The Incredible Shrinking Woman
I have always been tall. Tall enough for work colleagues to question whether I really needed to wear those heels. Tall enough to be asked to reach things down from the top shelf in supermarket aisles.
Perhaps as a result of having my height constantly drawn to my attention – as though I somehow failed to notice it during the thirty odd years I have inhabited my own body – I tend to slouch a little. Attempting to shrink down to a more acceptable size. It helps me when making conversation with shorter friends. I don’t feel so much like a vast looming presence in the company of the petite if I slump a bit.
When I found out I was expecting a baby, I started to walk tall. When I found that my baby was, in fact, two babies, I started to walk even taller. Perhaps this was the event that my slightly over sized body was made for along? To carry two big healthy babies into this world? I felt strong and powerful, an Amazon with two daughters in her belly.
As they say, pride cometh before a fall. I didn’t bring two big healthy babies into this world. Instead, I birthed two extremely tiny, sickly babies. Who stole my heart and broke it, shattered it into pieces on the floor of a neonatal intensive care unit. As I murmured into plastic portholes, ‘I let you down, I let you down, I’m so sorry.’
I wanted to shrink. To shrink myself away into nothing at all. My half pregnant body readjusted rapidly to the absence of my semi completed twins and snapped back as though nothing had happened. I was once again that gangly stork, having failed utterly to transition into being a mother, a proper woman, a wife. I walked around looking at the floor, shoulders slumped at a deeper angle than before. Shrinking away from a world that seemed to give me everything I wanted, only to take it away again, with mind-spinning speed. Shrinking away from a world that suddenly seemed entirely populated by heavily pregnant bellies and fat, chubby babies. A world that was not for me and that I couldn’t seem to fit into, even though I had tried.
As much as I wanted to shrink myself, other people wanted to shrink me too.
I felt my grief to be such a heavy thing, I often wondered why I didn’t leave dents in the floor when I walked. Other people, however, would hold it out, size it up and snort, ‘pah! That old thing. That’s nothing? Why are you making such heavy weather of carrying that around, why it barely weighs as much as a feather.’
Because after all . . . .
‘it isn’t as though you knew her’
‘it’s not as though she were a proper person’
‘it could have been worse, at least she didn’t actually live, not really, that would have made it harder.’
‘she would have been disabled if she lived and then you wouldn’t have wanted her anyway’
‘it’s a blessing in disguise’
‘at least it was not your husband, parent, sibling, cat’
‘at least you know you can have children’
‘at least you have her sister so you just be grateful for that and stop whining’
‘oh well better luck next time’
After all those sandpaper words had their way with my sadness, it was scraped away to barely anything. Diminished. Relegated to something that I had to hide away, to shrink until it was barely visible to the naked eye. Until only I was aware of its presence.
If I could, somehow, travel through time and visit the me of September 2008, shortly after my daughter’s death, I would tell myself not to shrink.
Because, me of 2008, you didn’t fail. It might feel as though you did. But you didn’t let your babies down. You loved them, you did everything you could to keep them safe. This was not what you intended for them, an early birth and a short, painful life. Despite all your questioning and wondering in the middle of the night, you will never know why they were born so horribly early or why Georgina died. So don’t shrink, you don’t have to be ashamed. You tried your very best. You can forgive yourself.
Other people might try and tell you why your daughter’s death is, actually, just fine. Completely acceptable. If only you would see it their way. But you do not have to pay them any attention, you do not have to see it their way. If you don’t choose to, if your heart tells you not to. You do not have to try and hide your feelings simply because other people find them unacceptable or imply that you are being a drama queen. The relationship between a mother and a daughter isn’t dependent on how long that relationship has been in existence, she would not have been any more your daughter had she lived to a ripe old age and she is no less your daughter because she died when she was three days old. You do not need to make your feelings fit into anybody else’s mould. Nobody else is her mother, nobody else gets to tell you how to feel, to scold, ‘too much, too little, enough now, be quiet.’ That is not their place.
Only one person knows how it feels, to grieve for your child. And that is you. No need to shrink.