Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Yesterday the W family went to visit my sister and her husband.

Jessica and her dad, my brother in law and his son, went to see the rugby at Twickenham. Jessica was part of a record breaking crowd, the highest ever attendance at an English regular season domestic league game, to see Harlequins play Saracens. I can't decide if she has, subsequently, talked more about the rugby or the bus journey there (her first, a red double decker). I think that public transport is edging out sporting spectacle in her three year old mind. 

My sister and I stayed behind with Reuben. We were playing Kirby's Epic Yarn (which I can highly recommend if you are the computer game playing type) and had an equally epic conversation about parenting styles, the influence and idiosyncrasies of our own parents, how these have formed various aspects of our personalities and our own, previously discussed, parenting or mis-parenting, how we might have influenced one another, how we have communicated and mis-communicated throughout the years. And so on. One of those looping, sustained conversations that occur between people who have known one another for their entire lives. Well, I have known her for her entire life. Prior to that I was mooching about on my own for nearly five years waiting for her to show up. 

And this was interspersed with occasional bouts of shouting and cries of "take me OFF your head you fool! No, no put me back ON!" related to Kirby.

The rugby fans returned. We packed the children up into the car. We said goodbye to my sister and her family and drove home.

I thought, as we drove home in the dark silence, I could have spoken for longer. I would have enjoyed talking for longer. I would have liked playing that computer game for longer. But only with her. Not on my own. Because it wouldn't have been so much fun on my own. 

Without the conversation. Without the faux mad and jostling. 
Because although we are 32 and 28, we aren't really. Not when we're together. We could be 8 and 4 sometimes. We are some weird essential flickering self, composed of many selves. So many that it is incoherent to anyone other than those who saw the infinitesimal progression from one step to the next.

Because there is a depth to a conversation with a sibling (or a sibling equivalent) that there simply isn't with anyone else? Perhaps? It is like reading a webpage absolutely jammed pack full of hyperlinks. Or a book crammed with footnotes. Somebody whose formative years and cultural touchstones are so similar to your own that you can both flick back and forth at speed through your own histories and current life and times. So I say, "you remember that time when I was so sad that I tried to melt myself with one of the small electric fan heaters that Dad gave us even though they were incredibly dangerous and I'm surprised we didn't burn the house down what the hell was he thinking and I think I was just hoping to evaporate myself at that particular time with said dangerous fan heater and I'm never giving either of my children access to a fan heater by the way" and she knows exactly the time that I am referring to. The sadness that I am referring to. Even the fan heater. In fact, that fan heater is probably the mental image that pops into both of our minds when we hear the word fan heater. Because we had the same fan heater. She just wasn't trying to melt herself with hers.

No matter how you try, I don't know if you can really create that kind of sibling bond. It all its deep weird rich annoying loveliness. Generally the longest relationship of your life. If you're lucky. Well, I suppose it would only be lucky if you liked one another and that is certainly not guaranteed. 

It's almost a strange kind of experiment, sibling-hood. One that would not be granted ethical approval. Here - we will take two young(ish) creatures of the same species with a similar genetic inheritance and force them to compete for parental attention and affection in a very limited space (I live in England without substantial financial backing thus forcing me to live in a glorified rabbit hutch and it is often dark and cold, forcing you inside) and see what transpires? Nah, never going to make it past the committee that one.

Like knocking two pebbles together inside a very tiny sea in a very small glass jar. With one or two prevailing tides. Or a couple of moons.

I suspect a twin sibling relationship would stand an even smaller chance of passing ethical scrutiny.

But I don't know. It hurts. And I worry. Jessica could have expected a life long companion in Georgina, someone who would have that fullness of shared knowledge and experience. I don't know what that relationship is like with a brother, if it is different in quality or just the same or purely dependent on the people involved. I've never had a brother. I hope that it is this fact, rather than some inherent sexism on my part, that makes me worry that you can't have that sort of closeness between a brother and a sister. 

I rather hope that Jessica won't mourn Georgina too much. If that doesn't sound odd. That Reuben won't seem less or worse for being younger, for not being her twin, for not being a female, for not being a sister. That he will just be himself and be accepted and loved as such.

Perhaps Jessica herself will never contemplate any of this at all. I kind of hope not. When you have one parent who very rarely seems to reflect on anything (or not that I have any inkling about) and one parent who ruminates from now until kingdom come on the same three small days? Who knows which way that wind will blow? I'm hoping in the opposite direction from me. 

Long may she be more interested in buses. 

I was going to write about parenting, inspired by Aoife's comment on my previous post, but now this is already far too long and it's getting far too late here. I will save my ramblings on that for a later date although, given how this post worked out, perhaps I should save them permanently.

Here's some sisters, I'm nursing a serious obsession with this particular song of theirs.

Can any of you who have brothers or sisters advise? Or no siblings at all? Just interested to hear how it all panned out for you.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Eve

Last night, Christmas Eve.

My boy, he cries. His stomach bloated.

I get out of bed and blearily pick him up. He slots in, between us. My husband's back, turned against us. My son and I turned into one another. He has a large birthmark on the back of his neck, forcing lopsidedness, it puffs up his skin. Ready for kissing. My lips find that mark. The ever-fixed mark. I imagine seeing that mark on his thirty two year old neck. Him as me. Imagining life times away. And still wanting to kiss it. Perhaps I will just run my fingers across it briefly. As I hug him in a polite, motherly way. Because I will have to let my ever-fixed mark go. That is the nature of motherhood.

And worlds and worlds of assumptions fall away. Assuming that I will be here. Thirty two years later. Me, doubled. Sixty four? When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now. Will you still be sending me a valentine? Birthday greetings? Bottle of wine? Will I? Will you? Will they? The walls wobble under the weight of my complacency.

My sister and I sung that song to our father yesterday. Jokily. But I wasn't joking. I don't think he knew that I wasn't joking.

Because I'm glad. I'm so glad I get to sing that silly song, so stupidly, to my father. So that he thinks that I'm joking. Because I can't sing. Because if it wasn't so light, it would be too heavy.

Will he? A full grown man? That, which seems greediness now, such a gift.
Reuben, thirty two. With children. Without children. With lines on his face? Oh I hope so.
Breathing? With that same birth mark on his neck? Me, with my same eyes, here to see it?

I rub his poorly tummy. We discuss it. I say, "Say goodbye poorly tummy. Bye bye. Once there was a boy. A boy with a poorly tummy. But they were parted. They never saw one another again. Say bye bye."

And they were parted. Bye bye poorly tummy ache. Don't come again. He falls asleep.

I wished. I wished stupidly and without the hope that should surely underpin a wish. I wished for that moment of reassurance. Mutual reassurance.

I wished I could just touch her skin. Touch her tummy. Rub a bad tummy away. Kiss her birthmark. My ever-fixed mark. My love. My girl. My first born. Who'll never be thirty two. Or sixty four. Or anything at all.

My love. My love. My dear girl. Bye bye.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


There are three Christmas trees arranged by the altar. The church is old and beautiful with a vaulted ceiling, crammed against a rather smart hotel and shopping district in London's Knightsbridge. The jolly red and green tags tied to the trees seem at odds with their purpose, part of me wants black paper tied to a blasted twig. But I'm obviously in the minority as the jolly trees stand up at the front. And I suppose my alternative isn't going to cheer or comfort anyone.

There are more people than I would have imagined. Although fewer than I know could have attended. There is some comfort in the democratic nature of bad luck, of tragedy. That which seemed so unfair, in this place, rights itself and shows the inherent fairness of its nature. Like blind justice. Unfeeling. The finger simply happened to point at me. At her. They'll do for our purposes. Those two. 

We are slightly early, I queue for the toilet. As ever, there is a line for the ladies. I suggest using the gents which is empty. Twas ever thus. An older lady kindly offers to keep watch on my behalf, to ensure that none of the intended users walk in on me. My friend tells me that she jovially chased a man away. So kind, so twinkly. But I know why we are here. Me. My friend. The lady who guards the toilet door for me. The man guarded against. 

We are here for the dead. To remember the dead. 

I can't help staring. I stare and stare. And sometimes the sheer volume of 'us' makes me panic. Sends my mind soaring to the roof. Because it seems impossible that one building could contain so much pain. Or so much love.

