Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fifteen weeks

Louise was fifteen weeks old on Friday. She was due twelve weeks ago, with a cesearean planned for thirteen weeks ago, but that would have been boring.

Fifteen weeks ago on Friday, I was working my last day before maternity leave. I was working from home because the previous day I’d left the office at lunchtime and gone to the hospital with contractions. I couldn’t get comfy and moved from Pilates ball to standing desk without being able to concentrate on my work. The rest of my team was in Estonia, at an event that I’d been working on for months. I gave up trying to clear my few outstanding items and told an intern on my way out that I needed to get checked out at the hospital.

The midwife examined me and told me I was all closed up - the contractions were quite regular and close together but she said they were only practising. She told me to go home and rest. So I did.

In the night, I was woken by period-like cramps on and off. Since I had only ever experienced intense contractions induced and driven by drugs, I did not recognise these early ones for what they were. All morning I worked from my desk at the window, pausing as the waves came over me every ten minutes or so, only stopping when Marek came home for lunch to say I thought I might have been leaking amniotic fluid and that I should probably get it checked.

Marek drove me to the hospital and went back to work. The monitoring rooms were full so a midwife told me to go to the delivery unit and use one of those rooms. Another midwife came to examine me, cheerily said there was no signs of waters leaking and that she’d just examine me but expected I would be on my way home soon. Her expression changed once she started the examination. Er, madame, you seem to be in active labour. You are six centimetres dilated. I almost fell off the bed. My body, which had tried and failed to birth two babies well after their due dates and with the help of modern medicine, was well on the way to birthing a third three weeks early.

I called Marek and told him the news. He needed to get out of work, get the girls to our friends and neighbours whose offer to watch the girls if needed we had recently laughed off. ‘Thanks but it’s all planned. My parents are coming and the operation date is set’ ha.

As labour progressed my doctor came in and told me I was full of surprises. Didn’t I know it? He said we could see how it went, but that at first sign of slowing, too much pressure on my cesaerian scars, too long a time without the baby arriving, at any of these signs I would be whisked off for a section. 

The contractions got closer together and more intense. ´I think I want a section!´ I said, to the midwife. ‘I’m not mentally prepared for the possibility of labour. I know what to expect with a section.’ She examined me. 8 cm. No, turns out what I wanted was an epidural. Before having children I always imagined giving birth as an intense experience but one that I would manage with strength and grace, and the soothing support of water at the very most. After two emergency operations to get stuck babies out, my views on medical intervention had shifted somewhat. 

After the epidural was administered, I feel the soothing release of the pain subsiding from the contractions. It was miraculous. I gathered my forces, allowed the hour of pain-free contractions to continue bringing the birth closer and then, just as the feeling was returning, I was told I’d made it, 10 cm.

There was a problem though. All my babies had started out in the correct birthing position, head down, looking down. At some point in the process though, all three turned, so they were looking up- back to back with me. Not a great way of getting out, especially for big babies.

The midwife told me to turn on my side. I then had to lift my legs up onto blocks to encourage her to turn. My heart sank. It had all been going so well. The doctor returned and had a feel of the baby’s position. He exchanged glances with the midwife and she had a feel too. They smiled at me. She seems to have turned! I was astounded. 

The pushing phase I remember as quite comical. Lots of waiting around for a contraction, then intense pushing and the feeling that nothing was advancing. ‘I didn’t bother with lessons this time’ I complained ‘I don’t know what to do! They told me 7 years ago about the breathing and blocking and all that for my first!’ The doctor smiled and reassured me that they would help. After a few rounds of waiting, using the contraction to push, doing it again and then trying to assess whether anything was actually coming out, he said he could see the head and a mirror was fetched. Seeing that baby’s head appearing gave me the strength for the last few pushes and when she was born, I could not believe that I had actually experienced a vaginal birth.

I have thought of that day every so often over the last 15 weeks. It gave me such a boost to know my body had finally managed what it had not before. The doctor was amazed that all the pieces had fallen into place the way they had, and he told me I was his first patient to ever have a vaginal birth after two sections. In fact, he asked his colleagues and could not find another case among their patients either.

