The Palace Park

The Palace Park

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Dear Little Fang

I know things have been quiet. But it isn't because I have forgotten you, not at all. On the contrary, every moment of every day, I think about you. Lately, I also think about how you passed and the circulmstances leading up to getting to hold you for the first and last time more than is comfortable, more than I want. This is in part because in July, if all goes well, you'll have a sibling, a little kamquat-sized creature we call the Squid.

I spend a great deal of time at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson wing of UCLH. In the last month I've been twice, with two more appointments scheduled for the end of December and an average of 5 a month through the pregnancy (more if needed). I have my own obstetrics team, my own midwife, my own team of shrinks (in addition to the shrink and psychologist I had to find for myself after I came home in March because, let's face it, aftercare in this country is jacked), and a sonographer who assures me he is one talented mother-f@*ker. He's also Russian, which is great because as health care professionals go a) they tend to not bullshit you and b) they tend to be honest. None of this cosseted vagueness that we went through last time, you know, when they left out key things like 'Stop going to work; it may kill you,' and 'hey, we really think that you should know that there is a very real possibility that not only will your child die, but you might die as well.'

Of course, I didn't die, but it would have been nice if someone had given your poor papa a heads up. He's still not quite forgiven me for scaring him the way I did in the labour room and he certainly hasn't forgiven me for being the teensiest bit angry with Dr Perregrine for not listening to me when I told her I was in labour. As it is, I have requested that she not on my team and that is as far as I have gotten when it comes to throwing my toys out of the pram.

So far. . .

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Trick or Treat?

So it almost Haloween, little one. There is a great costume of the Count (get it? Because I call you Fanglet? I know. . . I know. Good thing I'm not a commedienne.)

I have been taken over this week by ennui. And if I can't figure out how to nip it in the bud, I am afraid it will roost permanently on my shoulder, a crow's carcass. A bag of Chips Ahoy.

Over the weekend, your papa and I went to Suffolk for the races (a small, unspoken tribute to your Aunty Susan) and then to Norwich of an evening. On Monday, I met the Biscuit in town for a coffee, and then rushed and rushed through the rest of the day: JobCentre, Meeting, Pilates. Stretch, Chubby, Stretch!

On Tuesday, I took my driving theory test. I went early, stood at reception and as I signed in, the receptionist looked at me, puzzled. 'I think I recognise you! You were pregnant? I remember all the pregnant ones.' He smiles as he hands me the documents. 'You were big! Twins, right? How are they?' This man is one of the friendliest Englishmen. I smile softly, take my documents.

'The wee one passed away. 2 days after he was born. But he was so lovely.'

Kicking puppies, kiddo. Kicking puppies. He tears up, walks away and I'm left in suspended animation. I still need a locker to check my bag and coat into, I still need to sign in. . . And all I can think about is your tiny little hand and the way you smelled. Your hair and your little slate grey eyes.

'A little boy.'

And that is pretty much where I've been for the last few days, when I'm not going through the documenting that is part of the emotional maladaptive schema therapy I'm doing. Which is so painful at times, I think it is going to devour me. Part of the process is about establishing provenance over skewed reactions to people, conversations, emotions, etc. It requires me to note how/what I am feeling, catagorize where I fit with the schema and match the schema up with the earliest memory I can conjure on where I would have learned such reactions. I won't go into detail here because your grandmother visits and I don't want to make this about having a bad childhood, because I didn't. I had a lovely childhood, much of the time. And when it wasn't lovely, it was so dysfuntional, I don't think any of us - my parents, my brother, me, any of us - realized what was going on or how upside down the world had gotten. I stopped looking for people to blame and be angry with a long time ago. The kicker about this whole thing is that I can see it all - I can see how two tremendously beautiful, shiny people like my mom and dad meet, how they fall in love, and how it all goes horribly awry at times. I can see where my mom's parents - both of whom are so lovely - had some seriously fucked (now, don't suck your gums at me; mommies swear sometimes. That's life) ideas on what life was supposed to be like and they had exacting expectations. And your Grumpa's parents? Well, let's just suffice it to say Olympia Biniweski crazy drug-created family in 'Geek Love's family has nothing on them. Seriously. And all of that trickles down until I go through the better part of my twenties thinking most men are shit-eating cheats and women are just crazed. Or that I am crazed and deserve to be punished for it.

So, yeah. Therapy is going really, really well. It is so much fun to live in all of the schematic moments of my past. We'll get to the good parts, where I learned positive schemas (I'm making a separate list of them too), but right now, when I'm down too far to care, this is kind of like kicking a horse when it has missed the wall and is waiting to be shot.

Tomorrow I leave for Lyons where I will see Magali Sapet-Butel, an exchange student that lived with us my sophomore year of high school. Sophomore year, it is safe to say, was the worst year of my educational life, 1st year of grad school not withstanding. Kids can be horrible and I was an easy target: frizzy hair, kooky glasses, enough orthodenture to choke a horse. . . I was too misearble to do anything but curl up in a porcupine like ball rather than fight back. I was branded a bitch, a witch (literally, prayers being said in attempts to save my damned soul), was stuffed in lockers, the whole shebang. I don't think there was a day until January that I didn't cry sit in my bathroom digging into myself with my nails or the like. I was not a happy bunny and I wasn't easy to be around. And when I think about that time that Maggie lived with us, that is what I remember: being ashamed of who and what I was, of being defective and not good enough at anything. I didn't even feel exotic enough; German is not exotic unless you're into Kant, Goethe and S&M and I'm not really into any of them (although I like a nice latex dress as much as the next girl). French on the other, well. . . That's a different story. Maggie was exotic in a way I would never be and instead of making friends with her, I saw her as yet another cross to bear. Damn cheese-eating surrender monkeys, as the pater Simpson would say. Which is so unfair and yet so very, very true.

When I think about going to Valance and seeing Maggie, time slips away and I'm gauche, awkward and 15. I am terrified and it is ridiculous. I have no cause to be. This is going to be a great good thing, if I can get out of my own twisted snit long enough to pack underwear.

Note to self: pack some underwear. And a toothbrush. Unpacky the cookies. They are not your friend.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

22 September

22 September
Cincinnati, Ohio

I’m sitting in the lobby of Union Terminal in Cincinnati and it is half past midnight. This is one of my favourite buildings in the world; perfectly preserved and converted into a museum and still functioning as a train station. There’s a full moon out and I’m waiting for the 3:27 to Washington, having decided a few months ago that a train trip would do me good. It would force me to slow down and be patient, 2 things I am not always great at; especially the slowing down part.

We arrived in Dayton on Sunday the 13th to blue skies and a parched autumn. Since the cold has arrived early to London, I had been craving an Indian Summer, so this suited me down to the ground. There was a BBQ, there was Karaoke at a dive bar called Dizzy Jim’s where one can sing their hearts out 7 nights a week. There was a week of early morning coffee with Gigi, a week of all night drug stores just waiting for a bout of insomnia, a week of Law & Order marathons; a week of just good stuff happening. A week of living like I’m sixteen and the world is just itself.

12 September 2010

12 September

The last two weeks have been a bit of a nightmarish haze. I think it safe to say that mentally, it has been the worst period I can remember in recent years this side of Chicago. And cookie – Chicago got bad.

The thing that I’ve had with managing my depression, in creating a collaborative environment for both Depression and I to be in, is that when a downward spiral starts, I don’t always know how to prevent it when there is more than one catalyst. You, my sweet, are a case in point. Life with out you is hard enough to adjust to. Add to that life a work environment that has turned so toxic that I break out in a rash thinking about it, the death of two incredibly close friends, and one health crisis after another and you can almost see how, a week ago Friday, I wind up in tears at the Priory (I know, right? What a great name for a loony bin). By this point, outraged with myself to the point that I actually started hyperventilating. My shrink – I won’t call her a lovely woman but I will give a nod to her competency – thinks I should be admitted but we’re US bound and let’s face it: the last thing the Priory needs is Ohio crazy shaking down the walls.

Something is off in my body; later that evening, I start my period unexpectedly (I know, little one; not something a boy should have to hear his mother prattle on about until he’s at least 45). And it leaves me flat out. I’ve started working with a naturopath and have started working with my acupuncturist again (who, bizarrely, I ran into outside my own house – literally, outside our flat. She had just come from looking at a house on our road. I hadn’t seen her in over a year). As I type this from a Mid-Town apartment in Manhattan, I also have numerous magnets taped across my upper body, drawing out an infection that started out as a common cold and before the 2nd sneeze had turned into Strep. I know, I know. 2010 and I have issues.

Your first Rosh Hashona has come and gone. Your first new Year. No apples and honey for you to try, no breaking the fast (not that I would’ve been with you around).
But all in all, I’m pretty lucky. My worries and woes are strictly first world and I have a pretty swish life. I mean, I’m writing this in Manhattan, for cripe’s sake, so how hard done by can I be? In the next 2 weeks I will have been in NYC, Ohio, Washington DC, back to London and then off to Prague. That, my little cherub, is pretty fucking sweet.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Home

One very long flight and a lovely day in New York later, we've arrived in Dayton. I felt rubbish for pretty much the entire flight, but made it in one (very grumpy) piece. The thing that surprised me is how much it hurt coming home this first time without you in my arms. I hadn't even thought about that hurt; it hadn't even crossed my mind. And when it hit me, it was rough-edged and searing and I couldn't even breathe.

