I’m in a weird hinterland in which I have sent a collection off, a collection that is brutally personal and one which has caused me no end of agony, and am now slightly lost, not quite able to settle to other projects. The collection has defined me for a few years and certainly over the last year while I put my mind to finishing it, and now, without it, I feel like I don’t quite know who I am or what I want to write about.
I want to start writing the play I have in mind, but something is holding me back, I need some sort of outside validation that says ‘yes, you’re a writer, creative writing is what you do for a living’ because, quite frankly, making a living in the arts world is really difficult, but worrying about making a living is not conducive to the creative process, which sounds like wanky, pretentious bollocks, but is, in fact true. My working class roots won’t allow me to comfortably settle into the job because I have a voice in my head which constantly tells me that it’s not a real job if it doesn’t make money.
The reason it is very difficult to make a living wage when you work in the arts is partly, I think, because the arts are so undervalued in this country. The arts are valued much more highly in Europe, which makes it even more upsetting that we are punting our little island further away from Europe. If the arts aren’t valued, then the artists aren’t valued. Art is no longer seen as the mouthpiece of society, it’s seen as entertainment. It can, of course, be both, but when it’s pushed down the order of value then it becomes more difficult to explain to the wider non-artist community how important art is, as a means of communication. The current state of world-wide society is that artists (and actually scientists and teachers it would appear) are some sort of elitist PC brigade which wants money for drawing pictures, or writing books. BOOKS! Who ever thought that paying people to write novels and plays and poetry would help society? How does a book help someone out of work or help fund the NHS or help mental health services or help the housing crisis. We seem to forget what art does, it’s function, it’s place in society as a means of communication. It’s absolutely vital that art, literature, poetry are given to children as a way of learning how to express complicated and often really difficult emotions. These are the sorts of emotions that will bubble up elsewhere and be expressed in ways that can be detrimental to society, and to the kids. It’s vital that the pure, animal emotion that is inside us is given a way of communicating with the pure, animal emotion that is inside everyone else. There’s a reason why it’s used as therapy. Art has been used for thousands of years as communication, and we have not changed, we still communicate through art. I’ve seen people scoff at hospital trusts which have budgets for artwork, and yes, the NHS is in crisis, it needs to be funded and it needs to be managed better and more cohesively, but there definitely should be room in that for art, not only as active therapy, but as wall art, sound art, and poems, poetry should be a part of that. We don’t connect with people with facts we connect with emotions and art allows us to do that.
I’ve been thinking about a long term project based around the grief of baby and child loss and childless-living-not-through-choice, and thinking about how much I have benefitted from poetry and art as part of my grief process. These last few weeks I have started, finally, to sort through Matilda’s things and started to find ways of dealing with that side of it. It is very much like opening old wounds. I took all my maternity clothes and all of the baby bedding and waffle blankets out and all the cloth nappies and muslins and found there to be a lot. Boxes and boxes. An overwhelming amount. I was extremely well prepared for the birth of my daughter. My original idea was to give the things away, but faced with the actual realisation that I would be without her things, it became far too painful. I ended up contacting SANDS for some support, because I felt suddenly bereft and needed to speak to people who would understand. SANDS were amazing and I am so grateful that charities exist, even for people like me whose loss is a good while ago. The loss might be eight years ago but when I opened the box of maternity clothes I could smell the perfume I’d been wearing on the day we went into the hospital and it was both beautiful and devastating, all at once. So I contacted SANDS for support, but also for advice. What do I do with her things? They said, whatever I do (and they gave me some great suggestions) a good idea would be to take photos so I will always have an image of the things. I started taking photos of the process, and immediately felt better, because when I am transforming experience into art of any kind, I feel like I am coping – actively coping – and it’s quite nice to be taking photographs and thinking of visual reflections rather than writing. I decided in the end that I would donate Matilda’s Moses basket, but I’m still sorting that out. All her soft bedding, well, there’s so much of it, and her bibs and my maternity stuff, I decided that I would make a memory quilt from it. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing someone with her things or even wearing my maternity clothes, that would be too painful and I’d be always watching for it around town, so I couldn’t give them away, and doing something for myself and her is the better option. And of course this won’ be any old memory quilt, because I never do anything in a normal, straightforward way, and I like to make things as complicated and difficult as I can for myself, I want to make a quilt with panels which depict our story, little pictograms of our life together, such as it was. And now it’s no longer a quilt but a wall hanging which will go in my office, when my office is completed. My office is going to be the ‘guest room’ but is currently the box room, decorated with Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger since we moved into the house. We were just about to start decorating it with Beatrix Potter for Matilda’s room when we lost her. The box room is crammed like Tutankharmun’s Tomb with books and junk and clutter, whilst the ‘guest room’ in which we have virtually no guests but do have a double bed, is also crammed with crap and clothes and boxes of f*ck-knows-what, ironing etc. I’m moving into the big ‘guest room’ and the box room will now be Chris’s domain where he can display all his signed football shirts and have his own computer. I have basically moved all the soft baby and maternity stuff into storage boxes, out of the drawers in the bedroom and labelled them as ‘Matilda Memory Blanket Project, which I will start once I have done some research and practiced and it will take years I should think and I’m not unhappy at that.
