Spring fling

If I believed in signs, and sometimes I believe in signs, I’d say that something is coming to a head. May is like that, summer is bursting in at every available moment – bully, the overweight sister to April.

I’ve had some strange dreams lately. I’ve written down words and found them again, in other places. That time I read American Gods whilst playing Magnetic Fields, over and over, then read how Gaiman listened to the same songs whilst writing it.

Books have a way of getting in, like that. They have avenues.

I’m about to start a writing course because I haven’t been writing much and I need to write, but I also need to stop worrying so much about the kind of perfect I don’t know how to reach.

I’ve been reading Carson, which is entirely bad for this (she is that kind of perfect). She is also the kind of writing that thuds into you and you find yourself winded and unable not to respond.

These were the words: ‘Try Again. Fail again. Fail Better’

Yesterday on the bus, we stopped long enough on a stretch of road lined with trees, and our window was crammed with cherry blossoms. They were smashed against the glass and my kids pressed their noses to the window in conversation with the whole scene. It’s this shade of deep pink – blush, coy, wild, soft and frothing, that I remember staring at when I walked to school, and now, those same blossoms have found their way in to places hard to get to.

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There’s no easy way to say hello, let’s dive right in

Do you remember the night like I do, blue

from cold or sky – your curtains were shut
weren’t they? In the morning you put on Ben Folds Five

and I got myself dressed and ready
shyly listening to Give me my money back, you bitch
and then when we got out your car and you took
my hand, that song was still running through me
It was blue because it was cold
but our bodies were light, like dust
and moved together and apart
like dust does, hanging
for one whole moment in the air
before disappearing, so I remember the heat of
your body and my body and I remember the dust in the air
as if we had slept through til afternoon
and let ourselves loose against the sunlight
I don’t know how to open. I don’t know how
you managed to open me so delicately that I didn’t notice
you and I blossoming into something bigger
than its parts, an us where one or the other nudged and
offered and sighed and moved in, but
here is the space for that night –
here it is in my heart blood bones mind tongue crook of arm you think
that time gets past these things
but the words to that song keep bringing me
back to it, even though you aren’t there any more
and I wonder, where have you gone?
Now there is that night,
your body and my body,
all of the aching and the new need to discover
and all of the old heartache and the old pain of remembering
everything we started that night and everything we lost
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Gatsby’s birth story

Gatsby Harper Mosley-Chalk was born on at 2pm on the 9th June, a Tuesday afternoon, in the birthing pool, in my living room, with my doula Hannah and my daughter Ava present. He weighed 9lbs 13.

When he came out, I laughed (and laughed). Overcome by a kind of ecstasy and happiness I can’t begin to explain. A bit like being on drugs, but with a clarity, a pause, a sweet rise of awe at the moment you straddle two realms and pull your baby from the water and lift him to your chest.

I remember shaking because it was very quick. At a point when I really wasn’t sure how long it would still take, I reached up and felt a circular patch of hair and thought, ‘Oh, he’s right there’. I said to Hannah, ‘I feel like I need to push’ and she replied, ‘Just go with what your body feels like it has to do’.

And the push – what felt like one, long push – unmistakable pressure, but no to-ing and fro-ing, no down and up. My body bearing down and me with it, and then the head out, and then one shoulder and arm, and the rest.

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This time, for the first time, no tears. No grazes. Clear water, no pain. Only laughter.

*

Your body listens. Like a Russian doll, each birth is carried within the next. You bring yourself to the birth.

I choose carefully what and who I surround myself with, especially when I am pregnant. My body listens. Maybe my baby does too. I am no good at building walls. I am not impenetrable, words invade.

But when I choose carefully, what flows in is necessary and good. How do you start a birth story when the story is everything that leads up to birth, too? The women who are friends and who share their wisdom easily. The Blessingway they threw me and the words they gave which made their way in. The kindnesses of a rare community.

And the words I told myself too.

Two days before he was born, I decided a good exercise would be to write down Gatsby’s birth story as if it had already happened. Reading over it now, I am surprised (and not) by how much of it happened exactly as it is written.

