Part One – The going through hell part.
I’ve always loved the above quote. Often mis-attributed to Churchill and various others, it has gotten me through all sorts of mentally and physically tough situations in the past. The most recent time it came back into my life was when one of my favourite bands – The Streets – made it the key line in their song “Going Through Hell”.
This quickly made its way onto the various training playlists I keep on my Spotify account. When training for a marathon those words spurred me on to literally go the extra mile, making the day itself the celebration it should be. In kickboxing training, I would mentally recite the words every time I wanted to give up on the current set of press-ups, and potentially give any upcoming opponent a slight advantage.
In life in general, I had never had much application for the phrase. There had been – as with anybody – ups and downs, periods of light and dark, higher or lower moods. In life, I had always preferred the Florence and the Machine lyric; “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” It seemed more light-hearted. Yeah things were bad, but that was just a sign they would get better. I never really had cause to describe life as ‘hell’ until miscarriage.
I’d never wanted to be a father. I can’t really explain why, and to me it would seem weird that people would expect me to. A combination of selfishness, a feeling that I still wasn’t mature enough to look after myself, therefore anybody else, and the nagging feeling that there was still SO MUCH STUFF that I hadn’t yet had the chance to experience meant that I just never saw it as being a path for me. I liked children, loved my nieces and nephews even though I never got to spend enough time with them, and felt like I was able to connect with them and be a healthy influence on them while retaining a sense of fun.
I’d always said that maybe a good halfway house for me would be meeting somebody who already had children. Then in June 2015 I met Molly and, by association, Jack and Charlie. Without skipping over the detail too much, Molly and I fell for each other pretty quickly. I’d be lying if I said that by the time we fell pregnant I hadn’t already had thoughts about living together in the future. We hadn’t planned the pregnancy though. I felt totally comfortable with Molly and our situation, but this was different. This was huge.
I immediately became very protective. As angry with myself as I was about how we had got here (and I was very, very angry with myself) I realised that my anger really wasn’t going to help a pregnant woman much. After all, that was my baby in there. I’m not sure what changed in me or how, but I do remember one morning walking to work, beaming from ear to ear about the little secret that the two of us were now keeping from the rest of the world. I was petrified, but also very excited. We had far too much to sort out but we had to get it sorted now. I had always thrived under pressure, and this would be the ultimate test. On a less “UG! AM MAN!” caveman level, the fact that I would be able to add another human to life’s rich tapestry started to seem pretty cool.
Time went on, we made plans, we laughed, we discussed names, when we would tell the boys, whether it was practical to live in a tiny 2 bed flat with 5 of you and for how long… we told very few people, but plans formed and things moved at a pace.
Selling two flats, a lease extension, a divorce, getting a consent order drawn up, arranging a mortgage, reviewing property options, resolving poor credit to save aforementioned mortgage application. It was the very definition of “all go”. It was exciting though. Even if it was hard work and a little daunting. This was the darkness before the dawn.
If only I’d known.
When that day arrived, I was totally broadsided. I had actually told my boss in work our news as I trusted her implicitly, so she immediately agreed when I said I had to leave work because Molly was heading to hospital for a check-up having found spots of blood. From memory that was about 11am having got in at 10am. While that was a strange start to the day, I didn’t feel any sense of impending doom or fear. I was just going to do my fatherly duty.
Molly was understandably upset when I got there, but not overly so – we had the usual interactions, trying to keep Jack still for 30 seconds, telling Charlie not to slouch while wired directly into his phone.
We went through to the consultation room after a short wait and went through the brief formalities. Molly got herself up on the chair and the sonographer started scanning. He continued scanning for a while, and then looked over to a colleague. I had never been in this position before and knew nothing of childbirth or pregnancy, yet I am convinced that in that moment I knew what was coming. Just one of those sixth sense things that makes no sense at the time or looking back on it, but that just is. The head sonographer came over, looked at the screens, but then pretty instantly said “I am sorry, your baby’s heart has stopped beating.” Or words to that effect. I’ll touch on how I have struggled with what many would see as all important details later.
We ushered the boys out to wait on their own while the ‘formalities’ were read out to Molly and me. I remember us hugging, but I don’t remember us saying much at all. In fact, it was like the whole room had a weird quiet about it. We collected whatever paperwork was thrust our way, headed out into the busy, far-from-quiet waiting area, collected the boys and then we were walking through the hospital towards the exit.
I remember Jack asking something on the walk and being met with a hurried shutdown of some kind. I think the both of us were well aware that had we have tried to do anything but just hurry home as quickly as possible, we would have just broken down, and that wouldn’t have been good for anybody. The bus came quickly, and the journey was mercifully short. We sat the boys in the front room, headed for Molly’s bedroom, and just cried. It was a visceral, almost primal upset that swept over us and in a way my own sadness seemed to take a back seat to Molly’s. I had never felt somebody else’s pain so keenly.
