I’m not a survivor yet

There’s a drama series on the telly at the moment, Call the Midwife. By all accounts it’s excellent. It stars Miranda Hart, who I have quite a crush on. It’s a costume drama set in the ’50s. It has medical emergencies and is about brave intelligent women being brave and intelligent and saving the day. What’s not to like? By rights I should be glued to it.

I can’t bring myself to watch anything that’s all about babies, and birth, and pregnancy, and babies, and more babies, and women having babies, and for all I know because I haven’t watched a single minute of it, but it wouldn’t be a serious drama if they didn’t, babies dying, or nearly dying, and emergencies, and blood, and women grieving. I can’t watch it. I can’t. I’d either be sick with envy, or flung into a nice little bout of PTSD, or both in the same half-hour, which I can tell you makes for a bloody uncomfortable night.

*spoiler alert*

I am currently forcing myself to watch The Time-Traveler’s Wife, despite the fact I know very well the plot features RPL. Because I am sick of avoiding things just in case they freak me out. One movie I can take, yes? Yes I can.

Though I am absolutely baffled, baffled I tell you, by how few reviews mention the miscarriages and the sorrow it causes the main characters and how it drives their decisions and therefore the plot. BAFFLED. Jesus. It’s one of the main strands of the entire fucking movie and no one mentions it. Or they mention ‘complications in the marriage’. Or ‘problems’, if they’re feeling particularly shameless.

Reviewers will talk about how the film-makers handled death, mutilation, kinky sex, muggings, alcoholism, cancer, vomit, creepy paedophiliac overtones, guns, homophobia, surgery, emotional abuse, eating live goldfish, genocide, nazism, hell, they’ll talk at length about the costumes and whether or not the accents are believable. But not miscarriage. Not even when it’s central to the plot.

I don’t, actually, understand why humans are so very bad at dealing with other people’s grief generally. I don’t understand, either, in a culture that will happily share pictures of their shit-encrusted children, or their afterbirth, or their own arse-crack, on facebook, why miscarriage is still such a taboo hush-hush subject. Of course it is – in a movie where one of the main plot points was recurrent miscarriage, none of the reviews I read on IMDB mentioned it. And I read dozens.

Anyway, it’s been a year since I last saw a (faint. Risibly faint) second line on a pregnancy test. Part of me feels I should, therefore, be Over It, whatever Over It means, and that is why I made myself watch The Time Traveler’s Wife (being British, I am desperate to make that a double L). And, er, well, yes, I am over it in that I can watch scenes of miscarriage on screen and ‘merely’ feel a great empathic wrench at the guts. I think I was more affected by the scene in which they argue about whether or not to carry on trying.

But I’m still not going to watch Call the Midwife. Because that would bring up the horrible, unspeakable subject of envy. And I don’t care to reduce myself to throwing hissy fits at the telly because some silly little pixellated imaginary character has convincingly mimed giving birth to a rubber doll for our entertainment.

As it is we had to stop watching Dexter halfway through series 3 because it was beginning to uncomfortably warm my piss that they used threatened pregnancy loss as a plot-device to heighten tension and increase the stakes. Oh, yes, very well, I know it bloody does heighten tension and increase stakes (have you seen my blog ratings whenever I miscarry? They triple for that month). But given the storyline, it was unnecessary. And cheesy. And of course everything was fine and they were fine and Dexter felt all protective because they’d had a scare yada yada. Pure Kraft Singles. (There’s also the whole even-a-serial-killer-can-get-his-girlfriend-knocked-up-by-accident thing. But that’s just petty of me. We should finish watching the third series of Dexter).

So what do we learn from all this? That whereas screenwriters are perfectly happy to use miscarriage and threatened miscarriage to increase dramatic tension, the General Public does NOT want to talk about it, hell, would much rather talk about fountaining nasal mucous. That even a year after the last one, I feel angry, and sad, and cheated, that I had so many miscarriages. That it takes longer than a year, more than one good cry. That I am drowning in limbo. That because so few people will speak of it, write of it, make TV programs about it that show all the times it doesn’t all work out well, what happened to me, is still happening to me, is, literally, unspeakable.

How do you survive something which simply does not exist in your culture?


42 responses to “I’m not a survivor yet

  • wombattwo

    I can’t watch the Time Traveler’s Wife. Too sad, and also the husband dying part as well as the miscarriages. But what really irks me is One Born Every Minute. It’s on all the bloody time, and if it isn’t, adverts for it are. Why do they keep making it?! Grrr!
    Also I shame myself by admitting I told Toadie and Sonia on Neighbours (who are trying) that I hoped they were infertile. Oh dear.

  • Kylie

    Oh yes- One born every minute- on the usually ok to watch SBS too! I have seen ads for the Midwives one, but will not be watching.

    Haven’t seen Neighbours, but for a while How I met your mother won points by having”infertility” strike its characters. And then magical pregnancy. Those eps are just piling up now.

    Death as a whole is still very taboo (or perhaps more taboo than it was previously) and the addition of death of an infant in an age when anyone can get pregnant at any age (or that is how the media tell it) is extra taboo.
    I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people are pregnant less, so they have less experience with people being pregnant and therefore less with the related loss.

    I read time travellers wife many years ago – pre any attempt at pregnancy, and while I do remember that it has a miscarriage story, I don’t remember it being a huge part of my experience (haven’t seen the movie). Perspective has changed perhaps.

    • May

      I think you are right. Pregnancy generally is less common (which explains why half my work-place is going Gossip-Drunk about the pregnant ladies there, and the other half are pretending NOTHING IS HAPPENING despite the fact the pregnant ladies are all small and slender and so now all look not only pregnant bur PREGNANT and can’t bend down to pick things up off the floor any more). So, of course, bad things happen less often. And death and sickness happen in hospitals rather than at home. I know people who got all the way to their 50s without ever seeing a dead body or having to nurse someone after surgery/severe sickness (I am not one of those people). Out of sight being out of mind, people assume Bad Things Happen Rarely, and therefore are completely fazed when they do happen, so the bereaved and ill end up being silenced because no one can cope with them, which perpetuates the illusion that bad things never happen, and so on and on and on…

      It is entirely possible I paid a great deal of hypersensitized attention to the miscarriages in The Time Traveler’s Wife, because I have been there. I tend to notice people’s knitwear in movies as well, because I knit. And what books they are reading, because I’m an avid reader and librarian. And neither detail is even that relevant to the movie, usually. So there’s that. I still thought it was an important plot point. *spoiler* The couple lie to each other and go behind each-other’s backs because they can’t agree on how to deal with the miscarriages. It’s their second (of, er, two) big argument and moment of conflict in the entire movie. It triggers his kissing her for the first time. She ‘cheats’ on him so she can get pregnant again.

      • Korechronicles

        I read the book and loved it and refused to see the movie because I did not want to contaminate my mental picture of him played by Eric Bana. Like Kylie, I don’t recall the miscarriage part of it carrying so much of the plot. But it was a long time ago and as you say, your sensitivities are much more hair trigger than mine. Must go back and have a re-read, something I very rarely do, but The Curiosity is strong in this one.

  • Betty M

    There are some good things about Call the Midwife. It is a timely reminder of what things were like before the NHS even though it is set just after its formation. Plus it doesn’t shy away from the issues of loss and death as normal occurences rather than dramatic accents particularly for a pre-watershed show. I can see though why you would avoid. From my own perspective I somewhat masochistically would watch all sorts of birth focused shows whilst I was in the middle of the years of treatments and losses.

    As to the Time Traveller’s Wife I watched 10 minutes last night On the basis that Eric Bana was great in the film about The Munich killings but thought it was terrible tripe. Is it supposed to be good RPL treatment notwithstanding?

    • May

      I don’t doubt Call the Midwife is good, and well written and intelligent and probably a good educational program for people who’ve never stopped to THINK how lucky we are nowadays, and how peculiarly dangerous and difficult birth can be. I’m rather sorry I can’t make myself watch it. I feel the bit of me that isn’t completely dominated by Bitter McTwisted is missing out.