*

When I woke up on the 9th, some time before 8am, I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I felt my first contraction now?’ I went into labour around 7am with both Ava and Ezra.

Like clockwork, I felt a surge. I remembered that during the night I got up to go to the toilet and felt certain I would give birth the following day.

The surge felt different, but not strong. Another followed a little later, but they were very spaced apart and no stronger than any braxton hicks, so I wasn’t sure they meant much. But I had a feeling.

Hannah messaged me to see how I was and I mentioned maybe, maybe something was going to happen. Hannah has had a knack, throughout my pregnancy of knowing exactly what I needed to hear and when and I recalled how she was one of the first people I had told I was pregnant. I didn’t even have to ask her to be my doula – we both knew she would be.

But I wasn’t sure that labour was close to starting. At 10am, feeling restless, I decided we should go for a walk. We walked for an hour, stopping off at the shop to get snacks. I had a strong desire not to engage in small talk with the over-zealous checkout lady, so I waited outside with Ava. Occasionally, I’d feel another surge, but they were very irregular and still not so strong at all. So we walked. Close to home, I felt one which was stronger and stopped me walking for a moment.

At home, I went upstairs to lie down, wondering if I should try to get some rest in case labour was imminent, but I felt restless and uncomfortable. I wanted to keep moving.

I took off all my clothes, which in restrospect should pobably have been a good indicator of what was happening, but I still felt like, if things were indeed beginning, it might be days yet til I birthed.

Howard was updating Hannah. When either of my kids tried to talk to me I felt irritated – another sign, in retrospect. My only thoughts were that I really wanted to move my body and that I absolutely did not want to eat anything.

*

During Ava’s birth I wasn’t sure at all what to expect and I was intent on following the guidance of all my hypnobirthing readings.

I see this now as largely a hindrance because it kept me from really listening to what my body wanted to do. Despite an overall positive birth, there was so much I didn’t know. And so much I did, that I had to unlearn.

I had no desire at all to use hypnobirthing techniques with Ezra. I enjoyed the Ujjayi breath we did in yoga, and how it centered me and brought me always back to my baby. Having refused monitoring, I was unsure how far along I was, or what stage I was in. This was a complete blessing. This felt like a good kind of uncertainty. I didn’t know, but my body did.

*

About ten days before Gatsby was born, for the first time since early pregnancy, I felt inexplicably tired. I had so much energy during this pregnancy, and for so long, that I was surprised by the sudden sheer force of exhaustion that overcame me. I slept on and off for two days.

And then, I felt inexplicably sad. So many emotions seemed to rise up at once, and every time I tried to find where they were coming from, or what they were about, I was lost. I had no idea.

I still don’t. I drew, and I wrote. I meditated. I walked and did my best to ground myself, thinking often of the strange and beautiful reiki experiences, the symbols and visions which had arisen from them, that seemed connected to these big feelings.

Fears rose up too, and I was distinctly aware of the need to let these feelings be felt, to give them air. I wrote the fears down and sat with them, and then I tore up the paper.

I cried, sometimes wept, and felt a solid sense of grief. Then it seemed to pass quite suddenly. I don’t fully understand what happened, but I know that this was an essential and important part of preparing to birth. Maybe it was the first part of letting go.

*

It wasn’t until noon that I started to think I was most likely in labour. The surges were still quite spaced apart but they were stronger. I danced through almost every one. I stood in the doorway and swung my hips back and forward and did a kind of squatting belly dance. A big, swirling naked lady humming and dancing.

The dancing felt so good. I almost felt like I could have gone for a run. When I felt a surge, I focused on it and imagined my body opening up. I could feel the bones in my pelvis loosening.

Howard started to inflate the pool, although I really had no idea if I was being premature. I threw up into a metal bowl and felt mildly annoyed that despite having not eaten (I never want to eat in labour), I still ended up being sick. Being sick, even once, is absolutely the worst part of labour for me.

Just before 1pm, I had a surge that was pretty intense, and I thought ‘I hope this isn’t just the beginning and I keep having these kinds of surges for days – what if my labour lasts a whole week and I can’t cope?’

