Somewhere between the veil of sleep and dreaming I was awake, a piercing sound came up the stairs. I was alone, with our second embryo safely tucked up in my HRT sponsored, 1000 thread count womb lining. Sleep was already fitful. Fuck, I thought. This is it. South East London and I’m finally about to serve my turn. I immediately regretted not sleeping with a kitchen knife under the pillow – a classic, bound to make things a whole lot worse move, I’m sure all you burglars and partners working away from home will agree. The noise increased. Some bastard was absolutely coming for me (where was my diversity and inclusion, it could have been some bitch as well) and suddenly, in the darkness, our bedroom door pushed open.
Tilly, affectionately known as the Tilderbeast, had decided to end her silent and potentially violent regime (girl has the best resting bitch face this side of Croydon). I had never heard a sound like the one emanating from her at that moment. It was raw, insistent. Where was the fucking burglar? I launched myself upwards just as she jumped on the bed and loomed over me, quickly settling on my chest. Her grey paw outstretched, her claws came out and she tapped me lightly, unusually on my cheek. My right hand flailed for the bedside lamp and light flooded the bedroom. Tilly remained on me, casually clawing my face. My heart was thumping. The only thing I was getting robbed off was much needed sleep.
Throughout this two week wait my womb had felt heavy – much like it did throughout my pregnancy six months earlier. I was pretty sure I was pregnant again because: 4am pisses, looking like shit, and pumped to the hilt with progesterone. It was a familiar feeling, one that atheist me had desperately begged the Big (Wo)Man and planet to be gifted, unable to envisage a life where I did not experience this again. I moved the Beast to one side, stumbled round the bed and rolled down the hallway to our little bathroom. I didn’t bother to turn on the light. Dawn had just begun to break. Half asleep, I cursed the loo seat that always moved and gave you a jolt down the spine when you least needed it.
Yep. The classic 4am gotta go.
Although it took me a few blinks, there was no mistaking what was on my granny pants and gathering down my inner thighs. Blood. Everywhere. In the time it took for me to gaze, uncomprehending at what was happening, my mind fractured. A clarion call of utter despair broke through. Everything paused, fell inwards. I wasn’t due to do the actual pregnancy test until Saturday. It was Thursday, 4am.
At the door to the bathroom, a little grey figure came in, looked at me, and settled down onto the floor a metre away. Her gaze was unblinking.
Not pregnant. Not pregnant.
I was back in our twelve week scan, looking up at the ceiling tiles and then over at Pumbaa, silent on the large screen. I was there in our second embryo transfer, my husband holding my hand, our consultant at the helm, the embryologists and nurses moving like clockwork around us. We watched the little white bean move quickly like a shooting star across the ultrasound screen milky way. “The moment of conception,” she said, smiling. I was back on the train into work, a journey that had become a panic attack and flash back minefield. Constant serious overcrowding, a train that stopped for ages outside various stations (thanks Network Fail), my hormones in physical free fall. Frightened of making a basic journey on my own and getting trapped. Wondering how life had come to this. I was in the bathroom, staring at our cat who never, ever came into this room.
I was losing another baby. He or she didn’t want to stay.
Tilly purred quietly, continually. In her past life as a former breeding queen, her and Melvin (true story) had been on it like a car bonnet. Her kittens had been fast and furious. She had also favoured my husband (the bitch) for the first two years of her life with us, up until we did IVF and I became pregnant. My hormones must have been the freaking caviar of catnip, as Tilly made the turn from his prime real estate lap to mine.
A shuddering practicality eventually permeated this early morning shock. Shaking, I rang my husband at around 4:10am. To his credit, he answered almost immediately. Casual convo about having a very early miscarriage:
Me: “Come home. I don’t think it’s worked. I’m bleeding everywhere. Tilly woke me up. She’s with me in the bathroom.”
Him: “I’m so sorry. I can’t believe it. Love you. I’ll speak to reception, get a lift to the station and get back as soon as I can.”
Him again: “Well done Nurse Tilly.”
I returned to the bedroom. Tilly followed me and leapt onto the bed. John Lewis would be getting my custom once again on an Egyptian cotton fitted sheet. I wacked on a sanitary towel and huddled up, watching as light moved across the room, counting down the minutes until my husband could leave his work hotel and get on a train back to London. I would only need to be alone for this until he could get back. All I needed to do was breathe in, breathe out. Try not to think too much. Take pain killers. Tilly had moved into the next phase as my emotional support animal. An unprecedented move before such a thing as unprecedented times.
Her job presumably done, the Tilderbeast licked her lips, gave me one last look – of pity? Recognition? Actual giving a fuck? and left me, her woolly backside sauntering out of our bedroom door.
It was just as well I had no idea what was coming up over the next four years. Life can keep that element of surprise. The British shorthair cat that had finally sat on my lap and wouldn’t be moved when I was pregnant became my (from then on) silent and – subject to putting herself first – mostly constant companion. We joke she is the most fertile member of the household, an accolade not wholly correct. Fertility per se isn’t apparently our problem, but making a baby together is. As a shagged out breeding queen, now proud senior, Tilly can still lay claim to this title.
At 12 years old she has so far seen off all potential foes, ensuring she remains the only small, mighty and indeed elder of the house. Queen of Resting Bitch Face, early adopter of feline sustainability (she rigorously sticks to two cards a year, birthday and Christmas, deviating only in case of embryo transfer), faithful companion, face of judgement. It took years of mutual effort all round but now she lovingly tolerates us both, even the dog lover. She has spawned a successful Instagram account, survived two serious dental operations with her almost flat line heart rate, prioritises sleep above life and still has time to come at me with existential gems such as ‘Life is a rollercoaster. Ride it.’ Her energy saving is unrivalled. Looking at her breaking new boundaries on our bathroom floor, I realised she had known what was happening; her presence both a benediction and warning. And so she will continue, living her best life, underpinning ours, until the day comes when I will inevitably lose another baby.
You can follow Tilly’s latest musings on Instagram @thetilderbeast