Marie, Andy, Laura
“I didn’t feel I will be much in the box.”
I ask Marie what life was like for her when she was growing up. She had a happy childhood. As for her teenage years, “it’s the same for everyone”, she says.
Marie grew up in a small French village of about four hundred people with her parents and two brothers. Her life was “shared” between her parents’ home and her grandmother’s restaurant. Life in the village was “very free”.
Marie remembers fighting with her younger brother—not with punches, but with words. “I would say, not necessarily a bad word but something like, ah, clever, which would annoy him even worse.”
One of her brother’s favourite games was to have Marie lower something down to him from their balcony, a spoon, for example, and pretend it was a fish. As he tried to catch it she would jiggle it around and watch him in amusement. “He wouldn’t get bored of it, even if he would never get the spoon,” she says.
Marie still remembers the day her father brought home a brand new machine called a “video camera”. She pretended to be a waitress, serving her brother a meal using plastic food, and he filmed them. “I took my role seriously,” she says. Her younger brother wasn’t so conscientious.
“He sat at the table but he doesn’t behave well, like he does a mess with what I prepared and I’m really upset and I keep saying ‘No, no no!’ and I end up in my room crying and shouting and my dad behind the camera says something like, ‘So what’s happened Marie?’ and I’m really really mad… but I find it funny now.”
These days she can identify with her brother’s behaviour as well as her own—“When you know someone is very careful about something,” she says cheekily, it can be a “pleasure” to mess with it.
* * *
In some ways, Marie hasn’t changed much since childhood. “I’m still precious about a few things when I want things to be well done, like if someone ruins my real dinner maybe I would be angry.
“I’m still very sensitive, I had it since very young… I always wanted to understand things, I always thought a lot, but now I know things I even think more and sometimes it’s too much. I’m constantly thinking about life things and analysing things. Even if I don’t want to, it’s like part of my, of the way I am.”
* * *
“I can forgive fives, like between one and ten—I can forgive fives—but generally, it has to be an even number.”
Andy still has a vivid memory of finding out his pregnant wife wasn’t just carrying their first child, but their second as well.
“Julie’s a doctor, as you know. She said, ‘Okay, we’ve got the first obstetrician appointment today, do you want to come?’.”
He did but he had a meeting. He tried to move it but couldn’t.
“Julie says, ‘Look, it’s just the first meeting, it’s just like an introduction with the obstetrician, they don’t do scans or anything like that, so you’re not going to miss anything, it’s basically some book-keeping and some paperwork.’
“So I didn’t go and lo and behold, this obstetrician has an ultrasound machine in her room, which isn’t common, and she’s trained to use it.” Julie had a scan and called Andy immediately afterwards to tell him the news.
“I was just shocked. There was nowhere in that building I could hide, there were no offices with closed doors, and so I was just kind of standing in the thoroughfare… there were just people walking past constantly and I just found out I was having twins. It didn’t really make sense.
“My first thought was: I’ve already reconciled the idea of having one kid and what that will take. I know how much love I’ve got to give this kid, and now I have to divide that in two? That’s not fair—on the kids. I was just really scared for a little while but also really excited, but yeah, it was very bewildering.”
* * *
One of the most common things people said to Julie and Andy when they said they were having twins was, “I’ve had kids, I don’t know how you’re going to do it—one was hard enough!”.
“It’s not a helpful thing to say when you think about it,” Andy says. “I don’t have a choice, I have to cope, I can’t put them back, they’re my kids. But that does weirdly work as solace too because I can’t put them back, they’re my kids, I have to cope.”
The twins were exceptionally bad at one very important life skill: sleeping. They could cry and scream with astonishing stamina, but rarely slept for more than a few hours at a time, and it wasn’t just for the first few months, it was for the first few years.
Trying to get them to sleep was the worst, Andy says. “To get them off to sleep was just pacing, holding them and pacing for about two-and-half hours, and they were screaming the entire time, so your heart’s being broken constantly. And you just want them to go to sleep so you can have five minutes to yourself.”
Then, when they were finally asleep and Andy and Julie were just drifting off, they’d wake again.
“There were numerous times where I hit the point of sitting on the floor in their room and just crying and going, ‘I can’t do this anymore’. But that was about as deep as it got; I had to keep going.”
