Please accept my sincere, heartfelt apologies for the length of this thing. This was supposed to be a 2000 word flashback chapter for Sine, but then I realised it also fits really well into Mother We Share and it got so long it's RIDICULOUS, so I'm posting it as a separate story instead. I may end up using this as a place to post all my Ange/Chloe/Dom background stuff that doesn't fit into a specific story, we will see.
This story does contain discussion of rape and resultant PTSD, substance abuse, binge drinking, mental health issues, teen pregnancy, unwanted pregnancy, prostitution, premature birth and alludes in places to neonatal abstinence syndrome and STIs, although it's never specifically discussed. Please do PM me if you want to know more before you read.
I am very, very nervous about posting this story because of the topics above. All of them have been carefully researched for writing this- I have spent far too much time reading various medical journals, support sites, forums, NHS guides, you name it. I have really tried to handle it all with the due care and empathy it deserves, and I've written this because Holby have given us so little on Ange, Chloe and Dom's backgrounds, and this is the theory that makes the most sense to me. I really hope you feel I've handled the issues involved sensitively.
On a happier note, Seanair and Seanmhair are Scots Gaelic for nana and grandad. You may already know if you've read some of my other stories that I use these for Ange's maternal grandparents- mostly to avoid Ange's mum and her grandmother both being Nana and things getting really confusing, if I'm completely honest.
As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts on this one- I'm not sure enjoyed it is necessarily the right word, but if you don't hate it please do tell me!
PS- the title is taken from a song from Karine Polwart's Scottish Songbook of the same name. The lyrics have nothing to do with it, but the overall theme works really well.
"Oh my god, Mum, you look stoned in these." Chloe stares at the photos on the first double page of her mother's scrapbook, wide eyed, transfixed, and Ange panics.
Maybe it was a really terrible idea, allowing Chloe anywhere near this. Maybe she should have just removed the photos she wanted, put them in a new album, purer, censored, before she showed Chloe.
But Chloe came over for dinner at hers shaky, anxious, sad, apparently convinced again out of nowhere that her mum couldn't possibly love her after how she had her.
That constant battle.
They've had almost fifteen years of this cycle now, this anxiety. Chloe breaking down in tears convinced that she was never wanted, forced upon her mother against her will, a monster, damaged goods, unlovable, and it breaks Ange's heart every single time because it just couldn't be any further from the truth.
And she's tried telling her.
Every time they've been through this since Ange finally sat Chloe down at fourteen and told her the truth about her father, she's tried telling her.
That she loved her from the moment she realised she was pregnant with her- albeit far too late, but even so. That she still didn't realise how far along she was, not until she gave birth, only knew which of the many possibilities was the story of Chloe's conception when she was holding her in her arms, fragile, blue with oxygen deprivation, traumatised, not breathing on her own at first.
But that didn't matter.
She was already so in love with Chloe by then, so adamant she was hers, so set on being her mum, on keeping her, that Ange couldn't have cared less who provided the other half of her DNA.
It didn't matter to her then, and it hasn't mattered since, not once, not ever.
If only she could get her daughter to believe her.
No; she's tried this approach. She's tried this approach so many times and it just doesn't seem to get through to Chloe.
Digging out her first photos of her, less than an hour old, tiny, perfect, is just about the only thing left Ange hasn't tried at some point over the years.
And she doesn't like showing people these, under normal circumstances.
It's not because of Chloe.
She could never, ever be ashamed of her daughter.
She's just beyond ashamed that the first photos she has of baby girl are of her looking so ill, so weak, blue-tinged, translucent skin, thin, wrapped in a Glasgow SARC-issue blanket waiting for an ambulance to arrive and take her to the nearest neonatal unit.
That it could all have been so, so different, if only she hadn't been so irresponsible for almost the entirety of her pregnancy.
She's not ashamed of Chloe.
She's ashamed of herself.
And so usually, she'd keep these photos just for her, let the rest of the world see the carefully selected images of Chloe on the NICU looking less sickly pale and malnourished, more like a proper, healthy newborn than she did in those first few days, before the antibiotics kicked in.
But a part of Ange wonders.
Maybe if she can just show Chloe, make her see how much she loved her right from the start, the lengths she went to in order to keep her safe until proper help arrived, how badly she wanted to be her mum- needed to be.
How perfect she was, how tiny, how pure and innocent and precious and completely separate from the violence of her conception, the man who fathered her.
Maybe Chloe might just start to believe her.
That was Ange's plan.
The trouble is, Chloe won't let her skip to the end of the scrapbook and the photos that might actually help.
She's too busy giggling at the surviving evidence of her mother's horrendous teenage binge drinking and experimentation with cannabis and the occasional something harder.
"Well, I don't remember a thing about that night, so yes, I probably was," Ange admits, tries her hardest to strike a suitable balance between ashamed and matter of fact and in control- because she's all too-conscious that this is Chloe's origins, her history, and god only knows the last thing she wants is for Chloe to think she's ashamed of her, undermine everything else she's trying to achieve with this. "And… you know. Probably wouldn't have been sat in that guy's lap like that if I wasn't high. I do remember him, he was a right creep."
"Why were you climbing all over him and his mate, then?"
"Because I was stoned! And I was drunk, by the look of that WKD bottle and the empty ones next to me, I was doubly gone. I'd probably been stoned on and off for days, this was in my proper off the rails phase."
"Andwhatwas that eyeliner?"
"Seriously?" Ange almost allows herself to laugh, to relax. "I'm showing you my cringe-worthy photos from my misspent youth off my face on weed and alcohol and god only knows what else, and your main worry is my eyeliner?"
"Why shouldn't it be, that's hideous!" Chloe protests. "You look like an emo panda!"
"Hey! I don't think I knew what a makeup wipe was back then, just reapply over the remains of yesterday's eyeliner and go. That was me. This was back when I was avoiding going home to Nana's, I think…"
"Did she kick you out?"
"What? God, no, your nana would never have done that. I just couldn't be bothered with the lectures because I knew she was right about the drugs and the binge drinking, that's all. And the partying. And the stupid, dangerous games with men twice my age. I used to sleep in a disused railway station just outside Pollokshields with this gang I fell in with- I've told you that story, haven't I? Thought if I did what they asked me to, they'd protect me, or something stupid like that."
"From my dad?" Chloe's voice trembles.
"He's not your dad, sweetheart." Ange plays with Chloe's hair absentmindedly, cuddles her into her side, protective. "But yes. From him. Although I was dating one of them before that happened, but we won't go into that. That's a story for another day, maybe. Are you sure you want to look at these? These photos weren't really why I got this album out…"
"What the fuckare you doing to that guy?" Chloe exclaims, turning the page before Ange can stop her, visibly shocked. "Mum!"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" She cringes, hugs Chloe tighter; her beautiful grown-up daughter, her reason for everything, her purpose, her safety net. "I'm not exactly proud of these photos! Can I please just skip to the ones I actually wanted to show you?"
She used to do this back when she was a teenager, new mum for the second time over, whenever she was feeling self-conscious, embarrassed, ashamed.
Hide behind Chloe, that is.
She was far too young and immature and stupid and selfish to be aware of it with Dom. But the second time around, it took her mere weeks after Chloe was discharged from the NICU to realise that if she just focused all her attention on her daughter, shut everything else out, cuddled her, counted her tiny fingers, chatted away to her, fussed over her, she could deflect all the unwelcome attention.
She could make it about Chloe instead, make everyone staring at them focus on Chloe and how completely adorable she was, not how young she was herself, how irresponsible she must be to have had a baby so young, how promiscuous, how much of a failure she was, a statistic, slut, whore, whatever other insults strangers might not throw at her verbally, but clear enough from their expressions it's exactly what they're thinking, if they weren't preoccupied with her beautiful Chloe.
She probably never stopped, if she's brutally honest with herself.
The truth is, even now, Ange's default position when she's feeling vulnerable, exposed, embarrassed, anxious, is to fuss over Chloe.
"Oh my god, are you giving him a lap dance?" Chloe realises. "These are just weird, I did not need to see photographic evidence of you giving anyone a…"
"I did tell you to let me skip to the end!" Ange cringes, cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "You know, like I wanted to do in the first place. I warned you you'd never un-see these! I never would have done… that, if I hadn't been off my face, these are so embarrassing."
"But why do you still have these photos? That's the weird thing! I would have burned them years ago!"
"Because this is my 'I Turned My Life Around For Chloe' scrapbook, sweetheart," Ange tells her sincerely. "It's not just stoned photos in here, I promise…"
"No, you were obviously drunk in this one, not stoned."
