Archive for the 'family' Category

Regretful

There’s something tragic about a child’s first haircut. Cutting those soft, downy tendrils which grow according to nature’s whim, imposing adult styles dictated by the dual bondage of fashion and social convention. I resisted cutting Rose’s as long as possible, which turned out to be almost three years. She wore clips (remember?) but Theodore can’t do that, unless I want him taken for a girl.

The time had come. Food was perpetually stuck in the foremost strands, clashing with his thick, dark eyelashes. In haste I took my sewing scissors and made a few deft snips. And behold

I gave him a mullet.

* Photo by my friend Chris Luttenberger

Theodore: A Love Story (Chapter One)

Tomorrow is Theodore’s birthday and we’ve been excitedly preparing to celebrate his first complete trip around the sun. What follows is his birth story, which I wrote down not long after the event. Please don’t read on if you’re not keen on such things as birth stories.

It’s 6am. I awake thinking I have terrible period pain, then remember I’m pregnant and this is impossible. At only 35 weeks it’s much too early to be labour. I warm a hot pack for my ‘period pain’ and crawl back into bed. Half an hour later, strong pain still, getting harder to ignore. Most alarming of all, the stabs of pains are by no means comfortably apart. A few minutes would be my guess. I decide to adopt my sister’s favourite saying: “Keep calm and Google it”. I read a comparative list of symptoms for false labour and actual labour. Seems it all hangs on whether the pains get closer together or not. I climb into bed again, and admit to myself that ‘closer together’ they are definitely becoming. At this point, Tony rolls lazily over and finds me wide awake, “I think I’m in labour”. For a few seconds, he looks mildly concerned, then mutters something about sleep and rolls over again. But he doesn’t sleep long, things start to happen. I wake him and suggest we time the contractions. Three minutes apart. I get up to go to the toilet and throw up violently. This seems to finally rouse Tony from his slumber. We decide that after the incident in England, any vomiting should be treated seriously. We debate whether to visit the Frauenarzt or go straight to the hospital. After all, it’s very unlikely to be the real thing.

While we’re deciding, Rose wakes up. By the time Tony’s got her out of bed, I’m vomiting again and in serious pain. We time the contractions. Two minutes apart. Hospital it is. I grab a bag and wonder what to pack. I get a clean towel from the cupboard, then remember that hospitals have towels. I grab my toothbrush and a bowl to be sick into. Of course, I forget my camera. We take Rose with us. It’s too early to call anyone, and I suppose neither of us wants to admit that this might be the real thing.

Tony gets lost in roadworks on the way to hospital. Fortunately, it’s only a five minute drive. By the time we get inside, my contractions are strong and agonising. I get confused and can’t remember where to find the birthing unit. The lady at the front desk is taken aback by our bad German. She collars an English-speaking orderly who looks at me terrified, then takes us to the hospital admissions office. “Take a number” he says, then scurries off. Tony and I look at each other. What else can we do? We take a number. Fortunately, we’re called in a few minutes. I don’t even get to the explanation part, I’m doubled over in pain. The admissions lady is clearly annoyed to find someone about to give birth in her office. She shoos us out, indicating the direction of the birthing unit, which I now recall to be on the second floor.

We buzz the door and it opens majestically. Having lost all my German I look helplessly at the hebamme who is sitting serenely at the front desk. I point to my sick bowl and then to my tummy. “Vomiting. Contractions.” She laughs, “Ich verstehen!” and shepherds us into an exam room. We’re given over to an angelic looking student midwife, Sabine. She speaks beautiful English. She hooks me up to a trace and leaves us in peace. The contractions get stronger. As I strain and gasp in utter agony, trying not to disturb the trace machine, Rose is suddenly roused from the mysterious adventure she’s been having. “I feel a bit sad” she whimpers and runs to Tony’s arms, looking at me as if I’ve transformed from Mummy to stranger. A doctor comes in. His English is good. He explains that it’s not clear whether I’m really in labour. “It’s possible that the vomiting is causing the contractions, or it could be the other way round.” “How do we find out?” I ask. “You’ll have a baby” he says. Tony starts calling for friends to collect Rose. Anne and Chris are blissfully asleep and don’t answer their phone. But things are moving quickly so he calls Rob and Arabelle. I kiss Rose goodbye and try to look excited and confident. Her expression breaks my heart.

