Sunday, August 19, 2007

First person: like mother, like daughter

She was a teenager when she had to clean up after her mother's miscarriage. Sixteen years later Clare Brown would be struggling to come to terms with her own…

I only discovered that my mother was pregnant with a seventh child when I saw two paramedics carrying her from her bedroom. 'Your mother's had a miscarriage,' Dad said as he followed them to the ambulance.

The lavatory door was ajar and all I could see was red. My mother's mother was ashen-faced in the kitchen, making breakfast for my four younger sisters. 'There's a big mess,' I said, but Nan shook her head and carried on pouring tea.

I collected old towels and plastic bags and went upstairs. There were two fears: what if I came across It; and, since it looked as though Mum had no blood left in her, was she ever coming home? For half an hour I cried, but after that I just cleaned. It was the first time I understood duty and the fact that sometimes there is nobody to blame: Nan was remembering her own miscarriage, though I didn't know it; my older brother wasn't there, but this would never have been his task anyway; and it could hardly be left for my father to deal with. I was an adult, a woman, and this was the least I could do.

It was a Friday in June 1985. I was 18 and in the middle of my A-levels. Should I go to my English lesson? Dad called as I was washing my hands again - Mum had had a blood transfusion and was going to be OK. So I walked to school in a daze and spent two hours reading poetry.

Mum discharged herself and returned to work on Monday. Any mention of that Friday set us all crying, and it seemed important not to. Perhaps we were stunned at the sheer miserable force of it, which no rational arguments - 'You already have six children!' 'You're in your forties!' - could soften. The reticence made me feel, selfishly, unvalued. Three months later Mum and I went shopping and I despised her for it. The notion of the strongest person I knew buying clothes to 'cheer herself up' appalled me.

That October I went to university and the miscarriage wasn't discussed for years, until one day Mum said, 'This would have been your youngest brother or sister's birthday,' and I saw that she hadn't suppressed the memory but had needed to concentrate on her other children, on her work as a doctor, on her life. Her acknowledgement lifted the subtle barrier between us. A colleague who'd miscarried around the same time had taken three months off work, and Mum remembered thinking, 'Three months of staying home to ponder that loss; how could anyone go through that?'

By then I'd learnt first-hand how sometimes you don't stop in case you never start again. On 14 February 2001 my husband and two-year-old daughter brought flowers and a heart-shaped box of chocolates when they came to collect me from hospital after my miscarriage.

Mine was a planned pregnancy, and I'd never considered losing it. There was no gory scene, just the lightest blood loss over a couple of weeks. We spent the weekend before my scan at the seaside, where our little girl lost her favourite toy, Pink Dolly, which Mum had given her when she was tiny. The timing gave it an inevitable air, but I was still shocked when the scan showed a perfect, motionless foetus. I wish I'd asked for a photograph; my husband was in the waiting-room, so now it exists only in my memory. This contributed to a feeling of distance from him which continued for a long time, and I wondered if my mother had felt similarly removed from Dad.

At that stage - towards the end of the first trimester - a mother's loss is tangible, whereas a father feels only the loss of something imagined. Mum was the first person I called when I felt able to speak, and we shared some easily shed tears. I took the rest of the week off work. Since then, we have touched on the subject rarely but more comfortably. The fact that it's a common experience and that we both have other children seems to make miscarriage unsuitable for regular discussion. But earlier this year Mum said, 'My baby would be 21 today,' and I thought of that morning of shock and blood, and that first understanding of duty, and of how in so many ways it marked my coming of age.


No comments: