The day you were born; my fierce maternal love looked into your blue eyes, soaking up new unexplored bloodlines. Nestling into my warm skin, you curled up into a prayer position, as I marvelled at your tiny hands and miniature toes. Weighing 2.6 kilos; you were 850 times heavier than a paper clip, 6,000 times as heavy as a raindrop but half the weight of an average domestic cat.
The midwives nicknamed you, “Little Sparrow,” in those early days before we decided on your name. Maybe it was your petite size that made me feel even more protective; wanting to bury you into my bosom and shield you from the artificial hospital lights and steady flow of visitors. The world is so big; skyscrapers loom into the sky, gigantic cars screech and aeroplanes boom through the clouds; how could a little sparrow learn to live in such a gigantic world?
We soon found out just how seismic this gigantic world could be.
Within eight hours, Lincolnshire was the epicentre of the biggest earthquake to hit the UK in twenty-five years. The room of the hospital ward shook; I knew it was an earthquake, felt the earth roar, tectonic plates collided.
You had arrived. The Earth had been shaken. My world would now grow with you.
Earthquakes notwithstanding; we moved forward, strapping you into your car seat, driving slowly home. Home. Your nest. Little sparrow, we vowed to always love and protect you.
The next few weeks were hazy; weary night feeds, colic evenings- when you finally fell asleep in your Moses basket, I was mesmerised by your breathing. I couldn’t bear to leave the room; the baby monitor was poor consolation. I just wanted to breathe the same air as you.
After recovering from jaundice, you finally started to put weight on. One evening, during the summer months, I picked you up for a cuddle and it dawned on me that you finally weighed more than our cat. Little sparrow, you were growing into the world.
Before long you were following centile lines; health visitors plotted your weight and height like veteran paediatric statisticians. Little Sparrow, your course was set.
A week before your first birthday, we hit unchartered waters.
Following a prolonged seizure, an ambulance rushed you into resuscitation. The hospital staff cut your pyjamas tenderly, inserting tubes. Somewhere a kind, voice whispered, “Mum, she’ll be ok.”
I wanted to believe that voice, more than anything. Little sparrow, your wings were injured but I needed you to live, to fight for survival. Following a lumbar puncture, you were put on a ventilator in intensive care. During this time, I slipped into the underworld, walking under the earth. Searching for the fault lines, from your Earthquake, I would trade mantle for your life.
Your brain was on fire and I raged against the machine that helped you breathe.
After three days, you came out of intensive care onto the children’s ward. A week later you learnt to walk, soon you were running and I think I’ve been running after you ever since.
Even before the end of year three at primary school though, you had entered early puberty. Little sparrow: too soon to fledge. A (Gn-RH) stimulation test revealed high hormone levels; hospital consultants though advised non-intervention and to let nature take its course. The mood swings, food cravings and abdominal cramps took its toll on you; “I don’t want to grow up!” you protested. “It’s too soon!”
The heart-breaking moment was struggling to find a Disney Elsa dress to glide seamlessly over your widening hips. An eight-year old should be planning sleepovers, looking for ladybirds in forest ferns and marvelling at muggles and wizards, not combating greasy hair and acne.
On your ninth birthday, you were 141 centimetres, the same height as a flamingo. Resplendent in your tomboy attire, you could easily stand on one leg. Little Sparrow, you think you’re a fledgling.
When you were born, you were too small for this world. Now, approaching your first decade, you’re too womanly for your childhood. You fell down a rabbit hole: into premature adolescence.
Aged nine, you weighed 47.6 kgs; 350,000 times as heavy as a paperclip, 200,000 times as heavy as a raindrop and ten times heavier than a cat. Little sparrow no more.
I am still running to catch up with you. Somewhere between the earthquake and your brain being on fire, your sparrow spirit guided you through. You refer to your hospital stay as, “The night I nearly died.” I think you saw death approaching; ominous storm clouds brooding, a foreboding static-charged tornedo and chased it off with a big stick. I hope you heard my voice when you were in intensive care, through the fog of wires, medicine and illness and knew that we were there, waiting, hoping and willing you to be better. Every day, I stroked your hair, at first soft blond curls but then sweaty and stringy, as you started to fight your brain inflammation.
My little sparrow had entered the boxing ring: ready to fight to the death for life and we sat, in the audience, helpless but willing you to charge the death brigade.
When you were finally discharged, I just wanted to sit and hold you, stroke the contours of your skin, breathe the same air as you again; welcome you back to the world from the ravages of a near-deadly illness.
We lost three days of your life; 72 hours of your existence. The Earth still turned, the sun rose and set but you weren’t in this world. This experience profoundly changed me; an innocuous childhood illness, chickenpox, had mutated into internal brain inflammation.
It took me a long time to trust the world, if something harmless nearly killed you, how could I ever keep you safe again? At first, every time you had a temperature, I panicked and no doubt overacted. I wanted to wrap you in cotton wool, layered with bubble wrap, to stop you ever getting hurt again.
But it was you who taught me that life goes on; we must look forward not back. You have grown into a beautiful, kind, artistic and sporty daughter and I think you have grown up, without me realising. Sometimes I watch you; reading a book, building Lego, charging around a park, and I glimpse the woman you may become; the adventures you will have, the boys you will kiss, the children you may bear.
If I steady myself, align my hips, curve my spine; I can lift you, carry you for a few steps even. But little sparrow, soon you will be a fledgling and fly you must, flap those wings. The world is big, skyscrapers loom into the sky, gigantic cars screech and aeroplanes boom through the clouds but it is also a beautiful world.
Liz Dickinson is an English HLTA in a secondary school in the East Midlands. She lives with her two young daughters and two rescue cats.