Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Year

I had a miscarriage. I was only seven weeks pregnant anyway and I think that the baby had been dead for a while. It is 11.00 o'clock on New Year's Eve. The weird thing is that I didn't know it is New Year's Eve. I only found out an hour ago when my husband told me. I'd thought that New Year's Eve was tomorrow. This makes me realize how totally cut off my husband and I are from the rest of the world. We spent the morning at the hospital being pitied by pleasant people who can do nothing for us. I spent the evening lying in bed next to my son, bleeding and listening to a Narnia audio CD. My husband stayed downstairs and drank wine and listened to the radio. Somewhere not far away there are people having parties and letting off fireworks. My husband and I haven't been to a New Year's party since our daughter died. One year we did go away together to a hotel and I enjoyed that. I suppose that we could put the radio on and listen to the New Year being rung in. But I don't think we'll bother.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Medical Profession

I'm all right as long as I don't have to deal with the medical profession. In the doctor's surgery a cheery lady on the reception desk said, 'Congratulations? When is the baby due?' I walked out of there in tears. Then a midwife from the local maternity hospital rang me. She wanted me to go in to the hospital so that she could talk over all sorts of details about the pregnancy. What kind of tests I might want, which hospital I want to have the baby in ...... She was pleasant and she was just doing her job but I told her that I'd ring back ..... And I haven't rung back and I'm not going to. I really don't need any of that stuff. I also got sent a cheery little booklet covered in photographs of smiling mothers and babies. It had a helpful little calendar to tell you what you should expect at what time. That went straight in the recycling. It's not that I'm negative about this but I'm just not thinking beyond tomorrow. When I get to eight weeks, I'll go and find out if there's a heart beat. Until then I'm not dealing with the medical profession. And anyway it is just before Christmas. Christmas is quite hard enough without a visit to a maternity hospital.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

On becoming an urban myth

We've all heard those stories about women who tried for a baby for ten years, who tried IVF but failed, who were in the process of adopting .... and then found themselves pregnant. To be honest, I was always a little doubtful about those stories. But now it's happened to me. I'm 42. I've lost the last four babies (if you include the stillbirth). IVF failed. I had given away everything in my house that had anything to do with babies ..... And now I'm pregnant. I don't know what to say. The Big Man in the sky does like a joke, doesn't he? And I'm not sure his jokes are always in very good taste. But of course, I'm glad. Even if I have another miscarriage, I'm glad. I know that the odds are badly stacked against us but at least something has happened .... At least I've got another chance. Now that I've got over the shock, I'm doing OK. Just getting through each day. Trying not to think about it all too much. I'm a Quaker and Quakers don't pray. Or at least they think there is only one prayer which is worth anything and that is - 'God grant me the equanimity to bear the outcome well - whatever it may be.' Quakers also say - 'I pray not to change God's will but to align my will with his.' Actually, I stopped believing in God a while back (during the IVF, to be specific) but still that's the approach I need right now.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


A couple evenings ago I went to a support group for people with dead babies. I have never been able to do that before because of living abroad. It isn't easy for me to go even now that I'm back in England. I had to drive a long way and go into a city which I don't know. I was on my own and it was dark. I'm not good with cars, maps, that sort of thing. I spent hours driving around the city, lost and increasingly desperate. But all the while this lovely woman called Cathy (who runs the support group) was sending me texts and trying to help me get there. Eventually I got there. A community centre in some back street in the middle of nowhere. And there was Cathy - on her own. She usually has more people turning up but that night she didn't. She always sits there all evening anyway just in case someone shows up. She's a tall, thin woman, with lovely long black hair. Dignified, resolute and calm. I was just so moved by her and by what she's doing. There she was, on her own, in that middle of nowhere place. There to help women who've lost babies - despite the fact that she has the most God awful story to tell herself. There waving a flag for the bereaved - which is something that very, very few people do. She said to me that she set up the group because she felt she owed it to her lost son Adam to help other parents .... Very modestly, she added that she feels that she's done Adam proud. Well, let me tell you, Cathy. You have. You really have.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

What does the damage?

A while ago I saw a television interview with a man who had been the victim of a serious assault and who had later had a nervous breakdown. Let's call this man John, for the sake of argument. John explained that the attack had happened in broad day light. He was driving along a road when another car pushed him into the verge. A man jumped out and beat John savagely. John then lay on the side of the road, bleeding badly, for about half an hour. During that time about twelve cars drove past but they didn't stop. John explained that it wasn't the attack which caused his nervous breakdown. He understood that to be the work of a random lunatic and so attached no wider signficance to it. It was the cars which drove past which caused his breakdown. They changed his view of the world. He thought that he was living in a caring society and he found out that he wasn't. Now none of the things which have happened to me are anything like as bad as that attack ..... But nonetheless, as I listened to John speak, I understood his point entirely.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Dropping things ....

For the past few months, every day has been full to the brim because of moving. That has suited me. No time to think. And the days are still very full ..... But I'm not coping with all this any more. Today I burst into tears four of five times. Each time it's because of something stupid. The fire won't light because the logs are wet, a drawer jams and I start thumping it wildly to force it shut, I try to lift something down from a shelf and a load of other things fall down on top of me .... and then I start crying. I have to stop this because of my son. He's lovely to me, full of cuddles and hugs but it is really, really wrong that a six year old should have to provide comfort to an adult. My husband is in the house but he tries to ignore what is happening. The other problem is that I have no manual dexterity at all. I drop and break everything. I trap my hands in doors, I cut my hands while chopping vegetables, I burn my hands taking food out of the oven, I drop food on the floor, things slip through my hands ..... I just tried to wash my son's hair and I smeared shampoo all over his face. Knowing that I was about to start crying, he bravely said that it didn't get shampoo in his eyes and that it didn't sting one bit .... I wasn't aware that extreme clumsiness is a sign that you're losing your mind but clearly it is. A large part of the problem is that I'm trying to do everything far too fast. I some how need to slow down but I just can't do that. Maybe tomorrow will be better. I just hope so. I worry most for my son. I want so much to give him a wonderful childhood. He's all that I've got. But most of the time I just see him as someone who has spread LEGO all over the floor. And if I have to tidy up any more LEGO then I'll go out of my mind ... if I haven't already.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

On coping

I have an old friend who had a still birth and miscarriages (although she does now have three live children). She and I were at school together but we hadn't really kept in touch. But when she heard about Laura's death she called me up and was really kind. It was like talking to someone I know really well although actually we hadn't spoken in fifteen years. She said two things which I remember. Firstly, I said, 'I don't feel like I'm coping very well.' She said, 'You know what? The verb to cope should never be followed by an adverb. There is no such thing as coping well or coping badly. It's just coping - that's all. If you get through the day then that is enough.' We also talked about the difference between a miscarriage and a still birth. We agreed that the latter is very much worse than the former but then she said, 'You know the truth is that there aren't any easy ways to lose a baby.' So very true. I don't know why I think of those things now. Perhaps just because I'm grateful to her. Having said that, she hasn't been in touch again over the last two years. Probably she guesses that I never had another child and she feels embarrassed / guilty because at least, for her, there was (a partial) happy ending. Oh well, I don't mind. At least she tried her best to help at the time - which is more than can be said for a lot of people.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Serial Rescuer II

