‘There is nothing special about you and there is nothing special about Polly. Terrible things can happen and they can happen to anyone. Safety is an illusion. Danger is reality.’
I obviously looked as shell-shocked as I felt, because Dr Peter Barr had had no trouble identifying me. He walked straight up to me, sat down opposite and, without any niceties, launched straight into the words above. Words that were to change my life.
Maybe it sounds brutal, written down baldly like that, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. Ever since Polly had stopped breathing the night before, I had been obsessively wondering what I had done wrong.
Was it that glass or two of wine I had before I knew I was pregnant? Had I exercised too much? Was it stress from losing my job? Was it all the dieting I had done in the past? Then my thoughts turned superstitious. Had this crisis happened because I had been in room 13 when I ﬁnally got that private room I’d been so desperate for? What had I done? How had I caused this? What could I have done to change things?
I was desperately trying to hold on to some sense that I was still in control. I wanted to believe that if I could just ﬁnd the right formula – the right magic spell, if you like – I could keep Polly safe. As Peter Barr spelled out the brutal reality, I gave up that idea. I understood that all I could do was deal with whatever it was I was going to have to deal with. I could do nothing about what was happening to my daughter. It was out of my hands. The only thing I could control was my own reactions and behaviour. The letting-go of control that started at that moment, in that coﬀee shop, would eventually change everything.
I don’t remember anything else about our conversation. I just remember those words. They became the mantra I live by to this day.
When I woke the morning after Polly had been rushed into intensive care, having snatched a few hours’ sleep in the breast- feeding room oﬀ Faithful Ward (having dreamt I had cancer), I did what I had learnt to do. I reached out for help.
The ﬁrst person I rang was JuJu Sundin, with whom I had done my prenatal exercise classes. I did this because she had asked all the expectant mothers who attended her classes to keep her posted and I took this as permission to tell her my story. It turned out to be one of the most important phone calls I have ever made.
JuJu listened without interruption before she gave me advice.
‘When you get oﬀ the phone with me, I want you to call Dr Peter Barr. He works at the children’s hospital, so you should be able to ﬁnd him via the switch. He’s a neonatologist, but he’s also a grief counsellor. Ask him to meet with you as soon as possible. Tell him I told you to call.’
I did as she said and rang Peter Barr. I told him all that had happened the night before.
‘I’ll meet you in the coﬀee shop in ﬁve minutes,’ he said.
‘How will I know you?’
‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I’ll know you.’