Thought Fox

 

I recently read Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, and was completely blown away by it. It is an incredible and unique work, funny and moving and just brilliant. I then went back to a bit of Hughes and Crow which felt like revisiting an old friend. It was one of the first poetry collections I read. It felt strange to be looking back to the place where my love, my obsession with poetry started. It was always there, I think, or the desire to write has always been there, but it didn’t appear fully manifest itself until that first handful of books I read. feathers made me feel like that again, it is that good. Back then I didn’t know what to do or where to start, only that I wanted to write. I took an OU introduction to poetry course, really I just wanted to find a way in, and after that I couldn’t stop. Fast forward a few years and here I am, trying to transition into a full time freelance poet and writer, and it’s taking a lot of work and a lot of perseverance. The arts are not very well funded under this government and there are not that many paid opportunities. Teaching jobs too are scarce with everyone applying for the same jobs. But I figure the right thing will come up at some point, if I just keep trying. In the mean time I run my little business and remind myself to be happy with what I have, to ‘want what I have’. In Buddhism the source of pain is desire, it’s the desire for things that causes pain. Being frustrated and grumpy about feeling over worked is really born out of a desire to move forward and get further with my writing career, but that’s moving forward with me doing exactly what I am doing, it’s just a slwo process. I’m trying very hard not to stress. I had a bad day yesterday which ended with me accidently dropping a bottle of wine on the kitchen floor and smashing it and crying about it, which seems a bit silly but was probably what I needed.

I’m having quite a full on work period at the minute. I have been working long hours on the business and averaging between ten and thirteen miles of walking every day as a dog walker. On top of that I’ve had a lot of horse Faecal Egg Counts coming in and I have taken on some paid mentoring, which has been the best bit by far.

I love the mentoring process. Each person I help with their writing is different, every one has different needs. Sometimes a mentee will be quite far on in their career but will be finding it difficult to make the next step without someone to guide them. I find lack of confidence to be the biggest stumbling block between a writer writing poems and sending them off for potential publishing. Sometimes it’s straightforward critiquing, perhaps a writer is at the point of having enough poems for a collection or a pamphlet, but wants help with content, proofing, ordering. Sometimes a writer is struggling to find their own voice, and being able to offer exercises that help them find their own poems and their own style is a great feeling. I get a lot out of it. I’ve been lucky enough to have benefitted from mentoring and guidance from some amazing poets, and I like passing some of that on.

The only problem with such a busy workload is that I am not getting the time to write my own stuff. I’m catching up with uni work at the weekends, and applying for lecturing jobs too. Ideally I’d like to start reducing the amount of time spent dog walking and replacing it with more freelance work, teaching and mentoring, but until something regular comes along I will be out in all weathers picking up poo and walking dogs of various obedience. I do love being outside, in fact I plan my PhD work while I’m out walking, I write poems in my head, I take photos, I explore the local area, I watch animals, birds, but I’d still like to start scaling that part of the business back. I have spent thousands of pounds on my education, and fourteen years studying to get to this point. Admittedly, four years of that was doing my BSc, part time, for my previous career as a pathology biomedical scientist, but you get my point. By the time I finish my PhD I will have been studying for nineteen years. Fifteen years of which I will have been studying English literature, creative writing and poetry. It’s probably about time I started doing something with that. What’s holding me back? Partly it’s a confidence thing, that little voice (not so little sometimes) which yells FRAUD! or YOU’RE GOING TO COCK THIS UP or WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? or YOU’RE TOO WORKING CLASS FOR ACADEMIA holds me back. I end up rushing applications for things because I can’t bear to think of myself putting myself forward, I’m embarrassed to think that I might do something I love and perhaps be paid to do it, because I might be talented or educated etc. It’s quite exhausting to live with low self-esteem and self-doubt. However, one thing that never ceases to thrill me is filling in the higher education section of a job application form. I go all twinkly and the little negative voice inside shuts the f*ck up for a bit and is replaced with one that says I DID THAT and I WON THAT and I’VE BEEN PUBLISHED THERE and that’s the voice I listen to.

