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I hope you don’t mind…

13th January 2019

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You’re stretched out in bed next to me my delicious little girl, gently snoring and snuffling. I gave up with the cot early tonight because you were distressed and waking repeatedly before 11pm. Another molar coming through I think. And while mostly I try to settle you back in the cot, and while I’d like to do it without resorting to the boobs every time, sometimes I’m just too tired to be strategic, and sometimes you just sound too sad. Sometimes i just want your little body in bed with me.

Tonight I’m rewarded so far with your company and comfort without you wanting to be physically attached, and you’re peaceful. It’s working for both of us my gorgeous.

And what I thought I’d like to say to you, that I hope you don’t mind, because I was looking in the dark at the photo of your beautiful daddy on my phone, is that:

I talk about him all the time to you ( I wish more people would), and talk to him still, especially about you.  “Have you seen her dancing Steve?” “Have you heard how she can say ‘Oh dear’ in twenty different intonations?” “How delicious is she?!”

His being here was so fundamental to my life, and yours, so absolutely entwined, that I look at a photo of him and cannot compute that it’s possible for him to not be here. Even harder that he simply isn’t anywhere physical anymore. I think it’s something that isn’t ever going to be comprehensible and certainly can’t be conveyed in words. I’ve been trying for 15 months to explain it to myself but I can’t, because it’s so so deeply inconceivable. I imagine that only those of us who’ve experienced this profound a loss (whatever the exact relationship), can actually begin to feel what I mean, given the shifting, abstract substance of this supposed fact.

So because I can’t get my head around it (perhaps I haven’t properly accepted it? I don’t know), sometimes it’s as if he is still here, just in the room next to us, working hard as ever while you and I play. I talk to him, about him, and behave in some ways at if he is here (physically). We say ‘Goodnight Daddy’ to his photo some evenings, and his things are still around us.

 

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That’s what I hope you don’t mind: that your mummy still can’t adjust to it being just the two of us; in my head we are still three. I don’t apologise for it, but I do hope you don’t mind.

Xxx

**

” You are the other half of me.

And our two halves together made three”.

 

 

 

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The Christmas magic was silent and invisible….

DSC04815Eight years ago tonight Steve and I met in my best friend’s kitchen.

These are her words, written and read for our wedding.

Xxx

 

A boy and a girl

There was once a girl who laughed and danced and travelled. Everyone told her she was beautiful and special and loved and she was surrounded by family and friends.

Some nights she would visit one of her friends and they would drink wine together and talk and laugh and wonder about the world. When the wine ran out they drank cups of tea and talked about God and the oceans and holidays and reality television.

The years went by and the girl still laughed and danced and travelled. A wondering began. The girl and her friend grew older. The girl still visited her friend and they talked about love and faith and children and growing old.

The wondering grew.

Sometimes in the midst of being beautiful and special and loved a little sliver of loneliness would sneak in.

On Christmas Eve a boy walked past the friend’s house and was invited in for a cup of tea. The boy talked about how he worked and travelled. He had nowhere else to be just then so he stayed and they had more tea and watched the CBeebies pantomime.

The friend was waiting for the girl to arrive so she kept giving the boy more tea. When the girl did arrive, there was still plenty of tea so the boy and the girl and the friend talked and laughed and the Christmas magic was silent and invisible but the girl and the boy felt it and it was the beginning of everything.

The years went by and the girl still laughed and danced and travelled but now she was never alone and the girl knew that to the world she might just be one person, but to one person she was the world.

 

 

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I don’t want to be the me I was before

27th August 2018

We were driving through town doing errands,  baby and I, and on a mix CD with a rare instance of your handwriting on it, came a Keane track I used to listen to a lifetime ago.  While I was teaching, before my move to Greece, and before I had ever had my heart broken. Way  before I hit my thirties. Way way before I found you in Sarah’s kitchen on Christmas Eve nearly 8 years ago, fell in love with you almost instantly; before we bought the house, said “we do” and made our baby. The odd thing was, that in running errands,  simply shopping, like I’ve done hundreds of times alone, before, during and after you, it felt like just me. I mean that I’ve spent hours driving round in my/our cars alone just getting on with things. And that’s what I was doing at the point this track came on. Admittedly I had a little person in the back now,  but she was quiet. So in that moment I could have been me as I was 15 years ago, 8 years ago, 5 years ago, last year. At any of those points, pre love,  pre heart break, pre YOU…the true and forever love. It was pure me, extraneous to any external life context.

But that’s uncomfortable.

I don’t want to be the me I was BEFORE you. A smaller version, waiting for the one who’d make me brighter and bigger. A version that isn’t me AND you…I  want to be Bryony who is half of Steve and Bryony, who comes as a package and who doesn’t have to do the grown up life on her own. I am enough alone but I was better with you. I loved my identity with you. Steve’s Wife. That’s who I was always meant to be and who I adored being. Whatever else I wasn’t content with within myself, professionally and creatively, I felt blessed every day to be your wife. You more than fulfilled me.

Now though I can’t be your wife. I’m Widow. Eurgh. It’s a thick, heavy, ugly word that feels like voicing a concept through mud or blood or bile. That wife identify, the one that I was always meant to be and that I loved, has gone, even while I stamp my internal foot and declare that fuck that, I will always be your wife.

And then of course I’m now Mummy! This is a whole new identity about which reams and reams are written and spoken, given how this is one of the most fundamental changes a person can go through. I am no longer myself with my body that is mine. She reminds me of that every time she pulls at my top and buries her head in my cleavage. The furthest I’ve gone without her in ten months is the church yard for an hour alone with you. My every waking hour centres on her as do almost all of what should be my sleeping hours. I know that women frequently struggle with this change and this loss of their identity. They become labelled according to their children. “Oh you’re Tarquin’s mummy?”  We often lose our professional identity… by choice, by force, by stealth. Life as sexual beings often stops, and our home life, every moment and conversation and particle of energy, is directed towards the children. You lose the identity of you both as a couple.

The disquieting thing here though is that she hasn’t stolen my identity, or, to put it more positively, hasn’t seismically shifted my identity. Our little girl is in fact the bit that does tie my identity to you my darling, because without you there would be no her, or me as mummy. (To be honest, without her there would quite possibly no longer be me at all; she has kept me here even as I’ve wanted to follow you). She is my every moment’s evidence that you were here, that my identity was in your being here and being the other part of me. So instead of rewriting my identity she is the anchor to the one I had before I was Widow.

So who am I really? Am I just Bryony? Although I don’t have the schooling in philosophy to argue either way, it feels counter to every ounce of your love that has shaped me to claim that I am just me, that you could be extraneous to my identity. So who am I if you’re not here then? Wife? Or Widow? Can I be both at once? Or can I choose, as a sort of identity protest much like keeping my own name was? (How ironic that is now….). I’m now Mummy too, but am I a single mother? Or does widow trump that too? It’s like a game of rock, paper, scissors with marital and parental status. Unfortunately I think the one with the heaviest – most deadly? – weight behind it is Widow.  Swing that rock at someone and they know about it. But the one I will forever stamp my feet about and yell from the depths of my being is Wife.

I won’t ever stop being your wife.

Xxxxx

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Namaste

3rd August 2018

For Sue and all the yoga ladies.

It was our last Mother and Baby yoga class this last week. The end of another path on this strange journey we’re on. I’m sad to have got to this point. I’ll miss the camaraderie of sitting in a hall each week sharing how we’ve been doing, knowing that whether you’re doing ok or struggling that particular week or day, there’s a room full of women who know, and absolutely get it.

I’d never done yoga before being pregnant, but after our miscarriage in Autumn 2016, I went in search of local classes. I found Sue, at Revitalise Yoga & Massage Therapy.  We talked on the phone and I immediately liked her. She told me she’d had a lot of women come to her yoga classes as part of their journey of trying to get pregnant and she encouraged me to join in for a taster session one day soon. I went along one Friday in mid February and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The next day we discovered we were pregnant again. I remember calling to tell Sue, and her laughing that she’d known yoga to help, but that that was quick!

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When I joined, I felt like a complete newbie. I was only 12 weeks pregnant and was feeling pretty well at that point, but there were women with their beautiful bumps all the way up to the ‘any minute now’ stage. They all seemed to know what they were doing (pregnancy- and yoga-wise), and I did feel almost like an imposter. But Sue was warm and wonderful, and the classes started every time with the round-robin. Each woman introduced herself, how many weeks pregnant, and talked about how she was feeling and what she’d been up to. It was exciting to hear what I might be heading into, and though hearing other ladies’ experiences of discomfort and sometimes problems might have been a little daunting, it wasn’t, because everyone was concerned, sharing advice and experience. There were often quite a lot of laughs, and occasionally warnings of ‘TMI’. There were women who’d obviously known each other quite a while as they progressed through the weeks, and, since we had a long way to go before we met our NCT group, I hoped I might make some new ‘Mummy’ friends of my own through this class.

As the weeks passed and my belly turned to beach ball, I felt each week as if I was more and more part of this club, and watched as other ‘newbies’ joined at their 12, 13, 14 week mark. I started chatting in particular to a couple of women who tended to lay out their mats where I did, and I hoped we’d get to be friends. I loved arriving each week to Sue’s calm hall, rolling out my mat, stretching and breathing through a heavy summer into my favourite season of Autumn as the nights closed in and winter cosiness promised. We chanted ‘Om’ to open and close the practice, and I taught Steve to do it too. He could do it beautifully – long, and deep, and beautifully tuneful. It was one of my favourite things to watch him do, up close to our baby in my bump. I have his voice recordings of our hypnobirthing scripts, but I wish wish wish that I’d recorded him oming to Jafffa Cake.

I only had one more evening session to attend before our due date, when he died. From practising the yoga breath and exercises to get me through our first birth, I was suddenly trying to use the yoga Golden Breath exercise to get me through panic attacks and the days between him dying and Jaffa Cake’s birth. Sue came to see me, and when I said my mum would drive me to the last session, she insisted Mum sit in class with me. Mum would after all now be one of my three birth partners, and should understand what we’d been practising all these months for the birth. That was the night before the night I went into labour.

Somehow, with the hypnobirthing Steve and I had learnt together, and the yoga practices, I got through Jaffa Cake’s birth. I’d managed not to distress her in those six days, and despite not getting the home birth in a pool that we’d planned, I had the best birth possible under the circumstances. My midwives were absolutely amazing (they are owed a whole post to themselves) but the Golden Breath also played a huge part, and Sue’s other teachings too.

In the 9+ months since, the mother and baby yoga has been a highlight of our weeks, and a much needed space to breathe and share. The round-robins continued, as mothers sat with their babies on their mats, and we listened as each of us again reported on the weeks we’d had. The good and the bad, the tired and the exhausted. The fun and the fed-up. We ahhhed over the tiny ones who joined, and laughed as babies become mobile enough to migrate to other Mummy’s mats. I’m sure Jaffa Cake was recently trying to tell one of the other little girls to ‘back off…MY Mummy!’. We dared to try the turning-them-over-with-their-ankles move, and giggled over their reactions to the ‘Jelly on a Plate’ exercise. I listened to Sue’s advice and tried to follow it on all manner of things, from taking the lead from your baby to the obvious horror a qualified Doula has for Gina Ford’s sleep regime! When our babies weren’t in the mood for the baby massage, Sue encouraged us to simply lie down and take 5 minutes to ourselves. She sympathised and gently advised, but never lectured, and she adored our babies too. It’s blatantly obvious how much she loves being a mum, even though hers are all grown up. One day I had a bit of a meltdown after the session due to Jaffa Cake’s refusal to join in. Sue gently encouraged me to keep attending, if for nothing other than the company of the other mummies.

And there is one of the very key parts of why I will miss our Mother and Baby Yoga so much. We did make friends with the two mummies from pregnancy yoga, and though their babies are a couple of months older, we have continued as a little band. They are very important to me, as we have all had our unexpected journeys to travel since becoming Mummies, but from the beginning when Sue told just the two of them about Steve, they have been gentle and important. (Given the fact that all the other women at the class were pregnant, some very close to birth, sharing such a hideous event as your baby’s father, your husband, dying literally days before the birth, wasn’t appropriate). I have also made friends recently with other mummies with whom I have coffee and lunch (ok, cake) after each mother and baby session, and have had laughs and some heart-to-hearts as a result. I’ve gradually told most who I’ve chatted with about Steve, as seemed fitting. It’s hard to just blurt out what happened, but at the same time hard not to shout out loud what’s going on my head, constantly. “My husband died!”. And though obviously we all talk about sleep and weaning and crawling and poo, we’ve also talked about sanity, happiness and mental health. It’s surprising, and saddening, to realise just how difficult a time so many have, and the myriad ways in which it can be difficult. The world I think just assumes ‘sleep deprived’, but it’s oh so much more complex than that.

I’m so grateful for the role that yoga played in us getting (?!) and being pregnant, in our birth, in my becoming mummy and in my grief. I intend to continue it, with Sue’s grown-up yoga – to continue the attempt to protect my sanity as well as body. I will also always encourage anyone and everyone to try it, and make it part of their journey, because it’s been so important on mine.

Thank you Sue, and all the yoga ladies.

Namaste.

***

P.S. I just looked up what exactly Namaste means. So appropriate. (ref: here)

“The gesture Namaste … is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another…namaste literally means … “I bow to you.”

The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow….

the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart”

This last line sums up what I’ve felt with Sue and the yoga friends I’ve made, and more widely – NCT friends, my bereavement counsellor, colleagues from a past life.  I think I might make it my words to live by. Or perhaps I already have.

***

#nomumleftbehind #oktosay

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Being a bit ‘Miss Havisham’

21st July 2018

Time is flying with you my little Jaffa Cake, and I have no idea where it’s gone.  The first months were a new-born whirlwind, with added complexities muddling my mind, and this last month, with no more than 3 hours sleep in any one go for me, while you insist on frequenting the ‘all night boobie bar’….well I’m starting to blur a bit!!

We had our wonderful holiday with Auntie Maria in Greece, time spent with her, Auntie Lucie and Auntie Katie.  You were wonderful, and so flexible when all manner of routine or rhythm went out of the window. I was hoping that I might get us back into something like a sensible rhythm when we got home. We have, but it’s being determined entirely by you and I must say I’m not a fan. For the first time I’m starting to feel a bit baby-broken my darling. Plus I have no idea what I’m doing, and although one day I decide that I will feed you to sleep if that’s what you want (because why shouldn’t I?), and that I won’t lie down in the bed to get you to sleep because I will likely fall asleep too, the next day I change my mind. You make me sore sucking (not feeding, just sucking) all night, and I feel even more of a fog sitting up all night trying to get you to settle. My neck is cricked and my sanity is waning. Plus I can’t figure out how on earth it’s possible for a baby’s – anyone’s – body to know exactly when 2 hours is up, over and over.

Any number of people gently advise that perhaps it really is time to move you to the nursery, where you have a cot ready and waiting. That perhaps you wake so much because you’re aware I’m in the room, next to you, and I wake immediately on hearing you. We’re a feedback loop of wakefulness. But, honestly, I don’t want to move you out of my bedroom. I love having you in there (when you’re asleep and when I meet you in the wee hours once, possibly twice a night; not at 11pm, midnight, two, four AND six). I don’t want the bedroom that was mine and Daddy’s to be just mine. To be entirely honest though it’s because I’m being rather Miss Havisham about everything…..

