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.