Meeting Bean.

I felt like I knew Bean well before she was born. Those months of getting used to her movements, talking to her, and playing her my favourite songs as she grew were special.

We had our routines. I would frequently accidentally bump her into the checking bench in the hospital dispensary and Bean would retaliate with an indignant kick, having been disturbed from the reassuring background noise. I knew she liked coffee and the sickly sweet syrup kirsch cherries are bathed in, but didn’t seem to want me to consume anything else very successfully. I also knew she had formed an early disregard of my need for sleep and enjoyed nothing more than hosting a rave for one every evening when I lay in bed. She would hiccup daily, endured my awful singing, and let me know of her annoyance when I dug a hole in the cold sand for my bump on West Wittering beach.

And then there was the blurry little black and white pictures of her.  I have no idea just how many hours I spent looking at them, but they were numerous. One of the tiny pictures came in an envelope with me to Tanzania, so it could be happily stared at on a different continent for a couple of weeks. They now live next to my bed, safely tucked away in my favourite book. Bean once pulled them out of the book, peered at them at a variety of angles, and declared, ‘It was so dark when I grew in your tummy; it must have been night-time for ages’, before discarding the pictures in favour of something more interesting.

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I most likely felt I knew her better than I ever could have done at that point in time, but undoubtedly she was a huge part of my world and our bond was already there.

So why, the first time I met her, did I ask for her to be taken off my chest?

It is almost five years on and I still have moments of guilt about my immediate reaction to meeting the little human I was already so in love with. There is so much spoken of how you will feel when you meet your child for the first time that I had not contemplated it being anything other than the soft-focus image of skin-to-skin bonding and overwhelming love.

Despite this preconceived image and Bean’s need for me I asked for her to be taken off my skin. I was totally in love with her, but her presence was claustrophobic for my three days in labour exhausted, spaced out on opioids, being stitched up self. The curtain part-way down my body felt like it was closing in on me and everything felt a bit foggy. I had lost the best part of two litres of blood; small fry compared to a couple of days later, but none-the-less it was likely contributing to my exhaustion as Bean was placed on me.

The rational part of me can see why I reacted as I did, but it has been hard to overcome my feelings of inadequacy and guilt for wanting my child to be taken off me when we first met. I would have loved for Bean to have had the calm and peaceful entrance to the world some women are fortunate enough to experience with their children. But, like a lot of us, it did not work out like that.

Labour was protracted and exhausting, it involved drugs, an emergency caesarean section, and later worse (Singular; adjective, just one person or thing.). But it was not my fault. And similar experiences are not other women’s fault. No amount of birth-planning, mindfulness, or calm on my part would have stopped Bean’s head getting stuck and the traumatic birth that resulted. I need to stop concerning myself with even the twinges of the guilt of our first meeting. We need to stop having such high expectations of ourselves and our bodies; growing and birthing a baby can be really hard and none of us have a crystal ball to prepare us for what our personal experience will be.

All we can be is our best. My best asked for Bean to not be on my skin while the best I could be at the time felt physically awful. My best delayed our first contact and the reassurance of my presence in my daughter’s life.

But my best also held Bean close, fed her, and showed her the love I had wanted to immediately just as soon as I felt I could. There have been more cuddles than I could begin to count since, and that is what matters. Like many other women’s experiences of birth, it was far from perfect; but it was my best.

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Little Bell and the Moon, a review.

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Three year old Bean was a bit too young to get it when Harvey Dog went to the vets and didn’t come back. Initially, there was no significant tangible response to his one-way trip. There was the occasional sigh of ‘Harvey Dog has been at the vets for a really long time now’, and, ‘When will Harvey Dog come home?’; but no amount of explanation of the finality of Harvey Dog’s journey truly sunk in. Consolation of others around her was acted out beautifully, with hugs and perfectly timed sympathetic exhalations in abundance.

But still nothing.

In one of the most delayed displays of grief in man-kinds history, it was the middle of the next summer when the penny finally dropped. ‘I don’t think Harvey dog is coming home and I really miss him’ was suddenly sobbed as we finished washing the car. Upset turned to anger that Harvey Dog wasn’t going to see her in her school uniform. There were cuddles and all the same explanations as before, but a year of emotional growth suddenly flowed with real tears and a degree of realisation.

Giles Paley-Phillips’ ‘Little Bell and The Moon’ plants the seed of wondering about our finite time on Earth perfectly for the curious mind of a child. Little Bell adores the Moon and the feeling is mutual. Wonderful adventures they have together play to a child’s imagination and, like all of the best teaching, draws them in to the bigger issue without even realising.

Bean, like many children, is fascinated with the moon. ‘Is the moon’s belly full of sun when it lights up?’, and, ‘Do astronauts go to the moon because it is the best place to bounce really high?’, are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her moon-based ponderings. The Moon is the perfect childhood friend for Bell, with the enduring nature of their friendship providing the security to deal with a difficult subject.

Bell and The Moon continue to explore faraway places; with Bell’s growing older not going unnoticed by Bean. Iris Deppe’s beautiful illustrations pave the way for discussions before being allowed to turn the page. ‘She’s fading’, Bean comments quietly towards the end of the story. And then, ‘Is that her soul?’, asked as we turn the page.

Bell’s being joins her friend in space; Little Bell, young again, consoling her friend with her brightness. Bean noted Little Bell’s happiness at being able to see The Moon even though she faded. A beautiful, touching, and reassuring ending to a lovely story of life and loss.

Little Bell and The Moon’s difficult subject matter and thought-provoking nature is perfectly balanced with well-worded rhymes painting images of childhood fun. It opens a child’s mind to the reality of death, while giving them relatable and reassuring images to hang their thoughts and questions on.

The Moon knows it is Little Bell that can be seen shining brightly. Bean asks ‘Are other people up in space with Little Bell, shining like stars?’, and I know that neither of us are going to look up at the sky in quite the same way again. Maybe Harvey Dog can see her in her school uniform, and perhaps Bean will see him when she next looks up at the stars.

‘Little Bell and The Moon’ written by Giles Paley-Phillips and illustrated by Iris Deppe, Fat Fox Books.