Dickens’ Miss Havisham spent her life festering in her wedding dress after being jilted, and the wedding cake and breakfast sat untouched in the dining room, rotting.  The clocks were stopped at the time she was jilted. While I have changed my clothes, and the food isn’t left decaying on the table, since Daddy died I’ve been a bit funny about changing things. I haven’t moved his almost-empty shampoo bottles from the edge of the bath. His smart work shoes have sat at the top of the stairs where I see them constantly. My day to day clothes sit in a box under the bed because I can’t get into the wardrobe because of your crib, and I refuse to remove any of Daddy’s things to make room for mine in the drawers. The bonsai seedling we were trying to grow has also died, but it still sits in the window sill because I can’t bring myself to bin it. He bought it for me as a Christmas present and we planted it together. There’s an empty wine bottle next to it, which is going back with the full ones on the shelf, because we tasted and bought it together during our perfect summer last year. I just can’t let go of stuff, and can’t stand it to change.

There’s a hitch though, and it’s that with a new baby comes A TONNE of equipment to be made room for, and changes to a house that simply have to happen. There’s a stair gate at the top of the stairs, so Daddy’s shoes have to go elsewhere. The dining room has been rearranged from an elegant space to a hodgepodge to make room for your playpen. There’s a new, safer, coffee table in the lounge. These are all small changes, necessities, and Daddy and I would have made them anyway. But then there’s the necessity of a kitchen that actually works. 1/4 of the hob hasn’t worked in a couple of years; the large oven has never worked; the drawers are now coming apart and fighting back every time I open them. So I really could do with a new, working, kitchen. Life’s awkward enough. That’s the single biggest Miss Havisham element though. The thing is that if I change the kitchen, it won’t be the one in which I spent all that time with Daddy, mucking about, cooking, eating, clearing up together. Practising our wedding dance. It’s just a kitchen, but the fabric of it holds the memories of our time together. But bigger than even this is that as I change each little thing, because I have to, and because it’s your home now too, it will become more and more, down the line, ‘our home’: yours and mine. A home where a mummy and her little girl live. It will be full of life and our beautiful things and our memories. As it absolutely should be, and as I want it to be. But with each little change of furniture or layout or decor, it takes another stealth-step away from how it was when Daddy lived here. Until one day, those little steps all add up to one big, unfamiliar difference. And if Daddy were to walk back in, he wouldn’t even recognise it as his home. I don’t want to have to force it to be his home into the future as well, but the natural order of things as change happens makes me feel like I’m having to kick and scream and fight to preserve his part of it.

Which all brings me back to our sleeping arrangements.  It’s hard enough that today we lowered the mattress in your big cot so that I can safely put you in there when I nip to the loo or get dressed. It’s a change from how it looked when Daddy and I put it together.  As I unscrewed bits of it I could see Daddy bent over it putting it all together, about this time last year, while I sat (probably eating cake) with a very large pregnant tummy. If you go in the nursery to sleep (I’m not convinced that you’ll have anything to do with this plan though, to be fair), then your crib comes out of the bedroom, and it leaves me in the room at night properly alone, in a room that doesn’t quite look how it looked just before Daddy died. And it means that time is flying, and my tiny baby is heading towards toddlerhood; you’re almost crawling for heavens’ sake. Then you’ll be a child, and teenager and before I know it, you’ll be moving out.

So it’s not just about moving you out so I can get some sleep.

But please, could I have some?

xxx

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To everyone else.

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4th July 2018.

Think about the one single person in the world that you couldn’t bear to be without. Whoever it is. Partner. Sibling. Parent. Best friend. Child. The one who, if you were stranded on a desert island indefinitely, you would choose to take. Someone who makes the really mundane stuff in your life magical and meaningful, and who you never tire of being with and talking to. Someone who is a fundamental part of who you are.

Now think about the plans you’ve made with them; the dramatic plans and the little; short and long term. Going for coffee next weekend to catch up on all the stuff. The friend’s birthday do you were due to attend. Cuddling up on the sofa to watch that thing you always watch together – not with anyone else, but together, because it’s one of your special things (it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Game of Thrones with your lover or Harry Potter with your child). It might be the plans for your next holiday, discovering new cities or eating endless ice-cream on a beach; applying suncream…tedious, but a moment for connection and affection. It might be the wedding planning, the buying of a house, the making and bringing up of babies. It might be plans to finally retire and have more time together digging the allotment, walking the dog, or enjoying the garden you’ve spent time and effort nurturing. Or it could be plans to cook dinner together, or have an early night because it’s been a long week. It might simply be the plans to make plans. They might even be unspoken plans, the ones you have in your head, and you know that they have in theirs; plans that aren’t even plans, just the knowledge that you will do these things on into your future.

Have you chosen someone? Have you got that list of plans for time you’ll share with them? The list of things you’re taking for granted that you will do together, be it story times, washing up times, shopping times. Think about those plans, and how they make you feel. Excited. Content. Fulfilled. Just….just. They’re part of your life.

Now think about the memories you have with them that are just the two of you.  Not ones shared with third parties, but ones that only the two of you were witness to.  You might have been in a throng of strangers, but they weren’t witness to you two. Those chunks of your life that only two people on the planet know about or remember.  You and your special person. Hold those memories a moment, and feel how special it is that those pieces of your life were witnessed by that one other person that means the world to you.

Now simply imagine, try to conceive of, a parallel timeline to the one you are currently on, where that one special person has simply been wiped clean off.  No chance to prepare or readjust those plans or rewire the entire makeup of your brain and emotions. Just that they are gone. All those plans, dramatic and mundane, are obsolete. It’s not just that you have to adapt them to a different sort of execution, but that those plans are inexecutable. A fundamental element to those plans has simply been…evaporated. It’s not about it being plans, and plotting your life out, or not. It’s about something so central to your life and your being, being simply gone. And those memories that only you and they were witness to? Imagine now that your witness has gone and can’t under any circumstances be called upon. You and only you hold those memories, and without your witness, the memories become more distant; so does that part of your life, and you. Those memories you’ve shared, viewable, knowable, by no-one but you. No-one to corroborate that part of your life, for the rest of your life. Are you sure they even happened?

Try it. Those plans you’s got, gone, and the memories you made together on lock-down.

***

The last time I saw Steve we kissed ‘bye for the afternoon and night, but it wasn’t a massive deal. I had friends round, and he was heading out. He’d been running errands all morning. It wasn’t a long lingering goodbye, and when I went to bed, unlike every other night we were apart, I turned the light out without phoning him.  I never got to speak to him again.

But.

I know how much he adored me and our Jaffa Cake bump. And he knew how much I adored him. We had shown each other every day, in the execution of those mundane things, as well as in the big gestures. Each of us marvelled that the other had chosen us. I felt like the cat that got the cream every single day with Steve, and I told him so. I don’t have to wish I’d told him, or that I’d been nicer or kinder to him. Or that he’d been better towards me somehow.

I do wish in every moment though that I had him here to carry out the plans and the non-plans with. Every meal time, day out, bedtime. He is literally missing in every minute. I’m on that parallel time line and however hard I protest I can’t get back to the original one, where I can see exactly what life would have, should have been.

***

At the risk of sounding like Jerry Springer, if you suspect that the person you thought of at the start of this doesn’t know entirely what you feel about them, or you suspect perhaps you’re not being the best you could be to them, giving them fully what they deserve of you, then do something about it.  Because you never know when you might get launched across onto a parallel timeline where you can’t ever do anything about it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t be an arse….

I can’t sleep.

It’s literally the middle of the night, and our Jaffa Cake is likely to wake for a feed/cuddle/reassurance any time, so I should be sleeping while I can – “sleep while the baby sleeps” – but I can’t.  I miss you.  We’ve had more nights alone, ‘unsupervised’, this week than pretty much all the nights we’ve had alone in seven months.  By my design, because I’ve felt ready (readier) this week.  Actually because I’ve felt like I need time to stop talking and distracting myself.  I’ve wanted time to access you properly and alone.  Lying in the dark I can at the same time both not conjure you up, and yet also feel you right here with me.  You feel so removed, so long gone, yet as much a part of me and as close as you ever were.  While there are days, weeks, where I feel a throughly unwanted and disgusting detachment from my emotions; and while I can lie here and feel the expanse of the bed empty next to me (because tonight our girlie is happily sleeping in HER bed, not ours!), there are also split seconds spliced in like happens in video, where I feel you sharp and piercing, as if you’d never left.  I want more of those moments, but they are more elusive than they were.  It doesn’t seem right that that’s the case only seven months into this.  I’d like you to be acute all the time, for many many years to come, because there is no ‘getting over’ you (woe betide anyone who ever suggests there is, or that I should….).

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I’d like to see you in my dreams again tonight, please.

But can you talk to me?  You refuse to talk to me in almost all of them, and though I wake pleased to have seen you and to have heard your voice, I’m left with another sorrow because you won’t talk to me and I don’t know why.  Given that we can no longer talk to each otheron this earth, in this lifetime, dreams are what I’ve got til I get to where you are.  So can you not be an arse about it please?

xxx

 

P.S. I loved your arse……

 

 

 

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“A ray of sunshine”

It’s been six months my darling little Jaffa Cake. So much has happened and in some ways so little. It’s been a weird sort of limbo time, and I have no idea how six months sped by at such a warp speed.

Though maybe that’s normal, and it’s what everyone meant when they said, “Time flies when you have a baby. Enjoy it while it lasts, because before you know it they’ve gone and grown up.”

You’re off for a walk with Granny at the moment in your big-girl pushchair. You’ve just about grown out of the length of the pram – sob! – and you’re so intrigued by everything that having you lie down all the time seems unfair, like I’m cheating you out of experiencing your own life. So you’re in the pushchair, ready to see the tulips and daffodils and the world in its blazing sunshine, instead of just staring at the sky. This week really is glorious sunshine. I’m sorry to say that this isn’t normal for April in England, but after the winter we’ve had, it seems right to average it back out. We nearly all love the sun (though you will discover in time the quirky Britishness of whingeing all winter that it’s cold only to start huffing and complaining the minute it gets about 20 degrees for more than a weekend!) Personally I’ve loved the amount of snow we’ve had this winter, because for me, snow is your Daddy. Walks in the snow with the snow-dog; skiing/snowboarding; Cresta Running; and one of my favourite days with him: a romantic walk on a huge frozen lake in Switzerland. And of course The Proposal. Knee deep in snow, a late-night walk, and then actually down on his knee in the snow.

Now though, the sunshine is your Daddy. Lazy days in the garden, tidying, planting, mowing the lawn, drinking wine with lunch. Both of us working under the parasol, as I am now, hearing the red kites shrieking in the sky above. Time to start thinking about where we might go in the summer, opening the windows in the house and enjoying that beautiful late afternoon sun in the lounge while he works on the sofa next to me. And of course, at the first sign of a beautiful weekend day, all the bikers spill out on to the country lanes to blow the cobwebs out of their helmets and minds after a winter off the road. It was quite hard seeing them all last weekend as we drove in the car. But at the same time, every biker reminds me of your Daddy and the times I was honoured enough for him to share with me, so I love to see them. I shouldn’t, but I do. And then I remember our magical trips away, on the bike in the sun to France, in the car on our wonderful road trips together, on a plane arriving somewhere where the light dazzles and blinds you with brilliance when you first arrive. Many of these times just me and him, when I had him all to myself, sharing him with no-one. And many of them when I shared him with our friends and sat there smug like a satisfied cat because he was mine. Especially last year when he was mine and I was his, and so was the rapidly expanding bump he’d given me. You grew through a year of splendid summer and the many trips we made. Last year was especially brilliant because of you; while we lived it, and now, in my memory. So sunshine is your Daddy and my life with him.

Obviously though, this winter just gone has been missing all of the sunshine, physical and metaphorical.

Except. We had a little ray of sunshine delivered in October, and she’s been steadily growing and pulsing with life ever since. Her smile bursts onto you in the morning when you lean over the cot, and (mostly) keeps going for the rest of the day. On the nth day of grey and grismal wintry dullness, when I’ve not wanted to lift my head off the pillows or pull the curtains, she comes into the room in someone’s arms and, in stretching her own arms out, kicking her delicious little feet, she splashes drops of sunlight and lightness in all those murky corners. Prancing and hopping about ribbiting like a frog in the kitchen to make her giggle, to keep her going through the last witching hour or two while I have dinner, she makes me laugh and smile, even while I’m missing him. Her sunny attitude whilst trying out the bright colours of carrot, broccoli, cucumber and butternut squash this week have proven that my stressing about the whole weaning thing was unnecessary because it is simply fun to watch her try. Propping her up and quietly watching, not interfering, while she figures out the stacking rings toy in a puddle of sunshine one early evening…that was sunshine in sunshine.

Thank goodness for this little wonder. You’ve kept me, and a few others, going this last half year, through the sad days of this winter.

You are a little ray of sunshine.You are my sunshine.

xxx

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All the many griefs

It’s our anniversary this week.

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Someone dies and we talk about The Grief.  Their Grief.  The Grief Process.  It’s ubiquitous, heavy.  Suffocating at times.  Like when you hide under the duvet and fill the air pocket with increasingly dense exhaled breath, until you have to throw back the cover to breath again.  With grief you can’t throw it off.

It’s not one grief though.  There are so many different griefs all wrapped up in it. Actually all tangled, like so many separate ribbons bundled and woven in together.  Sometimes you can’t tell one from the other.  But what are they, if not simply one grief at the loss of a loved one?  How can the death of one person be more than one grief?  Well my Darling, these are they.  These are what I’m left with….

There’s obviously the fact that the single most important person in my life has gone.  You’re the one I shared everything with, every thought. (I’m sure you wished I’d stop talking sometimes, but you never said so.  In fact you said you liked it). I have friends and family who I can share with, different people for different shares.  But with you I didn’t have to filter anything, and you wanted the big stuff as well as the minutiae of our life.  Oh, and there it is.  The key.  It was our life.  My life was our life.  However much we maintained our own interests and identities, we were us, and so I was you.  So without you…..well.  I’m grieving you, but I’m also grieving us and therefore grieving me.

That’s three griefs right there.

I’m grieving the life that we had planned together.  Not planned as in detailed-it-all-in-a-spreadsheet, but more broadly.  The children, your business developments, the books I hoped to write, the adventures we would continue to have with little people in tow.  There should have been decades yet.  Life is full of surprises, so we didn’t know, but we had a bloody good idea of what we had in store with each other, and even the stuff we had no idea about, we would have tackled together.  Well now I have this (hopefully) long life of decades stretching out ahead but the path is now obscure.  I don’t know where I am now, what to expect, and given that this whole journey of parenthood is completely new and is a minefield for EVERY parent, with babies/children launching grenades of new development every few weeks, sending what little grip on life you think you might have finally achieved back into chaos again, well, I feel completely lost.

That’s not a comfortable place for a mildly anxious control perfectionist.  Ah – so I’m grieving the calm, normalising effect you had on me, as well as the whole life we had planned.

Now let’s talk about the baby stuff.  That’s a whole tangled ball of griefs on its own.

There’s the grief of not having you here to help; you’re not there next to me in the night when I feed her, or watching me cuddle her, change her, read to her.  You’re not there to help me navigate that minefield of weaning and nursery choices.  I won’t ever get to watch quietly while you and she play together.  I so wanted to see her cuddled asleep as a newborn on your bare chest.  That scene is a whole grief in its naked self.  There’s the grief for her, for the relationship she’s lost.  It can’t be replaced.  She hasn’t got Daddy to throw her in the air, run to when Mummy’s being ‘mean’, play games with, learn the gadget stuff from.  Reading about the importance of the example you would have set for her of how men should speak respectfully to women, ensuring that she would expect and settle for nothing less as she grew up…now I’m grieving that too.  I can’t replicate that without you.  I can tell her, but she would have had it modelled every single day.  I’m grieving for her for when they do ‘all about the family’ at school, and when children either innocently or otherwise say to her, ‘You don’t have a Daddy’.  There’s a grief for the richness of the life that she would have had with us both, with what we together could provide.  I gave up work, and beyond bereavement benefit (18 months in total) and Maternity Allowance (a few months more), have no regular income.  Grief for a security I thought she had.  I’ve already had to grieve the missing figure of you at her birth, her Christening, every one of her first experiences.  You would have been grinning ear to ear at every one of them.

