I am real
I AM REAL
A TRUE STORY OF PERSEVERANCE, FAITH, HOPE AND EVERLASTING LOVE
Margrét Dagmar Ericsdóttir
English translation by Brian Fitzgibbon ©2020 Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir
To Mum and Dad
by Kate Winslet
There is a great deal in life that as human beings can empower and change us. A story, an experience (be it good or bad), a charitable endeavour, a loss, a celebration, a journey.
But sometimes it’s the story told by another person that can stop us in our tracks and make us re-evaluate how we think and how we function in the world.
Thirteen years ago, Margret’s story stopped me in my tracks.
In life I do believe that if we strive to be able to do good and to create change for others, we can. But it isn’t always easy, it doesn’t happen by magic, and sometimes it comes at a cost. Margret’s story teaches us that self-sacrifice and determination can be the greatest and most rewarding lessons, as long as we believe in the fight. And as long as we are prepared to keep fighting.
Margret’s son Keli is severely Autistic, non-verbal and has impaired motor skills. In spite of these limitations, Margret knew in her heart that he had normal intelligence, talent, and a chance at a full and glowing life.
This story is one of profound, heart wrenching honesty, it is a story about the depth of a mothers struggle and her quest to give her challenged son the life and the outlook that he deserves. Just the same outlook as any other child, with a heart, a soul and with dreams and aspirations.
As a mother Margret is truly magical. To me, she is the best mother in the world… her words and her spirit have taught me a great deal.
What you have here dear reader, is a magical and powerful story of a mother who is at once singular and yet also shares a common thread that applies to us all. Margret is unique in that her willpower and belief that she could and still can overcome the odds that she has been dealt. We can all learn from her story and apply these positive traits to better our lives and the lives of those we love and even sometimes people we don’t know but who may need us. This book is not just for parents with disabled or sick children. I want to emphasize that this book applies to us all, because it demonstrates how to deal with any true challenge that you may have been handed in your own life. Margret’s belief that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, even though you cannot see it yet, is not only inspiring, it is empowering. There isn’t a single one of us who does not at some point or another have to deal with adversity, difficulty or trying circumstances. Regardless of your background, faith or position. And so for anyone considering reading this book I would
like to say, please, please do. I cannot encourage you enough to do
so! It WILL help you to understand and gain perspective on how to tackle such circumstances. This book shows us how we can be strong. How compassion can extend further and further than you could ever imagine. Without preaching and without instructing the right or wrong thing. But to always have faith and hope. To never give up, no matter how desperate one may feel.
And It shows how everlasting love can fuel perseverance and patience that in turn allows you to believe in the best possible outcome.
Margret is like any other mother, with no special skills or tricks, and she doesn’t claim to be any kind of guru or expert at ANYTHING. And she and her husband come from very limited means. But what she does possess and what makes her unique is her selflessness and her courage, resulting in a deep desire to educate and inform the public about the condition of Autism and how challenging it can be for the families surrounding their autistic child/children.
Variety said that her film was “an extraordinarily beautiful documentary that will leave audiences stunned and rethinking what has long been considered a disorder devoid of hope.”
We met in a studio in London, over a decade ago and we have been close friends ever since. She is one of those people who has a boundless ability to give and to heal. I am in awe of her to this day.
Her journey is remarkable and her recount, although heart wrenching and difficult at times is also heart-warming, uplifting and funny.
It is a great privilege to know this strong woman and to call her a friend.
I am excited for you dear reader, to turn each page… Kate Winslet
Observer or participant
It’s totally different to look back on it today than to have been a participant in all the turmoil and caught up in the vortex of the events themselves. It’s so much easier to recount past occurrences and to see them from a distance than to be frantically fighting a seemingly hopeless battle between life and death, to fight for one’s very existence and the biggest and most precious part of ourselves, our own offspring. When I look back on the difficult period in our lives which this book focuses on, I find it easier to visualize it in some metaphorical form because that way I can be an observer rather than a participant. I don’t want to live through that chapter in my life ever again, it is thankfully over.
When all was said and done, was I just a tiny innocent pawn caught in some struggle between higher powers? A power game which I had little or no control over after my youngest son was born and our lives were turned upside down, transformed from bliss into three miserable torturous years?
At the mercy of the Witches of Fate
What was happening? Everything was out of control: endless
sleepless nights, illness, trips to the hospital. Was it ever going to end? I thought it was just a phase that would swiftly blow over. There was little time for me to think about my wellbeing or health, because I was so totally immersed in trying to save what could be saved.
It was as if our family had been struck by a bolt of lightning out of the blue. If I didn’t control my life, then who did? What were we grappling with? What was actually going on?
This in no way resembled a normal life or anything I had ever experienced before. It was much more like a course of events that was being governed by supernatural forces that had taken over our lives.
