As we drive home along the ocean I watch it hanging, hugely round and golden, above the waves.
Maybe the moon will bring the baby I say to C and we laugh because we had been told that the full moon does bring the baby and so, lacking any better idea, we had planned around it – our pre-baby holiday away, the baby book reading, the writing down of the birth plan, my sister AJ booking her ticket from NZ for the full moon - two days before the due date, the last minute intensive antenatal class…all scheduled before the full moon.
The next full moon.
You’re one lunar month away, says my sister in law N later that night and I think about the time we have left and the time that has passed and how much has moved and changed within the ocean of our lives and still the moon rises, and still the waves crash and suddenly, shockingly there is no more time.
On Thursday, C goes back to Northern NSW, and I potter on at home. On Friday morning I wake, back cramps, waves of period like pain, bearable but uncomfortable.
And… confusing. This is… early.
It’s the gnocchi, I think.
Earlier I babysat the Naughty Nephews and we had dinner together. The pasta was a month past its use by date.
I, on the other hand, am a month early.
The pain continues, regular, unsettling, and in the morning I ring the Birth Centre to see what I should do. Take Panadeine, they tell me, and rest and ring again if they continue.
I do, and they do, and I ring again.
Come in, the midwife says, but if you are in labour we can’t take you because you need to be 37 weeks at least. You’ll have to go to Delivery.
I am horribly disappointed and when later N and I arrive at the Birth Centre, a midwife steers me back down the hall to the other doors. No, I want to say, I can wait, please! I can do better. I can hang on. Give me another chance. But she’s gone.
And all through Friday the pain continues to wash over me, stops while I am in the bath where I sway and sing the world’s a big blue marble through my contractions and the warm water slops over my belly rising like an island from the deep.
And we wait and we wait and we wait…should I stay, should I go, should C fly home now, or next flight, or last flight, or drive, or wait, N is waiting with me, calmly updating C, giving me arnica but no, stay don’t rush, don’t panic, not happening, don’t go….
Fifteen minutes after C’s last flight leaves the midwife examines me again. I am 1cm and fully effaced. I’m not going anywhere.
C swears loudly and exclaims delightedly within the same breath. He will pack up, drive back, be here in about seven hours – about 1 in the morning.
My youngest sister K arrives from Newcastle, her fiancé has driven her the two hours and will drive back again immediately. You look after your sister, he tells her. Don’t leave her alone at the hospital. K is nervous, excited, didn’t read Active Birth - she did order it from the bookshop but it didn’t come in time…
No time, no time…
That night I am given strong doses of Panadeine and a couple of mild sleeping tablets and I have three blessed hours of pain free sleep. I’m still 1 cm on Saturday morning so we’re sent home again.
It’s the day of the baby shower which is now postponed although a couple of girlfriends turn up and we have tea and cake and lavender oil back massages and the day passes in a beautiful blur of love and sugar.
And the waves keep coming and I am starting to turn into myself, getting into the zone.
By Saturday night the waves are much harsher, I hang off the walls and breathe, N is telling me to float above the waves and indeed at the height of the pain I do see myself floating above… something dark and far away, a canyon, impenetrable, mysterious…and then the wave recedes and I find my feet on the other side.
Minute after minute, breath after breath, hour after hour.
Walking down the hallway to go back to the hospital, I have to stop and breathe and float on the walls directly outside the Naughty Nephew’s bedroom. Vaguely I am aware of their bright eyes, their curious voices.
Earlier Naughty Nephew the 2nd had asked his father about why it was hurting so much and he began to explain…well the baby has to come out through her vagina… NN2’s eyes goggle. His mouth dropped open. Struck temporarily speechless he covered his cheeks with his hands.
After the birth he will draw a card for me showing a picture of me “dilating” and “being dilated by K”.
After a gruesome but mercifully short drive on my hands and knees in the back of the car, we reach the hospital where they discover my bladder has hugely distended. I haven’t been to the toilet all day. I’ve been in the zone and also I’m a bit iffy using any toilet other than my own. I resolve to get over this bit of fastidiousness but in the meantime the midwife uses an in out catheter to draw off a litre of urine.
K, N and C carry dish after dish to the sink and drain it away.
Sometime during the night will come the first of many discussions concerning my multiple sclerosis. Could this have caused the bladder retention? No, I say, in between breathing and floating, nothing to do with it. The MS comes up again and again and underlying the questions is the Potential for Problem and hence the need for intervention.
