Thursday, 30 October 2014


I wanted this entry to be a happy one, full of joy for reaching the one year milestone and excitement about the coming months. But it has come at a period of darkness and struggle, in a tangle of negative energy and emotion that threatens to overwhelm me. A persistent grey cloud hovers overhead, ominous and dense with unspent rain, and so I am on a hunt for silver linings, because even the most forbidding cloud has a flash of silver if you know where to look. 

In part it is the change in the weather that has prompted this depression, for our halcyon days are well and truly over. September was a glorious extension of summer, spilling its golden light and warmth well into autumn, while October has ridden in on a dull grey horse, bringing with it the turn of the
seasons and days of endless drizzle. The official end of British Summer time has prompted the early twilights of winter, and already I find myself returning from walks with Felix in darkness. Yet it is not merely the sudden quickening of the seasons that lies upon me like a smothering blanket; Felix’s one year anniversary has provoked a flood of memories of his birth and I realize I am far from healed. I am haunted by the knowledge that I was let down; by the midwives, by the anesthetists, by the whole damn system. My suffering was entirely preventable and this knowledge fills me with a bitter, corrosive sadness, an acid that eats away at my ability to move on. The only thing I can liken my experience of giving birth to is having an operation without anesthetic, an idea so outrageous the mind shuts down at the very thought.

This has been underlined by the fact that other friends who had babies after me are now trying for a second, whilst I cannot contemplate giving birth again. Heavily pregnant women bring me out in a cold sweat as I imagine the agony of labour, and I know this is not a healthy reaction. Felix is a gift for which I am thankful every day but even he cannot erase the fearful memories of his birth, and deep in my soul I know I could never survive another experience like it. At the same time a part of me years for another lovely baby, a new soul to nurture and treasure.  Pregnancy itself holds no demons for me and second time round I would be sure to marvel at the miracle my body was casually constructing while I went about my daily business. But I find myself unable to process the hideous fear and pain of childbirth and complete the grieving I must do if I am ever to begin the cycle again. I have an inkling that only a better experience will ever truly heal the trauma of the first, but first I must find a way to release the black and dreadful memories that weigh upon me in moments of contemplation. What I need is a dark side of the moon and a rocket in which to blast away the reminisces to where they are no longer sustained by the brilliance of the sun, and where they can eventually drift off into space, distilled into tiny particles that can dissipate harmlessly into the great vacuum of the universe.


The tragic death of a school friend, one I had not seen for many years, has thrown into stark relief my own struggles and cast a dark shadow where once was a light. Anna was on the first leg of a charity cycle from John O Groats to Lands’ End when she was killed by a collision with a lorry. Since leaving college, the last time we saw each other, she had become an accomplished rower who had competed for Great Britain in the Commonwealth Games. The paths of our lives ran concurrently for many years. We went to the same primary school, secondary school and sixth form college. We were part of the same friendship group, one that travelled intact from the final year of school and into the first year of college, and thus shared many formative and unforgettable experiences. Anna was that rare thing, a truly natural blonde, with bright blue eyes and a winning smile. As a child I remember her vivacious and yet serene, a person with an inbuilt moral compass that directed her steadily through life. As we entered the tumultuous world of college I was dizzy with newfound freedom, a rudderless ship that embraced every temptation. As I become ever more estranged from my old friends I lost touch with Anna, and it was not until her funeral that we all came together again. 

As I stood outside the overflowing church, watching her flower laden coffin being shunted onto the shoulders of the pall bearers, I was struck by the unspeakable sadness of her death. Anna was in the prime of her life, not only an elite rower but also an avid supporter of charity. She was innately a good and kind person who made her way purposefully through the weirs and waterfalls of life, making thoughtful choices and dedicating herself to the relentless training of the elite athlete. As people wept openly around me I felt keenly the appalling sadness of losing a child. A child should never die before their parents; it goes against the rightful order of things. We hope and pray that old age takes us peacefully and in good time, and even if not that we live long enough to fulfill at least some of our dreams, some of our potential. Anna’s story ended so much sooner than it should have done and in the very act of trying to help others, but she died a beautiful person, someone to be admired and feted. I dedicate this entry and my sincerest condolences to her family and friends and all those who loved her. She will not be forgotten. 

n memoriam of Anna Roots (Townsend) always remembered.

