When I was 14, I got pregnant by accident. Unfortunately for me, I didn't realise until I had a miscarriage. My boyfriend at the time was older, and had gone back to South Africa, promising to return in the spring. Then he wrote to me, telling me he was going away with friends for a while to earn some money. He also told me he'd slept with an ex-girlfriend. Upset, distracted, mind wandering, I'd tripped and fallen down the stairs, but not seriously hurt myself. The next day, something was horribly wrong, and I took myself to hospital.
I lay back on the bed. This wasn't happening. This was some terrible mistake. I had wandered into the wrong life by accident. I could not be pregnant. I'd been having periods! Light ones, but still. We'd been careful, every time. Apart from once. We'd started, for no more than a minute or two, then L had hastily stopped and said 'Not a good idea.' I remembered his guilty smile as he grabbed a condom before continuing. But that was back in November, not long before he'd left. Surely I must have noticed something?
Nausea. In early December. But that was because I'd cried so much.
Tiredness. But that was because I'd been so sad.
Missed periods. I hadn't, not really. They'd been lighter than normal, but they'd been there.
Oh god. I put my head in my hands. How could I have been so stupid? Only the most stupid teenage girls got pregnant, everyone knew that. To get pregnant whilst still at school was always portrayed as the worst thing that could happen to you. One girl had left school in the middle of November and my best friend, Helena. had told me the rumour was that she was pregnant. Stupid cow, we'd agreed. Well, who was the stupid cow now?
The kind nurse was back with painkillers. 'You'll be able to go home soon.' She handed me a stack of leaflets. 'There's more information here, about what to expect, how to make sure you look after yourself. You'll need to come back in a few weeks for a check-up. Is there someone who can pick you up and look after you? You shouldn't be on your own.'
'I'll be ok.' I gulped. 'I live up the road, in a' burst of inspiration 'a student house. There are lots of us there.'
They let me go at three. I walked slowly, my body aching, the cramps slowing my progress. The house was empty and I had a shower, watching blood and clots slide down the plughole. I put a towel on top of the bedsheet, lay down and read the leaflets they'd given me. It was terrible. How was I going to be able to hide this from everyone? These cramps could last up to two weeks? I'd tell Helena. No I wouldn't. She'd tell the school, the school would tell my parents, I'd never be allowed to see L again.
Oh god. L.
How could I find the words to tell him? Would he blame me? Would he be happy? Sad? I couldn't tell him. I needed to protect him. He had hurt me, I couldn't do the same to him.
The next ten days were sheer hell. Somehow I got through it, helped by the fact that Helena was off school with tonsillitis so she didn't get suspicious. Every day I filled my school bag with maxi pads, spare pants and tights and went to the toilet between every 45 minute lesson. Sometimes I had to go during the lesson and would employ the old trick of tucking a tampon in my sleeve to show the teacher if they said no, and in so doing, shame them into allowing me to go. My breasts engorged with milk, painfully hard and tight, were noticeably bigger and I winced when I put on a bra.
Twice I bled though the towel and onto the sheets. I got up early and got them onto a hot wash before everyone else got up.
I avoided my mother, nothing unusual in that. I thanked my lucky stars that my stepfather, Hugo, was loaded enough to be able to afford a big enough house that I could flit from room to room to keep out of her way.
I visited Dad at the weekends, as usual. He got drunk, as usual.
The one thing I didn't do was write to L. I didn't know what to say. And besides, I didn't know where he was.
After two weeks, a letter arrived. The trip with friends hadn't been an unqualified success, it seemed. More of an unmitigated disaster. Instead of making money, they'd lost it, wiping out all of L's savings in the process. So now the prospect of a ticket back to the UK was even further away. Brilliant, just brilliant. He was back home now, and had been for over a fortnight, upset that I hadn't been in touch.
For the first time, I began to feel angry. Really angry. Toweringly angry. Furious in fact. For fucks sake! The stupid, stupid fucking idiot! Go off on a road trip with your friends? Fine. Spend a little bit of money? Fine. But throw a fucking bombshell into your girlfriend's lap, leave her to cope with it, no way of contacting you, spend every penny you've saved in order to get back to aforementioned girlfriend, pissing it all away and then have the nerve, the gall, the sheer bloody cheek to claim you're the one suffering. NOT FUCKING FINE.
