Tuesday, January 31, 2012

He is gone.

Last night, late. At home. With his family around him. As it should be.

I'm sorry. It is very hard to type with eyes blurred with tears. And as you all know, it doesn't take much to make the ugly crier emerge. And this crier...she is very, very ugly.

Wherever you are, Adam, I hope the pain is forgotten. It breaks my heart to think that you are gone. I cannot think about Anna and your children without crying. I cannot look at my husband without feeling his grief.

The only thing I can do right now, is picture you pain-free. I imagine that you are bathed in the love that surrounded you in life. I imagine you, standing once again strong and tall. I imagine you moving amongst your family, comforting your children, caressing your wife.

It has only been a day, and already you are missed so terribly. Phoebe keeps asking me when I will stop crying. The honest truth is, I really don't know.

My friend, if grief is a measure of love, then you were loved beyond comprehension.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More than space

Do you remember the day you and Christian wore identical shirts to work? He walked into your classroom and commented on how nice your shirt was, trying to be smart. You owned him, big time, by replying, "Thanks mate. Your wife bought it for me."

And so began the long-running joke in your little staff room about the swapping of wives between the two of you. At that time, I didn't know Anna, only you and your witty, blokey jokes, shared when I visited Christian at school with baby Jack.

When we discovered that Anna and I were both pregnant, and had most likely conceived on the same weekend, the jokes got worse. And funnier. If that's possible. It must have been awful for you two. Two poor buggers, with cranky pregnant wives at home with toddler sons (Can you hear my sympathy? Can you?) Lots to empathise with each other about. Lots to laugh about.

Christian used to come home every day with stories of you. I used to be so envious of him, teaching with such a great group of people. But there'd always be tales of funny things you'd done, or said. Like the time you showed one of your classes a video of Macbeth, without checking it first. Your "mate" howled with laughter, telling me about the terribly pornographic scenes involving the witches and Macbeth on the screen in front of your students, and how you were desperately trying to shut it off. I was bathing the kids at the time. I remember it clearly. I always will.

Do you remember when Anna and I met? I do. You were having a party at the house you had built, all by yourself, high on a bushland hill. You were horrified to hear that I had climbed the un-sealed driveway, in the dark, 8 months pregnant with Phoebe. Trust me when I say it was worth it. Your wife...oh my. Such a beautiful, amazing woman. She has an inner spark that makes people want to be near her. But I don't need to tell you this - you've always known it. That night, when I met Anna, and we compared baby bumps and dreamed of the little people growing within...I loved her immediately.

Phoebe and Harper were born within three weeks of each other, and have idolised each other since. Remember that stinking hot night we all met for a picnic dinner at Lysterfield Lake? Jack was two, Aiden would have been three? Three and a half? And the two girls were babies in their prams, Anna and I busy spooning first solids into their chubby mouths. They were so cute together. We have some gorgeous photos of Aiden leaning over Phoebe's pram - what a beautiful, brown-eyed boy he is.

I remember Jack and Aiden running through the water of the lake until it was dark. They were soaked and shivering, being well and truly eaten by the mozzies, yet neither wanted to leave. Jack still talks about that evening. As do we.

I remember countless nights sitting out the back of your place, on the deck. Pizza oven churning out delicacies for dinner, nibblies on the table. Dogs and kids running amok. The trampoline, the swinging chair. The ploys our children would conjure to stay just a little while longer. I cannot remember one single time that I have left your place without feeling energised and completely content.

Our kids remember the week we spent, housesitting your place while you went camping. How they ran around your sprawling property, how they ran away from the chooks. How the roosters attacked Daddy (and how Daddy unleashed his inner-ninja on them in retaliation) How Mummy hung washing on the line between the trees, all the way up the hill. How the baby chicks hatched under the lamp on the dining room table. How exciting that whole week was, and how they wished they could live there with you forever.

And you gave us a tiny (or not-so-tiny!) piece of your family when you gave us Archie. My beloved border collie baby is a sweet, bouncy, affectionate dog, and a daily reminder that our families are connected. Every time I look at Archibald, I think of you. Which is not to say that you remind me of a dog...but rather, that I loves my Archie with all of my heart. As I do you.

Now, I know you hate maudlin. And I know you hate schmaltz. Such an intelligent, clever, (two very different things, I know!), funny, kind, compassionate, skilled, strong man as you, would hate the fuss. So I will say this. I have told you some of the things I remember (and have thoughtfully left out the poo-wees my middle child did at your house, and your middle child helpfully announced!). Here is something I'd like you to remember.

You are my husband's best friend. Hands down. You have given him a friendship few of us are lucky to experience. Thank you.

You have given me the gift of knowing your wife. I adore her. She is my non-genetic sister. I will look after her, as long as she needs me. And after that.

You have given my children three friends in the form of your children. They are such great little mates. We will always nurture that.

Most of all, please remember that no one could have fought harder than you. Your strength, optimism and incredible sense of humour has inspired more people than I could count. None of us will ever be ready to say goodbye. So I won't.

