Saturday, 29 May 2010


My body conceived two babies at once, by chance.
It would appear that this was a major contributory factor in the early birth of both of these babies, the death of one, the long hospitalisation of the other and the loss of a large portion of my mind.
Their twin-ness.
Nobody really knows what went wrong in my pregnancy but 'because it was twins' have often been the first words out of the mouth of any doctor who has spoken to me about it.
It is listed on Georgina's death certificate.
It is the fifth cause of death on the list. (e) Twin pregnancy.
She didn't go easily. So it got pushed down the list a bit.
But it was still considered sufficiently important to get a mention all of its very own.

The hospital consultant told me that the human body is not designed to carry more than one baby at a time and a multiple pregnancy often, sadly, does not result in multiple living children.

And now I can't even seem to conceive one baby.

Kick in the teeth anyone?

Friday, 28 May 2010


* Edited to say that this post is a bit of a ramble and even I'm not entirely sure if it makes any sense. And I wrote it so that probably says something!

I commute to work. It is about an hour's drive from my house to the office and, obviously, the same back.
If I am on time, I listen to the morning news. 
If I am late (which I generally am) I listen to the discussion programme that follows the news. Whilst driving as speedily as I dare. 
I've blogged about this programme before here.

On Monday, one of the guests was a gentleman called David Eagleman. A neuroscientist by profession, he has written a book entitled Sum as in 'cogito ergo sum', a series of forty mutually exclusive imaginings of the afterlife. 

I think to myself. Hey hey hey, this book could have been written specifically for me.
He . . 
(a) is a neuroscientist - my undergraduate degree subject and still of interest to me
(b) studies how the human brain perceives time, which is a fascinating topic
and (c) has written a book about the afterlife, a topic which kind of preoccupies me at the moment. 
Where Georgina might be? 
Or even what she might be?

David Eagleman's book has been ordered from Amazon but it hasn't been delivered yet. So I have to confess that I have not yet read the text I'm about to blog about. This may well be a bad thing. I might have to come back and revise substantially after I've actually read the essay in question. I may well have the wrong end of the stick. However, this has never stopped me before. 

Moving on - in this particular imagining of the afterlife the deity is pondering the issue of what age to make people who have entered this hypothetical paradise. He, or she, tries an afterlife solely composed of young people (this rapidly degenerates to a vapid world of sexual pursuits) and goes back to the drawing board pretty sharpish.

The deity eventually decides that, in order to have a properly organised afterlife, all our 'selves' at different ages will have to co-exist simultaneously. So not only will your eighty five year old self be hanging about in the afterlife, they will be there in the company of your five year old self. And yourself as a baby. And yourself as you are now however old you happen to be. In my case, thirty one very shortly.

What the deity did not consider was the illusion of continuity that makes us imagine that we are, and always have been, and always will be, the self same person. We have the same name, we have the same history, we construct little fictions in order to make ourselves believe that the child we once were (and the child we can, or believe we can, remember being) is continuous with the person that we are today. But are we? In Mr. Eagleman's opinion our brains have changed so much with the passage of years that, when the differently aged versions of ourselves meet, they might not even necessarily like one another. Let alone suffer a flicker of recognition to pass amongst ourselves. 

In the essay, when the deity thrusts all the different aged versions of you together it transpires that they have less in common than he or she thought, and less in common than they themselves (yourselves?) had imagined. Your 'selves' fall out, become irritated with, and disorientated by, one another. And so the selves drift apart. They get together once a year and the older versions of you tell endless stories whilst younger versions of you run around, the older 'you's pinch the cheeks of the younger 'you's. But once a year is enough.

I suppose it makes sense. Do I seriously think that all these people are me? Are continuous? 

I know they are all of the same person. A person now known as Catherine W.
As a baby.
As a four year old.
As a sixteen year old.
As a twenty something.
As a twenty nine year old pregnant (eeep that now seems totally unbelievable) woman.