Louise is our last and I am trying to savour the moments. She started off life giving me the biggest surprise and they keep coming.

3 months

17 February 2018

The baby is three months old. When we booked our week in the mountains she had not even made her appearance yet. We couldn’t get her plane ticket because she didn’t have a name yet. The idea of a holiday with a baby seemed so simple.

Then she arrived, three weeks early and raring to go. We became reacquainted with sleepless nights  and relived the same breastfeeding trials issues we had had with her sisters. I expressed milk every three hours day and night for eight weeks until she had learned to latch and extract milk on her own. A holiday with a baby started to seem like folly, but there was no going back.

We returned from our week in the mountains this morning and I am full of wonder for our little baby bundle. She did herself proud and it showed me that if you dare, you can be pleasantly surprised. Every time I geared myself up for another first, reasoning with myself that if it was a huge failure, at least we tried, she got on with it. I went skiing, so she stayed with the grandparents, drank my milk from a bottle and slept in the open mountain air. We decided to take a ski lift up the mountain to meet the others for lunch, and she slept the entire time, allowing us a gorgeous sunny lunch. We drove 90 minutes down the road to meet up with London friends also taking advantage of the French alps, and she slept throughout the car journies, with a break in the middle to feed and smile at the assembled company.

I got a valentines drink up the mountain and I got to go ice skating with my big girls baby free, I had a walk around the village pushing the pram and I even got a night of eight hours sleep for the first time since her birth... it was a miracle of a holiday.

As we got on the plane this morning, Louise decided her angelic behaviour was getting a bit wearing, and decided to cry. She cried and cried, getting herself more and more agitated and refusing all attempts to calm her down. No dummy, no breast. I was completely helpless, trying to shush her and block out the accusing states and eye rolls if my fellow passengers. After fifteen solid minutes of screaming, she let rip a huge fart and then filled her nappy so much, the contents overflowed out of the top and right up her back. After that she was her usual smiley self and I reasoned that she too. As sad the week had come to an end.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


She didn't need any help with the poster, had it all mapped out in her head. Votez pour Elsie! it said in big letters, each coloured a different colour of the rainbow. She stuck a photo of herself in the corner and carefully wrote out key words to remind her what to say when they did their presentations. Pas timide et courageuse; j'ecoute les autres; joyeuse. All qualities that she thought would win over her classmates. Once the poster was done it was time for bed. Elsie turned and looked at me on her way up the stairs. 'Mummy' she said in a quiet sad voice. 'I don't think they'll pick me.'


Bounding in through the door, her first words were 'I am the delegue de classe!' I was overjoyed for her, thrilled her confidence had been given the boost she deserved. 'Well done!' How did the presentation go?' I asked. 'I told them everything, and they gave me ten votes. The others got 4 and 2. Yasmine got 1.'

At dinner she was quiet, then suddenly burst into tears. 'I feel sorry for Yasmine.' she sobbed. 'I wish she'd got two votes.'

Friday, October 6, 2017

Preparing for number three

It’s funny, you start a family and it’s all new and terrifying and exciting, then bit by bit you get good at planning and organising and soon you’re used to having the lunch boxes ready each morning and getting the homework book signed and life is pulling you along in the fast continuous current and then one day, a couple of months before your third child is brought into the world, you stop. I stopped. I stopped and stepped back and took a good look at this life I have here.

Sitting in a cafe on my day off this week, I ordered a coffee and glass of water. I sat by the window and watched the world carrying on outside, feeling smug that I had the luxury of taking a break from it all for a change. I thought about how rarely I do this, but how my body was increasingly encouraging me to do it more often. I thought about life, about my work, my wonderful life partner, my incredible kids. The radio was playing Queen. I've paid my dues, time after time. I've done my sentence, But committed no crime. And bad mistakes ‒ I've made a few. I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, But I've come through. An unexpected tear came to my eye. Bloody hormones.

The woman who brought my drinks eyed up the bump and asked me how far along I was in broken French. ‘7 months,’ I replied smiling, ‘about six weeks to go…’ she sighed and shook her head, ‘how we women suffer’ she muttered as she returned to the bar.

