I will start at the end, the weeks after the second miscarriage. Weeks of waking yet another morning heavy with sadness, buffeted by another wave of tears of the sort that I had been submerged in for what seemed to go on forever, when something inside me gave in, and I was able to admit to myself, my husband, and even a few friends, I really am in despair, a suicidal hopelessness has blown through me, it is never going to happen, not only have I lost a baby, I will never have a baby.
Being pregnant was like having climbed a hill and planted a flag that was blowing triumphantly in the clear sky. I had spent a few days at my father’s and Friday at a work meeting, feeling bright about my future, feeling smart in my designer dress. I who always lives right up close to the deadlines (pregnant at 44, getting in there at the last possible minute, always) uncharacteristically had time that day and walked 45 minutes to my meeting in the resplendent winter sun and all the way back to Euston. Little did I know, slowing down and walking would become the core of the new person about to become.
As I wandered the house, just about forcing myself through a semblance of my life, red-eyed, wild-haired, in pyjamas still, I abandoned myself and gave up pretending that I could cope. Was I sinking out of view this time? This deeper despair seemed to herald new level of pain. In time, in fact it was the sound of the pain lodging itself in my heart, making a new person with a bigger heart and life would again be precious and thrilling, and more delicate and real and able to be acted upon. The rest of my life that I had barely wanted to look at could begin.
As I returned home on the next sunny Saturday day, I stopped to eat on the motorway, and I revelled in the healthy and calm choices that had become the norm by then. I bought some garlic croutons as a treat. That evening, I enjoyed a buoyant family meal and sat down nice and early, in good time to watch a long French film, which amazingly everyone loved. I spent the whole of the film doing my nails and my cuticles, which looked better than ever before. As was becoming (at last) the norm, we got to bed early. Sunday, I went off to the hairdressers, virtuously foregoing any hair dye –the hair looked so fabulous it didn’t need anything, even my hair was happy and self-sufficient.
Then we had lunch after which I felt so tired, and visiting the loo, I saw I had started to bleed.
My husband ushered me into bed, and I spent the afternoon painting my nails, and doing a few bits and bobs; only by late evening did I have to come off the phone to my sister because the exhaustion was kicking in. By lunchtime the next day, pain had filled my torso and was unbearable, and I left work. I had not seemed so bad in the morning, the bleeding light enough. It had been uncomfortable to drive to work.
I was still that person then that grimly held normality in place, I sent emails, I spoke to students, but by mid-morning, I struggled to be upright and was uncomfortable sitting down, and pain broke through the present like a knife.
It was time to act, the GP said there was no need to go to emergency, just go home and lie down, and as I packed up, sent emails explaining my impending disappearance, and the first set of bitter tears flooded out, I surrendered to the suspicion that it will happen to me, that yet again, me and my body were going to fail at something so natural and common, so fundamental to being a female hat the rest of the world makes it look so easy.
The tears stung my eyes in their bitter clean abundance. As I mopped them up, the fingernails so lovingly cared for on the weekend fluttered round my face, and on the keyboard. This is how my nails have been since and that day they seemed like the nails of someone else, someone I began to be that day.
I dragged a decaying body round the university, putting up notices at my cancelled classrooms, posting off some letters (when the post master complimented me on how well they were written, it seemed to come nostalgically like a voice from another planet where such things might matter). I left, driving away in such discomfort, and would spend the best part of the rest of the week in bed, while the world rolled on and I was elsewhere.
All that afternoon, I became more and more in pain. I answered a few emails as I struggled to hang on and slowly this other story that had so rudely interrupted my old life dragged me into a world where I could only lie quietly and receive food. But I was still in the land of the living, the proof: I could eat the spaghetti bolognaise cooked by my niece without being spooked at its fleshiness. And all the time, I hoped this might pass. I spoke to people on the phone and said I was a little unwell. At some point, bored, tired, unable to do anything, I texted a good friend to say what was happening – no need to call I just need someone to know I am pregnant (I had been keeping it secret) and it is not going well.
By about nine in the evening, I had to admit that this now unnatural state of pain did not correspond to a living state, and there was no doubt of where we were going. A few minutes later the blood clots arrived to confirm my instincts, and I accepted the new story we’d lurched into. I noted the speed with which it was all happening, and how much faster it was than last time, when the clots came on day 4 of bleeding.
I remembered two years ago how I totally switched my active life off to let this expulsion of a foetus pass through me. I knew my body knew what to do and we adopted our positions. I breathed out my plans and my control and let the body take over. I went to lie in front of the TV. We lay there me and the person who has been through it before, quietly allowing nature to take its course. At some point, I had put on my Moroccan jellaba over my pyjamas, so at least I was cosy. I texted my husband who that morning had started a job away from home to say I thought it is over for my little bear.