Your Grandy and Grumpus had a great BBQ for our return and then your Aunty C, our friend Ohio Mike, and I dragged your father to a dingy Kareoke bar called Dizzy Jim's where we sang and laughed and cut up until the wee, wee small hours.

It was damn good harmless fun. We'll take some more of that, pretty please.

The last few weeks have been pretty rough. Stepping down off of one antidepressant (velafexine/Effexor XR) and transitioning to another (fluxotine/Prozac) has been harder than I thought it would be. A common cold turned into strep within 12 hours, and my schedule keeping - something I'm usually VERY good at - has been a disaster. I leave people waiting, forget where I am going, where I'm supposed to be. Run late, arrive early, get distracted and often just feel overwhelmed. The furvor of leaving a job I'd come to loathe and the process of filing formal grievances culimnated in a 3.5 hour phone call today that left me spent and with the start of a migraine.

Too much coffee, too much anger, and too much upset over the well-intentioned but startling ineptitude and excuses left me curled up in bed with a wet washcloth over my eyes. But its done now. And I've decided not to go to the mattresses this time round and to stop looking for fights.

I'll let you know how that one turns out.

In other news, there is just one more test the genetics team want do. . . I know, sweetest. There always seems to be one more test. But this one, they tell me. . . this one will be last. Noonan's Syndrome, a long shot, but a just in case. It would make very little difference to me, you know. But sometimes I do wonder if I have the strength to go through all of this poking and prodding and and well-intentioned interfereing again. And if I have another baby in the UK, I won't really have a say in the poking and prodding.

Only time will tell, I say. Only time will tell.

Next time I'll tell you about the groovy Korean Voodoo and the magnets.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Going private

Much of the Fanglet's life has been out in the open uncharted world of the WWW. It is a over a year since the whole journey started and it is far from over. I still plan on writing to you, still plan on having things to say, but I need to be more focused on how that happens. And I need to take his papa's feelings more into account, especially where my little sweetpea is concerned. Bizarrely, I don't know that I would have kept the blog open if things had gone differently.

The three months have been exceptionally hard. I think I can safely say that they have been the hardest yet, probably because it took so fucking long for the histology results to grow. Also, the whole changing meds in the wake of going back to one of the more dysfunctional places I've ever worked (The cakeshop included. I mean, a guy ran away from the cakeshop on his 2nd day of work! Who does that? And doesn't take any cake with them? Seriously, people!), family drama, family illnesses, and good friends moving on to the other side has just left me feeling at times like I keep getting kicked while I'm not even up off the ground.

But I've learned so much: so much about the kind of mama I am, the kind of mama and woman I want to be, the kind of person I want to be and already am (and like the song's since, there ain't all that much difference between the two). And you all have been the best; there for me with so much love, and support, and late night phone calls, and teary, snotty, inconsolable moments that I really don't think I could get through this all without you. And certainly, with a little luck and a whole lotta sexy lingerie (or not) - not another pregnancy. And no, before you get all excited Mama, that DOES NOT mean I'm knocked up. Seriously. Give a girl half a moment of not bieng on antibiotics or in a hospital gown (and the always sexy DVT tights)

So, I think the time has come to move this little thing off to a subscription-only setting (reasons being too numerous to count, the main one being it is just time to let the little one have a bit more privacy. And it weirds the Husband out. I know, English people can be weird about overzealous displays of emotion. You can imagine how he's handling a return to the figure modeling (which is kind of essential, because I am really so very angry with my body that I need to get over that and the best way to get over body issues - for me - has always been to appreicate that its just a body, like everyone else's.

If you're interested in subscribing, let me know either by following or by email.
I hope you do.

I'm also going to start blogging more Archive-y stuff again and am going to be getting back to my PhD research and those will be easy to find. I'm nothing if not a quasi-exhibitionist. And a chatty one, at that.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

You hurt me bad. Real Bad. Love don't live here anymore.

So, I think Chris Rock is one of the sexiest creatures ever put on this earth. And he's funny. Damned funny. And seriously, who doesn't love BAD COMPANY?

On Sunday, I went to work. I needed to see for myself just how spectacularly people hadn't covered for me whilst I was away. 'Ceiling leaking? Don't tell me, that's HER job. Don't want to know about the cleaners, even though. . . ' On Monday, I went work. I toiled. Threw up blood in the sink, toiled some more. And all the while, got more disillusioned and frustrated with not having the tools or the knowledge I needed to get MY job done. My job, which was to facilitate a larger group's abilities to get their job done. On Tuesday, I come back from looking at flats to discover that not only had someone dropped a meeting in my calendar without sending me an invite, they also had decided - having hung up on me - that I wasn't worth talking to because they had people in their office.

And that's when the laundry list of frustations and bewilderment came to a head. And I realized the following:

a) I do not need to work in a place where it is ever considered appropriate for an individual to be sexually harassed.

b) Start-ups run by people who have more money than common sense and that are no longer start-ups but companies in their middle adolescence are not the right environment for me, especially when the only by-product is money.

c) I do not want going to jail for someon make else's refusal to abide by laws - regardless of how frustrating and piddly they may seem - to ever be a possible side-effect of my job.

d) Recruitment and Human Resources are not interchangeable and

and - finally -

e) When you spend every day before, after, and during work fighting back tears not because you've lost a child or because your stomach feels like it has scorching pinballs but because you've got a list of things that you've been trying to push through for 2 YEARS and no one listens, then you've gotta go.

I gave notice, we tentatively worked out a handover plan and then the US came online and the head of HR went through motions about 'taking things seriously,' and 'we'll get these addressed,' and the only thing I could think of to say in response was 'You knew all of this was going on, some it for years, and you did not address it one whit. You have not addressed it, and I know that once I'm gone, you're still not going to address these things, or what this place is on the verge of becoming. So. Please. Save us both the bullshit.'

And I left. And it felt good. And damn. . . it still does.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Marking time, skinning chickens

Back in the Country, I spend a great deal of time reading my way through the rather substantial collection of 20th Century literature your Auntie S had managed to collect. There is a lot of overlap with my own taste (though a lot of divergence as well; I'm not a huge Updike or Martin Amis fan, though I can recognize their remarkable talent). And it is strange to read heaps of first editions, some of which cost more than my prom dress. There is a lot of bleak, windswept fiction on the shelves: novels of social realism, stark warngings from the Gulag, from behind various curtains - Iron, Silk, Damask - tales of compromise and class war and life lived and abrupted. And there are cookbooks. Voluptous, weighty tomes filled with details on food that one reads for the sheer beauty and largess that they present. Cookbooks have become a favourite of mine, ever since I discovered that the oven isn't a battleground. I don't cook or bake as well as I one day will, but I am happy to learn.

I wonder if S. saw herself as ordinary. She so clearly wasn't ordinary or comfortably worn. She was herself and all that that entails. And I wonder about her sister, the enigma that was your Auntie L. I never met L., at least not in the flesh. I met her when she was already expired, a box of ashes tucked in the cupboard under the stairs.

I meet a lot of people after they are already dead. I meet them through their letters, and notes scribbled in margins. I meet them through the things they collected - the string, the buttons, the brass tacks. . . the forgotten magazine subscription renewal, the overdue notice from the Library.

Today, the Library phones, Like a credit card company, to tell you when your items are late. It is so uncivilized.

So, whilst I'm reading and contemplating, the laying hen is playing out her role as escape artist. She will meet her demise with a broken neck and a trail of feathers. And I'll wonder just what the hell to do next. And what I do is simple: I call my daddy. And together we decide skinning is the way to go, at least for this first time. So I do. I skin it, clean it out, contemplate making chicken pate, then realize that I am feel very, very squeamish and not a little queasy from the endeavour. So instead of pate, I have a very large drink. I cook the chicken, it is devoured, and I still sleep the sleep of the innocent in a bed that is like sleeping on a cloud. Or a giant marshmellow.

Your uncle returns home today and I'll have to tell him about the chicken. And really hope that wasn't more attached than he let on, as the only bits left now are a few feathers. . .

Thursday, 12 August 2010

July ended and August came

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Your sixth month approached and flew overhead like a peregrine circling before arching out over the water’s edge. It seems impossible that it was six months since you came and went. It seems impossible and yet is entirely true that it has been well nigh on a year since I first found out I was pregnant. I remember the day in August well. I remember where I was and what I was doing when the light bulb of awareness finally flickered on cartoon-like above my head. It involved a very smart pregnancy test and a very dim me.

Your father, Josephine and I went to the seaside on a Friday evening, driving out of London as though we were on shore leave. We spent two decadent days in Eastbourne, lounging at the Grand Hotel, a wedding cake of a building, and gazing out at the ever-changing ocean.

I love the ocean. I love, respect, envy and fear the ocean and its certainty, its sense of assured purpose. The tide comes in, the tide goes out and within the cool mysterious depths of the water, millions of other worlds are running parallel to this one. It is an awesome realization and I could stay for years at its edge, my feet just at the surface of this world, the tang of salt and sand on my skin.

The last month has been passed in a hurling whirlwind of activity. There is the overwhelming sense of being swept up into the winds tropical storm, only to be plunked down with an unceremonious ‘ooomph’ into yet another hospital bed. My grand statement of ‘No more hospitals here’ has gone the way of my resistance to doing genealogical work: resistance is futile.