We’re moved to a birthing room with a big, round bed and a huge orange bath tub. While I dry wretch over a plastic container, Sabine gives me intravenous anti-nausea medication. The relief is indescribable. The contractions are unbearable. I struggle for breath and gasp at the top of my lungs. Sabine explains that my baby needs oxygen and tries to help me breathe from my diaphragm. I think miserably about the kindle version of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth which I never got to read. The doctor comes back. Since I’ve had a Cesarean he has to make sure a normal birth is safe to attempt. He ultrasounds my scar and looks very impressed. He asks me all the usual questions about how I come to be in Germany and I shamelessly brag about Tony’s research. While I groan and gasp through heavy contractions, he reads me the the paperwork. Apparently, there’s a small risk the scar will rupture in which case the baby will be without oxygen. I barely hear him. I breathe furiously and sign on the dotted line.

Sabine wont let me get into the bath. Because I’m pre-term Theodore must be monitored at all times. She looks apologetically at me. She tries to give me a mobile monitor so I can at least walk around, but after the fourth time it looses the heartbeat, she encourages me to lie down on the bed. For a while I feel furious. I think angry thoughts about the over-medicalisation of childbirth. Then I realise I’m actually quite comfortable. Each time I have a contraction, I push with my legs against the chair Tony is sitting in. He is barely heavy enough to keep the chair stable, but it feels great. The breathing is much easier lying down, I relax and wonder what Jules will say.

I’m getting very tired. In between each contraction, I basically pass out. I can barely rouse myself to talk to Tony, who I can see is reading on his Ipad (he later tells me it was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth). Sabine checks my cervix. 5cm. She seems very excited. I am horrified. All that pain for only 5cm? “Don’t worry” she soothes, “the first five are the hardest, the second five will go much faster”.

She is right. In 40 minutes, it will all be over. I beg her to let me off the monitor so I can go to the toilet. She tells me excitedly that I’m feeling my baby’s head descending. We go through this discussion three more times before she finally lets me go. She encourages me to change into a hospital gown. I refuse. I know Jules will be proud of me. Her shift is over and she comes in to say goodbye. A new hebamme, Frau Janus, comes in. In one awful moment we realise we can’t understand each other, but the time for talking has finished anyway. A violent contraction hits me and I scream involuntarily. The sound brings people running, including the doctor. At this point it dawns on me. I’m about to have a baby.

I ask the doctor if I can deliver standing up. He shakes his head. Because of the trace monitor. He’s concernced about Theodore’s heart rate. He suggests I kneel on my hands and knees instead. I look sideways and realise Sabine is still here. “Don’t worry” she smiles. Another involuntary, alien scream. I ask her “How many times do I have to do that? Lots?” She and Tony laugh.

Things are hectic. The monitor looses Theodore’s heartbeat and the doctor asks me to turn onto my back while they find it. There’s no time to turn over again. Later, the doctor is very apologetic, as if he doesn’t want to be thought of as an old school chauvinist. I feel as if my body has taken over. I’m present, but not in control. The only thing I’m sensible of is the desire for it to end. The doctor tells me to breath as if I’m blowing bubbles in the water. No one says “You’re almost there, you’re doing really well!” That would be very un-German. Tony’s expression is a mixture of horror and fascination. One last contraction and Theodore pops like a champagne cork. Nobody catches him, he lands on the bed. For a moment, nobody touches him. All I feel is relief. He’s crying. I catch a glimpse of him. He is blue, the colour of blueberries. Somebody hands him to me. Tony kisses me, and we look at our son.

A paediatrician is waiting and my baby is taken from my arms. Tony stands while they check him over. Someone explains that he needs oxygen and I casually nod. Later I’ll feel terrible to have missed out on precious skin-to-skin time but for now I simply enjoy the relief. For a moment, Tony and I are alone. We look at each other and burst out laughing. Relief gives way to disbelief. We don’t even have a crib ready.

All of a sudden I realise that I did the whole thing without pain relief. I feel flushed with pride. The doctor takes Tony to see him and then returns to stitch me up. We chat about having babies in Australia and Germany. Frau Janus takes me to the toilet. I can barely stand. She gets me a wheelchair. Tony comes back and tells me Theodore is in the NICU. While I struggle between exhaustion and the pain of sitting down, Tony pushes me and we go off to see our son.

Zum Geburtstag, liebe Rosie

Dear Rose,

Today was your third birthday. Your Dad made pancakes for breakfast. Yours was the shape of an “R”. The living room was decorated with 38 balloons. I tried to make some bunting, but we’re terribly sleep deprived and I couldn’t manage it. Instead, I got out my collection of hankies and tied them all together. It looked grand, and you loved it. I decorated your chair with flowers, just like in the book Miffy’s Birthday by Dick Bruna.