Aha – there’s another.  That’s the grief for what you’ve missed out on, and what you will continue to miss out on every day for the rest of her childhood and beyond.   You were so proud and excited while we were pregnant – all our family and friends could see it – and I couldn’t wait to see you as Daddy, to see your sheer delight in her.  Every minute that you should have been here taking part is a moment of grief because you are missing what you so looked forward to.  I have to sidestep thinking about this one in particular, because I think its potential for heart- and gut-twisting agony is too much to deal with at the moment.

So those are all pretty big things.  But what about the minutiae?  You made clearing out the gutters fun, for heaven’s sake.  Trips to the dump, pruning the buddleias.  Sharing wines with you.  I’m not drinking now while breastfeeding, but I don’t know how I’ll feel after that about enjoying wine.  At the moment I have a lurking sense of avoidance.  If I can’t share it with you, I don’t want to take part at all (wine, not life as a whole.  Though of course that has run through my mind many times these last 5+ months).

Which brings me to me.  Part of who I am is someone who loves travel, wine and salsa.  But I can’t imagine travelling without you to share it with; don’t want to drink the wine or do that knowledge course without you; and am genuinely quite petrified that if and when I do try to dance again, even with our dear friends, that it will just never be good enough because you’re not there to dance with.  So large chunks of myself are in the firing line of grief.  Never mind the fact that I finally felt in these last seven years like I knew who I was, that I felt gorgeous because you proved it to me every day in what you said and did. Now me as a woman has gone.  There is no sexual contact available now you’re gone, and so despite the closeness – and beauty – of a nursing baby, and the comfort hugs any of my friends and family can and will provide, I feel physically closed off and now feel a sort of wall around me. That part of me is gone, and possibly for good.  I’ll never be pregnant again – another grief all of its own – and she’ll never have siblings (I’ll not go to that one right now.  I don’t think I can crawl back out of that black hole once I fall in).  I’ll never have the love of my life to dance with or fall asleep with or kiss.

But here’s another, and this one is a tangle round my neck tightening and loosening and tightening again.  I’m not yet forty.  Time yet to find someone and remarry.  Eurgh.  So I’m grieving that the wife that I found myself, that identity, has gone gone gone.  But the possibility of oneday meeting someone else parades itself unwanted through my mind and grief, leaving me feeling like a cheat.  It’s a huge betrayal of you, that the thought could even take shape, and so I grieve because I’m now a woman whose brain considers that there could be someone who isn’t you.

I’m disgusted with that.

Have you lost count yet?

Here are some more for good measure.

The woman I was goes with the life I had.  Of course it was changing with Jaffa Cake, but everything else too?!  The richness of the life I had has gone.  The meals (at home as well as dining out) with you; shared films.  Game of Thrones.  Strictly Come Dancing.  Our own life full of dancing and music and books.  Our days out and road trips.  Support for each other in everything.  All gone.

The love letters I’ll never find.  You didn’t know you were leaving.  This was no illness giving us time to prepare so there are no ‘P.S. I Love You’ style letters for me to find.  I’ve looked.

Oh, and in case you weren’t convinced by how complex ‘The Grief’ is….it’s not even the case that the many griefs line up one by one next to each other and then perform some sort of weaving magic, entangling and entwining themselves.  Because in addition to that, some of them are layers within layers of each other.  I am grieving the fact that you haven’t been here for Jaffa Cake’s beautiful early days, and that I will never get this time back again; but on top of that, it’s contaminated time.  Our birth story is beautiful, but even that is shot through with layers of something other. I haven’t been able to access these early months fully in their joy in the way that our NCT and other friends have, because of the grief, and that breaks my heart on another fracture line.  One layer of grief generating another.

Thanks for that.

And now I feel like a bitch because that dig would hurt you, and that is something I never wanted to do.  More, different grief.

I’ve lost count, despite the fact that they parade themselves through my mind every day.  Though all these many griefs are actually more like a writhing pit of serpents than an orderly parade.

I’ve not lost count of the anniversary though.  We only got to three.

Should have been four this week my darling.

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XXX

 

 

 

 

 

(Wedding photos by award winning Sam Hayward Photography.  Thank you Sam x)

 

 

 

 

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In kaleidoscopic anticipation of my first Mother’s Day with you

I thought this one was going to be mostly sad, and then it sort of wrote itself a little differently….it’s long, but Very Important my darling, so do read to the end.

***

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We are doing amazingly well, my perfect little Jaffa Cake, and we’ve made it to our first Mother’s Day together.  A celebration of me being your Mummy (!), of all the things mummies do, of all the wonderful women (and girls) out there who’ve made and grown a life and who’ve then signed, not in ink or blood* but in life force, their dedication and devotion to those little lives.  A dedication and devotion that stretches through months and years and decades, because it’s there from tiny baby to great big grown up, until those babies have babies of their own.  And then it appears to flow over to that next generation, like a waterfall filling first one level to the brim, then cascading down to fill the next.  There are Grannies and Grandmas and Nannies and Omas everywhere to prove it.

This Mother’s Day for me is a sort of kaleidoscope.  In the past, my focus was naturally on my Mum, your Granny.  My mother, and all she has done and continues to do for me and us, despite me being a great big grown up.  From loving my ridiculous dog as much as me and sharing custody; to supporting my teenage choice to be veggie; to proofreading and loving (crying over) what I write; to doing ironing when life got hectic and Daddy and I considered finding someone to pay to do it for us.  And the billion other things, big and small; the things I’ve said thank you for; the things I haven’t. Now her Mother’s love overflows to you, in her songs, nappy changes, hand knitted cardies; she takes you for walks so I can write, and continues to do mounds and mounds of your laundry to help prevent me from sinking under the weight of the trio that is new motherhood, new widowhood, and now sole grownup in our little house.  I was always grateful and thankful.  But now I actually understand.

Of course this year….I’m a new mother, so it’s also about you; there’s a ‘Mother’s Day’ family tree line that flows down from me now, as well as the one that reaches up.  This new branch was so long in the growing that it feels like you’ve been here forever and I almost can’t remember when you weren’t here in one way or another.  I’ve said recently that your Daddy was my purpose in life; well now it’s completely and totally you.  From the moment I (you) wake up**, through every request for milk, every need for Mummy-comfort, to the moment you go to bed, and all through those hours of night, you are my purpose and priority.  Occasionally I get side-tracked and think that the priority is the phone ringing, or my need for a bath to deal with the puddle of your regurgitated milk gathering in my cleavage, or to tidy up the jumble-sale chic that has taken over the living room; but mostly I know that that the priority is you.  And honestly, you are my very favourite priority.  When I do have to address the other genuine priorities of inheritance tax and probate and banking and other shitty-Wednesday paperwork, it’s you that cheers me up and hauls me back out of the foul and foul-mouthed mood that I pitch forward into.  It’s you that’s kept me sane (and I mean that in its genuine, profound sense, not the oft-used flippant sense; given Daddy’s absence and the horror of widowhood and potential for ‘baby-blues’ and worse, it wouldn’t have been surprising had I lost my mind, or failed to bond with you; indeed I’m almost surprised I didn’t.  But I absolutely know that I would have lost my mind had you not been here my little Bravestar).  But, despite its unwanted sibling Widowhood, Motherhood is proving wonderful, and your chattering, wriggling, smiling, pondering of your feet, and everything else you do is amazing.  And though sometimes I get anxious because I don’t know what I’m doing from this point on (weaning – Dear God, I’m not prepared for that!), because I’m not sure if you’re too hot, too cold, hungry, too full, teething, bored or what, actually, for a change, I’m going to tell myself that I’m doing a Bloody Good Job.

However, this year there’s the light-shatter kaleidoscope of Mother’s Day, because Grandma’s youngest baby has gone.  It’s not the order of things, and it’s not fair.  And for all those Mothers merrily celebrating the day, there are others whose babies never made it to birth, to baby-hood, to childhood, to adulthood.  And then like Grandma, those whose babies did make it to great big grown up, but left far earlier than they should have, and before their Mothers.  Not the natural order of things.  Daddy adored all his family, and for tomorrow, as every year, would have organised with Auntie D to take Grandma for dinner, for Mother’s Day.  Except this year, he would have had that family tree branch growing down to you as well; he would have absolutely loved sharing you with his own family, with his Mum; he’d have been unspeakably proud.  So I share you for him, in the ways we would have done, and more.  Grandma, our Thursday night pyjama-party bed mate, who sings and cuddles and and rocks you; who talks with me about what Daddy was like as a young boy, as a teenager, and as a young man, before I knew him.  And who tells me how he was happiest and most himself in the years he was with me and then preparing for you.  Grandma, who was always so proud of him, and would have been increasingly so as she watched the last of her babies become a parent himself.  Grandma, whose Mother’s heart is broken this year on Mother’s Day.

Of course for me Daddy’s absence is heightened on these first instances of every special day, and Mother’s Day is no exception.  It might be ‘Mother’s Day’, and you and I are here together for it, but an enormous part of me being a mummy was your Daddy.  We did it entirely together, and if he’d been here he would have made such an event out of it for us – all three of us.  He’d be so proud of you, but also of me, and he would have let me know it, and marked the day in some magical way.  So I may be telling myself I’m doing a Bloody Good Job, and everyone around us may be telling me too, but honestly – I want to hear the man I adore telling me I am, and that he is bursting with pride and love for me because of it…..So the soft cuddle that is this Mother’s Day also has kaleidoscope-shard edges to it too.  I don’t really know how I’ll feel on the day as a result…..but I will do my best my beautiful girl.  (I do suspect that come June, and Father’s Day, I might need to take a leave of absence from the entire day, as Daddy has done…..)

Finally though, another facet of this kaleidoscope Mother’s Day, one that I hadn’t expected….it’s always been about saying thank you for what my Mum does.  But this year, my little Pill-bug, there’s a whole explosion of light that’s bouncing off all the unutterably wonderful Mothers you and I know.  In having you, and with all the things the people around us have done since Daddy died and you arrived, I not only now fully appreciate my Mum and what she does, but for the first time see that it’s about all of the mums.  The mothers who struggle through pregnancy (and the ones whose hearts are there but whose bodies haven’t yet caught up and conceived, or whose bodies don’t hold on when they do); those who have to fight through trauma at birth (who really do sign up for this job in blood); whose babies have a tough start to life in NICU incubators; those who make it through to find themselves besieged by the hormone imbalances of post-natal-depression; the single mothers counting infinite minutes and hours through the nights alone, and the equally unending, relenting days that follow those nights; the married and cohabiting mothers whose partners have gone back to work after woefully short paternity leave, suddenly left to those same relentless lonely days; the mothers cramming as much fun and experience in with their babies before the weeks and months have snowballed past them and dumped them at the door of ‘Back to work! Maternity leave is over!’.  The ones who’ve figured out how to be loving and nurturing despite missing out from their own mothers.  The home-edders, the nursery-school choosers, the homework-anxious.  The ones who, despite all of their own motherhood worries, managing homes, relationships, children, jobs, businesses, education, health, griefs, as well as their own sanity, have still found the heart and energy to care for and about us, in myriad ways.  They’ve held and breathed us through labour; brought us food, medicine, love, shopping, counselling, practical gifts, fun gifts; sent us Valentines cards and happy post; given us their daytimes, their nightimes, their sympathy, their encouragement, advice, and experience.

Their strength.

So this, our first Mother’s Day, is about Granny, Grandma, you and me my darling,  But it’s also about all those Mothers who’ve got us to where we’ve got because they’re members of this club I’ve recently joined, and they know the joy and mystery and anxiety; they know there are a billion questions, and no clear answers to any of them. They’ve pulled me into this sisterhood of motherhood and helped to keep us going.

#nomumleftbehind

Happy Mother’s Day

xxx

 

 

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From this Mummy, and her daughter, to all the Mothers we love on Mother’s Day, especially

Granny and Grandma, Kate and Debbie; Sarah B, Paula, Rach, Molly, Natalie and Steph. Sarah C, Tania, Jo, Abby, Sarah S and Lauren; Andie, Emma, Sharon, Jane and Corrina; the Salsa family Mummies; our Bumps and Beyond NCT Mummies; Yoga Sue and the yoga Mummies; and Very Special Midwife Liz.

***

 

*Sometimes, yes, in blood.  For some, there’s lots of blood; at birth, and beyond (chronic nosebleeds, anyone?).

**To be fair, sometimes whoever has stayed with us overnight sorts you out with nappies and cuddles first thing, to allow me an extra hour or so sleep.  I’m very grateful for that.

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On International Women’s Day….

8th March 2018

 

My darling daughter on International Women’s Day –

For you and your friends, and all girls alike

I wish freedom to discover the world

In your own way.

Be it messy, cautious, exuberant or restrained.

You needn’t be meek, perfect, seen and not heard;

You are not lesser; you need not conform to “Good girl”

If compliant and subservient a ‘good girl’ make.

 

I wish for you the opportunities to learn what it is you love,

Taking detours and dead ends and winding meanders on the way.

I wish for you the joy of books and dance, art and sport and play,

And all the things the world contains.

I wish for you grazed knees from climbing trees

and dirt on your face; in your hair; on your clothes

(And I wish for me to remember this wish

when you hurl yet more on the laundry pile!).

I wish for you friends who will hold you tight and stand up with you

when you find those causes that set your blood to roar.

I wish for you the chance to pursue your dreams, big or small,

and here’s the key:

Whether they are pink, blue, yellow or rainbow striped.

Some in this world lack imagination to see that

your dress can be blue, or green or grey.

(or indeed that your dress can be trousers, or dungarees).

That being a girl doesn’t mean you should aspire

to no more than “Future WAG”.

Glitter and sparkle and pink are fun, if you so choose,

but you may absolutely wear tigers and pirates and dinosaur print,

And be no less a girl for it.

If that is what you choose.

You may play dolls and hairdressing

(I hope you will – you may ALWAYS practice on me!)

 

BUT!

 

Know that you may also roar and brandish your cutlass

from our tree fort

And while you may choose to wear ribbons and bows and flowers in your hair,

I want you to know, deep in your bones,

And to show, for those not so sure,

that you are still

As bright, as capable, as entitled to opine,

As any boy or man.

That you can drive a truck, or engineer a marvel; you can change the world,

Or simply partake in it, but on your terms;

As a girl, as a woman, as a human.

Not on terms restricted by your opposite sex, or by your own ‘fairer’ sex

(And sadly my darling girl, our fairer sex is oftentimes not fair to itself).

Terms restricted by history, by habit, by myopic and blinkered views

lacking in eduction and imagination.

Use your brain, your heart, and your spirit,

and rise above the ceiling.

 

Be brave, not perfect.

Be you, whoever you want to be.

 

xxx

 

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A memory of being with Steve on the bike

I wrote an article for Steve’s motorbike club magazine a couple of years ago.  Without trying to encourage anyone to get on one now, it explains a little of why I enjoyed riding pillion with him, and perhaps some of what he would have said about why he loved it so much.

***

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June Weekend Meander around the Somme

Friday 10th – Sunday 12th June 2016

My husband, Steve,  and I have in the last year discovered the joy of packing up the panniers and top box of our Honda VFR1200 and heading off onto the – hopefully – open road.  So in June, given the prospect of warmer air (on an average biking day I wear something like 7-9 layers and 2 snoods to combat the cold!) we booked a last minute Channel Tunnel trip over to Calais, and packed up, this time leaving a bit of space for a couple of bottles of wine. 

