Some mornings, I wake up smothered in children as though I have transformed into one of a litter of kittens: Zaza, who becomes liquid to fit into the exact shape of my body, Sasha, like cuddling a wooden post, Emmy who demands ‘duddle, duddle’ until I pull her inside the duvet against my chest and insistent little Polly, who takes my hand and tells me, crossly, “Need clothes”. It feels so right, so perfect, that I don’t know how I was ever me before I had them, how I ever slept in until ten o’ clock and then, self-indulgent and somnolent, cooked breakfast as though still in a dream.
August passes in a gloom of grey skies and drizzle; we feel as though we are waiting for the warmth to return, for the gold of summer to bless our skin again, but we find ourselves passing the bank holiday weekend watching the rain fall in Brighton and all of a sudden it is autumn. There is a nip in the air; the boys return to nursery and ask for jackets in the morning. But it really starts to feel real when we spy leaves turning to russet and gold on the trees, when they scuttle and crunch underfoot in the park.
In my ‘due date group’, women begin to produce October babies. There have been one or two every so often for months, alarming unbaked creatures that fill my heart with pity and fear, but these babies are pink and plump, they are alert on their mothers chests. I am in awe that such premature babies seem so ready for the world until it occurs to me that they are barely premature at all. When I look at them, my heart swells; I cannot imagine that I am carrying one of those, that I am not one person but two.
As with my pregnancy with my daughters, I spend most evenings in the bath. Often Kirsty comes too and sits and chats to me. We never do this unless I am pregnant, and it feels like our special thing to do together. My skin ripples and moves as she speaks, and I lie back in the water and watch the moths thrash against the glass window, and I cannot believe that I could be so lucky. Our baby. Sometimes I feel almost overwhelmed with grief for friends who are still waiting for this, who want this so fiercely; sometimes I let myself trust that it will happen for them too, soon, because it has to – because how could it not. Our baby kicks and I pass my hand over my skin and I could not wish away this baby, not even for my friends, who deserve this so much more. I have never been the sort to love a person I have not met – and yet…
We have called this baby Winter as an in-utero pet name since it was first transferred back into my womb, our Baby Snowflake, and true to name it makes me crave the cold. Kirsty trundles up and down the stairs bringing me cherry lollies in batches of three, and then tupperware containers full of frozen ice. I find myself daydreaming about this ice, joking with my boss about calling in sick to stay home and crunch my way through voluminous mountains of gorgeous, glorious, translucency. It turns me into a scientist; I pore over articles, researching how to make the best ice, the soft ice. We smash the ice in the containers with a chisel and hammer and I crunch my way through as I recline like a queen in the bath. In the flickering candle light, everything feels a little surreal.
We are not ready. The walls are half-painted but atop of the kallax box are dozens of prints waiting to be framed and mounted; we are nesting in a disorderly, haphazard way. Kirsty is two squares into crocheting a blanket and the baby has nothing, not even a first outfit. Nothing except a name – we have a name for either sex, a place for it to sleep and I cannot wait to feed another tiny baby again. I am convinced that this baby will be late, because its sisters were late, because clearly my babies need those additional weeks in which to ripen for the world. Colleagues tell me that I haven’t long to go and I laugh because it feels like forever, because I feel as though this baby will never be born. I think that in my mind, I’m still somewhere in my second trimester, at a point where the baby would be ok if it were born, probably, but we are not yet at that point of clash, of get-it-out-of-me, that point where with the girls I felt as though my mind and my body were permanently at war. Nonetheless, I am beginning to feel acutely aware of the child within me; the movements are, at times, almost unbearable. And yet always they are welcome.
Our baby. I can’t believe that I have been so lucky again.