It’s past midnight and I’m still procrastinating wrapping God damn presents. I know what is ahead of me. My fingers are still bleeding from curling ribbon during my earlier efforts. I’m trying to ensure that glitter from the expensive wrapping paper I bought years ago pre-children will be vacuumed up so it won’t go into little eyes in the morning. And I’m trying to ensure I haven’t left behind a random piece of sticky tape that my son will find, even though it is invisible to everyone else…and then decide it’s highly suitable as a life-threatening snack.
And yet, I’m still much more comfortable than 12 months ago. Wrapping gifts when pregnant is a special type of Yuletide hell. You can’t bend over…and if you do the reflux and nausea remind you that you are their bitch and all you want to do is Ho Ho HEEAAVEE. You have sausages for fingers, which makes folding and curling ribbon a challenge. Boobs and belly get in the way…while you continue to fight the exhaustion seeping through to your bones and the crushing pressure on your spine reminds you that organs are moving to make room for a growing baby.
I knew that in three months we’d be a family of four. (It actually turned out to be 3 weeks). I had asked a friend with two children-how hard was it really? It’s not like you were doing it for the first time, you knew what you were signing on for. Their response was, ‘With a second…the workload doesn’t just double…it goes up exponentially.’
Maths had never been my strong suit. But this just didn’t add up. This time I’d know what to expect, so it WOULD be different. Clearly I hadn’t learnt…because every time you think you’ve figured out something about parenthood-you are forced to learn just how far you’ve still got to go.
In the New Year of 2014, and at exactly 33 weeks pregnant I told my exhausted husband to have the day off watching a movie or looking through the shops. He didn’t want to. My Braxton Hicks had been getting worse…but it was the same during my first pregnancy so I told him not to worry. I said my daughter and I would have a day together quietly watching a movie. Mother/daughter time.
You can see how this is going to play out, don’t you?
Throughout the growing pain and the nagging feeling something was wrong, I was worried about my daughter. I didn’t want to alarm her. But I wanted to be honest about what was happening. And I realised that I was going to have to make a choice…I was going to have to find someone to look after my daughter while I possibly gave birth to my son 7 weeks premature. Worrying about my children had just gone up…well what do you know? Exponentially.
From the emotionally blurred and numbing weeks of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit…I have a favourite photo. My daughter is holding my son so gently with a pillow on her lap, smiling down with him with tenderness. He was still tiny, not even 3kg, and he has nasal gastric feeding tubes in since he hadn’t learned to suck…he was born before that instinct had developed. My son’s brilliant blue eyes are looking up at his sister, he is listening to her every word. They have been a team ever since.
My daughter tells me from her brother’s cries when he is tired, hungry, thirsty, sick. I have learnt to trust her, because she is right. If I get cross at the early mornings, she defends him. ‘Mummy, he is just hungry.’ (Great-you feed him then. And thanks for making me feel bad.) When he started to crawl, to prevent him possibly choking on any stray coins around the house, I told my daughter she could put any coins she found into her money box. (So if you visit, you’ve been warned…) But what she does, unprompted, is put an equal amount of coins into her money box, and into her brothers. If he cries…she goes into his room and sings to him, or ‘reads’ him a story. The stories are always the same…she is either a princess or Batman…rescuing people and then they all go to her birthday party. The End. He laughs all through the story.
I recently found two pretty and child-friendly Christmas tree baubles. I gave them to my daughter to hang up in her room (they didn’t match my colour scheme.) Instead…she put both of them on the same branch, side by side on the Christmas tree. One for her, one for her brother.
This is year I wanted a Christmas card with a series of family shots. We’d come close to losing my son on multiple occasions through the year…I wanted a reminder how far we’d come, how much we’d survived as a family. Addressing the envelopes, I felt a pang of sadness at the number of names in my address book who will never meet my children.
My Pa, my Dad’s Dad. Always smelling of pipe tobacco and who would take us camping. A great Aunt who worked as a talented linguist in Defence during World War Two and travelled around the world with her work. My cousin, who died of complications from leukaemia despite putting up a brave fight for many years, she continues to inspire me and I know she’d have loved my kids. My brother-in-law’s Dad, a highly intelligent man with a penchant for fast cars, always sporting a cheeky grin and a dry wit. My husband’s Mum. I was never fortunate enough to meet her, but I just wish I could give her a hug and thank her for raising such an outstanding son who has made me happier than I ever dreamt was possible. And Fluffy’s Dad. It is Fluffy’s first Christmas without him and I just can’t imagine the rawness of pain she is feeling. I wish I could have met him when he was well and thanked him for helping raise such an inspiring woman who I am honoured to have as a dear friend-and who gave me the priceless gift of giving me the courage to start writing again.
My children will never meet these people. But I will share their stories when they are older. Their traits which continue to inspire me. How I miss them and continue to grieve. And how that’s ok.
I will continue to grumble about wrapping gifts. Probably every year…I don’t want my husband taking my efforts for granted after all. But despite my Grinch mutterings, I am constantly aware that my children are some of the few fortunate to receive gifts and that we’ll have a table full of food rather than empty stomachs.
This Christmas, I’m celebrating with my beautiful family and my two little miracles…the first I was told I’d never have and the second who I almost lost. Yes, I worry about two of them now. All. The. Time. But there is so much love and laughter in our household. In fact, it has gone up…yep, you guessed it…exponentially.
Have a wonderful Christmas full of love, laughter and bubbles. Oxox.
P. S – Fluffy, my Christmas gift to you is the double space after each period in this post. Merry Christmas gorgeous girl. Oxox.