21st September 2012

Some time in early July

Fourteen years ago (and two months to be precise) I discovered I was pregnant.  It was early days so I hadn’t had a scan and had no idea at this point that I was carrying a wee little boy.  It was the beginning of something very special, but also the start of a very traumatic time as I had a pretty horrific birth and both me and my son were in hospital for a few days after the birth, both of us quite poorly.  He was an emergency caesarean and came out with no heartbeat, no pulse and, clearly, not breathing.  I had undiagnosed pre-eclampsia, which means, basically, they couldn’t stop me bleeding.  Two days later, we were told by the consultant paediatrician, who had been present at the birth, that we were both very lucky to be here.

I wrote the poem below, ‘Some time in early July’, a few days after I had found out that I was pregnant.  We lived in West Yorkshire at the time and I was on a train and still a bit dazed and more than a bit scared about what was around the corner.  I was terrified about the whole idea of childbirth, and even more petrified about what sort of mum I’d make.  I was 34, so not a young mum, and had put the idea off for a long time.  I had never seen myself as being a mum.  Surely this meant being sensible, responsible, selfless, all things I felt pretty rubbish at.

The thing is, once they’re there, well, all those anxieties disappear don’t they?  You have new worries, but they are all part of the nurturing and selflessness that comes with parenthood.  And, I realised, being sensible and responsible weren’t prerequisites to being a good mum at all.  In fact, I now had license to act like a complete twonk… YIPPEE!!!

So here it is, the poem that began my journey to motherhood:

Some time in early July

I take you through hills,
past wooded gutterings
shading sand-stone to grey,
on ancient tracks that swell and swim with the heat,
through stations
dressed up in red and cream.

Baskets of petunias cloud the straight lines
before we too become a cloud
hidden among a chain of faces.

A converted methodist chapel,
whose memories of the dead wax and wane,
sits upon a bent earth
leaning into the wind

while sheep, gathered in a field,
congregate at a wooden gate
awaiting the clatter of the buckets.

You are tiny in my tummy.
In a week you will have the beginning
of bones the beginning
of so many things,

beyond shape,
beyond a gleaming light
among shadow.

I lean, a shadow against this glassy light
feeding you with images of green,
trees, fields,
and cows who loll under an elephant grey cloud

as I see and feel all of this
through a bread and butter rhythm
and a little apple pie.

Have your memories and experiences of parenthood ever inspired your writing?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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22 Responses to 21st September 2012

  1. Jenny Alexander says:

    What a wonderful poem, Abi. I too had a traumatic first birth, which involved a fall, an air ambulance, faulty monitoring equipment, high fever and the special baby unit, and I’ve recently written about it in my dream book on the subject of predictive dreams because during that pregnancy I dreamt in detail about both the baby and the birth. Like you, I was surprised by motherhood. It was so transformational.

    • Ah, poor you, Jenny. I think we do need to write about these things. How strange that you dreamt about it beforehand. And yes, motherhood really does put the rest of life and our own needs/wants into perspective, doesn’t it?

  2. Jo Carroll says:

    This is lovely, Abi.

    We all have our birth-trauma stories, don’t we? I was given five pints of blood after my second (I’d have died in India!). My daughter was determined to give that back – but she fainted every time she gave blood. So, in the days before computerised records, she went from one donor place to another, gave it all back and fainted every time. They caught up with her eventually and now they pull up the drawbridge if she as much as peers over the blood doning horizon!

    • Ha ha! What a lovely story, Jo. Aw, bless your dort. Well, I had lots of blood too and really wanted to give it back, but having had a caesarean, I’m not allowed. My hubby has given plenty though and more than made up for it!

  3. Am resisting the temptation to add my birth-trauma story. One word – horrific!
    Love your poem Abi, it took me back to my own feelings of being pregnant for the first time and how wonderful it felt. The ‘bread and butter rhythm made me smile.
    As soon as I found out I was pregnant I kept a daily journal and continued this for the first year. It’s not just the events of the pregnancy but letters to my unborn and then born daughter. I hadn’t looked at it for years but bought it out to read a couple of weeks ago when she started secondary school. Isn’t it amazing how fast the time goes!

