Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mr Jon Bon to you

I hope everyone had a magical Christmas and the man in the red outfit and dodgy white beard managed to wriggle down each and every chimney with gifts galore!

This morning I shocked myself speechless when I looked in the mirror.  Staring back at me was a Jon Bon Jovi looki-likey.  And not your average Mr Jon Bon.  This was Jon from the early 90's.  GOOD GOD, WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING TO MY HAIR?!#?*!?%?

When it comes to the hair I am absolutely and tragically him (there are no other comparisons because I've never sung one of his song's sober, let alone sold over 130 million albums worldwide). 

I cannot type a thing more until the shock has passed - will it ever pass I hear myself whisper??

Having checked out the above website I reckon I'm onto something.  They have information about, 'how to darken men's facial hair'. 

At 25 weeks and 1 day pregnant not only am I full of wind, but I feel the fear of the uncontrollable hair.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A time for festive cheer

Bloody Hell!  Having not been in the UK for Christmas since I don't know when, today I was reminded why.  My sister and I have just crashed through the front door, we've been present shopping for the family, or to rephrase that, she accompanied me on a gift finding mission.  Always one to leave it to the last minute I haven't let the side down, but after today, Never.  Ever.  Again.  The world is mad for the festive stuff.  People are rude.  The streets are full.  Everyone was jostling for gifts and I nearly lost the will to live.

But, low and behold Waterstones (the book specialist) came up trumps and I managed to swipe my credit card with umpteen purchases thrown into a bag, including a Tin Tin book for my brother-in-law who I'm assured loves the classics......!  Abby later bought me some beauty looking tights for an outfit I'm hoping to wear this evening as I shimmy off for dinner with the girls - I panicked at the thought of dragging my sorry, saggy, arse halfway across town to buy such a simple item, so she threw caution to the wind and got me some I'd never have dared buy. 

We warmed our freezing hands on take-away hot chocolates from Costa and made our way to the car full of shopping smugness.  On the journey back we laughed like a couple of old drains and spoke of the morning appointment I'd had at the hospital which Abby attended with me.  She was brilliant, really calming and recognised several of the nurses who she'd seen whilst pregnant with Rory.  She came into the room with me as my cervix and tummy were scanned and the baby was measured.

I had it 100% confirmed that I'm expecting a baby boy which thrilled me to the core and we watched in wonderment as he flexed his hands and bucked his tiny legs.  Abby had a tear in her eye and tweaked my ankle - she also told a few rubbish jokes and said my boots looked enormous as I lay perched on the bed like Gulliver! I gave a urine sample that covered most of my hand and spoke with the consultant who advised me to return in 2 weeks for another cervix scan and to have a steroid jab.  This jab will assist with the development of the baby's lungs - all the signs are currently looking good at 24 weeks, but she wants to make sure we're prepared in case I go into premature labour before 30 weeks. 

Over the last few days I've ummmed and ahhhhed about the flu jab which is being recommended for the elderly and pregnant woman so I asked my consultant's opinion. She wholeheartedly advised me to have it, so before we got home I stopped at my local clinic and they've given me a vaccine appointment for Friday.  The side affects could wipe me out for Christmas, or I could sail on through.  Of course it's a risk, but by not having it I've more to loose.  And this is certainly something I was made aware of when shopping today - everyone seems to have the flu of swine, or they have manners of one.  Either way it's not a good look!

With that in mind I'm off to get ready for my night on the town, snazzy tights n' all (including a set of really lovely undies).  Do please note I will be wearing more than just those garments tonight! 

Festive cheer everyone :) X

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Zero 7

I'm typing this whilst hunkered down in my warm and cosy bed - what a lazy, lazy Sunday morning.  I've dared to take a peek outside and the snow that fell during the night has covered everything in a crunchy white blanket.  It's the type of day where should you dare to venture outside your breath will cut you in two.  I ain't moving! 

I can feel my baby circling and the movements of tiny whirling fists and toes that push against the wall of my womb are more obvious now.  A deep comfort I haven't allowed myself to feel for a long time washes over me, everything feels good - though I know I'm not 'out of the woods yet' as my consultant and midwife recently reminded me due to my past history.  To relax even more I'm listening to Zero 7 on the mp3 player and am on the verge of heavy dozing :)

Chris and I got the album, Simple Things, when were were travelling through Thailand years ago.  It's one of our favourites.  The songs are beautiful and always manage to tip us back to those wayward years of barefoot travel.  For me it's swinging in hammocks strung between palms, lying on a beach as the sun dries you off, recovering from new years eve in a wicker chair on a veranda overlooking the ocean and deciding you're going to conquer the world together at a bar that's actually a VW camper van on Koh San road. 

Baby and me are just fine and with a head full of dreams we're about to rock gently back to sleep.....zzzzzz 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ella. Our Goodbye

It's now 27 months since I gave birth to our precious daughter Ella.  She was stillborn at 26 weeks old weighing 840 grams.  As I sit in the warmth of a centrally heated home in the UK (the country is on lock down as the big Christmas freeze hits) I'm able to bring to the front of my mind the days, the weeks and the months that played out after Ella's tiny spirit departed this life and flew towards the next. 

I've also come to realise that with the passing of time the edges of our memories soften.  Light now plays on the memories held in the corners of my dreams and they appear out of focus, as if slightly blurred.  The confused conversations, often raised to screams, and the choking sobs as we struggled to cope in the aftermath of Ella's death are now a whisper.  But just like a scar they're a reminder of the love Chris and I lost that night, as well as the love we gained.

