Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Wilderness

I've been thinking about Jill's post a lot this weekend. I was going to record this as a vlog but I lost my nerve. This post is going to be written very quickly, as I would have spoken it, so please bear with me.

Four years. When I whisper "four years ago" to myself it sounds like a long time. When I was 27, 24 seemed unimaginably long ago. But there just doesn't seem to be the same distance between 32 and 29. I can't make it fit.

I feel like one of those poor souls who cannot form new memories, wandering about in a state of permanent amnesia. I wake up every day and I'm vaguely surprised that it isn't 2008. I look in the mirror and think to myself, why am I so sad and wrinkled and flabby all of a sudden? Argh! When did I get a double chin? When did my eyes start to look like raisins pushed too far into dough?

I know it is because four years passed so quickly and I've had three babies and also because I aged ten years at the end of August 2008. Overnight. 29th to 30th of August to be precise. But that knowledge doesn't seem to take, to knit to the part of my brain that keeps track of the present day. So I'm in a constant state of mild surprise.

Simultaneously, I'm also vaguely surprised to find myself looking so young, so unharmed. Because surely it should have made more impression upon me? Surprised. 360. Disconcerting. That woman in the mirror is me. Looking so old. Looking so young.

I am most certainly in the wilderness that Jill has spoken about so perfectly. I flick back and forth between

(a) thinking that I am doing amazingly well and brilliantly and patting myself on the back and making myself congratulatory cups of tea. And I'm here and I have my little fire burning and I have a job and two children here to care for and I'm driving and nappy changing and cleaning up lots of vomit (it's been one of those days here) and I am, on occasion, quite pleased with myself, quite proud of myself. That I didn't just stop when Georgina died. As I thought I might, as I felt I should.

(b) thinking, oh no. Oh no, no, no. I have not changed at all, I have not healed at all, this is just as awful and painful as it ever was. I still sit here with my computer and cry. This is the common theme of my life over the past three years. Computers. Crying. I'm surprised I haven't short circuited the thing by now. I am a slow, slow study and what happened to me and my daughter still seems awful. What happened to you if you read here still seems awful. Because I'm guessing you didn't end up here because you are having the time of your life. And if I know you are there, I've cried over you and yours. Hot, sharp tears. And I would be lying if I said that they weren't for Georgina too. I hope you don't mind sharing. But still. Awful.

I keep waiting for that awfulness, the sharpness, to lessen, to become gentle. So that I can grab it, pin it down and force it into some form of reconciliation with the vomit cleaning and driving bits of my life. But it doesn't seem to want to oblige me. I can't get along with it. And thus I get rained on and my fire goes out and I'm heading back to the woods. To the woods that I know and trust. The woods where my daughter lives. The woods where, increasingly, I choose to live.

Problem is - my other two children don't live there. My husband most certainly does not live there.

So back to the wilderness I go. I clutch at my computer for dear life here. Because if I can't see those other fires I am going to go under. I am so very glad of your company, wherever you stay. In the woods. In the wilderness. Sad. Happy. Accepting. Or not.

And this whole blog seems to be about my attempts to believe in and hold two contradictory ideas in the mind at once. Teaching myself to speak in double speak, to think in double think. Slowly and grindingly and painfully. To live with all three of my children. To be wonderfully, unexpectedly ok and desperately, unhappily not so. I was obviously on to something when I fell in love with that MacNeice poem all those unimaginable years ago. Sixteen year old me. Perhaps she knew something was going to go down in her own life, something along those lines. That poem was on my wall before I ever knew what Louis was on upon. But now I know. Because it is. Incorrigibly plural. Uncomfortable. Unsafe.

I suppose that's the truth. I'm healed. But I was also mortally wounded. Not as deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. As I am a grave, grave woman. Serious and haunted. Scratched to sadness by the loss of a tiny baby whose life had scarcely begun.

But yet I am alive. Drinking my tea. Burning my fire. Laughing. Miles from the grave. Well, as far as any of us mortals ever are. I find pleasure in food and my children and computer games and conversation and books and friends. Yet I find rest in nothing at all. A farewell to restfulness. Goodbye to all that. Cosy. Neat. Perfect. Content. I have no use for you. Adieu. There is no room for you in a life where I once sat and watched my little daughter die. Even if quite a long time has passed since then.