You have to find your own way to where you want to be. There’s no right or wrong way to go about becoming a poet or a writer. I think if you’re going to be a writer, like being an artist, you will just be it, you won’t learn it. You’ll learn tools and skills and learn about the giants you’re standing on, but you won’t learn the thing that comes bubbling up out of your chest, like ectoplasm, desperate to form itself on the page. That’s the thing that can’t be taught. Ted Hughes famously abandoned his English literature degree because he felt it was stunting his creative writing. I have felt like that at times. But I think I have too much of a working class mentality to assume that I will make money from writing, and yes, shock horror, I want to be paid for my work. I must have a back up plan and that is lecturing, teaching, mentoring and that’s what my education has bought me, something on paper that says I am qualified to do this. The negative voice can’t argue with that very well. And I love it, I really do. I love learning and I love teaching, especially one to one. But I never forget Hughes and the Thought Fox, and that decision to rely on his wits and on his talent, and I find it reassuring, because the lad did OK, didn’t he.

Here’s Hughes talking a little about the poem, and reading it. He’s a story-teller and a half.

The Thought Fox

 

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A Blackbird’s Skeleton

A couple of weeks ago, after a few stressful non stop work weeks, I decided to take a full weekend off and do some gardening. It was beautiful weather, I wore shorts, I wore sandals. I stayed out in the sun and dug over a veg bed, planted some withered looking potatoes, planted cauliflowers, carrots, corn on the cob, all the C plants. I cleaned out the rabbits really thoroughly and planted some pansies in the back and then came around to the front and started weeding, viciously yanking the wick-weeds up and out, sweating in the sunshine and feeling the warm earth under my hands. I think of myself as a person that is close to nature. I feel much more comfortable with my tongue pressed to the roof of my mouth, not speaking for hours at a time, walking on tussocks and stones and watching the life around me, than I do being with people. I can’t live in a city, I can’t live in a town. I did try, but felt like I was too far away from a circulatory system. I live in a little village with no through road. It is quiet. During the day when everyone is at work it is even quieter. Having been a dog walker and small animal boarder for three years (and a writer, of course!) I feel like I have found a way to  be inside nature. Even more than just enjoying it, I feel like I am a part of it. I know my area very well, I know my walks well and know when the plants will be changing, minutely, season to season, though I couldn’t tell you what they are. I know when spring is just turning, I know when the air starts to smell different, when the sun starts to have warmth, I swear I can smell the green, I can smell the plants growing. On my gardening weekend I reduced the knots in my back to strings, then replaced them with more knots, the sort you get from being absorbed with planting.

As I was grasping and pulling and turning the earth with my trowel I discovered this tiny skeleton lying just under the hedge near the front window. It’s a blackbird skeleton, entirely intact, no flesh on it, but held together with magic. Or sinew. Who knows. I know it’s a black bird skeleton because it had a single blackbird feather attached to the tail. It was a female, that smokey brown colour gave it away. It stopped me in my tracks. I picked it up, carefully, on my trowel to look at it, turning it to see the beak and the eye hole, I took a photo to show my friends and my mum. Then I laid it down again. It’s still out there now. I haven’t decided wether to put it in a box and keep it with my nests and egg shells and thornback ray vertebrae. Part of me wants to just leave it there, bleaching in the sun,  because it feels like it means something to me, it feels like a reminder to me. I keep seeing it as I’m walking out to the car, or walking out with the dog, or coming back with my shopping. My life is whisking on around it and it stays there, perfectly composed, the inside of a thing that trilled and flew and disappeared back into the ground, efficiently destroyed, except for this collection of brittle remembrance.

There were several things that struck me upon finding it. The first was how long a birds legs are, how they are bent up and all we see are the bits from the, I guess you would equate it with the heel, to the toes, bent. What looks like a backwards facing knee is not. The knee is tucked up in the feathers, in the body. If you have ever seen an x-ray of a penguin’s knees you will get what I mean. Shocking truth: penguin legs are not just feet.

The second is how utterly tiny it is, how intricate and elaborate and complex the tiny mechanisms beneath the bird exterior is. How brave a bird must be to go out into the world at all when all there is to you is miniaturised liver and spleen, a tiny blob of a heartbeat, lungs like sugar puffs. How does a thing so tiny emit a song so sharp and so loud that it wakes me on a morning, through the double glazing?