Love you, mate. More than space xxxxx

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cue Gastro

I am about to blatantly abuse my blog. There, I said it. Let there be absolutely no pretences.

I am a walking wail waiting to happen...my mind is a seething mess of grief and anger. I have been going around since yesterday, continuously stopping the wall of shuddering sorrow that builds behind my eyes. It is going to come out, and it will be huge. And ugly. But for now, I cannot release it. I must hold it in, and to do that, I need to write something else. So forgive me, please. And indulge me while I tell you stupid things. It is my way of coping, rightly or wrongly. Thank you.

Have you been having a nice summer holiday? I can't say mine has been terribly relaxing. Not that I've been doing anything strenuous or exciting. I mean, I've seen a hell of a lot of my loungeroom. And I expected to - after all, no one has abdominal surgery a few weeks before Christmas and expects to swan around on the beach with a full social calendar, right? Right.

But after four pretty crappy weeks over Christmas and New Year (literally and figuratively!), I started feeling like I could possibly rejoin family activities outside of my four walls. Cue gastro.

I might have mentioned that the Mouse spewed in the car last week, as we were on our way to Grandma's? (and were already heinously late?) Yep. So Mais chucked in the car on the Sunday evening, flopped around looking very pale on the Monday, and looked marginally better on the Tuesday morning. Which was lucky, because I needed to be at Cabrini to see my surgeon at 9.45am on the Tuesday and the plan was for us all to go up and then do something nice as a family. Cue gastro.

Halfway to the hospital, there was a spluttering, wet noise from the back seat...and some sort of solidy-type liquid was being sprayed onto the windscreen. On the inside. The Mouse was blowing chunks in a big way, all over the interior of the car, whilst crying and wiping her poor little smelly hands though her hair. The big kids were squealing with horror and basically adding to the hysteria.

We pulled over as quickly as we could, stripped the Mouse down to her nappy on some poor person's nature strip, and cleaned the car with baby wipes. Yes, you're absolutely right - we did a shocking job! And with a plastic bag of spewy clothes and wipes in the boot, and a thin veneer of vomit on pretty much everything, we sprinted our way to my appointment.

Needless to say, I went in on my own.

(And while I was in there, Christian made our wonderful family day even brighter by concentrating on avoiding some stupid pedestrians in the middle of a road works zone...and collected the door of a truck. The truck came off unscathed. My car lost the fight. Sigh.)

On Wednesday, Christian went on another bike ride, with the intention of meeting us once again at his parents' place for another birthday dinner (we have a lot of birthdays in January...there's a lot of cake!!). And once again, (cue gastro!) I was detained by vomit. This time, Phoebalina hurled neatly and decorously onto the loungeroom carpet. There was no warning - she was just sitting there, ready to leave. She murmured sweetly, "Mummy, I'm going to be sick," and she was. Just like that.

The poor child apologised so much I had a hard time convincing her that it was ok. Well, not ok...but you know. Not punishable by flogging. She slept nearly round-the-clock, burning a feverish temperature and deathly pale.

The next morning, I left Phoebs with Daddy and took an almost-recovered Mouse and a perky Jack to purchase his new school uniform. We were right at the back of the crammed uniform shop, laden with polo shirts and a hat, when Jack turned white. Cue gastro. (*sigh*) One nanosecond later, he hurled all over the shop floor, and lots (and I do mean LOTS) of high school uniforms. LOTS.

Since he managed to get Maisie in the deluge, she started wailing, and combined with my shrieks to "Hold it in! For the love of God, hold it in!!!", the poor child ran to the front of the shop, and vomited a pool of spew at the front door. He sat, whiter than white, trembling, while I apologised my face off. The lady in the shop could not have been nicer. She wouldn't hear of me cleaning up the mess, and brushed away my pleas to at least pay for the damage. She kept telling me that she was a mother too, and that these things happened. Still, seriously my most embarrassing parental moment ever. Might wear a mask next year to buy Phoebs' Prep uniform.

Back home, the vom-fest continued with Jack and Phoebe throughout Thursday and Friday. Phoebe grew so ill, we took her to the doctor on the Friday morning. When an 18kg child loses 4kg in a week, it's mildly concerning to say the least...even when that child sits in the doctor's office, pale, drawn face above her nightie, retching into a bowl, and tries to make polite society conversation. My daughter will be the Queen one day, without a shadow of a doubt.

After 24 hours of real concern, Phoebe began to keep water down. And slowly, slowly, my kids began to recover. They're still not eating to their normal capacities (silver lining: the grocery bill was considerably smaller this week!) but now they seem like their old selves again...squabbling over their 'spot' on the couch; squabbling over the scooters in the back yard; squabbling over pretty much anything you could name. So, back to normal.

Only...now it's Christian's turn. Not gastro. We think. (We hope!) No, we think Christian has food poisoning acquired from a late-night chicken pizza on his way home from golf yesterday. He is wretched. I am more thankful than I can say that I have not had to clean up his vomit. I mean, come on. I love him more than words can say, but...there's a line. Ok?

