“I’m just going to stitch you up,” said the doctor. “You’ve lost quite a bit of blood.”

She was kneeling on the floor, looking between my legs.

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.”

It was just before 5 in the morning, Sunday three weeks ago.

My newborn lay on my belly, and looked right into my eyes.

“We’d usually take you to the operating theatre for this, but I think you’re still numb enough from the epidural.”

I held my daughter against my chest. After a brief, reassuring cry, she inched herself upward, searching for my boob.

I looked at my husband, incredulous. His eyes were shiny bright.

For 36 agonizing hours of labour, her head had not moved. But when she finally came – coaxed out by a suction cup and my pure desperation – she seemed fully formed.

Eyes open. A head of dark brown hair. My husband’s face in hers.

She was perfect.

“Do you want to keep the placenta?” a midwife asked.

The bloody mass she was holding up like something you glimpse in the back of a meat delivery truck.

At once tremendous and terrifying.

“No thank you,” I said.


“I’m scared I won’t be able to produce any milk,” I told the nurse hours after delivery.

She pinched my nipple until a tiny bit of yellow goo came out. “You’re fine,” she said.


Liquid gold.

I wanted to hug her.

Tiny, tiny drops of it fell from me during the night.

The joy and terror of my body sustaining another.


The womb was a timeless swamp. No such thing as night and day.

We get up late in the mornings. Eat breakfast in bed. Our baby girl between us, making us smile.

Everything is fluid

My bedsheets stained with milk. Huge pale yellow patches of it. Big clumps of blood still emerging from me as my organs squeeze back into place. And then the baby spits back up the milk.


There is a concept here called Wochenbett . It sounds old-fashioned to a half-foreign ear. But the idea is that new mothers need weeks in bed to recover. We don’t take it literally. But for the first three weeks, my husband does all the cooking. And nearly all the nappies, too.


The way he talks to her, as he changes her.

I knew he would be a good father. I always did. But he is far better than I could even imagine.

I listen to the stories he tells her. The softness of his voice. The way he looks at her. She could cry all night and his tone wouldn’t change. He has always had the patience of a saint.


She has his face, I think but when her expressions change, I see flashes of myself.

She can look kind of impish sometimes, nonplussed.

And there’s this luxurious stretch she does .. an act of gentle obstinanace.

And then she purses her lips like she’s mimicking someone haughty and posh.

All with her eyes closed.

And then sometimes she looks utterly heartbroken. Like she is watching tragedy unfold.

All of humanity is in her sleeping face.


She makes the most amazing sounds.

Eh? she asks. Eh? Eh?

Usually she is looking for food.

Eh! I reply.

As I unclip my nursing top her breathing gets faster, heavier. The pant of hunger.


We already have many nicknames for her.

Feral squirrel, when she lunges at me and bashes her little head impatiently against my boob.

Milkworm when she emerges sleepy with a red face covered in milk.

Spooky Sally today, when we dressed her in the little ghost costume my sister sent.


I’m so used to looking down at her little face when she feeds that when I look at my husband now, his face seems huge.

The algorithms are changing, too.

How to bathe newborn. How to clean umbilical cord. Newborn diarrhoea.

Yesterday, we looked through a photo gallery of baby poo.

“Was it seedy though?” I asked.

“Kind of.”

“Hmm. Keep an eye on it then.”

“Have you taken her temperature?”

“37.2. In the normal range.”


Writing this has been stop-start, all evening long.

Our little one has been especially unsettled.

We fed and we walked. We snuggled and we talked.

I insisted on finally doing some cooking.

Pumpkin risotto, for the day that’s in it.

Served seven feeds and three hours later than I’d hoped.

I knew it would be like this.

A few words at best, here and there.

Scraps of life.

As I type, in bed now – my eyes are closing.

As husband and baby sleep.

Outside, a late-night bus drives by.


Parenthood is more poetry than prose.

No coherence. Or conclusion.

Just the hard-won knowledge – imperfectly expressed –

That life is the most beautiful, fragile thing.

