Wednesday, 30 December 2009


Over the holidays I had a couple of more or less amicable discussions with various members of my family about my parenting of Jessica.

Most of these went something along the lines of . . .
'you let her walk all over you'
'you spoil that child'
'you are making a rod for your own back'
'she has to learn . . '

I honestly don't know how to respond.
Personally, I don't think you can spoil a child as young as Jessica.
She only asks for what she needs. Nothing more.

They don't understand that when I look at Jessica, a part of me still sees a child who looks like this.

Edited to say that ventilator noises and alarms are audible in the soundtrack of this video.

Part of me is still that person in the video.
That shell-shocked woman. Part of me will always be her.

Obviously, I understand that Jessica doesn't look like this anymore.
She isn't ill.
She isn't likely to die.
Well, no more likely than any of us in reasonable health are at any given moment.

But when I look at my daughter, I see a composite image.

A sturdy one year old with a ready smile.

Jessica's fragile, delicate body. Weighing less than two pounds.
Her dusky colour as yet another vain attempt was made to abandon the ventilator.
Her chest falling still. No rise and fall. The tiny ribs motionless.

Georgina's puffy hands and chest. Vibrating with the motion of the oscillator.
Her skin splitting as the fluid accumulated.
Her last breath.

All of these blur my vision when it comes to being Jessica's mother.
A kaleidoscope of images, falling down one on top of another.

I know that I am probably doing it all wrong.
Perhaps I am raising a spoilt brat? I really have no idea any more.
I've never done this before. This being a mother.
I can only muddle through as best I can with this experience of death, life and the bits in between.
This is how it happened to me.
Not like it usually happens but I'm far from the only one.
As my husband keeps insisting this IS normal.

I messed up the first bit pretty damn well so perhaps I'm horribly overcompensating for that in all the wrong ways?

It is no surprise to me that I bought Jessica enough presents for two, that she has enough clothes for two, that I fuss over her enough for two. I do all of these things for myself.
Not for her.
She doesn't want presents.
She doesn't ask for toys.
She doesn't care if she has a fancy outfit on or a plain vest.
But it is all I can do. I feel so helpless.
Battering away against things that I can't change for her.
I can't unwind the past. I can't fix it.

Whenever I am exhausted or fed up, those images start to interpose themselves and suddenly . . I simply can't.
I can't ignore her cries.
I can't deny her a cuddle. It will be all too soon and she won't want her mother's hugs.
I can't be the sort of mother they seem to expect me to be.
They were there too. My family. Have they forgotten?

Not my little sister.  Who made these.

But the sight of that stocking, all on its own.
That tiny, tiny pink stocking.
I wish I could have unglued it and pegged it next to the others.
I wish that, by that action, I could change reality.
That, by moving that cardboard cut-out stocking, I could conjure my daughter back into being.

I missed her this Christmas.
More than I thought I would.
I missed my Georgina.
Some things seem to change.
But not that.
Not the missing of her.
That seems to have become part of me, an extraneous limb that flails around uselessly.
Valiantly, steadfastly it waves about.
But to no real purpose.
Missing Georgina.

How about you?
Did the death(s) of your child or children change the way you feel about parenting your living children?
Do you (or do you imagine that you would, or will in the future, or might have in some hypothetical world where things worked out) do things differently now? In the after?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


On Monday night, I got stuck in the snow coming home from work. A journey that usually takes around 45 minutes became one of nearly five hours.
The town I live in had nearly come to a complete halt.

I try to avoid lengthy periods without distraction. Usually, this is relatively easy to achieve. I never leave the house without a book in my bag. I usually fall asleep listening to the radio. I play with, talk to, sing to and generally annoy my living child who sometimes gives me a look as if to say 'geesh, just five minutes peace mama. Can't you see I'm busy here.'
I sometimes even talk to my dead one. When nobody else is around and I am really desperate to reach her. Although I know she doesn't hear me and my words fall into empty space. Or perhaps she gives me that same old-fashioned look, a slightly altered version of her sister's.

As the snow swirled down into my windscreen, the radio blathered on and on. I wasn't really listening but the host mentioned in passing that it was Winter Solstice. And I thought of Lucia Paz.

I turned the radio off.
I watched the cold snow falling in fat clumps.
I felt the fuggy warmth inside the car.
I felt the heat of the tears on my face.

I opened the window and whispered names into the cold, snowy air.
In a traffic jam.
On the outskirts of a boring suburban town.
Stuck on a motorway junction.
I whispered all the names I could think of.

I wish that I hadn't been stuck on a motorway junction.

I wish that I could have gone to a more beautiful location to remember (although the town I live in is one that is arguably improved by being rendered invisible beneath the snow.)

I wish that I could have said something more eloquent, more beautiful, more graceful.

But then, what could possibly be more graceful than their names.

I whispered all the names out of my car window.
The cold stung my face which was rosy from the car heater.

Then I said, 'You are remembered. You are missed. You are loved.'

Then I put the window up.
The traffic hadn't moved an inch.
For a moment, I almost felt as though we had gathered for that purpose.
To remember.
That we were waiting for the end of the ceremony.
That we would disperse immediately my last whisper steamed up into the snowy air.

But of course, we didn't.
I sat there in the traffic jam and I cried some more.
For all those whose lives were so short. Whose moments between the big horizons of human life were so brief, so tentative.
For all of us here who miss them so. Who love them so.

One life - a little gleam of time between two Eternities.
Thomas Carlyle

Saturday, 19 December 2009


19th of December. The day that, last year, Georgina and Jessica should have been born.

When I say sixteen weeks early, it doesn't sound terribly bad. Not an insurmountable problem.

It is snowing here today, on the 19th of December.
When I think back to Jessica's birthday, at the end of August, when we all sitting outside in the garden, sixteen weeks and some odd days sounds like a very long time indeed.
A sickeningly long time.
A time that could suck all the air from my lungs.

Sixteen weeks and three days. I wish I could have held on for longer.

Jessica had her checks yesterday. She did very well. Her consultant was quite curious as to what I have been feeding her. She has had some of the evil biscuits known as party rings (only once I promise) but apart from that I just feed her as often as I think she will eat something! I often feel like I am just hovering about her with a spoon, waiting to stuff something in the moment she opens her mouth. Poor child. She is now the average weight for a baby her age, slightly below average height. She passed all her developmental checks and has been discharged from physiotherapy. The slight weakness noted on one side last time seems to have corrected itself. Her lungs sound good, no wheezes or rattles. Only a little bit of 'caving in' under her ribs on one side.

On the whole she is a surprisingly well little girl. As the consultant said, the outcomes for 23 weekers are variable and, frequently, are not as straightforward as Jessica's. I have always braced myself for something, I couldn't tell you what, but SOMETHING to come squirming out of the woodwork and laugh at me. Saying 'ha, you might have thought everything was fine but it isn't.'

So I finally let out the breath that I have been holding on Jessica's behalf since August last year. I uncrossed my fingers, now stiff and clawed from being crossed. I untied the rabbit foot. I will no longer make the sign against the evil eye. I will no longer do all those pointless things that I did because they were all that I could do to keep my little girl safe.

Then again, maybe I won't. Fingers re-crossing right about . . . . now.

The doctor also mentioned Georgina. She said, it was like what I lost on the one hand, I gained on the other. I've had that thought myself although it is not a concept that makes any sense or one that I particularly like. But I think I know what she was getting at. It would be asking too much for Georgina to be alive and in as good health as Jessica. It simply wouldn't be possible. But that doesn't stop me wanting it. Because I am unreasonable.

I don't feel like I am coping very well lately.
I don't really know why. One of those strange, senseless downwards spirals that hit us all from time to time. Not seemingly triggered by anything in particular.

I feel nauseated. By everything.
And, sadly, this is not because I'm pregnant. Believe me, I have checked approximately five thousand, three hundred and twenty six times. Well, perhaps not quite that often (I'm a little prone to exaggeration) but you get the general idea.

I feel like I am fitting in better at work. I hope I am. But it seems that the only person who can fit back in the space that I left behind is . . . me. The old me. The one that faffed around the office and smiled and said yesthankyouiamfineiamgreathowareyoudoing? yesiwilldothatbymonday surenoproblem hahahaicantbelieveyouvesetupaspreadsheettoseewhoisgettingtheadventcalendarchocolate and laughed about the biscuit barrel being raided by the cleaners and my colleague's obsession with trains and loved to hear the stories of the guy's kids. My immediate colleagues are all men and all of them have young children so I hear lots of cute stories. I used to love hearing them. Now . . not so much. I just want to stick my fingers in my ears and go 'la la la la, not listening, don't care about your families with all their living children.' And these people are nice people, caring people who love their children and are just trying to break up the working day with a little bit of entertainment along the lines of 'kids say the funniest things.'

My immediate neighbour's five year old son asked him recently if people go on forever. He was relating this story and it kind of knocked the breath out of me. I just stared dully at my computer screen, trying not to make it glaringly obvious that I was crying. And L, my wonderful manager, if you gave me that window seat intentionally, for that very purpose, bless you.