      Honestly? The sensitive treatment of the RPL bits was the best thing about The Time Traveler’s Wife. And Eric Bana being naked a lot. Other than that? There was no, none, zip, NO chemistry between the leads. It gave off a distinct air of being a very brief plot-sketch of a much more complicated story with more people and drama and emotion in it. It seemed sanitized, somehow. The script was flat and dull and the ‘humorous whimsical’ bits were lifeless and unimaginative. We didn’t get inside the heads of either main character at all. Remember, I haven’t read the book, but people I adore tell me the book is brilliant (and a bit harrowing), and this was neither brilliant nor harrowing, death and disaster notwithstanding. I am going to have to sack up and read the stupid book, aren’t I?

      • Mona

        Please do not read the stupid book, unless you are curious. Personally I found it quite terrible and do not understand why so many people like it. I still loathe this book years after reading it, since I found the two main characters very unlikeable. It is indeed a book that does make very emotional reading, but, despite the fact that the miscarriages and their marriage conflicts are realistic and not glossed over, I thought the author is cruel to his own characters for a cheap thrill effect and fails because the main characters are otherwise very shallow and one-dimensional. (The only other book equally annoying to me was the Alchemist by Coelho.)

        • wombattwo

          Am intrigued now… Have not read the book but am wondering in what way they were unlikeable?

          The Alchemist annoyed me too…

          • Mona

            Unlikeable because they were too one-dimensional. *Spoiler* The Wife of the title is from a very wealthy family, and the time traveling future husband spends time with her from an early age of six knowing fully well they will get married, and he “wins” the lottery so she won’t have to work for money but can be an artist. Since she grows up knowing that they will marry she does not seem to develop much personality besides becoming The Wife. The miscarriage plot is well written, mainly because it is a taboo topic, and to support the time-traveling is genetic and has a scientific basis plot. While it is good that the issue is actually addressed (and it is meant to lend credibility to the science bits), it seems to me that it was only introduced so that the characters will encounter extreme hardship in their lives/marriage due to the time-travel. (I really have issues for the book, sorry for going on about it so extensively).

  • Illanare

    “Call the Midwife”, “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, “Up”, and any of the sudden deluge of maternity programmes on TV are no-go areas for me still. Ashamed to say, I even stop watching series I follow as soon as a character gets pregnant.

    • May

      We must do what we need to do to get through without too much salt and lemon juice being rubbed in our wounds. No shame in it at all. At least, there shouldn’t be. Hugs.

  • Valery

    hugs. It is strange to always expect that later “I’ll be over it” And then, when it is (one year) -later- with any luck I just learn to live with it. WITH it, not past or over it. So sorry it hurts.
    Did H get back safely?
    Will be thinking of you tomorrow.

    • May

      Exactly. We don’t get over it. We learn to live with it. I’m never ever going to be the May I was before I had all those miscarriages. On good days, I’m not sure I want to be that May again. On bad days, I’m not sure I want to be this May either, but there you go.

      H got back safely, and only a bit late – hurrah!

      Thank you for thinking of me on Tuesday.

  • Shannon

    “Call the Midwife” is to be avoided. At all costs. Not only are there babies but there are some babies being born to people who whole-heartedly Do Not Deserve Them. Yes I said that. I’m not Judgy McJudgepants or anything, but if the idea of “If that were set today, they’d be crack whores” pops into your mind while watching, then no. Don’t go there.

    Miranda is lovely. But swear to yourself you’ll watch her stand up. It’ll be easier.

    And if you’ve had a miscarriage, then subjecting to yourself to some items is torture. “Call the Midwife”, “juno”, you name it. Sorry about “Time Traveler’s Wife” (that it not only upset you, but that you watched it. The book, she is way better.)

    • May

      I do have a bad/good/peculiar/unnecessary habit of testing myself. For example, I am scared of heights, really scared, but I regularly make myself climb very tall buildings. I am scared of underground enclosed spaces, and I made myself go cave-exploring several times, even in ones when you had to get down on hands and knees and crawl. I very nearly froze and puked on that one, and I hit my head, and it was BAD, but I did it. So I thought I’d watch the movie (2 hours out of my life) in a similar sort of spirit, and you know, it wasn’t that bad, apart from the fact it was a bit of a crappy movie full stop. It didn’t set off any bad dreams or huge honking Cloud of Gloom.

