Monthly Archives: September 2012

Being interfered with

I haven’t spent a night in hospital since I was 20 and almost died of malaria. I was delirious the whole time and don’t recall feeling concerned about the quality of the food (which I couldn’t eat) or the lack of privacy . I had a roomie at the beginning, but my condition scared her- she didn’t want what I was having- and she asked to be moved.

Given that this is my main hospital experience, perhaps it’s not surprising that I felt some trepidation about coming in to a Polish hospital for steroid shots to speed up lung maturity in the babies. I dread being poked and prodded- I agree on some level with Marcin’s father, who firmly believes that ‘if they look, they’ll find something.’ And they are looking, hard, all day and all night.

Four times a day, I shuffle down to the nurses’ station to have my blood pressure taken. This process in itself unnerves me to the point where it rises (reading from anticipated measurement: 140/90. Reading from ambush measurement when nursie sneaked up on me with a cuff because I forgot: 120/70). Four times a day, they check the kids’ heartbeats, including at midnight and 6 am (just so you don’t think it’s a holiday and sleep all night).

Yesterday I had an ultrasound -they weigh 750 and 850 grams, if anyone’s interested- and was interrogated about the health of my forebears. Then I got measured to see if I’m having contractions. Today my task is to record my fluid intake and output by filling a huge Ali Baba jar with piss. I’m hoping that the whole experience will innoculate me against my medical phobia through sheer exposure.



Filed under around Poland, medical


For all of our conjugal life, I have been able to keep up with Marcin. I can ride as fast and as far, drive better, manage as well in foreign countries. I break my bones less, although I have to admit to a severe deficit in the field of pushups, and a slight deficit in the field of navigation.

But now it seems we have been thrown back to the early fifties. I, fragile and female and tending slightly towards hysteria, lie on the couch feeling faint and alone. Marcin strides out of the house with his manbag at 9 to earn a living. When he comes home, I am still wallowing in my sickbed and happy the day is over. He is worn out after his day of secret, intense manly activity (sitting in front of the computer).

This is what biology has done to our modern marriage. I am inescapably Female. There is no way for us to move in harness now.


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Filed under bed rest/ house arrest, dealing with adversity, medical, pregnancy

House arrest- fantasy and reality

When I first started my new limited activity regime a couple of weeks ago, I had endless wonderful ideas about what I would do with my time.  Studying Polish every day (as opposed to the more passive sport of reading books in Polish, which I actually do), blogging every day (how much inspiration is there in  3 rooms?), professionally developing myself. My favourite fantasy though was that I was going to finally learn to make pastry. I imagined myself, horizontal but indomitable, rolling pin in hand… needless to say, nothing has come of it.

Instead, I cruise the cervix forums, looking for good news stories. I take encouragement  from extensive research on the placebo effect which, I’m cheered to hear, affects everyone- children, dogs and cynics. This means I can stop worrying about whether progesterone or lying horizontal or wearing a pessary really works, and trust that in some inexplicable fashion, the fact that I’m doing anything at all about my short cervix will bear fruit.

This week I even found myself on Oprah’s website, where amongst the fluff and the cliches and the inspirational quotes, I came across an unlikely gem- Geraldine Brooks writing about her breast cancer.     This, in turn, led me onwards to another piece of literary solace; Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Carrion Comfort  .

(Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not  to be.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I wouldn’t say that I’m especially effective or disciplined. I haven’t written a thesis or knitted a layette or even managed to download Glee from the internet for free. But  the peculiar sense of shame that accompanies physical infirmity is slowly ebbing, so I wouldn’t say I’m wasting my time.



Filed under bed rest/ house arrest, Reading

The Arabs of Janów Podlaski

Not long ago as I browsed Wprost ( carefully circumnavigating  all the articles about Polish politics) I was surprised to find that there is an internationally renowned Arab horse breeding centre in a small town  in eastern Poland.  Apparently  the breeders in Egypt are concerned only with beauty, the breeders in France only with speed. The Arabs of Janów Podlaski have both.

I’m not especially interested in horses and don’t know anything about them, but the thing that caught my imagination was the stories of the horse auctions under communism, starting in 1970. The auctioneer standing on a trailer in a field, taking bids for tens of thousands of dollars from rock stars, millionaires, Arab princes, and oil magnates, all sitting on wooden benches under the trees because there were no stands. The collision of the moustachioed, polyester world of communism with the shiny and extravagant West;  the crowd of  spectators watching in disbelief as the millionaire David H. Murdock paid $800 000 for the stallion Bandos in 1982. Later they would watch him (Bandos) co-starring in an episode of Dynasty with Crystal.

I would love to have been at one of these auctions, and seen the look on people’s faces when, in 1990 in the turmoil of the collapse of communism, Paolo Gucci stated proudly after buying the grey mare Pilarka that he was not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a horse. He was paying for beauty.

