Saturday, 28 August 2010

Inbetween Days

These strange inbetween days.

Yesterday, I took Jessica to nursery for her second visit. She stayed for an hour and a half and I left her there.
With strangers.
On her own.

It is the first time I have left her with anyone outside of the family (and only the second or third time I have left her for any reason other than to go out and earn money). When I left the nursery, I missed my turning. Which necessitated turning around and driving back the same route I had come, past the nursery building.

I knew that the little frame, those bones, that skull with its thin covering of hair and skin that I have pressed my face against so many times, that brain, that sweet face, that child of mine. She was inside that building. And I couldn't see her. A woman who I hardly know was responsible for her.
Would comfort her if she cried.
Or so I hoped.

Every instinct I possess was screaming at me to storm back in there and retrieve my daughter. But I didn't. Because she deserves to have some normality, playing with other children, a break from her overly protective and hovering mother. 

Before I had children, I remember hearing this quote. 

'Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.'

At the time I found it at little . . . hysterical. Kind of over-egging the pudding.

But it isn't. And it is even harder when you make the decision to have your heart go walking around outside your body when it doesn't walk around. When it dies instead. When part of your heart is lost to you forever. When part of your heart is ashes. Momentous indeed.

Georgina rises to the surface of my thoughts during these inbetween days.
Two years ago she was alive. She was alive. She lived. It seems so improbable that she ever did. Those words seem so incongruous even as I type them.
Georgina was alive.
That tiny child.
My daughter with her blue eyes, her tiny hands.

I was in the supermarket with Jessica after her nursery visit. The supermarket has just re-opened with the addition of a large clothing section. Supermarket clothing is, generally, very cheap here in England. As the department was new there was a 25% discount on top of the already tempting price. I spotted a duffle coat. Navy blue and cream with a pink stripe and a hood. Large buttons down the front.

I frantically calculated the discount and walked around the shop internally debating whether I really needed another coat (I don't), if the coat was a bargain or not (it was) and how pissed off my husband would be to find another coat in the wardrobe (mildly).

My thoughts were full of this potential purchase.

Then . . . . 

I thought . . 

this time last year she was alive.

And suddenly I wanted to rip that coat up. And the 25% reduction. And myself.
In front of everyone.
I wanted to be mad. Shredding clothes in a surburban supermarket.
Keening in the aisles.
Banging my head on the cold, bland, uncaring shop floor.
Because my daughter died.

A while ago now.

I wanted to burn down every item there.
Because I was so full of rage.
Because my daughter died.

Even after all this time. All these days.
I am still, sometimes, incandescent. 
In my own feeble way. 

But, of course, I did nothing.
I reached a decision.
I paid for the coat. I left.
Because that is all anyone can do.
In the face of this. 
In the face of all those hidden pains that inhabit the discount clothing section of a supermarket.
More than just mine I fear.

Three days.
These inbetween days.
They are simultaneously long and so painfully short.
Three days.
Can pass very quickly. 
Time flies by when you are having fun as they say.
On the other hand, if you are experiencing intolerable pain, I should imagine that the time drags rather.

I wish I knew.

Did it hurt?
Was she in pain?
I hope that the morphine did as they promised me, wrapped her in a comfortable haze. That the pharmaceuticals embraced her body, soothed the pain that her mother could not.

That question will resurface throughout my life.
Did it hurt you my sweet girl?
And I will never, ever know the answer.
I've asked it here before. I know I'll ask it again.

I know that you will never be far from my thoughts.
Your sister's first day at school.
Your sister losing her first tooth.
Your sister's first . . . well, everything, anything.
Jessica is accompanied by a pale sister, a transparent filigree of a might have been. 
Delicate and gleaming. A glimpse. A ghost. 
A sister forever at an angle, leaning away from us even as I lean towards her. Angled away. That child who escaped me. Who I can never hope to touch.

I drove myself to tears by attempting to imagine how I will feel at Jessica's wedding.
This was when Jessica was still in hospital. Not even three months old.
And already I was conjuring.

As my mom would say, "do not go and fetch the baboons out from behind the hill, they will come anyway."
The English equivalent would be something like "never trouble trouble, until trouble troubles you."

But the loss, the inverse of Georgina will, I think, always be there. I don't have to reach for it, it is already a part of me.