A multiplicity. I appear everywhere. A success and an awful abject failure. Unable to nail my colours to the mast.

I miss my daughter. My first baby. I miss her terribly. I ache. I yearn. Perhaps this is just where I come to rest, but it isn't comfortable. I often write about the world being at an angle. And it is. That's why I'm here. Gone midnight. Because I don't quite fit. Stuck writing about the same things, time and time again. Because I can't resume my place in the world. Not yet.

As life gets longer, awful feels softer.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

My Pallas Athena

Just a note to say that this post is mainly about my relationship with my surviving twin daughter and my living son. Forewarned is forearmed and all that. 
And this post was written and then disappeared as I decided it wasn't quite . .  truthful. As though I sit and ponder about these issues all day, every day. Which I don't. I haven't got time, I have to bounce on beds and prepare meals and sing silly songs. Not quite as earnest or as neurotic as I might come off here.
This post was the result of a conversation with my mother, we both agreed that we feel differently about Jessica than we do Reuben. We don't love her more, or less, not at all. We just feel somehow . . . differently. Second (first) child? Girl? One of what might have been two? One of what should have been none? That was as far as we got. This is me taking that thought for a walk. And not quite reaching any conclusion . . . .

"I have three children." I say it aloud, when I'm alone.
It feels like a lie in my mouth, a large round pebble that fits perfectly between my teeth and over my tongue.
"Three children."
The click of teeth against stone. Lies.

My relationship with my son is straightforward.
He is grasping, scratchy, neediness.
He is sweet, slumber, sucking.
Tiny hairs like golden wires, faint covering over the red, purple mottled birthmark adorning his scalp. Skin plumped out.
The curve of the back of his head resting on the curve of my breast.
He is expectant, baby birded mouth open, hands reaching upwards.
Towards mother, the Other so vast that he is only just now starting to glimpse around my edges.
At once tender and oppressive, the giver and the denier.

Today he storms and wails as he has a nappy rash.
And I hover, in my ambiguous role as both cure and cause.
Filling up his sky uneasily.
Hovering with cream as he utters curses up at me, that I do not ease his discomfort NOW. Five minutes ago preferably.

My relationship with my surviving daughter is different.
It has a metallic hint of desperation and unrequited love.
Closer to the ashen love of the dead than to the robust cursing and slurping of the baby.
Pale, wan but clutching, so strong.
I did not bear this child, she did not share the shadowy underwater existence of her brother.
Whilst he was gently held inside, she was splayed out on plastic.
Like a dissection.

And I let her sister go. A sin. A crime.

I do not have a high pain threshold.On my list of the 'many, many things I feel inadequate about' is how quickly I would crumple if I were ever tortured. It comes just under my inability to make a sponge cake that doesn't sink.

But I would reveal all my secrets, betray anything and anyone. I'm scared of pain, my experiences giving birth to Reuben just confirmed that I am a big ol' wuss. No stoic.

I wrote in a blog comment recently that I could not consider my own grief to be suffering as it could never be the equal of my daughters' sufferings. Their prior claim to the word was so strong.

The grief of others is suffering. But not mine somehow. Mine seems feeble, misery, self-pity, ignoble.
Or perhaps it is because, to me, the word suffering has connotations of the physical.

Images that I do not like to remember. Of inflamed, shiny skin. Of limbs jerking. Of hands and feet pierced time and time again.
I remember her writhing as though even the air brushing against her were unbearable. The nurses telling me that even the sound of my voice talking quietly would upset her today.
So I sat in silence. On a tall stool. Ungainly watching. Then I left.
I remember asking a doctor to let her go. To let her follow her sister.
Because I could not bear it.
Ever the Mother, ambivalent, wishing both for Life and Death.

My daughters, in truth.
Piteous and valiant in equal measure.

I'm still stuck there. A place I cannot leave.
Afraid to love too much.
Afraid to love insufficiently.
To be ungrateful.

It feels as though I have been watching over her, time out of mind. Ever since I can remember.
Watching, willing, wishing, wanting.
Wanting to help. Uselessly.
The pain was hers, the trial hers.

