Beneath azure sky, sunlight dances silver through turquoise water. I float between sea and sky, immersed in a world of blue. And I am being watched. Terns above, hovering, suspended in light, their voices piercing the air, a sound felt as well as heard. A seal examines me from a distance before submerging and reappearing silently a little closer. I have begun to crave, to depend on, this freedom, the release of shifting boundaries and horizons.
Becoming Selkie*, becoming me, again. The title comes to me and I begin to write. I have just dropped the boys off at nursery, my first childcare in five months and Finn’s first day apart from me. I sit by the sea, gathering my thoughts. I wanted to swim from the moment I arrived in Shetland. Always holding back as I sought to control thoughts and actions in relation to the possibility of life beginning, or ending, inside me. ‘You did nothing to cause this’ ‘ Miscarriage is not your fault’, kind midwifes reassured me each time. But still, it kept happening, so I learned to move my body and mind cautiously, in relation to uncertainty.
This summer, as I put on my wetsuit for the first time, I looked at my body. Outwardly it appears little has changed since I had the children, but inside is a different story. Somewhere, in the shifting hormones of pregnancy, my immune system, on high alert, perceived risk where there was none. Attacking my thyroid and areas of my digestive system required to absorb b12. Daily tablets and regular injections, the miracles of medicine, making these conditions, mostly, manageable.
I think about the title I have written. Becoming selkie, becoming me. Again. It is not right, there no static me, no again to return to. I am not wanting to go back, to somehow reclaim my pre baby body, my self before them. I have changed, as we all do, in relation to our connections. For a time in the womb whales have feet and humans have tails, we are made of more than we can see, measure or explain. Life is exploration. With our words and actions we share ourselves and our souls with the worlds that shape us. Who I become is with, and because of, my children. Our worlds are inseparable as we grow and discover together. But, as they grow older, and make fewer immediate demands on my body, I have the opportunity to learn more about who I am becoming today.
My swims have become a part of me, a need, a compulsion, a lockdown cliché. This summer, as I learned to live in a world dominated by Covid-19, the song of the selkies, rising from the sea kept me strong, reminding me of beauty and the wonders of nature. Emerging from lockdown I found more selkies. The Shetland open water swimming group. Answering my plea to find folk to swim with, members of this group guided, encouraged and supported me into the water. And so now, the voices of human selkies restore me, connect me to a community, opening up new worlds for me to explore.
*Selkie is the Shetland name for seal