I suppose that I'm interested in this Serial Rescuer question because I think that it is linked, very loosely, to women who have still births (and perhaps others who suffer awful disasters). One of the theories about Serial Rescuers is, I believe, that they endlessly give out what they hope to receive. For me, this explanation makes sense. I say that because I know that recently I went out a big Salvation Mission. A friend of mine, who has also lost a baby, went on a similar Mission as well. We laugh together now about our experiences - although only because if we didn't laugh then we would cry. I think that for both of us the motivation was the same. It went like this: I've just been through a terrible experience and I didn't receive proper help and support and so now I'm going to ensure that nobody else is left in that situation ....... But the point is that both my friend and I decided to save people who couldn't be saved. And both of us wore ourselves out trying and trying and trying ...... And we both admit now that we didn't like the people we tried to save! But at the time we simply refused to admit that maybe those people were simply not worth the trouble. For both of us these Salvation Missions finished up being deeply bruising experiences. Well at least we can laugh and comfort each other by analysing how we could have been quite so stupid ..... Perhaps a Salvation Mission of this kind is just one of the many distractions you get yourself into when you've lost a baby ..... And at the end of it, and all those other high-ways and by-ways your shamble down in your grief, you are always forced back on the knowledge that your baby remains just as dead as he / she always was ......

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Serial rescuer

I hadn't heard the words 'serial rescuer' until recently. They rang an instant bell with me because they describe my mother very exactly. There is nothing she likes more that a really awful crisis because she can then rush in and offer comfort, salvation, practical support. She's always been like that. At her kitchen table there is always some person who is bereaved / lonely / sick. A few years ago (when I was in Shrink Mode) I used to judge my mother quite harshly. I felt (and I'm probably right) that she only helps other people in order to avoid her own problems. Now I don't really see it like that. I just think that it is good that she helps people and it really doesn't matter why she does it. But I do still have questions about 'serial rescuers' because (like mother, like daughter) I used to be one myself. And to some extent I still am. But something has changed and I'm not quite sure what. I've always known that if you are in the Rescue Business then you better not keep a balance sheet because you'll never make it add up. What you give out will not come back. The person who spends hours and hours telling you about their tragedy will happily shut the door on your need a year later. That's life, that's the rules of the game ...... But still I've got questions. I can't work it out. I'll have to write another post about it when I've thought it through ...... Any other serial rescuers out there who would like to comment?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Year of Magical Thinking

My husband and I went to see a play called The Year of Magical Thinking. It was written by a woman called Joan Didion who I'm sure that I should have heard of but I haven't. (Can Americans out there help me?) I really wanted to see the play because it has been quite a hit, and it is a one woman show about grief, and so I really thought that it would be interesting. But I have to say that it wasn't. Not at all. I don't want to be critical of Joan Didion who has clearly lived through terrible tragedies (the death of her husband and her daughter in one year) but her play is really dodgy. I was so disappointed. Every day I read blogs which are infinitely more thoughtful, intelligent and honest than that play. Joan Didion seems to think that she is the only person in the world who has ever had anything bad happen to them. I also had the impression that she's never had a conversation with anyone else about grief. None of this would matter except that, at the end of the play, many people stood up as they clapped. And afterwards everyone else in the audience seemed to think that the play was wonderful. For my husband and I, the whole thing was a real Emperor's New Clothes moment. I left the theatre feeling really frightened because I suddenly felt as though I'm occupying some totally different world to other people. But then I've always felt like that so perhaps I should stop worrying about it. Maybe I should be more respectful to Joan Didion. After all, she's got a right to say what she thinks about grief. But should she be able to proclaim her story from stages all over the world when actually - I've got to say it - her play is just vacuous?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

New house

There is so much that I want to write about - but I've no time and no proper internet connection. I'm typing this in an internet cafe. My son and I have been camping at our new house for the last three days. We have no furniture except an air bed but we've loved it all the same. Yesterday evening we stood at the window and watched a deer grazing on our lawn. That happens quite often. The deer come down from the woods behind the house and occupy the lawn as though it is their own. I'm longing for the moment when I can take a photograph so you can see the house. In an hour's time the furniture van arrives. It could be quite a difficult afternoon! But at least something is happening.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

So Thomas is your only child?

I haven't met many people in our new area yet but everyone I have met has asked that question. 'So Thomas is your only child?' Of course, it's a harmless question. I don't blame the people who ask. But then I've got to explain it - again and again and again. Of course, I could just say, 'Yes, he's my only child.' I've often done that over the last three years. But I've decided that I'm not going to do it any more. My husband and I have had very difficult conversations about this. He thinks I shouldn't tell people - or not immediately. He says that people find if very off putting to be told that kind of information when they've only just met someone. I, frankly, don't care. These are the circumstances of my life. That's what it is. People either get it or they don't. The truth is that if you've had a baby that has died then there are plenty of people out there who want to silence you. For me, it's distressing to realise that one of those people is my husband. But, of course, you can decide not to be silenced. And that's what I've decided now. I refuse to participate any further in the Great Lie that says that life is always lovely, and everyone is always happy, and every story has a happy ending. This might imply that I feel desperately miserable and bitter right now. I don't actually. I just want to see things as they are and I want to be surrounded by people who are trying to do the same.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Staying with my mother

There are so many things I want to write. And I can't write any of them really because I don't have an internet connection. At present I'm at my sister's borrowing her computer. It is still another couple of weeks at least until we'll move into our new house. Staying with my mother is quite an experience. She doesn't actually have chickens in her kitchen but it's that kind of set up. The place where she lives is a beautiful but semi-derelict farm house at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. Water pours through the roof when it rains and nothing works. For years my mother didn't have mains water or central heating and she didn't have a kitchen - just a sink, a table and one round pin socket. Things have improved recently but not that much. The whole thing is still like a really badly organised camping holiday. The whole house is covered in dog hair. When you take your clothes off at night you find dog hair down your bra. My mother can't see anything odd about any of this. On good days, I love sharing her life but there are times when I really have to struggle to keep my temper. The upside is that it's paradise for my son. He brings in buckets of mud from the garden and spreads them all over the kitchen floor and my mother says, 'Lovely dear, do you want some water to mix it with.'