I breathe and float and argue.
They examine me and disappointingly I am only 3cm dilated. The contractions on top of a full bladder have made me seem far further progressed than I actually am. This time I get a shot of Pethedine to let me sleep.
Again, a few hours of respite, a few hours to catch my breath, clean the slate, start again. Until now Pethedine was on my list of No Thankyous, but I have changed my tune. This early in the labour it is Pethedine that is giving me strength.
By Sunday nothing has changed and I am sent home again. This time we will have no visitors, nothing but quiet and nourishment and breathing and rest. I am given the Panadeine forte and the sleeping tablets again but this time they do little, perhaps allowing me to doze between contractions, little more.
And once again my bladder starts to shut down, although my sister K is by me all through the night with a little bowl to help me relieve the pressure.
And so on Monday afternoon , I am back at the hospital. The pain is not so great but I don’t want to make the same journey I made on Saturday night. This time they tell me my bladder is retaining again but not like the night before, 600 mls instead of a litre. (Are you sure this isn’t the MS?) So now I’m going to have a catheter throughout the labour.
I ask if I can have more Pethedine which means another examination. This time a midwife suspects I could have a bladder infection (Could it be the MS?) so I will have to go onto IV antibiotics during the labour. They put a canula in the back of my hand in readiness and throughout the labour I will snap at people who clutch or press at it. Stop it! My hand, you’re pressing my hand!
I am aware of voices and murmurings around me but by now I am pretty much into the zone and time which seemed to be so short before has now become slippery and elastic and I slip and slide in and out of now and another state, a more liquid state of consciousness, full of strange imagery and half dreams.
A midwife breaks my waters and they gush hotly down my legs.
Somewhere in there the obstetrician has reappeared, more MS discussion, concern that this labour is taking so long, I am now, after all this time, only five centimeters and he is concerned because…..because…because…
… the voice weaves around me, he is talking Syntocin to hurry the labour along and I think of how this will throw me straight into the deep end of these crashing wave contractions and I know I am not ready.
I ask for Pethedine, let me sleep, let my body try and finish the job.
My support team are around me, rock solid, N has come home early from work and I have asked her to stay for the birth, K is holding my hand, C is with me and around me whispering to me you are so beautiful, you are doing so well, you are so strong…
They work tirelessly, massaging me, applying heat pack and whisking it away when I screech too hot too hot on the eve of each contraction. I am silently congratulating myself for not swearing, for staying calm even though it is patently obvious that the massage is all wrong that the hot packs are too hot and then in the wrong place, that K’s hands are too small and in the wrong place…
C tells me later that I would snap out instructions and the three would roll eyes and smile at each other and patiently work on around me.
You said that K’s hands were too small and that they were like monkey paws, he tells me and I gasp at the meanness and cry with laughter at my cranky shitty labouring self, forgiven over and over again.
And eventually I am given an ultimatum.
Pethedine, yes, but then in two hours, I’ll be reassessed, to see if Intervention Is Required to Speed Things Up.
two hours only…
time, time, so little of it, so much of it, not yet, not yet, not yet
C and N withdraw to restrategise.
They are aware that I am rapidly being seen as A Problem, there are tight little knots of staff discussing me, they hush up as K walks past. C and N create their own tight little knot while K stays with me.
The pethedine only lets me sleep between contractions, and these are getting bigger, the waves are rushing down my body from head to toe, my back arches up in between. In these moments I moan and sigh and think yes, I understand why women choose epidurals, I understand fearing and hating this pain, I understand elective caesarians and my little sister despairs as I whisper all my fear to her.
I’m scared, I’m scared, I can’t, I don’t want, it’s not fair…I’m scared
But in between these moments I am drifting at the entrance of that dark world, that strange half life, illuminated by pain. Flickers of face and image and strains of music and words. I have never seen that image before I say to myself, I have never heard those words before…
And later we say that may well have been transition, the doorway into Stage 2 because when I am finally examined, exactly two hours later, I am fully dilated.
Fuck your syntocin I think.
In stage 2, fully dilated, the door to our world as fully open as it can ever be to the baby squeezed deep within my body, a light in the darkness, a path to follow through the incessant squeeze and writhe and push…
Push, I hear people saying, it’s time to push…
…and I do, for nearly two hours, with nothing to show for it. I hang from my husband’s arms, my sister rubs at my legs and squeezes my toes, my sister in law rubs at my back and stops and starts and talks me through, her voice is a clear bell in the storm brewing about my body.
Here now is the dark place, the black place, the canyon I floated over during earlier contractions. The world has split wide open, full of stars and the bright lights of faces I can’t place or properly glimpse.
All love and all hell rests here and I see, suddenly how thin the veil is that lies between us. Only women glimpse this place, I think. Only women see this power.
The shock of this. The sprawl of this. The intense terror and beauty that winds me through this landscape, winds this place to me, marked by the painful waves crashing against me.
Push, I hear the voices saying, and I push and I push but I know it’s not enough.
We’re running out of time, the obstetrician says…that word again…
With each wave I push with my first breath, push hard at something but when I break to gulp air and push again it’s as if whatever I’m pushing against has slipped further from my reach.
…the time…the obstetrician says. His eyes are like green orbs, they seem sorrowful and fanatical all at once and I hear him saying ventouse but then also forceps and maybe even emergency caesarian and I think no, that’s not fair, after all this, that’s fucked…
So, push again, he says…your baby’s head is flexed, I ‘ll try and turn it now, but if this doesn’t work we need to look at the options, it’s been two and a half hours now… do you understand?
Do I understand?
I do, but I don’t. I understand the logic but I don’t understand the enormity, the power of what I’m experiencing.
He reaches into me and twists and I scream and I hang and clutch and berate and groan from the arms and hands of people who love and support me, until my body, my vessel, slides further into the heaving waters of this new ocean, this new storm…
We’re running out of time…
Time Time Time
And the time it takes is one breath, perhaps, or the combined heartbeat of me and the child trapped within me, or one hour, or one year, but when the next wave hits me, deep inside I suddenly scream.
Get the baby out. Mum!
Muuuuuuum! Get the baby Mum. Please.
But there’s nothing. And then time stops.
The obstetrician asks: the ventouse?
And I open my eyes and see N’s face. I know she had the ventouse with her second child, Naughty Nephew the 2nd has told me about how we was “hoovered” out of his mother because he wanted to stay inside and play football “with the bones”…
She nods. Yes. The bell in the storm.
And I say yes.
And bang! the room fills with staff who seem to have been hovering in the hallway waiting for the word.
C tells me later how it became suddenly a room full of people, busy, swift, efficient. He knew and N knew but my sister K didn’t and she was scared.
I’m told to get up on the bed, the doctors are waiting and I mutter the doctors can fucking well wait as I heave myself up onto the bed. I am tired beyond tired and sore beyond sore.
And now, a new kind of scream, a new kind of sensation.
But it’s all part of the same water, the same journey, the same road that led me past that huge golden moon so many years ago.
The ventouse is slipping and the baby’s heart rate is dropping but here now perhaps is where my mother is able to do her own intervention, or perhaps it’s luck, or love, or skill or all these things, or nothing but suddenly I hear people say:
Here comes your baby’s head!
And I feel that burn, that stretch, that I have read about, heard about…and now the head is out…and now, impossibly quick after all that has gone before, the rest of my baby comes slithering out and suddenly there is a new person in the room, a new soul… and people are laughing and gasping and my sister is sobbing.
It’s a he.
And he’s on my belly, large and wet. And his bright eyes look at me in amazement.
And I stare back, in amazement, this is you. This is you.
We saw you being put into my body, in the end of a pipette.
We saw you sparkle in the night sky of my uterus, a star beside your sibling’s smaller weaker beat.
We saw you alone, a tiny dancing baby, shimmying beneath the ultrasound.
We saw you at 20 weeks, still moving and dancing and bigger and bigger…
We saw you pushing and batting at my flesh…
We saw you coming from far far away.
And we thought we loved you then. But we were wrong. Because now you’re here, and so the world has changed. And the stars have wheeled and turned. And the moon has come and gone. And time has stood still for you. And the oceans have run dry and refilled for you.
And my love. And your father’s love. Immeasurable.
When you start to do the whole labour/contraction thing, DRINK LOTS OF FLUIDS.
Then, when you have drunk lots of fluids, DO LOTS OF WEEING.
If you don't you will end up with a bladder the size of a bowling ball. Amusingly you will assume this large swelling is baby's head and tell your husband to feel it and maybe give it a little kiss. Won't you feel a dill later on!
