Friday, 29 January 2010


In my wardrobe there are three boxes.

One contains my wedding dress.
I don't know quite know why I have held on to that dress.
I will never wear it again.
I could never hope to do that dress up again. It was a bit of a squash on my wedding day.
I'm sure that fashions will have changed by the time that Jessica gets married, even assuming that she grows up to be the same height and dress size as her mother.
My own mother cut up her wedding dress to make me a costume for a school play when I was about eight years old. Perhaps that will be the eventual fate of my own wedding dress? Or dressing up clothes perhaps?

A plain, cream box. Inside are clothes.
Bought by another person, in anticipation of an event she will never anticipate again.
Enormous dresses for a child of 12-18 months, socks, small soft shoes.
Items that were bought twice over and one set put away.
Jessica is about to grow into half of the set now. A pink corduroy pinafore. A soft cotton party dress, in green and red. These have been waiting to be worn since August 2008.
I bought them on my lunch break. I was desperate for the lady at the till to ask me why I was buying two identical items. But she didn't.

Next is a plain white cardboard box, decorated with a dark pink ribbon and a small elephant motif.

After the twins were born, my husband left to pick things up from home, clothes and toothpaste and so on. He asked the nurse looking after the girls if he could bring them a toy each. We had not bought any toys for the twins, not yet. But he took the small hanging toys from the front of their bouncy chairs, which had a jungle theme. An elephant and a hippopotamus. He told me it was to inspire our girls to grow big and strong, just like their toys.

Georgina had the elephant in her incubator and Jessica, the hippopotamus.

This is why I chose the elephant motif for Georgina's box. Jessica's has a teddy bear, I'm guessing that hippopotamuses aren't overly popular with your average baby crowd.

Inside that box is a woollen hat. It is pale pink. It has long strings hanging down from either side, these are used to tie a ventilator mouth piece in position. It has a blood stain on one side.

I'm actually jealous of this hat and yet it is one of the most precious items in this box. The hat held my daughter's head, so tenderly, for longer than my own clumsy hands were able to. It touched her skin, held her fragile baby skull, for longer than I ever will. It soaked up the blood that I longed to sponge away from the side of her mouth.

Inside that box is nearly everything that ever touched my daughter's skin whilst she alive. Her tiny sheet. Her monitor pads and probes.

Foot prints and hand prints. Incongruously bright, multicoloured ink. Red, orange and yellow. These were taken after her death. Now I wonder, what sort of mother lets a stranger put her dead child's hands and feet up against a cheerful brightly coloured ink pad and stamp them down?

The photographs that I think I will always hide away. I've considered showing them to, at the very most, two people. Not family who didn't see her. Just people who I know would respect her, who know that she was more than that tiny, agonised body. I may still show these photographs, one day when I'm braver.

If you've been reading here for a little while you will have an idea what they look like, not a million miles away from Jessica's early photographs. But I can't have one on display in the house. She doesn't look like I remember her. When I see a photograph of Georgina, all I can see is her pain and my own guilt. That I didn't stop it sooner.

They are not professional photographs. They were taken by the nurses. Some have comic, cartoon borders around them of the sort that you would get on a free CD given away with your printer. I don't know why they felt the need to add these. Perhaps they thought she would live. That one day I would look back and wonder at her smallness, her bruised skin.

The nurse looking after Georgina on the day she died, Georgina was the first death on her watch.
Perhaps even she didn't quite realise that babies sometimes die.

The beginnings of a diary I kept for Georgina, when we still thought she would live. My handwriting gets smaller and smaller as those three day pass, as the realisation dawns.

A man's T-shirt. There is a blood stain on the chest.
A woman's striped top.

Neither of these will ever be washed or worn again.

Why am I keeping these items? For Jessica to carry around with her after I'm dead? I really don't know.

Apart from one.

Ashes. In a plastic bag marked with a label.
Baby Georgina Jane W-----

I asked my husband if, when I die and my body is cremated, he would mix my ashes with Georgina's and then scatter them.
So I can be with her one final time.
So what remains of me and my daughter, our skins, our internal organs, our hair, will intermingle.
Just once more.

If anything remains of me on that day, it will sigh a tiny sigh. Of relief. Of release.
I miss her so.