So the kids and I hunkered down inside today, away from the heat (and from Daddy lying crumpled in the bedroom), until the sting in the sun had gone down a little. We met Narnie, Miffy and Asha at the beach and had a lovely, reviving swim in the ocean. Amazing how salt water can dissolve the stench of vomit ingrained inside your nostrils...

After I had (single-handedly) driven three happy, wet, sandy kids home, fed them a picnic dinner, bathed them and dressed them in cool, clean pyjamas, I put them to bed happy as Larry. (Who, BTW, I'd love to meet one day - I need to learn from him I reckon). Apart from Maisie getting into the toy box at the end of her cot and dressing herself in a 'danshing' meant for a Cabbage Patch Kid, it was an uneventful bedtime. No vomit. Yippee.

As for tomorrow? I have two resolutions. To remind myself that life is for living, and that excess crying makes one ugly (and although the crying is inevitable, I should at least attempt to keep it at bay for one more day, if only for the sake of those around me). And to get the car detailed. Urgh.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goodbye, Cherokee

It's funny, isn't it, how you remember specific snatches of your childhood. How years and years of being a child become snapshots; how only certain memories of your early childhood and adolescence are kept.

I've sometimes wondered why we keep certain memories and not others...why, for example, I distinctly remember climbing out of my cot, aged 18 months, and walking into my parents' bedroom very early in the morning. I was looking for my wooden chicken. It was dark, and my Mummy got cross. Understandably.

I suppose, rather than retaining a photographic record of childhood in our brains, we keep feelings. All of the hugs given and received, all of the stories read, all of the birthday cakes baked, all of the ordinary days spent doing ordinary things, all of the happinesses and sadnesses - they all combine to form a conglomeration of emotions that colour our childhoods.

The luckiest people are those whose childhoods were happy. It is what every child deserves, and hopes for. This is the story of a horse who coloured my family's life in the best possible way, and who made my sister's childhood magical.

My brother and sister and I were (and are) among the luckiest kids on the planet. We had what you could call an idyllic childhood. Even though our parents weren't wealthy, they gave us love and attention in spades, good food to eat, fresh air and a big back yard to run in, and an extended family of pets.

Even before I was born, Mum and Dad had two dogs and a pussy cat, and over the years the menagerie grew. Thanks predominantly to my sister Miffy, at various points in time we had dogs and cats (always!), rabbits, guinea pigs, canaries, mice, hermit crabs, fish, blue tongue lizards and horses. My mum drew the line at ferrets. (Fair enough, too.)

My sister's obsession with horses began in the womb, I'm sure of it. Stables of My Little Ponies were groomed and trotted out by two-year-old Miffy; our dog Tubby was saddled up a few times until Dad rescued the poor dog; and even the back of the couch was commandeered as a pretend pony. I remember getting quite upset when my sister took some of my knitted dolls' clothes and cut them up to make blankets and rugs for her ponies. Some would call her artistic and inventive - I called it plain old destructive!

Miffy learned to ride from a very young age, and always had the natural ability of someone who understood animals completely. She was at ease on horseback, comfortable in the company of horses, and always happiest when covered in horsey muck.

So when Mum and Dad bought Miffy her first horse when she was eleven, she was the happiest girl alive. Cherokee was a 16 year old Appaloosa, a beautiful, gentle old boy with a mottled brown and white coat. He had what Miffy described as an 'optimistic' face, because he always looked pleased to see you, in his own quiet way.

Checks, as he soon became known, was as honest as the day is long. He and Miffy rode happily together for years, and Mum never worried (and amazing occurrence in our house, believe me!) when they were out on a trail ride. I can remember a time when Miffy's favourite outing was to Horseland, and she would spend ages looking at all the bridles and saddles, dreaming of kitting Checks out in gorgeous new gear. Every penny she had, she spent on him.

For as long as I can remember, my sister would be popping out to take Checks' rug off, or put it back on; she would fret if the weather changed and he might be too hot or too cold. He was fed every day, talked to, groomed. Dad used to laugh that Cherokee would greet him by practically frisking Dad for treats in his pockets - I remember him coming home one night from feeding Checks, saying that he had removed the car keys from Dad's pants and looked quite disgusted when he couldn't eat them!

Pony Club was a huge part of my sister's childhood. She and Checks (and Mum and Dad) spent practically every weekend floating Checks to various meetings. He would have his mane braided, his tail groomed, his coat brushed until is gleamed. You could tell Checks enjoyed the outing as much as my sister did - it didn't matter if they were jumping, or doing dressage, or simply riding. They were together.

When Cherokee damaged his leg in a fence, Dad and Miffy spent months bandaging it twice a day, every day. When he grew too old to be ridden, Mum or Dad, or sometimes both, would go with Mif just to feed the old man and say hello. During his retirement, Checks lived with several other horses on a lovely local property. He was happy, whinnying to the others horses when he felt like a chat, or simply standing under a tree for a quiet dream. Many, many times, we joked that he was like another big, friendly dog, just like Dad's pups at home.