I have felt increasingly ‘not right’ since I came home from Hospital. There has been the usual poking and prodding, always followed by a knowing and slightly condescending nod of ‘You’ve jus had a baby so that is why you feel rubbish.’ And yes, while there is truth there I think we can all agree that we now know that no, in fact, it wasn’t just because I’d given birth to a spectacular wonder of 5 pounds, 7 ounces of a little boy. In fact, it would appear that what ever caused amniotic fluid to rage through my body in unfriendly waves had made nest for itself in places it really shouldn’t be and bacteria had festered into a most unpleasant and agonizing infection. An infection so insidious that it was only when the low-grade fever I’ve been running off and on for the last 4 months began to rage and my stomach once again became agonizingly distended that I once again found myself at North Middlesex Accident and Emergency and then later in a hospital bed on yet another series of drips for 4 days. The diagnosis: Dearest Little One
ravaged stomach lining, an ulceratic state, and massively impacted colon as well as an unpleasantly enlarged spleen.

After 17 days of more antibiotics, nauseating dizzy spells, and a very kind doctor telling me ‘You have to rest. Really,’ I’m now faced with having to slow down, way and relearn how to simply stay put. Relearn to not drink 15cups of coffee and chain smoke Gaulouises and Lucky Strikes like I’m an extra in MADMEN.

Add to that what can only be described as consistently misplacing my basket and having what the French would call an existential crisis and what we Americans call a nervous breakdown, and that has led me to the quiet solitude of a country house in Suffolk.

Today I picked my breakfast: raspberries, gooseberries, and one just ripening plum.

My shrink – a lovely man of quiet reason – has been quick to point out that I’ve been fantastically unlucky. It is quite enough to lose a child. To then lose yet another spectacularly close and wise friend (your Great-Aunt) and to then try and resume the intense pace of a job I used to love and laugh about in the midst of the storm, well that’s enough to send anyone down the wayward path of madness.

I’ve spent the last two weeks wandering around the rather jumbled rooms of my mind resembling a jumble sale. I move from one activity to another in a haze, often collapsing on to the nearest sofa, chair, chaise, bench or bed in a heap of exhaustion and tilting dizziness. Sleep is not restful: my dreams are a chaotic – at times terrifying – tangle of chases, dark and forbidding shadow figures. I run and run or can’t run in equal measures and I awake often in a state of confusion often accompanied by a deep sense of fear. The fear gives way to anger and my attitude I am sad to say is that of a petulant teenager, hostile and overwrought with no notebook to hand to vent because I left it – carelessly abandoned – on the bus.

Professionally, these last months, I must have been a walking wraith, a nightmare to behold. When I returned to the still weekend quiet of my office to attempt to make sense of what I had left, I noted that the photo I had chosen to display my proud mark of motherhood was that of you in death – your tiny body clothed in a yellow sweater and matching trousers, your skin an eerily bruised blue. And do you know that I don’t even remember making what had to have been a conscious decision? I don’t even remember choosing to display that particular moment like a talisman of howling pain? My poor colleagues. . . the eggshells they must have tread on.

Which leads me to a crossroads and at a not to distant point in the future, I will have to make decisions. I will have to get back on the commuter train into to Town, walk back into the office I so carefully and lovingly put together and try to make my peace with the world that had started to become a trigger for my anger and frustration, and full of language I can’t quite remember I know how to speak.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

So, it rained most of yesterday. It was appropriate, I suppose, given that I spent much of the morning in a meeting with other mums of babies who've passed on. These women all have gone on to have children or want to have children (mostly the former) and whilst it was cathartic, it was also a bit. . . overwhelming. Of course, I hid the real crazy and didn't mention taxidermy. You're proud, I know.

But it would make a great TV show, if there were more a market for Twilight Zone/Surreal TV.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Damn you, Stephen Crane

We laid part of you to rest in Suffolk on a Saturday with you Auntie S, Tanzie and little Pedro.

The ashes of a 5lb, 7 ounce baby takes up the same space as Pedro, a much loved, fat cat.

I have had this poem running through my head off and on the last week, in between flushes of heat and spastic colons, and chaotic dreams. Last night, we were sailing and you were high up on the masts.

In the desert

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Wherein Mama loses her basket

I've been wandering around in my mind a lot lately, little one. Thinking about you, and life, and moving on, and going back and I think about things I've read, snippets of stories, fragments of other people's lives (because, as an archivist, one spends a great deal of time up to one's elbows in other people's lives), lines from poems half remembered and all mashed up togehter. . .

'Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite "The boy stood on
the burning deck.'

I've fallen ill again. Or am ill still, depending, I suppose, on what has caused this next spectacular infection. Surely, says one Dr, you can't have been feeling poorly for long. Surely, says another, you can't be as large as you claim you were in just January. Photographic evidence is just boggling when presented, and my temper is wrought, it takes nothing for an explosion. I've spend 3 nights and 3 days in hospital, like a cruise. A short cruise, maybe to Cozumel. The last month has been a blur of broken sleep, nightmares, frantic days at work, exhausted seconds, minutes, hours at home - the world moving in slow motion whilst the heat of summer presses into my skin, into my head.

Losing you has only reinforced something I've known for a while: The art of losing one's mind isn't all that hard to master.

Strangely, I think I miss you now more than I did. . . I miss your smell, your little hands, your little eye lashes, and your little rosebud mouth. I miss everything about you and the further I move away from that point in time when I held you, the harder some days it is to breathe. The more I want to throw my head back and howl with rage and joy. Sometimes line seems to blur between where I am, where I've been, where you were lost and I can't remember which moment I am in. . . little things screw up my sense of timing: waking up in an emergency room in pain after dozing off.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

And we came back. We did this well over a week ago, so you're probably wondering, Little One, what I could be doing that kept me from writing to you. Well, let's just leave it to say that the hits just keep on coming.

We left on a Thursday night. This would normally have been smooth sailing. I would have packed a scrummy dinner to be eaten on the ferry. I might have even tissue-wrapped your father's shirts. Stranger things have happened. Instead, all of my good intentions flew out the window with a bit of scalding hot coffee and a trip to the emergency room. Result: a 10-inch long, varyingly wide burn that ran from the bendy in my waist to my upper thigh.

New rule: No emptying the washing machine near freshly made coffee.

Reminder: Large McDonald's arches on the fridge. Why? Because coffee is hot and your mama should know better.

So we get home, I finish packing in a very nice haze of painkillers. We drive to the ferry. We crash out on the sofas and a few hours later I wake up to realize OUCH! The large protective blister has popped! And the layer of skin that was a blister, well, it has come off. Which leads to an infection, which leads to numerous trips to Prague 6 from our hideway in Skalice.

We have a brilliant time. Your Uncle Mix pulled out all the stops and made us most welcome in his country manor. And he's expecting a baby with his paramour, which is most exciting news.

In Prague, we eat, we wander, we laugh, we argue, and I love being there but don't long to live there, if you know what I mean. It is nice to know I can live in parallel to the city, dropping in as and when. And then we retreat to the country for long walks, reading, naps, and - in your father's case - World Cup Football.

From Skalice we drive west then south to Neuchatel, where your Uncle C and Auntie J live near the Lake. We spend two days eating and drinking (your father rediscovers his appreciation for Tequila/vodka/Redbull and pays dearly). We arrive at the ferry just shy of the 8pm and bicker over who is at fault: Human Error or Technology.

On the ferry, your father gets a text: your Great Aunt has died. This makes my heart hurt so much, I can't help but cry. She was amazing. The only thing that cheers me is that she'll be able to join the ranks of fab people keeping pace with you.

At home, the world spins and spins. Work is crazy busy, Uncle M has a stroke, Auntie P and Uncle CR get hitched at Eton Chapel and really, all I want to do is have some fun then sleep for an eternity. Things slow down by Tuesday - and really, how could they help but slow?

In all of this, I have to say, we had our 1st genetics appointment, which was basically another session of 'Hmmm. Well We think you're good to go, but let's wait for the metabolic tests. And yeah, we don't really know what caused the hydrops.' But the brain damage, little one, that's just cause you didn't really get a chance to breathe deep. And my heart cracks a bit more before it can heal.

And almost everywhere I go, people offer up commiserations. It is touching and yet doubly painful. What I notice is that people want to comfort more that we let them, your papa and I. And when they can't comfort him, they come to me because, well, I guess I'm just a wee bit more cuddly. When I'm not setting things on fire.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

And so we are preparing for a road trip that will take us to Dunkirk, through Germany, to the Czech Republic, back through Switzerland, then home. We will not be taking Josie, mainly because I'm crap at sorting out her pet passport and because it is just too much for her right now, a long road trip. Lately, I've noticed that she is slowing down. She is doing so with amazing grace but she is definitely slowing down. A good walk, a good run she never turns down, but she crashes hard afterwards.

She is getting older and one day, she won't wake up or she'll get sick and I'll have to let her go. And your papa won't let me get her taxidermy-ed either. Which is probably a good thing, because just how creepy would THAT Xmas card be?

I am back at work, in theory 3 days a week, slowly phasing in. But what happens, what is so hard to change, is that I can't shut work off once I open the door. It creeps into everything until it BECOMES everything. I find myself making lists - not fun lists, like what creative things I want to do or where we should stop on our trip, but W O R K lists about accommodation, the office, the corporate flat, who needs what, etc. And I can't stop. My heart begins to race and my breathing comes faster and then BAM! I hit the wall, trip into an anxiety fueled panic. Or, I go to sit down and realize I am so physically exhausted my bones feel like they are being crushed and I think I am going to start tossing cookies.

Not optimal.

Add to that that I occasionally, without even realizing, start crying and that my milk (even after the cabergoline and 3.5 months) is still coming in like a bitch, and well, that's life.