The strain of doing all this is making me feel sick. To maintain the illusion of being the old me, I have to pay a price. My guts pay the price. I wake up feeling sick, I walk around feeling sick, I drive feeling sick, I work and click and calculate feeling sick.

As though there is something festering inside me. Something rotten. Something unsightly. A mouldy heart.

An e-mail was circulated on my last day at work with the subject 'cakes.' You know me, I'm a greedy soul and a sucker for cake so I clicked immediately. The cakes had been bought to celebrate a pregnancy. A successful twelve week ultrasound.

I couldn't say congratulations. I couldn't say anything. All I felt was fear. I saw that presence waiting in the corner, twiddling his thumbs. He was waiting in that same corner last year when I shyly presented my first ultrasound pictures. I don't know if this presence is death or misfortune or the fates or what you would call him, her, them or it. But I know that presence.

I left the building. I charged up the staircase in the multi storey car park. I got to my car and I rested my hand on the roof retching. I desperately wanted to throw up but nothing. I got in the car and cried. I felt as though I was in the centre of a crumpled sheet of paper and all the events of the past year were inexorably closing in on me. Life support equipment jostling next to breast pumps, tiny red children marching on feet bound with sats probes and lines, ventilators hissing and alarms beeping. Coming towards me. In a car park. I probably looked like I had gone completely insane.

If you remember All.y Mc.Beal and her dancing baby? Bit like that but not so funny. Not funny at all. Well, funny peculiar maybe. I am pretty damn peculiar from time to time since this happened.

I don't know what is wrong with me. Is it jealousy? Do I ill-wish others because my own pregnancy did not go well? Do I feel that everyone should suffer to get their children? What sort of person have I become? Some sort of twisted freak who can't even bear to see an ultrasound picture? I don't want to be like that. I don't want my first thought to be that the baby might die so you shouldn't be buying congratulatory cakes, not yet.

I've often wanted to ask my friend and my SIL, the other twin (living twins) mums that I know if they hated me, resented me. I fell pregnant with the girls on my first cycle. No fertility problems. No tests. No painful procedures. No disappointment. Just wine and roses. Until it wasn't.

My sweet girls. I loved you so much. I still do. I listened to this song of Nick Drake's when I was pregnant. Especially after 12 weeks it seemed so apt. When I knew I was expecting twins. It seemed so magical.

I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
I never held emotion in the palm of my hand

Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you're here
Brighten my northern sky.

There is something so very warm in Nick Drake's voice as he sings that second to last line, 'but now you're here.' It always reminds me of my girls. That moment that they were here. Both of them. When I was pregnant and when they were born, before Georgina died.

My girls. You do brighten my northern sky.

I wish I could hold on to the love I feel for you Georgina but I need to let everything else go.
The bitterness, the resentment, the anger, the endless questioning.
Why it had to be me.
Why it had to be you.
Why it had to be Jessica.
Why it had to be your sweet Daddy.
Why I can't help seeing you when I look at your sister. I can't help seeing you through the static. Shimmering. Glistening. Just on the brink of living. Then snatched away from me. It feels like it was so close. But I suppose it wasn't. Not really. You were always closer to death than life from the moment you were born. Of course you were.

But I wanted you to live so very, very, very much. So much so that my memory distorts the facts. So much that, in my memories, you were in with a chance. A real chance.

I'm so tired. Of all this bile inside me. This bitter, bitter gall.

And I'm editing to say that I know all of this sounds terrifically ungrateful. Maybe I am. I hope not.
I still can't believe that Jessica is doing so well and is so healthy, it didn't seem possible this time last year. I love her so much and when I think of how vulnerable she was, how close she came to death my heart seems to stop in my chest.

But I still love Georgina. I still miss her. I hope you understand.

Not all pregnancy announcements take me this way. I've survived many of them with just about complete equanimity. Nothing different about this one, only my reaction.

Anyway, this one is for you, my precious daughters.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


My parents had two phrases that they used (and still use to this day) when they were particularly exasperated with me.

My dad, "Give it a rest girl."
My mum, "Have you no rest for your soul?"

In terms of frequency of use, these phrases probably reached their zenith in my teenage years and were used in relation to dyeing my hair different colours, spending excessively long in the bath, playing my music too loud and being on the 'phone every single minute I was in the house. I was young in those ancient times before everyone had a mobile 'phone, A world which seems slightly unbelievable now. When I, aged 17, wanted to speak to the boyfriend who would eventually become my husband, I had to 'phone his home and ask his mum if I could speak to him. How bizarre.

I suppose I have never been an especially calm or restful person. I am certainly not now.

I am finding myself increasingly juddering back and forth, between a kind of fierce elation and abject despair. Pausing for spells of stupid numbness characterised by my slack jawed mumbling of 'what? what just happened? This? This all happened to me? To my family? To my children? Really?'

Looking back at this blog of mine, this seems to be a recurring theme. Even the post titles give me away, oscillate wildly, teeter totter.

Georgina and Jessica were due on the 19th of December. They were going to be Christmas babies. I'm sure I would never have made it that far, I know that twin pregnancies don't usually make it the full forty week stretch. But, because of this due date, many of my day-dreams of the girls involved Christmas. Two babies dressed in their first Christmas outfits. Two little stockings of presents.

My mum bought two beautiful little sets of red dungarees with 'my first christmas' embroidery. One has been put away indefinitely in the loft, it was far too big for Jessica to wear on her first Christmas and is far too small to be worn this year. I suppose I'm keeping it in the hope that a third child may wear it one day. Ever the optimist.

The second outfit was never worn. It is in Georgina's box. With other outfits I bought her before she was born. All so ridiculously, heartbreakingly big. Far too big for my tiny, delicate little baby. Bought with the stupid naivety of a woman who been told her baby was measuring at the 91st centile and was expecting a big girl. But sadly, so sadly, my 'big' girl will always be tiny. So tiny that it almost defies belief that I have as many ashes of her as I do.

As I try to reintegrate myself into the life I had before, I find myself feeling increasingly awkward, clumsy, stupid. My tongue seems to have thickened and furred. I find myself apologising to colleagues, to friends. "Gosh, it's been so long. Over a year. I don't know why I'm still so upset by it." And then I hate myself and my lack of grace, my inability to tell the truth of the matter. As if I would be over it in a year. Or ten years. Or ever. My inability to tell them how much it hurts. How much it hurts to see your child die. How much I loved her.
And they look away from my teary eyes. Or start apologising for upsetting me.
The unexpected "how many children do you have?" from the new girl at the Christmas lunch. The looks of agonised pity thrown my way from those who saw my 'rabbit in the headlights' face. The tearing I felt in my stomach as I replied "just the one, Jessica is my first."

I am distracted in meetings by vivid memories of details, Georgina's tiny jaw, her sparse little tufts of hair, the way her hands were so full of fluid that they looked painful, the cold water we washed her in. Details that I didn't even know that I remembered.

I find myself standing in the shopping centre, feeling as though I have simply stopped. As though time has stopped. Struggling for breath. The shoppers around me either mutate into uncaring, unthinking automatons who all have perfect lives, whose presence highlights my own inadequacy, my own freakishness. Or they all turn into walking tragedies. I look around and see dead children, accidents, fatal diseases. I wonder how we can all continue walking past Tesco. How we can all queue up at the ATM. Without the world just bursting apart.

Jessica very nearly came home on Christmas Eve last year. But this plan was cancelled on the day due to a lack of staff. So this will be her first Christmas at home. I am excited, nervous, happy, terrified and sad all at once. I feel as though I am already building myself up into a frenzy. It is hard to describe but I had a similar feeling when Jessica first came home. As though everything sped up, as though I was speeding up. I wanted to make everything absolutely perfect for this little girl who had been through so much. I needed to make sure that all her clothes and muslins were perfectly clean and ironed, that she never cried, that she fell asleep in my arms every night, that she had every toy and outfit that she could possibly need, that the freezer was fully stocked with purees. And I was just racing along and I could do it all and I could make it all perfect. Faster and faster and faster. Until, until I couldn't.

I can't make life perfect. I can't bring back her twin sister. I can never 'unthread that bead' from the necklace that Jessica's life will become. It doesn't matter how many Christmas presents she has under the tree. Even if she gets enough for two. How many books I read to her. How many songs I sing to her. I need to try and have a little rest for my soul.

Sometimes I wish that I could be entitled to a day, one day, just to sit and cry.
To cry and cry and cry for my Georgina.
To attempt to make sense of this.
But I suspect that it would take more than a day. Sometimes I feel that I will never make sense of this. Even if I had one hundred years to sit and think about it.

Sometimes I'm very glad that I've never had that day, that I wouldn't know what to do with that day of mourning if it was granted to me.
I think, deep down I still don't fully accept that Georgina has died. Because I've never had to face that fact. Because I've always had another baby, for many months a very unwell baby, to concern myself with. I still feel as though I am expecting twins, just that one of them hasn't arrived yet.

