“I just listened to your BLAW week post on Sophie Martin’s insta and I am weeping in the kitchen,” the text said. “I am just so proud of you for doing this. What you’ve been going through is a massive mountain of grief and uncertainty and I wish so much that I could take just a little of the horror away from you. Or somehow take on some of it on your behalf. Does that make sense? I feel so powerless to help. Also, I know you never thought you could be a public speaker but you clearly are. It’s natural and authentic (hate that word but it’s true). I was going to say ‘please keep being amazing’, but I know you will, because you can’t be any other way.”
7:30am on 30 October and one of my best friends was less than two miles away typing this, losing her shit at breakfast time with two children, a husband and a job hanging on for dear life in the Covid storm. I was also getting ready – by that I mean, showered and mascara on – for work, wondering if this would be one of the last weeks I would be doing this once our company finally announced their redundancies. In a split second I knew she understood everything. She wanted me to know right there, right then, that she had watched all the relentlessly unfair, horrific shit from the last eight years first as a friend and then as a mum who had had her beloved two children in an outwardly textbook fashion. She had seen into the void of Maybehood – I guess me doing a Kath and Kim “barren Sharon” impression will do that for you – and she fucking got it. It was the unexpected gift of human connection from a loved one that showed loyalty, understanding, upset, helplessness and strength. In less than a minute, my day moved into a different mental arena, something akin to an emotional gladiatorial amphitheatre just without cruel Romans and the hotness of Russell Crowe. As I subconsciously gathered my strength and emotional resilience for yet another day on Planet Covid – no different to the billions of us having to dig deep – I was able to look up at the stands and see her. A girl I had known from the age of eight who knew me inside out, had been the wing attack to my wing defence, was telling me she was here by my side for this eleventh hour in the game.
It all feels rather eleventh hour right now doesn’t it? Covid. Trump. 2020. Amy Coney Barrett. Lockdown. Work. Life. As I write on Halloween, Boris is about to give a press conference confirming a month long (yeah, and the rest) UK lockdown. Autumn’s beautiful colours and light are giving way to winter. Nature moving as she does, cyclically, gently with a hand as powerful as any Queen’s. We can no longer deny we are not just witnessing history, but we are critical to it. Our actions in relation to climate change, racism, black lives, Covid, nationalism, our future generations. Our political and social systems are being dismantled, the force of change is rushing and gathering pace and our own internal workings and compasses are spiralling as we seek balance and normality. What is normal? Do we want some of the so called normality we’ve lived with for years, decades, centuries?
If we were in a Lord of the Rings film, it’s the Two Towers. The darkness surrounds and things seem bleak; but in reality, the dam has broken, the shit is pouring out and this is our opportunity, our hope. Our politics, what kind of societies we live in, what kind of humanity are we, what sort of planet are we going to leave to our future generations, what really matters in this life? What will we take with us to the earth again, what really doesn’t fucking matter? Those of us with thinking, feeling hearts and minds know we are in the last chance saloon and the need, the imperative to act has never felt greater. This is the moment of battle for the world we all deserve and want to have. We are up to and equal to it. The glimmers of light are on the horizon. They always has been. We don’t want the old world. It’s not here anymore. It didn’t serve us. Many times it didn’t and doesn’t serve women, black people, minorities, the poor, the old, the ill. We need a better world, collective action on climate change and new politicians that put this, compassion and humanity at the forefront of policy and economy.
Maybehooders have been and continue to ride a wave of change, uncertainty, fear and connection to Mother Nature (however much wanted and unwanted). I said in an earlier blog how I tapped into IVF mode – aka survival – when lockdown #1 happened. But it was more than the short term mechanisms of protecting mental and physical health, more than the strength and resilience we and our partners have learned to show. It was a prelude. We use the expression ‘warriors’ a lot on social media. Rushing into battle for a baby. Take a step back. I wonder now if our fight for the thing we want most in life has ironically helped to prepare us for coping and coming out the right end of a global pandemic. Like our motherhood compadres, we know pain and we show compassion. We know the importance of support, community, showing kindness. We may not create the baby we want but we can – we are – creating this.
