People I have lately wanted to punch, part 1

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons

My Friday nights are so full of unbridled flamboyance these days that I can barely bring myself to chronicle them here.  Last Friday, however, was special.  It involved my crossing the road to a neighbour’s house to attend a card party.  No, I did not cast myself headlong into a den of illegal gambling; rather, the heady environment of a suburban greetings card sales party.  I tried to contain my excitement at the triple wonders of being able to have a glass of wine, purchase stationery and Christmas cards, and yet be close enough to rush back if my husband couldn’t cope with my son’s apparent need to stay awake all the time.

I like my neighbour.  She’s a very good person who deserves a community award for being generally amazing to other people in her locality.  I can’t do that for her, but I can throw her a few beans by way of commission she will earn on the sales made during her party.  Unfortunately, not everyone attending the party was as excellent as my neighbour.

Smalltalk isn’t my strongpoint.  It does not flow naturally out of my mouth, and it’s a skill I’ve had to learn.  Gone are the days when I would open conversations by probing someone’s political views* before saying something unintentionally offensive if they didn’t align with mine (yes, I was a barrel of laughs).  What I’ve learnt over the years is that too many people met at social occasions are either unbearably boring and/or xenophobic/anti-feminist/homophobic dipshits best endured with a glazed expression and a list of general questions about themselves that any tool could answer cheerfully until you can make good your escape.

I accidentally got chatting to someone who fit this category.  She was deeply dull but had at least mastered the art of a back-and-forth conversation (I’m still stunned that there are people who seemingly can’t do this – my sister in law is chief among the ones I have to cope with regularly).  She asked me questions which led to my divulging the Sprout’s existence and his age.

Oh, she said, that’s nice.  And what did you do before you had children?

What did I do?

I’m not in the most stable states at the moment when it comes to evaluating my own self-worth, which I recently discovered is inextricably linked to my working for a living at a job I enjoy and by which I feel challenged.  I am lucky enough to have that job; indeed to still have it, despite taking 14 months off to focus entirely on raising the Sprout.  My office is waiting to welcome me back with open arms very soon now.

What did I do?  I still bloody do it, you vacuous idiot! I wanted to yell.

Most people I’ve met who wish to enquire about a mother’s employment status do so in a more indirect non-presumptive manner.  Are you on maternity leave at the moment? they might ask as a nice inoffensive topic-opener.

Lard alone knows what possessed her to phrase the question in the past tense.  Luckily, I have become notably more patient and tolerant since having the Sprout.  Even so, I had to actually pause and count to five before I answered her.  I clutched the stem of my wine glass so hard I felt it bend.

I’m on maternity leave at the moment, I said, returning in January.  I’m an investigator. No, no, it’s a lot less glamorous than it sounds… 

and the world tilted back on its axis without my punching her in the face.

*The reason I have any long-standing friends at all is because, when I was still taking this approach to small-talk at parties I would occasionally encounter people whose views aligned with my own, or those who didn’t but were at least up for a challenging discussion within moments of meeting someone.  Those people?  Those people are my friends.  One of them is my husband.

Modern Life is Irksome: kick it to the internet


It’s the rugby world cup, which always makes me nostalgic for my time in New Zealand.  Try as I might, I can’t give two shits about England’s non-performance.  I cared not a whit about rugby until I lived in The Land of the Long White Cloud.  There, it is written that thou shalt know and love rugby, and so it came to pass for me.  In a game between England and New Zealand, I will be behind the All Blacks every time.  I’m an involuntary traitor; a slightly sad one, since I still wonder whether it was a mistake to return to the UK.  I can hear my inner tangent-alarm ringing, so I’ll shut up about that now.  Because this post is about the proper place of sport.

I’m not anti-sport.  I watch tennis, rugby, American Football, and sometimes even – when I’m having trouble sleeping – snooker.  I cried a little tear when Mo Farah did the double at the Olympics.  Like many of their fans, on several occasions I have paid good money to go see the Cubs lose at Wrigley Field.

Sport can do great things for people, inspiring effort and yada yada.  It can also turn them into rabid tribal lunatics – such as with the loathsome sport of football in the UK.  I’ll let my tangent-alarm ring long enough to write that I cannot understand the appeal of a sport where 22 people lackadaisically push a ball around in mid-field for 90% of the game, waiting for someone to gear up the energy to make a run at the goal, at which point they hurl themselves at the ground and start crying.

