She jumped off the bridge at around midday on that warm, sunny day. There were witnesses, several of them.
“I saw her climb up onto the wall about a hundred yards from me. It was like a dream. I ran towards her but I was too late. She simply vanished from sight,” said a young woman who introduced herself as Kylie and who lived a few doors away at number 65.
Another said, “I couldn’t believe it and then I saw the pram next to where she had jumped. I knew it was her. Everyone around here knows that pram. No great surprise I guess.”
They had married late; he was forty three, she thirty nine. Everyone was delighted when they sent out the invitations, tied the knot. Within the year they announced she was pregnant, much to the relief of her parents and friends who were concerned about the tick-tocking of her biological clock. They were obviously going to be ideal parents; they had had enough practice being stand-in uncle and aunt to any number of offspring of siblings and close neighbours.
Although they knew most of what to expect, they signed up for an antenatal course and, as you would expect, didn’t miss a session. As the most mature couple at these classes, they initially felt slightly out of their comfort zone with the young mums- and dads-to-be, but soon realized it was the shared excitement of future new lives that overrode any considerations such as age, and before long they were joining the others in the pub and accepting and issuing invitations for coffee mornings at their homes.
Like all parents-to-be they were expected to have answers to questions such as, ”Boy or girl? Have you had the scan?”, “Thought of any names yet?” and “Sarah for a girl? Geoffrey for a boy? What do you think?” And eventually they made their decisions and would say, ”No, we prefer to wait; we don’t want to know before,” and, “Yes, we’ve some names in mind but are keeping them to ourselves, you know how it is, we’ll make sure you’re among the first to know.”
And so parents and the large number of siblings, in-laws, uncles, aunts and very close friends from university days and workplaces had to be patient and they were and their desire to know mutated into a storm of goodwill directed at the couple. And as sensitive and sensible readers of the magazines that accompany the Sunday broadsheets, they all refrained from giving child bearing and child rearing advice unless such advice was solicited.
He said to her, “I’m so happy; you can’t believe how happy this baby will make me.” And she said, “I can’t believe that it’s possible to be so happy. I sometimes feel my heart will burst.”
At the six months stage they explored the idea of a home birth pool. Having received unanimous support from family and friends, and more importantly, the private sector mid-wife they had signed up, the pool was ordered, delivered and assembled in the spare bedroom usually reserved for her parents, chosen because of its en suite bathroom and its generous supply of hot water.
She gave up work at around about this time agreeing with the others in the legal firm she managed that she would be back within three months of the delivery, but in the interim, if there were a need to consult her, they shouldn’t hesitate. Flowers, balloons and neatly wrapped gifts filled the office on her last day.
He managed to negotiate two months paternal leave effective at the eight month point having agreed with a thoughtful colleague that his PhD students would continue to get all the support to which they were entitled. The head of his faculty, normally rather stand-offish, popped into his office with a bottle of superior supermarket wine as a good luck token.
It is safe to say that if any couple were ever blessed, then it was they.
The first hint that there was something wrong, the first twinges that she wasn’t expecting, that nobody could explain, came late one night about two weeks before due date.
“I’m hurting,” she said. “Here,” she said, hand on belly.
“I’ll call the doctor,” he said. “I’ll get him here now.”
The doctor and the midwife arrived at the front door at roughly the same time, hurried up the stairs. An hour later the pain had disappeared. “We don’t know what that was about,” said the doctor and the midwife agreed. “Let’s have you in the hospital tomorrow for some bed-rest and further examination.”
The miscarriage was three days later. It was a girl. They named it Joy and bequeathed her tiny but fully formed body to the hospital for research.
At first they were “strong”. They attended counselling sessions, responded as the counsellor might have hoped. They grieved, felt emotion, showed emotion.
Family and friends gathered around, came together, acted sensibly, even the one or two awkward ones, worked together ensuring the flow of flowers, home-cooked meals and bottles of wine was well controlled, managed invitations and phone calls and drop-ins, made certain that all well-wishers were kept informed, fully briefed.
The counsellor referred to his Five Stages of Grieving, scribbled notes in the margins, ticked here and ticked there.
How do you measure grief? Are there devices for this? Machines? Special scales with grief in the one pan and what in the other? Huge flasks with gradations etched down the side? Algorithms from the brightest of our mathematicians? Does it have boundaries, length, width, breadth? Height? Volume? Do we measure it by weight or by mass? Do we adopt the similes of the popular press and refer to the size of Wales or six double-decker London buses or two football pitches? And just as importantly, does grief have a shelf life, a best-before date? Can we forecast its demise? Is there a cut-off date? Are there norms of grieving behavior, unwritten rules?
Giving her the doll, the surrogate baby, seemed to be a way forward, the psychologists and doctors agreed. It seemed to help, brought normality back to her life, if not to his. The nursery was hurriedly decorated in pink – they had paints in both colours on sale-or-return all ready in the shed – and the cupboard was stocked with nappies and other baby paraphernalia. She no longer wore black.
The doll was named Joy.
They met with the local parish priest – they weren’t really church-goers, but he recognized their spiritual needs and agreed to talk to them, pray for them; they continued to meet up with their new friends from the antenatal classes, sharing anecdotes of sleepless nights, feeding disasters, first nappies; family and friends chose words and gifts carefully, played along, cuddled Joy, rocked her to sleep, walked her in the family Silver Cross pram.
He returned to work. The university had said take as long as necessary, but the time came when they needed him back. And, of course, it added to the everydayness of things. She would see him out in the morning, Joy in her arms, a smile on her face. He would kiss both goodbye, drive around the corner, and weep.
She fell pregnant again. They weren’t trying for this; it wasn’t some sort of therapy. It just happened. She must have forgotten to take her pill. Her doctor monitored her closely with regular tests and check ups. She reached term with no difficulties and the baby arrived without mishap.
“A perfect pregnancy,” said the doctor.
It was well cared for, properly fed, properly clothed. It had all its clinic visits and inoculations as did any other infant, and its health gave no rise for concern. But it couldn’t compete with Joy when it came to the affections of its mother and it wasn’t long before her GP had a word with social services and it wasn’t long before it was assigned to an approved family for fostering and motherly love.
For a while she seemed almost happy, able to focus on Joy without being distracted by the other one.
And then something inside her must have cracked. They don’t know what or when. It was too much of course. She was a bright woman, top in her class, had been one of the better solicitors in the region. She wasn’t stupid. At some point it must have dawned on her: a doll? As substitute for her baby? The baby she had carried for over eight months? How often had she looked at herself in the mirror, ripped off the smiling mask, and despaired?
Identifying her wasn’t difficult. The pram and its contents were fairly well known in the neighborhood. The locals knew her as either mad or sad, but either way, they considered her harmless.
“Husband’s gone,” said yet another. “Did a runner about three years ago. Couldn’t handle it. Bloody tragedy all round.”
There was a note. But it’s not yet been made public.