My eyes snag on certain people. A young couple. So young that I could be the mother of one of them. A young blonde girl in a bright red coat, leaning against her dark haired partner who, if I had met him on the street I'm certain I would have called a boy, but here . . here he has to be described as a man. They lean together, inward, like an upside down V. 

The lady in front of me. Her head is bowed. 

I want to ask. Who is it? Who is it that you miss? But I don't. Because, even here, where we are all the same, all missing. It seems too bold. Almost rude. 

We cry. We light candles. We emerge into the cold night air.

Suddenly everything seems full of meaning, full of significance. As though a thousand, thousand people were whispering to me, each imparting a secret, words of importance, lips pressed against my ears. But their voices are just slightly too quiet for me to hear. 

It is an overwhelming sensation. A sensation of almost being under attack. A feeling of urgency, that if only I can grasp this, all will be revealed. 

We descend to the underground. I notice the feet of the woman opposite. She has pretty feet, beautiful shoes. I look up and see her face has been scarred. She is carrying a bag with the slogan, "looking for a smile, well, look no further!"

A beautiful girl is flirting and fighting with an extremely tall, far older man. She is so light, she seems hardly to touch the ground. He is abashed and flattered. Eager. She holds all the cards.

Once, I might have wanted to be her. But now, I sit back in my seat. Content to be myself. My feet suddenly seem to be more firmly planted on the floor, denser, stronger, attached to the soil, to the worms and the dirt. Despite being in a train. I feel strangely giddy and golden, as I imagine I would on drinking a double brandy. Although I've never even had a sip. The light, beautiful girl and the burnt woman and the tree labels and the church all spin around and make a horrible, perfect sense. I feel that everything is as it should be. 

Which I might as well. I might as well feel that everything is as it should be. Perhaps this is what resignation feels like. 


A poem, written by H.D., loved by a long past sixteen year old me and forgotten about until I heard an extract from it on the radio last week. 

H.D. has been described as an Imagiste - writing about the image, a radiant node or cluster, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing.

It is odd how this description, of a thing preternaturally dense, radiant, alive, rushing, reminds me so very much of my dead daughter. I think of her as a small set of images, superimposed upon one another, again and again, so that she becomes something so definitive, so very much herself. A super concentrated being, like a dying, collapsing star.

By comparison, my many incarnations, my comparatively long life, becomes something hopelessly fuzzy and chaotic. Because I've been so many different things. Sometimes I'm not sure that I was, or am, any of them at all.

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem -
you are caught in the drift.

Marred, stint, meagre, thin, sparse. And yet precious. So precious. Dear child. 


And, as if this long ramble were insufficient, I'm also at Glow writing about good grief

Friday, 2 December 2011


Prompted by Cathy from Missouri noticing some connections between several of my more recent posts and the amazingly gracious (and tenacious) Aoife who has been delving through the archives here.


Denial, disbelief, waiting. Still.

Wombs, machines, whirring, gasping, aliens, isolation, unusual, outlier.

Maternity, motherhood, parenthood, failure, shame, embarrassment.

Fooled, foolish, fool, fool, fool.

Creepiness, self consciousness, self doubt. self loathing, rotten, rotting, rottenness. Rotten inside.

Smallness, discreteness, separateness.

Shot through with gold.

Time travel, space, temporospatial fluidity, movement, communication.

The after life, contact, wires, threads, strands. Loneliness. Cut off. No reply.

Chaos. Construction.




I hope?



Proprioception is an underrated sense. Not one of the big five. Smell. Touch. Taste. Sight. Hearing. Proprioception doesn't even feature on Nina and The Neurons.

The sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.

I don't know if it is possible to experience proprioception in relation to a body other than one's own. Probably not. I suppose my constant awareness of my living children's bodies in space, their rib cages, their brains, their moving hands, their turning eyes, would fall into the category of awareness of the outside world, exteroception. But I imagine that I feel it, it is as though I experience their proprioception. Using my long, maternal antennae which brush up against their little brains, intruding and sending shivery signals back to me.

I feel them, moving through space, their bodies displacing empty air. Emptiness replaced by solidity. Such an unlikely occurrence. How it ever happens I simply don't know. How it is so widely accepted that it will happen? And not end in death and despair and mourning? Regret?

A mystery.


I was out Christmas shopping this week and I was feeling happy and benevolent, kind of avuncular towards the world at large, gazing at the window displays and idly thinking about the presents that I would buy to put in Jessica's stocking. Amongst others (too many others) I've opted for a space hopper, which suits her personality I think. And a powder that will turn your bath water into pink jelly.

But suddenly, amidst bath jelly and feelings of good will, I had a flash of a First Christmas outfit. Almost reflected in the window that I was looking in to. Like an eerie flash of Christmas Never Was. Christmas Imagined by Catherine W in July 2008 perhaps?

It is an outfit that I own. It consists of red velour dungarees with an embroidered reindeer on the bib, a red and white striped vest. It is size 0-3 months. It still has the price tags on it. Actually I own two of these outfits. For the daughters I never had.

One is in the loft in a bin bag I think. The other is in Georgina's box. Too big for the girls. Too small for Reuben. And so achingly, achingly flat. Occupied by nobody, filled out by nobody, worn by nobody. Never or ever.

My mother bought them. For granddaughters that never existed. But were expected. Were wanted.

And I'm so sorry. For the whole thing.

Just so very, very sorry. So sorry I could curl up into a ball and just keep curling.

Regret. Again.


And why is this still being written?

Three years of emptying my chatter into a void the size of my daughter.

I'll leave it to someone else to explain.

There is no deadline.
There is no schedule.
There is no plan we can fall back on.
The road this far can't be retraced.
There is no punchline anyone can tack on.
There are loose ends by the score.
What did I come down here for?

Georgina. You. My love. You.
I hope you don't mind. 
I hope I am not keeping you from your rest.
Somehow tying you here, trapping you here.


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Plumb line

I often wish that Georgina's little life, her death, everything to do with her, could be separated from the rest of my life. By a process like fractional distillation or skimming or the like. That she could be a discrete part of my life. Here, she starts. There, she ends. Complete. Small. Perfect. Contained. Just her. Not tangled up in this nonsense over here, that triviality over there. Here, Georgina. There, bills and supermarkets and putting the bins out. She is above all that, beneath all that, so far away from all that as to be unrecognisable, an almighty overarching presence, a diminishing echo, existing in a set aside place.

Her life and death occupied such a short amount of real time, a temporal blip, and yet they have expanded. Perhaps I have puffed them up with air, inflating something not designed to be inflated and stretching it thin and macabre with my own preoccupations.

Georgina's death felt like a rounded stone, no seams, no joins. Dense and homogeneous. It plummeted downwards, with one perfect splash, concentric ripples evenly spaced. And a wire stretches from that stone. Like a plumb line. Straight. At right angles to the rest of my life, to the living, to her sister, to her brother, to her mother. Away and down, down to the bottom of the sea, to the centre of the earth. Far away but yet. Yet. Just at the end of a wire. A wire that I twang at and tug at and telegraph hopefully. Trying Morse code. 

Only problem is that lots of other stuff seems to have got tangled up in that wire. Old fish hooks, swallowed anger, empty wine bottles, baby clothes, jobs that don't quite meet expectations, cigarette ends, failures, dissatisfaction with our house, shopping receipts, dead things, fluff and hair, silences, vandalism, chocolate wrappers, frustration, resentment, the glare of the internetz, smashed bowls, matching outfits, words I've written, things that I've said. Because all of these things seem somehow involved, implicated, in her death.

I want all this superfluous stuff to get lost, because it is getting in the way. It is blurring my memory and it is spoiling my tenuous lines of communication. With the stone? With her?

A voice that says, "This wire? You're querying this and its many attachments? This wire is here because you are rotten. Rotten. Rotten. Rotten. Why did you think it was here? You idiot. Why do you think she died? You idiot. Idiot. Just in case you didn't hear me the first time."

I pull at my over burdened wire and think to myself, this? This is the link? This is not what I remember. Not this.

I leave the sea and fishing wires and hooks and mix my metaphors hopelessly. 

Because it was something different. I'm sure of it. Sparse and elegant. Clean of limb. Small and precious and shot through with something golden. Desiccated and poised. More like a fire. Or tinder, kindling.

Not slimy and rotten and knotted. Not like this. 