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Sons and daughters

We moved house. Currently we are not actually living anywhere. That is not as bad as it sounds except that everything I need is in a bag which is somewhere else ...... I'm typing this from an internet cafe. Today I heard someone repeat a saying which I had never heard before. It goes likes this: 'A son is a son until he takes a wife. A daughter is a daughter for all of her life.' That one hit me pretty hard. It's true, of course. A mother-daughter relationship is a special and unique relationship. I'm never going to have that and I'm lonely without it. I have my husband and my son but they're blokes and so there are some things that they just don't understand. But I'm defiant. Defiant. That's an important word for me right now. I want life, life, life. In spite of what has happened I want as much life as I can have. It won't end well. I'm running myself into the ground and I'll finish up ill. But until that moment comes I'm just enjoying the fact that I, at least, am alive.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Foxy the bike

Life should be absolutely terrible right now. It's four days until we leave this city. I'm packing all day, every day. It's physically exhausting and emotionally draining. Everyone I know is away on holiday - and even if they weren't I probably wouldn't see them. My husband is busy at work and says, 'It'll get done some how.' (I noticed that men say that often. It means, 'Some woman will do it.') So here I am alone in this half packed house. Whole swathes of my past have been carted away to the junk yard, and loads more will go. But the strange thing is that, on a minute by minute basis, I don't feel that bad. I don't really feel anything at all - but I don't mean that in a negative sense. I'm like somebody in a dream. Today I did have a moment when I lost my nerve. I should have taken my son's bike to the dump but I couldn't do it. My son has out grown the bike and it was always horrid anyway. My mother got it from a dump. It's black and orange - a combination of colours I particularly dislike. For some reason it has 'Foxy' painted on the cross bar so that's what we call it. My son and I have had some fun with Foxy. Last summer I taught him to ride without stabilisers and he's written miles and miles on that bike. And so when it came to taking Foxy to the junk market I couldn't do it ..... It's funny the odd things which tug at the heart strings, the bits of the past which refuse to be cut adrift.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Packing and crying

We are leaving Belgium in two weeks time. I first came here sixteen years ago. My husband has lived here for twenty years. We love our house here and Brussels is a wonderful city in so many ways. But we're going .... I know it's right. We badly need to start again and we can't do that here. At the moment I'm packing all day, every day. Our house is big and we are very untidy people. I'm taking car loads of stuff around to the charity shop. I know that this has to happen but it is so, so hard. Everything I touch is charged with some huge emotional significance - and I haven't even got to all that baby stuff in the attic yet. But the truth is that the life we used to have in this city came to an end three years ago ....... What we're leaving behind is the shape of a life, not a real life. I just can't think about what is happening. I can't. All I do is tell myself (and everyone else) that we'll come back often - even though I know that we probably won't. Since I got married seven years ago I lost my father and my brother (both of them refuse to speak to anyone in our family), then I lost my daughter, a good friend died of cancer, another is dying of it now, and I'm leaving a city that I love. But life is all about loss, I suppose. And the people who survive best in life are the people who are good at losing things. Well, let's hope practice makes perfect .....

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The motherhood door slamming shut

I suppose every woman comes to a time when she realises that she isn't going to be a mother again. And probably every woman is sad at that time. No woman wants to let go of that part of herself. But for most woman the motherhood door eases shut slowly. Many women I know have two or three children and they know that, in reality, they won't have more. But they don't confront that fact, and they hold onto the baby clothes, and they continue to talk half-heartedly about having another child. And it's probably not until they reach the menopause that they'll really face up to the knowledge that motherhood is over. The problem for me is that the motherhood door has slammed shut suddenly. And also, unlike most women, I can't even comfort myself with the thought that, after all, I had my fair innings. Because I didn't. For me, motherhood was over before it had really got going. And now it's like I'm going through the menopause early. I've been trying to find some small upside in this and, on a good day, I can just about succeed. The upside is this: if you're in your mid fifties when you have to let go of motherhood then it's hard to start re-making your life at that time. I'm going to have to re-make my life now (aged 41) and I do still have time for that. I am still young enough to start a new life and I think I will find one to start. Except that just now I don't have the energy or confidence for it.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


I've been going to see a counsellor ever since our daughter died. Today the counsellor finished the session by saying, 'Would you perhaps feel ready now to write a letter to Laura saying good-bye to her?' I said without hesitation, 'No, I wouldn't.' Is it just me or was her question really stupid? To me it seems stupid for two reasons. Firstly, Laura is dead so why would I be saying good bye to someone who is dead? I said good bye to her three years ago. Secondly, even if the counsellor was asking me to say good bye to the memory my daughter, I still find it a stupid question. Because I'm never going to say good bye to the memory of my daughter. If I live to be ninety I won't do that. Why would I? I had her name tattooed on my foot specifically so that the memory would always be with me. I feel really let down by the fact that the counsellor said this. I now suspect that, in her own mind, she has perhaps spent three years waiting for me to get to the stage when I can write this letter. But if that's the case then all of our meetings have been based on a fundamental misunderstanding. I really feel like it's time for me to stop wasting my time and money. I used to be a big believer in counselling but now I'm not. I think counselling maybe useful for problems which do have a solution. My problem doesn't have a solution so I don't really know what counselling can acheive.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

What is lost?

One thing my experiences have taught me is that, when you suffer a loss, it is important to work out what the loss really is. What part of the loss is truly sad and painful and hard to bear - and what part of it only involves waving good-bye to things you didn't care about anyway? I ask myself those kind of questions often at the moment. It works like this. A few days ago I went into one of those mega toy stores which house acres of beeping, plastic, electronic, sexual-stereotyping crap. I was looking for a bike for my six year old son. But, of course, as luck would have it, I had to walk through the baby department to get to the bikes. And there were all the baby toys ..... And, predictably, I was ambushed by emotion and tears rushed down my face as I realised that I'll never buy baby things again. And then just as I was about to start out down the road of two-days-weeping-at-the-bottom-of-the-bed, I pulled myself up short and thought it through. Actually the truth is that I can't bear those huge mega toy stores. They make me feel sick. They're all about want, want, want. Yuck. So I don't need to cry about the fact that I have no reason to go into a baby store any more. I just need to cry about the loss of my daughter and my two miscarried babies. They are the only loss that matters.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


This is a quote from the catholic writer Leon Bloy: 'Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence.' That thought is interesting, I find. On a good day I think that it is true. On a bad day I'm not so sure. After all, many people are not improved by suffering. Some people suffer and as a result they finish up mean, small, frightened, bitter. I am perhaps more interested in what R S Thomas (my favourite poet) has to say in his poem The Unvanquished: 'But you / who are not free to choose / what you suffer can choose / your response.' To me, that is a key statement. There is always that choice. And actually that choice is the one thing which we all possess and which no-one can ever take from us. It is the final freedom. I also like what the Quakers say about suffering. They do not think there is any point in discussing why there is so much suffering. Instead the important question is - What are we going to do with suffering? Again it is a choice, isn't it? Either we allow suffering to make us into small, mean people (as I'm doing at the moment) or we allow it to open new places in our hearts. Finally we have to chose the latter. Give me a few weeks and perhaps I'll get there.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Comfort and comforting

