One Saturday in 2021 I left the Maybehood mainland and didn’t even know it. A landscape and emotional weather system so familiar and engrained in me, I thought I was sitting peaceably on the beach when the boat for one had already pushed off from the shore. I assumed supplies needed were in the hull. The clouds were clear, the sun could choose to appear if it wanted. I was at peace with the mainland slowly moving away into the distance; I had navigated this bay many times and did not expect to travel further. I had no expectations. Nothing, anymore.
I barely noticed as the winds picked up speed and took me into open waters, familiar in the way you visit a holiday destination from years ago and wonder where you had that amazing night out. Every hour the mainland grew more distant, the waters rougher but I knew my rhythm, had my autopilot. Then one morning at 10:25am the weather system changed. My boat for one had left the bay behind and I was now dependent on a course I had chartered only once before, in the ocean, where different waters of Maybehood stretched out before me to the horizon. Another passenger had boarded, silently and unexpectedly, and now relied on me to get to the other side. Ecstasy lasted less than a day before rank fear at how I would keep this passenger alive crept in. I had assumed supplies were there; I hadn’t checked. And now I was going to have to style this voyage out, plot a course for us both, work out a day to day routine that covered off feeling seasick, not knowing where we were going and hunger pangs that wouldn’t have been satiated by a No.10 lockdown wine and cheese party – and we all know how many of those there fucking were.
What struck me most about these early weeks was that Maybehood hadn’t disappeared, receded or renamed itself a la Prince. It had morphed and taken on a new physical extremity. The initial espresso like shot of joy and hope was the only fuel from this particular petrol station. Like Bear Grylls you had to get creative with the supplies. Make them taste palatable. Fashion them out of sweet fuck all. Because when all was said and done although I longed for the safety of that coastline I feared seeing it any time soon. I had no idea what the new coastline looked like. It remains a mystery.
In the dark, little support boats bobbed up. Sarah and Anna had clearly been ready to go as they raced towards me. Nurse Sarah came round twice a week to carry out the intramuscular injections, not flinching at covid (my husband), the warzone in my pants, or turning up literally 10 minutes after I had started bleeding. The boat was taking on water but she still had a job to do; voice cracking, hand steady, she did it. Omicron appeared. They could not steer the boat but they remained alongside, for cups of tea in the cold, for memes, pep talks, tears, gentle walks. My husband left his two week covid lockdown and caught up, agreeing that as student nurse Davina, Nurse Sarah was best equipped to carry on injecting; his skills as chief food and reassurance supplier would be better employed.
I looked behind me at the ocean and gradually saw a small flotilla of lights. The phone lit up with support, decency, love, existential understanding from women, some who had navigated pregnancy after loss and replied to my SOS with a deft hand and decent heart. Cases of omicron soared and it became clear that I would need to continue to self-isolate as I sailed onwards, alone with my passenger. The waters felt precarious, frightening. I radioed friends for help, for distanced shuffles around the block. My people steered alongside, navigating their own demanding jobs, children, commitments; voice notes, continual checking in, chocolate, spacemasks, there was no end to the array of supplies that came on board. Day after day passed, slowly, hungrily. Emily in Paris selfishly came out just before Christmas, which I cursed and looked forward to in equal measure. Sex and the City rebooted and Charlotte talking about her IVF while getting her kids ready for school was another reminder of this voyage as a well sailed “row-te”.
Even the most competent sailors run into storms.
I knew when they were coming. Every time I saw land ahead, at six, seven and a half, nine and 11 weeks. A salient reminder that no matter how well – or not – I had steered, eaten, exercised, emotionally coped with this transatlantic ride, it was a negligible influence on whether my passenger would stay for the duration. I could only provide the (carb heavy) conditions within my control. Was it worth getting to know them? It’s a long way to travel without talking or forming some sort of a bond; there are many days ahead, full of the unknown and unwritten.
With this much time at sea you fall into a comfortable, silent companionship. Every time you glimpse land is with a sense of confirmation and foreboding that this may be taken away. And so you need and dread it, equally, this landfall, steering towards inexorable certainty in a course that will not be knocked off by weather or your own abilities. You know the time you’ll land on that island. You know the conditions will be rocky. You know one of you will have to disembark for both of you to hopefully get back on board again. And so at 13.5 weeks, as I lay down on the scanning bed, hands shaking, the analogy of not being present and instead being on a desert island (add the doping effects of shit loads of progesterone to this and it does faintly work I assure you) – this split second mind blank wouldn’t come. No matter it was a different hospital, a different team, a different time. I couldn’t outthink a moment in this journey where all of this could be taken away in a single appointment. I stared up at another NHS ceiling, held my breath through the pause of the sonographer, realised my “you will be ok” was both necessary mantra and for what its worth platitude.
I realised how fucking hard sailing a boat is, particularly when you’ve never learned to sail and it’s the Atlantic Ocean and there’s no option to leave.
I realised how grateful I was to be even doing this.
I realised that the drive I had put into IVF was now going to serve me in equal stead and anxiety.
I realised how much more there was to go. I realised that every time I needed and dreaded that land, the need was going to have to get much, much more.
Last Autumn I breathed through a familiar exchange which set me on a course I had no manual or instructions for. I had carried out countless similar exchanges. Really I had spent the best part of nine years exchanging life choices, decisions, thoughts, money, relentless feelings, the inside of my head and heart plotting a course that turned out to be wildly different. If we made it to the other coastline, there would be more exchanges. They were going to cost me. Sometimes paying the price would be worth it over and over; other times I could see this had the potential to bankrupt. Above all, I would need to trust the staying power of my passenger. Believe they are going to stay. And I was going to need to – when all was said and done – fundamentally navigate this myself.
In the far distance, that lighthouse and inspiration.
In the now, me.