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Changes: Sarah Gwonyoma

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Annie [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Changes. It is Annie here on what I am tentatively calling a spring day. It is the day before St Patrick's Day. The crocuses are up and blooming in the garden. The buds are just starting to appear in the pear tree in front of the rave shed at the end of the garden. And it's really feeling like we are in the middle of a season change. And to me personally, that's a good feeling. It's a sense of kind of anticipation and of optimism. I hope you're feeling good. I know some people react badly to seasons changing, but hopefully this transition from winter into spring is a positive one for you, it feels good. This week, of course, like we bring you every week we have a story of change. But I've got to say, some of the stories that we encounter on this podcast are truly unbelievable and this is one of them. This week's episode is with a woman called Sarah Gwonyoma. She is the founder of an Instagram platform called What Sarah Read Next. It's a book review platform where she interviews authors and basically holds a kind of community of people around her love for books. I came across her, of course, on Instagram. She asked me if she could interview me around the release of my first novel Mother Mother, and I found her interview really refreshing, I have to say, in comparison to the other interviews that I had done around the book because she was so chatty and so fun. She's a natural interviewer. We conducted the interview from Fiji where Sarah lived at the time, and what I didn't know was that behind the very bubbly demeanour, Sarah was grappling with intense grief. It turned out that both her brother and her husband had died in the space of a year. When I learnt of Sarah's full story, I really wanted to get her on here to talk through her changes when she was ready. It's a story of intense romantic love and joy paired with immeasurable loss. It's the story of how you find the strength to go on when you have been pulled to the very edges of despair. And of course, it's a story about change, how it can rise up out of nowhere and rupture your life, but then how you can use it as a tool to heal. After this conversation, I was just floored by Sarah, by her positivity and by her strength and I've no doubt that you will be too. Suffice to say, I'm sure you've already guessed there are some serious topics in this conversation, namely grief and death, but also fertility, where Sarah talks me through her struggles with fertility. So if any of that is triggering for you, go and have a look at the show notes for the kind of full details of the conversation. I started the conversation by asking Sarah where she was brought up. Let's do it. 

Sarah [00:03:05] I was born in Uganda, and because there was war kicking off, my parents moved to England so I was about a year and a half. So by the time we moved here, it was just myself. And then my sister came along. And then my brother James. And we were living in North London, and then parents moved to Battersea and eventually ended up in Balham. 

Annie [00:03:27] What were your parents like? What kind of people were they? 

Sarah [00:03:29] My dad was tall, handsome, really intelligent, was basically life and soul of the party. And then you had my mum, mumma Flavs, who's basically a big, you know, big energy like myself. You know, she looked after children, so we'd always have children in the house everywhere. And so from a very young age as well, I'd be helping her out, looking after kids. It was a really happy home. Everyone in the community knew my mum and knew us. My parents were also party animals and so any given time their would basically be a party. I'd say like once a month, they'd like to say that. You know, they'd be like Lingala sort of Congolese music playing, there'd always be food. Mum worked really hard. She was working 3 jobs to basically get us through private school. And dad obviously was there in the background. 

Annie [00:04:15] And you're did your dad work as well? 

Sarah [00:04:17] He did. He was a cab driver. He was a cabbie. And so he'd basically pick us up from school, take us home. There would be a bit of a crossover before mum would then have to go and do the night shift. 

Annie [00:04:28] Yeah. 

Sarah [00:04:29] Cracks just started to sort of show and I think it was about 15 when mum and dad split up. You know, went to school and basically things got swept under the carpet. As a family, we didn't really talk about it either. It was kind of like, that's happened, chapter gone, let's just move on. 

Annie [00:04:45] Did you have a relationship with your dad after that? 

Sarah [00:04:48] I tried to stay in touch, but it was a case of like I would sort of reach out, didn't really hear much back or there'd be sort of sporadic kind of communication, like maybe the odd card, but I'd continuously send like Father's Day cards, Happy birthday cards. I might get the odd text, might not. You know, it definitely starts to kind of get to you. So I think when I got to uni, Annie, it was a case of- I'd get drunk, I remember like they were --- when I'd get drunk, but I'd get blind drunk at the end of it I'd basically get really teary and emotional. And what would come out was like I was like really upset and really damaged-

Annie [00:05:23] Of course, of course. 