"Well yes, I think the near-empty two litre cider bottle is a bit of a giveaway. And the posing. God, the posing's just vulgar." She shudders, beyond embarrassed. "You see why I was always so nervous letting you go off for sleepovers and teen parties in high school now? This is what I used to get up to while Nana thought I was at nice, innocent, drug and alcohol-free sleepovers with my friends. She didn't realise what I was really doing until it was far, far too late, needless to say. Right, let's skip the next page, you don't need to see those ones."
"What's wrong with those ones?"
"They're just a bit provocative… alright, I know what you're going to say! More provocative than the rest of them. Much more. And… well, I'm wired. I don't think it's weed I'm on in these, let's put it like that, I'm totally off my head and I just… you can see it in my eyes, I look scary. And I think I'm half-naked. They're just really not the kind of thing I really want my daughter to see. I'd rather you hadn't seen any of these, to be honest, they're so embarrassing, but I really, really don't want you seeing those ones. You'd never look at me in the same way again."
"Why on earth were these even taken, Mum? And whydid you print them out if you find them that embarrassing?"
"Well, you had to print them out in those days, you didn't know what you'd taken until you printed them." Ange watches Chloe's face carefully for a reaction, squeezes her shoulder, her elbow, protective. "I think some of these were taken on my camera, I would have got them printed. God only knows who took them, though. And some of them were posted through Nana's letterbox when I left all that behind me and started trying to sort myself out, certain people didn't like that I wasn't at their beck and call anymore. I remember that part."
"Seriously? Oh my god, Mum, what were you…"
"Hey, I think we've established my life was one massive train wreck when these were taken. But I was mortified when Nana saw these. Absolutely mortified, I don't think I went home for a week after that."
"Hey, it's alright. I got over it. I don't think Nana looked at them too closely, thank god." She can't quite look her daughter in the eyes now, breathes in heavily, half-afraid of her reaction. "She didn't know about you yet, when she first saw these."
"You mean… are you pregnant in these?"
"Yep. I'm pregnant in all of these. With you. That's why it's my 'I Turned My Life Around For Chloe' scrapbook. You see why I'm so ashamed of them now? It's not just about the drugs and the drinking, it's… it's not exactly the start in life I would have wanted to give you, if I'd known." Ange turns the pages, cringes. "There you go. That's me, wasted, climbing all over someone else's boyfriend like god only knows what. These should have been burned, really, only I think I kept them in case I ever needed to put you off drugs and underage sex. And to remind myself how bad I let things get, I guess. How much damage I did to you before you were even born, how lucky I am you turned out so perfect, all things considered. I kept this so if I ever started to slip, it was there to keep me on track. Or to remind me how far I'd come, later, when you were older. You know, like a confidence boost, when I felt like a crap mum, I could look back on these and remember how hard I worked to…"
"You aren't a crap mum," Chloe tells her sincerely. "You could never be a crap mum…"
"You're sweet. Anyway. God-awful, mortifying photo of me making an absolute fool of myself…"
"It's not that bad, Mum…"
"Don't say that. Please don't say that, that makes me worry what you got up to as a teenager."
"Nothing like that!" Chloe insists. "But still. They aren't that bad, Mum. You were what, sixteen…"
"Seventeen. These would have been March 1990." She pauses, watches Chloe anxiously, waits for her to put the pieces together.
"Oh, you mean…"
"Afraid so. I think it's more obvious in these ones because I'm… you know. Only wearing a bra. No, that's you. That bump. Why do you think I've got these in with your baby photos?"
"Are there baby photos in here too?"
"Yep. Those are the photos I actually want to show you. Have I not shown you this album before? Not these parts, obviously. I definitely haven't shown you these pages before, I'd remember that."
"No. I don't think you have. Unless these are the ones of me in the incubator?"
"Are those the earliest baby photos I've ever shown you?"
"I thought so. Right, we've got to get to the end of this album, then. This isn't the NICU ones, these are earlier. There are some gorgeous ones of you in here, you look like a doll. A really, really tiny doll."
"How are they earlier than the incubator ones, though? I've seen the ones Nana took of me when she came into the NICU…"
"You'll see. No, that's you. I'm about six months pregnant with you in these. I didn't know, obviously." She hugs Chloe tightly, squeezes. "I started getting my act together the moment I realised I was pregnant with you. Straight off the drugs."
"I know, Mum. I know, it's okay. You do notlook six months pregnant."
"You see why I didn't realise? I just thought it was fat. I was drinking a shit ton of calories in WKD and living off chips and deep-fried mars bars, I just thought it was fat. I mean, there may have been a huge element of denial. But still. I'll show you my photos at six months pregnant with Dom after this, the difference is huge. Iwas huge, when I was six months with him. And… I don't know. Everything with you just felt completely different to my pregnancy with Dom, it hadn't even crossed my mind I might be pregnant when these were taken. Obviously. Or I wouldn't have been climbing all over some random guy like that. In my underwear."
"There's no way you're six months pregnant in these, Mum. You've got the dates wrong. These are from four months, or something."
"I wasn't that stoned! I do know when these were taken, I promise. I didn't lose my shit completely. But seriously, do you see why I didn't realise now? You were just tiny. You were three pounds bang on and the length of my forearm, you were less than a third of the size Dom was. And I was a stupid seventeen-year-old, I didn't realise babies came that tiny. I mean, not that you'd know you were that small now, the number of stretch marks you gave me."
"Not that you're bitter or anything."
"Hey, I don't understand it either. Dom was nine pounds eight, I was enormous- and I was barely fourteen, school was hell on earth. Imagine all the comments. S2 teenagers are just vile, cruel little…" she trails off, shudders.
Perhaps it's awful of her, given she's Dom's mother just as much as she is Chloe's.
But that period of her life, thirteen and heavily pregnant and being teased relentlessly at school, reality beginning to hit and completely depressed and terrified, too young to be a mother, to drop out of school, sentenced to spending all day alone in her parents' house with a screaming baby and a pile of textbooks to keep on track to take her standards, once the baby was old enough for free childcare, isn't one she particularly wants to remember.
"Oh Mum…" Chloe's expression softens.
"Hey, I don't want any sympathy. But nothing, with him. Everything just bounced back, no stretch marks, nothing. You were the smallest thirty-five weeker the NICU had ever had, I hardly looked five months pregnant with you, and you're the one who ruined my body."
"That's me, Mum. Ruining your life since 1990."
"Stop it." Ange squeezes her daughter's hand protectively now- and she knows she's only making a joke, knows she doesn't really believe it, not rationally, that she shouldn't let it unsettle her but it does, just does. "The last thing you've done is ruin my life, sweetheart," she tells her sincerely. "Quite the opposite. You're the best thing in my life, you have been for the last twenty-nine years. Do we have to look at all of these? Look, we can skip ahead to…"
"Oh my god, Mum!" Chloe has turned to the next page before Ange can stop her. "Are you…"
"Yes. Yes, I am, that's exactly what I'm doing in those photos," Ange groans, mortified, disgusted with herself. "What it looks like. And… god, what that guy's doing to me, in those ones. Exactly what it looks like. I feel like covering your eyes."
"I'm an adult, Mum, I know what a…"
"Alright, you don't have to say it! That was the week before I realised I was pregnant with you, I promise it was the last time I did anything like that. Ever. Not just the last time when I was pregnant, the last time ever. Can we please skip those ones? I feel a bit ill just looking at them."
"Why?" Chloe asks curiously. "They aren't that much worse than the others, they're just…"
"They are. Listen… I let him do that because I had no self-esteem, okay?" Ange confesses, fights to hold herself together, not to show Chloe just how much this is unsettling her, bringing it all back. "Same reason I'm doing… that, to him in the first ones. I wasn't over what had happened, with… you know. Being raped. I had no self-esteem, I thought I was just gaining weight and I felt like a fat, disgusting mess, all my old friends were getting ready to take their exams and my life was going nowhere, I was getting on with your nana so badly I was barely home and everything was just too much to cope with, and so I was getting high and drunk and doing stupid stuff like that with guys I didn't even like instead. And that night was right before I realised I was pregnant, except even then I didn't realise I was seven months gone. But that just makes everything about that photo really, really wrong. That's why. These ones are worse. They're so much worse, and I'm practically full term, or as close as I got to full term with you…"
"But you didn't know, Mum. Not then."
"I know I didn't, but that isn't the point. That creep must have been about thirty, and I'm wasted and his hands are all over me. Except it's not just me, is it? I was pregnant with you, it's not me his hands are all over in some of these, it's…"
"I don't think it works like that, Mum…"
"Itdoes, Chloe," Ange insists now, shaking. "His filthy hands are all over you, that's… that's how I see it. I can't not see it like that now. It makes me feel like I took away your innocence before you were even born, or something, I don't know. I just hate those photos. They make me feel like the worst mother in the world. I hate myself, for doing that, for doing half the things I've got evidence of in here, let alone while I was carrying you…"
"Why did you keep them, then?"