The point of this post is my complaint about overwhelmingly disproportionate coverage given by TV news to sports results and sport-strategy debates.  I know there are people for whom sport is a living breathing companion, and to humour them I can cope with a short sports bulletin at the end of the proper news, if the story is sufficiently big to warrant it.  In the olden days, I could even see the logic of there being a half-hour football results program featuring something known affectionately as the Biddy Printer (I know not why) so that fans of Inner Dribbling’s football team could find out how badly they got thrashed.  After all, there was no internet.

However, times have changed and people can look these things up on t’internet if they wish.  Under these circumstances, I find it extremely difficult to accept a thrice-hourly sports bulletin on TeeVee when I want to find out whether Kim Kardashian has had another baby yet.  It is doubly irksome when the story pertains to a local team in my area and is covered on the national sports bulletin and then ten minutes later in near-identical fashion on the local sports bulletin.  ARGH.

I find it particularly ludicrous that sports stories are now often presented in the day’s proper news headlines, displacing stories about, say, Russia quietly annexing the Crimea.  Instead, I have to hear about how David Beckham blinked and the resulting breeze caused his wife to fall over.

But if BBC Radio 4 stops broadcasting the entirely irrelevant Shipping Forecast, I will cry.

I can, actually.

There are things people say to mothers who let a thin sliver of lament show through the cracked veneer of their sanity.  Several of those things piss me off, and some of them mystify me.  One of the most befuddling is any variation on the following theme:

Well, yes, but I bet you can’t imagine your life without Sprout now.

I had a baby.  I didn’t disappear up a darkened tunnel to the lobotomy-station, or undergo a memory transplant.  I lived 37 years without having Sprout and I can perfectly recall what it feels like to be free to leave the house without an hour of forethought and an anxiety attack*.  I can imagine with crystal clarity what it is like not to have him around.

This weekend K-man took Sprout to visit some of his family for most of the day and I got a bigger, better view of the extent to which my freedom has been curtailed.  Obviously, I cleaned the house and cooked two bulk meals for Sprout.  But then.

Then, I walked into town without a pram and sat with a toasted panini and a book and watched the world breeze past me.  I shoe-shopped.  I returned some clothing I’d bought for Sprout because it was too small.  I had time to do all this because I didn’t have to repeatedly pause to deal with crying, puking or shitting, wait for the world’s slowest lifts, or manoeuvring the pram around too-closely-situated shop stands.  I was not on a timetable according to someone else’s apparently insatiable desire for food or movement.

It was so fabulous, so fantastic, that on the way home I cried in mourning for my lost freedom.

I’ve got a few coping strategies.  First, I look for a middle-aged woman who is having a good time.  I think look at her and how happy she seems.  She probably has grown children, and she has her life back now and a family. That will be me one day, I think.

Second, I try to remember what my friend JR said to me.  He’s so full of wisdom he can’t help leaking it wherever he goes.  He said two things.  Number one, every time I have a little wistful sigh about things I used to do, he says ‘and you will again‘ and gives me his Dalai Lama expression.  Seriously, he’s like a far more stylish Yoda.  Number two, when I expressed guilty feelings for wanting some space from Sprout, he said that although obviously I love Sprout, that does not mean I have to love everything he does or want to spend every minute of every day with him.  I should absolutely not feel guilty for wanting life’s balance to tip a bit less far towards childcare responsibility.

Third, I do one thing every day just for me.  Even if it’s only a ten minute thing and I have to wait until 8.30pm and ram it into the hour window before I collapse with exhaustion.  For example, today’s thing is this piece of writing.

When people tell me that I surely can’t imagine my life without Sprout I reply that yes I can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want my life without Sprout.  It seems an obvious distinction to me.  And now, he has been asleep for over two hours and I must go wake him or he won’t sleep tonight.  I’m looking forward to seeing him.

*Yes, anxiety is a bitch.  I’d never really experienced it before.  Sprout-induced anxiety forced me to get help from professionals.  More about that in another post.