And I feel so clumsy. I feel I should be apologising even here for my failure to progress, my inability to make any meaning or sense out of the loss of my daughter, my endless repetition of the same old things. The loss of my daughter. My failure to have another baby. Same old, same old.

I'm sorry. I wish I had something new to say. Something helpful or clever or enlightening. Something that might offer comfort.

I still miss her.
I still wish she had lived.
I still wish I could have spared her pain.
I still wish I could have stopped her birth from happening, so many months before she would have been prepared for it.
I still love her.
Nothing has really changed my sweet girl.
I get a little better or a little worse at hiding how much it hurts. That's all.
I find greater or lesser degrees of rest for my soul.
That's all.

I love this song. It was written for one of my favourite singers, Nick Drake, when he was suffering with depression by a friend of his, John Martyn.  I love the image of solidified air. Sometimes, in my frozen moments in shopping centres or other inappropriate places to chose to suddenly stop, that is how it feels. As though the air has solidified.

You've been taking your time
And you've been living on solid air
You've been walking the line
And you've been living on solid air
Don't know what's going wrong inside
And I can tell you that it's hard to hide when you're living on
Solid air.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Still waters run deep

Hmmm, I just read yesterday's post again and realise it sounds as though it was written by an incredibly shallow fool. Which it was.

But I didn't like the way it sounded when I read it again.

I thought about deleting it but that seemed a little bit dishonest somehow.

I promise that what changed within me in that moment wasn't only my taste in books, music, TV shows or how much I worry about my weight. Although all of those things did change.

I tried to write about some of the more important aspects of my life that changed as well.
But they resisted having words attached to them, twisted in my hands and finally slipped away.

I have tried to write about how this experience has changed my religious beliefs.
But I couldn't even formulate precisely what it was that I believed in before.
Or after for that matter.

I thought I would try and steer clear of the issue of religion on my blog as it is such a contentious one. I don't want to inadvertently hurt the feelings of others with a clumsily expressed opinion. I know it is only too easy to do using this medium. Sending a flat voice out into the great blue yonder with no intonation, no apologetic smile, no ability to quickly backtrack and say 'no, no that isn't what I was trying to say at all.' Seems a little risky.
So this blog has ended up being a bit like polite dinner table conversation. No sex, no politics and no religion.
Oh but I forgot, there is death. There's a nice big clunking taboo for ya. I think I'll stick to tackling one big subject at a time so religion is out.

I have tried to write about how this experience has changed my relationship with my husband. But it always feels like a betrayal to write about him so I generally don't. He knows I write this blog but he doesn't read it. He's never asked what it is I write about so avidly some nights. He finds it very strange that I should want to discuss what happened to me, him and our daughters with strangers, in a public place.
It is strange, I can't deny it. I wonder why I find it so comforting and liberating myself.
But as he doesn't approve of this venture and I don't see myself asking him for permission to write about him, his feelings about the twins or the impact that it has had on our relationship, I don't think I could (or perhaps even should?) write about him or about our relationship.

The same goes for the rest of my family. My mum and my sister both know I write a blog but (I think) find it odd and don't read it. I don't think my dad even knows what a blog is but if his vehement hatred and mistrust of fac.ebook is anything to go by I could only begin to guess his feelings about this little pile of musings if he were ever to inadvertently stumble upon it. Obviously all of these events took a tremendous toll on my family and our relationships with one another but, again, trying to describe the subtle shifts that have occurred between us in the light of Georgina's death and Jessica's illness would be beyond my skill with words.

My entire world view.
What life could be, should be.
The purpose of life.
Medical ethics.
The nature of love.
The nature of compassion.
What a human being is.

All of these things, that I had fairly sturdy positions on in the 'before', were shaken up and swirled around as though in a snow-globe.

But I can't begin to articulate how. It is simply beyond me. So I stuck to the easy things, things that I could quantify and label, things that don't actually mean anything, things that are used by the insecure to define themselves because the other things, the crucial things, are often just too damn hard.

I also meant to say that Georgina didn't die in that moment. She died the following day.
I was already in pieces by the time I finally held her in my arms.
But, somehow, that didn't seem to matter at all.

I feel better for having written this.
I felt as though I had reduced my daughters to a change in the music on my iP.od or the items in my ama.zon shopping basket.
I hope you know that was not what I intended.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

And for a minute there, I lost myself

I think back to the person that I was just over a year ago and I am incredulous.
I cannot believe that woman was me.
It seems strange that the person I was, or who I thought I was, for 29 years was so easily blown away. In a gust of wind. A huff and a puff and she was gone. Never to return.

Who I am now is different. Not better or worse necessarily. Just different.

Things I considered important before, they are . . .gone.
There is just an empty space where they were.

The music I listen to. I can't bear to hear much of what I liked before. Or I have to really brace myself to listen to it. A bit like lashing yourself to the mast in the face of a gale. Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, The Smiths, The Mountain Goats, Ryan Adams, even twee, friendly lil Belle and Sebastian that I used to listen to in my car on the way to work when I was pregnant. Even my beloved Smashing Pumpkins. I can't manage to listen to anything too sad or too angry. The music that I felt was so close to me, that defined me. Gone.

Now I listen to . . .hmm, mainly 'Chilled R'n'B volume I.' I like Jordin Sparks' No Air especially and I listened to it a lot after Georgina died. For some reason, I can still drive calmly and listen to it. Whereas most other music has me in floods of tears and a major danger to other road users.

The books I read. I have always been a voracious reader of novels. Doubtless I would have slowed down a little once Jessica was born but I've also had a complete change of taste there too. Now I read mainly what I would have called 'chick-lit' I guess. Oh and celebrity magazines. I read the complete works of Jilly Cooper whilst Jessica was in hospital. Not any better or worse than the things I used to read, just different. I now read stuff I never would have contemplated reading before. I can't concentrate enough to read for very long anyhow.

But I am embarking on an excellent new book which comes highly recommended by the wonderful Tracy so perhaps I am on the up with that one. I'm only on the first hundred pages and kilts feature prominently. And have just realised that it is St. Andrew's Day today too. An auspicious day for starting, here goes!

Films and TV shows. Previously consisted of Disney movies and the occasional slightly quirky movie. Now replaced by Dexter (a TV show about a serial killer), Prison Break, The Wire and House. None of which are suitable viewing for a one-year old. So annoyingly, where we might have had perfectly corresponding taste for a couple of years, I am now addicted to shows full of violence and swear words which I am attempting to cram an episode of in during nap time.

My personal appearance. I used to panic a lot about my weight and I was always on a diet. It amazes me now to think how many hours I wasted pondering if I should eat this or that. Or save those calories for later.
I used to love, love, love make-up and clothes and shoes and fancy schmancy expensive conditioners and handbags and high heels.I don't even look like myself any more. Not the person I remember from a couple of years ago. She just stopped somewhere, mouth open, mid-mascara application probably knowing her.

Lots of things. Stupid, trivial things no doubt but the things that composed 'me.'
Well, I never told you I was deep. I swim in the shallower waters of humanity I'm afraid.
Lots of internal cogs that whirred in my brain in a nice, orderly simulacrum of a human being just went clonk, clank, fssst and fell on to the floor.
All those things I thought I understood, thought I believed.
Turns out I didn't really understand.
Didn't really believe.

Perhaps this happens to everyone when they have a baby?
Perhaps this happens to everyone when they lose a baby?
I don't know. It all arrived in such a jumble, all at once.
Did the same kind of things happen to you?

That person, whoever the hell she was, just stopped.
I think I know the moment she stopped.
It was in a hospital, not very far away from where I type this, about fifty miles or so. She was standing holding tightly to her husband's hand. It was the middle of the night. She had just got out of a bed in that same hospital. She had been woken by a telephone call. The person on the other end of the 'phone spoke to her husband. Told him that his daughter was dying. Now.
That woman is still frozen in that moment. That moment that returns and returns to me. Sitting on that bed and my stomach plummeting through the floor. My entire body falling through the floor shortly after it.

Sometimes when I am least expecting it and, frustratingly, usually when it would be a really inappropriate moment to start crying. That moment comes back.
At work. Driving on the motorway. This moment inserts itself between my eyes, my brain and the world. I'm back there. Smelling hand gel and hospital soap. Frightened.
The doctor with her blond curls and a flowing tweedy skirt bent over the incubator with a look of fierce concentration on her face.
The tiny, red baby that is my daughter. So small that I can hardly see her through all the equipment and all those people.
The doctor is saying 'night-trick, night-trick' and I'm so confused. I don't understand. What could that be? Later I discover she is saying nitric.
And my heart. My poor heart. It's screaming 'my daughter, my daughter' and I can't do anything.
I can't touch her. I can't help her. I can't breath for her. All I can do is stand there and break. Break into a million and one tiny fragments, shattered on the floor in that room. I can't help but think you would find a few shards of me there to this day. Along with pieces of many other parents doubtless.
But when I tried to put myself back together, I simply couldn't get it right. I feel like I stuck myself back together again in the wrong order.

