Hi Carrie. This book is about something that a lot of women go through, but it is also very personal. Who is this book for?
This book is for all women - and a great many men too, I hope – especially those who do inner battle with themselves over the subject of little ones.
So do you think this book will be helpful to someone going through the IVF process?
What helps one woman through IVF will not necessarily help another. It is a very thorny and personal journey. But I hope I can show that, for the great many women that can't or don't get pregnant, they are never alone in it – someone else out there has felt the same feelings, they understand. And there are still new journeys to be had, whatever they may be.
This is your first work of fiction. Was it different to writing your previous book?
It wasn't completely different, in the sense that we nearly always write, at least in part, from what we know. And of course, some elements of the story, such as the IVF, necessitate factual information. That said, I loved the freedom I had with this book to create characters and give them the background I felt right for them. Writing fiction gave me a lot more scope. I wasn't tied to an existing story; I could make it what I wanted or needed it to be.
What was the easiest – and hardest – thing about writing this book?
The easiest was that it comes from a place of personal experience. The hardest was that I still had to create a fictional story whilst remaining realistic and true to the subject matter. It was important to show it the respect it warrants, as it is a point of great difficulty for many women.
What do you think the message of the book is?
I've never really thought of the book in that way. But I think perhaps I'm saying that no matter how great the adversity, it is possible to make a change – to start again, or even to walk away. You don't have to accept being robbed of your dreams in the name of compromise. Learn what value you truly have no matter where or how another places you. You can choose your own future.
The Woman With the Black Cat
Sitting across from me is a woman with long black hair. She is hobbit-like, with the beady eye of a magpie or raven, and she exudes an air of sagacious wisdom. The mood is darker than I feel it should be, as I stare at the cards laid out on the table between us. A pretty candle is burning, the smell of antiques hangs fug-like in the air and a black cat paces up and down. The woman examines the cards. She draws an expansive breath, furrows her brow a little and looks me square in the eyes.
‘You will get a proposal,’ she says. ‘In fact, there will be two. Don’t say yes to the first one.’
I am a little shocked to say the least, but undeterred. I mentally flick through a list of all the men I know – friends, friends of friends, ex-boyfriends, the non-boyfriend – trying to figure out which one of them might, in some strange set of circumstances, propose to me.
I dismiss them all almost immediately.
I can think of no one.
PART ONE: THE MORNING AFTER
It’s 5.46 am, the morning after.
Yesterday, my world held two distinct possible futures: the one with children and the one without. In reality, those two possibilities have always been there – they are there for everybody, I suppose; nobody knows if they can or will have babies until they try – but we knew that there was a little life inside me, the man who proposed and I, we knew. The doctors put it there. I was told I had a good chance.
Today is Sunday. It is over three years since we met; one year since we started trying; six months since the GP told us the vasectomy reversal had failed; five months since the specialist said we could try intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection and that we had very good odds. At four months I believed him. Three months ago, we started the whole process and now it is all over. And I know the carpenter doesn’t want this baby. Or any baby for that matter. He has spent the last year telling me so. But he put me through all this anyway, or rather he let me go through it.
I sit on the cold bathroom floor, half-dressed, staring at the digital display. Not Pregnant. A big part of me knew already. Technically, it is a day too early to test, but we’ve been fighting and we’re due at his mother’s today, Easter Sunday, for lunch. I couldn’t stand the stress and the waiting any more so I did the test early, and I know it isn’t lying. I’d been having cramps towards the end of the week and started bleeding yesterday – nothing very much at all, but I knew. I think back to the sharp pain I got on Wednesday when I reached for something on the top kitchen shelf. Did I do it? Did I kill it? I think I even knew when they gave me the little scan of it in there. I was being given a souvenir of ‘my baby’, the only souvenir I would ever have. A souvenir of my heart, my time and my £6,000. Because that’s what it has been. My investment: my time, my tears, my heart, my body. Not his. Because it is all for me, I am told. All of it. For me. Not for him. Not for us, like he said in the beginning. Just for me. And the pressure has been unbearable.
I go back into the bedroom, my stomach still churning. I lie in bed, composing the text I will send to my friends. The girls from my drama group will be particularly upset for me. They’ll all wish they had a magic wand to change things if they could and ask if there is anything they can do. But no. There isn’t. I used to think that by growing a baby in a lab, by having someone in a white gown, with a speculum of eye-watering proportions and a degree in fertility science, physically sticking it in, it would all work out. How naïve I was. The other day, my best friend came with me to buy my pregnancy tests. She got her lucky ‘pregnant’ after a year of trying and, somehow, we both felt the luck would transfer to me if I bought the same ones. I didn’t like the look of the brand, the test looked mean in the packet. Perhaps I should’ve bought the pink one instead? At least it looked pretty and would give me the answer in good old-fashioned lines, rather than spelling it out in words.
I can’t get back to sleep. I don’t want to visit his mother. Not that we don’t get on. We do. Very well. We are all she has, unless you count her other child who lives in northern Scotland and only comes down for Christmas. She was there for me when her son started to ‘go off the idea’ of having a baby. But I just can’t face it; there is no small talk left in me. I’m sinking into the bedding and I just want to drift off into another place, the one I imagine exists under the water where everything is soft and safe and silent. I remember years ago, looking down at the river from Waterloo Bridge and thinking I’d like to just get in and go to sleep. It looked so quiet in there and I thought, somehow, if I could just sink into it and float away, everything would feel better. I never thought I’d find myself back at this place, mentally staring at the water, watching it billow beneath me as I wish for the world to go away.
I go online. I visit all the forums, all the websites, asking if anyone got a negative that transformed into a positive overnight. Of course there are women who have. I pray I am one of those people. But in my heart I know I’m not that lucky. The tears come in great, heaving sobs, that I somehow manage to stifle so as not to wake the carpenter – or his son who is asleep in the next room. But my heart is sore and my mind in pieces and I don’t know who I am or what I want any more. The carpenter doesn’t wake up. I didn’t expect him to. He sees and hears nothing obvious. I used to leave his Christmas presents out in the bags they came in, and he wouldn’t even notice or think to look in them, not even questioning what they were. I used to find it endearing. Now I find it strange and annoying. And he sleeps on, oblivious.
I remember back to the first tests I did, long before IVF ICSI became the only option. The ‘Let’s check you out, babes, before I have my nuts put back together’ tests. It had felt very premature at the time, but he is a lot older than me and his ‘chop’ had been done a while before we met. It was something he had said to me from the very beginning: ‘If we get together I will want to have a baby with you and I’ll need to have a reversal for that, but you are worth it and I want to do that for you and for us.’
And so I found myself swept up in a tornado and dropped into a seat at the Epsom and St Helier University Hospital.
The Author, Carrie Sutton