My Television is a Misogynist

My television thinks it is so smart.  It connects to WiFi and gives us Netflix and BBC iPlayer and all that good stuff.  This is quite useful if I want to soak Sprout in a bucket of neglect for ten minutes and show him psychedelic neon baby TV.  It also has internet radio.  This is quite useful if I want to educate Sprout as to the wonders of music; classical, rock, and classic rock.

My television is so smart it has identified that I am a feminist.  Further, that I am a feminist who believes that porn is inherently harmful to women and therefore A Bad Thing.

This is the only explanation that I can think of for the following phenomenon.  I press the button on the remote which says ‘RADIO’ and enables access to myriad internet radio stations.  When I’m done with the radio and want to get back to important Kardashian-related viewing, I press the button marked ‘TV’. Every time I do this, the TV station it default-views is XXX ADULT XXX.  Try as I might, I cannot get it to go back to the station I left last time I was watching (BBC1, 2, 3 or 4 – or even the bloody Food Network).  To add insult to injury, its internal computer also takes a little time to catch up with itself so I’m stuck on XXX ADULT XXX for about ten seconds before I can change channel.

Do you know what this means?  Apart from being even-more-often-reminded that life as a woman is pretty bloody unpleasant sometimes, I have to remember that my television hates me every time someone comes to visit and we want use the television, lest they believe that I have been sitting there viewing triple-x abuse while they were on their way to me with a giant Catherine McKinnon tome tucked in their bag.

In the spirit of being grateful for small mercies, it is a subscription channel and obviously I don’t subscribe so I merely have to stare at the logo in dismay.

Hell Weekend: the Director’s Cut

Attn: World Police, do not panic - we have stairgates now.

Attn: World Police, do not panic – we have stairgates now.

How did humanity become dominant without its young being focused on their own health and safety and without the adults having 360-degree vision?  I tell you, folks, I’m looking forward to returning to work for a relaxing break.

I am writing to let go of one of the most horrendous long weekends of my life, which – of course – involved an extended visit with all ten of my in-laws.  Before Sprout was born, planning commenced for the Great Golden Wedding Anniversary Celebration 2015.  His mother’s one wish was for her whole family to be together.  While this sounds simple in theory, there is a deep schism within the K-family because one brother refused to attend the wedding of another brother.  Furthermore, one brother and his family live in Singapore.  The Golden Couple live in The Province.  So, the celebration had to last four days.

I spoke sharply to myself before the Great Event.  I swore solemnly that I would maintain my grace and not yell at K-man or snap at the Golden Couple. This weekend is for them, I said, as a gift.  Suck it the fuck up.

Come Sunday night I was broken into a million tiny pieces in a hotel room, screaming at K-man.

The tale begins on a Friday afternoon: K-man set down me and the Sprout at a country hotel and immediately shot off to the railway station to pick up the Golden Couple (they won’t drive themselves anywhere beyond a ten-mile radius of their home, necessitating difficult chauffeuring arrangements). We had to change rooms because the pram and travel cot would not physically fit in the first room, and the Golden Couple had to change rooms twice because of – gasp! – a connecting door in the first and broken air-conditioning in the second.  That was the easiest three hours of the weekend.

Sprout was seven months old at this point, but he already had impeccable timing.  That night he developed his second ever cold, and it was a stinker.  If he was upright on my shoulder, his nose cleared and he was asleep within seconds.  That bought 20 minutes of lying down before snot choked him awake.  I sat in a chair with him on my shoulder until 1am.  Calpol worked for three hours, which bliss accounted for the three hours of sleep we got that night.

Not content with merely getting a dreadful cold, Sprout cut his first tooth the following day.  I had to listen to fake-sympathy from various in-laws, which didn’t extend to offering us some slack with the outrageous list of pre-booked and paid activities and mainly the need for us to be the ones to chauffeur the Golden Couple everywhere.  Others had, variously, too many children or luggage of their own, a ridiculous sports car with only two seats, and accommodation half an hour away from the rest of us owing to their delaying booking until the preceding Wednesday by which time every room in the locality was taken.

