Time. We measure our lives in units of time. Past, present and future.
If life is going well, we pray for time to linger, pause, slow down. If life is hard or painful (or we are simply stuck in a dull meeting) we urge time to leap, speed onwards. Time can do all these things. Apparently it can also heal. However no one is able to advise how much time this will actually take.
Like most people, I rely on units of time as a categorisation in which to file away the pivotal moments in my life.
Eight years ago, I was friends with a really lovely girl at work. She had recently lost her mum to cancer. The only thing keeping her from breaking down was the fact that she was expecting her first baby with her husband. Sadly eight months later, she suffered a stillbirth. Her closest friends at work were warned, as were her team…but how can you warn an entire company? I had lunch with her when she finally returned to work and I will never forget her pain (and unbelievable strength) when she told me that someone in the lift had excitedly asked “Oooh, you’re back. What did you have, boy or girl?”. I’ve since followed her via social media – perhaps with a naive smugness. That feeling of “poor you, lucky me” which I realise may now have reversed! Her marriage didn’t survive but she moved on and is now living overseas, has re-married and looks so happy in her photos. I feel bad that we lost touch. However I have to resist the urge to contact her and ask “Are you truly happy? Have you healed? How much time did it take?”
This time two years ago my sister was preparing to give birth to my niece. Let me state here I have three beautiful nieces. Two are from my boyfriend’s family and they are both adorable. They see me as the cool Aunt and I love them dearly. When my sister gave life to my youngest niece, I heralded this as a sign of hope. My sister suffered with PCO as well as a large fibroid that had to be removed. If she could get knocked up, why wouldn’t I? My sister is a beautiful, talented woman and a fantastic mum. And over the last few years she has sensitively witnessed my struggles and tried not to make my pain worse, whilst experiencing her own joy. On days when I feel at my lowest, she sends me video clips and pictures of my niece. She knows it will make me smile. I look at my niece and see my sister. Wilful. Beautiful. Lispy (when she was young she had a lisp that I tease her about to this day). It hurts me to know I will never see myself in a small human. Sometimes I hold my niece and think, if she keeps still (and stops wriggling away from her mad Aunt) how much time would it take for her to mend the hole in my heart?
Six weeks ago I had my final “couples counselling” session. When asked his final thoughts, my boyfriend (who was SO supportive throughout all our struggles) said “I just want her to feel better. I want to stop tip-toeing around talk of babies. I want her to stop crying when she sees Facebook feeds of friends having new babies. I want her to feel happy again”. They say opposites attract. You couldn’t get two people more opposite than us. I am heart. He is logic. I am sensitive, reckless, emotional. He is measured, analytical and I jokingly (affectionately) call him “the Tin Man”. He does have a heart, I promise, it just beats in a different pattern to me. So what do I tell him? What kind of time-line can I offer for the conclusion of my grief? “I will heal in time?”….”Give me time, I promise I will get better?”. My mother, the smartest woman alive, sends me regular messages saying “take your time, don’t be hard on yourself”. I hear her, yet I still force myself to find a scheduled finish date to this life chapter.One month ago I wrote my thoughts down on paper about my struggle with infertility and its negative conclusion. I sent it to my sister who is uber-creative and she advised me to post it on Selfish Mother. With much trepidation I posted my article and then sat back. I wasn’t really intending for anyone to read it. However I was persuaded to let it be shared. It felt good. Cathartic. A week later, I was in a hotel in America following a Team Building day involving laser tag and bowling. For the first time in a while I let go and just enjoyed myself. I even got a few strikes – odd, because when I’m in England, I truly suck at bowling! I forgot who I was. I let time go at its usual pace and pretended I wasn’t living in a fog of infertility. I had no internet connection all day. When I returned to the hotel, I got a message from my sister. “Your article is live, you have to read the comments, they made me cry”. I sat on the bed in my lonely room in Connecticut and read the responses to my outpouring. And cried. For the first time in a long time, I felt “normal”. Other people have this pain too. I am not alone. They all promise I will heal….maybe not wholly, but that some form of healing will happen. I believe them.
I fully recognise that I’ve never enjoyed living in the present. I’ve always looked back with a rosy glow – or looked forward at some glitzy future. There’s always something more exciting out there. A better way to live. Another country to visit. A future in my reach. Deep in the most frightened part of my soul, I had imagined future times with a first born, the first words, the first day at school (where I would cry like a banshee at having to let them go) and future arguments because no Mother is perfect, after all. Time has passed and this future is gone. Replaced with what? Days at work? Life plodding on? Time passing with no meaning?
So what do I do now if I can’t get excited by the future? Live in the present?
Today I had my quarterly appointment with my Dental Hygienist. Normally she tells me off. Which of course I love considering I am paying her £75 for the pleasure. I assure her every time that I’m trying my best, and every time she says I might lose my teeth if I don’t try harder. Pardon? I might be toothless AND barren you say? No way, sister! So I’ve been scrubbing and flossing and praying for improvement. Today, I won. “They are looking much better, you are getting much better at brushing”. Wow. High praise. Then she looked at my file. “You told me you were on IVF medication in July – are you still taking it?”. Here, time stopped. Time re-calculated like a route error on a Sat-Nav. Maybe it had started to do its promised “healing” because for the first time in months, I did not tremble. My eyes did not brim with tears. My voice did not crack. A moment passed where I thought how poignant it was, that at the time, I was so optimistic I had bragged to the Hygienist about my IVF. I simply spoke, “No, it didn’t work. I have stopped”.
A minute passed. A beat in time.
“I’m really sorry to hear that but its helped your gums. They are probably bleeding less now because the IVF drugs that put you into early menopause can cause issues with gums” she informed me, with a clinical but kind edge.
As I made my way to work following her insight, it finally hit me. My body has been through so much. My mind too. How can I expect to heal straight away when a whole future has been erased? How can I even try to impose a due date on being “normal again”? Maybe that will never come? Maybe it will in time.