The unexpected

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?

I’m sorry we’ve been gone so long.  We fell out of love with blogging, and raising tiny humans was all-encompassing, and and and…

But I don’t think either of us ever fell out of love with writing.  And we know many of you miss the space that this blog creates.  

So the plan is…there is no plan.  No schedule.  Just posts as and when we receive them, and as and when we write them.  So write if you like, send it in, same rules apply as ever.  Let’s see if we can get this place up and running again, eh?  

And to kick off…some drivel.    

 

“Ellie.  We’re going to miss the train.  Get up.  NOW”

Silence.  My two-year-old remained sitting, cross legged, on the floor of the Liverpool Street Station concourse, in evening rush hour.

I was holding her rucksack, her drink, my handbag and a bundle of her paintings that she’d done on A3 like some sort of oil painting prodigy.  I was seven months pregnant.  I had fractured my foot.  The train to get us home was leaving in four minutes.

And Ellie didn’t move.

I had tried asking, negotiating, ordering, in that order.  I was tired, I was in pain, and I couldn’t pick her up.  People were rushing to their trains, stepping over her.  There were tuts.  I tried not to cry, but I did, a bit.

A big, burly man in a hi-vis jacket who often gets our train, who sits nearby and always looked annoyed, crouched down, holding out his fists.  ”Ellie.  Which hand has the coin?”  Curious, she pointed.  ”You want the coin? Come with me onto the train.”

Up she got like a lamb, holding his hand all the way down the platform and into our carriage.  I followed, half bemused, half pathetically grateful.

“Just sit there.  I can look after her.  It’s fine.  Read your book” , he said.

They played games, they made up stories, she didn’t look at me once all journey.  I felt the tension lifting for the first time in weeks.

At our stop, I tried to say thank you.  ”It’s nothing”, he said.  ”Remember, people want to help. Even the ones you don’t expect”.

*****

That’s the thing about writing. If you stop doing it, the words don’t stop coming, but they get buried.  Buried under layers of skin and gristle and bone. They’re in there, deep down, you  know they are. And you sit with a shovel, hald-arsedly making marks in the ground because you can’t face the proper, on-your-knees, exhausting work you know it will be to get those damn words out.  And you don’t want to think about what the words might say, either.

But you also know that if you don’t do it, you’ll only ever know half of what you could know about yourself.

And you weigh that up, you oscillate. I want to write, but it’s hard work, but I need to write, but I can’t be bothered, I don’t have the time, you have the time to watch four seasons of Orange Is The New Black on the trot but you don’t have time to do the thing you think is most important to you?

Oh. Well. Fuck’s sake.

And so, resentfully, you start the hard work. You dig. The words are stuck under rock. You chip and you chip and you chuck down your shovel in a massive piss and you sheepishly pick it up again. They won’t come. But you keep going. Because you want to say what you’ve got to say, everyone has something in them, words are what’s in you. And slowly, slowly, you pull out one word, a phrase, a sentence, you pin a thought down before it floats away.

And eventually you strike through, you hit a vein, they come tumbling out, and they keep coming, unstoppable, like you never stopped.

*****

In October I had a baby girl and named her Audrey.

You may remember Ellie’s birth as being a bit difficult. My expectations for Audrey’s birth were, consequently, low.  I’d convinced myself my body couldn’t do it.  That another c-section would be fine.  That’s that’s just how it would be.  I’d accepted that.

But the problem was, I wanted to give birth naturally, more than anything.

Why?

Sheer curiosity.  I wanted to know, from start to finish, how it feels to make, grow, and birth a baby.  I was hungry for it.  I never even considered drugs.  I just wanted to know what my body was capable of, at its most primal.

I went into labour in Home Bargains on a Saturday at noon, somewhere between the discount bathroom cleaner and the mops. On and off, on and off for two and a half days.  By Monday night I was tired, bent over a gym ball, lowing. My mother politely suggested I go into hospital.

“No. It doesn’t hurt enough yet ”
” Right you are, then” she said, and went to bed.

An hour later, conceding she was right, in we headed.

Because of my medical history, over the next 24 hours there were many many doctors and many many examinations. This was gratifying yet also wearying. There’s only so many different sets of hands I can take up in my grill.  By Tuesday night the doctors were ready to send me home.