In my head I rant continually about the fact that nobody in the real world cares less about what has happened to me. They ignore me, they shut me out, they change the subject, they look embarrassed, they just don't understand. But is it as simple as that? I'm not sure. Maybe I'm not very good at asking for help, maybe I'm unable to receive the help that is offered. Perhaps I'm not open enough. It's certainly true that, when people ask how I am, I usually say that I'm fine. Despite the fact that I want to say that I'm desperate, devastated, struggling to get through the day. So recently I decided to adopt a new strategy. No more saying - I'm fine. Instead I'm going to try and tell people the truth about what has happened and how I feel. But so far I have to say that the new strategy has not been a rip roaring success. I've tried it twice and both times the people I've talked to have finished up in tears. Not tears for me, you understand. Tears about their own situation. And yes, both of them are people who are in quite difficult situations. But situations which are, actually, largely of their own making. And nothing like as bad as my situation ..... (Sorry I hate competitions in pain but what I'm saying is true). And yet I'm the one mopping up the tears and offering the comfort. Why does this happen? Is it something to do with me? Am I someone who is incapable of ever making myself centre stage? Or do I just happen to know a lot of people who don't really recognise that the business of comfort is a two way street? I really don't understand and I find all this very upsetting. Any advice appreciated!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008


A lovely-sounding person left a comment on my blog which said, 'I'm finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that there's so much unhappiness in the world.' I understand that completely. Over the last three years my main emotion has been outrage. Again and again I find myself unable to come to terms with the amount of suffering there is all around me. But the question is - why am I surprised? And why is the lovely-sounding person on my blog so surprised? After all, the levels of suffering have not got worse. In fact, if anything, suffering has vastly reduced over the last fifty years (at least in the Western world). So then why are any of us surpised? To me this is a key question. I think it has to do with the fact that we are living in a society which is in massive denial about sadness, adversity, grief, pain. We live surrounded by images of happiness and talk of positive thinking. Conversations about death are considered morbid. Feeling sad is equated with failure or weakness. Avoiding pain has become the main national occupation. And so we are conned into thinking that the world is essentially a happy place. But it isn't. Suffering is right at the heart of human existence - and it doesn't matter how rich you are, how educated you are, how good you are - that's always going to be the same. If that were accepted and discussed then there wouldn't be people like me (aged 41) saying, 'Oh but I didn't know it would be this hard.'

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


Yesterday I was meant to go to the hospital. My husband and I decided not to go. We just couldn't face it. We've been trailing back and forwards to one hospital or another for three years and in all that time we've never had any good news. If we'd gone to the hospital yesterday we would have been kept waiting for an hour and a half. Then we'd have seen a doctor for ten minutes. The doctor would have spent at least eight of those ten minutes looking at a computer screen. Then he'd have told us some bad news. After that I would have been upset and the medical staff would have looked at me as though to say, 'Please can you not cause embarrassment by looking sad in the hospital. In fact, please can you take your dead babies somewhere else because we really don't need your bad news story here.' My husband and I would then have come home and had a row. After that I would have cried for three days. So what did I do instead of going to the hospital? I met up with my wonderful friend and we had breakfast in a cafe. I had a cafe latte and a croissant - two thing I never normally have. And it was a lovely morning. My friend's life is actually even sadder than mine at the moment - but still I really enjoyed our time together. Definitely better than a visit to the hospital. Oh I can't describe to you the relief I feel at not going there.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Amsterdam house boat

So this is a photograph of Amsterdam. It shows my husband and my son (making a cheeky face). In the background is the house boat which we stayed on. I've always dreamt of living on a house boat. Years ago I nearly bought one but lost my nerve. I felt sure that if we went to stay on a house boat then it would turn out to be damp / cramped / smelly / uncomfortable - and that would put an end to my fantasy. But no. It was wonderful and I'm now more determined than ever that I'll live on a house boat permanently some time. Of course, all this dashing around the place doing odd things is simply a distraction - and sometimes it doesn't work that well. But it's certainly better than sitting around at home refusing to answer the phone, or reply to any e-mails, which is what I'd be doing otherwise. I need another trip - now. But there's nothing planned. I feel ill all the time at the moment. My heart has been beating wildly ever since we had our bad news. By four o'clock in the afternoon I'm too tired to do anything. My eyes feel heavy all the time. How much longer is this going to last? I wish we could go back to Amsterdam and stay on the boat again.
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Saturday, 31 May 2008

The danger of miracles

Everyone has got a story. They go like this: My husband's sister's dog's wife went through IVF sixteen times and then age 48 she got pregnant with twins. My colleague's brother's budgerigar's sister had a baby when she was 62. Did you see that story in the paper about the woman in Romania who had a baby when she was 70? My mother's best friend's brother's wife had her uterus taken out and then she got pregnant. Well I exagerrate - but you get the point. It is all kindly meant. Most of it is probably even true. But I am not sure it is helpful for me right now. Of course, there are miracles but the reason why they are miracles is because they happen very, very seldom. My personal feeling is that I have to draw a line under this at some time and so maybe I should do it now before I drive myself and everyone else insane. We all know deep down that there two major source of unhappiness in all of our lives: First is the refusal to see a situation for what it is. Secondly, the desire for something which we simply can't have. My feeling is (at least for today) that I need to focus on what I have and not on what I don't have. So that is what I will try to do for the next three days. Which, incidentally, my husband and son and I are going to spend on a house boat in Amsterdam. Photos to follow ...... And thanks so much for the comments.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Hospital hell

Today I had to ring the hospital. I put off doing that because I always finish up in raging temper when I have to speak to them. Today was as bad as ever. They had rung me because I hadn't gone in for a blood test to find out whether I was pregnant or not. So I rang them to confirm that I'm not pregnant. It would have been so good if they had said, 'I'm sorry about that' or 'that must be disappointing for you.' But they never say anything like that. I then explained to them that my husband and I are now trying to decide whether we should go through the treatment again. I asked if there would be someone at the hospital who could talk that over with us. The woman on the telephone said, 'Yes, you could talk to one of the nurses.' So I said, 'OK, so should my husband and I come into the hospital for that?' The woman said, 'Oh no, you just talk to them on the telephone.' So we've spent thousands of pounds at this hospital, they've done nothing for us and we're now trying to take a very difficult and emotional decision .... and the best that they've got to offer us is a telephone conversation with a nurse. I mean, nothing against nurses but I just find that laughable. This hospital has a world wide reputation for infertility treatment but nobody in the place has any communication skills. Their whole approach is to deny that there is any emotional aspect to anything that they are doing. I just find that so shocking. They've treated me like a piece of meat. The truth is that they never wanted my husband and I anywhere near their hospital. That sounds paranoid but it isn't - this is the third hospital we've tried and they've all shut the door on us - slowly and politely. If you've been diagnosed as having recurrent miscarriages then no hospital wants to know because they can't help you and your story is not going to end well. Yes, I'm angry - very, very angry. I just want someone in that hospital to say something kind to me. It wouldn't cost them anything. But they'll never do it.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Manic Amsterdam

