At the beginning of the year I set myself a challenge of writing for 30 uninterrupted minutes every day. On Day 9 I stopped. It hadn’t been my intention to do so. I’d proclaimed that I could manage 365 days but by the ninth day not only had the idea for iris been cemented by my free-flow writing but the stark reality was that I just wasn’t getting 30 minutes to myself. I wasn’t even getting 10.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across what I had written and among my scribbles found a letter I had drafted to Benjamin Brooks-Dutton. Ben’s wife was killed in November 2012. Two months after her death Ben started writing about his life as a widower and raising their two-year-old son.
The letter I started writing was in response to one of his blog posts that I had read almost a year before entitled ‘grieving nothing’: www.lifeasawidower.com/2013/02/23/grieving-nothing/
I decided it was time to finish my letter to Ben and his son. I wrote to Ben privately and he kindly agreed that I could reproduce my letter here:
Dear Ben and Jackson
I have been an avid follower of your blog since seeing you on BBC Breakfast early in 2013. I was deeply moved by your loss and although I had not lost a loved one, as such, I felt I could learn a lot from your writings about grief, which might help me talk to friends about their own losses or perhaps prepare me for the inevitable loss of those close to me. I recently shared your blog with two people one of whom had suddenly lost her partner before Christmas. The other is working on a happiness project and I thought your post entitled happy christmas (12.12.13) might be of interest. I have not heard from either person about their thoughts on your blog but as I lay in bed last night I was haunted by one of your posts about grief for yours and Desreen’s second child who can never be. I can’t remember when you wrote the entry but it has stayed with me ever since. I’m reluctant to revisit it in case it affects what I write next. But your grief relating to a second child felt in some ways similar to my own for a child my husband and I will never have and never meet.
Like many couples my husband and I used to imagine what our future child would be like. Who he or she would resemble. Which characteristics and personality traits he or she would inherit. What we would wish for in their future and in our future as a family. What would be the best and worst personality and look combinations. We also used to joke about what it would be like if one or the other of us had had a child with some of the ‘characters’ from our past. Or present! Those imaginings were happy times and once we were ‘ready’ (whatever that means) to build our tribe, we believed, as you do, that it would just happen. It didn’t.
After several years of trying for a baby we discovered that not only would we never be able to conceive naturally but the only way we would be likely to have a child would be if we used donated gametes. In under five seconds a man in a white coat destroyed everything we thought we knew of each other and everything we thought we knew of what our future could look like. Those whoozy, sped up, slowed down, whirring words wrapped around and warped our brains as we gripped the hospital chairs. But we felt grateful that we still had each other. And then came the next whammy from the man in the white coat: ‘most couples don’t survive this’.
Whilst I try and understand your grief for Desreen through your blog, it is the loss of your future children that has deeply resonated with me and, I imagine, those who are involuntarily childless. But also with those who are having difficulty conceiving their second child.
There is very little support for those experiencing secondary infertility. Outsiders looking in might wonder why someone would so desperately want a second child when they already have one. But it’s precisely because they already have one that they so strongly desire another. To share in all those magical firsts, to see siblings laughing and squabbling together, and to see ourselves and our partners combined in an independent, living and breathing being. The physical representation of our love for each other. A first child is a constant reminder of what could be. Of what could have been.
But what has also struck a chord is the grieving process that anyone using donated eggs, sperm and embryos experiences. This might be a heterosexual couple grieving for the loss of the partner they love, a single person grieving for the missing love in their life, a same-sex couple who are unable to use the gametes of the person they so desperately love. Each of these individuals at some time will be very likely grieving to some extent for a form of lost love. A love that can’t be replicated in the very natural and human process of wanting and having our partner’s genetic children. And that is so exceptionally painful.
I’m so very sorry for your losses Ben and Jackson. Someone said to me when I was in the depths of despair that my pain wouldn’t ever go away but that it would change shape. It wasn’t particularly what I wanted to hear at the time. I wanted the pain obliterated.
But she was right. I now have a child conceived with the help of a very special person. Even though we were told that as a couple it was unlikely we would survive the process with our relationship intact, my husband and I made our much wanted and longed-for child together and with all of our love. And we give our child all of our love. Although we haven’t directly lost each other physically in the way that you have lost Desreen, the missing part of ‘us’ has been enormous. We are very different people now for our experiences. I spent a long time grieving. Our pain has changed shape. I love my child but every single day I feel a sadness for what will never be.
PS Jackson’s ‘it’s not raining, it’s happy’ print is hanging in our child’s bedroom.