Snapshots of a Weekend in Berlin

Berlin is like one of those postcard strips which fold out to reveal a dozen snapshots. No matter how much exploring you have already done, each time you turn an unfamiliar corner, a little square, or a park or church will pop out at you. Here are some snapshots of my weekend, as I think back over it, wrapped in a blanket, with the cat at my feet, rolling a bouncy ball over the floor.

Friday night, 4.30 am Burger King, Friedrischshain

I am remarkably unaffected by the five shots of Kräuter Schnapps, one Amaretto and apple cocktail, and two bottles of beer I’ve consumed. But still, there’s nothing like a greasy bag of onion rings and packet of chips given the circumstances. The lady behind the counter has grey hair and steely eyes and a face full of resignation. I immediately feel guilty for being somebody that makes it worthwhile to keep Burger King open at this hour. I am exceptionally polite when I order. Behind me, two homeless men, with colourful floppy hair and both on crutches, are slurring their words as they address her co-worker, a stylish man with black eyes.

“Why don’t you point at the meal you want?”, he suggests, as if this is a standard cure for those who can’t articulate. The men look at the pictures of slimy bacon double cheese burgers and chicken nuggets and make a selection. “Would you like a drink with that?” the sever asks.

They can’t think of a response for this one. Suddenly I feel something against my leg. One of the men has started to prod me with his crutch. I jump to safety. His companion defends me:“Hey man, don’t do that, she’s a girl. Stop..”
As I am eating my onion rings, one of the men collapses. His burger flies to the ground. The cheese soaks into the dirty grey tiles.

Friedrichshain Park, Saturday, 3 pm

There are two enormous concrete elephants in the park. A little blonde girl is colouring them in with chalk. She’s not wearing any shoes, and her socks are pink. She’s totally engrossed in her task. She paints the elephant’s trunk green.

On the far side of the green, heart-shaped balloons tied to trees are dancing in a light breeze. A group of twenty-somethings are having a party. They’ve set up a little barbecue and are serving sausages and potato salad on paper plates. Suddenly they all put down their plastic forks to sing Happy Birthday to their friend.

A young man with a black pony tail and tired eyes is sitting on a bench, bent over his Border Collie, caressing it slowly, with a large brush. The collie stands patiently, looking straight ahead, bending its knees when required and responding instantly to the man’s gruff “Setzen.” There is tremendous dignity in the collie’s profile. It looks as though he is smiling politely, as large tufts of his black and white fur fall to meet the dusty ground. After several minutes, the man puts the brush away. The collie lifts his head to look into his owner’s face, with deference and expectation. “Na, geh,”the man with the tail concedes, and the collie, still for so long, now bounds away. He meets a Labrador on the way and they sniff each other’s bottoms.

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Sunday, 5 pm The Topography of Terror

Today, exploring the area around Check Point Charlie, I landed at a stretch of the original Berlin wall. A little sign revealed that this was the “Topography of Terror.” There was a visitor’s centre at the site. I went in. And I saw pictures of Jews being paraded round their hometowns wearing signs with words designed to humiliate them. And documents authorising handicapped children to be used for medical experiments. And I listened in to a guide, who was telling a school class about the big companies that had donated money to Hitler during the war.

Suddenly an old man, who had also been listening in, blurted out “I’m not responsible for what my father or grandfather did.”

The teenagers turned their heads.

“I’m innocent! It’s not my fault. I don’t even know if my father or grandfather did anything bad.”

“We’re not talking about blame,” said the tour guide, a curly-haired polyglot, whose first language was not German.

“I didn’t do anything wrong!” the old man repeated, in an accent I now recognize as Berlin, and which most people suppress, because they think it “undesirable.”

“Maybe we can talk about this later,” said the guide. The man stopped talking. The guide finished his tour and told the teenagers never to stop asking questions in order to find out the truth.

As the schoolboys trotted away, the guide approached the old man and shook his hand.
“I’m sorry,” said the old man.
“Don’t worry,” said the guide.
“I’m innocent,” said the old man, his face folded with guilt.