Had things taken a different turn, today I would have been celebrating the tenth birthday of a different daughter, instead of preparing for the second birthday of another. And having had a good long phone chat with a friend who has just lost her baby through a late miscarriage, I got to thinking about the long term effects of miscarriage.
My friend is past the hibernating, days-taking-weeks-to-pass stage and has started to think about what happens next. In general, I mean, not about thinking about trying again. Did I remember this? she asked. I do. I remember days feeling numb, of sitting at the table staring into space, unable to move and not being sure what to do. I remember not coping with anything other than the slow funereal dirge played on Radio 3. I remember my friend being there to help me – of doing incredibly kind things like offering to scrub my mattress which was still stained with amniotic fluid and blood, of making me lunch, of being there. And then I remember that feeling being gone, and in its place was a restless twitchy feeling. I wanted more.
At the time I was working at Waterstone’s selling books. A low paid, low respected job but I made some lovely friends there and of course met S there. It was, in retrospect, quite a poor choice for a couple expecting a child – low wages, few prospects. And so I used the post-miscarriage time to look for new opportunities. I started a writing course and applied for a secondment at work which got me into the marketing and events side of bookselling. I loved this and it helped my career, such as it is.
There are things I’ve done now, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, that I would never have experienced had I had the baby. And I can’t bring myself to regret these. Yet it’s obvious that I would want the circumstances of these experiences to be different. Should I have had to sacrifice her to achieve more? No. And yet I have had greater flexibility and freedom than I would have done if I’d become a mother at 28.
I did remember picking myself up; I went home for Christmas just after the loss and was able to spend time with my family and my best friend, the equivalent of being hugged for days. And I returned to work, and moved on. But I thought about her every day, consistently for at least six or seven years. And then most days. And we mark the week we lost her with a short trip to the cemetery where her ashes are scattered each year – I leave chocolate for her in the babies’ garden.
The thing that I think about now, having learnt so much about children in the last two years is that there’s a good chance that, had she lived, we wouldn’t have had E. And I wouldn’t have experienced E and her personality. We would have a ten year old now instead, and be thinking about secondary schools and the onset of teenager-dom. I don’t think I’m ready for that. Having had two years of E, I know now that I would have missed out on so much without her. And yet I’d have different memories instead, of a different baby, of the same milestones with a different personality. The hardest thing to deal with is the gaping hole you feel of missing a baby and a person that you never knew.
S spoke to my friend a few weeks ago and asked how she was. She told me he passed on this advice: ‘You never get over it but you learn how to live with it.’ He’s right and yet we don’t discuss this together. It’s an opinion he’s not shared with me. He’s not needed to. It’s our shared experience and somehow we deal with it separately which suits both of us.
My friend and I sat and talked about how it’s easy to become bitter. To sit and think about how unfair it is, to wonder how we have both joined that statistic about late miscarriages, the post-12 weeks losses. And yet the loss altered me as a person and made me better able to empathise with people than I did before. I’m not saying this came overnight, you understand. But since the miscarriage I’ve had more moments kicking myself for saying something wrong, more moments genuinely trying to be a better person, than I did before that I really feel somewhere I was shaken up into looking outwards more.
I think I’m better prepared now to be a mother than I was then. I feel more confident with myself and less frustrated. I hope I’ve have made the most of the eight years between pregnancies and I don’t regret seizing the chance to do so. And yet I hope my lost girl knows how much I miss her, how much I am still so angry that she lost her chance to live and to make me laugh and be proud. When E is bigger and more able to understand I will tell her about her big sister, and explain why the teddy that sits in the corner of her room has 2004 embroidered on his foot. And hopefully she’ll then understand why I have days when I just have to cuddle her and feel her strong bones and smell her hair and feel like I cannot let her go.