'Would you like some help to wipe that vomit from your top?’ I politely ask my friend as she winds her child non-stop. “Oh, I really shouldn’t worry,’ she says, ‘it’ll probably blend right in with the other patch of baby puke, the dribble, crumbs and gin.’ There are many ‘soon to be’ mothers here, radiant with rotund tums. As well as those who’ve popped sprogs out and are already experienced mums. Together, we are gathered to wish one such expectant friend farewell. She is on the cusp of her first foray into her own exhausting, sleepless hell. Meanwhile, a small squadron of cantankerous two year olds toddle aimlessly around. Our conversations left incomplete as one of them face plants on the ground. Cards and gifts are given generously. Sugary cupcakes and booze-free tipples consumed. A lady with a proud, protruding bump discusses the contents of her womb. Increasingly, it occurs to me how out of place I really am. The air is so thick with oestrogen, it could trigger ovulation in a man! I do attempt to natter with another of my good friends, but her child announces that he’s pooped himself and there our conversation ends. No, this is not the best environment for those in situations such as mine. For goodness sake, why did I neglect to bring some alcoholic wine? Swapping midwife stories, gender guessing, births, big breasts and pregnancy. I remain calmly composed despite my contrasting reality. Like new ships, they’re launched one by one into the next phase of their lives. Whilst I’m left wrestling with my own unexpected, not quite so nice, surprise. It’s not a competition, not a contest, tournament nor race, but next time I’m given ‘exciting’ baby news My smile may not be fixed so quickly into place. I am aware of the positives. Unlike my friends, I’m not covered in sick or poo. My favourite outfit is dribble free, not a hint of snot or baby goo. A stenchous whiff does not pervade the air, wherever I choose to roam. When I’ve had enough of noisy kids, I seek shelter in my tranquil, child-free home. But still this so called bright-side that I can quite clearly see, isn’t quite enough to completely outweigh my growing sad, despondency. Surrounded by these hormones, babies, buggies and bulbous bumps, it's another brutal, cruel and bitter blow that adds to my hidden anguish every month.
Excuse me, can I ask you, how you have your sex? I don't think that we're doing it right and it's making me feel quite vexed. I'd like to conduct a survey to uncover your toppest tips and find out if we're using them right (you know, all our jiggly bits!) I didn't pay much attention to biology back in school which really is quite unfortunate as now I can't have a clue at all. For if I were a genuine 'sexpert', I'm sure it wouldn't be such a struggle to pop another human out without getting in such a muddle. Everyone else seems to manage it. It's not a silly saga for the rest. So, what have we been doing wrong? We've been trying our very best. Maybe it's all about the angles or perhaps the temperature. Should we perform a special ritual before each jiggy-jiggy adventure? We use the correct biological bits. I've double checked, so I am sure and from the umpteen books I've read, we've run out of options to explore! So reader, that's why I need your help, to explain this confounded mystery. Answers on a postcard please. It would mean an awful a lot to me.
'I must use my core muscles. Just two minutes more.' I tell myself repeatedly whilst upside down on our bedroom floor. For stability I've wedged myself between the radiator and the door. It's quite a challenge admittedly and actually quite a bore. The top of my head's now throbbing and my muscles they now ache I try to cycle with more gusto, but my arms begin to shake. You must think, 'What's she up to? What a palaver, for goodness sake!' But I'm desperate and this could really work. There's an awful lot at stake. I visualise the Olympics, the champions whom I've seen who've persevered and mastered the perfect gymnastics routine. Their mental strength is astounding. They forge forward toward their dream. I'm inspired, but tired and starkers. Our 'Olympic games' are a bit obscene! Back to the frantic cycling. I pump my legs whilst still on my head. My husband looks over with pity, tucked up cosily on his side of our bed. All he can see are my legs akimbo, thankfully not my face that's beetroot red. I know he thinks all this is futile, although that's not what he's actually said. So I call out to him whilst puffing "Baby, this time it might really work!" I've always tried to remain positive, but it's humiliating. I feel an utter burk. I wish we could make love more spontaneously, be free to sleep, cuddle or go berserk. But behind the intimacy of our relationship, the pressures of duty and functionality lurk. All too often my fertile, ovulation window dictates our passionate habits. The looming shadow of obligation means we have to get at it like rabbits. Bleary eyed and numb with exhaustion, stressed by work and at the end of our wits, we summon the energy to get our jig on, not to lose faith in these fruity antics. During the first few years, there were candles, a little music and some fairy lights. I used to bother to shave my hairy legs, now they're enough to cause a fright! I used to be the epitome of Aphrodite. A temptress, transforming myself at night. Now I leave my thermal socks on to keep my feet warm and legs out of sight! You would certainly think that I'm crackers if you could see my butt in the air. Each month I'm clutching at fewer straws, seven years and still not getting anywhere. Perhaps it is sadly pointless, this often forced tragicomedy affair. But one day we might hit the jackpot and it'll be gymnastics that do get us there!