Sarah [00:05:23] As a result of the parents splitting up, not talking about that fallout. 

Annie [00:05:27] Yeah, and not having anyone to talk through it with. 

Sarah [00:05:30] Absolutely, we didn't get a chance to sort of say goodbye to Dad and we weren't going to start talking about it with my mum, just because we didn't want to upset her, you know? 

Annie [00:05:39] Yeah, yeah, totally. 

Sarah [00:05:41] You're just like, you kind of know it's not discussed, but you kind of know, like, let's not go there, lets not rock the boat, especially the mumma boat because she's also doing so much for us, you know. She's kind of keeping us alive. She's kept us under the roof. But internally I feel that we were all carrying stuff. But it wasn't uni that like, it really started to unravel for me that like the pain- I was drinking to oblivion at times and the pain would come out, you know. 

Annie [00:06:11] The drink, I suppose, opens a door, doesn't it? Allows feelings to kind of rush out of you. 

Sarah [00:06:16] Absolutely. 

Annie [00:06:17] Do you think that was the first time you were aware that you were carrying some things from what had happened? 

Sarah [00:06:22] Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I'd started to date guys. I was a very late bloomer when it came to men, you know, like kissing and all that kind of stuff I was like eww! *laughs*. And so I started going out with guys, and it was quite evident quite early on that I was, I was quite needy. I needed validation and I was putting out a lot. I was I was definitely putting a lot more effort into the relationship than the guy. If I put a lot of effort in and like, love them, they won't leave me. Again, back to the abandonment issues. The sort of daddy issues that really start coming out. The whole father-daughter relationship is so important and these are the things I'm sort of learning now that I'm on this kind of journey to healing. You know, I'd go out with these good looking, intelligent guys, really charming. You look back, it's like, just like my father. I basically modelled like my father. I've been cheated on, yeah the patterns were all there. Glaringly there for anyone to see, but obviously at the time I didn't see any of that... until I met my late husband, Tim. But my way of kind of dealing with that now, now I've reached 42, you know, we moved back from Fiji last year and, you know, having gone from, you know, a lot of hurt from my dad and not having much contact with him. And there was a point actually in Fiji, I was like, if he was to pass, like, I don't think I actually would bother going to the funeral because it's like, what's the point? I don't have this relationship with this guy. I'd be basically like- I'd feel like a fass, like, you know, but I came back and obviously I'm doing all this work and I decided to go and visit him. And at the end of the visit, I went in to hug him and I just said dad, you know what, I forgive you. I forgive you. 

Annie [00:08:09] What did he say? 

Sarah [00:08:11] He just, you know, he's not really capable of talking right now. He's not sort of, he's not well, but he sort of looked up at me and just you could see like he got quite teary and just basically pulled me in. And I just said again, you know, I forgive you. I feel emotional even saying it, but it's kind of like I got to the point in life where it's like, it takes way more effort to be angry with someone. And, you know, I kind of understand, like- our parents are completely different generation of us, you know, like, you know, while you know what he did to me or, you know, of lack of being in my life, I feel that like I've been able to do the work. He could have done the work, but it just wasn't the generation to do that. 

Annie [00:08:56] Yeah. 

Sarah [00:08:57] You know, like they the way they sort of dealt with stuff was to drink and do whatever. Whereas I'm a person now, having gone through everything I've gone through, that I want better for myself and I want better for my son. I want to show a better example. And also I just want to be free, Annie, I just don't want to have any regrets of, okay, dad died. I just want to be free from all of that. 

[00:09:24] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:09:34] So you mentioned Tim. Before we get on to Tim and the year 2017, of which a lot went down, can we briefly touch on the ectopic pregnancy that happened to you before you met your late husband? Because that's quite an important part of your journey. 

Sarah [00:09:52] Yeah, it is. So I had been dating a guy and- 

Annie [00:09:56] How old were you? Sorry to interrupt. 

Sarah [00:09:59] Early twenties. I'd been seeing a guy, and then I basically woke up and I just had these really bad cramps and I got up and there was just blood everywhere. Like, wow.

Annie [00:10:13] It's scary, yeah. 

