One of the first things I ever wrote for publication was a piece on miscarriage. It was a long time ago, L was still a tiny baby, and in order to write it, I talked to a number of women, all of whom had had one, me included. It’s strange, but it is one of those things that it shrouded in mystery, a silent mourning, until the moment you step over the threshold of birth.
Maybe it has something to do with work. At work, no one has the time (nor the inclination) to go into the details of your reproductive woes. It isn’t the place (you are supposed to be working, after all), and, well, it just isn’t obvious. Everyone can tell when you are having a baby (at least when you pass the Too Many Cakes Stage), once that bump is on show, your status is one of public scrutiny and comment, but before, that is the time of shadows, of half-admitted hopes and dreams.
There is so much about the female condition that is both shrouded in mystery and guarded by thresholds. It makes me wonder whether there is ever such a thing as an essential self, the bit that never changes, when you are female. I look back at the child, the teenager, the young woman, mother, and I wonder if I actually, when it comes down to it, have anything much in common with them. The years, and the crossing of thresholds, have changed me in a way that the male condition does not.
In a way, thanks to Sam’s very public disability, I had a passport into the shared pain of loss at an early stage. Nobody looked at me, when we ventured out into the public/private world of the coffee morning and the toddler group, the informal and cathartic glue that holds us together in the early years of motherhood, and thought, ‘well, what would she know?’ That’s the problem with miscarriage, you see, or difficulties in conceiving; their invisibility. If you didn’t know, you’d never know.
But the stories of loss that I have been privy to, of repeated mourning, of joy snatched for only a short time, together with my own, and others’ experience of difference, of disability, and my doctor’s muttered comfort that it was a wonder that the human race managed to reproduce at all, given the statistics, have conspired to teach me a salutary lesson about life, and humanity.
We think we have control. We think we have choices. We think we are beyond our animal bones. And I suppose, to a certain extent, we are. We may be able to select our embryos, choose the pettiest, or the most intelligent, test the genes (and not just for Trisomy 21), screen for all manner of things we just don’t fancy, be it a lack of happiness or health. We might like to persuade ourselves that our ideas are just that; ideas devoid of morals, or ethics. But those choices, those hard, physical choices touted as ease, they come at a cost; the price of which is loss and it is paid in tears.