Learning to fail

There’s a meme that surfaces on social media in January: I can’t believe it’s been an entire year since I didn’t become a better person.

Well, the new year is almost here and I can’t believe it’s been an entire year since I didn’t become a mother.


Last January was, ironically, the first January in as long as I can remember that I didn’t resolve to be a better (thinner) or different person (also thinner).

There was always something that could be changed. I could do better; be better. Drink less, eat less, spend less. Also, work out where your job is going. Work out where your life is going. Oh and actually pass your driving test.

But this year… this year there were no resolutions. This year, I didn’t need to do anything to change my life. I had that in the bag already. I was doing something that was going to change my life forever. I was having a baby.

Or so I thought.

I failed to have a baby. I’ve failed to have a baby three times now. So, instead of this being the year I had baby, this has been the year I learnt to look failure in the eye. To live with it. To be it.

Failure. Every now and again there’s a bit of chatter in the chattering bits of newspapers and comment sites about how we need to teach girls – and by extension women – how to fail.

And I have to say I agree. Because until now I had no idea how to do it. Not really.

Please don’t take this to mean that until now I considered myself a massive, unblemished success. I didn’t. I don’t. Yes, I’ve been very lucky in lots of ways. I’m married (to a man  I could describe as wonderful, but it would only go to his head) I own my own home, I have (mostly) satisfying and (reasonably) well paid work. I am healthy.

I am, I know, undeniably privileged.

Like everyone though, I’ve failed in myriad mundane ways. I failed my driving test twice. I’ve failed to get jobs that I wanted and grades that I needed. Failed to get a pay rise or to get boys I liked to like me back. Failed to make new friends at parties. Failed to stick to just one drink. To remember birthdays. To call people back. To make people laugh at bad jokes. To get to the gym when I said I would. To lose half a stone (over and over again)…

But these failures were always fleeting. There was always another chance. Or at least a good reason to console myself with as to why it hadn’t worked out. They don’t know what they’re missing. It wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t the right time. Maybe next time.

I didn’t really accept such failures, so much as push them down. Ignore them. Excuse them.

With miscarriage though, your failure is inconsolable. There is no explaining it away. No answers and no ‘at leasts’ that help you to move on and forget about it. There is no next time, not for that baby. And that’s the baby you want. (Though, of course, you will want the next one too).

And so somehow you have to find a way to live with it.

Easier quote

After our first and second miscarriages, I could to a certain extent focus on trying again.  But after three and an enforced break for tests, there is no getting away from the fact that this was most definitely not the plan.

I won’t lie. It is hard to confront. That this particular failure could be absolute. We could not have children.

I won’t pretend I am OK with that. But there is power in at least entertaining the possibility, I think. That failure – contrary to the wisdom of overweening Apprentice contestants – IS an option. And rather than holding on too tightly to the idea that we must succeed – or else! – at all costs (otherwise Death! Doom! Destruction!) there is quiet, clarity in considering what not succeeding might actually mean.

I don’t want to get too self-help-y, but it’s about facing your fears isn’t it, failure? Rather than lying awake worrying about the things that go bump in the night, without ever actually checking what’s making the noise, you go downstairs and see for yourself. And chances are it’s just the cat dragging a pizza box out of the recycling, again. Inconvenient, less than ideal – but not an axe murderer-y end of everything.

I was sat waiting to hear the results of my third driving test, two months after our first loss, when this really dawned on me. I didn’t think it, so much as feel it. It entered my head in those long seconds in which the examiner won’t make eye contact, totting up the minor faults, deciding where it’s a pass or, in my case, another fail.

The thought filled up my mind like cool, calm water: ‘It doesn’t matter.’

If this sounds very zen, trust me, the moment was anything but. I was sweating and trembling slightly from the stress of the test. It was also not a bright, positive thought, more resigned. This is how I remember it going round inside my head: ‘It doesn’t matter if I fail. I will keep plodding back to this bloody test centre in the arse-end of Watford until I pass. I will. I will.’

It didn’t matter that I would be embarrassed to have to sit once again, with the 17-year-olds, in the waiting room for yet another examiner. It didn’t matter that it had already cost me a small fortune in lessons. Inconvenient, less than ideal – but not the end of the world.

(As it happened, the instructor passed me.)

It’s obviously difficult to feel exactly this way about losing a baby. Because that does feel like the end of your world.

But it’s not.

And in learning to survive when the rest of the world carries on regardless, well… that’s where it gets interesting.

I wouldn’t exactly say I am a better person now than I was a year ago. But I am different. More honest, perhaps. More compassionate, or at least trying to be. More open, certainly. Alas, no thinner.

I won’t say I am glad for what’s happened to us this year. That would be a lie. A Pollyanna-ism too far. But I will say it would have been very easy for me to have breezed through pregnancy and ended up in exactly the same place as I started, only with a baby and a prized Bugaboo pram (because I REALLY wanted one, something I can’t imagine giving much thought to now). Same perspective, same worries. Same shit, different year.

Instead, failure has forced me to find something else. To dig deeper. To ask for help. To say what I actually think. To find new ways. To write my own story.

I was relying on a baby to change my life into the one I wanted. But if this year has taught me anything, it is that I am going to have to do that for myself.



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