“You just aren’t progressing, Anna. You don’t even look in pain”
” If you send me home now, I will have this baby on the North Circular. If I’m lucky, in the Ikea Edmonton car park. I can’t go home. Don’t make me”

I don’t know how I knew but I knew.

And then of course, everything happened and time both stopped and sped up and my body took over.

I looked at the clock and told the midwife I’d have the baby before midnight.  She gently informed me that cervixes don’t work to deadlines.

In twenty minutes I progressed five centimeters.  Mr K high-fived me and trotted off to get the certificate for free parking.

I wasn’t in the best position to labour, strapped to a bed and not allowed to move. Contractions were coming fast and strong and dragging me under and I had a moment of sincerely questioning whether I could actually do this.  And then I had my epiphany.

This was witchcraft and it was science.  This was both surrender and power.  This was the body down in the mud of it with the mind, each unable to escape the other.  And I knew that all I needed to go was channel everything I hoped about what I was capable of, and use it to get a baby out.

That’s all.

Labour was, yes, the most primal thing – both terrifying and magnificent. But the thing that got me through were the voices in my head, telling me this is what my body was designed to do, that this pain was natural, that this pain was right, that women have done this over and over for centuries. I got to know the shape of the contractions, I got to know that I could bear them, and once I knew that, I knew I could ride them out.

And suddenly there was the pushing, the feeling of my baby coming down, down, something only I could do, just me. The animal inside me took over.

And Audrey, my Audrey, was born ten minutes before midnight. Placed straight on my chest, hot, covered in blood, all fury. Staring at me, livid, raging, for a moment the newest person in this world.

I felt like a warrior.

*****

A few days later a midwife came to do a home visit.  She commended on the big baby box in the middle of the living room.  It had been a leaving gift from our hospital; a trial of the Scandinavian practice of giving each newborn child a box to sleep in containing nappies, wipes, a vest, and essentials for the new mother.  This is done so each baby has an equal start in life, which of course caused me, jacked up on hormones, to weep uncontrollably upon receipt.

She commented on what a lovely idea the box was.  She’d been a midwife for 20 years.  In her time she’d visited families who sleep four or five to a bed, who make up drawers for their babies as there’s no extra room. “This one time”, she said, “I made up a bed for a baby in a suitcase”.

I have thought of that baby a lot in the months that have followed.  I wonder where he or she is now, after that start in a suitcase, that tiny baby surrounded by sheets and old leather, looking from a distance as though it was about to start the greatest of adventures.

*****

“Mummy?”

“Yes, Ellie?”

“Do I look like a princess in my new dress?”

*exasperated sigh* “No.  You look like Ellie in a dress”

“I mean a princess that fights a dragon and the dragon cries and flies away. RAWR”

“Oh. Alright.  Yes you look like that princess”

*****

I am grateful beyond measure that my daughters are too young to ask about the Trump, or Brexit, or what;s happening in Syria, or any of the other horrifying things that have happened this past year.  I don’t know what I would tell them.  I know there will be a conversation soon, but not yet.  There are hard truths out there to bear, but I don’t relish telling a kid that a bully can win, and that unspeakable horror can rain on the undeserving.

I have, at times, had to turn away from the 24-hour news cycle of horror  and switch my brain off and focus on simple things, on smelling and tasting and going into the forest, taking in lungfuls of damp, cold air, letting my feet get cold in my wellies as they sink into the mud.  And cooking.  Both the  long slow stir of soups and risottos, and the alchemy that happens when you mix eggs, flour and sugar and add heat. Putting my face in the steam, closing my eyes, inhaling the scent of onions caramelising, of garlic turning, of herbs. Opening the oven and pulling out the result of that alchemy, enjoying the simple pleasure of feeding people cake, seeing their mood lift with every bite.

I didn’t anticipate that of myself.  I never thought self-preservation would be something I turned to when there is suffering on a global scale.

*****

Having Audrey has, I think, been my most humbling lesson.

