... 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.