Ella was born in hospital on the night of Thursday 4th September 2008.  The following day as we sat in our small room on the ward trying to come to terms with what had happened hospital staff came to offer their condolences - nurses who were with us the night before and had watched the events unfold and Jill, the midwife who hadn't been able to stay with us after 9pm because of a shift change, held me the hardest. 

I was in shock, but able to manage a polite conversation with the cleaning lady.  Chris got me to drink gallons of hot sweet tea and spent hours stroking my hand.  The catheter that had been inserted after the operation was finally removed and I was encouraged to use the toilet  - two nurses held me up as I passed bloody urine into what can only be described as a large grey cardboard box.  To have been able to go to the toilet was the green light to go home - it didn't seem to matter that I couldn't walk unaided. 

Before we left the ward the hospital minister arrived and spoke with Chris.  She wanted to know if we'd thought about the type of service we wished to have for Ella.  To this day that moment still haunts me.  We had no idea about what to do, let alone when or where a service should be held.  We had barely been able to speak of Ella's death let alone the huge task of thinking about what to do with our daughter's fragile body.  Chris thanked her and took the paperwork saying he would be in touch.  She advised us not to leave it too long.

We had said goodbye to Ella the previous night (Ella.  Her Story) and Ali G, our midwife, had taken her tiny body to the hospital morgue.  She said she would lay her close to the elderly folk whose souls would keep her safe.  But as we got ready to leave the hospital it suddenly hit us we were leaving our daughter behind.  It was heart wrenching, as parents, to realise we wouldn't be taking her home with us.  We'd arrived with our daughter, but were leaving without her.  In despair Chris pushed me in a wheelchair down to reception where I was given a letter that listed a hospital summary of the last 24 hours.  I noticed at the end of the page = Discharged from Orwell Ward (and in capital letters) WITHOUT BABY.  My hands shook.

The days following our loss were experienced through a blur of empty tears, deep anguish, searing pain, huge hugs, careful words and mugs of tea.  I didn't wash my hair for days and my showers were brief.  Due to the stitches I wasn't comfortable climbing the narrow spiral staircase at my parents house so we camped on mattresses in their newly finished sun room and watched through the windows as days turned into night and darkness fell.  The world continued to turn, we barely noticed. 

We received beautiful cards full of beautiful words.  Emails arrived, texts flashed on our phones and bouquets of gorgeous flowers were sent from friends at home and overseas.  We were overwhelmed with grief, support, love and friendship.  The tenderness from our family and friends (near and far) will always be recognised during that time as life giving.  It was the start of the healing process, although we weren't to know it.

Chris gave the semblance that he was manging - he was incredible at holding it together.  He took phone calls and made the necessary arrangements we'd decided for Ella's cremation. After the weekend he quietly organised her death certificate and re-visited the hospital making sure her papers were in order and doing everything he could to shield me from any further sadness. He was advised that the earliest we could have a service for Ella was Thursday 18th September 2008 at 9am.  We were relieved a date was available so we took it. 

Quite suddenly a week later on Thursday 11th September I was rushed into hospital with horrendous stomach pain.  I lay in the fetal position as a doctor examined me - everywhere was painful, it felt like returning contractions and I had a temperature.  It was recognised that I had an infection, possibly from the surgery I received the night of Ella's birth, and it was burning through me like an inferno.  I remained in hospital for 5 days until Monday 15th.  Chris visited me daily bringing sandwiches and small snippets of stories from home.

I was heartbroken, frightened and painfully miserable.  To top it off I was badly constipated and when able to sleep it was fitful.  They hooked me to an IV drip that pumped strong anti-biotics through a cannula into the back of my right hand.  My stomach was scanned so they could check for any cause of infection, but none was confirmed.  I was allowed home for lunch on Sunday 14th where my family gathered and I met my niece Grace for the first time.  She was gorgeous.  Chris later drove me back to hospital where I lay in discomfort before asking for as many suppositories as possible.  I spent all night on the toilet and the relief was immense!

I was eventually discharged at 4pm the next day.  My right hand was black and blue from a collapsed vein but the thought of being able to attend Ella's service gave me the courage to pack and dress, I couldn't bear to be in that room a moment longer.  My sister collected me as Chris was in London seeing his family and I remember her saying something that made me laugh.  At that moment one of the nurses passing the door told me how much better I was looking compared to when I had arrived.  Thank god, five days before I had simply wanted to curl up and die.

Thursday 18th September 2008 a small group of us gathered at the Crematorium in Ipswich - a large and dark looking place.  Thankfully the sun shone and we felt ok as we walked the manicured gardens.  Chris and I held hands, we had asked for a poem to be read and my mum had put together a small posy of flowers made up from the ones that friends had sent.  At 9am we sat at the front of the room taking up just two pews.  Ella's delicate white coffin was carried down the aisle high on shoulders and placed in front of a heavy curtain with the posy on top.  As I sat tall a single tear dropped onto my cheek.  A prayer was said and a reading read.  It was a simple service that allowed us to say our goodbyes, but as the curtain closed around her tiny coffin our hearts broke. 

Much later that afternoon Chris and I drove to a wide open field that backs onto a great forest and farm land.  Amongst the stubble of corn there is an area made up of acres of turf which is used on golf courses and in gardens.  It was here that we removed our shoes and lay on the soft grass, arms outstretched above our heads as we watched the clouds gently float across the sky. 