We just went to Amsterdam for the weekend. It was a last minute decision. It took a lot of courage to go. We just couldn't make up our minds if it was the right thing or not. And in fact none of the plans we made really turned out quite right - but still we had a good weekend. I don't think that anyone can fail to enjoy Amsterdam. It's the right city for me because I hate cars and there are hardly any in Amsterdam. Under the law of the city if there's an accident involving a car and a bike then the car is always at fault (isn't that great!) I think all European cities will be car free in thirty years time and I'm looking forward to it. But it isn't just the bikes ..... it's the flowers, the canals, the height of the sky, the gabled houses, the pancakes, the friendly people, the quirky little shops, the smell of drugs and stagnant water. It's my new favourite city and I could move there tomorrow (I have a new favourite place about five times a year). Now that I'm back I'm in a very odd state. I'm running around the place doing and planning a hundred things. I'm jittery and nervous and I can't settle down to anything. I remember this manic state from the time after my daughter died. I think the idea that lies behind the mania is, 'If I book the right trip, or buy the right skirt, or read the right book, then everything will be fine.' But, of course, I can go on trips and read books and buy skirts until hell freezes over and it won't change anything. This afternoon I'll probably go to bed and cry. I don't answer the phone to anyone and I don't reply to most e-mails. Before my daughter died I thought that grief was someone sitting in a chair crying - elegantly. But that's not what grief is at all. It is far, far more dangerous than that.

Friday, 23 May 2008


People type such wonderful comments on this blog. They are people who don't know me at all and yet they take the time to say they are sorry. It helps so much. What is the exact way in which it helps, I wonder? Some how it helps me to know that what has happened is bad. It's strange that I should need somebody else to tell me that but I do. It was like that after my daughter died. She'd been dead about three months and I met a woman who I hardly know in the street. Often I didn't tell people what had happened because I couldn't take that risk. But some how I did tell this lady. And she just burst into tears. I was so grateful to her for crying but I was also shocked. I looked at her and I thought, 'Oh yes, it's really bad. That's how bad it is.' But I had to see her cry to know that. It's odd that, isnt' it? I think there's two reasons for it. Firstly, whatever is happening in your life becomes commonplace after a while. No-one can feel sad all day every day. So sometimes you need someone else to tell you that it's sad. Secondly, there's always someone who has got a worse story to tell and so one doesn't (or I don't) feel entitled to too much grief. It helps a lot when someone says, 'Yes. It's really bad so it's OK for you to feel terrible.' I don't have people around me who are saying that. I think they have become too frightened and worn down to say anything at all. Everyone really needed a happy ending to this story and there just isn't going to be one. The weather is actually quite warm here but I find myself wearing jumpers, socks, scarfs. The days are very unkind. I can sometime do a simple administrative task but even that can be too much. My level of isolation is hard to bear (even if it is partly of my own making). This blog is helping. Thank you so much for those comments.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


You know how it is when something really horrible happens? You think - ok, now I'm going to stay in bed and cry forever and I'm going to starve myself to death and I'm never going to talk to anyone again. And you really, really want it to be like that. But then you get bored of lying in bed and you start feeling really hungry ..... and you hate yourself because you are so resilient. You hate yourself for not starving or dying. But some how you can't do either. You're tough even though you really don't want to be. Just at this moment I actually feel all right (although I did spend half the day lying in bed crying) and I'm shocked at myself for not feeling too bad. I like the lady who writes a blog called 'Awful but functioning.' What I'd like to know is how do you stop functioning? I don't seem a talent for it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Well, it turns out I didn't have to wait until Friday. I already know that the IVF didn't work. I found out late last night - the day which was the anniversary of my daughter's death. Great timing. I find that these things are organised to cause the maximum amount of pain possible. I just don't believe it. To be specific, I can't believe that at the end of all this we've got nothing. Nothing at all. For months I've been trailing back and forwards to one hospital or another, and I've had hundreds of blood tests and I've had my feet stuck in stirrups again and again. And I've had one metal instrument after another shoved up my vagina by people who behave like car mechanics. I've poisoned myself with masses of drugs and spent my time being foul to my husband and son. And at the end of all this? Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even a piece of paper. The whole thing was just one massive waste of time. And the worst thing is that I can't even blame this on anyone else. I knew that we shouldn't do IVF. I don't even approve of IVF. But still I went throught with it. And now - nothing. Our situation was bad and now it is worse. And still the days keep on coming and we keep on living in them. What choice do we have?

Monday, 19 May 2008

The blackest night

Tonight is the blackest night. I miss Laura so much. And I'm terrified about Friday. I'm pretty sure that the IVF hasn't worked. And they'll just telephone us to tell us that and then they'll put down the phone. And after that I'll be expected to get on with my life. And the next day will come and the next and it'll just go on the same. And people will look at me and they'll see nothing at all. I'll look just the same. But inside I'll have died. I want SOMETHING TO HAPPEN. I really I don't care at all if I get pregnant again and I miscarry. At least that way SOMETHING HAPPENS. But I won't even get that. I'll just have to get up the day after and go on as though it doesn't really matter that much. Oh Laura I want you back so badly. Our lives would be totally and completely and utterly different if you haven't died. This punishment goes on endlessly but I can't work out what I did. Maybe on Friday I'll just take my son and go away somewhere, anywhere. Maybe somewhere by the sea. If I just got up in the morning in a different place that might help. If I could just go somewhere where I don't have to pretend.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Laura's flowers

I think I might be about to put a photograph on my blog! OK, so it doesn't sound too exciting to you because you've been doing it for the last five years. But I'm someone who finds it difficult to operate a toaster so for me this is big progress. And this is a very important flower. It's Laura's flower. It comes from her rose bush. In truth, the rose bush was given to us by my husband's former colleagues. It was one of those thoughtless, corporate kind of gifts. And when my husband left that company we fell out badly with everyone there. Partly that was due to the fact that I considered that those people behaved very disrespectfully to us around the time that Laura died ..... But leaving all that aside the rose bush is wonderful. We are going to be moving house and country in two months time. The rose bush is going with us. I just hope it survives the move.
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For the last few days I have felt dangerously well. I know that it can happen like that sometimes. At the very worst times of life one is often filled with a strange energy. After my daughter died I had days when I could have conquered the world. Nothing was beyond my reach. That's what the last few days have been like. On Monday I wrote a very challenging article on late abortions and sent it off to all the national papers. On Thursday I read from my new book. That was a great evening. There were five of us who read and loads of people turned up which was a real surprise. Then yesterday I sent out a play that I've written to nine different theatres. But all this is very fragile - very. I'm like a great big red balloon, sailing through the sky, full of hope and promise, cheerfully waving in the wind. But it will only take one thorn and the balloon will be gone in one sharp bang. Nothing left but a small and twisted piece of rubber. Tomorrow is the third anniversary of my daughter's death. On Friday we get the results of the IVF. Balloons are a wonderful sight to see but they don't last long.