The third, how human it is. How same. Look at the picture, it is like a Saxon burial, crouched foetal like, the curve of the skull facing down, as if the world is at its back and it is protecting itself. It’s strange and strangely stunning to know that my skeleton, my big brash solid skeleton, follows the same basic design features as this palm sized flutterer. That, indeed, my heart beats in the same way, my brain sits in my skull in the same way. I am bird. We seem so keen, as a species, to put distance between ourselves and the animals. You’d think it might have changed over the years. I’m currently looking at Darwinism and the Victorians as part of my PhD, looking at how we position ourselves and how we look at other animals. I’m looking at how poetry speaks about us as a species, how this language of emotion tells us about ourselves. I have to look at context, what has shaped our mindset, to do this. When Darwin came along with On te Origin of the Species it shook us the hell up. We had bumbled along being God’s ambassador on earth, in charge of all the animals, and then suddenly we were just another arm on the evolutionary tree, cousins to the apes, just another animal. We have always fought to be above that, we have always differentiated ourselves, as if different equates to less than. A pig has the same emotional capacity, the same ability to fear and feel pain, the same, or even more, intelligence as a dog. But one is on the inside, and one is on the outside, and the thing is, neither of them know. A bird is a bird is a bird, anything with a skeleton is playing snap with each other on the inside, and no one can see it, because all we seem to see is colour and shape. Feathers, fur, dark skin, light skin, religion, difference. How exhausting.

Still, it’s easy to have kind thoughts about the blackbird, they’re lovely, aren’t they. I love seeing them with their beaks full of worms, heads cocked, assessing the risk you pose, before carrying on with the task in hand. Perhaps it’s not as easy to feel kindness towards, say, a lizard, or a flat fish, or anything that frightens or repulses. But isn’t that what it’s about? Thinking higher than the response, being kind because rationally we know we all share a skeleton? I don’t know what the answer is, but the blackbird skeleton makes me want to be kinder to everything. There is a finite amount of material in the universe. We have all already been a blackbird and a pig and a chair and a tree. We just can’t remember the reincarnations.

Poets are drawn to skulls. We want to see ourselves in death, we can’t quite imagine that there really is a skull underneath the fleshy face, the tendons, the rigging, the pullies controlling our movements. We can’t believe we have a mechanism at all until we see it. I’ve come across a few skeleton poems lately, but this is such a good one: Robert Hull’s Deer Skull.

 

Enjoy

Deer’s Skull

 

 

Poem for my daughter on her birthday

Seven

I take a stiff bristled brush
to scrub the green
from the gold letters of your name,

take the miniature fence down,
cut the grass back to an acceptable length.
I remove the bird bath,

the terracotta dish of daffodils,
the tiny Buddha statue.
The tall, plastic plant holder I lift out,

from where it’s half buried to keep it upright
and look down into the hole it leaves.
Something has laid white pearl eggs

in the dark. I would reach my hand
down into the earth and fish further,
worm it right down through the clay

until I’m up to the shoulder
and feathering a fingertip touch
to the corner of your coffin,

feeling for the smooth round
of the edge. It would be like holding your hand,
reassuringly. I’m still here, I’d say,

don’t worry, I love you,
you are not forgotten.

3am

Tomorrow would have been my daughter’s seventh birthday, if she’d lived. In many ways I do still think of it as her actual birthday, not an anniversary. She did, after all, actually live, it was only in the moment of being delivered that her heart stopped. She was a part of myself in a way that I don’t think I will ever quiet get right in a poem. After the resuscitation attempt had failed, and I was brought round from the anaesthetic, they lifted her onto me, wrapped in a blanket. Seven years later I can’t remember what colour the blanket was without looking at the photos. I do remember her weight, and how much bigger, though still tiny, she was than I had expected. I remember being surprised that she was an actual, real baby, she was an actual real child and she was so strangely different from Chris and I, a whole entire person of her own, but you could literally see both of us in her and it felt, still feels like, the most incredible miracle. I remember her warmth, she stayed warm for a long time. When I held her, and I felt her warm body through the blanket, I could not accept that she was dead. She didn’t look dead, she looked very peaceful, sleeping, not traumatized at all. I think I once told someone who she’d looked angry when she was born. I don’t know why I did that, because she didn’t. I think I’d been angry, inside, about everything that had happened, and not able to express that. Anyway, she didn’t. She was pale, red-headed, (so much red hair!) long of limb, and incredibly perfect.

Seven years must seem like a long time to people who aren’t grieving. When I look at photos of myself from seven years ago I’m so fresh-faced, so young. I think about how far technology, politics, the world has moved on and it must be, from the outside, a long time. It’s not. not really, except when it is.

