I chose to do something that you didn’t have any choice about

‘What are you having, coffee, tea?’


‘Ok. I’ll order.’ And then she’s back, sitting down, looking awkward. ‘So, how are things?’

‘Fine,’ I say, ‘but how are you?’

‘I’m fine.’ She shrugs, then says ‘It’s strange, right?’ after a minute, and I say that yes, it is strange.

What she means, what I mean, is that it’s strange to go from being pregnant to not being pregnant in an instant, quietly, on a doctor’s table, without a celebration or anyone to ask you do you have a name in mind and isn’t he or she a fine, beautiful baby? Instead of all the drama and excitement of birth, there’s just a space, and then a gap.

We both know that side of it, and we both know the other side of it, where there’s joy and presents and plans. And even though mine was a long time ago, before the children, and came with doctor’s orders – an ectopic pregnancy, something dangerous that had to be dealt with immediately – and hers was her own decision and meant she had to gather money, go away, make her excuses at home for a couple of days by telling her children she was going to see their aunt in London – even so, we both know what it’s like, and I want to say something to her that will show her that I understand.

‘It is strange,’ I say again, ‘but not for very long.’ It’s my turn to shrug. ‘You don’t think about it after a while, or not in the same way. It’s just one of those things…’

‘Not meant to be?’ she asks and I know there’s irony there in her voice but I say yes.

‘I couldn’t,’ she says then. ‘I just couldn’t. Not now. Not the way things are.’

And I take hold of her hand, which is on the table beside her tea which she’s nearly finished, and I squeeze the hand and I say, ‘You don’t have to explain anything to me.’ And I mean it.

‘But I feel I do,’ she says then, quietly so I have to listen hard to hear her beneath the clatter of the cafe. ‘Because I chose to do something that you didn’t have any choice about, and I remember how upset you were about that pregnancy, and I’m afraid you’ll think about that when you look at me. That I gave up what was taken from you.’

‘It’s not like that,’ I say. ‘The two things have nothing to do with each other and I would never, ever, think like that. I was luckier, I believe that, because the decision was out of my hands, and anything that was done was done here, so openly, and everyone at the hospital was kind to me and told me I would be fine and I didn’t have to hide and make up excuses. There isn’t any difference between what happened to us, except that yours is a secret and mine was something my family could know and so they could mind me and look after me. I got sympathy, all you get is silence, and that’s what’s wrong here.’

She took my hand then, and squeezed even harder than I squeezed hers. I squeeze back.

‘More tea?’ I say.


‘We had wanted children together. We had had children together.’

Sandra’s story

‘The nights and the bottles and the feeding and changing. I did it too.’

Denis’s story

‘I used to know exactly how I felt and now I don’t?’

Bríd’s story

‘Of all the ways I ever thought I’d feel about us having a child, it was never this.’

Seán’s story

‘I can’t not trust another woman to know her own mind, her own body and her own life.’

Agnes’s story