I felt like I was surrounded by the Witches of Fate and malignant demons. Witches and demons boding no good. How could I protect us against them? None of this struggle was visible, tangible or comprehensible to me in any way. What had I got myself into? Was this just harsh reality? What had I done to deserve this? How on earth could I regain a normal life, even if it was only in part or for a brief moment to collect enough strength for the next round?
I was somehow always unsuspecting and kept on thinking this was bound to end. Perhaps because I longed so desperately for it to do so…
Keli’s illness came without warning and we needed to act fast if
he was to have a chance to live. I felt I had been stabbed in the back with a sharp sword, totally out of nowhere. With every attack that afflicted our little Keli, after each onslaught of the cursed witches, we bled to varying degrees. What was driving them? At this point in time, after more than three years of struggle, we had all bled copiously, both physically and mentally. My weight had consequently dropped to around 40 kilos, I’d grown terrifyingly thin and was literally just skin and bones. When were these attacks ever going to end?
I tried to become a shield for my Keli against the relentless and unpredictable attacks of the witches, but their swords pierced me deeply. I could only defend him with my feeble human strength, which was no match for these mighty superpowers. I pictured myself as a thick golden shield and tried to amplify the aura of light enveloping my Keli at the worst of these times, but I had become far too exhausted to provide him with the protection he really needed.
Keli and I were as one, mommy’s little boy, exposed and vulnerable. He couldn’t even show or tell mommy what was wrong. I had to be bigger, stronger and smarter to be able to take care of my beautiful precious child. I knew there was something wrong with him, but got no diagnosis. Was it an unrelenting ear infection? A tummy ache that constantly plagued my baby, causing him to suffer all the time? When you look at your own child and can do absolutely nothing to relieve his affliction or comfort him, the pain starts to sink
into your very being and despair and confusion start to numb your inner courage and ability to fight back.
Ultimately I felt alone in a hell on earth, surrounded by demons who besieged my precious offspring. I would protect him tooth and nail, but to be able to stand any chance in that combat, the enemy needed to be visible and tangible. My husband had given up. It was no wonder and I don’t blame him, I would have wanted to disappear if I could have. There was no way I wanted my parents in the house at that time, because I looked so awful and sensed how worried they were about me and I didn’t want that.
Instead I was tempted to explore other worlds to try to understand and know what it was that I was actually dealing with. I wanted to wrench the throbbing blood-red heart out of my body with my own bare hands and to give it to the witches in exchange for Keli’s health, his life. That was the only thing that was still left living inside me. The only thing they hadn’t taken away from me yet. I didn’t have the strength to cope with this fight anyway and, if they were waiting to finish me off, they could do so but only on that one condition. But could I trust a pact with the witches, who had turned our lives into such nightmares? Could I trust them to restore Keli’s health?
No, my Keli, who had endured so much, deserved a lot better than this and I had to give him stronger and more reliable protection than that. I could therefore at least entice them with my bleeding
heart to see what I was dealing with, to enter their material world and play their game on their own terms.
I made a pact with the witches to share my world and experience of autism to help other vulnerable families facing similar circumstances. That way we would break the spell and have a new and better life, forever.
IN THE BEGINNING
I’m standing in the middle of the floor. Just before that moment it had been warm and bright in my large living room, but the sun had suddenly been obscured. The room seems to be slowly contracting and the walls appear to be drawing closer and closer. As the house shrinks, I start to feel worse. At first I feel a chill, then a mounting fear that turns into sheer anguish. My heartbeat quickens and I break into a growing sweat as the walls approach me. The darkness grows as the house diminishes and the walls continue to advance closer and closer. It grows darker and darker until it is pitch black and I can no longer see. I’m overwhelmed by a heavy feeling of suffocation and the result is a sense of total powerlessness, depression and abandonment. Excluding all hope.
A total vacuum of darkness.
It then starts to brighten slightly and a flutter of wings can be heard in the distance. I make out something flying in the faint light
but cannot distinguish what kind of birds they are. As the light brightens I see that these are not birds, but winged sheep and a peculiar feeling of well-being takes hold of me. If sheep can fly then everything is possible. I start to feel better and gradually begin to breathe more easily. I sense the light giving me a feeling of serenity and security. I feel hope deep inside me. It oozes into my blood and other parts of my body. The hope then starts to swell in my chest, settles down and gives me the strength for further feats and triumphs.
Hope is the light without frontiers, hope is the fuel to accomplishes great things. It is the happiness and joy that makes life worth living.
Isn’t life wonderful? With all its surprises! At least that’s what I feel, most of the time. When conditions are right, the sun is shining and everything is going well.
Where should I actually start…?
It’s actually best to start here: Everything is the way it should be. I’ve just moved into my first apartment. It’s all been renovated. Both bathrooms have been fully tiled, new domestic appliances, new fittings. A stainless steel handrail delimits the landing in front of the master bedroom and curves down the staircase to the living room
on the floor below and from there down to the front door. High ceilings and light colours. Bright and spacious. Lots of space and a gorgeous view. My eldest boy has started school, the younger one will join him there soon. They are 4 and 7 years old. Lively, playful fun boys.
There’s nothing missing but a little sister. We’ve already got a name for her. That’s as far as we’ve got, but it will soon be remedied. We’ve just been so busy, working, bringing up the kids, buying the apartment. Remodelling everything from top to bottom. New fixtures, stairs and flooring. All at full steam.
Her name is to be Thorhildur Margret.
MY FORMATIVE YEARS
One of the things I frequently think about is how often coincidences determine events and have a pivotal effect on our lives. As a youngster I’d rarely given much thought to what I wanted to do when I grew up. I come from a typical Icelandic family. Dad was a police officer and Mom was a hairdresser. Like true Icelanders those were just their main occupations, but on the side they ran a popcorn production business, Dad traded a bit in cars, for a number of years Mom owned a 50% stake in a solarium in the west of town and the list went on. I have three older siblings – two brothers and a sister – and then a younger brother. When I was a child, we lived in the west of Reykjavík. We then soon moved across town where Mom and Dad had built a terraced house and it was in that neighbourhood that I met many of my best friends. One of them was Helga Thora, the eldest child of that wonderful couple Eidur Gudnason and Eyglo Haraldsdottir.
Once, on one of my many visits to my friend’s house, they invited me to stay for dinner with them. Many people have a vivid memory of Eidur. He was a household name, a TV anchor who later became a politician, serving as an MP, Minister and ambassador to both China
and Norway, but perhaps what fewer people know is that Eidur was an excellent cook so they didn’t need to ask me twice to eat with them that evening.
The conversation at the dining table soon turned to my schooling plans, since at the time I was in my second last year of grammar school. When I was asked what plans I had for my education and career, I simply gave the honest answer that I hadn’t given it much thought. “I guess I’ll just go into hairdressing like Mom and my sister Ingunn,” I answered.
„No,” Eidur snapped decisively: “Of course, you’ll go to Highschool. I’ll have a word with the headmaster Gudni and see if the Reykjavík Central Highschool can take you in.” He’d studied at the school himself and any other option was therefore out of the question. This made me think about things in a different mindset and I realised that there was a lot of sense in what Eidur was saying. I put more time into school and got good grades in my final exams. Good enough to get me into highschool without any help, although I decided to go to the highschool in my own neighbourhood. I’m absolutely certain that my whole life would have been very different if this conversation at Eidur’s dining table had not taken place. I maintained a life-long relationship with Eidur and Eyglo and one of my favourite family photographs is of myself and my husband Thor when we were taken out to dinner by Eidur and Eyglo in Florida to celebrate our master degrees from the Florida Institute of
Technology. Eidur Gudnason took the picture.
MY FORMATIVE YEARS
Laughter prolongs life
One often hears that laughter prolongs life and that it’s one of life ́s sweetest creations. Laughter is the cure to everything. There’s a lot of truth in that and it certainly gives life colour. It’s always good to laugh and laughter is good for you. Laughter has always been a very significant part of my life, an important aspect of who I am and easily triggered. Laughter has always come naturally to me. Passing on laughter and smiles, expanding the love I feel, giving and receiving, always inspires gladness within me and those around me.
My friend Ragnheidur and I shared a common taste for laughter and joie de vivre and this has always been the nexus between us. We always had fun together and laughed a lot. I spent a great deal of time at Ragnheidur and her family’s house, where I was always welcomed with open arms. They are a particularly tight-knit family and I feel I’ve been really lucky to get to know them. Ragnheidur’s mother is deaf and therefore speaks sign language in addition to being a skilled lip-reader. I never had any problems communicating with her, even though I didn’t know any sign language. Expressing myself with my whole body has always come natural to me and Hervor, Ragnheidur’s mother, has never had any problems understanding
me. If I ever ran into trouble, Gudmundur, Ragnheidur’s kind and helpful father, would always step in to interpret for me.
I’ll never forget when my friend and I went to the cinema to see our first horror movie – Squirm. The heroes had to battle against worms that were attacking the town and there were worms everywhere. Even when people stepped under the shower it was worms that came out of the showerhead instead of water. We thought it was horrible and disgusting to watch it and because we felt it was so gross we laughed all the time. That was our outlet: laughter. We were the only two in the jam-packed cinema who were laughing at the picture, but that didn’t bother us. Then some boys, who were sitting behind us, threw some liquorice laces over us and we were so startled that we leapt off our seats. We were so fully immersed in the horror that we obviously thought that it was the worms that were attacking us in the cinema. The boys shrieked with laughter when they saw our response to their prank and we laughed just as much. Since it was a midnight screening, the buses had just stopped running when the movie ended. The only thing left for us to do was to walk up to the nearest police station and ask them to drive us home. It was a lot cheaper and more practical than taking a cab, since we were just two penniless school girls. When we entered the police station we walked into the reception area, but were the only two people in sight. A policeman then suddenly appeared and said “good evening, what can I do for you?”