Friday, 9 May 2008

What I want

Over the last three years I've had to let go of a lot of comforting ideas I used to have about the way the world works. For example, I used to believe that if I looked deep - very deep - inside myself then I would know what I want and what is right for me. It turns out that that isn't the case. For the last three years I've been looking deep within myself and I'm still entirely confused about whether I should be trying to have another baby or not. In my rational mind I'm sure that I shouldn't. There are a hundred arguments which I use to support that idea. I'm not a natural mother anyway, I have other things I want to do with my life, the chances of me having another live baby are too small to take the risk, I already have one beautiful son and that is enough, I have moral problems with the whole process of IVF ...... Yes, my rational mind knows quite well that I shouldn't try to have another child. But there's some other part of me which just won't listen and goes on and on and on clammering for another child. That part of me is in some deep and primeaval place and operates at some level far below (or above?) my rational mind. One day the rational part of my mind is in control, the next day the primeaval baby urge takes over. But which of these people is the real me? Any guesses?

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


Today should have been a terrible day. Not only was there the egg collection but all my child care plans for the next week fell through meaning that I won't be able to get any work done for several days. But oddly I had a good day. When I was in the operating theatre, legs up in those stirrups, drugged up to my eye balls, one of the nurses spotted the tattoo on my foot. 'Oh so you've got a daughter,' she said cheerily. 'Yes,' I said, 'but sadly she's dead.' The nurse then said very kindly, 'I'm sorry for your loss.' I'm not exaggerating when I say that she's the only person in the medical profession during the last three years who has said anything like that and it really helped.
I'm back home now, sore and tired, but still feeling surprisingly positive. Today made me remember two important things - firstly, happiness has very little to do with external circumstances. It's possible to feel really quite happy when everything around you is awful, and equally possible to feel dreadful when nothing bad has happened at all. So happiness is all about what's going on inside you. Secondly, my experiences today reminded me that what you give out is what you get back. Today the nurses were kind to me because I was pleasnt to them. Often they aren't kind to me because I've got a face like granite. It's important for me to keep that in mind - except that the whole point about being in a face-like-granite mood is that you've lost the perspective necessary to think in that kind of way.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Egg collection

Tomorrow I have to go into hospital for the egg collection. I hope I don't scream at anyone. I'm worried because I won't be allowed to eat for several hours and I'm someone who soon goes into melt down if I'm not able to eat. My husband will go with me for an hour or so because he has to (where else is the sperm going to come from?) But he'll get out of there as soon as he can. I should perhaps insist that he stays with me. Most other women seem to have their partners there. I shared a room with very smiley Flemish / Italian lesbians last time. But I don't really think there is any point in insisting. Having my husband sitting there looking like he wants to be somewhere else isn't really going to improve my state of mind. The only problem is that the hospital make you stay much longer if you haven't got someone to drive you home. Last time I just lied to them and said I was getting a taxi and then took public transport for an hour (bus, metro, tram) home. The journey made me feel really bad and I did wonder why I was punishing myself by doing that when I didn't really have to. But for some reason I do feel that I should take public transport to the hospital. That's because to me IVF feels very self indulgent. I can more or less justify it to myself but not if I'm damaging the environment as well. That's silly, I know, but it's how I feel.

Sunday, 4 May 2008


The IVF is going ahead and I'm actually really enjoying life at the moment. I've managed to get in and out of the hospital several times without screaming at anyone. Also, I have to say that the physical aspects of IVF are not too bad. In a way I don't want to admit that because I don't want to have to say that IVF is anything less than vile - but really, at least physically, it's OK, or at least the early days of it are. I had a really terrible reaction to Clomid and to Utrogestan (fertility drugs) so I was ready for real trouble with IVF but it hasn't turned out like that. I think the truth is that when you live through the kind of horrible times I'm living through then your expectations of what life has to offer become very low and paradoxically this means that it's far easier to be happy. Now I often find myself thinking, 'Mercifully nothing really bad is happening at this precise moment.' And suddenly just the fact that that is true turns a rather ordinary day into a really Good Day. I suppose it's rather like having a load of candles burning in a room. You can't see how bright the candles are until you turn the lights off.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Taking a hit for the team

At the weekend my dearest friend Amanda came to visit from Rome. We managed to sit out in the garden all afternoon and talk and talk and talk. She really has the most original mind of anyone I know. With regard to my daughter's death, she said, 'Don't you think there is a sense in which you are taking a hit for the team?' I didn't really know what that meant but she explained to me that it's an American baseball phrase. Apparently, it refers to when the person who is meant to be hitting the ball gets hit by the ball instead (often very hard). Initially, I didn't understand what she meant but then she said, 'The point is that if seventeen babies are stillborn in the UK every day then the fact that you had one of those babies is actually really good for everyone else. It means that there is some other person out there who doesn't have to have a still born baby. So you are taking a hit for the team.' The thought was an odd one but I do think she's got a point. However, we both of us agreed that the idea only works if 'the team' does exist. In other words it only works if all the people around me offer me lots of love and support because they acknowledge that actually I'm doing something wonderful for them. Of course, I do know people who are offering me love and support (thanks Amanda, thanks Joslin, thanks everyone at the Quaker Meeting House). But there are many people who are just hiding from me because they feel guilty and embarrassed. They should really change their approach. They should come up to me and say, 'Let me offer you any help and support that I can because I'm so, so grateful to you for doing this. Because you're doing it, I am not having to do it. Thank you very much.' This all sounds mad, I know, but I don't think it is.

Thursday, 24 April 2008


I went for the blood test yesterday. It was disasterous. I started screaming at the nurse. There was no real reason for this. She was slightly annoying. I've encountered her before and she is a bit of a bitch. But she really didn't give me any cause to scream a lot - which is what I did. I just sat there shouting 'Fuck, fuck, fuck .....' After she got me out of the room, I shouted it some more in the corridor. She shut the door on me at that point as I suppose she thought that it was all rather embarrassing for the other patients. After that I went into the loo and screamed more and kicked the wall until my foot hurt. I then wanted to go straight home, but it was throwing it down with rain, and it's a long walk to the bus stop, so I sat in the deserted foyer of the hospital for a while (it was 7 pm by then). I called my Mum and my sister and wailed at both of them down the phone. I usually try not to call them as I think they've both got enough problems of their own. My sister was great. She said, 'I think that was a fantastic thing to do. I think you should do that more often.' It was good of her to say that but actually the way I behaved was terrible. I don't know what has happened to me. Until two years ago I was always, always very polite and reasonable. Perhaps that's part of the problem. Perhaps I've been storing it all up for the last thirty eight years and the damn has finally burst. But I find it hard to accept this new version of myself. I remember all the stories that I've heard over the years of those people who've got cancer for the third time and they're still smiling at the hospital staff and being tremendously courageous and pleasant. It turns out that I am not like those people. I am not courageous or selfless or long suffering. Instead I'm on the edge, right on the edge. What do I do in this situation. What do you do if you know that you're losing your mind? I've got no idea.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


Today I have to start IVF. Actually all I have to do is go to the hospital and have a blood test. So that's not so bad, is it? It does take an hour to get to the hospital on thee types of public transport and an hour to get back but actually I like public transport. As a writer, I don't go anywhere so even a trip on a tram, a metro, a bus can seem quite exciting. So surely it's not too bad then? The problem is the hospital. I absolutely hate the hospital. As soon as I get anywhere near the place I finish up in raging temper. People I know send me e-mails suggesting to me that I should meet up with this friend of theirs who is going through IVF, or they suggest web sites where you can read about IVF. No doubt these people are well meaning but I don't want to talk to anyone about this, I don't want to be informed about it, I don't want to become part of some cosy little group of women who are all going through the same thing. I'm too angry for any of that. All I want to do is scream and keep on screaming. The truth is that I just don't accept that I am a patient in an infertility clinic. I've been pregnant four times in the last five years so how come I'm being treated for infertility? I accept that I'm part of the Dead Baby Club, I accept that I am part of the Recurrent Miscarriage Club, I could even accept that I'm part of the Grief Has Ruined My Marriage Club, but I do not accept that I'm part of the Infertility Club.

Friday, 18 April 2008


A very bad day. I've spent most of it in tears. A session with the counsellor set me off (isn't counselling meant to make you feel better?) and I haven't stopped since. The problem is, in short, that I'm just not sure that I can go through IVF again. If I'm in this state before I start where will I be when I finish? Particularly as I think that this is the last time that we'll try IVF. I just can't stand going to the hospital again. I can't stand being the person that I become when I go there. And the worst of it is that this is all my choice. I could ring up and cancel. There is that option. But I'm in a situation where it's too painful to stop and too painful to go on. I know that the IVF is more or less hopeless. The chance that it could work is around 5%. If you threw a twenty sided dice you wouldn't really expect to get a 20 would you? And after that there's the 60% chance of a miscarraige. So why don't I just ring up and cancel? All I'm doing is damaging myself. And delaying the moment when I have to admit that there is no more hope. I think that the truth is that I'm only doing IVF because it's less painful to do it than it is to watch my poor husband being forced to accept that he's never going to have another child - and that all the horrors that we've been through in the last three years have resulted in nothing. If he'd married someone else he'd probably have three perfectly healthy children by now. Instead he has one live child, three dead children and a wife who is a basket case. If I was him, I'd walk out on me.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


The last few years life has seemed to me like a continual process of doors being slammed in my face. I've lost so many friends, I don't have good working relationships with people who should be supporting me in my writing, I keep submitting pieces of writing which mysteriously get rejected although I know quite well that they're good (and the people who reject them even admit that). But, of course, although I may feel thoroughly rejected on every front, the truth is that a feeling isn't a fact. Yes, I have been rejected quite a lot but I've also seen rejection where it doesn't really exist. Technology is a very small example of this. I'm 41 and so I'm a little too old for the internet generation. I also, until recently, had a rather sniffy attitude to the internet. But then suddenly I realised that I have simply been left behind and that it's my fault. So now I've got a blog (OK so I can't put an image on it but you've got to learn to walk before you can run). And I've put all our photos on our computer (yes, I know everybody else did that ten years ago but I just felt I couldn't cope with it). I'm also going to set up a web page, which I should have done years ago. So I'm am slowly moving into the technological era and it feels good. Technology is a door I am opening. And I suppose the truth is that even when a door has been genuinely and decisively slammed in your face then you just have to push it open again. The problem is that over the last few years I've lost the courage for that.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008


Most people in my situation ask - why did my baby die? I have to say that I have never really asked that question. Plenty of other questions but not that one. I some how accept the fact that babies do die. I think this has to do with being bought up in a farming world. In my childhood we often stayed up late into the night bottle feeding orphaned lambs but we frequently found them stiff and cold in the morning. No one could tell us why. On the farm next door to us a litter of eight puppies died. The bitch lay on them and suffocated them all. I also remember a couple of mornings when a mare was expecting a foal and I went out with my mother into the fields and found the foal lying in the grass, perfect and dead, with the frost settled on its soft baby hair. Perhaps through these experiences I learnt that baby animals do just die and there is no reason for it. I think that the truth is that people who don't really know anything much about the natural world talk endlessly about its miracles. People who actually live very close to natural processes (as my mother does) tend not to talk much at all. But what they know is that natural processes are largely characterised by appallingly high levels of waste.

