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.