Happy Ever After for the Cornish Midwife by Jo Bartlett


‘Imagine being told that you can’t have the one thing you’ve always wanted.’ The training facilitator looked across the room and Meg deliberately didn’t make eye contact. She could imagine it far too easily, except that she’d had the one thing she’d always wanted and it had been taken away from her.

‘That’s what infertility is like for so many people.’ The facilitator was still scanning the room, and even with her head dipped slightly, Meg could see lots of people nodding, including Jess, who was sitting on her right. Jess had first-hand experience of the pain of infertility and she’d been open about it with Meg since she’d joined the midwifery unit as a part-time receptionist. Meg did two days at the unit and two days at the GP surgery, fitting in her studies to become a counsellor around both jobs. It was Jess who’d suggested she come along to the endometriosis awareness training and Meg had jumped at the chance. Anything that helped her to understand the challenges people were going through was a positive, but this issue was close to home for Meg too.

‘What if there was something you could do that might give you the chance of having a baby after all, even if the timing wasn’t right?’ The facilitator clicked through to the next slide. ‘That’s often a predicament faced by young women diagnosed with more severe cases of endometriosis.’

Meg leant closer to Jess. ‘They’ve told Tilly not to leave it too long, but she’s nowhere near ready to have a baby.’ She whispered the words to her friend, who shot her a sympathetic look in return. Meg had shared enough in the past for Jess to know why this was such a dilemma for her daughter. Tilly was twenty-three and had just completed the second part of her solicitor’s qualifying exam and had started her two years’ qualifying practice with a small law firm in Port Tremellien. She should be thinking about how to make the most of her twenties and build her career, not choosing whether to gamble with her fertility. Tilly’s boyfriend, Ed, was a nice enough lad, but he was only a couple of years ahead of her in training for the same career. It seemed far too early for them to have to decide whether they wanted a link to each other for the rest of their lives.

‘For me, it wasn’t just the issue of decreasing infertility.’ The facilitator shook her head. ‘I knew I couldn’t have the treatment that was most likely to reduce my pain until I’d decided my family was complete. Facing the prospect of getting pregnant or risking infertility when you’re only in your twenties is hard enough, but agreeing to have a hysterectomy at a very early age is arguably even harder. I know it was for me.’

Jess scribbled something on the pad she was holding. She’d been involved in running an infertility support group in Port Agnes for over three years and it was so in demand that GP surgeries from across the region had made contact to see if some of their patients could attend. With the need for support growing, Jess had asked Meg if she’d be willing to help out and it had seemed like the perfect role to help her develop her counselling skills. She was already volunteering for a bereavement charity, but that wasn’t what she wanted to do forever. Meg had spent the last ten years being defined by bereavement and making a career out of that had never been part of her plan.

There was a murmur of agreement from around the room at the facilitator’s words. The audience were all professionals involved in supporting patients with infertility and the last segment of the day focused on endometriosis. Willingly choosing to undergo a hysterectomy at a young age probably seemed unimaginable to most of the people in the room, but not Meg. She’d witnessed her daughter in so much pain from her endometriosis that if someone had offered Tilly the solution there and then, she’d probably have taken it just to stop the agony. But Meg knew that her daughter also wanted a family more than anything; a chance to get back what they’d once had, until fate and a freak accident had stolen it from them. Sometimes she’d dream the accident had never happened, and the raw grief would hit her all over again the moment she woke up. If Tilly added to their family, it wouldn’t fill the void, but if grief was love with nowhere to go, there’d be a tsunami of love waiting for that baby to arrive. Just the thought of someone new coming into their lives made Meg’s eyes sting, but she couldn’t work out if the threatened tears were the good kind or the bad.

‘As a GP, I think that’s something I need to bear in mind.’ A woman to the left of Meg directed her response to the facilitator. ‘It’s easy for me to tell a young woman with a more severe case of endometriosis that she needs to consider her fertility sooner rather than later, if she wants to give herself the best chance of having a child naturally, but I can never fully understand what other factors might be involved in deciding whether or not to try for a baby.’

