Minnie told me that she used to console herself, “At least I’ve never lost a child or had a miscarriage…” That was, she explained, until a well-meaning midwife friend told her she probably had miscarried but just had not realised it. That seemed to have shaken her up even though more than 10 years had passed. I wondered if there was something my friend had not shared with me. I did not ask Minnie directly. It seemed callous to pry but I left lots of gaps in our subsequent conversations about being mummies, hoping to prompt her to fill the space with an explanation. This didn’t happen for several months. At first, in fact, the gaps culminated in a strain in our friendship – she avoided me – then one day, after I had talked her into a quick coffee, she handed me a letter.

The letter was from Minnie but addressed like this:

“My dearest Seamus

I haven’t met you yet but already I love every atom of you. How can that be? One day you will find out. I have waited for such a long time and worked so hard for you. You didn’t ask to be born and I’m sorry I’m not more conventional. I know it’s not going to be easy for you but I believe love truly will conquer all. I tried the conventional mummy and daddy, face-to-face way of bringing you to life but it wasn’t to be. I tried ever so hard but I didn’t want your Daddy to be a mean man or an ignorant man. That’s all I seemed to meet. Your father, I’m proud to say, sounds like a very good man. If I had met him we may even have gotten along. Ironically. I never did, as far as I am aware. He donated to a fertility clinic, stipulating a single woman be a recipient. That lucky lady is me. You have siblings and the clinic will help you find them, should you decide to. Your father is tall, educated and he sounds humble and kind.

I know you are inside me. I feel you. I talk to you. I hear you. I incubate you. I cannot wait to meet you, my darling boy. I love you with all of me. Already! Even though you are barely a squiggle…”

The letter continued but my tears made it difficult to keep reading. I could picture a son of Minnie so clearly. It turned out that a few times, during her stint with the fertility clinic that Minnie’s menstrual cycle had been disrupted and she’d imagined a successful pregnancy. She’d written the son she imagined a letter, picturing him growing, explaining her rationale for bringing him into the world. It was a carefully crafted, thoughtful, sweet letter and she’d wanted to do it to help him understand. Her ex-partner, who’d teased her about going to the clinic, had made her worried.

“I wanted Seamus to know how loved and wanted he was,” she said. “I hoped I wasn’t pursuing motherhood for selfish reasons that might hurt him or bother him. I really felt him, I thought. I felt so foolish and betrayed by my own body when the pregnancy tests were negative. I didn’t believe the first or the second kits after each cycle of insemination. I spent a fortune going to different pharmacies each month so chemists wouldn’t see me buying multiple kits and feel sorry for me”.

“I don’t think people will pity you,” I said. Minnie shook her head.

“You don’t get it. It’s okay though,” she patted my arm. “I don’t know if it is worse to have written a letter to an empty space, a defective womb, or to have written a letter to my son whose soul checked out of my body for a better nest in another woman’s body”.

I couldn’t think of a response. I still can’t.

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