I look at my twisty wire and wonder how this mess ever happened.
How did I let her get tangled up in all this?

Probably because I carried on living when she didn't.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Thank you / Long legged beasties

Just wanted to say thank you so much to Angie and to everyone participating in the Spoken Word Blog Round Up. I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed listening to every single post. I am so very grateful to Angie for having this brain wave, setting it up and being brave enough to post herself, and to everyone else who has contributed. My husband thinks I have gone completely mad as I don my ear phones and laugh, cry and utter little squeals of recognition at my computer screen. Alone. Yet very far from alone.

I know I found it quite scary to record myself speaking, it is strange how anxious you can feel sitting alone in your own bedroom talking to a totally non judgemental piece of electrical equipment. I wish I'd been brave enough to give it another go and at least tried to look more presentable or to speak more clearly but thank you so much for accepting my spoken word post, warts and all.


I've been thinking about Jess's post at Glow, turning it over in my mind. Ghouls and gruesomeness. How I sometimes feel that I am going out of my way to avoid them? That I am a liar. There are things that, even after all this time and all these words, I find difficult to give voice to.

In an act of divine retribution for my contribution to the realm of the spoken word I have, today, lost my voice. Sunday, when I decided to record my post, seems to have been a merciful respite between the appearance and lingering disappearance of a massive pimple right between my eyebrows and the reduction of my voice to a low croak. If I believed in favourable omens still . . . .

The sore throat, combined with the sudden cold and dark weather and the approach of Halloween, murmurs of the arrival of winter. Jessica exclaims at her own reflection in the window, "DARK! Look DARK!" I open the door to retrieve something from the car and hear soft, socked footfalls creeping up behind me. I rush her back in and cram her feet into bright, floral patterned wellington boots. They clash with conditions outside, incongruous against the damp, autumn mulch.

We are going hunting in the dark. We discuss what we might find. Or I say their names and she repeats them. 'Discussion' is over egging the pudding a wee bit. Hedgehogs perhaps? Bats? Owls? Foxes? But I know that all of my suggestions are a little over ambitious. More of an attempt at educating her with a brief 'Who's Who' of nocturnal animals than a list of what we might actually see here in suburban England.

I know where I am taking her. To the great evening snail crossing. She puts out her hand to hold one. "Eyesssss," she breathes out heavily as the delicate stems unfold and poke up at her accusingly.

We put the reproachful snail back down into the damp grass and tread carefully around his companions, all crossing in the same direction, on some mysterious snail business of their own no doubt.

We head into the large, unlit pavilion that stands outside the front of our house. It is dark in here. Very dark. There are no streetlights. Jessica's pale hair flashes past as she runs around the outside. "Look Mum-mee, woooooooo!" I laugh, a strange, rasping croak. An old crone's laugh. A witchy laugh. We run around, my little wailing ghost and I. It feels a mite creepy. But what am I to do? Is Jessica never allowed to pretend to be a ghost or a skeleton? I suspect she's doomed to a lifetime of spider, pumpkin and cat costumes given my reaction to even the mere sight of a skeleton costume in size 2-3. Thanks to my over-thinking and ability to find pathos and symbolism in every fricking thing. Sorry Jess. You aren't allowed to play at dead things. Though I know you will, most children do.

Her attempt at ghostliness. It's unsettling and oddly comforting both together. Perhaps we are being haunted. By an absence. Or I say we. I, really. Her haunting may be only just beginning. I hope not. My mum told her today that she loved her, that she loved Reuben, and Jessica piped up with "Georgie." Scared that this strange, elusive presence known as Baby Georgie might be missing out, might be left out. I was proud but sad. That she trusts me to the extent that she accepts the existence of this other baby, this sister baby, that she has never clapped eyes upon. Just part of a story that mummy tells her about tummies and plastic boxes and death that seems as unlikely as the other stories mummy tells about pigs and wolves and fairy princesses.

I wouldn't mind being haunted by a presence, by a connection. But not by this small void, the size of a three year old girl. This sort of haunting isn't fun or spine tingling. But yes, like something squirming in my heart.


It's strange. As I said in my spoken word post, it honestly never occurred to me that other people would feel awkward when I talked about Georgina. It took me about a year to tumble to the fact that even a cursory mention made some people feel very awkward indeed, not knowing where to put themselves or what to say next. But I was caught up in such a rush of love that I didn't see that. I honesty didn't. I thought everyone would let me carry on talking about her, forever.

Now I wonder if people find me creepy. Am I a thing that goes bump in the night? A three legged beastie? With the necklace with my dead daughter's name on it around my neck and her listing on my facebook profile page and my burning candles and my box of ashes. And this blog if they've found it. "Hai, enjoy the car wreck folks," if you have. Here I am in all my (possible) creepiness, step right up and come on down.

I try to imagine myself back into my pre August 2008 mind. But that door is firmly locked, no matter how hard I kick at it. I would like to be let back in, just for half an hour or so, to assess my own level of creepiness. Not those exhibited here but as seen through the eyes of my ex-school friends on the horribly compelling facebook, through the eyes of my old friends, through the eyes of my sister or my mother. Do they find it gruesome? This is a thought that has only recently started to trickle down the back of my neck, like ice water. Perhaps this is something like the awkwardness effect, one that, through my own lack of imagination or awareness, I am slow to see. I suppose I could ask but I don't really want to hear the answer. I hope, hope, hope that there is understanding, sympathy. I'd settle for indifference.

I suppose I don't much care if other people think I'm gruesome or creepy or strange. Do your worst acquaintances. If you think you can make a dent in me after late 2008 go ahead. But I don't want them thinking that Georgina is creepy. She wasn't creepy. What happened TO her was creepy and gruesome and painful. Some elements of it certainly were, there is no denying that. Not even for me who viewed them through a haze of love and shock.

But she wasn't creepy. She was a lovely little baby. At least that is how she looked to me. And I'm sorry that she died. I'm still really very sorry indeed. More than I can say.

As I watched Jessica poking in the puddles with sticks and talking to snails, I think how very acceptable my love for her is. I can post endless pictures on facebook and coo and tell stories and I am probably never going to get told to shut up or that I am sick or creepy. The harshest response I'm going to get will be 'breeder' from some quarters.

I don't know how people would react if I posted anything truly about Georgina. Not just a memorial. I mean really Georgina, a photograph of her or something about what happened to her. Medical details, her birthweight, even her blood group. My store of facts is small but true. Probably truer than my posting about my living children, whose mouths I am frequently to be caught stuffing words into. Assigning personalities and quirks and publishing them on the internet. Yay me!

Those who find my breeding tendencies laughable or who sit in silence. What do they think when I mention Georgina? I find I've started to fill in the silences with all sorts of poisonous words. And I don't like it.

Because it is just the same.
That is what I want to tell them.
The love is just the same.
Jessica, Georgina, Reuben.
The root is just the same.
The stem is just the same.

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us" 
Old Cornish (or possibly Scottish, the wisdom of the internetz is conflicted about this) prayer

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Spoken Word Blog Round Up

Joining with Angie at Still Life with Circles in the Spoken Word Blog Round Up

I tried to find a quiet time in which to record this but just to warn you that you can hear a child (Reuben to be precise) crying faintly in the background on the audio. I haven't abandoned him to his fate, his father is trying to rock him to sleep as it's getting late here and it's past his bed time. I'm afraid I'm simply not brave enough to try recording this again! Once made me nervous enough.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

New Skin for the Old

Out walking with my mother, Jessica and Reuben, we run across two ladies walking their dogs. These are two of my mother's 'ladies' from church, members of that stalwart group that actually does most of the good rather than just talking about it. They are pleased to see us and, although I have never met them before, greet me like a long lost friend.

They crane their necks forward to see Reuben sleeping in his buggy and wave at Jessica, head bobbing away into the middle distance of the field. She is more interested in mushrooms, stick men and making nests in the grass than she is in ladies. Although the dogs catch her eye and lure her back toward us.

And the inevitable occurs . . .
"Is that  . . . her?"
"We prayed for her you know. Everyday."
"That's the power of prayer."
"She looks normal doesn't she? She's quite big."
"And he . . . he was . . normal? That must have been a relief."
"Everything happens for a reason."