The contractions will intensify. They will come at 2 to 3 minutes apart and you will be feeling very ordinary indeed. You will go back to the hospital that night, absolutely certain that THIS IS IT and you will find to your great displeasure that you are STILL ONLY ONE CENTIMETRE.
Plus your enormous bladder will need to be catheterised to remove the one litre of fluid so diligently drunk by you during the day.
After another night in at the hospital you will be again discharged and sent home, except this time you will be tested for a urinary tract infection.
On the good side, if this goes on for say... five more days you will be out of the premmie zone. The birth centre midwives will welcome you back.
On the bad side, you will be knackered.
Also, if baby who has been lying perfectly for ages, decides to go all posterior on your ass...those back achey contractions hurt like hell.
When I was a kid living in Malaysia there was a tv show called The Big Blue Marble. It was about environmental stuff and the theme song started with a chorus of childish voices singing...the world's a big blue marble when you see it from up there...the sun and moon declare...our beauty's very rare...
It's a catchy little number and one that is deeply ingrained in my childhood psyche (much like the cheer song for the University of Minnesota, see post previously) so perhaps that's why I was singing it through contractions. In the bath. At the hospital.
Yes, I was told by the birth centre to come on in after the contractions that had started the night before...and just excuse me a moment as i get another one and have to call c to come and squeeze my thighs and rub my back... phew, back again...so, in I went with sister in law N because C was still in northern NSW, a 6 hour drive away, only to be told that because I was just on 36 weeks I was considered premature and so I WAS NO LONGER ABLE TO USE THE BIRTH CENTRE.
Imagine my delight as they pointed me to the delivery ward. I was left alone to have a few more happy contractions and then, it seemed, I was about to be released. I talked as hard as I could about prelabour and my sister AJ being in it for a week before proper labour beginning, I argued that as an IVF baby, a FET baby no less, that it must be older than 36 weeks anyway, it was a 10 day blastocyst that was transferred... not only that I made a point to chat merrily throughout the contractions just to show I could though fuck knows what I was actually saying.
I was a hair's breadth from going home, C was on the phone asking if he should catch the last plane... god here's another one...breathing breathing making little moany noises but trying to keep my face loose... we were saying no, no, plenty of time...and then the midwife decided to do a quick internal exam.
Cervix effaced, 1 cm dilated and midwife was touching the baby's head through the membranes.
And that's how, a few hours later, I ended up in the antenatal ward and then in the bath and the singing through contractions began.
Having missed the plane, C was now driving home and expected at half past 12 that night. ooh ooh ouchy ow ow but relaxing face and breathe gasp breathe... I decided I didn't want to progress any further without him. By the time he arrived...I hadn't.
And finally this morning, the new shift of doctors and midwives decided yes I could go home.
As a little goodbye present, my mucus plug emerged during a urine sample. It was beautiful, ruby red and gold. The midwife was pleased and encouraged us to leave quickly. It's just that if you stay, she said delicately, they'll put a clock on you and... we took the hint.
So here I am.
Back at home. N, C and my sister K are feeding me, rubbing my legs and organising all the baby stuff I failed to do. oooooh oooh another one, another one.....
Sadly the baby shower was cancelled but...then, it's currently raining and a baby is coming and as I look out my window and breathe through the last of the previous contraction I think: well there is a baby shower. Of sorts.
I've gone past the point of merry chatting through contractions, past even the point of singing old tv tunes. It's just breathing and vocalising through each contraction, calling for back massage or leg rubbing...and trying to remember each one brings me closer to this thing we have worked so hard to achieve.
and inside my baby stretches and moves closer and closer. Head is engaged, but then all our heads are engaged, all focused on this amazing journey.
oh baby oh baby ooh ooh
soon baby soon.
we're here and we're so looking forward to meeting you.
It's no secret that I was lagging at the back of the line when they dealt out 'organisation'. I pack at the last minute. I arrive at the last minute. I understand not the list or the timetable. These are strange and foreign beasts.
In a pivotal moment in my early schooling career, my third grade teacher Miss Morrison (from Minnesota, USA but slumming it for the year in Werribee, Australia) discovered that I had somehow failed to get my looseleaf binder into any form of useful system.