As my sister grew older, she acquired a beautiful mare, Prisma. Prissy has since given birth to three foals, and two of them survived. So at the age of 28, my little sister had a menagerie all of her own - two dogs, a one-eyed, three-legged kitten, a duck, and four horses. And of course, just before Christmas she added her own little bubba to the farm, which meant that feeding time at the zoo became quite chaotic.

Last year, it became clear that our old man was beginning to fail. Although he was happy in himself, he was losing condition, and Miffy suspected something was wrong with his stomach. She fed him up as best as she could, and saw him every single day. But even the best veterinary care in the world could not reverse the fact that Checks was 35 years old - positively ancient in horse years.

On Sunday, Cherokee was taken to Mum and Dad's place, and put in their huge, leafy back yard with the two dogs for company. Mum said that he'd settled in so well, it was a shame they hadn't done it earlier. Checks kept coming up onto the back deck, looking for munchies in the flowerpots, so in the end Dad had to shut the gate. Checks just hung his head over the fence, looking straight in the kitchen window at Mum. It was like having her own Mr. Ed, she said.

I saw him there yesterday afternoon, clopping around under the trees, drinking out of the dogs' water bowl because he preferred it to his own. He whinnyed at my sister to hurry up with his food, and stood champing on it hungrily, always lifting that same front leg to paw at the bucket. He was the same old Checks from our childhood, just very, very old, way too thin, and extremely tired.

Only the luckiest people experience nineteen years of love. Miffy and Cherokee were best friends and partners in crime for nineteen magical years. With him, she grew from a little girl into a woman, and finally a mother. With her, he experienced a lifetime of companionship, love and trust. I cannot imagine a time when my sister will be without her beloved boy, but now I have to.

We said goodbye to Cherokee under the trees, in my parents' backyard. He went as peacefully as he lived; quietly and with dignity. My heart is breaking for my family, but mostly for my little sister, who knew that her beautiful boy could not be asked to go on any longer.

Thank you Cherokee, for being a part of our family. You gave so much happiness to all of us, and we will miss your soft eyes and nuzzling nose. We will miss your bossy pushing and the smears of grassy slime up our shirts. We will miss having our pockets searched. We will miss the loud greeting whinny, and the canter over to say hello. But the time has come for you to gallop up to the big paddock in the sky, where the grass is always lush and green; where you can eat as many apples as you like; where the sun and the shade are just how you like it. The time has come for you to rest your old bones, my friend, and know that you have lived a life of love. Goodbye, Checks. We will always love you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Shary Bobbins Approach To Parenting

Parenting is great. Difficult, yes. Challenging, definitely. Rewarding? You betcha. Obviously, since so many people become parents, it can't be ALL bad.

(Allow me to insert a small clarification here: clearly, many people choose to become parents and go to extraordinary lengths to do so, by hook or by crook...whilst others have parenthood thrust upon them by "surprise". The thing is, even if there's a 0.01% chance of getting pregnant, then even though that's quite unlikely, it's not totally out of the question, is it?? So those who say they got pregnant by accident...no. No, you didn't. You just got unbelieveably lucky. You should buy a lottery ticket).


There's a lot of love involved in parenting. And a lot of hard work. A lot of book reading. Helluva lot of chopping up fruit. A ton of cuddles. And, it would seem, a whole lot of vomit.

Luckily, after a few years of dealing with the partially-digested foodstuffs of another person, you get used to it. Sort of.

What I mean is, (and I'm not talking about baby milk possets here, oh no. That's child's play compared to real, actual-chunks-of-food-mixed-with-digestive-juices vomit) the first time I dealt with a vommy of Jack's, I spent the first five minutes shrieking and flapping my hands in horror. After Jackie-boy had spewed on me a few times, I realised (yes, I'm a bit slow on the uptake) that the less time I spent squealing and gesticulating, the less time I would be forced to inhale particles of upchuck.

As a result, I guess I got better at cleaning up my children's vomit (which has been documented before, here, and curiously has become a hotly-pursued topic on Google. Really!! I know!) And the follow-on from this was that becoming the vommittee (that is, the person being vomitted on) didn't really phase me. Well, not as much as it had in the past. Had Christian tried spewing on me...well. I didn't give birth to him, did I?

So anyway, the Mouse has been a bit off the last few days, but I wasn't really that worried. I mean, she's two, she's teething, it's hot, and she's two. Right? It's not like her head was spinning on her neck or anything really scary. We just haven't been getting that much sleep over the last week, since most nights Mais has been crying on and off, seemingly having bad dreams. It wouldn't ordinarily bother us, except for the fact that the kids are still all sharing one room. So when one wakes up, they all wake up - and at 2am, I'm sure you can appreciate my angst.

Yesterday morning, the air was rent by earth-shattering shrieks at 5.54am. I'm sure you would have been impressed with the athleticism I displayed, leaping from the bed (whilst still completely asleep) and hurtling into the kids' room to shush the Mouse before the big kids woke for the all-day activity called "Playing With Really Loud Toys".