Do I seem them all getting along? Nope.
For starters, pregnant me isn't going to like the glass of beer twenty something me is holding.
And sixteen year old me? From the look in her eye, NONE of the other selves will like her and she won't like them. Hell, I'm a little frightened of her. And she's me? Yikes. For the record, I'm looking at an old boyfriend in that photograph. And no, dear reader, I did not marry him. 

Does that little girl dressed up as a nurse have anything in common with me now?
No, I don't think so. 
I can't remember being her. Although I can remember the bumpiness of the wood chip wallpaper in the background.

The baby me? The baby me that looks quite wise in that photograph? 
Did I say wise? 
No, you see absolutely nothing in common at all. 

That self is as lost to me as that small body is, as that pregnant body is, as that happy smile of my twenties is.
I lived inside those bodies once, my thoughts fizzled about inside those brains once. But. No longer.

The only one I feel anything in common with is that sulky sixteen year old. She seemed to know that something was a-brewing. Something  . . . .difficult to handle. 

But if this hypothetical version of the afterlife should happen to be the truth? And why not? It seems as likely as any other version as far as I am concerned. What about my Georgina?

She only has one self.
She only occupied one small, sadly very finite, body. 
Georgina is not many selves. She will never look back and see a stranger. 
Because the expanse of her life is too small. 
But a little expanse of time? A tiny, failing body?
These things don't make Georgina's life unfinished, incomplete or unworthy.
All of us will be failed by our bodies sooner or later.
In the grand scheme of things, our lives are only small.
We strive to make them appear big and momentous. Perhaps they are? Perhaps they aren't?
It's all a question of scale. 
It's all a question of belief.

What I can't decide is, if that just might, make Georgina blessed. In a very peculiar, small way. 
To have some sort of strange, discrete, compact, sad unity amongst herselves in a hypothetical afterlife.
Not for her that bewildering multiplicity of faces and bodies.
Not for her the internecine war between the various stages of Georgina.
She has a purity which I can never hope to obtain.
Clutch at straws with me. Will you?

Because straws are all I seem to have left at the moment.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


I went to a training course a couple of weeks ago. For work. About a subject I did not expect to be particularly interested by. But the woman delivering the training was absolutely fantastic, a very charismatic and articulate person. The sort of person that I would like to be, in my dreams. The sort of person that I would like to say something witty or memorable in front of, the sort of person that I would like to impress.

We were arranged in four round tables, five or six of us to a table. I did not know anyone else attending the training so I gatecrashed the table that looked the friendliest. All went well until the icebreaker. We had to introduce ourselves, talk about our experiences of the topic in hand and tell a story about ourselves that nobody would be able to guess simply by looking at us. This is by no means the first time I've done this particular exercise. It must be an old favourite with the companies that organise these training sessions.

But, for the first time, I was struggling with my story. The moment that sentence fell from the trainer's lips, tell us something about yourself that nobody would guess, my brain went into some sort of high alert mode. Sirens wailed. Internal brain workers dashed about on teensy scooters. Memos were posted. Because, after all, this is my favourite topic isn't it? I spout on and on and on here on this blog about something that is not visible, something that nobody would ever guess from a glance.

My thoughts went something like this. Dead baby story? Tiny baby story? Both? Dead baby story? Tiny baby story? Total lie and pretend I have living twins story? Dead baby story? Dead baby story?

I came to, you'll be glad to know. I didn't tell either of those stories, although I was sorely tempted by the lie. Because part of me still wants to tell people that I'm having twins, that I had twins. Many moons ago.

I thought to myself. How sad. How almost . . . pathetic.

I used to have stories about myself. I used to mention things that I had done. Not earth shattering stuff because I'm not that kind of a gal. I'm a' slow and steady wins the race' type. But I had my own little stories for trotting out on occasions such as these.

Now the only thing I can think of is my children and the birth of my children. I don't have any other stories. All those things I thought were cute, or clever, or vaguely interesting, about myself got swept away in the avalanche of the birth of my girls. I don't actually have anything left to say for myself. Nobody wants to hear about the death of a child in a marketing training session. Nobody wants to know that my daughter was 1lb 7oz at birth and spent four months in hospital. These simply aren't the sort of stories we are looking for here people.