Over the course of a conversation lasting less than five minutes, they have managed to squeeze in nearly every comment about the situation that I find unbearable. Death by the stabs of a hundred needles again. Even after all this time, I'm not quite guarded thoroughly enough against these jabs. They're so kindly, goddamnit. Look at those leaning, beseeching necks, asking to be thanked for their prayers. How can I spit out that I don't think their prayers made a blind bit of difference? How can I snap at their simple pleasure in her normality, in his normality? That something went wrong but then it went right. Because they requested that it be so.

So I thank them. Meekly. She is normal. He is normal. Not dead. Yes, yes, it was a relief.

Who knows. Perhaps their prayers did save her. I've certainly been wrong before. It is more than probable that I could be wrong again. Perhaps there simply weren't enough prayers to save Georgina too. Perhaps she wasn't meant to be. Perhaps there is a reason. In the face of all that kindliness and good intent, it is hard to believe otherwise.

* * *

I take Reuben to a baby group once a week. This group is specifically for babies under the age of six months. It is an interesting experience for someone whom, in the world of word association games, the word 'baby' is swiftly followed by the word 'dead.' And I'm still freaked out by baby dolls, let alone the real deal. I do enjoy going to this group, I hope he does too. But I always feel a little out of kilter, at one cool remove from the rest of the pack.

I didn't do anything similar with Jessica at the same age. She was in hospital and then I was supposed to be keeping her at home, away from germs. My first attempt to socialise with other mothers and their babies was when Jessica was about nine months old and resulted in my lugging her, her oxygen tank and associated tubing into the toilet and sitting there sobbing. Then going home. I did return and gradually spent less and less time in tears in the ladies room but it was never easy. Now it is easier but no less . . . puzzling.

Sitting there, amongst all of these babies, my head spins with the question, why does it only work sometimes? Why not for Georgina? Why not for me? Why not (as you're reading here I guess that I can assume) for you? I look at the circle of women and see those solid heads, the gentle curves of the limbs and tummies, those bright eyes, the weight of the organs and limbs. I hear the murmur of mother speak, that total engagement to the exclusion of all else. That deep joy and contentment and connection. And I feel regret. Deep, deep regret and bewilderment. I wonder why I am here. Why is Reuben here and not Georgina?  I wonder why you are not here with your child. Surely an accumulation of this much luck should attract a lightning strike. But I'm the only one who looks at all uneasy.

Lately I don't feel so angry. Or anything much. Distanced, sad. Just sad. And I feel like a fool. A sad fool.

A staircase that I had happily assumed had ten steps, had only nine. And here, in the baby class, I have that horrible lurching feeling that you get when you put your foot out, in the expectation of another step and there is nothing there. My stupid, groping, expectant foot goes plunging down onto nothing, just an absence. Lots and lots of other people knew that there were only nine steps as they watched me plunge downwards. They knew that the tenth step doesn't exist, that it is just a fable. They probably tried to tell me but I elected to ignore them.

As though I were about to step into, what I believed, was a bath full of warm water. And it turned out to be a bath full of rubbing alcohol or nail varnish remover. Something thinner and colder. Something that whispers, "Stay awake." I walk around with goose flesh and my hair standing on end and I can't identify who else might be living here, in the cold world, with this new skin. Chances are that they are here, in this room, in this class of mothers and babies, but that we won't recognise one another. My memorial necklace dangles hopefully in anticipation, "are you like me?" It winks and blinks at each new acquaintance. Or its absence signals, like a false siren song, "I'm like you." No regret here. He's normal you know.

Some weeks, I try and nod and chat and smile. Enthusiastically coo-ing and complimenting.
Other weeks, I'm just too tired.

"You'll always be a stranger in a strange, strange land."

And apologies that my musical influences seem to have stalled c. 2007. 

Friday, 7 October 2011


Meanderings around a comment on the previous post left by Cathy and a far superior piece of writing than that which is to follow from the wickedly good TracyOC.

I feel that this post probably deserves a word of warning. I have tended to avoid mention of religion here, mainly because when I attempt to even think about faith, God, sin, morality, mortality and so, I can feel my tiny wee brain sputtering, straining and generally reaching a state very close to kaput. But here goes, the wheels are about to come off people. Consider yourself warned that this post doesn't make a great deal of sense.

One thing that has become glaringly obvious since August 2008 is that I have the ability to believe two contradictory things at once, equally fervently. Whether this ability was latent and activated by the events of August 2008, pushing me out into a world where I had to consider possibilities that, up until that point, I had preferred to ignore, or whether that ability was conferred upon me by Georgina's death, is a moot point. I can hardly remember what I thought, or how my brain worked, or even who I was, prior to then.

Between the 26th and 29th of August, I was convinced that Georgina would live, saved by medical technology and the cleverness of mankind, saved by nebulous forces of Good. Because she had survived thus far, because she was named after my grandmother, because God loved me and would answer my prayers (although how I squared this with the fact that many, many other cries that rose up over those three days would go unanswered I have yet to figure out), because the doctors were too clever and the machines too efficient to let the outcome be otherwise.

Between the 26th and 29th of August, I was convinced that Georgina would die, because that knowledge was born deep in my bones just as surely as she was born from me, because mankind simply isn't that damn clever, because machines malfunction and break, because she would be condemned by nebulous forces of Bad. Because I was a rotten, broken person, because God hated me and either scoffed at my prayers or sternly waved his finger at me.

And I am certain that, if I were to root around in the distant past of this blog, I would find two contradictory descriptions of that time. The happiest time of my life, the saddest time of my life. But neither of them are lies. My certainty that she would live, my certainty that she would die, are both equally true. My surprise when she did. My sense of something inevitable occurring when she did. Not irreconcilable to my new and twisty brain. Both descriptions are a reflection of the truth, in my Schrodinger's cat like mind where both things happened, happen and continue to happen. And I'm not opening the box to find out the true state of affairs thank you very much. I'll keep the top of my skull right where it is.

In the Venn diagram of my superstitious and rather limited world view, two circles can overlap and, eventually, engulf one another, a multiplicity of statements and intentions happily co-existing whereas previously I had felt that one had to be pushed out in order for the other to remain believable. I used to think that I couldn't have both. But now there is no room for mutual exclusivity in my world, the conditions in my brain fall into perfect intersection every time. In the world of probabilities, things that looked like P(A and B)= 0, blur and rearrange into a world where there are no disjoints. I can have it all. Even if I don't particularly want any of it.

My brain has become an odd, bifurcating place. Sometimes I look in the mirror and feel vaguely surprised that I do not have a tree growing out of the side of my head. Or at least something slightly more branchy and leafy than the apparently smooth expanse of skull, skin and hair that is reflected back at me.

I suppose that what I am groping towards is that since Georgina died I have both perfect faith and no faith at all. So it provides both every single consolation and none whatsoever depending on the light and the prevailing wind conditions. And I'm fairly sure that maintaining faith in the presence of no faith precludes that faith being perfect? Hedging your bets, I hear you cry. Yes, 'tis convenient I will admit but there you have it.

I always found a strange beauty in the idea of the leap of faith, the virtue of the absurd, of finding certainty where, by rights and rational argument, there should be no such thing. Something that makes so little sense that, in a circular fashion, it could possibly make all the sense in the world.

It is hard to make that leap, to choose to believe in anything benevolent, or kind, or beautiful, when life has grabbed you by the head and smooshed your face up against the plastic wall of an incubator and forced you to watch your baby die by degrees. So that there can be no doubt that this particular individual, this part of the wonder of creation, who to you is all the world and your heart and your dear, dear love, is going to stop before she even really got started. And it is, in all probability, going to hurt her. It's certainly going to hurt you and anyone who has even a passing care for you.

But when I looked at my daughters, close up, how I could fail to believe in kindness, in beauty, in benevolence? Because the living yearn for life and those two tiny babies reached out towards it. Even watching those stretching arms made my heart curl around itself.

When you are in that impossible place, what else can you do, where else can you go? In order to carry on breathing in and out until your turn comes around. You have to believe. You have to disbelieve. All at once.

And because this sort of post would not be complete without some sort of Biblical quotation, here is a bit of Exodus 33.