A wild crescendo of grief ignites from deep within. Alarmed, I see no obvious shelter from this havoc and chaotic din. No longer the sure footed woman who painstakingly conquered this place, I wobble, panic and then topple over this sudden, unseen precipice. Now mid G force 8 of free fall, parachute unopened in it's pack, I'm hurtling towards the earth. Crikey, I'm going to hit it with a 'SMACK.' I search desperately for escape routes, not easy when panic and grief blur thought. I gasp for air, squeezed from my lungs, perhaps in a huge cargo net I'll be caught! I'm not sure how I came up with that, like a kid's cartoon on TV. Maybe I'll not manage to reach the end, or perhaps there is a way to save me. As I fall the cacophony grows louder, wind whistling in my ears. My shuddering sobs now accompanied by an overflowing river of tears. I feel so utterly despondent. My thoughts are not controlled nor are they straight. Except I know I don't want be pulverised, that would not at all be great! I cannot think my way out of this pickle. I must simply surrender to the test. All I have I give to it and I can only give my best. Now my sobs diminish and remarkably my descent begins to slow. I fumble with my parachute, pulling the release cord to let it go. A jolt and then not quite so much terror above the hazy ground. I open up my swollen eyes to contemplate landing safe and sound. If only crash mats and landing specialists appeared at each attack of personal despair, it wouldn't be so hard to navigate a free fall through the air. This grief that's lodged inside me is the cause of all this anguish and to be quite frank, I'm fed up with it. I'm sick of feeling rubbish. I don't know how to get rid of it, to free myself from pain. It's a bloody noose around my neck, a bloody ball and chain! Sigh! At least I landed with dignity intact. My best roly poly with a flourish in years. And I suppose no real lasting damage done, except mild dehydration due to all those tears.
The woman who lives at house forty three has got six children. (That's six more than me.) How does she cope with her workload? It's a logistical challenge just crossing the road! I think she's had a life that's quite tough. Her eyes are vacant and her voice is quite gruff. She has wiry hair and is as thin as a rake and when she talks her hands tremble and shake. I can hear them coming from some distance away. She shouts and she shrieks at her kids every day. When she walks with the buggy, she strides at a pace. The children behind her jog along in a race. The men who frequent her house look like trouble. She comes to the door still away in her bubble. Her face looks so drawn as she laughs through her daze. The man in the car drives off as she waves. A little while later a toddler escapes. She's forgotten to close one of the gates. He picks at the weeds that grow in the drive dressed only in nappies. A miracle of life. He stumbles bare foot close to the road. Hairs rise on my skin and there's a lump in my throat. In two seconds flat he's held in my arms, this blond headed boy that's now safe from harm. He looks at me startled, but doesn't utter a sound. Grubby faced innocence. His cheeks smooth and round. His body relaxes as I whisper reassurance a smile appears with a shy sideways glance. My thoughts can't be stifled as I think of his mum, I'd like to do her a favour by keeping this one. I'd love him and raise him as if he were mine. I'd nurture and praise him and give him my time. Perhaps she'll not notice if I take him with me to become part of my own longed for family. I'm sure she can make do with one less off-spring. In fact, she may thank me for taking him in. The toddler is holding me tight as I stand in front of his door. (This is not what I'd planned.) His mother appears and he's whisked away to join his siblings and be told 'Shut up and play!' Occasionally I see him or hear him cry the toddler in nappies with piercing blue eyes. I nod at his mother when she passes me, this world-weary woman at house forty three. But several weeks later, we see that they've left. (We'd seen police people in thick stab-proof vests!) I still think of that child and the life that he'll lead. That where ever he is, he will thrive and succeed.