What are you keeping? Why?

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Mind out of time

I have lived in the house I sit inside now for two and a half years.

It always takes me a while to really feel comfortable in a new house. Since I turned eighteen and left my parents' house, I've moved eight times. Usually for the first six months or so, I find I don't sleep particularly well. I try to take an extra step at the top of the stair and my foot thumps down on thin air. The light switches are in the wrong places and attempting to turn on a light in the dark results in protracted searching, my hand blindly rubbing over the wall trying to find the switch by touch. The door handles seem to be at strange heights or turn the wrong way. The house doesn't smell right.

Then I get used to it.
By increments, it becomes my home. A strange, creeping process.

But, at night, the walls seem to play tricks on me.

I know the dimensions of my bedroom, I know how far away the bed is from the wall, I know where the windows are, I know I will roll to my right and see the bunched up shape of my husband fast sleep, I know the low static mumble of the baby monitor listening to Jessica in the room opposite (assuming she isn't actually in between me and my husband as often tends to be the case, wisely or not), the mutterings of the water pipes or of the BBC World Service I sometimes switch on for company in the watches of the night. Familiar.

And yet. At night. My mind throws up ghost walls, creating other rooms. Rooms that were once as familiar to me as the room I sleep in now.

My childhood bedroom. A thin body, ribs still visible, no curves. The smell of the bedsheets. The flattened sponge innards of my childhood teddy bear. The sounds of the radio distort and become the sound of my parents talking downstairs. The low rumble of my father's voice comes up through the floor boards. The clicking of tea cups in the kitchen below.

I wake and feel suddenly tall and ungainly. As though someone had strapped my feet to stilts in the night. The floor tilts away from me alarmingly. I look in the mirror and feel robbed. Where did my time go? What happened to that little girl?

The night rooms.

My old room at university. I can see the shadow of my room mate sleeping across the way. The smell of smoke and stale alcohol. My dreams are of being younger, of potential restored. Of being someone who others thought might have an opinion worth hearing, of being the girl that might still attract the eye of a man across a bar.

The night rooms.

A hospital room. The sheets are made of something synthetic, sweat collects and cools in the lumps of the pillow. Inhaled air held and held, waiting for the telephone to ring. A television that doesn't work. A kitchen next door with no windows. An airless room within a hospital. A room that I can see myself inside, talking on the telephone, as though the roof of the building has been cut off by a giant hand and only a cross section remains. A room that keeps coming back to me. I can still remember the pattern of the carpet, the feel of the cold corridor flooring as I step across to shower. The sounds of the administration office next door. The cries of children in the paediatric ward overhead. The feeling of sinking, down and down, through the floor and back to the earth, into the soil.

This room is more vivid than the others.
The other night I dreamt I was in that hospital room with twin baby girls. One of them was Jessica. Her face was turned towards me and it was my Jessica. Not as she ever was in life. Her face, at that age, was always covered with tubes. But I know her. It's Jessica without breathing apparatus, without lines, without monitors, without probes.

The other baby, her face was turned away.
And even if she'd looked at me. I don't know that I would recognise Georgina now.

But that room. That room will stay with me. I expect I'll dream of it until I'm dead myself. The memories of things that are so unimportant come back so vividly. But the one thing I actually want to remember, she is elusive. My mind won't bring her back to me.

At night, time feels so fluid. In those moments between sleeping and waking, it seems almost as though I could move at will. Through the years of my life, through my memories. Time seems to judder and lurch at night.

But it is just an illusion. I can't summon those days and hours back to myself as much as I might wish to. Instead, I shake myself awake.

I look at my husband, I listen to his even breathing, sometimes his snoring. I reach for his hand and wait for him to flick me away, irritated.

I pad across the landing to Jessica's room. I lower my face to her, as close as I dare. I try to breathe in the air that she exhales. I can smell her, a smell that makes my spine melt, my lungs want to burst, as I try to cram as much of it in as I can. I can hear the slight wheeziness of her breathing. I can see her hands, pitted with scars, flung to either side in abandon as she gives herself to sleep. The young do everything with such a passion, with such wholeheartedness.

But the old, well, we're different. But I can still muster it on occasion. When I watch my daughter sleeping I can't imagine feeling more.

This is what I have. I might wish for more but it is what I have. Happiness.

And sometimes. Sometimes I think that I have it all the wrong way round.
Perhaps it is Jessica and I who wait outside in the cold.
Waiting to be let into that night room where Georgina waits, facing away from us, hidden by the roses that surround her.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Slow Learner

It has been 506 days since my daughters were born.
It has been 503 days since Georgina died.
That sounds so long ago.
Time passes. Inexorably.

I think that I have cried every single day since then.
Variable amounts.
Different strengths.
But tears.

Fewer now. Weaker. Thinner. Cooler.
But they still fall.

Yet I refuse to purchase a waterproof mascara.

Perhaps because I don't want to admit that I will cry at some point today.
Perhaps because I don't want to admit that I changed.
Perhaps because I don't want to admit that she died.

Perhaps because I secretly like having black circles of mascara under my eyes.
To remind myself.

Or perhaps I am just a slow learner.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Child In Time

Driving to work this morning, a man's voice on the radio.

‘It does not seem to me that we understand the laws governing the return of the past. But I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like. And the longer I think about it, the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead.’

WG Sebald (whose punctuation was no doubt far better than mine and to whom I can only apologise)

Perhaps it is us who are the ghosts.
Perhaps, in the eyes of the dead, we are the ones who appear insubstantial and thin.

I often think of Georgina as a shadow, as someone who slipped away.
But, perhaps, it is me who is the shade.

Jessica and I are left immersed in time, to soak in time until we are saturated with it.
Until time has filled up all the spaces within us. Between our cells, inside our veins.

Time pulls Jessica upwards like a weed, she grows taller, her limbs thicken, she learns to speak and walk, the circuitry inside her mind fires sparks.
Time has started to tug me downwards, wrinkling my face, wilting my body, dulling my mind.

Time. It will not leave either of us in peace.

We are impermanent.
In a state of flux.
Until the end of our days.
Time exerts forces upon us that we are powerless to stop.

But not Georgina.
Georgina is static, untouched.
Not for her the flickering parade of images that time makes of the living.

She will always remain the same. Permanent.

Time rested its hand gently upon her head and then sent her away.

The strange accelerations, twists and convulsions of time are not for her.
She will never sit waiting for the clock to nudge forward another hour.
She will never watch her body grow, fade and die.
She will never wake disorientated from dreams of childhood.

She is a different entity. She has fallen out of time.
Perhaps that is why she feels so very far away from me?

Friday, 8 January 2010


Riding on a train of thought stolen from Still Life with Circles.

I've never had masses of friends.
Certainly not friends like those famous 'Friends' on the 90s sitcom, who flit in and out of one another's' apartments and seem so at ease with sharing every aspect of their lives.
Perhaps those sorts of friendships only exist in sitcoms?
Or perhaps the fact that I don't have friends like Monica and Phoebe is attributable to some lack in myself?

But I had friends.

If I could talk to them all now, I would like to say the following.

Hey there friends and acquaintances,

It's been a while.

Some of you have known me since I was a little girl. We used to go to playgroup together. Our mothers were friends. We shared sandboxes and bad haircuts and fought over who would have the red penguin biscuit.

Some of you I met when I was older. An awkward thirteen year old. We agonised over the size of our thighs together. We spent hours closeted in your bedroom or my bedroom. (Our friend's bedrooms. Strange that when you are a child, it is acceptable to hang out in bedrooms. A place that is generally closed off to all but the most intimate of adult friends.)

Some of you I only met at college. When I had shocking blond hair and unsuitable boyfriend(s). When I used to go out every night. When I was pretending to be someone that I'm not because I didn't know who to be.

Some of you I met at university or at work. I'm quiet. I work pretty hard, I drink Diet Coke obsessively, I fiddle with my hair a lot. You might not have noticed me initially or found me aloof. But I hope we got to be friends.

You might have noticed that I'm not around. Even if you can see me. Even if you are sitting right next to me, I might not necessarily be there. With you. Paying attention to you. Listening to what you are telling me.

But something awful happened to me.
Something sad.
My daughter died.
Yes, I know it was a while ago now.

Some of you have probably noticed that I have a little girl. You'll have noticed her in the photographs on my fac.ebook page. She's cute. Thanks for ticking the 'like' box on her pictures. I'm glad you think she's sweet. I do too.