I don't know who I am. I don't know who I ought to try to be. I thought I would be a mother. And I am.
But I never expected motherhood to start like this.
Then I briefly thought that this blog would take the turn that many of us hope for, a 'pregnancy after loss' blog. But it didn't. Or maybe it kind of already did as I do write about Jessica from time to time.
But perhaps that wouldn't have helped anyhow.
I think I invest too much in another pregnancy. Hoping that another pregnancy, one that doesn't end in death and intensive care, would somehow fix some of those pieces back in place.
But it wouldn't. And it won't. And I have to contemplate the possibility of who I am without that.
A funny kind of mother. To two tiny children. One who grew. One who didn't.
But still a mother.
And it isn't really about me anyhow.
I'm kind of an irrelevancy.
It's about those two daughters of mine.
Love you my sweet girls.
I'm so proud of you both.
I love you.
I miss you Georgie.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


One evening earlier this week, Jessica walked for the first time. We had bought her a little trolley over the weekend and on Tuesday she marched up to it and pushed it along. My husband and I were both a little taken aback, perhaps we purchased a magic trolley? One that imparts a sudden ability to walk. Who knew? We are considering loaning it out for a small fee.

She walked towards me with a beaming smile on her face.
She looked so pleased and so proud.
I couldn't stop my grin.
And then I couldn't stop my tears.

This endless process of realising how much I have gained, how much was granted when Jessica survived and left the hospital.
Whenever I think I have grasped it, defined it, touched the edges and been sufficiently thankful for it, that is when I discover yet more.
It seems boundless.
All the opportunities that I have been given.
Jessica shows me how much more I have, more than I will ever realise.
More happiness, more surprise, more gratitude.
More than I think I can completely understand.
Not until our time together is over. Perhaps then. Perhaps not even then.

But there is an antagonistic process, like those muscle that work in unison to move a joint, that pulls in the opposite direction. Because I haven't even begun to realise how much I have lost.

I lost something immeasurable when Georgina died.
More than I think I will ever completely understand.
I lost my tiny baby and I lost her at this age too. At every age.
She'll never be older than three days old.
She'll never be bigger than 1lb 10oz.
I still don't believe it. I still catch myself trying to think of ways to fix it, to bring my little girl back to me. How ridiculous can you get?
It happens in my dreams too.
The hospital 'phone me to say that they have found her.
Or that they have another baby which I should take, as they knew I was going to have twins.

My head swims with it.
How much I gained.
How much I lost.
Somehow I feel that they should cancel one another out, that I should be feeling flat and calm, that one should reconcile me to the other.
But it doesn't.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


I feel as though I have ground to a halt. Whatever pale fumes I was running on up to this point seem to have been exhausted and, with a splutter and a cough, I've simply stopped.
I think I was relying so heavily on a new pregnancy to push me forward, to give me an impetus. I don't have a back-up plan. Or even the beginnings of one.
Stasis. Too frightened to try again. Too frightened not to try again.
Losing faith in the notion that my body can ever, ever do this terrible and amazing thing, the one thing it was designed to do.

Sometimes, as I sit in front of my computer at work, I can almost feel the words rising in my throat. Forming a palpable clot in my mouth. The word 'Georgina' seems to have grown edges, manifested itself as a physical presence lodged between my jaws. An aching tooth, an inflamed taste bud, that I sit and prod at for hours at a time.

Calculate, calculate, type, type, mail, phone, prod, prod. Georgina, Georgina, Georgina.
I go and sit on the bench I sat on to eat my lunch when I was pregnant, prod, prod, Georgina, Georgina.

She was here. In this office. In the grim multi-storey car park where I park my car. On the street, past the Job Centre. She lived. She existed. In these unlikely places.

I even sit and think about her in the office toilets. I spent a lot of time there whilst I was pregnant as I was so sick. Sometimes I just go and lock myself in a cubicle and sit. Try to conjure her up. Prod.

I am so desperate to talk about her. To talk about the whole experience.
But there is nobody in the office to talk to. Or even to talk at. I'm not fussy.

All those mundane conversations about children, birth, babies, families.
They all feel closed off to me.
Marked with a 'do not enter' sign.

No freaky low birth weight children in this conversation please.
Not to mention the dead child. Please leave your dead children at the door.
We are discussing childbirth with K here. She has just had a normal, healthy baby boy. K here knows what we are talking about. This little boy has suffered the trauma of having an NG tube inserted for two whole days. This conversation is falling oddly silent because it is not for you C. Why are you trying to join in? Your surviving child simply fell from the sky into an incubator don't you know.
We are trying to have an enjoyable chat about J's pregnancy, which is obviously well into the third trimester, and we do not appreciate you, C, hovering around the edges of the staff kitchen like a bird of ill omen.

Hell, part of me feels that I will curse poor J if I hang around her too much.
My eyes snag on her all the time though. She must surely see my surreptitious glances at her belly, my desperate wish that it was me, that it was my girls.

I'm sure that nobody actually thinks of me as bad luck. Well, not consciously perhaps.
I'm sure most people aren't avoiding me. I'm probably just being paranoid and more than a little bitter. Or remembering relationships that were always professional in the past illuminated with the warm glow of the excitement of pregnancy. It's twins! Really?

I'm sure most people have forgotten. Perhaps forgotten that I have even been on maternity leave.
Some people just aren't interested in the exterior lives of their work colleagues. I certainly can't pretend to know the inner workings of many of mine, the hidden tragedies or triumphs of their lives, the secrets they walk around holding pressed close to their souls. An office environment isn't conducive to such exchanges.

I'm sure I have inadvertently hurt many of them. Just as they now hurt me. What goes around, comes around.

Couldn't tell you if N was married.
Couldn't say for the life of them whether O had children or not.
And C? C? Has she any children? Was she pregnant at one point? Didn't something go awry there?
Or maybe not even that. C. I need some figures and I need them now. I'll ask C. She knows about that sort of thing.

And as ever. I would prefer it that way. Except when I don't.

But sometimes, in the midst of all this, I find a breathing space. I find someone who, despite my blathering and trying to laugh and pretending and keeping it together and make-up application and work identity badge carrying and calculation performing and functional functioning, hears me.
Hears what I am actually saying.
Sees that brief glimpse of my interior before the blinds flicker downwards and the truth is covered up.

Who knows that, underneath all my words, even the most stupid and mundane things I say (and I say more stupid and mundane things than most believe me) is that experience. The end of August 2008.
My two tiny, tiny children.
My Georgina, so briefly alive and now dead.
My Jessica, so small and frail, grown so healthy and alert.
All my words resonate with them. With my children. Because they are at my foundation, at my roots.
I can't see the world at all anymore, except refracted through them.

And in that moment. In that presence. If that presence is in a letter or via computer wires or in person.
I can lay that stone that usually resides in my mouth on the table. I might not be discussing it directly, although I can harp on upon the subject of the birth of my children for hours, but it is there. It is acknowledged and I don't have to smash my teeth to pieces on it every time I try to speak. And for these brief pauses I am so very grateful.

I've been thinking about this beautiful post of Kate's at Glow In The Woods.

I trust Kate. I've never met her but I would trust her to the ends of this earth.
I know that, one day in the possibly not too distant future, I will have my very own 'one day at suppertime' moment. When the room will spin and I will think 'I haven't thought of it today', I sat and calculated and calculated and mailed and called and filed and cleaned and cooked and ate and drank and played with Jessica and kissed my husband goodnight. All day and I didn't think of it. Not once.
But that day is not today. Not yet.

My letting go is only very tentative.
But Georgina. One day. One day I will say 'have-a-safe-journey, wear-your-mittens, don't-forget-to-eat-a-good-snack' my darling. Last touch, my sweet girl. Last touch.

But not today. Not yet.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Teeter totter

I had a D&C last week as the pregnancy did not miscarry naturally. I was strange being in hospital again. Not pleasant but not as unbearable as I thought it might have been.

It was actually quite an interesting experience being admitted to the EPAU. It was a fine line as to whether they would admit me at all or not as the usual criteria involves 'recurrent' miscarriages. My GP views my pregnancy with the twins as a miscarriage as it ended so early. However, the EPAU considers my pregnancy with Jessica and Georgina a 'successful' one. And it was. I suppose I've become so used to thinking of that pregnancy as a 'failure', that my body let my girls down, that I'd almost forgotten that it was the pregnancy (my one and only) that resulted in my two daughters. How could I possibly consider that experience a failure when it resulted in Jessica who is still with me today and my darling Georgina who I got to hold and meet? It was actually good to see my previous pregnancy recast in a different light.

This brief pregnancy was very different. No living child, no body to hold, no baby to be seen, no scan pictures. Things never progressed that far. Nothing. Not as crushing yet somehow more crushing at the same time.

I always seemed to be in two minds about this pregnancy. On the one hand, I felt as though I was 'owed' a normal pregnancy. That if I managed to fall pregnant, I was almost guaranteed a full-term, healthy baby. Despite the fact that I know that the world does not work this way and, given my line of work, I should have some appreciation of independent events.