Instead of neat cardboard dividers separating my subjects, each nicely decorated with a hand drawn picture depicting SOCIETY or MATHS I had a haphazard sheaf of paper and cardboard all flung in together. They probably weren't even sitting on their rings properly and I distinctly remember that on the GEOGRAPHY divider I had drawn a duck.
But why? she asked me, distinct crossness in her voice. Why would you throw all your papers into your folder like this when I asked you all to organise your work and I even showed you how to do it. Had she? I was speechless. I felt my face grow red even as I racked my brains to remember when we had studied FOLDER ORGANISATION. Luckily, one of my desk neighbours was able to recall that I had not been at school that day, that I had been off sick and so had missed all the crucial tips for keeping my folder nice.
I burst into tears with sheer relief.
Miss Morrison was instantly all smiles. There's no need to be upset, she said. I wasn't angry. Did you think I was a bear?
I laughed, as required, through my tears but inside I thought, a bear no, a fascist bullying cow, yes.
Having been in Sydney for the last week C has gone back to the country town where he is setting up a new arts project. The launch is on Wednesday and the plan is for him to come back on the Thursday or Friday. During that time I will finish a couple of writing deadlines. Then, the week after next I will be free to pack hospital bag, place rubber sheet over mattress, wash barrels of baby clothes I have been given and find the time for C and I to get away, on our own, just the two of us. And, tommorrow, I'm meant to be having a baby shower.
Cue outrageous laughter at Plan and pathetic postponement of organisation.
Last night I was woken with nasty period like pains. Every fifteen minutes. They were so unpleasant I had to get out of bed. Each time they hit I would do a little belly dancing which seemed to help.
I also spent a lot of time on the loo. It was as I hadn't been constipated for the past month. Surely that's just last night's gnochi I kept telling myself. After all it was a month over the useby date.
But the pains kept coming.
This morning I rang the birth centre. I'm having these pains, I told the midwife. Every ten to fifteen minutes. And...I'm just on 36 weeks.
That's fantastic, she said cheerfully. Although, if you are in labour you have to go to the labour ward, you can't come to the birth centre until you're 37 weeks.
Bugger, I said.
I rang C to let him know that we might have to go to Plan B. Not there was ever a proper Plan A.
It's alright, he said. It might not be It. Some people keep having contractions for weeks before they go into labour.
Oh goody, I said.
So here I am, perched over my computer, standing, because sitting hurts a bit too much. N went out this morning and got me some Panadeine (midwife wants me to take 2 and call in a couple of hours after resting) some new born nappies (because the only ones I have are the freebies I was given at a baby expo) wipes, jelly beans and barley sugars.
I started packing my bag. I started writing my blog.
Good lord, is this really how it's going to go?
The thing is, C said, we can't control this. It doesn't matter about the washing, or the packing or the deadlines. If this is going to happen there's nothing we can do about it.
And of course he's right.
Miss Morrison ended up being one of my favourite teachers. She was bright and cheery and she helped me organise my folder. I delighted in seeing my subjects set out neatly, my precisely placed dividers with appropriate pictures (the duck deemed more suited for NATURE). I enjoyed clicking the metal rings shut and doctoring the little holes in my work sheets with stick on plastic reinforcement rings.
It was a short lived pleasure. But I think back to those organised days with sweet nostalgia. And If I haven't retained her planning skills I did retain Miss Morrison's university theme song, some thirty years later...rah for the U of M!
While I've been writing this the pains have been coming quite regularly. The baby's moving about which is quite reassuring. Nothing like a kick in the guts to say: it's ok, we can do it!
Keep me posted, said the midwife when I spoke to her this morning.
I've put it on my list. It's right before...hold on for a week.
For a long time I have been fearful of Mush Brain, that evil pregnancy induced state of vagueness and general sorry what was that? syndrome.
But now I had proof positive that I could beat it!
Being school holidays my sister in law N had arranged a chess tournament. Slightly reluctantly I agreed to take part.
Chess, you see, is not my game. As a kid I played draughts and Chinese Checkers and a sort of dropping beans in a little wooden pot game. But not chess.
But then, the tournament started and an amazing thing happened and lo…I won ALL my games! Every single one!
Even the grand final!
At Chess! Chess, I say! Which I only learned to play as a grown up. And is much harder than that game where you drop the little beans in a wooden pot.
Did you hear me C, I shouted down the phone.
Every single game! I was the champion!