There follows a very brief summary of the reasons the weekend would have been tough even without these factors:

  • A cramped unfamiliar hotel environment where the solution to every baby-related problem must be MacGyver’d from string, buttons, and toilet roll using only a swiss army knife;
  • The Golden Couple behaving as though Sprout is their long-lost son from whom they were forcibly removed seven months previously;
  • The Golden Couple insisting he’s fine, he’s fine, when Sprout is crying, sliding half way down their shoulder staring pleadingly at me, desperate for my help;
  • Two ill-disciplined cousins, aged 9 and 10, who spend their entire time three inches from Sprout’s face prodding him and yelling his name and my brother and sister in law who did nothing about it; and
  • My sister-in-law having her own gravitational pull, evidenced by the extent to which all things revolve around her at all times.

On the Saturday, we went to afternoon tea at a nearby flash hotel.  Pre-booked, pre-paid, us-the-chauffeur, the family-photo-op meant there was no way we could get out of going.  The Golden Couple loved it.  Sprout was miserable.  I whispered Om under my breath for five hours.  The K-family went to the pub in the evening, and I settled my screaming snot-soaked son and lay in a darkened room reading by kindle-light.

On Sunday morning we repaired to Blenheim Palace, a 40 minute drive away.  K-man and I were late because well, snot-ridden, tooth-pain, sleep-deprived child, and then paid a princely sum of money to sit in the Palace cafe for two hours trying to get Sprout to take in some form of nutrition while there were no cousins insisting on ‘helping’ as he flailed around in pain and frustration.  The Golden Couple toured the house and loved it.  K-man and I sobbed quietly into our ninth cup of caffeine.    Sprout dozed.

I insisted that on Sunday evening we be in our hotel room on our own alone, and get Sprout a nap, meal, bath, and sleep without anyone else all up in his face.  We would inhale a meal from room-service.  We made it to the hotel room at about 5.30pm after explaining this to the K-family, but Sprout would not go to sleep despite being exhausted so K-man took him in the pram in the hope he would nod off for half an hour before food, bath and bed – all of which are easier with a somewhat rested Sprout.  We agreed he would return after forty-five minutes at the most.  Meanwhile, I scurriedly prepared the travel high-chair, milk feed, solid feed, bedtime outfit, bath etc. I tidied the room, and then started to wonder where the hell my husband and child were.  Time passed, until the clock read 6.45pm.

Telephone calls yielded no response.  I was on the edge of being the angriest person ever to file a missing persons report when, at the french doors of the hotel room (ah, the joy of a ground floor room), a knock sounded.  It was K-man, with the entire fucking K-family on tow.  Sprout was still awake, in his pram, looking like he’d lost a teether and found a pile of dog shit. The cousins started making their way into the room, and I blocked their path.  My mother in law said ‘I suppose you’re looking forward to some sleep tonight!’.  Yes, I said, as soon as bloody possible.  Bloody is bad language, so she looked aghast.  We now had 45 minutes to feed, bath, and bottle-feed our exhausted child, order and eat room-service, and gently guide our baby to the land of nod.

The K-family dangled for five precious further minutes until my one-word answers finally hit home. When the door shut, K-man babbled some incoherent shit that amounted to his inability to be assertive with his family even when his baby’s welfare and his wife’s sanity depended on it.  Apparently the K-family spied him, bounded over, and followed him round while he batted away invitations to dinner/pub and explained that we really needed to make sure Sprout got what he needed and that we got a relaxing evening and hopefully some sleep.  When he announced he was going back to the hotel room they followed him.

The general issue with the K-family is that they are quite inconsiderate, and don’t take hints.  Yet, any kind of direct communication – even back-bendingly positive-framed and polite – when it corresponds to something they don’t want to hear causes immediate and lasting offence of disproportionate magnitude.  I find this extremely difficult to tolerate.

I thought that when we had the Sprout K-man might finally find a way to address this, and that weekend I discovered he wouldn’t.  He never will, and I must learn to live with it.  Whatever he did manage to say to them was not assertive enough, proven barely a few minutes later.

We were, I admit, in the middle of a pretty big fight.  Sprout was screaming, and I was failing to calm down while genuinely trying to understand whether my husband’s communication was really that bad, or whether the K-family really are that inconsiderate.  K-man, who has no problem being assertive with me, claimed that I was a) trying to ‘control everything’, b) unreasonably failing to appreciate that his parents don’t see Sprout that often, and c) upsetting Sprout.  This was the thousandth tiny cut.  I proclaimed that he could deal with the consequences of his actions and call me when he had taken care of the Sprout sufficiently that he was asleep. I knew he would really struggle to do this on his own but I didn’t care.  I would be at an undisclosed location boiling myself up into ever greater rage.