I don’t know how long we cried for but, eventually, we went to tell the boys why we were so upset, or they came to us. It obviously didn’t really register for them, and they were more interested in what was for lunch or what they could amuse themselves with as it was the school holidays. I guess this was the first time I realised that every other life was going to go on, regardless of the one we had just discovered that wouldn’t. It was probably at that moment that I decided I would assume the role of “the one who will cope”. That is not to say that Molly didn’t move on quickly – she was back to work in two weeks, but I took it upon myself to get things done in the shorter term.
I had a history of doing this. Of just getting on with things. Of coping. I always remember that I didn’t cry much at my grandparents funerals. Not because I was heartless and I didn’t like them. It just didn’t happen. I cried and then I moved on. Maybe too quickly.
In adult life I have had counselling about the things I buried as a kid. How I reacted to moments of grief, loss or despair. I had made a lot of peace with the way I was and how I reacted. I had managed to find a way to find a healthy balance in adult life. I think I have cried more as an adult as I ever did as a child, and I look forward to and value the release.
On that day, and for the following weeks, I cried a lot, but I was still covering a bit. There was still an element of not letting it out. I wasn’t grieving because at that time, I didn’t even recognise grief as an emotion that I would associate to miscarriage. See, I have been on a bit of a learning journey myself and, at that time, I didn’t believe I was faced with a loss, or somebody dying. It was just something that had happened, a terrible episode in life, but not a person.
We had discussed whether we should go through with the house move. We had managed to find a place we loved, found a potential buyer for mine, so the wheels were in motion. We decided that we loved each other, that we were going to try again for another baby anyway and that the house was still the one we would live happily together in.
Selling two flats, a lease extension, a divorce, getting a consent order drawn up, arranging a mortgage, reviewing property options, resolving poor credit to save aforementioned mortgage application. It was the very definition of “all go”. It was becoming more apparent that this wasn’t the darkness before the dawn though – I had no comprehension of what the darkness even was at this stage.
Part two – Keep Going
We had booked ourselves a weekend in Florence as a way to get away and take some time for ourselves. I should mention that I was still suffering from Labrynthitis at this stage – a horrible illness affecting the inner ear that lead to dizziness, panic attacks and mainly travel anxiety. This made the trip a bit more of a challenge, but we were happy to be trying again, and it would give us time away from the all consuming amount of busy at home.
If you are thinking that this is a bit breezy and a bit light-hearted at this stage, then I am only reflecting how it felt at the time. There were thoughts and feelings inside me and Molly that we would realise later, and as mentioned before, there had been a lot of tears, but I know now that the idea of having a baby at some point was keeping us on something of an even keel.
We had a great weekend.
We ate, drank and were merry, seeing the sights and finding out later that we had managed to fall pregnant again while we were away. The news that we had also lost that one didn’t seem like the hammer blow of the first for either of us.
“We’ll just go again” I remember saying.
At the time I meant it wholeheartedly, but the whole thing was taking its toll on me. I was starting to worry about throwing myself into this, about whether we were stretching ourselves too much. I had always said that even though I didn’t want children necessarily, if I did have them, then I would want to make sure it was in the right circumstances – ones in which I could provide a good future for them. Here I was taking on many different changes at once and committing already to looking after two children in some way. It was all so new to me, and my worry was made worse by the flakey nature of Molly’s ex. I couldn’t forgive myself if I went into this and my child suffered as a result of things out of my control.
On top of all that, some of the nagging concerns about being a parent in general had come back. As much as I know this caused what was to come, I would make the same decision a thousand times over, because I was unsure that I wanted this right now, and the only thing to do was to be honest about it.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I know I didn’t do it very well at all. I probably mixed up my anger, confusion and every other emotion I was feeling and made Molly feel more terrible than she was going to anyway. I don’t remember her pleading with me, but she was probably frightened that she would push me away more. After all, this was essentially like throwing up the emotional equivalent of the Berlin Wall at a time when neither of us needed it.
I was relieved I had managed to say it. It was the right thing to do. I was aware that Molly wasn’t happy, but thought that after the initial shock of the decision, she may come to understand my take. After all, I hadn’t completely ruled out having another child. This was the darkness before the dawn.
It still wasn’t. It was still very much just the darkness.
Things happened – we had a lot on. I had moved in with Molly at the end of March and we had plans to be in our new place by May. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I told Molly that I didn’t want to try again, but I imagine it was sometime between April when we were in Florence and June, when we eventually did move.
