Monday, 31 August 2009

Thank you

Thank you so much to everyone for all your support over the last week. I am so very, very grateful. Beyond words. Thank you.

I struggled more than I had imagined that I would, all the events of this time last year seemed to come flooding back.

My stiff upper lip only quivered once at the wedding. When the beautiful, young bride told me how much she was looking forward to having children. She loved holding Jessica, who was fascinated by her sparkly tiara.

I hope that she falls pregnant quickly and easily.
I hope that she has a healthy pregnancy of at least thirty eight, or preferably forty, weeks every single time she conceives.
I hope that her babies are born alive, alert and healthy.
I hope that they are in her arms within minutes of birth, rather than weeks.

All I could see for a brief moment was her and her new husband arriving in the NICU, with that bewildered expression on their faces that all 'new' parents have, that I have worn myself. Luckily this vision disappeared with a quick shake of my head. I hope it never, ever comes to pass for this lovely young couple. So full of love and hope.

I wish that I could be like the fairies at Sleeping Beauty's christening and have a 'gift' to give. A real gift. Not money, ornaments or towels. That I could wave my magic wand and say 'Kazaam, no fertility problems, dead babies, problematic pregnancies or NICU stays for you.'

Hah, take that fortune or fate or random biology or God or whatever. Whatever you were planning for this couple, I got in there first with my trusty magic wand. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

If only.

Thank you so much for the Honest Scrap award.
It means so much that it comes from others within this community. I admire you all so very much.
Your writing. Your honesty. Your generosity. Your compassion.

If I am a follower of your blog, consider yourself nominated. I love all the blogs I read. I've loved reading all the other Honest Scrap lists. I wish that mine were more interesting but they are honest and a reflection of the (honest) fact that I'm pretty boring.

Ten honest things about me . . .

1. I love food. I am a very greedy eater, particularly crusty bread and sweet things. I used to save my weekly money at university to spend at the pick'n'mix sweet cart in Euston station. I looked forward to these sweets more than I would readily (or happily) admit to in real life.

2. I used to smoke. Mainly to keep my weight down (see 1) during my late teens and early twenties when I was always dieting. Which made the massive difference of all of two dress sizes, why did I even bother? It really wasn't worth all the agonising.
Although I haven't had one for over six years, I STILL miss cigarettes. I really miss them, not the smell or the cost or the trouble with what to do with the ends but that quiet moment. That smoke time. I have had an occasional craving since the girls were born but I don't think I will ever smoke again. I can't be trusted to stick to the odd one or two.

3. I love music. I must own at least four hundred CDs, in conjunction with my husband. I have spent more money than I ever want to admit to on going to see bands and festivals. I don't regret a single penny of it.

4. I find it really difficult to watch television or a film without doing something else. I get twitchy hands. I need to do the ironing or sewing or something. If I don't, I pull a face, the face known to my nearest and dearest as 'Catherine's television face'. It must be hysterically funny but I don't know how I look because I've never seen it. I know that I am really enjoying a film if I am not furiously calculating the minutes until it ends. It doesn't happen often.

5. I have a degree in neuroscience. So I was thinking about brains when I wasn't obsessing about pick'n'mix sweets whilst at university. Good times. This means that I have dissected a human brain, taken frozen sections of brain, peered at brain down an electron microscope. Eeeewww. Prompted by a quick move into the field of applied statistics which doesn't require dissection as a skill. Phew.

6. My mother is South African. I sometimes blame my lack of stiff upper lippiness on my Afrikaans heritage. When I was learning to speak as a child I had more Afrikaans words than English. I wish I had kept it up. I always suspect my mother is a slightly different person in Afrikaans, a person I will never really know.

7. I can do loads of things one handed (brush teeth, apply make-up, eat cereal, make tea) as I need a hand free to hold the book that I am reading. I used to live a couple of miles walk away from the library and the librarian used to laugh at how many books I would attempt to cram into my rucksack and toil away with up the hill. Like an ant with a massive leaf.
Perhaps it is escapism? I exclusively (nearly) read fiction (unless it is for work but I shouldn't imagine anyone reads books about statistics for recreation) but I will read anything. Backs of cereal packets, newspapers, Heat magazine. I was always late for school as I would be wrapped around the heater, reading. I used to read on the way to school. I love books, everything about them. I feel sick if I don't have one to hand.

8. Despite being the sort of child that read on the way to school, I was never bullied. Most people were kind to me or didn't realise I was there (I was very quiet at school). This seems to have given me some sort of weird survivor's guilt.

9. I love my children. I love my husband. I love my family. My nieces and nephews. My in-laws. My cousins. My second cousins once removed. If they are some sort of relation, no matter how distant, I will claim them. Possibly to their annoyance. Be warned, if you ever find yourself to be some distant relation you may find yourself adopted into 'THE FAMILY W'. And you'll never leave once you're in. I'll be sending you Christmas cards into your 80s.

10. I really thought I might be pregnant by Jessica and Georgina's first birthday. I wanted to be. I didn't want to be. I don't know. But what I wanted was irrelevant because I wasn't. Perhaps the girls were a fluke, a lucky chance. Who knows?

And as you might have guessed. I didn't succumb to temptation to make my list more interesting. Boring but honest.

Saturday, 29 August 2009


This song was all I could hear after you died.
I don't have anything new to say.
I don't have anything of interest to say.
This is all I have.
I have thought these same thoughts every single day for the past year, every single day since you died.
I will probably think them every single day until the day that I die myself.
When all my other clumsy words have dried up.
I miss you.
I am proud of you.
I am proud to have known you.
I love you.
I hope that we will walk together again.
I hope that you will be in my arms again.
Hope is all that I can do.

Friday, 28 August 2009


It is there in the recesses of my brain, poised at the back of my throat.

Pulse, pulse, pulse.

'This time last year, she was alive.'

Whilst I'm going about my mundane daily life, it speaks in a quiet voice in my ear.
Sometimes gentle, sometimes taunting, gloating.

When I look at her sister.

'This time last year, she was alive.'

I should have a memory for every hour she was alive. It was so crushingly short a time.
But I don't.
Some of them were washed away by the shock.
Some of them I never even bothered to make.

I wish, oh how I wish, wish, wish that I hadn't wasted our time.
On sleeping. On eating.
Not concentrating.

I didn't realise it would only be three days and some odd hours.
I didn't want to realise.
I didn't want to admit a possibility, a probability of death.

I'm attending a wedding this afternoon. Why on earth I said I would go I don't know. I must be even more stupid than I sometimes suspect.
I just didn't anticipate that this time would be so difficult for me. I thought it would be just another day. And it is. And it isn't.
I hope my good British stiff upper lip doesn't let me down. Wish me luck old beans (feeble attempt to channel Bertie Wooster there).

When I see the photographs of this afternoon's wedding, of me and Jessica in our frocks in the English drizzle, I'm sure all that I will really see will be that pulse.

'This time last year, she was alive.'

* * *

And thank you so much for the Honest Scrap award. I think it is the first time I have ever been awarded anything.
I have been enjoying reading everyone else's responses.
I am going to have to try and think of ten interesting things about myself.
It may end up having to be slightly Dishonest Scrap or it will be too dull to read. :)

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


Today is Jessica's first birthday.
Today would have been Georgina's first birthday if she had survived.

Happy first birthday Georgina and Jessica.
My sweet girls. I can't believe that it has been a year since I first met you.
My two beautiful daughters.
I am so proud of you.
I love you so much.

I wish that life had dealt us a different hand, one where I welcomed two healthy little girls of an adequate gestation kicking and screaming into this world. Breathing. Pink.

Not stifled by your own underdeveloped lungs.
Not bruised and battered by your own mother's body.
Not red and shiny and taut with prematurity.

One where my husband and I didn't mourn a daughter.
One where my parents didn't mourn their first grandchild.
One where my younger sister didn't mourn her first niece.
One where Jessica didn't mourn a sister and a relationship that I can never hope to comprehend, that of a twin. How will that play out? I just don't know.

But I could never, ever wish for either of you to be different.
Not by a single atom.
Not a single hair on your tiny heads.
If this is how it had to be to have both of you in my life then I count myself amongst the very, very luckiest.

Georgina, if I don't speak your name aloud today.
If I don't cut you a piece of cake.
If I don't wrap and unwrap a birthday present for you.
If I don't light your candles or look at your pictures until everyone else has gone to bed and I'm alone.

It isn't because I have forgotten you. I never do. I never could.

When that photograph is taken. Of your sister in my arms, when she is wearing her crown and I am wearing your crown. You will know that you are not forgotten. Even if mentioning you results in an uneasy silence.

It will be a secret between you, me and Jessica (I'll whisper it to her) and all these people here. They won't tell. You won't tell. Will you?

But today has to be about your baby sister, Jessica. I know you understand that.

Today is for my bird girl. My tiny, fragile baby bird girl who has grown so much.

This post contains a video of Jessica at various times over the past year. I tried to add some pictures of Georgina but I couldn't, I just can't bear to scan them in. The photographs look so very different from how I remember her.

I'm not sure whether I should even be posting this here. I don't want to upset anyone.

Please be warned that this video does include pictures of Jessica shortly after birth. NICU equipment and so on. It also includes pictures of her as she looks today. She is now wire-free and has been for the past three months.

I do appreciate that this might be hurtful or upsetting and I hope that the video will only start if you click play. I thought it might shed some light on my on-going struggles with the word 'miracle.'

This video was going to have a different soundtrack.
It was going to be either 'Do You Realize??' by the Flaming Lips or 'Bright as Yellow' by the Innocence Mission. The latter is a song that I have come to associate very strongly with Jessica ever since my sister told me that it played and played on repeat in her mind during the first few days in the NICU.

However, I put the photographs together listening to 'Amazing' by Janelle which was one of the options available on the player. This song is not my usual thing at all but now it just seems to fit and I can't bear to replace it. I've become sentimental.

For my daughters.

For my sweet Georgina.
Who is lost to me for the time being.
I hope and pray I will find you one day my tiny girl.
I want our conversation to continue. It was cut too short.

