Love, And Then Some

In 2008, I started a journal documenting my journey towards and into motherhood. Here are some extracts. 

February 2008
Early this morning I dream I am walking along a coastal path at high altitude. On either side of me are the edges and endings of things; the base of a cloud that distorts the cliff edges; a spiky gorse flower; the last blades of grass. My two-year-old daughter Lili has run ahead of me, on to the headlands.
“I’m like the wind mami”, she shouts excitedly. “I’m like the wind.”
I am holding on to our baby son, Aaron, pressing his face into my chest. In my dreams he is a slippery newborn, although in reality he is six months old.
“Don’t run”, I shout, over and over. “Be careful. Please.”
I feel sick even writing it.

In the afternoon, I listen to a play on Radio 4. Its account of childbirth is so alien to my own experiences that I become convinced I’m a fraud. I remember the moment when the midwife, Sarah Solzenberg, places Lili in the crook of my arm, at 6.02am, on March 16 2005, and how, for a few long minutes, I feel nothing. OK, not nothing, nothing is the wrong word. But there are no shooting stars, no butterflies brushing up against my insides, no love at first sight (as the afternoon play relates), just a feeling of being adrift somewhere vast and unknown.

It’s a new emotion that I don’t have words for. It is love of course, but also terror, and I cry all night.

March 2008
Until I was thirty-four, I hadn't wanted children. I worried that motherhood would drain me emotionally and intellectually. I worried that my love for my children would be so huge, so unmanageable, so extreme, that everything else, including my dreams of becoming a writer, would fade away. I worried that having children would make me too happy – and then, in an equally short space of time  - unhappy. Quite simply, I was what psychologists call an “All or Nothing” thinker. 

But then one day, I started having The Dreams: dreams that had the weird allegorical quality of riddles; dreams that hung around my body for days afterwards, like ectoplasm. 

In one of them I was in a deserted metropolis, with dogs, dark figures carrying searchlights, bulldozed ruins. A taxi driver would drive by, offering me a lift. 
“Which route would you prefer to traverse along?” he'd say. 
He'd drop me off in a sandy backlit valley, where there were pebbles, glittering darkly, underfoot. I'd trip over a pebble. I'd investigate. But the pebble wasn’t ever a pebble. 

It was always a baby’s skull. 

I told my friend Helen my dreams. 
"Sounds like you might want a baby”, she said. 
Almost immediately, I knew that it was true. The only true thought I had ever had. My writing fantasies were misguided fantasies. A hateful pursuit that had diverted me from becoming a mother. I gave my copies of The Female Eunuch, The Dialectic of Sex, The Second Sex, and The Rights of Woman to the the PDSA shop on Cowbridge Road East. 
“You can’t look after yourself besides a child” laughed my partner, when I told him. “You can’t even drive. How would you get about the place?” 
“Fuck off. What’s that got to do with anything?” I said.
"You're just not cut out for it", he said. 
But as far as I could see, the problem was not that I wasn't “cut out” for it, but that I was too "cut out" for it. With every breath, in every waking hour, in my sleep, and in my dreams, I would be thinking about my child, worrying about my child, loving my child. Perhaps he knew this, and feared losing me. 

But then, I feared losing me, too. 

April 2008
Today, I go with a few of the other mothers to Grange Gardens. Our kids, Lili, Reuben, Nye, Freya, Kitty, Judah, are playing in a patchwork of box and laurel bushes between the park’s inner and outer perimeter railings, their heads bobbing up and down in the leaves.

Suddenly I notice a pair of Rottweilers standing next to a tree by the bandstand. All I can think is that the kids are so little, and the dogs are so big. My friend Claire’s mother turns to her daughter.
“Get the boys”, she says.
It is up to me to rescue Lili, to pick her up, out of danger. I walk across the grass towards the bushes, but not so fast as to aggravate the dogs, one of which is studying the children with its paw raised. Lili seems further from me than I imagined, even though she is only the length of the playground away.
"Mami's coming now", I say, quietly, but loudly enough for her to hear.
The feel of her body when I hold her against me is like breathing again, like coming up for air. I can smell the aniseedy scent of nit lotion, and apple soap. I can feel her heart beating, and her hard, scrawny, three-year-old limbs.
“I was playing”, she says. “We were playing pirates”.
In her hand are some squashed purple bellflowers. I feel guilty, as always.
“Do you want a lollipop when we get home?” I say. “We’ve got Twisters, Mini Milks, and Rockets.”
I lie about the Rockets. I don’t know why.  
We walk back to the pram, where Aaron is sleeping, in solemn silence. The dogs are gone and the park is just a normal park again, with a bandstand, war memorial, playground, and setting sun.
"I want the ones with the red in the middle”, she says. Meaning Twisters. 

