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Extract from Fateful Decisions

The worst thing was having no warning. One minute Jeff was there, fit and healthy; the next he collapsed training for a charity run on a sunny June day. He was dead by the time they got him to hospital.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy took my husband; something I’d never heard of then. In simple language it means sudden cardiac death and it can affect young people. Jeff never smoked, was seriously sporty and had completed two marathons. He was 34, the same age as me; we’d been married for seven years. I mean I was the one who smoked; not as much as I used to because he went on about it. I was the one who ate red meat every day and always had cream with dessert. He was always warning me about cholesterol. He’d have just one glass of wine with dinner at the weekends and tell me I should cut down on the vodka and tonics, yet he was the one who died. It didn’t make sense.

As I came home from the hospital with tears flowing down my face I thought how unfair it was that he’d never see his unborn son.

‘Molly, you must get bereavement counselling,’ my GP had said when, after the funeral, I went to ask him for sleeping pills to get me through the first few weeks. In hindsight I probably should have taken his advice but I’ve always tried to sort out my own issues. Jeff used to say I was stubborn. So I tried to move on without counselling. Being on compassionate leave from my job as an IT consultant, at home with my only regular source of comfort being Jeff’s distraught dog Pedro, a little black and white terrier, wasn’t the best route to recovery. Jeff had tried unsuccessfully to restrict my home computer use on the grounds that I worked with them all day. He never understood my fascination with the internet and the information out there.

With him gone, I lived on the internet, initially obsessed with discovering more about the condition that killed him and whether there had been any warning signs I had missed.

Two weeks after Jeff died, on what would have been his birthday, I fell down the stairs breaking my right leg in two places, three lumbar vertebrae and my pelvis and bringing on a miscarriage. I had been five months pregnant and proudly showing my bump. We’d put off starting a family for the usual practical reasons; the size of our mortgage and career issues but three years ago we’d decided to try for a baby. We’d assumed it would be easy but nothing happened. We were both tested; the doctors found nothing. We actually had an appointment to discuss the possibility of IVF treatment when I discovered I was pregnant.

So I never saw our son either.

I was found unconscious by Lidia, my Polish cleaner, and the hospital told me later how lucky I was that she had arrived only minutes after my fall given how much blood I had lost.

Lucky? That’s a matter of opinion.

In hospital I just wanted to die. Before the accident at least the baby had given me a reason to live.

Meanwhile, Lidia reorganised my terraced house to take account of my temporary immobility. With the help of her husband, who speaks even less English than she does, she turned the second reception room downstairs into a bedroom/office for me as I couldn’t get upstairs without help. Thus I had an independent existence given the downstairs toilet and shower.

Back home, I became in effect a hermit, ignoring family and friends, and seeing only Lidia and Pedro. I moved on to sites about fertility issues. The hospital doctor had been evasive when I asked about having another child which I took to mean there was an issue. Hours on those sites did not lead me to any definite conclusions so I turned to other ones about lost babies which only made me feel more miserable even when some of the mums posting said there was life after miscarriage.

Every night I looked at the scan picture they printed out for us when we had that ultrasound the week before Jeff died. It’s on the dressing table next to my favourite wedding photo showing me ever so slightly plump, with shoulder length glossy honey blonde hair good enough for a shampoo advertisement. I don’t look like that now or how I did before the double tragedy that hit me. I used to dress smartly when I went out to clients, had a weekly blow dry and always wore make-up. Now I can’t be bothered about my appearance and I know I’m not eating properly. I could do with gaining half a stone and sometimes I can’t be bothered to wash my hair even though I’ve all the time in the world.

My internet research moved on to the separate issue of missing children.

How careless some parents are! Their needs come first. Shortly after my tragedy, two babies went missing thanks to fateful decisions made by their mothers. I became obsessed with these two cases with personal consequences for me and for the mothers that I could never have foreseen.

Like these two women, I made a fateful decision and I don’t think I will ever know if it was the right one.

© Copyright 2013, Enid O'Dowd.