... and a heart full of love

Thursday, 14 January 2010

My little sister, the Pretty One, was born to be a mother. All our lives, she has exuded the caring, thoughtful, homemaking gene to which my own DNA is a complete stranger. At ten, she was baking chocolate cakes for the prefects at the boys' boarding school we lived at. When I got my first flat in London, my little sister knocked on the door with a still-warm banana bread she'd baked. All my male friends wanted to marry her. Many of them still do.

She's also a genius house-mender; her renovations have been featured all over the shop, but the pictures can never capture the lovely warmth, worn-sofas-football-boots-in-the-hall-barking-dog welcome she'd give you. Oh, and a bit of cake too.

Thirteen years ago, she was pregnant, belting about being important-in-publishing and I was languishing after having something dull and harmless removed, but bearing a considerable patchwork of stitches. She rang me from work: 'I think I'm having a baby.'

'Of course you bloody are, you're hugely pregnant.' 'No, I mean now.' 'WHAT? You've got eight weeks to go. Where the hell is the Professor?' The sodding husband had gone on a work trip to Hong Kong. They thought it might be a false alarm, so I agreed to leave my convalesence and spend the night with her on condition she made me a cake and talked about how brave I was.

Around midnight, the Pretty One woke me up. 'I'm so sorry, but I really AM having a baby.' We got a taxi to hospital and they confirmed she actually was. Fuck. They put us in a room and took my details as birthing partner. We both sputtered: 'This is nothing to do with ME.' 'She hasn't even read the BOOK.' 'Noooo, please.' They shut the door on us.

I speed-read Having a Baby while the Pretty One stood with her head on the bathroom wall tiles trying to cool down. She asked me to open a window. They were sealed shut, and anyway, it was November. She got scratchy and snapped at me. 'Open it.' I snapped back 'My bloody stitches will burst and it's NAILED SHUT.' A nurse came in and told us to stop squabbling and keep the noise down. The Pretty One asked in a hiss for pain relief. I showed my stiches and hissed for some too. The nurse asked who'd left a bag and coat on the floor. The Pretty One told her I never picked my stuff up. I threatened to leave. The Pretty One had a huge contraction and the nurse ran off to get a midwife. I did a rugby bind-on to her legs to stop them shaking and she leaned her face against the cool tiles trying to breathe the way it said in the book.  From my crouch on the bathroom floor, I read aloud to her all the way through The Delivery chapter. The complete, shit-scary, terrifying enormity of it all hit us both like a train. When the midwife arrived, The Pretty One was doing the breathing and I was making the bed and tidying up like a demon.

They took us downstairs, her on a trolley, me holding her hand reminding her to breathe between frightened giggles. The birth, as they all are, was a miracle I cannot describe. My nephew arrived eight weeks early and was the most beautiful, precious thing we had ever ever seen. As he was born, the sun came up and I found a window that opened. My sister was red, exhausted, elated and radiant. I practically grew a cigar of pride out of my face as I squeaked madly about the corridor telling everyone I could find what an amazing woman she was.

She's still amazing; the kindest, sweetest mummy and the most lovely sister. Happy birthday, darling Tante. I hope that today someone bakes YOU a cake.


  1. Ah that's a lovely post, brought tears to my eyes. xx

  2. very touching, very funny, swear words and all...but if you can't swear in that kind of situation, when can you. bravo

  3. This is the most delightful and wonderfully written birth story I've ever read I believe.
    What a special auntie you got to be!

  4. The title of your post - from Les Miserables, if I'm not mistaken (unless Schonberg pinched it from someone else?)
    I've never witnessed anyone's else's child being born: your description is so vivid it shows just how profound (terrifying?) an experience it was.

  5. Bored - thanks, brought a few to mine, too.

    JADH - thanks you - afraid we swear like troopers in my family.

    Maureen - thank you so much, I was very lucky and still am, though the baby in question now looms over me at a hulking great height.

    Trish - how funny - I didn't know that; it's my mother's fave musical and she plays it every Sunday afternoon which drove us mad as children and made us go and see it not long after this happened, so of course it was chaos pre-mobile phone, brand new baby at home with hopeless Professor, leaking sobbing sister..

    The quote is actually something lovely she once said about someone else which was: 'whenever I think about her, I just imagine a great big smile and a heart full of love.' Which I actually thought was more like my sister than the nutter she was describing.

  6. Oh you've set me off now on Les Mis - have had to put the dvd on whilst I'm dusting (not done for ages so getting showered in muck).

    I don't usually suggest a post on someone else's blog but we've shared umpteen vodkas now so if you'd like to hear about a Les Mis production we saw in Quebec two years ago then click below (no obligation!!!)


  7. I can't think of a comment other than the title of your post. You do indeed have a heart full of love.Don't worry I'm still scared of you.

  8. How wonderful that you and your sister shared such an amazing event! Happy Birthday to her! (And shame on that nurse for chiding you and asking about the coat on the floor - really, during a time like that, that's what she was concerned about?)

  9. What an amazing experience to share, and you have crafted another lovely post. Thank you.

  10. Happy Birthday to your sister!

  11. A really nice birthday post!


  12. Shite. By coincidence it is my sister's birthday today, too. And I got her a four books from Amazon. Happy birthday, Cath! I love you. But probably not quite as much as Els loves HER sister! x

  13. PS I meant, 'Shite', as in you've top-trumped my pressie by a million miles. Not that the post was shite. Obviously. Am I overthinking this?

  14. James - very wise indeed!

    JMW - in my experience, many Nurses exhibit such fascist tendencies. I think it's germ-related.

    Hotsess, LPC & ML - thank you all so much - hopefully she'll read your kind wishes for herself...

    Milady Waving - in your shoes, I'd be tempted to do a quick cut-and-paste, names changed of course. Unless of course on the rare offchance that you WEREN'T her birthing partner, in which case Amazon books suit perfectly.

    Happy Birthday Cath!!

  15. Quelle poste fabuleuse - Lucky you for being part of such an experience - Luckier sister!

  16. And the Tante said ..... (after much wine and through her tears) this is the most special birthday pressie a sister could ever get!!

    Second place came darling 3 year old niece who sang a very wobbly happy birthday to Tante over the phone and asked her if Big Boo (Prof) had made her a Dora the Explorer cake!!!

    Love you with all my huge heart big sis!! xx

  17. A moving post ELS - What an amazing birthing -story...
    Do hope your sister did get a cake or two...

  18. I've just read this one -lovely. It's my brother's birthday too, 14.01 and I have never baked him a cake, X


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