Wednesday, 24 August 2011
What better present could you give a child about to have their 11th birthday than have their best friend join them for a beach holiday?
G has known M since infant school. They moved to a new school for Juniors, made other friends together and now they are about to start Seniors. It is sometimes hard to believe how quickly the time has passed from sitting chubbily cross-legged learning their A,B,Cs to becoming long-limbed beauties with golden hair and sparkling eyes striding confidently towards their teenage years.
G, though, is still a child despite her quiet confidence and her insouciance. She still loves playing imaginary games with her younger sister and building in the sand. It may be her younger sister who still physically skips, but G is still skipping in her mind.
I look sometimes at her long jaw, her full mouth, her wide smile, her flaxen hair and her large soft blue eyes framed by dark giraffe lashes and think of the day she was born - the day I nearly lost her before her life had barely begun. This bundle of positive life-force who brings sunshine and strength to all she does - the smile only collapsing when the batteries finally run out - could so easily have been lost to us. It is impossible to imagine her not in the heart of our family, yet sometimes life hangs on a thread, doesn't it? Or an umbilical cord.
I will never forget that hot August day in London: bright blue skies, a morning appointment at the hospital, a new home (moved into just days before her due date), a new garden by the river, a 19 month old toddler to think of too. I nearly went to do some shopping in Habitat (ah yes, when they were still in their heyday), but decided that, actually, since it was such a beautiful day and I now had a lovely garden, that I would do better to go home and rest on a lounger by the willow tree.
I could not have made a better decision.
It must have been about 4pm and I had been resting on my lounger for half an hour or so, with E tucked up in her cot having her afternoon nap, when the first pains came. I thought they might go away for a while, but half an hour later they suddenly hit hard and fast. I just about managed to bring a freshly woken E down from upstairs, and change her wet nappy, but that was where the attention to others stopped. Suddenly I could barely speak, nor certainly walk, the contractions were so intense. With great difficulty I tried to phone N, who was pleased to tell me he was in an important meeting and could I ring him back in half an hour? I meekly obliged until five minutes later I called him again and just about managed to get out the words that, no, it could not wait. The baby was on its way and could he please come home QUICKLY!
E had, with perfect timing, pooped in her nappy, but there was no way I could go back upstairs to change it, so the poor little mite had to live with it. I was alone with my toddler, in a new part of town, miles from my appointed hospital with a baby about to drop. I phoned the midwife who had been newly assigned to me just that morning (the other having gone on holiday) who I didn't even know: again, I could barely speak, yet she suggested I get in a taxi (with my toddler) and travel to the hospital (that whole process would have taken a good hour in rush hour traffic on a Friday from Isleworth to Ravenscourt Park). I dismissed this as an option and then, through E's crying and my own agony, decided to try and call the local doctors' surgery where, mercifully, I had signed up just a few days before.
By now every breath was an effort but I just managed to get out the words that I was alone with a toddler, I was having a baby any minute and that I was scared. They told me they would send an ambulance immediately to take me to the hospital around the corner. Meanwhile the phone was going every five minutes with my midwife from Ravenscourt Park asking me for directions of how to get to me which I was physically incapable of articulating even if I had understood where the hell she was (somewhere on the A40). Didn't she have an A-Z for crying out loud?
And so the doorbell goes at about 5.30pm and a nice ambulance man is there saying he's come to take me to hospital. I reach down for my (previously prepared) overnight bag and, with that, my waters break. I could feel the baby coming. He says he'll get a wheelchair but I know I can't possibly sit down, so I lie down right where I am, on the sitting room floor, my head pretty much under the grand piano, and get on with the job. He realises there is no going back, and brings me gas and air instead of the wheelchair. E is still crying. N is on his motorbike hurtling from central London, not knowing whether I am in Ravenscourt Park or home or somewhere else completely. My right arm goes numb from the gas and air. A kindly faced young doctor arrives from the local surgery, concerned by my phonecall. The two ambulancemen have contacted the local hospital and told them they need a midwife here urgently (they are clearly phased by childbirth in action). There are two ambulancemen, a doctor and a toddler now in the room. N arrives with a throaty roar at 5.55pm having decided to try home first before trawling hospitals for me. He scoops up the smelly, distressed toddler, and comforts her, instantly removing a huge area of distress for me too.
A white-coated midwife from the local hospital and a male student nurse burst through the door at 6pm. There are now seven people watching me perform but I have other things to worry about. All dignity lost, it is simply about giving life to this baby. The room is silent apart from the midwife who gives a running commentary of what she is doing for the sake of the student nurse. I hear that the baby has the cord around its neck. It has meconium in its respiratory passages. It is not breathing. They have to act quickly and decisively. The baby is delivered, but all is silent. An interminable amount of time seems to pass - a baby cannot surely not breathe for all this time and still be ok? Thoughts flit through my head that, after nine long months and all this effort, the baby is dead or brain damaged. It is an unemotional thought. I am simply hit by the irony. And then, suddenly, there is a cry. The blissful screeches of a newborn baby hitting the outside air from its warm, liquid cocoon. The relief is indescribeable. I lie there with her on my chest (thrown completely that it is a girl when I was convinced it was a boy) and thank God. She is alive.
With that the 'Somewhere on the A40' Midwife bursts through the door, triumphant that she has found me at last, albeit rather after the horse has bolted. She tries to make amends by running me a hot bath. I am pathetically grateful.
But my gratitude lies wholly with the local midwife who, thanks to her skill and experience, gave life to a little lifeless bundle. Had I been in a taxi on the way to Ravenscourt Park, or footling around in Habitat, it could all have been very different....
And so, at 6.05pm on 11th August 2000, my beautiful, feisty, huge-hearted, strong-willed G arrived in this world in a bit of a hurry. She hasn't changed. She does everything at full speed. It took a while to come up with a name, since a boy was expected, but in the end she was christened Georgina Jane Allegra Boden. All the girls have a third name which reflects something about their birth: Allegra represents the 'quick and lively' way in which she popped out under the piano (the stain on the carpet bore testimony) but which, in her haste, nearly went so horribly wrong. And, with true harmony, this lively, light-hearted, positive spirit is what she carries deep within her soul.
Her joyful, sandy, surfy, sun-filled 11th Birthday ended perfectly in colourful Biarritz on the terrace of a favourite restaurant overlooking the sea, her best friend at her side, the setting sun suffusing their soft features with golden light.
My flaxen-haired girl with the wide smile and the big heart, I couldn't imagine life without you.