All your presents were wrapped in red paper. You didn’t know or care that your new bike was bought second hand from the neighbour, or that your doll’s house once belonged to the lovely Hochschild girls. Aside from these we gave you glitter pens, a little stethoscope and an old black “doctor bag”, since “doctoring” is big with you right now. We also gave you a groclock, which was a pathetic attempt to recover your sleep habits. You seemed to like it. Your favourite gift is a blue ballet outfit. It was given to us years ago by Sarah Schachtel, who bought it at a garage sale. I’ve kept it hidden all this time. I can see it causing problems, you already want to wear it all day.

We organised a party for you at the last minute, and by “last minute” I mean morning of. Nevertheless, you had heaps of guests, and our flat became a chaotic whirl of children, babies and adults. You wore a dress that my mother made for me, with smocking and a peter pan collar. You asked for an apricot cake, but we couldn’t get dried apricots and your cake was chocolate instead. When we sang, you cried and hid your face. You didn’t want to blow out the candles.

At three years old, you’re an enchanting girl. You’re articulate, stubborn, imaginative, bossy, serious, silly and kind. Your storms are very stormy, your sunshine bright. We love being your parents.

Happy birthday darling girl.

I wish you a Mary had a little Christmas tree*

I’ve been all but silent here lately. I wish it wasn’t so. But let me be frank, life is a struggle for us right now. Our Christmas was small this year. But I’m confident it’s one I’ll never forget. It began at 1am, then again at 4am, then another time at 6am before it properly kicked off around 7.30. The prevailing fog of desperate fatigue made it hard to feel festive. But somehow we were able to enjoy a present ceremony, church service, skype conversations and finally a delectable dinner with Chris and Hannah. Christmas traditions were adhered to rather rigidly when I was growing up. And that was good, they were good traditions. But a little flexibility is sometimes a virtue.

This year I didn’t bake lebkuchen or stollen. But I did bake fruit mince pies, with fruit mince I made from scratch. And Delia is right. I’ll probably never reach for the Robertsons again.

I didn’t make Christmas stockings for each family member, but I did buy antique pillow sacks from the flea market, and they looked grand.

I didn’t make a wreath or a dried fruit garland, but I did make potato printed wrapping paper with Rose.

I didn’t have time to make the brandy custard. But Hannah’s pudding was so indescribably delicious that ordinary cream was fine.

I didn’t knit or sew anything for anyone. But I did make homemade Nutella for Tony.

I’ve been hesitant to share this, lest Theodore read it one day and feel sad. Theodore if you’re reading this, please know that we love you. We know it’s not your fault that you cry and cry. It’s not your fault that you can’t seem to sleep, nor even eat, sometimes. We’re tired, so very tired. But we love you, and we always will. Long, long after this phase has passed.

Tony and I watched Meet Me at St Louis last night. Well, some of it anyway. Judy Garland was a strange looking girl. But I couldn’t help noticing these words are somehow very meaningful. For us, this year. So I wrote them down for Tony, in a Christmas card I painted with Rose.

Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

*The title of Rose’s personal carol

An update

In the hospital where Theodore was born, a photographer was on hand at all times, ready with her soft focus lens and album of sample baby photos. We passed each other many times. She smiled, but with the language barrier, she never got up the courage to approach me for a session. I thought those mums were foolish, paying very good money to have their newborn posed and flashed at by a complete stranger. But now I begin to think they were on to something. Turns out, newborns are very difficult to photograph. I’ve been well aware that this blog needed an update on Theodore, being as it is the primary means for friends and family to see him. But I knew you wouldn’t forgive me had I not some sweet photos to post with it. I now see how natural it is for less photos to be taken of successive children in a family. How does a mum take a photo when a baby is always either attached to her, crying, or sleeping in a manner which nothing on earth could induce her to disturb by such intrusions as a camera’s shutter? If there are precious moments in between these things, they are dedicated to the children whose lives have been abruptly and permanently altered by the arrival of a new family member. So, here they are. My feeble attempts at newborn photography.

For those who may have been waiting to hear, we’re sorry we haven’t updated you on Theodore’s progress. He spent two nights in the NICU and a third night with me in the hospital ward. He’s been feeding like a man recently emerged from the desert. As a result he’s gained weight like a man training for a sumo wrestle. He’s a sensitive soul, partial to cuddles. Today is/was his due date. His sister loves bathing with him, kissing him, waving his hand and updating us with the phrase “He’s crying again Mummy!” He has turned our world upside down and inside out. And we love him very, very much.

Him

He joined us last Tuesday, Theodore Edward Wright. Four weeks early and barely 48 hours after our return from England. There’s much to tell of our adventures over the few weeks, but for now, here he is. Our tiny, perfect son.

To Nanny and Pop, with love


About Me

A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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