Of course they tried everything. “We were in and out of the Mother Baby Unit at the hospital… they eventually said, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing we can do—we’ve tried everything and there’s nothing left’.”
They also tried a particularly expensive sleep consultant. “She ended up washing her hands of us as well. And she had us try controlled crying which was awful, completely awful.”
It failed, he says, in “spectacular fashion”, with Evie.
“You know how it works—you put them to bed for five minutes, and then you go in… and then when they cry you leave it for ten, then you go in, for fifteen, then you go in, and that went on till the gap should have been about forty-five minutes and I called the sleep consultant lady and said, ‘We’re up to forty-five minute gaps now, we should stop, right?’ and she said, ‘You should definitely keep going,’ and so we left her for forty-five minutes, screaming and screaming, and then the screaming stopped.”
The problem is, it hadn’t stopped because she’d fallen asleep, it was because she’d lost her voice.
“She cried herself hoarse. That was it. That was it.” They resolved never to do it again, and they haven’t.
“I know it works for some kids and is extremely successful and not negligent in any way… I just don’t think it works for our kids, and I’d never go through it again; I don’t want to risk it.”
They’ve since done “all the wrong things” with the others, which has led to even more sleep deprivation. But now that their youngest, who’s two, is finally starting to sleep in her own bed, things are improving at last.
* * *
“I didn’t want to live for the rest of my life thinking I hadn’t chosen to see her. So we did.”
Laura and Joe’s two young kids were with them when they found out something was wrong with the baby.
“They came with me and Joe and my mum to the ultrasound that you have between eighteen and twenty weeks because they were going to see her heartbeat and see her moving around—not that we knew it was a her at that stage—we were going to see a baby.
“And then the guy did his little thing and then he was like, ‘I’m just going to go see the doctor’, and that was when I got that sense of dread, first off, then I thought, ‘No, I’m just being silly, it’s fine,’ and then it took quite a while for him to come back and I felt even worse, and then he came in and said, ‘I guess you can tell by the fact that I’ve been gone that not everything is going right.’
“And you know, then I just kind of started crying,” Laura says.
They told the kids the baby was “very sick” and they had to go to the hospital to find out what was wrong, and Laura’s mum took them home.
“I was like, ‘Maybe there’s a chance we can do something and fix this up…’ but when a baby doesn’t have a heartbeat, there’s no chance.”
* * *
I can’t imagine losing a baby and not being haunted by it, but Laura, whose due date was about two weeks ago, seems remarkably accepting.
“It’s kind of hard because I think yes, it is the hardest thing that’s ever happened, to have a child that you’re expecting and that you’ve longed for, to lose the child, but at the same time I can’t imagine it now, having been any other way,” she says.
“I would like Amy to be here, particularly because my sister-in-law’s just had twins—there are a lot of little babies that would be Amy’s age right now, so it’s hard to see them and not feel jealous or not wonder what it would be like in our family to have that child—but I just feel like God gives you an acceptance of the things that he puts in your life. That’s what he’s given me.”
Laura knows that no amount of grief will change what happened. “I learnt a lot out of it and I would like Amy to be here, but she’s with Jesus. She knows him better than I do, and we will see her.”
* * *
On the night Amy was born, Laura and Joe looked at their tiny daughter, and Joe touched her face.
They spent a couple of hours with her all wrapped up, taking turns to hold her.
One of the hardest things at that point was that they still didn’t know if Amy was a boy or a girl.
“The nurse had said, ‘This baby doesn’t look right,’ and we said ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ and she said ‘I don’t know, I can’t tell because the baby’s too swollen.’
“She had a syndrome, although we’re not sure what syndrome she had—we haven’t got the results of the post mortem back yet—and she was quite swollen… she had been dead for a couple of days,” Laura says.
They spent the next hour trying to think of gender-neutral names because they couldn’t bear the idea of not naming the baby. I suppose a name was the only thing they could give her.
The nurses said Laura and Joe could find out the gender through the post mortem, but wouldn’t get the results for several weeks. Then Joe plucked up the courage to ask if a doctor could take a look.
The doctor told the nurse to look again herself. “By that time the fluid had gone down a little bit and she could tell that it was a girl,” Laura says, “but that was awful, the idea that you wouldn’t know who your baby was”.