The house is in a state. I mean, seriously in a state. And most of the time, I can't even summon the desire to do anything about it. I have serious skills in the compartmentalization and avoidance departments. I can ignore pretty much anything, just retreating into my own mind. There are so many stories in there, so many interesting conversations and music and words that I can go there and just ignore the papers piled, the post waiting to be read, the bills needing to be paid, the floors that need to be mopped. And so your poor father will come and be perplexed by the state of things and wonder if I've gone to far into my own head and I have to reassure him I'm still around.

And there is just so much going on! The weather is warm, is super fine and I just want to have the kind of summer I never had when I was 17. I want to stay up late and sleep through the day and stretch out like a cat. With no responsibility beyond the children's library reading club. I want to drink pitchers of sangria while I giggle with my girlfriends and dance like a fiend; I want to make out with my husband in the back seat of a car.

And I want this so much, I know, because the one thing I really want, I just cannot have. I can't have you. I can't hold you and feed you and feel like the world is crashing down because there isn't one piece of clothing not covered in spit-up or because the diaper genie is so full it is about to explode. Maybe I'll get these things yet (and I hope I do) but it doesn't change the fact that, like the crooner sings, there will never be another you.

As ever
Mama

Monday, 7 June 2010

Letter to my 20-year-old -self

Dear you

You've decided to move on . That lovely Victorian studio you find in Cincinnati on Ohio Street? Keep it. For as long as you possibly can. If there is ever an option to buy it, do so.

The Poet you meet at the bookshop? Don't take him so seriously. Be smart, have fun, and when its done, just nod and accept the lessons learned. We have a tendency to brood too much and it will ruin so much of our time and life if we let it. That boy on the Boston - Albany Express? He'll break your heart but it will make you stronger if you let it.

Keep traveling. Travel for the sake of it, not to run away from life. Travel near and far and go back to places. Give the people you love some distance and space for a couple of years so that you can grow into your skin. We are good at keeping in touch with people; cultivate this skill, these relationships. They will get you through life when you think it might break you. You will have tragedy and disaster, courted and otherwise, but you are a tough cookie with a sense of humour that will pull you through but you can't do it alone.

If there are 3 things I could give you as gifts, they would go a little something like this: 1) the knowledge that that horrific black dog that stalks you is not who you are. You are not worthless and useless and you need to realize this or it just may take you down. Hard. Depression is a fact of your genetic make up and you need to learn to deal with it. Preferably sooner than later and without a martini super-glued to your hand. 2) We're spendthrifts. Learn to walk away from the red linen trousers when the debate over 'rent v trousers' arrives. You can't keep everything but you don't need to get rid of EVERYTHING. Balance and being middle of the road for some things, these are good things. They won't detract from the things we do well or otherwise. That beautiful black dress that is so 1958? You need to keep that bad boy. And one more thing: Go on and dye your hair. Its just hair: it will grow back. But when you go platinum, go to the salon.

Seriously.

Love you madly as ever,
Me

Friday, 28 May 2010

On taxidermy, thearpy, Reeses Cups and family trees

Dear Wee One

You would have been 3 months old this week. We probably would have had a party, you, me and the dog. I'd have made you both wear paper hats - the kind with elastic.

I may still make the dog wear a paper hat. It does so amuse me to dress her up.

Your grandparents left on Monday. We spent a gorgeous weekend being lazy, wandering around the various markets, playing scrabble and just generally enjoying one another's company.

When they arrived, your Grandy brought me two bags of mini Reese's Cups. Needless to say there are no more left. Not even the hint of dark brown paper nests or gold tin foil.

I still feel slightly nauseous, but in a good way.

I wish I could say that everything was grand. That whenever I think of you, it is completely without any sadness or devastation. For the most part, little one, it is with a kind of resigned happiness but some days. . . some moments. . . whoa. The pain is so intense, it just comes at me like a freight train, all grinding noise and smoke. And that I haven't been researching taxidermy and preservation methods like a demented person based on a series of recurring dreams in which you and I wander around town with you in a baby bjorn. Because THAT would not be at all weird.

You're coming home tomorrow, finally ready for collection from the Funeral director's. The kicker is that I had one thing I wanted to achieve before going back to work - the one silly, over-emotional thing that I really needed to have done, I don't know that I'll be able to. I wanted to find a little nest for my baby bird to play in. And I haven't been able to do that yet. Cue eating ice cream on the sofa in my pajamas and crying because I feel like a failure as a mama. Even though, rationally, I know I'm not a failure and the very nice therapist is helping me work through these types of feelings to become the better version of myself.

In other news, the upside of doing a genealogy project for your Dad's family is that I found some amazing photos to send to Wales and to Suffolk. And I will be able to provide the geneticist with a frighteningly thorough family tree. One side goes back to the early 11th Century.

And now you know why we tend to not do any genealogy here.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Everything is relative. . . except relatives

Dear Fang

Your grandparents arrived in London last Thursday. On Friday, we got ready for the party we were having on Saturday. On Saturday, we had a party. Mama may have drunk a bit too much, but no harm, no foul, as they say. Your grandmother may or may not have hit a couple of cars on her way back to ours. It was a good party.

They've gone off to France, your grandparents. I got up with them Wednesday morning, made your Grumpa coffee, hugged them goodbye and contemplated briefly whether I was making a mistake not going with them. I looked at your father as he got ready to drive them to the station and knew that now just isn't the time for me to be away.

The last few months, I've been a bit of a slacker. I'm not exercising like I should (I should be at the gym, working on getting back my womanly figure), I'm not keeping house like I should, I'm not really keeping up with commitments the way I should. In another place, in another time, I would be giving myself a hard time but now, I'm just along for the ride.

Things are changing fast. I am going to have to prepare myself for the fact that my office won't be the same: two people that I was close to are leaving (or have left) and there is a new person starting. Add to that the people traveling from the US and well, yeah. . . The world is just going to be different. But different can be good, right?

Your dad came home with news: his boss is leaving for another job and his boss's boss (I know, right? Hang in there) has been made redundant. I love that phrase 'made redundant.' It is so much more obnoxious and passive-aggressive than 'You're fired.' And it made me a bit nervous because I had made a decision that goes like this:

If the Bureaucracy doesn't get moving on notifying us about appointments, then dude, I'm going to jump ranks and get pregnant, results be damned. You need a sibling, I am ready to be a mama and actually HAVE a baby in the house (no offense, kitten. Have I mentioned that I had read a book about taxidermy-ing people? Well, embalming people for display, but still. . . I know, I know. Grief makes people a bit bonkers) and really, all of this milk has to be good for something, right? And Josie really needs someone small to pull her tail and tug on her ears.

But that could also just be me getting a bit apprehensive about how slow things now seem to move. When we were a unit, there was a finite period of time before we'd know how the chapter ended. You were - whether either of us were ready for it - going to come out eventually. But now, now things can just move idly along and get sidetracked. And I don't like being sidetracked.

You know?

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Dear Little One

Okay, so I think it is more than fair to say that Friday, well, Friday sucked crusty gym socks. Truly. It was the hardest day thus far and I know there will be more of them but sometimes they really do my head in.

After a little ambush by the obstetrician (I mean, really, do we need to walk through the autopsy report again?!), I seemed to on automatic pilot, albeit a very hostile automatic pilot. But I came out the other side of that Friday feeling remarkably okay. Went on to through your Auntie P's hen night with only a minimum of damage (in the guise of a gorgeous little Dries Van Noten espadrille that is no more) and a rather nasty blister.

Such is life and footwear.

Your grandparents arrived yesterday, bringing with them some of the sweetest things, including a 3 Little Bears quilt you Grandm B made; it is the perfect accompaniment to the lovely cross-stitch panel of bears in dreamland that your Auntie T made for you and your future siblings. Lucky little cuss. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced your grandparents but am trying not to work up an anxiety attack.

We'll see how that one goes.

As ever,
Your mama

Friday, 30 April 2010

Warning: this medication may cause excessive gambling

You will wake up anxious, a carry-over from the night before, when a work colleague - fully aware of your current circumstances - contacts you to ask for a password that you left him before you were signed off from working IN the office and before you were FORBIDDEN to do any work. He will have developed this nasty habit -violating your space and the indisputable fact of your being on leave - and will seem immune to the anxiety he creates with requests like 'I need a car for my personal holiday' when he texts you on your personal phone and emails you on your personal email.

You will have gone to sleep that night feeling sick to your stomach and in fear of what the next day - another Friday - will bring.

You will wake up early, after a fitful night of sleep in which office zombies stumble around looking for you. You will be holding your little baby, hiding in a filing cupboard and while you are holding him, he will die from suffocation.

You will get out of bed and get dressed and fix your breakfast. You will feel dazed and bereft. You will remember your keys, your handbag, your book on the geography of bliss. You will forget your mobile phone.

You will get to the train station 45 minutes before your appointment. You will have left a 22 minute window for delays. This will not be enough, since transport will have other plans. Trains will be delayed, Tube platforms closed due to overcrowding. You will make your way to the Feto-medical unit with painstaking care and you will arrive late.

It will be the first time you set foot into the hospital where you gave birth and where you held your son while he died. You will walk into the feto-medical unit with your cheeks flushed and your breath starting to become ragged and you will not even realise you are crying silently.

