My mother told me a story, many times, when I was small. A story about the moment of my birth, and the year thereafter. This is her story, a story she can no longer tell herself, in all the words that I remember:
"Three strong pains..." mum would always say. "Three strong pains, and you were born. They said you couldn't be coming that fast, but I told them - they were wrong! No time to go to the ward! Get me in that delivery suite, this baby isn't prepared to wait!" It was 1am, September 1984. Thursday's child has far to go...
"You were a month early" she'd say, "you were born tiny, but totally perfect. Six pounds, seven ounces, and nineteen inches long - skinny, like a little rabbit! And so much hair! You were totally clean when you were born; like you'd just had a bath. And you had this pet lip - like a spoiled little madam! We had a name picked out already - you were going to be 'Jessica' - 'God's Grace' or maybe, 'One who sees', dependant on which baby-name book you checked! 'Jessica Amy' - Amy had been my grandmother's name, but you weren't really named after her - we just liked it, your father and I. It's French, it means 'love' or 'beloved one'. Put the names together and they had a certain ring to them; and we had our little girl - 'One who sees love', or perhaps 'God's Graceful Love' I didn't mind which it meant. Both were beautiful and virtues I wanted you to carry. We didn't know what we were having, I didn't know you'd be a girl, but I wanted one! Secretly! I got what I wanted."
"I was an older mum, so I'd had this new test, to take fluid from around the baby and see that everything was alright. We could have lost you having the test, but I wanted to know you were healthy, since I was older. They could have told us what we were having from that. I was tempted to find out, but your dad said 'no'. He wanted a surprise, and I didn't really mind waiting."
"The first person to hold you when you were born was your father, and as he handed you to me, the midwife was filling out the little bracelet that they put around your baby's leg, and she said, across the room: 'What's your daughter's name?'"
"Well, I was just looking at you thinking you looked so much like your dad, and then I heard him say: 'Amy', and I looked up and asked: 'What happened to Jessica?' 'Amy Jessica', he said, 'I can't stand the thought of her being 'Jess' or 'Jessie'. 'Amy Jessica' it was - and so the Love came first and the Grace second, and it was fitting really, because you were not so graceful for a very long time, I can tell you!"
"I asked your dad then, just after you were born, if he was disappointed that you weren't a boy. I was 38 years old, I didn't want more children. You'd been your father's idea really, he said it wasn't fair to have an only child. Your sister should have a playmate. We had a daughter already, and I thought he might have wanted a son."
"He looked at me and said: 'How could I ever be disappointed? ...just look at her.' And that was that - family complete. We had two little girls."
"When we brought you home, a sister for Zoe Leanne, she ripped the blankets off your carrycot right away, and said: 'Come on then, let's have a proper look at you!' She adored you, of course, and you had visitors cooing over you constantly, and were peaceful, sleepy and gorgeous - you were just like any normal baby for six weeks..."
"Then all of a sudden, you started to cry...and, oh my goodness, you wouldn't stop crying. Suddenly, you didn't sleep anymore, you couldn't keep anything down. You were like one of those baby-dolls that wails every time you lay it flat and throws up every time you sit it up! I had to cover everything in plastic to feed you because you were certain to bring it all back. I'd sit you up, and you'd give me this beautiful smile, and then a projectile milk-stream would come firing out of you! It was like something out of The Exorcist! We were so worried about you! We'd never seen anything like it! We took you to doctors, and then hospitals, who all said the same thing: you had terrible colic. Appalling reflux and cramps. And there was nothing we or they could do - you'd just grow out of it in a few weeks. But you didn't...months passed, and it carried on. You seemed to be in so much pain, I asked the doctors, wouldn't you remember this? Wouldn't you be traumatised by hurting so much?"
"They said you'd never know, but still, we tried everything to soothe you - and nothing worked. I was at home with you all day; sometimes I just had to put you down in your cot and let you cry. I had to walk away before I got so frustrated that I couldn't keep control. I would go sit on the bottom step and cry with you, because I knew you were screaming in pain, screaming for me who was supposed to make it better, and there was nothing I could do to help you. The way that pulls at a mother's heart... How useless you feel. I'll never forget it."