  • Dr Spouse

    I am really enjoying Call the Midwife but if it had started even a couple of weeks earlier I wouldn’t have been watching it. Incidentally, it also deals with RPL, still birth, extreme prematurity, what happens when a mother is not competent to parent, post-partum depression, eclampsia – oddly all of which are topics I can cope with. I think it’s the airing of the hard facts of pregnancy and the idea that not everyone has rosy happy shiny pregancies with rosy happy shiny baybees who go home with their mummies who have always been nice to them and put their feet up and never done anything to put their baybees at risk.

    I do find (not to be patronising) that it is easier to face the idea of people not parenting in a competent manner when you have actually met parents who are like that, indeed when you are “related by adoption” to such people. As I said in a recent post, I hope that our son will speak with more respect about his birth family than some comments we have had from non-adopters.

    • May

      I hope so too, but then with you bringing him up he’ll learn compassion and manners.

      Oh, comment from otherwise sound and sensible chap at work, who’d been watching ‘Call the Midwife’ after an episode with babyloss in it (I don’t know the details, didn’t ask, wasn’t prepared to go there) – ‘it’s not as if that sort of thing happens these days’. Ahahahahahahahahahah of course not. *clenched fist*

  • bionicbrooklynite

    i always want the double-L, too. i’m so jealous that you all get to have it! but i get to say y’all. that’s something.

    frankly, i found the time-traveler’s wife annoying. possibly i’m the only one, but lord, giving away the ending of the story when there’s still 150 pages to go is Irritating Behavior. so you have my permission not to watch it, and you need no one’s permission not to watch that other show, which sounds kind of dreadful. and would certainly give me the howling fantods (not that that’s such an accomplishment these days).

    it is an interesting point you make, about the difficulty of “surviving” something societally invisible. i don’t have anything very bright to say in response, but consider this me nodding earnestly at your in-class comment.

    sorry about dexter. i had to give up weeds after a particularly grotesque moment forced me to think harder about the show’s attitude towards homosexuality. i had liked weeds. pity.

    • May

      I will finish watching Dexter, I think, at some point. As I was rather enjoying it, and H (to my astonishment, as he doesn’t LIKE gore and violence) was really enjoying it, before Bitter McTwisted got me in a head-lock.

      Never watched Weeds. Am now giving it the stink-eye on principle.

      As for surviving something ‘invisible’, every society and time has its invisibles. It used to be cancer. It still is mental illness. Go back 200 years and both cancer and mental illness were spoken of openly. 100 years ago… they were invisible. Miscarriage and stillbirth used to be visible and common, 200 years ago, and 100 years ago… they were invisible. I think back in the days when there was not much anyone could do about severe illnesses and life was more visceral anyway, people couldn’t avoid living with these things. When medicine began to improve people seemingly became actively afraid of poor health, or conditions that had no cure, afraid in a ‘blame and shame the victim’ way. Hmm. Too much to think about right there.

  • a

    Haven’t seen or read The Time Traveler’s Wife (and I also want to put another l in there and I’m American). Of course, we also don’t get Call the Midwife either.

    However, my sister sent my daughter Marley and Me for Christmas. They (my sister and my daughter) LOVE this movie, and I find it so depressing that I can’t stand to watch it. Awful.

    • May

      I have not watched Marley and Me either. And I really don’t think I want to, based on the reviews. Not that I’m much of a dog person anyway. The idea of a badly-behaved destructive dog being cute and lovable makes as much sense to me as woodworm being cute and lovable. Heigh ho.

  • a

    Marley and Me, in case you didn’t know, has a segment about miscarriage…

    • May

      I did know. Not having watched it, I don’t know how they handle it. Did it make a person want to slap the director? Did it feel honest? I mean, I actually LIKED ‘Up’, because the bit in the montage where they find out they can’t have babies/have lost a baby (it’s not clear which), felt so very true and real. Yes, I thought, that’s what it’s like. And then you go sit in the garden and stare at nothing for a long, long while.

  • Kylie

    There needs to be a warning on some of those. A lot of programs in australia (on abc and sbs mainly) warn Aborignial viewers that they contain footage of people who are now dead, which means that I now know that there is a taboo about that. It would be nice if they aired a similar warning “Warning, the show/movie you are about to see contains scenes of miscarriage”
    Would have a twofold effect- giving some idea of the future of show in particular to those who are sensitive and also reinforcing the idea that there are issues around it- that people need to be sensitive.
    This started out as a joke comment, but I can actually see merit.