At the beginning, my main concern was that Ellie would cope with the arrival of a sibling.  With the exception of a couple of meltdowns, she surpassed every expectation.  Yes, Audrey fed close to thirty times a day, yes she was loud, constantly, yes she rarely slept during daylight hours, but I figured I just had to wait it out and things would settle.  And Ellie was fine and I was still feeling like a warrior, and everything was fine here, thank you for asking.

I kept going through the weeks. I soon realised that I had a baby who didn’t sleep much at all, who clearly needed to, but who had an extraordinarily difficult time falling asleep.  And whenever she was awake, she was angry.  I think of all the things Audrey has thrown at me since her arrival, the noise levels have been the hardest to bear.  Two months in, every time she screamed, sometimes for six hours straight, I felt like there was a rodent inside my head, scratching to get out.  I could feel my nerve ends jumping out of my skin at the sheer pitch of it.  She wasn’t ill, she was just so tired, and nothing we could do could help her sleep.  Some evenings, bedtime took over four hours.  Day after day I would hold this raging, hot little baby who, as hard as I tried, wouldn’t be soothed, who couldn’t even cry herself to sleep.  And as the weeks progressed, my ability to withstand the noise lessened, and lessened.  I lost the thing I’m proudest of, my sense of perspective.

Four months is apparently the time it takes me to lose my grip on a situation. I’ve lost count of how many days I spent pacing up and down, up and down, faster, faster, holding this baby, with three kinds of white noise, and shushing, and rocking, and feeding, and sustained and multiple interventions to get her down. Her finally falling asleep, me exhausted, for her to wake up after ten minutes.  I remember the heat of the tears, mine, and hers, day after day after day.  I remember my body giving out one night because I simply couldn’t hold her any more.  I remember for the first time in my adult life thinking I really couldn’t do something, and being thoroughly unprepared for that thought.

I went to the doctor, who diagnosed shingles.  It comes on after a period of intense exhaustion or stress.  If you haven’t had it, I wish for you to avoid it like the plague. It is repellant.

And then of course something had to change, and it did.  Getting Audrey to sleep is still not straightforward, but it is manageable.  She cries a lot less these days.  But I think something has changed in me.

I didn’t anticipate that would happen to me, and it did.  I hope I’m a bit wiser, a bit kinder, a bit bigger inside for it.

Categories: Any Other Baby, Becoming a Mother, Family, Friends and Relationships, Life Experience, Written By Anna
46 interesting thoughts on this

46 Comments

  1. Penny
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Sheer loveliness. So good to have you and your wonderful words back!

    E was a next level angry baby too – I can’t imagine the stress of dealing with that and a toddler. You truly are a warrior. What a prize though. Look at that FACE.

    Px

  2. Linsey
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    You’re back! And it brought tears to my eyes at my desk.
    “I remember for the first time in my adult life thinking I really couldn’t do something, and being thoroughly unprepared for that thought.” this sums up everything I have struggled with being a mum. The not having a clue and feeling like I couldn’t do it. But of course you keep going and do it because noone else can or will. Your babies are beautiful and strong-willed

  3. Zan
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Love this. So much about small babies is baffling to me at times (napping is wasted on them), but they always manage to turn it around with a smile. Little fiends. So glad you’re back, have missed AOW so so much x

  4. Steff
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Wow. Just wow.

    And tears at the guy from the train station.

    Welcome back lovely x

  5. Anon
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Staying anonymous but just wanted to say I’m so happy to read your writing again. I don’t feel like part of this group any more but I’m looking forward to reading along. Glad you’re back.

    • Amy
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Hi Anon, I just wanted to reply and say hello. And feel free to drop me a line if you ever want to chat.

    • Lara
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Please know that you are welcome here whoever you are xxx

  6. Fran
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Made it through the first section before sobbing. Brilliant to see an AOW post again.

    Thea was also a sleep detester when tiny. Why do they resist it so?! Hope things have continued to improve x

  7. Rachel JHD
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Welcome back xx
    Glad there was a cooking paragraph in amongst all the other wonderful thoughts & feelings.

  8. Rach B
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Oh it is like catching up with an old friend, months may have gone by but you still pick up from the same point and cosy down with a cup of tea to enjoy each others company.

    Welcome back oh wonderful and supportive place.