I marched out of the hotel room.  But what’s this?  I thought I must be so angry I was finally hallucinating, for my eyes alighted upon the Golden Couple heading purposefully down the corridor towards me.  I closed my eyes and opened them again: they were still there.  I didn’t even break stride; I went outside and wondered if my marriage was over.

After about ten minutes more Om, I returned to the room and asked K-man to shed some light on what the hell just happened.  His parents, he said, believed they were being helpful by bringing down some toys we had left in their room.  He had to stop trying to feed the screaming Sprout, answer the door, and explain that no he really didn’t need their help with anything at that precise moment and that they were in fact making a bad situation worse.  They went away, miffed.  Still, he insisted they meant well and simply wanted extra time with Sprout.  He believes they were trying to catch Sprout in the bath so they could witness it.  Because watching an exhausted sick teething 7 month old from afar is much more fun than being the one who has to actually deal with the consequences of other people’s ‘help’.

My rejoinder was:

  • we have been with them for two entire days by now, meeting everyone else’s requirements;
  • it was made abundantly clear that we needed some space as we were really struggling;
  • all parties were aware that we had had six total hours of sleep across the last 72 hours and we can’t just biff off for a nap whenever we feel like it;
  • if they wanted to be helpful they could have called first to check, rather than just appear at the door;
  • what they really wanted was to spend yet another few minutes with Sprout, regardless of whether that was the best thing for him or us, which at this point, was ridiculously selfish.

We re-bonded after lamenting his parents’ lack of sensitivity.  I explained that K-man had better find a way of dealing with the fact that his parents get unreasonably offended because if he couldn’t start saying things more frankly to them, I would.  And nobody wants that.

The following day, Monday, we went to Highclere (where Downton Abbey was filmed). I was so tired I could barely see, and we had another horrendous lunch where Sprout ate nothing because of the cacophonous cafeteria noise and the ministrations of his two cousins.  That afternoon, he marked the end of the celebration by doing a shit so enormous we had to find an emergency off-road stop-off to change him.

I was proud as punch of my son that weekend, because even though he was absolutely miserable he was extremely patient.  He smiled occasionally, and considering what he was going through he didn’t scream much at all.  He put up with a large group of people who were essentially strangers holding him and poking at him, and ineptly trying to feed him.  He is a star.

I just hope he will be as understanding during his first birthday ordeal, when we will have both sets of grandparents visiting.

The Small Things: a comparative study

Regular readers (hello!*) will be aware that my heritage is out of the USA.  When I visit I spend the whole time sponging off relatives and staying in suburban houses.

After complaining for as long as I can recall about what a fuck-up the USA is my parents, for reasons I think I now understand, bought a place in Florida.  We took the Sprout there to visit them, and two sets of aunts and uncles who also have places nearby.  I had to spend quite a lot of time listening to my father moan about subjects ranging from poor quality food to the evils of Comcast.  He was really harshing my mellow, and I took to yelling DOOM DOOM DOOM at him whenever I caught him mid-bitch.  Because while like any country it has its serious problems, the USA does plenty of things better than the UK.

I’m not talking about the big important things like equality, democracy, human rights, healthcare paid through general taxation, and non-shrieky news outlets.  I’m talking about the small stuff which has a minute impact on one’s daily pleasance.  After two weeks in the USA, I felt markedly less like I wanted to scream at random folk in the street about how bloody difficult life is.  So I started a ground-up compare and contrast study and I now present the results of seven whole minutes of brain-busting concentration.  What does the USA do better than the UK?

1.    Free and plentiful drinking water. 

In the UK if you want a free drink of water, you have to carry it with you or guzzle from a nearby river with a rusting supermarket trolley situated upstream.  This is even the case in nightclubs and airports.  There’s a thinly-carved exception for restaurants: there you must wait decades for a waiter to approach then request water, at which point they will offer you a choice of still or sparkling at a price that would make Bill Gates reconsider, and you have to ask for ‘tap’ to avoid being charged.