Ella was there, we knew it.  Our baby was finally free.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Raisin' The Roof

Not often one to be lost for words, last night happened to be an exception. 

I logged onto my email account and saw that Chris had sent some photos from the weekend he'd spent in Murchison.  He caught up with everyone on site and went over the projects that had been done in his absence whilst he was visiting me here in the UK.

The thatch roof for the bar is going on and the shower and toilet block are nearly dry enough for painting.  I cannot believe the ideas we had and the drawings we made on paper are finally beginning to take shape through bricks, mortar and sheer hard work. 

As I take my woolly hat off to my husband and the men working with him (who are nothing short of champions) let me share some of the shots with you.

The entrance to the campsite shower/toilet block

 A side view of above block - well ventilated and with loads of light

Raisin' the roof, this shot took my breath away

Bricks, thatch and green trees (the rains have fallen considerably)

It is literally man's work - and a very brave one at that

The fire pit looking out onto the River Nile

And although I'd made it known that on no account could the Baobab Tree that was in our garden in Jinja be moved (we bought it from a tree nursery in Mombasa 4 years ago).  Being out of sight means I'm clearly out of mind...  Chris has dug it up and transported it to the edge of Murchison National Park.

For once I'm not going to mention it.  If he can pull off (let alone put on) a roof that big, he can pretty much do anything he likes right now - though don't quote me on that as tomorrow's another day ;)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lucky 13

Ella was born on the 4th September 2008, although December 13th 2008 was her actual due date. 

Lucky thirteen, Chris and I married on the 13th March 2004. 

On the 13th December 2008 we scattered the rest of her ashes and planted trees on our land in Uganda by the river Nile - perhaps she made it past Cairo and into the Mediterranean?  I'd like to think so. 

This time last year I was in England and in the early morning I walked to the place on the river Deben, where in November 2008 before we flew to Uganda, we marked her memory by scattering half her ashes across the wintry tide.

Again this year, and on the 13th date, I find myself in England once more.  I look carefully and see her in the places that I walk, in the air that I breathe and in the person I am. 

Today I shall remember her deeply and be thankful for her tiny being and  how it gave Chris and I the courage to face the world head on and eventually change the course of our life to where we are now. 

It's with that knowledge I hold her miracle of a brother ever closer to me.

Chris and I scattering Ella's ashes at the water's edge in Uganda on the 13th December 2008

Kya and I throwing cosmos flower seeds onto the ground 

Planting of the potato tree

The fan palm gets planted

Kya helping to dig a hole for the flamboyant tree

The innocence and beauty of our god daughter standing where the last of Ella's ashes were scattered, at the base of the flamboyant tree

I see you baby, and on a day like today Kya you make me fly

The flamboyant tree as she stands now, growing strong and proud

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Puffa Off

At 22 weeks and 3 days pregnant I seem to be imploding as well as exploding. I'm full of air and my ankles are swollen like an elephants. 

I actually look like a puffa fish - if you placed a couple of puffy legs on the image below that would be me, absolutely spot on.

A close friend is arriving this morning for the weekend.  I cannot wait and again I look like a puffa fish due to the excitement.  We met in Uganda on Christmas day 8 years ago and it's been a year since I saw her for lunch in London.  She's beautiful, inspirational, gifted and wise - she has a spirit that touches you from within.

She and her husband have been tackling their own mountain of grief these past 5 months and it will be through tears and hope that I hug her so tightly today.  The kettle is on, the sofa is plumped and I'm about to get cakes.  Let the weekend roll.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Great White Explorer

Life is made up of a myriad of ambitions, hopes, dreams and fears.  Some people gamble it all.   Others take the slower, easier route and play it safe. 

I spoke to Chris this morning who rang to tell me that a friend of ours, Hendri Coetzee, had been involved in a kayaking accident in the heart of Central Africa.  Hendri was leading a team of experienced American kayakers who wanted a serious African expedition - he was without question the man for the job.  Disturbingly the news so far is that his kayak was taken out by a crocodile and his body is yet to have been found.

Hendri was everything you would expect in a great white explorer: charming, athletic, handsome.  He was an adrenalin junkie with an open heart.  He was as happy on his own as he was in the company of others drinking tea.  He practised yoga and he meditated.  He was also someone who lived life dangerously on the edge - pushing inaccessible boundaries that would have most people questioning his sanity.  But that is how he lived his life, to the absolute fullest and with very few regrets. 

Hendri is the third young man we know to have died in Africa doing something they loved.  Ben and Grant lost their lives - one in a motorbike accident and the other on the Zambezi river.  Their loss reminds me that life is for living and that we cannot give up on our hopes and dreams just to keep things safely in perspective. 

As Chris so rightly put it, 'Hendri was a man who would always burn brightly.  He was never one just to fade away'.

I'll raise a glass to you tonight my friend, you f*cking legend.

Hendri, second from the right.

Hendri going solo...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fog, planes and names

This evening I crept home from work like a little old lady hunched over the steering wheel. 