I already imagine how I will feel when I can no longer have any more children. That day may have already come for all I know but when it comes conclusively. How will I feel? To know that I will always be missing one. That my child bearing years started out like this and are now complete. That there will be no more chances.

When my mind starts to falter. When I can no longer remember. Myself. My name. Her father. Her sister. 
Will I remember her still? 
Will I remember my Georgina?

As more than a sister that could have been?
As more than my child that could have been?
More than a twin that wasn’t?
More than a shadow?

As her very own sweet self.
Who was.
Very briefly in this world.
That particular person.


Never again.
But she was.


I miss you.
I love you.
And I still don't have anything new to say.
But I am so very without you my girl.
Without you.
In these inbetween days.
And those that follow.
And next year.
And the year after. 

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


It doesn't seem possible that two years ago I was trying to sleep in the same double bed that still stands in this room this evening. That I was curled up on the floor not a few feet away from where I'm typing this. Just hoping that whatever was going awry with my pregnancy would simply stop and go away.

It seems wrong that I still have the bed, the carpet, the house, the computer desk that I sit typing this at, the same books on the shelves. That all these things are still here. Exactly as they were two years ago.
That I can still touch them.
Sometimes I hate them for that. If you can hate a bed, a desk, some books, a shelf. Like they care.
Sometimes I would like to smash them all down for their sheer, implacable continuity.
For their bare faced cheek of continuing to exist when Georgina is dead.
When anyone's child is dead.

Two years ago, Georgina was alive.
Inside this room.
Inside me.

I wish that I could go back.
Not to be that person again.
But to go back as some sort of ghost of childbirth past and advise the old me.
Tell myself to give up and go to the hospital.
That this wasn't going to end here.
That this wasn't going to end as I wanted it to.
That this wasn't, in many ways, going to end well.

That if I thought this was painful, I had another thing coming.
That this puny physical pain wasn't even the half of it.
This was going to get much, much worse before it started getting better.

Part of me wants to go back and put my arms around that stranger of two years ago's shoulders.
Hug her tight.
Hold her hand.
Because what she is about to go through is not going to be easy.
Not how she imagined it.
She doesn't even know what the acronym NICU stands for.
She doesn't yet know the meaning of PDA, CLD, NEC. ROP. But she will.
She is still counting the days until the magical point of viability at 24 weeks gestation.
Her pregnancy isn't going to get that far but one of her babies will die on that awaited date.
That she won't be bringing home the twin daughters that she had led everyone to expect.
That she expected.

I think she could use a friend this evening, 25th of August 2008.

A friend that would tell that one of her children is going to die. Soon.
That time is short.
That one of her children is going to survive this.
Despite a number of moments when that does not seem probable.

That her daughter will grow up to be the child that she already fancies she knows.
That the occasional jabs and hiccups are signals.
That the slight bones and defiant mewling cry that she will hear in just a few hours time are indicators.
That she knew her children before they were born.

The one who dies.
The one who lives.

Similar in their tenacity.
Similar faces.
Yet distinct.

My sweet child.
I am sorry.
That you had to enter this world so unprepared, so unready.
That you had a twin sister who died.
I'm sorry that you were promised a friend and companion.
A sister. Georgina. Only to have her taken away.
I have so many regrets about the beginning of your life.

But I can't regret you.
Or your sister.

When Jessica was still very, very small my sister picked out this song for her.
My sister spent a lot of time with Jessica during the first three days of her life. Just watching her.
As my husband and I hovered on the opposite side of the room as Georgina slowly died.

Although, oddly, I don't think I have met many people as alive as my daughters in those early days. Perhaps because I could see the effort that living cost them, how strenuous and risky the process of living actually is.
To breathe, to digest food, to filter out toxins.
Something that is hidden away in humans in good health.
So blatantly alive in the face of it all.
My daughters.

The song . . .

The song is called Bright as Yellow.

And you live life with your arms reached out
Eye to eye when speaking
Enter rooms with great joy shouts,
Happy to be meeting.
And bright.
bright as yellow
warm as yellow.
And I do not wish to be a rose,
I do not wish to be pale pink
But flowers scarlet, flowers gold
And have no thorns to distance me.

