I grew up in a small farming community. My best friend and I were born a few weeks apart. We shared the same friends and had matching dolls. Her mother used to pick us up from school and we would draw in the office while her mother finished work, always the same picture, full of similar details and one of us would have the beautiful world with flowers and swing in the garden and one of us would have the broken down house with a garden of weeds and holes in the roof.
We seemed to go through the same things together, experiencing growing up milestones at similar times. Inevitably I guess, there was competition between us. It was never down and dirty but it was always there under the surface. Who would come first in class? Who would impress the guy we all liked? Who would be picked for school committees? A certain equilibrium was maintained. She won more of the leadership things, I won a lead in a schoolplay here and an editorial position there.
We went to different universities and then our lives met up again when we were both living in London. The wild days. Drunken afternoons watching rugby in a pub and staggering home from the tube station to wake up with monster hangovers and drag ourselves off to jobs that paid pittance. We always seemed to be scraping for money but every weekend there was another party somewhere and friends in the house.
We met our husbands around the same time. She got engaged fast and married a year before I did. I told her we were trying for a baby as soon as possible. She said they were enjoying married life and weren't ready yet. Six months later she phoned me to tell me she was pregnant. Two years later she texted to say she was pregnant again. I texted back to say I was pregnant too. Seven months later her son was born and mine was five months dead. She now has three children.
Some people's children are harder to bear than others. I think the more similar the parental style is to what I think mine would be, the harder it is. My best friend does things I think I would have liked to do with my kids. She taught her daughter baby sign language. She's into organic food. She stopped working to be a full time mother. She has a garden. She has managed to write a book. I see her being the sort of mother I thought I would be and I feel inadequate and pathetic, struggling along in the muck and grief of infertility.
It's not even like she rubs it in my face. She tries to be as sensitive as possible. It's just that when I speak to her and hear the sounds of her life in the background and hear how we talk about everything except her family, I am reminded of everything I have failed to achieve. That old competitive element is still there and I feel like I have failed and she is winning effortlessly at everything I struggle so futilely to achieve.
"No one's life is perfect," H tells me. "It's not a competition," he reminds me. I know. I know everyone has dark clouds, I do. I just struggle to enjoy the sunny day.
I caught a bit of an interview with an old Russian woman on TV as I was tidying up the lounge. She must have been about 80 and she was talking about a winter in the 1940's when many people starved to death. "My sister died after giving birth," she said. "My brother came to visit us and one day he just didn't get up," and she wiped away the tears gathering around her nose. She is crying about events that happened 60 years ago and they still make her cry.
You never get over losses, I think. You move on. You get used to it, but your losses can still make you cry. I never realised this. I thought that everything could be healed. I thought that people walked around whole. Now I think that with time we just don't think about our losses as much. We think about other things and we are ok, but scratch the surface of our memories and the grief is still there.
I spoke to my best friend this week to wish her happy birthday and today I have been thinking about my losses a lot, too much. I left work early and came home, avoiding driving into a wall by promising myself LOTS of toast with nutella. And by lots, I seriously mean a hell of a lot.