Today is scan day. The anomaly scan. 20 weeks. It’s been eight weeks since I was last “sure” and feels like eight weeks of a held breath.
My fears have varied. Superstition has crept in. I can’t even allow myself for a minute to commit words to a page about the experience, lest loss take our babies.
I had hoped to share the joys, the vomity thrills and spills, the ups and downs of carrying these two wishes within, but the terror even of writing a few lines to express the relief which comes with each sensation of movement, in case it might be jinxed and all will come tumbling down, is simply too big.
I speak of my fears but far, far less of my hopes. I look for portents everywhere. I wait.
Today is scan day. The anomaly scan. 20 weeks. It’s been eight weeks since I was last “sure” and feels like eight weeks of a held breath.
Her room is different from any room in the house, she chose it for that very reason aged six. The window into the loft faces to the east. It is the only window in the house that catches every sunrise, letting the early morning light flood in each day. It would always awake her and bring a clean new day. A new start in which she would see, in her sunny constancy, opportunity, hope and industry. She would arise with purpose and energy. The energy was now but a whispered memory. Now we know each evening that room fills with gloom, something which never mattered when it was not her sanctuary, her retreat. The gloom seems to soothe her day time sleep, compensating for the fitful nights punctuated by painful coughs.
Today, she slept through most of the morning. Ignoring the brightness of the day. Before noon, I hear the strains of Puccini’s Humming Chorus shimmering through the air from her room. It is a blue day and there is no intervention which can salve the dull pain that accompanies it. I decide to enact the kindness of a breakfast tray knowing, even as I carefully assemble it, it will go ignored. But there is so little time, so little opportunity to show even the smallest acts of love.
I know she walks down a path from which there is no return and I fear it with every fibre of my being. My beautiful child, vacated from life and waiting.
I set the tray down on her bedside table and she almost raises a smile as I sit next to her, pressing my weight onto the mattress and causing the tiniest of movement in her still frame. Her golden hair is matted to her skin by sweat as I push it back from her cheek, but her alabaster skin shines with an ethereal radiance as if all she has left is the luminescence of angels. She reaches her slight hand to mine and interweaves her index finger with mine and squeezes almost imperceptibly.
“Thank you mummy.”
I almost choke at the sound of her raspy and ravaged voice. It’s the first time she has been able to speak in days. My heart is broken at my baby’s change from vibrant 22 year old to crumbling, fragile patient.
The following morning I look out of the windows, see the brightness of the sunrise picking out the greens and blues of the summers day. The yellows, whites and violets of the spring flowers cheerfully nod in the gentle breeze and a murmuration of starlings undulates in the sky above the kitchen window as I stand by the sink. I go to her room with a jug of water and, on entering the light filled room I set it on the side without looking to the bed. But as I straighten back up I see the utter stillness of the bed. It is occupied, but empty.
My lungs evaporate.
When you think “beauty queen” a stereotype springs to mind – its generally of perfectly preened women with no greater goal than seizing a winner’s tiara.
Harleen Sidhu’s resume looks more like that of a woman who will go on to change the world – she holds two degrees, writes poetry in Punjabi and English, teaches English at a secondary school and comes from a background of voluntary work. She is not your all-garden pageant princess. She has fought to overcome anxiety and her mantra “‘get up, dress up, show up and never give up’ has been key to putting herself forward to be crowned Miss Birmingham 2017.
But Harleen’s prize will not be the crown, rather this feminist hopes that she can seize the opportunity the competition represents to help others and to inspire.
“Having led a life where I have witnessed the pressures and turmoil women have to face, particularly within my own South Asian community,” she says. “I feel that I can relate and understand the sheer fear of women unable to pursue their own dreams or express their opinion in society.
“I am hoping that my journey as a Miss Birmingham Finalist and my work for the charity “Beauty with a Purpose” inspires other young girls and women that they should not feel chained or pressured into doing something they don’t wish to do, but in fact doing something they think they couldn’t do by pushing themselves and taking that one step. Women are incredible and history has shown us this time and time again.”
This is something ingrained in Harleen by her own inspiration – her Mum.
She adds: “Seeing her struggles and working with her to move forward in our lives has been the driving force for where I stand today.”
Harleen hopes that the Miss Birmingham competition will mean the beginning of much more, with an eye to the future of bringing together her passions of community service and lifelong learning through plans for her own organisation to support adult learners.
