Rocker yang

The letter to Seamus that Minnie had shown me made me look at my friend in a new way. She had laughed in the past about baby names. “Oh sure, I had heaps picked out,” she’d said. “Seamus for a boy and Celery for a girl”.

“Celery?” I assumed that Minnie was joking.

“I know, I’m not generally a huge fan of clean living fanatics…. I do not know what I was thinking!” She laughed, “But then I decided on Katinka Pearl. Katinka because it sounded so exotic and a name for a heroine, and Pearl after Janis. Janis Joplin. I wanted my daughter to have a good blend of yin and rocker yang”.

I looked at Minnie and wondered again how little I knew her. Why were we having this conversation only now? How long had we been mates? How had I not known this before? What the hell had we been talking earnestly about all these years?

“I don’t like you looking so sad. All this happened a long time ago, you know. I’ve dealt with it. It’s not raw like before”. Minnie stroked my sleeve. How like her to try to reassure me about how her story had affected me.

She smiled, “Did I ever tell you about the funny doctor I saw who tried so hard to put me off going to the fertility clinic? She was quite odd…” Minnie described the GP, a middle-age-ish General Practitioner who had grilled Minnie about her pregnancy intentions when she’d gone for a health check-up. Because Minnie had wanted her nest to be perfect, she’d started all the vitamins, added the folate, upped her daily exercise regime, changed lanes on the freeway to avoid other vehicles with smoky exhausts and even stopped dyeing her hair.

The GP had examined her, told Minnie she was overweight, said to her sternly, “You know this child will inherit all your inadequacies, right?” Minnie had been a bit stumped by the GP’s bluntness but also curious about where it was leading. Ten minutes later, Minnie’s head was reeling. According to Dr Grim Genes, any child of Minnie’s would have a tendency to put on weight; be short of stature; have long-sightedness; be prone to mental health issues, and not appreciate having an older mother (even though Minnie at this time was only 31). I felt outraged on Minnie’s behalf, hearing this catalogue of insensitivity. “Didn’t she know you were a single woman who had thought long and very hard about this?” I asked. Minnie smiled. “I was really taken aback at the time and wondered why she tried so very hard to put me off. What was her agenda? Then, the penny dropped. I reckon the GP was struggling with her own maternal surge and I think she raised all her own issues with me about becoming a mother to see if my arguments could help her make her own momentous decision.”

I looked solemnly at Minnie. She shrugged, “Oh well….I wasn’t going to let one naysayer spoil my dream….”

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Son

Son

Minnie told me that she used to console herself, “At least I’ve never lost a child or had a miscarriage…” That was, she explained, until a well-meaning midwife friend told her she probably had miscarried but just had not realised it. That seemed to have shaken her up even though more than 10 years had passed. I wondered if there was something my friend had not shared with me. I did not ask Minnie directly. It seemed callous to pry but I left lots of gaps in our subsequent conversations about being mummies, hoping to prompt her to fill the space with an explanation. This didn’t happen for several months. At first, in fact, the gaps culminated in a strain in our friendship – she avoided me – then one day, after I had talked her into a quick coffee, she handed me a letter.

The letter was from Minnie but addressed like this:

“My dearest Seamus

I haven’t met you yet but already I love every atom of you. How can that be? One day you will find out. I have waited for such a long time and worked so hard for you. You didn’t ask to be born and I’m sorry I’m not more conventional. I know it’s not going to be easy for you but I believe love truly will conquer all. I tried the conventional mummy and daddy, face-to-face way of bringing you to life but it wasn’t to be. I tried ever so hard but I didn’t want your Daddy to be a mean man or an ignorant man. That’s all I seemed to meet. Your father, I’m proud to say, sounds like a very good man. If I had met him we may even have gotten along. Ironically. I never did, as far as I am aware. He donated to a fertility clinic, stipulating a single woman be a recipient. That lucky lady is me. You have siblings and the clinic will help you find them, should you decide to. Your father is tall, educated and he sounds humble and kind.