The story that made me saddest was the lie that I contemplated telling. Even sadder than the fact that I sent my little internal brain people off on their scooters to the Catherine W 'interesting story' storage facility and this was the best they could muster.
A tragic tale.
A story of extreme survival starring an incredibly small baby instead of Ray Mears.
And a lie.

A couple of years ago, if I'd heard someone else tell the story of 'their twins' during the icebreaker, I would have thought, how sad. Is that honestly the most interesting thing you have to say for yourself? That you happened to conceive two children simultaneously? Well whoop-di-do for you. Get a life. Get a brain. Get a more interesting story.

Yet now it is all I have left.
Those three stories.
And I swear there was more in that box.
That there was more to me, more about me.

I didn't tell any of those three stories. I told a boring story that I've told a million times before about how I've dissected a human brain. It makes people go ick and it makes them laugh and it makes them remember me. In the fug of dead baby / tiny baby / twins I found I had somehow volunteered to introduce the rest of the table. At least I remembered their names. And most of the pertinent facts in their stories.

All those other people in the room. I wonder what their first thought was?
What else went up on the ether as an accompaniment to my own 'dead baby, tiny baby, twins' wail.
There were at least thirty other people in the room and do you know what?
I dread to think. I don't want to know.
There is more sadness lurking under the surface than I ever dreamed.

I miss Georgina. I miss her so terribly. I miss my daughter, Georgina. I miss her. I miss her so very much.
With every atom. With everything I have. I miss her.

I miss her in training courses. I miss her whilst I am driving my car. I miss her when I am changing nappies and whilst I am reading Dr Seuss. I miss her when I see twins and I miss her when I see babies and I miss her when I see sisters and I miss her when I see her sister.

I wish. I just . . . . wish.

I feel so defeated.

What is your icebreaker story?

'Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here'

Friday, 14 May 2010

What if?

I couldn't sleep last night.

I had exceeded my usual alcohol limit of one drink. I had drunk a whole two and a half glasses of wine (TWO AND A HALF I hear you gasp!) which must have upset my sleep as I had some pretty strange dreams. Jessica woke up at 4am and started to cry. I stumbled into her room and dragged her back to our bed, where I lay in a strange, possibly still semi-drunken, contemplative state*. My husband's breathing and occasional snoring, Jessica's incomprehensible mutterings and slurping on her drink, the quiet murmuring of the BBC World Service all blended into one.

I was thinking about questions, the questions that I usually sit up and ask myself in the wee small hours of the morning. I've always been one to toss and turn in the early morning, grappling with things that seem to grow bigger, hairier, fiercer and toothier between the hours of 3 and 5 am . Even feeble, insignificant things stalk across my mental landscape like giants at that particular time of day. Even more so since the early birth of my daughters and Georgina's death.

I had puzzled and puzzled over the latest community poem at Still Life 365. Because I have asked myself so many questions since August 2008 and I was sure I must have hit upon a perfectly apposite one liner. But, as usual, I took far too long to think about it and ended up submitting nothing.

I've been reading a number of amazing posts for Project IF which I am slowly making my way through. So many of them catch at my heart and leave me struggling for breath.

So I lay in bed, waiting for Jessica to drop off so I could pop her back in her cot, thinking about questions in a fairly incoherent way. The questions I have asked myself so many, many times since I became a mother far sooner than I had anticipated. And, as my eyelids drooped, they started to drift into my brain in a strange 'reversal' of their usual format.