This is the first year that Chris and I haven’t been able to get the day off work together for her birthday. I don’t exactly feel guilty, but it does feel like things are changing and every change is difficult to assimilate. Each time we move a step further away from being defined by our grief it is hard. I’m part of a some online baby loss support groups, but I’ve never felt I can properly connect to them. Partly because our story is a whole mess of different traumas (infertility, IVF, recurrent losses, clinical negligence and now childlessness) it’s difficult to find people in similar boats, and partly because the people who have just lost their children are in a different place. They are looking at me and wondering how long they will feel like they do, like I did. I once asked one of my therapists how long grief was supposed to last and was incredulous that I would be crippled by grief for at least two years! It actually took six to feel human again. I had to change almost everything in my life to get away from the, I hesitate to use the word trigger because it feels over used, but that’s exactly what they were, triggers. I left my job working at the hospital where we had problems with our maternity care, I couldn’t walk past the room where we had been treated, I couldn’t do that every day, I couldn’t talk on the phone to the maternity units as if nothing had happened. I was constantly anxious. I had already lost some friendships and felt I needed to distance myself from others, a lot of people I knew couldn’t cope with it all and avoided me or struggled to talk about it with me. Some friends couldn’t cope with the fact that it took over my life and for a long time I couldn’t connect with anyone on anything, they got empathy fatigue. It happens.

This all sounds like a story of woe, which it is, of course. But walking away from that job allowed me to be stronger, allowed me the freedom to breathe and think and allowed me to move forward in a direction that I probably never would have had the guts to go in, before. My marriage is still strong, I have a good life, I love my life and it’s hard to imagine seven years along, it’s hard to remember just how utterly destroyed we were by what happened. Except sometimes it’s not. It’s seven years tomorrow and for the last two weeks I have been waking up at 3am, unable to get back to sleep. My anxiety levels have bubbled up so that I am worrying about my pet rabbits all the time, i am worried my elderly cat is about to die, I am worried about exposing myself and making myself vulnerable on facebook. Through the day I have been absently clock watching, ghost Wendy, heavily pregnant and still unaware of what was coming, has been wandering in and out of my day, doing the things she was then: moaning, gleefully, about how hard it was to get up the stairs with her whale like preportions, she has been setting up the Moses basket, snoozing in the afternoons, sitting in the garden. Present Wendy wants to warn her. But can’t. Nothing can ever change this.

While I was in the wonderful bereavement suite in Leeds,  I woke at 3am and watched my daughter illuminated by lamp light. It was unseasonably warm and we had a fan in the room. I remember that. I remember the sound of it. I can hear it now as if it happened yesterday. That isn’t seven years ago. All those people on the support sites that have just lost their children are in the crater of a huge explosion. I am not, but I fall into these debris holes, these pot holes every now and again. I wake at three and I cry quietly for a while, and then I usually write a poem or two. This year I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write a poem for her, but it’s there, it’s on its way. I miss her. That’s all.

x

 

An update: News on the new book, news on the crowdfunding for baby clothes, and the feeling of fresh starts and future writings

It’s been a while. Apologies for my tardiness, I’ve been getting my ducks in a row. They are now aligned with military precision and I can get back to updating regularly. First things first, I wanted to say how absolutely delighted and humbled I was by the response to the Crowdfunding page I set up just before Christmas. My intention was to raise enough money to buy twenty baby outfits for the bereavement suite in Leeds. I’d originally wanted to get them there for Christmas, so that if someone ended up using the suite on Christmas day, when everyone else was enjoying their Christmas, that person would know that they were thought of, that their family mattered too. However, life got  in the way, some of the clothes took longer to arrive than anticipated and I did not get organised in time. I’m utterly delighted to say that it is done, we surpassed our goal and all of the baby clothes have arrived. The picture at the top of the page shows them in all their glory. They will be winging their way to Leeds tomorrow. We managed to raise £290 thanks to your generosity, and this is what it bought:

Four fleecy, soft baby blankets and teddies

Three knitted cardigans

THIRTY SIX individual baby outfits

THIRTY SIX!!!! I couldn’t believe it. That is a huge haul and will make an enormous difference to the suite, which runs on charitable donations. I’d worried that I would struggle to choose and buy the clothes, I thought it might be too painful. Some of them were Matilda sized, and picking them out of their wrappers, holding them up, looking at their tiny cuteness was very hard. It brought back memories of buying the clothes for her, the excitement of planning. The utter grief of having drawers and drawers of beautiful outfits that she’d never wear. But I think I have reached a point in my life where it is no longer rubbing the wound raw to do this sort of thing. In fact it felt wonderful. It felt like breathing again, of being able to be close to the source of the pain, and to know that i won’t die from it. A lot of the outfits were super tiny preemie size, as many of the babies that die are premature, like my little girl was, so it’s important to have clothes for them.

prem clothes 2

And it was important to me that the clothes were the sort of clothes that I might buy, or any new mother might buy. Not just ‘make do in an emergency’ clothes but pretty, bright, cute clothes.

prem clothes 3

I avoided anything with slogans such as ‘mummy’s little miracle’ on them because, obviously, the person holding their tiny little baby will feel both blessed and completely robbed of any sort of miracle. I think we did a good job. And it’s a weight off my mind to know it’s done. So THANK YOU.

The next piece of news is that my MA is now completed, my manuscript went off and was received. I wrote 68 poems in total for it, and they’re good. In fact they will form my next, next collection, but I want to take a year to really work over them properly. These poems are all about body image, acceptance of body, without wanting to sound too cliched, they are about learning to love yourself and your body, about accepting that you are beautiful whether your face fits expectations or not. The IVF and miscarriage and still birth are large in this collection, it is a story of survival. I hated my body and myself for a long, long time, right from childhood. There’s a lot of childhood stuff in there and a lot of love poems to my body, my poor old body, which did its best. It’s a very personal collection of poems, very honest and it was a fiery collection to write. I feel like I have gone through something with it, and again it feels like a weight off  knowing it’s done and ready to work on. And now I can throw myself fully into the PhD which is super, super exciting.

Next news, and here is the biggie…I have a new book coming out with Valley Press ! I am so excited. It’s my second full collection, my fourth collection in all and it’s called Gifts the Mole Gave Me. It’s about searching for roots, about being inside of nature, about discovery. I think there are grief poems in there, but it’s not about grief. I’ll be talking more about it as we get closer to the launch date. I recently had some photos taken for the publicity stuff, and that was a big thing. It is rare that I would allow someone to take my photo. I am the selfie queen, I can make myself look good in a selfie with filters and angles and just the right lighting. To give myself up to someone else and trust them to see me not as hideous, not as something to be hidden and changed to fit in or to look good, but to just take photos because here, this is what you look like: not a monster…that is a big thing for me. I don’t think I realised quite how big until I did it, and got the photos back. They are wonderful, natural, lovely. taking the photo

The photographer is Phil Rudland who is so good, I love how he uses textures and colour. He was very patient with me in my ‘Minnie mouse’ heels. I can’t walk in them, they are strictly for standing about in. I sank in the sand when we went on the beach. When I felt self conscious he just let me get on with it. he just kept clicking away.  He’s done such a good job. I don’t have them on my computer just yet, but when I do I’ll post one or two here.

After the MA was handed in I decided to take a week off study and poetry and do all the de-cluttering that I have been yearning to do while I have been too busy. And I did. It feels like a fresh new start, a step forward to where I want to be. I feel quite, quite happy right now.

I’ll be setting up a blog specifically to track my PhD and to share the poems I come across, I think a lot of creative writing PhDs happen behind the closed doors of the university, I’d like to share the exciting journey, and the incredible poetry I’ve been discovering. I hope you’ll follow it when it’s up and running.

I think that’s me caught up. It will now be a weekly blog, see you next week.

x

The Much More Positive New Year’s Post

I survived another Christmas. Actually, I should change that, I enjoyed another Christmas. Though I drank too much. To counteract the fact that I am now probably 90% proof, I have cut out all alcohol for January so I can reset my liver and my mind and remind myself how to relax and how to enjoy myself without a drink in my hand. It had become a habit, quickly, and I want it to be a treat.

Last year my New Year’s resolution was something about feeling more confident in my writing, not calling my books small or little, not undoing my career by referring to myself as a space filler at readings or saying that a book sale is only a book sale because of pity etc etc etc. This year, I guess more of the same. Except more. This year I draw myself up to my full height and start putting myself out there in ways that are challenging, frightening. Last year I felt I was growing my wings, this year I fully intend on using them.

