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.