My little girl. My Jessica. Bright as yellow. Scarlet. Gold. Truly.
I love you.

Monday, 23 August 2010


Driving home from work, listening to a discussion about infidelity on the radio.

The pundit speaking is a RELATE counsellor, working for a charity providing relationship support.

He says that, in his experience, men and women cheat on their spouses for similar reasons, to help them to get through the complexity of life. He says that, if you watch, when a child falls over and hurts themselves, their mother or father runs over and comforts the child. Because children cannot soothe themselves.

But as an adult there is nobody to soothe your hurts, you have to soothe yourself. As an adult, you have to find a mechanism to cope with the hurts that life inflicts. One of the things that people use to patch themselves up is sex.

I'm not sure if I agree with his theory about infidelity.
That explanation seems a little simplistic to me. Low self-esteem is at the root of most infidelity? Seems almost a little . . . pedestrian, a little dull.
But what would I know?
I've only ever had two relationships. I'm kind of a dunce with these things.

But I was thinking about soothing. The need of the child to be comforted, the need of a parent to soothe. Something deep within the most basic recesses of the brain. Need seems almost too weak a word.
To brush away tears.
To hold those small limbs close to your bones.
To mutter those strange nonsense words, that parental babbling that bestows strange nicknames and sings funny little songs.
To mutter the even more nonsensical, "Mama's here. You're safe. Nothing will happen to you. It's okay now."

The first time I uttered words like that in earnest, it was such a terrible lie. But I wanted it to be true, so badly. And the instinct to tell that lie is a strong one.

I still tell it. To Jessica. Mama is here and she will save you, protect you. Chase the monsters away. I only wish I could. Shut down the noise of traffic whilst she sleeps, dim the sun that shines in her eyes, run my finger over the scars left by the many lines that were plunged into her veins and erase them.

My mind runs riot. A private education. A pony. A castle. A crown. A twin sister.

None of which I can provide. But perhaps the fact that I wish to provide them is more to the point. I don't think anyone wishes ponies and crowns for me. Perhaps my own mother. Still.

I couldn't soothe my daughters after birth. They were thrust out into pain, light and noise before they were ready for even the most delicate touch. Their cries went without response. Their hurts were simply left to ache. Comfortless. I find that very difficult to think about now. Very painful. Their little bodies flinching. Their attempts at cries.

I don't know if my presence helped Georgina at all. Love can do many things. But I don't know that it can overcome pain, I know that it can't overcome illness and death. I did love her. I do love her. In a world that appears to be infinitely more confusing than I suspected that is about the only solid fact I have left.
And I can only hope. That it was a comfort to her, to be held at last. To hear a familiar voice.
As I held on and she let go.
Perhaps it was a relief for both of us.

Being an adult I should have, supposedly, developed the ability to soothe myself. To produce some mental equivalent of sticking my thumb in my mouth.

I suppose I had, to some extent, prior to this.
When I was upset, I had my little surburban dreams to dream, to soothe myself to sleep with.
Of houses I would decorate. What colours the walls would be. The items to be placed neatly on shelves. Stacks of ironed sheets. Cool tiles.
Gardens that I would plant.
Strangely, even children that I would have.
That one is no longer on the soothing dream schedule surprisingly enough.

Sometimes I try and manifest these dreams into physical being. I purchase coordinated bed linen with a matching cushion cover. I buy one of those air fresheners with three separate scents that clicks over over the smell is always noticeable. I plant a pink lavender. But these articles lose their sense of perfection the moment they touch my clammy hands. They know something is wrong in my house.

I don't often dream of children these days. We all know how that one ended up. Nothing soothing to be found there.

Sometimes I imagine that I am a child again. That I can appeal to my own parents. Or to the large fuzzy benevolent God of my childhood. I shrink my limbs. I shut my eyes. I can almost hear my parents putting out the breakfast dishes downstairs. My father's voice reverberating. The kettle boiling. The smell of the early 1980s.

But there is no true comfort there.
Maybe some things simply cannot be soothed. Too painful to patch up with even the most far fetched sticking plaster.

From as early as I can remember, my mother used to sing Leonard Coh.en songs to me.
These songs run through my childhood like a steel wire.
I don't know if it is because they remind me of children or because they remind that I am not on my own.
I always used to play 'Sis.ters of Mercy' to myself. When I was upset.
I don't know what it is about. According to the You commentators, possibly nuns? Or prostitutes?