Sarah [00:10:14] It's so scary. And so I just thought it was a really bad period. And I got on the tube, I basically passed out and when I came to, I was in my bed in Camden. And I was so confused because I was like, well how the hell did I get here? And there was a stranger guy and I started freaking out and he's like, just don't worry, don't worry! Like, you know, you passed out on the tube and somehow, like, you know, in your daze like, I got your I.D. and we've managed to get you home because you didn't want to go to the hospital. This was all he could kind of get from me. I was like, okay. And he's like, you know, I'm going to call my friend Charlie, who lived round the corner. So she came round and he leaves and she's like, Sarah what's going on? I'm like, I don't know, I just keep bleeding an have these cramps and she's like, I think we really need to go to hospital. So we did. And so even up until that point, there was like, nothing in me that thought, like, you know, I was in danger. I just thought it was a really, really bad period. So we get seen eventually, and then they can't see anything of the scan. And then she's like, I think we need to get this consultant guy in because, you know, we don't know what's going on. So this beautiful Nigerian consultant guy comes in and he's just like, *Nigerian accent* 'my sister, we have to operate straightaway'. And I'm like, what's going on? And he's just like, 'if you are pregnant, we think it's dying, so we have to operate right now. Otherwise it's finished'. 

Annie [00:11:28] Oh my godddd. 

Sarah [00:11:30] Yep, Annie, I was like 'what?!'. First off, pregnancy, two, dying. That's all the two words I could hear. I was suddenly just like, stripped, clothed, --- in. So then I wake up and the guy that I'm like, seeing, is at the end of my bed. My late brother James, bless him's there crying, everyone's crying. And I'm like, I'm numb. Because obviously I'm still on anaesthetic but I'm still like, what the fuck has just gone down? And so it turned out I basically had an ectopic pregnancy, which I'd never- first off, I didn't know anything about ectopic. B, like, pregnant? Crap. Because I was on the pill as well. No one tells you that you can actually get pregnant on the pill. 

Annie [00:12:08] So an ectopic pregnancy is when you get pregnant, when the baby doesn't reach the uterus? It starts in the fallopian tube?

Sarah [00:12:16] Yeah, so basically imagine like the embryo is meant to basically implant on your lining, but then it's gets stuck in your fallopian tube, so this little seed is growing in your fallopian tube so that's why you have maximum six weeks. I mean otherwise it's like, the worst case scenario, yeah, it erupts and then it's like game over. And so I was at that stage where we were going into game over, which is why there was a heavy bleeding and cramp and you can actually die. And so then I've got the, you know, the potential father of my child standing at the end of my bed. Obviously, James walks out to kind of give us a moment. He's like, Sarah, like. And I can't even speak. Because suddenly it's like, I've always wanted to be a mum, but I'm now like- I was a mum, but now I'm not a mum. It was just real, it was just such a head fuck. And I'm not really with this guy as well. So then we went through this phase where like, the next few weeks were really confusing because we kind of like- we're basically grieving together and it just got really messy. And then, he ended up sort of snogging someone. I know, douchebag. And that kind of just ended that relationship absolutely completely. But I was definitely really, really sad. I mean, call it depression. I was really sad. And so I was definitely not looking for any relationship by the time I met my late husband. 

Annie [00:13:36] So did the ectopic pregnancy have any residual physical effects? 

Sarah [00:13:41] Well, the tube had to go. So, you know, like the tube ruptured. 

Annie [00:13:45] So, you lost a fallopian tube? 

Sarah [00:13:48] So I lost my left tube. So I was only left with a right tube. So that's the thing, I was suddenly like, A a mum, but then suddenly not a mum. And then your chances of getting pregnant again are halved because you know, you've just got the one tube. Yeah. 

Annie [00:14:02] So were you very conscious of that? Was that something that was on your mind?

Sarah [00:14:06] Yeah, absolutely. It was like when you decide that you want to get pregnant, Sarah, you know, it's going to be really difficult because you've just got this one tube. And so I definitely, it was just something I sort of parked. I was like, right, I'm parking this. I can't even think about this. Not looking for a relationship. And then one night we decided to have a house party, and then I met my late husband, Tim. 