But on the other hand, I was (and still am) worried that there might be some underlying reason why I cannot carry a pregnancy to term. My memories of my pregnancy with the twins are so blurred. I felt as though I was going to throw up every single waking moment and I was so tired, it all seems so impossible now. I never really felt the girls move because they were so small still, I also had two anterior placentas that might have made perceiving their movements even more difficult. It all seems so very unlikely, that I was ever pregnant. Pregnant? With Jessica? That she actually had anything to do with my body and wasn't created in a hospital by doctors? Really?

Perhaps I am trying and trying to do something that is simply not a possibility for me and, in the process, I will wreck everything I hold dear. The conclusion at the hospital was 'bad luck' but still . . .

Whilst I am sad that this pregnancy did not progress beyond a few weeks, it made me appreciate what I have, how lucky I am to have a child.

So strange, this terminology that is used to describe pregnancy. When the EPAU contacted me they told me that the pregnancy was 'failing', they then double checked that I understood this to mean I was miscarrying. How strange. That one little word, failure, cut me right to the quick. Nobody likes to fail and it seems bizarre that something that is so far beyond our control should be termed as a failure. Failure seems to imply neglect or carelessness.

I know that, when Georgina died, I thought it was my fault. I felt that way for a very long time. I still blame myself to some extent. I raked over everything I had done or neglected to do over the course of my brief pregnancy. I wondered about make-up and bath oil and depilatory cream and deodorant and the caffeinated coca cola I drank once by mistake and whether I had been too fond of alcohol or chocolate or work prior to falling pregnant. Whether I was too fat or too thin or too young or too old. Too smug. Too happy. Too lucky. Too unlucky. Whether I was an awful person, a person who would be a terrible mother. Whether it was a punishment. I'm still not entirely sure it wasn't. Just a feeling that I can't quite shake off.

It took me a long time to stop hating myself for killing Georgina. I felt as though I had killed her twice over, once by birthing her and once in the NICU when I stood by and watched her die. I still hate myself from time to time, I suspect I always will. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night.

I feel a touch of that old self recrimination about the failure of this latest pregnancy. But not as sharply. Just bitter, bitter disappointment for the main part. And regret. Regret that I told my husband and my sister and my parents. And then had to tell them all over again. Not to expect the child or the grandchild or the niece or nephew. To take the gold star off the calendar that my mom had stuck on with so much glee.

But still. I am so pleased and proud of Jessica that I can't stop this bubble of excitement building up in my stomach and pushing my hopes higher and higher.

I hesitate to post too much about Jessica on this blog. Mainly for fear of jinxing myself. Which is silly but it is hard not to be superstitious about life when you are in the midst of it as it were?

But she is doing better than anyone ever suspected that she would. Apart from her ICU consultant who always told me that she would be 'a normal little girl'. How he knew this, I just don't know. None of the other consultants seemed to agree at the time.

She is doing things that I feared she never would. She is standing, she is starting to walk, she is communicating, she is smiling, she is eating like a champ, she is breathing on her own, she knows who I am, she knows who her daddy is, she wants to join in with everything, she loves other children. I can't help but feel my heart sing when I watch her.

Sometimes I get a little glimmer that she is different. She isn't a big child, or a developmentally advanced child, for her age. But she is amazing. When I look at her arms and legs and think of the twigs they once were. When I look at her breathing, on her own, and think of the machinery it used to take. I can hardly believe it and I was there. I saw her change in front of me.

The other day, when we were at an activity group I take her to, a little boy fell off the slide and landed right on top of Jessica. Now, this little lad was a fair bit chunkier than Jessica and he landed with quite a splat. He cried his eyes out. She just carried on. This little lad's mum was almost embarrassed by her son's roaring as Jessica ploughed ahead regardless.

It made me proud and it made me sad. Premature babies often have high pain thresholds apparently. I've often wondered whether this might be true as Jessica rarely cries. Sometimes she attacks her food with such ferocity I can only assume she must have been starving but you will never hear a peep from her. My poor girl, so beaten down by her early life that she can ignore these later pains.

I don't know where I am going with this post really. I seem to judder back and forth between elation and upset. I still want another baby. Greedyguts that I am.

My mum's theory is that I fall pregnant easily and, therefore, I will miscarry easily.
Easy come, easy go?
Except that the going isn't easy. Not really.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Letting go

Even after over a year of trying, I am still not good at letting go.

At accepting Georgina's death.
At accepting that I did not cause it, that I could not have prevented it, that I could not have saved her from pain or from death.

There is nothing to be gained from clutching at this thin little memory of my tiny daughter, worn insubstantial from months and months of my hands worrying at it, turning it over and over, round and round, holding it up to the light to see if I can see something new there.

At risk of this turning into some kind of meta blog, where all I ever post is 'what she said' and link to another blog which is written better than this one, I've been thinking and thinking about this post of Jill's at Only A Whisper for months now.

As Roald Dahl said '"I've seen one of my children die. It's easy, anyone can do that. I'm ready."

I saw my daughter die.
I watched her take her last breath.
I don't think it was physically easy for her, the process of dying.
It was painful and difficult.
But she let go.

So gracefully.
My tiny little girl simply let go of whatever it is that holds us to this earth.

She tried to carry on breathing, her heart tried to carry on pumping.
But she couldn't, her organs couldn't function for her.

She let go. She showed me what I have to do.

This song plays in my head at the moment.
I think it is more about the end of a love affair rather than a death.
But the words have hooked themselves into my brain.

'Such a painful trip,
To find out this is it,
And when I go to sleep,
You'll be waking up.

Four, three, two, one,
I'm letting you go.
I will let go,
If you will let go.'

I should let go. Georgina already has. A long time ago.

Her body failed her.
A body that I have thought about so much, loved so fiercely.
A body that is ash and has been ash for so much longer than it ever housed a living being for.

Her grip on us was so tenuous, so short-lived, so gentle.

But I'm still holding firmly on to her ghost, with white knuckles, trying to keep her here.
I don't think I'm helping any of us, not my husband, not Jessica, not myself, not Georgina. But I am at a loss. I am lost. Immobilized. Somewhere at the tail end of last summer. As it turned to autumn and I went back and forth to the hospital. I'm still stuck. Frozen in time and space.
Afraid to let go, afraid to keep clinging on.
I have to let go.
Of Georgina.
Of everything.
Sooner or later.

Friday, 30 October 2009

And for my next trick . . . another vanishing act

When I returned to work two weeks ago, I was pregnant.
Not very.
8 weeks.
But I'm not anymore.
There was no heartbeat on the early scan.

It was strange to be in an environment where my previous pregnancy is considered a lengthy and successful one. But I suppose it was in the only way that truly matters, in that it resulted in one living child.

I could hear the woman in the next room sobbing her heart out. I felt so sad for her. It reminded me of the crying I used to hear in the NICU from time to time.

I didn't cry. When the doctor told me that there was no sign of a viable pregnancy, that my uterus contained only a sac, it felt strangely right. This is how my pregnancies seem to end. Abruptly.

I suspect he may have found me somewhat cold.

I don't know what to do anymore. Perhaps there is something wrong with my body?

I felt so hopeful. Now I just feel foolish and greedy. For wanting more. I already have more than enough, far more than I deserve. I have my two beautiful daughters. It felt like a betrayal, to want another.

And what I really want is my previous pregnancy back. To make it different. To give birth to my two beautiful daughters healthy and screaming. Not fragile and muffled and close to death.

I want to undo all those memories, unravel them, unknit them. Take them away from my sister, my husband, my parents. They should never have been there, they should never have had to see my girls. It was all my fault, this body that can't seem to do anything as it is supposed to.

There, at the swirling epicentre of disaster, is always me. The centre of attention. Ashamed and embarrassed of my inability to do any of this.

And how would I feel if I ever was to have a healthy pregnancy that went to term and resulted in a living child?
What if I was the woman with balloons and flowers and a crying newborn on her chest?
What if my husband was the man 'wetting the baby's head' in the pub with his brother?
What if my parents and my sister were the smiling, doting grandparents and aunt?

Perhaps then I would know precisely what I missed out on?
Maybe that would just make this situation even more unbearable.
Maybe that person just isn't me. Won't ever be me.
Maybe. Who knows.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The strange case of the vanishing twin

Well, as you can probably tell from the trail of rambling comments I tend to leave in my wake, going back to work didn't really have much impact on my time here in blog world. I've been doing a bit of reading in the dead of night, when I can't sleep, and I'm writing this whilst I am waiting for my mom to arrive and take Jessica for the day.

Going back to work has been . . . peculiar. I sometimes feel as though nothing ever happened, that I was never pregnant, that I never gave birth to my two beautiful daughters. As though my life just chugged along and I never took this mad swerve off to a world of NICUs, ventilators, human beings who weigh less than two pounds and babies dying in front of me. Including my own daughter. All of it seems too implausible when placed alongside the world of desks and telephone extensions and neat little spreadsheets of figures. It feel as if only one could possibly be real, that they couldn't possibly co-exist. One must surely be make-believe. Surely.

