Tamlorn was due today.
It seems so much died with them. A fork in the road and a different path forced upon us. I don’t know how that can be but it seems it is. Somewhere out there, in a different universe, two happy ladies are so bouyed by the pregnancy the work stress doesn’t tip one of them into ptsd. We don’t lose our donor, we go to the pregnancy expo full of excitement, we don’t push the business hard and wind up falling down a hole of broken expectations and pressure. Such a little thing and yet our whole year is different. Our whole world.
My sense of faith or meaning about life and death, any possible afterlife, has splintered. Sometimes we comfort each other that if they all still exist somewhere, Leanne and Amanda and Grandma would take excellent care of Tamlorn. I can’t imagine three people with more love and skills and care and humour. And maybe all the others I didn’t know so well would help too; Bethy, Tash, Nana, Bradbury, Pratchett… Somehow every possible answer seems to hurt more than it comforts. This loss makes me need a certainty about death I simply can’t have.
We are still trying to get pregnant, and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It seems so little, but it’s so consuming! The roller-coaster emotions make me feel crazy and I work hard to hide and suppress them. Rose and I are so gentle with each other, constantly making room for both hope and grief, reminding ourselves life is still wonderful without a child, that whatever the outcome is we have each other, and yet it’s like trying to calm a storm by talking to it. Beyond our power by far! It consumes everything. Our whole world becomes balanced on pinnacles between ecstacy and devastation.
I’m always trying to manage fear. I’m frightened of losing our donor again, frightened Tam was my one and only baby, frightened of getting pregnant and losing another one by miscarriage or stillbirth or leukaemia at 3 years old. Life feels like a lottery and the bland reassurance of those who’ve won and spun it into some kind of ‘just world’ (don’t worry, of course it will work out) is balanced by the raw pain of those who’ve lost and are childless following eleven miscarriages or other patterns of tragedy and loss.
The best feeling in my world is that moment before getting up to do a pregnancy test. Everything glows with possibility. Our bodies fit together, skin warm and soft, and the morning is gauzy with the film of dreams. We promise not to be devastated, that it’s early days only, that it’s okay to grieve, we can do this. We feel strong and settled and ready.
The worst feeling is another negative test. Coming up with all the reasons we might still be pregnant anyway. Trying not to feel that empty pit inside. Patting each other – it’s okay to be disappointed, we’ll be okay, we’ll try again, while inside we’re both dying. Wastelands and ruin and fears that we can’t counter that perhaps all this is futile. It might be. The only thing that would be harder than trying, is stopping trying. What started in joy begins to feel like a trap. We can’t let go of the dream but the dream is all fire and pain. We surface from misery briefly to remind each other that life will still be worth living if we can’t have children of our own.
We claw for balance, serenity, perspective, and it’s a veneer only over so much shameful intensity. We glory in our roles as aunties of others children, come home feeling blessed to be trusted and embraced, remind each other it’s significant and meaningful and worth putting effort into. And cry as quietly as possible when we’re alone, trying not to be ungrateful. We try to protect each other from our anguish and find gulfs open between us that we have to work hard to bridge with something other than raw hurt.
The very worst of it – worse even than platitudes or instructions to worry less or being told it will happen if we’re really meant to be parents – like a divine benediction, like the gods blessing the ascension of kings – the worst of it is feeling so alone and ashamed by how incredibly hard it is, so disinclined to let anyone know because it seems crazy, and if we seem crazy maybe we shouldn’t be parents after all. The pain of longing reinterpreted to prove our lack of worth and fitness. We’re not so far into this that I can’t recall my own bafflement at ‘baby-crazy women’ and wonder why they can’t just live their life and let it happens if it happens. It so seemed like such needless fuss, such obsession, but on this side of the fence it’s the dream that drives you and it burns.