Annie [00:14:30] Tell me about Tim. What was he like that night you met him? 

Sarah [00:14:33] So, yeah. So I'd actually had lunch with some really good girlfriends in Hampstead. And the idea was we'd go back to Camden and go out to Marathon bar. That literally was the plan.

Annie [00:14:44] I remember Marathon bar. Oh my Goddd *both laugh*. Was it not basically a kebab shop? 

Sarah [00:14:52] Yeah, it's a kebab shop. At the back it's like a bar.

Annie [00:14:53] With a disco round the back? 

Sarah [00:14:54] Yeah, exactly! 

Annie [00:14:54] I remember that!

Sarah [00:14:56] Right, so cool. Just opposite the Roundhouse. And so that was the idea that we'd go back. I lived with two guys, and so we got back and then the boys were watching rugby. And then our mutual friend Henry, basically he was at LSC and he brought some friends over, one of them being Tim. Anyway, Tim was Australian, I think England were losing at some point, but he was giving it a lot of, you know, giving a lot of mouth. I was giving a lot of mouth back. But I remember at one point, like looking over and I was like, God, he's got really nice eyes, hasn't he? *Annie giggles*. And what I also liked about him is that he was like giving- I love the way he was like, he gave the banter and I gave it back. And then in the end, obviously, it was sad like England lost and everyone like- the vibe was just not cool. Everyone was just really sad and  like, sod this let's have a party. And so we ended up doing that. Original plan, let's go to Marathon Bar. so we did. And it was on the way to Marathon bar I started to get to really know this guy, turned out we had loads in common. He was at LSC doing International Development. I'd finished at SOAS doing development. And so suddenly it went from like, oh, this cocky guy's actually really nice and he's got really nice eyes. And then at some point in the evening we ended up snogging, our first snog on the dance floor in Marathon bar.

Annie [00:16:11] *Laughs* I love it. The romance. 

Sarah [00:16:13] The romance. --- like when did you first kiss, Mum? I was like, yeah, back of a kebab shop *Annie laughs*. Yeah, and then that was that. And so basically we were inseparable. We were inseparable for like the next few weeks. And then he got offered a job to work with UN six weeks into our relationship. And then he asked me, do you want to come with? And I was like, yeah! Because I was, you know, I was at that stage where it's like, I've always wanted to live abroad doing the work that I was doing, like international development. And then I finally found this guy that wants to do the same. So I was thinking, yeah, why not? Friends and family were like hmm, Sarah. Because A, I'd just come out of relationship and B they were like, you've literally just known this guy for six weeks. But Annie, you know when it feels right? 

Annie [00:17:00] Yeah. 

Sarah [00:17:01] I was like, why not? And then, you know what, if it doesn't work I can always just come back. So off we went, so Tim went first just to set us all up, and then I followed. So I arrived 2009. 

Annie [00:17:11] And how did it feel when you kind of landed to see Tim and you were like, this is my new life, oh my God, like?

Sarah [00:17:18] Well, first off, there was this massive cyclone, so there's huge flooding going on. So when I landed- 

Annie [00:17:24] So this is in Fiji?

Sarah [00:17:25] Yeah, it was like cyclone season and this massive cyclone was basically tearing itself through. So that was basically, it was pandemonium. Tim had basically had to kind of like wade through flood water in this minivan to kind of get to the- yeah, it was crazy. I basically landed with my UGG boots. Okay. It was really cold leaving --- *Annie laughs*. That's why I'm wearing my UGG boots! And then my backpack. And then Tim's just there and he's like- he called me Missy. Missy G. He's like Missy yeah like erm. I was like, what is this? And then he basically booked us to go on this little island, as like, you know, our first romantic- but it was just mad. We got on like, the last ferry out as well and like, the waves are doing this. Left, right, centre, it was just nuts. Anyway, we survived. We had, like, you know, two bottles of Moet and you know, pack of cigs. So it was quite an adventurous start, obviously manic. But once the all that kind of calmed down it was great, we had this beautiful apartment overlooking the mountains. I got a job quite quickly working for a HIV-AIDS NGO, which I loved. I did lots of HIV AIDS work in Uganda at one point. So it just all started fitting and Annie, we were like, in this situation, we were like this young couple who barely knew each other but were meeting other young people who were all like minded living in Fiji. And life was, life was amazing. 