I know you are inside me. I feel you. I talk to you. I hear you. I incubate you. I cannot wait to meet you, my darling boy. I love you with all of me. Already! Even though you are barely a squiggle…”

The letter continued but my tears made it difficult to keep reading. I could picture a son of Minnie so clearly. It turned out that a few times, during her stint with the fertility clinic that Minnie’s menstrual cycle had been disrupted and she’d imagined a successful pregnancy. She’d written the son she imagined a letter, picturing him growing, explaining her rationale for bringing him into the world. It was a carefully crafted, thoughtful, sweet letter and she’d wanted to do it to help him understand. Her ex-partner, who’d teased her about going to the clinic, had made her worried.

“I wanted Seamus to know how loved and wanted he was,” she said. “I hoped I wasn’t pursuing motherhood for selfish reasons that might hurt him or bother him. I really felt him, I thought. I felt so foolish and betrayed by my own body when the pregnancy tests were negative. I didn’t believe the first or the second kits after each cycle of insemination. I spent a fortune going to different pharmacies each month so chemists wouldn’t see me buying multiple kits and feel sorry for me”.

“I don’t think people will pity you,” I said. Minnie shook her head.

“You don’t get it. It’s okay though,” she patted my arm. “I don’t know if it is worse to have written a letter to an empty space, a defective womb, or to have written a letter to my son whose soul checked out of my body for a better nest in another woman’s body”.

I couldn’t think of a response. I still can’t.

Baby Showers

Minnie’s policy: no baby showers, no exceptions. She did not always feel this militant but after two hideous experiences, she had quickly developed shower fatigue. She was sure the original concept was noble in intention but they had never worked out for her.

The first, in her early thirties, was for a family friend who had not intended to have a baby. It was a genteel blur of an afternoon with women of all ages exchanging advice about breast feeding. Minnie felt unable to contribute and her face hurt from the effort of trying to smile as the owners of successful hormones shared their stories. The second shower, in her late thirties, was more earthy. A gigantic, inflated penis balloon knocked her on the head as female friends told funny tales. The mother-to-be, despite being rich enough never to have to work again, had made a list of demands at a local shop and Minnie had despondently trailed around the store, feeling increasingly alienated at this exorbitant Santa’s grotto of under 5s merchandising.

Minnie knew many of her bad feelings emanated from envy but she also thought baby showers were more about clever marketing and peer pressure than a genuine mother-to-be’s rite of passage and strong celebration of female bonding. Maybe they were good for a struggling parent-to-be without a lot of emotional support or money but the baby showers around her were usually for affluent women who hired decorators for the nurseries. She had got very drunk after both the ones she had attended but even her hangovers were easier to bear than the pain of an empty womb.

Nanny McMinnie

imageMaybe Minnie was destined to be barren? She was certainly unconventional.  At a time when other little girls talked about princes and princesses, Minnie told her mother she thought she would be married three times and it might work the third time.

In other respects, Minnie was highly conventional and responsible: she did a lot of babysitting and child-minding in her teens.  She was startled by hanging pheasants at one stone cottage. At another gentrified address, she struggled to fulfil the parents’ timetable which included daily violin practise for a 6 year old. Only ten years older than the child at the time, Minnie could not see the merit in imposing such a punishing schedule on a child who wanted to play. She had to phone her mother for advice from another babysitting gig. The toddler kept peeling off her nappy. She was screaming; Minnie was sobbing with exhaustion.  The toddler’s parents could not be reached on any of the numbers they had left. Minnie’s Mum talked her through it over the phone. Turned out the child had an ear infection. The parents had decided not to inform their babysitter so they could enjoy a night off. Minnie had felt powerless as the child repeatedly stepped out of her nappy and bustled away screaming. It was her first experience of the power of a toddler. Of not being able to reason with another person.

One trio of little girls Minnie looked after she imagined as her own brood.  The sisters were very different to each other. The youngest was a fairytale princess, the eldest an imaginative writer, the middle one…a tearaway in training.

Minnie was gentle, kind and responsible.  She attended Junior Red Cross and Girl Guides. She was was a popular child-minder. There is a photo of her, lean and fair-haired, gazing as if mesmerised at a small child next to her.  She looks curious and astounded by the little person in the making by her side.

 

 

The hips that lied

imageMy younger self saw my future self as a farmer’s wife. Children milling about, ruddy complexion, dogs and geese. I look back fondly at the little girl who imagined having six children easily. I was always told I had child bearing hips. That turned out to be a lie. These hips have borne no life.  I ve tried to conceive but it did not work.   This is my story – or rather, this is Minnie s story.  Minnie s story of the hips that lied.