One of the things I find most disconcerting is the vanishing of Georgina. Before I fell pregnant with twins, I didn't understand how much attention pregnancy in general seems to attract. When I announced I was expecting twins, everyone who works with me seemed interested. Or perhaps just out of politeness. Who knows?

Quite a few people who I had never really spoken to before asked a number of questions. Had I undertaken fertility treatments? Did twins run in the family? One that came up surprisingly frequently was had I done anything special to conceive twins? Like eating certain foods. I didn't even know that people would actively seek to conceive twins. I thought it just happened. Or it didn't.

But now, nobody ever mentions the fact that I had twins. That I had two daughters. That I have two daughters. Some people kindly ask after Jessica. Some with a kind of idle curiosity, just how much did she weigh again?

Not one soul has breathed a single word about Georgina. Not even a sorry.

I like it that way. But, at the same time, I don't like it that way.

No pleasing me eh?

Sunday, 18 October 2009


Following on from my earlier ramble about why I decided to have children, I'm going to go back to the issue of 'so-called replacement' children to borrow a turn of phrase from klepsydra.

I think that this an issue that is at once simplified and complicated by losing one of twins.

Simple because, after the girls were born, they ceased to be the 'twins' but became two separate, distinct individuals. My daughters. I loved them both. I wanted them both. No question of replacement. I may be deceiving myself but I think that I knew them, their personalities. I think my daughters were quite different people.

But more complicated because of the time frame. Everything happened at once, birth, death, motherhood, prolonged hospital stay, fear of continuing health problems.

I found that, after Georgina died, many people said to me, "at least you still have Jessica".

This angered me because the implication seemed to be
that Jessica was some sort of consolation prize,
that the absence of Georgina in my life could simply be patched over with the presence of Jessica,
that Georgina wasn't worth enough to be grieved over, that her existence could simply be dismissed by a chance of focus.
It didn't seem to do either of my children justice. That they could be so easily replaced or that I might not have the one I wanted but, hey, at least I had a child. I did. I do. I am grateful. But it doesn't stop me wanting the two children that I anticipated.

But I can see why people said it.
Given the circumstances, I am incredibly lucky to have any children surviving from a pregnancy that was cut so short.
I can't deny that Jessica's survival has helped me to recover from some aspects of the experience.

Events conspired to make Jessica feel like a substitute at times. I did not see very much of Jessica for the first few days of her life. Initially the girls were in the smaller of the wards, opposite one another. Georgina on the left and Jessica on the right. Because I knew her sister was very ill and would most likely die, I felt (perhaps wrongly) that the medical staff were encouraging me to sit with her. They kept telling me that Jessica was stable and one of the doctors in particular was extremely positive about her chances of survival. So I spent most of the first three days huddled over the incubator on the left and this culminated in my holding Georgina for the first time just before life support was removed from her.

I know I stayed with her body for some time, until her heart stopped beating. My husband and I bathed her and dressed her. Then we left her body and went back into the ward to huddle on the right hand side of the room with Jessica. It was a very peculiar thing, to walk straight back into that room where my other daughter had just taken her last breaths.

I think that I may use Jessica's survival to comfort myself. At my lowest ebbs, when I miss Georgina terribly, I do tend to take comfort in Jessica's physical presence. Even if she is sleeping, I like to go and sit in her room and listen to her breathing. To try and catch a little splinter of her sister. Just a tiny sliver of that daughter I will never hold, whose breathing I can never hear.

I think that there is a terrible, gaping hole in me. A void. An empty place. Where Georgina should be. And I don't think that anything or anyone else can ever fill that space. Her sister cannot fill it. She is busy occupying her own spaces. Another child cannot fill it. They will be in a different place. Anything or anyone I attempt to put there just gets swallowed up. That spot is for my Georgina. That specific human being. My daughter. She is irreplaceable. All children are.

And that is without counting the tangle between Georgina and Jessica. There lies a loss that I can never comprehend. I can attempt to give Jessica another sister. But it will never be her twin sister. It will never be Georgina, the sister that grew with her. The sister that accompanied her when she was only a few cells. She is irreplaceable.

When I contemplate that uniqueness, those strange chances, the impossibility that, from all those potentials, Georgina came to be. That she survived for 23 weeks in the womb. That all those cells came together in the correct places. That she had limbs and eyes and a face. That so many things that could have gone wrong before that point, didn't. And then I lost her. To an infection. That still makes me want to howl and howl and howl. In fury and despair and horrible, horrible sadness. And it makes me so angry. So angry on behalf of all our babies who came so far, some of them much more developed and healthy than my Georgina. So angry that they had that chance ripped away from them.

If I had another pregnancy, another child, it is possible that some of the grief I have could be assuaged.
The grief that I never managed to experience the third trimester of pregnancy.
The grief that my body let my family down and brought my husband and my family, not the incredibly happiness that we were all so confidently expecting, but a time full of so much heartache and terror.
The grief that the one experience of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood that I have diverges so dramatically from that experienced by the majority.
The grief I feel that Jessica, who is a twin, is an only child with no siblings at all.
The grief that I feel that I somehow wasn't a proper mother to my girls. That I failed to keep them safe. If I could have another try, to prove that it wasn't my fault the first time in a way.

But none of these minor gripes really touch the sides of the loss that sits where my eldest daughter should be. I can't replace her. I can't even hope to try.

I was listening to a programme about graveyards on the radio this morning and the presenter stated that most graves remain unvisited after an average of fifteen years. Don't ask me how they arrived at that figure but that was the length of time quoted. He said that he often visits a graveyard nearby and, in this graveyard, is the grave of a child who died forty five years ago. And there are still often fresh flowers on that particular grave. This didn't surprise me. Because I know I will always miss Georgina. My sweet little Georgie.

I know that void inside me will change. Time will erode the jagged edges that border it today. I may decorate it with flowers and candles. I may be able to hang some beautiful paintings on the walls. But it will always be there. A space where something irreplaceable and so, so precious to me once lived and breathed.

* * * *

I'm going back to work tomorrow. I have been on leave since the girls were born, nearly fourteen months ago. I feel quite anxious about how to behave. Do I try and pretend to be my old self? Or do I try and adopt a new persona? I don't think that my current mode of gibbering wreck is going to cut the mustard somehow.

I'm not sure what this is going to do to my blogging. I usually blog and comment whilst Jessica is taking her naps but, obviously, I will now be at work during that time. So if my rambling comments tail off a bit, it is because 'the toad work is currently squatting on my life' to steal a phrase from Mr. Larkin.

Perhaps I have run out of things to say anyway? I seem to be repeating myself lately.
Anyhow, here is a song about work . . .

Friday, 16 October 2009


I've been reading so many interesting pieces of writing on blogs recently. These two have been occupying my brain for the past two or three days.

'so-called replacement child part 1' at klepsydra

'words pouring out' at Fionn

I started writing comments on both occasions but I got a bit carried away. Rather than take over either of these good folk's blogs with my rambling, I thought I would grab (or perhaps more accurately steal?) these topics, bring them back over here and ramble away on my own blog instead.

As I read them (with a thousand apologies to the authors if I have the wrong end of the stick) these posts revolved around two major topics

(a) what motivates us to have children in the first place? Do we have children in order to fill a void in our own lives? In the hope that they will make us happy or give us purpose that we would otherwise be lacking? Or to occupy the void left by the loss of an older sibling?

(b) Following on from the final question, the notion of so-called 'replacement' children.

I've been racking my poor old brain over these questions.

Why did I decide to have children?
Why did I want to have children?
Why do I want to have more children?
Is Jessica Georgina's 'replacement' child?
Are any further children that I bring into my family condemned to be 'replacements' for Georgina in one way or another?

Well . . . . why did I decide to have children?

I suppose you could argue that the decision I took was rather the decision NOT to have children earlier by taking precautions for the past fifteen odd years or so. If I had left it up to nature alone and dithered over taking the decision NOT to fall pregnant my eldest children would be in secondary school by now.

But, having taken birth control for many years, I made a conscious decision to stop taking it and I certainly did this in the hope that I would fall pregnant and have a child.

It seems rather frightening that I conceived two children deliberately - not accidentally, as the result of one too many glasses of wine which I believe is partially the reason for my existence on this planet -  yet I really have no clear explanation as to WHY I did this.

I think I can probably provide some sort of rationale for most major decisions that I have made in my life. This isn't to say that I have made good decisions necessarily but at least I have some vague inkling of why I acted the way that I did, why I took the routes that I took. But having children? Suddenly everything seems much more murky.

I've been trying to peer into my motivations for wanting children but I've actually found it extremely hard to grasp any of the specifics.

Perhaps because I run a pretty fine line in the self deception department? I've often thought that if, through some horrible fairytale type mechanism, all my inner workings were laid bare I would run screaming from the monster that suddenly appeared. Perhaps I don't actually want to know why I want(ed) children? Were my motivations purely selfish? To make myself happy or to fill my aimless existence with something, anything. I hope not but it is very hard to decipher when I stand so close to myself that I can hardly make myself out.