She can still feel his hands on her.
If she pauses, allows herself to think about it too hard, lets go of Chloe, it just about feels as though she's back there, pressed up against a man twice her age who stinks of smoke and alcohol almost as badly as she must have, jeans and t shirt discarded on the floor, legs apart, sprawled on a filthy sofa in an equally filthy squat.
She can still feel his hands; wired, animalistic.
Her back is pressed up against his chest and his hands are all over her, by the second page.
She can still feel him groping her, hands roaming her breasts, her hips, her stomach, his tongue in her mouth, before that, and before that…
She can still taste it.
It makes her feel sick.
If she ever found out Chloe had done half of what she did that night alone in the name of a bag of weed then she would swing for her, let alone at seventeen, seven months pregnant and too drunk, too high, too stupidto realise.
She can't even call it assault, because god knows she consented to it.
She consented to it for the worst possible reasons, and yes, there's an argument to be made that she was too far gone for it to be informed, but she consented all the same.
She wasn't coping.
That was why she did it; Ange can see that now.
She'd been raped, and she wasn't coping, couldn't get her head around it and she felt vulnerable, scared, violated… damaged.
And so instead of agreeing to the counselling sessions Chloe at the Glasgow SARC had offered her, instead of telling her mum, someone at school, anyone, even keeping visiting Chloe every few weeks, she'd coped by getting off her face every night, drinking and getting high to forget.
That, and doing whatever she needed to in order to win the loyalty of the gang she'd fallen in with, the protection, whatever else she needed to keep up the getting drunk and getting high, perpetuating that cycle.
Because she just didn't care anymore.
The worst had already happened, and what if it happened again?
It seemed easier to just dissociate, block it all out, go along with whatever.
The trouble is, knowing she only did it because she was traumatised doesn't make it any better.
"Umm hmm. Honestly." Chloe's voice pulls her back to reality, soft, concerned. "Why keep something that makes you feel so upset? You've got plenty of others in here you didn't react like this over…"
"So I never let you down like that again." Ange hugs her tightly, fights to keep her voice from breaking, give away that she's on the verge of tears, still can't think about that time in her life and everything she exposed Chloe to without losing it, even twenty-nine years on. "You deserve so much better than the start I gave you, don't you? So much better. I hate myself every day for what I did to you…"
"You didn't do anythingto me, Mum." Chloe wraps her arms around her mother's neck, clings on, still her baby. "It doesn't bother me. It really doesn't."
"I don't know how you can say that."
"Because you didn't know," her daughter tells her simply. "I know you'd never do anything to put me at risk, I know that…."
"That's exactly what I'm doing in these, though. Putting you at risk. These are probably the reason you were such a low birthweight, the reason you spent so long in the NICU and they had to pump you with antibiotics at two hours old, the reason I was always taking you off to have your growth monitored at Aberdeen Paeds..."
"But you didn't know, Mum. And you stopped, right? As soon as you realised, you stopped…"
"Of course I did…"
"Exactly. You didn't know. I know you wouldn't have done it if you had known, I know you wouldn't do anything to hurt me. And I'm fine, Mum. I don't remember any of it, do I?" Chloe rests her head against her shoulder now, seems genuinely unbothered, thank god. "I'm totally fine, and I don't even remember any of this stuff, anyway. Okay, so I remember some of the paeds check-ups, but that's it."
"You remember having the growth hormone treatment. I know you remember that, you were eight, I remember having to run out of uni and get the train back to Aberdeen because you wouldn't go in for it without me…"
"I could have needed that anyway. You don't know either way, Mum. We're never going to know, are we, and I'm fine. There's no point worrying about it."
"You're very forgiving."
"You're my mum." Her daughter utters those words as though it's so wonderfully simple, as though all of her anxieties, her guilt, are instantly dismissible purely because she gave birth to her.
Ange only wishes it was all that easy in her head.
"I know. But that doesn't mean you have to forgive me. It's supposed to be my job to take care of you, and I couldn't even manage…"
"Yes, you could," Chloe tells her firmly. "You always have, Mum. You just didn't know then. I know you would have stopped sooner if you'd known…"
"You don't know that, Chloe. Even I don't know that, that's why I hate myself so much for it…"
"Well, I do. You told me you stopped as soon as you realised you were pregnant, and I believe you," says Chloe simply. "So if you'd known sooner, you would have stopped then. You've only ever put me first, Mum, I know that. I don't blame you, not for anything that happened before you knew. I get it. I don't know if I could have done it," she confesses quietly, suddenly can't seem to meet Ange's eyes. "I don't know if I could even look at me if I were you, after how you ended up having me…"
"No, I mean it, Mum. That's how I know you wouldn't have done it if you'd known. You kept me, you put me first, you always had my best interests at heart, even though I must be a constant reminder of… that." Chloe shudders, hugs her mum tighter, almost as though she's desperately trying to show her how much she loves her, afraid of rejection, afraid that her love isn't reciprocated. "It doesn't upset me that you were into this stuff, Mum. Not for me. It makes me more upset that you had to go through it all by yourself, I can't even imagine how desperate you must have felt…"
"Hey. Hey, look at me." Gently, Ange tilts Chloe's chin, waits for her to meet her eyes again, brushes her hair behind her ear, fusses over her. "Listen. Do you know something? After… after what happened to me, after I was… raped." She pauses for a moment, hugs her daughter so tightly she can feel her heartbeat vibrating within her, solid, reassuring. "Do you know what was the only thing that helped me get over it? You. I don't even want to think about where I might be now if I hadn't had you. As soon as I realised I was pregnant with you, it was like all of a sudden, I snapped out of it, you know? I didn't care, before I knew I had you. It wasn't even just that it all seemed too difficult, trying to get myself clean, out of that cycle, back in school. I just didn't care, I felt like I was damaged goods, my life had been ruined and I just didn't care. And I tried the counselling, that… before I had you, it was pointless. I stopped going after a couple of weeks, I couldn't face it. I don't think I wantedto get over it, I just didn't care enough. I couldn't have cared less what happened to me, I was just going through the motions. I would probably have wasted my whole life like that, just getting wasted and giving out sexual… well, you've seen the photos. I had no standards, I figured it was easier to just say yes, go along with whatever those men wanted. I didn't care anymore. But once I had you… everything changed. I wasn't going through it all on my own, I had you. You made everything better when I thought nothing would ever again."
"I don't understand how," Chloe confesses quietly, cheeks glowing in shame and it makes Ange feel nauseous, knowing that itself herself she's so ashamed of, that she's holding herself responsible for something that could never, ever be her fault. "I don't understand how I could make anything better, surely I just made everything worse…"
"Why? Because of…"
"Because of how you ended up pregnant with me in the first place."
Ange doesn't think she can stand the self-loathing in her daughter's voice much longer.
"What? No, sweetheart. No, of course not. Listen. You know this story, don't you, you know I had no clue how far along I was until I actually had you. I didn't know, Chloe," she emphasises gently, back to stroking her hair, ponders absentmindedly that the ends need a trim, wonders if that observation in itself is yet another example of the babying her daughter Fletch keeps banging on about… surely not, not really? "I didn't know until I had you, and I was already so in love with you by then, it didn't make the slightest bit of difference."
"You mean it would have?"
"Hmm?" Please don't say what I think you're going to, Ange pleads silently.
"You wouldn't have wanted me if you'd known from the beginning." Chloe stares down at her hands, trembles, practically seems to radiate anxiety now.
"Hey, what makes you think that? I never said that. That couldn't be further from the truth, sweetheart. I wanteda baby," Ange tells Chloe firmly, but already her heart is sinking.
Because the truth is, she can't be certain.
How can she know how she would have felt, truly?
How can she try and imagine herself in that situation when she knows what she does now, when Chloe has been hers for twenty-nine years, when her baby girl has been the centre of her entire universe for so long that it's impossible to imagine her life without her?
It happened the way it did.
God only knows how she might have felt if it had happened differently, if she'd known the date of Chloe's conception from the start, known who provided the other half of her DNA- because Ange refuses to think of that man as her daughter's father, that just seems like such an awful injustice to saddle Chloe with.
But she didn't know.
She didn't know, and she couldn't love Chloe more if she tried, and so as far as Ange is concerned, it just doesn't matter.
The trouble is, she can see how it might not seem that way to Chloe.
She just doesn't know what to do to make it better.