The fog was nuts - I couldn't find the fog light switch (not my car, but one I'm fortunate enough to be able to borrow whilst back in the UK) and the radio was loud.  I forgot to dim my headlights, work had annoyed me, my gloves stank of de-icer fluid (which is basically neat horse piss) and I had a million things whirring around my head until baby flicked my tummy.  Instantly I was reminded that there were two of us in the baked bean tin of a vehicle and I immediately slowed to a speed verging on ridiculous.  For the next 25 minutes I forgot to exhale.  It's crazy how we suddenly change our habits once there's a life growing from within -any other time I'd have flung the car into the icy corners and pulled a few handbrake turns ;)

And just now Chris rang from Heathrow's terminal four.  He'll be taking off in 30 minutes and my heart hurts a little at the space he's left behind.  We chatted about the weather, my frustrating day at ruddy work, the last couple of days he's spent in London, his luggage allowance on Kenyan Airways, duty free and the fact that we aren't going to see one another until next year.  Next year.... it sounds so far away, but it's only around the corner.  He's due to fly back into the UK on the 26th January 2011 and by then I shall look like I've eaten a sofa.  I could hear the lady on the annoying tannoy calling passengers into the departure lounge and he had to go, but before signing off I whispered a name for our baby that has played on my mind.....he really likes it and will hold it close, though we both know it could change, just like this crazy weather!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Snug as a bug

The snowy weather continues and I'm now starting to freeze my arse off.  Tropical Africa seems a million miles away.

But I'm snug and warm and at 21 weeks so is my ever expanding tummy :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Embrace the chill

Christmas trees on the front of my parents house.  My mum caved in to family pressure this year (grandchildren) and agreed to have the council sling the trees and lights up.  All at a cost she'd want you to know.  They look magical, even though the photos don't show off the metres of snow that have fallen over the last two days!

Right now the front page of the BBC News website says, 'More Chaos As Big Freeze Goes On - The UK is in the grip of one of the coldest starts to December in more than 20 years with snow and ice causing road, rail and airport chaos.'

Blimey, happy December 1st!  For anyone who happens to be reading this in North America I can see your faces smirking at the thought of us Brits struggling across snowy roads, down snowy lanes and up snowy steps, but take note: in the Highlands tonight it's expected to drop to -25.  That makes my heart shudder.  No question about it, I would absolutely die if I lived that far north.  All across the country we're wrapped in layers of clothing and attempting to stop children from eating yellow snow.  My mother is looking at stocking the kitchen cupboards with a big shop tomorrow in case the big freeze goes on past Friday.  Who'd 'ave thought.

Chris and I made it back to Suffolk yesterday afternoon via a snowy and icy M25 (always prepared we had an apple and a muesli bar) having spent the weekend in London and Brighton.  We caught up with friends in Kingston and had Sunday lunch with most of his family and shook the hands of nephews we hadn't seen in two years - they were boys no more and I felt positively ancient!   We topped it off by spending Monday night in a lovely Brighton hotel, revisiting the old haunts of where we lived eight years ago.  It was terrific - we ate delicious food, wandered the Lanes, shopped for gifts and watched a wintry sun set on the horizon of a slate grey sea as we sat cuddled up on the infamous pebbled beach.

Lying in bed that night we listened to the fierce wind beat against the windows and snuggled down as our baby flicked my stomach and made its presence known.  Chris leaves for Africa next week, but takes with him the gentle hopes and dreams we have as a family in the making.  His work beckons and at some point tomorrow we've got to sit down to finalise the drawings of lodge accommodation, the selling of our overland truck, the lodge budget, staff wages and the chosen colour to paint the store - it all seems so surreal, especially as tonight he's gone to watch a football match, Ipswich V's West Bromwich Albion. 

Bless him and his chilly hands, he's not touching me this evening......!*%#@*!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ella. Her Story

To go back to the beginning, to unravel the knots of the past and to lay them out like a deck of cards brings us gently into the present.  Ella's story will forever be engraved on my being and in my memory.  Her love is held tightly in my heart and it is through her that Chris and I are who we are today. 

I've spent many a moment wondering how to tell Ella's story (and the stories following her journey) in this quiet place, deep within cyberspace.  Where do you start and of course how do you do it justice?  On the evening of the 25th September 2008 I managed to type it out.  I sat with a glass of white wine that tasted like vinegar, played music that eased my hands and unleashed the words that screamed from my skull. 

It's the same story now, just told rather differently.  And it's long, but there's little I can do to change that.  I've realised there is no mother in the world who can ever forget the experience of how she brought her most precious gift into this world, be that naturally or with the passing of gentle hands.  Absolutely every mother's story is exceptional and absolutely every child's story deserves to be told.

Sunday 24th August 2008 - Jinja, Uganda - 24 weeks
Second day of slight stomach cramping.  Ignorance is bliss.  Chris back from an 8 week safari.  We spent the day at the Hairy Lemon Island.  I swam to cushion the pain.  Returned home with the safety belt wrapped around my raised knees.  I remember speaking on the phone to my mum and mentioning that I had waves of cramping, was this something she could recall my younger sister experiencing when she was recently pregnant with Grace?  Chris cooked roast chicken which I ate despite myself.  I read some pages in my maternity book and glanced away from the premature labour paragraph.  Pain progressing through the night.