Perhaps because some of my motivation is hardwired into that old, old part of the brain that drives the basic impulses, to eat, to breath, to run from danger, to reproduce?

Perhaps because the decision to have children was one that I made a very long time ago? I have always wanted children or at least I can't remember a time before I knew I wanted them. My mother has always been involved in the care of young children and as I grew up I spent a lot of time with children younger than myself. I loved looking after them, I liked their company and their honesty. I used to daydream about the children that I would have when I grew up.

When I started my periods at the age of about thirteen, I remember crying and crying over the 'children' that I was losing. I thought of it as ' there's that little one's chance gone' in a rush of blood and teenage melodrama. Never mind that I was a million miles from having a boyfriend, even further from having much idea what to do with one if I had happened to come by such a creature and being the kind of teenage girl that actually prefers books to boys at that age.

As I grew older I realised that there were other things I wanted too. I wanted to study, stay out late, have a career, have boyfriends who weren't interested in having children, a house and to be irresponsible. But my future children were always there, I confidently assumed that they were waiting in the wings, definitely part of my ten year plan. I had a notion that I wanted my first child whilst I was still in my twenties. I don't know why? Perhaps in imitation of my own mother.

Perhaps I wanted them because I was, intermittently, part of a large family and then a small one? My mother is one of five children and I am one of fourteen cousins. The majority of my family live in South Africa but I was born and raised in England. I did go back to South Africa many times throughout the course of my childhood and always felt  . . . .hurt? excluded? . . .I'm not entirely sure. I was part of this family that I at once belonged to and did not belong to. The little English girls that huddled on the outskirts of a family that seemed so loving and involved with one another. Different accents, different appearance, different. Just different.
I think it made me want to anchor myself  firmly to something or somebody. My little English family of four seemed so damned insubstantial, a puff of wind could blow us away. One of us could be taken out at any second. Four, three, two, one. Almost a premonition of my own little family of four that disintegrated so rapidly and lost one of its members in a haze of hospitals and machinery.

So there probably are reasons but they are lost in the mists of time, in my befogged and befuddled adolescent brain, made by a person who is no longer.

Perhaps I had my children for all the wrong reasons?
I hope not.
I hope that I had them out of an attempt (perhaps a misguided one) to love them.
I just don't know.

But there is no escaping the fact that it was partly my decision.

To bring these children into being and subject them to this bedazzling, disorientating and appalling experience. What right did I have?
Those poor, frail little scraps of life. Such tiny glimmers of people.
To bring them here and have them stuck full of needles and tubes.
In all the noise and light when they should have been in the quiet dark.
I can only plead that this was not I what I intended. Truly.
I wish I could apologise to them in a way that they could both understand.
My dead daughter and my living daughter. I am so very sorry my dear sweet ones.

Sometimes I think we would have all have been better off if I had just left well enough alone. Kept taking the tablets that stopped my body overproducing babies and then melting down before it had finished the job.

But I can't leave that thought of  'another' alone. Another child, a phantom child, who seems to tug at my skirts and at the edges of my thoughts and dreams. But I'm not entirely sure if that child is a future child, an unknown child or if that child is, in fact, still my Georgina.

My daughter, Georgina.
I want her back so very much, against all possibility and reason.
But she isn't coming back.
Having another child will not bring her back.
I'm worried that my brain has not quite grasped that final fact yet.


Which brings me to the idea of 'replacement' but I think I'll have to save that for another day.
This post is getting far too long already.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

October 15th

Candles burning this evening for all our children.
Those I know and have remembered by name tonight and the countless, countless others.
My love to you and to the families who miss you so very, very much.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Viability (again)

Thank you so much for all your kind words about my last post. I hesitated over hitting the publish post button for quite some time after I had finished writing. I find it very painful to remember the times when Jessica was so ill and I am reluctant to admit, even to myself, that there was ever a time that I wished she would be left in peace to die.

Thank you also for putting up with my rather prosaic dreams. I read about the fascinating dreams of other bloggers with envy. Apart from when they are frightening then I'm actually quite relieved that mine are generally mundane. Seriously, anyone who ever had to psychoanalyse my dreams would be left extremely bored.

It turns out that I still have yet more demons to exorcise when it comes to viability so here is yet another post on the topic.

One thing I have noticed, both through my own experience and through reading those of other bloggers is that, should your child not reach the point of viability or full term, you are somehow entitled to 'less' grief.

As though grief could be distributed in a nice, neat proportional manner.

I knew I could manage to wangle a graph on to this blog sooner or later. You can take me away from my job but you can't take my graphs away.

Thus . .

where variable x represents gestation and variable y grief.

If your baby scores more highly on variable x, the world at large will give you more slack on variable y and k is some weird constant decided by mutual agreement between old ladies, doctors and busy bodies.

If your child only makes it to point x1 gestationally then I am afraid you are only entitled to the level of grief defined by y1 on the grief scale. If you exceed this predefined limit people are probably going to be having words with you.

On the other hand, if your child makes it all the way to x3 gestationally then congratulations. You are now entitled to grief levels all the way up to the heady heights of y3. Come on down.

Oh and by the way please make sure you've tidied up all your grief after four weeks. We don't like things messy around these parts.

Oh and shut the door on your way out won't you?

(And I'm going to have to ignore point x4,y4 because I'm not sure quite sure how to interpret it in the context of the example that I've set up. If your baby has a negative gestational age you are also entitled to happiness? Nope. Doesn't make any sense at all. So please ignore that bit of the graph. The stupid thing seems to be back firing on me now.)

Here I am going to edit my original post to add an excellent point made by Tracey in the comments on this post - 'the other key factor in this societal 'grieving allowance' is if you have other living children. If you have other living children, take the square root of your grieving allowance, and then people want you to move on'. So true, thank you Tracey.

If Jessica had died, many people would have tried to tell me that I had a miscarriage. People don't usually say that to me because miscarriages don't generally result in living children. But if I didn't have Jessica, I know that is how the birth of my twin girls would be described, as a miscarriage.

I don't have anything against that word in particular but I don't like the implications of that phrase. It feels as though other people are trying to imply that my daughters were in some way not people, not real. Only a figment of my fevered imagination. But Georgina was a person. A real, honest to goodness person. Not a medical or biological process. Not an aberration that simply wasn't meant to be. She was a person. My life isn't better or happier without her in it.

Perhaps it is a lack of the correct words to describe grief in all its different textures and forms?
Perhaps we are so uncomfortable with death and the emotions associated with it that society just decides to lump every single feeling following a death into a big jumbled pile, stick a label on that says 'grief' and then run away?
And perhaps sort it into stages, denial, anger, acceptance, whatever. And then still run away.

It seems to be considered a finite process, one that will reach a conclusion prior to the death of the person doing the grieving. There are limits and time frames applied using rules that I cannot begin to comprehend. Some actions are unseemly. Some bits must be conducted in the privacy of your own home. It must all be finished with by the second Wednesday of the month following the death.

I hope that I will never, ever imply that somehow a person is not entitled to grieve.
I've only ever experienced one situation, the loss of a twin who was born prematurely.
I've never lost a child at 12 weeks gestation.
I've never lost a child at 40 weeks gestation.
I've never given birth to a baby who never took a breath.
I've never mourned for children who never existed, who never will exist.
I've never lost a child of ten.
I've never lost my husband or one of my parents.
I've never grieved for a sibling.
I can't really understand any of these situations. I can try but I'm only imagining. I haven't lived it.

But I hope that I never, never, ever, say to anybody, no matter what the circumstances . .
What you feel isn't valid.
What you feel should be squashed down and denied.
What you feel is excessive and strange or, equally, what you feel is insufficient.
You should pull yourself together and get 'over it' and get on with your life.
Life is for the living.

Your loved one didn't matter. They certainly don't matter now that they are dead.

Because isn't that what an uncomfortableness with grief actually says?
That this person, this human being, be they young or old, born dead or alive or even if they only exist in fond imagings.
This particular person, who is so special to you, doesn't count for anything with us?

Monday, 5 October 2009


This post is probably going to be a bit of jumble so if you were looking for any eloquence or even words that make sense on the topic of viability, nothing to see here peeps. Keep right on going to the next blog in your list. Move along now.

Viability. A word that at once makes my heart leap and my blood run cold.

I've been having a recurring dream for about the past three or four months. At this point, I should probably mention that my dreams are not particularly opaque as a general rule. I suspect this is because my subconscious knows that I am not the sharpest tool in the shed. Thus any meaning that lurks in my dreams is usually declared loud and clear, possibly for fear that any attempt at cloaked hidden meanings or fancy schmancy symbolism will be met with blank incomprehension. For this dreamer, it is better to keep it simple and to the point or I'm just not going to get it.

