Anna Whitehouse (aka Motherpukka) shares the ups and downs of a slow transition into parenthood using her trademark humour. In this extract from her award-winning book, she details her preconceptions about having kids, and her experience of miscarriage.
Parenting, eh. It’s a word that deeply concerned me until I was about 28. It was associated with grim, bulging nappies in public toilets and Mars-bar-smattered kids flicking bogeys at your hungover head. It didn’t look like a happy place. Those parents didn’t look like happy people – not like the faux ones in John Lewis picture frames.
I took my contraceptive pill with military scheduling.
I aspired to have perfectly manicured nails at every waking moment, but was often looking down at Biro-stained stubs. I would never have my Oyster card ready at the tube barrier, to the overwhelming irk of The People of London, and was quietly delighted by terrible advertising puns like ‘gimme, gimme, gimme a naan after midnight’. I was someone who cultivated a world of sodden receipts at the bottom of my bag – from bars, restaurants and all manner of confectionery extravagances – but would never delve too deep for fear of what lies beneath.
The first time we got pregnant wasn’t a life choice I’d made; it happened. As an excitable youth living a carefree life of abandon in London, I’d accidentally got pregnant at 24 in the ‘honeymoon period’ of mine and Matt’s relationship – oxytocin, you intoxicating mistress. Having spent the majority of my life successfully not getting up the duff, this was a traumatic turn of events. We were both reporters on ‘esteemed’ B2B publications (him, Human Resources; me, Horticulture Week) at the time and felt this was a massive roadblock on our respective journalistic career paths.
I think that was the point I knew we were in this for the long-haul. After 49 days. For all the frippery of our wedding day five years later, this was the point that our lives locked together without even a whisper of “I do” or a hint of crisp white linen. This was the messy, raw point of no return, and through a deeply traumatic, sickening sequence of events, we realised we never wanted to lose a little part of us again. We knew we wanted to grow up and grow old together.
We were going to need all the strength we could muster. This would be the first of five miscarriages we would navigate in our relationship. The first of five little lives we would grieve. The physicality of passing that lifeless embryo sac is something that will remain with me throughout my life. As will the realisation that Mother Nature is the one who calls the shots and that it’s not anyone’s fault.
Having mourned three miscarriages before we had our daughter Mae, and another two before our daughter Eve, I know what it is to feel like a pariah in the maternal world. A nappy ad on the tube once left me sobbing uncontrollably, while friendships with mothers became punctuated with irrational jealousy from my side and an inability to know what to say from theirs. A weekly email from babycentre.com showing the size of my now inviable foetus would leave me numb. It was, undoubtedly, the loneliest period of my life.
And, yet, somehow along the way we would surface with two little girls – Mae and Eve. Two sisters who will hopefully have each other to hold onto in those moments when life doesn’t go to plan.
5 Things to Say
‘I know how much you wanted that baby.’ Acknowledge that something huge has been lost, and open a door to talk more.
‘I’m so sorry about your miscarriage.’ These simple words mean a lot, especially if you allow your mate to talk further, or even not to talk, as they wish.
‘Can I call you back next week to see how you are doing?’ Often people are sympathetic at the time, then never mention miscarriage again. It is reassuring to show your support is ongoing.
‘I was wondering how you are feeling about your miscarriage now?’ It’s nice for them to have the chance to talk about their miscarriage, even if it is a long time later and after a successful pregnancy. Parents do not forget a miscarriage.
‘I don’t really know what to say.’ The good thing about this is that it is honest. The fact that you are available to listen is what’s really important. If in doubt, say something – anything – and be prepared to listen. Possibly the hardest thing is when people say nothing at all.
ONE IN SIX
One in six known pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with about 75 per cent of those coming in the first trimester.
According to pregnancy research organisation Tommy’s, one in five UK women who miscarry have anxiety levels similar to people using psychiatric outpatient services. A third of women in the UK who receive specialist miscarriage aftercare are clinically depressed.
Recent research by Imperial College London suggests that four in 10 women who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Extracted from Parenting the Sh*t Out Of Life by Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson (£16.99, Hodder & Stoughton)