Sunday, 6 April 2008


I'm just back from a trip to Venice. I took my five year old son with me and we travelled to Paris by train and then took a night train to Venice. This was something I really needed to do. It is part of attempt to rediscover the person I used to be. Travel was an important part of that person. When I was young I travelled all through Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America. I also took the train all the way from Brussels to Beijing. I was always setting off somewhere - usually with no money and no map and not much idea of where I was going. For the past five years I haven't done that. But now that my son is five I can start to travel again. Also - and it's really, really hard for me to say this - the fact that my daughter died makes it possible for me to travel. Travel is one of her gifts to me. And my son and I had a fantastic time. There's so much I could write .... But the best bit was the hotel. We stayed on the Lido because I thought my son would like the space and the beach. The hotel was called The Hotel des Bains and it was so Jazz Age, so Scott Fitzgerald, so Noel Coward. A great wedding cake of faded splendour right on the beach. Also my son and I were literally the only people there because the hotel is closed in winter and only re-opened for the summer the day we arrived. And so there we were, the two of us, in this ridiculously grand and other worldly hotel. The lack of people didn't bother me in the least. There's nothing I like better than a seaside hotel out of season. My son swam in the sea in his vest and pants (I forgot his swimming stuff). We peddled all around the lido on a four wheeled bicycle. We visited St. Mark's Basilica and had tea in Florian's in the plaza. We gasped at the grandeur of Venice and ate stupid amounts of ice cream. This morning, after taking the night train back, we had delicious coffee and croissants at the Gare du Nord in Paris. My son was wearing his pyjamas because I some how lost interest in putting his clothes on. And I knew that I had rediscovered the person that I used to be - and the person that I will be in future. Because this is how my son and I are going to live now. We will become nomads and drift from place to place. We will take our sadness with us but we'll live in defiance of that sadness as well. Suddenly life seems possible again. At least for today.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Yesterday I sat in our car (a clapped out Peugeot 109) in a suburb of Brussels and screamed for a long time. I screamed F***, F***, F*** over and over again very loudly. The reason for this - or at least the superficial reason - was that I was trying to drive to an appointment and despite having set out in good time, and having a map, I just couldn't find where I needed to go. After I'd been driving around the same few streets for about twenty minutes I stopped the car and started screaming. I've done quite a bit of screaming recently. After the IVF failed I sat on the kitchen floor and beat a roasting tin onto the tiled floor for about twenty minutes. I've heard that other people hit telephone directories with rolling pins. That could be worth a try but it wouldn't make much noise, would it? Whereas the roasting tin and the tiles make a satisfactorily loud noise as they meet. As I smashed the tin down again and again I was interested to see whether the tiles would break, or whether the tin would buckle, but neither suffered any damage. Physical objects are surprisingly robust, it seems. Not like the human heart.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Gentle Genocide

A friend of mine just had a miscarriage. The statistics show that about a quarter of a million babies will miscarriage in one year in the UK. On top of that 17 babies are still born in the UK every day. And then there are terminations for abnormality .... and I don't even know the statistics for that. What I do know is that when you add it all up it's a lot of babies. In my mind I call it The Gentle Genocide. Because it is a genocide, a holocaust, a massacre, and yet it happens so quietly you never even know about it. And that's what's so strange - the fact that we simply accept this situation. Dead babies are taboo. They are not to be discussed in polite society. In the Twin Towers tragedy approximately 3,000 people died. Think of all the publicity, discussion, comment there has been about that. Before anyone gets angry let me say that I'm not comparing someone having a miscarriage to someone losing a relative in a terroist attack. There clearly is a very big difference. But what exactly is the nature of that difference? Do foetuses not count because you don't see them? Why are the 3,000 always talked about and the half a million never talked about? What is it costing us as a society to live with denial on such a huge scale? And how do we all keep getting up in the morning in the face of so much loss?

Friday, 28 March 2008

Leagues of Grief

I don't know whether everyone who grieves plays the Leagues of Grief game. I suspect that they do. I certainly play it all the time. It's about trying to work out just how bad the things that have happened to me are. I go through it all in my head and compare my situation to that of other people that I know. I have a friend who had twins who died soon after birth and she never managed to have another baby. So her situation is definitely worse than mine. I also know of a family who only have one little girl and although she's lovely she is very badly disabled. They will never have another child of their own. So again I think that is worse than me. But most other people I know seem some how to be better off. They may have had a still born baby but they've gone on to have other living children. But what's the point of this? Why do I go through all this in my head again and again? Of course, it has to do with the question of entitlement. How much grief am I really entitled to? When do I stop all this and start counting my blessing (oh how I hate that expression)? When I think it through I know quite well that the words 'grief' and 'entitlement' should never appear in the same sentence. You feel what you feel and that's that. But still the game goes on. Some times I tell people about what's happened to me and I see the look of absolute shock on their faces. And some how I know then how bad it is. Most of the time I don't really know. Whatever happens to you becomes normal after a while just because it is what is happening to you.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


At school they asked my five year old son Thomas to draw his family tree. He bought his work home to show me. At the top of the family tree I can see my husband and me. Don't you love those five year old drawings - huge hands, triangle skirts, corrugated hair? On the line underneath Thomas has drawn a picture of himself. To one side there is a tiny person who he has drawn in a box. He tells me that this is his sister Laura. I'm very glad that he's drawn her there. To me this suggests that he's coping well with his loss. I've never wanted Laura to be a dark secret and it's clear that he doesn't see her as that. But then there's another image on the family tree, on the line next to the picture of Thomas. There's a circle with spokes and something small and round inside the circle. This, Thomas explains to me, is his hamster. He's been promised a hamster when he moves back to England and so optimistically he's decided to draw the hamster now. Other children, of course, have a brother or sister to draw. I'm glad he's drawn the hamster. Actually, I'm looking forward to the hamster as well. They make such amazing cages for hamsters now with hundreds of wheels and tubes and compartments. Whole hamster worlds. Yes, the hamster will be fun. But a hamster is only a hamster. It's not the same as a baby.

Monday, 10 March 2008


I know what Laura looks like. I can envisage her exactly. She's a tiny child, just like her older brother Thomas. When I see her she's running in a garden. It's winter in that garden and Laura is wearing a fitted navy blue woollen coat with a rounded velvet collar. Her hair is white-blonde and falls to her shoulders. She wears a navy blue beret on her head. She's running fast, one arm stretched forward and one leg raised. She's got thin legs and she wears woollen tights which wrinkle at the ankles. She's running so fast that the toe of that stretched-forward foot is pulled back towards her shin. Both of her feet are above the ground as she speeds forward. My image of her is blurred because of the speed at which she moves. Her face is serious - concentrating on what she is doing. She's in the garden at Mount Vernon but I don't know exactly where. Behind her there a flower bed with rose bushes in it. My feeling is that she's running on the front lawn of Mount Vernon but that can't be right because the bank there is too steep for any child to run. But she's definitely somewhere in that garden. Other children will grow up and they will change. Probably they will disappoint. Laura will never grow up. She'll be running in that garden forever. Even when I'm eighty she'll still be running in front of the rose bushes in her navy blue beret.

Monday, 3 March 2008


My husband and I have become like lepers. People move away when they see us. They try to edge us out of the door, or they try to move us on to some other place. It happened at the hospital this morning. The doctor we saw was more helpful than most of his kind but he could smell failure and pain on us. And so he talked to us for a while and then slipped away, without really concluding our meeting. He passed us on to a nurse who briskly filled out forms. She, also, wanted to be somewhere else.
It used to make me angry that people treat us like that. It still does - sometimes. But in truth how can I blame these people? If I could walk away, I would do. My husband and I have been longing to walk away from our own lives for three years now. But unfortunately we are inside our skins, inside our heads, and there is no way out. We live inside such a small room and it has no door.
Friends look at us and I can see it written on their faces, 'Thank God it wasn't us.' I'm glad as well that it wasn't them. I don't see why it should have to be anyone. But somebody's card was marked and it turns out it was ours. Somewhere - perhaps round a corner, over the brow of the hill, beyond the end of the road - there is another life which we could be having. But we cannot find our way to that other place. I doubt now that we ever will.