Straight off the back of feeling better about having made a small breakthrough in dealing with her things, yesterday I decided to tackle the massive bin bag full of full sharps bins that have been sitting in the ‘guest room’ for three years. This would seem to be a very simple thing. I’d not done anything with them as I’d assumed, originally, that I would return them to the clinic when we had our next round of IVF but, of course, the next round never happened and they became something of a symbol of…failure? Or broken hope. Something heartbreaking anyway. Now I’m embracing a child free future and it’s time for them to go. The problem I faced with them is that A. I didn’t want to have to do a 2.5 hour round journey back to the clinic just to drop them off, and B. I didn’t want to have to return to the clinic and walk though rooms of pregnant women, and women who are still actively trying and in the process of becoming mums. Not in that environment, not in in the building where one day a few years ago I came to have my last miscarriage induced, and had to grit my teeth and get through yet another loss and, God, the last disastrous IVF cycle and…just thinking about that time upsets me. I don’t really want to be upset like that if I can avoid it. I don’t need to do that, I don’t want, or need to do that to myself. There’s no fixing my situation, it is what it is and there’s no making it better, it’s really just managing it (please please don’t email me to tell me not to give up hope, thanks) and getting through it, and I’m quite tired of gritting my teeth and getting through horrible situations and I’m quite tired of dealing with the pain of it all. So I’d messaged the clinic to see what my options were, they suggested ringing the GP to see if they’d take them, which I did and got a militant receptionist who wanted to ask loads of questions in a sharp ‘I AM BUSY AND IMPORTANT YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME manner and couldn’t help, I then rang the council, who were lovely, but don’t take these particular sharps bins. And it was suddenly, really really upsetting. This is one of the reasons why I have put off sorting this stuff out, it hurts and it is made 100% more difficult when people are See You Next Tuesday job worths. When my husband came home last night I cried on his shoulder like a child. I haven’t cried to my husband like that for years, not for years. It felt like this is bloody hard, this part of the process is bloody hard and red tape and nasty receptionists are just making it harder and that feeling of being outside of society looking in came back. That’s how infertility makes you feel. To get past that you have to own it and talk about it and make sure that the water doesn’t close over your head, make sure you don’t disappear in a society that is so geared towards people with children.
This is becoming something of a waffle/rant, so well done to you if you’ve made it this far. Several things happened during this little bout of grief – 1. I reached out to a specific charity and knew exactly where to go for help, and received it 2. I realised how hard it is, still, to deal with the aftermath of this loss and the moving forward part of it 3. I realised that when I am processing things through some medium of creativity, I feel better.
One of the things that I have been thinking about for a long time, is what I would like to give back. Give back is perhaps not the right word, more thoughts of how can I, as a writer, use my experiences to help other grieving parents and people who are trying to move forward with childless lives when it wasn’t their choice to be childless? There are lots of resources which will provide facts and advice and support, but one of the things that I have found is that by viewing art and photography about stillbirth or baby loss, by reading poetry, fiction, creative non fiction about childlessness, by seeing others in our position creatively managing their grief, even in films, documentaries, animation, I have found a conversation going on in which I am involved just by observing, and better able to process my own grief because of it. I can connect.
I have an idea. I am about to start raising funds to set up a creative resource in which people grieving, and dealing with a childless-not-through-choice future can find the books, poetry, art exhibitions, websites, blogs, creative enterprises which are dealing with grief and childlessness. I want to be able to feature art, poetry and work every week by people who have experienced these things and I want to provide a place where people can not only see and read about grief and loss but also find courses or events where they can physically interact, if that’s their thing. As part of this I’m actually hoping to sell some of Matilda’s reusable cloth nappies and baby things to raise the money to fund it, and suddenly that feels alright, it feels ok because it’s part of something bigger and continuous. So watch this space, if you’re interested! I’ll be launching a crowd funding site but also contacting places who might hep to set it up. I might even go down the Arts England grants path, which will no doubt break my heart. I want the resource to be a way in which I can continue to work in an area in which I am invested through personal experience, and interested in, as well as to provide a place for others in the same situation and my hope is that it will provide a path for me to be able to go through this particular gate of grief into a place in which I haven’t forgotten her, or left her behind, but have created something positive from my little girls’ memory.
Don’t forget I still have a few places left on the Season of Mists course, so do book as the course starts next week! Exciting! And if you do know of any organisations or companies which might be able to help me getting the as yet unnamed resource off the ground, drop me a line.