For my sweet Jessica.
For my little bird girl.
The person who showed me that, when I thought my heart was broken, it was only cracked.

'There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.'

I hope you know that I think you are both amazing.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

A Year Ago

A year ago today.

I was very happy. I was looking forward to meeting my daughters.
I didn't realise that this meeting would not happen on the 19th of December.
Or the more probable time of late November as twins often come early. So I've been told.

It would happen the very next day. Tomorrow morning, a year ago.

The two halves of my life hang from this pivot. Limp and useless, flapping in the breeze. They dangle down either side of these four days. The 26th, the 27th, the 28th and the 29th of August 2008.

I wish that I could reach back through time and twist it.
To change the course of events.
Those events that seem so inevitable now but would have been unthinkable a year ago today.

Surely my yearning and my love is strong enough.
Occasionally I feel certain that time cannot stand a chance against me.
It is only time after all, time is such a flimsy thing.
What can it do but pass?

But it is too strong for me.

A year ago. How can it be a year?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Odds and Ends of NICU Time

I think that when I held Georgina for the first time, my milk came in. I had an overwhelming urge to nurse her. To pull the ventilator out and snuggle her up to me, to feed her. Which was completely insane and ridiculous. My little girl couldn't even breath on her own, let alone feed.
Whilst Georgina was dying, all that stupid milk was enthusiastically plunging down into my breasts. To nourish my two tiny children. There is nothing quite so cruel as Nature sometimes.

But, in my case, nothing quite so kind as Nature either. I was so, so grateful for that milk later on that day. Jessica's doctor asked me if I had tried to pump any milk, he told me that she couldn't take breast milk currently but that they could freeze it and she could have it at a later stage.

I hadn't tried. The nurse looking after Jessica on the night shift took me to a little room next door to the ward where Jessica was and Georgina had been and showed me how to use the breast pump. I don't know how long I sat in there, trying to figure it out. But finally, it came.

It is stupid but I can't describe the dizzying sense of triumph that I felt. I remember stumbling back into the ward with these bottles of milk and this kind, kind young doctor telling me how well I had done. I will always be so grateful to that young man, who somehow knew what to say.

That pump was to be my constant companion for the next six months. In the day, in the night. I loved it, I hated it. I watched so many DVD box sets whilst I pumped, I can't hear the theme tunes without being taken back to those days. The West Wing, Dexter, Desperate Housewives, House, The Sopranos, Blue Planet, anything and everything. A word to the wise, Dexter doesn't do anything for your supply, Desperate Housewives has twins and pregnancy loss, House, just don't go there. I'm not kidding. Don't.

That pump. A reminder of my abject failure and a reminder of the only thing that I felt I could actually do to help. With varying degrees of success, I pumped and I pumped and I pumped. For my little tiny girl who I felt sure would live, for my little tiny girl who I was certain would die. For her sister who would never need any of it at all, not a drop.

I had printed labels from the hospital, with Jessica's name, address, GP, hospital number to stick to the bottles. I grew to know her hospital identification number off by heart, so I could write it on when I ran out of 'official' labels. I used to stare and stare at those labels until I swear I could see Georgina's name on them. I wish I had some of her labels, if only to remember her by, to prove she existed. I wish that I had been pumping milk for her too.

In the middle of the night, I used to look at the sterilizer and the pump sitting in our kitchen. I used to feel so alone. So unnatural. Freakish. A mother without her baby. Getting up for a machine. But now I know there are so many mothers like that. I know how damn lucky I am to have had the chance to get up in the night and pump milk.

Sometimes I think that the grief of losing a child is exacerbated by the expectation of happiness. I thought I was going to be happy.

Perhaps that is where it differs from other losses. When I have lost other relations, old or untimely, there has been a different feel to my grief. I mourned my grandparents but I was prepared. I mourned the death of my godfather, who died suddenly leaving a wife and four children. But, in all of those circumstances, I was not prepared for a time of happiness. I was living my life, on the flat as it were, and then a sudden jolt downward. More or less expected but with no reason to believe I was on the up, that the good times were about to roll.

My GP told me, in a fit of straight talking and trying to pep me up, imagine losing your husband of 50 years, imagine how much worse that would be? I wanted to say (I didn't) you don't understand, you just don't understand. She was my child. My child. I can't imagine how it must feel to lose your husband but I don't believe that some pains can be compared. There is no measure to them, they are 100%. Pain. That is all there is under these circumstances. No degrees, no gradients. A contest that is not contestable.

But losing a baby. I was so full of expectancy, anticipation. So happy. So complete. I felt like my life was coming together at last. I had what I had always wanted.

The gap between what I had thought would happen and what actually transpired was breathtaking, heart-wrenching. Enough to send my mind into a tail-spin. And I don't know the half of it. I don't have the fear of death that I used to have or should have. My own or others. I'm 'prepared.' I just wasn't prepared for the first one, to attend my own child's funeral. Perhaps no other death can hurt me as much. Or perhaps I'm just kidding myself? Who the hell is ever prepared for any of this?

Perhaps I had never experienced grief before? Or love?

