“Jenny, where are you? Call me back, now! C’mon, Jenny. I’m getting worried now. Please. Call me.”
There was urgency in his voice. It was the twelfth message he’d left in the last hour. I already miss him. This morning he said goodbye as usual and after kissing my forehead he drove off to work. A regular Tuesday we both thought. But it wasn’t to be.
I want more than anything to go home to Paul, but I can’t. I know that he won’t understand. And, anyhow, I can’t now. It’s too late. There’s no turning back after this.
Paul has been the same since I can remember. He’s the best husband I could’ve asked for. He’s patient and supportive – but then we both are to each other, so that’s nothing spectacular between us, but he’s the bring-you-breakfast-in-bed type of man that you read about in stories, but he’s real. I was always the lazy-I-don’t-like-mornings person. And right now he’s pulling his hair out, well that’s just a phrase really because Paul has shaved his head for the last five years or so. It suits him, the bald head, the smoothness. He does still grow his beard though, which I love – it makes him even more good looking. Although he hasn’t really changed his image much since our wedding. And he can still fit in his wedding suit, because he’s always doing something – football, squash, weight training … I sometimes lose track of all the things he does. He says exercise gives him more energy. It’s never made sense to me, but it works for him.
He stays the same and I change more every day. I didn’t plan this, and I usually plan everything. But right now I feel like my mind has been invaded by alien thoughts that are controlling everything I think or do. I guess it’s just a matter of time before someone says that I’m having a mental breakdown. And they could be right, I’ll check with the overwhelming convictions residing in the core of my brain to find out. I mean I’ll check if I can be bothered.
Opposites attract they say, and where exercise is concerned I guess they are right with me and Paul, whoever they are that say all these things. You see, I lost my will power to exercise, to care about anything, in a packet of biscuits. Bourbons I think they were at the time. I stopped discriminating over packets ages ago – that was when days like Tuesday started and ended in familiar shapes. I eat anything now. Since I’ve got no chance of fitting into my wedding dress again it doesn’t matter. It’s not like we’ve any likelihood of renewing our vows. Paul’s never going to forgive me for this.
I started eating more after we’d lived in our new home for about three years. We were totally settled in, all the boxes were unpacked and the rooms decorated to our own style. We were feeling quite satisfied with ourselves. Even smug, yes, we were smug. I’ll admit to that now. We both had good jobs that we loved, a great circle of family and friends, our beautiful home, in fact back then we had all the things we wanted in our lives.
The people who lived in our house before us had bizarre tastes I think, but we saw the potential behind their decor. They were more1970s style hippies, we’re more clean lines, organised storage and high tech. When we bought that house we were ready to start the next chapter of our lives, but … nothing happened. So I ate more. That was something I got good at, because in every other area my body betrayed me.
“Shall I renew your gym membership? The notification’s come through for both of us,” Paul’s voice was cautious and gentle that evening after we had eaten. We were sitting on the sofa as the TV watched us from the corner of the room. For months I’d been like an angry bear around him. The energy emitting from me was toxic. I’d had too much time to think between hospital and doctor appointments. After I gave up work my days became saturated with charts, needles, hormones and timing. There was an optimum time for everything. The only problem was my body didn’t get the memo. It remained out of sync.
But Paul didn’t do anything wrong. All he wanted was a family, with me. Children who had his curly hair, and maybe his mother’s dimples, or someone who had my smile – when I used to smile a lot – or my eyes. It’s what we both wanted. Then we started trying. Trying, and repeatedly failing. So, no. I didn’t want to renew my gym membership. That was just something else to fail at. I cut my eyes at him and he turned away unsure what to do next. Then moments later he got up and walked out of the room. I was instantly sorry, but I didn’t apologise.
I lived on the edge of anger every day. At first I blamed it on the injections. I did the ones in my stomach, then Paul took over and did the ones in my butt. My skin doesn’t normally bruise, but repeatedly puncturing myself with hormones leaves dark purple bruises that look like squashed blueberries plastered under my skin. Yet in true Marquis de Sade fashion I continued with the ritual for over two years.
“Is it worth all this pain?” Paul asked one morning, after I burst into tears again. I hadn’t been sleeping as usual, so I snapped at him again, “Just stick it in, please!”
“But, you’re crying …”
“Jen, can’t we … you know, stop this now?”
“Jen, c’mon. We can do something else. We can try …”
“If you hadn’t noticed, Paul, this is me trying! I’m trying to have a baby, your baby, my baby. Just stick the damn needle in my ass, please!”
“Remember … remember all this,” he is hesitant with his words and his movements, he tries to hold me, I reject him again.
“All this,” he is pointing to the lines of medicine bottles and the needles that look suspiciously like an addict’s drug paraphernalia, “it’s no guarantee. They did tell us that.”
