I found out I was pregnant with Youngest Daughter on 10th September 2001. The next day, as I watched those planes slam into the twin towers, and consoled Oldest Daughter who was just staring at the TV saying ‘Mummy, a Bad Thing, has happened’, I wondered what kind of a world I was bringing a new baby into. I sensed a change, a difference. I felt that the world that Youngest Daughter would be born into would be less naive and somehow more cruel than the world I’d understood before.
My pregnancy with her was stressful. I’d had two miscarriages the year before I fell pregnant with her (she’s my double-rainbow baby), and then had a miscarriage scare when I was 12 weeks pregnant (meaning E and I spending five hours in A&E until we had a scan which showed her dancing around, oblivious to the panic we were feeling), so I spent most of the nine months fretting and worrying that something would go wrong.
She was breech for about eight months of the pregnancy, necessitating numerous extra scans, at one point there was a concern that I had gestational diabetes (more tests) and then she was born by emergency caesarean (because of a placental abruption*), with the operation taking twice as long as the emergency c section I’d had for Oldest Daughter (her one was because she was ‘in distress’ , although in the event she was fine, I think she was just stressed because she was a few days past her due date, she still can’t bear not being on time…) and resulting in the operating theatre looking like a scene from ‘Carrie’ (the weirdest moment for me, was when the doctor mentioned ‘putting the uterus back in’ – to which I piped up ‘yes, please, I might need that again!’), and Youngest Daughter being taken from me fairly quickly, so they could sort me out. She spent the first forty minutes of her life wrapped in E’s arms.
After she was born, she went a lovely shade of yellow, and we were then confined to the hospital for a week to treat her jaundice. I was desperate to breastfeed her (I’d had problems feeding Oldest Daughter and had had to stop when she was eight weeks old) and I was told that the treatment for jaundice was to feed the baby as often as I could, so that that she could excrete the bilirubin causing the jaundice as quickly as possible. As my milk was just coming in this meant I was put under incredible pressure, from the doctors, to ‘top up’ my feeds with formula milk. As top up feeding was what had caused my milk supply to dry up with Oldest Daughter, I was really reluctant to do this and fought them every step of the way in order to solely breastfeed her (ironically she was born during breastfeeding awareness week – but it was only half-way through my stay in the hospital, that a lovely midwife caught me crying, and asked what was going on, that I got some support). I was expressing milk (using an electric pump – I felt like a cow being milked) round the clock, on top of feeding on demand and it was only the post-childbirth high of having a gorgeous new baby that kept me going.
Youngest Daughter had to have pin prick tests on her heels a few times a day (she screamed blue murder every time a nurse went near her) and, on day three of our stay she had to have a cannula inserted into her arm. The doctor who did this was a Junior Doctor and it was his first week on the ward. He was lovely, and I was quite happy for him to treat her, but he really struggled to find the teeny-tiny vein to put the cannula into. I think it was at this point, that Youngest Daughter decided to argue with every decision a Grown Up made regarding her welfare. I can still her screaming her heart out, her little face beetroot coloured, whilst the poor doctor, tried again and again to get the cannula right. In the event, she was right to object, once inserted, the cannula was never used throughout the whole of the stay. She also had the added indignity of having a Bili blanket inserted into her baby-grow 24 hours a day (she was attached to the mains for the first week of her life), and reminded me of one of those Gloworm night-light cuddly toys that were so popular in the 80s.
As she grew up, she showed an admirable stubbornness in everything she did. Where Oldest Daughter had been laid back and easy going, Youngest Daughter was an intense ball of emotion who refused to do what was expected. She has the darkest eyes I’ve ever seen and my main memory of her as a baby is of those eyes staring at me and questioning everything I did. She adored Oldest Daughter, but when Oldest Son was born (she was only fifteen months old), she took one look at him and said ‘No!’, then, once she’d established she could still be with me as much as before, she pretty much ignored him until he was old enough to start annoying her.
Almost the only thing she did ‘by the book’ was having tantrums. Pretty much bang on her second birthday, she had her first proper tantrum and continued with them, daily, until she was about eight (she’s still prone to the odd meltdown). I was *that Mum* with the constantly screaming child. At the time, I had her and Oldest Son in a double buggy. He’d be sat in the front of the buggy, all blond hair, blue eyes and complacently angelic smile, whilst she squirmed mutinously in the back, her face red and her dark eyes flashing. I tried everything from completely ignoring her, to shouting at her, to being kind to her, nothing worked. Youngest Daughter was fucking furious and nothing could console her.
Pretty much everything about her was different from my other children – even down to the fact she was left handed. She thought differently, she saw the world differently, she was just different. She didn’t even speak English until she was about three – she had a ‘babble’ language of her own that she used for a good couple of years before she finally gave in (or gave up on us understanding) and spoke English to us. She was hugely emotionally intelligent – she still can tell the mood of a room the second she walks into it and she notices every nuance of facial expression – you can hide no shade of emotion from Youngest Daughter.