Ragnheidur and I looked at each other and him in slight surprise. We were still recovering from our hysterical laughter at the movie. Then we glanced at each other again and burst into more laughter. We looked at the police officer and exploded with more convulsions. We had lost all control of ourselves and were in hysterics. The poor man hadn’t a clue of what was going on and blushed. He was naturally offended by this behaviour and vanished. When he had summoned up enough courage to come back a few moments later, we tried to apologise between fits of laughter and to explain to him that he looked like the loony in the horror movie. It was uncannily true and a funny coincidence, or so we felt. He didn’t quite share our sense of humour, though, and just blushed some more and vanished from view for a good while again. In the end we got another police officer to drive us home and the doppelganger from the horror movie was able to turn his attention to more important matters.
My friend and I were classmates in highschool. We were once in a biology class when I started to feel peculiar and, in fact, very bad. My response was swift to come and I started to laugh. It was impossible to stop and, of course, Ragnheidur laughed with me, even though she hadn’t a clue of why. Understandably, the teacher wasn’t a bit too pleased about this behaviour and said that if we didn’t cut
it out at once he would throw us out of the class. Ragnheidur stopped, but sadly I couldn’t, even though I wanted to. I apologised to the teacher between the bursts of laughter and told him that I was feeling bad and that I thought I was having an attack of appendicitis. He glared at me knowingly. “An attack of appendicitis!?” he parroted. “I can guarantee you that if you were having an attack of appendicitis you wouldn’t be in a laughing mood and he threw me out of the class.
I was beginning to feel really bad by then and had started to sweat profusely. I had obviously broken into a fever and felt nauseous. Nevertheless, I carried on laughing but winced from the pain in between and, in that state, took myself to a doctor. I got to see one right away because I told them I thought I was having an attack of appendicitis. The doctor gave me a quick examination, after which I was dispatched straight to hospital in an ambulance where I was immediately operated on. I had an acute case of appendicitis and had therefore been right all along. My outlet had been and still is laughter, although it can be confusing, as it had been for that poor biology teacher. He later apologised to me and deleted my absence from the school register.
MY FORMATIVE YEARS
I saw stars
I met my husband, Thor, at the University of Iceland. He is from the country, born and bred in a small town in the north called Siglufjordur and had gone through highschool in Akureyri, another north coast town. I had spotted him in the Engineering & Natural Sciences library, where he was studying computer science. He was tall and handsome with fairly long thick dark brown hair. One of my fellow students at the university was active in what was known as the Student Reform Movement, one of the student politics societies in those years. They were about to host an autumn celebration in the movement and I was invited. Obviously this entailed free booze, food and partying – something no university student could turn down.
She was going to pop by on her way to the party and take me with her. When I got into the cab, Thor was there too with some other people. They had been together in the same year at the Akureyri highschool and Thor was also active in the Reform Movement. After the event, we headed to the club at the National Theatre. I remember really taking to that tall dark haired man. It also helped that he seemed to notice me and was always hovering close- by for some reason.
The group that had come from the gathering hit the dance floor and we had great fun. Bit by bit, we broke into groups, however, and in the end it was just the two of us and we had started to dance together. We bopped together for the rest of the ball and had a good time. It was fun to dance with him. He really got into the music. What perhaps surprised me the most was that he was a great dancer and kept the beat with very subtle gentle movements. It was a pleasant surprise to discover he wasn’t clumsy or always stepping on my toes. That, of course, was a real plus in his favour because I loved dancing and immersing myself in the music just like he did. He made me feel like I was the only girl in the universe and he gave me butterflies in my stomach. Lots of them, in fact, and when he smiled at me they really fluttered to life in all their sparkling glory.
When we stepped out of the ball there was no taxi in sight so therefore nothing left to do but walk home. I was feeling quite tipsy by that stage. I’ve never been much of a drinker and was therefore hopeless at holding my liquor.
We walked up the road from the National Theatre. He was curious about me and my life. “Why are you called Rita?” he asked. I told him about my granny Margaret whom I was named after and who was never called anything other than Rita. “She was Scottish and my grandfather Thorkell had met her when he was sent on a policing course to Scotland. She was brought in to teach him English and they fell in love. The rest is history, I said and smiled.
Thor told me about his very big family. His parents had eight children, but only seven of them reached adulthood. “I’m by far far the youngest. My siblings normally call me the pipsqueak, he said and laughed. “There’s such a huge age gap between us that I was brought up like an only child and my siblings’ children are a lot closer to me in age and my friends,” he added.
All of a sudden a taxi drove past. It was obviously occupied because it whizzed past us without slowing down, even though we gesticulated frantically and shouted as loud as we could. I suddenly turned and was about to continue when I walked bang into a lamppost and stumbled from the blow. Thor struggled to suppress a laugh and, once he’d reassured himself that I wasn’t hurt, merrily cackled. “You just see stars and fall for me right away.”
