By Hadley Freeman
Last Friday, on a bright blue day, I took a train to south-west London. If you never go that way, and I generally don’t, I recommend it as a pleasant day trip: all those green spaces and cute patisseries and shops that only sell wraparound cashmere cardigans. I did not have time to linger, though, as I needed to get back to the office.
But first I had to pick up a bag of ashes so small I could have put it in my jeans pocket.
Last month I had a miscarriage. I’d gone in for a scan that morning – another bright blue day – excitedly expecting to find out the gender of the baby.
“Let’s see what we have,” the technician smiled. Unable to understand what I was looking at on the screen, I instead watched her face and I knew at once, as surely as you know the sound of a door slamming shut.
My doctor sent me straight to the hospital. “But I have a column to write,” I said.
He explained that the baby would have to be taken out of me.
“This is really not how today was supposed to go,” I tried to say, but started to cry instead.
A few hours later, I was lying on a trolley, waiting for the drugs to take effect. I realised I was in the same room where I’d had an abortion 15 years earlier. “And people say biology doesn’t have a sense of humour,” I thought as the drugs hit.
Before I went under, a nurse asked me what I wanted “to be done with it”.
I didn’t understand and said so.
“Do you want us to dispose of it or do you want it to be cremated?”
People are horrified when I tell them this detail, and they are even more horrified when they hear that, three weeks later, I had to go to a crematorium to pick up the ashes of the baby that never was.
This is because a miscarriage is supposed to be forgotten, ignored, never spoken about again, except maybe in a whisper with another woman who has just gone through it, and only once you have healthy babies yourself, so that there is a reassuring happy ending to the tale.
But I have never been able to keep a secret. Anyway, I find the idea that women aren’t supposed to talk about this – that whole “Don’t tell anyone that you’re pregnant until after 12 weeks, just in case you then have to tell them that it died and that would be super awkward!” – verging on the misogynistic.
Women aren’t supposed to talk about so much when it comes to our biology. I am sometimes astonished when I look at a room of women and think about the science experiments we are all silently conducting on ourselves in order just to live our lives.
Who is dosed up with painkillers because of their endometriosis, and who took a hormone-heavy pill that morning to stop a baby from being conceived? Women are superheroes when you consider the amount of biological bullshit they go through – on a monthly basis! – and still manage to get things done.
But I’m also tired of women feeling like they have to get things done, soldiering on with three snaps in a Z formation while blood and babies are literally gushing out of them.
I’m too old now to worry about whether talking about this grosses men out, or lets feminism down, or whatever reason people give for telling women to keep it to themselves.
Because of this silence, people don’t realise how traumatic miscarriage is until it happens to them – I certainly didn’t. Hey, at least you know you can conceive, right? I’d forgotten that it is the loss of a baby, one you felt inside you, one you’d already planned around, one you wanted.
I finally found the crematorium and rushed in, already so late for work, and I thought about that great line from Sex And The City: “I can’t have a baby. I could barely find time to schedule this abortion!” How could I have even considered having another baby? I could barely find time to pick up this one’s ashes!
“What was the name?” the lady behind the desk asked.
Was I supposed to tell her the name I’d picked out for the baby? “It… wasn’t a real baby,” I said, feeling like a massive fraud.
“Of course it was, dear,” she said, handing me a small bag. “Baby Freeman” was written on the packet inside. I’d have made time for you, I thought.
The little bag and I got on the train, and I knew then for sure that I’d never be able to pretend this hadn’t happened.
Then we pulled into King’s Cross and I picked up the bag – full of birth and death, love and fire, all the stuff of life – and went home.
With thanks to The Guardian where this article first appeared. You can read the original here.
Please note that the opinions expressed by users in Tommy’s Book of #misCOURAGE are solely those of the user, who is unlikely to have had medical training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of Tommy’s and are not advice from Tommy's. Reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a qualified health care provider. We strongly advise readers not to take drugs that are not prescribed by your qualified healthcare provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, midwife or hospital immediately. Read full disclaimer