But I think it is about something more graceful than that. More graceful than religion or sex.
I don't think that the mercy he is singing about is something embodied in a profession. Or even in a person.
It would take a great deal to be a true sister of mercy all of the time. But perhaps we all can be, albeit transiently?

I think there are some around these parts.
A comfort.

'Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who've been travelling so long.'

Friday, 13 August 2010

In Search of Lost Time

August finds me, unprepared. I am not ready for this time of year to be here so quickly, once again.
It is the tail end of the summer here in England.
The dregs of the pale, sharp sunlight.
The evenings darken. 
The weather chills.
It is raining here this morning and the sky is grey.
It suits me.

The dates loom on the horizon, sometimes welcome, sometimes ominous.
The 26th.
The 29th. 
The time in-between. 
When two years ago, Georgina existed. Breathed. Had a chance.
A voice murmurs in my ear, "She lived, she lived. It could have been."
The world was shot through with gold. Briefly.
As it has been by many brief lives before it. Many brief lives since.
Those pure golden veins of possibility, potential. 
Closed off before they became sluggish and tired. 

Increasingly, I scurry about. Trying to remember those days.
Because how can those important hours, the only hours I will ever spend in the company of my eldest daughter, be so very lost to me?

My imagination tries to patch up those flapping holes. Conjuring up memories from photographs, from wishes. Memories which are not real, are not true.
Trying to sort out what actually happened over those three and a bit days is difficult.
It becomes increasingly so as I am irresistibly drawn further and further away. 
A different person from that woman in 2008.

I am still shocked when I look up and see that things have changed.
The change of shops in the high street.
The Wool.worths where I bought the twin's first outfits, an empty shell, then filled in by a pound shop.
The news stories that are seared into my mind. 
My husband bought a newspaper every day that we stayed at the hospital. Something that we do not usually buy.
The opening of the large Hadron collider.
The US presidential election.
These events have grown smaller, duller. They are part of the past now.
I can scarcely believe it. 

I remember.
I remember sitting outside the hospital with my husband.
We were both sitting on the kerb, at the front door of the hospital.
It was late evening, the sun was setting.
We were drinking cans of fizzy drink.
We were so stupid, we didn't understand.
We were trying to cheer one another up. 
We kept saying, "She'll pull through, she's been so strong. We can't lose her now. Surely she would have died last night if she was going to. The doctors are saying that there is still a chance. Our daughter won't die."
I think we simply couldn't believe that something so terrible had happened to us.
We walked back into the hospital. 
I felt stronger. I felt sure.
I would like to go back and give myself a good, bone clattering shake. Tell myself to wake up. 
Because time is pressing.

There was a single, solitary decoration in the lobby of the NICU.
A Mr. Daydream hung from a string dangling from the ceiling.
We used to reach up and touch Mr. Daydream for luck before we went in.
After Georgina died, we stopped doing this.

I remember when Georgina opened her eyes for the first time.
They were so blue. She looked so wise.
I felt as though I knew her a little. I hope I was right.

Her movements looked so strong to start with.
Then they became spasmodic. 
After her brain was damaged. 
She had beautiful little feet.
I remember that her skin was slightly hairy, as it often is in premature babies.
She had a sweet chin.
Her profile was like her sister's.
I'll always wonder how alike they would have looked.

I remember talking to one of the consultants in the family room.
It was the middle of the night.
He was kind. He looked tired. His hair looked pulled about, as though he had been running his fingers through it in exasperation.
I was crying.
I was asking if there was any point to any of this. Because I couldn't bear it.
To see them so exposed. Like tiny open wounds being poked.
With needles and lines puncturing their skins. Their small eyelids flickering.
Was there any chance of a life?
A life with any understanding, a life with a chance of happiness.
Because, in the dark hours of that night, the whole endeavour seemed futile.