She adds: “I aspire to inspire. Making a difference to someone’s life through gaining a new set of skills or confidence to put their opinion across is not something we can put a price on. These skills that we cannot see seem unrealistic or even impossible to some who have no confidence left, or have been through a negative experience that has taken ‘the right to learn new things’ away from them.”
* The Miss Birmingham 2017 finals take place at the Burlington Hotel in Birmingham on Sunday, May 21 2017. To vote for Harleen text MISSBIRMINGHAM11 to 63333. Texts cost 50p plus the standard network rate and proceeds go tot he charity Beauty With A Purpose.
Imagine walking a half marathon every day, just to have the water to drink…
So in my last Bringing change post – New Growth – I’d identified that I wanted to turn the promise of Hope into change and to make my loss to be a trigger for bringing good into the world.
The problem with me is that I never like to do things by halves, so I’ve already thrown myself into fundraising for various charities. One of these is so closely tied to my work that I cannot speak about it here. The other is a fabulous cause which I have supported in the past and that my readers have kindly kicked in donations to back up my fundraising zeal.
CARE International UK’s Walk In Her Shoes captured my imagination last year because of its energy in bringing water sources closer to communities in poverty stricken areas – specifically aiming to take the distances out of the water supply so women and girls spend less time walking to fetch water and could spend more time in school to advance themselves and their communities.
Each morning in south Ethiopia, 14-year-old Ayanna rises before dawn to walk 11 kilometres to fetch water for her family. She walks with others to the well because of the threat of hyenas and foxes, who have attacked children from her kabele (village) before. Water is vital to support the family and their livestock, so the walk must be done. Once there the women and children work together to fill their 20 litre jerry cans, before bringing the heavy load back home, a three-hour-effort, to filter it through scarves. The water is not clean and can often contain leeches.
She dreams of becoming a teacher, but she has little time for school and her journey ‘makes me tired’ she says.
She repeats her journey in the afternoon and only when Ayanna arrives home at 4pm, having walked more than half a marathon, can she have her second and final meal of the day, anshirro, a milky maize mix, 11 hours since she breakfasted on the same thing. She has been awake for approximately 17 hours and is exhausted. “I would like time to play,” she says, but even if there was time, she’d be too tired. “There is always a feeling of pain,” she states simply. Fatigue and pain have become her closest companions.
The idea behind “Walk In Her Shoes” is to take the load off of children like Ayanna – by walking 10,000 steps a day to raise money to pay for clean and safe water closer to the communities who need it most. CARE International also work to provide separate latrine facilities in schools for boys and girls so that another obstacle to girl’s education can be swept away.
Last year I raised £190 for the charity by completing a total of 75,044 – I hope to smash both these totals this year (whilst running two miles a day for another matter). I hope you can get behind my efforts to support this cause via my JustGiving site.
It has been a big year – not just because of the extra leap year day!
Since I started my quest to clean up my clothing act in February 2016, life has brought me a whole basket of goodies – dealing with loss, love and the world has proven to be more time consuming than the time I had to give. Writing was one of the things that had to fall by the wayside, but my drive to improve the ethics of my shopping did not.
In exploring the world of clothes manufacture and the murky and complex supply chain of many mass produced fabrics, I came to see that almost all brands struggle to be able to even definitively state that new clothes had not been made in a way that was harmful to the environment or made with child or slave labour. It was obvious to me that, with the new knowledge I had gained, fast fashion would no longer work for me and I needed to be more conscientious in my fashion choices.
Sticking to my budget of £26 each month, in line with the national average spend on clothing, I’ve found charity shops to be the best way of keeping in style within a budget. Charity shops have proven an absolute cornucopia of goodies to support a better way of dealing with fashion on my own terms – re-using fast fashion and giving something back to the world.
I’ve found that less money and more conscious shopping can mean better quality, greater consideration of wardrobe and braver attitudes to a “dry clean only label”. If you go to most charity shops you’ll find a lot of label items, usually having landed there because their owners don’t want to face taking the item to a dry-cleaners but cannot bear to bin it. This has been to my benefit and I’ve found Ralph Lauren, DKNYC and L.K. Bennett and many other brands I’d never be able to afford new and in a variety of luxurious fabrics. A word to the wise – wool must be treated with respect – silk and other fabrics you can be a bit cavalier with but not wool!