The new house was exciting. We hoped it would be a new start for all of us. The boys had more space, and living out in the greenery of Kent seemed like a great move for all of us. The problem was, that we now had a very empty fourth room. The joy of moving quickly gave way to the emptiness that Molly was feeling.
Things got progressively worse. I know from my side I was just excited. I remember saying to Molly one night “I am in a home I love, with the woman I love. I even have the car I have wanted for a long time on the drive.” So simple. So materialistic I guess. It was easy for me to make peace with it all though because the main difference with me was that I had never wanted children. I didn’t have that burning, yearning desire Molly did.
Things definitely got worse though. You could feel the tension between us, and my ability to paper over the cracks with thoughts of nice cars and our new life was becoming more and more limited. It was all just a coping mechanism anyway. I found it hard to listen to Molly talk about “our babies” something that even now she finds it hard to forget. It set me on edge – I think at the time I said it “made my skin crawl”. I didn’t want to think about these things, and being reminded so often, and in such emotive terms was really hard, and I just wanted to bury it.
I expect some people are judging me for the above. I can understand it. On paper it reads terribly, but there is just something about all this that you cannot understand unless you have been part of it.
Molly – understandably – certainly couldn’t. She felt that I was being destructive, that it was intended to upset her. I couldn’t describe in terms that could be understood how trapped by it all I felt. I just wanted to escape it. They say that men are inclined to want to fix things – well here is something I couldn’t fix and more than that, had no desire to. The ultimate impotence. I didn’t want to mark occasions, to light candles, to read poems. I couldn’t remember all the dates of everything anyway. I have always been terrible with birthdays etc (typical man, eh?) but this was different. As I mentioned earlier, through either subconsciously burying them, or through occupying my mind with other things, details became lost. Details that were and still are so important to Molly.
I wanted, nay needed, my life back.
I think the first time I made strides towards getting it back was Monday 24th October. Molly had asked me to go and watch a documentary called “Still Loved” with her, all about stillbirth and the parents that had to cope with it. I will admit to being reluctant in some ways, because this represented the things that I had grown to hate. I wanted Molly to want to escape this too, instead she wanted to immerse herself in it more and more. I resolved that I had always like documentaries, and that a night out was never a bad thing in our circumstances.
Within minutes of the film starting, I was in floods of tears. When a father came on to talk about how loss had affected him and how nobody understood and therefore he didn’t talk about it, he was talking about me. Maybe I had been right in saying that I didn’t need to talk about it but I at least needed to hear other people talk about it. The film was amazing (watch it if you haven’t – it is available on the internet) and I truly believe it was the start of things turning around for us.
Things still got worse, but it was the first time I started to get a different perspective, and I think the first time that Molly saw that there was genuine upset and passion for ‘the cause’ in me. We started counselling at Relate soon after. We had terrible sessions and we had good sessions. We both swung from being seemingly happy to being suicidal. I came close to leaving on many occasions. The feeling of “just wanting my life back” stayed with me. All the time I was probably just trying to shock Molly in to getting better herself, which I can now recognise as foolish and dangerous – Molly was not in control of her feelings and certainly didn’t want to be feeling like that.
I’m not sure when the penny finally dropped and I stopped getting angry at my situation and just realised I needed to be there for her.
Many people (men in the main, probably) would say that I have just given up and given in, but it is really not like that. The quickest way for me to get my life back – and I mean my life with Molly – was to be there for her. Not to try and make her better, but just to embrace the darkness. Fuck it, close our eyes and realise it would just get darker, but just hold on and keep going and not give up. We finished up with our Relate sessions when they became a game of diminishing returns and when Molly found a counsellor for her alone. I have never said this is Molly’s problem, and her being the one going to counselling is also not a reflection of anything like that. I certainly wouldn’t rule out more for me in future, but right now, it isn’t what I – what we – need.
When Molly started writing this blog, it was like she had finally found an outlet for some of the emotions that she needed to release, but that I couldn’t cope with being directed towards me. For that, I thank every single person who has read it, or supported Molly in any way with it.
We continue to get better (I believe day upon day) and seeing Molly smile again in the mornings truly lights up my life. We still have along way to go, but for the first time since about last July, I genuinely believe we will get there.
If you are a man reading this, be aware of how you are and what you are saying in this situation. I have realised that certain things, like being in two minds about whether I would ever want another child, have made things harder for Molly to deal with the situation, rather than easier as I imagined it would. Being definite that right now it isn’t happening has helped in a small way, even though it is the opposite of what Molly actually wants.
For you as a couple, be honest about these things. Mainly though, just be there for each other and don’t give up.
During babyloss awareness week in October, the MP Will Quince (a loss parent himself) stated the jaw-dropping fact that 80-90% of relationships break up after babyloss.
Not us. We’re going through hell, but we will just keep going.
By Stuart Hollands