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.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Plucked from the brain of the sleep deprived

Those people who tell me that now I have concluded the matter properly and/or tell me how relieved I must be to have had a 'normal' pregnancy and childbirth don't understand that it is actually Reuben's birth that, to me, was the extraordinary one.


Serious conversation with a whining Jessica . .

"What noise does Jessica make?"
"Whinge . . whinge . . .whinge"
She laughs, knowing that I am imitating her.

"What noise does Baby Reuben make?"
"Wah, wah, wah . . WAH"

"What noise does Mummy make?"
"NO . . don't do this, don't do that . . NO!"
Faux stern waving of finger.
Bigger giggles.

And, inevitably, I think. Although I know that I should not. But whenever we do anything which involves counting family members, my mind goes to her.
I don't think that Georgina ever made a sound. Ever. Perhaps a gasp or two.

There, in the middle of a supermarket aisle, I would like to sit on the floor. Just for a minute.
To catch my breath.
Because that lack of sound seems so very sad all of a sudden.
Although it's been true for a long time, no big revelation.


Whilst watching Desperate Housewives (a major vice of mine but, to be fair, I do my ironing whilst watching) this little snippet of dialogue snags in my brain.

Bree to Gaby (of a mutual friend who has recently received a kidney transplant)
"Whatever topic you bring up, she (Susan) manages to steer it right back to kidneys."
"Tell me about it." Sigh.

And I realise that I am Susan.
And my children, dead and living, are my kidneys. The circumstances of their birth, Georgina's death, the NICU. The whole sorry thing.
It as though their births removed my flesh, my pith, leaving a hollow woman, only animated by discussion of them.
Of course I do talk about other things but, more often than not, I don't particularly care about whatever it is that I am supposedly discussing. I merely pretend to.
And I'm not even brave enough to bring my children into the conversations.
Instead my thoughts spin uselessly around and around them.


Perhaps my total and utter avoidance of anything resembling a birth plan or, indeed, any information entitled something along the lines of 'your labour - what to expect' was a little unwise.
The first part was pretty much exactly the same as, sadly and annoyingly, the cervix does not differentiate between babies of different gestations and opens to exactly the same amount, causing (in my experience) a fairly similar level of pain.
The pushing part was a little different. I had a while to reflect on just how different this pushing business was as Reuben was stuck for over two hours.
I had thought that giving birth would be terribly sad and remind me of the birth of the twins and have all these resonances. That I would think of my girls and wonder about my boy. That I would labour with tears running soulfully down my face.
But I had forgotten my wuss-ily low pain threshold which quickly put paid to any romantic or melodramatic notions I might have had.
In reality, I spent approximately 10% of the time screaming my head off, 10% of the time blacking out, 20% of the time thinking smugly to myself, "he he he, I am the sun and nothing can hurt me", 40% of the time thwarting the midwives' brave attempts to prise the gas and air from my hands (see the previous 20%) and the remaining 20% burbling away to my husband. Including the lines "Time is running backwards and he has already been born" and, apparently, thanking and apologising to everyone in the room multiple times.
Hmm, not my finest hour.
But, after his birth, those anticipated tears ran down my face.
Tears for him and for my girls who stood such a slight chance.
Who had such a different experience in the first few days of their lives.
No simple comforts of holding, feeding and looking for them.

It is only now that I know what I lost. What they lost.
What so many of us have lost, those of us who hang around in these parts.

And I wish that it could always be simple and happy and healthy.
For every mother and for every baby. Every single time.
I wish that with all of my heart.


If you have a slightly more complicated obstetric history you may wish to wear a laminated card around your neck explaining your situation prior to going into hospital to have a baby. Or due to staff shortages and shift changes you may end up having some rather surreal conversations.

"So, this is baby number four."
Umm, nope. Three. Ummm, one? Really? It's complicated. Try the lady labouring in the next room perhaps?

"You have very good stomach muscles for someone who's had twins."
Why thank you. I like you. A great deal. Do come around to this particular hospital bay again. Smug smile. Then remembers that the twins didn't really get a chance to bust my stomach muscles. Feel sheepish. Attempt to suck stomach in. Fail.

"Well you'll know all about that having breastfed your daughter."
Hmmm, not sure where you got that particular piece of information from but thanks for giving me a few maternal experience points. You should see me in action with a Medela and an NG tube.

At the registry office, registering Reuben's birth. . .

"Just the one baby? Not hiding a twin anywhere are you?"
She smiles, expectantly.

Believe me.
That was the previous child.
She is the one with the hidden twin.
We're still hiding her, even now.

And of all the people who come into this registry office, you had to pick me to make this comment to?
I reply, "No, just him."


No matter how fast I run, how many books I read,  how many meals I prepare, how often I tell them that I love them, how many trips to the park we make, how much money I put into their savings accounts, how many times I get up in the night.
It isn't enough.
To thank them for living.
To compensate her for dying.
It will never, ever be enough.
I could wear myself down into dust trying to balance the books on that one.