I remember holding Georgina for the first time.
I felt such joy, happiness, peace.
I can't really explain why.
We were something other than ourselves at that time.
Or, perhaps, we were the most like Georgina and her mother that we are ever likely to be.
I was glad to be with her.
To finally touch her.
I very much wanted to feed her. I remember that. The last desperate instincts of a mother not ready to face the truth. Not ready to let go.
I held her.
My husband held her.
The ventilator was removed but I'm not sure how. I can't remember that part.
I seem to remember Georgina trying to take some breaths in my husband's arms. I have written that in my diary. But I am no longer certain that it is true.

We left the ward. 
The medical staff did something to Georgina. I think they gave her morphine and they took her lines out.
I remember being worried that she would not have enough morphine. 
I think I asked. I hope I asked.
I think they reassured me that she would not hurt.
We went to another room. I think that the curtains were green. Or perhaps I am confusing it with the green of the memory box that the hospital gave us.
We sat in two chairs opposite one another.
I held Georgina, or possibly Georgina's body.
As she turned from one to the other.
It felt like quite a long time.
Or possibly, no time at all.
We seemed to be operating outside of time somehow.

A nurse came in periodically to check if her heart was still beating.
When it had stopped we unwrapped her.
I washed her body.
I wish I could remember doing this but all I am certain of is that the water was cold and I was upset by that.
I dressed her.
The clothes were the hospital's.
They were too big.
She had a very thick, woollen cardigan. I think it was white with a pale pattern.
A pointed hat with a pom pom.
I thought she was beautiful.

The family came in.
I gave Georgina's body to my sister.
I took it back.
The family left.

We put Georgina's body in a crib left by the hospital.
As my hands left her body, I experienced a lurch in perspective.
Blood dribbled from her mouth.
The clothes seemed innocuous and wrong.
The hat too jaunty.
The cardigan overwhelming. Its wool, irritating.
I wanted to snatch her up and take her with me.
She looked suddenly purple and alone.

But I couldn't take her.
Yet I didn't want to leave her.
But I knew I had to.
I felt as though I was about to rip off a plaster. Enlarged to a massive scale. A plaster stuck to every inch of skin I possess.

I looked at her.
I looked at my husband.
We walked out of the room.

I never saw her again.

I have another memory but it is a false one.
I am holding Georgina in a 'kangaroo care' hold, upright, as you are taught to do with premature babies.
I never held her that way round. I'm fairly sure.
Her hand is moving across my chest. Patting.
I think that the memory of that tiny hand is actually a muddle of wishful thinking, a dream and an actual encounter with Jessica, some weeks later.
I don't think Georgina was capable of that patting motion by the time I held her.
But my brain has determined that the baby should be Georgina.

'A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.'

This time in my life will never completely unhappen. I don't believe that it will ever stop.
Some times in our life, perhaps, just carry on happening. In another room. Parallel.
Times which are shocking, altering. Which send heart racing up throats. They cannot just fall away. 
Like my memories of brushing my teeth yesterday morning or what I ate for lunch one afternoon in 1995 have fallen away. 
Some things remain. Because there is nothing else to do with them. 
They cannot vanish. They cannot happen again, they can never take centre stage again. 
So they are pushed to the sides, where they continue.

I go forward, in a seemingly linear fashion.
But next to me, just out of reach. She lives and dies. 
Georgina does not completely unhappen.
Perhaps there is a strange comfort in that.
These are what I search for. 
Those strange, comfortable places where I can rest myself for a few moments.
With my memories of that sweet girl who was so nearly my daughter.
She was such a lovely baby. Truly.
It might have been hard to see underneath all the illness and equipment.
But I saw her. She was lovely.


Our trip to the fertility clinic resulted in pretty much what I had expected.
Husband dearest, nary a problem.
Me, slightly more complicated.

My previous pregnancies and surgeries introduced a mild infection which has damaged the structure of my womb. One of my ovaries is wandering around where it should not be.
Releasing eggs into the wild blue yonder of my abdominal cavity.

So I guess that explains a lot.

On the plus side, we are good candidates for IVF. Just need to locate the money.
On the negative side, this feels like a bit of a kick to the ribs whilst I was already on the floor.

But, as my husband says, "Catherine, it is nothing personal. Shit happens."

My predominant feeling is actually relief. It seems that the Gods do not smile kindly on my efforts to reproduce myself. Perhaps with good reason. 

But somehow, unlikely as it was, one snuck past them.
And for that, I rejoice.

More tests await.