‘Absolutely; it’s not the black-and-white decision that some health care providers present it as.’ The facilitator smiled. ‘That’s something for us all to think about over the next coffee break. When we come back, we’ll be doing small group work to see if we can come up with some ideas on how to talk to women with endometriosis and other infertility issues, which take into account what those other factors might be.’

Meg turned to Jess, as everyone started to head towards the trestle table at the back of the room, ready to swoop on the drinks and biscuits that had been set out for the break. ‘Thank you so much for swinging it for me to come to this.’

‘No problem at all. If we get the funding to start running some counselling sessions at the surgery, all of this is really going to help. Not to mention how important this is to you personally.’ Jess touched her arm. She was such a force of nature and Meg would bet her last pound on Jess getting the project off the ground. The GP surgery and midwifery unit were increasingly working in partnership with each other and they’d identified a huge need to extend the mental health support for patients using both services. Meg had been working at the unit for a year and had only attended eight infertility support group sessions so far. But Jess had shared from the start how worried she was about the emotional impact of infertility on some of the members and she was incredibly honest about how her own infertility had affected her, so it had been easy for Meg to share what Tilly was going through.

‘I’ve got to admit it’s made me think.’ Meg tucked a strand of chestnut brown hair behind her ear. She’d been adamant that Tilly shouldn’t panic and rush into motherhood when she’d brought up the prospect just after she’d got her exam results, but she could see now that it wasn’t as simple as that.

‘Me too, I think training sessions like this are—’ Jess stopped as Meg’s phone started to buzz in her hand. ‘Do you need to get that?’

‘It’s Tilly, but she knows not to ring me today.’ Meg looked from the screen to Jess and back again, cold creeping up her spine for reasons that probably wouldn’t occur to anyone else. It was just an unexpected phone call from her daughter and Tilly had probably forgotten all about the training. But ever since that day when Meg had been given the worst news imaginable, she didn’t seem to be capable of expecting anything else and right now, it was like she was frozen to the spot.

‘Her timing’s spot on. We’ve got fifteen minutes before the next session, so you can take Tilly’s call and I’ll get us both a drink and some of those shortbread biscuits before all we’re left with are oatcakes.’

‘Thank you.’ Meg’s hand shook as she reached out to press the button to connect the call. Her heart was hammering, despite telling herself there was nothing to worry about. ‘Hey, Tils. What’s up?’

‘Is that Mrs Sawyer?’ The voice didn’t belong to her daughter, it was male for a start, and Meg’s racing heartbeat broke into a gallop. This couldn’t be happening, not again.

Somehow she managed to mumble a response. ‘Uh-huh.’

‘Now don’t worry.’ His words had the opposite of their intended effect. She couldn’t think of a single reason why a stranger would be calling her on Tilly’s phone if there was nothing to worry about. ‘But I’m ringing because Tilly collapsed at work.’

‘Collapsed!’ The word came out as a shriek and Meg was vaguely aware of people looking in her direction, but she didn’t give a damn. She just needed to know that Tilly was alive.

‘Sorry, I’m not putting this very well. It was probably more of a faint. She’s awake and talking now, and she seems fine, but she won’t let us call an ambulance. You’re listed on Tilly’s HR file as her next of kin and we thought maybe you could persuade her to get checked out properly.’ The man cleared his throat. ‘We don’t want her driving home after this.’

‘Don’t let her move until I get there.’ Meg wasn’t going to waste time trying to talk sense into Tilly over the phone. She wanted to see her daughter with her own eyes and make sure she was okay. Once she got there, Meg would carry Tilly out and strap her into the car herself, like she was a toddler again, if she had to. She’d be going to hospital to get checked over whether she liked it or not.

‘How long do you think you’ll be? Tilly seems pretty determined that she’s okay to drive.’ The man on the other end of the phone sounded doubtful and something about his tone helped the tension in Meg’s shoulders to relax. He wasn’t worried about Tilly being okay, he was worried that they wouldn’t be able to stop her leaving until Meg arrived. Nothing stood in Tilly’s way when she’d made up her mind.

‘I’ll be twenty minutes at the most.’ Meg caught Jess’s eye. She’d explain everything later, but Tilly needed her. When that happened, there wasn’t a single thing in the world that could stand in Meg’s way either.