I used to question that, before Jessica and Georgina were born. Had I ever truly felt?
I don't anymore.
I know that I can't feel more than this. This is all that this particular human is capable of feeling, however ineptly, however stupidly. I can't do more than this. I can't love them more.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Fell On Black Days

It was a beautiful sunny day yesterday. I had some candles burning for most of the day and I listened to music for the first time in a long while. Really listened. To music for 'adults.' I think Jessica was slightly perturbed to realise that not all music is 'Old MacDonald had a farm' although her Dad has been known to blast her with Black Sabbath and their ilk on the odd occasion. She seems to quite like that sort of thing actually, kicks her legs along to it.

I feel so very sad. I can't sleep which is I am sitting here typing this at four in the morning instead.

I wish I could do more than light candles. For all of those before me, for all of those yet to come. All those women still walking around in the sunshine in blissful ignorance of how this particular pregnancy is going to end. This particular pregnancy is not going to end well. Every single day of the year. I do so, so wish I could save them from this. Somehow.

Perhaps it is the date. This tail end of summer last year, when my life broke down. I know that it is only another day, one in a sequence. But I find my mind drawn back to replaying those events more and more frequently in recent days.

I've been dreaming about the NICU. That place. 'At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; at the still point, there the dance is. But neither arrest nor movement.' That is how it felt to me. Like a place that had fallen out of time. No arrest. No movement. A place parallel to my previous existence, I stepped sideways and there I was. It's still there, that strange sideways place. My four month home. Other people live there now. I wish they didn't have to.

That place of breath held and held and held. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Months of waiting. Seasons of waiting. Summer, autumn, winter.
One moment idle chatter, jokes, elation and the next, utter despair. For someone. Part of you is praying that it isn't you. And you loathe yourself for that.
That churning in my stomach. Cries.
Those rooms, I felt as if I could blow them away with one breath, like a flimsy stage set. Knock the whole thing down with a flick of my wrist.

That place. Those walls. Hope, crushed hope, every shade in between. How many prayers prayed, bargains struck, pleas pleaded. Such frail, fleshy, human things to be offered up in the face of these machines, those tiny, impossible bodies. Granted or denied.

Sitting on the floor in a hospital corridor. My husband is speaking to me but I can't really hear him. It is almost as if he is talking through thick glass or heavy salt water. I also hear myself wailing, at a remove. Me yet not me. I know that I sound like an animal but I can't stop. I'm gone, lost, a vacuum.

Sometimes I feel I have never really left that hospital. A part of me is still sitting on the floor in that corridor wailing. I think she'll always be there, that strange, wailing creature.

I'm still waiting.
I've been holding my breath for nearly a year now.
I want my other daughter back. I want her back. My greed know no bounds. These clutching hands that always close on nothing. I want her. I want her.
Still. Always.

Saturday, 15 August 2009


I ordered a pink first birthday bib and cloth crown for Jessica.
I know that I ordered only one, I've just double checked.
This wasn't a repeat performance of the birthday card thing.
I know how lucky I am to be ordering one of these, believe me. I cried and cried when I ordered it.

But they sent two.

I wanted two birthday cards.
I don't want an extra bib.
Or an extra crown.
Georgina isn't here to wear them. I only wish she was.

Strange. How to receive two of something, an extra, can make me feel so very awful. Two.

In the past I would have just sent it back and thought nothing more of it.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Can Any Mother Help Me?

I've been on holiday. To the Peak District. A longish drive away from the south of England where I live. Well, about five hours. I know that isn't going to impress anyone who lives in a 'big' country but it is a long way to us here on our small island.

Whilst I was on holiday I bought a book called 'Can Any Mother Help Me?' by Jenna Bailey. I remember hearing about this book at some point in the past, before Jessica and Georgina were born, before I had ever heard of blogging.

Back when I thought that there was something slightly odd or even sinister about communicating via the internet. I couldn't imagine why people would prefer to 'talk' to one another this way rather than face to face. Was it because they couldn't find friends or lovers in real life? It didn't seem like anything that I would ever be interested in. This was back in the days when I used my internet connection solely for online shopping, banking and the occasional e-mail. And the ubiquitous naturally.

Anyhow, back to my book. In 1935, a young woman wrote a letter to a magazine asking the question that became the title of the book, 'can any mother help me?' As a result of her letter a group of women formed. They called themselves the Cooperative Correspondence Club (CCC). They created a private magazine in order to 'alleviate the boredom and limitations of their lives as wives or mothers.' They wrote articles about a variety of things that interested them - children, work, love, politics - and commented on each other's work. The magazine was circulated via the post. Although the women knew each other's real names and addresses due to the need for mailing, they often wrote under pseudonyms. A Priori, Country Mouse, Rusticana, Accidia, Ubique, Elektra.

I'm sure this parallel has already been drawn but their magazine from all that time ago reminded me of blogging. I thought about how I would have anticipated the arrival of that magazine if I had been one of the 'mothers' of this circle.

As it is I anticipate opening my reader, that flutter of interest, my little treat or moment to myself, usually at the end of the day. I want to find out how 'everyone' is, what you have been thinking about, what you are feeling. Those words that help me find strength, or bring tears, or make me smile.

