Posts Tagged ‘miscarriage’

Further reading, for those who want to know more about poor Mary Tudor

I’ve recently been doing some freelance history writing. As part of this, I’ve spent time reading and writing about Henry VIII and his daughter, Mary I. It made me feel some surprisingly extreme things, and I want to talk about that experience and how we deal with emotions when writing for work.

Poor Bloody Mary

Lets start with a history lesson.

Henry VIII is generally treated as a hero or a joke in English history – the strong leader with the six wives. But when we look at his personal life, we see something that by modern standards is pretty monstrous. Among other things, he accused his second wife Anne of cheating on him and had her killed because they’d fallen out; had his fifth wife Catherine killed for actually cheating on him, despite his own numerous extra-marital affairs; declared his daughters Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and largely excluding them from his life because they weren’t boys; bullied Mary into signing a document that went against both her values and her respect for her late mother, out of fear that he’d have her executed; and much more. You can make all sorts of arguments about the necessity of his actions, but that still looks like horrifying domestic abuse to me, whatever the reasons for it.

There’s a terrible irony to the fact that his daughter Mary helped Henry through a period of depression after Catherine’s cheating and execution. Mary’s own understanding of depression came from the fact that she’d suffered it for years thanks to her father. Long deprived by political circumstances of the chance to marry – something she strongly desired – often isolated from friends and support, when Mary finally married she suffered from a neglectful husband and a series of miscarriages and false pregnancies. The death of many Protestants at her hands is appalling, but so is the suffering she endured in her life, for most of which she suffered from poor physical and mental health.

As I say, Henry is mostly remembered as a great leader and/or punchline, Mary as a villain. It appears that memory, like their lives, has little taste for justice.

Feeling History

Reading and writing about Henry and Mary hit me very hard. I’ve suffered from depression. My wife and I have struggled with the long, frustrating process of trying to have a child, only to be robbed of it by a miscarriage. This stuff hit me where I live, and it hit me hard. I’ve worked in schools and for social service, read case files and heard first hand accounts of the vilest treatment dished out to families by abusers. How much worse then to see the effect of a parent who was outright abusive and who is now regarded in the playful and positive light Henry is.

There’s another irony here, and it’s in my attitude. When a king is presented to me as a villain, like King John has been, and I then learn about the other side of them, I can somewhat come to terms with their appalling behaviour. John was responsible for the death of his nephew among others, but because of his troubled upbringing I’ve come to see him in a more forgiving light than the traditional tales of the evil king. I recognise the hideousness of some of John’s actions, but I can step back and put them in context. In contrast, hearing about Henry filled me with near-unbearable bile. I was literally shaking with anger and sorrow.

Part of this is of course about current discourse, not just history. I’m almost as angry at our idolisation of Henry as at his behaviour. A domestic abuser shouldn’t be seen as a hero or the subject of casual jokes.

And part of it is how personal these issues are, not just to me but in a general sense. Looking at the domestic lives of Henry and Mary takes us past the veil of top level politics, something beyond most of our lives, and into the realm of the personal, where we all live. We all have some experience of love, loss and family. Seeing those things warped and broken affects us all.

Dealing With the Pain

There’s a part of me that wants to rationalise away these feelings. To tell myself that I’m getting wound up over something that’s not about me, that I should just calm down and do my job. This is my work, not a place to get emotional.

And to that I give a heartfelt cry of ‘bullshit!’

These are my feelings. This is the way the world affects me. They are a way of drawing attention to something that is wrong. Millions of years of evolution have equipped me to feel these things, and repressing them isn’t just incredibly unhealthy, it’s a waste of part of my human potential. Our feelings have a legitimate place in every corner of our lives, including our work. How else would we ever care about what we achieve?

More than that, this is the work of writing. Words are meant to move, not just to inform. They’re meant to fill our bellies with fire, our eyes with tears, our hearts with rage, sorrow, love and the desire to change the world.

I’m not saying this experience has been good for me. I’m not saying all this grief and anger I’m feeling for long-dead aristocrats is fun. But it’s a part of writing, a part of reading, a part of responding to history. It’s a part of being human, and that’s something to be proud of.

*deep breath*

OK, got that vented, for now at least. In case you hadn’t realised, what you just read was part of my dealing with this.

And now over to you. Are there parts of history or works of fiction that really move you, in happy or unhappy ways? Have they surprised you by doing that? I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments below.

Around three in the morning Bradley realised that the grief was too much for him. A shape had appeared on the hospital bed, curled up beside Jen in the soft light from the bedside lamp. A baby, as small and wrinkled and perfect as he had always imagined, curled up in a white blanket. A hallucination taunting his sleepless brain.

The infant opened its eyes, peered around with the unfocused gaze of a new-born. Bradley wanted to reach out and take it in his arms, to hold it safe and close.

‘You’re not real,’ he whispered. Jen wouldn’t hear him, she was too wiped out by morphine and blood loss, but the louder he spoke the more real this would be. ‘We lost you.’

The words struck him as hard as the blood that had trickled down Jen’s leg, the look of horror on her face as they sped through the dusk shrouded streets to the hospital.

The baby lifted a hand, reaching out towards Bradley. Already it had grown, face filling out, eyes widening to stare across Jen towards him. It still looked only a few months old, but he could see that it had Jen’s eyes.

It? She. The baby was a girl.

Bradley shrank back into his chair, pulling away from the bedside. A nurse looked in through the window, smiled sadly at him and moved on. But behind her a little old lady peered in, smiled and waved at the baby.

‘You can’t be real,’ Bradly whispered, but he reached out across Jen, lifted the baby up in his arms. She was just like he had imagined her, and yet so much more. That smile, those eyes, the tiny fingers curling around his own.

The breath caught in Bradley’s throat. He felt as if he were choking on the enormity of loss.

‘I can’t…’ he whispered. ‘I can’t hold you. You aren’t real.’

Tears poured down his cheeks. His whole body shook to the rhythm of his sorrow.

‘I miss you,’ he said. ‘I never met you but I miss you. How does that happen? How do you love someone who never got to live?’

‘Bradley?’

He looked up at the murmur of his name. Jen’s eyes were open, tears in them too. He made to lift the baby up for her to see, but the little girl was gone. Instead he went to the bed, lay down beside Jen and let the tears flow.

They left the hospital the next afternoon, Jen pale but well enough to go home. As the doors slid open Bradley saw another figure beside them, a little girl wobbling along with a toddler’s rambling gait, unseen and ignored by the staff and patients around them.

All except one old lady in a wheelchair who waved at the girl, then looked up at Bradley with a smile. He stopped, knelt down to speak with her.

‘Does the sorrow ever leave you?’ he asked.

‘No dear,’ the woman said, patting his hand. ‘But neither does the love.’

 

*

 

A miscarriage is a hideous thing to deal with. I’ve written about it in this story in part to deal with my own experience from a few years back, but not everybody can process it that way. So just in case anyone reading this is struggling to cope following a miscarriage, here’s a link to the The Miscarriage Association, who provide support in the UK. Far more people have to deal with this than you think. You are never alone.

*

NaNoWriMo update:

It feels almost unbearably casual to follow that one up with something unrelated, but life is what it is, even the parts that nearly break us. Yesterday took me to 10,264 words on my NaNoWriMo novel, keeping me on target. I may have to let it slide a little over the next few days as I catch up freelance writing – we’ll see.