Making Jam

I miscarried. And I didn’t know what to do, so I made jam.

1999 and the world was buzzing with Y2K and Millennium Babies and the last full solar eclipse of the decade/century/millennium, happening 11 August, visible in Europe. In July, when I saw what way my cycle was, I suddenly thought, ‘I will conceive that day.’ And so, while we viewed the sun and shadow through a cut-out shoe box, fireworks and sun bursts went off in my body, invisible to any eye.

And then somehow I forgot. Somehow I was surprised with the thin blue line weeks later.

And then.

And then.

At first, just spotting. My husband was getting ready to go to New York for a recording. The doctor said things could go either way, and gave me these words of wisdom, which I hung on to: “Get rest, your body will need it. Whatever happens, you will need it.”

I rested, and my husband went off, and I miscarried. I had no clue what to do. I hadn’t been to the maternity hospital, and googling wasn’t a thing yet. I managed though, I got myself to the Coombe, and the kind midwives confirmed the miscarriage. They told me I needed to get a Anti-D injection, right then and there. I was scared because it was from a blood product. I wanted to say “No thanks, just forget it; it’s okay,” and run away. “It’s very safe,” the midwife tried to ease my fears. “It’s from Canada.” The statement dropped me further into panic. I knew what had happened to women in Canada, from blood products.

A friend gave me gentle advice, understanding words. I couldn’t phone my mom on Vancouver Island: I was afraid she would worry, knowing I was all alone. Same with my mother-in-law in Dublin. I cried every time I came back to the empty house. I called my husband in New York, and we wept together across the Atlantic, me huddled on the floor of our landing, he in the apartment of another musician. The other musicians were kind to him, and offered what comfort they could. Later they sent me a healing gift, a bracelet of vibrant red amber, my favourite colour for bracelets.

And so, picking myself up off the landing floor, not knowing what to do, I tied on one of my vintage aprons, and started to make jam. I used my grandmother’s recipe, one I had copied from a cookbook of my mother’s, scribbled onto a notepad page, spattered and memorised.

Stirring, the steam engulfed me, the scent of hot fruit and sugar taking me to other kitchens, to the arms of the women who had cradled me. The ruby-ness – soon to be echoed in a bracelet sent and brought lovingly from New York – like a jewel glow. The coldness of the testing spoon, the burning splashes on my hands, the sweet deliciousness bringing me into the present, the now of my kitchen, my self.

I did not know then what I know now: that grief is exhausting, that motherhood is bewildering and as challenging as childbirth, that the children I now know and love would be beautiful and more than I could ever imagine.

I still make jam, without grief, knowing in me the line of strong, laughing women from whom I come, to whom I belong.


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