I wonder what it was like.
I used to think that, one day, I would be able to ask her.
'What was it like? All that time you were stuck in a box with machines attached to you? What did it feel like? Did you know that I was there? Did it hurt? Was it as awful as it looked?'
Then I remember that she doesn't remember. It's just a funny story that her mummy tells her.
Or perhaps it is there, somewhere, but inaccessible. In the strange black box recorder of memory.

She never raised her arms to be picked up.
She was never expectant.
Simply waiting for the hours to tick around until the next feeding or change was scheduled.
It wasn't until I had another child that I realised how different she was.
Although she is just that, a different child with a different personality, and perhaps it is merely attributable to that rather than her unfortunate start.
She had a different mother too. She still has a slightly different mother. But then perhaps all families with more than one child do.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I can hardly remember the mother I was in that first year, the mother of these early blog posts here I suppose. With ringing ears and blinded eyes and disbelief.
My own mother says that I didn't laugh a lot.
I was cautious, earnest, anxious.

She looks at me now. Quizzically.
I shake my head and the memory vanishes.
It's just Jessica. With her love of 'numma 8' and Lightning McQueen.
Just a child. A little girl. Who skips with excitement and grabs my hand.

But it leaves me feeling strange.
As though I can't quite fit into my role.

And I've written this blog post before.
What a game played slowly. Ah me.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Still Standing

I'm very honoured to be contributing to an amazing new project, Still Standing, started by the wonderful Franchesca at Small Bird Studios.

Still Standing is an online magazine with contributors from around the world. Its aim is to inspire healing after the loss of a child, and for those facing infertility. I feel very lucky to be joining with so many amazing artists and writers as part of this venture. I hope that we will be able to bring some comfort and community to parents facing these difficult times.

I first 'met' Franchesca online back in 2009, through her blog. Her story spoke to me as she had also lost her eldest daughter, Jenna Belle, to premature birth. I have looked on in awe over the years as Franchesca's many wonderful creative ideas have unfolded, from her beautiful blog designs to the line of cards she has produced in collaboration with Carly Marie.

I lost one of my twin daughters, Georgina, to premature birth in August 2008. I will be writing about grieving for a child through the years, how it feels to be a little further down the road as I approach the fourth anniversary of my daughter's death, dealing with grief in the workplace and issues surrounding raising a surviving baby (or babies) from a multiple birth.

The magazine will be launched on the 5th of May, a very special date as it is Jenna's third birthday. In the mean time we have a facebook group and a newsletter to sign up to here.

Hope to see you there.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Your Cheating Heart

My heart.
It is not a faithful muscle.

It is also not, it would appear, particularly clever. Being heart and not brain, I suppose we can excuse it. Poor dumb heart. It misbehaves so.

"She died," I say. I shout the same. Dumb heart. Thump, thump, glub, glub.

I don't care, says heart. It contracts, it relaxes. It doesn't really speak and its supposed speech doesn't even warrant speech marks. Apparently. Dumb. Yet it talks to me.

Doesn't listen though. No ears you see.

Dub, dub. Love, love. Ever the optimist.

"There's no end point to that particular branch of blood. She's gone. You can beat until you burst. Dumb heart."

Beat, beat. Drum, drum. We will bring her back. We are magic, you and I. Heart and I. We will. Our will. Will bring her back.

Locked in an internal battle not considered since the Greeks. Odysseus, you know where I'm at.

"There is no point, generating left overs for a baby that does not exist. For a toddler that isn't here. For a woman who stopped. Stopped before she ever really started."

No left overs. Says heart. If heart could speak.

A full portion. For her.

"Shame there's nowhere to put it. Shame. Shame. Shame."

But I'm strong, says heart. For all your shame.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


"The problem is that you are so weak," he spits at me.

Except he doesn't spit. The words are deemed undeserving of accompaniment.
They are served up dry, like little bundles of kindling.
For starting fires.

I want to argue. I want to agree.
Spineless. Toothless. Everything less.
Less than less.
A negative.
A cipher.
A void where a woman once stood.
The inverse of muscles and bone and brain.

Passion and thought in reverse.
Inwards and inwards.
Coiling back into myself.
Away from tinder and flint and spark.

Uncertain as to whether I have always been like this or if I became this way by increments.
If I have been this way since birth.
Or if it was her death that loosened my joints and slumped my shoulders.

But she isn't to be bandied about as an excuse.

And so I simply sit. Devoid of agreement or argument.
Hands open. Weakly.