Music, my memory peg.

Twice this year I have cried actual tears for the loss of people I have never met. First Bowie and now Prince; 2016 is not turning out to be a good year for artistic legends.

Admittedly, I am emotionally fairly free. I have cried following the deaths of those I have barely known, but most likely these were tears for the pain of their loved ones left behind. I have also been known to cry at death in the news, but perhaps this is because of the general inhumanity or injustice of certain events as opposed to the often untold individual stories.

These tears are more selfish than that. I cried at the news of the loss of these artists because they have provided the backdrop to many of my memories.

Bowie was frequently played by my parents as I grew up, and I found my own love of his music in my teens. ‘Hunky Dory’ has never really not been played. And now, in a full circle state of affairs, Bean loves Ziggy Stardust. Although, apparently, this is entirely different to loving David Bowie if you are four years old and cannot see past the make-up. How can they possibly be the same person when ‘Ziggy is too pretty to be called David’? But, artist identity aside, her ‘Starman’ is  undoubtedly about Tim Peake taking up residence on the International Space Station. And if Ziggy plays guitar left-handed then she can definitely use her different scissors with pride.

The songs that spoke to me now speak to her. Lyrics I remember clearly from my childhood are now beginning to punctuate hers.

The passing on of a love of a certain artist is clearly not unusual. My love of Prince came not from a family member, but instead from an older neighbour when she leant me a box of cassettes while I was still at primary school. At the time I probably would have loved anything those cassettes contained. How could I not have wanted to like the music of a girl who painted graffiti on her bedroom walls (albeit immediately prior to planned redecoration) and dyed the majority of her clothes purple in a water butt in her driveway? But independent of any external influences, ‘Kiss’ stood out on one of those cassettes and remains able to transport me back to the exact details of rummaging through those old cassettes so long ago.

Music is a constant in my hanging of memories on the pegs in my mind. The work of people I have never met helps me remember things clearly, make sense of things and bond with those around me. How can it matter that I have never met these creators and performers when their words run through the events of my life?

Of course, my song hung memories extend beyond the music of the legends that are Bowie and Prince. But their deaths have prompted my thinking about the importance of music in our lives.

I pressed play on the CD player in my room immediately before feeding Bean for the first time after leaving hospital, without a thought as to what would begin to play. It was the last album I had listened to before having her, Bob Marley and The Wailers, ‘Feel Alright’. But without any thought, the first song that played, ‘Stir it up’, was perfect. I can hear it when I think back to our first few minutes together in our own environment. Stir it up she did, but in that moment everything was as it should be. I was relaxed, warm, and grateful for being sat on my bed feeding my six day old baby. Listening to that song never fails to make me feel happy and safe. The album stayed in my CD player for the coming days and continues to remind me of little details of that time; her hiccups, her froggy legs as she lay in her moses basket, and the sunny time of year. I worry that without the intertwining of my memories with the prompt of hearing certain songs I would forget these details that make me so happy.

Then there is this memory I have of Bean, just turned age three, dancing freely to ‘Don’t Stop’ by Fleetwood Mac. We were on holiday in Brittany, it was windy but warm and our giant prawns were cooking on the barbecue. We were having a lovely time in a beautiful location. The sun was still fairly high in the sky, but would soon begin to set on the wrong side of us as we looked North, out towards the sea. I don’t think I will ever forget some of the details of that holiday, but I cannot think of any of it without my mind jumping to Bean dancing to that song.

Not all my memories married to songs are so pleasant, but even then songs have only ever served to help a situation. Some songs have been seemingly ruined by their, often accidental, accompaniment of a sad time. But they never really are.

I cannot imagine life without other peoples words and feelings so easily accessible in their music. Wondering what they meant by their lyrics, and if it is the same as my interpretation and what I am feeling.

These true artists who are sadly no longer with us will live on through the love people have for their work. Their words, the feelings their music brings, and an appreciation of their talent, will be passed on to our babies. Bowie’s affirmation that throwing homework on the fire is perfectly acceptable is all the encouragement I need to do exactly that. Only we will not be taking the car anywhere, we will instead spend the time listening to great music that is good for our souls.

img_0426

Decisions.

I have been meaning to see a fertility consultant for a while now. I kept saying to myself I had not got round to it because I was too busy with Bean, work, and life. But really, I just didn’t want to hear what I thought would be said.