    • May

      It’s a very good idea. They warn about violence, death, smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, swearing, nudity, scary ghosts and vampires, scenes of self-harm and mental distress, etc. Why not miscarriage? And then people would know, ipso facto, it is distressing to some people. Perhaps we need to write letters to the telly people.

  • Bachelor's Button

    Like you I’ve had a bit of a time of it, but fortunately can (mainly) watch this sort of thing without suffering pangs of envy or dismay… tho’ I totally understand why some people find it too hard. But yes, why can’t there be more of a focus on openly discussing, representing etc the ‘ when it doesn’t work’ aspect of things, or the ‘when it all goes pear shape’? All this sort of thing does is perpetuate the myth that having a baby is a fait accomplit for most people. BTW have added you to my blogroll, please let me know if that is okay.

    • May

      Am honoured to be added to your blogroll. Thank you.

      I am always HORRIFIED at the sort of disgustingly heartless and stupid comments people leave when a newspaper or magazine website does a piece on infertility or miscarriage. I’m sure it’s because people know so little about it all, and what they do know is sensationalist or innacurate tripe, like Octomom, or ‘career women leave it too late to have babies so it’s all their own fault’. So, yes, we need a lot MORE discussion of the things that go wrong, and why they go wrong, and how very unsensationalist or not-self-inflicted infertility and loss actually are.


  • Dr Spouse

    Kylie, you may like my post http://drspouse.blogspot.com/2009/03/non-parental-advisory.html

    I’m pretty sure Call the Midwife ticks all the boxes but it seems to get the right note (if you are able to watch it) because it is a memoir.

  • Jenny F. Scientist

    I’m not sure I could watch the show you describe. I can’t bear to see anything, even fictional, that depicts children or animals being harmed, and being confronted with real-life examples drives me to hide in a closet until the bogeyman goes away.

    Do you ever read the NYT film reviews? They are great only for actually telling you what the ratings are for (‘“Underworld: Awakening” is rated R for slaughter and werewolf breath.’)

    • May

      NYT film review for Time Traveler’s Wife was scathing, but didn’t even mention the RPL theme, in the review or the rating explanation. The writer was more aereated by the creepiness of the 36-year-old timetraveller spending time with his 6-year-old futute wife, while naked in a hedge.

      I’m with you on the harming of children in movies. Makes me freak. *shudder*

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    Ehhh. I watch Big Bang Theory while I’m eating my dinner. I watch Shameless because it is by Paul Abbott and ergo, brilliant. I watch Top Gear because… well, because John is laughing at it, mainly. I watch Big Fat Gypsy Anything because it makes me hoot with laughter and outrage. And anything by Attenborough, natch. Sometimes: a film if ITV4 is showing something good.

    And that’s… it, really. Me no likey TV. The zapper button I hit most is the big red one. I spend most of my evening complaining that it is On Too Loud, and cowering behind my laptop, but some of it inevitably leaks around the sides of the screen. J, fortuitously, is not addicted to anything worse than Ice Road fecking Truckers, and therefore, although I’ve glimpsed the odd advert for Midwife & Every Minute, I am living in blissful ignorance.

    It’s difficult to know how I would like scriptwriters to treat miscarriage. With tongs, I think. I would currently like to forget that it even exists as a word, let alone a fact, let even more alone watch it unfold on TV. Big Red Button Time. I would be irritated if it was used as a plot device, I think, irrespective of how it was handled, although I concede that it’s a mighty fine narrative device, whatever; like yours, my stats speak of Tension at such times. Scriptwriters understand this, obvs. And I suppose there’s only so much death, divorce and drama in the world they can incorporate; like Hale-Bopp, I suppose, you know it’s coming round again eventually.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife (cursors back, deletes a ‘l’) was… well, it was ok. Clever plot, but the book’s voice didn’t quite grab me around the throat, and I found it a bit sombre and cold in feel. (Or perhaps that’s how I was feeling when I read it: I tend to project like that.) I did find myself galloping through it a bit towards the end. I remember that there WERE miscarriages, but … did I mention sombre? Perhaps that’s why.

