For when I'm gone

I had no idea how precious mum's baby advice would be

Published by: Phillipa Cherryson and Amy Thompson
Published on: 2nd August 2010

You could say I was a typical teenager – argumentative, lazy, thought I was always right… I got bored easily, and ended up having rows with my parents and teachers.
By 17, I’d had enough of being told what to do, and moved into a mate’s house. My boyfriend Damian had already dropped out of college, and I soon followed suit.
Whereas he’d got a job, though, things weren’t as straightforward for me. I suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, only it had never been diagnosed until recently.
Mum had always fought my corner, though. ‘Can’t you at least try to get along?’ she’d beg Dad. ‘Try to see things from her side.’
Mum had always been the one I could turn to in a crisis. Only now, aged 18 and standing outside her hospital room, she was the last person I wanted to talk to.
After all I’d put her through
over the years, causing arguments between her and Dad, and breaking my curfew, how could I disappoint her again?
And it wasn’t like Mum didn’t have enough problems right now.
Three months earlier, she’d been diagnosed with hepatitis and admitted to hospital while doctors tried to get her strong enough for a liver transplant.
Still, what choice did I have? She was bound to notice sooner or later…
Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the door and gave a sheepish smile as Mum looked over from her bed.
‘Hello, dear,’ she smiled. ‘What a lovely surprise, I didn’t know you were coming in today.’
‘Mum, I’ve got something to tell you…’ I started nervously.
Her smile vanished. ‘A-are you pregnant?’ she asked, suspiciously.
How did she…? I nodded, speechless at how she’d guessed.
‘But you’re so young!’ she gasped, bursting into tears.
For the first time ever, I wanted to curl into a ball and disappear in shame. I’d put my parents through some awful times, but Mum had never cried before!
Even when I’d fallen out with Dad and moved out, refusing to speak to him, she’d just got on with things.
‘It’ll be okay,’ I reassured her. ‘Me and Damian wanted a baby. And you love kids. This’ll be your first grandchild…’
My attempt to get her excited didn’t work, though. She just gazed out of the window, crying.
‘I’ll come back tomorrow,’ I sighed, kissing her forehead.
When I returned the next day, Mum was still quiet. And the day after. I was beginning to think she’d never talk to me again!
Then, on the third day, she turned to look at me. ‘If you’re going to be a mum, there’s a lot you need to know,’ she said firmly.
I nodded, relieved she was finally saying something. ‘Let’s start with childbirth,’ she began. ‘There’s more to it than a few pushes like they do in films…’
If anyone would know, it was Mum. She’d been through it three times with my sister Rachel, 26, brother Christopher, 23, and me.
She didn’t hold back. ‘B-but, you’ll be there with me, right?’ I stammered. ‘I mean, I’m only six weeks pregnant. You’ll have had your op by then.’
Some emotion flitted across Mum’s face in a split second. Was it… sadness… pity maybe?
Before I could decide, she’d pasted on a smile. ‘Maybe,’ she said, placing a hand on mine. ‘But I might still be recovering, you’ll need to know all this stuff in advance in case I’m not able to tell you when the time comes.’
The next day, I took a notebook so I didn’t miss anything. ‘Always put on a happy face, even when you’re miserable,’ Mum told me. ‘Babies pick up on emotions, they can tell when something’s wrong.’
I nodded, jotting it down.
‘I know you don’t get on so well with your dad, but don’t be afraid to ask him for help. He’s been through all this before, remember.’
Reluctantly, I added it.
Dad would be the last person I turned to, though.
‘If you ever feel yourself getting annoyed with all the crying, leave the baby in its cot, go outside and take five deep breaths,’ she continued. The advice went on and on, and I wrote it all down.
Two weeks later, I had my first scan. Taking the picture to the hospital, I couldn’t wait to show Mum. When I arrived, though, she was asleep so I left it on the bedside table. Your grandchild xxx, I wrote at the top.
Next day, when I went to see her, Mum was sitting up holding the scan photo and wiping away tears. ‘Pretty incredible, huh?’ I smiled. ‘Won’t be long before you get to hold the real thing.’
Mum smiled back, but didn’t say anything. We just sat there looking at my baby’s picture for ages, Mum giving me tips to write down as soon as she thought of them.
Over the next few days, though, Mum’s condition got worse. She kept catching colds, so she couldn’t have her transplant.
Every time I went to see her, she was unconscious, hooked up to machines. Then, in March last year, the hospital called our family in for a meeting. ‘I’m afraid there’s nothing more we can do,’ said her consultant. ‘The machines may keep her alive for a couple of months, but she’s in pain.’
We made the heartbreaking decision to turn off her life support. I was three months pregnant. Picking up the scan photo laying by Mum’s bed, I cried.
She’d taught me so much, and now I’d never get to thank her.
For the first time in my life, there was one person I knew I could trust to understand exactly how I felt.
‘Truce?’ I asked Dad, as we stood outside the hospital.
‘Truce,’ he agreed, hugging me.
When I gave birth to little Emily in September last year, Dad was one of the first to hold her. And he babysits so me and Damian can go out.
Whenever Emily cries a lot, I breathe deeply, too. Mum was right, it really works.
But the tip I’ve found most helpful was what she said about putting on a happy face. If I’m upset or angry, Emily senses it, so I paste on a smile and it makes me feel better.
It’s only now I really understood what Mum was doing before she died. I think she knew nothing was going to save her, that she’d never get to meet her granddaughter.
Her tears were of sadness, not joy.
Despite that, though, she never let on. Right until the last second she was protecting me, making sure I was armed with everything I needed to know before I became a mum myself. I just hope she would’ve been proud of me.
Rachel Hope, 19, Harefield, Middlesex