Monday 25th August 2008 - Jinja, Uganda
Lay in the foetal position on a pink sheepskin rug at the end of our bed.  Text our Australian doctor to make an appointment.  10am.  Sat in her office and she asked how often I was feeling the pain?  I clutched the side of her desk in agony and manged to whisper, 'about every 30 minutes'.  She said the words, 'it seems that you've gone into premature labour' and the barrel of a fearsome but loaded gun was pressed firmly against my head.  She pulled the trigger.  The weapon landed at my feet and my ears were stuffed with cotton wool and nails.  White noise followed.  Frantic phone calls were made to the Surgery in the city.  My English midwife (S) appeared, an internal examination followed.  Threat of infection, mucus plug dislodged, blood.  The pain was comparable to a tractor dragging a plough behind it, but instead of a plough it was a wheeless cannon with a hook attached that was ripping through my stomach and dragging out my baby.  Chris in town on the vespa searching for drugs at the chemists.  Drugs and more drugs.  Chris was the voice of reason and we stayed at home on bed rest to give the drugs a chance to work.

Tuesday 26th August 2008 - Jinja, Uganda
Drugs throughout the night, drugs throughout the day.  Our daughter's heart beat was strong, so was mine.  The pain was lessening.  Midwife S asked if she could pray for me.

Wednesday 27th August 2008 - Jinja, Uganda
Slight wave of cramping.  Sun shone outside.  Took drugs.  Midwife S visited and we spoke of our baby.  She asked if we'd given her a name?  Yes, we'd considered two, Ella or Lola.  I spoke her name aloud, it was Ella.  Chris fed me fairy buns from the deli in town.  Bed rest, hips raised on pillows.  Ella's heartbeat identified as strong.  My blood pressure fine.  Friends visited, both of whom pregnant.  Another slight wave of cramping.

Thursday 28th August 2008 - Jinja, Uganda
Midwife S returning to Kampala.  Left us with baby heart monitor.  Couldn't get it to work.  Watched a movie.  Did some work emails from bed.  Phone call from Midwife S, 'you need to come through to Kampala for a scan tomorrow, Dr B isn't happy that you're still suffering with occasional cramps'.  Vaguely remember her saying I may have to fly home, or was it over to Kenya.  No matter, I'd need a medical person to travel with us.  She put herself forward for the role and we were humbled to our knees.  I called to make a scan appointment for the following morning and was overcome with emotion.  Put the phone down and cried into my hands.  Sheer fear crept through my body.  Hope streamed through my veins.  Ella was kicking.  Ironically we watched the Madness of King George and ate jacket potatoes in bed.

Friday 29th August 2008 - Jinja, Uganda
Slight wetness between my legs.  Climbed into the car, Chris drove, it was 6am.  Received text from friend to say she'd had a cesarean that morning, they had a baby girl.  Happiness coupled with sadness.  The sonographer gave me an internal scan.  We watched the grainy monitor screen and were reminded that our baby was still in the breech position. 
'are you leaking fluid right now as I carry out this procedure'?
'I need to make a phone call'. 
......minutes later....
'Dr B wants you to prepare for leaving the country.  He's making an evacuation plan.  Your waters have broken, you are leaking liquor, you may have your baby shortly.'
YOU MAY HAVE YOUR BABY SHORTLY.  Nothing can prepare you for those words, that sentence, that moment.  We may have died a little that day.  Collected scan printout, headed to car.  We were in shock and ignored the traffic police as Chris drove to the backpackers in town.  Chris had spoken with the managers who are friends and they gave us a room.  Dr B visited shortly after, well suited and well spoken.  He sat at the end of the bed and outlined his reasons for us leaving the country - they didn’t have the facilities in Uganda to care for a premature baby.  Nairobi, in his eyes wasn’t an option – they didn’t have the care either.  South Africa was a possibility, but once on the plane why not go those extra 4hrs and fly to the UK?  Our thoughts exactly, if such a thought was ever possible.  He explained that he couldn’t stitch my cervix as the possibility of aggravating the current situation was too high a risk and at this stage my cervix would be like jelly.  He spoke some more and was a phone call away if we needed him. 

Chris discussed us being medivaced to South Africa and made the necessary call.  We'd need a US$65,000 deposit.  Completely out of the question so we rang a flight agent.  They could get us on a plane first thing Monday morning with British.Airways, the only direct airline.  Three seats were available and they were in business class.  He reserved them regardless of the staggering cost.  Continued loss of fluid.  Before now we hadn't alerted anyone to what was happening, not in Uganda or England - we didn't want anyone to panic.  That evening my parents rang, as did two of my closest girlfriends.  Chris went for a drink with a friend at the bar, I slept with the mosquito net tucked in and my arm cradling Ella. 

Saturday 30th August - Kampala, Uganda
Chris drove blindly to Jinja to pack bags, collect passports and to try and organise the looking after of our house, our business.  Midwife S visited to give me a steroid injection to encourage the baby's lungs to develop.  She spoke about accompanying us on the flight and urged us to look at flying today.  She rang Chris to rearrange it all, but he wouldn't have us flying via Nairobi or Dubai with the prospect of long stop-offs.  If we were to fly on Monday, she wanted God to give her a sign.  I gave her a bloody sign, ' Monday's flight only has 3 seats left on the entire aircraft'.  That was the sign she was looking for.  Chris booked 3 tickets with a combination of US$, GBP£ and credit cards.  Midwife S suggested we take an ambulance to the airport.  I argued my point that if we did that, then not only would we draw attention to our situation, but no commercial airline would take us - I was a potential liability, a walking time bomb.  She finally agreed that we would drive ourselves.  The bed was raised on bricks to elevate my hips and Chris returned with our great friend Nat.  More steroids.  Later we ate pizza and I had a Jim Beam.  Sleep beckoned.