    “Pure Kraft Singles”, btw, is my favourite new phrase ever, and I will be utilising it at all possible opportunities! And I had forgotten about piss getting warm; that’snother good ‘un.

    I think the general unspeakability about miscarriages relates purely & simply to the delicacy surrounding Ladies Bits. We can’t cope with sanitary product adverts unless blue water is substituted for, you know, BLOOD. (Segue: I vaguely wondered, during last tsunami of mine, what proportion of the population would actually recognise the iron smell of copious fresh blood?) Add to the revolting concept of menses: irremedial pain, lots of groaning, lots of tears, and clots like rock cakes emerging from that nice, waxed, vajazzled (Jewelled labia. I think we are doomed as a species. Doooomed!) vagina place… well. No-one wants to sticky their fingers on that. It’s visceral, and un-pretty. (Even John, who is Disposer Of Putrid Lamb Foetus he-man, cannot get far enough away from the contents of my miscarriage bedpans. And the pregnancy sac he surveyed quite calmly on a 2D screen 12 hours beforehand: becomes an object of distaste to him when it is sat, sadly, cooling, lost forever from my warmth, in a prosaic cardboard bowl.) We’re the airbrushed, brow-dried, key-hole surgeried generation. We’ve moved on too far from the place where men and women bleed and die. Except… we still bleed and die. And can’t deal with it properly anymore.

    Ohhh, TIRED. Sad. Angry. Crying.

    • May

      Oh, dear heart. I hug you. And I agree 100%. And more. And I am so sad and tired and angry on your behalf, too.

      (My step-father used to be able to axe a duck’s head off, skin and gut a lamb, midwife the sheep all spring, etc. One time I got my period in the middle of the night and woke up the next morning in a POOL of blood, soaking right into the mattress, and he not only freaked out at the blood, but refused to help me and my mother take the mattress outside so we could scrub it and get it to dry properly, because it was ‘disgusting’, and then later actually TOLD ME OFF for staining the mattress and being, and I quote, ‘unfeminine’. Personally, I can’t think of anything MORE feminine I could’ve been doing than menstruating. Bastard).

      I wish the human race would get a fucking grip and grow up. Everything humanity does which is worth doing is sweaty and bloody and hairy and visceral – sex, eating, giving birth. It’s what humans ARE. Sweaty, bloody, hairy and endowed with viscera. I want to be able to say, at work, that I’ve been off for three days because I got my period, or had a miscarriage, and for people to say ‘oh, I’m sorry, that sucks’. And for all this disgust and embarrassment to just not exist. Because this is just so bloody lonely and hard. And being made to feel invisible, unacceptable and disgusting on top of it all is grotesquely cruel.

      Hugs again. And more hugs. And another hug.

  • Korechronicles

    Like HFF, much of the TV in this house is inflicted upon me by the massive gender imbalance that exists at Villa Kore. So…cricket, football, commentary about sport, comedic commentary about sport, Top Gear… and Life Partner’s favourites from the History Channel. I flee to the laptop or a good book or knitting or blogging. Even a dentist visit is more entertaining that the mindless crap that I try to ignore.

    But, when I do get to sit and choose the channel I am always incensed on your collective behalf with some of the ridiculous treatment of pregnancy, birth and pregnancy loss across the popular media. But as HFF points out, we have become remote and detached from the ugly, painful aspects of life. It makes death and grief impossible for many people to confront or talk about. But we must try, the painful parts of life are where we grow.

    Hope H and his camera have made it safely home to you and that your appointment was not too stressful.

    • May

      Must blog about the appointment with Miss Consultant. Let me just get some tea first.

      According to the media, pregnancy is easy unless they want the mother dead for romantic plot reasons (ugh), infertility only happens to neurotic career women, and miscarriages are a weird combination of either no big deal and a new baby will be along in a minute anyway, or, they’ll turn the woman into a raging psychopath who will steal someone’s baby or try to destroy a nice ‘normal’ family out of envy. It makes me want to tear my hair out.

      • Dr Spouse

        Ah – something has just occurred to me – in all fiction, pregnancy (and related everything) are just a plot device. That’s why I find CtM watchable. OK, the episodes are selected, but they are/were real, and not plot devices. It seems to be showing a sampling of real life, not life events manufactured to advance the plot.

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