Never mind that your girlfriend was not just dealing with your infidelity, but was also going through a miscarriage, alone. Watching blood and bits that would have been your child, yours and hers, wash away. Little scraps of a person that would never be. A little voice in my head very reasonably pointed out that L had no way of knowing about the miscarriage – I hadn't even known I was pregnant until I miscarried. I ignored the voice.
What a monumental fuckwit! How dare he? I threw the letter down in disgust and looked around for something to kick. Nothing. I picked up a glass on the table and threw it as hard as I could against the wall. I felt momentarily better as it shattered into hundreds of tiny shards. Like my bloody heart, I thought savagely. Do you know what? That is it. I'm going to ring him right now and tell him what I think of him, the treacherous fucking bastard.
I thundered down the stairs and grabbed the phone, stabbing out the numbers as I stomped back up to my bedroom. Bastard. Lying, cheating, feckless, cruel bastard. I seethed as I heard the unfamiliar buzzing of a South African ringtone.
But of course, he wasn't in. He was at the cinema.
Aaaarrrrghgghghgh! I threw the phone across the room. Disappointingly, it didn't smash against the wall into unfixable uselessness but just thumped onto my pillow, making me even angrier.
'Aaaarrrggghhh!' Fucking, fucking, fucking hell! Too broke to buy a plane ticket. Too broke to pay for a phone call. Not too broke to go to the cinema, to go to the cinema with your friends, or even, maybe, a girl, maybe, even, her, maybe someone else that he's charming and smarming and drawing pictures for, and making them feel special and loved and valued, not stupid and hurt and dirty and, and, and, used.
Finally, eventually, I wrote and told him what had happened. His response was...mixed. Horror that he'd got me pregnant. Relief I wasn't still pregnant. Admiration that I had got through it alone. And a promise that he would return as soon as he could. A promise he broke. Oh, he did return. But too late.
I borrowed books on pregnancy from the school library, obsessively charting each developmental stage. The hospital staff had said I was around eleven weeks when I had the miscarriage, the time at which the umbilical cord would have been fully formed and the foetus at last looking human. Now I would have been twenty weeks, able to discover if I were having L’s son or daughter, halfway through the pregnancy.
I read all I could on motherhood, both technical, practical books and memoirs. Again and again I read how mothers love their children unconditionally, that a mother-child bond can never be broken. But that had never been true in my case. I had no memories of my mother ever expressing any emotion towards me that wasn’t negative. Perhaps that should have told me something about myself, made me realise that there was something intrinsic about me that meant I wasn’t able to be loved. And with distance, L had realised it too. I counted down the days to what would have been my estimated date of delivery, becoming increasingly upset and feeling ever more connected to what would have been our child. I listened obsessively to Green by Joni Mitchell – 'Call her Green, for the children who have made her' – crying as I did so. And Northern Sky, by Nick Drake. And no, the irony of that isn't lost on me. See here No matter how much I told myself that the miscarriage was for the best, I couldn't accept that the baby, our baby, was gone. I believed, with the fervour of a religious zealot, that some vestige of spirit still haunted me, stayed with me.
It was around this time that I started to have the same recurring dream, night after night. I was alone in an unfamiliar forest, surrounded by tall trees and dense undergrowth. The light told me it was late afternoon in the summertime, hazy sunshine filtered through the leafy canopy above. There was a movement in front of me and I instinctively started to walk towards it. I could make out two people, a man and a child, walking hand in hand away from me. I squinted, trying to see them more clearly and began to follow them, catching a glimpse of the man’s face.
‘L! Wait! I’m coming!’ He gave no sign of having heard me, still walking away with the child, gentle laughter coming from both of them. ‘L! Stop!’
I started to run, crashing through the forest, calling to them, but no matter how hard I ran I never got closer, dazzled by the sunlight shining into my eyes. Then the trees began to become thicker and harder to navigate. I saw fewer glimpses of L, the laughter faded away, and the sky began to darken. I came to a dead end, trees surrounding me on all sides, edging closer to me, encircling me, trapping me. Branches reaching out to me, plucking at my hair and clothes. I would scream for L to help me and then wake with a jolt, my eyes wide open and staring.
Was that why I’d had the miscarriage? Our unborn child had sensed there was something wrong within me and allowed itself to slip away. It had protected itself in the only way it could.