And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

I've always liked these verses, particularly in the King James version. Everything sounds better in the King James.
When it comes to faith, I think that is where I am.
Wedged in the clift of the rock, facing the wrong way and covered up by a hand whose existence I am uncertain of.
Part of me reads these verses thinking, "Hmmmm, magical face that nobody can see without expiring? Back parts you say? Well well well, how very convenient for You." 
Immediately followed by cowering and fear of smiting. And you will note that I have capitalised the Y so I must believe that Someone is watching.

Part of me reads this thinking, why did you not show mercy to me? Why did you not show mercy to her? Or shew mercy even. And my question is answered, left hanging in the air and rendered entirely irrelevant all at once. Mercy, no mercy or a world where it is just a question of chances and biology and mercy never enters the equation. Or only the mercy wielded by mere humans. 

A God whose actions were kindly but un-interpretable, a God whose actions were a punishment, a God who is looking away, distracted by bigger mysteries than mine, no God at all, a roaring void, a calm absence, a place where the absence of God would be a blessed relief. All of these things happily line up next to one another. And I can choose which one I will or believe in all of them at once. 

Part of me is convinced that a great deal of nothing will pass behind me whilst I am wedged in that rock, not looking. 
Part of me is convinced that all the glory in the world rushes past my unsuspecting back.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Unforeseen conversation

"Open it," she demands. Her eyes are narrowed, jaw jutting determinedly. She swings the fabric bag taken from the NICU by its ribbon handle, up and over, up and over. It smacks down on the mattress repeatedly, its jaunty pattern of blue bears on a yellow background flashing through the sunlight coming through the curtains.

Even looking at that print once again, those repetitive bears, makes my eyes sting.

The imperious demand, "OPEN it mum-me."

"Jessica," I say. "Jessica my girl, my love. Inside that bag is Baby Georgie's little blanket that my Ouma knitted. And also inside that bag are Baby Georgie's ashes. We are NOT going to open it today. It is a special bag. "

She bounces around the bed, bag swinging.

"Bounce, bounce. Jess-ca bounce, bounce."

"Jessica, watch where you are going. Jessica . . . Jessica. . . we do NOT hit Baby Reuben with Baby Georgie's ashes. Even by accident. Give them back to mummy. Now."

I feel unseemly laughter bubbling up my throat. I could never have foreseen that I was going to have to reprimand one of my children for hitting another with the burnt remains of a third. It seems too ridiculous, it seems too awful. Halfway between a giggle and a scream I sit down heavily on the bed.

"Mum-mee not happy? Bay-bee Oo-ben, Bay-bee Gorg-gie. Bounce, bounce."

I kiss her head. Her solid little skull with its small, crinkled brain fizzing about underneath.
So very far away from ash.

But closer than I would like to think.

It's all closer than I would like to think.

I disentangle the handles from her fingers. I wrap the ribbons back around the bag and plump it up again, as though that would help matters. A small comfort to my child of dust.

I return the bag to its place in a box at the back of the wardrobe wishing I believed in prayers and offerings, feeling as though I should burn something or slit the throat of a small animal. To fend off misfortune.

If only that were possible.

Monday, 19 September 2011

More pluckings from the brain of the sleep deprived

"Not happy Mum-mee," she tugs at my hand insistently. "NOT happy."

This is Jessica's current favourite game. I must hold one object. This can be a plastic Happyland figure, a teddy, a stick, a stone, even a conker. This character must cry. Great, gasping sobs of boo hoo hoo. Any attempt to deviate from this formula, to claim that this particular stick or toy is already happy results in a steely stare and a quick slap down from Jessica's hand, forcing this unfortunate into the posture of one prostrate with grief. "NO! NOT happy Mum-mee."

The character must then state what would correct this state of affairs, what will make them happy. In the initial iterations of this seemingly endless game, the object of desire was an invitation to a tea party. So the character would sob their boo hoo hoos and then sigh, wrist pressed limply to brow (yes, yes, even a stone can do this) "I wish that somebody would invite me to a tea party."

Up pops the character held by Jessica. "TEA PART-TEE" she beams benevolently, scooping up the sobbing character and transporting them to the world of delight that is the tea part-tee where they partake of cake, tea and occasionally (as I understand it) pine cones.

For a while a 'tea part-tee' was some kind of panacea, a cure-all for the woes of all sticks, stones, dolls and teddies within a five mile radius. A 'tea part-tee' was even offered as a consolation to an unfortunate 'stick man' that was accidentally snapped in two.

As the popularity of this game had steadfastly refused to wane, the demands of the weeping character (as played by me for the majority of the time) have grown more and more outlandish. A trip to the pink castle. A ride in the helicopter. A dance party where they only play Cure songs. A friendly rugby ball. A little girl called Jessica to bounce on the bed with.

No matter the demand, Jessica will unfailingly pop up, grin on face and announce the arrival of whatever it is that will stop the weeping.

Then, two minutes later, the character is again, declared not happy and must lie down and weep once more.

Sometimes I wonder if I might have messed up her up a little. Either by being a sadder, generally worse version of the me that she might have had, somebody whom she has to jolly along with promises of parties and trips, a responsibility. Or by leading her to believe that a little bit of tea, cake and Robert Smith are the answer to misery.

So yes, Jessica. Her speech is no longer confined to that mysterious word, GUNK, which some of you may remember was her one and only word for quite some time. Her speech was declared *age appropriate* at her last review. Occasionally I still don't quite understand what she is saying and, when I repeat what I think she has said, she lets out a little, world weary 'No' which makes me feel at once like laughing and crying.

As always with Jessica, just when I think that she is never going to breath, regulate her blood pressure, maintain her temperature, move, walk, talk, she does. Amazingly, she does. I still can't quite believe in it. I am left in this state of nervous tension, expecting the next disaster. But she's fine. A little slow but just fine.

She will be starting school next year. As she was born right at the end of the academic year here in the UK, she will have just turned four when she is due to start school next year. And this situation has me tying myself up in knots of guilt and inaction.

I remember leaning over her incubator and promising her that I would fight for her, that I would protect her, that I would help her with everything she needed. And I've tried. I've changed oxygen tubes and made up bottles of high calorie formula and done the exercises the physiotherapists recommended and researched things to do to help her speech and spent and spent on (mainly unnecessary) clothes and toys. We've painted and crayoned and dressed up and soft played and been swimming. But it's considerably easier when I know what the right thing to do is but, when it comes to Jessica's school entrance, I'm not sure if I should be fighting to hold her back or letting her go.

Poor Jessica. With her dead twin sister and a mother who always hugs her a little too tightly. My father in law has a phrase that sums it up, 'I love the bones of you' he says. I do. I love the reassurance of her body, her bones. I hope she doesn't mind too much. I guess she'll never have known any different.

Tea part-tee anyone?


I catch our dual reflection in the bathroom mirror. A slightly tired eye woman with a baby. And an array of translucencies intercede between us and our reflections. A multitude of might have beens. And, just for an instant, I let myself imagine that he is her. Just for an instant. Something that I never, ever allowed myself to do with her twin. Because it was too close, she was too close.

But I held that particular image up to the mirror, up to the light. Just to find that moment of relief, of ease. To briefly inhabit a world where none of this had ever happened. A world where she didn't die. Because her death still presses down on my skull, not painfully any longer but . . consistently, uncomfortably.

But even as I see his sturdy little back, head balanced precariously on top, slightly bending over like an overly heavy flower, I know it is a nonsense. She was never there. She was never even close to this. My poor tiny baby.

I still dream of half made babies. I dream of pregnancies that give out only partially complete. I cradle tiny babies in my dream arms and yearn for that chance, that outside bet that I can't give up on. Sometimes the baby in my dreams is Reuben but long before I ever laid eyes on him. And my dream heart feels that love, fierce protective love for the tiny babies that were once mine. I wake up unsettled and sweaty and I can't find any rest or comfort.


I never really felt self conscious about admitting that I was sad that Georgina died. I never thought that people would think it was weird that I list her on my facebook profile as a child of mine. I never thought that people might think I was strange, that I was not a good mother to my living children because I mention her from time to time. I assumed that people who found this place would find it understandable, even if they could not understand it. Now . . . I'm not so sure.
It makes me wish that I could maintain a 'dignified' silence. But I find I can't.


'I love you oh so well. Like a kid loves candy and fresh snow. I love you oh so well.'

I do. Georgina. I love you oh so well.
Remembering that first sight of your little face still makes me smile.
Love you.