I’ve learned that you should think carefully in buying any piece as to what you will use it for and whether or not certain low quality fabrics are worth it even when your outlay is just a few pounds – note to the discerning shopper – if it is made of silky polyester it is probably not going to make it through more than a handful of day-to-day wears without a tear or two.
Even though the year of the Ethical 366 is over I have no plans to abandon a more considered and ethical approach to shopping. I’m not sure for a start I could return to the overwhelming High Street, with its lack of diversity and overwhelming ranges of clothes of questionable provenance (at best). The whole project has left me with a need to make more change in my own and my family’s life and to seek out a way that limits the impact on others and the world around me.
So, with that in mind, I’ll still be writing about my charity shop and ethical clothing goodies, and will also explore ethical cosmetics, cleaning products, ways of working, community projects and, frankly, any fantastic things which help me to embrace my approach to living a more sustainable and conscientious life – look out for the upcoming Life, With Intent series starting soon!
• Have you followed the progress of the #Ethical366 project? Has it inspired you to change in any way? Would you change the way you shop? Please let me know….
here…This was a piece of poetry submitted an published for issue 2 of Audacity – the full publication can be found
I held you
So small and of the other side
I fought the urge to swallow you whole
To become serpent devouring serpent
To reabsorb you so together we became, as one,
Instead I let you go
Shattered, I howled and flushed
“When people ask I say ‘I just wrote a book about spaceships…”
Thomas Heasman-Hunt might well minimise the achievement of his debut novel “Legacy”. A mere fraction of the 50,000 words he wrote each month over a prolifictwo years, working by the mantra: “I just put one word in front of the other and see what happens”, Legacy is just a fragment in a universe of imagination
Cutting his teeth online, first in the gaming community before establishing his own original writing and developing a blog to showcase short stories, the novel has been a natural progression for Thomas’s work. But the author isn’t blasé about his “book about spaceships” out of arrogance, rather out of the world in which he moves.
“A lot of people are writing books,” he adds. “But also there’s a lot of people who aren’t. Because everyone seems to have a novel out it seems like it’s not a remarkable thing to do – but it is still a notable thing to do. My family and friends have been impressed – it will be interesting to see what they make of it.”
Despite his drive to create a huge body of work, which he plans to mine and massage into further books, Thomas does not create prose simply for the sake of it. Each and every word has to work for its place in his stories and his novel.
“You have got to do right by your characters and have to have them be familiar in their own worlds,” he elaborates. “But you have to pick and choose what you share in the story. There has to be a conservation of detail – if it isn’t important to the narrative then I don’t go into it.”
Born out of a need for an exclusive fresh tale for a self-published collection of short stories from his blog, Legacy ultimately took on a life of its own. It sprung from a Twitter discussion with Emily Benet, starting life as a short story with the heroine of Legacy, Emily Ajax, named for her.
Thomas, 32, describes Legacy as “a fun to read swashbuckling adventure” but the work offers so much more – a heady mixture of strong female leads, with explosive action and human drama in a plausible backdrop of deep space.
“I write in a very visual way,” he explains. “I have a very clear idea of the scene as it sits but I have no idea of what the characters are going to say in the situation until they say it. It is like I have them in front of a camera and I ask them to do that part of the story. It means there is a natural progression through the scene rather than a pre-meditated decision as to how it will unfold. I don’t do any writing until I come to do the writing – if I plan and write backs stories I will just kill it.”
The technology and science woven into the story carries a heavy sense of plausibility and insight into the physics at work. Thomas attributes this to his year-and-a-half of Physics study completed at Aberystwyth, before he switched his degree to English, as well as drawing on inspiration from “hard” science fiction writers including Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke.
Thomas says: “A lot is made of in Legacy about how counter intuitive space is,” Thomas adds. “Although these are people whose civilisation revolves around space travel there is still some sort of primal part of them who can’t get their head around the realities of space – they are still human no matter however long they have been in space. When they are not jetting between stars they are still beholden to physical realities of the universe.”
Legacy has a cast of heavyweight female characters – from Captain Emily Ajax to the earnest Jilly to the darker Reeve. Thomas found these women, not by a conscious decision to emphasise on female empowerment, rather through the narrative possibilities presented by avoiding clichéd male-centred storylines.
Thomas explains: “The Father-Son trope has been resolved in story telling and to me the idea of a woman inheriting the legacy of her father was much more interesting.”
He adds: “The characters are not drawn from anywhere or from anyone. They very much exist on their own terms. Writing is to a certain extent putting yourself on a page, but these characters are very much who they are.”
The Legacy universe isn’t just bound by a single book and the fierce characters and stunning worlds are already lined up for future novels – the sequel is already finished and ready for publication.
Thomas is tight-lipped about where the story goes from Legacy but lets slip with a smile: “There’s more about politics and more strangeness. Things get much more serious and the stakes get ratcheted up a notch.”
Five per cent of all profits from the sale of “LEGACY” will be donated to Cambridge Women’s Aid, which supports women and children affected by Domestic Abuse and offers refuge places to women and children fleeing domestic violence.
Last month was welcome in sweeping away and closing doors behind it. Taking with it the immediate instant sting of grief, of loss.
It had started with a tiny heartbeat. For us this was Hope, a miracle after an earlier loss. We saw Hope on a screen, wept and held hopeful hands togerther, marvelling at that tiny heart beating in less than a centimetre of potential.
Just three weeks later as my slightly rounded belly was pressed down, we saw Hope again, not much bigger but with that strong, minute pulsing absent. Hope was gone, lost. All there was now was grief and medical options to physically let her go.
That heartbeat had drummed out a promise of a future world, a world that we now know will not become. Thoughts had been turned to preparations. Preparations which are no longer needed. The loss of that tiny heartbeat had been incorporated into our own heartbeats, only to be a soft echo and nothing more.
Two weeks after that, well, what we are left with is the wondering – what is Hope?
What is hope? Defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “desire accompanied by expectation or belief in fulfillment”. The dictionary definition, as with so many words, falls far short of the lived experience of hope.
Hope is, in the absence of concrete guarantees, the need to get back up. Hope is not a wish, not a vision of what is better, it is the part that screams “DO NOT GIVE IN”. It is not a petalline and blush concept – it is found in the viscera, perhaps even is of the blood rather than the heart. It is the part of all of us that – in the face of abject mortality, in the line of failure after failure, after losses so great we fear we might never breathe again – tears apart at fear, at defeat, at fatigue. It understands that there can be better than this and shrieks “GET BACK UP.”
Hope is in every act of carrying on, every moment of continuing with each other, with our children who have made it into the world. Hope bursts through, blistering and ripping through grief, into love. It does it again and again and will not stop. Hope is the thing that unifies us all. It inspires courage and lets us start over again and again, and again.
Hope is not lost. Hope lives on always, in all of us.
* If you have been or are being affected by pregnancy loss please make sure you are supported. If you are struggling there are a great many organisations offering help and support. The Miscarriage Association and babyloss are good places to start. And, for all it’s worth, our hearts are with you too.
My partner James has also written about this experience- unusually from the perspective of the dad. I warn you, it is heartbreaking but worth reading here.
There will be no public declarations of true love, for that special Valentine’s Day treat, that one day of the year when you make ritual overtures to a special someone. For romance is largely dead.
There will be no dressing up, no going out and no special effort, not today, not ever. For romance is largely dead.
There is nothing special today, nothing heart shaped or lace trimmed. For romance is largely dead.
So what to choose? I choose you. I choose love.
Love isn’t romance. It’s not hiding behind pretense and custom. It’s not a card and flowers, panic bought out of duty during a lunch break from work. Love isn’t papering over the cracks for one day a year to demonstrate, as an exception, appreciation.
Love sees when the other is a seething, spitting mess and will not turning away. Love makes every act of kindness, each moment of patience without judgment, each and every time we set aside annoyance. Love sees exactly who is there in front of us, just as they are. Love sees history for what it is, embracing the baggage and unpacking it together.
Love tears at your soul, if you’re lucky, in ways that mean growth. Love brings down walls of its own accord, not seeking to change but to understand completely. Love it is a novaturient process, a renewal, a fresh blossoming of hope in life. Love sees every imperfection in detail and pulls it closer, treasuring every flaw. Love looks into the eyes and beyond their beauty, reaches within to the depths of fear and self hate and holds them close in the dark.
Love is two hands held together, as they ought to have been always.
I choose you, I choose love.