Around midnight, the nurse wheeled Amy away in a crib that looked normal, but was actually refrigerated, so they could try to get some rest.
She was wheeled back in the morning, and Joe unwrapped her.
“He said, ‘A father should hold his little girl’s hand’.”
He also took her tiny, still body in his arms, and sang to her.
The song was “Jesus loves me”, and as he finished, he turned to Laura and said, “You know, she knows it better than we do”.
In the end Laura, who had been anxious about how she’d react to her baby’s appearance, found it completely immaterial.
“She did not look as a full-term healthy baby would, but we admired her all the same,” she says.
She was a little swollen and a little discoloured, but “beautiful in herself”.
Laura and Joe, their children and her parents, all touched the baby’s precious face.
“It was a lesson in love for me, having always felt a little fearful about ‘ugliness’ or perceived ugliness,” she says.
“You love those that God gives you to love, no matter. And beauty is not about appearance, it’s about being.”
* * *
We talk about how the kids are coping.
Laura tells me she recently overheard her son telling her daughter he couldn’t wait to see Amy, and felt “a bit sad” about it all.
His little sister was quick to comfort him.
“But she’s with God, and he’s safe and nice,” she said.
I ask Marie whether she likes living on her own. She likes the independence but hates the constancy of being alone.
“There’s a lady, and old neighbour, I visit her every week. I give her some books and we talk a little bit but she’s not of my age and it’s nice, but sometimes I think that’s the only person I talk to outside of work.”
Although she made some friends through a theatre group a few years back, most of them were foreigners and returned home. And now she doesn’t feel she has the strength to make new friends, and besides, she’s thinking she’ll leave Versailles.
* * *
Marie says that if you look at nature, it feels like there could be a God, “but if you see the human beings I would think no”.
“I always wonder where is the sense of life… even if I am not in the worst situation I think, ‘Wow, I’m hardly dealing with this, how could I deal with that?’.”
* * *
A few weeks after our interview, I decide to send Marie a gift. I choose a silver bucket filled with peach-coloured roses, and a box of macarons.
Marie sends me a very cute message when it arrives. She says she noticed the box and wondered what was inside.
“There were flowers and a bird on it, I found it nice then I decided to check if was a delivery for someone and who—maybe me but really not believing it. What a surprise!
“Being sensitive at the moment, when I took the box and opened it, I think I had enough tears to water the rose tree!
“Thank you for this delicate attention and bright surprise… I feel like an angel came today. Love from Versailles.”
Andy is one of the most passionate people I know. Whether he’s telling you about this incredibly delicious burger place he’s found that you really must try, or how he’s been teaching his kids about space and they’re really getting it, or why he’s married to the most wonderful woman in the entire world, he never lacks enthusiasm.
I ask him if he wears his heart on sleeve.
“I think so. I don’t know, it’s a weird phrase… I generally try and be pretty up front about how I feel about things, or more importantly, try not to be afraid of what people think of my feelings. Part of that is just being a Christian… learning how to be unabashedly unafraid as a Christian gives you the ability to do that in other contexts as well.”
As well as juggling the roles of husband, father and games journo, Andy’s also a teacher. A while back, Andy and Julie decided to home school their kids, at least for the early years. They began last year.
“Class sizes are massive—huge—the child-to-teacher ratio is crazy, and there’s no way that schools can tailor their teaching to the student, so we thought… we may as well give it a shot,” he says.
“The best thing is being there and seeing them growing and learning… especially as a dad—dads often, traditionally, are the ones that work and miss out.”
The worst thing, he says, is the constant pressure, “and the constant voice in the back of your head that says, ‘You could have done more today than you did’.”
“Some days I can look back and go, all we did was have a conversation about something, that’s the only thing I could write down as a lesson they had today. Otherwise they were just fighting and the house was a joke so I had to spend a bunch of time doing housework… If they were at school they would have had a day full of lessons.”
* * *
Andy often jokes that he’s using his job to legitimise playing computer games as an adult. At the same time, he wants people to take the games he plays seriously.
“I want them to be seen by people as a valid form of media—an art form,” he says.
