I knew posting about having a jolly time and being all cheerful was a mistake. It tempted Fate. I got as far as the train this morning when I realised everything was too loud and too bright and not quite where my eyes were telling me it was. I lurched into a fellow-passenger, put out my hand to catch myself, and it looked not like my hand.
Well, it was my hand, but my proprioreception was fried.
Damn, I thought. Migraine.
I got off at the next station, found a chemist, bought ibuprofen, staggered back onto the concourse, realised I could not swallow the damn pills without water, staggered into a newsagents and paid approximately £97 per centilitre for a bottle of water, texted H, went off to find the train home again, realised I had to call work, did that, and burst into tears because everything was SO LOUD. H texted me back asking me if I needed rescuing and leading home with a paper bag over my head, and I decided, on the whole, no. The Headache Proper hadn’t started yet, I was just feeling overwhelmed by having all my senses turned up to 11 and then de-tuned, damn it.
And then I went home and put my head under my pillow for a few hours.
But, you see, I’m quite lucky. My migraines very rarely last more than five or six hours, and there are people out there who have them for days. I haven’t had one for a couple of months, and some migraneurs have them weekly, even daily. I don’t tend to throw up during them (though I do feel sick), some poor comrades can’t stop throwing up (with a head like a coconut in an industrial vice. Ugh).
On the other hand, when I’m actually having the fucking migraine, I feel like the unluckiest female on the planet, and if anyone tried to tell me otherwise I’d mutilate them. Very quietly, of course.
Reactions from fellow migraneurs have varied from compassionate empathy, through wry camaraderie, on to onedownmanship friendly version, onedownmanship passive-aggressive version, through to outright competitive hostility. You know: ‘Ohh, sweetie, that sucks,’ — ‘Oh, God, I remember when I was sick in a card-board bucket of fried chicken during my first date with the cutest girl in the school!’ — ‘I wish my headaches only lasted one day!’ — ‘Well, I wish I had time to go and lie down when I get a migraine.’ — ‘Your migraines aren’t nearly as bad as mine. You have no idea what real pain is like. When I get a migraine, I’m floored for a week. One day! Pah!’.
Sooo, much the same as infertility and miscarriage then (good link, eh?).
I recently found out that an old school friend has just had a second late miscarriage. Once more, she had to give birth to her child’s tiny body, knowing that if he wasn’t dead already, this would surely kill him. I got in touch to offer my condolences, and, my God, she and her husband were actually commiserating with me. That they could spare any compassion for anyone else at all while planning their baby’s funeral made me quite weepy.
Their situation breaks my heart, and at times like this I lapse into seeing infertility and miscarriage on a scale – miscarriage is worse than infertility, unless the infertility has been going on for years and years. Late miscarriage is worse than early miscarriage. Multiple miscarriage is worse than one miscarriage. Miscarriage and no living children is worse than miscarriage and some living children. And so on.
It’s all, all, foaming green arse-gravy. One situation is not, cannot be worse that another. They’re all shitty. What makes the difference, what demands the compassionate response, the reaching out, is the grief and misery of the afflicted. One couple can take quite a lot of hell in their stride, because they have each other, and because they have inner grace and strength. Another couple finds their bonds are made of glass, and one tragedy shatters them utterly. One person endures years of infertility and miscarriage with stoicism and then is able to focus on the rest of his/her life, another had built their entire identity around children and parenthood and discovering that they are infertile tears their heart across.
And everyone’s tipping point is different, and in a different place. One woman puts so much hope and longing into it, the first failed IVF breaks her. Another does IVF over and over again, but snaps when her sister gets pregnant in her teens. Another has twelve miscarriages without giving up. Another finds one miscarriage has scarred her so the thought of trying again is unendurable. A couple has a miscarriage after a healthy pregnancy, and are overwhelmed by grief for the lost little brother or sister, while another couple finds their existing child(ren) take away at least some of the sting.
To some, the loss of a pregnancy will be a terrible disappointment and frustration, to others a hideous bereavement. To some, it will feel like a punishment and a curse, to others, a bittersweet blessing that came and went too quickly.
And not one of these people is ‘wrong’, or being too stoical, or being not stoical enough. We don’t know the variables, we don’t know the heart and soul of another. We don’t know their childhood, their dreams, their resiliance, how much support their family can give or take away, whether they have the sort of friends who will rally round or slink off. We don’t know what having a child meant to them, the next great adventure or the be-all-and-end-all of their marriage, their whole life.
And yet, people will play judgy. People will say ‘at least you’ve already got kids’ to a woman who has just found out her child has died inside her. People will say ‘oh, just relax‘ to a couple who had been planning for a child since the day they laid eyes on each other and now have found out Fate laughs at their plans. People will say ‘at least it wasn’t further along,’ or ‘it’s for the best, there must have been something wrong with it,’ or ‘you can always try again’ or ‘did I tell you about Some-Woman-You’ve-Never-Met? She had ten rounds of IVF before it worked.’
And while, in a calm moment of consideration, the newly infertile, or the woman with just one miscarriage under her belt, can and do consider how it could be so, so much worse, when they are right there in the throes of their own personal hell at its freshest and most agonizingly vivid, who the fuck has the right to tell them their pain is not as valid as the next person’s?
And if my old school friend and her husband can spare me some compassion in the midst of their desolation, then I can spare some too.