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.


  1. Catherine, I devoured this post. Your every last word spoke directly to me. This was food for my soul. The very fact that you exist, and are somewhere thinking and feeling the things you do gives me great comfort.

    I haven't been back to the exact area of the hospital Alexander was born at either. I've been to the building. I had doctors appointments and meetings with a social worker in the same building - but never have I been to the second floor...the l&d unit. The mom and baby unit. It haunts me. To know those corridors in which I walked through with him dead and still in my belly are out there. But at the same time - I miss him so and he was once there. I think of going to check on if he's still wrapped up nicely in the room next to where I delivered him...waiting for me to take a peek.

    For what's it's worth, I hope your visit to the hospital was positive? Not a painful accomplishment? I'm sad it's not the same. I'm sad you couldn't steal that brick.

    I loved all you wrote. Calling it shit. Oye. Can we not muster a more profound term for such profound shit we all have? My god! Lol

    I have many emotions when I think about this house. It was late January when we finally moved in...I was huge and could deliver any day. But many days, I miss my condo. Where Alexander only ever lived. He was conceived and grew for months and months. I turned 28 with him in my belly in that condo. I want to go back to my unit and try to feel his aliveness again. Many of these emotions I was going to dive into on my blog this month. I hope I still have the will to do so as February pushes forward.

    I remember Georgina. I love her and miss her dearly.


  2. Beautiful post. We moved from our condo before our rainbow was born and I was so so very glad. I felt like my sadness was etched in the walls there.

    Big hugs to you.

  3. I feel that too: no more messing in the big leagues of life and death...just plodding now. And feeling defeated. And not being able to, because there is so damn much plodding to do. And the feeling that she haunts everything that came after her. We haven't moved and the hospital where she is born is intact, but even if I were to go there...I think it would still be disconcerting...because no one would remember her. People would be wrapped up in their own dramas and the night of January 14, 2012 is so distant as to not even be a memory. I wonder if any of the nurses ever think of us? I wonder if the one nurse who handled her body remembers her? The hospital is a place of the present - always the present - to my mind, anyway - and she is so far gone from the present. Though I do remember going there for ultrasounds with M and thinking, once M had lived longer than she had, that the hospital was becoming more his than hers and feeling desperate about that: how could it be? Oh, Catherine, so much here and I am soothed by your words - to read the story of one who walks ahead - your Georgina has been gone 6 years - it was 3 when I started reading, and now Anja has been gone 3: how does that happen? So, though I wish you didn't have a reason to write all that you do, I do find so much comfort in it - a strange comfort: to know that I will still miss her three years from now. I wish I didn't have to miss her, but since I do, I'm glad to know I will: I wonder if that makes sense?

  4. Veronica: "Your every last word spoke directly to me. This was food for my soul. The very fact that you exist, and are somewhere thinking and feeling the things you do gives me great comfort."

    And Jen: "...feeling defeated. And not being able to, because there is so damn much plodding to do."

    Oh, Catherine. Leaning on others' words. My own skitter like mice - every direction, away from my head.

    The chapel! Is gone! The book, your words...where?

    A brick...that was the least. Could they not spare even that, in memory of your Georgina? For the ghosts of you who wandered the place-that-wasn't...not even a brick to feel, solid and cool under your fingers?

    It feels like another suppression. Suppression of Georgina's existence. Suppression of what you lived and died through there.

    You are brave. You are brave. I can't go, don't want to see, can't turn around. I'm frightened of the ghosts of me. Barely outpace them as it is.

    They can tear it all down. Everywhere, everything. They will never erase Georgina, Alexander, Anja. The building is there or it isn't, but these children are real and they are loved. They are not dust and figments.

    xoxo CiM

  5. To have those linkages to Georgina's life, just gone - the house, the hospital..., it feels cruel. When there are so few memories, these places and textures seem to be of paramount importance. I remember when the lactation specialist sent me the information for how to donate my breast milk that had accumulated for Zachary when he was unable to eat. She accidentally included her NICU patient spreadsheet. It must have gotten stuck to the paperwork she intended me to have. I dissolved when I saw a new baby's name in Zachary's room. A new patient, a new "fighter" in room 202. It felt an utter violation. I realize that sounds egotistical. It was a only a few weeks after Zachary died.

    I remember feeling rendered to a life of plodding along, in the years after B.W. died, but before Zachary died. I wonder if I will return to that existence again. It feels like a lifetime ago.

    Thinking of your precious girl, Georgina, and how she should be here. She should have been so many places by now, occupied so many spaces and moments by now, that each are individually insignificant. I'm sorry it is not so.

  6. Oh Catherine- I could have written (most of) this!

    I have made three appointments to meet a social worker at Bea's hospital.... and not kept one. She has all of her medical records- including fetal MRIs. I have two more years before they are destroyed. Maybe by year six, I will be able to enter into that building.

    And the move- we moved while I was pregnant with M. I left behind the stain on the carpet where my water broke, an event that signaled that the end was near. I'm certain that the new tenant removed the carpet- they didn't realize that her epithelial cells were there.I wanted to cut up the piece of carpet, but I was too embarrassed to admit it.

    Maybe all of this leaving things behind is the best way to plod on. I know that I try to find joy, and often I do- but there's always this small bit of missing her in everything that I do. If I was still carrying items like pieces of carpet and MRI images that showed her broken body, I may stumble.

    Thank you for continuing to visit here occasionally.It brings me back to my senses. Reminds me of who I am.

  7. This is my first visit to your blog and I feel both drained and filled by this post. I relate to so much of it, including the sense of resuming a life of normal proportions (with all the relief and tedium that may bring) and feeling that the house is haunted. Thirteen years later, my daughter still is and isn't here. My life has beauty and meaning and is also shaped by an absence. Thank you for your words.

  8. Just beautiful Catherine. I guess this is what we do - keep remembering our babies while the world moves on and dusts off the traces of their existence. I'm kind of glad your new house feels a bit haunted too. And as for all the plodding, you know that the life and death stuff is still there, waiting for its moment, and (when I have a moment to re-focus on it) making the plodding feel all the more precious. I think so much wise and good comes from your writing. You've made me feel sane at so many points in the last five or so years. So glad to still read your words.

  9. I wander by as a sort of remembering and checking! Hope silence and absence still means all is well with you :)