It’s not going to be easy. It won’t be straight forward. There will be twists and turns, unexpected events, the sky may grow darker. There will be loss. But we have known loss, lived through loss and continued to put one foot in front of the other, one day after the next. We have created something out of it, and if that isn’t mothering ourselves, I don’t know what is. This isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning. It’s the knowledge that even if the very worst happens – and I am not decrying being childless not through choice, christ knows I am living it and it has been beyond fucking awful at times – if this is it, if this is truly it, I now know what I am made of. It has been a horrific way to find out but there we go. It has certainly added tools to the emotional toolbox that’s for sure.
As we move further into the unknown, holding your nerve has become just another day in 2020. I’ve mentioned the physical anxiety I’ve felt for many years which for me manifested itself as panic attacks on trains and planes, made worse by the trauma of babyloss, repeated IVF, and the effect of so many fertility drugs fiddling about with my hormones. I was no longer in charge of my own destiny. I felt completely out of control. I felt unsafe, frightened. I spoke about this on my BLAW takeover of the Infertile Midwife’s account when I said it felt like I was in a battle for myself. I promised myself that one day I would write about what it’s like to not trust yourself anymore, to have confidence stripped in so many ways that your rawest sense of self must come to the fore. The energy it takes not to give in, to pep talk your way through a mind that becomes so scrambled it dictates the body’s fight or flight. I am light years away from where I was but the uncertainty surrounding life, the separation from our friends and loved ones, a sudden change in circumstance, a bad day – sometimes the “unwelcome visitor”, as Denise Welsh put it, is back.
I remembered this last week when I couldn’t get on a 12 minute train journey to London Bridge. The very sight of it pull up, full of people wearing masks, the idea that it was going straight there without the psychological quasi comfort of a stop beforehand – for a brief and all-encompassing moment I was submerged, dunked like a so called witch under the water. My mind scrambled, nothing made sense, my heart raced, the mask felt like it was drowning and not protecting. I knew, or thought I knew, I could not do it. As the train pulled away, I recognised although this was familiar territory and (very unwelcome) grooved response, it was not the same me. I was different. I did not berate. I showed myself compassion, acknowledging that although I could weep buckets, and feel the anger, this was not a regression. This was a normal reaction to a very abnormal situation. I was not ‘back there’, no matter how much in that moment I felt I was. The emotional sands were shifting. I saw that glimmer of light in the distance and knew that rationally, the train was still ok. Even in these heightened times, it was nothing to fear. It was safe. I too, was ok. Frustrated, but ok.
I walked the demon to Brockley and got the Overground to Shoreditch High Street. I refused to listen to it in the tunnels through Rotherhithe to Wapping. It got quieter. I arrived in Shoreditch and knew what I had to do. From there I walked past Boxpark, past the food stalls setting up for the day, through the City. Spitalfields was deserted, traffic moving deceptively quickly. I made it down to Monument, remembering all the illegal purchasing I had made at House of Fraser when it was open there. Goddamn those twenty something noughty (and naughty) consumerist times! I stepped onto London Bridge, seeing the Shard, London Bridge Hospital, the HMS Belfast. Cannon Street on the other side. I took a deep breath of the Thames air. Borough Market, where we had our first-date-but-not-date in Christmas 2008. Grind, where we went after finding out I was pregnant with Pumbaa. The sight of Tower Bridge, red London buses driving smoothly over it in the distance. Everything I had gone through, everything I had worked towards, everything I had sacrificed. The people who had held out their physical and emotional hands and helped me on my way.
I got to the corner of the road leading down to Guy’s and felt that familiar sense of coming home, the past, the present. A piece of my heart lodged forever on the eleventh floor. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. But I was not in that place, I told the demon, who was now filing their nails in my mind, bored. I turned the corner. It was the present, and I was somewhere different.