I was surprised. I didn’t feel like I was suffering.

I gave it some thought though, suffering women. From unequal pay, to women being forced to marry their rapists, there is plenty of evidence around that the woman in the cafe was right.

Then my thoughts turned to girls, which soon took me to my girls. My big girl Elsie, who has just turned seven. Seven! When I was first pregnant having the baby was such a shock. I’d thought about the pregnancy part, but felt woefully unprepared for the actual keeping-a-baby-alive part. Well, we kept her alive, and she has thrived ever since her early days of what I mainly remember as consisting of bright red angry screaming, mainly on her part...

She had a space-themed birthday party last weekend. ‘Bet you’re pleased it wasn’t a princess make-up party’ a colleague, who knows me too well, remarked. Yes, I sure was. I am proud of the smart, sensitive, curious child that she is. I am proud that she accepts my declarations that nothing is only for boys or only for girls, proud that she calls out sexism when she encounters it and proud that she loved her rocket-inspired party games.

Elsie knows that in just a few short weeks our lives will be invaded by another little creature. When we talk about events happening in the future her standard question is ‘is that before or after the baby is born?’ She says she’ll help us, and I don’t doubt that she will. She won’t be the scared insecure 2 year old she was when Molly came along. She is certain of her place in this family.

Then there’s Molly. Stubborn, confident Molly who fights hard to stake out her place in this world. I remember her as a smiley easy-going baby, who has grown into a smart, less easy-going child who can have us in hysterics one minute and then bring us to our knees with an almighty meltdown the next.

She says things as they are, but has a soft spot for babies and animals and loves a cuddle. Who doesn’t love a cuddle? A friend asked her the other day if she was looking forward to being a big sister. ‘No!’ she remarked right away ‘I don’t like babies!’ She said it for the laughs, but the joker character is an attempt to hide her vulnerability. She constantly compares herself to her older, clever sister and is wary of having her baby status removed by the newcomer. We’re going to have to be patient with her.

Women suffer.

When I got pregnant again, I think we assumed the baby would be a boy - I have a brother and Marek has a sister, so the two girls were already a surprise. Elsie wanted a brother so much she kept asking, after every scan and every appointment if the doctor knew FOR SURE we were having another girl, or if it might still be a boy. The Polish family took a similar approach, ignoring our declarations that it was a girl, repeating the question in the hope of a different answer next time. At a family party this summer I fixed my smile to my face as countless aunts and cousins met the news with ‘oh, so you’ll be having a fourth then!’ and unconvincing variations along the theme of ‘oh dear, well, as long as she is healthy that’s the most important…’. I didn’t really know how I felt. Protective of my family, irritated that others cared so much about something that was nothing to do with them, outraged that nobody saw their reaction as insensitive or improper. There was a sort of inevitability about us having three girls (and it’s so practical - we have all the clothes…) but there was as well an undeniable draw towards the unknown. What would having a son be like? I will never know.

Women suffer.

I realised about a week ago that I was really looking forward to having another girl. I realised that rather than being solely about balance, there was a clear sexism to all the assumptions about needing a little boy in the house. I realised that if someone treated a child of mine differently from the others just because he was a boy, I would find it almost impossible to bear. All children are different. All children deserve to be treated equally. Girls are born at a disadvantage in this patriarchal society, but that does not mean they have to grow into women who suffer. My tribe of girls will be strong and smart and questioning of this world. They will be champions.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Elsie knocked on the window and waved. She pressed her drawing up against the glass and I smiled up at her and carried on raking the leaves. Molly was with Marek, further back in the garden, putting the ivy branches and leaves he was ripping off the fence into the big compost bin. She had to stand on her tippy toes but she was doing a great job.

I finished the last pile of leaves and grabbed the brush. There were more leaves round the front.

I swept down the path and out onto the pavement. A man was walking down the road so I left the rest of the pavement and went to the leaves on the drive. As the man passed, he turned and said something.

