Book Review: A Vicarage Reunion.

cover130912-mediumIt is unfortunately still something of a taboo so the fact that miscarriage plays such a big part in Kate Hewitt’s latest book, A Vicarage Reunion, feels like an important step to me.

Having experienced two early pregnancy losses, I was drawn to this novel – the second in this series – but what kept me reading was the fact it’s a brilliantly told story, with barely suppressed emotions, which I knew had to come out eventually.

Here’s the blurb:

Welcome to Thornthwaite, a quaint village tucked up in England’s beautiful but rainy Lake District… where homecomings and surprises await the four Holley sisters…

Esther Holley, the eldest in the family, has always had her life firmly in control until a miscarriage knocks her off course. Two months later, still emotionally spinning, she separates from her husband Will, a sheep farmer and man of few words and moves back in with her parents.

Life as a singleton thirty something living in her parents’ house is miserable, but Esther is determined to re-boot her life, including going on a few unfortunate dates. She’s shocked when tight-lipped Will shows up on her doorstep determined to woo her back. They’ve been married for seven years, but Will wants to return to the beginning, dating and getting to know each other again.

New challenges face them as they start over–and new chances too. Can Esther and Will save their marriage, especially when faced with the hardest decision of all?

While it might be too raw to read if you’ve just experienced it, nearly seven years after my first loss I found the book comforting. Obviously everyone grieves differently but I could relate to the way not just Esther but also Will were dealing (or maybe not dealing) with what happened.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure about Esther at first but the more I got to know her, the more I liked her – and in the end I desperately wanted her to have a happy ending.

The miscarriage was a catalyst for them splitting up but I also felt it helped them to understand each other better. They had settled into a rut after years of marriage, as can so easily happen, but this was their wake up call.

Despite the fact I haven’t read the first book (yet), I was able to easily understand the family dynamics at the vicarage and really enjoyed meeting the engaging cast of characters.

I thought the whole story was exceptionally well written and can’t wait to read more.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £1.99.

My rating: Five stars.

With thanks to Tule Publishing for the ARC (via NetGalley) in return for an honest review.

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Pregnancy loss – how to explain it to a toddler?

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Mark had this lovely acorn journal cover made for me.

“Who is Oscar? Is that his house? Can I play with Oscar?”

Usually when Freya asks a question I don’t have an answer to, which happens quite a lot these days, I turn to my good friend Google for help – all the while pretending I know, really, but it’s educational for her to help me look it up.

Those three questions, though, the first two fired from her car seat as we were driving along, left me struggling to find the right words to explain. When they never came, I knew this was the one time I probably couldn’t even turn to Google for help.

“Who is Oscar?”

Maybe it’s because I’m desperate to say the right thing. To make sure that I can tell her who he is, or was, or nearly was without frightening her or making her worry, which she has a tendency to do.

I could have said: “Oscar was your big brother but he was poorly and died” but then I’d probably need to explain death and, rightly or wrongly, I didn’t want that to touch her. At two and three quarters it feels like her world should be full of light and colour not tinged with darkness.

Not yet.

Not now, when it doesn’t really need to be.

So I stayed silent.

My silence led to guilt.

Firstly for not answering her when I promised myself that I would always respond to her questions. And secondly because not talking about him felt like a betrayal of his memory and of what we went through.

Because I was only 13 weeks pregnant, trying to work out my own feelings at the time – in the face views such as it was “one of those things” and “not like a real baby” – was something of a minefield.

It took time and counselling to eventually come to some sort of understanding.

And my understanding is that he was my first, much wanted, baby and not only did I not want to simply forget him, having seen him, I wasn’t able to.

Which is why we were going to the Woodland Burial Ground that day.

“Is that his house?”

We had just pulled into the car park and she could see the meeting hall, a peaceful building with panoramic views over the woodland, where funerals and memorials are held.

“No, darling,” was as much as I could manage this time.

She has been to the woodland before, starting from when she was a tiny baby, but this was really the first time she had questioned her surroundings.

We walked together, holding hands, with Freya gripping the flowers we brought so tightly that I was worried she might crush them.

The woodland is dotted with beautifully carved memorial markers including Tinkerbell, various animals and flowers as well as the odd (tasteful) tribute to that person’s favourite football team. She was pointing out ones she liked and asking what some other ones were, which meant a reprieve from the more difficult questions – although not for long.