  9. Caro
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Oh hello old friend.
    I use to read posts like this on the train to work. Devouring them hungrily as I plodded through Raynes Park et all.
    Now I’m reading in the car on the drive, while my nearly three year old is zonked in the back clutching his new paw patrol toy. Times have changed. Yet as soon as I started to read everything was the same again. I’ve missed this and am looking forward to many more like it. Bravo ladies xxx

  10. Esme
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Such beautiful writing, as always, Anna. I loved the story about the stranger on the train and Audrey’s entrance to the world. The shingles and the screaming, not so much. My goodness you have had a time of it. These babies…

    xxx

  11. Alex
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful surprise to pop up on a Monday morning. Exactly hit the spot, thank you!

  12. Kat
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    How I have missed this blog. Beautiful writing, beautiful baby. More please (meant entirely in a non pressure, fully understanding you have small people way) x

  13. Amy
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Very glad to have you all back! Beautiful words as ever.

  14. Sandie
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Having also just had my second baby, I read that through so many tears.

    Very happy to see you back xx

  15. Fee
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    It is glorious to have you back! Hooray for AOW!

    Your words are beautiful as ever, sounds like you have fought a battle with Audrey, so very glad you are coming out the other side. But shingles man. Aargh. Hope you feel better soon xxx

    Also, much much admiration for me for coping with a toddler and a difficult (but beautiful) baby at all. littlest baby was relatively low maintenance (relative to my big baby!) but with him and a toddler I still felt like I was trying to scale an impossible wall some days. Still do of course!

    Lots of love xxx

    • Fee
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      From me, not for me. Not admiring myself!

      • Rach B
        Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        I’m admiring you!

  16. Katielase
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I mean, HOW you can call that drivel I do not know, you really are the most astonishing writer. I’m so so glad you’re back!

    It’s like coming home to old friends, the kind you don’t see in ages but when you do absolutely nothing has changed and you just pick up where you left off as if it were yesterday. The best kind of friendships, with the best kind of people.

    KL x

  17. Gemma
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Welcome back!

    This is beautiful, such great writing. The story about the man on the station almost made me cry.

    Looking forward to reading more.

  18. Martha
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    What a way to start the week, absolutely beautiful writing as always. Welcome back AOW! xx

  19. Liz
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Oh I missed this. Anna, your writing floors me every time.

    It is soo good to be reading this on a dreary Monday, and to see the comments of this wonderful group of women. Welcome back! Xx

  20. Rach M
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Wondrous as ever. You are a glorious writer. I’ve missed this x

  21. katylkh
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Best day ever, so glad aow is open for business! And with a post that captures exactly what this place always was to all of us.

    I hope whoever the anon person is up there in the comments knows they are always welcome in this community.

  22. Carly
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Oh my word, you have no idea how happy this has made me! I’ve missed APW so much and still quite often read through the archives. So much has changed for so many of us since the ‘glory days’ ;-) but it feels like you’ve never been away.

    Big love xxx

    • Carly
      Posted February 27, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      That would be AOW, not APW!

  23. Claire
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Such beautiful writing! Welcome back

  24. Lara
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    LOVE this Anna. So glad you took up that shovel, the story of the man on the train was what I needed to read today so thank you for that. I had shingles in my late teens and it was unfailingly miserable and agonising- I have no idea how you managed with two small children on top of it, you certainly have my admiration although I’m not sure that’s much use! I also want to echo everyone above and say how lovely, comforting, familiar and friendly it is to have a new post up on AOW and to see everyone commenting. Squishy hugs to all AOW veterans, newcomers and anonymous commenters xxxx

  25. Posted February 27, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m not crying, you’re crying. Oh dammit, I’m crying. So absolutely wonderful to see you back! Your writing floors me every time Anna, in the best way possible! So happy AOW is back! I may even try and conjour something up! Love xxx

  26. Amy Ripley
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    BOOM! GOT IT IN ONE. X

  27. Ro
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Oh welcome welcome back! So lovely to read some of your wonderful writing Anna (and my admiration for you is only growing for coping – in any form – with a toddler and a sleep-hating baby) and equally fabulous to see the AOW community immediately spring back to life! x

  28. Laura
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Hello, warrior woman. So happy to read your words again.

    What I took from this is the importance of self-care. So many aspects of life – being a mum, being a loving partner, being devoted to a career, being a supportive friend – are so demanding and it’s so easy to lose yourself in that. Lots of instagrmmers pay lip-service to self-care but, as ever, Anna K puts it across more authentically and articulately than anyone.