“Yeah, that’s what you think. You can just think that for all I care, if it makes you feel better,” I said with a teasing air, half dazed after the knock and laughing with him about it all.
OUR FIRST YEARS
Our future’s so bright
Thor is intelligent, sharp and worked hard at what he wanted. He is so unlike me in so many ways, it added spice to our relationship. We got on well together and, despite our differences, actually also have a lot in common when it comes to taste, interests and outlooks on life. Not to mention jocularity. We laugh a lot together and have a similar sense of humour. Our boys just scratch their heads when we laugh about something together. They think we have a weird sense of humour, but it is ours nonetheless.
In fact there was never any doubt after our first meeting that we would end up as couple. After graduating from the university here in Iceland, we planned to take a masters in Florida. We got married before we moved abroad and, in retrospect, those years of study were an incredibly good and easy period. We had our first baby while we were still studying, Erik Steinn, who was named after Dad, Eric Steinsson. When I was finishing my MBA, my mother came to stay with me for the last few months because Thor had got a job back home and therefore headed to Iceland ahead of us to take up his new post.
To begin with we lived in the basement at Mom and Dad’s who
had moved into a new house in a neighbourhood that was often said to lie between life and death because it is situated between the city hospital and the municipal graveyard. It was in that basement that our second son, Unnar Snaer, was born. As I’ve already mentioned, we differ a great deal as a couple, and the same applies to the brothers Erik Steinn and Unnar Snaer. One is just like his father and the other is just like me.
Initially when we moved home after completing our studies, we both worked as specialists in our professions and then in managerial positions with a bright future and great potential to grow and shoulder more responsibility. In many ways we were just typical young Icelanders. We worked hard at what we did because we had plenty on our plates: bringing up our children, acquiring a car and house and doing all those things that building up a household entails.
I was fortunate to get accommodation as part of my job terms and we moved into a beautiful apartment close to Reykjavik city centre, where we lived for the next three years.
The boys got bigger and thrived, we both worked long hours and we now put as much money aside as we could with the aim of buying our own house. We were lucky and bought at the right time when we found a big apartment at a good price because the original owner hadn’t managed to finish it properly and then ran into trouble when trying to pay off loans. As a result the lender, the Housing Financing Fund, had foreclosed on the apartment and we bought it from them.
After several months of work on finishing off everything that was needed, we moved into a stunning bright apartment in one of the suburbs, where everything was new and there was plenty of space for everyone.
Our apartment was fabulous and bright and a lot of effort went into its high quality modern style. It was our common ambition to own a beautiful and well-designed home. When we bought the apartment it was not fully completed, even though it had been lived in for some time. There were temporary kitchen fittings and similarly the bathrooms had only been partly finished and the staircases between the floors were not fully built. I encouraged the boys to participate in designing the apartment so they would be invested in the process and final design of their new home. Erik Steinn really enjoyed it and allowed himself to dream of becoming an architect while the work was being done. It was such fun to watch the boys’ faces when we were going over the drawings of our new home with Dad. When I said “Erik had an idea to do this” or “this was Unnar ́s idea” they glowed like angels. It gave them so much pleasure to be able to take part in this with us, just as much as it gave pleasure to us.
What’s more it made the project much more fun, an adventure in its own right. It also made them more excited to move into a new place in a new municipality. We put a lot of effort into how our home should be when we got home from work or school and all played an
active part in deciding how everything would be set. This was special and a very satisfying family time.
Shortly after we moved in, I was contacted by a new lifestyle magazine that wanted to photograph the apartment for their publication. Some craftsman had suggested the apartment should appear in their magazine. I was a bit uncomfortable about the idea and spent a long time pondering on whether it was right to expose the home to that kind of publicity. I nevertheless came to the conclusion that at some stage I might want to sell this beautiful apartment and that this kind of coverage could only help. It therefore turned out that our apartment was publicised with a long article and photos in this glamorous magazine.
In the same year that we bought the apartment, Thor had founded a software company with some former colleagues and local investors and he was its managing director. Actually he also took care of the washing up and cleaning and everything in between because initially he was the only employee and was therefore responsible for everything from A to Z. But that soon changed. The co-owners started a few weeks later and then started to hire people as fast as they could find them. This was in the mid 1990’s and the IT sector was on the upswing. These were therefore exciting and demanding times because there was no shortage of things to do.
A BABY ON THE WAY
Playing at being mommy
I was a young career woman on the way up when we decided to try for a third child. I was the deputy-managing director of a small import and production company and liked it there. I found the job enjoyable and sufficiently challenging and it came with the added bonus that I got to work with some wonderful colleagues.