I breathed. I felt pretty happy that the surges were so focused at the front because I knew that meant Gatsby was not back to back. Then, at 1pm, I got into the pool and Howard called Hannah to let her know I might want her soon, despite me voicing concerns to him that I didn’t want to call her until things were really on their way.

I felt a pressure and a pop and realised my waters had broken as I saw a gush of slightly darker water in the pool. There was a lovely sense of relief after this, which I thought was pretty cool since Ava’s waters had been broken by the midwife, and Ezra’s had gone just as he was being born.

Hannah arrived at 1.30pm. I was moving a bit around the pool, still enjoying the feeling of being active. I think I said to Hannah that I hoped I hadn’t called her too soon.

I remember that Ava did not want to leave the room, so she sat next to Hannah on the couch. I remember that Hannah took her hand. I remember feeling completely calm and present and wanting, needing to feel every single sensation.

I remember the light in the living room, the fullness of the birthing pool and the distinct sharp feeling of my pelvic bones opening up.

I remember Ava saying to Hannah that Gatsby was going to be born in 2 minutes and Hannah replying that it might take a bit longer, yet.

Then 2 minutes later, Gatsby was born.

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The amazing thing about birth is not how extraordinary it is, but how completely and utterly ordinary and normal it can be. At 10am I was in our local shop buying oreos. At 2pm, I birthed a baby, and at 6pm, I was eating lasagne that a friend had dropped round.

Gatsby was born about 2 feet to the left of where his brother was born after a couple of hours of labour. From the photos, I can see that after his head came out I raised my left leg, as if I am preparing to propose. I don’t remember doing this, but I do recall knowing I needed to move in the moment after the head was born but before the rest of him popped out.

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Howard and Ezra heard me say, ‘Oh, hello Gatsby!’ and came through from the dining room.

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After a few moments the water began to feel cool and I wanted to get out as I was still shaking a little.

I moved to the sofa which was covered in towels. I always forget how clumsy this part of birth is – not wanting to let go of Gatsby but trying to get out of the pool with the umbilical cord dangling between my legs, still fastening us together.

The afterpains were incredibly intense. I knew I’d have no bother with the placenta and it came out with a slight push. Since we intended on having a lotus birth, the placenta had been placed in a glass bowl, inside a towel, with the cord still attached to Gatsby. After a while, Gatsby nursed and then I felt like I wanted to go upstairs to bed.

Hannah had made me some peppermint tea since I hadn’t eaten and that helped me to warm up. She helped me clean up whilst Howard held Gatsby and then her and Howard covered the placenta in salt to help it to dry out. Hannah brought me toast in bed whilst Gatsby was wrapped up against my skin.

Later, after Hannah had left, I told a few people. The kids came upstairs and showered Gatsby in excited kisses and a little curious prodding. I ate lasagne. The cord had gone stone cold and every time we moved it annoyed me, and Gatsby would flinch when it touched his skin. We cut it and tied some sterile floss around it.

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Then we hankered down and stared at Gatsby and his dark hair and dark eyes and familiar smell, and it was almost just like any other day. A sense of home welled up around me, and I was thankful to be in my bed, surrounded by my people – now five bodies, instead of four.

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Gatsby

It has been eleven days since Gatsby arrived earthside. Eleven days of that unavoidable, indescribable sweet chaos that new babies bring.

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You forget, I forget that everything changes. A whole day revolves around naps and nursing. A night is measured by how many times you wake up and switch sides.

Everyone is a bit tired and a bit cranky. Everyone feels fascinated by this small creature who sleeps most of the time and has caused all this chaos.

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Third time around, the chaos remains. The toddler wants to cuddle the baby and hold the baby but come night time he is distraught that Mama isn’t quite as available as she used to be. The first week is hard for him. He wakes up crying a lot even though during the day he seems as happy as ever. By the ninth day he seems to settle more. He cuddles into your back instead of your front, and sleeps like that. You cry because you miss him, like you knew you would, even though your heart has stretched with love for this new baby.

