Featuring images and video by Hannah Palamara Honestly Feminine.
I take my little boys to one of my appointments; they are due their MMR vaccinations and we are keen to desensitise them to anything medical. We dash for the bus together in the rain and sit up top on the double decker, pretending to drive. We laugh about how we almost missed the bus and they tell me, over and again, how kind the driver was to stop and wait for us. I look down at their bright little faces, their shiny big eyes, and I feel overwhelmed with pride to have grown and formed these sweet boys, these good and appreciative humans. We purchase magazines and blueberries for the appointment and they promise me that they will not disrupt the appointment, that they will sit quietly and listen to the baby’s heartbeat and if they are good, they can watch me have my blood taken. We talk about how the midwife will need to be able to concentrate, and we mustn’t make her job more difficult by chattering when she is trying to work.
The midwife is completely unfazed. Between checks, she allows them to decorate her with stickers, to tell her about the magazines they are reading and stories from nursery. She explains what she is doing in terms that my three-year-olds can understand. They are too enthralled by her to care very much about the baby’s heartbeat, and trust her implicitly to take their mother’s blood. By the time that we leave, Mandy the Midwife is their new best friend and an invitation to their birthday party has been bestowed. My heart is full. We walk out holding hands, and they are so proud to have been such good boys.
Two days later, I receive an email: I am anaemic. Another series of blood tests later and an infusion is ordered.
It cannot come a moment too soon. One day I stand up too quickly in the office and find myself on the floor, surrounded by concerned faces. They want to send me home, and I try to explain that if I stayed at home whenever I considered myself a faint risk, I wouldn’t come to the office at all; that I am always breathless, aware of how much oxygen mere sitting at my desk requires. This is simply what happens in late pregnancy for me. My boss understands; I think he wants to keep me here, to keep an eye. He allows me to stay. That night, I have a dinner engagement with a brand and try though I might, I don’t feel engaged and sparkly and I feel a little sorry for the people who have to sit beside me. I feel like a paper person; upright, but barely. My brain is so preoccupied with the mundane physical task of being that it has lost its capacity for creative thought.
In the middle of all of this, my birth videographer emails me a link to the photographs that we took together. It was one of the last gentle days of September; the sun was that pale gold that comes with the changing season and the air smelt fresh. Hannah is one of those people who makes me feel safe in my changing body; we stood on the riverbank and I barely registered the curious stares of mothers and their toddlers and people walking their dogs, as the baby flipped and danced within me and the breeze caught in my hair. We laughed together about what we would do in the name of art as I lowered myself back into the water, which was so cold that the hilarity caught in my throat. I am not beautiful; I have stretchmarks and scars, I am a hobbit in a world where it is unfashionable to be small and round. But she called me a goddess and I believed her, and the version of myself that she captured is both me and not-me – a kinder, easier version of myself.
She sends me these photographs, and the video, and my heart swells.
I have the infusion. They are kind enough to put me in a room with new mothers and their babies; I watch them handle these precious beings and they are so tentative, so filled with awe. It seems surreal to me that my own baby is almost here, that in a few weeks I will cradle somebody so small and they will be my own. As the midwife inserts the cannula, I close my eyes and imagine feeding my baby. It almost distracts me from the ‘sharp scratch’ and the sudden, coppery wetness. The solution feels icy cold and aches as it flows through my vein. I close my eyes and listen to the mewling infants; my own baby, awake inside of me, kicks at my hand. To distract myself, I try to imagine whom it will be, this small kicking person. When I think about this baby, my heart is so full: of love, of the fear of the unknown. I hope so much that my children will love their new sibling, that in deciding to have another baby we have not been unfair to them. I try to imagine their first meeting. My sons are old enough to understand that a new baby is coming, to debate fiercely as to whether the baby is a boy (Balthazar) or a girl (Lysander). My daughters do not remember a time that I have not been pregnant. They love babies fiercely, squealing with excitement when they spot a pram on the bus and carrying their own plastic darlings everywhere. Oh, I so hope that they will love their own!
Thirty-seven weeks. I had promised myself that by now I would have a little bag in the office, just in case my waters leak here again, but we have not yet ordered maternity pads. In fact – we are nowhere near ready. There are so many tiny, superficial points of detail holding me back from feeling ready; nothing that matters much but which, added together, feel insurmountable. When my colleagues joke that it could be any day now I tell them sternly that it cannot, that I plan to go overdue. Part of this is because my daughters did go overdue and were born at 41+3, and I want to brace myself for the same again. But mostly, I just don’t feel ready. I try to think about what will make me feel ready, and the list is silly. New pajamas for my children and something for me to birth in. Framed prints on the walls. But I’ve never had much joy in fighting my brain so I order the pajamas, and the prints, and the frames. I browse the internet for an outfit that will make me feel protected and safe. Every night, I eat my dates one after the other and Kirsty shudders when the observes that the stones look like shriveled cockroaches. One day, she messages me a picture of the crate of raspberry tea that has just arrived at the house, with the comment that she can’t stop laughing. She always knows the right thing to say.
Toward the end of my pregnancies, I always withdraw. I cannot stand to feel observed; the enormity of what is happening to my body sits upon me like a rock and I cannot do anything but cancel engagements and stop responding to messages lest people start to speculate, to guess. If I were a cat, I would tuck myself away somewhere dark and quiet, but I am an Executive Assistant and so I hide in the office instead, behind a glass wall, where nobody can get me. It is harder to cancel weekend commitments than it was the last time; the boys are old enough to feel cheated if we don’t spend an afternoon with their Grandy, they like to plan well in advance how we will spend our days. I want to respect that, I want to fill our last month as a family of six with adventure and laughter and joy. I want to be left alone to hide. We agree to be spontaneous; not to cut ourselves off, but not to commit to anything in advance. It is just until the baby is here.
I cannot imagine that the baby will be here in less than a month. And yet, this is the beginning of the end.
Disclaimer: Photos and video are by Hannah Palamara Honestly Feminine. We met as friends to take these images and she kindly agreed that I could share them on my blog and social media, though I was not offered them in exchange for promotion on the blog and social media. She is attending Baby Winter’s birth as my photographer/videographer, for which I am paying her usual rate! She is an incredible professional, whom I like and respect immensely and would recommend to anyone contemplating mothering/birth photography or videography.