We’ve done the Chunnel before but always in a car, but we’re sold again by bike.   It was so quick that I barely had time to dig myself out of all my kit and then get myself hermetically sealed up again before we arrived.  Steve had originally planned an Airbnb for the night (we discovered Airbnb on our fortnight Scandinavia trip on the bike last September) but since we didn’t get a reply at our short notice, he managed to find and book something while we were waiting for the train to pull away.  I’m the kind of person who lives by lists and is entirely planned and organised; I’m not very good at spontaneous, but having the bike really does make me want to be, so we’re working on just seeing where we end up and finding what’s out there. I’m not a fan of the mass market hotels if there’s something with character on offer, so vetoed the Ibis and requested an auberge instead.  We were heading for France after all.

In the end Steve booked us a fabulous farm/bnb in the middle of nowhere, easily found in the dark only 30 minutes from the tunnel.  The Ferme de la Raterie in Wierre-Effroy was all tucked up for the night when we arrived at nearly midnight.  The Internet may be 24/7, but they closed reception at 10pm – about the time we booked on line.  Something to bear in mind when being spontaneous and booking at the very last minute! We were lucky though as the owner’s dog heard us and so she came down in dressing gown to sort a room.  I’m glad Steve found this place, and we’d definitely recommend it as a stopover, or even as a base, because the room was clean and cosy but with plenty of space for charging helmet comms and all the travel kit, and we slept well. In the morning we discovered we were surrounded by a large garden full of islands of flowers, and fields and barns of cows, donkeys and geese. There was also Josephine the terrier who terrorised the cows in an amusing Fenton-like manner.  The breakfast was pleasant, though nothing special, but the location and peace of the Ferme de la Raterie, and the amenable owners, were well worth the stay, setting us up for a full day of touring.

The morning was warm, and sitting pillion behind Steve was a relaxing pleasure as we sped through pockets of air scented with old hay, warm tarmac, wild garlic, flowers and sometimes that damper, shaded air under clusters of trees.  The fleeting scents that sweep through my helmet as we bike through the world is one of the things I most love about travelling this way; I can watch the world whisk by but be more a part of it than when in a car. 

The only thing we had planned to do as part of this trip was visit a couple of the British Cemeteries, since a couple of my ancestors are buried in the Somme, and I’ve recently got into ancestry.com with my parents. I’d got the grave references of each and Steve had discovered when plotting the routes that the two cemeteries were literally within minutes of each other.  We were headed first for Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery in Saulty, then Bienvillers British Cemetery.  We stopped for lunch and to buy some flowers (that’s a challenge when all you’ve got are panniers, top box and a tank bag!) but simple roses worked well in the end.  Had we had more time,  a wander round the town of Doullens would have been interesting, where they piped current chart music into the streets (it did feel as if Lindy hop or swing would have been better suited somehow).  The shell of the Eglise St Pierre in town looked like it might have been worth a look too, but somehow the hours and whole days flash by so quickly when meandering about on a bike tour, so we didn’t really have time.

It did seem to me that details in the landscape we drove through echoed the WW1 theme of our first day, since everywhere colourful battalions of flowers stood proud above the green; there were ranks of lupins, irises and white calla lilies and troops of brief day-lilies.  There were tended gardens and wild hedgerows full of colour, as if people and nature had deliberately splashed vitality across the earth here instead of the mud and blood of the past.  Poppies puddled in gardens, and solitary splashes dripped at the side of the roads and edges of the fields.  Squadrons of wind turbines which dotted the landscape, and avenues of trees, all stood silent sentry over the fields, as if providing a guard of honour to the thousands who’ve sunk into the ground and into history here, and I spent miles writing lines of poetry inside my helmet.  It was an endlessly compelling and attractive landscape to ride through.

We stopped at each of the two cemeteries and laid the flowers, impressed by the colour and care taken here with the planting of more bright flowers amongst the gravestones, and only then realising that we were here in the centenary year of the Battle of the Somme.  After paying respects, we continued the route West, the pale grey of the frequently empty road ribboning its way through these ancient fields, white tacking seeming to stitch it down the earth.  I find riding as pillion a mesmerising way to travel.

At some point in the late afternoon we decided to head to Dieppe for the night and arrived into the town for early evening, all timber-frame houses, turrets and towers and decorative brickwork.  There was a bit of a debate as to where to stay (given we were still being spontaneous about things), and given that there were apparently no auberges available I had to agree to the 1960s concrete block that TripAdvisor said was one of the best here.  Give it its due though, the Hotel Aguado was perfectly comfortable, clean, welcoming and modern enough, even if it lacked the charm or character of some of the other older parts of Dieppe.  We found the staff to be helpful and obliging, suggesting we park the bike right outside the glass-fronted entrance under cover where they could see itall through the night, and storing our helmets safely for us the next morning while we walked up to the castle.  A recommendation for the oysters we were after was made for dinner and a table booked for us too.  So despite the concrete exterior, we’d recommend this for a comfortable stopover.  We’d also recommend the oysters, sole and turbot at ‘Le Sully’ restaurant, which although a bit of an extravagance price-wise (9 oysters though for each starter!), since the previous  night’s banquet was service-station baguettes and a few Pringles, we justified it. After dinner we had a wander down to the pebble beach, and enjoyed another solid night’s sleep. 

Next morning was a bit of a downpour which pretty much continued all the way back up to Calais, but we’ve braved worse in Scandinavia and our kit (and we) have been tested pretty much to the weather’s limit, so we got on with a patisserie breakfast and a visit to the ancient castle.  There was a good view of the town from up there, although the museum itself wasn’t particularly impressive.  There was a lot of ivory on view (apparently the largest collection in Europe) but we didn’t really learn very much at all about the castle or the city, other than that ivory was once one of the main trades here.  The two huge narwhal tusks on show however were worth the EUR4.50 entry fee in themselves.  We hung around the castle hoping the rain would let up, but in the end gave in. Steve donned his waterproofs, I sealed myself in and we headed back up towards Calais via a Medieval city, St Valery Sur Somme.  We stopped there for lunch with a view over the bay at the mouth of the River Somme, but although it wasn’t cold, it did continue to bucket down with rain, so being accessed on slick cobbles and not much fun for Steve or the bike, we didn’t actually see the ancient city.  Another reason to make another trip another time, because the pictures do look worth a visit and we do like old places.  By later in the afternoon and approaching Le Touquet, the rain had largely stopped so we planned a break for a coffee and a hot chocolate with lots of cream.    Driving in and out of Le Touquet the houses reminded me of Edwardian gentility with a modern twist, although the season apparently hadn’t started and there were a lot of apartments with a blinded, cataracted sort of look, their grey shutters still pulled down.  There were plenty of people about though wandering the streets, but it did feel a little like the town hadn’t fully come out of hibernation yet.  Though of course that meant more space to move and better cafe seats!

The last stretch of road was the D940.  Mostly smooth roads, wide bends and long fast stretches between the dunes; sea to the left and over the cliffs and wide undulating fields to the horizon on the right.  I held on tight and enjoyed the ride. We passed a couple of WWII bunkers being swallowed back into the grasses, the land slowly absorbing its history.  There were also a couple of museums, and given the pleasure of the ride in this area, we’d like to go back that way sometime to spend more time meandering these villages and exploring the past.  There’s obviously plenty to see so, combined with those roads and views, would work well as another long weekend on the bike.

Very close to the Chunnel we spotted advertising hoarding for ‘Franglais Vins’ – so obviously found it hoping to stock up as far as the top box would allow!  We missed them by 30 minutes though; for future reference it closes 7pm weeknights and Saturday, but 6 on a Sunday.  So we’ll remember that on our return Calais trip!  We hadn’t taken account of the fact that it was the first weekend of the Euros (though we knew beforehand and had deliberately avoided going anywhere near any game towns), so there was an epic queue curling up to the check-in booths at the Chunnel; the privilege of 2 wheels got us waved through though, so reckon we saved at least a 40 minute wait.  We missed the ‘duty free’ as a result but that just gives us another excuse to go back.  So we’ve booked the August bank holiday weekend in St Malo, on the bike.

All in all this was a fabulous weekend.  There are things we didn’t have time for, which simply means another entry in the ‘places to go’ list, but plenty that we did have chance to enjoy.  Some of it was planned, and some of it was spontaneous.  Spontaneous is working, thanks to having the bike.  With a little bit of luck we ended up in great overnight hotels and skipping the Chunnel queues, and with Steve’s looking at the map every so often and picking a route, we rode a lot of very enjoyable stretches. And despite the rain on Sunday, I’d recommend this area for a ride in June, if for nothing but the wide open fields, battalions of flowers and splashes of colour insisting that summer is on its way!

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I’ve come to hate Wednesdays; and so some advice from a voice of experience.

25th January 2018

 

I wake up on Wednesdays really not wanting to take part in the day, because they’ve become rather an admin day.  I’ve come to hate the admin…which is odd because my day jobs for the last decade have been built on my admin skills.  I’m a fairly organised sort of person (cue snorting from colleagues, family and some friends in the know). I have a spreadsheet for pretty much everything; I love spreadsheets, and lists, and Evernote.  I organised our wedding using a simplified Gantt chart and spreadsheets, and naturally when Project Baby came along in early 2017, I revelled in setting up a colour-coded spreadsheet of everything we would/might need, and recording each item as we ordered and bought it.  As the weeks of pregnancy counted up, and the bump grew bigger, the ‘stuff’ gathering around the house for the arrival of Jaffa Cake took over, and the spreadsheet filled up.  I enjoyed all of it – every package and every spreadsheet cell.

At the same time I tried to file away the as-yet un-filed paperwork building in the study.  I re-labelled our folders, threw away and shredded unwanted papers and neatly (sort of) organised the stuff we were keeping.  There was a pile a couple of inches deep of papers I needed to go through with Steve to know where to put them.  This was in mid-summer.  I spent the next couple of months promising I would deal with those last few inches, but obviously with Project Baby there was always something far more interesting to be planning/buying/painting/organising.

So what’s the point? Well….I’m not entirely sure what my point is, or at least I don’t know how to concisely put it, but there is a point in here somewhere for the people I love and others in general…but I think it’s a depressing point.  For me, despite my previous love of organising and being organised, I have come to hate Wednesday because of the stuff I have to organise as a result of the death of the person I loved more than anything in the world.  I’ve learnt that when – and in spite of the fact that – this most hideous thing has happened, you are expected to produce information and documentation and completed forms by the tonne.  In the words of a very popular blogger*, I have had to make ‘eleventy billion’ phone calls, fill in ‘eleventy billion’ forms, and produce ‘eleventy billion’ copies of the f*%$ing death certificate.   I have had to find out from the bank the balance at date-of-death of every sole and joint savings and current account Steve had put his name to; I have had to provide original or certified copies of both his and my birth certificate, and our marriage certificate.  I have had to lay my hands on the land registry number of our home.  And here comes part of the point I think I’m trying to – depressingly – make.  All of this requires a pretty high level of organisation to pull off.  Do you know the land registry number of your property?  It’d hideous that I have to take his name off this house that was, is and always will be ours (until I’m gone and it’s our daughter’s).  But I had to find in the paperwork the bit of paper that has that number on it.  In the midst of grief and exploding nappies and a 3-month old’s cries and need for Mummy cuddles, I had to find this number.  I felt a moment of ‘smug’ when I went upstairs and found it immediately, in exactly the folder I expected to.  In contrast though, I felt fiery and shouty and stormy the day I tried to find the notes and reference number I made during the conversation with the AA about my renewal for breakdown cover and couldn’t find the bloody things.  They were THERE, on the table in THAT bloody pile.  ALL WEEK.  NOW THEY’RE NOT.  Deliberate shouty capitals, because I felt very shouty.

The point is that when I wasn’t in control with the paperwork, I had a complete strop.  Obviously a grieving person is entitled to a strop or few, and I claim extra strop-credit as a new mum too.  But it made me feel panicky, and for a while it churned up and held a magnifying glass to the turmoil inside.  It really didn’t help.  And of course there will be times in the midst of grief where you can’t keep track of the day, or your own name, let alone bits of sodding paper.  But when you have to find bits of paper from five and half years ago, that you haven’t seen in five and a half years, and tell the tax man about every figure of debt and asset** that a person had so that inheritance tax can be assessed (there isn’t any; it’s spouse to spouse inheritance; thanks for that exercise in pointlessness, Tax Man), then being utterly unable to find that info really would have potential to send you over the edge yourself.  Paperwork Wednesday is the only time as yet that I’ve called Steve names when I lost it, and on top of everything, that really made me feel shit, because I know that would have hurt him.

So that’s the reason I hate Wednesdays, and why I really must get the eleventy billion pages of paperwork done, so that I can wake up and enjoy the day with Jaffa Cake – after all, she is the reason I’m here.  And that’s why I have one little piece of advice that comes out of my experience of spouse bereavement paperwork.  It’s an utterly disgusting thing to go through and I wish that no-one has to face it til they’re old and wrinkled, and have spent a (long) lifetime of daily routine, banalities, adventures and joy together.

The advice? Just make sure you know where the bloody land registry number is filed.

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*Thank you Gill Simms of Peter and Jane fame.  I have been using the phrase ‘eleventy billion’ all year.

**It’s ok though.  You can round up and down.  They’re not interested in the pence.

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Afraid

31st December 2017

 

I’ve survived through this most hideous season Steve, but only because of Jaffa Cake.  But…

I’m afraid.

Of so many things.

I’m afraid of the fact that I got through a first Christmas without you, apparently without actually breaking, and then my first birthday without you; I put on (pretty) clean clothes and makeup and brushed my hair, and even put on sparkly shoes.  I opened cards and presents and smiled, a bit.

But I’m afraid of what all that means.

I’m afraid because I don’t collapse in a distressed heap when I visit you in the churchyard, and I should.  What does it mean when I can’t find words to say aloud to you?

I’m afraid that I have no-one to dress up for, or make an effort for, except myself and our little girl, and I’m afraid that I don’t feel that that’s enough.

I’m afraid that after taking so long to find you, after so few years together (seven of them. It’s not fair.  I have friends our age who’ve been together twenty years.  It’s not in the slightest bit fair); after finally finding you, and having only those seven utterly fabulous years filled to the brim with you, I am now going to spend the rest of my life alone.  I’m afraid that I won’t be kissed or held by someone who is in love with me, who I’m in love with.  I feel that, after you’ve shown me what it’s like to live that life, it’s a waste because I won’t get to do it any more.

And I’m afraid that actually there might be an alternative, and that there could be a possibility that I won’t be alone for the rest of my life.  And if that’s a possibility, I’m afraid of what that says about how I felt about you.  But how could anyone ever come anywhere close to you?  And, knowing that, does it mean that if I did entertain the thought of being with someone again, I’d be settling? I’m afraid of settling, because I know what the real thing, ‘true love soul mates’, is.  It’s a maze of thoughts with dead-ends and corners, and wandering without logic and of stumbling upon places I’ve just been, over and over.

By the way, I’m disgusted that these thoughts even burrow their way through my mind.  Like some sort of revolting parasite, feeding on grief and sorrow and insecurity.

Oh. I’m afraid that insecurity will slowly seep its way back in, too.  I’ve felt ‘worth it’ because you left me in absolutely no doubt.  But what if, while drowning in sadness, the doubt creeps back?  I’m afraid of forgetting how you made me feel, and forgetting the person I was with you.