On bad days I’m glad of a negative pregnancy test because at least that means I won’t miscarry again, or break our hearts with a stillbirth, or lose an infant to an accident. I like to take risks where I feel I can survive them not working out and I’m beyond that place at the moment. I can’t bear the thought of another loss and I don’t know how I’ll find any contentment in the moment or belief that things can work out. I read of women who’ve suffered catastrophic losses and their stories leave me gasping for air, completely unable to fathom such grief. I reach out to Rose and she tells me we’ll take this one miscarriage at a time if we must and my throat closes over and I can’t breathe at all.
What helps is sitting in the night with Tamlorn’s ashes or going to stand by their tree. What helps is spending time with other people who have walked this road or walked roads like it and seeing that the trauma and pain and sense of being crazy and need to hide it are nearly universal. They are normal responses, not well understood by those who’ve not been there usually, but very much the norm, especially for those of us with losses, fertility issues, a donor, and a culture that can be harsh about queer parents. Our sense of fear and vulnerability and exposure is strong. Our need for swift blessings to show the benediction of the universe is much higher.
The pressure on us to be highly emotionally invested but at the same look calm, balanced, and even slightly indifferent, is high. We feel crazy counting days and tracking cycles and collecting clothes, and we’re aware we mustn’t look crazy because it’s only recently that queer parents were even allowed to live openly together, to both call ourselves mothers of our children, and that is still being argued in courts of public opinion that talk about deviance and harm to innocents. (homosexuality was only decriminalised 40 years ago in South Australia) We’re still being held accountable for other people bullying our kids because of us. We still get looks of revulsion when we walk hand in hand. And we are some of the luckiest queer women in the world!
We lost so much with Tam, far more than I realised at first. My cycle is still unpredictable, which apparently is common following a miscarriage. We can’t track it accurately at all – on one set of tests I apparently never ovulate or produce any hormone surges, on another I’m about to ovulate constantly – we gave up testing after 9 positive days in a row. My cycle is now a different length each month. We guess the relevant week and scatter insems through it and hope, and try not to think about it. I try to imagine a future where things work out okay, and I stop reading the anguish of the women in my miscarriage support group. Being pregnant was the most wonderful experience. Trying to get pregnant has been a kind of hell. Normally dreams sustain me and only hurt when they fail. This one cuts deep as you hold it, brings life and death unbearably close, gives me joy and takes my breath away with pain.
On Monday this one white poppy bloomed in the sea of red in our garden. Rose found some comfort in taking it as a token of Tam’s nearness. We talk back and forth to our garden, to Tam’s tree. It bloomed with a thousand blossoms, none of which set fruit. Red poppies in memorial, white poppies for peace. Today we’ll take flowers down to the ocean and set them in the water. (we hold hands like widows over graves)
Oh darling Tam. Do we mourn you or ourselves? You were loved every moment of your short life, we tell each other that. At times I think all the ills of the world could be righted if we could but love it and each other the way we loved Tam. In my minds eye I see myself as a bringer of death, my womb as a coffin, a portal through which souls come into the world to die, and there’s a stream of dead babies flowing away from me to the afterlife. My soul is twisted under the weight of knowing I’m not supposed to care this much, think this way, feel these things – and of not wanting to, either. Spare me the burning intensity, the clinging awareness, the cloying emotions. Spare me 3am and nameless dread. The stakes are high, the bets are placed, and each month the dice rattle in the cup like old bones; I wear a scarlet dress to hide the blood.
Darling Tam, who sometimes seems so close, when I close my eyes I can almost see us together in another world. You are nested between our bodies, fat and pink and milk-drunk, with eyelashes soft as moth wings. Our hearts are like ripe grapes on the vine after rain, overfilled and torn open. It’s a sweet pain.
Dearest Tam, tell my people that I love them. Love them fiercely from this side of the valley. Forgive us that we could not keep you here or hold you longer. Help our hearts tear open with love and heal again with the same love, every day. Happy birthday, darling unborn. I hope you are at peace. May we find some too.