  4. Aw, these memories are so lovely aren’t they? I have always turned to poetry to capture those moments, even as a child. I love the idea of your journal and letters. That must have brought back a whole load of memories for you. Oooh, another birth trauma… it’s a good job the good times outweigh them, isn’t it? So glad you liked the poem – thank you! 🙂

  5. Martin Day says:


    You and my wife have a lot in common: She nearly died giving birth to our daughter and our son very nearly died at birth too (yes, amazingly there was a second – something else motherhood seems to do is induce a kind of ‘birth amnesia’). It does seem that many forget that until recent times death in childbirth was common and so many more babies didn’t make it too. It amazes me when I hear people talk about deciding to have children like it is a foregone conclusion and some kind of planned lifestyle choice on a par with choosing a new TV. I guess it can be that simple, but not in our case.

    But to answer your question, as it happens, yes. I was inspired to write a lullaby for my daughter Chloe. We found out Jill was pregnant 3 days before a month-long trip to Australia (don’t know now how we ever afforded it). Of course we made sure it included some time at the Great Barrier Reef … and, by coincidence, the rest of the story is woven into my latest Blog ‘What is Freedom, really?’ http://www.shallowdeep.com/blog/?itemid=36.

    Anyway, ‘Michaelmas Cay’ was written before she was born, but I let no one else hear it until Chloe herself could understand it. It was our secret for the next three years.

  6. Wow! Fancy that. You’re so right, it really isn’t a forgone conclusion. Having had a miscarriage as well… well, you get to see all sides of pregnancy and just how fragile it is, thus, how amazing and magical it is too. Am hopping over to your blog post right now – I like the sound of it already! Thanks, Martin 😉

  7. Hi Abi
    Loved the poem! What a traumantic time you had? Really scary for your first.
    I wrote one for my first born,Joanna when she was tiny and the famine in Ethopia was being shown on the news a lot. It bought home to me just how lucky I and my baby were and how horrific it would be not to be able to feed your baby. How helpless those mothers must have felt.
    I don’t often write poetry but it just felt right that time. Joanna is now 22yrs old and I have given it to her.

  8. Aw, how lovely. I always think exactly the same when I watch things like that, Teresa. So very sad, and how helpless and desperate those mothers must feel 😦 Really glad you liked the poem, thank you 🙂

  9. Beautiful post, beautiful poem! You really captured the feelings. Sorry it was such a traumatic birth event. So scary. I had two C-sections and my first was emergency… then after he was born he had to be on a heart monitor for six months (precautionary but terrifying when it went off…) It is true that I felt so inadequate that on the way to the hospital (for his birth) I said “I’m not ready…” but once he was born? It was as though I’d known him all my life.

  10. Emma Pass says:

    I’m not qualified to comment on the motherhood aspect, only being a Hound parent, but what a beautiful poem, Abi – thank you for sharing it.

  11. Aw, poor you! I had two too! Dort was an elective, due to the increased likelihood of similar problems with her birth. You’ve just reminded me of something now too, that when I woke from the anaesthetic, this baby was put in my arms, with huge wide awake eyes as if it had all been a breeze for him, and I remember looking into those eyes and having that same feeling you expressed – that I’d known him forever! Thanks for reminding me of that and really glad you enjoyed the post and the poem 🙂

  12. deansky says:

    Really loved this post, Abi. As others have said it really captures a sense of what it was like for you at that time. The poem helps crystallise it.

    Great reading the comments too :o)

  13. Aw, thanks, Dean. Yes, haven’t people left some fab comments? Aw, you’re all so darned lovely :* x

  14. Great post, lovely poem. Sounds like you had to be tough! I suppose, as a parent, it’s hard not to let your experiences influence your writing. When you have children of your own, you see the significance of children in stories very differently – if that makes sense. My current novel is all about a character who is afraid for his children and torn between his twin sons, and the one I’ve just finished is very much about a man who is determined to make his children safe – and it takes a child to keep him strong. And if you’ve read Dry Season, well, you’ll see the importance there too . . .

    • I think I may have to buy all your other books now… they all sounds so blooming good! And yes, especially writing children’s stuff, I’ve found that as my kids have got older, the market I write for has ‘aged’ too. Glad you like the pome, Mr Dan 😉

  15. Nadine says:

    Such a beautiful, precious, and poignant poem, Abi. I’m so glad that you and your son are here today. 🙂

  16. I was very poetry-ish when the children were young and before they were born…prob the sweetest, but maybe the most desperate poem was with the one I lost. My children still inspire my writing, I wouldn’t have begun WIP without them as I originally wrote it for them!
    Beautiful poem Abi, there’s something about becoming pregnant and seeing the beauty of nature everywhere!

  17. Poetry is very cathartic, isn’t it, Lisa? That’s lovely that your children continue to inspire your writing. I get loads of ideas for books from mine and their friends. Glad you like the poem. I think you’re right – it’s that ‘wonders of life’ feeling isn’t it?

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