Nightingale is 22 weeks pregnant! We were fortunate to get pregnant again after losing Luna and so far all signs are of a healthy growing baby. Nightingale herself has been having a rough time feeling unwell and there’s a lot of medical appointments and a pretty intense attraction to naps but it’s all in the category of unpleasant and stressful rather than scary and dangerous.
There’s a lot of preparation happening, it’s a big transition for everyone! Poppy is excited and anxious and slightly confused. Every week all her classmates and teachers get dragged over to see Nightingale’s growing belly and told about the baby. She’s also worried that maybe she’s being replaced because she wasn’t cute enough in some way, so there’s lots of conversations about why people have babies, and why she was born and why we want this baby to join our family too. Her name suggestions we are accepting politely, so far they include gems like “flower” and “bus stop”.
I remember back when I was about three months pregnant with Poppy and Star first turned up, she was initially jealous and rejecting of the coming baby. We did a lot of work to hold a space for those feelings and help her find a valued role and relationship towards the baby. Once Poppy arrived she was warm and an incredible support when she had capacity. Poppy is much younger and I’m expecting some regression and anxiety, but hoping that a similar approach and good groundwork will ease the transition.
I am the non-gestational mother this time and I am feeling that deeply. I have so wanted another baby after Poppy, but I find myself disconnected and distanced. Nightingale lives and breathes the experience every moment of the day, while I orbit from a distance, preoccupied with tasks and appointments. I remember back when planning Poppy I was initially going to be the non-gestational parent and I was preparing by reading about other people’s experiences. They spoke about the sense of disconnection and social invalidation. Not seen as the ‘real mother’, not the father, often mistaken for a friend or sister, it’s an odd role. It’s easy to write myself out of the scenario by default, to talk about Nightingale’s baby the way others do, to sideline myself. Then I find myself feeling numb and that triggers shame and therefore secrecy. It’s hard to find words for, or to accept this very different experience. Everything is the same, and everything is different. The bond is there, the sense of responsibility and the fear. But that warmth, the sense of connection and joy is growing more slowly and sporadically. There’s a sense of unreality and a dreamlike quality to all the future hopes. The more afraid I am of things going wrong, the more my heart ices over. I play my role but fear the empty space inside me.
We go away together, just the two of us, to sit by a fire next to the ocean and out come all the unspoken and unspeakable things. It’s painful and tender and we both want to run away, stop listening, turn our faces from each other. We stay, and listen, and talk, and stop talking. The sharp things come out of our mouths without blood, and we don’t wound each other. The clouds pull apart and there are stars after all, bright behind them. Waves ripple down the beach in a slow dull roar that runs from far left of us to the far right, past the hills. We stop for food, for sleep, for medications, for a million bits of work and child arrangements that need attending to with patchy reception and phone batteries dying. Every time we think we’ve found the end of it and hold each other with relief, or make a joke, the next moment opens us up again and it’s a dark river rushing through us, nightmares of a bad future and lost hope. This is not what we planned, and we’re sad and confused. There’s so many ghosts and fears and painful things. The night is crowded.
And then it’s not. The waters finally run clear. The skies are bright. We hold each other and there’s patience and peace. And under my hands, a tiny creature rolls and kicks in the darkness, like a salmon leaping in water. “They wake up and kick when you talk” Nightingale tells me, and in my own darkness my heart leaps in answer. Oh little one. We’re waiting for you. Grow well.