somebody back. Just not the person who I was expecting.

At the moment I feel like a sponge, over-saturated with grief and misery and bitterness. Just one little poke. Even the slightest touch. And I leak. Which sounds horrible.

It IS horrible actually. Not pretty to see. Not pretty to be. My new incarnation as a big, fat, leaky grief sponge.
And I blog about it too. Lucky old world.

Jessica, sadly, is going to have this more miserable, more unkempt, less financially well equipped, more disorganised, shyer and generally more rubbish version of me as a mother.
But I don't think that necessarily makes me a worse mother.
Strangely it might even make me a better one.

I think my insecurity about my writing stems from my own perceived lack of progress. That I seem to get to 'devastated' and never move along, never pass go, I never collect my £200.

I worry that the fact that I am still here, when others who lost their children at the same time as me have left this place, means that I am less competent, weaker.
Or that others who have been here longer seem to have a more interesting variety of stuff to say for themselves. To whit, more than my three posts.

But it isn't a race. There's no shame in still being here if I want to be. I am not forcing anyone to read my stupid, cyclical three posts.

Which are, for the record (and because Emma's Daddy claimed he couldn't identify them, kind isn't he?)
(i) my daughter died and I am sad (I would add an expletive in time honoured tradition but, having grown up with a father who turned the air blue, and having nearly got myself chucked out of pre-school for saying the F word when I dropped my milk, I tend not to swear a great deal)
(ii) my daughter died and I am sad but today I can remember how beautiful she was
(iii) I am cross because I can't seem to have another baby

Oh and a minor variant that pops up every so often

(iv) why have I been writing this darn blog for so long?
Have I been writing it for too long?
What if all the comments I write aren't the right words for the job?
What if I'm annoying the people that I would like to support?

So I am going to put this minor variant to bed, once and for all. Hopefully. Don't hold your breath though.
I have enough insecurities for three adults at least. Possibly four.

I, Catherine W, am going to write this blog and keep on plugging away with variants of my three posts for as long (or as short) as I damn well please.
If it makes me feel better, there is no shame in it.
And just because I've been writing it for so long that I've realised that my age on my profile is wrong and I'm not thirty, I'm thirty one now and I must change that description of myself because it is a lie, doesn't mean it's been too long.
Nobody has to read it.
Although it is nice if they do because I think we all like to be heard. I think we all like to be supported. As I said, no shame in that.

I don't have to finish this by a certain time. None of us do.
There isn't a deadline by which I have to tidy everything up and put it away.
If my husband thinks it is unhealthy that is his opinion. I don't have to agree with him. Heavens know, I don't see eye to eye with him on a bunch of stuff anyhow.

One day, I am going to have to tell my little girl that she had a twin sister and that her twin sister is dead. And I would like to have some people 'around' me who understand what I'm talking about when I have to do that. I don't think that topic is going to be a great conversation starter at mothers and toddlers somehow.

Equally, if I find that I no longer want to write anything, I can delete this blog. Sometimes I feel I would be ridding myself of a desperate embarrassment by hitting that delete key.
But deleting my blog or, not having anything left to say, or not wanting to write any longer, doesn't mean that I am forgetting Georgina or somehow 'moving on.'
I'm not giving up being sad for her, or grieving her, or loving her.
I simply would not be writing a blog about it any more.
I seem to have got those two issues a little confused in my pea size brain. This blog isn't Georgina. Or Georgina's memory or memorial. It's just a blog.

If I comment on other people's blogs and I sometimes say the wrong thing, it is an honest mistake. Nobody says exactly the right thing all the time surely? So it would be quite surprising if I did. Who do I think I am? Tact Woman - the superhero who will come up with the correct words, typed with no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.

To say the wrong thing from time to time is only human. If I say 'loss' when people would prefer me to have said 'died', it doesn't matter. I'm trying my best. Hopefully they see that. If they don't, well, that isn't my fault. And words are only words. Most of my comments boil down to 'I'm sorry. I hear you.' anyways.

And if I have inadvertently made you incandescent with rage, just let me know.

So, having now shut down my minor variant post, please feel free to come back for your next helping of either (i), (ii) or (iii) when normal service is resumed.


Friday, 16 July 2010

More scatterlings

Jessica likes to watch television. A lot. If I attempt to get between her and the screen, she will try her very best to move me out of the way so she can gaze, slack jawed, at the monstrous goggle box.

At this point I should remind you that I am a full grown adult woman of around 5'8'' and she is a piffling little squirt of hmm . . perhaps 3 foot, absolute tops. She will still have a go at pushing me out of the way. Got to admire her spirit if nothing else. The resulting tussle would be amusing if it were not for the steely determination in her eye, letting me know that nothing comes between Jessica and her television. Mother or not.

