Welcome back to the pregnancy diaries series. While I have no thoughts about a second pregnancy myself, I didn’t want this blog to simply move into toddler land as Pip grows up. It is about surviving motherhood and that includes pregnancy and the new baby days. Suzie (Pitter Patter) and A (One Half Of Us) will be sharing some posts about pregnancy and planning for a baby. Their guest posts will be a mixture of the philosophical and practical.
Editors note: This made me cry. If you are reading at work, you’ll be glad that I warned you.
I’m not really sure why I want to write about this – or why writing about it on someone else’s blog seems somehow easier than on my own. But my grandmother died on Friday and I felt like I needed to talk about how it affects my baby and me. And what a bizarrely poignant and personal moment it was.
It wasn’t a shock; she’d been deteriorating for years and I think in many ways it is a relief, as in the last few months she had become very miserable. It must be awful when you can no longer do anything for yourself. In fact, I think I have already done a lot of my grieving. I grieved when she had to have a bed put in the lounge as she could no longer get upstairs. I grieved when she had to start being pushed around in a wheelchair; when she had to have childish meals because she no longer wanted what the ‘grown ups’ were having. I grieved when she said ‘Nice to meet you’ every time she saw my boyfriend in the last six years. And when she could tell you all about her life in London during the Blitz, sheltering in tube stations and surviving on rations, but could not tell you what she had done that morning – or even five minutes ago.
So I’m left with a strange sense of loss, but of someone I haven’t really had around for years now.
I arrived at the hospital just in time. I’d been let out of school early to go to see her and when I got there, the breath caught in my throat. She wasn’t conscious. Only her chest rising and falling in a regular rhythm told me that she was still there. I don’t know if she could hear anything, but I talked to her – told her I was there.
So as my mum, my aunt, my uncle and I all sat at her bedside, we chatted – not particularly sombrely – about lots of things; how long I have left until my maternity leave, my irritating back ache and how big or small my cousins’ babies were when they were born.
We were discussing possible baby names when my mum noticed that Nanny’s breathing had changed. It was becoming less and less frequent, and very soon, just stopped altogether. As we studied her chest for any sign of movement, none of us daring to speak or breathe ourselves, my baby was turning somersaults and dancing enthusiastically in my belly and I had this strange protected feeling.
I don’t know if she could hear us talking. In some ways, I think maybe she could. For a short time, there were four generations in that room, albeit one of them not yet born. I think perhaps she could hear the excitement, the anticipation of the next generation on its way and felt that it was her time to go – surrounded by her family who were partly grieving for the imminent loss of a much loved grandmother and mother, but who were also looking forward to the next generation. My uncle described it as ‘one in, one out’ and to a certain extent I suppose he is right.
Watching Nanny die was an experience that I will never forget, but it wasn’t like I would have expected it to be. I got a phenomenal sense of comfort and peace from the little life growing inside me, who chose that moment to remind his mum that he was there for me – as I was there for my mum, who was there for hers when she most needed her. Families are quite amazing things.
I have been asked to read her favourite poem at her funeral in a couple of weeks’ time. I am keen to do this, as I would like to be a part of the service. It’s one I’ve taught many times, and never thought too much about – until now I’ve focused more on the syntax, on the great big conditional clause that is only resolved at the end. But as I recited it to myself in the car yesterday, to see if I thought I could do it, I realised that this poem is going to take on a whole new meaning for me now. Not only will I be reading it at my grandmother’s funeral, but the last two lines mean so much more now that I am on the verge of motherhood.
The poem is Rudyard Kipling’s If. A father is giving his son advice on how to survive the world – how to get the most out of life and become somebody worthy and honourable.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
It’s those last two lines – every time! When I read them, I feel this surge of protectiveness and duty and it makes me want to clutch my baby tight. I have never been powerfully moved by this poem before and I think it has suddenly dawned on me that I will be somebody’s mother. That I will be responsible for guiding and supporting this amazing little human growing inside me. And it moves me to tears when I think of how he is already changing my life and supporting me as much as I hope I can support him.
It makes me sad that my grandmother will never meet my children. It makes me sad that she won’t be at my wedding or see her 94th birthday, which she was so looking forward to. But her death and our new life has left me feeling philosophical. Pregnancy is changing the way I see everything. And has built a tighter bond with my family than ever before.