In the USA, drinking fountains abound.  In the airport they are every 250 feet or so.  At the beach, if it’s a decent one there will be a fountain.  In restaurants, a person with a jug of ice water appears ten seconds after you have sat down and pours you a refreshing free beverage before returning at intervals to top up your glass.  Incidentally, my father finds a way to hate even this: he says it’s unnecessary and intrusive (!).

2.  The availability of (free) toilets.

Let’s start with the notion that public toilets, in my view, should be readily available, free, and clean.  It is a public health issue not to mention a comfort one. Instead, in the middle of supposedly civilised London during a large street festival involving consumption of a fair amount of liquid on a hot day, I have had to pee in a bush in a council estate because all the local pubs and eateries had closed their facilities and I was in agony.  I had to walk past a makeshift men’s loo consisting of vertical slabs of corrugated iron to screen the action and jump over the streams of urine issuing forth from underneath and polluting the road-surface.  It was vile.  Was there a women’s toilet available?  Was there hell.

I have paid 30 pence to use a toilet at a railway station.  K-man has been trapped for three hours on a broken down train without a functioning toilet available and emerged in serious pain.   When one is lucky enough to come across a toilet that is free (whether that’s a public or pub/restaurant one) it is often woefully filthy and lacks the key element: toilet paper.  They are often so tiny that it’s near-impossible for me (and my 5 ft 3 inch medium-build frame) to enter, turn around, and close the door without advanced yoga postures.

In the USA, many of the toilets lack sensible joinery and afford little privacy, but they are very available and are always (as far as I know) free.  They are also generally clean.  I have climbed a mountain and found, to my astonishment, a well-kept toilet at the top.

3.  Refrigerators

Refrigerators in the USA are sensibly proportioned, and because of the vertical split approach easy to access.  They also come with an ice-maker about which I am generally ecstatic (see 1, above).  They are better in just about every way I can think of.  Refrigerators in the UK involve a stupidly small freezer compartment at the top of the fridge, or a hard-to-manage drawer arrangement at the bottom which requires double-jointed elbows and wrists to properly access.  You can get an American-style fridge, but only if you’re one of the ten richest people in the country.

4.  Sandwiches

I hadn’t noticed this one until my most recent trip to the USA.  It was painful to acknowledge because generally, I find food in the UK infinitely more palatable.  But the sandwich is the awful racist uncle of the UK food world: you wish it would buck up its ideas or just fuck off.  It is typically 80% limp bread and a thin smear of flavourless filling.  If there’s meat, you might get one extra-thin slice and it will be disguised among a forest of wet lettuce that has caused unacceptable bread-sog.  If it’s Sunday and you’re in a pub it might be accompanied by some stale crisps.  It is not a meal, it is a rip-off.

In the USA, the bread is a side-show to the main event: a creatively compiled gut-busting array of filling plus condiments.  It will probably appear alongside an acre’s-worth of fries.  You will not require further food for a week.

5.  Road layout

Even driving in cities is easier in the USA.  Roads don’t change names half way down them.  They do not bend back on themselves seventeen times to purposely disorient travellers: they are set out in a grid pattern.  They don’t lose a lane without warning.  Two-way roads aren’t so narrow that while it may have been possible for two horses to pass each other without brushing whiskers, it definitely isn’t possible for two modern cars to do so without someone losing a wing mirror.  There are no roundabouts.  This video neatly illustrates how many things you have to think about simultaneously to cheat death on a roundabout.  What it does not explain is that many drivers view roundabouts as a racetrack and will drive like dickheads.

There is one exception in the category of road layout: highway entrances/exits.  Why, USA, why?

UK 1

There is no reason to force cars trying to exit to cross paths with cars trying to enter, all in the space of less than ten seconds’ driving time.  It is entirely logical and possible to avoid this problem by having the entrance come after the exit.  In fact, it’s been tried and tested elsewhere.  Everywhere else:


Observe Car ‘A’ calmly exit the motorway.  Car B didn’t exit and continues on his merry way.  Road etiquette dictates that if it is possible for car B to move into the middle lane to create extra room for Car C, that should be done.  Car C can enter without fear of someone trying to cross his path to make the exit.  At no point do cars A and C cross each other’s path.  They don’t even know each other exist.

OK, that’s all I’ve got today folks.  If you know of any small stuff that’s done markedly better in a country other than your own, have at it in the comments section!  I’m always interested, even if I can’t find the time to reply between nappy changes.

