This post has been a long time coming.
I have sat down at my computer so many times over the last 10 weeks to try and write this story, and every time cowardice has got the better of me. I’ve looked at Facebook, I’ve bought yarn I didn’t really need, and tortured myself with Google searches into websites which I never thought I’d need to read, but to actually sit down and tell the world- or at least the three people I know of who habitually read this most sporadic of blogs- what I am about to write took fortitude that I couldn’t find. But now I’m ready.
My second daughter, my beautiful Isolde Constance was born just before 6am on Friday 10th February. My labour was frighteningly quick, and the dismissive midwife who examined me wasn’t there. After telling me that I was only 1-2cm, and that I’d “be hours yet” she left, leaving only the instruction to “take a bath, and some paracetamol and call me in the morning”. I knew she was wrong and that my contractions were too close together and too painful for this to be true, but I allowed her to leave and berated myself for being a wuss. Within 5 minutes of her departure my contractions were 3 minutes apart and hurt like hell. I remember wailing like a banshee and begging Harry not to listen, but not to leave me. And then I realised with the same strange feeling of revelation and relief as last time that I wanted to push: relief which lasted moments, before it dawned on me in a wave of terror that there was no one there and that we would have to deliver this baby ourselves. I remember screaming at him to call the midwife, knowing that she would be too late, knowing that within three minutes I would have to start pushing in earnest and that my tiny, longed-for second daughter would begin her final journey into the world which, despite months of planning, of shopping, of knitting was suddenly not ready for her.
I remember pushing, thinking that like last time, I would push, and push and it would take half an hour of agonising, exhausting effort, of labour to get her out, and then before the thought had even finished forming in my head, this tiny purple creature fell into my hands.
It’s a cliché that in moments of panic time seems to slow down, but it turned out to be true. I lowered this tiny thing to the ground and looked down to see the cord which had kept her alive and safe for the last nine months tangled around her neck and as I dropped to my haunches to unwind it Harry, behind me shouted in horror “you’ve sat on her!”. With surprisingly steady hands, I lifted her head and freed her, and her tiny, furious cry came and shattered the strange calm which had stretched those thirty seconds out to feel like an hour.
When I picked her up and held her to my chest, covering us both with the first thing I could reach, a wave of joy and relief flooded over me and I laughed and cried and kissed her, breathing in the strange, almost chemical smell of a fresh, perfect newborn. I laughed as she wailed indignantly and looked up at me with the darkest of blue eyes. I said hello a thousand times and held her painfully close to keep her warm while we waited for the circus to arrive.
And arrive it did. Two midwives, two paramedics, even the Tea House chef. But for half an hour there was no one, the world had shrank to this one, softly lit bedroom and just me and this tiny, impossibly tiny person, finally calm and nuzzling at my breast for her first feed. For half an hour I felt exactly the same ecstasy and calm that I had felt after my first birth. For half an hour she was perfect.
The next part of the story hurts. For the last two months I had thought that I would never write this down, that I would try and forget the way I felt, the way I behaved and the things I said in those awful, awful hours and days after this troupe of strangers arrived in my bedroom and ripped my world apart. But actually, I don’t want to forget now. This evening I read somewhere that “God never wastes pain” and I want to believe that the anguish of what Harry and I went through in that first week serves some purpose, even if it’s just to teach me something about the danger of my own complacency. I have never loved more fiercely than in the days that have ripped past me since the 10th February and this new, painful love has left a bruise on my heart which will ache every time I look at this new human I’ve created.
The midwife could tell the moment she looked at my baby, that she had Down Syndrome. It was those eyes which had looked at me so irritably 30 minutes before which gave her away. They’re too far apart, on either side of a strangely flat little nose. Their shape too, is foreign- pointed and almond shaped. It is bitterly ironic to me that after having told every pregnant friend of mine that the horrifyingly distorted face of a newborn baby will soften and become heartbreakingly beautiful within days, the hardest thing to face now is that in my case, this will never be true. That funny little scrumpled face which I have already grown to love so much will never smooth itself out and –what hurts more- will never take on the shadow of mine or Harry’s. She’ll never look like a miniature copy of her sister or cause aging relatives to exclaim “she’s just the image of her father!” Isolde will always be, unquestionably, no one else but herself.
In the first few days after the official diagnosis, I felt like I couldn’t go on. The pain was so much that even trying to take a deep breath made it feel as though my throat had been tied. My head and my eyes ached constantly from having wept for the little girl I felt I’d lost, and for the little girl I hadn’t expected. I went to bed every evening and sobbed that I just wanted it to not be true. That I’d give up everything, that I’d live in a box under Vauxhall bridge, if this horrible fate could just be lifted from the tiny innocent in my arms. And the guilt. The guilt was the worst part: the agonising, hateful guilt that I no longer felt the unadulterated joy of that first private half hour. I hated myself for not being strong enough to celebrate the arrival of this child with the same pride and delight that I had felt the first time. For being scared of the future and all the unforeseen obstacles I suddenly saw in the path of me, and my tiny daughter.
But it faded. I am still sad for my little girl. I still worry what her future will hold, and I still feel angry that she has been robbed of the lot to which she should have been entitled. But I no longer weep every time the light is turned out and I no longer feel that terrible lump in my throat every time I look into those same funny blue eyes, which by now follow me around the room and gaze at me while she feeds. For now she feeds, and sleeps and cries just like any other baby and I have begun to realise that by the time it becomes apparent how different she is, I might not care anymore.
The love you feel for a baby isn’t like the love you feel for a romantic partner. Unconditional can’t begin to cover it. Parenting is the only job where you’re effectively trying to make yourself redundant as efficiently as possible, and the better the job you do, the more able you child will be to turn around and tell you “thanks, but I can do this on my own”. It seems strange to think that because of something so tiny as an extra chromosome, the whole world and my position in it might have changed irrevocably but I still hope that one day Isolde- my little Iggy- will be able to leave my side and do something amazing, that she might exceed the expectations of those who love her.
She is still an Iggulden, after all.