Mummy Hugs

An hour ago Midi Minx woke up crying, fretting about some wee innocent incident a few weeks ago that her 6 yo mind is feeling guilty about. Like any parent would, I fixed it with a Mummy Cuddle. She clung to me like a baby monkey as I held her and stroked her hair out of her wet green eyes till she was ready to go back to sleep, feelings salved.

I last received a Mummy Cuddle myself 8 years ago, when Maxi was 4 months old. If I thought hard enough, I could probably figure out the exact date. My mum was newly-diagnosed with lung cancer. I’d flown up to stay with her for a few days with baby Maxi, our continual mother-daughter feud on cease-fire. We were chatting about just rubbish really as we nipped in to the local Tesco to get something healthy for dinner. Crossing the doorway I suddenly blurted out of nowhere: “I’m not ready for you to die, Mum”, and stood sobbing, baby in her car seat at my feet. I remember she enveloped me in her arms, not giving 2 hoots about all the rushing shoppers swerving around us with tuts and glares. She gave me the kind of tight body squeeze that mums specialise in, the kind that blot out all the hurt for a minute, then smiled, kissed me, and said, “I’m not ready to die yet, either. Silly girl. It’s ok. Don’t worry. So, d’you want to get a Chinese carry-out for dinner, instead?”

I’ve been watching and reading about the current Ebola outbreak for months, I think from when I first read that MSF had declared it out of control. I saw a photo the other day (above: John Moore—Getty Images from that encapsulates everything I feel about that disease. It’s a nurse in full personal protective equipment, looking as Other Worldly as Marty McFly (Back to the Future) when he emerges from the DeLorean in Peabody’s barn in 1955. The suited-up person is awkwardly carrying a little child, maybe 2 or 3 years old, who’s suspected of having Ebola. The sheer contrast between the lightly-clad child and the plastic-layered adult stuns me. I find it so terribly cruel that because the devastating virus is passed by touching infected body fluids, people have to shield themselves from that basic human nurturing instinct: to touch. Ebola sufferers are unable to be touched, stroked, hugged when they are suffering, frightened, needing reassurance. When these babies (and children and adults) most need physical human skin-to-skin contact, they can’t have it. Survival doesn’t herald a return of the miraculous Mummy Cuddle, even if family members are still alive: survivors are reporting being shunned by fearful friends and family. I read that some Ebola survivors are trusting their new immunity to the virus to volunteer to work with children sick with Ebola, so that they can provide them with human touch.

I have an electronic friend, C, whose youngest son was born a few weeks after Mini Minx, and who shares a birthday with Maxi. We met on an online antenatal forum and kept in loose touch ever since via Facebook. A few months ago she sent owl-mad Midi a wee leather owl purse that Midi cherishes. Midi had been chattering about how kind The Lady Who Sent Me Charlotte The Owl Purse was, and I realised I’d not heard anything from her for a wee while, as you often do now with Facebook’s tightly algorithm-ed newsfeed. So the other night I clicked on her profile to catch up with her news over the past month. It was bad and I cried reading it, a whole month of posts, page after page: her little 4 yo has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 High Risk Neuroblastoma. I can’t comprehend it. My mind can’t even begin to understand that kind of devastation. It’s too big a tragedy. It’s shocking. Mind-freezing. Little Jake takes after his strong, feisty, full of life mummy, so over the coming days I’m sure he’ll be coping with his treatments like a warrior far beyond his years and experience. Midi found something for him in the shop today that she reckons will make him and his mum smile a bit (and it’s nothing to do with owls, shock-horror!) What’s making me weep for him now, though, is that last night his illness made him hurt far too much to have a Mummy Cuddle. He so badly needed one; he cried for one; C was desperate to give him a pain-blotting, fear-quenching squeeze, but he just couldn’t bear it. So cruel and unfair, to them both.

I hugged my 3 in their sleep last night a little more tightly than usual, and thought of little Jake.