"That's what you mean though, isn't it?" Chloe is shaking properly now, voice breaking, utterly convinced. "You just won't admit it because you don't want to upset me. "You wouldn't have wanted me if you'd known I was your rapist's baby, and I don't blame you for that, I get it…"
"No, that's not what I mean, Chloe. I mean… I'll admit I can see how some women might feel like that." She draws gentle circles on her daughter's back, soothing, silently begs her to keep breathing normally. "But I didn't. Okay? I honestly, truly don't think it would have changed the way I felt about you. I wouldn't tell you that if I didn't mean it. I… look, if you ever have children of your own one day, you'll understand. You were just… I don't know. I wanted a baby, and as soon as I knew I was pregnant, you were mybaby. You were nothing to do with anyone else…"
"How can it be that simple, though?" Chloe asks faintly, thoroughly convinced. "How can you say that, when…"
"Because I knew loved you," Ange tells her; nothing more to it than that. "You were just the sweetest little thing, you really were. I only realised because I could feel you moving, have I told you that before?"
"There you go, then. That's how I realised."
"How did you not realise sooner, then? You'd already had one baby."
"Hey, alright! Don't you start too, I put up with enough of that question when I had you. I don't think any of the team looking after you in Neoonates ever believed me…"
"I'm sorry, Mum, I didn't mean to…"
"No, it's okay. It's okay, sweetheart, I didn't mean it like that. You've got nothing to apologise for, you're allowed to ask. It's… it affects you, doesn't it? I'm probably not explaining that very well… I just mean, it's just as much about you as it is about me. I know that. You are allowed to ask me about this stuff, it's okay. I really don't mind. No, you were… you were completely different to Dom. Dom was… I don't know. Totally hyper, compared to you. You were never all that active, to be honest- that was probably all my fault. Not just because of… you know. I wasn't chain smoking when I had Dom, either." Ange pauses for a moment, glances down, ashamed. "I did pretty much everything wrong with you, it was probably because of that. You didn't really kick, you just kind of wriggled. But really delicately."
"Why is that ewww?"
"I don't know! It just is!"
"Alright! If you ever have kids of your own, you'll understand. I didn't realise what it was because it was totally different with you than it was with Dom, that's what I'm trying to say. But you… can I embarrass you for a little bit longer? Please? I totally accept that some women might feel differently. But as soon as I could feel you moving and I knew what it was, that was it, for me. I knew I loved you, I knew I wanted you, I couldn't have given you up. Not after that. I just felt I was meant to have you, somehow, I don't even know how to explain it. You were the only thing that got me through that last month- no, don't look at me like that, sweetheart, you were. I knew I had you. I couldn't forget I had you, could I, you kept nudging me."
"Still ewww, Mum."
"Oh come on, you're not twelve. Why is that so cringey?"
"I'm so going to remind you of this conversation if you ever have your own children. The point is, I wouldn't have sorted myself out if I hadn't had you. I'd already tried doing it for my own sake, that never worked out. You were the only thing I cared enough about to get myself clean. I loved you. Okay? As soon as I realised I was pregnant, I knew I loved you. It took about five minutes for me to get so ridiculously attached to you, I knew I couldn't bear giving you up. I did it all for you. So I could be your mum, because that was all I wanted. That's how I know it wouldn't have mattered, if I'd known. It wouldn't have changed how I felt about you, that was… that was pretty instant. Because I found out the way I did, I guess, because I was already aware of you. You were just… you weren't just a possibility. You were there, you were real, you were mine. I couldn't notlove you. It was that simple for me. I would have felt like that whether I'd known how far along I was or not…"
"You mean who my father was." Chloe stars at the carpet determinedly, that desperately unhappy edge of self-loathing creeping back into her voice again.
"No, I don't, sweetheart," Ange soothes. "We've already been through this once today, haven't we? That man isn't your dad. He never was, I never, ever want you to think of it like that. You're mydaughter. You've got absolutely nothing to do with anyone else. And I know," she hugs Chloe tightly to her chest, rocks her gently in her arms, wonders where the last twenty-nine years went, "that I would have loved you no matter how much I knew when, no matter what, because knowing how far along I was wouldn't have made you any less adorable, would it? You were just… I don't even know how to explain it. Maybe it's a mum thing, I don't know. But I loved you so, so much. Right from the start. And that's never changed, not once, so I don't ever want you to think any different. I kept you because I wanted you. I loved you. I wanted a baby, and then I had you. And yes, it would have been easier if I hadn't had you when I was still so young myself, wouldn't it? But you wouldn't have been you, then. I wanteda baby. You were it."
"You can't have more kids, though," Chloe points out quietly. "It was keep me or nothing."
"But I didn't know that then. I didn't even care about that, to be honest, even when I did know," Ange tells her truthfully. "I had one beautiful baby who was mine, why would I need any more? I thought you were perfect. I've always thought you were perfect. And as soon as I knew I had you, I had a focus. I had a reason to get my life back together, I had someone who needed me, and I loved you so much already I couldn't let you down. You changed my life for the better, alright? I mean that. You saved me from myself, you were so tiny and innocent that you made me happy again, for the first time in months. Youdid that. I can't even begin to explain to you how much you mean to me, so you're going to have to take my word for it. But I don't ever want you to worry that I don't love you, that I didn't really want you and I just kept you anyway. Or anything else like that you might get into your head. Okay? That couldn't be further from the truth, Chloe. It really couldn't. All I've ever needed is you. I love you. So, so much."
"Love you too, Mum." Chloe rests her head against her mother's chest, childlike, craving her comfort, and Ange can't decide if she's just exhausted by their conversation, or if this is what Fletch means when he keeps telling her Chloe is too emotionally dependent on her.
"Love you more. Come on, then, are you really going to make me endure the rest of my 'I Turned My Life Around For Chloe' book?"
"Alright. Alright, if you insist. I think that's the last of me winning every irresponsible pregnant teen of the year award going, thank god…. Oh, no, there we go, it's not." Ange groans as she turns the page. "I think these have to be the last ones, then."
"You don't look so high in these," Chloe points out helpfully. "I mean… you look… sad, I guess. Kind of dead inside, these ones just make me feel so sad for you, you were obviously hurting. But you don't look high. Not quite so much as in all the others, anyway."
"Oh, I know. I do remember that night, that was the night before Nana and I were leaving to spend Easter break with Seanmhair and Seanair on Skye. I knew I couldn't get totally off my head because I was going to have to sober up pretty quickly the next morning."
"Your eyes aren't as scary."
"You don't think so? I'll take that as a compliment, then, I guess. No, I think I stayed off the stronger stuff, I was so afraid of your Nana's reaction if I didn't. Probably explains why these photos aren't as… I don't know…"
"Yes, alright. That. I can't tell you how relieved I was when you finished high school and you'd never done anything like this."
"How do you know I didn't?"
"Oh my god, Chloe, don't do that to me! That's not funny! I know you didn't get up to any of this stuff, believe me, I was high alert watching for the warning signs as soon as you turned about twelve. And I know you didn't ever sneak out like I did, or bunk off school, so you wouldn't have had the chance. Thank god. I was determined you weren't going to be a statistic."
"How do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. All the child of a teen mother scare statistics. More likely to drop out of school with no qualifications, more likely to become teen parents themselves, more likely to have cognitive issues, lower quality of life, more likely to end up in abusive relationships, more likely to turn to substance abuse… all that stuff. They gave me a load of leaflets about it on the NICU after I had you…"
"That's horrible," says Chloe quietly. "I mean, it's not exactly helpful, is it? There was nothing you could have done about it at that point, was there? They didn't need to wave all the scare statistics in your face, you must have been upset enough as it was…"
"I don't deserve you, do I? You're more empathetic than the whole of the Glasgow NICU staff put together, and it's you it was all about…"
"It's not as though you planned me though, is it, Mum?" Chloe whispers guiltily- and Ange hates it, hates that even after everything they've already been through this evening, all of her attempts to reassure her, make her see how loved she is, how wanted, still her daughter feels as though she's supposed to hold herself responsible for the circumstances of her conception. "It's not even as though you were just irresponsible, it wasn't your fault…"
"Of course it wasn't," Ange agrees. "Just like it wasn't yours either, sweetheart."
She never told the NICU staff the truth.
Not herself, anyway.
Chloe- not her Chloe, Chloe from the SARC- came to visit her and her Chloe on the NICU one morning and overheard the nursing staff laying into her, lost it with them completely, screamed blue murder at them.
Ange had never seen her like that before.
She'd told them for her. She'd demanded a meeting with the nursing staff and the consultant team in private and told them how Ange had ended up pregnant with Chloe in the first place, threatened to make a formal complaint if they didn't stop with the disapproving looks, the blatant judgement and disgust, the constant dialogue about how she'd messed Chloe up for life, how all the statistics suggested she was going to end up pregnant and a high school dropout by the time she was sixteen, just like her mother, and that was if she wasn't adopted like her older brother before she was a year old.