Sunday 31st August 2008 - Kampala, Uganda
Another steroid jab.  We spoke about how I would be able to arrive and check in without anyone suspecting there was a problem.  My pregnancy wasn't obvious at 24 weeks so I suggested wrapping a bandage around my ankle and we'd pretend it was sprained.  In Uganda where customer service is wonderfully polite this would get me wheelchair access.  Agreed.  We watched movies.  Spoke with my mum and they would collect us from the airport.  I asked if she could notify my doctor in the UK and in turn ask him to inform the hospital of our impending arrival.  In the afternoon Chris and Nat shopped for bits and returned with pumpkin for soup and sponges for bathing.  They gave me a bed bath - Nat washed my hair and Chris rubbed me with a rough sponge most likely used for cleaning cars!  Ella kicked.  I felt tired but prepared.  That night I leaked more fluid.

Monday 1st September 2008 - Kampala, Uganda
Woke in darkness.  Chris and Nat prepared the back of the cruiser for me and pushed the seats down and placed a mattress inside.  Bags were stowed and I was lifted in.  Chris smoked a cigarette as we drove through the busy streets of the city towards the airport.  Collected Midwife S but had to challenge her.  She wanted to bring her medical bag, including scissors and needles, onto the aircraft and was truly oblivious that anyone would stop her.  Finally convinced her otherwise and the bag was left with her husband who waved back at us from his car.  Midwife S placed a bandage around my right ankle.  Arrived at the departure hall and Nat collected a wheel chair and we said goodbye.  It felt like the beginning of a film.  Passed seamlessly through check in and immigration.  Drank tea in the lounge.  Taken by Catherine from Soroti in an elevator to the ground floor.  Noticed a man in a wheelchair who was a double amputee.  Felt immense guilt.  Assisted up the steps and I hobbled to my seat.  Chris arrived 10 minutes later.  Flight trouble free and I managed just two toilet stops.  Felt a wave of relief as we were now en-route to England.  Landed at 4pm.  Midwife S held our hands.  She told us that Dr B had said the night before there was a 70% chance of me giving birth on the flight.  Had I ever known those odds I would never have dared board, never.  I was given wheelchair access to the arrival hall and we were met by my parents.  We circled the M25 and arrived at hospital, it was 7:45pm.  They were expecting us and everyone seemed so kind.  Taken to a room, name band placed on my wrist and hospital tights were fitted.  Gave a urine sample and had an internal examination.  Ella still kicking. 

Tuesday 2nd September 2008 - Suffolk, England
'darlin', would you like a cup of tea from the canteen trolly'?  asked the West Indian lady
'yes please.  Could I also trouble you for a glass of orange'? 
What do you think this is, the Ritz'!
Mr L visited my room and I was to fall under his care.  I disliked him immediately and his awful bedside manner.
'It's possible an infection started the premature labour, or it's a weak cervix that gave way to an infection.  We wont know the full extent due to the drugs you've been on for the past week.  Good job you're expecting a girl, her chances of surviving are higher than those of a boy.  I remember telling my ex-wife when she was pregnant with our 1st child that if she were to go into premature labour between 25-30 weeks she'd have to drive herself to hospital as there was very little likelihood of the baby surviving.
'No wonder she's your ex-wife' I directed back furiously. 
I was told I may have to have a cesarean section but there were dangers involved because she was in the breech position.  I'd need a vertical, not a horizontal, cut.  It would be incredibly difficult to remove a baby as tiny as Ella, plus there were potential complications for future pregnancies.  I listened but chose not to identify it as being a possibility - I was safe, I was home, I felt hopeful.  Taken downstairs for a scan.  Chris and Midwife S arrived.  We were told that from my Uganda notes Ella was no longer in a swimming pool of liqua, it had reduced to a paddling pool.  Midwife S who had been a beacon of support was leaving us to visit her sister.  Later I was moved to a ward downstairs.  Chris took me to shower.  The moaning of women in labour passed through the walls into the tiny cubicle.  Back in the ward I chose a bed by the window and pulled the curtain around us.  I ate a sandwich, Chris drove back to my parents.

Wednesday 3rd September - Suffolk, England
Doctors checked on me.  Lovely nurses took bloods and heart beats were monitored.  Pulse and blood pressure ok.  Advised I should be able to go home in next few days, and was reminded that I needed to get to 26 weeks before the hospital was able to take a premature baby.  Hospital policy.  Ella would be 26 weeks on Saturday.  Baby you hang in there tightly, safely.  Chris visited with a dvd player and headphones.  From under the sheets I watched movies. 

Thursday 4th September - Suffolk, England
Visited the toilet twice during the night.  Passed fluid.  Something in my heart told me things weren't right.  Ella and I were monitored, everything was ok.  For lunch Chris came in with sandwiches and newspaper.  I went to the toilet.  Green fluid in my knickers.  I fell forward against a wall.  I told the midwife who was on duty and she asked to see the evidence.  I lurched back to the ward and into bed.  Chris spoke softly.  Midwife appeared, 'your baby is distressed and has opened her bowls.  Please wait for the doctor'.  We were completely still, suspended in time.  My younger sister Abby arrived full of smiles and love and with stories of my niece, Grace, who was 2 months old.  Stomach pain suddenly hit me like a freight train and I curled up into a ball on the bed.  Back ache, like that from a branding iron, burned into my spine.  Labour pain.  I asked for painkillers and was given 2 paracetamol.  The Dr eventually came and I was given an internal.  Words were spoken between medics, 'we must move her to Norwich or Cambridge hospital, find out who has a free bed'.  Moments before I was taken to the lift I was checked internally again, 'she's dilated, she can't be moved, she's going to have to have the baby here.'