Monday, 5 September 2011


Today I have a post at Glow In The Woods, pondering over the question, 'who was that?'

I'm very honoured to be writing there.

Monday, 29 August 2011


The day before your birthday, I woke up with a streaming cold.

It was raining.

I'd been trying to get a stain out of your sister's T-shirt but I must have left the stain remover on for too long and, when I went to rub the stain away, I rubbed a hole in the sleeve of the T-shirt instead.

I made your sister some porridge, a strange breakfast for late August, but she likes it. I wonder if you would have too. I still wonder about little things like that.

As I turned around to talk to your sister, I knocked the bowl of porridge off the top of the kitchen cabinet with my elbow and smashed it. Her favourite Peppa Pig breakfast bowl. And her porridge went all over the floor. And there was no more milk.

I picked up the ruined T-shirt, the smashed bowl and the porridge. I put the whole mess in the bin.

Your brother started crying. I wanted to cry too. For the T-shirt I'd just put a hole in. For the porridge that I'd made and then spilt. For the bowl that I couldn't fix. For your sister's bewilderment, still waving her hopeful spoon about, waiting for her breakfast. For all my good intentions heaped in the bin. But, you know, that's not the real reason I wanted to cry.

I can find pathos in anything these days. A broken Peppa Pig bowl leads me back to you. Spilt porridge leads me back to you. To you. The most irretrievably broken thing in my life.

I go onwards, not really knowing what I'm doing.
Hoping that I'm not messing up too badly but suspecting that I am.

I miss you. I wish you were here. I couldn't promise you a perfect life, you might not always have got your breakfast on time. Or indeed, got the breakfast that you had been led to expect. Some mornings we have to make do with toast instead of porridge. Even when you could have sworn that there was porridge cooking five minutes earlier.

Your T-shirts and your prized breakfast bowls might have disappeared mysteriously, leaving you wondering where they went.

But I wish you could be here. Down here, in this mess. Because this is all I know and it is all I have. This strange world where we all stumble around blindly, bash into a few things, knock up against a few other people and then leave.

Occasionally there is a brief glimmer of something that looks like beauty, that looks like sense. Amidst the spoiled breakfasts and rain. Sometimes I suspect that those things do, in fact, actually exist and I'm looking at the real deal, not merely a resemblance or a fraud.

Wish you were here my girl. To catch those glimmers with me.

Friday, 19 August 2011


She peers at them, the silvery marks on the backs of her hands. "Dots Mum-mee," she says. "Look, dots."
I stoop and pass my thumb over them, admiringly.
"Yes, darling. Dots."

Those strange, inverted stretch marks that cover the backs of her hands instead of my stomach.

And, even nearly three years later, the guilt is still strong enough to pin me down to the soil.

In August, the air around her is thick with ghosts, making it difficult to focus.
The quivering in the air where one stands where could have been two. Or none at all.
And the ghosts of other girls.
Ones with no scars on their hands.
Others where those scars would be the least of it.

The ghost of myself. As I was. Or as I would be now. With two. With none.
Even Reuben becomes indistinct. Lost in that shimmer of imaginings.
Then everything resolves again. Refocuses. And I carry on.

It's four in the morning here.
I woke up suddenly. And, in that haze between waking and sleeping, imagined that all of this had been some protracted fever dream. Terrible and strange.
Relief washed through me. That I could let go. Of this experience that still makes my fingers twitch into fists and my jaw muscles clench. Even after all this time. Some part of me is obviously hoping that I can fight it off, defend my family, even nearly three years after the fact.
If only my left hook is strong enough.
Not us, please. Not today.

But it's mine. Mine to keep. Hers to keep. Ours to keep. This experience. No amount of jaw clenching or punching at the empty air is going to change matters.
And, usually, I am ok with that.
But sometimes, at four in the morning, whilst everyone else is asleep, you'll still catch me very sad.
Very sad indeed.
So sad that I can't sleep.
And I haven't anywhere else to go other than here.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Little brother

He is irritable, squirming, plump, glorious, in my arms.
Glossy and new.
With a yellow pimple on his chin.

She is ash. Gone to ashes.

We put her cot up today. The cot she never slept in. Paid for a thousand years ago.

Although it was never used, it has been chipped from its trips up and down the ladder to our attic.
It looks second hand.

I'm sure there must be a word, loaned from German or from Dutch, that captures my state of mind. Perhaps there is an English one. I've just never happened upon it.

That of trying to construct sense from something you know to be chaos. To spin sense from sense-less.
Because you need something to hang your hat on.

Of forcing yourself to find beauty and meaning in something that you know has neither of those qualities.
To drag them out of this mess by sheer force of will.

Of perfecting the art of fooling yourself that there is something meaningful and beautiful lurking under all that mud. And there just might be. Or perhaps that is simply a double bluff.


Even if it is just for a short time that you are fooled.
Even if the beauty and meaning that you construct flicker in and out of focus, slither out of your grasp.
Even if you know that you put them there yourself, for yourself to find.

It is enough.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


It's August again.

It's very hot here. Not much like England. The air feels like luke warm tea with one sugar. I smell like soured breast milk and sweat. The me of 'before all this happened' frowns in disapproval.

Jessica and I play in the back garden. She chases me with a watering can and I hide in pathetically undefended places. With my head wedged under my T-shirt. With my face hidden in the leaves of the next door neighbour's tree but the rest of my body sticking out.

Unsurprisingly, I got watered rather a lot this afternoon.

We have squelchy wet sand on a plastic mat, interspersed with stones stolen from her grandmother's rockery.
"All mudd-dee," croons Jessica, slopping the wet sand over her feet, "all mudd-dee."
"Yes, my darling. You're right. All muddy," I reply.

She chalks my big toe, blue. The remainder, orange.
I wonder what she makes of my adult toes.
I have ugly feet, a hammer toe on the third toe of right foot.
I remember looking at my own mother's body with my teenage vanity and wondering how it ever got that way. One day, Jessica will look at me that way. In her turn. Probably sooner than I would like to suppose.

Her latest medical report contains the word, remarkable. Remarkable.
I let out a breath I have been holding for a long, long time.
Yet, lobes in my lungs remains partially inflated.
Either not naive enough, or not quite ready, to exhale. Yet.
You'll jinx it don't you know?

I feel the scars on her feet. Little raised lumps.
For a child born as prematurely as she was, she is remarkably unscarred. Surgery only ever got as far as signed consent forms and desperate conversations with the consultant as to which anaesthesiologist had put his own son under.
Tiny stars dot her hands and feet. There is one larger, thicker scar on the join between her ankle and her foot. I'm ashamed to say that I am not even sure what this scar is from.

Sometimes I find myself rubbing Reuben's feet and wondering where his scars are.
Sometimes I find myself, in the blurry wee small hours of the morning, wondering how Reuben will feel about his dead twin.
In my dreams, babies only ever come in pairs.

My mother's next door neighbour comes round to return my car keys. I've left them in the lock of the boot. This happens more frequently than I would like to admit.

"Thank you so much," I say. "I don't know where my mind is these days."
Although that is a lie.

I have a memory of walking up my mum's drive and this lady, who I don't know very well, stopping me and saying that she was sorry. Sorry about the twins. And I flung myself at her, sobbing, "I lost her. I lost her."
We don't speak about that today. We never have.

She was so sweet. She just hugged me. What a kindness. In a world so very far from kind.

I lost her.

It's August. Once again.

Friday, 29 July 2011

It seems that I am not the only one . . .

. . . .who is a little confused about the date.

My dear little car confidently informed me today, via the clock radio, that the date today is the 15/08/2008.
I know the clock is broken. It has been broken since before the real 15/08/2008. I could take it back to the dealership and get it fixed but I am . . .lazy. This is not some sign that time is spinning backwards, my perfectly normal little old Ford Fiesta is not suddenly going to spew me out back into the midst of three years ago, in a Back To The Future stylee. Although that would make quite the blog post, I have to admit. It's a sign that I am lazy and don't particularly care about knowing the date (the one that the world is agreed upon) or arriving anywhere on time.

Now I find that my eye is irresistibly drawn to the digits, surely incontrovertible proof that something is happening. Is bound to happen. 
I am counting down the days. 
In anticipation of what I am not entirely certain. 