He also doesn’t want to feel like he has to say “technology and games journalist” when people ask what he does for a living. “I should just be able to say ‘games journalist’, but even I feel social pressure to discount it somehow.”
There’s this massive game developers conference held in San Fransisco each year which Andy’s always wanted to attend. This year, he not only got a media pass and went, he got there via “Train Jam”—a collection of developers travelling there from Chicago via train, using the fifty-odd hour journey to create games from scratch. He was in interview heaven.
Andy has also started being interviewed—on podcasts, local radio and television networks, by his weird sister-in-law—and giving talks at conferences and schools. You could say he’s become something of an authority on computer games, and when you’re an authority on an art-form, you really have to engage with it on a regular basis, right? Yep, I’d say Andy has his dream job.
Laura was nineteen weeks and five days pregnant when she gave birth to Amy.
“We didn’t have to have a funeral for her or name her or do any of those things if we didn’t want to. You’re only legally obliged to do that after twenty weeks,” she says.
Laura was “a little bit sheepish”—“kind of British”—about having a funeral. She worried people would think it was somehow over the top having a funeral for a baby that was only nineteen weeks along, “but I’m really glad that we did it—and I don’t think anyone thought that”, she adds.
In a strange way, it was a blessing, not only to Laura and Joe, but to many of those who went, because it was a chance to grieve together, not just for Amy, but for other babies lost along the way.
“I’ve spoken to lots of women who have had babies twenty, forty, even fifty or sixty years ago that they still remember, but the babies weren’t acknowledged,” Laura says. It was as if they were hidden away—as if they’d never existed. But something like this stays with you, no matter what, so it’s far better to speak and grieve openly, she says.
* * *
I ask why they chose the middle name “Hope”.
“As soon as we found out about the fact that she was dead, I didn’t plan it, but this bible verse just came into my mind, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’
“Someone says that, when the women go to look for Jesus at the tomb, I think it’s the angel that says it… maybe in Luke?
“We had the reading at the funeral, and that was just the idea that was in my head the whole time we were going through that really intense week. I was just thinking, ‘resurrection’, you know, we have this hope; death is not the end.”
* * *
I wonder whether the experience challenged Laura’s faith at all. She says it only made her cling to it more.
“It was dreadful and horrible and there were moments where I was like, you know, if I was looking from outside of myself at me wailing on the bed, I would be like, ‘What is wrong with that person?’.”
But she was also surrounded by love, and she knew it.
“I don’t think I could have had the faith and acceptance and the ability to go through it without other people’s prayers; because they were praying when I couldn’t.
“When I was just blubbering, they were praying. And when I couldn’t cook or tidy the house, people from church made meals and were our strength.”
* * *
Laura’s also thankful that Joe was able to grieve with her. Many people in their situation would have shut off emotionally, but he was different.
“He seems like one of those macho guys because he is quite blunt and he likes sport and all that kind of thing, but he’s happy to say, ‘I’m not feeling great about this’ and ‘I feel really sad’ or he’s happy to say, ‘A father should hold his little girl’s hand and sing “Jesus loves me” to his baby.’
“And I don’t know if I’d realised that,” Laura says. “We’ve been married for ten years this year, and I don’t know if I’d realised, he’s actually quite different.”
* * *
Laura made “a conscious decision” not to get upset or offended by people’s attempts to sympathise with her after what happened with Amy.
“No one comes to you trying to tell you a story to make you annoyed, they come to you to tell you a story trying to help you and comfort you. I made the decision to assume the best out of people rather than assume the worst.”
Even so, it must have been intense to be in the midst of grieving for your own baby, and have tale after tale of similar tragedies laid at your feet.
“It was a little bit overwhelming—so many people. I wasn’t going to go to church the week after it happened—directly after it happened—because I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can face it’, but then in the end I went because, well, where else would I want to be apart from with my Christian family that share the same hope that they’ll see her again?
“I didn’t go into church, I stayed in the creche room, and some people who saw me went through and I went out a bit later, after a lot of people had gone, because it was pretty raw.
“That day about six different people told me about babies they’d lost,” Laura says, “and one lady told me she now doesn’t have any children because she and her husband lost seven babies”.
“It was slightly overwhelming, but actually made me feel like, this is a broken world and these things do happen, and I was glad not to feel alone in it.”