Personally, I felt it was enough to have two wonderful healthy boys, but Thor wanted to give it one more try for a girl. I was totally willing to give it a go so it didn’t take long to win me over to the idea. When it came to it, I was firmly determined to give myself more time with the third child than I had with the boys. I therefore handed in my notice at work while I was pregnant and was going to stay at home for at least a year after the birth, even if the maternity leave period at that time in Iceland was only three months. In those days it was fairly easy to get a good job with specialised qualifications and I had no worries about not being able to re-enter the labour market because I was constantly being offered this or that interesting job. I was eager to be able to spend more time on my children and home. Give myself more time to cook good meals, even bake and just play with the kids – to take a little break from work and responsibility
and devote more time to my family for a while. It was a wonderful prospect and I was grateful to be able to do it. I was really looking forward to it.
Neither of our boys had been born according to a plan. They just came and we let it happen.. Now that we had finally “settled in” as they say, we made a conscious decision to make one final try for a girl. In neither of the two previous occasions had we known what gender to expect. We both felt it was more exciting to find out when the baby was born. This one was to be no different. It would just come to light, but it was fun to entertain the idea that it would be a girl, since we already had two boys, and to play with girls’ names. We had somehow unintentionally started to think that it would be a girl after all, I don’t know why, it just turned out that way. We were both so sure and had long decided on a name for her. What’s more we never even mentioned a boy’s name.
The pregnancy went well, just as the previous two had. I worked up until the last moment. Naturally I was a little bit tired and finished towards the end, but it had been just the same with the other two pregnancies.
The two big boys were also quite excited. They eagerly followed developments and I enjoyed sharing the pregnancy with them. Sometimes, when the opportunity arose, we’d all lie in the big king- sized bed which we had moved back home from Florida. Then the
little being started to kick and kick and the boys placed their little palms on my tummy. Neither of them had been quite as energetic in the womb or been so diligent at making themselves known. We had already pictured all the cups and prizes which he or she would come home with at the end of football tournaments. Based on all the kicks I was getting in the womb, we could expect nothing less. This is what we strung Erik Steinn and Unnar Snaer along with. Sportacus was finally on his way into the family.
THE FAMILY GROWS
It all happened very swiftly. My waters broke, contractions started and we headed straight down to the maternity ward. It’s strange how quickly one forgets the terrible pain that accompanies birth. When the big moment finally comes after nine long months and the body goes into labour, you think: “Never again, this is the last baby!” But mother nature takes care of that like everything else, because the moment the newborn is placed in your arms, all the pain vanishes in an instant and a new, sublime and overwhelming sense of wellbeing takes over. A house full of happiness! A mother’s love conquers everything.
To be able to be a part of something so big, something so much greater than one’s self and to be able to give birth to a new life is a heavenly feeling in all its glory. Your spirit soars in this magical moment!
Looking back on it, there is nothing in life that equals having a child and bringing a new being into the world. And yet we often don’t give it much thought and just take it for granted. Yes, this is just a part of being human. But when we ponder on it a bit more, it’s the eternal awe-inspiring miracle of human life.
But now wasn’t the time for being philosophical. It was a Saturday and night had fallen when we rushed to the hospital, as I previously mentioned, because someone was in a hurry. When we finally reached the maternity ward, I hurried inside because I felt like I was already going into labour. Thor helped me out of the car and then dashed off to find a parking space.
Because it was late, the door was locked so I rang the bell and told them my waters had broken and that I had gone into labour. I knew I wouldn’t be able to calm down until I was in professional hands. They opened up for me and, when I got in, I was placed in the waiting room because all the birthing rooms were occupied. There was a full moon and intense activity in the ward. I remember feeling surprised, but nevertheless did as I was told. There were some other people in the waiting room, obviously relatives because, as far as I could see, there wasn’t a single pregnant woman waiting there. I sat there like a fish out of water, already in the throes of giving birth. I had difficulties sitting and waiting because I was in considerable pain and was starting to sweat a lot. Finally Thor arrived. The hospital was very busy so he’d had to park far away.
I wanted to scream in pain, took deep breaths, looked down at my tummy and placed both hands around the bump from which my darling unborn child would soon appear to me. Glancing at the people in the waiting room, it occurred to me that it was probably just as uncomfortable for them to see me in such pain there. One of
the men, who was waiting, obviously had a cold and when he had a coughing fit I thought to myself that maybe I wasn’t in the best place. And then the pain pushed all these speculations aside.
I was growing restless with all of this. I knew that if I lingered there any longer I would give birth to the child right there in the waiting room and therefore decided to take matters into my own hands and try to find a midwife. After some searching, we found one, but by then I had such an overwhelming urge to push the baby out that I actually couldn’t talk to her. Fortunately a birthing room had been freed and the midwife swiftly ushered me in. Before I knew it I was up on the birthing bench, already very dilated as I was half way through labour and hands now had to move swiftly to avoid any mishaps.