“Paul. Are you going to do it or not?” I scream at him. I’m desperate, I don’t recognise myself any more. The only thing I am familiar with every day is fear. The fear of more failure and my firework-style emotions.
In the middle of the experiment to alter the biology of my body I discover that my relationships are all crumbling around me. I don’t accept that I am the common denominator until … well, until I’m surrounded by piles of dust.
Mum, and the aunts give me the look all the time, but they don’t say anything anymore. It’s the same at every wedding, funeral or party. Just two words, “Any news?”
When I shake my head they return to sharing out the food again, or doing unnecessary tidying up. The pity in their eyes is mixed with the shame that gnaws at me from inside. I know that I’m a failure. I can’t make my body be different. They know it’s my fault. I know it’s my fault. You see, Paul had a child when he was younger, a previous relationship, so it’s me that’s not working properly, not him.
“I feel like a fraud.” I confide to my diary because people find it awkward to talk to me now. Or do I find it uncomfortable because I’m checking them checking me? Especially my female friends. Especially my female pregnant friends or any mother. Literally any woman with a child, I feel their eyes bore into my permanently vacant uterus. All the random people I see in the street. I’m looking at them and I feel them judging my because of my emptiness. I’m an outsider now because I can’t do it as easily as they did.
“My body feels hollow, like the bits that are supposed to be there are missing or not joined up properly, and I can’t see what’s going on or move any of it around. I wish I had something else to focus on apart from this. Paul is scared of me now, I see it in his eyes. I’m sorry, but I can’t stop, I have to fix my body. I’ll do anything it takes to be a mother. I never thought I’d have to ‘try’. I thought I’d just ‘be’ pregnant one day, like my sisters. It’s not fair. Why me? Why do I have to be the monster? Frankenstein?”
I was a visitor to the hospital that day. Tuesday it was. I went to see my sister who had another baby. I both wanted to and didn’t want to be there, but because it’s a family tradition and I’m not allowed to be the one who breaks the rules, I went. The babies popped out of Emma like she was shelling peas. Her and Stuart have four children now. Three boys and a girl. The boys came first, the twins Simon and Saul, then Patrick, and finally, well I think it’s finally, Chloe arrived. She’s perfect, and looks a bit like our mother. Beautiful ebony skin and brown-blue eyes. She is stunning, and she smells like all newborn babies. Delicious, fresh and new. The whole family is there. We congratulate Emma and Stuart and then the awkwardness in the room reaches out and grabs my ankles. I excuse myself to go to the gift shop. I need space, and as I leave the room I hear it filled with the sound of them all exhaling relief at my absence.
I walk around the hospital grounds for about an hour before I make my way back to Emma’s room. I ignore the ringing phone in my pocket. Acidic thoughts rise in my throat as I reflect that there is scarcely time to get used to each new baby before Emma’s stomach is swelling again, and our family is not even Catholics. I don’t see what their hurry is. But I love the babies, all of them. I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with being the best auntie there is. Maybe that’s my destiny. That could be the way to bury the feelings of constant loss when I instead focus on celebrating the lives of these beautiful innocent babies that have joined our large family, and then I’ll continue to privately mourn the non-existence of my own.
I can smell the sympathy that people have for me when they see that I’m still not expecting. But I’m always expecting, I’m expecting my own miracle, it just doesn’t come to me no matter how many babygros I put under the pillow, what statues I rub, or how full the moon is. I remain empty.
If they do talk to me about my barren womb it’s usually words that I want to grab from their loose lips and stab them in the eye with.
“You’ll have a full, rich life without children,” they suggest. “Imagine all those exciting, different holidays you can go on!”
“You and Paul will have such adventurous experiences now,” my cousin said in a phone call as his children were playing in the background, “you’re not tied down.” Karl won the prize for the most insensitive comment of that week: that’s one of the regular awards that I give out to people I interact with. I have to do something to amuse myself as I mostly pace alone with my thoughts weighed down by biscuits and my internal inadequacy.
Dr Fitzwilliam, one of the line of doctors who stared at charts, then at me, said that it often took time for the drugs and treatment to take hold. I felt like I ran out of time and then I saw her, just lying there, in the corridor. I’d just come back on the ward, on my way back from the gift shop. I had a soft yellow duck for Chloe.
The nurse had turned away for something and abandoned her.
So, I took her. I had to.
Immediately she filled the hole in my heart. The years of mourning disappeared because I found her. She’s perfect for me.
I call her Jasmine. I’m her mother now.
I’ve turned my phone off so she can sleep in my arms undisturbed. I’ll be her mother for as long as we remain in this linen cupboard.
© Marjorie H Morgan 2018