Left unspoken I could keep hold of the eighteen month old words that described my fertility as slightly below average for my age.

My glass half full self looked past the below average bit and revelled in the word slightly. Those slightly less than averagely functioning ovaries were, as far as I was concerned, triumphing in the face of trauma and decreased blood supply. They stubbornly refused to wave a white flag of surrender at the loss of their closest ally.

The not quite so glass half full part of me did consider the flawed nature of this approach. Defiant as my ovaries were, it was not as if they were going to team up and initiate a uterine regeneration programme.

However, despite my lack of uterus, my ovarian function remains important to me. Their continued function my ticket to the opportunity of having another baby of my own. A ticket to a no doubt difficult journey with a slim chance of arriving at the destination I would like; but a ticket none the less. Their function, along with the help of a surrogate home for nourishment and growth, providing the possibility that another baby is not an entirely unrealistic hope.

Today, I got round to braving the appointment with the fertility consultant. I walked in past the white stone statue of a man holding a sword to a dragon that I could not fathom the relevance of, went up two flights of stairs with success stories adorning the walls, and waited.

Knowledge is power after all. And the hospital coffee isn’t all that bad.

Knowledge of a significant decrease in fertility, using the term in the loosest sense given the sub-total hysterectomy shaped elephant in the room, did not feel like power. It felt horrible. Not unexpected, but deflating, flat, and somehow unfair.

I feel guilty saying that it feels unfair, when I am so fortunate as to share my life with Bean. But there is this part of me that really hopes that one day all the pieces will fall into place. A version of my life where I will be with someone who loves me and can see us with a baby, and a kind and selfless women will offer to help bring one into the world for us. Life where things are how I would have loved them to be had events not happened as they did when I had Bean. A dog or two, a couple of chickens, and a little place perched on a hilltop where grass meets a stretch of sandy beach would also be great, but I don’t want to push my luck given the first request.

Back in the consultation room, options and success rates were discussed. Frozen eggs, frozen embryos, surrogacy; nothing I have not heard before and yet different in the context of the immediately preceding conversation.There now feels like a very present need to make a decision.

I thanked the consultant for his time and advice, and walked down the stairs. Everything always feels like it takes longer when you have just received news that is not as you would have liked it to be. Two flights of stairs felt like many more. I know there is no point feeling upset about something I cannot change, and yet I walked down the stairs trying not to cry and hoping I did not bump into anyone as I left.

In a parallel existence where money is no object I would be freezing eggs as soon as possible. But the success rate is poor.  Would it be spending money I do not have for false hope in my current situation? Will I have days where I feel the loss of someone that does not exist as I so frequently did when I finally accepted the implications of having my uterus removed? Will a man fall in love with me and want to try against the odds to have a baby, rendering the need for a frozen egg insurance policy unnecessary?

If I don’t do it while it is a possible option, will I wish I had?

I am notoriously awful at decision making at the best of times; weighing this issue up at this point in time feels challenging. I am not a five year plan kind of person. I like things to just happen, absolving myself from the responsibility of the what ifs.

So far the decision making process has consisted of buying myself flowers, wine, and my favourite cheese. I danced with Bean in the lounge and let her stay up later than normal, giving her just long enough to adopt my flowers with the assurance they will definitely prefer to live in her bedroom.

None of this has yet led to me deviating from my usual demeanour of planning avoidance. But flowers, cheese, wine, and dancing with someone you love are firmly confirmed as the best medicine for a difficult day.

img_0127

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.

FullSizeRender[1]

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.

DSC01789one

Little Bell and The Moon; A Review.

oneDSC04823

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.

 

 

I think, therefore I am.

‘I told my teacher I need to leave early on Wednesdays now, so I can get to my Bhangra class on time’, Bean pipes up as we walk home from school. My bemused response of, ‘But Bean, you don’t go to a Bhangra class?’ was quashed with a self-assured, ‘I know I don’t go to one YET. But I WANT to go to one and my teacher said I just need to remind her next week’.

So that’s it, a done deal. Next Wednesday I shall be leaving work early to take my four year old daughter to a fictitious Bhangra class.

This approach in many ways is admirable; I think it, therefore it will be. No barriers, no uncertainty and total unwavering self-belief. It leads me to question whether the focus of my pondering as we walked home that all four year old children are clearly bonkers should actually have had a strong leaning towards championing the true genius of these little people.

