We’ve achieved a little distance now, from October 15th, and the international candle-lighting in memory of lost pregnancies and babies. Let’s breathe out.
You know, it’s an awareness campaign I thoroughly approve of (there are so freaking many of us, and we may as well live in a biscuit tin at the back of the cupboard), and I, too, light my candles and think Dead Baby thoughts, as close to 7pm as I can make it. But I’m not sure its an awareness campaign that, in the end, is for or about me.
What? I hear you cry. But, May, dear girl, you’ve had seven miscarriages! Maybe more! OK, they were all ridiculously early, but they were miscarriages and this really is about you!
And all I can do is look uncomfortable and say, yes, you are quite right, it does include me, insofar as I have lost pregnancies. But there’s the problem right there. ‘Lost’. As if they’d gone down the back of the sofa or fallen out unnoticed in a taxi. As far as I’m concerned, my embryos died, and then I bled and bled and bled and wept and raged and went a bit weird and survived on Ben&Jerry’s and black humour for weeks.
And another problem – the sugar-pink and pastel-blue colour-schemes of these campaigns. I get why these colours – they are chosen to represent little baby girls, and little baby boys, and remind the world that what was ‘lost’ was just that – a child, with a gender, an identity, personhood.
However (and this is what I find… awkward) pastels, culturally, are used as a short-hand for ‘feminine’ – razors marketed for shaving legs, armpits and bikini-lines rather than chins are usually pastel-coloured; as are pens (*snort*), tampon boxes, bra-and-knicker sets, diet-food cartons, hair-clips, purses, vitamins for pregnant/menstruating/menopausal women, mobile phone cases ‘for the ladies’, and so forth. Note, things especially that relate to the more carnal, earthy, and bodily aspects of femaleness – armpit hair, periods, deodorants, being unacceptably zaftig despite the fact many women are supposed to have arses that shape oh my God – are marketed as pastel, as sweeter and daintier and cleaner and less fleshy than the actual reality. It’s unfeminine to have armpit hair and menstruate. And yet I cannot think of anything more female.
And so to the pastel colour-scheme of baby-loss. It is being presented as a feminine, dainty, bodiless thing. The babies are, euphemistically, ‘lost’, which is tragic, and remembered in soft sweet colours, which are non-threateningly not-ookie. And yet, every single woman who has miscarried or given birth to a dead child or had her baby die in her arms knows, really actually knows, that this was a bloody, bloody, painful, messy, ugly, process. It hurt physically as well as psychologically. There was blood and torn flesh and fluids and clots and snot and tears and vomit and no fucking dignity left whatsoever. It was not dainty. It was not ‘feminine’. It was intensely female, yes, and the female body is just that, a body. Made of meat. And this is terrifying.
Very well, so the non-threatening, babyish and feminine colours are ‘necessary’, to make the whole sorry mess publicly presentable – a ribbon you can wear on your coat without scaring small children, a subject you can raise without making your listeners rush away, fingers in ears. I do see that. But also, alas, it has the unfortunate side-effect of minimising miscarriage and infant death. They’re pastel. How can they possibly be a big deal? And anyway, they’re a lady thing, like periods.
So that’s another point – this pastel, feminine view of it all excludes not only the actual horrible truth of the experience, but it also excludes men.
You know, those human beings whose child it also would have been? Who were there when the woman they loved was bleeding and weeping and screaming? Who saw and held the tiny fragile body of their dead child? Who called the ambulance? Who paced the hospital corridors while the love of their life was having the remains of his DNA scraped out of her, away from him, away from anyone who would hold her with tenderness as it happened? The men who are also grieving? The men who already have no words, no place, no socially acceptable way of grieving? Who end up retreating into silence, anger, frustration, pretending it never happened? Because the only context in which the subject is dealt with is public is one of unrelenting, sanitised, saccharine, pastel femininity.
H and I were discussing my Halloween miscarriage of 2009, what with the anniversary approaching and me acting therefore like a harpy with PMS and a nettle in her knickers. H said he hadn’t really remembered it was that time of the year. And then he said he didn’t really ever think about it. And then he cried, because it had been so horrible, and he had been so scared. And it has taken him three years to say that out loud, even to me.
And a final point. The angels. There is a lot of talk, on miscarriage support sites that I have visited, of angels. The baby is now an angel. People say this even when they don’t seem to have any particular religious beliefs. And I do get it. How horrible to think your longed-for child has just… stopped. Ceased. Finished. Over. Gone. How necessary, how important, to be able to visualise them existing somewhere still, perfect in their innocence and freshness, waiting to be reunited with you.
But I am an atheist. And I don’t believe in an afterlife. So, actually, my longed-for children are passed on. These embryos are no more. They have ceased to be. They’ve expired and [not] gone to meet their maker! These are late embryos! They’re stiffs! Bereft of life, they rest in peace! If I hadn’t flushed them down the bog they would be pushing up the daisies! Their metabolical processes are of interest only to historians! They’ve hopped the twig! They’ve shuffled off this mortal coil! They’ve run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! These…. are EX-EMBRYOS!
And you know how much comfort all the ‘angels in heaven’ talk gives me? Absolutely bloody none. And not only that, it excludes me. I can’t talk about my totally tragically utterly dead embryos because that would be offensive to people who do believe in baby angels. And I very much do not want to offend and upset people who do believe in an afterlife, and who know their own babies actually really are angels in heaven. But that’s the point. I am never going to see mine again. They are not looking out for me in heaven, in the company of all the bloody-minded grouchy atheistical old bastards who they’re related to and who pre-deceased them.
I have a sadness that is full of rage and loneliness and black, black humour, and the organisations and support groups allegedly there to support women like me, well, simply don’t. And they have nothing to say to my husband either.
I am not feminine. I rarely shave my legs in winter. I don’t wear make-up unless someone’s getting married. I watch the rugby, I wear DMs, I drink Guinness. I wear sugar-pink and pastel-blue about as often as I pole-vault naked into crocodile enclosures. There is nothing demure or discreet about the way I menstruate. The only person I called an angel lately was H, when he cleaned the bath-tub and then ran a bath for me because my back was sore. At this candle-lighting virtual support meeting for pregnancy and infant loss, I am lurking at the back, clutching a glass of gin, lips firmly pressed together in case I start humming the Dead March from Saul. My husband hasn’t even been allowed in the room, and is, I think, sitting on the stairs in the cold, completely alone. And in a hydrangea sea of butterflies and cherubs, I am wearing a blood-red ‘What would Cthulhu do?’ teeshirt in Gothic black lettering, complete with tentacles.