No man is an island
Dominic shares his traumatic and graphic memories in the hope that it will help others who tend to keep their sadness deep inside.
I took it upon myself as I guess most do, to be the rock, well able to deal with the setbacks so my wife would have something sturdy to lift herself up by every time she fell.
No man is an island? Well I beg to differ. Leave me alone to work it out (or not) myself and I’ll be fine. That has been and still is my default setting yet such is the doublethink humans subject themselves to, I know simultaneously that it is not true. In fact I have had what I think are two cast iron experiences of how false my island status is.
Both traumas resulted in uncontrolled sobbing in public places and, to be clear, I am not someone to whom public shows of deeply held emotions is natural. A lady I barely knew asked me the other day after having met me minutes earlier, ‘why are you thinking so hard about everything you say before you say it?’. I was taken aback but I knew she was right. I say this to further corroborate the tendency I’ve had for a long time, maybe for ever, to live most of my life in my own head and, for one, this meant keeping my sadness to myself instead of burdening others. Of course, I’d tell anyone who asks that this suppression is toxic but in truth, I still do it, just less than I did.
So back to the uncontrollable sobbing in public. The first was when I was much younger and included alcohol so we’ll discount that one but the second was sober, oh so sober. Before I recount this story I am aware that it might seem gory and even horrifying and I’m sorry if you see it that way, it is though, just my honest memory of events. I would also just add that while I would happily have not had them, they did draw me deeper into life.
My wife and I had our first born and he was everything to us. We wanted more for him and for us so we decided to have another baby. The next part of this story is a blur of events. I will no doubt recount them out of order and might even merge pregnancies. This might sound insensitive but it was instead the result of a dark period of upset and fear that was cast to the furthest reaches of my mind in the hope that I would forget they were there.
Getting pregnant was not so easy this time and when we did, it was going wrong. I took it upon myself as I guess most do, to be the rock, well able to deal with the setbacks so my wife would have something sturdy to lift herself up by every time she fell.
I was teaching one day when I got a message from the school office that Crystal was not doing well. A further phone call and I understood that she may be miscarrying, in a shop. The ambulance was on its way. I got on my bike, alarm present but being controlled as my legs pumped hard to get me there. I half expected to see the ambulance outside. When it wasn’t I thought maybe it wasn’t too serious otherwise they would be here by now or they had gone ahead already. Both options gave me some reassurance. The reassurance was short-lived though, as I found her laying on the hard shop floor literally in a pool of thick, dark red blood. She was calm or maybe subdued but her eyes told a different story. Where the hell was the ambulance? This was a lot of blood and that was a baby in there. She was pale but managing and eventually the overstretched ambulance service took us away to hospital. It was not good news.
This next part may have been then but could also have been another occasion, such is my memory of events but it definitely takes place in the same hospital and there has definitely been a miscarriage. This time my concern is my wife, though. She is awaiting her turn in surgery and has been bleeding a lot for a long time. She is weak and very low. I tell the nurses that she is fading a little and they do talk about her going down to theatre soon. I detect a slowing down of the beeps and tell them again that she doesn’t seem right. Her face is almost white and she is less responsive. The nurses tell me that she is going to theatre soon and they should give her clean sheets because of the blood. They are roughly pulling her about to try to make the bed underneath her and she is fragile to the point of breaking. I can see it, why can’t they? Eventually I snap and tell them to forget about the sheets because she is fading away. I hear the beeps slow down, I see her eyes closed, her breathing barely perceptible, and her clammy white body limp. I was putting all my trust in them to know what was happening and it wasn’t going right. I was angry and they told me to leave. The rip of the curtains left me on the outside and all they were doing was making the bed look nice for the surgeons!
I was in a confused panic. These are the professionals but they were wrong. I began to run up the empty corridor looking for our doctor or any doctor, not knowing whether there were any there at all. And then our doctor appeared around a corner. My less than coherent hundred mile an hour plea was enough for her to break into a run. Then came the rip of the curtains. One look from the doctor and she was shouting at the nurses to call a crash cart. Everything around me was crumbling. I stood there useless as a rock. In what seemed like seconds she was being rushed down the corridor on her bed, down the lift and then gone. I sat in the basement weeping. Not for the baby that was gone, maybe not even for my wife, who was now oblivious to everything, but for me and my son. This was a dark moment. What if the worst happened, or maybe it already had through those doors. What was I going to say to our son?
The relief was total. She would be fine.
My next memory is a short one but one that will forever be with me. We were at home and it was night. Our boy was asleep in our bed and my wife was having terrible stomach pains. I cannot say whether this was supposed to be the case or not but I think she had been given a tablet to hasten the passing of the non-viable foetus (aka our baby). Maybe it was supposed to happen at hospital or in some other controlled situation because she was really panicked. The baby was going to come. She needed me, practically and emotionally. She stayed in the bathroom and the waves of artificially induced birth were washing over her. But this was no happy or exciting moment. At that time this was an abomination of nature, giving birth to a dead baby. Our son started crying. He co-slept with us and needed me but my wife needed me too. I was sickeningly torn. We had never let him cry out again after one aborted attempt at enforced lone sleeping and self-soothing. I was running back and forth not knowing what was best.
Then the time came. My wife was stood crying, legs apart, over the toilet, I guess it seemed like the logical place for all the blood to go. But the foetus couldn’t go there. She needed me to take the baby. IT was relatively early in the pregnancy and I was relatively naive enough to expect something not baby-like. The shock I felt as the tiny near fully formed baby dangled into the potty – the only thing close to hand – was profound. I couldn’t look any longer. No fat was laid down and the image immediately reframed itself as some kind of tiny alien-like body. The horror I felt was not over. With the umbilical cord still attached, Crystal pleaded with me to detach the baby/foetus/alien. I could barely look and don’t know what I tried or thought at this moment. I think I froze. I have the image of Crystal maybe breaking the cord with her nails.
Soon the ambulance and my parents were on their way. All the while, the baby/foetus/alien lay in a potty in the bath. I couldn’t go near. (I struggled to even write those last 4 words so powerful was the experience some 7 years ago). My parents arrived to care for our son and I remember barely contained anger as my mum asked to see the baby/foetus/alien. In that moment it seemed sick that she would want to. I now have (and realised soon after) a very different view of this moment. My mum, like so so so many others had been through her own miscarriages, and at a time where kindness and empathy for the mother was in shorter supply. She was looking at my baby out of respect and maybe even with her own heart breaking.
We had many other moments in this difficult period but none harder to cope with than these. The last one was too much to bear. I was meeting people in London. I met my brother in Euston Station first and wanted to tell him because I hadn’t told anyone and I was choking, drowning in the scenes of the days previous and they just couldn’t stay inside unspoken. We sat down on the floor by one of the terminal building kiosks surrounded by hundreds of people going about their business. I breathed, I swallowed hard, I kept on stopping, but nothing could stop the sorrow from coming out.
I was and still am an idiot to think I’m an island.
By Dominic Miles.