I was moved to one room and then on to another, it was around 9pm.  My vitals were checked, Ella's heart was checked.  I clutched my stomach and stared at the ceiling.  Chris held my hand.  Finally I was wheeled through the doors into a delivery room.  From outside the windows dark clouds loomed on the horizon.  I gave up pretending it wasn't happening to me and instead froze with terror.  Staff shift change.  We were told that midwife Ali G was going to be with us for Ella's birth.  Chris and I were gobsmacked, why would be given a woman who sounded as bad as the celebrity television star?!?  Minutes later a small red haired woman burst through the doors wearing a pink shirt and jeans and announced herself as Ali G. She smiled and immediately we felt relieved.  'Your baby is in the breech position and is moving fast so you're going to have a natural delivery rather than a cesarean.  I'm going to use the, 'hands off ' approach.  I wont touch you and I wont touch your baby, but I will be here throughout to support and to help.  What's your daughter's name'?  'Ella'. 

Suddenly the pain was intense.  Ella was wearing spiky stilettos that were scraping down my spine.  Pain relief was given and I sucked on foul tasting gas.  I asked Chris to remove my glasses to stop the razor sharp image of that night being burnt into my line of vision.  I pushed, I screamed, I blacked out suddenly.  Ella was stuck in the birthing canal.  I was frantic, bright lights, muffled voices, Chris brushed my forehead.  I remember a room of people, women holding back my legs and pushing my chin into my chest.  Someone shouted for the paediatrics to be called in and they lined the far wall.  Scissors, needle, Ella's foot, pushing, anesthetic injection, cutting, episotomy, cutting  'She's here, push harder, push's your baby.'  It was 10:45pm when Ella entered our world. 

Ali immediately passed her to the pediatrics.  I was frightened, there was no crying coming from her tiny mouth.  I asked Chris if she looked like a baby?  He said of course she did, just tiny and he passed me my glasses.  Ali said she was a good size.  I breathed slowly and listened for a noise, a sound, a whimper.  The head pediatrician came over to say they couldn't find a heartbeat, but would continue to try.  'Please can you try for at least another 5 minutes.  Please.'  PLEASE.  PLEASE GIVE OUR DAUGHTER HER LIFE.  Time ticked, nothing.  We were told there was still no heart beat and I asked that they stop.  Her body was so tiny, so fragile and so damaged.  She was stillborn.  It was then that I screamed, a keening that roared from my lungs and filled the room.  Chris and I clutched at each other as our baby lay in a small cot on the other side of the room.  Ali wrapped her in a white blanket and brought her to us before leaving the room along with everyone else. 

No one prepares you for holding your dead baby, your dead child.  She was perfect.  Her rosebud mouth slightly opened and her features delicate and true.  Purple bruising was beginning to form around her small skull.  I held her gently and kissed her deeply before handing her to Chris.  His face was filled with love before turning to anguish as he held his daughter closely to his chest.  We said our goodbyes before Ali came and carefully took her from us.

Friday 5th September 2008 - Suffolk, England
That night crashed from one nightmare to the next.  Chris rang my family and Abby was coming in.  Ali asked if she would like to meet Ella, but I didn't know, she'd only just had a baby herself.  Ali gently suggested she would, after all she was Ella's aunt and to this day I'm honoured she did that for us.  Abby arrived to find me sucking on gas, the placenta hadn't detached itself, and I was hooked up to a drip full of steroids which they hoped would get it moving.  Abby stroked my brow, she'd met Ella.  We cried into each others arms.  I felt bereft and exhausted.  Minutes later I was being moved to theatre to have an operation to remove the placenta.  It was well past 2am when the anesthetic was pushed into my spine.  I woke sluggishly to feel a movement within my womb - hands were pulling, my body was dead meat, my placenta was being picked out.  Afterwards I was wheeled into a room where the shadows moved.  A soft light was on.  Chris had returned home to collect some things for Ella, a blanket and a small toy rabbit.  My mum had joined him and Abby and they moved to the bed and embraced me.  We cried and through the tears mum said she'd spent time with Ella, her granddaughter.  And here it was, as stark as the breaking dawn.  I should have been holding my baby, but instead my mum was holding her daughter and from either side I was flanked by my husband and my sister.  Into the abyss of darkness I slid.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A 90% Gamble

My shell broke today.  The veneer split down the middle, splintering like ice across a frozen lake.  We had our 20 week scan at the hospital.  My heart paced, my bladder hurt and my brain was tripping. 

Chris held my arm as we were called in to the ultrasound room.  The sonographer asked me to stand so she could scan my uterus to check that everything was in place post stitch.  My eyes wavered from the monitor screen to the ceiling, moments caught in slow motion.  My uterus was perfectly ok.  I lay down as she squeezed cold jelly onto my raised and hard stomach.  She checked our babies head, limbs, vital organs and spinal cord.  Everything was where it should be and how it should be. 

Background noise, it was Chris asking if it was possible to know the sex of our baby.  My mouth turned into a perfect O and I raised my hand over it.  I was asked to roll onto my side because it was difficult to identify anything between the tiny legs as the magic wand circled over my stomach.  We said it didn't matter, we were just thrilled to hear that everything appeared to be healthy and fine, but she persisted.  After several more minutes we were told that the legs were still tightly closed and the umbilical cord was in the way, but she was 90% certain that we're having a baby boy. 