In my dream, I am handed a large tray of babies. All different sizes and stages of development. Some breathing, some not. In the dream, it is vastly important that I sort these babies into order by gestational age. If I can do it correctly, the babies that are currently still moving will have some chance of medical treatment. It is an immensely frightening dream, there is a sense of menace to it. I feel like I will never succeed at my task but I am desperate to get it right, to give these smaller babies the same chances that my girls had. The dream never reaches a conclusion, I just sort and re-sort these babies endlessly, never satisfied with the order and frightened to submit them incorrectly.

I am also haunted by a memory of myself, when I was about 23 weeks pregnant. I was leaning up against the kitchen counter, my husband was cooking and I casually remarked to him that if the babies were born the following week they would have a chance of survival. I think I have written before about wanting to travel back in time, find my previous self and stab her in the eye with a sharp pencil. This scene is one of the inspirations for my time-travelling-orbit-pencil-jabbing doppelganger.

This so called 'viability day', this magical 24 weeks gestation. Just as much as of a poisonous myth as the 'just get to 12 weeks and you're safe' one.

I'm not talking about people who read here referring to viability day. Sadly, I don't think I need to tell you. All those mamas who count down to 24 weeks in possession of the facts, the chances of survival, the possibility of complications and in the full and (sadly) nonreturnable knowledge that babies do actually die.

I'm talking about people like my old self. I bandied the term viability about without having any appreciation whatsoever of what the hell I was saying.

Viability is a crucial point because it means you are in with a shot, your baby has a chance at life. I know how lucky I am to have reached that point with my last pregnancy. Please don't think that I would ever be less than get down on my knees and thanking the stars/God/Hecuba/whoever/whatever grateful. I am. I really am.

But I can't stand the way it is chucked around so freely. If any of these people who write for pregnancy websites had ever met a newborn 23-24 weeker in person, in the flesh, I would defy them to be so glib. It is not an easy sight, particularly when it is your own child. The medical procedures necessary to keep such a premature baby alive are extreme, they are not pleasant to watch or even to contemplate. There are procedures, fairly routine procedures, that the medical staff will not allow parents to be present for. And believe me, you would rather be undergoing them yourself than watching your tiny child struggling through them. I don't know how you go about intubating a baby weighing less than two pounds, I don't ever want to know if I am honest. Let alone performing the insertion of IV lines into such tiny limbs, let alone major surgeries. They are truly 'heroic measures' and, on very premature babies, they are conducted in the dark, with no guarantee of any outcome. Just a chance.

For that chance, I put one of my daughters through a great deal of pain and trauma. She could have lived for probably less than an hour with no interventions but she survived for three and a bit days with medical interventions galore.

I basically bought her hours of pain with my silence, I didn't stop her being subjected to extreme and painful procedures. Her lungs filled up with blood, her organs shut down, her brain bled. My outside bet did not pay off. She died. Even if she had lived, the doctors told us it was likely she would have been severely impaired. I remember my husband telling the doctors that we didn't care, we just wanted her. But did we really? Could we have coped? Would I have grown that carapace that I suspect would have been necessary? To fight and fight and fight for a child that only I might ever have seen the beauty of, who was never going to have a straightforward or simple life.

That is not to suggest her life would have been of less intrinsic value if she had survived than the life of a child born at term. Or of a child with no disabilities. Not at all. She was my girl and I would have stuck it out and I would have been grateful for any life that she had, whatever form it took. But it would not have been an easy one. Extreme prematurity can result in horrendous complications, complications that don't go away. I often wonder if it would have been better for her to have let her die when she was born. If I had truly loved her and not selfishly wanted her to live. But there was that chance, that small percentage that proved too irresistible to me.

For that chance, I put my other daughter through a great deal of pain and trauma. My outside bet appears to have paid off so far. It looks like I am the extremely fortunate recipient of the 100% miracle. I've heard parents of preemies that survive with severe impairments refer to 'half miracles', I don't consider Jessica one of those. No matter what lies ahead of us from here on out. But there are scars.

It is very hard to admit to this after the fact but I did ask the doctors to let Jessica die at one point. I simply couldn't fathom that the outcome could be different for my twins. I felt as though, when Georgina died, I was simply marking time until Jessica passed away as well. She had a brain hemorrhage at about three weeks old (I think, my memory of that time is a little fuzzy) and she then developed an infection and sepsis. Every day she looked sicker and in more and more distress, it seemed increasingly unlikely that she would ever be able to breathe without a ventilator. She was taking so many drugs, at such frequency, that standard NICU paperwork couldn't cope and her nurse had them all written out on a paper hand towel. The atmosphere around her incubator underwent a subtle shift, the people working on her seemed to know something that I didn't.

And again, I'm trapped in that loop. That loop that keeps me up at night after I've been woken up by my dreams of desperately sorting babies.

How could I do that? Just stand there and let it all happen.
How could I say that? Not that my pleadings made any differences at all to the medical staff but in my mind. Start. Stop. Keep going. Any means necessary. Let her be. Just let her be. Stop all of this insanity.
What sort of person am I?
What kind of mother?

Oh Georgina.

Why did I let them start? Why didn't I ask for your painful life to end sooner? If there hadn't been that cruel outside chance. I had to take it. I'm so sorry.

How could I let them stop? Why didn't I plead for another day, another hour? Perhaps you would have pulled through again if I hadn't been so quick to concede defeat. You already had. So many times when I'd been told you wouldn't.

And Jessica. I'm just so sorry my darling. I'm so, so sorry.

I didn't know. I didn't understand. I tried my best.

But it's hubris to think I had any influence on what happened. I didn't. Not really. The doctors made their decision on the basis of what was right for their patients. And their patients weren't me.
I just had to stand there and watch.
And I think I am still struggling to come to terms with that.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009


I am tired.

I'm tired of all those little, unexpected things that run up and stab me in the heart. I'm not talking those hairy biggies that you clock the moment they come pounding over the horizon clutching their whacking great carving knives and skewers. The birthdays, the anniversaries, double buggies, any buggy, newborn babies, pregnant women.

Just the little ones. Those are the ones that are doing me in today. Those little ones armed only with darning needles, pins and thumb tacks. They're sneaky, these ones. They scuttle up to you and before you know it, jab, jab, jab, in with the needles and drawing pins.

They don't really hurt me. They can't. I'm tougher than that. They aren't going to make me fall to the floor and cry. Not individually but cumulatively? Cumulatively it is starting to feel like death by a thousand cuts (or 'slow slicing' as another translation has it, courtesy of my friend Mr. Wiki P)

Yesterday I decided to walk to the post office. Between the post office and my house lies the hospital. Not THE hospital. Only the hospital where the girls were born and where Jessica spent a few weeks in the special care nursery. As I was walking past, the light hit the reflective windows of special care at a certain angle and I could see all the monitors shining through. It still hurts to see those monitors. A darning needle to my battered old heart which is already stuck full like a pincushion. Those monitors that I watched and watched helplessly. Willing them to change, to stabilise, to go up, to go down. Someone else watches them now. Someone else wants them to move just as much as I did.

Prayers are answered. Or they are remain unanswered, words hanging in the air. Binary functions. Up. Down. Stable. Unstable. Alive. Dead.
Those monitor reflections are a little jab to my heart.

I live on an estate where all the houses look the same, these are common in the town where I live. So if you go to visit your immediate neighbours you are effectively entering your own house reversed with the taste of another imposed on it. A bit Alice in Wonderlandesque. This also makes me prone to severe decor envy as I know my house COULD actually look like that, if I only had this.

Oh, if I only had this. Except not this. Not my neighbour's. I actually want what's mine.

As I walked past a house, exactly like mine, with a car parked outside, the same make, colour and year of registration as mine, I noticed a sign in the back of the car saying 'twins on board.' I had an overwhelming urge to knock on the door and say "excuse me, this should be my life. You don't understand, this should be my house, my car. Not this strange mirror image house with your twins in it. My girls should be here, in my house." It felt just slightly possible that I had fallen through some strange hole in time and here was my house, my life. I didn't knock though. Perhaps it would have made a good story for the unsuspecting young woman inside? This poor, feeble lady who trails around the housing estate with her one baby always seeking the other. Completely unhinged, batty old thing.

I don't know how I got here. I don't know how this happened. One minute, I had a normal life which I was bumbling through. A little less happy, a little more happy. And then the bottom fell out.

The next time I wake up, a year later, I'm wandering around with a heart full of thumbtacks and pins. It's still pumping but it's oozing blood slowly and surely. And I'm so tired today. I'm tired of pretending that all those little stabbing implements just glance off my internal organs. That gratitude can deflect every single insult aimed at me. I try to hide behind my good fortune and my thankfulness and sometimes I can. But not today, not always.

My poor bruised old heart with thousands upon thousands of tiny pin pricks in it. I'm still yearning, watching, waiting. I miss her terribly today.

But tomorrow, I will put some plasters over the holes in my heart, I will brace myself again to face those jabs and stabs. Both my girls will keep those reinforcements round my heart strong. They will keep my heart beating, stout and sure. I will try again tomorrow because that is what I always do, it is all I can do.

I love my girls.