I passed my driving test having repeatedly muttered to myself, ‘It will be okay. I have never met this person before, they have no idea what an awful driver I am’, before the test. The shock on my driving instructor’s face told me I was right to have questioned my (in)ability, but the bottom line was I had proved I could do it. The ability was there, it was my prior belief that had not been.

When do we lose our self-assurance that things we want will just be?

When do the lines between everyday life and make-believe stop being blurred?

It is these blurred lines that frequently provide the magic of a young child’s imagination. They do not believe they are imagining; they just believe. They did not possibly hear their toy dinosaur roar when they were in bed last night, they definitely heard it. They do not doubt they will simultaneously be an astronaut and a milk-maid when they grow up, they know they will be. Minor details like appropriate habitat for the accompanying cow, ‘Space Moo’, are easily solved by planting ‘A field on the moon’. It doesn’t matter that, aside from anything else, there will be no one to sell the milk to because ‘It will all be so much fun!’.

This inability to differentiate between the real world and everything else is what makes reading stories with a child so great. It is what makes them believe the International Space Station is Santa Claus pulled by reindeer in his sleigh. It is the reason I watched a lengthy puppet show of dubious substance but abundant enthusiasm yesterday. It is what makes you question your own sanity if you spend too long with a young child.

Clearly, we cannot all go about our lives with unwavering self-assured belief in fiction. But I am sure just a little more of the ‘I think and so I am’ attitude of a young child would serve some of us well as adults.

I really hope Bean holds on to every bit of her refreshing childhood shade of crazy for just a little while longer. And I hope the smallest amount of it rubs off on me.

img_0281

Singular; adjective, just one person or thing.

‘Do you just have the one?’, an innocent enough question that never fails to make my eyes sting and my face do this thing where it feels like parts of it are paralysed while I compose myself to answer that, ‘Yes, I have just the one child’. I feel disappointed in myself that every time I respond I mirror the ‘just’, but know that for some reason dropping it would be just enough to give away the upset in my answer.

DSC01636one

Bean is by no means ‘just’; she is one, a complete, a whole. I have never heard anyone ask if someone has ‘Just the two?’.

My answer is normally followed by flippant questions along the lines of, ‘One enough to put you off then…?’, when the truth of it is I would give almost anything to have another child.

Having Bean was the event that took away my ability to have another one. I had no idea of the depth of the love I would feel for this little human until she arrived, and then two days later had the ability to feel that love for another baby taken away. I bled profusely and had my life saved by the removal of my uterus.

So it is not only the ‘just’ that makes my eyes sting almost five years later, it’s the inability to detach it from the trauma and loss that is the reason I have one child. It’s the fact the stinging in my eyes proceeds the image of my baby, fast asleep, being pushed out of the way in her cot as the crash team responded to me. It’s the way the increased frequency of my blinks to hold back the tears invariably coincides with an image of the bright theatre light directly above me that I looked at while totally convinced the strangers around me were the last people I would hear speak. I simultaneously wanted them to anaesthetise me, so they could try to make it all better, but also take me back to the people I loved so I didn’t feel alone. After a failed attempt to surgically stop the bleeding while preserving my uterus and copious amounts of blood being transfused through numerous lines, every part of my being thought my baby and I would not see each other again. Perhaps my prior working in the hospital I was now a patient in was not helping any potential for some blissful ignorance of the severity of the situation.

I had assumed that by now the various pre-cursers for the frozen stinging face would have stopped being associated with such vivid images, but it turns out some things do not appear to fade. I know now these images will cease as quickly as they flash before my eyes, but I do not think I can expect they will ever become more distant in my mind. They are just not like other memories; these ones seem like they are etched on the inside of my eyelids at times, stubbornly refusing to be blinked away.

They do however serve to remind me that I am very fortunate to be a part of my ‘just’ one’s life, and for that perhaps I should be grateful. I appreciate the new phases of her life in a way I would not be so acutely aware of as being the only time I will see them, and once I put the bittersweet in that aside I can see the positives.

My ‘just’ one often refers to her Grandmother’s Labrador as her brother, but maybe life is too short to worry about that. And maybe most dogs are better than most humans anyway.

Perhaps one day someone will carry a baby for me and perhaps I should be able to verbalise the truth of my feelings to people more easily so as to stop the stinging in its tracks, but until then I will focus on what there is to be grateful for.

Commonly used language may refer to Bean as ‘just’, but to me she is my complete.

img_0466-2