I peered over at the pregnancy test, face screwed up, one eye gripped shut, trying to cushion myself from a “negative” blow. As the five-minute countdown tick, tick, ticked, my German doctor’s words swam through my ears: “One year is a perfectly normal amount of time for a healthy couple to be trying for a baby.” Clearly, she’d never had to endure a marathon of “romantic” mid-month liaisons, sore boobs and negative test results, I thought. As the monitor flashed an unequivocal PREGNANT, my tummy somersaulted. And then, quite unexpectedly, a box of neatly packed emotions marked “to deal with later” burst open, spreading awkwardly around me.
My mum and I, like most teenage daughters, had a turbulent relationship. Of my thirtysomething girl friends, most can now manage their mother/daughter relationships, or at least save up any drama for the big Christmas visit. My relationship with my mum hovers in limbo. I was 18 when she died. It was sudden and unexpected – a thousand rugs pulled out from under me. She went dramatically, in a fatal car accident, after a particularly heady family row. She left behind three children, one husband and a dog; confused, bewildered and lost, we lumbered on, trying to reconcile a fuggy mess of anger, heartbreak and guilt.
Ill-equipped to deal with a world without Mum, we scrambled to reshape life. For me, that meant teaching dad to cook, selling the house, returning to university and folding mum-sized nighties into boxes for storing in the attic, like emotions, until a later date. And that’s really all I could muster. And so grief lay, like an unpredictable rescue dog, snoring in another room, barely bothering me until that day in the bathroom, when the little bugger bounded in, bit me on the arse and wouldn’t let go.
As the test kit flashed PREGNANT, my mind spun – after my husband, who to call? Mum and I didn’t have the sort of relationship where she would have been the first person on an OH MY GOD WE’RE HAVING A BABY telegram list. But, I wondered, what must it be like to have a mum you can call? Would she shriek with excitement? Pepper me with calls about knitting? Pester me to continue family tradition and pick Seymour for a middle name?
Mum and I left each other at the teenage gates, missing the opportunity to slowly sew our relationship back together again stitch by stitch. As my tummy thickens, I wonder if she put on weight when she had me. Did she suffer morning sickness. Did she too crave grapes, grapes and even more grapes. How long was her labour. Was she marked high-risk for pre-eclampsia, too. Were there complications. If I get scared, will she hold my hand. Questions without questions marks; thoughts that echo, eternally unanswerable.
I plan to keep the best of my mum alive: we’ll serve her cauliflower soup with kisses when the little one gets ill, and dot Smarties into three-tiered chocolate cakes, like she did religiously each birthday
I am assured via friends that “lots of people don’t get advice or help from their own mum”. And this may be true, but no matter how geographically absent or incompetent some mums may be, I’m jealous that most are contactable, should they need to be.
With hiking childcare costs creating pressure to return to work, I see, via friends, grandparents playing an increasing role in family life. That’s a practical hurdle we’ll need to navigate alone. And, when it comes to much-needed mother/daughter pregnancy advice, I’ve had to rely on Google. More pertinently, my baby won’t know its grandma and vice versa. I hope to make her part of our daily conversation – I’d like for her to play a role in our lives, no matter how invisible. But how, I wonder, how to paint a picture of a woman I myself am still trying to figure out? Her life, our relationship, was a sentence half-finished – I don’t mourn the mum I lost, but my bottom lip wobbles for the woman I think she could have become.
I plan to keep the best of my mum alive as best I can: we’ll serve her cauliflower soup with kisses when the little one gets ill, bake apple cake for after school and dot Smarties into three-tiered chocolate cakes, like she did religiously each birthday.
At 18, I hurriedly stuffed confusion, upset and rage into a top-shelf box and raced back to university, leaving the sleeping dog of grief to snuffle on its watch. Now, with a tiny urchin growing in my belly, I’ve a duty to confront, tidy up and re-file. So, that old dog, grief, and me aren’t leaving things to chance these days; instead, we go on walks together, we talk, we ponder and we cry. At times, he’s a terrible grouch, and we struggle to get out the door, but I’ve learnt that if I pet him nicely and invite him to sit calmly by my side, we’re a powerful team, old grief and me.