And that means I AM NOT IN THE GRIP OF MUSH BRAIN!!!.
How can I be when my focus, concentration and strategy skills are obviously razor sharp?
There was a delicate pause.
But... C said, you were playing against a six year old.
AND a nine year old, AND their mother, I retaliated.
...who was playing in tandem with the four year old, C pointed out.
But it was chess, I whined. Chess is Hard. Some pieces go one way, some pieces go another. And the six year old kept making up rules which sounded like they might be true so I had to keep checking with his mother.
Mmmm said C.
It's not like dropping beans in a little wooden pot, I said crossly. In fact I don't even know if that was a real game, it might just have been me liking the plunkety plunk sounds.
What are you talking about, asked C.
I’d really like to end this post neatly with some sort of witty observation about chess and playing against one’s nephews and so forth but... it all seems suddenly too much for me and my it’s a nice day today and where did I leave my cup of tea?
I left home at the age of 19. My parents were not particularly impressed. For starters, my timing was seen as rather poor. A couple of weeks earlier my paternal grandmother had died of thyroid cancer.
My mother, being a trained nurse, had taken on the role of carer in that last stage of the cancer, my grandfather being hopelessly out of his depth both emotionally and physically. As a result of my mother’s efforts, my grandmother was able to die with dignity in her own bed.
It wasn’t just my mother who waited out those final weeks. Our entire family, Mum, Dad, my three younger sisters and I, had decamped from Newcastle and were now living in the fold up bunkbeds and strange faux-holiday ambience of my grandparents’ caravan. Once the getaway vehicle for countless family adventures it was now permanently parked on the pebblemix drive, a few feet away from my grandmother’s bedroom window.
She eventually died after a few weeks of this strange sad caravan limbo and then Mum and Dad took us down the coast to spend some time in a friend’s beach house. The idea was to have some family time, some grieving time, some quiet reflective time.
The problem for me was that I had left a boyfriend in Newcastle and an active sex life, both of which I was missing. I understood the need to support my grandfather and look after my grandmother, I respected my parents' wish to spend precious post funeral days in a poorly furnished two bedroom fibro minus television and telephone, but when we got back to Newcastle I packed a bag and announced my intention to stay with my boyfriend in Sydney over the weekend so we could go sailing.
And my parents hit the roof.
Looking back I imagine they felt it was too soon to be enjoying myself so soon after such a sad event. My father, who had said little to me about his grief at losing his mother, was probably disgusted at my blatant desire to hang off the edge of a speeding catamaran not to mention my unspoken desire to hang off my boyfriend.
I argued that I needed a break, that I wanted a holiday… But you just had a holiday, my father snapped back. We just spent a week in a beach house.
And I hated every minute, I wanted to say. Because the thing is, the holiday I want is from you.
I didn’t say those things, some vestigal sensitivity must have held me back. Instead I began to whine to get my way, always a useful tactic when dealing with disapproving parents. In this instance, my piercing tones finally burst the emotional dam in my father, he was able to shout that I was an ungrateful bitch, which obviously went down very well with me, and finally he offered this ultimatum: if you walk out that door you’re never coming back.
It was a no brainer. Fine, I shouted back. I’ll move out when I get back from Sydney.
My face was grim, my eyes hard and stony but as I walked down the stairs I suddenly heard my mother break down and cry. It was this more than any of my father’s threats that nearly propelled me back up the stairs but instead I kept going, knowing that a line had been crossed.
I would go to Sydney and have plenty of sailing and sex, I would come back and move into a friend’s place, close to the university. After a few months my parents would visit my new house bringing housewarming presents and hugging me close. I would return to the family home, we would move beyond the incident and never speak of it again, but on that day standing on the stairs that led to the front door, hovering between anger and regret I realised that for the first time I had knowingly broken my mother’s heart. I could have taken a knife out of the kitchen drawer and stabbed her and I knew it could not have hurt her more than the sound of my feet marching out the front door.
I had caused this pain. I had done it willingly. And I cried bitterly at the thought.
A few years earlier I had kept a diary and one particularly ugly day I had written about how much I hated my fucking parents, each of them, my fucking mother and my fucking father and how I wished they would both just fuck off.
I have no idea why I had written this, I only remember the words scrawled in pencil, jagged furious scribblings inarticulate with 15 year old rage.
