Not long after my first miscarriage I interviewed a brilliant psychologist, who specializes in pregnancy loss and infertility, for an article I was writing. I think I will always remember that conversation – how she managed to send some splinters of light through what was otherwise a blinds-drawn, shutters-down kind of time in my life.
She said so many things that resonated with me. And one that really didn’t.
We were talking about recurrent miscarriage – then just a distant, half-formed fear for me and not something I’d really, truly believed would affect us – and how people who have multiple losses cope.
And, among other things, the brilliant psychologist said: ‘Many women choose to give up work, or to work fewer hours.’
I remember bristling inwardly. I couldn’t see how they should be linked; how anyone could connect the two things like that: work and miscarriage.
Your job is not the reason you miscarried, I thought. Which, of course, wasn’t at all what the psychologist was saying, but to me the idea that women would take it upon themselves to give up – or at least loosen the ties on – their career veered too close to blaming themselves.
It felt alien to me, feeding into a noxious notion out there that to have baby – if you really want to have a baby – you must live this unimpeachably perfect, uncaffeinated, acupunctured-up-to-the-eye-balls, stress-free, zen kind of life. Part Gwyneth Paltrow, part Dalai Lama.
For the record, I still believe this kind of thinking is unhelpful, but my view has become…complicated.
Because after four miscarriages, I am leaving my job. Today is my last day in the office.
Not because I think my job – even with its 50 hour weeks, central London commute and a…let’s call it dynamic…office environment – is somehow a cause of what has happened to us. But because I need to do something else. I need to work less, or at least more flexibly.
Because after year of fighting it, I have to concede that I don’t work the way I used to.
I can’t. Something fundamental is missing. And I don’t think it is coming back. My response to stress is totally different these days. My anxiety threshold hovers barely above zero. My stamina is shot.
It is a hard thing to accept, that you have been made and re-made by life events beyond your control. That you are still being put back together piece by piece by trauma, by grief, in an order you sometimes struggle to recognise.
One of the things I was most anxious about – and then angry about – after our first miscarriage was whether being open about what had happened to us, giving the real reason I needed time off, would torpedo my career. Because pregnancy discrimination is real. And it gnawed at me that I might face the same problems as women who take maternity leave, only with no baby to come home to, simply by admitting that I was trying; that I had tried (and failed).
As it happened, I was lucky. It wasn’t a factor. Technically, I even got promoted. But it wasn’t enough. In the end, it wasn’t work, it was me.
I could try to convince myself that I would have made this move anyway, that going freelance and working for myself as a writer, was the logical next step – and in many ways it is – but it would be a lie. Or at least a half-truth.
No, I am doing this because I have had four miscarriages. To give myself some breathing room. Because I know cannot go through another pregnancy and do my old job the way it needs to be done. And perhaps more to the point, I cannot go through another miscarriage and still do it.
If this all sounds very downbeat, it is not meant to – I am hugely excited about this decision too. I also know how privileged I am to be able to take this leap of faith.
No, there is so much that I am looking forward to, even as I look back, with almost-but-not-quite-regret, searching for the version of myself who didn’t make it. The ass-kicking, department-running, glass ceiling-smashing newspaper executive who looked fantastic in a pencil skirt – the image 22-year-old me had of herself at 32.
Instead, I am looking forward to gentler, simpler ways (and for the record I look crap in a pencil skirt – I never did wear them).
Instead, here’s to more time spent outside and less tube rage. To more time full stop. Time for yoga, enough sleep and, yes, the bloody acupuncture, too.
I’m looking forward to more of my own cooking, more comfort-and-soul food, not soulless Pret salads. To hanging washing outside on the line and feeling like the most grown-up person in the world. To watching the nights draw down in the winter stood in my kitchen, rather than sat at my desk. To being at home at 6pm. To afternoon walks and impromptu trips to the sea.
To pub quizzes, running clubs and early nights. And Christmas – oh god, Christmas. Christmas and Boxing Day and New Year… none of them spent in an office trying to make the best of it.
In short, here’s to making space for a new life – in every sense.