I am so grateful that all of you are here, beyond words.

Whilst I was on holiday, I was also thinking a lot about motherhood. In my own inept little way. What type of mother I am. What has informed my parenting of my surviving baby and the baby that I lost. Who has inspired me. Who informs me. Who I want to emulate.

When I say motherhood here, I mean it in the broadest possible sense. I'm including fatherhood too. I hate the word parenthood and writing mother/father hood is going to drive me wild so from this point forward, please do read motherhood as a word encompassing fathers as well. There probably is a perfectly good word but I am either too illiterate to know it or too tired to dredge it up out of my addled old brain tonight.

I've been thinking about all the mothers whose words I read. Without wishing to sound creepy, I do think of you all a great deal. When there is no company to distract me, when Jessica is sleeping, when my husband is busy and doesn't want to chat. My thoughts return to you all here, in this little corner of blogland.

Whilst I was away on holiday, I was thinking about all of you. You have all taught me so much. About being a mother.

I was thinking about Monique, Norm and Samuel Marc. When I saw something beautiful on my potterings about, I thought of sweet Sam. I know that so many of us here were thinking of him. I imagine it almost like tiny flares of thought, of love, going up around the world. Sam, Sam, Sam.

I was thinking about, and praying for, Michele, Peter, Bobby and Maya. I was wondering if everything was alright with them. As Michele goes further on in her pregnancy than I was able to. I was hoping, praying and wishing that this precious family would be arriving safely at the threshold of the third trimester by the time I got back.

I was thinking of Sally, Simon and Hope as they approach these difficult days in mid-August. No more difficult than the rest of the year I'm sure but somehow I find that the date has made it harder, more inescapable.

I was so very, very lonely after the girls were born. So frightened. That my life had taken this completely unexpected, horrible, horrible turn. I didn't know what to do or who I could talk to about all these thoughts that just spun around and around in my poor, frazzled little brain.

I remember one of the unexpected things that terrified me after Georgina died was a deep seated belief that 'no one will ever understand me again, I will have to pretend. Always. Not even my own mother or sister can understand me now. Not my friends. Not anyone.'

Sadly, I have since discovered that so many people understand.
I wish you didn't. I wish that I had been alone in this.
But some secret, selfish part of me is glad that I am not.

In this place, I can tell you that I bought two first birthday cards at the supermarket yesterday. I wouldn't want anyone else to know that. They might find it incomprehensible. But I think you will know why I bought two. I think you will know why I almost wanted the lady at the checkout to ask WHY I was buying two. So I could lie. And tell her they were for my twin's first birthday party. Two little girls, you see. Just about to turn one.

I thought of all the mothers I have met here, in this strange and beautiful place.
Such a hateful place yet shot through with so much love. Like the crystalline parts of granite.

Those who have no living children in their arms. Mothers.

Those who have living children but still mourn for those other children. The ones who have slipped away from them. Mothers.

Those who parent children who are not their biological children but who are still very much their children. Mothers.

Those who lost their first born child. Those who lost their only child. Mothers.

Those whose children were born breathing. Mothers.

Those whose children never took a single breath. Who were born into silence. Mothers.

Those whose children were lost in the first trimester, in the second trimester, in the third trimester. Mothers.

Those who fall pregnant after a loss. Mothers.

Those whose children survived against the odds.
Those whose children did not survive against odds impossibly stacked against them.
Those whose children died in spite of the odds that should have been in their favour.

Those who long for children. Even when that longing is so cruelly unfulfilled. Mothers.

Those who mourn for children who have never existed on this earth and never will. Those who parent children who are dreams. But who are none the less real for all that. Mothers.

To try and tie this rather random post together, I'm going back to the book I mentioned at the beginning. At an early point in the CCC's history a member was proposed who had no children. She was rejected on the basis that she was not a mother. She was 30, she had been married for four years.
I found myself thinking. But was she a mother?
A thought that would have never occurred to me a couple of years ago.
Back then, it was a binary function. You are a mother, defined by having children. Living children. Or you aren't.
But it isn't that simple. Nothing is ever, ever that simple.
They said that she wasn't a mother.
Was she one of 'my mothers'? Was she a mother like me?

I wouldn't have missed any of you mothers, or fathers, for the world.
I wouldn't have missed hearing what you have said. I want to hear what you will say.
I am so sorry to find you here. In this place.
Where I find so much comfort and friendship.
But also a place I wish that nobody ever had need of.
Thank you to all the mothers and fathers who share of themselves so generously.
Thank you for your help in a dark, dark time.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


It's been a year.

I've been trying to write the story of the events leading up to, and away from, 26th August 2008 for nearly a year. I've done bits and pieces but have failed to do the whole thing.
I thought it might help to try to write down the bare facts.
I'm doing this with substantial help from Georgina's debrief report and Jessica's medical notes.
My memory of those few days in August, September and some of October is completely shot to ribbons. These reports are probably far more reliable than that mush which is laughably called my brain these days.