And I remember coming home from school to find my diary open to that page on my desk, a pointed message that my parents had found the page and read it.
For several years whenever I thought about this discovery I became furious all over again at the invasion of my privacy. But then, not long ago, I thought about this incident and instead of feeling the familiar white hot incandescence of my teenage indignation I wondered how I would feel, reading those words, about me, in my child’s handwriting.
It was a strange sensation and oddly painful.
These and other memories came back to me this week following a phonecall from a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. I hear you’re pregnant, he said, congratulations, I think you'll be a great mother.
The friend asked where we were having the baby and we discussed the hospital, the same place his wife had her baby recently, except, I said, we're hoping to use the Birth Centre and be under midwife care.
My friend made a small derisive sound. His wife had had an elective caesarian. Oh, he said, you’re having one of those ‘natural’ births.
Well, I said, we’re going to try. It’s very possible I’ll be wheeled screaming straight into the labour ward and the warm comforting arms of Mr Epidural but I’m going to try my best to have a ‘natural’ birth, yes.
I didn’t mention the stretches and the birth plans and the support team, it seemed pointless.
I just don’t understand why you’d put yourself through all that… and then with a Herculean effort at civility he changed his tone. Oh well, he said cheerfully, to each their own.
The word he had omitted was pain.
I understood that he saw pain as a needless exercise, as an unnecessary element of the child-bearing procedure. Nobody likes pain. God knows I don’t, I am after all the woman who, years ago, when my then GP had greeted my announcement that I wanted to have a baby with the news that I should start with a blood test, blanched with horror and shrieked a bloodtest!?
Pain is unpleasant. Pain makes you cry. Pain makes other people cry for you because there’s not much they can do to help and also because in an effort to alleviate one’s pain one might reach for one’s husband’s gonads and scream Breathe Through This, Cunt.
Oh yes, it’s all ahead of me.
I didn’t say to my friend that I’m afraid of pain too, but I am looking forward to the birth of my child. That I have struggled so long and so hard to bring this soul into the world and one of those struggles was giving up things like coffee and wine and painkillers and anything else I thought might possibly harm or hurt my baby. That to avoid pain in the way he preferred I would need to agree to the use of drugs that might possibly harm or hurt my baby. That I would perhaps undergo invasive major surgery.
I’m not inflexible about this. I know I might become exhausted, the baby may become distressed, there are a myriad of crisis situations that may necessitate intervention and I’m prepared to do what it takes. Including the drugs and the surgery and whatever else I have to do to ensure a healthy baby.
But just here, just now, with six weeks left to go, yes, I do want to have a ‘natural’ birth.
And the thing is, I should have said to my friend, that pain you can’t even bring yourself to mention? That’s just the start buddy. You’ve got a daughter whom you adore more than life itself. I saw the photographs you sent via email, the radiance on you and your wife’s face as you held up your precious bundle.
But amongst the many golden moments of joy, there will still be pain, blackly stitched in fear, in illness, in injury or accident, in anger, in rage, in death. How does a father feel when his daughter says she hates her family or she leaves home under a dark cloud with her mother crying beside him? And for some parents, the pain is overwhelming. Last week an 8 year old girl was found murdered in a shopping centre toilet. The week before that a father accidentally ran his toddler over as he reversed down the driveway.
There is no anaesthetic for parenthood.
In the last days of my mother’s life, we, her daughters and husband, were gathered around her bed day and night like moths drawn to the intoxicating glow of her dying.
Now it was my turn to have my heart broken, and not fast or cleanly, but slowly, in splintering fragments of grief. I was losing the person I loved most in the world and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
In one of my last precious moments with my mother, curled up beside her on the bed, while my sisters and father were getting dinner, or sleep, or simply walking their own patterns of distress around the hospice, she asked me to forgive her. I was immediately resentful at the thought that, now, with death twiddling his thumbs nearby, she felt the need for forgiveness.
Why, I said, my blind stupid tears welling up immediately, why do you need to be forgiven?
For all the times I made you cry.
Our faces were very close together, our voices little more than whispers.
Oh yes, I said, of course yes.
And, she continued… I forgive you. For all the times you made me cry.
We lay like this for moments or perhaps it was hours, this woman and her first born child, mentally snipping together at the black stitches of our past.
We had 26 years together, my mother and I.
When you forgive the pain caused by each other that’s a heck of a lot of gold.