When talking about my folk horror novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, I tend to focus on the characters of Umbra with a slight mention of that aspect of the book which is real and true and personal. This, in a way, is a disservice to my tale. It is as much about my own experience of horror and violence and blood as that portrayed in the Five Turns. If you haven’t read book, then yes, this contains spoilers to part of Megan’s story, but it has to – otherwise I can’t even touch on a topic I want to raise and which – in recent conversations is still affecting so many women. It may not be horror as men see it, but to women, well – it’s their truth. If you’re squeamish, bits of this may seem graphic, but they have to be included to convey the experience I was going through. Horror writers don’t spare the blood in fiction, I make no apologies for fact. Megan’s loss was my loss.
My idyll – the 12th of March, just over 20 years ago. A beautiful spring day. I’d taken my little boy to the local country park and we’d had a lovely time. He was sleeping, the kids in the crescent were outside playing and laughing. It was early evening on a Friday and BBC was showing highlights of Glastonbury Festival and David Gray was singing Babylon. That was the start and I have been unable to listen to that song since that time. I was about 11 weeks pregnant and had just told family and friends I was expecting. By Monday, news had travelled fast and when I took my eldest to school, people were coming up to congratulate me. I had to tell them I lost the baby.
So, the idyll – that sunny Spring day (like the Weald, it’s always a perfect day, the calm before the storm). But where is the violence? That was the miscarriage itself. A few signs something wasn’t right and I was told to go to bed. It got worse – the advice was to have a warm bath. That only works if you have hot water and I didn’t as I realised after starting the water running. At that point, the bleeding was heavy and I was looking at the bathroom floor thinking I couldn’t let my kids see that so I was on my hands and knees scrubbing. It was bizarre. Another hour or two and the locum comes out. The blood is pouring out of me and he asks if I would like to wait for office hours – it was about midnight and he meant 8.30am. Um, no. The ambulance comes and I’m asked can I walk? I’m feeling sick and shaky and still blood is pouring out of me. So, still no. My husband is looking after our two younger children and not with me for the moment and I’m on my own. I’m taken in and I lie there in a dark room waiting. It’s not until an hour later that I’m seen at which point I’m told, very casually, that I’ve been haemorrhaging and I’m put on a drip. Then taken to a ward.
I must’ve drifted off because I’m wake and find I’m being moved to a more appropriate ward. I had initially been taken to the hysterectomy section. They moved me to another bay where I was with 2 other women, each of us losing our babies. It was now Saturday morning and I was told that each time I went to the toilet I had to take this dish so they could monitor the blood loss. I can still remember handing over those bowls full of blood and then at 2.15 pm, I had some horrible cramps and I knew. The dish I handed over contained a small mass which I knew was the baby. Cue doctor and nurse visit, leaflets handed to me and I could leave. Nothing else. During that morning, I spent my time talking to the woman next to me. She was a midwife expecting twins, her womb was leaking and one had drowned. She knew the other would too, but we talked to each other, tried to reason things through, support each other. The woman opposite, never said a word, shock was written all over her face.
But you don’t just get to leave after miscarriage. You have to check it’s ‘all gone’ as they say. I went for a scan and had to sit between to hugely pregnant women awaiting their own scans. The words in Five Turns are exactly those addressed to me, whether by the doctor who examined me initially or the person who performed the scan. Kenneth W. Cain edited Five Turns and queried my word choice. Medical professionals wouldn’t speak like that, surely? Yes, they did and so the words were kept – even if people read them with disbelief, feel they don’t ring true.
On Friday evening I was pregnant, by the following Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t. When I left the hospital, life carried on around me, the wheel still turning. That Friday/Saturday was the idyll turning to horror, to blood and violent loss and that is the theme which plays out through Five Turns. The night of the Fifth Turn, when the unborn is offered, is a reflection on my miscarriage, the violence of its nature, the suddenness of loss. Time and again, the suffering of the women in the Weald is dismissed. Things just ‘are’ and should be accepted. Don’t speak out, don’t challenge, don’t try and change things.
Speaking to friends and family afterwards, many revealed their own losses, whether miscarriage or stillbirth, but all kept quiet because you don’t talk about it, because it makes people uncomfortable and so that loss becomes dismissed. Keeping the subject at a distance stops the need to look at it closely and understand a life was lost – it wasn’t seen, so it’s not real or as valid. I have always dealt with it by being pragmatic – there was something wrong with the baby, I’ve got two already, it’s one of those things – and looking at it in relative terms – it was early stages, it wasn’t born, I didn’t have to go through a stillbirth labour – all those things which help you cope with the loss itself.
And in the end, I did have a healthy child, my youngest daughter born about 18 months later.
What I didn’t realise until I wrote it into Five Turns – and also talked about it for the first time to my youngest – was how angry I was at my treatment and how I still am. And even talking to other women recently, I discover they are still being treated in exactly the same way. The care of women going through miscarriage, and their aftercare, has got to change, there has got to be more support. In recent years, as I’ve dwelt on the issue more, I’ve started to follow https://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/ on twitter https://twitter.com/MiscarriageA and occasionally retweet the things they do, just in case someone else is going through this.
One thing most people don’t know however, including my family, is that I had always felt the baby was a girl and I’d mentally named her Megan. My character in Five Turns was named after her, in her memory.