It seemed that time had never passed so slowly as in those first twelve weeks. After a year of trying, when the thin blue line of hope appeared on the pregnancy test stick in the bathroom, it were as if, by some magical force, every tick and tock of the clock became longer than before. Time was like a metronome ticking; persistent, frustrating. Days felt like weeks, weeks felt like years. All we could do was wait; we floated pensively on a fluffy white cloud of hope.
As we ticked each week off the calendar, our small bud of confidence unfurled and started to bloom. We relaxed. Mother nature never gave us any reason to think that our confidence might be misplaced. The sun was shining when our scan day came; it was spring. Radiating golden halos of pre-emptive joy we skipped through the busy London streets to our destination, already on the brink of euphoria.
The final rush never came.
As I lay on the consultant’s bed, all I heard were the words, "I’m sorry" as he turned off his machine. In that moment, the world started to move in slow motion; a drone of incomprehensible confusion.
There was a baby, it was still there, but it wasn’t alive. They couldn’t say exactly when it had died. Twelve weeks worth of hope disappeared into the ether. We were shown to a room filled with medical journals; green leather bound volumes, with gold writing lined the walls, a padded cell of medical jargon. Through the mist of tears, we tried to compose ourselves, to digest what we had just been told. I wondered how many tear soaked words the pages of those silent books had absorbed over the years.
The next few days were spent in a blur. Waiting. Sitting in our house, silent, reflective, sad. We took a walk one day, and bought a fruit bowl shaped like a banana boat, from a tasteful home decor shop. It seemed a strange thing to do, but gave us a small moment of normality, as we pondered, chose and relinquished our cash. On the way home, our incidental purchase in hand, the pain inside me increased. Like the waves of an incoming tide crashing against the breakers; it got harder, stronger and I knew it was finally coming. The consultant had told me what to expect and had outlined the warning signs that would indicate I should take myself to hospital. He’d obviously assumed that as a seemingly intelligent woman, I’d know what a blood clot was when I saw one. I didn’t. Not until they were dropping from me like pennies from a slot machine.
From the wave of the first breaker to the point at which we arrived in A&E, I changed my trousers three times. On arrival, I locked myself in the single men’s toilet in the reception, hiding from furtive sideways glances that enquired at the state of my blood soaked self.
The female doctor wore a white headscarf and a white jumper. After an internal scan, she reached for a long steel implement; probing and scraping at the depths of me, to remove the red from my body. The tsunami of pain was unbearable. "Perhaps your husband should wait outside" she said. "No". I didn’t want him to witness it, I couldn’t bear to have him near me; the pain was so intense, but I didn’t want to be alone either. Afterwards, she conducted another internal scan, "I think it’s all gone". She remained expressionless. It? My baby? Despite the barbaric scene around us, she remained pristine white, clinical to the last. I wondered in that moment why Doctors wore white, when it must be so hard to keep it clean.
I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to an IV drip with painkillers. A young, kind South African male Doctor came to check on me regularly. I was beyond asking questions. Too tired, too numb, too shocked. If I could step back in time now, I would demand to know if what that female doctor did to me was ‘normal’ procedure.
Flowers filled the house when I got home. From friends who’d got the high and the low in one phone call. I knew the flowers were sent to offer comfort, but they just reminded me of what we had lost. Heartfelt sentiments on cards from people who loved me bought more rivers full of tears. My brother sent a box of chocolates, in a heart shaped satin covered box with a bow. The expensive kind, the sort my whole life, I’d hoped that someone would buy me for Valentines or a birthday. The kind of chocolates I always hoped I’d receive on the happiest of occasions, not the saddest.
The leather sofa we’d saved for months and months for, told the story of what had happened. A small scratched patch where the leather had at some point worn thin, was stained darker than the rest. Lady MacBeth like, I scrubbed and scrubbed at it, but it refused to shift. A short while later, I gave it away, to a friend’s sister; a sofa-less student. I could not bear to look at it and be reminded.
I hated my body. I hated myself. I felt my body had tricked me. How could I not have known? I didn’t feel like a woman. The grief and pain seemed too much to bear, so I applied myself to the task of getting on with life again. I changed my hair, I bought new clothes, I threw myself into my work. I tried to forget. I didn’t want to ‘try again’. I felt empty. I couldn’t deal with the pain, so I tried to ignore it with a false smile and forced gaiety. Deep inside, the wound stayed open, unable to heal.
