The man who took the lid off

People who like less oblique introductions may well appreciate Ruth’s blog post covering this topic.

Long-time readers of this blog might have spotted occasional glimpses of my (moderate and reasonable) inclination to protect the people and things I care about by doing what’s best for them in the most direct and sustainable way to hand.

Never let it be said, however, that I am a one-quirk guy. People who’ve lived with me (or, indeed, even borrowed somewhere to sleep on a work night) will probably recognise the following exchange:

A simple dwelling place. NPC1 is idly reading a book. Noises off. JTA enters, setting down his bag.

NPC1: Hey, JTA! How was work?
JTA: Eh, fine. How are you?


Particularly sharp guests will have noticed that I’m likely to say that irrespective of what work was actually like. It’s not that my jobs don’t interest me, it’s just that I default to ‘uncommunicatively discrete’ and I’m never entirely comfortable talking about how lunch was really tense ‘because Jenkins didn’t get his RJ-17 in, and then Barry accidentally cc’d the boss in on his email bitching about the shoddy state of the rec room’ and so on.

I enjoy my work, but when I go home at the end of the day, I kinda like to leave it where it is. It makes it easier to tell the difference between the 37 weekly hours of work I get paid for, and the 20-plus hours of work a week I inexplicably do for no recompense whatsoever, and also shifts the conversation from being about how I am, which I know, to the rather more interesting subject of how other people are, which I might be able to help with.


All of which is a slightly complicated way of saying that while I like to know how other people are feeling, and while I’m certainly the world leader in offering people a cup of tea if I think they might be sad (which, indeed I’ve previously managed to do more or less in my sleep, at about three in the morning) I get twitchy about foisting my feelings onto other people.

But see Rule One: Do not fuck with people I like. Because if I find someone I care about is unhappy, I will tread hot coals trying to fix things, swearing at whatever arse invented firelighters all along the way. So while my instinctive reaction was to keep the lid on this subject good and proper, that’s proven to be impractical in terms of keeping people cheery.


I had a shit New Year’s Eve. Ruth, I think, had it worse (although she got to have a free shot of general anaesthetic, which at least knocked her out for part of the day), but out of the 27 New Years Eve’s I’ve sat through, 2012 was the stinker of all stinkers. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if anyone out there is considering experiencing a missed miscarriage, they’d ought to do their best to schedule it as far away from the comedy stylings of Jools Holland as they can. Nothing puts a downer on an evening like some nerk shouting ‘hootenanny’ down the barrel of Camera 3.


At this point, some of you might feel like you’d benefit from having more information to work with on this one. In brief, it goes after this fashion: after a degree of uhm-ing and ah-ing, Ruth and I decided last autumn that a mere seven billion human beings per Universe didn’t seem like very many to go around (there are whole planets out there without access to even a communal human being, after all), so we proposed to try with the babies thing.

For a while we had news, and it seemed good: things were geared for the 12-week ultrasound the Wednesday before we were to take off skiing (which, in fact, is why all our travel to the Alps this year relied upon surface transport rather than aeroplanes). Then, around the 29th of December, in the general ten-week bracket, Ruth started getting very nasty cramps.

Things went downhill from there; we got booked in for an emergency ultrasound, and at a little after 9 o’clock on New Years Eve got to see a blurry image of an embryo that appeared to have got bored and packed it in somewhere around about the 8-week stage. By that point, I think we’d both seen it coming, although seeing the ultrasound image somehow made the entire enterprise feel a lot more real, while simultaneously putting the kybosh on the whole thing. Even braced for it, that seriously sucked.

We’re by no means unusual here; lots of people have this happen, on account of the first trimester of a pregnancy is where a lot of the quality control and unit testing goes on, so it seems likely there was a chromosome out of whack or something. (It might’ve been something else, but somewhere in the region of 66-75% of all miscarriages turn out to be embryos failing quality control due to slacker chromosomes, depending on what study you care to read).

In fact, it was due to the risk of finding something wrong with the scheme that we only told about eight people what was going on back in November. Then, after New Year, it didn’t seem entirely fair to tell people that a thing they hadn’t known was happening now wasn’t: it’d be a bit like telling you you’d been uninvited to a surprise party that you actually weren’t asked to in the first place.

I feel like this entire blog post is getting a little heavy, here, so please take a moment to enjoy a total lightening of subject brought to you through the cheerful and nostalgic opening credits of Superted:

…It is entirely possible that I am a Bad Person.

I should stress at this point that we aren’t completely gutted and broken over here. We were sad – I wasn’t kidding when I said I had a shit New Year – and as 2012 was departing (I was home by then, and had a tot of whisky, thank God), I took the opportunity to hurl abuse at it via Twitter.

JTA swears at 2012, via Twitter.

We had a rough few weeks (it didn’t help much that they were also spectacularly busy weeks, because all our weeks are spectacularly busy these days), and having rashly gone about telling eight different people that there was a pregnancy going on, we then had to go around redacting the statement, which was awkward and miserable for everyone (although in at least one case, it was more awkward and miserable because the person in question had been running their mouth to a bunch more people. We left them to get out of that hole on their own).

The worst thing about that part of the business, for me at least, was the gap between how everyone seemed to think I should be feeling (completely defeated and an emotional shambles) and how I actually felt (kinda sad and mainly worried about Ruth). I think it would have been a lot worse if things had gone wrong at, say, eight months. Or if tragedy had struck at 27 months when the little nerk toddled into the road and got flattened by a runaway traction engine.

At 10 weeks, when odds of problems were astoundingly high anyway, I hadn’t been certain enough of anything to be destroyed by being wrong, although I admit I steered clear of profiling books on either a) neonatal medicine, or b) early childhood education for a few weeks.

We were, as I say, sad. Not distraught, but sad. The best way I can describe it is as faint nostalgia for something that you don’t exactly miss terribly. Remember when PJM had a student bar? Or when the Halls in Aber had deep fat fryers in the kitchen? Or when living in Aber was perfect because it was such an awesome place to be a student? Yeah, I miss those days, too. But the PJM bar wasn’t as cool as it sounds like it should be, I never wanted to deep fry anything, and the thing about being a student that nobody tells students is that it’s less fun than being an adult with a proper income and just enough free time that you actually appreciate lie-ins rather than merely defaulting to them. I miss the old days, kinda, but my life isn’t bereft just because they ended.

We thought we knew where 2013 was taking us, and we turned out to be wrong. It sucked. But I’ve regretted too many bigger and deeper losses to blow this particular loss out of its natural proportion as a disappointing and unhappy hiccup on the way to what, I hope, will be better things.


We were sad, but we’re OK. That’s the core message of this post, I think.

Except that we do keep meeting old friends who ask us what our plans are in the ‘having children’ line, which makes things a little tricky. See, I was keeping the secret largely because I didn’t want people to feel awkward or (worse) terribly, terribly sorry for me when actually I’m more disappointed than heartbroken. But that ain’t a very good reason to keep something secret, especially when doing so is getting in the way of information and making it harder for us to be actually honest about what’s going on with our lives.

A couple of weekends back, I had about six different people directly ask me if we were thinking of starting a family and, by the fifth time I was looking an old friend in the eye and lying through my teeth, it began to feel like I wasn’t being completely straight with them.

More than that, it didn’t feel entirely right keeping all of my feelings closed off from people that I used to volunteer with. It’s pretty much a solid fact that anyone who has been in the Org will go out of their way to prop up a fellow Org member in time of crisis, even after they’ve left. I didn’t, in fact, need propping up, but it still felt weird to be telling them everything was fine and concealing a major event that happened since I saw them last rather than telling them about the event and then explaining that everything was fine.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but when I’m aware that I can’t tell someone something, I’m continually referring back to the secret to check I’m not about to say something that will accidentally invite questions leading towards the secret: it slows down conversation and takes up attention I should be putting towards actual listening. And, for Ruth at least, knowing we were deliberately concealing what happened in the vague fear other people might feel bad made her feel a lot worse.

I don’t want you buggers to feel bad if I can help it, and I was trying to make sure you didn’t, but if the choice is telling you something that might leave you feeling bad or keeping a secret that’s making Ruth feel bad you could save everyone a lot of time by throwing yourself under the Miserybus right now. No offence.

So, there we go. I have now Been Open About Feelings, and can safely retire that experience to my Bucket List of Adventurous Things I Hope Not To Do, alongside ‘a bungee jump’ and ‘dislike crisps’.


Next time on Electric Quaker: JTA gets a new job (but doesn’t talk about it much, because that would be weird), and sticks some extra badges on his coat! Yay, badges!

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. On February 25, 2013 Disclosure | Fleeblewidget says:

    […] also: JTA’s post on the […]