There, I was greeted by a very distressed Mouse, dripping in her own spew. Her face, her pillow, her pyjamas, her cot - all were covered in the remains of her vegetables and fish cakes eaten for dinner the night before (and before you ask - yes! There CAN be more disgusting forms of vomit! Fish, in particular, can be very...aromatic. Pungent, even).

Now, I'm no hero. But I reckon I did a pretty good job of staying calm. I stripped her off on the tiles, Christian grabbed a facewasher and a drink of water for her, and together we cleaned her up well enough to climb back into our bed. The poor little bugger slept between us for another hour and a bit, smelling faintly of spew but still pretty damn cute.

She had a fairly quiet day, just playing and sleeping. I thought it must have been an errant toddler-tummy thing, because around afternoon-tea-time, the Mouse presented me with a bowl and commanded, "Bowl!", which means, "Take this vessel and fill it with food, woman, for I am a hungry girl and desire to be fed. Promptly!". So I put dry biscuits and apple slices in the bowl, figuring they'd be safe food for a wobbly tummy. She ate them. Cool.

Since we were due at Grandma's house for a birthday BBQ at 4pm, I chucked the kids, some hats and sunscreen, the cricket set and a salad in the car and expected to be at our destination about 15 minutes later. Silly, silly Mummy.

Half way there, there was a splashing noise, followed by crying (Mouse) and shrieking (Jack and Phoebs, who were also flapping their hands). Covering my beloved baby was a stream of undigested apple and dry biscuits (and there might have been cheese in there too...hard to tell). Keeping (scarily) calm, I chucked a U-ey, drove home, stripped her off in the driveway, barked at the big kids to get over themselves and step over the vomit pieces, cleaned her up, re-dressed her, and called Christian.

Because what else could I do? My poor beleaguered husband had actually managed to escape for a bike ride, and was meeting us at Grandma's house. So in the absence of another grown-up to clean up the mess, what could I do but deal with it? I'd tried standing around, hand-flapping...it's quite ineffective.

By the time the Mouse was clean and calm, and the washing machine was chugging away with yet another load of chunky clothes, we were outside reloading the car. Only problem was, I hadn't cleaned the car seat. Bleurgh.

Dettol wipes took care of the chunks and blobs on top of the car seat...but nothing could get at the bits inside the seat belt clasp. And I kind of underestimated how much liquid had soaked into the actual fabric of the car seat. (What kind of mother am I?) So I'm afraid I used the Shary Bobbins approach to cleaning (if you don't know who she is, remember the Mary Poppins rip-off character on The Simpsons?) and stuffed tissues under the Mouse's bottom to soak up the residue, flung her in the car and drove to where the other adults were.

My punishment for this lacksadaisical parenting? Every time a little bit of sunshine hit the car, a whiff of warm chunder was emitted from the baby seat. It was a very warm, sunshiny day. Nuff said.

We arrived at Grandma's with all the car windows down. And left them down. I didn't eat much last night. Can't blame me really, can you?

So yeah. You wanna learn resilience? Patience? How to do a half-assed job? Try parenting. It's great. Difficult. Challenging. Rewarding. And smelly. That pretty much covers it, right?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The tale of two baby girls: Part Two

As you may know, my niece, Miss Asha Jane, was born via emergency caesarean section after a three-day labour. Apparently, she hadn't read the memo from her parents who were aiming for a gentle, intervention-free home birth. Which I suppose is to be expected because even exceptionally gifted babies can't read before they are born. (And we already know she is advanced. And beautiful. Obviously.) But since she is here safely, and is all snuggly-buggly and learning to smile, we have to forgive her for the ordeal she put her mother through, and simply enjoy every gorgeous minute (and just for future reference in your next incarnation, Ashie, it was the birth canal you were looking for, not the thigh bone. Ok? Ok.)

Now, to juxtapose Asha's supposed-to-be-natural-homebirth-turned-into-very-scary-emergency-caesarean, I would like to bring you the story of another beloved little fairy girl, born to my beautiful friends Arby Bec and Uncle Chrissy. Arby Bec, so named by mine own kids, taught with me a few years ago when I was up the duff with the Mouse. And apparently, we can all blame the Mouse for Uncle Chrissy's subsequent cluckiness, because I think quite simply he fell in love with Miss Maisie. As people tend to do (and which she is completely aware, and abuses the hell out of!) So not long after the Mouse's first birthday, we found out that Arby Bec and Uncle Chrissy would be having a little cherub of their own.

Now, Arby Bec always knew she would have a very controlled birth in a huge, well-known hospital, with very little say in how that birth played out, due to an existing medical condition. The doctors weren't quite sure how her body would react to the stresses of labour, so she was instructed by several specialists that she could not be induced, that she would only labour for so long, and she could not have an epidural. She would be monitored carefully in hospital every step of the way.

And during her pregnancy, she was. Bec's baby grew strong in her belly, and neither she nor Chris minded the medical intervention. They had almost no say in the type of birth they would have, but of course, they knew why. And as much as I'm sure they would have liked a more relaxed birth plan, both were happy to do as the doctors asked, as long as they were looked after and their baby was delivered safely.