And today I’ve been afraid because tonight is New Year’s Eve, and tomorrow a whole different year.  Today’s fear has been building all week.  We will all be moving on, leaving you behind, leaving you in last year. We have no choice, it’s just how it works, but inside I’m panicking, and kicking and screaming to hold on to this year, because at least it’s one digit closer to where you were.

I’m terrified that new year equals new start.  I’ve had to do the wonderful new start, the one we expected to do with Jaffa Cake’s birth, but I’ve also had to start a new unwanted version of my life without you; now new year feels like a forcing of that moment where we take a deep breath, leave one thing behind, and move on to the next. It feels like moving into a new year is moving into acceptance and a being ok with things.  It’s where we make resolutions, and decide to change parts of our lives with which we’re not entirely satisfied.  Well, my love, I adored the life we had, and I’m so afraid to let it fade into memory and the past.

I don’t want to hear Happy New Year, anymore than I wanted to hear Happy Birthday, or Happy Christmas. All three this month.  I’m afraid that I might be rude, or piss on someone else’s happiness with my misery.  I’m afraid of resenting the fun and laughs and joy of new year that everyone else will be sharing.  I can hear the fireworks starting, and each burst pierces a tumour of bitterness inside.

I’m also afraid of the possibility that the genuine, love-filled wishes for happiness from the people who love me and you and Jaffa Cake will actually result in a little happiness creeping in to my future; I’m afraid of allowing genuine happiness in again, while you miss out on absolutely everything that made you so heart-burstingly happy.  It feels like that would be a rubbing of salt into your broken-body wounds, for you to watch me enjoy a life that you no longer have access to.

And what if I am so afraid that I don’t live in the present with our baby, and I miss out on this most fleeting and unique of times?  I’m afraid of the future you’ve left behind in your going getting in the way of me living the future you gave me before you left.

 

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xxx

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Stick with the plan

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Thursday 21st December 2017

 

Hello my little Cinnamon Stick.

Daddy and I had made lots of plans for the three of us for this, your first, Christmas.  Plans both grand and modest; plans of fun things, activity things, family and friends things, while we discovered day by day what being parents felt like.  We had so much fun thinking of what these weeks and months would be like as we discovered life with you, our little Jaffa Cake.  Now, in between swimming with the current of this new life we have as parent and baby, you and I are sticking with some of those plans Daddy and I had made.

So….

The Christmas tree is up! Berry lights and glass baubles and wooden decorations from Germany and Prague and childhood, plus the new snowy owl gliding her way through the needles.  She’s yours, for your first Christmas.  (She looks like Hedwig.  You’ll learn all about Hedwig in time and I’ll love rediscovering her and her friends with you my lovely!)  There are fairy lights everywhere, and perhaps you’ve been puzzled by the trees suddenly springing up in living rooms.  (Or maybe not!  Perhaps you’re taking this as ‘normal’, given that everything is so new to you!)

You and I have been out for mince-pie mingles and a concert with our NCT girls and a trip to Mummy’s old office to show you off.  The five new NCT mummies all dressed our little girlies in Christmas themes, and the line-up photo we took of you all was utterly adorable! We’ve been shopping with Auntie Katie and to the tree lights switch-on at the village hall, and, unexpectedly and wonderfully, we’ve been out in many-inch-deep snow!  We woke up to a Narnia wonderland  (oooh….another world for us to discover together!) one Sunday morning in early December, and I took you out to feel the flakes on your lashes.

One of our grand plans was to take you to Birmingham Christmas Market.  Daddy and I started our Christmas market tradition the first Christmas we were together, and managed it every year until last (that’s a whole other story).  That first year we  were booked to go to Prague, but Daddy ended up on crutches and couldn’t fly so we went to Birmingham instead and had a magical time together.  It was just like the German ones we both loved, and it was bright and sparkly and oh so merry.  Our plan was to share that magic with you, and for ourselves of course.  So I stuck with the plan and you and I went with Grandad, Auntie Katie and Auntie Sarah.  You snuggled in your pram and gazed at lights and I bought Christmas treats for you.  (I’m fairly sure that spoiling you rotten would have been part of the plan!)  And then we drove back in the worst fog I’ve ever encountered!  It felt like something out of a Victorian Christmas.

Then the latest part of the plan as it was?  The Christmas cake!  Each of the years that I’ve had my own home I’ve made and decorated a proper, fruity, brandy-fed Christmas cake, and for these years with Daddy I’ve excitedly shown him my artwork.  I discovered only this month how he showed off pictures of my creations every year to his friends.  The plan this year was for a cake reflecting the arrival of our own tiny baby.  With time limits and circumstance as it’s unfurled itself, I doubted that I would – could – follow through on this plan, as I had doubted with all the others, but Granny made the cake for me and last night I decorated it for you at her house.  I did enjoy dong it, as I would always have, and though you won’t eat any, it’s there to share the memory and pictures with you in time.

The final part of our Christmas plan that we’ll stick with?  At the point where we cut the Christmas cake, we’ll sing its special christmas cake cutting song.  It’s another tradition, started spontaneously by Granny, and now shared round the family.  Theoretically you can’t have a piece unless you join in with the singing.  Daddy always said he wouldn’t sing, but I suspect he did it to tease and that he sang it under his breath anyway!  He always got a piece, obviously.  Probably because he smiled and laughed with us and was my essence of Christmas.  Now that’s your job, Cinnamon Stick!

It’s my birthday between Christmas and new year.  I don’t know what the plan for celebrating it would have been, but it would have been sparkly and shiny and happy with you and Daddy.  I don’t think I can stick with the shiny sparkly part of the plan but you will make it worthwhile.  You’re making all of it worthwhile.

So now I’ll tell you a secret my beautiful Little Owl.

I’m having fun with you.  I love waking up to you in the mornings (and in the middle of the nights, too!).  I love seeing you see things for the first time, or for the umpteenth time.  I love doing things for your first Christmas, even if you won’t remember any of it.  We’ll all remember it for you my darling, and I’ll remember the joy that you brought me through these weeks.  After all, you, at least, are definitely sticking with the plan.

xxx

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A life and a half

1st  December

 

Best. Christmas. Ever.

So the advert claims.  It’s that time of year.  Lights going up, constant adverts showing me what food, clothes, jewellery, will give me the perfect ‘Best. Christmas. Ever’.

Yet I can barely go in the kitchen where we spent so much time eating, talking and laughing.  I’ve managed to make a couple of cups of coffee and slices of toast in this last seven weeks, so the prospect of making or decorating the Christmas cake in our house, cooking any food, planning Christmas morning breakfast…well.  There’s no prospect.

I’m not certain about the Christmas tree either.  It’s Jaffa Cake’s first Christmas, and though she won’t understand or know, if I don’t do it this year, then next year will be my ‘first’ proper Christmas without you.  The first time I do everything.  And she’ll be more aware.  So perhaps this year should be the first time.  The only way I can envisage putting the tree up though, instead of laughing and dancing around with you, cosy in our home, enjoying the familiarity of all our decorations as we rediscover them for the season, is to do it entirely alone, and just give in to the distress.  It’s not something I think I can share yet with anyone else my darling.

I have started to put things in the calendar, started to go out and do vaguely normal and ‘enjoyable’ things; coffee with the NCT girls, mince pie evenings with friends, little shopping trips.  Coffee with the girls was positive. I was somewhere new, doing something new that would have been just Baby and me anyway, so it wasn’t painful that you weren’t there.  Though you were mentioned, many times.  But all the things that we used to do or would have been doing together, every place we used to be together?  Those hurt.  On top of the hurt though they haunt, because I can see and feel what it should have been, or used to be.  Driving the car I sense where you always were next to me – picking you up from the station, running errands together, long journeys away.  I loved being there with you.  Taking Jaffa Cake to a switching on of the village Christmas lights this week, I could picture how you would have been, doting on her, holding a mulled wine and letting me smell what I couldn’t drink.  A Saturday afternoon at your parents’ with all the family was special, feeling closer to them than ever, the joy of cuddles with our baby and the ray of happiness that she projects through the sadness we’re all sharing; but sitting in the living room I could hear you playing with Soppy Dog in the kitchen, see you walking back through with drinks for us as you would have done, as you always did.  Tonight at dinner round their dining table I felt your yawning gaping absence in the space next to me, and at the same time felt you sharp as Christmas lights sat in the space next to me, because that’s where you’ve been every time for the past seven years whenever I’ve sat at that table.  How is it possible that you can be so acutely present and so profoundly absent at the same time?

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Everywhere I feel like I’m living a life and a half.  The actual life Jaffa Cake and I have ended up with since you died, and the transparent half-life that runs beside it in every room.  You know how the images from an old film projector dance in the shaft of light in the air before they reach the big screen? I feel like the images of what we had and what should have been are dancing in the spaces around me, transparent, projected into the air, without the substance they once had.

The maths doesn’t work though.  It’s a life and a half, but what we’ve got is so much less than the one life we had before.  The half-life might be an addition, but it’s there because of what we lost.

This has always been my favourite time of year, from September to Christmas. Especially Christmas Eve.  You were the Best Present Ever.  Sat in Sarah’s kitchen seven years ago when I turned up.  But this year there won’t be you, or any presents from you under the tree.  I’m not sure I can muster the required energy to unwrap any others with any sort of enjoyment; all the sparkle’s gone with you. I’d already bought one of your presents.  Shall I wrap it for you? Is that slightly less hideous than it staying under the bed where I hid it?  Then if I sit by the tree in my usual place, just Willow and me, I can  talk to you and pass it over.  Watch that projected half life film play around me, watch you open it, smile, and kiss me.  View that most happy of ‘Happy Christmases’ that we were meant to have from across the gulf of separation between us.

How cruel for this to be both my worst Christmas ever and our gorgeous girl’s first, and therefore what should be my – our – best.  The two are incompatible.  How can I reconcile the wishes of this most merry of Christmases with sorrow, emptiness and numbness?  For our friends and family I’ll wish happiness, but I don’t think I’ll be able to say it with anything other than a twist in my heart.  I’ll try for Jaffa Cake to access some morsel of joy, and if there is any it will be in her, and in the love of family and friends.  However much there is though, it will never fill the bleakness in this mid-winter season that you’ve left my darling.

xxx

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One month on

21st November 2017

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You are 4 weeks old my little Jaffa Cake.  A lot has happened in that time, much of it unplanned and unwanted, but in the midst of that there are the first four weeks of our life together, and you deserve the best of the good bits, so I’m going to tell you about them.  The way things have gone has meant that we have been surrounded by family and friends every minute of every day; we’ve been under constant supervision to help me get through this and it’s meant we’ve done well, considering.  So I’ll tell you about the good things my darling.  And I might even throw in a couple of things as they would have been, had Daddy been with us.

Our biggest achievement my gorgeous little creature is the breastfeeding.  I understood before that it is a hard thing to do, that it doesn’t necessarily come easily and that despite intentions, many women find they can’t keep it up for all sorts of reasons.  But we’ve managed it somehow my lovely, despite blocked ducts and heaviness that feels like I’m made of concrete.  Despite the nights where you’ve fed every hour, for half an hour! We’ve done it, and we’ve done it in public – within your first week. Every family member and friend has seen me unhitch my bra and latch you on, and the registrar, vicar and financial advisor have all seen more than they might otherwise have bargained for!  So pat on the back to you and me my darling.  I think we can be proud of ourselves.

(Btw, you make the cutest snuffling noises and sucking slurps!  When you fall off in your sleep then shake your whole head in search of my nipple again, you make me smile.  I call you my little animal….)

Of course you’ve also been cuddled by all these visitors who’ve been desperate to meet you.  I’ve tried to take pictures with everyone for you (and for me).  It also means there have been lots of people changing your nappy, and getting to see you enjoy your little self on the changing mat in the nursery.  You’re usually very chilled on there looking at the elephant mobile and the light at the window.  Lots of people have had lots of time with you in your first month, and you’ve had so much love!

What else have we done?

We went to register you, and we’ve been for hot chocolates in the coffee shop with Grandad and Auntie Katie, and to mummy’s favourite ancient pub for a drink (chocolate again for us, ale for Katie).  We’ve even been out for dinner with Daddy’s family.

We’ve been for short walks in your fabulous fox-tail pram and on short shopping trips too.  I learnt where the lifts in House Of Fraser were for the first time, and changed your nappy on a public toilet changing table (eurgh).  We’ve been for the baby photo shoot with Monika, where Mummy and Daddy watched on proudly as you cuddled up in an aeroplane and on a sledge and in our arms.  We’ve taken endless photos of you on phones and have been figuring out how to use the portrait lens of the big camera. Daddy surprised me with it one day a couple of months ago.  “I’ve bought us something,” he said.  We’ve been playing with it since you arrived, taking pictures of you sleeping in the moses basket, chilling on your changing mat… being winded…trying to capture all those gorgeous moments before we blink and you’re suddenly a toddler.  I want to make sure we get photos of you and me together though in all the natural, unposed and potentially messy moments (messy emotionally and physically); otherwise down the line we’ll have hundreds (by which I mean thousands) of you, and you with other people, but not many of the two of us.  Daddy would hopefully have taken lots of those, but now I really do need for the two of us to be recorded together.

We’ve also done a few bath times, scary as they were the first time!  Grandma and Granny, Auntie Debbie and Thea Maria have helped us.  It needs two because you’re a slippery little thing, but it works quite well if I’m organised with towels and heating turned up.  You seem to enjoy your baths as long as I don’t splash your face, and though you’re not quite so keen on the in-between drying in the towel moments, you like having your hair washed and then being rocked lower and lower into the water.  You wear an expression that’s part intrigue, part bewilderment, and part pleasure.  I love watching your face as we squidge the sponge and dribble water over your chest.  Daddy watches in awe too, and loves cuddling you close once you’re all wrapped up in your little lamb towel.

We’ve read ‘Guess How Much I Love You’, and ‘That’s Not My Dinosaur’.  I’ve sung the songs that remind me of Daddy to you in the middle of the night, while Daddy stood watching you over my shoulder.  He’s amazed at you, and at me, and he does anything and everything we ask or need of him.  He also does the yoga ‘ohm’ that he was so good at when you were our gorgeous bump.  Long and deep and calming.  You gaze at him in stunned amazement when he does that.

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We’ve cuddled on the sofa, skin to skin, and each morning we lie in bed facing each other while you feed.  Daddy lies next to us, studying us both; he and I are both besotted with you, the little Jaffa Cake baby that we made.

 

You’ve also had to sit (by which I mean sleep) through meetings with the accountant, the bank, the financial advisor.  You’re not particularly impressed by these appointments, but you do enjoy it when we sit in the study while Daddy works, watching him work his I.T. magic, keeping him company and trying hard not to distract him too much.  He tries not to be distracted, but he’s fighting a losing battle, given how besotted he is with us both.

You had a bit of jaundice in the first week, so we spent two days and two nights in hospital, poor Grandad sleeping in the chair, visitors coming and bringing fruit and gifts and love.  It’s the first time I’ve ever stayed in hospital – oh, other than when I slept overnight in the chair in A&E when Daddy was admitted for his Cresta Run injury. You had plasters on your heels the whole time because of the repeated blood test for jaundice levels, but you were so brave the whole time.  Daddy was with us while we were there, keeping an eye on us again.

The other thing we’ve done is baby massage and touch.  I signed up to a pilot group to help trial an app called NurtrBaby, designed to help develop mother and baby bond and attachment; I imagine I’d have signed up for it anyway, but given my state of mind it’s certainly going to benefit us.  Month 1 activities have included me giving you a facial massage, stroking your body and a ‘day’ spent together in bed just enjoying dedicated time.  I think you like the part of the massage that gently rubs your earlobes – you certainly pull a lovely little face when I do it.  We’d have enjoyed trialling it for release next year, so I’m trying to enjoy it for you now too.  And to be honest gorgeous girlie, even in the midst of feeling utterly broken, I am enjoying this with you, when I manage to be in the present.