This is also the year that I complete my MA in creative writing. I am planning on completing a few months early,  in March. I want to get it done so that I can fully involve myself in the PhD. I don’t think I am going to get the distinction that I wanted, but I am alright with that. I took a huge amount on by doing two post grad degrees at once and probably sacrificed some of the higher marks I might have obtained. Though my marks have never been low, I don’t think I have quite scooped that elusive distinction.

One of my resolutions this year is to unpack my life a little. I packed that childlessness wound so deeply and so fully with work and study and charity stuff that I do not have any time to stop. I think that was probably why I did it, subconsciously, a fear of stopping, a fear of accepting. You can’t see that the world is still if you’re running everywhere. I have been metaphorically running for a long time, but now, I don’t feel I need to. I am climbing, still, but I don’t need to run. An amazing poet and friend told me, recently, ‘there’s no shame in a couple of years between collections’ and it made me step back and look at my work. And I decided that the next collection, the one whose kernel is the MA manuscript, this one I am taking my time over. I am talking at least a year over it, I am growing it and pruning it and not hot housing it. And that goes for my life too.

Acceptance seems to be the umbrella word for the new year for me, accepting that I took a lot on, accepting that we will not have a family, accepting my flaws. But I also want it to be a year of celebration, celebrating myself and the fact that I took a lot on and I did a good job, celebrating my life in small ways, celebrating the force of good in the world. Enjoying the world, enjoying poetry, not being so career driven, choosing projects that I will enjoy.

My first submission of the year went off this week, a ‘play for voices’. My first play submission, so I already feel like I am forging forward with new directions. And one of my resolutions is to write a stage play, again, I’m going myself a year or to to do it.

Other resolutions are to ‘live a more sustainable life’ I’ve been looking into recycling and toxins in plastics, which is terrifying, and I have finally cut fish out of my diet, so no more calling myself a vegetarian and feeling guilty because I still eat fish. I am experimenting more with new recipes, and I am back to actual physical non metaphorical running! I had a cartilage tear last year, which prevented me from running the Great North Run. I’m due to have some physio, but I have managed to run without any problems this week, after about three months of not running at all, so my training has now commenced and I will be running the GNR in September. I also plan to lose more weight, I lost a stone and a half last year, It would be great to do the same this year, but I’m certainly more focused on health, and treating my body like I care about it, which I do, now. I take great pleasure in seeing what it can do.

And that’s me. Thank you for all the contributions to the JustGiving page for the baby clothes for the bereavement suite, I couldn’t get them ordered and sent before Christmas, but am on it now and will post photos when I do. We surpassed our target and came in at £310 with our contribution! It feels brilliant, amazing, to be able to give this little thing back and make a small difference, so thank you. Once I know my knee is fully recovered I shall be collecting again for the GNR, but I have a while to go yet.

Happy New Year!

 

**photo is of my new journal in which only magnificent writings are allowed

The Depressing Christmas Blog Post

Last week I had the decorator in to do my hallway, landing, stairs and living room. Carpets are coming next week. It’s done me good, being holed up in my office, I got an incredible amount of work done. I’m also off Facebook for most of the time now, I think the addiction is broken.

I mention the decorating, because it is significant. It is significant to me, anyway. Forgive me for talking so much about the loss of our daughter, the miscarriages, the IVF and coming to terms with being childless (I must try and think of a word that encompasses this entire thing, something other than ‘grief’ which it absolutely is, but somehow longer lasting and bloodier) but this is my life at the minute. It is a process. Last week I began de-cluttering in earnest, the kitchen, mainly, all this things I don’t use that are jamming up the drawers, bin bags full of tins and packets of out of date food. What did I notice? How many packets were from 2010. That’s the year our daughter died, it’s the year that everything stopped moving forward. It’s the year when the renovations on the house ground still, and the house itself lost its heart beat and became just a place to live. We’d not long been moved into this house when we found out, after four years of waiting, that we’d reached the top of the NHS waiting list. Then I became pregnant so all our energy was  poured into getting things ready for the baby, and then, of course, she died. And then there was IVF, IVF, Miscarriage, IVF, Miscarriage, IVF. And suddenly we’d been trying for 13 years and in all that time all our money poured into IVF until our house was literally starting to come apart. The roof had holes in, the damp was creeping up from below. Last year we decided to put IVF on hold while we had a think, and we used some money to have a holiday in the sun and fix the damp and the roof. Then we decided that there would be no more IVF, that there would not now be a family. And I think I stopped again, everything stopped again because it is not just a decision, it is saying goodbye to yourself and your babies and everything is so different.