As spring turned to summer, the nights turned hotter. I started to find myself waking in the early morning, unable to get back to sleep. Sometimes I would go downstairs, to read or have a cup of tea. One morning, I woke at 2.30am and went outside to the garden and sat on a chair, wrapped in a blanket to keep warm. Our garden was tiny. A pocket handkerchief of grass framed by some wild jungly borders. An old gnarled, elder tree stood in one corner, soaking up the roar of the traffic from the busy road behind. The tree itself was nothing special but the jasmine creeper that ran, entangled through it’s branches, was magnificent when in flower, so the tree stayed, owing it’s place to the sweet smelling jasmine it had allowed to infiltrate it’s branches.
Finally that night in the garden, in the stillness and quiet before dawn. I let go. The numbness left me and I was able to weep for what was lost, for the hideousness of the physical trauma, and for my inability to come to terms with it. What the trigger point was, I will never know, the bottled up swell of emotion had just become too strong for me to stopper.
As I sat watching the sun rise I noticed someone was observing me. Small, brown eyes flickered as he cocked his head to one side. He was a stranger, I had not seen him in the garden before. He came close; closer than I would have expected. I sat very still, and so did he, we listened to the planes rise and fall overhead, as the dusky sky turned slowly into a brighter hue for morning. Occasionally, he would move about, as if exploring, but then he would return to his sentry post, watching me intently, silent but reassuring in his presence.
In times of desperation, it is possible to find comfort in the smallest of things. During my sporadic pre-dawn garden visits that summer, a small tiny bird with a red breast became my companion and gave me comfort.
In daylight, I became more aware of him too. I came to the conclusion that he must live in the old elder tree, although I could never see deep enough into the thicket of branches to see a nest. Save for a few fat pigeons, he was the only bird I ever saw regularly in the garden. I felt that when he saw me, there was recognition between us. Sometimes, if I was in the kitchen, he would hop on to window ledge peering through the glass; as if enquiring, ‘Are you there?’. His presence gave me more pleasure than I ever would have thought.
It was a warm summer’s day nearly four years later, when I placed the baby basket on the garden table under the shade of it’s large parasol. The journey had been long but, our dream was finally realised. Pip, a few days old, lay nestled inside like a biblical Moses in the rushes. Landing on the edge of the basket, Robin sat and observed Pip sleeping. We looked at each other, and I felt he understood, that there were three of us now.
As Pip grew, he loved Robin as much as I did. Pointing to him in the garden through the window, sometimes when outside, trying to get a little too close. My father marvelled at his interest in the garden bird. "It’s amazing, how aware he is of that Robin". I didn’t share the story of how special he was. I couldn’t explain. The little friend was mine, and Pip’s. Our friend, our secret.
As Pip grew, I felt that we should leave our house and move elsewhere. The road behind it seemed to have got busier and noisier. I worried about the traffic fumes. Splashing sessions in the paddling pool were sound tracked by motorbikes roaring up the road. As I closed the door on the house that final time, I did not feel sadness, I felt excitement at the new chapter ahead. My only regret was that I had to say goodbye to the little friend, that he had to stay behind.
Our new home was only five roads away; but in a conservation area, away from busy roads and surrounded by mature trees. A huge variety of feathered friends now populated our garden. Magpies, Jays, Parakeets, Tits and Woodpeckers. But not once in our first few weeks did I see a Robin.
A month after we had moved, I found myself walking along the road that ran behind the back of our old house. The elder tree had been massacred, it’s branches hacked to stumps barely visible above the fence. Tears stung my eyes; I walked the rest of the way home fighting the overwhelming desire to cry. The little friend had been evicted. My heart weighed heavy.
Later that evening, as Pip played outside and I watered the plants, I noticed someone watching me. Perched on the back of a garden chair, inquisitive and intent, a lone Robin stared at me and cocked his head from side to side. Coincidence? Possibly. But, I preferred to tell myself that the little friend had found me once more - and I felt at peace again.
I wrote this post a while ago, but never felt able to publish it. I’ve done so now to support pregnancy and baby loss awareness month. If my words help one person suffering loss, then writing it has been worthwhile.
I am also linking up with Older Mum in a Muddle and ‘Once upon a time’.