Friday, April 20, 2007

Four Years Ago: Before Frederique

This time 4 years ago I was walking around Fitzroy Gardens and East Melbourne. My waters had broken but my contractions hadn't started, not properly and I was trying to get things started. I reckon I walked about twenty kilometres that day. We were at the old Mercy Hospital which was a bit shabby and worn, the birth centre's wing was like a daggy but clean and comfortable country motel. In the end my contractions wouldn't start and I would have to be transferred to the labour ward the next morning to be induced. A mere snifter of syntocin would things started and Frederique would be born easily and relatively quickly, under 5 hours of labour, at the civilised time of ten to one in the early afternoon on the 21st April, Easter Monday - Monday of the Angel. But none of that had happened yet, four years ago.

I was excited, I don't remember being scared of giving birth - bring it on. But I was reluctant for other reasons. I believed (I still partly believe) that labour wasn't progressing because I wasn't ready to let her go. I loved having her inside me, like a secret, keeping her close and protected. Having her out, in my arms, in the world - having her belong more to the world than to me - was a daunting prospect. How would I keep her safe, the way I could when she sheltered inside my skin? How would I manage the complexities of breastfeeding, love, sleeplessness, separation, mothering? How would I learn to share her when she was my Best Thing?

We walked and walked around the gardens, in the golden light, under the deciduous trees, the sharp smell of Autumn in the air. What did we talk about? I don't remember because I was carrying on an internal conversation too, not so much in words but in the language we spoke then, a dream language, internal and fluid. We went back to the birth centre for regular checks, the midwife listening to the baby's heartbeat with the doppler. She wasn't Frederique yet, we called her Squeaky Delicious. We had chosen her name, but we hadn't told anyone. We were waiting to give it to her when she was born. But perhaps it was another way of keeping her close, keeping her private, belonging more to us than to the world.

Four years is a long time. It is four years between Olympic Games. It takes four years to get a degree with honours, or a Bachelor of Education. (Martin has two and a half years to go.) Four years is how long I was at Taroona High School. The official dates of World War One spans roughly four years. It's also how long the war of 'shock and awe' has been going in Iraq. For Frederique, four years is a lifetime.

Up until now, Fred's birthdays have seemed to creep up on me. I'd have thought it was just yesterday that we brought this tiny baby home from the hospital, that we sat up through the sleepless night with her, unable to settle her, until we rang the birth centre and they asked us if we had changed her nappy. We hadn't. It seems unbelievable now that this would be something we'd forget. But now four years seems right, there's a distance between me and that tiny baby that is insurmountable. It seems almost unfair that I can't return to that time, that I can't visit. So four years is a good way to describe the time I have spent with Frederique, though in other ways time is meaningless. Was there a time before Frederique? It seems hard to imagine. My memory writes her in, or amends things. For example, Martin and I were married in Greece in 2002, two months later we conceived Fred - now it seems that in essence at least the beginning of her was already there, that she glimmers between us somewhere in the wedding photos, like a background guest. In some ways mmore real than the village children and British and German backpackers who actually witnessed our wedding.

Four is a great age. Four year olds are fun, confident, they dig themselves. Fred is fueled by energy matched only by her boundless imagination. Her language is complex and intelligent, she is beginning to enter the wider world, she has a life beyond me, far far beyond the enclosure of my skin or even the enclosure of the family. She has secrets I don't know. She belongs to the world now but even more, the world belongs to her. She wants to know every part of it. I want to show her, but that's not my role anymore. No matter what, she will discover it herself, she will stubbornly see what she wants to see. We can point things out to her (and we do, often, we can't wait for her to see everything), but what we show her and what she sees is often a disparity as wide apart as the baby she was four years ago and the girl she is now. Same same but different.


  1. Happy birthday to Fred. How lucky you were to walk around the gardens, Penny, they are beautiful - twenty years ago I did the same thing at the Mercy, but was reduced to walking around the ground floor (once through the special nurseries was quite enough, thanks.)
    It makes me a bit sad to see the Mercy sitting there now awaiting its 'new clothes' as an apartment block, but at least the gardens aren't going anywhere.

  2. Hi Penni

    found your blog, gosh, somewhere, and thought I'd say hello.

    With my first pregnancy I don't remember feeling reluctant to let my son go - I was SO impatient to meet him - but I do remember thinking once he was out that it would be nice to put him back in. He was safe in there, and he seemed so little and vulnerable out in the big harsh world.

  3. Happy Birthday Fred!
    I remember coming in to visit when she was a day or so old... she was tiny! You and Mart both seemed dazed and bewildered, in a happy, fuzzy, glowing kinda way!
    Where do the years go?!

  4. Happy Birthday Fred!!!! Much love to you. Molly wishes her birthday sister love and fun filled wishes too. Molly has chosen Mexican for her birthday feast tonight and got a pair of Converse runners and skinny leg jeans!!!

    You know Molly was also born at the old Mercy? I like the way you called it a comfortable old motel. Very true.

    We look at our wedding photos with Tara sometimes and the first time she said where I am I? And Tyrone said "see there you're a twinkle in daddy's eye." So now if anyone is looking at a wedding pic she happily tells them she is there too in the photo as a twinkle in her daddy's eye. It's very cute :)

  5. Happy Birthday Fred!!

    Doesn't it suddenly make you seem old? ::grin::

    At 4 they still want your imput, at 6½ they are telling you that your totally wrong and get with the program. ::sigh::
    Jacen is now 2/3 my height (5'3") and not slowing down.
    Take all the cuddles and snuggles you can, we're getting to the point where only goodnight time is for cuddles and kisses. Luckily we have another now who is very demanding on kisses! Tho crawling for Daylin is not far away.
    Why can't we bonsai them?

  6. Happy Birthday to Fred! Gosh, four years seems like such a long time but maybe it also isn't. I would love to go back and visit the baby days, to hold on to them but at the same time being there as they growing and into the world is really exciting and good too.

    And happy "mother of the child" day to you too. I love reading birth stories and this was beautiful and somehow full of light.