She'd pointed out that if they'd only bothered to read Ange's notes as well as Chloe's, they would have known already. That Ange was vulnerable, given her history, that if they had a responsibility to Chloe then they had a responsibility to Ange, too, to ensure that she succeeded at being a mother this time around, that Chloe left the NICU with a mother who believed she could succeed, not so worn down and humiliated and lacking in confidence with her own baby that she barely lasted a week.
That and whatever else she said after she sent Ange back out onto the ward to sit with her daughter, it worked, because the comments stopped after that, at least, right up until Chloe was discharged.
But at the same time, it had made Ange feel so uneasy.
As much as she's always hated the disapproving looks that have followed her whenever anyone does the maths, susses the age gap between her and her daughter, Ange would still rather let them judge her, label her as an irresponsible teen mother.
She can cope with that.
What she can'tcope with is Chloe being the one the rest of the world stigmatises.
Because it will.
Ange knows it will.
She's witnessed it first-hand, and it makes her blood boil like nothing else she's ever known, because how could anyone look at Chloe and not see that she's innocent, untainted; too pure, too gentle, too kind, to be anything like the man who fathered her, that branding her according to the crimes of a man she's never even met is so horribly unjust?
That's why it's easier to just let everyone assume that she was young and stupid and irresponsible, never heard of contraception, thought it couldn't possibly happen to her until it did, or whatever else they think they know about the causes of teenage pregnancy.
Her daughter comes first.
She always will.
"Are you still in touch with these people?" Chloe asks curiously now. "I mean… not most of the guys, obviously. I'm not stupid, I know what you're doing in most of these. But these ones aren't so bad, are they? They look more… I don't know. They look like friends, I guess that's what I'm trying to say."
"These ones?" Ange gestures. "No, you're right, they were friends. Or the closest thing I had to friends at that point, anyway. They were all into harder stuff than I was, mostly, friendship wasn't particularly high up their priority lists when they weren't stoned. They were friends at raves, that was pretty much it. I lost touch with them all after I had you, that was part of the reason Nana wanted us to move up to Aberdeen, I think."
"I thought we moved so she could go to uni?"
"Oh, we did. But she could have done Gaelic at Glasgow Uni. Without the hippy Celtic Anglo-Saxon stuff, admittedly, but I'm sure she could have come up with a couple of Scottish history modules, or something. That would have been easier than selling the house and reopening her dance school in Aberdeen. She wanted to get me away from all this, I think she thought it would be easier for me to go back to school, rebuild my life with you, stay away from all that, if I was miles away from Glasgow. Fresh start, and everything."
"Did she make you go?"
"Of course she didn't. You know what Nana's like, forcing me really isn't her style, is it? No, she was just right, that's all. She gave me the choice, but I knew she was right, I knew it was the best option. I haven't seen any of the people in these photos since I had you, I didn't want you around that. It wouldn't have even occurred to me to take you near that, to be honest, I walked away from all that as soon as I knew about you. So you saved me from that, didn't you? You turned everything around for me when I couldn't do it myself." She turns the page again, breathes a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank god, that's the end of the awful embarrassing photos. These were over Easter break on Skye, look, that was the week after I realised I was pregnant, I think. I let Seanmhair take me to the hairdressers and dye my hair back to brown, I'm amazed she and Nana didn't realise something was up then."
"Brunette suits you much better than the black with bright purple."
"Oh, I know, it was awful, wasn't it? It was probably a cry for help, really- I think my whole emo phase was one massive cry for help."
"Why are you helping Seanair with the lambing in half of these? You hatehelping with the lambing, you actively avoid going anywhere near Skye over Easter so you can't be roped into it."
"Well, I didn't, that year. It was that or go to the beach with Nana and Seanmhair, and that obviously wasn't going to happen. I think they just thought I was too embarrassed to wear a wetsuit, they must have noticed I'd gained weight. So I went for the lambs instead. Lesser of the evils."
"You went clambering in and out of Seanair's lambing pens at eight months pregnant?" Chloe studies the photos. "You look like you're practicing for me, in some of these, you're holding that lamb like it's a baby. Poor thing's upside down as far as he's concerned."
"Just over seven. But yes. I don't think I've done it since, unless you count getting in there with you when you were about eighteen months because you insisted on petting all the sheep." Ange smiles at the memory, allows herself to think back on that happier time, just for a moment.
"Oh, they're so sweet, aren't they, Mum? I think I'm going to have to see if I can get some annual leave around lambing season next year, I miss helping Seanair with the lambs."
"Are we looking at the same photo? Do you mean the scrawny little ball of wool I'm holding? Because that's not that's not sweet, Chloe, that's all legs."
"Exactly," Chloe insists, genuinely adoration in her eyes that Ange has never seen there when it's a human baby she's faced with. "Exactly, his legs are all out of proportion with his body, he's just so adorable."
"How do you know he's a he?"
"You're showing the entire world the poor wee thing's a he holding him at that angle, Mum."
"Ah, glad we've cleared that one up. He was probably served up with mint sauce about twenty-nine years ago, then. And his innards mashed up and made into the first Hogmanay haggis you ever had, I would have thought, you know Seanmhair likes to make it in advance and fill the freezer."
"It's true! How have you even managed to side-track me with a bloody sheep?"
"Because he's gorgeous, and he's making me miss Skye. Look at his sweet little face."
"Oh my god, Chloe, he's just a sheep! Anyway. I must have spent half of that Easter on lambing duty and half of it shut up in Seanmhair and Seanair's spare room trying to work out how I was going to get my life together and convince Nana to let me keep you. I had a list." She's back to stroking Chloe's hair now- and this is totally what Fletch means and she knows it, the fussing over her daughter and treating her like she's still the fragile baby she was so afraid of losing, but she doesn't care.
"Yep. You know, of all the things I thought I needed to do to make sure Nana and Social Services let me keep you. Alright, don't laugh! I was barely seventeen and naïve, I was taking control of the mess I was in the only way I knew how. It was things like 'get clean,' 'pay off drug debts,' 'go back to school to sit Highers,' 'get part-time job,' 'quit smoking.' Stuff like that. I thought I had a lot more time, then. I think I managed all of it except the smoking and the job, Chloe at the SARC applied for a grant for teen mums returning to education for me in the end. I think I thought Nana might be more willing to let me try if she wasn't the one paying for you. No, I calmed down a bit, that week. For you. All of it was for you, sweetheart. That's why I look so much happier in these ones from that fortnight on Skye, I knew it wasn't just about me anymore. It was about both of us. You see? This was only a week or so after the scary stoned ones, you made me this happy. And you clearly made me into an animal person, there's no way I would have kept this many photos of bloody sheep before I had you."
"How on earth did no one realise you were pregnant?" Chloe asks now incredulously. "You totally look pregnant in some of these."
"That's because I'm being made to pose holding a lamb! You try concealing a pregnancy holding one, you know they weigh about three times more than they look like they should. If you think I look pregnant in these, just you wait for over the page. I think we've got one more double page to go, and then we're at the photos I actually got this out to show you."
"The baby ones that aren't in the NICU?"
"Umm hmm. You'll understand when you see them."
"Okay… Shall I turn over?"
"Yep, you can turn over if you want to. These ones are from a couple of weeks later, I think, this was when I went back to school to sit my Highers. You know, when you come out the exam hall and everyone's excited it's all over? I think someone must have taken a camera into school, or maybe school took these and they gave me them when I went back Those exams were a disaster, obviously, I think the transcript's in here somewhere, too. I'd hardly been in school since September. I just… I don't know. I knew I was going to fail really, but I was panicking. I knew I was going to need more than just my standards if I was going to give you the life you deserved, and I suppose I thought Social Services might go easier on me if I wasn't a high school drop-out. So somehow, I managed to persuade my teachers to let me sit the exams, even though they knew I was going to mess up their pass rates. Or as many exams as I managed to fit in before I went into labour, anyway."
"I'm so proud of you for doing that, Mum." Chloe tells her, and it's so sincere, so heartfelt, that Ange can't quite make eye contact with her.
"Oh sweetheart, I really wouldn't be," she sighs. "I got Es on all of the papers I managed to sit before I had you, there definitely isn't anything to be proud of. I was never going to pass, really, I'd missed far too much school, and I did know that…"
"Yes, there is," Chloe insists. "There's everything to be proud of. You did it, Mum. You still did it, of course I'm proud of you. I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been, I find exams stressful enough when I havedone all the revision…"
"Oh, I know you do, Little Miss Perfectionist. That's how you managed to make specialist registrar a whole two years early."
"We're not talking about me, Mum, we're talking about you. And I think you're amazing."
