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.
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.
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.
“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.