We’ve done a lot of things in this our first month together my lovely, though they’re not all as we’d anticipated.  But the little daily things – kisses, nappies, baths, picking your outfits, cooing over you – they’ve all happened and been gorgeous, because you are utterly adorable.  We’ll continue to figure it out day by day, like most mummies and new babies do I imagine.

Let’s see what month two brings my darling.

xxx

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2

What I told people about your Daddy.

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Thursday 16th November 2017.

My beautiful little Jaffa Cake.  Yesterday was your Daddy’s funeral.  A day neither you or I should have had to witness for many years to come.   You’re too tiny to remember it, thank goodness, and so cooperative that you slept all the way through after I fed you on the front pew of the church for the first hymn and tributes.  I was prepared to be breastfeeding in church, on the day I was dressed in black with my yellow scarf for Daddy; playing  – being – the (far-too-young) widow.  The vicar was prepared too.  And, as we’ve had to do, you and I just got on with it.

The tributes were beautiful my darling, and one day you’ll be able to read or hear them yourself.  I’ll ask your Grandads and Auntie Debbie and Sarah, Andie, Gavin and Ric to read them for you.  And I’ll tell you all of the things I said about Daddy in church, and all of the things I have said otherwise, and all of the things I haven’t said.  There’s so much to tell you, and so much we all want you to know about the wonderful man we were lucky enough to have in our lives.  He was in your life my darling – literally at the very second it began, and he’s in every cell of your delicious little body.  But for the record, here is what I said about him, to a packed church of 200-ish people.  I’ve never been one to calmly accept a public presentation challenge, and I genuinely saw myself stumbling and crumpling to the floor with grief, or at the very least sobbing so hard the words just wouldn’t be said.  Auntie Katie was ready to read for me.  I asked Daddy though to be with me, to give me his strength to do it, because I wanted to do it for him, because I felt like I owed him that tribute.  And you know what,my lovely little Cinammon Stick?  He must have been there, because I did do it, and the words were said and heard.

***

For Steve

In the few days after Steve’s crash, I learnt about the Japanese concept of Ikigai.  It means something along the lines of ‘purpose in life’, your reason for being, the thing that you live for.

Well, Steve was my Ikigai.

I knew that Steve and I were going to be something the Christmas Eve we met, and I fell in love with him very quickly after we started seeing each other in the January.  We spent just about every evening together, late into the night.  He took to my new puppy Maya, and she fell in love with him too – and has loved him best ever since.  Steve told me more than once that by the time we went to Kefalonia that first summer he was thinking of proposing, so the falling in love quickly was mutual.

It wasn’t just one ‘falling in love’ though.  I fell in love with him every day for the nearly seven years we were together.  He gave me butterflies every time I saw him, and I’d be excited about seeing him at the end of every working day.  I fancied him always. I’d regularly stand and watch him from the window while he turned the bike’s engine on, then methodically pull on his helmet and gloves.  I’d watch as he rode off the drive and down the street.  And when I heard the engine rumble when he got home, I’d often open the front door and watch him dismount, turn it all off and remove his gloves and helmet again.  He didn’t know I was watching him til he turned round, and then I’d get that stunning smile and the twinkling blue eyes.  I loved being on that bike with him, loved being able to share it with him in a way no-one else ever did.  Our bike trips round Scandinavia, the Lake District and down to Tuscany last autumn are some of my most special memories of our life together.  In his element, just the two of us in our own little bubble, that close together for thousands of miles, talking and singing and laughing.   Discovering the most beautiful places together.   But now I’m so sorry for not having hated the bike, for not putting my foot down.  I trusted him with my life getting on it, but it turns out I shouldn’t have trusted him with his own.

But trying to stop Steve doing the fast stuff would have been an attempt to change who he was, and we all adored who he was.  He loved ‘doing stuff’, trying new things, ‘experience’ gifts. We really did spend the last seven years filling them with experience and fun.  We snowboarded and skiied; we paraglided off a mountain together; we went shark cage-diving in South Africa, and rode camels in the Moroccan desert.  We caved in the depths of Derbyshire.  We Scuba dived, went indoor sky diving, and communed with Orang Utans in the Bornean rainforest.  We laid in the fields at the end of our road in the depths of a Sunday night, watching out for a meteor shower.  Steve started riding the Cresta run and scared the life out of us both when an infected graze on his knee required hospitalisation for three days, and the words ‘necrotising fasciitis’ were mentioned. We learnt about wine and how to wallpaper and about wildlife photography. We learnt to dance, and kept dancing.  And then we made a baby.

Steve would have been as close to perfect as a father as it’s possible to be.  I spent a long time being scared about the prospect of being a mum, not believing I was a good enough person to do it, but I knew Steve was good enough for both of us.  That he’d be fun, patient, gentle and fair.  He balanced me out and softened what I used to think of as my spiky self.  Steve was the best person I’ve ever known.  He was accepting, kind and supportive.  He didn’t criticise.  He never made me feel bad about myself, or about my anxiety and OCD, even when I was being ridiculous.  Once, when we’d been staying near Stockholm, he turned the bike round 20 minutes down the road after having left the airbnb cabin, because my OCD was fretting.  I had visions of having left the hotplate on under the wooden kitchen shelves and leaving the cabin to burn to the ground while we rode off to Gothenburg.  So Steve, ever considerate and kind, drove us the 20 minutes back and went in and checked. Of course we’d turned it off.  We’d always turned it off.  But he didn’t make fun of me, or criticise me, or make me feel foolish.  He never did.

Another instance that sticks in my mind and demonstrates what a beautiful soul Steve was happened in our kitchen a while back.  A friend of mine had begun to come out to a few people as transgender, and had come to dinner with me at home as his female identity.  Steve had met my friend in his previous, male, identity in the past, and now knew about the change.  When Steve came home that evening, he greeted my now female friend as he would any of my other girlfriends.  No judgement, no avoidance.  Just acceptance and kindness.  It’s what I previously wished for Willow when she was a new bump – to have compassion bestowed and to be compassionate towards others, even if something is out of her own experience.  For her to be like her Daddy.  The world would genuinely be a kinder place if more people were like him.

I was always in awe of Steve – his abilities, talents, strength, focus.  And of his beauty.  He was absolutely gorgeous.  He was competitive, and good at pretty much everything he tried, but never ugly about it. He was infuriatingly good at Boggle (last Christmas he got ‘bromine’ and ‘bromide’ in one shake), and he was great on the slopes.  In the past he got to brown belt in Ju Jitsu, and he was obviously a wizard when it came to the coding world he worked in.  But he was gracious in his abilities, and always encouraged mine.  He found me an app so I could practice boggle when I asked, (although he then started practising, which somewhat defeated my purpose!).  He was patient and encouraging when I lost all my skiing confidence and simply couldn’t turn right down the slopes last year.  He taught me to snorkel and how to dive off a boat properly and he was sweet and solicitous when I got terrified at the size of the quad bikes we drove up a mountain in Iceland.

Recently I discovered just how modest he could be.  He used to play badminton after work with his work bunch, and he always told me how much of a good player one of the others was, but that it was fun to play anyway.  That other player in the last couple of weeks told me, “First time Steve came out to play badminton, we were amazed! He would get every shot and made some unbelievable drop shots. He would always do it with a smile on his face and even though he was so tough to play against it was fun!”   Steve had never suggested that is was he who was the demon to play against.

He never assumed he knew it all, or had nothing to learn; he was always up for learning more and new things, and for sharing the knowledge he did have.  I loved learning from him, and learning with him. About pregnancy, babies, engine maintenance, a bit of Russian via Duolingo.  I remembered the other night how we learnt to play backgammon together by candlelight with a glass of wine during Earth Hour last year, and then how every so often of a late evening, he’d close the laptop quite decisively and ask, “Shall we play backgammon?”  We’d sit on the living room floor and play together.  Last time was only a few weeks ago, when I was constantly fidgeting around the size of Willow’s bump.  That seems so recent that it can’t possibly be something we’ll never do again; it’s one of the realisations that made me utterly miserable this last week. Steve pretty much thrashed me every time we played backgammon, but I loved playing with him, and would happily have lost against him for the next fifty years.

(I did thrash him once at Star Wars Monopoly; he was playfully annoyed, and I was probably more gloaty than strictly necessary.  But it was rare, so I made the most of it, and he happily let me).

This last year and a half in particular Steve demonstrated every single day how amazing he was.  He supported the meditation I started; he’d happily let our plans for even our busiest days include a protected slot for my meditation.  He read the ‘Mindful Pregnancy’ book I asked him to read, and I even caught him on a flight to France doing the meditation exercises himself.  He not only agreed to the hypnobirthing course I wanted to do, but he threw himself into it wholeheartedly.  And again he not only listened to the relaxation scripts we were given, but he read and recorded some of the scripts himself. I’m so glad he did – now I can listen to his voice when I’m feeling brave.  Ironically it’s called the Fear Release script…. Steve was the same with the NCT classes – he joined in completely, wanting to learn and wanting to know.  Our NCT teacher told me recently that it was blindingly obvious how devoted he was.  I felt it every single day we were pregnant.

Steve also supported me to write.  He enabled me to resign from the day job, and asked regularly how my day’s writing had gone.  It was Steve that got me writing the Letters to a Small Baby blog.  I never thought of writing a blog, but Steve the techie had me thinking in a different way.  It’s partly why I’m still writing it, to Willow, and to Steve.

One of the readings at our wedding was from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.  It says that when the temporary madness of love subsides, “You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part…..Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”

That’s how Steve and I were.  We were a team, completely entwined.  And now I can’t conceive of my life without him.  This life with Willow…it’s unimaginable that it’s not the three of us on this biggest of adventures together.

So what do you do when half of yourself is gone?  When every tiny little thing you do in life is so bound up in your coexistence with someone else, that you just can’t do anything without feeling the enormity of their absence.  From cleaning teeth to peeling a banana (we had that ongoing debate about which was the correct end to open).   From sitting on the sofa to trying to figure out the app to control our heating.  I can barely go in the kitchen because we spent so much time cooking and eating and talking and dancing in there.  Steve is in every single little thing.  And then the big things.  Will I ever be able to watch Strictly again?  We’d laughed because this year, given our impending new arrangements for a social life, we were anticipating being able to watch more than one episode live.  We could actually vote!  There’s one series of Game of Thrones left next year.  I might never find out though what happens with Jon Snow, given that watching either of these series with anyone other than Steve would feel something like cheating.  And the even bigger thing.  Our dancing. Dancing with Steve was utterly magical.  We laughed and kissed and sang along as we held each other. I knew from the point that he danced our first bachata with me that he’d be ‘The One’, and he spent the next seven years making me feel like the centre of the universe when we danced.  He was certainly the centre of mine.  There are so many tracks that will bring back so many joyous memories of Steve when I’m feeling brave enough to listen to them.  So many tracks that will help me share her Daddy with Willow.  “Some people move our souls to dance”.  Steve really did.

I was always so proud of Steve.  Proud to show him off, proud to be with him.  I have always felt, and will continue to feel, privileged, honoured, the luckiest woman alive, because he chose to be with me.  I will always be grateful that he chose to share himself, and the rest of his life, with me.

I love you my darling Steve.  I will always love you, for the rest of my life.  You are the other half of me, and you are half of Willow.

Eternally Yours, my darling.

XXX

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4

To Steve.

Sunday 12th November 2017.

 

I miss you so much my darling.  I’m still hoping for a miracle, expecting you to walk through the front door, and for this to have been the most hideous misunderstanding, for them to have got the wrong person, for all the identifications to have been plain wrong.

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This month has been unimaginable.  Police at the door at 7am on a Sunday.  Uttering the worst words, a scene from films watched and never expecting them to translate to my own life.  Sobbing and wailing your name, clutching your biker jacket, your dressing gown, your wedding ring.   Metaphorically stamping my feet that this isn’t fair, can’t be real and why you?  Why me?  Why us?  And within six days of your death, the birth of our Jaffa Cake.  I had to do that without you.  After all those days, weeks and months of excitement, preparation, giggling, amazement and nerves.  After all our plans, and the confidence you gave me that I could do this (both the birth and the being a mum part).  I believed I could do it, truly believed it, because I believed you, and believed in the faith you had in me.  And just when I needed you the absolute most, you’d gone.  And worse my darling, just when we got to the climax of all that planning and excitement and preparation, the event you absolutely couldn’t wait for, and you missed it. You didn’t get to be there, to take part.  You didn’t watch her coming out, didn’t cut her cord, or hold her, or cry over us both.  You didn’t get to fall in love with her as a baby, as well as the Jaffa Cake bump you already had fallen in love with.  And I didn’t get to hear you tell me how you loved me even more, and how unbelievably proud you were of me.  I’ll never get to hear that.  And I can’t bear it.

I can’t bear the preparation for your funeral on Wednesday either.  We weren’t meant to be doing that for another 40 or 50 years, and here I am, widow before I’m 38, with a 3-week old baby, choosing hymns and prayers and music to be played in a church, just before I watch you being lowered into the ground.  Oh yes. Choosing your coffin.  Your fucking coffin.  Where in our plans for life did that come in?  You promised me so many times that you wouldn’t leave me behind.  “Don’t you dare ever go without me.  Don’t you leave me behind.  If you’re going, take me with you.”  I said it many times.  Lightheartedly, but you knew I meant it.  And you would always promise me, “I’m not going anywhere”.

And now you’ve gone, and left me behind. and I can’t go anywhere because of our utterly wonderful little Jaffa Cake.  I have no idea how I’ve got four weeks down the line past you, but it’s obvious it’s because of her.  I adore her, and she needs me, though what my grief will do to her I don’t know.  We’re getting through the days, thanks to literally round-the-clock supervision from family and friends, and I know that eventually in time the unutterable pain will change.  But the thing is I don’t want it to get easier with time.  With time, with every day that I get through, I get further and further from you.  Each day leaves you further behind, and illogical as this is, the further from you this hideous version of our life charges on, the less possible it is that it can be undone, that it’s all a massive mistake.

I just don’t want to be this side of that day.  I don’t want any of us to have to live this version of our lives.  You were meant to be here, holding us tight, smiling your smile and laughing at all the tiny parts of the adventure that Willow brings with her.  Her first pram ride; her first feed in public; registering her birth; her cord clamp falling off.  Every tiny and every huge thing.  I was so excited about holding our baby, but I was even more in love with the prospect of watching you hold her.  I couldn’t wait to see the joy and amazement and tears on your face.

Now I have to see the tears on the faces of every one of our family and friends, if I can even see through my own on Wednesday.  It’s going to be absolutely, inconsolably hideous.  Celebrating a life well lived?  Yes.  But I can’t get past clutching at that life that we shared, the one that was laid out for us this side of Jaffa Cake’s arrival before you changed it all with your latest and final crash.

I’m not angry at you.  I know that you’re as utterly wretched and distraught as we are, that your heart is imploding with pain and regret and grief too.  I wish with all my heart that you can see us and that you are with us.  Can you please stay with me? Especially Wednesday.  Because I don’t think I’ll make it through the day with my sanity if I can’t feel you with me my darling. xxx

 

5

You’re here my darling! But what do I say to you now…?

 

Wednesday 8th November 2017

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My beautiful little Jaffa Cake.

You arrived.

