June 30th 2020: The Long Goodbye

June 30th 2020: The Long Goodbye

Dear Edith,

We looked forward to a lot of things before you were born . Everything’s exciting when you’re having a baby! Aside from actually meeting you though, I think what your dad and I were most excited about was introducing you to the rest of your family.

The pandemic essentially scuppered that. Some people have said that it’s a blessing in disguise in a way, because it’s given us the chance to get to know you and bond with you without feeling obliged to pass you round everyone we know for cuddles, but we’re very close to our family and you were so adored before you were even born that it was painful to watch you change and grow and know that you’d be weeks and months old before anyone else got to see you.

But there was one person I wanted you to meet, more than anyone else.

Your Great-Granny Paton is in a care home. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease years ago, and I knew when I found out I was pregnant that the time we had where she’d be able to appreciate who you were was very finite. I also knew that however much I thought we had, we probably had less.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. They call it “the long goodbye” because it takes people away painfully slowly, loosening their grasp on memory and reality until they don’t recognise anything – themselves, their relatives, their surroundings.

The last few months before she moved into the home were almost poetic in their irony – she would sit with me and watch TV when I was a baby in the early morning when I wouldn’t settle, and I would sit with her and watch TV in the evening as she asked after her mother (who died when I was little) and fretted about getting off home.

I don’t know where she thought “home” was. I’m not sure she did either.

Last week, as the lockdown restrictions start to lift bit by bit, we got to visit at a distance. Great-Granny sat in the conservatory and we sat outside and shouted through a sheet of perspex placed in the open doorway. I held you up at the window in your little dress and tights and we waved.

I don’t think she knows me any more. Her concept of who I was was already tenuous and she’d quite often say “hello” to me the same way she would to the home staff when I walked in until she saw me with your Granny and then it seemed to click. I knew when they announced they were locking down the home for the foreseeable future that not seeing her for weeks would likely sever the fraying threads that were holding onto the memories of me, and I was prepared.

Even if she doesn’t really get that you’re her great-granddaughter, you’re still a tiny little squishy baby. The staff print out photos of you and put them on the wall of her room, and she likes to see you when we video call. When you started grizzling because you wanted a bottle she offered to hold you while I was fiddling around in the bag.

She might not remember this moment, but I will.

May 22nd 2020: The First Letter

May 22nd 2020: The First Letter

Dear Edith,

I’m writing this, the first letter to you, on the sofa just after midnight. You’ve just turned five weeks old. I feel like this is an introductory lesson on just how quickly babies grow and change. It can’t possibly be five weeks since you were a tiny, fluffy-headed newborn who wouldn’t even entertain the idea of sleepingin the pram, and insisted on lying flat on someone’s chest with your legs drawn up like a little frog.

I originally wanted to start Letters to Edith for somewhere to put my anxieties before you were born. I had the worst luck while I was pregnant, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised that your due date was smack in the middle of a global health crisis and government-mandated lockdown. Between freaking out that you’d stopped moving (you woke up, without fail, every time they got me on a heart monitor) and panicking every time they announced a new set of rules for the hospital, it wasn’t the greatest time to have a baby.

There was, however, one fear that stayed with me from the very early days right up until I was in hospital: that I wouldn’t bond with you, that I’d forever feel like I was looking after someone else’s child.

It’s not that you weren’t wanted, at any point, but I certainly didn’t feel like a mother while I was pregnant. For the first sixteen weeks I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is extreme and unrelenting nausea and vomiting. I’ll probably write more about that later, but it put me in hospital and ruined my physical and mental health. For nearly half the time I was pregnant it felt like an illness. I thought viewing pregnancy as an uncomfortable biological process rather than the run up to having a daughter would leave me feeling rather detached at the end.

I realise as I’m writing this that I’m trying to be clever about it. The truth is I was terrified I wouldn’t love you.

But when I was lying on the table in theatre and I heard this wet, choked little cry behind the screen I burst into tears, because I felt it. It was like someone had inflated a balloon in my chest. I couldn’t breathe, there was no room for anything else, and I thought I’d probably fight anyone who tried to take you away from me for any reason, even if it was one of the midwives.

The first five weeks have been a struggle, physically and mentally. There have been a lot of tears, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of times when I’ve felt like the worst mother in the world, like I should leave you with your Dad and disappear somewhere.

But the one thing I haven’t struggled with is loving you. You’re my daughter.

This isn’t exactly what I envisaged when I thought about life with a newborn. We’re in lockdown, I spent quite a lot of time unable to move after having a caesarian, and the combination of the two has blown open all of the things I was looking forward to doing with you.

The first was take you to meet your Great Granny, the one who you take your middle name from. All the staff and volunteers in the care home have been beside themselves waiting for you. Even before you were born, before the lockdown, we were given little knitted hats and booties and blankets, because April is typically just about as cold as January in Scotland.

I wanted to walk round the park with your pram. The first time the fact that I was going to be a mother really sank in was when we bought it, and I stood in the middle of the pram shop with my hands on the handle and I could suddenly visualise a tiny baby lying there, ready to go on whatever adventures were ahead. I couldn’t wait to take that pram out. Just now we go to the end of the street, turn around and come back. Living on top of a steep, steep hill means it’s a struggle to walk up at the best of times, never mind pushing a pram and nursing a healing wound from a caesarian section.

I wanted to see the looks on the faces of everyone in our family when they arrived in the hospital to visit us – your Grandma, your Auntie, your uncles if they were over from Spain. I imagined for weeks what it would be like to watch everyone come into the room, having anticipated the arrival of this first grandchild, or niece, and see you for the first time. Your introductions instead have been over video calls, with me holding you up to the camera and your little face all scrunched up. People can see you, but it’s not the same. I think that’s the biggest reason I’m desperate for things to return to normal – the idea of people watching you grow up virtually makes my heart hurt.

It’s not easy having a baby at the best of times, but the constant threat and isolation constantly hangs over me. I’m so proud of you, and I can’t show you off. I’m so motivated to be the best mother I can be, to take you places and show you things and watch you learn and socialise and enjoy life, but right now the world situation seems like it will never end and the prospect of endless days and weeks shut in the house while you grow is agonising.

I don’t know when the pandemic will be over, or what’s going to happen afterwards. I don’t know what you’ll have lived through by the time you read these letters. But every time I stand over the pram and watch your little chest going up and down (because the anxieties didn’t go away, they were just replaced by new ones) I realise that it doesn’t matter. Because you’re here.

You’re here and we love you.