Friday, January 4, 2008

Birds of a Feather

My sister and my best friend both had miscarriages before me. It's kind of a "third time unlucky" situation for me. My sister also had two years of infertility before her miscarriage. Since both of them now have two children each (a boy followed by a girl in both cases), I did try to draw some hope from this. But as I went past 2 years of trying and 2 losses, I felt less and less reassured by their successes. That said, I am so very pleased that it did work out for them, as it means I have my wonderful niece and nephew and my godson and his sister. I love all four of them, and if I never manage to have kids of my own then I can at least be the best indulgent aunty/godmother I can be!

My sister (I'll call her B - not her initial, but it means something to me) is three years younger than me. It was a bit of a shock to me when she came along, but I blamed my parents more than her - which, with hindsight, was very perceptive of my three-year-old self. We are close and have many opinions in common, but we are also very different - to her advantage, I suspect. I was reasonably academic growing up, always had a few friends, started dating in my early teens and generally life was relatively easy for me (tho' it never felt like it as a hormonal teen, of course). She was much less academic, stuck to a couple of friends and was a late starter on the dating front. But boy has she made up for it since! She is the most determined person I know and puts everything into getting things done. As a result, she has overtaken me on every count. She got married, had kids, a proper house and a proper job before I managed to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I'd love to tell our primary school teachers that although I managed not too badly in tertiary education, it's my wee sister who is currently studying for her PhD while simultaneously holding down a job, raising two kids and renovating a decrepit house. Yeah, yeah, yeah - I'm jealous at times (would I be human if I wasn't?) - but mainly I'm incredibly proud of her and wish I had the tenacity and will-power she has.

I'm ashamed to say that when she had her miscarriage, I only found out after the long-drawn-out event and didn't have a clue what to say to her. I occasionally remind myself of this when someone avoids me, or says something stupid after one of my losses. Once upon a time, I was them. She and her husband had been trying for two years, had a go at clomid, got pregnant straight away and then found out at the 7 week scan that all was not well. Not wanting to believe the worst, she and her husband decided not to opt for a D&C but waited a further few weeks before finally accepting defeat. I wish I had known all this at the time and I wish that, if I had, I could have found a way to say the right things. Happily, she got pregnant again on the very next cycle and, although she had some very worrying early bleeding, this pregnancy resulted in my nephew (now a very spirited seven-year-old). My niece came along without the same drama two years later. Needless to say, all this means that she has a pretty good idea of how tough things are for CM and me.

I met my best friend at university. I had arrived a couple of days early at the halls of residence and had spent my evenings in the company of the Chr*st*an Un*on. They were a lovely bunch of people, and I continued to be friends with them for the rest of my time in halls. I have dabbled with religion in my time - I'm fairly sure there's something bigger than me out there - but I have an unruly side and when I imagined my time at uni I imagined more beer than prayer. So I was quite pleased to bump into KS - I'll call her this, because we quickly recognised and acknowledged that we were kindred spirits. KS lived in the room above mine and when we wanted to chat, she would bang her hairbrush on the floor or I'd bang mine on the ceiling.In Freshers' Week, we both dumped our boyfriends from home (not proud of that one - but mine really did deserve it) and took up with two guys who also became and remain best friends with each other. The romances with the blokes only lasted into our 2nd year, but the friendships are still in tact and all four of us will gather this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our meeting. Not bad, I reckon!

Since we left uni, we have almost always lived at opposite ends of the UK, but our lives have mapped each other ever since then. We have changed jobs, flats and boyfriends within months of each other for most of our twenties, met our husbands in the same month and she married hers five months after I married mine. So it wasn't a big surprise that we both had a bad time starting our families. She "anticipated" her wedding, as a polite relative once described getting pregnant before married, by a few months and was actually pregnant and going through her first miscarriage as she performed her bridesmaid duties for me. I didn't know it till I got back from honeymoon - she hadn't wanted to spoil the wedding, bless her. She had another loss but then, about a year after I got married and six months after my first loss, she conceived my godson. Like my sister, she had some bleeding in the early stages and had been told not to be too optimistic. She told me pretty quickly - I think shortly after she told her husband - and I felt such a mixture of happiness and jealousy. In between her 2nd loss and the successful pregnancy, I had had my first loss and I imagine she had similar feelings when I told her about that pregnancy.