What if my pride and happiness during my pregnancy were understandable, not something I have to hate myself for, not something to feel foolish about?
What if this would have happened no matter how humble, or how boastful, I was?
What if my day 21 blood test shows that I am ovulating normally?
What if I am not such a terrible person really?
What if there is no payback for being a terrible person anyhow?
What if there is no giant bean counter in the sky holding things against me?
What if life is random, cruel and doesn't make any sense?
What if I didn't cause this?
What if I didn't feel guilty for somehow letting this happen?
What if losing her twin sister doesn't ruin Jessica's life?
What if it is a sad beginning but still, only a beginning?
What if Jessica doesn't hate me for losing her sister?
What if Jessica is going to catch up and be just fine in the end?
What if we never have an argument where Jessica screams at me that perhaps I wish Georgina had lived instead?
What if it wasn't weakness that made me fall apart so comprehensively after she died?
What if there are only a finite number of ways to react to these particular circumstances and that simply happened to be the way that I reacted?
What if devastation is, in fact, an entirely appropriate response?
What if it was nothing to do with hair dye, caffeine, drinking too much alcohol beforehand or not enough water afterwards?
What if it was entirely unpreventable?
What if I could never have known that she was so ill?
What if I did everything that I possibly could to help her?
What if, no matter how many branches and forks I add to the paths that I took and no matter which combination of choices I make, she still dies?
What if there is no need to reproach myself for feeling happy?
What if there is no need to reproach myself for feeling sad?
What if there is no need to feel as though I am falling behind?
What if I made the right decision to carry on with her medical treatment whilst there was still a chance?
What if I made the right decision to stop her medical treatment when there was no longer a chance?
What if she didn't feel horrendous pain, just the fever dream of her short life and the presence of those who loved her?
What if her brain was too immature to experience anything as I might imagine it, anything that I can ever hope to understand?
What if she knew me at the end?
What if I knew her?

I hope so. Somehow, even allowing for that possibility made me feel happy. That I just might have known Georgina and that she just might have known me. For that brief span of days.
Strange that it has taken me nearly two years to think of these questions in a different light.
Perhaps I should drink more wine.

* I feel I should say that Jessica has slept in our bed fairly frequently ever since she was born. I needed to hold her so much initially that I found it incredibly difficult to let go of her so I used to sit in bed with her, oxygen and all, for hours as she slept. I generally managed to sneak her back into the moses basket before I drifted off but my plan was not 100% foolproof. I acknowledge that is incredibly irresponsible of me and obviously when she was younger, I was not drinking the mahoosive amounts of wine that I did last night. Nary a drop as I was still breastfeeding at the time.

I am unable to let Jessica cry at night. I will always go and see her and usually end up bringing her back to our bed to soothe her and then, later, take her back to her cot. Yes. Rod. For. Own. Back. I've heard it all before. But I simply can't bear to hear her cry.

Not sensible but my husband and I muddle along as best we can and we love her. Apologies if I've upset anyone.

Sunday, 9 May 2010


I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
that Bangs-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up 
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You'll be left in a Lurch.

You'll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you'll be in a Slump.

And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself 
is not easily done.

From 'Oh, the places you'll go!' by Dr. Seuss

As I've mentioned, Jessica is going through a Dr. Seuss phase at present. I must have read every Dr. Seuss book we have (and we have a fair few) on occasions rapidly approaching triple figures now. I think it has addled my brain as I frequently find myself thinking that Dr. Seuss was some kind of a misunderstood genius. I find myself nodding along sagely as I read the darn things.
Yes, you should try Green Eggs and Ham.
Yes, it is a bad idea to allow strange cats wearing hats into your home whilst your Mother is out.
Yes, funny things ARE everywhere.
Damn straight Dr. Seuss my old bean.

He may write charming nonsense rhymes for children but he knew a thing or two.
No bulls*** from my old pal Dr Seuss.

Bang-ups and hang-ups certainly did happen to me.
I did get hung up in a prickley-perch.
My gang did fly on.
I was left in a Lurch.

And yes, predictably, I'm now in a Slump. It's not much fun. The next logical move according to my latest text for life which appears to be . . . .'Oh! The Places you'll go!' by Dr. Seuss (proof positive that I have, in fact, lost the last tiny remnants of my mind) is to move on to un-slumping. As the man says, un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

If I fail to un-slump myself, nobody will particularly care and it is not particularly important in the grand scheme of things.
But this is a one shot deal, unless you believe in reincarnation, and spending it in a slump seems like a bit of a waste to me. Particularly when accompanied by a husband and a daughter as brainy and footsy as mine. Read enough Dr. Seuss and you'll start describing your nearest and dearest as footsy too.

