It had been a while since I’d met Tim, but knew that he and Jean had been trying to start a family. It goes like that, get hitched or drift into a long-term relationship, and the question appears in front of you, children. You may not want kids, but the question arrives anyway. You make tentative plans, a new house or bigger flat; earmark that space as a play area, that room as baby’s room, a conversion on those holiday or car loan repayments into child care. Late night baby conversations, a seeping tranquillity and the relationship slips into mellow, no birth control required and the physical side relaxes. A happy time coupled with a fresh sense of purpose, we begin to see a greater scheme to things.
But not for everyone. I’d love to have had Tim and Jean as my own parents, warm giving souls and always a kind word. From big families themselves, when their time came they started like the rest of us, but drifted back along the queue. I saw him across from St Mary’s church and stopped, there’s an intimacy when you speak to someone in a parked car for an hour. I drove home holding back the tears, and broke down when I told my wife and her sister about their second failed IVF treatment. Jean had chronic endometriosis and this time round had managed to hold her baby till the sixth week . I had known they were “trying”, and as they fell further back in the queue, he’d told me about his wife’s condition and her efforts at trying to conceive. What upset me most that day was their courage, their courage to get back into the IVF programme immediately, and also his absolute and utter conviction that it would come right. I suppose nature and instinct give us strength. I’d heard similar stories to Tim and Jean’s, and each time it’s a hushed conversation but with the same conviction and honesty.
That day I held each of my children in turn and thought about our time, our own sad and wonderful times. That bleak two up, two down terrace in Togher during Italia 90 when the country was awash in tricolour, and I cleaned the bathroom later that morning after returning from hospital. I remember her groan and the squawking crows at gray dawn, she fell from bed to the bathroom holding her abdomen and I thought she was dying, red clotted devastation around the tiny bathroom; she hadn’t reached the toilet in time. She went silent and I thought of my dead mother and anywhere, anywhere but here. That was the first of three known miscarriages or blighted ova, as the medical community call a failed pregnancy less then six weeks old. No tests are carried out until a third consecutive event because this happens so frequently. I remember her being beautiful and radiant the second time, when we went for her appointment, and how she ran howling from the office when he told her. The third, well it just happened and at that point we were resigned to a process, D&C followed by a deep depression and questions, unanswered questions.
We moved back to Limerick, and when she rang from Dunne’s to say she was bleeding again, I said I’d meet her there. It was after surgery hours when the doctor examined my wife and said that she should get a special scan, one more accurate then the standard gynaecological ultra-sound, to be carried out by a radiologist. For the most part I remained stoic during these exams, but this time I got angry and spat at the doctor that, “they knew nothing” and “didn’t understand what was happening”. She was delaying the process as we understood it, and I asked her to spare my wife further pain.
We went to the hospital, sat in the shaded radiology place and waited for a blue smocked demigod to pronounce death on another. She lay on a table, he applied gel to her flat tummy and I sat in a corner wishing it was over, and for the first time in our marriage a doubt crept into my mind. The doctor was silent and went about the examination carefully and spoke quietly to my wife “You see there, just there “. She looked at the screen,”Can you see the heartbeat? It’s about six weeks, and I can just see the bleed on the sac, it’s called a subchorionic hemorrhage.”
But I was in a trance having heard the magic words, the important words, he’d said “heart beat”. You see when there’s evidence of life, the chances of a successfull pregnancy increase exponentially. So, as the sac grew, the size of the bleed on its lining diminished in relative significance to the life inside, and her pregnancy continued to full term. This was the first child I hugged that day after speaking with Tim, and for the millionth time thanked God. Her two brothers came easier and we’re sorta finished now, and that beautiful vulnerable time has passed.
Jean eventually had her baby, and miraculously, two more.