August 2008 
Not long after I tell my partner about my need for a baby -  after he's agreed to it - things take a turn for the worse. And by things, I mean sex. Before long, sex becomes all about ovulation, and basal body temperatures, and sticking my legs up in the air. Somewhere along the line, my partner loses interest in sex - and then in me.  

One day, I remember travelling to London, determined to make us a baby.  (He is working away for a few weeks on a film shoot). I remember how the sun is a quarter of the way down the sky as I approach his flat, and how everything seems to reflect the light from it; the tops of cars; the steel shutters on shop windows; bits of plastic on the pavement; puddles. I feel positive, almost happy. But then, during the night, he rejects my advances.
“I’m not in the mood”, he says. “I’m fucking knackered.”
‘It’s day thirteen tomorrow”, I say. "C'mon. Please.”
He gets up from bed, and walks over to the far wall. There is something about the way he stands there, the angle of his body, which fills me with dread.
“I can’t do this any more”, he says. “I want out.”
I know that I need to shut up and stay calm. At the same time, it seems as though I am fighting for my survival.
“It’s only sex”, I say. “It’s supposed to be fun. I don’t know what you’re getting so uptight about. ”
He picks up a pair of trousers from a heap of clothes on the floor. I remember buying them for him, a couple of Christmases ago, in a Paul Smith sale. I know the feel of them, the weight of them, what it says on the label, how much they cost. I know the precise way the fabric hangs around his legs when he is wearing them, the shape of his balls, and his ass. The idea that we might be breaking up is too absurd a notion to process, to assimilate.
“Come back to bed,” I say. “This is totally stupid.”
He shakes his head. He puts the trousers on.
“I’ve got no energy left for this relationship”, he says.
I don’t know what you’re talking about!” “What are you talking about?” “You can’t just land this on me”, I say.
“It’s like I’ve been carrying the weight of all your emotional problems for too long. Distance will do us good. I can work out how I feel … whether it’s you … or something else …"
By now, he has his back to me, and seems to be looking at something in the middle distance. Here, we are at the same altitude as the seagulls and cranes - so high up that I have no proper names for the things I see around me. On the building opposite, there are structures that look like chimneys, but could just as easily be vents, or escape hatches. On the roof of another building, a little further away, is a brick box with a mysterious red door, like you might find in a children’s book. A dawn light, which is at once murky and bright, is fading up quickly from everywhere. I remember wishing there were curtains, and more time.
“I feel like I need to feel alive again. I feel like I need to fall in love again”, he says.
“You don’t even know what love is if that’s what you think!" I yell. “Love is making a decision to be on somebody’s side and sticking with it. Nothing else works.” 
He shrugs his shoulders and continues to stare. 
“Things change”, is all he says.

The following day, I hear the mechanisms of the return train up close and personal. Metal against sleepers. The remote voice over the Tannoy, announcing stops. I read the hoardings in every station, looking for signs. Approaching Newport, I see a woman hanging up washing beyond the railway track: sheets; mismatched socks; a child’s dress. I see a dirt track leading nowhere - but also somewhere. Pressing my face into the carriage window, I note how I have my mother’s brow, my father’s nose, and a small flat mole I inherited from my grandmother, and my grandmother’s mother, and further back, into time. Because my partner is nothing to do with me. When the ticket collector comes my way, I wonder about fucking him in one of the toilet cubicles. When he asks to see my ticket, and sounds kind and impossibly normal, I start to cry. In Cardiff,  I check my phone again.  

“We need to talk. I still love you”, says the message. 

March 2009
Last week, I suffer a miscarriage. It starts with a pink streak of something in my knickers. The doctor says it will settle, but it won’t. The tingle in my boobs has gone. I no longer feel sick. I go for a scan at the early pregnancy assessment unit. 