Just before midnight, I stirred to get up and get back to bed and as I did, I felt the scurrying out of a load from inside me. I recognised the sensation along the inside of my vagina and was reassured that I could trust this knowing. I marvelled that I could have developed a physical understanding of this nightmare. This time I will be brave I told myself, I will embrace the enormous bloody reality, no frightened throwing of your little bear down the toilet. So, I took off my pj bottoms and my Ugg’s in my bathroom. And there it was, amazingly in front of me, on my pad, the tiniest placenta, and an amniotic sac, full of its liquid, perfectly formed, the fleshy secrets of pregnancy, the unseen out in the world. I had looked at images of ‘missing twin syndrome’ on the interet that afternoon (in hope, hope I had one to spare, that I could continue being pregnant) while in bed, and in a heartbeat, I recognised the placenta, the sac. I took a deep breath, and retired to another bathroom to clean myself up, put some clean knickers on, and put on a new pad.
Then I braved my bathroom. Unable to help myself, I peered round the door, like in a cartoon; I was frightened by the fleshy reality of the real. My boots and trousers lay there perfectly aligned like the bottom half of a person whose top half had evaporated. I took the pad and looked.
Placenta, so small, and it seemed compared to last time, less formed, and amniotic sac, joyful and bountiful bubble of yellow light in the night.
I looked in, and saw water, a peaceful bubble of water. I looked and looked, even bringing the sac close to the bedside lamp, and looked; quiet nothing, no piercing of the heart this time with the sight of a pearl-like embryo, no bud in a corner, just the quiet expanse of water. I had wanted this daughter to be called Marina, and not for nothing had this pregnancy been full of uncertainty, a guilty 40+ pregnancy, with doctors disproving, and my husband waiting till I would have ‘the tests’ to celebrate, not for nothing had I felt no real connection to a little being (unlike last time).
It seemed to be a pregnancy without a foetus, and that was for the time being a relief, no one had died, no child-that-could-have-been to stare at me through the sky in the days to come, to yearn for and to mourn.
My husband texted me his good night a while ago, and wasn’t picking up the phone, so I briefly texted to say it was all over and I was calm, and in the quiet of the dark night, after eating the garlic croutons from that sunny cloudless Saturday, and speaking to a nurse, who said the best thing was to sleep, and to perhaps visit in the morning, I fell asleep easily, relieved- the physical pain was abating, the 24 hour ordeal of ‘will I won’t I?’ was over and something else that I didn’t dare name shone briefly in the night and disappeared with me into sleep. I am good at beginnings.
The next day I believe I helped my niece get ready for university. How life’s routines have a life of their own and how grateful I was that they continued that morning, a little framework that protects the heart from total collapse. I did what I had to do through my body ache, I excused myself from work, I spoke to a nurse who thought it best we keep our original appointment the next day, and I downloaded and watched ‘sex and the city’ episodes to distract me in bed. It was like watching flames in a fire, shadows on the moon, colours and shapes that lifted me out of the real. I shut off as much as I could the demands around me. The phone rang a few times and did not make it to it before it rung off half on-purpose. What was I to say; I was in pain, I was relieved that I wouldn’t be a mother, I was suicidal I wasn’t going to be a mother, that I couldn’t think and that I couldn’t feel?
People say call me if you need to talk, I didn’t want to talk – short telegraphic texts kept me just about in the land of language without the effort of attempting to articulate this waterfall of confused emotion. I answered the odd, simple work email – thinking it is just the one, but they used all I had. I felt the world calling to me from outside my closed curtained bubble, my slow quiet place. I kept fingertip touch with my life, and all the while, the products of conception lay in the bathroom, it seemed normal to live with them in here, there is a quiet magic on the edge of life and death, and they were guarantors of the extraordinariness of being in a moment where the veil between this life and the other was so thin.
At some point I ate, and in keeping with the delicate shell on the shore of the empty sea that I was, it was simple, vegetarian and eccentric; fruit and chocolate. I was sickened by looking at the fleshy and meaty spaghetti bolognaise from last night. It felt as if that could never be eaten again. Very soon in the years to come, it wouldn’t be.
I sauntered around. In the mirror I looked so tired, so old, for the first time ever I felt my age. Flowers arrived from my text friend from last night – I greeted the door in a state of such dishevelment, and sat with these colourful things of life, briefly crying in utter disbelief that there would be no 12-week scan, 20-week scan, school runs, the lot.
All the while, I held on to the belief that the focused doer I was would be back soon. Because last time I had been so strengthened.
I chatted to my husband in the evening as best I could. I barely slept that night – no tiredness cut through the numb state of shock. I wandered the house, watched films waiting for time to do its thing. I quietly sat with the present events so that they might filter in and feel real.
I got myself ready for the hospital the next morning, getting behind, struggling with living in time again, wondering if I was in this much pain, whether I should be on the road at all, all the time with my tissues –by now so shrivelled -in a posh plastic bag from some posh oat bars, in a posh little square shopping bag from the hairdressers, like they were a groovy purchase. The truth is I was happy to be with them. I was about to say goodbye to motherhood and sitting here with this bag delayed an uncertain unthinkable future a little.
I waited in the early pregnancy unit, an incredibly quiet place, where grief goes underground.
Today I bring that grief to the surface. Today I see that in all that pain, the seeds of a slower life were nestled.