* Thank you for continuing to read my sporadic writing and for saying lovely things to me.  I really do appreciate it.

Cruel World

Just a warning: this subject is profoundly upsetting. I’m fine, but someone else isn’t.

Since giving birth, I have more often lost control of my emotions beyond a reasonable response under the circumstances.  The first time it happened, a few days after Sprout’s birth, was when this story* hit the headlines.  I sobbed uncontrollably for a while, thought I’d got over it, and then was being driven through the city concerned weeks later when the tears fell again.  The second time I saw a documentary featuring a couple whose baby had died at 26 weeks’ gestation.  Their baby’s first two names were the same as Sprout’s.  It took me several hours to stop crying, and several days to stop dwelling on it.

And then.

A friend and colleague became pregnant.  There was much rejoicing, and she had a text-book pregnancy.  She went on maternity leave amidst a flurry of gifts and smiles.  We all looked forward to meeting her offspring: no doubt it would be, as she is, a delightful kindhearted ridiculously-smart wonderful human being who would never intentionally harm anyone or anything.

My boss called me the other day.  He said, through a cracking voice, that my friend had been for a routine scan feeling fine, but doctors were unable to locate the baby’s heartbeat. Her baby had died.  That is all the information he was able to give me, so my brain filled in the rest.  Intra-uterine death is the medical term.  How that term disguises the true reality.

I knew that at some point, her living baby-with-feelings would have closed its eyes for the final time.  Her labour would have been induced, and my friend would have had to go through it knowing that her baby was dead.  Perhaps she hoped it had all been a terrible mistake and she would have a living baby after all, only to have this tiny hope smashed too.  She would have been asked if she wanted to hold her dead baby, and she probably said yes.  Then she would have looked into its face and felt, well, who can say except she?  She would have had to choose whether to consent to a post mortem.

I do not know if the baby was a boy or girl, but I do know that she had chosen names, and prepared her home with all the equipment and accoutrements one needs to care for a tiny delicate being.  She would have had to go home and face all the preparation, and un-prepare it.  I know she will be feeling disbelief, anger, devastation, loss: emotional pain so bad it is physical.  Her heart just fell off a cliff and got stomped on when it landed.  In addition to that, she is recovering from labour: hardly a walk in the park on the sunniest of days.

What do you say or do to help?  I finally settled on sending a card, and agonised over what to write in it.  After all, my own baby is alive and well and six months old.  I am acutely aware that I have what she so desperately wanted: being reminded of my very existence might worsen her pain.  I do not want to intrude, but I also did not want her to feel alone, unacknowledged, and ignored.  So I sent a card; it’s all I can really do until, in time, perhaps she will be ready to see people – me, and maybe my son – again.

I grudgingly observe that there are two tarnished silver linings.  First, she is young and has plenty of time to recover and try again (though lard knows any future pregnancy would surely have its own emotional issues attached).  Second, my friend is entitled to a full year of maternity leave should she wish to use it.  This gives her plenty of time to access the kind of emotional support she will need, without financial concern, and only return to work when she is ready.  Plenty of people don’t have that.

I feel odd about my own reaction: weirdly self-focussed and guilty about that. Like I have no right to be, and should not be, as upset as I am.  I have not gone through this terrible tragedy; she has.  I can only gaze in from the periphery and begin to imagine how it feels.  Yet I am unable to press pause on my brain.  I am desperately sad, and enraged that such tragedy could happen to such a wonderful person.  I feel helpless, and wonder even whether I did the right thing to send a card.  I look at my own baby and feel incredibly lucky but also devastated for my friend.  Buying a card for her, I burst into tears in the shop.  I wake at night and think about what happened, and cry.  I ponder for hours the fact that however sad I feel, she feels infinitely worse.  It is unhelpful that I have only baby-care to occupy me, so everything I do (down to the nursery rhymes  – seriously, have you paid attention to nursery rhyme lyrics? many of them are acutely distressing) reminds me of her situation.

I know that in time, these feelings will pass.  Far into the future, perhaps they will lessen for my friend, though I am damned sure hers will never disappear.

How could this happen to her?  It is a bloody cruel, cruel world.

*In summary, a woman with mental health issues left hospital with her four-day old baby and jumped off a cliff.  Mother and baby died.

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