Random day in March 2008 - my husband and I decide that we would like to try for a baby. We were both 28. We'd been married for just over a year.

Random day in April 2008 - a positive pregnancy test.

13th June 2008 - 12 week scan, we found out that we were expecting non-identical, dichorionic-diamniotic twins.

1st August 2008 - 20 weeks scan, we found out that we were expecting twin girls. A minor problem was identified with one of the girls, a collection of fluid was found around her heart, a pericardial effusion. We were referred to a fetal medicine unit for a detailed scan.

5th August 2008 - first detailed scan. Both twins appeared to be formed normally. Both moving. Both had normal amniotic fluid, cords and placentas.

Everything about fetus 1, which I now assume has to be Georgina, was normal. Normal damnit. They checked a long list of things. All normal, including her cardiac anatomy, except for a mild pericardial effusion. Which must have been the only symptom of something else very, very wrong. But we weren't to know that. The report concludes that 'the reason for this effusion is not clear but is apparently isolated with an otherwise normal heart. Most of these resolve spontaneously, do not need treatment and have no long term significance.'

Everything about fetus 2, which I'm guessing was (is) Jessica, was normal.
Both babies were a good size for dates.
Possibly related to the fact that my husband and I are both on the tall side, he's 6ft 4, I'm 5ft 8. I sometimes suspect that this was Jessica's saving grace.

13th August 2008 - second detailed scan. Again both twins appeared to be normally formed with the exception of the pericardial effusion. This had not increased in size. Active babies, normal liquor. A likely good outcome suggested to the parents.

Tuesday 26th of August 2008 - at about 4.30 in the morning I was admitted to accident & emergency at the local hospital in premature labour, at 23 weeks and 4 days gestation. I still don't know why this happened, I don't think anyone does. I've tried every possible route I can think of to try and find out why and have drawn a blank every single time. It has been suggested that Georgina had too much fluid around her which distended my uterus and triggered the labour. No evidence of infection was found. Georgina and Jessica both appeared to be normally formed.

Medical staff attempted to stop the labour but sadly this was unsuccessful.
I was given steroids to try to prepare the girls for delivery but sadly these were administered too late to be of any use.

Georgina Jane was born at 7.08 in the morning, weighing 1lb 10oz.
Jessica Clair was born at 7.33 in the morning, weighing 1lb 7oz.
Both babies were born alive, stabilized and transferred to the neonatal unit.
I saw them at some later point but I'm not entirely sure when.
One placenta (or perhaps both) broke inside me and had to be removed in pieces. I think that took some time so it might have been a few hours after their birth that I saw Jessica for the first time. I saw Georgina immediately after her birth.

I was told that the hospital I had given birth in did not have the facilities to care for babies of such short gestation and that they would be transferred to another hospital, some 50 miles away. I met the doctor and the nurse who would travel with them. Georgina first, Jessica following after. I discharged myself at 1 that afternoon, I seem to remember struggling to have a drip taken out of my arm. I was so frustrated, I just wanted to get this drip out so I could drive to the other hospital, to see my babies.

Georgina arrived in intensive care at 17.15. Jessica slightly later. Georgina was very ill and the medical staff there worked incredibly hard to keep her alive that night. My husband and I were advised to stay at the hospital in the parents room downstairs. We were telephoned during the night asking us to come up to the ward as they were losing her. But she didn't die. Not then.

27th of August 2008 - By the next morning Georgina had stabilised a little and remained fairly stable throughout the course of the day. We touched her for the first time, placing one hand on her head and the other over her legs.

28th of August 2008 - During the night she suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage which made it increasingly difficult to ventilate her. I think this must have happened in the early hours of the morning as I remember that we reluctant to leave her that night. We had a plan to stay on the ward all night with her. But I think we left about 2am as she seemed stable and we were exhausted. But again we were telephoned during the early hours of the morning and pelted up to the ward. But she didn't die. Not then.

Later in the day she opened her eyes for the first time. Well, one eye at a time mainly. Almost winking at us. Such beautiful blue, blue eyes. She was starting to swell and I remember calling her my beautiful little barrel. She kicked her legs at me in disgust.

During the night, Georgina deteriorated again. Her kidneys started to fail and she was now being kept alive only with maximal intensive care. It was explained to us that this was appropriate given that there was still a prospect of survival. I remember asking the doctor if there was any chance, any chance at all that she could still survive this. He said yes, there was still a chance.

29th of August 2008 - But by the next morning there wasn't. More problems came to light. There was severe bleeding on both sides of Georgina's brain. Her bone marrow wasn't functioning. Her kidneys weren't functioning. It was agreed that continuing intensive care would only be delaying her death and might risk causing her distress and pain. After it was discussed with us, the decision to stop intensive care was taken and carried out.

Georgina died on the 29th of August.

I'm really not sure what time of day it was, when she died. It could have been early in the morning, mid-afternoon, middle of the night. I just don't know.

I don't even know which room in that hospital she finally died in, where her heart stopped beating. We were allowed to hold her until her heart stopped. Medical staff came in every so often to check whether her heart was still beating. We were in another room, not on the ward.
But I could never find that room again. My husband knew where we were but he wouldn't tell me. I guess that we still had something to do with that room in later days.

