The memory of ‘mischief’

MischiefI’d never buried a photo before. I was expecting it to feel awkward, odd even. Burying photographs was, in my mind at least, the past-time of the melodramatic.

But on this overcast autumnal Thursday morning it didn’t feel odd. It felt completely normal, completely natural, and as I found out, remarkably in common with others who have suffered the loss of miscarriage.

To understand how my wife and I got here I need to talk about a few months ago and the joyful surprise shock of finding out she was pregnant. It was certainly a surprise, but a very welcome one. The prospect of becoming first time parents is as exciting as it is utterly daunting. It is the sort of exciting that sits deep in your belly far away from the rationality of your mind.

Immediately however we were given words of caution. The pain in her gut we were told might be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy (we now think it was actually a symptom of endometriosis – a condition impacting around 2 million women in the UK alone and yet remains one of our societies many unspoken taboos).

There were however weeks, after which the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy was dismissed, where we could see a new life embedded into the womb, living, offering the promise of all that life could lay ahead of it.

There was one particular moment. A moment when my heart skipped a beat, when my life seemed to freeze for a second, when this gloop of cells that we had affectionately started referring to as ‘mischief’ showed a heartbeat, perhaps the most definitive sign of life. It is this moment that is both etched into my mind’s eye and also the one that is now printed on a piece of photographic paper decomposing in compost under an array of flowers.

As soon as we suspected a miscarriage was a possibility, my wife and I talked of a need we both felt to plant something, to grow something, to have something to mark this oh so sad possibility. At the time though I thought this was just us – something that said more about my wife and me than about the experience we were going through. It turns out however that this is remarkably common.

One of the wonderful staff at the hospital who talked to us with the patience and understanding that we needed gently dropped into conversation that decades earlier she had planted a tree. Her main reflection now is that she worries she wouldn’t be able to take it with her if she were ever to move house.

The hospital staff also gave us the compassionately crafted NHS literature on miscarriage which has a whole section on the prospect of burying something to mark the loss and that many also marked this by planting something nearby.

And so this is how we found ourselves folding a small photo of a gloop of mischief and placing it down into pot of moist compost. Mischief was measured in millimetres but sits with a magnitude hard to explain in our hearts. I can’t explain why but it feels right knowing that mischief is buried deep in moist compost surrounded by bulbs of snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells with a medley of late summer flowers sitting on top like a multi-coloured crown.

This is just my reflection of something that has happened to my wife and I, but one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage – which left me thinking how I had lived three decades of my life without hearing someone talk about it. I hope that if someone who has experienced a miscarriage reads this that they feel reassured that they are not alone.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “The memory of ‘mischief’

  1. Dear Steve & Anya,

    This is one of the most moving posts I’ve read & I’m very sorry to read of your loss. However your strength and forbearance, both as individuals & as a couple, remain inspirational.

    All my best,

    Zachary

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  2. Jonathan Adams

    Dear Anya and Steve,

    I wish you were close enough for me to reach out and touch you.

    I hope it doesn’t sound too military that I salute you for the gesture of burial of a photo (and you, Steve, for using your skill with words to tell us of it).

    I’m finding it hard to get the patterns of this paragraph right. I want to write “we”, but I do not wish to suggest that the experience of miscarriage in May 1975, when we were 27, was the same for me as it was for Patsy. There was pain which we shared and which drew us closer. And there was pain which came between us.

    We too asked why we had not heard from others of miscarriage and have tried since then to break the taboo – not always with appropriate timing.

    I am glad to hear that the NHS has learnt more about compassion in the last 40 years. Although we have found powerful gestures to express later losses, we did not at the times mark outwardly either of our two miscarriages. As I write this, I wonder if even now it would be good to do something. This is why I salute the two of you, for you will have opened the shutters for some in your circle of friends, so that they will be able to acknowledge in due course their pain and loss.

    I don’t mean to suggest that that explains or justifies anything. Mischief does not need either. But your pioneering readiness to talk about the experience and to assert that Mischief deserves a marker is a gift to others.

    There is, of course, more to be said and maybe we will manage that some day. But this evening I just wish I could reach out and touch you.

    Love.

    Jonathan

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    • Jonathan, thank you so much for this message! Your words as warming as they are welcome. Thank you and it would be so lovely to meet in person soon to exchange some more words in person.

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  3. Keith Taylor

    dear Steve & Anya, so sorry to hear this. I hope you find the space to live around what’s happened. Love Keith

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  4. Rob

    Thinking of you both – you’re in my thoughts and prayers. Sending you a big hug and love, Rob.

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  5. Richard Cooke

    Hi Steve,
    I am friend of Fiona’s and my wife and I experienced a miscarriage about 14 years ago, we planted a shrub in the garden in remembrance, I can’t say I know how you feel because we all react differently, but I have to say reading your blog was very poignant and was eloquently written, it also brought me to tears. I agree with you it does seem that miscarriage is a major taboo in the UK and isn’t really discussed there should be more open support for people, leaflets are all very well but it doesn’t really help take way the hurt you are feeling at the time. Thinking and praying for you both, may God bless you with children soon as I think you will make wonderful parents, just to let you know we now have two wonderful daughters of 10 and 12. Thanks Steve!
    God bless from Richard

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    • Richard, thank you for this thoughtful comment and I am sorry to hear you also went through a miscarriage. It is though a lovely thought to think of you with your two daughters and what may lay ahead for us! Thank you.

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  6. Manjit Suchdev

    Hi Steve
    Thanks for writing this. Planting a tree is a very potent symbol of continuation of life. as you say very early miscarriages are very common possibly due to not having enough genetic material.
    it does not lessen the pain but perhaps helps to make sense of it all.
    Thinking of both of you.
    Manjit

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