Suddenly everything seems to be about birth. January 6th is the Feast of Epiphany, a public holiday in Poland, marking the arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem bearing gifts for Jesus. There are special rituals to mark the day: small boxes containing chalk, a gold ring, incense and a piece of amber are taken to church to be blessed. Back home the chalk is used used to inscribe “K+M+B+ 17″ above every door to provide protection against illness and misfortune in the year ahead. That is one ritual I should have followed, in case anything can protect this Australian against Polish illnesses. My last Epiphany in Poland was in 2012, just after the birth of the twins.
Last weekend I went to hear Chopin in part of the kitchens of the Royal Castle which is now a photographic gallery. As I sipped my interval glass of mead, I walked around the photos on the wall. They traced the whole process of birth in black and white and intimate detail, showing me clearly for the first time what birthing looks like, despite having given birth to four children.
Woken by my coughing in the early hours of the morning, I began to read Best Australian Essays, 2016. The third one was called Vagina, by Tegan Bennett Daylight, and I approached it with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect. It was an account of two birthings and their aftermaths, recounting complications that are generally unmentioned and suffered alone, written neatly, precisely and evocatively, without prurience or punch-pulling. The author shows the power of sharing the unmentionable (such as what she christens the Squawking Vagina, an embarrassing noise “between a fart and a belch” let loose in some yoga positions): often someone has a matter-of-fact solution when the doctors have no idea.
Also on January 6th, my great-niece, Hannah Katherine, was born, a fifth grandchild for my younger sister who didn’t live to see any of her grandchildren. A great loss for her, her daughters, and their children.