The nurse, one of your favourites will lead you gently to the room where you will meet your OB. She will bring you water and rub your back and you will not lash at her despite the overwhelming desire to do so. You will save that for later, when you chase a sleek sports car down the road for turning illegally, when you chase after it screaming 'You sonofabitch! You need to learn to FREAKING DRIVE!' You will stand your ground when the driver stops, leans out his window to yell back, as he reaches for the door. The rage and anguish you will feel in that moment will terrify you. You will actually scream after him 'You really think you want to take me on?'

You will want your mommy.

But these moments come later.

First, before you can get angry and rail at the world, you will have to see the obstetrician, someone you have not seen since before your little boy died. You will remember the last time you saw her, sitting on your bed in the open ward, before they sequestered you. She will ask you to map out a plan of action for the meeting and you will say 'x, y, and zed.'

And yes, you will, in fact have said 'zed.'

She will say, no, first we will talk about the autopsy. You will say 'But I've already done that. I don't want to do that.'

She will say 'But I want to.'

She will ask where your husband is and you will look around, panicked. Have you left him somewhere? Did you forget him? Do you have a husband? You panic then you remember: this was just supposed to be a check-up. She is not playing by the rules. She is not reading the script. You will sigh, and hunker down, waiting. She will, nod, thoughtfully and say he should be at the appointments that come next.

You will nod, a schoolgirl getting her knuckles rapped.

She will tell you the head of the clinic - a man who's name is very close to Panda, so much so that you always think of him as 'Dr Panda,' the man with the same specs as you have but in navy blue - disagrees with the autopsy findings. The world will tip slightly. This isn't even close to being over.

You will tell her you are angry that she ignored you and treated you like a child who didn't know her own body.

She will apologise. You will say you are angry that the delivering OB lied to you about James breathing, that they shouldn't lie when they are asked to be truthful. That it is wrong and deceitful.

She will narrow her eyes thoughtfully. She will say 'I've done that, told a delivering patient that everything is fine.' You will look her in the eye and you will raise an eyebrow. 'Then you are wrong as well. In a situation like this, you shouldn't lie. It will come back to bite you in the ass.'

She is now getting her knuckles wrapped. She takes it. She gives you a half smile and nods. She'll ask for another urine sample, just to make sure things are good. For only the second time in your life, you will not be able to pee on demand. She smiles. 'You can bring it back later.' Riiight.

You will leave on a semblance of normality, until one of the kindly nurses stops you in the hall and says 'I am so sorry. So, so sorry.' And you will thank her, unable to look in her eyes and will walk quickly out of the building, until you can run. Run. Run. Down the street. Away. Run.

She will examine you and say 'All feels good.' She will give you a prescription to dry up your milk, with a sigh. 'We don't always prescribe this. It can cause depression.' You look at her in disbelief, not that the medication can cause depression but because you didn't actually have to spend the last 2 months lactating every time a baby cried, no matter how tightly you breasts were bound. And besides, you're already depressed. Functional, but depressed.

You will have begun thinking to yourself in third person. You will recall a novel you read, a Margaret Atwood novel, about a woman about your age who thinks in the 3rd person for a while. You will remember the book and you will think 'It worked for her.' You will go with it, walking to Confetti then to Ray's Cafe in Foyles.

You'll notice all the Nina Campbell making an appearance and think 'Hmm. The Year of Nina Campbell it is. Much prettier than the Year of David Peace.'

And at Ray's, you will lose perspective, waiting in line to buy a sandwich. You will listen to the exchange between the cashier and her friend, waiting impatiently for the other 2 members of staff doing nothing to take your order. You will give your order to one of the other baristas and he'll look at you blankly.

You will criticise their service, something that will surely guarantee spit in your latte or your sandwich but you don't care. They will flinch, hurt. And for a moment, you feel guilty then pleased. Good, the ugly, says. Good, let them hurt.

You will wait for a friend who is late, not on purpose but because of transport. You will realise you don't have your phone and you will end up missing one another. You will wait. You will eat your sandwich. You will drink your latte. You will read about happiness in Iceland. You will think about Bjork. You will think about autopsies. You will start to well up. And then, suddenly, you will be able to pee. You will rush to the bathroom, crying silently again, to fill up yet another sample for UCLH. You will laugh hysterically at the thought of buying a gift certificate at Agent Provocateur for the bachelorette party you are throwing tomorrow for a friend the will sit in your bag, next to a pee sample wrapped in a clean dog poo bag.

You will - after another anxiety attack because the woman at the pharmacy makes you repeat, each time more loudly - why you aren't breastfeeding. Her intercom isn't working and when you hear your words echoing back through the hallway to you, you will feel rise in your throat. And you will run quickly to the bathroom, where you howl for what seems a day like a wounded animal.

'My baby is dead.'

You will have said it so many times, you marvel that it can still hurt. But this time, this time it is fresh and raw and you might as well have never had to say it before. You will want your mommy and you want to go home.

But you will wait for your prescription. You will walk to the Tube. You will go home. You will talk to your husband about airline tickets and about how he can just stick them up his ass because really, really you JUST CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS RIGHT NOW. Really, NOT NOW. . You will walk out of the house. You will lock yourself out. You will cry. You will want Friday to end and for it to be tomorrow, a day you are looking forward to.

You will make dinner, you will wait for your husband to come home and hold you. You will make a hat (instead of a tacky tiara) for the bride herself to wear. You will call the friend you didn't meet. You will make plans.

You will be okay.

You will read the insert of the miracle pills that will make the milk go. The insert will list as a side effect: 'Strong impulse to gamble despite serious personal or family consequences.'

And you decide you'll just set those aside until you talk to your shrink. Because, really, you will have enough crazy on your hands already.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Last Friday, your father and I made our way to UCL Hospital for a talk-through with Dr Harding, the lovely doctor who was in charge of your care to walk through the autopsy report. The gist of the report is that you were doomed from the beginning, my little darling, which is just so hard to hear because really, how can something so perfectly formed, something so active and chatty in the womb just not be 'viable?'

Instead of leaving feeling more resolved, I am now flooded with questions and a bit of anger. Okay, maybe more than a bit of anger. I learned, for instance, that when you were born, you weren't breathing. This surprised and angered me because I had specifically asked the obstetrician as she handed you over to Dr Harding if you were breathing. She said (and I distinctly remember this, just before the haze of shock and blood loss swept in) 'Everything's fine.' There was a bit more snapping on my part, something along the lines of 'Are you f*@king kidding me? If everything were FINE we wouldn't be here!'

Sometimes, Fanglet, sometimes, I wonder if there isn't something about my nature that encourages people NOT to listen to me.

But none of that changes that fact that you're not here, even if you'll always be our little boy. And deep down, I don't blame anyone or anything. I just think that they could have been honest with me and they could've tried a little harder to find an epidural.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

We don't mean to hurt one another

My little dead dumpling:

Did I ever tell you the story of your Scottish Auntie Sarah and I making knedlach in Flora? No? Well, suffice to say they were inedible and you're lucky you missed it. Dumplings only became my forte later in life.

'What do you say/ when its all gone away/Baby I didn't mean to hurt you/Truth spoke in whispers will tear you apart/No matter how hard you resist it/You humble me, Lord,' Sings Miss Norah. Writes Mr Breit.

See that? Mama likes her citations.

Mama likes a lot things. I like my shoes, my pretty dresses, scarves and suits. I like my lingerie well made and my wine well-stocked. I like my records tidy and to hum show tunes as I walk down the street. I've never been pragmatic about money and - if we're being honest - I'm not sure I know how to be.

I know. How relieved are you with regards to the latter? You'll not ever have to hear me sing the entire 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' soundtrack as we clatter in the stroller equivalent of a 4x4.

And yet. . . how heartbroken does that make me? I'll never get to wipe my 'Red Carpet Red' lipstick off your cheek with a saliva-wet napkin, never get to nag you about what time you'll be home or worry when you venture beyond the garden walls. it is a strange thing, this one-sided situation. Strange, indeed.

Sometimes, I wonder. . . I wonder if you had died before you were born if I would feel this sense of being despondent, adrift. And I have to say, I think it would be worse.

Tonight, your papa and I had a stalemate and I am wondering how much longer we can continue to reset the chessboard of Love. And yes, I realize how totally cheesy that sounds. But you're dead and I'm still you're mother, so suck it up. Romantic relationships are not my forte. As the man sang 'Life's too short to be hangin' around.'

And yet. . . I love this man, this life, and where I am. There is so much more than just moving along and I'm only just beginning to realize how much more there is.

This weekend we went to visit your Auntie S and Uncle B. I'm in knots that Auntie S may be more ill than we think, that I might lose her. It will shift the entire paradigm of all of our worlds, not in the least mine. . . she's the kind of woman I long to be and become: grace, wit, and taste personified. You are more lucky than you never got the chance to know that she loved you. And she did. So much.

We all did. And I just keep wondering why you're not here. Maybe I'll know on Friday.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Sun came up and it was Tuesday Morning

Tuesday the sky was blue, the air full of spring and colour. The night before, I had danced late into the night with the promise of you, the memory of you, and then I sat down and I had a little laugh and a little cry. Tom Waits 'Old 55' played on repeat.

We walked, holding hands, up to the funeral home. We were early, my doing, because I needed to see you, my sweet little Fang. Just to make sure that the right baby, MY baby had been returned. And you had been. You were nestled so sweetly in the casket, it took my breath away. I turned to your father, a taller, sturdier version of you -- like an imprint, really -- and whispered 'Can we take him home now?' A moment of madness, of hysteria bubbling, welling up.