So I've been on a Slump identification and management programme.
Search and destroy.

Slump # 1
Jessica's growth. I think I've been in denial about this one. Jessica is still wearing 9-12 month clothing and hasn't been putting on much weight recently. I weighed and measured her a few days ago and plotted her position on the centile charts and she has dropped away a little.
To un-slump this I am re-instigating the 'So you had a dinky baby, feed them like a school child of the 1950s and watch 'em chub up' diet. Patent pending. So Jessica is back to meat, potatoes and two veg followed by fruit crumble and custard / rice pudding / semolina and jam twice a day. Plus my sneaking in a little cheese or cream to her meals. I do have a hotline to the dietician before you start worrying. This scheme has paid dividends in the past so I'm hoping it might help Jess put on just a tiny bit more before her next review.

Slump # 2
My absolute failure to fall pregnant. I've also been in denial about this one. I have tentatively starting buying ovulation tests and the like but to no avail.
To un-slump this I went to see the doctor to ask if there might be a reason. He told me to come back in a year. Not what I wanted to hear as I don't know if I can stand the suspense of another year of this but at least I tried. Perhaps it is all for the best that I don't fall pregnant again anyhow.

Slump # 3
Work. Hard to un-slump this one. Particularly as by some rather mean set of circumstances I have been lumbered with two maternity projects and one acute paediatrics project over the coming weeks. Oh and one mental health project too. Thanks colleagues. Is it because I'm the only woman? Or do you just have a dark sense of humour? Or some kind of collective amnesia? But I will try and un-slump. Dr Seuss did tell me it wasn't going to be easy. Just smile, try and be professional and talk really rapidly. Oh, and smile a lot.  I'm sure I can handle all mentions of childbirth and infant mortality and so on.

Slump # 4
Jessica's preferred mode of communication is still the grunt. Admittedly she has a wide range of tones (from enraged to benevolent) and pitches (from bass to squeaky) but still only grunts. Words. Nope. Un-slumping strategy is to stop being so ridiculous. She will speak in her own good time I hope and to be honest, who cares.

Slumps # 5  to 50
This post is already getting too long but I'm trying on a number of fronts to un-slump. Bitterness. Envy. Anger. Resentment. Shyness. Loss of confidence. Uncertainty. Self doubt. Self loathing. Weakness. Dependence.

But obviously the biggest slump is the most difficult slump of all to un-slumpify.

Georgina is dead.
It still feels so agonizingly close, I nearly caught her by the very tips of my fingers.
She was so very nearly there.
She was conceived (a minor miracle if my recent attempts are anything to go by) and developed normally.
She survived being born.
She survived her first 24 hours, her first 48 hours, her first 72 hours.
But then she died.
And I can't remember enough.

I know that Georgina is always present. In the same way that my ears are usually listening for Jessica's grunts (or in particularly hard times, wails) and my eyes constantly search for her fuzzy head bobbing along (even when I'm at work and she is fifty miles away) my mind is constantly aware of Georgina's presence. I'm always hoping for memories to be restored to me.

It seems so unbelievable that this child, Georgina, who now feels as distant as a dream, so very other, was once in such close physical proximity to me. That she lived inside me. Her heart beat inside my body. Her eyes and brain flickered into life inside my body. So close to me. Nestled inside my viscera. That I nourished her with the food that I ate and the air I breathed. Even more impossible than Jessica's presence in that same place.

Georgina was born. Georgina was alive. She was so close. I was so close. Happiness. But she's gone and I can't remember enough of her.
My skin touched her skin. How incredible and unfathomable. This skin that still coats me now touched Georgina.
I held her living, breathing body.
I looked into her eyes.
I wish I could remember the space occupied by that tiny body, how it felt to hold her, the exact dimensions and weights, her hair, her smell. I feel as though my muscles should bear the imprints, that they should remember precisely how it felt to touch that child of mine.
It seems so improbable, so unlikely, that we touched. But we did. I know we did.
I have a photograph.

Try as I might, I can't seem to un-slump from this one. But I suppose I simply have to keep trying.