“You haven’t lost the pregnancy”, says the sonographer. And in that tiny, stretched-out 
moment before her next sentence, I try to analyse what she means.
“But there’s no heartbeat”, she says.
I am thrown into sudden confusion. My baby is dead. My baby isn’t dead.
‘Can I see?” I say.
The baby is in a corner, facing away from me, in suspended animation. The sonographer is circling the image in a renewed attempt to find a heartbeat. For a moment, it has all become a problem of technology: a sticky cursor, a broken mouse. A nurse sticks her head around the edge of the green curtain, then moves away suddenly, apologising. This is a closed set.
“Well, there’s the blood flow from the placenta”, says the sonographer. “See?”
A tide of purple and yellow flows in from the edge of the screen, like something living. The fact that the baby is still there, gone but not gone, is an anomaly I can’t get my head around; a collision of tenses; the light from a dead star. 

On Saturday night, I bleed properly.  A grey blob falls onto my maternity pad. I am bent over the bathroom sink and there is blood everywhere.  Phil walks in.
“Kids are gonna freak out”, he says.
“There’s the placenta”, I say, pointing to clots on the toilet seat. “And look at this”, I say. I tear the pad from my gusset.
“Can you see?”
“Course I can”, he says.
Inside the blob is a pink shape. With hands and fingers and a quarter face. I wrap it in a parcel of tissue paper and rest it on the sink, because flushing it down the toilet, as though it were shit, is unthinkable. But it’s wet by the sink, much too wet. I take it with me into the bedroom. I put it on the bedside table. I put it in a chest of drawers. I put it in my pocket again. I worry it will dry out, shrivel up, get forgotten.
“Put it in water or olive oil or something” says Phil.
I empty out a spice jar of fenugreek, and fill it with water. I drop the embryo into it. In the night I come down to look at it, floating, unravelling. I stay there for close to an hour. I can’t stop looking. I can’t stop looking.

April 2009
In the middle of all of this are my children.

I love them so much I am in a state of almost constant terror. I make endless lists of all the things that bother me: carbon monoxide, global warming, meningitis, choking, bird flu, Ebola, super-viruses, giant asteroids, terrorists, intruders, the death of the sun. One night, I am driving home in the car when Lili turns to me and says: 
"You have missed so much of your life mami!"
I worry that she senses something. I ask her what she means. 
"Well, when you blink, you miss some of your life. If you glued all your blinks together, it would be for a lot of time”, she says.  

I have always, of course, meant to write down the expressions my children come up with, the urgency of their child-like narcissism. I remember walking back from one of our lovely Paget Street tea parties one evening. It was getting dark, approaching Christmas, and an illuminated inflatable snowman was bouncing around in a garden at the end of our block. Lili was too cross to notice.

“Mami. The rain is always touching me”, she said, irately.

Last night, Aaron asked me what happened when you die. I told him that some people believed in a place called heaven, whilst other thought that you came back to life as an animal or a bird or a flower. I asked him what he would like to happen. He studied his newly painted wall and said, "I just want to go into dark-blueness." 

May 2009

Today, Lili refused to go to bed.

“I’m just too busy mami”, she said.

She began a monologue that went like this. “Never stop playing. Never stop being awake. Never stop dressing up. Never stop making chimneys. Never stop making secret dances.  Never stop playing with the other Lili.”

The other Lili is Lili’s reflection. The other Lili tilts her head to one side and smiles coyly at my daughter. She frowns. She brushes her fringe from her eyes. She makes faces. There is a time lag between the real Lili’s actions and the other Lili’s responses. Lili tries to make the other Lili do things first. Maybe she finds her own power, her influence on the world around her, a little terrifying, a little thrilling. 

More than anything I want to give my children the gift of confidence. I hide my fears from them. But they come out anyway.

Of course, my own mother is full of anxieties. Her way of trying to protect me is to seize any opportunity to access my life.  A few days after my miscarriage she comes to babysit; I need to spend another day in hospital so they can administer a pessary.

“It didn’t all come out”, I tell her, as I’m packing an overnight bag.

“Yip. Thought so,” she says.

She mutters something about cleaning out the bin in the bathroom. Suddenly I know that she’s been rummaging through the used maternity pads in the bathroom pedal bin, like some deranged forensic scientist. I am outraged and utterly humiliated.

“You probably left it too late”, she says, a couple of minutes later. “It never happened to anyone I knew.”

June 2010

Today I learn that I am pregnant, a week before the fortieth birthday I was dreading.

I am so happy that, for a minute, I forget to be afraid.

I am alive and there’s a child in my body, I say to myself, over and over. I am alive and there’s a child in body.

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