We return to the office to wait. I notice brochures embossed with the word Batesville and I my brow furrows. My brow furrows more. Batesville? Like Batesville, Mississippi Batesville? Batesville Casket Company Batesville? I know the place. Idly, I pick one up. It is the same Batesville, down the road from Oxford and I shake my head. Mississippi, my love, creeps into the oddest places.

We are ushered into a black limousine. You are put between us. We hold hands. The car moves slowly down the road. Slowly, passed the school, and the green, through this place where we live. Sunlight dapples through the trees. We turn into the Cemetery, with its beautifully cultivated lawns, its carefully tended borders. The car stops seamlessly outside the chapel. Your name is written in italics on the schedule for the day: 'Baby James Robert Radcliffe-Binnington, 10:30am.' Your dad smiles sadly 'We've been hyphenated,' he says. The whole outing has taken 45 minutes.

We spend the rest of the afternoon being terrifically gentle with one another. We fall asleep holding hands, talking about your smell and your little feet.

Friday, 9 April 2010

I want.

I am sitting on the porch of my office. This porch is a testament of how much the man I love - the man I married on a cold, crisp November day somewhere in the Midwest, loves me.

He built me a porch.

I am drinking my morning coffee, having an illicit and rare cigarette. Luxuriating in the earmarks of spring. The coffee is Ethiopian, a gift from a friend recently returned. It is amazingly good.

A bumble bee is swirling around the garden, drunk. I wonder if insects have a police force. Can you get ticketed for being a drunk bee flying?

In the neighboring garden a woman is cooing to her baby. The baby coos back. They both giggle. I listen, voraciously, an eavesdropper. I listen and then I don't. I want to be cooing to my own baby, my own little Fang. I want my own little Fang to coo back.

I coo in my head to my own little Fang. It doesn't really work.

Of all the things I am, and I have been, I never thought I would be this: a 32 year old babyless mother. Heartbreak town. Cue the violins. I tear up. Clear my throat. Finish my cigarette. Take a sip of coffee. The tears are still there, just beneath the surface.

Josie is stretched out, soaking up the morning sun. She senses a shift in mood, in the air and rises graceful and sleek. Downward dog, a deep stretch. In a liquid movement she has come to rest her head on my knee. A gentle budge. Don't be sad, her eyes say, pleading. Not sad. Not sad mama.

Dread is on the periphery of my morning. It is sauntering up casually towards Anxiety, another watcher. 'Fancy a date,' asks Dread. Anxiety is coy, a bit uncertain. Dread has a reputation for being something of a rake.

My breath speeds up. Panic starts to well up in my chest. I close my eyes. Breathe slow, I say. Focus on the word relax.

Focus. Focus on relax.

The two retreat into the shadows. I sigh with relief. With deflation. I could have avoided going into the office, used a panic attack as an excuse to stay here, in the garden. But I don't. Maybe I should. Work is a political minefield. A game of speed chess that keeps changing rules. Changing players. I can't keep up or keep track of the names.

I want to stay at home. Here. I want so much that I can't have in this moment. I just want you to come home now, Fang. It isn't funny anymore, this disappearing act. Listen to your mother. Just come home.

But of course you can't. And on Monday, I will go and just double check that they have released the right body to the mortuary. Even if it is just your body and you don't live there anymore.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Dear Little One

Today your Auntie C left after 10 days of Mommy-sitting. It has been so lovely having her here, having her as a distraction, a buffer, a shoulder.

A letter arrived on Friday morning with the preliminary findings of your autopsy. In all of the things I never thought I'd do in my life, this figures pretty high on the list. I never thought I'd write my dead sweet little boy a letter about what his autopsy results were. I never thought I would love or miss someone this much.

The findings are vague; thus far, all I know is that you had underdeveloped lungs and a venous drainage problem that made you and life 'incompatible.' And so we wait a bit more.

Other things I never thought I'd do: I never thought I'd discover that most funeral parlors do not charge baby funerals or cremations and that they also provide little baby coffins free of charge. The coffins are in white with a name plate. The funeral directors provide a car to carry the parents and guests to the crematorium. I never thought I would use the phrase 'my dead son' or variations and feel numb to the flicker of shock that crosses people's faces. I never thought I would hold a scratch mitten and think of your tiny, tiny hand clutching my finger while my heart swelled and prepared to break.

When we left you sleeping at UCLH, I think both your father and I entered a state of suspended animation. We went on auto-pilot and -- for the most part -- assumed that the world would step in and take over and that your remains would arrive in a box. Magically, the saddest of presents, so that we could lay you to rest with your grandparents in the sweet smelling spring of Welsh countryside. You would have learned to fish here, to climb trees, and to swim in the sea. And so you shall learn to do all these things, my little darling. You'll just learn to do them in your own time.

Friday, 19 March 2010

On my life list. . .

I have added 'Spend a year without any antibiotics or painkillers.'

I have been on antibiotics every month for the last 5 months -and bizarrely - they only leave me feeling drained. The most recent batch - a double whammy focusing on my woman parts - has left me feeling like I'm stuffed full of cotton fluff and on the verge of growing patchwork ears. Food tastes like sawdust and my eyes itch. All in all, this is a lot of fun. I'm sure you can imagine.

As life resumes, I am now 'back in the community.' I have a community midwife and community health visitor (specifically to make sure I'm not on the verge of any Plathian acts of self-harm) and a shrink who specializes in Post Traumatic Stress and perinatal situations.

Next week, your Auntie C (one of my bestest friends) arrives. It will be so lovely to have someone from home here, especially someone who wears the same size shoes.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A suitcase of books and 1 bag a piece.

Dear Fanglet

The first few days are hazy. The door bell rings continuously. Flowers fill the house, the scent of lilies beautifully overpowering. Gifts arrive, sent before you left, whilst I tell myself that because you knew how much we love you, how much other people love you and how we want you to live out your own path that you knew it was okay if you moved on to that Great Good Thing you were meant for.

The phone rings. People come by, their faces wary and pained. Your father and I are seldom apart. I sleep, worn out, slightly confused and tender. I cry, I stare out the window, I laugh. We make jokes that people might find strange but that we have to make because laughter, well, is a miracle worker.

I never did tell you that you reminded me of the Dude in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, did I?

And so we go to Italy. We walk and talk and hold hands and cry. We laugh and eat and read. Sunlight dapples, snow swirls and for the most part, no one finds us to demand anything, need anything, ask for anything, to check our pulses. The Arno swirls through Florence and Pisa and we sit on our last day in Italy outside a cafe by the sea, just thinking and holding hands, thinking about you, about the siblings we hope you'll have, about each other. We are just together in a way that we had not been for several months, for so many reasons. And we come home.

I packed up your clothes last night. Softly, softly cracks the heart. Crying just a bit, because you would have looked so sweet in this and look, the little scratch mittens. Your dad goes back to work, I can touch my toes, the crocuses are blooming and life moves on, just not the way one thinks it will.

Now, if I could really just get the milk to stop coming in at those 'socially inopportune' moments. . .

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Coming Home

Fang arrived on Wednesday evening, 24 Feb 2010 at 9:05pm on his own steam and without the much-insisted upon epidural. As par for the course with my overall pregnancy, the delivery was a little less than straightforward and there noticeable absence of an epidural. A true highlight for both Tim and I was Fang’s arrival was the arch of pee aimed straight for the delivering doctor that accompanied him. What can I say? He has always had a great sense of humour.

We named him James Robert Radcliffe Binnington, although I think Fang probably would have stuck with him. He was James to his papa and James Robert to me (along with a whole host of other endearments he probably would have grown up to roll his eyes about). He weighed 5lbs and 9 0z and fought a good hard fight against hydrops fetalis. His organs just couldn’t hold water properly and everything flowed out into his skin and his lungs were very underdeveloped from the weight of all the water around him during pregnancy, which was – ironically – caused by his own kidneys thinking they weren’t working well enough. He spent most of his time on a morphine drip, reclined back like a WC Handy lookalike crossed with the Big Lebowski (he had a very fetching pair of foam sandals that he wore most of the time and would have looked smashing in a bathrobe). He died on 27 Feb 2010 at 2:45 pm in the afternoon.

Both my husband and I are eternally grateful to the fabulous staff at the University College London Hospital Neo-Natal Unit, the staff at the Feto-Medical Unit, as well as all the other medical staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital and North Middlesex Hospital (for the most part) that we have encountered through this arduous journey. For every whine and whinge I've uttered and written about during this pregnancy, I am so very, very aware that I have an amazing world class healthcare system at my disposal and within my grasp. We would not have been able to have James for the short time that we did without their amazing work.

The next few months will be incredibly hard. There are so many things that have to happen before my physical self can revert to a semblance of 'normal' and they are things I hadn't thought I would have to have happen. There are a lot of questions that need to be investigated and -- we hope -- answered. We have opted for a post mortem largely because it is suspected that the underlying cause of this particular case might be genetic and before we even think of attempting another pregnancy, we both have to know those odds (seriously: how many pregnancies can 1 girl attempt?) because neither of us could bear to go through this again. Also, if the questions we get answers to can be of use to any other pregnant penguins who find themselves faced with the possibility of polyhydraminos or hydrops, and to the medical staff who treat hydrops, then the least I can do is help make that happen.

In my mind, as much as it hurt to let him go on his first sleepover, Fang has just gone on a very extended play date that involves a sleepover. With his great-grandfather Jinx, maybe. I envision fishing. And maybe a few chapters of Treasure Island which is what Jinx read to me one spring holiday a long time ago, just before he taught me to play backgammon.