I shed tears of utter joy and Chris grasped my leg and brushed his hand across his eye.  10 hours later and we're still full of emotion having shared the news with close family and friends.  Happy hearts, happy days - I think Ella would love to know she's having a baby brother and on a day like today that keeps me strong.

Monday, November 22, 2010


And here he is in all his hairy glory.

Yeah, right, you're funny!

As it stands right this MO-ment we're having a lovely hairy-free time, so much so I decided to shave mine off too ;)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Hairy Wonder

In anticipation of Chris's arrival I've been reminding myself of what he looks like by rummaging through old photos - having not seen him for six weeks a pregnant woman can be forgiven for forgetting she's even married. 

I'm due to meet him at the train station tomorrow morning, but I'm having a slight wobble.  He's been growing a moustache in aid of MO-vember (see earlier posting below) and instead of running towards him with open arms, what if I find myself rooted to the spot having clocked a massively hairy rat resting on his top lip??

For old times sake here he is taking in the view of the White Nile (virtually hairless):

Overlooking the Lake District (sporting a shadow of stubble) - I managed to snap this before getting blown off the summit:

This could be what he looks like tomorrow:

Though come to think of it, I hope he recognises me.  Due to my ever expanding girth he may mistake me for someone else entirely......

Must dash, I've got to shave.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Up North

Later this morning I'm hitting the road to spend a lovely long weekend with great friends who I haven't seen in a couple of years.  Nothing quite as fancy as going abroad to Madrid, but still, it's a journey up north to Birmingham and it should take a mean 3 hours by car. 

Sadly the weather is foul, the roads will inevitably be full of spray and the windscreen wipers will be on full charge.  But as bad as it sounds I'm looking forward to driving on good tarmac, following clear road signs and being thankful for people who use their indicators, mirrors and who sometimes go that extra mile and flash their headlights to let you pull  in off the slip road. 

This is a novelty compared to what I'm used to - a stretch of dirt road that's swamped with rain, main roads often badly potholed, the lack of concern for anyone else travelling on the same strip of ragged tarmac, vehicles coming towards you without any lights, mopeds coming towards you, swaying, as they carry their cargo of 5 children or 2 pigs.

By contrast this should be a breeze, but the more I think about it the more I hope Nic and Dave and their little boy Edze are waiting for me with a stiff drink.  I may need it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Protecting, loving, nurturing, dreaming.  Dreaming of the future and never forgetting the past.

I'm holding on to the precious life growing inside of me. 

Our future is there ahead of us, over that crippling moutain pass and across that wide expanse of savanah.  We've struggled before and we've been beaten before, broken to our knees. 

Precious babies, precious life, precious moments. 

What sign do I need that we'll succeed?  None. I don't want one, not this time.  It's fate I fear and I'm trying not to tempt her.

So put down your crystal ball, put down your pack of Tarot cards and put down your all seeing eye.

I know you're right there Chris.  Yours is the hand I hold and pure hope will pull us through.

Just hang on tightly and breathe in the below.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Snapshots caught off the cuff

So I nipped out yesterday afternoon to catch the last of the low lying sunshine, camera in hand.  Passed kids in the skate park pulling all kinds of exotic tricks on boards, bikes and scooters.  I moved quickly to the line of beautiful trees changing colour and shedding their leaves.  Chose the angle, chose the shot.  Shutter didn't click, the battery died and camera switched itself off.  Bugger.  Bugger.  Bugger.

Later this morning I wrapped up as, 'snug as a bug in a rug' and took to the river wall and surrounding paths in an attempt to capture a blustery British Sunday.  Battery well and truly charged and muesli bar stuffed in my pocket I strode out.  I passed kids on swings, a boy kicked a ball that bounced and missed a woman carrying a bright pink bag.  She laughed, he giggled an apology.  A skinny whippet puppy jumped up at my leg.  It was so tiny and as narrow as my finger.  I thought it was a rat!  I bumped into a friend, we hadn't seen one another since a mutual friends wedding over five years ago, but instead it was like yesterday.  We chatted as the clouds darkened and the prospect of rain blew all around us. 

I drew in the cold air as the rain fell and skidded down a muddy path towards a stream full of bulrushes and algae.  I stopped by the river at the place where Ella's ashes were scattered.  I noticed a small white fluffy feather caught in a branch.  A freight train passed close by.  Within the wood the sun broke through the grey sky and lit up the surrounding flora and fauna.  A man drove past, hunched over his steering wheel drinking what I can only guess was a mug of tea.  The house boats shone and the river twinkled.  People were out sailing on the high tide and children stood throwing pieces of old bread at the gathering swans and seagulls.

A woman told her son, as he sat in his buggy kicking off his wellington boots, 'enough!  Just you keep those boots on or else you'll go barefoot!!'  The caravan serving delicious greasy breakfasts was packed with hungry walkers and a dog was tied to a post outside.  A man was painting the hull of his boat navy blue, cigarette hanging from his mouth and a cup of something hot in his other hand.  And lastly as I approached the Tide Mill a woman was resting, stretched along a bench, catching the warmth of the sunshine.  She looked serene and seemed to capture the feeling of the day. 

Happiness - a pocket of sun on a bloody cold day :)