“Can I play with Oscar?”

This was the one that caused the lump in my throat.

When I visited on my own at Christmas I spent some time sitting near the baby memorial having a think. It’s such a peaceful place and while there are never very many people about it always feels safe, even on a gloomy December afternoon.

As I walked back down the hill, I could see a man in amongst the markers in the children’s section and I wondered what he was doing. As I got closer, I could hear. He was reading a storybook hunkered down next to a little grave.

Oh my heart, it broke for him in that instant.

So as not to disturb him I quietly walked the other way and went home. Freya’s question reminded me of him.

We can’t play with them or see them and I know Oscar isn’t really there, or anywhere, anymore but it comforts me to visit – just as I am sure it comforted that dad to read his story.

If everything had gone to plan, our boy would have been celebrating his fourth birthday on April 30. As you’re not allowed to leave anything that’s not natural, it feels right to take him some bright flowers.

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What to say?

When Freya was a baby I had no trouble mentioning him. “Look, Freya, Oscar has sent us a rainbow,” I would say. But since she started to really understand things – and I was mindful of the fact the that I didn’t know how to explain it – I’ve been more careful about saying his name.

A shame Mark and I hadn’t had this conversation.

That day I told her we were going to take some flowers to a woodland but, while we were in the car, Mark mentioned Oscar, and set the questions off.

Our eyes met in the rear view mirror and I think he was as clueless as I was about how to explain to her.

After laying down the flowers we walked back to the car and went off to get on with our day. She hasn’t mentioned him since but I’m left with a feeling of not having done right by either of them.

I do mean to talk to her about Oscar and what happened – I don’t want it to seem like some dark family secret – but when she can understand things a little better.

That evening, just before she went to bed, I happened to look out of the window. On his birthday Oscar had sent us a double rainbow.

I’m hopeful that means he understands too.

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Does anyone have any experience of this? Am I doing the right thing in waiting?

Little Hearts, Big Love

The story of a doll.

Trigger warning: Pregnancy loss mentioned.

IMG_4088Give my mum an old curtain, some ribbon and a sewing machine and she will knock out a tablecloth, a set of doll’s clothes and a pretty cushion cover – all in the space of about five minutes.

My nan, who sadly died before I was born, was a tailoress and not only taught my mum but also made her cool outfits as well as things for my brother when he was tiny.

Then there is me. The third generation.

I’d rather write (or read, paint, take photos or even cook) than sew, which I fear has been  a minor disappointment for my mum. She had been waiting for so long to pass on her skills but, after more than 30 years, I think she’d given up hope of that ever happening. So, when in the latter months of 2012 I found myself overwhelmed by the need to make something, it surprised us both.

In February that year I had lost my second pregnancy. Several rather traumatic months on, we made the decision to start trying again. Unlike the first two times I failed to concieve quickly.

Month after month started with such hope and then ended in absolute despair.

With an ever-growing number of negative pregnancy tests, the frustration and anguish bubbled up into a real need to do something – and, for some reason, I knew it was sewing.

I’m sure all sorts of things could be read into it (and my mental state at the time) but I wanted to make something real that I could touch and see, that couldn’t be taken away. Also something that represented hope when hope was fading.

I decided to make a (rather haphazard) version of a Tilda Angel doll with the idea that one day I could pass it on to my own little girl or boy.

My poor old mum patiently showed me how to trace patterns, cut material and re-thread that blasted sewing machine needle approximately 15,000 times.

The doll wasn’t perfect, by any means, but she was as good as I could make her.

And, despite buying an array of books with a view to making all sorts of pretty things, once she was finished the need to make anything else disappeared as quickly as a summer storm. I’m pretty sure that was relief I saw on my mum’s face.

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When I finally had my own healthy baby in my arms and the chaos of motherhood took over, the doll was consigned to the box on top of the wardrobe and forgotten.

Until today.

As it was raining I got the dressing up basket out but thought “why should Freya have all the fun?” so I went to fetch my wedding dress. As I was getting the box down the doll fell off the top and Freya immediately grabbed it, hugged it close and proclaimed she loved Pearl, as she named her.

It was like deja vu.

The dream becoming a reality right before my eyes made me stop in my tracks. It felt like the final piece of a puzzle had slotted into place. I think I actually exclaimed: “Oh!”

How often does that happen in life? Rarely, I think, but I am so thankful to have experienced it.

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