At Accident and Emergency, I go up to the desk and am ready to tell the waiting room the whole sorry business, as I have become used to in the last two weeks, but am given a ticket – number 40 – and told to sit and wait. They don’t even ask what’s wrong or my name. Just a ticket, like you’d get at a supermarket butchers’ counter. I need to go to the toilet. When I come out, I have already been called to the triage nurse. She asks what she can do for me. I say ‘I’m pregnant’, before stopping myself: ‘I was pregnant, but I have been bleeding heavily’. Ever the historian, ever the pedant, even now I am wondering aloud about what tense to use. She takes my blood pressure, and says it is ‘perfect’. How can it be perfect? How, in God’s name, can it perfect? She keeps saying, over and over again, almost in a whisper, ‘bless you’. At the end of every sentence, the well-meant but utterly useless refrain of this pregnancy: bless you, bless you, bless you. I am reminded of another room, two weeks before, where we sat in shock as we were told by a nurse that I had ‘a gift from God’.
We are quickly passed on to see the doctor and told to sit down and wait. While other patients are shouted to the desk, a nurse comes to me, leans down to my level, and asks me for my full name and date of birth before handing me a sample pot. She is kind as I worry about whether that is possible. I have spent the last few hours on the toilet and it has all been blood and what is called, correctly but half-euphemistically, ‘tissue’. In my own time, she says. None of this feels in my own time. John gets me two cups of water from the dispenser, which I drink like shots. The sample pot fills with red. I apologise as I hand it over. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.
The doctor turns out to be the kind I like: matter of fact but not a dick. Fairly few of them exist, so I am happy to have found one at this particular moment. He asks me how far I’m on; I really don’t know. I had a bleed at the end of April but that didn’t seem like a real period, the first day of the last of which I can only date from an annoying email from a colleague on 7th March (‘he picked the wrong fucking day to piss me off’, I remember saying at the time). So anywhere from just under four weeks – but that doesn’t add up, really, at all – to maybe ten. Quite a window. He asks me about the rate of blood flow. And clots. Yes, there have been clots. What size? I indicate with my fingers, while shaking my head, and he winces; ‘I know’, I say.
‘I’m afraid this is almost certainly a miscarriage. There are two options. Option 1: go home, hot water bottle, paracetamol and husband monitoring you. Come back if the bleeding doesn’t settle. Option 2: we book you in for a scan, but it would be next week and we don’t know how far you are, so you’d probably have to have another one later.’ It’s very sad, he says, and I know he means it, even though he probably says it often. Any other children? Other pregnancies? We exchange a look. As we talk – and as much as I like him, the doctor only talks to me and John may as well not be there as far as he’s concerned – he seems to notice my annoying habit, inherited from my mother, of finishing people’s sentences. Except I’m finishing them correctly. ‘What do you do for a living?’ he asks, possibly becoming aware he has a clever one, the worst kind of patient. When he tells me that I will need to take a pregnancy test in a few weeks’ time and I finish that sentence with the reason why, he says ‘you’re good at this’.
I want to tell him that this is the absolute last thing that I want to be good at, that this is the only exam of my life that I do not want to pass.
On Friday morning, I throw out the ten (yes, ten) positive pregnancy tests. I delete the photographs of my swollen, smooth stomach, as it starts to relax into mottled flab again. John has hidden the pregnancy vitamins somewhere. A friend comes round, for which I’ll always be grateful, and hugs me and listens to me, as I ask him – because he had seen the swollen stomach, as we had laughed about the impossibility of keeping it from other people at work for much longer – it did happen, didn’t it? Yes, he says. It did.
I realise that’s why I’m writing this. I’m not looking for pity. I know that this happens to thousands of women every day and that I am not special. This is not the defining moment of my life. But neither do I want to pretend that it did not happen to me, to us. As the queasiness disappears, as strong smells subside, as I return to ‘normal’, there is no other record that our baby – because to us it was that, even though I will fight to the death anyone who uses that term to oppress women who want to end their pregnancies – ever existed.
Coming out of the hospital, I told John that I had talked to the baby. That, on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, when I knew something was wrong, I had rubbed my belly and said ‘you were wanted, you were loved’, before correcting myself and saying ‘You are wanted, you are loved’. Damn tense again.
You were. You are.