Arby Bec's due date was Christmas Day (which prompted my children to declare she should name it 'Jesus'. Yes, even if it was a girl). So no one was more surprised than my friend when she began having mild contractions early in the evening of the 21st of December. They were so mild, and so irregular, she told her hubby they would go to bed and try to get some rest before the real deal began.

At around 10pm that night, Bec woke as her waters broke all over the bed. Did I mention they were living with Chris's parents while he renovated their own home? No? So Bec's waters broke all over the spare bed at Chris's parents' house, and when they rang the (very big, important) hospital, they were told to come straight in.

Given Bec's medical history, she expected to go straight in to the labour ward and be monitored closely. She laboured all night with contractions 2-3 minutes apart, with no pain relief because she could take nothing but Panadeine, which made her vomit. I'm not quite sure how many hours she was (supposedly) meant to be allowed to labour for, but she went all night. At 5am, she was examined by a doctor, pronounced to have made no progress at all, and was told to go home as there were no beds. The midwife fought for Bec, telling the doctor that under no circumstances was this woman to be sent home, in advanced labour, with her medical condition. She wanted Bec to be caesared immediately. Unfortunately, it's usually only good doctors that listen to midwives, and this doctor did not listen. So by 6am, Bec and Chris were back at home.

At 8am, Chris called an ambulance.

At 8.53am, on December 22, 2011, Tahli Marie was born on the spare bed in her grandparents' house, guided by her mother, her father, and three paramedics. Thanks to the angels above, she was just over 6lbs of dark-haired, velvet-skinned perfection. Her incredible mother had progressed through labour so rapidly, the paramedics were unable to move her and were forced to deliver Tahli where they were. We are so very, very lucky that Bec was able to deliver so easily. We are incredibly blessed that nothing went wrong. All births are amazing, all birth stories are a mix of horror and intense joy. But this...thank the heavens above that this birth went so right, in the end.

And so, despite all the medical warnings and cautionary procedures put in place for my friend, she safely delivered her child by herself at home. Which, in a weird, warped sort of way is sort of like Miffy and Bec swapped birth plans?? Kinda sorta. Anyway...

Bec and Tahli returned to the big hospital to get checked out, and Tahli went into Special Care for the night. Bec became a legend around the ward (which I'm sure you'll all agree was completely deserved!!). And on Christmas Eve, Arby Bec, now known as Mummy, and Uncle Chrissy, now known as Daddy, brought their little princess home. For good.

And that's the end of the story.

The tale of two baby girls: Part One

I started writing this post about four weeks ago, and haven't quite had the time to finish it properly (heaven knows why?!?) During that time, my beautiful new niece has settled in at home, allowing her mummy and daddy to actually enjoy being new parents. The poor buggers had the roughest introduction to parenthood imaginable - it's hard enough having your first baby, let alone one who is sick and in hospital for the first few weeks of life.

So here is part one of a story about two baby girls, born in the last weeks of 2011. Both babies are here safely, which gives me the luxury of writing about their births at my leisure (particularly since I am not the mother of either!!). Both babies surprised us in ways we never dreamed of. And both babies are already the centre of much adoration.

My baby niece, Asha Jane, was born on November 27th, 2011. When I began writing this post, she was almost two weeks old. While I understand that this makes me quite the terrible aunty, there are two reasons why I have not heralded Asha Jane's birth story to the world:

1. Drugged bloggers are ugly. Considering I am still quite dependent on my little white pills following my surgery (think the love child of Lindsay Lohan and Michael Jackson - ignore the scary, scary genetic implications of all that silicone - and you'd be getting close to me at the mo'), I have refrained from writing about such an important topic until my brain is somewhat sensible.

2. Asha's first few weeks in the world have been anything but smooth, and I suppose I wanted to wait until all was right with the world before I made a public record.

However, Asha's beautiful, strong, amazing mother prompted me to write this now. Not consciously, mind you. But as harrowing as the past few weeks have been for my sister, I thought it would be worthwhile mulling it over....all the while preparing for the good that will come. That is sure to come.

Like so many women before her, my sister hoped for a natural birth. You would be hard-pressed to find a better-prepared first time mother than Miffy. Her best-case scenario was to have a homebirth with her two midwives in attendance, with minimal intervention. Despite this plan, she had also booked in with the local hospital just in case. As it turned out, she needed both.

Miffy's labour began very quietly on the Thursday afternoon, fourteen days after her due date, while she was spending the afternoon with me. She said not a word to me, but laboured calmly at home through the Thursday night, the Friday, and the Saturday. I was meant to have been part of her support group. However, by then I was in hospital myself, sleeping off the effects of my surgery on the Friday, groggily aware that my sister was labouring without me. So the events that followed were relayed to me after the fact. I wish with all my might I had been there - if only for what happened next.