Obviously, our lives have taken different forks now - she is working part-time, living in a little house in a little village as a mum of two. I am still full-time, city flat-dwelling and childless. This started to form a small wedge in the closeness of our friendship - I couldn't empathise with the new motherhood experience in the way she empathised with my losses. She was careful not to overdo the "nappy-head" mother talk, and particularly careful not to complain about the downsides of motherhood. On the one hand, I was extremely grateful but on the other I was aware that I was not hearing some important stuff!

It kind of reached a climax when I did my IVF cycle and she was pregnant for the second time. She was so sure that the cycle would work that she held off telling me, imagining the joyous moment when I told her I was pregnant and she would say "me too!" and we'd share our pregnancies in the way we'd shared so many other bits of our lives. When the cycle was a bust, I think she just couldn't bring herself to give me her news. Time passed, and it was only when I asked her if she'd thought any more about baby number two that she told me she was more than 16 weeks pregnant. It was such a contrast with the previous pregnancy - this time I was the last to know. I was very hurt at the time and I'm embarrassed to say that I started crying as we spoke on the phone. Again, she had had some bleeding with this pregnancy and had been in and out of the early pregnancy unit having checks. She had been in touch 2-3 times a week throughout my cycle and had been so supportive, but had mentioned none of this. I was as much upset that I hadn't been there for her as I was because I felt shut out. Really, I was the one that was responsible for the wedge in our friendship - her reticence was an attempt to protect me, not to shut me out. I had not long discovered blogs at this point and that night, in some intervention by the universe (or whatever thing that is bigger than me that is out there - see above re religion) in catching up with archived posts on a blog I had just discovered, I found some words which possibly saved our friendship.

I had followed a link to a blog called "Cancer, Baby" written by an incredible woman who had been experiencing infertility and then discovered that she had ovarian cancer. Her blog has gone now, and so has she - I have never cried so much over the death of someone I didn't know, but then, by the time she died I - and all the others who followed her blog - felt like I did know her. Although I contacted her husband after her death to express my condolences and my admiration for her, as an inveterate lurker (this will have to change now!) I only left one comment while she was still blogging - to let her know how much that one particular post had helped me. She replied with a lovely email, thanking me and saying how much it meant to her to help others - like I said, an incredible woman. The post was called "The Girlfriend's Unguide to Cancer and Infertility". It followed one on how, when meeting a friend with new baby, she felt huge joy for her, but found the phrase "it should have been me, it should have been me" running through her head. The "Girlfriend's Unguide" post was on how help is given to us and how we receive it - how we have to meet our friends part-way in our attempts to have them understand and help us. These two posts rang so true for me and helped me to sort through my feelings and find a way to put them into words. I then emailed my thoughts to my friend (including a link to Cancer Baby's post). KS mailed back and quickly our friendship was as good as, if not better than, before.

B and KS have been through some of what I have and have been unbelievably supportive to me - without them to talk to, I seriously doubt I'd have remained sane through all this. The fact that even they have said things that have hurt me, when I know they would never in a million years say anything they knew would cause me pain, demonstrates how miscarriage and infertility can affect the perceptions of those of us who've been chipped away at by disappointment. When Jessica, the author of "Cancer, Baby" died, her husband and parents allowed her readers to print one copy of her archives before her blog was taken down and I treasure mine. Her writing was wonderful - witty, clever, compassionate and honest - and she helped a lot of people through her blog. 

***edited to say: I had included a quote from Jessica's post here, but today I read an old post from another blog that said that her folks weren't keen on cross-posting, so I've taken it down.*** 

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I read the quote. It is a shame others won't get the chance.

I'm glad you have family/friends who understand. It must be of some comfort. Are they still as understanding even though they've moved on with their journeys?