It’s not often you get to wake up with the absolute knowledge that today will be the worst day of your life.
But let’s not start there. Let’s start back when all was good. All was easy.
It was the last Monday ofLife Before. I wandered in an oblivious bubble.
“What will we eat?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said, falling easily into our routine, “What is there to eat?”
“What does anyone eat? Chicken? Thai? Pasta?” he says, this time with a grin.
“Someone should invent something new.”
He laughs softly as I finish our usual silliness with a triumphant flourish. And we get chicken after all. He wanted sushi but it’s no good for the baby, along with Camembert, deli meats, cappuccino and soft serve ice cream. I’ve also added white bread but I think that’s just me.
Later, in bed, the butterflies begin.
“Quick! Now!” I say, grabbing his hand and putting it on my newly rounded belly. We wait.
“Feel that?” I ask as a tiny ribbon flutters briefly.
But it’s too soon. At the moment it is still just baby and me.
It’s the last Wednesday Before. We stare at the unmistakable shapes on our ultrasound scan. My heart quickens with excitement and my breath catches with trepidation. There’s an ominous silence in the darkened room.
But, as we leave, the white coat hands us a CD of the baby and we breathe a sigh of relief. “They’re always quiet like that,” says my sister. “They’re not allowed to say anything.”
My doctor says “sorry”.
He also says, “Blah, blah, blah,” and I get sucked into the intolerable darkness. We make a date. Friday will be the worst day of my life.
There are procedures to endure, and things to sign, and people to ring and words to say.
Apparently there are drugs to help with the pain. Really? Oh, you mean the labour pain.
It begins quite normally. The TV is on. Robbie Williams talks about angels. It’s morning.
When it’s no longer morning we can hear the sounds of lunch trolleys and birds, revealing that the world has decided- rather unkindly I think- to continue around us. This is a strange ‘no man’s land’ of waiting and wondering. We joke nervously with each other.
Afternoon is lazy as always. The air conditioning merely masks a dozy warmth - after all, there are only ‘six more shopping days ‘til Christmas’. At least that means it’s light for longer now.
But we cannot stop the dark and it falls with a menace.
Now it hurts. The drugs don’t work and there’s vomiting and the dark is coming faster. It’s like nothing else and there are no more words for it.
She is born. I hear my own primal scream as the midwife whispers, “It’s a little girl.”
What will she look like? The fear so real but, we now realise, so unwarranted. We see that she is perfect and she is ours. The size of a doll, and yet like no doll ever made, she has fingernails and long legs. Her hands are curled as if holding an invisible friend. I slip my little finger into that gap. I am her mother.
I cry when they take her away.
It’s barely dawn when they bring her back. She’s wearing a tiny, pink knitted hat to cover that shocking exposed head, still too young for hair. This time we notice she is colder. Her skin is so thin we can almost see through to the depths of her. Those depths are so dark and mysterious; we will never get to know them.
We call her Sienna -“Earth Coloured”.
Goodbye is coming, we can feel it. She is in a toy-size wooden cradle next to my bed. We ask for a blessing and an antique nun reads to us about Mary taking her son’s body down from the cross. The story has the epic quality of a mother’s grief. Sobs bond us together and my chest aches with the horror of it all.
Then it’s over.
We walk out into a pure summer morning, surreal with its warm promise. Someone is frustrated by their toddler refusing to cross the road.
My breasts weep on the day of her funeral as my milk comes in. The irony is so acute I almost have to laugh. I put in nursing pads and we leave for the chapel.
It’s just the two of us and a kindly priest. Robbie Williams sings of angels and that helps.
My husband carries the pathetic, white coffin out to the waiting funeral car. A standard hearse is too big so she must go on the back seat. He has to put the seatbelt around her and it is so awfully commonplace I can’t stand it.
The car joins the regular traffic and we wait for it to move out of sight.
Later we go to a waterside café and order bruschetta and banana smoothies. The yachts moored on the harbour are reflecting the sun, creating a constellation of tiny rainbows on the water splashed jetty.
Rainbows so tiny we nearly missed them.
“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown. In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”*
As our children grow and become more independent, we might become a wee bit complacent about their existence, lost in the daily grind and focusing on the world outside the home. But it doesn’t take much to realise how shockingly fragile human life is, and how quickly childhood will be over, though the connections and feelings that bind us will remain for eternity.
* Tony Morrison (American novelist, editor, and professor)