The odd thing about a trauma, I have recently come to learn, is it's strange effects on one's body; palpitations and funny turns. Simple ordinary questions such as troublesome 'How are you?' are hard to honestly answer without sounding like a loon. My default, short, polite response doesn't really cut the mustard. No mention of the sudden shakes that leave me confused and flustered. I never non-nonchalantly describe, whilst I guffaw and crack a joke, how my legs, they feel like jelly and I think my mind's been broke. There's often pounding in my chest and I feel a little queasy. Having a normal, friendly chat is no longer easy-peasy. I spend my relaxation time laying staring at the ceiling, trying desperately to rid myself of this crazy feeling. These horrid, frightening attacks were caused by a tremendous shock. But the pills I have to pop each day do help an awful lot. I'm starting to feel much better as the days and weeks go by. I can even wash the dishes without a pause to have a cry. I can have a conversation that's coherent and makes sense. I no longer stare off into space when I go out with my friends. There are even several positives to being in this state, despite my healthy apetite, I've lost a lot of weight. Clothes that I'd 'grown out of' now re-fit me like glove. My oldest ripped and faded jeans are worn with proud, rekindled love. My feet are most surprising though as my shoes are now like boats. It turns out that my feet have shrunk, my clown-like shoes are jokes! My cheekbones are like razor blades. Paris fashion week best watch out. Ol' skinny feet might turn up next year modelling a perfect pout. Experiencing this major blip has given me brand new skills. Meditation really helps, it's not just those little pills. I know about a lot more things like herbs and nutrients, calming homemade vitamin shakes, fruit smoothies and supplements! In fact, I might retire to Spain to start a health retreat. I'll retrain as a yogi chief with uber skinny feet. I'll put this trauma to good use, my rebirth now awaits. So when someone asks me how I am, I can truly say,'I'm great!'
Dear God, I want to thank you for the woman I’ve become.
Although I’m far from perfect, I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
But I can’t take all the credit, I wasn’t on my own.
I’ve been guided, loved and reassured. I didn’t act alone.
The women I have around me, those I’m blessed to call my friends,
have been there close beside me and I hope, will be ’til the end.
Even at a distance, when not physically by my side,
I’m aware of their loving wisdom that’s my fuel when I am tired.
And boy, have I grown weary of the trials I’ve had to face,
I’ve wanted to admit defeat, give up this stupid race.
But stationed all around me in strategically placed positions
is my peloton of sisterhood, my network of ‘soul’ physicians.
Their strength, their courage, their wisdom is what’s kept me in the saddle.
My resilience I owe to them, especially when my mind’s been addled.
Providing a calm perspective as I’m head down through the mist,
they whisper quietly in my ear, ‘You can do it girl. You got this!’
My friends don’t have it easy. But then who really does?
It doesn’t stop them offering their patient, unyielding love.
They’ve helped me time and time again. Their words refresh my soul
when I’ve needed gentle honesty to inspire, stand tall, be whole.
Such empathy and warmth abounds. Their friendship keeps me going.
A living energy that circulates and through my veins continues flowing.
They listen without judgement and don’t belittle what I say.
Their words cut through my darkest fears and help to light my way.
They help decipher life’s cryptic codes and analyse mysteries.
Together we take ‘rough with the smooth’ and share our varied stories.
Friendship is a powerful tool and like food that nourishes the body,
the confidence gained from my female friends strengthens me on my journey.
Despite the layers and my bravest face, they know me inside out.
I don’t pretend or put on a show. That’s what friendship’s all about.
Often humour and a pinch of grace helps us put the world to rights.
Cynically laughing in the face of pain, we put up a damn good fight!
Comedians, psychologists, doctors and kindred spirits,
each one has helped to set me free when I’ve been pushed to my outer limits.
Yes God, my friends encourage me. We’ve laughed, rejoiced and cried.
Bless them God, as they’ve blessed me. Walk with them by their side.
We all have one pure common aim, to be the best that we can be.
Please God, cherish and protect these women that’ve so lovingly supported me.
Let our conversations regenerate us. Let us be vibrant, wise and kind.
And my friends, please know that when you’re out of sight, you are never out of mind.