‘An Open Letter to a Friend Forgotten’
is featured in Dear Damsels’ first published paperback,
‘Let Me Know When You’re Home’.
A reflection on friendships lost and insight gained.
I’m sitting in what can only be described as a ‘holding pen’ in a hospital. It’s small with too many chairs, the walls a light cream or pink, the fluorescent light, too bright. There’s a box of tissues on a small coffee table in the corner, and the wall is adorned with a single picture of a plant, or something equally inoffensive, in a cheap wooden frame. Beneath it is a hole in the wall. This is the Bad News room and I have a choice to make: surgery, medical management, or natural. For the first time in years, I think of you.
I couldn’t understand you at first, your t’ick oirish accent. I was always proud of being “a little bit” Irish (which meant I visited twice in my teens and met distant relatives who I never spoke to again), but you were fresh from the Emerald Isle, plonked in the middle of the Big Smoke. You seemed fierce, impenetrable. But you weren’t.
We worked in a too-busy bar, dancing to forbidden 80s pop as we poured, beckoning dithering punters through the crowd with tongue-in-cheek shouts of, “I’ll take you up my end, sir!” We bonded over cheap wine and countless nights in a tiny pub that spilt out into the alleyway, leaning on ledges, feet straddling piss and spilt beer that trickled down from the bins. You can’t hide class.
The almost nightly, “Just for one” meant a bottle, and a bottle meant two, the closing bell ringing with ‘Onto the next!’ as we tumbled down into a dingy speakeasy, leaving London at the door.
It was here, in these toilets where I held your hand and rubbed your back, your tears pooling and smudging mascara onto my chest. My back hurt leaning over you like that, but you wrenched me closer, heaving with the contraction that coursed through you, your body shaking and sweating, the pain palpable.
I coached you through deep breathing, whispering, “It will be okay, it will be okay” – what did I know? Feigning the calm midwife, just like the movies. But this wasn’t labour. This was miscarriage.
This was how you learnt you were pregnant.
“One in four”, we read at the pub the following night. This happens to one in four. Four girls around a wonky table. Four glasses of wine left untouched. Four pregnancy tests bought the next day. Only yours came back positive. Still positive. We scooped you up in our arms, but shared over your shoulder a glance; a silent, selfish sigh of relief. Not me.
You wanted to go out drinking, and who could blame you? So we slapped on mascara and stumbled into the night, drowning in rosé. We danced and laughed and sang to cheesy hits, and I held you tight as the cramps returned and you bled and wept and convulsed, night after night, week after week. Once was torture enough, but this ongoing slaughter was inhumane. This wasn’t like the movies or television soaps at all. Crumpled over public toilets, begging for your baby.
You had been to the doctor but apparently there was nothing they could do. I don’t know now whether this was true, but I know you shouldn’t have gone alone. I know you should have gone back.
But this was bigger than anything I’d experienced before, in my meagre twenty-one years. And quieter, too. Nobody outside of our circle knew. The moment your world imploded was reduced to drunken whispers, silent tears, and secret runs to toilet cubicles.
The trauma and complexities of grief ate you up – how do you navigate the loss of something you never even knew you had? You developed a tremor, a shake that started in your hand and, spreading like wildfire, built and built into the eruption of a seizure. Peace finally settled in the moments of unconsciousness that followed as I held your hand and stroked your sweat-speckled hair, reminding you where you were as you awoke.
You eventually told your family everything that had happened and they came over to look after you. The bleeding subsided, the seizures settled. Our job contract came to an end and the friendship of us ebbed and ebbed away.
“I’m going for a cigarette.”
My head snaps up and I’m back in the holding pen. He stands rooted to the ground a moment before opening the door and leaving. I stare at the hole in the wall; a punch mark, surely.
We heard the heartbeat just a week ago. I had stolen a glance back at the ladies sat nervously in the waiting room, a tip of my invisible hat at their invisible strength. An acceptance that I could not be as strong as them. A gratitude that I would not have to.
But now I am one of those ladies. The dimmed lights and the hum of the machine, the cold between my legs and the hard stare at the ceiling. The silence. The, “I’m sorry”.
I am one in four. I am you.
Only, for me there is something the doctors can do. For me, there is choice: surgery, medical management, or natural. How to pass the products of conception. How to get rid of our dead baby. But rather than grief (that comes later), I am struck by guilt, because I know exactly what choice to make. Because you led me right to it.
And you stay with me, the memory of you, as I’m enveloped by the kindness of the nurses in the hospital. As the delicious cocktail of morphine and anaesthetic travels up my arm and smudges my brain into a luscious cloud. As I awake with the euphoric, drunken joy of, “it’s over”.
And I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that my trauma washed gently over me with anaesthesia, whilst yours engulfed you like fire.
I’m sorry that, although I held your hand through the flames, I never stayed to soothe your wounds.
And I’m sorry that I never told you I was sorry – for your broken heart, for your suffering, for the loss of your baby.
“They may not be in our arms, but they stay forever in our hearts.”
I suppose it’s the same with friendship, too.
*All views and opinions are my own. No two pregnancies or pregnancy losses are the same and, if given the option, choose what works best for you and your situation.
For miscarriage support, please head to Chapter Two: Spring where you will find links to various support organisations.
Miscarriage is usually a story that’s kept silent, so not only am I chuffed that ‘An Open Letter to a Friend Forgotten’ is mingling amongst some fantastic pieces of female-led writing, but hopefully it will also help make baby loss and infertility a little less taboo.