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Your daughter observes, ‘I think he misses you, you know Mama’ and you feel thankful that she takes things like this in her stride, adopting a more motherly approach to the toddler in some knowing attempt to ease things for him. She has a knack for this, and you miss her too. But you’ve both been here before and you both know it will be okay.

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Everything slows down. Everything is measured by nappies and middle of the night snacks, once again. And although this is not your first rodeo, you still feel the slight shock of newness this baby has carried with it.

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And this baby, whose name you already mix up with his brother’s, seems both new and familiar at once. You touch your stomach at night and try to remember the feeling of him in there, just days before, when you did the same thing, huge and impatient for his arrival, trying to imagine who he might be.

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But you’re on the other side now, and it’s hard to go back to before you had held him and known him and loved him at once. Before you had stared at his puffy face and thought, ‘Of course, it’s you.’

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Every day food appears at your door by some miracle and you remind yourself that you’ve chosen some extraordinary friends. You burn the candle you bought especially and the bedroom smells of vanilla lime.

You breathe in the very top of the baby’s head for minutes at a time, or wait til he yawns and stick your nose in his mouth, like some insane baby lady (which is pretty much what you assume your neighbours call you).

His fingers are long and his hair is darker than you’d have imagined. Every day his face emerges a little more, a little less new, a little less furled. His eyes are a very dark blue and he smiles and he is the calmest baby you’ve ever held. He watches everything and lifts his head to peer straight at your face.

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He looks like his siblings often, and you thread together all the small ways they can become each other in a gesture or movement.

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You love him so much you watch him sleep even when all you want to do is sleep, too. But you can’t help it, because that’s how things are now. Topsy turvy and chaotic and absolutely bursting with this new, familiar love.

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Grounded

The smell of rosemary fills the house. The man who lived here before was a herbalist and our front garden is filled with beautiful smelling flowers and herbs, most of which have survived in spite of us doing nothing at all since we moved in.

For most of the year, our front garden looks messy and bedraggled but something happens in May – some small gardening miracle – and suddenly there are blooms everywhere and so much colour.

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Every time we have roast vegetables, Ava and Ezra run out to the front to collect some fresh rosemary and the house, and their fingers, smell of my favourite herb for hours.

Today was unusually sunny and we spent most of it in the garden with friends. It was the best kind of day for right now, gentle and slow with space to breathe. Everything felt good. I lay down before dinner and closed my eyes and breathed, slowly, visualising some birth imagery I’ve always used.

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This last week was busy. My friend took photographs of us in one of my favourite spots in York, surrounded by trees.

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(She is lovely and amazing and you should check out her work here)

Ava had her first ballet show which was also the longest time she has ever spent apart from us. She loved it and is now planning her future dance career. Ezra peed in a potty for the first time.

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And over the weekend, perhaps because Ava’s show was the last big event I had planned before Gatsby gets here, I felt a shift over into a different frame of mind. Suddenly, I felt heavy, slow. My body aches when I walk and I have that familiar feeling of being ready to burst. I want to rest more, and the delightful energy that has been there for so much longer this time has decreased somewhat.

Everything seems to slow down. My balance suddenly becomes harder to maintain, and there’s a kind of relaxed drowsiness that settles. I feel a surge of sentimentality that would normally make me cringe.

Ezra and Ava seem a little different too. Ezra climbs up on my lap for a cuddle and stares at me, looking still like a baby, my baby, and I know that that feeling of needing to hold him, of craving his little body to squish, will soon be shared by another. It’s bittersweet, because I know that change is inevitable, and I know I will mourn this time I have with Ezra now, whilst falling completely in love with another little person.

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I can’t describe it exactly, but the closer I get to birth, the more I feel as if I am straddling two worlds, on the brink of a journey inwards. The more I want to stand and breathe in the garden, or do small, simple things that don’t require much attention, just my breath, conscious and mindful.

There are tiny baby clothes drying on the radiator that even my big newborn babies fit into. All the curtains have been washed. The birth pool waits in a box. I swear, my kids look at me with some kind of understanding that none of us can communicate in words. And we wait.

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Preparing the space

What a week. Always this week, leading up to the New Moon, is full of catharsis. And then the much needed energy of renewal and beginnings that the New Moon will bring.

