Last week was Borne to Dance. The Borne team, including my husband, have been planning this for months and it was spectacular: Reubens on the ceiling, the best of British dance on the stage and table after table of people who give their time, talents and treasure to Borne.
Julian tried to blag our way in early so he could check a few things. He was firmly stopped by a security guard, bigger than he and even more determined. He produced his Borne business card. She was not impressed.
What is Borne anyway?
It’s a charity for premature babies, I said.
I knit for premature babies, she said, with the biggest, warmest smile and we chatted about how our babies had worn teeny woollen hats to keep their ventilators in place.
That summed up the evening for me. Doctors and scientists led by Professor Mark Johnson, bankers, lawyers and management consultants, dancers of sublimity organized by Darcey Bussell and Michael Nunn, parents of premature babies and so many more people, linked by prematurity, by the experience of having or knowing a baby born before its time.
Caro and Will Greenwood had made a film about their son Freddie. Freddie was born too soon and lived for less than an hour. I have seen the film before but I cried again. I have sat by incubators and looked at babies too sick to be held. I waited weeks to hold my eldest. My twins didn’t meet for two weeks. But I cannot imagine holding my baby as he or she died.
Caro and Will have three more children now, but other families still suffer their tragedy. Mark Johnson spoke about the 80 hours NHS on-call he had just finished. He had delivered a baby at 22 weeks. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could say to those parents. And nobody knows why.
That tragedy happens all the time. That sounds casual; it isn’t, it’s just so hard to imagine. Around the world, twenty-nine babies are born too early every minute, and two of them die. It’s hard to imagine because I have my five premature babies walking and talking and refusing to get out of bed. It’s hard to imagine because I have not known such pain. But let me try to get across the enormity of those numbers. I have a picture in my head from the Greenwood’s film: the horrific moment Will describes of carrying the tiny box into the crematorium. Imagine Will’s big rugby-player’s hands clutching the miniature coffin of Freddie as he and Caro said goodbye. And I imagine another father and mother holding their tiny box the same that same minute. And the next minute imagine another two couples crying over two more small boxes. A minute later, imagine another two families holding their little caskets. By then I am crying too much to imagine any more; that’s six babies dying in three minutes and it goes on and on. Prematurity is a killer.
Despite my tears, this was a positive evening. Borne to Dance was celebrating families and friends who have survived prematurity and want to save others the ordeal. The power and grace and control of the dancers showed the human body at its best, an expression of so many emotions. We raised money for Borne to continue funding the best scientists, the best research, to find out why premature birth happens.
Our friendly security guard came to round up the stragglers and Mark thanked her for her knitting. It seemed fitting that the evening ended with her. She was nothing to do with Borne, but she is part of the wonderful mix of people linked by prematurity, and trying to do something about it.
Borne to Dance was wonderful, but I would rename it: Borne to Live.