*This is an edited extract from my new book Mia Culpa: Confessions From The Watercooler of Life
I’m having two simultaneous and intense conversations in bed. One is with a close girlfriend. The other is with a woman I’ve never met. One woman is distressed, the other reflective. Both conversations are important. My husband is out for dinner and I’m relishing the opportunity to prop myself up on pillows, alone with my laptop, a packet of Smarties and a giant cup of tea.
My reflective friend has recently moved overseas and this is the only window when we’re both awake and able to talk in real time, even though we’re emailing. I miss her. She moved not for a job or a relationship but because she felt stuck. So six months ago, at 37, my friend impulsively decided to shake up “My Stagnant Life” as she wryly described it.
Things were not going according to the unwritten plan she had in her head; a plan so ingrained in her expectations that it came as a rude shock that motherhood and a ‘forever’ relationship may never end up on her CV. Her actual CV is stellar and for a while, work was enough but not any more. “I know everyone here,” she explained to her loved ones. “I’ve done everything in this town. It’s time.” And then she put her apartment on the market, sold her furniture on Ebay and rolled the dice on a ticket to London where she had a few friends and a lead on a new job.
A routine pap smear had sparked a conversation with her doctor about fertility and on the eve of her 38th birthday she emailed to tell me that she’s confronting some ugly statistics. After an initial freak-out, she’s now trying to imagine what her life might look like without children in it and tentatively thinking that it might be OK. “Or should I do the sperm bank thing?” she wonders after taking me through some details about a few dates she’d been on. We discuss that option for a few emails and while I’m waiting for one of her replies, another email pops into my box from a name I don’t instantly recognise.
Two women I know contacted me independently a few weeks ago within 24 hours of each other to ask for my advice for a friend who had just had a stillborn baby. Both women knew I’d lost a baby halfway through my second pregnancy and thought I might have some suggestions for what to do or say or send. Having experienced nothing similar themselves, they were stumped.
I guessed that they were asking about the same women and after linking them to a couple of articles I’ve published on Mamamia about pregnancy loss and stillbirth, I asked for their friend’s email.
I don’t know exactly why. I just felt compelled to be in touch with her. Possibly because I remembered how through my fog of grief for months afterwards, it was somehow easier to talk to strangers than the people who loved me most.