I feel like I had assumed the clothes and the mannerisms of a mother, waiting for someone to pass me my baby. But now I feel like I am undressing, and putting a different outfit on. And I feel vulnerable and unsure about it all. Naked. It’s difficult to explain. I find Christmas very, very hard. I LOVE Christmas, everything about coziness and love, I love, but it’s THE most child orientated celebration of year. It’s no fun, either,  when your friends say ‘we’re not buying for adults, just the kids this year’. It feels a bit awkward, yeah, Christmas is all about the kids, isn’t it. Except when it isn’t. For us, Christmas has to be selfish, a time when we just do things that we enjoy. Once we decided to squirrel ourselves away with wine and books at Christmas, it became a lot easier. And, money wise, We set a cap on what we were going to spend on everyone’s children. Because, without wanting to sound like scrooge but when you end up buying for all your family’s children and your friend’s children it gets really expensive, and even worse is when people are ‘not buying for adults, just for kids this year’ because then we’re like..well, aren’t we on the outside of life in general. Oh dear, that all sounded a bit bitter, sorry. I loved christmas as a child, I love that my friends DO get to do that. I’m just sad. And my loyalty to Matilda won’t let me enjoy other people’s children, somehow. It’s like, because she’s going to miss out, I don’t want her to feel bad that I’m enjoying it with other children, which is utterly crazy, I know. But there it is. I’m tired of trying to fix how I feel about everything.  So I avoid Facebook, try and focus on what Christmas is for us, otherwise it is like being slapped in the face, constantly. So I have to distance myself, from social media in particular, it’s hard to watch families coming together because my family is never coming home, because on christmas day I give flowers and gifts to a white headstone, and because it hurts so much that it makes it difficult to breathe. I have been walking around with a broken heart this week, proper heavy, chest pain broken. My stomach a constant knot. I haven’t summoned the courage to buy the gifts for other people’s children. I can’t get myself together enough to do it, somehow. And I think it’s because it’s not just the loss this year, it is the lack of hope. There is no hope of a family, now, ever. we decided against it, and I think hope has fuelled me for a long time. I’ve run out of fuel. I think probably 60% of people find Christmas hard, I think we all dare not say that we do too, in fear of spoiling other people’s celebrations and afraid that other people have it worse than us, as if it’s a competition. I do it myself (who would understand, she died nearly seven years ago…) but I think the more it’s talked about, the more those people who feel so incredibly lonely with their own pain will know that there are others out there, and it’s OK to be angry and sad and not want to do Christmas.

Anyway, the decorating. Overtly olive in the living room, Norwegian sky and beach walk in the hallway. We changed the furniture round. I got a giant bookcase for my books, I put my vintage bits and pieces out, my ornaments came out of their dust wrappers. I put them in places where a small child might pick them up and break them, because there will never be any small children here. It is a small act of rebellion against the sadness.  And without wanting to sound too hippyish, I owned the room, I have started to own the house: it feels like somewhere I might feel cozy and comfortable. I feel like I have been tensed like a hare on my haunches ready to run or fight for all these years and I just want to lie down, now and not think about any of this. This all could come from Christmas because it’s such a trigger, or my best friend being pregnant, because that’s a trigger (mainly it’s anxiety, I am so fucking worried that this will go wrong, it stops me sleeping and thinking) it could be the realisation dawning that this is it now, there is no other forward step, it could be because I am now working in earnest on the childless poems that make up, initially, the MA manuscript, but will make up my next collection. It will be about a year’s work. I am thinking and writing about my body, which is excruciating and freeing at the same time.

This Christmas will be cozy throws, good wine, books, books books. Time off. And I will cry as much as I want.

If you would like to help with my just giving collection to buy premature baby clothes for the bereavement suite at Leeds, there’s still time. I’m ordering the first load today, but the account closes on Christmas day.

Here’s the link:

Crowd fund

Thank you to those that have shared this journey with me.

x

Featured photo is by me, Wendy Pratt. a view of Filey bay.