If you don't know me that well and hadn't seen me in person during 2008, you probably don't know that she had a twin sister. I hadn't told that many people that I was pregnant, let alone expecting twins, because I was frightened that something would go wrong. I didn't comprehend how wrong something like this could go. Or how right.

If you aren't particularly interested in my life (and God knows why you would be) you will probably never wade through all my photos and spot the ones of a tiny, tiny baby. That's Jessica you see. Before she grew.

I just wanted to say how sorry I am.
When you didn't know what to say to me when you heard that my daughter had died at three days old.
When you didn't know what to say to me during all the time that Jessica was in hospital.
You see, I didn't know what to say either.
And we both ended up saying nothing. Silence.

I tried.

The first time you spoke to me after the 26th August 08, I probably tried to tell you about Georgina.
I didn't understand that perhaps it wasn't appropriate to bring her up.
I didn't understand that perhaps it made you feel uncomfortable or that talking about her frightened you.
I love her. I wanted to talk about her. She was a real person.

Please bear in mind that I had just spent three months sitting in intensive care, one month sitting in a special care nursery and four months nearly completely housebound with a baby who needed breathing support.
Please understand that the only people I spoke to during that time were my family, one very understanding friend, Jessica's nurses, social workers, counsellors and shrinks. Most of whom were either paid to listen to me rabbit on about Georgina or who could at least cope with her name being mentioned.

I also spent a lot of time on the Internet, reading at length accounts written by those parents who had found themselves in a similar situation. I could talk about her here, with these people. Our dead children are our main topic of conversation around these parts.

So perhaps it is understandable that my inhibitions got a bit hazy around the ages.

Imagine being the only drunk in a room full of sober people. That was me. Drunkenly rambling on and on about my dead daughter (figuratively speaking) whilst all you teetotallers watched in horror as I fell off my chair and landed in a pool of my own vomit. And still tried to carry on talking about Georgina with sick in my hair and an embarrassing slur.

No wonder you were frightened. No wonder that the thought of popping over to see Catherine, or just ringing up Catherine for a chat, didn't fill you with joy.
Didn't have you rushing to jump in the car or diving in your handbag for your mobile. I understand.

I found it very hard to forgive those of you who only re-emerged when it became obvious that Jessica would live, 'when the good news trumped the bad.' I know they followed hard on one another's heels in real terms, what's a few months between friends after all?
But those months were so long. So very long. And I felt so lonely.

I'm sorry. I tried to pretend that none of this had ever happened to me.
But it just won't wash. I can't do it. I only wish I could.

And to some of you, I owe an apology.
A huge apology.
I saw you go through horrible experiences and tough times.
I thought I was there for you, I believed I was a good friend.
I didn't disappear entirely but my idea of being a friend was pretty much the most insipid, spineless imitation of a human being ever. Gutless. Useless. Second only to running away entirely.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was such a bad friend to you when you needed me. Please forgive me. Especially those of you who have been such a support to me. And strangely it is those of you that I feel I have most wronged who have been the most comfort to me during the past year and a half.

Perhaps when your own security blanket has been ripped away from you and you have learnt to stand the cold without it, you can respond better to those of us who are still wailing on the ground like little children, banging our heels on the floor and wanting that comforting warmth wrapped back around us?

The rest of you. I hope and pray that when something shitty happens to you, when you are diagnosed with cancer, or in a car accident, or your spouse dies, or when one of your children dies (and I'm afraid to say that these things can, in fact, happen to the likes of you and me) I hope and pray that I won't be one of those who fades away. Even if you don't particularly want me there. I hope you will know that I AM there. That I will say something. Even if I can only manage 'I'm sorry.'

I'm sorry we don't talk anymore.
I'm sorry that we don't get together anymore for drinks, or for food, or a movie.
I'm sorry you haven't had a chance to get to know Jessica, she's a really fun little person.

I'm sorry that I didn't handle it well. But I didn't know how to.
Nobody gets a trial run at handling death and illness. They are always unique. And uniquely devastating. Every time.
You try your best.
I tried my best.
My best was lousy.
I'm sorry.

Maybe we'll catch up one of these days. See you around.