Because this was all happening so fast, a lot faster than when I’d had the older boys, there was a lot of stress and agitation in the air. Everything was being prepared for the birth at the last minute, while at the same time the staff was trying to attend to me and guide me. I was hurried onto the bench, no time for any anaesthetic. Not exactly the kind of birth I had in mind for my third child.
“STOP, STOP, said the midwife adamantly, “don’t push, stop.” The midwife was skinny and rather stiff. Obviously tired on this shift they were in. She reminded me of an old-school teacher, but nevertheless performed her job professionally.
“The baby has the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck and
you have to stop pushing.”
I fully understood what the midwife was saying. I was supposed
to stop pushing, but what I didn’t know was how to go about it. It’s as if some invisible power takes over your body when you’re giving birth, you can’t control when the contractions come nor the urge to push – it all happens automatically. But at the fateful moment all you can do is do your best.
I tried to tame my compulsion to push and to follow this resolute midwife ́s instructions to the letter. But it was easier said than done. In retrospect this must have been just as stressful for her as it was for me since there had been little time to prepare for this unannounced birth in the heart of the night. Obviously an under- staffed shift, considering the workload on the ward. Maybe I had also just been lucky with the previous births. We’d had plenty of time and sufficient preparation. Everything had been calmer and more relaxed, which is obviously more desirable in these circumstances.
My only option was to try to do everything the midwife said. I had to be careful not to push, even though I had an overwhelming urge to do so.
When the baby started crowning, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and swift hands were needed to cut it. Fortunately that went well and the head was out.
“It’s a boy,” said my husband, boastfully. Although we had gotten
used to the idea of having a girl, we were just as happy when our wonderful sunshine boy came to light.
His face was blue and his body pale, he cried in liberation when the umbilical cord was removed. I asked the midwife whether the doctor should be called in since he was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck? “No,” the midwife brusquely answered. “No need for that. The boy cried normally and he’s fine.” The doctor came anyway and concurred with the midwife. The baby’s vital signs were normal and there were no indications that there was anything to be concerned about.
No problem, I thought, I must be in reliable professional hands. The boy is wonderful, yet another miracle, I was grateful for a healthy baby boy.
He was the most beautiful of our boys and clearly the most observant. He was extremely alert and obviously didn’t want to miss out on anything. It was evident that he wasn’t only handsome, but that he would be the most intelligent of us too. His two brothers had just slept through their first few days and barely kept their eyes open, but this fellow was determined to see the world from the very first moment.
Once the ordeal is over and this angel of light is placed in my arms, I’m overcome by a feeling and force that is life itself. And life is
There is nothing more beautiful than that singular and
miraculous feeling of giving birth to a child, of delivering a new human being into the world. It’s the closest one gets to experiencing the divine. You literally fall into a trance when you get this little cute creature of light in your arms. You soar in the ecstasy of the moment as the sun pours into your heart, nourishing your body and soul with love and happiness. Is there anything more heavenly than holding your newborn tightly in your arms, hearing his heartbeat, inhaling the scent of his innocence? His darling little fingers are wrapped around my index. I smile at my husband, glowing with gratitude, as our baby envelopes us with the warmth of his presence. We float on clouds of humility and thankfulness for what has been given to us. A healthy baby, perfectly formed. We couldn’t have drawn him better even if we’d tried .
Perfect. Cute little fingers, a small sweet diamond-shaped nose, beautifully formed lips and such a handsome face. We are bursting with pride. Exploding. A sweet, if slightly crumpled, angel of light. We all love him already, with all our hearts. He owns us and we own
him.The ecstasy of love takes over in all its majesty. Innocence in full bloom.
The future is bright and it is ours.
As luck would have it, two of my friends were also expecting that same year. That would undoubtedly be handy. Who doesn’t know what it’s like to visit friends with children in tow? If there are no other fun kids of the same age to play with, they often refuse to come. It was an unexpected coincidence and fun to go through our pregnancies at the same time. We already had so much in common and now we had this as well. Our children would become the best of friends, just like their parents. The visits would therefore go more smoothly, at least for the peers who would have someone to play with. We all felt that was great. Now we would have more reasons and opportunities to meet up since we had children of the same age. Together we had four boys. Ragnheidur was the first with twin boys in March, I was next and had my boy in July and Steina came last with the fourth boy in November.
It was such fun and an enjoyable feeling. Ragnheidur and I had been close friends since childhood. At school we had been nicknamed “the sandwich” because we were always glued together. Always giggling. We didn’t care about the nickname our schoolmates
had given us because it rang so true and if one slice of bread was there, the other was never far away and we worked best together, just like a good sandwich. We just laughed about this like other things. I had met Steina, on the other hand, in my university years and we have been close friends ever since.
THE MATERNITY WARD AND THE FIRST DAYS
A new life
The divine soft little newborn that the midwife placed in my arms was a new life in two ways. This beautiful innocent child marked the beginning of a new chapter and transformation in all of our lives. If only we had been better prepared for it.