"Your sister was only three, but she tried to help me. She would say: 'Prop her up on the floor cushion mummy, and I'll play with her', when she knew I needed a break. Your second little 'mum' from day one. When I cried she would wipe my tears and say: 'Mummy, please don't cry.' Your dad worked long shifts, but every night when he walked through the door, I would take you off my shoulder - the only place you were comfortable - and pass you on to his. You spent 12hrs a night on his shoulder for two years - he daren't sit down with you in case he fell asleep and hurt you, so he walked. Up and down the living room, all night long to let you rest. You'd sleep right through the night, like any other baby, as long as you could be upright. I look back now, and I don't know how he did it. Working like that on no sleep. He never complained - there's no love close to that in the world."
"I went back to work when you were nine months old. Honestly, I needed to get out of the house. I needed to get away for a few hours a day. Your sister had been an angelic baby - we didn't know what had hit us with you. By that time, you'd spent so long in a door bouncer, keeping upright, that your legs were the strongest part of you, and you were walking! At nine months! My clever girl! I remember, I was changing the bed one day and I'd left you in your bedroom with some toys, and you just walked in! It looked hilarious - you were so tiny to be walking, but there you were, rock steady! Curly blonde hair, pink dungarees, and your chubby little fingers stuffed in your mouth, making a cheeky face at me! I scooped you up and clapped and Zoe and I kissed you and tickled you all over saying: 'Who's a clever girl? Who's so clever?! And everything that was such hard work about you, melted away in moments like that. Melted when you laughed, melted when you smiled, and most of all...when you loved. You melted people with all that cheeky charm!"
"Your sister had been a baby who wanted cuddles when she was happy to receive them, she had to come to you for them, and she'd wriggle and squirm if she wasn't in the mood! Not you. You gave out cuddles whenever another asked for them, and when they didn't! It didn't matter what you were doing - 'Amy - come and kiss your nanna...' 'Amy, give mummy/daddy a cuddle...' 'Hold my hand...sit on my knee', you were so affectionate we had to watch you with strangers. You would sit on anyone's knee, talk to anyone. So many times I turned around in a supermarket and you were gone - heart in my mouth, I'd find you sat on a bench talking to some old man or something. Handing out some of that foresight and grace you were starting to grow into. So friendly, so sociable...and so full of mischief! You were wilful to the point of driving me to distraction! Frequently downright naughty! I had to tie the legs of the dining room chairs together so you couldn't pull them out, because you climbed everything! I knew we were biased, but we'd honestly never known anyone like you! Neither had most people who met you!"
"By the time you were a year old, you could hold a full scale conversation, and were more than capable of expressing an opinion! You told a man in a swimming pool once, that he looked just like a monkey. The poor man was covered in dark hair all over his chest, back and arms and you laughed at top volume, pointed, and just spoke your mind! I wanted the water to swallow you up! You looked over your daddy's shoulder one day, whilst he was scolding you for something or other, leaned your chin in your hand and said: 'It's a lovely day, isn't it?', just trying to change the subject! And you got away with it! You've got to appreciate how funny this stuff sounded, coming from a fourteen month old child! And how adorable it was."
"You made friends everywhere. On holiday when you were eighteen months old, you wandered off on an Italian beach, sat on the end of a man's sun lounger, and proceeded to lecture him about what a dirty habit it was to smoke his cigarettes and stub them out in the beach sand! He wasn't cross, he didn't think you were rude...he was enchanted. They pitched next to us for a week, just to see what else you'd say! You even started speaking Italian to the maids who cleaned the hotel room - language barrier? What language barrier?"
"Yes, I always thought we'd named our baby well. For love...and grace...and the blessing of being able to make people see only those things, even when you were being as 'honest' or as mischievous as only you could get away with! However much hard work you were, you were certainly worth it."
For the heroes that were my mum and dad in those first two years. It must have been Hell, guys. You were truly superhuman. There is no greater love than that which puts another first - and no more moving story, for me, than my own creation, in my mother's own words. To hear something so unconditional, over and over as a child, means it will live with me forever, and despite whatever the future may have held, it was never wholly lost - because I remembered. Thank you for knowing the meaning of love - I really hope I gave everything back. xxx
|Hours old, meeting my 'second mum', my big sister, Zoe.|
|19mths - in the park with daddy.|
|9mths - celebrating having just walked for the first time, with Zoe.|
|12mths - generously sharing my first ice-cream with my mum!|
|18mths - digging forbidden holes in an Italian beach with Zoe & dad.|