At 3am on the Sunday morning, Miffy's midwives decided that it was time to abandon the home birth. When my sister was deposited at the front entrance of the hospital by her partner, she was met by a contingent of the local constabulary. Apparently, she politely declined a wheelchair, preferring to keep gravity in her favour, and waddled slowly into Casualty to be admitted.

In the waiting room, my 42 week pregnant, 3-days-in-labour sister found a group of drunken, drugged, bloodied men (the reason for the heavy police presence out the front door). For whatever reason, one of them decided she was an ally, and began telling her that he had nothing to do with any of the trouble, that it was "Bad, man, it's soooo bad. This is just bad, man, y'know? I dunno why I'm even here, but it's bad!"

Now, my sister has always had a fire in her belly. She can be quite fiesty when she wants to be. Throughout her three-plus days in labour, not once did she lose her self-control, or become temperamental or emotional...except when that moron began to converse with her in the waiting room.

Apparently, bent double and grasping her belly, she looked him in the eye and growled, "Bad? You think this is bad? I'll give you BAD! Bad is being in labour with your baby, with no painkillers AT ALL, and coming into hospital after three days of trying to have that baby, and having to wait with druggy, bloody bogans like you who don't know how to behave themselves!!! That's BAD!"

And with that, my sister turned on her heel and began the long walk to the maternity ward to try and have her baby (as far away from those low-lives as possible!).

As it turned out, despite Miffy's unbelieveable efforts - with no pain relief, not even Panadol - by lunchtime on Sunday the doctors performed an emergency caesarean to get her baby girl out safely. Poor little Ashie had been trying to exit via the top of her mother's femur, which is not the first choice for a birth exit point. But after that marathon, my sister's herculean efforts were rewarded - she had a beautiful, healthy, 10lb 4oz daughter. Which, as anyone can attest, is all you can ask for regardless of the type of birth you envisaged or hoped for.

And thank goodness Asha was such a chubby bubby, because at six days old she was readmitted to hospital. It took three days for an infection to be diagnosed, and in that time she lost 2lb 4 oz in weight. Had she been a tiny tot, we would have lost her. All of her bracelets of fat around her wrists and ankles melted away, and she was so little. It took eleven days to get Asha well enough to go home, and even now at nearly six weeks old, she still has not regained her birth weight.

Throughout the whole ordeal, my amazing sister never once faltered. Despite being pregnant for ten-and-a-half months; despite being in active labour for over three days; despite swapping her home birth for the ultimate intervention; and despite living in the paediatrics ward instead of enjoying her first days at home as a new mummy, my little sister held it together. The strength that came from within her during that time was incredible. You could literally see her drawing on her reserves of strength for her baby girl, keeping calm, doing only what was necessary, but doing it without fail.

I want Miffy to know how proud I am of her. I want her to look at what she did for her baby, both during her pregnancy and labour, and afterwards, and recognise the love that went into preparing to meet her daughter. I want her to see that letting go of her dream birth was simply another expression of love; that, as a mother, she was already putting the needs of her child before her own wishes. I don't want her to waste time thinking about what went "wrong" with the birth - if a healthy mother and child is the result, then any birth is a good one.

It took me almost two years to get over my disappointment, guilt and shame over Jack's birth. Two years of thinking I could have pushed harder, could have held on longer, could have done something to prevent the emergency caesarean that brought my son into the world. Grief for a "natural" birth prevented me from acknowledging that nothing could have changed what happened; nothing could have made my pelvis big enough; no pushing in the world would have been enough to birth my son. I don't want that grief for my sister.

My sister is now a mother to a beautiful, dark-haired, blue-eyed baby girl. And it matters not whether she arrived heralded by dolphin song or by the surgeon's scalpel - she is here, and she is safe, and that is enough. But I tell you what - when Asha's 21st birthday is looming, I will be making very sure that the story of the bogans in the emergency department is told...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Two candles for Maisie Mouse

Soft, straight blonde hair with a mullet of ringlets.

Big blue eyes framed with long eyelashes (apparently with the ability to flutter beguilingly genetically pre-programmed).

Eyebrows that always, always go up and down when she is drinking, as though she is silently asking a very serious question.

Velvety-soft, creamy skin, punctuated with teeny birth marks on the inside of one finger, on her big toe and on her bottom.

Pearly, straight little teeth permanently arranged in a cheeky grin.

Arms always ready for a duddle.

A tummy willingly revealed when requested, and affectionately named her "mummy".

Feet that run after her big brother and sister, endlessly trying to catch up.

Legs that were long and skinny at birth, and remain fat-free even now.

A sense of humour so sharp that fart jokes, or 'bop' jokes, are standard issue. Especially bop jokes that blame the offending smell on someone else (more often than not, the dog is blamed...and we didn't teach her that!)

A winsome smile for every person met, especially the ladies in the deli at the supermarket who hand out free pieces of ham...

A personality full of determination (some might call it stubborn), perseverance and...well, more determination.

The tendency to be found playing so very quietly, hidden away on Phoebe's bed, murmuring sweetly to the dollies lined up on the pillow.

