Sabina reflects on her way of coping at the time of her miscarriages and the impact of her losses years later.
I see the gaps in family photos, the spaces that mark their place. These private, fleeting moments of missing and memorialisation are all I have. There were no footprints, no death certificates, no funerals.
I had three first trimester miscarriages, but this story begins with the last two, which happened 6 months apart.
In September 2013, on my second morning of sick-leave, taken because my body was inexplicably expelling a life I had longed for, I looked out of the kitchen window and the crab-apple trees bewitched me. Something about the crimson peel of the fruit didn’t let me leave them on the tree. I went out, filled a bucket, then a second, then our sink. By the end of the afternoon, both large trugs we used for collecting weeds and leaves in the garden, every mixing bowl, salad bowl, the mop bucket and my toddler’s toy wheelbarrow were all full to overflowing with crab apples from around the neighbourhood. That evening, after putting my daughter to bed, I spent hours simmering the tough skins, ladeling sugar, stirring as it dissolved, boiled the sweetened fruit pulp for hours, dripping blood-red jelly spurts onto chilled white plates, looking for a set. I spent my sick-leave preserving and bleeding, stirring my way through cramps, boiling my anguish out in the kitchen
I woke early and saw the fruit on high branches outside the bedroom window. I climbed a step-ladder and shook the crab trees, then borrowed neighbours’ buckets to hold all the fruit. When my husband woke, I was pushing boiled crab apples through muslin, my fingers stained crimson, my dead unborn still oozing out of me. I sterilised dishwasher load after load of empty glass jars and filled them with jelly. As they cooled, I went online and ordered one hundred glass jars on overnight delivery…
During the week, after nursery, my daughter and I walked in the woods, filling baskets with blackberries. In the evenings, I made hedgerow jam, blackberry crumble, apple and blackberry pies. Walking our daughter home from nursery, I noticed for the first time, a small orchard behind the barbed wire surrounding the military headquarters where my husband worked. There were damsons, pears, apples, out of reach. On Saturday morning, as the sun crept through the gap between the curtains, I woke my husband.
“Can’t we have a lie-in?” he asked.
“I need you to help me with a ladder,” I explained. It felt urgent, akin to a life-or-death intervention I’d have woken a senior colleague for when I was a junior doctor in the accident and emergency department. We took the ladder behind the wire and he helped me gather the apples and pears that had been beyond my reach. Someone had pipped me to the plums.
I continued to fill a few jars of jam in the intervening years, just as I continued to think of the children I had conceived and loved but never met. But it was during Covid, that my jam making really took off again. In the Summer of 2020, the daughter who had been a toddler when I was on sick leave in 2013, turned nine.
“I know where the best blackberries are, come on,” I said to her one morning. In moments, we were up and dressed, creeping out of the house in our socks, pulling on our wellies at the back step, running through the dewy grass with our family dog, Jester, who was delighted by a dawn adventure. I was carrying an enamel bucket, the large one.
We trotted along the path, three abreast, at dog speed, stopping only when Jester stopped to sniff and look quizzically. We hurried along until I stopped at the bottom of the hill, catching my breath as they ran ahead, the girl and the dog. I felt tethered by desk-bound legs. She had them before I reached the gate, her slim fingers weaving between thorny stems. Her mouth was dripping blackberry blood, her fingers black. We hadn’t had haircuts for five months and looked wild as the briars, cramming blackberries into our mouths, dropping them into the bucket. This brief respite from the house during lockdown was a visit to Eden. At first, each blackberry fell against the enamel with a loud thud and an echo, bouncing off the floor. Gradually the bucket filled and their falls were muffled. I looked into the bucket of eyes and could almost feel the heat of boiling jam, sniffing the air like a dog as I imagined ladling it into the rows of jars.
The bucket was full. When we arrived home, my husband and our younger daughter, the third child I conceived in 2013, were eating breakfast. My younger daughter pulled out a stool and helped to pour the blackberries into the maslin pan, and when the last of the fruits fell, there was a trickle of crimson. My daughters and I had a summer of jam-making: raspberries, wild rose petals, blackberries. My husband calls these jars an insurance. I lined our cupboards with hope for the future, during a pandemic of loss. Loss calls to loss, each new loss echoing like the falling blackberries. Until the bucket fills, silent and heavy. So it is with my grief. Heavy, silent, a deadweight.
There are days when I bear the weight that I am carrying with ease and live as-if unencumbered. There are other days when the deadweight of grief becomes molten and liquefied, bubbling like fruit boiling over from an untended maslin pan. On those days, I notice faces missing from the groups of children playing. I see the gaps in family photos, the spaces that mark their place. These private, fleeting moments of missing and memorialisation are all I have. There were no footprints, no death certificates, no funerals. In medicine, they were miscarried. The word I prefer is loved.