Monday, 2 January 2012

Linen Ladies

I remember lying on the bed, quiet, staring at the ceiling, my eyes blurred and burning- too many tears.  In the background the baby cried and in the foreground, I whimpered. You would never know that I was thirty-five, a hormonal thirty-five.  I just had made my first baby and was about to take my first trip to the health clinic, four and half stones heavier than nine months ago, three hours of sleep and a newborn still in an ASDA sleep suite. 

I walked into the small, hot room, dressed in overstretched maternity sweats. Flaps of deflated excess skin lapsing over the elastic waistband, surrounded by mothers and their babies, who were crying, laughing, playing and being weighed, babies, babies, babies, a menagerie of noise.  And there I was, in this surrealistic moment.  It was a wake up call to remind me that the rest of the world still existed and that rest of the world was doing far better than I. I wasn’t the only one who had taken ten pregnancy tests, wondered when the first heartbeat began, questioned if the butterflies in my stomach were the first signs of movement, become obsessed with my Mummy’s Pregnancy book, made the midwife cry with laughter asking how will I know when I am in labour and charted every early contraction until I could no longer hold a pencil. Had a warm tiny body placed on my bare chest and cried and cried and shook and cried and looked up at my husband who cried and then we both looked at the new life that we weren’t worthy of and she cried. It was still a miracle but a frequently experienced miracle.

So there I stood, not knowing what to do. I didn’t know where to go but everyone else did. I went to a free scale and started to take off my child’s clothes, stumbling about unsnapping a suite that was far too big, I heard from behind me, “Excuse me.” I turned, did I know her? She looked familiar. I smiled back , cradling a half naked baby in my arms. “Yes” I said.  “There IS a line,” the tone was patronisingly sweet. Worse, she was not the lovely quiet woman I had walked in front of; she was the one behind. How could I not have seen the line? She continued “We hand our books to the health visitor, undress our babies at that table and then go to an open scale. “Right” I said. “I didn’t know” I picked up my baby’s suite and started to scurry off. “Excuse me.” I turned, “Yes.”  “Her vest.” “Thank you,” and I went off to search for a health visitor, but they were all weighing babies.  Finally, I just stood there, waiting, feeling like a large cardboard box to be tripped over. Someone did move me. My book was taken, put into a box and I was moved to the changing table to leave my child's clothes then ushered to the back of the line.

Little one's weight was recorded in The Book, I was given a coffee, my screaming child was given a smile and then I was told to find a seat; but the seats were in a circle and I didn’t have a free hand. I couldn’t gain entrance into the circle.  “Is this seat taken?” I asked sheepishly. A little shake of a head told me no as she turned back to her conversation with the woman across the way. I shifted left, then right, moving the seat with my foot and there went the coffee over her lovely linen pants. Lovely linen pants that she had taken the time to perfectly iron. She stopped talking and so did the other woman, and this little part of the world was quiet and I was frozen. I was stuck, half in and half out of the circle, with coffee burning my hand. “Oh, I am so sorry.” “Its fine she said with a lovely smile, pulling the chair out for me. I sat down. “Are you all right?” she asked. “Yes, thank you” I replied. She smiled, pulled a stain remover clothe out of her nappy bag, removed the stain, smiled at me and then turned back to her friend to finish the conversation, as her baby napped peacefully. Fuck you, I thought.  Fuck you and your perfect linen paints.

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