A sweet tooth bigger than Texas, and the accompanying wily ways that are necessary to coax treats out of Mummy. And then Daddy when he comes home.

The ability to share, and play nicely, and to be kind to Beebee and Dack, that every day displays her love and devotion to her elder siblings.

A passion, nay, obsession with pussy cats and puppy dogs that has not been seen since Aunty Miffy was a toddler.

The desire to watch Teletubbies, and Dora, AND the Wiggles at the same time. And the complete and utter inability to understand that this simply cannot happen.

A love, pure and simple, of babies, baby dolls, and baby accoutrements. And the cooing, gentle voice that comes out whilst cradling one of these dolls almost as big as herself.

A mad, crazed, obsession with cheese. (Literally. The child could happily exist on cheese alone, and has done on several occasions.)

A very clear understanding about birthdays, and what they mean. All week our Mouse has been singing her own version of 'Happy Birthday' to Beebee, complete with hip hip hoorays, and pantomimed blowing out of the candles at the end. To see her little face when her own candles were lit today and she got to blow them out...oh. Just magic.

A very cute little vocabulary all of her own. 'Bopples' are apples. 'Dong!' means, "I've bumped my head in a humorous fashion and am maximising the comedic potential because it didn't hurt at all". 'More' means water. (Well, der.) 'Up' means chair, pick me up, put me down, or can I get down. Or all of the above. 'Danshing' can mean dancing (the verb), dancing music, a dancing dress, any old dress, or even a blouse that looks a bit like a dress. It's a versatile word. Apparently, 'gonk gonk' means twinkle twinkle, which we only deciphered by listening to her singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star the other night. According to the Mouse it goes, "Gonk, gonk, gonk, gonk, ee ee tar!!! Ow I nder u u are!!!!!" Obviously. Don't ask me to type the Mousian lyrics to Happy Birthday, I'm not sure my phonetics are that good. Only today, she began calling herself Mouse. Which is pronounced "Mowt". Like 'mouth', but with a t, not a th. Geddit?

Then, she was a fuzzy-headed tiny baby in a buttercup-yellow growsuit, with legs curled up to her tummy and a besotted big brother and sister. Now, she is our curly blonde little muppet, still gorgeous in yellow danshings, and equally in love with her Beebee and Dack. A beautiful, spirited, wondrous, affectionate, delightful little girl, who has turned our hearts inside out with love for two years today.

Happy second birthday, Miss Maisie Mouse. Your Mummy and Daddy love you more than space.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Today, you are one.

Today, you were one, so I made your Weetbix and toast, cleaned both you and the table up, and sighed when you insisted your "ands" were still "ditty". And wiped them again.

Today, you were one, so I dressed you in sturdy pants and a pretty top to cope with lots of running and falling and riding your new little pink car from Uncle Joshie and Aunty Son. You ended up in your tulle 'danshing' anyway, as you always do.

Today, you were one, so you were happy to ride along in the car as long as the big kids were there. You wanted a dolly because Beebee had one. You wanted Buzz Lightyear because Jack had him. You grinned and screeched and sang nonsensical little songs to yourself.

Today, you were one, so you ate your lunch (by pulling the ham and cheese out of the sandwich, eating the cheese first, the ham second, and the bread, begrudgingly, third), and then nearly fell asleep at the table.

Today, you were one, so you happily went to your cot for a midday nap. You stuck your round little bottom in the air, put your head on your Dorothy pillow, and stroked your hand across the sheet to go to sleep. You were so cosy, all tucked up, I wanted to climb in with you.

Today, you were one, so you awoke full of beans after your sleep. You played and played and played, content in the knowledge that Mummy and Daddy and Dack and Beebee were at home with you, and all was well. You remonstrated with the dogs, chased the cats, and shushed your babies. You also spent quite some time with Jack's ninja turtles, speaking soft little fairy-talk to them. It was funny to watch.

Today, you were one, so you spent the hour before dinner around my feet in the kitchen, demanding 'titties' (bickies, to the uninitiated). I tried to distract you from your rumbly tummy with your new Dora DVD (thank you Aunty Miffy, Uncle Whale and Shatter!), and it worked...for a while.

Today, you were one, so you ate your mashed potato with gusto, your peas with glee, your chicken with resignation, and pushed your carrot back at me. You polished off a pink cupcake without breathing, and then left a trail of cupcake crumbs and peas all the way to the bath.

Today, you were one, so I bathed you, dried you, and dressed you in a nubbly pink growsuit that still fits your lithe little body. You chatted away as I put your nappy on, did up your buttons and combed your hair. You gave me kisses when my face was close to yours. You were more than ready for bedtime after such a busy day of play.

Today, you were one. Tomorrow, you will be two. Tomorrow, you will be another step closer to being a grown-up girl. Tomorrow, I will look at you and see both the sweet-faced, fuzzy-haired, calm baby I gave birth to two years ago, and the delightful, wilful, stubborn, affectionate, clever, funny toddler you have become. And just as it has every day of your life, my love for you will grow even more. Sweet dreams, my Maisie Mouse.