"You sure you're not just saying that because you feel you have to?"
"Of course I'm not. I mean it, Mum, you're amazing. I couldn't have coped with everything you had to at seventeen, let alone after everything you went through with Dom. I could never be strong enough to deal with all that."
"Yes, you could." Ange reaches for Chloe's hand, grips on, firm, determined. "You could, Chloe. I know you could. I don't think any of us realise quite how strong we are until we have to be. I certainly didn't, until I had you. I knew I had to be strong for you- I knew I wanted to be strong for you," she corrects herself now, suddenly aware that Chloe might take this the wrong way. "I wanted to be strong for you because I loved you and I knew I was meant to be your mum. It wasn't an obligation, okay? It was… I don't even know how to explain it, just a feeling. I just had this feeling that I was supposed to be your mum, that it was meant to be you and me. Just the two of us. So I just did it. I mean, now, looking back, I can see that I was strong for you, I coped with it all for you. All the emotional stuff. But it wasn't like that at the time, I just did it. For you. I didn't cope at all until I knew I was pregnant, but after that, I could have coped with anything. Because I had you. I could have coped with anything because I had you. You know how much I hate showing myself up, do you really think I would have got a stack of Es in my Highers for anyone else?"
"You went back, though," Chloe points out. "You went back, and you got As in everything, right? Well, everything except the Gallic. That's amazing. And you did it while raising a baby single-handedly at seventeen, that's even more amazing."
"Nah, I think I passed my Highers the second time around becauseI had you, actually. Have I told you this story before? You were just about one by the time I came to do my exams, you were in the wanting constant entertainment phase, and I tried distracting you with all the usual toys and stuff but you hadn't really got the hang of those at that point, you just wanted me to play with you. And Nana had her exams to be revising for too. So I used to teach you all my revision notes."
"Oh my god, did you actually?"
"Yep. Seemed like the obvious solution. You just wanted my undivided attention, you were too little to care in what capacity. So I used to just talk you though all the exam material, and that ended up working pretty well. You loved the chemistry and biology, and the Gallic, I think you were probably better at that than me, actually, and you were barely talking yet. Not much has changed, really, when you put it like that."
"And it worked so well, you kept on teaching me your revision notes all the way through medical school?"
"See, you do remember! You were my little helper, especially with all the patient diagnosis stuff. I think you thought that was just a game, to be honest, so it worked pretty well for both of us."
"Why do you have so many post exam photos if you didn't even manage to sit them all?" Chloe turns the page, baffled. "You've got more of these than you have with Seanair's lambs!"
"To balance out the stoned ones! I only had about a four-week turnaround, just under that. I spent most of it in counselling at the SARC and trying to absorb entire Highers textbooks. Oh, and reading up on pregnancy in the local library."
"You'd already had one baby!"
"Yes, and we all know I was so young and naïve the first time around all the important stuff went totally over my head! This was back before the days of the disposable cameras you and your friends had as teenagers, you didn't take spontaneous photos in the same way."
"Unless you were totally stoned?"
"Alright! Alright, point taken! You didn't carry cameras around everywhere with you in the same way, that' all I mean. I think school took some of these, and then my friend Mhairi brought a camera in some days, I do remember that. I don't know if some of the teachers had a word with all my old friends, or something, I wasn't expecting them to just welcome me back with open arms. We'd had a bit of a falling out, the last time I'd been in school before that."
"Maybe they just liked you, Mum."
"Nah, I was a right stroppy cow towards them before I dropped out of school. I reckon my teachers had a word with them, tried to get them to adopt me back into their group in the hope I'd get my head down and I wouldn't mess their grade statistics up quite as badly as I might have otherwise. They were genuine, though, they were kind. Forgiving. I can't really complain."
"You lost touch with them, though?"
How can she tell her daughter that yes, she did lose touch with them, and it was because of her?
Because her old friends from Glasgow didn't understand what a nightmare it was at first taking a tiny baby anywhere on public transport, didn't understand why she'd get the train back for just a couple of hours, always wanted to drop by the SARC to see Chloe her rape crisis support worker more than once per visit back because it was the only place she felt comfortable dealing with feeds? That when they came to visit her in Aberdeen it was going to be her house and baby-friendly places only, that no, she couldn't just spend time with them and not bring Chloe, that she and Chloe were a package deal, inseparable? That even if it weren't for the fact that Chloe was her baby, her responsibility, that she and her mum had agreed she was going to do it all properly this time and it wasn't going to be like it was with Dom, she didn't wantto dump Chloe to spend time with her friends like she always did with her first baby? That it was bad enough having to be apart from her baby for seven hours a day at school all week, that the last thing she wanted was to leave Chloe any more than that? That her Glasgow friends never quite understood how she felt and so after a while, those friendships just faded away, yet another thing she gave up to be a teenage mother?
She can't tell Chloe that.
"Umm hmm. No real reason, just the whole long-distance friendship thing, I guess," Ange lies. "No one's fault. They let me eat my lunch with them on double exam days though, even though I must have smelt foul, I still wasn't going home every night at that point."
"Because I still owed money to the men in some of the first lot of photos, I had to... sort that out, I guess. So they'd leave me in peace by the time I had you to worry about. And I really didn't want them coming back to Nana's full stop, but I couldn't have them hanging around outside looking for me if I was bringing you home there, could I? I had to pay them back so that wouldn't happen, I was busy calling in favours and forging Nana's signature to drain my under-eighteens savings account." Ange shudders at the memory. "And that didn't quite all work out, so I was back hanging around the guys at the squat for a few nights."
"Oh, you mean…"
"Pretty much. I told you I don't know where I'd be now without you, didn't I? It's true. It really is. No, I was trying to sort that in between the exams, it's no wonder I failed really, is it? Apart from having missed almost the entire year of school. Oh wow, I remember these ones being taken, actually," she realises, suddenly embarrassed and sad and panicky all over again and she can't quite explain why, not when it was twenty-nine years ago now. "This was after my biology exam, that's why I look so traumatised. I knew I'd failed and I thought I'd totally thrown away my chances of getting into medical school- not that I'd worked out how I was going to make that work with you. But still. I knew that was all I wanted, so when I fucked it all up…"
"What if you'd had to pick?" Chloe asks her quietly.
It's almost although she's on self-destruct, Ange realises now.
Just a part of her.
And maybe even Chloe doesn't realise it, but that's undeniably what it is.
She doesn't want to know the truthful answer because she's already convinced herself it won't be what she wants to hear, but she's asking anyway.
And when she's given the truth in return, she'll convince herself that her mother is lying to protect her, because that's what she's been doing all evening, despite Ange's best efforts to convince her that she would never lie to her, not about something like this.
Does this count as part of her self-harming? Ange wonders, suddenly feels rather sick. It could be argued that it is, surely, if self-harming can be emotional, psychological…
Why has it taken her this long to see it like this?
"Then I would have picked you," Ange tells her truthfully. "That's not even a question, sweetheart. I would have picked you every time. Or, you know. Smuggled you into all my lectures in my backpack."
"Isn't that what Nana did with me anyway?"
"Yep. We probably did it the right way around, though, didn't we? Nana's Anglo-Saxon folklore seminars are one thing, but I'm not sure how I'd have done all the practicals and the hospital placements with you strapped to my back. I did smuggle you into school a few times, actually, when you were really tiny. My school in Aberdeen, obviously. Not this one. Oh god, and these photos were after my chemistry exam, I think. Same issue. I knew I'd failed, I was heartbroken. But someone was going around with a camera, so I guess I felt like I had to put on a brave face."
"You look so pregnant in those."
"Do you think?"
"Umm hmm. You totally look pregnant, and this was the same school you were at when you had Dom, right? How the hell did no one notice?"
"I don't know! You're looking at these knowing I was pregnant," Ange reminds her, suddenly strangely defensive. "I think these were a couple of days before I had you, actually, I was really, really pregnant. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, though; would you think I looked pregnant if you didn't know? I was the size of a whale and waddling everywhere with a fucking watermelon strapped to my front when I was eight months with Dom, it was horrendous. Horrendous doesn't even begin to cover it, actually, it was worse than horrendous without adding in the 'only fourteen' bit. I don't look pregnant at all in these compared to that."
"No, fair enough. You definitely look pregnant in these, though. Just nowhere near eight months pregnant."
"And there I was thinking I'd done such a brilliant job of hiding it. That was the school uniform I had when I was pregnant with Dom, I had to get it out the attic at about 3am so your Nana wouldn't realise what I was doing."
"Oh my god, Mum, could you have made it any more obvious?"