    This place is the real deal; a proper community. You’re welcome here, Anon. I’m taking Anna’s words on Facebook at face value – come, talk, share, shape the discussion. It’s all there if you want it.

    Thanks for the invitation, Anna. I’m going to prioritise some time for me amidst the bad back and the tantrums and the tears and the frustrations (and the nice bits, too, obvs) to put fingers to keyboard and write something – possibly, shock horror, something NOT implicitly related to having two children. IMAGINE THAT (I honestly don’t know if I can).

  29. Mahj
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Reading this was like catching up with a old friend whilst clutching a cup of tea and scoffing biscuits.
    Welcome back wonderful AOW, I have missed you big time. X

  30. Emma
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    looking forward to reading more of your amazing writing again! I was more of a lurker here before, but looking forward to reading the posts as and when they appear! Also, your description of labour makes me wish I could have had my son ‘normally’, although I am obviously grateful for the emergency section which delivered him safely into the world!

  31. Another Anon
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Ah, welcome back! I’m not part of the group but I’ve always liked reading all of your writing. I sometimes wonder what everyone is up to so it’s nice to hear how you’re getting on now. A lot has changed for me since the days when I used to read the blog, and life has been very tough and sad this past year. I’ve had a bit of an internet detox but it will be good to tune in for some good old AOW wisdom from time to time! Lovely to see these pages back in action.

    • Posted February 28, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I’m so sorry life has been tough and sad. There is support here whenever you need it. And I hope reading the blog helps. Xx

  32. Posted February 28, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    1. So glad you are back
    2. I have no words on the kids stuff. I have no kids. But then we have all had so many changes since AOW was more active.
    3. SHINGLES IS HORRIBLE. I got it after months of job hunting, interviews, long journeys and so many applications. I got it the day before I was due to start my first ‘proper’ job. It sucks. But now when I am doing too much or expecting more from my body than it can give my shingles scar tingles and I know to take some time to rest, even if it seems impossible. I hope you get that superpower from your bout too.

  33. Posted February 28, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much everyone. It has been a genuine pleasure to see how happy you are that the blog is back. I love the old friend analogy.

    Please write a post… AOW cannot survive on our drivel alone!

    And to those who don’t feel part of the community… You are always welcome, please remember that. But of course, only on your own terms. X

  34. Celia
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Well this has just made my week! Welcome back AOW!

  35. Charlotte
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I used to love AOW and am so glad to see a post again. This time I am going to aim to be more involved in the community here rather than lurking on the edges.

    Really great writing x

  36. Another Sarah
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    One word: YAY!
    So, so happy to read your drivel again. X

  37. Vivienne
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Aah! I am SO pleased to find this. I thought of AOW today on IWD, and clicked through the link from Facebook, in the hope something would be here. And it was! Welcome back lovelies, so much has changed for all of us but we still need this space ♡

  38. Raluca
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Well this has been one of the best things today, finding that AOW is back (at least every once in a while). And perfect timing, finding you again on IWD. I was just thinking of that year you did a whole lot of posts for this day, and planning to read them again as soon as possible.

    The first paragraph brought me to tears and the rest… well, I just loved every single bit of it. Thank you so much for writing.

  39. Sarah
    Posted March 11, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    LOVE this. So happy you’re back, missed you like so many of us have. Your writing is incredible. Lovely story about the man on the train, such kindness. Congratulations to you all for welcoming the newest member of your family. Amazing birth story. You are a warrior. I wish I could express my thoughts and feelings as eloquently as you but for now I’ll just continue to love and be inspired by reading yours. Thank you for this.

  40. Lee-Anne Connor
    Posted March 22, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Just decided to check this blog on a whim and was so happy when I noticed there was new posts. I have two kids to put to bed then I am going to crap a cuppa and read your beautiful writing again Anna. I always loved reading this blog and although I was a big contributor to discussions it feels like having and ild friend back x

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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