I do know that she tried to take three breaths on her own because I wrote it down in her book.

I remember the faces of the nurses who were with us. I found out later that Georgina was the 'first' for one of them, the younger nurse. The first baby to die whilst in her care. I felt so sorry for her.

Such a short time, summarised in so few words really.
An entire life.
My eldest daughter's entire life is here.
And yet it isn't. Not really. Not the love. Not her. Not my own sweet girl.

I think that it is my own whole life that is contained here.
All of it seems to lead up to these three days, and then away from them.

I still miss her so very much. I have cried every single day since the day she was born.

I know that to some people it might seem ridiculous to cry so very much, over a child that was born with so little possibility of survival. When I saw her for the first time, I knew that it could not be long.
Perhaps it is because of Jessica's life. She'll always holds out the possibility that Georgina's survival was just that. A possibility. A real possibility.
Perhaps it is because she is my daughter and I would still be crying if I had lost her at 10 weeks, at 20 weeks, at 30 weeks, at 40 weeks, at 2 years, at 20 years.

Reading all these reports, looking at her photographs, sitting here holding her ashes in a plastic bag. Reciting these facts. These facts that I have gone over and over and re-worked and re-worked hundreds of times. They aren't enough. Not to fill this gaping hole in me.

I'm still clutching at her blanket, the blanket she died in. Hoping to find just a tiny trace of her.

Miss you my sweet, tiny Georgie girl. My sweetest. My tiniest, tiniest darling.
Jointly, I always have to say that anything -est is a tie between my daughters. A perfect draw without a hair's breadth between them.

I am so very glad I was able to meet you before you died.
I hope that you weren't in pain.
I hope that I didn't let them hurt you.
I thought that you might live you see.
I thought you just might. They told me that you just might.
I sometimes try to imagine what you perceived during those three and a bit days but my mind just reels. What did you understand? Everything. Nothing at all.
What does such a tiny baby make of the world? I don't know.

But you were loved. You are loved. And loved. And loved. Always.
Until there is nothing left of me to love you.
That is the fact.
The only fact that I can actually make any sense out of.

I'm going to have to write about Jessica another time.
This is getting too long and I am becoming too upset.
So much for facts, they seem to hurt more than feelings.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Sorry everyone. Today I was going to write about what makes me happy, as I was tagged by the lovely Tina at Living Without Sophia and Ellie.

But I just feel so sick of myself today. In a grump. Blue.

I feel I should warn anyone reading that this post is

(a) going to be a little bit of a whine and
(b) partly about Jessica.

If you feel that this is likely to upset you, look away now. Please come back another day when I am not quite so very full of self-pity.

Disclaimer over.

Except I've just read a comment on this post and I think I need more of a disclaimer.

Firstly I want to be clear on one point. Whatever happened to Jessica, whilst it was very traumatic for me and has changed me profoundly, did not scratch the surface of my pain and heartache over losing Georgina. I don't want anyone to come away from reading this post with any doubt in their mind about this.

Secondly, if you suspect that you may be going to have a preemie at some point, I'm not going to lie to you. It is one heck of an experience. Those four months were very stressful, dizzying highs and crushing lows. I have tried to write about it on more than one occasion but it just gives me nightmares.
Today I am feeling sad about what Jessica has been through but other days I feel nothing but triumph, elation and happiness. That by some strange twist of fate she survived. I'm still riding that NICU rollercoaster. I don't think I will ever step off it completely. But please don't let this post frighten you into thinking that it is all doom and gloom. I think that NICUs are places of hope, and crushed hope, and every possible shade in between.

Thirdly, I'm beginning to think that I shouldn't have posted this at all. So perhaps it really shouldn't be here.

Second disclaimer over. Phew.

Hopefully that has scared everyone away because I don't think anything from this point onwards is going to be especially edifying, helpful or interesting. But I need to vent a little.

I had to take Jessica back to the hospital on Friday for a check-up.
Whilst I know how lucky and privileged I am to have the chance to go there, part of me hates going back to the hospital.
It reminds of how very far from 'ordinary' her birth and the first few months of her life were. How different from what I would have wished, from what I desperately wanted.

For reasons that I don't really want to go into here, MY own birth was a bit of a disaster for MY mother. I so desperately wanted it to be different for my girls. Just undiluted happiness. No shadow crossing the sun on their birthday. But it wasn't to be.

That poor shiny little body in a plastic incubator. So stuck full of needles and lines that she looked like a sinister tiny voodoo doll at some points. That ventilator jammed into her tiny mouth. My poor darling Jessica. I wish I could have done it for you.

I know that she needed it all. I love all that machinery. Beyond measure. Yet I hate it too.
It was my body's failure made manifest in needles, wires, monitors and alarms.
That scary NICU noise of bleeps and whirs and whooshes, that noise that is still ringing in my ears if I just listen closely enough.

I hate that she is behind developmentally.
I hate that there is a good chance that she will always be behind developmentally.
I hate that her lungs are scarred and that they might always be a problem.