Sunday, 12 October 2014


It has been three weeks since Felix's first birthday, and in that time I have started and scrapped at least a dozen entries. I have been tormented by the task of trying to sum up Felix's first year in a thousand words or less, and all the while the words have been lodged deep within, slyly whispering in my ear then turning tail as soon as I try to pin them down. Reading back my false starts I have felt sickened by them. Delete.

And then finally, at long last, on a sunny bench in a churchyard in Hambledon a glorious release occurred. Words that had been jammed and tangled flowed once again, like a river silted up and suddenly cleared, and I felt the relief as pure clear water gushed once again down the dry riverbed. How to encapsulate a whole year? A year in which Felix has gone from being unborn to newborn to infant to toddler. A year of the most profound and wonderful change, but also of struggle, sleep deprivation and gnawing anxiety. A year of immense personal development for all of us, for the breakneck speed of change that a baby undergoes demands that as parents you keep up. It's like a race between a tiny jet propelled car and a push bike, you have to keep peddling and the pace is relentless.  

Motherhood is a brutal pruner, anything unnecessary is ripped off ready or not, but although painful I have welcomed these changes. Motherhood has made me a better person; more patient, more humble, kinder. I have become incredibly dexterous, able to carry a baby and run a bath and feed the cat and pick up stray toys all at once. I have grown the extra arm and eye that all mothers possess, invisible weapons in our struggle to keep our offspring alive. I have felt the pain of sacrifice and done battle with the green eyed monster. We have long outgrown our one bedroom flat and at times I have felt utterly trapped, while financial worries have exacerbated the ordinary challenges of parenthood. And yet a light shines through all the rubbish and clutter, a beautiful beam that illuminates everything before it, chasing away the shadows and striking fear and resentment from the dark corners in which they lurk. Felix. It may be a cliché but it is also a truth; Felix makes it all worthwhile. 

On the Sunday before his birthday a small gathering of family and friends converged to celebrate. There was a picnic, a homemade cake iced to look like Mr Bump and a trip to Clarkes to be fitted for his first pair of proper shoes. But most of all there was Barker, an antique dog walking frame purchased in a curiosity shop in Rye. As we sat beneath the sycamore tree Felix raced around the grass with his new pal, stopping now and then to smother him with exuberant kisses. As I sipped my celebratory wine and nibbled on picnic food I pondered the meaning of the first birthday. It's a strange thing really, incredibly significant and yet not really understood or appreciated by the celebrant. It is a rite of passage, an acknowledgement that the first and most dangerous year of a baby’s life has been successfully completed. So many hazards lurk in the first few months, and like any mother I have stood by Felix's cot a thousand times watching to see him breathe...sometimes I still do. 

As our nearly one year old son tumbled to the grass after an overly ambitious turn I rose automatically, running to his side to make sure he was unhurt and setting him back on his feet, and I thought what an incredible journey a human being makes. Once a mass of cells nestled in my womb that had been expelled into the world and become a boy, a person capable of independent thought and action. His blue eyes alight with joy he was in his element, pointing at every airoplane and bird and truck and bus that whizzed past, and I was reminded of the maiden flight of a baby bird. Seeing him prepare to launch himself into the limitless future made me dizzy with wonder; what a privilege to have brought a child into the world, the most beautiful, terrifying honour I will ever know. This is the true meaning of the first birthday, for it is not only the first birthday of your child but also of you as a family. A newborn baby may be fragile and helpless but it's also the Big Bad Wolf and you better make damn sure your house is build of sturdy bricks or it'll huff and puff and blow your straw house right down. The first birthday is a milestone for you as a family, a time to reflect on the year that has passed and celebrate the creation of a family unit, that most precious and wonderful thing that springs from a baby's birth. So go forth and multiply, it will undoubtedly be the best thing you'll ever do.