Sophie sat with her arms crossed tightly over her hunched body; one of her feet betrayed a nervous tap under the seat. She wanted the large cushioned chair to swallow her up so that she didn’t have to answer the question. “Where shall I start?” she asked, with rather more confidence than she felt.
“Wherever you want to,” answered Jenny with a nod. The first meeting was always hardest, as the reality of the situation began to emerge, however Jenny understood that this one might be particularly difficult.
How I can say anything to this woman, Sophie thought to herself, she won’t understand. “It’s all a mistake,” Sophie mumbled. “I shouldn’t be here”. A heavy silence lingered in the air. Sophie had always found silence awkward, she would fill it with words, chatter, gossip, but not this time. The lump in her throat seemed to get bigger and her eyes welled up; she didn’t want to cry but she couldn’t help herself. Jenny leaned forward and pushed the box of tissues towards Sophie and sat back in her chair and waited.
“I suppose,” said Sophie, hesitatingly between her sobs “at the moment I just don’t know what to do. I think I know what I ought to do, but don’t know if that’s what I want to do, or even if I can do it. He said he loved me…” her voice tailed off.
“I think it started when I got pregnant. I was so happy and I thought he was too. We went out to celebrate-well he celebrated-of course I couldn’t drink anything and had to make do with fizzy water, and I was feeling sick. Then he didn’t want me to tell anyone, not even my mum. That was ok at first, it was so early I agreed, but even when I got to five months he still didn’t want me to say anything. I thought it was rather odd and didn’t like having to make excuses to my mum. I had been looking forward to sharing my pregnancy with her, and I knew she desperately wanted to be a grandma.
It got a bit difficult then. He didn’t want me to tell people at work and when I had a take a few days off sick, I couldn’t say why. Then it got worse. He didn’t want me going out, he said I shouldn’t go in my condition. I didn’t understand that, what condition? I was pregnant not sick. When I had to go to see the midwife at the clinic or the doctor at the hospital, he insisted on coming with me; every time! He drove me there, waited with me, and even came in with me. And he stopped me doing the shopping. If he couldn’t do it I had to order online, you know-click, click, click, and then it all turns up on your doorstep. He said it would be too much for me. At first I thought he was being thoughtful and caring. I just didn’t see what was happening.” Sophie’s voice faded away.
“And what was happening”? Jenny asked.
“Well it felt as if I was being smothered,” said Sophie, still struggling between sobs. “But then I didn’t want to go out.” Sophie sniffed. “… didn’t want people to see…”
“See?” Jenny probed gently.
“Well in the winter it had been ok because I wore everything with long sleeves, but when the weather got warmer, it was harder to cover them." Sophie slowly uncrossed her arms and slipped off her jacket-the scars were clear for Jenny to see-a mixture of old bruises and scars-some of them looked like old burn marks.
Jenny looked at Sophie’s arms and then directly into her eyes. She didn’t flinch at the mess in front of her. “These must have been painful” she said. Jenny knew this was the moment that she must stay calm and focused; this brought back painful memories. “So what happened next?” She asked.
“I had the baby,” said Sophie, and her eyes welled up again. “She was early- but no surprises there-we had an argument one evening and I fell down the stairs."
“Fell, " echoed Jenny. “What happened?”
“He said I fell," answered Sophie. “I don’t remember. I woke up in hospital and that’s what he said; that’s what he told the midwife and the doctor. But he was so pleased it was a girl-she was so tiny and had lots of tubes everywhere and I wasn’t able to cuddle her. I wanted to tell her I was so sorry…”
“What happened next?” Jenny asked.
“I went home. They wanted me to stay in with her until she was bigger but he said no; that I would be better at home and we would visit every day. We did that for a few days and then we stopped; he told me she had died and there was no need to visit anymore. I just couldn’t believe it-my beautiful little girl. He blamed me, but I didn’t understand and I got very depressed; I didn’t even go to her funeral, my own baby. I didn’t want to go out or do anything and he became very angry with me again and then packed up and left. He said it was all my fault and he couldn’t stay. He took all his stuff, and all the baby things and went…cleared out. It was awful.”
Jenny waited as Sophie gathered her thoughts before continuing. “But one day I didn’t feel quite as bad as the day before and decided I would just try and take a walk. It was a warm, sunny day and I decided to walk along the river near those new houses. I saw him, it was the first time in months, but he was with someone else, another woman, and they were pushing a pram. It looked like the same sort of pram as we had chosen for our baby. I couldn’t bear to look, I was so upset so I ran home."
Jenny breathed a sigh of relief. Sophie hadn’t recognised her. It had all worked, but it was a difficult meeting.