The return of the past?
An opportunity to go back and save her?
Perhaps that would be impossible even if I could, somehow, revisit that time.

And maybe she would not be there. She is not a creature who has much to do with time any longer. Perhaps death removed her from this continuum where her mother still paces back and forth and frets over her broken car and what this all meant. If it meant anything.
I find that I still pick and pick at this idea.

And re-visiting the lines from my original post, I find the final line, overlooked by whoever was speaking in that radio interview that first drew this quote to my attention.

‘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 , that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision." 

Still taken from Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, only now slightly more complete.

And I wish I could know that I did. That I did appear in her field of vision.
When the light is a certain colour, when the rain slants in a particular fashion, when there is a stillness to the atmosphere. 
Or perhaps, it is when there is a storm. 
Does she see me? Do I appear in her field of vision? On occasion.
Or are we forever cut off in mid-breath, all lines of communication down?
Then what I am to do with all this mess in my heart? This troublesome mind that itches and wants?

How I wish I could reach her. I don't care to know when, I'm not fussy about that. 
I don't want to know the particular blend of conditions that would conjure me to her.
Just as I am forever conjuring her to myself.
Just to know it could happen would be enough.
That this isn't a one way street. 

I hold the sturdy weight of her sister asleep in my arms. With her beating heart and heavy limbs. And I can't believe that this, this experience that so saturates me and her siblings could come to just . . nothing. 
All to naught, to a . . . withering. Surely that simply cannot be? I cannot let it be. I can maintain both sides of this strange relationship if necessary. Just give me a basis for doing so.

And I can't stop thinking that I am nearly there, this thought tickling at the edges of my brain, that same feeling you get just before you grasp something complex and slippery. 

Time is a trickster.
Perhaps her death was always just waiting. 
When I was four, it was waiting.
When I was sixteen, it was waiting.
Was it always waiting? For her?
And perhaps it is still waiting, waiting for me to go back and find it. Find her.
One of those moments with no beginning and no end.
29th August 2008. My own perfect circle.
Trudge, trudge. Surely the circumference is getting a little worn now.

I'll let you know if my car actually does turn into a time machine. Eleven days to go until the day she was born. According to my car. You never can tell.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


I promised myself that I would never write about him here.
And yet . . .

It's our wedding anniversary this week.

We were so hopeful. I look back at those drunken evenings, filled with potential, possibility and scribbled schemes on scrappy bits of paper. Lists of pros and cons. Holiday plans. Wedding plans. Furniture rearrangements. Plans to re-landscape the garden. Lists of baby names.

Sometimes I think that was all we had in common. Hope and a liking for plans.
It was enough to keep the conversation going for over a decade.

But now we have fallen. Silent.
I hope it's not a permanent state of affairs.

In the evening, the dull, dual buzz of baby monitors fills the house.
Although Jessica is nearly three and doesn't need a baby monitor.
We pretend it is so that we will hear her fall out of bed.
But we both know it is so we can listen to her breathing.
Just checking. Even after all this time.

He sits downstairs with a drink.
I think he is looking for our half-made daughter at the bottom of a glass.
But she isn't there.
I've checked.
I still have a good look around down there from time to time.
Just in case I missed her.

I sit upstairs.
Looking in the sparks and wires of the internet.
But I suspect she's not here either.
Only a pale imitation of someone who might have been her. Once.

He knows that I am searching for her.
That I write here in this semi-public diary.
Pouring my heart out to strangers and yet . . . he has never sought this place out.
Perhaps he doesn't care to know what I think.
Perhaps I have already bored him half to death with it all.

Whereas if I knew he was talking about her, anywhere, I would be there. Like a rat up a drain pipe.
Because I don't know what he thinks about her. If he thinks about her at all.

When he does mention her name, I am mildly shocked.
As though he no longer has any claim on her.

We are not always silent.
I have my evening store of anecdotes, saved up from my tiny patchwork day with two young children.
Small miracles and disasters.
He has his tales of work and the outside world, the latest car and TV series.

But we no longer plan. Only half heartedly. With caveats.

Sometimes I think it was all that hope that did for us.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Playing favourites

Within our family, there have always been fairly well-acknowledged 'favourites', special relationships between various members that just don't exist for others. I don't know if we are particularly unusual in this regard, it isn't something that I've discussed with many other people in real life for fear of opening a can of worms, somewhere along the lines of 'My parents never loved me, sob sob, they always loved my brother, Jim, more. I've been scarred for life . . . . '

I know, for instance, that I am not my father's favourite child. My younger sister is. I don't find this particularly upsetting, perhaps because it has always been out in the open. I know it. She knows it. My father will neither confirm or deny it but his refusal to say anything (when confronted about his supposed favouritism) along the lines of, "Pish, I love you both just the same" leads me to believe that my sister is, in fact, his favourite. And I can see his point of view, my sister is less neurotic, more athletic, taller, prettier and generally an improvement on me. If I were my father, I'm sure she'd be my favourite too.

My sister occasionally tries to make this up to me by claiming, hollowly, that I am our mother's favourite child. But we both know that this, although kindly intentioned, is laughable. I think our mother likes us both equally, I'm fairly sure my sister actually thinks the same. She's just trying to redress the balance.

My grandmother made no bones about the fact that she favoured the eldest child in each family, as she was the eldest child herself. But within this hierarchy of favourites, the 'eldest eldest', the first grandchild, ruled supreme. 

Amongst the grandchildren, it is recognised that some of us have so-called 'shining hero' status and, no matter how obnoxiously we behave or how badly we mess up, we will be excused if we are one of the 'special' ones. This operates separately from birth order and appears to be allocated at random. Just bad luck if you aren't selected. Thus cousin E complains about cousin J, "Hrumph, he can never do ANYTHING wrong JUST because HE. IS. J. Everyone in the family will always stick up for him simply because you all think he's SO great. No matter the evidence to the contrary."

But none of us are dead. I have no experience of this sort of interplay in a family where one of the siblings, or cousins, or grandchildren, is dead. Georgina is, in fact, the only infant death to have occurred in this, and the previous, generation. 

I do sometimes wonder what it will be like for Jessica and Reuben to grow up knowing that they had a sister who died. That, where there are two, there might be three. 

Perhaps they will take after their father and just won't be 'reflecting on what might have been' kind of people. 

Because I am someone who likes to conjure up problems that don't currently exist a good decade or so in advance, I have already had hypothetical fights with a teenage Jessica. These proceed along the usual lines (I hate you, I never asked to be born, but I WANT to stay out until 3 am, date this undesirable boy, drink three litres of cider) until the denouement of, "I bet you wish I had died instead of Georgina. I bet you wish that she was still alive and I was dead so you'd have your perfect daughter who you think is SO great." 

And yes, I do like to trouble trouble LONG before trouble troubles me. 

My relationship with all my children is, at the centre, the same. I love them. They head butt me, ignore me, vomit on me or they pull the ultimate act of defiance and die on me thus removing themselves from my sphere of influence forever. Still I love them.

It is hard not to imagine Georgina as something otherwordly. Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that she would have been a real, honest to goodness, human child had she survived. Burping. Filling up nappies. Saying "no, no, no, no", when asked if she loves me (Jessica's latest wheeze). 

As time passes, Georgina has become something purer. A spirit, a thin little ghost girl, ageless, wise, pure. Barely touching the earth. I feel the need to defend her, to keep mentioning her, just because nobody else will. 

Will her brother and sister think I love her more? 
That Georgina is, somehow, my favourite? 
Because she is dead? 

And, Reuben, whose birth was so far away from the absolute bomb shell of his older sisters'? Their birth feels like the epicentre of an earthquake. I watched Jessica hover between life and death for weeks at a time, so defenceless. During those early days it felt like I was walking into hell, every time I walked into that NICU. Every single day, I woke up and I had to walk back in again. To Jessica and her sister. And then just to Jessica. 

That experience did something to me. I will never, ever be the person that I was. Not ever again. And the girls were right there, with me, in the midst of it. 

My love for the twins has a desperate and despairing edge to it that my love for Reuben does not. Not more. Not less. Just different. My love for him in the immediate aftermath of his birth had a contentment and a peace that would have been inconceivable with the girls. How will he feel? Sharing the spotlight with a bona fide medical miracle? 

As my sister in law said, "Everyone thinks their children are special. But Jessica really is special."

