Love and loss

The morning after my first daughter was born, my father came to visit us at the hospital. He brought a stuffed Winnie the Pooh toy for his new granddaughter. I loved that, especially because I remember Dad reading Pooh Bear stories to me when I was little. He did the voices so well.

It’s one of those everyday memories, but it’s only now, eight years on, I can write about it. You see, Dad came to visit me by himself because at the same time my mother was in another hospital being treated for lung cancer. She had not wanted aggressive treatment: she was 75 and had smoked for many years before giving up in a courageous late-in-life effort, so her illness came as no surprise to any of us.

Even so, when Mum died 10 days after my baby was born, I was left reeling. The spheres had shifted and I didn’t know what to hang on to. Just two days after that, my father died. It was one of those almost trivial household accidents that plague older people, especially when they are off balance with grief.

Out of nowhere, my sister, brother and I found ourselves parentless. I felt completely adrift. I remember waking up to breastfeed my little girl with tears streaming down my face. I tried not to cry, feeling that somehow the sorrow would mix with my milk and poison my baby.

I was almost obsessively determined that my child would have the best, unaffected by circumstance. And to me, breast milk was part of that. We struggled through with breastfeeding for almost six months before introducing solids. At nine months, a dietician asked me to describe what my daughter was eating. I rattled off details of a rigidly healthy, nutritionally balanced diet. She looked at my child’s growth chart thoughtfully, then looked at me. ‘A biscuit won’t kill her, you know.’ Read more