Thank you to all of you for your ongoing thoughts and support. We are more grateful than we can ever express.

Rachel xx

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Western Front

Things will be quiet here for a while, kids. 

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Late nights are here to stay

Dear Fanglet

So, here we are: another day, another dollar.  Your father and I are almost through the complete series of The Wire, so heaven only knows what we'll move on to after that.  We've also been watching a great many Korean horror movies, but they are getting to be a too intense for me at the moment, so I think it will be back to 'Pride and Prejudice' for me. 

This week has been really low-key.  We've gone to the library, the garden centre, Crouch End to go for a short walk up the high street with your Auntie E, and today I ventured into town to have lunch with the nice woman who has been filling in with me whilst I've been out ill.  In every instance, I have had to come home and collapse like a limp rag which leads to me believe that a) perhaps the lovely Miss Govind at North Mid was onto something when she said I should be resting; b) All those years I didn't sleep are catching up with me; and c) we really need to train Josephine to NOT lay right across my legs.  They impede my ability to go to the loo.  The trip into town for lunch today had me down for the count for about 4 hours.  The downside? Now I can't really sleep.

In other news, I was put on a course of 'new' antibiotics tha I would say have only slightly worked.  Plus, they make me slightly nauseous, which is a bit rich, given that I often already nauseous.

On the other hand, you're busier than I have felt you being in a while (I guess that Olympic size pool wasn't as soon as we thought), so I won't whinge too much.  Now that we're at week 31, I kind of feel like any discomfort I have that doesn't involve a high protein count or draining fluid out of my uterus is par for the course.  I'm also kind of waiting for the whole nesting instinct to kick in, because the house is a bit out of control for my liking. 

Tomorrow is our weekly appointment at UCHL.  The excitement is overwhelming, I know.  I can feel your little feet hammering on my ribcage in anticipation.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A sucker for packaging

Dear Fanglet

The theme for this week has been 'in the community.'  Wednesday, I crawled back to the GP with yet another Urinary Tract Infection.  I hobbled up the stairs (amazing now how quickly these infections go from 'Ouch,' to 'Oh, my freaking god, I think am dying') to yet another a duty GP (as it appears my own GP is on the lam) who spend a good 40 minutes chewing her lip and asking me a slew of inane questions, all of which she could answer herself by READING THE FILE I had given her.  She grilled me as to why I'd been given such a range of antibiotics (you know, because in addition to being a trained archivist, I'm also a pharmacologist) and as to why the infections keep coming back.  The sample she took was. . . unpleasant. Full of icky things that could lead to another stint in the Ante-Natal unit.  She then hemmed and hawed over whether she should call the Registrar at North Middlesex.  'I mean, I just don't know if we can treat you in the community.  I don't know what medication to give you and well, you really don't belong in the community with this kind of infection.  You should be treated at Hospital.'

I was tempted to ask if being treated in the community involved an animal sacrifice or a prayer circle. Because, to be honest, I'll try pretty much anything once.  Except Class A drugs. You know, being pregnant and all.  So we went back to Hospital, they took another sample, and the nice midwife gave me this great painkiller that left me feeling incredibly generous towards my fellow man. We were released a few hours later on our own recognizance.

On Friday we schlepped over to Great Ormond Street Hospital to see our favourite team of Cardiologists, which led us back to UCLH to have some fluid removed.

We went to Great Ormond Street on Friday and Dr Sullivan was not very happy. And I was not very happy -- having expanded even more and my stomach having gotten incredibly tense-- and Fang, well, Fang was most certainly not happy and was having to work much too hard to breathe. So, after our scan, he told us that he wanted to send us back to UCLH in the next hour and have them get some of the fluid off, especially as the baby had developed hydrops (which can be caused by many things) and the hydrops looked as though it was getting worse.

So, we grabbed some lunch and went over to UCLH where my new OB said she wanted me to meet with their head of Obstetrics and the head of Paediatrics, so they could explain what we were looking at. I won't go into that right now because I'm not ready to think about it, but I get my own paediatric team of 5 people when I go into labor AND the OB staff. Who knew I'd be having a party?

We have a new book we have to carry around (in conjunction with our other book) and some slick new packaging on 'Our Pregnancy Journey.' All very smooth and well presented. 



The 'amniotic drainage' was very exciting. They send you back to the bed where they do the scan, sterilize your stomach with icy fluid, then one Dr starts monitoring with the ultrasound gadget whilst the other looks for the best place to 'tap.' I was 'lucky' because the placenta and you were quite high, numb the belly so they had lots options. They stick a 6 inch needle -- very fine -- with a thin hose being guided in, and then they remove the needle and start draining into very nice glass bottles.  The fluid -- which is essentially baby pee -- is a light blonde colour, like a wheat beer.  It takes between 20 and 30 minutes and is more strange than painful.  I immediately began to feel better. After that, they strap you to table in the Maternity Day Unit and do a trace on the baby's heart beat for an hour, hour and half and monitor you for contractions.  We had a few contractions but they were mild and you seemed much happier.  And me, well, I can now kind of see my feet.

On Saturday, you're Auntie L arranged a baby shower for us. It was fun.  People brought cake and food and we played a few games and then I got to open presents that were all for you. Well, most of them were for you. A couple of them were for me, including GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, which makes me cry almost as much as the CWDC commericals that are currently airing.  You know the ones. 'Its not just a cup of tea. Its a tool we use. . . ' We waddled to the shower, where we gossiped and chatted and ate until I couldn't move, then came home to dig into season 4 of The Wire.

It was a good day.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A defense of socialized medicine and the NHS

Now, for all of my griping and complaining and snarking at the medical professionals I've encountered during my pregnancy, I'm going to take a step back and be objective.

I know. I think Hell just froze over.  We could go sledding down there.


Throughout the course of my pregnancy, the only thing I've had to pay for are the pregnancy tests (and I took about 27. I'm kooky like that).  With the exception of the urinary tract infection fiasco and the maternity ward thing (hard to overlook the latter, I know, but I do believe that was down to individual midwives and not indicative), I have had quite comprehensive care.  I have been referred through for tests and prodding with a speed that has left me breathless.  If I have one major complaint about that it is that I don't always feel we've had an accurate explanation -- in layman's terms -- of what the procedure or test is for nor have we been given time to make a measured decision. The latter complaint  may have more to do with the fact that many of the decisions have required we choose then and there.  I've made the decisions (with consultation and participation from my partner, mind) with firmness, in an attempt to clamp down on trepidation and fear.  Bizarrely, I've taken on the hard edge I would normally associate with the people in the Service I watched growing up. By the same token, my intolerance levels have also gone up.  I don't want apologies or excuses for things that have gone wrong; I don't care if you're understaffed and struggling: they've got a job to do and by all that is good and right and just in the world, do the job, fulfill the misson. I want assurances and proof that they aren't going to go wrong because of carelessness again.

I do not think that treating patients with blinkers on is an NHS-trait. I think it is a medical professional trait. Not all, mind you, just enough egos in a room together to cause confusion. I've heard horror stories about health care in the US, Canada, Sweden, Czech, and it almost always comes down to human fault or incompetence and a breakdown in the process.  A few years ago, I wrote a series of essays for a Mental Health Trust in Enfield. The essays are here.  5 Years later, I stand by everything I wrote then. 

I pay my taxes, I work hard, and I do sometimes feel a bit livid when I see people abusing the system.  But by the same token, there are people who need assistance, who need help, and who need medical care and would die without the NHS.  If there is one fear I have for the NHS, it is that all of this PFI nonsense is going to send it into a tailspin and that private healthcare -- healthcare for the few -- will be brought in as the way forward.  Private health care is an option I am fortunate enough to have (not for everything but for enough) and I won't lie: I've used it.  And it wasn't bad.  And my treatment was expedited.  I just don't want people to read about my experience with a very specific hospital environment and think that all socialized medicine is mistake.  Nothing is perfect. But I am very conscious that in the US, we wouldn't have been able to afford any of this care.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Hot Potato

So, there will be a series of small posts over the next few days, but the most pressing (in my mind) is how I've become a hot potato.  I've been 'signed off' work for 'rest' (as ambiguous and undefined as it sounds. Not 'bed rest' mind, just 'rest') and as a result my work has decided (if I am objective, I say, rightly -- to a degree) that having me on site without further clarification other than a circled option on a statutory form.  I, too, would like clarification. The irony being that the Doctors are happy to have me run from hospital to hospital with nary a concern for how I get there but at the mention of sitting at my desk they get all broody and 'oooh, yikes. We couldn't possibly make a claim about working; you need to negotiate that with your management,'  to which management replies 'oooh, yikes. We couldn't possibly allow you to do ANY work with out further clarification

Because, you know, keeping a woman trapped at home and allowing her out only to tell her you now think there is something DEFINITELY wrong with her child is a great way to keep her sane.

Quackers. The world has gone quackers. And the wallpaper? It is indeed yellow.

Monday, 25 January 2010

And before you even arrive, the guilt sets in. . .

Today your application for the University nursery arrived.  It seems weird to be putting you down on a waiting list for a nursery place before we've even met you, but needs must, poppet.  That is, unless you've got a black AmEx and the trust fund to pay off the monthly bill tucked away somewhere I don't know about. . .

