The Palace Park

The Palace Park

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.