"Sorry?' I paused in my sweeping, and the man asked me directions to the local swimming pool. I leaned on the broom, pointing the direction and he smiled and thanked me. As I returned to my task, I noticed he hadn't moved. I thought he was saying something else.

"Sorry?" I repeated, and he explained that he'd told a cyclist the wrong way. "I thought it was more over there," he pointed. 'Ah, no, more that way." I said, and kept on sweeping.

The guy was hanging around. I started to feel uneasy.

"I guess you're married' he ventured next. "Yes." I said, not smiling now. Expecting him to give and up and move on.

"Is your husband here?" he asked. I felt sorry for him. He looked like he was missing a brain connection or two. "Yep," I confirmed, "in the garden."

Surprised he still hadn't moved, I kept my head down and continued my sweeping, unsure whether to abandon it, and go back into the garden, or brave it out. Defend my patch.

He was mumbling again.

"What?" I said. I soon wished I hadn't.

"The thing is" he repeated, "I've been looking for someone to suck me".

My eyes grazed his erection, sticking out, pale and white from his jeans. I took the conscious decision not to give him the thrill of a reaction, and walked calmly to the side gate.

"Marek" I called, "there's someone showing me his penis out here. I think you should come."

At my raised voice, the man started off down the road. As I watched, he pulled his hood over his head and walked faster.

"What is it?" Marek called, appearing round the corner of the house, rake in hand. I repeated the problem.

The man wasn't running, but was far enough down the road. As Marek stepped out onto the pavement he disappeared, presumably down the side passage that leads to the path running down the back of the gardens.

Marek set off after him, and I scooped Molly up, hot on his trail. "Come with me", I said, shutting the side gate behind me.


It wasn't until I was on the phone to the police, girls hushed beside me, that I realised I was shaking. My voice wobbled as I repeated the details, and assured the police officer I didn't need anyone to come and see me. My thoughts were with my young girls, and the horror that someone could do something so vile within metres of their safe lives. "I just want you to know that someone is doing this, right now, right here."

After the call, Elsie watched me trying to explain the shock, trying to reassure them that I was ok, but that a man had been nasty and it had made me feel sad. Molly showed me how to wipe the tears with the back of my hand. She offered her doudou. I hugged them close and wished I could protect them.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Three years of spuds

In July 2013, we'd just bought the land, only partially cleared it, and had managed some courgettes and tomatoes.

In July 2014, we planted potatoes and they got blight but the girls helped us dig up the harvest for the first time, and the potatoes themselves were fine.

In July 2015, we tried out the other side of the garden for potatoes, and got a few, interesting, knobbly ones

In July 2016, the potato plants got blight again, but when we dug them up, we found the potatoes fine again.

The girls got properly stuck in this year.

We all know what we're having with our roast tomorrow...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Molly the charmer

We are at a family reunion. I am speaking with one of my Dad's cousins, when Molly appears, and watches our conversation with interest.

'Hello!' the cousin says, and I introduce Molly.

'How old are you Molly?' She holds up three fingers.

'I have a granddaughter the same age as you then! Poppy is three.'

Molly looks up at her, confused by the term granddaughter. 'Is that a boy or a dog?'

* * *

We are at the Center Parcs pool. Six little girls from our family splash in the water, and Molly separates from the crowd to watch a baby playing with her mother. She leans down and starts smiling at the baby.

'Hello Baby!' she says, leaning a bit close, and not being at all careful about where she's splashing water.

I wander over and suggest she doesn't crowd the baby, who is happily ignoring Molly.

'What's it called?' Molly asks the mother.

'Freya' the woman says, 'she is called Freya.'

'That's a funny name' says Molly, and turns back to her group with a last little wave to the baby.

* * *

We are walking through Sherwood Forest, on our way to the big old oak we have heard so much about.

We see yet another dog, and as it comes close, Molly points. 'Look, that dog looks like a pig!'

'It's a dog called a pug Molly' I say, catching the owner's eye despite him desperately trying to pretend he didn't hear a thing. 'Isn't she sweet!'

'She's called Milly' the owner says, 'would you like to stroke her?'

'No thanks' Molly says, and continues on her way.