Whilst she adored Oldest Daughter, she didn’t want to do the same things as her. Whilst Oldest Daughter limbered up with her class in their dressing room, Youngest Daughter refused to go on stage with her ballet class for the end of year show – I can still see her now, dressed as a sunflower, refusing to set foot on the stage, whilst her Grandparents waited patiently in the audience to see her. I was hugely pregnant (about twenty years pregnant) with Youngest Son at the time and I was stood behind the stage desperately trying to cajole/blackmail/coerce her into going on – but she was having none of it. If she always did everything on her own terms (‘compromise’ remains a foreign word to Youngest Daughter), she has an incredible sense of self-awareness, and has always been able to laugh at herself if she realises she’s done something ridiculous.
As she’s matured, her sense of self has matured with her and, if anything, her stubbornness has increased. Whilst this is largely a good thing, it can be frustrating (I often say that the one way to get Youngest Daughter to do anything is to tell her NOT to do it) and it can be heart-breaking when she turns it in on herself. The fact that she thinks and sometimes perceives the world differently to everyone else has also not been lost on her peers and her schools. At times she’s come home in tears because kids at school have called her ‘weird’ or she just can’t understand concepts (eg in maths) that other kids understood almost immediately. As a result of things like this, she began to perceive her difference as ‘bad’. Over the last few years, she’s begun to compare herself to other kids and her siblings and decided that she’s not ‘as good’ as them. Things that she used to value about herself, the things that make her different and special, she now sees as faults.
What happened with E impacted hugely on Youngest Daughter – her emotional intelligence meant she picked up on some massively complex feelings from me, but her age meant that she could barely process them. Her sense of what’s right and wrong was deeply offended and the resentment that was beginning to build at the fact he valued all things academic, and thus made her feel inadequate, all came to a head and has meant that she’s probably struggled more than any of us with what’s happened.
To say that she’s angry with her Dad would be the understatement of the Century. But her anger is an intense as the love she had for him and the need she still has for his approval. Since his departure, her struggles with him and his actions, coupled with her age (the only other thing she’s done by the book is teenage hormones – it’s like parenting a wasps’ nest at times), led to February’s events and only served to increase her difficulties in the run up to her GCSEs.
In the end, despite struggling with the coursework that needed handing in in the months before the exams (frustratingly, something she would have coped well with in normal circumstances), she dealt with the stress of the exams well and – although there were lots of tears of anger and frustration – she took it all in her stride and sat every exam she needed to sit.
I couldn’t have been prouder of her for getting through those exams (especially as her year group were the first ever year to sit the new-style GCSEs and so had no past papers to work from) and as we headed towards Results Day I began to hope and pray that she’d get a pleasant surprise when she opened her envelope – she’d had so many knocks to her confidence and so many blows to her self-esteem that I felt that she really, really, deserved a break for once.
However, it wasn’t to be, and the kid that deserved a little bit of luck, was about to be knocked again.
We weren’t expecting miracles, but she was perfectly capable of getting seven Grade 4 passes (which in old money would have been seven Cs – a perfectly good result). We knew she’d struggled with coursework, so I knew that a couple of her results might be lower than we’d hoped, but she and I honestly thought that she should pass those seven.
When she hadn’t come home an hour or so after leaving to get her results, I knew something was up, but it wasn’t until she got home that I saw how distressed she was. She was inconsolable.
I asked (cautiously) to see her results and, given that she thought it was the end of the world, was pleasantly surprised to see that she’d got five Grade 4 passes (one of which, in Maths of all things, was two marks off a Grade 5). It wasn’t the seven passes that she *should* have got, but it was perfectly ok. She also got three Grade 3s – two of which were in subjects that she should have passed with ease and weren’t even on our radar as potential problems (in fact, we’ve just found out this week that she was just two marks off a Grade 4 in one of them). Looking at the results, that she thought were so disastrous, I tried to reassure her that she’d done fine. She had passes in Maths, English and two sciences. I tried to reassure her that whilst she was disappointed now, that in a year’s time, when she’d got a year of sixth form under her belt, it wouldn’t matter, that she could move past them and onto something better. But she (stubborn to a fault) persisted in her insistence that these results showed she’d ‘failed’, that she was ‘thick’ that there was no point in going to Sixth Form now (one of her Grade 3s was in a subject she wanted to study at A Level, but she needed at least a 5 to be able to do this).
As the day went on, I was gradually able to talk her down from the emotional ledge she’d climbed onto (after 16 years, I’ve learned that you have to gradually give information to Youngest Daughter, and accept the ebb and flow of her emotions, knowing that she’ll process what I say and eventually discuss it), and – with the help of a brand new litter of kittens that arrive that day (kittens should be prescribed by the NHS) – was able to help her smile again and begin to understand that this wasn’t the end of the world.
A few weeks on and, true to form, Youngest Daughter is stubbornly refusing to compromise on what she want to do at college and we’re still exploring options for courses for her to study. Term starts next week, so I’m hoping she decides by the weekend.
Frustrating as it sometimes is trying to guide her, I love the fact that she is so strong in her vision of what she wants – even if she isn’t quite sure that that is yet (and at the moment its more about what she *doesn’t want* than what she does). My other three would have been talked into a *sensible compromise* by now, but not Youngest Daughter – she wants to find what’s right for her and she’s going to keep looking until she finds it. She’s been different from the moment she was conceived, somehow I don’t think that’s ever going to change.
* Apologies for any misuse/misunderstanding of medical terminology here – my account is based on my memory and understanding of what happened 16 years ago.