Money is not everything, just so you know.  It just feels that way sometimes. And we won't even talk about the first inkling of guilt that has set in over 'farming you out.'  I -- as a baby and toddler -- was lucky that for the most part, I had my mom at home.  I didn't become the bolshy and independent creature writing now until I was at least 4.  I don't think.  Your uncle was farmed out, first to a lovely Mennonite woman, then to a very active Le Leche activist so really, how much more Mother Earth can you get? Again, there are countless therapy couches that await you.

I'm still  (unsurprisingly, I suppose) on the mend.  It does occasionally take me aback how long it takes one  to mend after an illness.  Walking to the corner shop or the high street sends me into a fairly decent rendition of a narcoleptic siezure.  This of course, makes Josephine beyond thrilled. She loves when I nap because a) I'm sleeping and b) I'm in one place.  Plus, she can use my ever-increasing stomach as a pillow.  What's not to love?

It has also occurred to me that I should clear up any confusion re your last name.  Though it will be a (rather dignified) mouthful, it isn't Biffington-Smythe.  Biffington-Smythe is the name bestowed upon  us by the amazing and stupendous Mary Stuckey, who (in addition to being a gorgeous redhead) is incredibly brilliant, with a mind like a razor blade and a wit that rivals Mrs Parker and Benchley combined and she does political rhetoric.  I know.  She's the best.  Anyway, I digress.  She coined the nickname as an in-joke and I, well, I took it to a whole new level.  By the end of the conversation, I was desperately trying to convince your father that we needed to get two neutered rabbits, one named Mr Biffington and one named Mr Smythe and they would get married and be Messers Biffington-Smythe and wear matching bow-ties.  And we could train them, and they would be cute, and . . .

I know.  Your poor papa has always had the deck stacked against him. You can only imagine what has insued since Pregnant Me has come on the scene.  Even Josephine has been known to take cover at times.  In fairness, your father was warned: at our wedding, my daddy did tell tell that I was not unlike a 'lynx trapped in a phonebooth' when I get angry.  

Friday, 22 January 2010

Home Sweet Home

Well, fanglet, my little off-shore oil driller, we made it home late Wednesday night, courtesy of Miss E.  Your dad would have happily come to fetch us but I thought he had done enough time ferrying himself between the hospital for the time being.

Our release (which was a bit like this) was agreed late in the day on Wednesday with a varieties of conditionals: we'd take it easy, watch pee for strange regressions, share more samples, and come back next week.  Thursday we slept straight through for 11 1/2 hours (aside from the sleepwalking bathroom breaks). Last night, we slept for 9 hours, getting up to drag ourselves back to the hospital.

This weekend is all about just taking it slowly and getting better. Better is good.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Set 'em up Joe, and play walking the floor

Where is a jukebox when you need one?



Things just weren't getting better in the UTI  department, Fang, so Sunday night I packed myself off to the North Mid (again).  Well, I swore at your father, said some pretty mean things, cried, peed blood, tore at my hair for a few hours and then, then I packed myself off to Hospital.  I know, I know.  Drama. 

The hives, they are just stress but the infection got worse. A fever set in, chills set in, and other syptoms that all had gone even further awry were flicked on like lights at last call.  We took the maternity bag and your dad drove like champ to the Hospital where we were seen rather more quickly than either of us thought.  A round of antibiotics was started straight away by IV once they caught sight of my most recent sample, a murky mixture of high proteins and blood that made even the Dr recoil a bit bemused horror. 


It was decided I would initially be admitted for 24 hours and sent down to the Ante-Natal ward. I had mixed feelings about this: the Ante-Natal ward is a mixed ward of 4 beds to a room, all women who've just given birth or are wounded penguins like me.  I kind of wanted to see what the ward was like to gauge if I was going to cough up the £60/a night it costs for a private room on the floor. 


My vindication point? When your papa turned to me and said 'I am so, so sorry. You were right and I should have listened to you. You WERE ill.'  That he didn't accuse me of being pregnant crazy (a theme) or do anything else then other than just hug me, well that was just pure love.



After being administered with a drip and antibiotics, we moved upstairs via a super-secret elevator (turns out this is to deter baby thieves) and I bedded down for the night with all the other wounded birds.



My roommates were two lovely Turkish women, one of whom had gone into labor early and had been injected with something to stop that silliness and the other who had given birth on Saturday, as well as a very young Jamaican girl who was screaming 'Oh, God! Oh, God, Oh, God. . . the baby IS coming. I'm telling you. . .' a litany that would become her mantra over the next 8 hours.  In fairness, even the people in a private room heard her, so I don't know that we'll be going that route, unless we have to stay longer than a couple of days. 

The end result to that little story that, yes, her baby was indeed coming. She projectile vomited on the floor (my side of the floor, mind you, all under my curtain and on the back of the chair, poor lamb) and tried to get out of bed.  She made it to the floor before the baby started crowning.   I ran to the front desk. 'Hi, sorry. . . the young woman who was ill earlier? She's in labour.'


'You don't know what you're talking about. Get back to bed.' 


'No, really. She's crowning. And she's just pooped on the floor.' 


'That girl! What do you mean, she's pooped on the floor?! Why didn't she use the toilet?! Bah!.'


'Um, because she's in labour?!'


'GO BACK TO BED.'


I go back to my bed in shock. Get to the room to find one of the turkish women standing in front of the tiny slip of a thing in horror. 'Where is help? Did you get help?'  I shake my head, pull my emergency alarm cord, and rush over to the other side (like I'm going to help deliver the baby, right? Me, the woman who doesn't even like to open tins of wet dog food. I mean seriously. . . ) And there is a baby, coming and coming and I find myself start to kneel down in front of the girl and am saying over and over again, 'It will be okay, it will be okay,' when one of the nice midwives comes rushing in. 


4 minutes later, it is over and one of the midwives is wrestling with her placenta (the girl -- she's 18 if she's a day -- is back in bed now) and then tells the young woman 'Well, you need to get up and get yourself cleaned up. You've made a mess of this room twice tonight.' 


I'm not even joking.


Your dad looked so sad and frightened when he left and I wanted to run after him and a) comfort him and b) well, to be honest, there was no 'B'. Fanglet, I was freaking addled.  Since Tuesday, I've slept maybe 3 hours a night? I was a wreck, unable to function without crying. Unable to do LAUNDRY. The laundry TAUNTED me. Monday night I didn't sleep any better, but I did get three solid naps of an hour each in today and even that little bit of sleep made a huge difference. And last night: we slept 5.5 straight hours. In one go. Bliss. 


And yes, I am still taking my crazy pills so the world is on an even keel except that it is FUCKING UPSIDE DOWN!



Fang: sleep makes a huge difference. Sleep on a crazily adjustable bed where I can sleep like a worm all disjointed and crazy is even better. 


The rest of the time here has like a farce. Truly.  The bonding, the POW camp air of the inmates. It actually kind of reminds me of Hogan's Heroes, this great sitcom from the 1960s when I'm not frothing with resentment and anger.



And the baby born on the floor was a little girl and she and her mum are doing very well.  The mom is in shock but doing very well.  And the evening midwives appear to have forgiven me for asking them to come and give her a hand. Either that, or they have just spit in my herbal tea.  But I make them laugh and they'll remember me, which could work either way.


There is a rumour they may spring us today. One can but hope. . . one can but hope.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Leaking oil

Well, not really oil. I am not, after all, an automobile or a tank.  Even if I feel like one.

Last night, I awoke to find my entire left bosom drenched in colostrum.  Enough colostrum that the wet patch measured about 3" by 3".  Now, in fairness, this isn't a shock.  And it really isn't that big of a deal but at 3am, it sure as hell freaked me out, as I burrowed into my snug haven of sleep.  I've been producing colostrum in thin drips and drabs since month 3.5.  I know. About the same time I fit into that that size 38EE bra I had bought two weeks before.  The production levels To the point where your father walked into the bathroom once to bring me something (he did this reluctantly, being English and all) whilst I lounged in a WARM (not hot, people.  Relax.  I have not hard boiled you, Fanglet. You are fine. In fact, you just hiccuped so I know you're in there) bath.   But this is the first time I've ever produced enough to wake me up. 

So now, I have a collection 1ml and 5 ml syringes to freeze some of this stuff in case you appear early (a suggestion from the lovely Elaine at the NCT breast-feeding hotline.  I know, I know. . . wasn't so long ago I had the Information Commission and  National Archives Advisory Service on my speed dial. Now, the we've added the breastfeeding hotline.  I'm still not quite sure how that happened.)  Going to by the syringes was actually quite amusing.

Envision this scene: a busy pharmacy on a Saturday in Wood  Green.  A Large pregnant woman who probably shouldn't be wearing leggins (but hey, who are you to judge?) and a skirt waddles up to the register.

'Hi. Do you um. . . do you sell empty syringes?'

'We do.  Why do you need them?'

"Oh, it isn't for a drug habit or anything.' I smile nervously.  Way to go, FA, way to go. Make her think you're not a freaking nut job.  You have no drug habit.  You haven't had a Galoise  in months. MONTHS!  You barely have 2 cups of coffee a day.  'I just need to express and freeze the colostrum I'm producing. I'm high risk for pre-term labor, so want to make sure we're prepared.' 

The clerk blinks, and steps back, looking slightly uncomfortable.  'Uh. . . okay.  Well, we do have syringes.  I'll just. . . I'll get some for you.'

I leave with my syringes and saunter back out to the high street to go and buy some size 20 underpants.  The clerk is still eying me nervously.  Your Auntie W, who is with me, is trying so very, very hard not to laugh.