"I know! I had a meeting with my form tutor about what was going to happen if I failed all my exams the same day I had you, I was sat there the whole time in her office trying to suck it all in, I was sure she'd notice. But apparently when Chloe from the SARC phoned in to say I wasn't going to be in to take the rest of my exams because I was in ITU and I'd just had a baby, the poor woman nearly had a heart attack."
"I don't blame her!"
"Hey, I didn't do it deliberately! I hadn't told anyone, it wasn't just school I didn't want to know. I didn't think you were due until October and I only had a couple of weeks of Highers left, working out what I was going to do about school in August wasn't exactly high on my priority list at that point. My plan was to get through my exams first, worry about all the later. Only you weren't really on board with that plan."
"It's not my fault you got the dates totally wrong."
"No, of course not. That wasn't what I meant at all, Chloe. Not in the slightest. I should have got my act together sooner. Much, much sooner. I should have just gone straight to the GP as soon as I realised I was pregnant, come to that. I should have been more worried about making sure you were okay straight away than I was about whether or not the state I was in would jeopardise my chance of getting to keep you…"
"I'm fine now though, Mum," Chloe insists. "I'm fine. You can't keep feeling guilty about…"
"I'm your mother. It's my job to feel guilty every time I let you down, I'm supposedto hate myself for…"
"You didn't let me down, Mum. You didn't." Her daughter tugs gently on her hair now, plaits; childhood strategy, self-comforting, clinging to her. "You'd been through something hugely traumatic, and you were scared, and you weren't even legally an adult. I don't hate you for it. I hate that you went through it, I hate thinking about how alone and terrified you must have felt. But I don't hate you. I couldn't, because it wasn't your fault, Mum. You were too young to have to cope with so much on your own and you did what you thought was best at the time, I won't ever blame you for that. Ever. You were only seventeen, Mum. You need to give yourself more credit."
"No, I suppose when you put it like that," Ange agrees. "You haven't turned out too badly, have you? Given you were burdened with an irresponsible, teenage mother."
"I don't see it like that."
"I know you don't. That's why I'm so grateful for you. Although I'd be even more grateful for you if you stopped whatever it is you're doing to my hair. You're not eight anymore."
"I know I'm not eight." Chloe pouts, lets go sulkily, momentarily, resumes.
"Good, you know you're too old for this, then. What are you doing to me now?"
"Alright, I'll let you off. You can do that to your own hair if you need to be doing something with your hands, you can leave mine alone."
Absentmindedly, distractedly, she wonders if this is the kind of thing Fletch means when he starts on his Chloe still needing to cling to her for comfort soap box.
If this is the true cost of teen pregnancy as far as her daughter is concerned.
If she was too young and immature to be a mother at first, still playing catch-up even now.
If she failed spectacularly at teaching Chloe to be emotionally resilient, if all her baby's mental health struggles stem from the fact that she grew up with a mum who was too young to give her what she needed, too inexperienced, too close to her in age, should have been her sister, not her mother.
"Hey, you're alright. I haven't upset you with these, have I?"
"Okay. You promise? I did warn you it might be better to skip to the…"
"I promise you haven't upset me, Mum."
"Alright, I believe you. Shall I turn over? Look, that's my transcript from the Highers exams I managed to fit in before you. I'm not sure why I kept that, to be honest, that probably should have been binned years ago. And that was me inventing the mirror selfie."
"Why are you taking photos of yourself what, twenty years before it was a thing?"
"I told you, I invented the mirror selfie. That's what you do, when you're pregnant, you take photos so you can look back and remember how stupidly huge you were. Or not. And I wasn't exactly about to ask anyone else to take a photo for me, was I? Not when I was trying to keep you a secret. But I wanted photos. Actual pregnancy photos, not the horrifying irresponsible crap I already had. I didn't get to…" Ange sighs, pulls Chloe back into her chest. "I wouldn't say I didn't get to enjoy my pregnancy with Dom, because in a lot of ways, I really did. I was ridiculously naïve and I didn't know what was about to hit me until the last couple of weeks, but I did everything right, with him, if you leave out the part about not knowing I was pregnant until twenty-six weeks. I did everything right after that, anyway. And I did enjoy parts of it. I just really, really hated the humiliation when everyone found out, you know? And then by the end I was so enormous it was obvious, and I looked so, so young, the stares I used to get were awful. It was just embarrassing, and I ended up resenting all of it after that, in a way. I didn't get to properly enjoy it all the first time around, and I hated that. I'm still pissed off about it now, to be completely honest."
"So I was determined it was going to be different with you. I was absolutely determined, I wasn't quite so embarrassingly young, I promised myself I wasn't going to let all the judgemental crap get to me. I wanted to actually enjoy being pregnant with you- for me, but for both of us, really. I wanted it to be different. I know that sounds completely absurd, given I hadn't even got my act together and gone to get checked out, had any proper antenatal care. But I was going to do that. I just needed a little bit longer, and then I would have had my life together and I would have done the whole pregnancy thing properly. All the cute photos and everything."
"That's both really sweet and heartbreakingly sad."
Ange just hugs her silently for a moment.
"I think I took these about a week before I had you," she manages to continue at last. "It's like a part of me knew. They were quite useful, actually, when I had to justify myself to Social Services. They couldn't really look at these and not understand why I thought I was eighteen weeks at the most. I mean, you were scarily small, but you weren't thatsmall. I'm sure I had oligohydramnios, only it's not really the kind of thing you can diagnose after the delivery, is it?"
"You look so, so young in these ones, Mum." Chloe studies the page quietly, pensive.
"You think? That'll be the lack of eyeliner."
"No, it's not. You just look far, far too young to be pregnant. You're not trying to conceal it in these ones, it just makes me realise how young you actually were."
"You think these are bad? You should see the ones from my pregnancy with Dom, I was huge. It's probably a bit unsettling, really, looking back. Given I was thirteen for most of it. At least I'm nearly an adult in these ones."
"You still look like you were robbed of the last of your teen years."
"Only a little bit. And I'd give up everything I missed out on all over again so I could have you, sweetheart. I promise I would. I don't regret you for a second. So I think we're finally at the end," she tells Chloe gently, one arm around her protectively, maternal, free hand turning the page. "There you go. These ones."
Her heart is pounding, now, as she watches for Chloe's reaction.
She remembers these moments.
She remembers them as if they were yesterday, remembers never having been so frightened, so ashamed of herself, so completely panicked and yet so utterly in love at the same time.
"Is that me?" Chloe asks quietly, and Ange almost wants to laugh.
"Do you even need to ask? Of course that's you! You're probably about half an hour old in these, if that. These were at the SARC, Chloe took these while we were waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Just in case."
All of a sudden, she's seventeen years old again, looking at these.
She's seventeen years old and in a complete state of shock, with the benefit of hindsight, heart racing so fast she feels faint, dizzy, more exhausted and pained and shaky than she ever remembers before in her life.
It's just under eight months since her first visit to the Glasgow SARC and she's curled up on the sofa in Chloe Moncur's referral room again, SARC-issue blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
She'd run to Chloe- Chloe at the SARC.
When she'd gone into labour she'd thought it was a miscarriage.
She'd thought she was only sixteen weeks or so along, eighteen at the absolute most, been too scared to go to hospital because she hadn't known what might happen to her if it became apparent she'd known she was pregnant, that she'd known and still done the responsible thing, sought antenatal care.
It was her fault.
It was all her fault, down to the drinking, the drugs, the chain smoking, the sleeping around, the carelessness, before she knew, and nothing could be done at eighteen weeks anyway.
And so she'd convinced herself that she could handle it all on her own. That she could get it all over with by herself and god only knew what she was going to do after that, what she would have to hold on for if she didn't have the baby, but at least it would be over.
At least she could mourn her baby away from prying eyes, from the police and social services and everything else she'd been so afraid of at seventeen.
That's what she'd thought.
Until she'd delivered, cold and trembling in the churchyard at St Oda's and all alone and terrified, taken one look at the baby and realised she'd got her dates spectacularly wrong.
That there was hope.
That, and who the father really was, but that hadn't mattered to her.
All that mattered was that there was hope.
And so she'd done the only thing she could think of.
She'd used the CPR techniques she'd learnt in S2 until, mercifully, her tiny wee girl had shuddered, trembled, begun to breathe. And then she'd scooped her up into her arms, run across Pollokshields as fast as she could possibly manage, pushed through the pain.
She'd practically hammered down the door of the Glasgow SARC and she'd never known relief like it when Chloe came to answer.
And then she'd waited, while Chloe called for an ambulance, desperately willing the impossibly tiny, fragile little baby resting lifelessly against her chest to hold on, keep breathing on her own for just a little longer.
She'd never wanted anything so badly in her life as she'd wanted Chloe- her Chloe- to hold on.
