When you see an embryo, your embryo, on a screen in an embryology lab it can be hard to resist not falling in love with the hope that this tiny mass of cells offers. There it is. Your baby. And if it can just hold on long enough, you will hold him or her in your arms just 40 short weeks from now. It’s such a difficult emotional balance. You want to stay positive, give the embryo the best chance of success. But how many times can you have your heart broken? How many times can you see an embryo first, and a negative or faint pregnancy test next, before sooner or later, you start to resist the desire to fall in love.
This is how is was with Temperance. After many unsuccessful IVF transfers I was simultaneously desperate to succeed and numb because of the pain of repeated failure. I had had a bad feeling about this transfer from the start. After repeated transfer failures and miscarriages you could argue that a certain amount of scepticism would be normal. However this was more than that. I knew I would fall pregnant and I knew I wouldn’t succeed.
The day I took the pregnancy test I saw what I expected. Two pink lines, one very faint. By now I had learnt that the density of the colour in that second line gave a hint to hormone levels. Faint line. Low hormone levels. Less chance of success. After a blood test, my fears were confirmed. I remember the voice of the IVF centre nurse: ‘I’m sorry, Yvette but there really is little hope of carrying this one. Your period will start soon.’
I talked to my baby every night. I prayed for a miracle. I implored the Gods to give me my one wish. But at the same time, my mind began to drift to that inevitable day. I began to prepare myself. Sometimes I think it is like having a split personality. One voice in your head is telling you: ‘It’s okay. Have faith. Believe! Your baby is strong!’ The other is telling you: ‘It’s okay. Have faith. Believe! You can survive this again!’
As I waited for the end, I sort solace in the things I love. I went to my hometown – Newcastle – and I stood and looked out over the sea I had swam in as a child. I tried to pour into my baby as much love as I could… to take with her to wherever life and death would lead her next. Of course I couldn’t know my baby’s gender but I chose to believe she was a girl for reasons of my own. The day my period started was the day Michael Jackson died. With no other date to pin it to, I decided that this would be the day I would morn this child – Thursday 25 June 2009. Thursday’s child has far to go.
I am almost ashamed to admit how I named her. Being a fan of the popular television show Bones, I knew that while its female lead is always referred to as Bones, her name in the show is in fact Temperance Brennan. Temperance is a name of English origin and means moderation or restraint. But this is not why I chose it. I chose the name Temperance because it is rare and in my opinion, beautiful – a name I had not heard until Bones. For me a baby had become a rare and beautiful dream, one I feared would never be realised.
I wanted to remember her. But more than that I wanted to immortalise her. I have often mused the differences in the grief between early and late pregnancy loss. Losing a baby late is catastrophic. You have lost a child you held in your body and heart for months. Instead of a joyous experience, birth has brought you death. Yet there are comforts. You can hold your baby and know for certain that they existed. You can have a grave to visit, or ashes to keep. Losing a baby early is catastrophic. You are left with next to nothing. You will not see your baby nor hold them. There will be no grave and sometimes you will wonder if they ever existed at all. Was it all just a nightmare? Yet there are comforts. You are spared months of growing love that was bound to be dashed, and not experiencing a ‘birth’ you are saved from emotionally linking it with death. Which is easier? I have decided, neither.
At heart I am an anthropological historian. Nothing gives me greater joy than exploring the human past – to know where we came from, the trials we have faced and how we as a race have grown and prospered for better or for worse. It’s not too surprising then that I love genealogy, photography, and as a creative outlet for all that I learn – scrapbooking. The day I went to the scrapbooking store for Temperance I knew what I wanted. I have always associated butterflies and dragonflies with my lost babies. It is because I believe they are gloriously beautiful yet I know that they live very short lives. When you look at it that way, the link is fairly clear I think.
I wanted the scrapbooking pages for Temperance to be gentle and beautiful but filled with hope. That is how I wanted to remember her – as a gentle and beautiful child who had simply ‘gone ahead’ and was waiting for me to one day join her. I chose photos of the sea I had taken while ‘waiting’, a photo taken of me with the Doctor and Embryologist in the IVF lab, and a photo of my family. And last, and most important, the only photo of Temperance I would ever have – the photo of her as a six day old blastocyst embryo taken the day of the transfer. As I created the pages, I poured as much love as I could into them. It was agony. However at the same time it was cathartic. Finally I had a place to express all the love that had grown in my heart for Temperance, no matter how hard I had tried to resist. When I finished them I looked upon them as one might look upon a tiny grave – with regret and pain but also with love.
I did succeed in my dream of carrying and birthing a beautiful, living, breathing baby – a girl. When I look at Temperance’s pages though, I still feel sadness. I know it is sometimes hard for people to understand, but a living child simply does not replace a lost one. Nothing does. I will carry in my heart to my dying day the memory of every child I have lost, whether I carried them for days or weeks. I have no grave to visit but I do have my scrapbooking pages. They remind me that my babies DID exist, and that my love – the love of a mother for her child – went with them and lives within them still.