Late in October, at 8.05 pm. Our birth story is, I’m told, amazing, and I will tell it to you over and over.  We made an awesome team you and I, and with the people around us we have a birth that though not entirely according to plan, was positive and filled with love, and not fear.

After your baby shower I continued to be so excited.  I love the photos with all my family and friends.  I looked ’round’ – everywhere! – but utterly happy, and honestly I’ve loved my pregnancy body the entire time.  As did Daddy.  It could have been a time of real insecurity but every step of the way he made me feel undeniably beautiful and even sexier than before.  It showed best on our bump photo shoot that Daddy organised for the  end of September. We had so much fun posing with your bump, cuddling it and you, having fun with ‘props’ – your teddy bear, booties, the little leather giraffe. And the photos are gorgeous my darling.  Monika at Boo Photography Differently made it so much fun, and we look wonderfully, beautifully happy together. So excited for your arrival!

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We were prepared (as far as is possible, I think!), in love with you already, and still madly in love with each other.  Daddy had his last boys’ trip, his BabyStag, with Uncle Adam at the Munich Oktoberfest, and Mummy met her friends in London.  I made it on my own on the train, only slightly concerned you might come a little earlier than week 40 and create a drama in public!  We had Harry Potter quiz night at home with our Salsa friends, we finally sorted Mummy’s boring pension, had frozen meals in the freezer for when you were here and we had no time/didn’t want to cook/couldn’t tear ourselves away from staring at you.  We re-fixed the mortgage and bought the birthday and Christmas presents we needed for this year for family.  Then we finally settled on and bought a second car.  Not usually on the baby list, but Daddy couldn’t use the motorbike for his increasing needs for commuting for work, and you obviously can’t carry a baby on a bike!  We test drove lots, and finally chose a VW Golf – the hybrid sort you can plug in to a wall socket!  I was very excited to do that for the first time 🙂

And then we had our last night out together.  Holly came to stay and we went to the Salsa Halloween party on the Friday night, the three of us and you.  Daddy spent the late Thursday night painting my black t-shirt with an orange glow-in-the-dark pumpkin all over your bump, ready for the party.  He was so thorough and precise about it, so attentive, because I’d asked him to do this for me and because he was so proud of you!  Our friends were amused, and we laughed and Daddy danced all night.  He and I managed a bachata together, our special dance, despite my enormous 38 week pregnant tummy.  As ever, he was wonderful, and so careful while spinning me.  Dancing has been our thing from the very start my darling; I knew he was ‘The One’ when he danced bachata with me for the first time….

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That was our last dance though my darling.  The last time Daddy and I went out together.  The last time we laughed with all our salsa friends.  It was meant to be the last time it was just Daddy and me, because the next time we would have you.  Congratulations and good luck were kissed and shouted across the room as we left.  They were all so excited for us and for you.  It turned out to be the very last time ever for Daddy.

I don’t know how I tell you this as you grow up my darling; all I know is that I’ll tell you about him every day of our lives, and every minute of our life he’ll be with us.  How to soften the fact that he died 6 days before you were born, and never got to hold you in his arms or against his chest.  He never smelled your newborn head or had your hand cling to his finger.  All the things I couldn’t wait to see him do, because I knew from the minute we started to try for you that he would be perfect.  He would be devoted to you, as he’d been devoted to me before and throughout the pregnancy,  He would have been gentle and patient, firm but fun.  He’d have been good cop when I was mean mummy bad cop with too many rules and rigid structure.  He would have been the centre of our world my little Jaffa cake, and you and I would have been the absolute beginning, centre and end of his world.

I can tell you these things, but how do I tell you that the bright and beautiful spirit of your daddy – my best friend, lover, soulmate – the spirit that should have held us together for all the years to come, the man beyond devoted to us, has gone?  How do I not scar you as you grow up with the knowledge that he got on that motorbike and in a few moments that can never be undone, however hard I sob, however much I try to bargain with time, God, the Devil, he broke his head and body in a crash?  How do I explain to you that despite his Advaned rider training, despite his skills with that bike, that despite all the expensive protective gear he had and ALWAYS wore, this time he didn’t and this time the crash was catastrophic?  How can I make you understand, in the grief that you’ll surely one day make your own, that this wasn’t the Daddy who was madly in love with us and beyond excited for your, imminent-any-day arrival? He was such a good biker that I trusted him to get on the motorbike and travel to Tuscany while pregnant the first time.  I literally trusted your Daddy with my life, every time I got on that bike with him. I loved being there with him, just us in a way no-one else ever was with him.  One day I’ll tell you about it, and I hope you’ll understand, and not blame me for encouraging him.  Because it turns out I shouldn’t have trusted him with his own life.

All I know how to do at the minute is talk about and to him all the time with you.  I’m sorry that in my own misery I can’t muster the strength for lullabies and nursery rhymes; I’m sorry that I’m trying to live in a home of two utterly opposing and ill-fitting companions.  The joy of the birth of a first child and the brokenness of losing the man who made that baby don’t – and shouldn’t – belong under one roof, in one mummy’s heart, together.  ‘Welcome to the world’ congratulations cards shouldn’t be diluted with sympathy cards on every surface.  It’s wrong and cruel, and I don’t know where to focus my anger when that comes. Somehow we’ve got through two and a half weeks since you were born and we’re somehow managing with the breastfeeding; they’re right, it’s really hard, and no-one can step in and help me with that.  At least we’ve got family and friends and love around us to help with everything else because I’m not capable of everything else.  I need space and time to cry, to be verging on hysterics and panic attacks, and at those times we both need someone else to be in charge of you.  But I’m sorry that sometimes you’re so close while feeding and the tears fall and I can’t hold back my sadness.  I hope, whenever that happens, that you can’t taste my heartbreak in your milk.  And I’m beyond sorry that you won’t know the joy of Daddy in your life. You’ll hear about his smile, his laugh, his unending humour and patience and understanding, but I’m sorry with all my heart that you won’t feel it in your home, in every minute of your life, like I did.  We’ve both been cheated, and so has Daddy.

I do know how to love you and I’ll do that my darling little Jaffa Cake.  I know how Daddy loved you, and loved me, and I’ll do my best to deserve what we had and what he left me.  I’ll look at your wide blue eyes and that little raised eyebrow and see your Daddy in you every day.  And I’ll try not to be so sad that you grow up solemn and subdued, because that’s not what you’d have absorbed if we were still on the right side of our lives.

I’ll try to love you enough for both of me and Daddy my darling, and know that everyone around us adores you too. None of us can make up for your missing Daddy, but we will do our best to ensure you have him and his love, through us all, in your life every day.

I’m so glad you’re here, our darling little Jaffa Cake.  You are what’s keeping me going.

xxxx

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“You were meant to spend the rest of your lives together.

He spent the rest of his with you.”

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Nearly there!

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Morning my (not so little anymore) Jaffa Cake!!

We’re at 37 week today….which means we’re good to go anytime from now! Unbelievable – and I’m not entirely convinced that I’m ready because it still all feels so abstract and surreal, never having been here before. Despite the nursery being finished, and having put your (utterly gorgeous) new clothes through the wash, and feeling and watching your bottom and foot – we assume – make huge lopsided lumps at the top of my bump, I still can’t quite believe we’ll have a baby in the next few weeks. An ACTUAL baby. Then you’ll be a toddler. Then eventually a teenager…. Oh bloody hell. How do we work you?!!!

At least though we’ve done the ‘big’ things as I think of them, as well as most of the little things. We signed up for hypnobirthing classes with Irja from Blossom Birthing, and learnt soooooo much. It was brilliant.  Without those classes and practises and reading of the related AIMS (Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services) books, I don’t think I’d be as relaxed or confident about the actual giving birth part. I’m looking forward to it (all but the ‘ring of fire’ around my bits when you crown!), and we’re going to try to apply the meditation, breathing and mindfulness that we’ve learnt and practised.

The science behind it is fascinating my little baby.  In order to give birth, the body rampages with the best hormone going, oxytocin. It makes everything relax and stretch and causes organs and systems to work in unison to do everything that Mother Nature has evolved our bodies to do – mine, and yours.  The process also provides us with endorphins, natural painkillers. Brilliant! This is when my body is in the parasympathetic state – oxytocin and endorphins.  All good.

BUT……as per every time they show birth on TV, it’s an emergency, a messy, painful, scary process. Isn’t it? One which, inevitably, leads to fear and anxiety and therefore adrenaline and cortisol pumping through the body, as happens when we fight, flee or freeze. We’ve been fed horror stories and drama about giving birth since before we hit puberty ourselves, so of course, that’s how it is. Isn’t it? Sometimes, yes. Unfortunately though the problem with what we’ve been taught, consciously or unconsciously, is that it puts our body into this ‘sympathetic’ flight or flight state. And the bugger with this is that the body can’t be in both the sympathetic and the parasympathetic states at the same time. So we have to opt for either an adrenaline and cortisol (as per a stress reaction) rush, or an oxytocin and endorphin cocktail – the one that actually gets the job done. We can’t have both. Well. Given that the birthing process requires oxytocin to progress properly, and I’m assuming I’ll want some kind of painkillers, I know which cocktail I’d rather have, and which state I’d rather my body was in.  Enter our KG Hypnobirthing practice and affirmations.

“My mind leads where my body follows.  As my mind is so relaxed, confident and calm, so my body is comfortable, relaxed, soft and open, as my baby passes gently into the world.”

“I trust the instinctive process of birth, which flows naturally through my body.”

We’ve all three been listening in to the relaxation scripts, and Daddy even recorded himself reading them and put them to one of my favourite relaxing tracks, for practice and use during labour.

I do know things can go wrong my lovely little wriggler, but I also know which biological approach I’d rather try to take.  If we need interventions, so be it, and if we need to be transferred, we’ll do it of course, but I’m starting out believing we can do it best without fear and anxiety.  So we’re going for a home birth, in the darkness and familiarity of home, without other women screaming and strangers in and out and the increased likelihood of interventions simply because we’re on the labour ward where the doctors are.  Apparently home birth is a statistically safer option if we’re a low-risk pregnancy, as endorsed by NICE and the NHS. Can you imagine if we pull it off, and once you’re out we’re cuddling in our own home, the three of us, quiet and private?  And if it doesn’t work as we ‘wish’ (birth ‘wish list’, not ‘birth plan’!), then I’ve asked Daddy to keep me focused on the techniques throughout whatever interventions or transfers we do need – to keep that anxiety and stress at bay, and not scare off the oxytocin and the endorphins that you and I both need.

Of course this project of pregnancy means there are other things we’ve done to prepare!  It’s been so much fun 🙂 . Daddy and I have done an NCT course with a lovely teacher and group of first-time-to-be-parents. We’ve changed nappies filled with marmite and mustard on dolls, practised bathing and soothing them, tested out active birth positions and talked through all the potential interventions and options for birth. Very interesting, and now having seen what’s involved in a C-section, I’m more comfortable with it if it has to happen. Granny and I have been to NHS antenatal classes and learnt lots (it’s changed a bit since she had me!), and Daddy and I have visited the birth centres and labour wards. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt in this case, and if I change my mind at any point or we do end up in hospital on the labour ward, I’m comforted knowing their clever chairs/beds mean I won’t be forced onto my back even if we end up having an epidural.*

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Then there were the lovely days of spa and Baby Shower in the last week. I went all out and had a pregnancy massage, facial and pedicure. Bliss 🙂 . Stocking up since I might not get chance for a while – and I haven’t been able to reach round the bump to pedicure properly for months! And what a wonderful Baby Shower with our friends and family. A beautiful cake, and my ridiculous raspberry muffins that turned into boob-cakes; ‘Who Wants to Be a Mummyionaire’ game and Baby Bingo hosted by Auntie Sarah, and lovely chats and advice and laughter with everyone. I discovered that some of the baby food flavours are pretty tasty and one was absolutely not, and that I can change an (admittedly empty/clean) nappy blindfolded in 30 seconds! Don’t worry – I’ll watch what I’m doing when you’ve filled yours with all those delights to come! Our friends and family brought beautiful thoughtful gifts for us all, and given you’ll be here any day, we’ve left the bunting up for you 🙂 .

So now it’s feet up month, take it easy and relax, ready for your arrival.  Are you ready? xxx

 

 

*P.S.  I’ve heard one story of why women have ended up on their backs giving birth twice now. Women used to give birth in a biologically logical and helpful position – i.e.: upright, squatting. Using gravity to help you, the baby, wriggle your way out. Then Louis the something-or-other of France decided he’d like to watch. Naturally a king couldn’t be crawling around at floor level to observe this most wonderful – and WOMAN-CENTRED – process, so they stuck his poor wife on her back on a bed, where she had to push her baby horizontally and even vertically UP over her coccyx. The attendants probably realised this was a bit of an easier method for them as well, and it caught on. “If the Queen does it”….and so we all laid down on our backs to give birth. Well done Louis! No wonder we’ve ended up with higher rates of intervention just based on this interference alone…. It’d be amusing if it wasn’t detrimental.

 

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Ridiculous Boob Cakes

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Size Matters! It’s all about the bump.

23rd August 2017

31 weeks today! Eek! The emails and apps we’re signed up to are now counting down in weeks…..it’s very real!

We’ve had a busy but productive few weeks Jaffa Cake. Buying and putting together nursery furniture; painting around the house; new (working) radiators throughout so you’re cosy when you get here; booking and going on Mummy and Daddy’s last solo holiday; organising and holding Daddy’s birthday bbq. We’re nearly at the end of August, and my sort-of-deadline for having stuff sorted and putting feet up! The house looks back to normal now – with the addition of a moses basket in the lounge and my yoga ball rolling around 🙂 .

In the last month or so it really has become all about the belly though.

Obviously there’s always a focus on the bump, but it’s really making itself known now, and the size seems to become more and more relevant. Although you’re not causing sleep issues just yet, getting comfy is getting harder. The bump’s taking a lot of space and  lying on my side is getting boring. A session on the beach in Spain meant that I could dig holes for the bump and my boobs though, and I also got to use the Holo lilo properly on holiday! Hooray for the Holo. I managed to flip and flop myself like a seal onto the lilo in the pool, and hang there belly down, arms dangling in the water. Lovely! I also used it on the beds by the pool, and I’ll be blowing it up again for naps at home now. Oh for the pleasure of napping on my tummy! Maybe I’ll do it after washing up. Your bump is big enough to mean I’m so far from the sink I have to lean over, making my back ache!  Thank goodness for the dishwasher for most things 🙂 . And Daddy for most of the rest (especially after the bbq party. LOTS of washing up then).

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Other little things are getting harder; I can’t easily do up my shoes anymore without spreading my legs wide (no sarcastic comments about previous instances of that! 🙂 ), and personal grooming of the bikini line is now much harder given that I can’t see round the bump! But on the other hand the increasing size comes with some benefits. Flying to Spain at 28 weeks and back at 29 weeks meant we needed the fit to fly letter from the doctor, though no-one asked at the airport to see it. However they did put us in the priority boarding line at the gate for the flight back, and the ticket collectors at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia had us jump the queue out of the sun when they saw the bump. Little things!

One of the big deals about the bump’s size though is its use for assessing your growth. People have been telling me our bump’s big since we were about 3 months. I’m certain it’s because I started out looking pregnant before we were (should have done more sit-ups in the last decade!), but at the last three appointments they’ve measured bump size and plotted us on the graph in the notes, and told me we’re above the curve. I’ve not been worried, but I don’t want to get nearer D-Day and they start trying to convince us to be induced because ‘the baby is big’. All the women I’ve heard recently who’ve been told that their babies are big and have been induced as a precautionary habit have then had perfectly normal sized babies – and I believe my body’s built to birth its own baby anyway! So I’m not stressing about our big bump, though being told ‘Bon Courage!’ in the lift by two strange French women on holiday because of the size of the bump vs time to go was mildly annoying. But I put it in the same basket as the strange insistence people have (men and women) of sharing horror birth stories with pregnant women. Sometimes I think it’s genuine and tactful attempts to share info and possibly advice. Other times I think it’s just that people have a penchant for sharing drama.