Her Chloe who weighed next to nothing, barely there, slowly warming up but her tiny feet still felt sold and cold and so horrifyingly small that
Her Chloe who hadn't even opened her eyes yet, who was so blue and translucent and tiny and scrawny that she almost didn't seem real, that Ange just couldn't see how she was going to pull through.
Her Chloe who had that wonderful newborn baby smell she remembered Darren having, but who wasn't chubby and wriggly and pink and… and solid, somehow, like Darren was, because Chloe was so feather-light and unresponsive that when she closed her eyes, just for a moment, it was as though she wasn't even there at all.
Her Chloe who, for all her blueness, all her boniness and lingering lanugo, her silence, her moments of jerkiness, trembling, her squashed, newborn head, her inability to maintain her body temperature for herself, couldn't have possibly been any more perfect.
She's seventeen years old again and she's cuddling her baby girl against her chest, lightest possible pressure against her back because Chloe her rape crisis support worker told her babies this small don't like being touched too much, don't like unnecessary fuss and too much stimulation.
That the tiny wee thing draped against her needed her body heat, the steady rhythm of her heartbeat, her comfort, but at the same time too much interaction would stress her out, overwhelm her, put her at risk.
She'd held her baby to her chest with the lightest touch she could possibly manage and counted every single shaky, uncertain breath, because maternal instinct had kicked in well and truly and her little girl hadn't even been in the world an hour, but already she couldn't even begin to imagine her life without her.
That was when, gently, Chloe had suggested she went and got her camera from her office.
"Why am I naked?" Chloe- her Chloe- asks now, pulls her back to reality. Why are youhalf naked?"
"Hey, I've got a bra on! You were doing the worst job at regulating your own body temperature I've ever seen and you were so distressed- I don't even know how I knew that, actually, looking back. I just knew. Maternal instinct, or something, I don't know. So we were going for the kangaroo care strategy. I thought that was just going to stress you out even more, to be honest, my heart was racing so fast. But you totally calmed down, when we tried that. Your breathing was still a bit scary, but you were so much calmer."
"That's actually really sweet."
"Oh, I know. Youwere really sweet. You were my wee best friend from day one, you changed everything. I haven't looked at these photos for years," she admits quietly. "They… I don't know. You look adorable in these, you look like a doll. You almost don't look real. But you were… you were just so, so tiny and delicate, and we weren't sure how traumatic the birth had been for you," Ange tells her carefully, feels unexpectedly guilty telling her daughter this, almost as though she didn't believe in her, didn't think she'd manage it. "You weren't breathing, when you were first born, I've told you that before, haven't I? It probably wasn't for long, it just felt like a lifetime, you know? Because you were mine, and I was on my own, and I didn't know what I was doing. We… We were worried, me and Chloe, we were worried that you might stop breathing again, and you just looked so ill…"
"I don't just look ill, I look shrivelled. And that's the most impressive misshapen head I've ever seen on a newborn."
"Oh, stop, you were beautiful. Look at your sweet little face. You were just really thin, that's all, you had no body fat. I don't think you would have looked so scary if you hadn't been so thin. Chloe took these because we weren't sure if you were going to make it to the hospital," she confesses, holds her daughter tight. "We weren't sure if… if there would be another opportunity, I guess. If you were going to… I mean, preemies are unpredictable at the best of times, aren't they, you know that…"
"Hey, it's okay. "You're alright now, aren't you? That's all that matters. But my god, you scared me at first. I wanted you so, so much. I don't know what I would have done if I'd lost you, everything had been for you, up to that point. Everything. You were the only thing I was holding on for."
"Did you know, then?" Chloe asks quietly, shakily.
Ange doesn't need any more detail to know exactly what she's referring to.
"Of course I knew," She tells Chloe truthfully. "You wouldn't have had a hope in hell if you'd been the eighteen weeks I'd thought you were, would you? It was that or thirty-five weeks, there wasn't another possibility. I knew as soon as I saw you."
Her daughter falls silent for a moment, expression unreadable, almost as though she's trying to take it all in.
"But…" Chloe stammers at last. "But you look… in these, you look so… the way you look at me… like…"
"Like I'm completely, totally, unconditionally in love with you?" Ange finishes for her. "That's because I was. Look how precious you were, how could I not love you? You were mine. I was already so attached to you, that was never going to make any difference. You were my baby, and were absolutely nothing like him, you never have been. And you were so tiny and helpless and you needed me, and I knew you were far too young to know what love was, but you definitely knew I was your mum, and that made me feel loved, you know? Nothing else mattered anymore because I had you, and you needed me, and I loved you so much I couldn't not try and be the best mum to you I possibly could. For you. You've always been my priority since."
Chloe's fingertips brush over the glossy finishing of the second photograph, captivated, strangely peaceful.
"Can I have a copy of this one?" she asks suddenly.
She's seventeen years old, curled up on the SARC sofa, utterly oblivious to the camera at that point.
She's exhausted, terrified, in the worst pain she's ever experienced before in her life, lightheaded from the blood loss and it's taking every last bit of energy she has to keep herself awake, alert, calm, but her expression is soft, overwhelmed with happiness and love and adoration as she smiles down at her baby, cups her head, her back.
Ange remembers that feeling so clearly.
She was still so scared she was going to lose her; the tiny, vulnerable life cuddled up against her.
She was so scared she felt dizzy, anxious, couldn't calm herself down, and yet all the time her baby girl was still breathing, still holding on, still with her, she couldn't not be blissfully happy and proud and at peace with the world and… and content, somehow, inexplicably so.
Because despite it all, despite everything, every moment Chloe kept breathing was another moment that she was hers, her baby, her whole world.
She looks like Chloe's mum, in that image, in a way she never quite did in those first few moments with Dom.
She looks young, yes, but there's something in the way she's looking at Chloe, oh-so-gentle, delicate, that leaves no doubt whatsoever she's her mum.
Not just the teenager who gave birth to her, still a child herself.
It's perfectly clear from her expression that all the while she has Chloe, nothing else in the whole world could possibly matter.
"Of course you can. I'll scan it in for you at work tomorrow, and then I'll get it printed for you properly? Yeah? Alright. Do you see now?" Ange murmurs, pulls her daughter back into her side, wonders where the time went, how Chloe got to be taller than her, more intelligent, more beautiful, and yet still every inch her vulnerable, fragile baby. "Not once, not once in your whole life, have I ever seen you as anything but my daughter. Okay? My lovely, caring, perfect, beautiful daughter. I couldn't have loved you any more if I tried. I didn't care how you were conceived, I just cared that you were mine. You're always going to be just mine, you came from me. No one else. I carried you, I gave birth to you, I raised you. You've got absolutely nothing to do with anyone else, sweetheart. Nothing. I should be thanking you really, shouldn't I, given everything I've just shown you? I was such a mess, before I had you. You changed that."
"Shouldn't I be thanking you?" Chloe's voice is a mere whisper, fingers gently tugging at her hair again, braiding, distracting herself from the answer, just in case.
"That was never going to happen, Chloe," Ange promises her. "Never. Not unless the decision was taken out of my hands, and I was so, so determined it wouldn't be. I loved you too much for that."
"I love you more."
"Nope. Nope, I love you more."
"No, you don't."
"Yes, I do!" She leans over Chloe's shoulder to glance at the photos again, pauses, smiles.
"Oh wow, I've never noticed before. You're right, Chloe, you definitely need a copy of this one, look. Look at your little hands."
"You're what, half an hour old and you'd barely moved an inch, but you've already grabbed hold of my hair. Absolutely nothing has changed."
"Alright!" Chloe pouts, mock-sulking, guiltily, embarrassed, lets go of her hair.
"Hey, you're okay. Clearly you've been doing it for the best part of thirty years, haven't you, I hadn't even realised that. Am I embarrassing you?"
"Oh, I totally am. Alright. Alright, I'll stop. Right, shall I get the takeaway menus out, then? What do you want, sushi?"
"Obviously. Are you feeling alright, Mum? When do you ever suggest sushi?"
"When I've been worried about you all week. Has that made you feel better? Honestly?"
Chloe just nods, closes her eyes for a moment, at peace.
"Good. Because you have nothing to worry about, sweetheart. Absolutely nothing. You are so, so loved, I promise. I'll go and get the sushi menu," she tells her, pulls herself up off the sofa, heads into the kitchen, rummages through the drawer with the takeaway menus. "I think I'm going to have to get all your other baby photos out this weekend!" she shouts back through to Chloe. "I'd forgotten how cute you were when you were tiny."
"Aww. I wasn't as cute as that newborn lamb, though," Chloe argues, as Ange presses the Yo Sushi menu into her hands. "He was gorgeous."
"Seriously?" Ange laughs, rolling her eyes. "He's just a sheep, Chloe."