And Breathe… In The Beginnings #memoir

Perhaps it’s why I often feel guilty.

It has to be a good thing that we humans are born premature, so that, as well as complete incompetence around motor skills, we have no memory of those first moments beyond the womb. I know little of my birth, beyond one large fact. Popped on a set of 1950s NHS scales in Redhill hospital, I stopped the weights at ten pounds and eight ounces. Four point seven six kilos.

That is an awful lot of me.

Down the years, if asked about my birth, my mother would recount the weight and… that was it. It said it all. Was the labour quick or prolonged? Any distress? Interventions?

No, just those two huge and hugely accusatory figures.

If pressed Mum would add, “they thought he was going to be twins.” This was a reference to some antenatal check-up when the pediatrician heard two heart beats, a function of medical incompetence as much as the huge swimming pool my mother provided for me, creating room for an echo. Who knew she was going to give birth to sonar?

Photos of me as a baby indicate a sparsity of hair, a round chubby face and a rather confused, or stunned gaze. There is little obvious animation. Did I realise what I had done? How bloody painful that must have been?

Of course mum didn’t complain about that. She moaned about the fact that, after me, her teeth were rubbish, suggesting I had taken all the calcium for my own teeth. I think that medically that isn’t how it works, but mum did like a little simple cause and effect metaphor. It helped with the ingraining of the guilt.

It was twelve years later I heard one other fact around my gestation. I had started secondary school in 1968, aged eleven, at a tough grammar school – Purley Grammar School – a 1930s red brick mausoleum of an institution perched on the top of Downs at Old Coulsdon in North Surrey (and nowhere close to Purley, naturally). When I moved into the second form – year eight these days – in September 1969, a boy joined the first form who stood out because of his leg calipers and lack of full length arms. His mother had taken Thalidomide as a treatment against morning sickness, long before the consequential birth defects were known. I’d never met anyone with such disabilities, beyond some adults injured during the war and certainly no one so young. Mentioning this to mum, no doubt expressing both my fascination and horror, mum told me she had been prescribed thalidomide, because she too had had debilitating morning sickness but didn’t take it. Even at twelve I could do the maths as they say. Why didn’t she take it? How close had I come to being that boy? She never elaborated and I never pursued the list of questions. Maybe I didn’t want to know.

I didn’t dwell on it but I couldn’t think about him without a private shudder at what might have been. Guilt? Later, certainly, in that odd way that a believer in fate might indulge; why wasn’t it me?

I learnt soon enough that guilt is a pernicious and rather useless response to situations. I try to avoid it now. But it is also a good health check on my actions. It encourages empathy.

Birth is a pretty major event in anyone’s life, yet we are reliant on others to tell us what happened, how it went, how they felt. It’s so big, in fact that the next few years are a blur of generalized anecdotes, stippled with the occasional precisely recorded story. A random selection might comprise:

  • ‘You were a bottom shuffler; your brother walked earlier than you did’.’ That he did everything earlier than me was repeated so often, I almost believe it.
  • ‘Your first word was butter’, again spoken rather later than my older comparator, my brother; an early indication of my love of rich food, perhaps. I wonder what his first word was. Interplanetary or holistic or something equally pretentious.
  • ‘You tried to kill yourself by sticking a butter knife into a plug socket’. Interesting this one; never was it suggested that the parenting that allowed me to crawl around clutching a flat metal object near exposed plugs was at fault.

The fact is, of course, that I both survived and thrived. Mum pushed me around in a pram and a buggy. She changed my terry nappies and fed me. I have the impression that I sat and watched a lot. My dad no doubt picked me up and tickled me to make me smile. I smiled a lot and not just because I am blessed with a generous ability to create wind. I think I was content and remained pretty healthy.

My parents had one worry about my physical well-being, of which I have no memory and that was I had something of an overlarge penis. I was taken to Great Ormond Street to see a specialist so it must have been quite something. Whatever the worry was, it was over before I have any memories of it. Mum only told me about this many many years later and the details remained sketchy. I suppose I grew into it, though I recall mentioning this to a friend – what is it with some of we males that we share such snigger-worthy stories with ‘friends’? He considered the facts and finally opined, “You peaked too soon”.

As I think we will see this wasn’t my usual approach to life’s challenges, being preternaturally inclined to leaving things late and then having to run to catch up.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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38 Responses to And Breathe… In The Beginnings #memoir

  1. Ritu says:

    Oh what memories to have, and erm, what a revelation at the end His Geoffleship!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Erika says:

    Wow! What early childhood memories, Geoff! Thanks for the chuckles!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Norah says:

    Cute memories, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. willowdot21 says:

    I see you still have the same stylish approach to your clothes. I love the way you can remember being compared to your older brother! I was compared to three brothers one of whom died at 6months and and three sisters. I too was found lacking! 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  5. May we all have grown into the gifts we received at birth!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. trifflepudling says:

    Guilt is all very well if you’ve done something but you were completely passive, so definitely a waste of time. The more important thing is to be thankful for what you do have (which you are).
    I love the knitted suit in the top picture.
    I do not know where to begin re the last item!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Re last item, I suggest we Pretend I never shared it. And yes, guilt is useless but none the less it won’t be wished away. And I wonder if my gran knitted it. Her knits were always huge…

      Like

  7. I had a weight problem the minute I was born. The nurse said I weighed nine pounds, Dad held me and said I was heavier than that, so I was weighed again and tipped the scales at nine pounds and half an ounce. I was born in the council house we lived in, Dad helping Mum with gas and air, and there as soon as I popped into the world. He was always there for me from that moment on. It was he who encouraged me to shuffle butt, I never crawled, and he held my fingers to sit me up for my official baby photo (which I sadly don’t have and my sister probably binned it after Mum died). By all accounts I should have been a boy, but even though I had the wrong plumbing, I know I was loved by them both and hope they were proud of me one way or another.

    Like

  8. John’s younger siblings ARE twins – and his mother had no idea until the second one started to push her way out. This was 1959.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely memoir, Geoff. I guess I was blessed with having no information at all except that it was bloody hot the day I was born. Yes, and I weighed over nine pounds. So that was all I got. I never heard if the parents were glad I dropped in or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jennie says:

    I enjoyed the memoir. The lesson learned is Parenting 101. Whatever you say or do will be remembered, for better or worse. And don’t let your child put a metal knife in an an electrical socket. Butter – that was funny!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. arlingwoman says:

    That baby is recognizable as you. I saw that first pic and thought “Geoff has dug out some baby pictures!”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great fun. So now we know where all the weight was

    Like

  13. Widdershins says:

    I’m sure the offspring are glad you ‘grew into it’. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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