She is generally allowed to watch two programmes before bedtime. At the moment these are 64 Zoo Lane and In The Night Garden. Both of these shows have very catchy little theme songs which I find myself singing from time to time. Kind of nursery rhymes for rotten parents I guess.

64 Zoo Lane in particular has a very nice little theme tune, describing all the animals who live in the zoo situated next door to a little girl called Lucy. None of these animals are sung about by name except for  . . . . . . . . yes, you guessed it, a giraffe who is called Georgina. Who is incredibly tall don't you know.

I have quite a bit of affection for this character as my own little Georgina was also, oddly enough, tall. She was on the 91st centile for weight at 23 weeks gestation. A big girl for her age. I wish that could have helped her.

In a recent episode, the animals were racing one another. Some moral about the snooty zebra who thinks he is superior to all the rest. Naturally we were cheering for the giraffe, Georgina. And it felt good. It felt good to say 'Go on Georgina' in a loud and cheery voice. Not hushed or sad. Just her name. Aloud. In the tones in which I have said 'Jessica' oh . . probably thousands of times. I wanted to carry on saying it long after the scene had ended. As though my cheering my little girl on would help her at all. I like saying her name although it makes my jaw muscles clench a little.


I have never been a keen cook. I'm obviously not the naturally nurturing kind. My poor, malnourished husband would testify to that.

But, when Jessica started eating, I became obsessed with recipes and organic ingredients, herbs and spices. Unsalted butter. Making my own stock. Scouring the internet for new ideas that might tempt her to try this or that. Calorie content. Looking for those foods that would fatten up those stick like limbs. As those of you who are kind enough to 'know' me on fac.ebook will have seen, I don't have much to worry about on that account any longer. But it is like a nervous tic. Weight gain=health=good mother. I can just see myself in twenty years time, encouraging Jessica to have that second slice of cake.

Sometimes as I cook, I think how much I would love to cook just one dish for Georgina. Just a little something. I don't even know what she would like. She would probably just throw the whole lot on the floor as her sister often does but still, I would like to cook with her in mind. To think, oh Georgina really likes x! I will have to look up a new recipe containing x. Maybe I could sneak a few veggies in on the side.

It makes me so sad that she never tasted anything. I love food so much. I wish she could have tasted just something.

When Jessica was still very small, I used to express milk on to my fingers for her and drop it into the corner of her mouth.

I thought that this was going to be my hundredth post. However after I'd deleted a few posts deemed not fit for public consumption, I discover that this is actually my 95th. But still I want to ask.

There is a song that reminds me of my first boyfriend, 'My Legendary Girlfriend' by Pulp. It pretty much sums up how I felt about that relationship and every relationship I have been in since.

'And as I stand here ... I wonder ... I wonder how many more times ... 
I'm gonna come here ...
I wonder how many more times ... I'm gonna lie here ... 
And most of all ... most of all I wonder ... 
I wonder what it means ...'

Even when I'm in the midst of something I can't help wondering how it is going to end.

I had honestly thought that this blog would be finished by now. That I would have said my piece and gone away. I feel a little like Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Twelfth Night when he says 'I was adored once too'.

My grief was new and raw once too.
When I read new stories, perhaps my tears are a little less hot?
My words are a little less confident, maybe a little less. . . welcome.
Perhaps it all seems too long ago, when I was 'adored', when my daughter died, that my words are an irrelevance, an annoyance.

I have visited this place of blogs every day since I knew of its existence. I sit up here in the spare bedroom in a nondescript house in the English suburbs and I read, I type, I cry. I occasionally laugh.
This place of shadows. A little like a church. Or a wood.

Where I can hear the voices of other people. Whispering. Murmuring.
Sometimes I fancy that I know them.
That I see them, that they see me.
Sometimes I feel that I have been caught up in a staring contest.
That I have offended.
That I have hurt.
That they would like me to leave.
Take my words and shove them where the sun don't shine.
It is very hard to tell. The voices here are faint.

The shadows moving in the periphery.
The partners.
The living children.
Although I will not necessarily know or remember their names.
But I will know the names of the dead.
If, indeed, they were named.

When I hear your child's name, I will stop. Floored. Just for a moment.
As though they were somebody that I knew and had loved.
Because sometimes I almost feel that I might have done. Just a little.

This place. It has a different population from those that stood here when I first arrived.
Even those that used to stop here and offer words have, in the main, moved along.
Maybe I am just a little slow, a little dull. I only seem to have the three posts. Wry smile.

And I wonder how many more times I will come here.
I wonder how many more times I will be welcome here.

Because I still want to come here. Is that wrong? Can I just carry on? Can I keep on writing about Georgina even if nothing else ever changes? And still expect an answer. 
What do you think? Do you imagine that there is a time limit on this sort of writing?