It was a short stay in hospital, thank god. I just wanted to recover as soon as possible and then go home. Since this was my third child I felt a lot more secure and used to it all than when my first child was born. Back then I’d run into a lot of trouble breastfeeding, but fortunately it went much better after that and the same thing seemed to be happening now. Everything was developing normally and there seemed to be no reason for delaying my return home.
The woman I shared a room with, who was having her first child, was very sad. She didn’t even want to hold her baby. The midwife who was taking the shift that day wasn’t too pleased about this and told her to take the child and place it on her breast. I remember how strongly it struck me, the little interest she showed in her child. Thinking back on it now, I wonder if it was post-natal depression, which I’ve never personally experienced.
But enough of that, home, home, I want to go home.
I know it will strike many foreign readers as odd that we did not name our precious boy right when he was born, but in Iceland it is customary not to choose a name until after the baby is born and traditionally it is not revealed until the christening or name giving ceremony. So for the first few weeks and months our darling fellow was referred to by various nicknames and terms of endearment as is common in our culture.
Naturally everything revolved around the little bundle of joy when we got home. The brothers were excited and undoubtedly slightly daunted as well. This meant they would be getting less attention, but fortunately it never resulted in either of them ever being jealous in the least. For the first few days everything ran perfectly smoothly. Sleep, drink, burp, sleep, drink, burp. The little darling was serene and wonderful just like any newborn ought to be. But he seemed to be more alert to his surroundings and attentive than we had been used to with our older boys. At first, in the beginning at least, that was the only difference we became aware of.
As expected, there was a great flow of visitors when we got home from the maternity ward. Friends and relatives showed up with birth gifts, peeped at the baby, and got to hold him a bit. In the first few days he was just like any other baby should be and it was therefore wonderful to be visited by one’s close ones and be able to
boast of one’s child a bit.
Then the restlessness started and grew from day to day. He would cry incessantly for hours on end. What was wrong? What could I do to make my baby feel better? There was no shortage of advice from friends and relatives. “Stop eating candy” or “try to relax more.” Get drops from a herbalist, take him for a baby massage, a baby swim and I’m sure I was given other tips. All well intended.
As time went on, however, and Keli’s restlessness became more pronounced, everyone understood that I needed to try and rest during the day since I was, more often than not, awake for four to six hours every night. The visits therefore diminished drastically and my communication with people shifted to the phone. Mom and Dad were regular daily guests, and helped their daughter as best they could. Mom mainly took on household chores, did the laundry, tidied up, washed and performed other errands that lightened my burden so that I could take care of my sick child.
Countless visits to the doctor then followed, but I could get no answer as to what was causing the unrest. Needless to say, the little fellow showed his best side when I took him to the doctor. Maybe I was just a hyperactive over-conscientious mother who was making a mountain out of a molehill. No doubt this was just a phase that would pass, the way it always did. Everyone I spoke to told me in a
friendly way that’s what it boiled down to. But there was something bugging this mother’s heart that didn’t add up.
Ding, dong, the doorbell rang. My god, have some guests arrived? By this stage I couldn’t stand getting visitors without warning. I was pretty tired and annoyed that my boy cried endlessly and that there was nothing I could do to soothe him.
I was starting to feel just as bad as he did. I mostly wanted to cry or scream and to free us both of this pain. Best to put on a mask. Smile and cheerfully receive the guests. I didn’t know Gudfinna very well, but I thought it was so sweet and thoughtful of her to come with a beautiful hand-knitted sweater for my little boy. I was a total wreck, drained and running on empty. She was quick to sense the situation after being with us for a short while.
The nights were by far the worst. He generally cried between 4 to 6 hours every single night, because of his discomfort or pain. Thor and I tried to take it in shifts as much as we could so that the other could at least try to rest. But it was considerably more difficult for me than my husband to take a shift off. I couldn’t sleep with the piercing crying and I felt I had to be present when my baby was feeling so bad. What was afflicting mommy’s little sweetheart?
Fortunately Thor had no trouble dozing off when it was his turn to sleep and he slept like a log when he came off his shifts. I wished
I’d had that ability to sleep despite the shrieking crying. But it pierced his mother’s heart to the bone and fuelled my worries. I couldn’t stay calm about the child’s restlessness. I felt it was one of my husband’s strengths to be able to do that and a big advantage because we all have to sleep to stay healthy. But unfortunately it was not a strength that I possessed; I didn’t have and still don’t have that knack. I couldn’t sleep – at least not in the same house – if my little boy was crying in pain, whatever it was that was troubling him.
Crying, crying and more crying. Strange how a child’s crying over a long period can drive one mad. It pierces you to the bone and you start to feel the same misery as the child. It fills you with a crushing sense of cluelessness and helplessness when you don’t understand what is causing the child’s distress, whether it is something serious or just something trivial that could easily be solved. Was it my diet that was causing this restlessness through my breast milk or what?