I’m feeling a little more focused and a little more ready. Surprisingly, or maybe not, relaxed too. Excited about the prospect of Gatsby’s arrival which could be imminent now but which I suspect will not happen just yet.

I mistook the physical signs of stress for early labour at the beginning of the week, but now I am sure Gatsby will wait just a little longer.

I did some making yesterday, after a much needed reflexology session with a lovely lady. We planted a lot of flowers in our back garden today. Ezra woke up pretty miserable (I guess it’s teething due to the large puddles of drool on his top) so being outside was the only thing that really soothed/distracted him. Our sandpit is down, stuff cleared and cleaned.

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Although it was a dreary day, the kind of day that would be suited to drinking tea and listening to The Smiths, it felt good to plant and dig and smell of soil.

This is one of the things on my list – my list of Things to be Done. I have a pool liner to find and collect, bags of baby clothes to wash and sort and some more sewing to do. One more reiki session this week.

It surprises me at this time how strong a need I have to be at or near home, preparing a space. To withdraw. My Doula wrote about it here – the biological need for privacy in this time of between, and it certainly feels stronger by the day.

We can’t expect those around us to be aware of this need, although it is sad that people who should know, and care more, don’t always respect this. It is up to us individually to draw the curtains and close the door and begin to prepare a space – a space to birth and a space for new life to be welcomed into.

We need to nourish what feels like home, and protect it. That means withdrawing somewhat, perhaps totally, from social media. And focusing on things close to us. Planting, and cooking. Realigning things so everyone has a new space. Ava with her new room, Howard with his new workspace. Ezra, who now has more of his own room, too, and Mama, who has a deep-cleaned bedroom, new bookshelves and perpetually clean sheets.

Little things at this time, but things to zoom in on. I think of the weeks ahead, surrounding birth, and I am so happy that it is happening at this time of year, when the garden blooms and where there always seems to be excited children making mud pies or playing in the sand. And somewhere amidst all that, this year, we welcome back our dear friends to where they belong – close to us, home.

But I’ve been here before, and I don’t mind the waiting so much this time. I know it’ll come soon enough – everything. Summer. Gatsby. Until then, planting and cooking, folding tiny baby clothes, and breathing.

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On Children

We view motherhood through a prism of what we have experienced as children, and what we experience of our own children. We are aware of how we are viewed culturally, and what expectations surround us in society. There is always so much to think about, to unpick. Most of us want to find a place where we parent in a way that seems authentic to us, without constantly reacting to the things we absolutely do not want to pass onto our children.

Since Ava was born, I am struck, every day, by how separate and whole a person she is. By how damaging it is to assume she, or any of my children, would be an extension of who I am. I often think of one of the best parenting books I’ve read, ‘Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting’, and what the Kabat-Zinns call ‘sovereignty’.

I look at both of my kids, and I see two people who are entirely unique, whose lives belong only to them. It is much easier to find a way to be gentle and respectful when you see children as whole, important people deserving of their own sovereignty. They are not mine to treat as a I wish. They do not belong to me.

‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.’

I often heard, growing up, the idea that we owed people for our lives. That we were under constant obligation, driven by guilt of disappointing, or guilt of not being who we were expected to be. Some of us learned to accept being treated in a less than dignified way because our lives didn’t feel like our own, to begin with. It took me 27 years, and the onset of motherhood, to understand that that wasn’t true and certainly not how I wish to treat my own kids.

But I chose to have children. I chose them. They do not owe me. They do not owe me their lives, and nor should they have to live in a way that isn’t right for them, just to please me.

‘You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday’

That means I hold myself accountable for how I act with them. I don’t get a free pass because I’m their mother (a notion I feel strongly goes against everything I believe in). I think I owe them more, not less, than anyone else. They should expect more from me, because I chose to bring them into this world, and now it is up to me to treat them with the love and kindness they deserve.

I chose them, and now they are here, I hope they choose me too. Not out of guilt, or obligation but because I am a person they trust, who brings them joy and who loves them unconditionally.

(Quotes from ‘On Children’ by Kahlil Gibran)

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