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Filed under around Poland

My grandmother’s garden

Looking for ways to manage my daily flood of anxiety and being, it seems, irrevocably godless, I’m attempting to meditate again. I was actually trying at the beginning of my pregnancy before I knew that I was pregnant, and wondering why it seemed to make me drool excessively. Once I started vomiting and found out I was having twins, I stopped. My rationale being that I had far too much to think about to live in the moment.

Anyway, I’m back where I started. I downloaded a bed rest meditation and spend 15 surprisingly restful minutes every day lying in an imaginary garden and flooding my children in golden light. The interesting thing for me is the garden I have chosen.

Spoilt by an excess of northern literature, I spent my childhood longing for soft green meadows. I even tried to grow myself a wheat-grass lawn, to simulate this correct version of what grass should be. Initially promising, it all went wrong when the wheat grew out of its tender baby phase and into its tawny grainbearing phase.

I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have woods full of bluebells, or indeed, woods at all. We had no fields or forests, those succulent green places full of mystery and mushrooms. We had bush and paddocks: the bush was hot and scrawny, the paddocks uneven and covered in rigid, sundried cowpats. Instead of streams, we had tea-coloured creeks which dried to a trickle or a ragged necklace of pools in the summer.

We did have a superior ocean, but I was so caught up in what I perceived as botanical inferiority to notice. How to think poetic thoughts when I couldn’t wander through groves of beeches and birches and larches in the tumultuous autumn sunsets, like Ann of Green Gables? How could literature be born without access to an alpine meadow and crocuses in spring? This was the locus of my childhood conformity: I didn’t dream of being like other children I knew, who often seemed insurmountably alien to me. I wanted to be like the children in books, who in their fictional immutability knew how life ought to be lived.

Well: here I am in Europe. Green green grass and cherry blossom abound. And guess where I go in my meditation?

I go to my grandmother’s garden. Not the front garden, which still exists, with its buried milestone and roses, but the back garden, now crushed under the raw brick of a new townhouse. There is a jacaranda weeping its purple flowers over the carport and a white camellia with glossy green leaves- my grandmother loved camellias. There is a little outdoor room, always locked (not a shed, but something more elegant), which my mother used to study in when she was young. I don’t know why we couldn’t go in. I always wanted to.

Her garden is enclosed and safe, a sort of refuge of memory. The fact that it hasn’t existed for at least 15 years doesn’t matter in the least.  In my meditation, I lie down in the sun on her tough, scratchy, southern-hemisphere-cultural-cringe grass and feel sheer relief.

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Filed under dealing with adversity, memory, pregnancy

Relations with the body

I am 35 years old and for most of my adult life I have lived in relative harmony with my body. It has been fairly obedient the majority of the time, and amazed me more than once with its resilience and strength. Until now I have more or less known how it works and maintained it regularly. I know that it affects my mental state, and that I’m not (this is my father’s phrase, which I love) just a ‘mind in a vehicle.’ We have been at peace, me and my body. Until now.

Pregnancy has changed my feelings for my organism altogether, making me regard it with suspicion and incomprehension. I simple have no idea what it will do. Creakings, eruptions, odd shooting pains. Leakages and weaknesses. Now it turns out that my cervix is too short and I have been ordered to stay at home and do nothing for an indeterminate amount of time. So here we are, me and my body, confined to quarters, while I watch it carefully as if it were some dangerous animal, unwilling to lower my guard, analysing every twitch and twinge. My customary escapes of work, exercise, socialising, are denied me (though I do spend plenty of time on cervix forums. Yes indeed, they do exist).

I’m not inclined to ask, why me? After all, what are the chances of twins? Ending up in Poland? Being 6 feet tall? And so on. That way madness lies- statistically unlikely things happen, and they have to happen to someone. But I do wonder, in my brief self-improvement moments,  if this experience can serve me in some useful way. Are there important lessons to be learned, about Hope and Fear and Endurance? Perhaps it really is a perverse gift from the universe. I will keep you posted.

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Filed under medical, pregnancy, twins

Reasons to hate the internet (for pregnant linguists)

For a curious person and an incurable hypochondriac, the internet is both an ally and an enemy in pregnancy.  The disadvantages of horror stories and misinformation are more or less balanced out by access to good advice or news of hopeful outcomes in bad situations. But one of the things I have really suffered from is the horrible, saccharin acronyms of fertility. After an initial period of resistance, I could accept that being unable to place an apostrophe isn’t a contraceptive, and that only snobbery had led me to believe otherwise. I even learned to accept DH (dear husband), OH (other half) DD/DS (guess), supposing that there might be some sense in easy reference to these interested parties. But I draw the line at the greatest transgression against linguistic good taste – the abbreviation BD. From context I could see immediately that it referred to what you might otherwise call (if you were unlucky enough to have a conversation on the topic with your middle-aged male gyno) ‘relations’. Liking a good puzzle, I gave myself a good week to see if I could figure out the etymology for myself, but drew a blank. When I realised what it stood for, I was grateful that my mind doesn’t move along such coy and euphemistic lines. It stands for ‘baby dancing’.

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Filed under language, pregnancy, Uncategorized