Anyway, this morning’s mid-wife appointment we were above the curve on bump size again, but no bigger than we were 3 weeks ago. Midwife and I both think it’s down to previous lack of tummy muscles which are now kicking in to hold the bump better as you get bigger, not because you’re growth has slowed, but she’s sending us for a scan tomorrow to make sure. I don’t mind getting to see you again!

Until we see you properly – in only a few weeks.  I can count them on my hands now!

xxx

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It could be something. Or it could be nothing….

 

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27 weeks pregnant.

 

I’d like a rave in my tummy every night from now on please, Jaffa Cake!

“Kicks count”. It’s a message I’ve read in my maternity folder, on leaflets, in magazines and apps. If you think anything’s changed, or are in the least bit concerned, DO NOT leave it a day to see what happens. Call the midwife or the hospital and check.

So we did.

Your busy time has reliably been 8-11pm every day. I’m a little less aware if we’re out, but I’ve felt you at the wedding receptions we’ve been to, and at our salsa parties. I like to think you’re bopping away in there learning about rhythm! And I definitely feel you when I’m flaked out on the sofa in the evenings after dinner watching TV, and then when we go to bed. Busy, 8-11pm (and often beyond). Like clockwork. Lovely big jerky flutters, sometimes coordinated at opposite sides of the bump. Daddy’s even able to feel some of them now, and I’m sure I’ve seen a few twitches too. And you were having a full-on wriggly party in there one night when we finally got in bed at 2am. You appear to be nocturnal 🙂 .

However, Wednesday of 26 weeks pregnant, we got in bed at half 11 and I suddenly remembered I was pregnant. (It’s probably something to do with the ‘eleventy billion’ pillows I have wrapped round me for comfort!). And then I realised I hadn’t felt you kicking and wriggling all evening as I usually do. Daddy and I had been building your nursery furniture and ate dinner later than usual. Lounging on the sofa all evening watching a film though I hadn’t noted you, or prodded, or reached for Daddy’s hand to feel your kicks as I often do.

I employed the yoga/meditation/hypnobirthing training I’ve been practising, and didn’t panic. I laid in bed and concentrated on you, and there you were, little kicks and shuffles. Not quite as vigorous as usual; no roundhouse kicks or jab cross.  But you were moving. And yet I hadn’t felt you all evening as per usual. We debated. Is this mummy paranoia? (For a first time, previously anxious but now quite Zen (I think) mummy…perhaps it’s to be expected. Add in the history of early miscarriage last Autumn which is bound to be lurking under there with some sort of added layer of worry, even though I generally feel very calm and positive and unworried, and perhaps paranoia is too strong a word, and to be expected anyway).  Besides, the NHS guidance and everything I’ve seen says don’t delay if you have any concerns at all about movement.

So we called the labour ward and were advised to go in to be checked. No making me feel silly at all. We put the clothes we’d just taken off back on, grabbed coat and cardie, double checked the dog had water, and got in the car at midnight exactly.  “We can check how long the drive is without traffic!”

It took 18 minutes.  Not bad.

The midwives on triage invited me to a bed, looked through my notes, checked blood pressure, etc. Asked lots of questions. Any bleeding? Any pain? Any sickness? Nothing.  Only my sense that you hadn’t been somersaulting and cartwheeling to the same extent and to your usual timetable. Still, they didn’t make me feel silly, not once. Then they got out the gadget to listen to your heartbeat, and there it was, nice and fast and strong. All ok. They said they’d refer us for a scan to be sure.

Only on our way out, less than an hour later, did I start to feel the anxiety. Somehow I’d managed to keep calm all that time. I think it’s the training we’re doing my lovely 🙂 .

The next morning, we got our scan. The unit squeezed us in as they do in these unscheduled cases, and we saw you again. It’s a bonus, because the 20 week anomaly scan is usually the last, unless there are problems. There you were, curled up as if nothing was going on, sucking your thumb and waving. Little devil. All was absolutely fine.

“It could be something, or it could be nothing.”

It’s become a bit of a catchphrase for me and Daddy, because there are so many things about being pregnant that could be a warning sign of something sinister, or alternatively could be a sign that everything is perfectly normal. Or it could be not-a-sign-of-anything, either way!

“Bleeding in early pregnancy?” Could be normal implantation bleeding. Or it could be….something worse.

“Itching in pregnancy?” Could be normal skin stretching. Or it could be a liver issue…..

“Reduced foetal movement?” Could be a baby in distress. Or it could just be baby changing and developing its habits.

(Or it could just be mummy being overly cautious…..!)

However – as per the leaflet:

“Never hesitate to contact your midwife or the maternity unit for advice, no matter how many times this happens.”*

And I have to say Jaffa Cake, I was impressed for us by the staff at the hospital. However overworked, undervalued, understaffed, underpaid and underfunded the NHS is, they never once suggested that we shouldn’t have contacted them, or taken up their time, bed and resources, or that we were being unnecessarily cautious. Every single one of them that dealt with us in the middle of the night or the next day, by phone or in person, was considerate and compassionate. They reassured us, but were never dismissive.

As our saying goes: “It could be something. Or it could be nothing.”

So it’s always worth checking.

As I said though, I’d like a rave in there every evening from now on!

xxx

 

*From the Kicks Count leaflet, http://www.kickscount.org.uk

 

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Two weddings and a lot of shopping

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29th June 2017

Good morning my little Jaffa Cake! We’re now at 23 weeks + 3 days, and time is ticking – and you’re definitely kicking.  You seem to be a bit of a night owl, most active between about 8 and 11 pm. Which is nice because I’m usually taking it fairly easy then, so can   concentrate on you and your wriggling.

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks, but somehow despite full weekends and a bit of an anxiety wobble on just how much needs to be done, Daddy and I have done a lot – socially and practically. We went to France and Dorset for weddings on consecutive weekends. France was roastingly beautiful, 6 of us sat round the pool or in the chateau grounds drinking wine (or not). ‘Twas a lovely excuse for another trip away, and chance to wear my poshest maternity dresses. How lovely swanning about pregnant in the sun (I’ve heard it’s not so much fun when baby and bump are really big though…..). Then I got to catch up on news from work at the Dorset wedding reception; it’s nearly 5 months since I resigned, and it’s good to hear about the ‘real’ world that my colleagues still inhabit. This one I now inhabit with you feels a little surreal at times – but I imagine it’ll get more so in November once you’re here!

Daddy and I also managed to do some marathon shopping – exhausting both of us! I’m sure my feet ended up puffy but Daddy laughs because he’s seen puffy feet on pregnant friends, and says puffy, mine are not 🙂 . Anyway we wandered round IKEA for the second time in a week (Reading is definitely better than Wembley). We bought the sofa bed for the spare room, since hopefully we’ll still have friends wanting to stay occasionally, even if the house is full of nappies and washing and crying (that’ll be me!). We also got a gorgeous turquoise chair for cuddles in the nursery. Perfect for reading Beatrix Potter!  Can’t wait 🙂 . Daddy was convinced that everything would fit in the car, Mummy was sceptical…. then Daddy proved that he’s a Master Level Tetris player and we got it all in. I’m not sure I was much help, so it’s a good job Daddy is as strong as he is. We got it all home and while Grandad came to help Daddy get everything up the stairs, Mummy put her (puffy) feet up! I did help with assembling though, proving I am able to work washers, screws and an allen key; essential flat-pack skills which you will also learn, girl or boy! The spare room is now done, and you and I can sit on the sofa and watch Daddy at work.

The other thing we did impressed us both. We wallpapered that room’s ‘feature’ wall all on our own, from the bare plaster, to sizing, to horizontal lining paper, to vertical patterned paper. In 3 evenings, just the two of us (after gathering advice from people who do know what they’re doing, obviously! No point guessing and botching the job). We were very chuffed with ourselves. We had offers of help, but Daddy said, ‘It’s the sort of thing Mummy’s and Daddy’s should be able to do, isn’t it?’. So we tried, and succeeded. Full marks for effort 🙂 . Now the focus is on your nursery-to-be. I’m really looking forward to doing that. Then maybe I can stop occasional nights of anxiety dreams as more things to do are ticked off the list before the end of summer. Don’t worry – I’m still mostly very Zen, as you can no doubt feel in there. As long as we can come to a conclusion about the car seat, its i-size standard and ISOFIX base, and the coordinating pram/pushchair/travel system – hard carrycot for occasional overnight sleeping or not? -, and the moses basket, and the cot (can we find a small one to fit the space? With or without teething rails?). For someone so small, you need a lot of EXPENSIVE, complicated paraphernalia! (Just like Daddy’s other hobbies of motorbiking, snowboarding and tobogganing, then 🙂 ).

In between all of our doing stuff though, I’ve been feeling and watching for you kicking and poking about in there. I’m sure I saw you kick for the first time a couple of days ago, not just felt it from the inside. I ran to tell Daddy, but you stopped again. I think you might be playing games. I’m sure we’ll get a ‘conversation’ going eventually though!

Oh – I’ve discovered it’s wonderful when strangers ask ‘And how long til you’re due?’, without hesitation. And when people are solicitous, and give us seats, and smile at the bump.

But the dog still hasn’t noticed…..!

xxxx

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An apology, a bit of dancing, and Beatrix Potter.

 

Well my little Jaffa Cake, it’s been an interesting week, one for which I’ve found myself apologising to you more than once! The whole country held its breath in anticipation and trepidation, and unfortunately many of us followed it on Friday with a moan of disappointment and rapidly deflating hopes for something better. The General Election that we were told we wouldn’t be holding was held, and in my (admittedly not very politically astute) mind we’ve gone down the path of farce – skipping merrily after the USA, it seems. We’ve moved from a ruling party substantially lacking in compassion for the old, the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, schoolchildren, nurses, doctors – basically anyone not on a comfortable elite list of wealthy and powerful – to that same sort-of-ruling-party topped up by another party whose abhorrent attitudes (to anyone with an ounce of reason/love/compassion/understanding/ open-mindedness) belong in the last millennium. Or in Trump’s vision of America. It’s actually got worse….and it wasn’t even UKIP or the BNP that got in.

Disgusted. I think that’s the word.

Anyway, I’m so sorry that that’s what you’re ‘inheriting’ in October. I wrote you a little letter on the eve of the election, when many of us were still hoping for something better. I’ll keep up some hopes though that somehow the message has got through to those in ‘power’. And of course what Daddy and I, and our family and friends, can do is to model the good things we want for you, to help you grow up to leave a trail of kindness in your wake. There are many good and beautiful things – and people – in the world, after all.

The lovely things that have happened this week are these my little baby.

  1. Granny and I went shopping in Mothercare and Boots. We bought some gorgeous little things (as well as the practical and less-than appealing items of nipple cream, breast pads, pads to soak up broken waters in October, and a particularly intimate type of massage oil as recommended by one of my Uni friends and Boots!). But the tiny socks with elephants, and the Peter Rabbit baby grow; the scratch mitts and hats in yellow with giraffes on them… I could have filled the baskets over and over 🙂
  2. On our way back to the car, busy chattering away, we left the paid-for car park ticket in the pay machine. Oops. £50 fine if you lose your ticket……I said I’d go and explain the baby brain to them as it was me that lost it, and hope for clemency. We got back to the service desk to find that some kind person, on finding our ticket in the machine, had handed it in. And there was me imagining that anyone would walk off with it and use it for themselves. That’s me taught a lesson :-). The world is a good place, after all.
  3. Daddy and I went to the Salsa party on Friday. I had the energy for the first time in months, and danced A LOT. Wonderful 🙂 But the best part was when we got there a bit late, so sat and watched the end of the lesson. When the music came on, with the heavy bass, you started a regular kicking! Not the bubbly feeling or little flutters, but more like when you get a muscle twitching in your eye or somewhere. Brilliant, because, being a first timer, I’ve not been sure what’s you and what’s my digestion up until now. Anyway, I hope you liked the music and the exercise.
  4. (As a result, Daddy and I tried to get you ‘dancing’ again at home on Saturday, with some of my favourite Zumba latin tracks. We turned the bass up high (poor neighbours) but maybe you were asleep that time – or maybe just preferred the other track 🙂 ).
  5. The other best thing about the Salsa party: making our friends laugh with the hidden baby hand prints bandeau across my tummy.20170612_123121.jpg
  6. Oh, and you and I have started reading Beatrix Potter’s Treasury together. I don’t actually know the stories, so am discovering them for the first time too, but I’m sure we’ll get to know them very well my little lovely.

On balance my darling, for us, a lovely week. No more scans scheduled, but I’m looking forward to all the kicks and pokes and cartwheels you’re going to do in there.

In the immortal words……

“Keeeeep Dancing!”

xxx

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“Did you find out the make?”

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5th June 2017

Today we had our 20 week scan, and saw you for the second time. Last time at 12 weeks you materialised, crystal clear, as soon as the sonographer put the gadget to my belly.  This time, she had to chase you round with it! You were waving and wriggling, and at one point were on your head ready to roly-poly. And we thought we’d been joking about the star jump pokes in the side all last week!

This scan’s called the anomaly scan, to check for an (alarmingly long) list of quite awful things, and sitting waiting in those same chairs where we’ve waited, nervous, a few times before did make the adrenaline pump a bit. Maybe that’s what set you off with the acrobatics?! But all looked and measured fine, hooray! Including your weight, which suggests that the 10lbs the scales reckon I’ve put on in a month are in fact all croissants, baguettes and madelines from last week’s trip to France, and not down to actual weight of baby. I’ll keep my fingers crossed you’re not a 13lb hephalump plotting to shred my bits in just under 5 months’ time, despite what seems to be quite a large bump already!

In the fascinating process of the scan we saw and the sonographer explained to us the most astonishing things. Initially it was a bit of a ‘build your own baby’ sort of view, with disjointed bits floating and sticking out here and there, but then she showed us your brain, then the four chambers of your heart pumping, the white lines of your ulna and radius, and your two little feet tucked one under the other at the toes. Then a whole rack of ribs radiating out from your spine. It reminded me of a dinosaur dig, gradually revealing more and more as she pressed back and forth around you. All so thrilling, looking at those pieces inside the body inside my own body.

As to ‘the make’ as Auntie Katie put it…..

Well after literally weeks of debating back and forth as to whether we should/would find out if you are all sugar and spice or puppy dogs’ tails, we finally came to the definitive conclusion 2 days ago that we would not find out. But that we would ask the sonographer to write it on a card and seal the envelope, in case we changed our minds in the next few months. Very definitive, that decision 🙂 . It turned out that they’re not allowed to write it down (because some people cause a fuss when, as warned can happen, the announced sex turns out to be wrong). So we’ve had to leave it at a mystery, and wait for the surprise. Our gender-neutral plan will have to be enforced on the nursery and those gorgeous little clothes we’ll all buy for you! Dinosaurs and travel and animals and fun all round, whichever ‘make’ you are.

(We’ve already started the collection of animal and nature themed non-disposable nappies from Bambino Mio. They’re so gorgeous. Will they make ‘Operation De-Poo’ more fun every time? I hope so, but probably not 🙂 )

So for now you continue to be Jaffa Cake, wriggling, sucking your thumb and star-jumping in there for the next few months. Just take it easy on my bladder and bits, please?

See you again in October, our little Jaffa Cake!

xxx