I just want my little girl to have a break.

Losing Georgina has put Jessica's problems into perspective for me.
Sometimes I think that is one of Georgina's gifts to me.
That Georgina puts her little hand on my shoulder and murmurs in my ear, 'Look silly mama, this doesn't matter. She's here with you. She's breathing. None of these little things matter.'

But, I just wish . . .

That her lungs were healthy and that every single cough or cold didn't send me into a downward spiral of worry.

That I didn't have to beat myself up over my failure to protect her from every single germ on the planet. Because I can't. I can't even see them. If I could, maybe I could squash them. Or fight them. Or scare them away. But I'm just so powerless.

That I didn't keep worrying about the fact that she is weaker on one side. That I can't stop my mind developing this into something worse than it is. Perhaps.

That she didn't still have problems co-ordinating her tongue and her jaw.
The doctor said that people might think that she was not too bright if she continues to stick her tongue out and dribble so much.
That made me terribly angry although I know it was meant kindly.
I wanted to say that . .
I really don't care how she looks.
I really don't care what other people might think.
I really don't care if she isn't 'bright'.
To me, she shines brighter than anyone else on this planet.

I wish that I could be a different mother. The mother that I wanted to be before.
The mother who was going to be so brave and bold.
She was going to breastfeed for at least six months.
She was going to carry her baby around everywhere in a sling.
She would want everyone to coo over her baby, she would want to share her daughter's dimples and smiles with the world

Would I have been that mother?
If Georgina hadn't died?
If I had only had one baby?
If the girls hadn't been born so prematurely?
I'll never know.

Instead, I hunch over Jessica like some sort of mad woman.
Brandishing a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel. Watchful.
For the first sign of an attack, for that dark stranger that might come to take her.
Like he took her sister.
I don't really like anyone else touching her if I'm completely honest.

It isn't fair on her, that she has been lumbered with this neurotic, grieving mess of a mother.
I'm trying my best.
But it feels so very far from good enough.

I feel like I was so suddenly a mother. I wasn't ready.
I want to be better than this.
For Jessica.
For Georgina.
I love them both so very, very much.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Secret Garden Meeting - July

Thank you Carly, Sally and Sophie for the beautiful website, for these questions and for sharing your own answers.

The Secret Garden Meeting - July

How do you see or imagine your baby now that you do not have her with you?

I expect that there will always be an element of Georgina that is at the same stage as her twin sister. As Jessica approaches her first birthday this month, I often picture Georgina at this age and wonder what would be different, what would be the same. I think that I will probably always do this.

At times, I find it very comforting to have such a direct connection to my missing daughter. At other times, I find it disconcerting. Georgina is often present when I look at Jessica, just outside my field of vision. Sometimes I feel that, if I could only turn around quickly enough, I would catch a glimpse of that other daughter. She is there, flickering in the static between my eyes and her sister.

Like Laura's boys, Georgina and Jessica were fraternal twins, not identical. Because of their prematurity I find it quite hard to say for certain whether they might have resembled one another. I like to think that I can see some similarities, in their features and their proportions, in those early photographs.

Often when I dream about Georgina she is an extremely premature baby and looks as she looked in life. Sometimes the Jessica of my dreams has grown but Georgina is still tiny. But in my dreams, she lives without ventilators and without wires. About a week after she died, I dreamt about her. I was sitting in a field, under a huge tree. I was holding Jessica and Georgina in my arms. They were tiny and red but I wasn't frightened. They were breathing without effort, the sun was shining. I was thinking about whether they would be hungry yet as I wanted to feed them. I felt so happy in my dream.

I think because it resolves two minor issues that trouble me, that the girls were never together after their birth and that Georgina was never outside. I wish that I had asked if the girls could be together or if I could have carried Georgina over to Jessica when she was dying. I wish that I had asked to take Georgina's body outside.

For some reason, I often imagine Georgina as a young teenager. In that brief moment when girls are still all skinny ribs and limbs like dandelion stalks. Still clear eyed. The age of about 12 or 13 years old. It didn't last long for me, I remember my aunt saying to me wistfully, "Ach Catherine you used to look so Pre-Raphaelite." I didn't dare to ask what she felt the Pre-Raphaelite had been replaced by. Something more solid. A person more reminiscent of something by Rubens perhaps? I wish I'd asked her now.

Sometimes I see a group of these girls on the cusp of womanhood wandering around the shops. The one at the back, the one who seems to be day-dreaming. That is the girl that tugs at my heart. I wonder if that would have been my girl.

And most frequently of all, she is just herself. Something free of her corporeal self, something insubstantial. Perhaps she is everywhere. Or nowhere. But I know that she isn't really to be found in my memories of that tiny, aching body. Not inside that bruised and swollen skin. Not a being with any sort of physical presence. Just my daughter, Georgina. Always with me. In some ways, even closer than her sister.

How did the loss of your last pregnancy affect your choices/decisions about the birth of your subsequent pregnancy?

I don't know.
Sometimes I am frightened that there will never be a subsequent pregnancy because of the events of my first.
I am too scared to try again.
I am too scared not to try again.