She is. It is hard to reconcile that with a living, breathing, nearly three year old who can occasionally drive me to absolute distraction. Sometimes, mid telling off, I see that tiny, baby again. I hear the ventilator wheeze and the alarms beep. And a voice whispers in my ear, "She nearly died you know. How can you not let her soak her baby brother with the watering can / eat gravel / kick you in the shin / throw her toast on the floor?"

But Georgina is special. Reuben too.
They are all equally special to me. Although nobody will ever be shocked or amazed by the story of the beginning of Reuben's life. Or the beginning and end of Georgina's. Events took expected turns.

I don't think that there will be any favourites in this family. I hope they won't feel that there is.
I love them. My dear, dear three. 
And I can't imagine loving one any more than the others.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


desiderium - an ardent desire or wish; longing or wish, properly for a thing that you once possessed and now miss; a sense of loss. A material sister to the geographical nostalgia. The Latin word means longing, sense of want.  
Stolen from Philip Howard's 'lost words' column in today's Sunday Times.

I re-read some of the more recent posts on this blog. I'm mildly surprised at how angry I sound. I don't spend a great deal of time feeling angry these days. I would hate for some poor soul to stumble across this outpost of dead baby blog land and think, geesh, I'll still be THAT angry in three years time. Really?

I think I was so angered by the extract featured in my previous post because I am a former magical thinker myself. Reformed now obviously. And we all know who the most vehement anti smokers are? Usually the ex-smokers.

Yes, I confess. I once was one of those suckers who thought I could save my children from death with the power of my mind, with the strength of my love. I quite miss having those stupid, misguided thoughts. They made me feel safe. But, as Merry wrote, until you know, you don't KNOW. And I shouldn't be angry at people who don't know. That isn't fair. And as Monique commented, a pat on the head would be a better response than a whole lot of spleen venting.

Expressions of anger are unacceptable in day to day life so I tend to take them here. In the real world you have to do a lot of biting your tongue and swallowing. Which can make you a little acidic.And though I'm a little more snappish than I used to be, I am not as bad as I sound here. Promise. Or at least I hope I'm not.

I find that thoughts of Georgina, her small life and her death are a constant in my day. Like a trapped nerve or a pulse, a nystagmus. Pulse. Flick. Pulse. Flick. She died. She died. Her life permeates my own. Just a fact rather than something that drives me to extreme pitches of emotion. Like a sponge soaked in NICU machinery and small babies, I slop about on my day to day rounds. Obsessed with something I can hardly bear to think about.

Sometimes my hands extend like fleshy claws and I can see them, my hands, doing their thing. Driving the car, changing nappies, buttering toast, flicking pages. All at a distance. My life is peaceful but, sometimes, it feels very far away. As though it is happening to somebody else. Where that leaves me I just don't know.

I still cycle around the five stages of grief but these cycles have decreased in duration and emotional amplitude until I can deal with the whole process in less than a minute.
Denial - she isn't dead.
Yes, yes she is. Waste of time to pretend otherwise.
Anger - not fair.
Nobody ever said life was fair. Life is not a bowl of cherries. I never promised you a rose garden. It's nothing personal. None of this means anything. You aren't cursed or to blame. You just had bad luck. Waste of time to pretend otherwise. Go write on your blog.
Bargaining - if I have to lose her, please keep the others safe. Please take me instead. Please.
No takers. Waste of time to pretend otherwise
Depression - I am so sad.
Nobody cares. Waste of time to pretend otherwise.
Acceptance - Here I am again. But acceptance feels like a bit of a misnomer.

I find I can't take the process any further than the 'she died' part. I can accept having a pregnancy that ended abruptly, a daughter that died and another daughter that nearly died. In the abstract. I know that these things happen to people, I knew that before they happened to me. One of those things. Sending out ripples in concentric circles.
Very sad for me and my husband.
Very sad for Jessica and Reuben, although I hope they will not feel the loss as we, their parents, do.
Sad for our families.
Mildly sad for friends and acquaintances.
Not much of anything to anybody else.

Increasingly, I find the details unbearable to think about. So I don't.
I don't look at her photographs. I'm frightened of them. I am scared to see those blue eyes looking at me from all the time ago.

I can deal with the 'dead' part. Just not the rest.

Yet I can't leave it be. My eyes snag on the corner of that time. I cannot quite look away.

Long ago, I saw something horrible.
Long ago, I saw something wonderful.

So horrible and wonderful and strange and beautiful that I still stand here. Enchanted. Stupefied. Shocked. Still, after three years. I am in shock.

I cannot look away. I cannot look either.
So I just remain. Not angry or denying or depressed.
Just standing, staring at a point in the middle distance, at nothing.
Somewhere between August 2008 and here.

She was beautiful. That tiny baby. Georgie.
But I can't tell anyone that.
Because nobody else wants to hear it.
Except for you, here.
Because out there, in the real world, she is only dead.

But I miss her terribly. I love her.

I have a desiderium for golden days.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Did He Smoke?

My mother and I were discussing a mutual acquaintance the other day, a lady in her sixties. My mother said, "The sad thing about Mrs. X, is that she's still afraid of death. You mention in passing that a friend has died and she is hungry for details. She immediately asks, how old was he? Did he drink too much? Did he smoke? And then she'll pounce on the thing that did for poor old Mr. So and So."

Death will never happen to Mrs. X because she is coated in the death repellent Teflon of the righteous, of the non-smoking, of the tee-totaller, of the good woman. Death will try and grab her and those bony hands will just slide right off. And she will dance away, clicking her heels merrily into eternity.

Because if she can pin the blame on the poor unfortunate sod who died, if she can make death somebody's fault, then she can walk away free. Immortal. Untouchable. Forever.

Boy oh boy. Is she ever in for a surprise.


I've spent the last three days immersed in a book I've been looking forward to reading for a long time, Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I love Caitlin Moran's writing and have done for a very long time. When I was a teenage, I had a scrapbook where I hoarded a few columns that she had written, clipped from my parents's newspapers.

And, as I expected I would, I loved her book. I laughed. At 4 in the morning. You have to be pretty funny to make me laugh at that time of day. And I laughed so much that poor old Reuben was hard pressed to keep hold of the nipple that he was trying to clamp on to for dear life.

But then I read this. About her own children.

I used to fear their deaths - The car! The dog! The sea! The germ! - until I realised it need never be a problem: on the trolley, on the way to the mortuary, I would put my hands into their ribs and take their hearts and swallow them, and give birth to them again, so that they never, ever end. I'll do anything for those girls.

Had she really thought this concept through? This intelligent, hysterically funny woman that I admire so much. And if she really thinks this, what does the rest of the world think? The stupider, less amusing majority.

Because I tell you what. I've got a new found respect for cars. And dogs. And the sea. And germs. And death. If you are not frightened of the deaths of your children, you are a bloody fool.

Because I know that you can only birth your children once. Just once. I know that in the marrow of my bones.
No matter how much you love them.
No matter how much you may believe your love matters.

I'm sorry but in the face of a car, a dog, the sea, germs, premature birth, leukaemia, sudden infant death syndrome or stillbirth, the feeling that you will do anything for your children means precisely jack shit.
I dearly wish it wasn't so.


Your children can die. If they get too tangled up in any of the aforementioned I'm afraid that they will die.
None of this fancy, schmancy re-birthing crapola.

Believe me. I've seen one of my children die. And if I thought it would have made the slightest bit of difference I would have stuck my hands right into her ribs, taken her heart and swallowed it.

Against my better judgement and probably not without a slight wave of nausea I might add. But, Georgina my darling, I would have done anything. Even gut churning things like those suggested by Caitlin Moran. I would have cast any number of spells, sourced magical ingredients, prayed, pleaded or walked over the proverbial hot coals. For you. Anything.

But it doesn't work that way. To suggest it might, to even hint it might, makes me so angry.
So angry that I threw a book.
And I don't even like to break the spines of books as a general rule.

Still. I can thoroughly recommend the rest.

Apologies for my language. 
Being brought up by a father who frequently turned the air blue, I don't generally swear. 
But this issue, this peculiar denial, this belief that THEY live in some magical, protective anti Death bubble that carefully excluded me and Georgina. 
Well, that makes me as mad as a cut snake. And makes me swear a bit. Apparently.