My best friend and I have been through a lot together over the years. Our first-borns even enjoyed their first year of life together, being born only three months apart.
When my little family returned to my home country of Australia to live, our kids were only just turning one and I felt like we were ripping their little worlds apart. We made a tearful pact on my friend’s doorstep to fall pregnant at the same time again, and then I would return for another year of maternity leave with her. The thought of doing it alone horrified us both.
Six months later on the sunny shores of Sydney I got the email. My best friend had just discovered she was pregnant after trying for nearly a year. I couldn’t believe it. I had found out two weeks earlier that I was pregnant as well. It felt like it was meant to be. I was so grateful that I would have her by my side again I immediately told my husband that we would have to move back to the UK in time for the births. We started to plan.
It was only two weeks later when the text message arrived. She had started to bleed. I told her that it was perfectly normal in some pregnancies to bleed. She tried to be positive but I could hear her heart breaking over the phone. As I hung up I felt empty, like it was happening to me. And then I felt guilty that it wasn’t happening to me. All of a sudden I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be pregnant, which made me feel even more guilty. How could I not want my pregnancy when all my best friend wanted was a baby? I just prayed that she would pull through.
She didn’t. Two days later I got the call saying she had had a miscarriage. We both accepted that the worst had happened and that she needed to try to recover and move on. We knew it wouldn’t be so easy and being on the other side of the world from each other made it even harder. Not being there to support my best friend when she needed me really hurt, and sitting looking at my tiny belly I felt very alone and sad for my friend.
I stopped talking about my morning sickness. I stopped talking about moving back. How could I move back and flaunt my new born to someone who had lost theirs? But things took a turn on Christmas Eve that would change how I felt about everything.
I received a phone call from my mother-in-law just as I was putting my daughter to bed. I thought it was to wish us Merry Christmas, and she had just mixed up the time difference. But then I heard the tears in her voice. My best friend had been rushed into hospital that day, having passed out after experiencing horrific contraction-like pain. It sounded like an ectopic pregnancy – another family friend had died from this condition. I put the phone down and, on automatic pilot, got my daughter to bed.
We waited throughout Christmas Eve, constant calls between family and friends trying to establish who knew the most detail. Christmas morning felt hollow as we still hadn’t heard anything. As I was celebrating the perfect family Christmas with my next pregnancy safely hitting the three-month mark, my best friend lay in a hospital, separated from her little boy and having lost her pregnancy. I felt like I needed to share the pain somehow but couldn’t.
We did hear, at the end of Christmas day, that she was going to be alright. She had had what they call ‘product’ left over from the pregnancy, something had ruptured and her pelvis had filled with blood. Unfortunately her fallopian tube had to be removed and, with that, any chance of ever falling pregnant again, as her other tube was badly damaged by endometriosis.
But she was alive.
When I spoke to her the next day she sounded distant and shut off. She had gone from one extreme to the other in two weeks. The ecstatic jubilation of the discovery she was pregnant, through a miscarriage that she thought was as bad as it could get, to life-saving surgery and the realisation that she would never be able to carry children again. Merry Christmas.
A few weeks on, I have started, slowly, to discuss my pregnancy again. We have scheduled our flight back to the UK. I don’t know how I will be able to share my next child’s first years with her without feeling an ongoing sense of guilt, but I do know that we will find a way – because we always do.
Her losses have been hard to bear, but have made me appreciate the fragility of life and the preciousness of every single child that is brought into the world. My best friend has shown me that she is the strongest, most positive and honest person I could ever hope to know, and sharing my children’s lives with her – no matter how difficult it may be to start with – is something that I am determined to do.
My children deserve her.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem