Message from an old friend
You have packaged up your lie in pretty paper, I’ll give you that. I would guess that it’s yellow and crinkly and reassures you that your intentions are good, that you only have my interests at heart. I picture you folding the corners up so neatly, safe in your new home, warm light enveloping you. You touch your belly, smile at your handiwork and send it over to me.
Your message arrives: “You’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, don’t think that. It was never my intention to cause you any hurt. I’ve just been busy and preoccupied because life has changed beyond recognition since I last saw you. And I’ve not been sure how to broach the changes with you because there’s no easy way to tell you. We are expecting a baby. I know that probably evokes all sorts of feelings for you. I don’t want to be the bearer of those feelings and I’m sorry to be. I put it off for as long as I could but clearly my silence is causing real concern and upset. I really hope you guys are doing okay. For me, my days of partying are well and truly over but if you fancy a quieter friend, let me know and we can catch up.”
The package crashes into my life. I can hear the slow ticks counting down, but I am disarmed. For one long moment, I settle into a peace, an appreciation for the protection that this new life has delivered to you. I curl up into the quiet and I share my contentment with you, congratulate you on this new chapter. You deserve to nest, to put your feet up after years of disarray and distortion.
And then the explosion: white light, deafening destruction, rubble all around. The true message scatters itself, tiny inescapable shards fall at my feet.
Puffed up: not by your pregnancy, but by your pretentions. For one searing minute, I am hurt, that a woman I had respected, who I had felt camaraderie with through our disasters and divorces, could look down from such haughty heights. I squint at the screen, blurred through hot, wholesome tears, and see your smugness smile back.
You arrived in my life at eight years old: long plaits and a funny accent. We always lived in the shadows of each other’s lives, never the stars but meaningful bit-parts who stepped in to smooth over the tricky and troublesome scenes. I respected you, for your free spirit and your intellect, the way you could step back and mull over challenges without judgement. I was in awe of how funny you were, your quick wit and your tenacity. We both knew how to rebuild our lives again and again whenever disaster struck. You told me the truth and we knew where each other’s bodies were buried. We were co-conspirators on long, boozy nights.
Dust falls gently upon those memories; it leaves a soft veil that distances me from you. Never again will trust weave between us. As you picked soft feathers to cushion your new life, I was here in the trenches of mine – and you knew that. On top of all the worries that infertility brought me, you piled upon it, letting me wonder what I had done to deserve your silence. But no, you had disregarded me, tossed me aside because I was inconvenient to you, because my jagged edged piece was tough to fit into your new puzzle.
I have been blessed with friends around me who have texted every day through IVF, who have asked the difficult questions, who have invited me to soft-play and christenings with their children. Who have never once treated me with kid gloves and who have told me in no uncertain terms when I have taken my grief too far. Those friends have kept me in their prayers and listened silently when they didn’t have words for me. When chasms have stretched out between us, as they meander along well-trodden pathways and I clamber through inhospitable terrain, they have built bridges to me. They have found a space in their lives to accommodate my misshapen and mysterious form.
Life has changed beyond recognition since I last saw you: I know the fizz of needles as they enter my skin; I have watched as a bulldozer heaped mud onto my friend’s long-gone body; I have lain on our orange laminate kitchen floor and sobbed. And too, I have dodged fireworks in the streets of Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve; I have learnt dance moves with my friends’ kids; I have found kindred spirits and celebrated our unconventional journeys. I am proud to be one of these Sherpas, carving our way out of the shadows: IVF warriors who do not need your pity or your patronisation.
So old friend, your package was pretty and I’m sure it felt good to send. But infertility has been a blessing in one way: it has taught me that when someone hands me explosives and steps back, it is time to run. I wish only good for you, that you have finally found your fairytale. I’ll be over here with my feelings and my f word, with my parties and my noise. If you can accept me as I am, let me know and we can catch up.