Annie [00:18:50] And how was your relationship with him then? So, you know, you'd had the six weeks of very intense first love, but now you're living together. 

Sarah [00:18:57] Now we're living together, yeah.

Annie [00:18:58] Your going through that phase where you see the little things. You see how he brushes his teeth in the morning *Sarah laughs*. You know, you see if he's messy or not. All the things, the kind of the magic wears off initially. Or did it? 

Sarah [00:19:09] Well, no, I don't think it did to be fair. I feel like because we were literally living the dream, I'd say, like we were living in paradise, like it was- there was so much adrenaline, you know, every day was like an adventure. Feel like we were just permanently on holiday for that first year or so. 

Annie [00:19:27] What did you learn about him in that time, like in that year? What were the things that you loved about him more, I suppose? 

Sarah [00:19:33] I loved that he was really good at surprising me. So I think like maybe, ahh yeah, when we first got back to our home after being away on the island, he basically did this treasure hunt. So he basically made up this treasure hunt. He folded up pieces of paper, and then these pieces of paper like led to the bedroom and at the end there was this beautiful, like, present. What was it? I think it was like a bracelet or something. And so I was like, wow, this guy's got moves. He's really amazing at, like, surprises. And I love surprises. I think also going back, like my first night at Marathon Bar, quite drunk, I remember saying to him, whatever you do, just be kind. Like, don't hurt me. And I basically just shared everything that had happened. And he was like, whoa. A like, well, this is quite heavy. But also he was very aware of, I've got to be quite delicate with this woman who I've fallen in love with. But Tim was like, he was just such an amazing bringer of people. Like he was really good at basically bringing people together. So we were having dinner parties weekly, we would have these interesting people who had basically lived around the world. And so they were sharing their stories. And he was really ambitious as well. Like he sort of landed in the UN and wanted to do so much work and just make so much change already. He just knew so much, I would say hand on heart, like possibly the most intelligent guy I've ever met. Yeah and he was just always up for an adventure. Like, I love having someone who's just a doer. Like you could say, like, oh it'd be really great if like, one day we go to Peru. The next day he'd be like *typing noise* start sending you links. And you're like, what? Yeah, let's make it happen. Like, you know, he was a life- 

Annie [00:21:10] A doer. 

Sarah [00:21:11] He was a doer. And I love having a doer. And then, like, I remember the proposal, it was like, you know, we'd be talking about getting married at some point and he was in the shower. I think I was on the laptop doing something. And then he was like talking and goes, so, you know, Missy, I was thinking, you know, really good way to get everyone here, like, why don't we just get married? That'd be a really good way to get everyone here to Fiji, d'you not think? So he comes out of the shower and he's got the towel around his waist, and he's like, popped his head round and he's like, what do you think? I was like, is that a proposal? He's like, yeah. I'm like, ooo, that is not how I sort of thought a proposal goes *both laugh*. I was thinking like, you know, like a ring. 

Annie [00:21:50] Rose petals. Maybe the beach at sunset.

Sarah [00:21:54] Right! I was like, we are living in Fiji but no, I get a real sort of like, 'what do you reckon?'. Um, but then we did, we planned this wedding, we did it ourselves. We decided to get married in this beautiful little church. So I'm going to describe where we were living. We lived in this beautiful little kind of community. With kind of like old school Fijian families and then sort of well-to-do sort of expats. You know, everyone knew everyone. And there was this beautiful little church called St Luke's, and I'd always sort of walked past it. In my head I'm like, it would be great to get married there. And that's where we decided to do it. And so we invited like 100 friends and family and we sort of billed it as like a two week extravaganza. So we asked the Fiji police band. So they wear two hats. So yep, they're police by day, but they also do like erm, they're a band. So there's like guys on drums-. 

Annie [00:22:44] *Laughing* amazing. 

Sarah [00:22:44] Guys on trumpets. It's so cool. And they could do like any song you want. So, Tim and I's idea is that after the photos are taken, we basically surprise our guests. And so the Fiji Police band like meet us and all our guests are like losing their minds, Annie, they're like oh my God! What is this? Day after that, we all decamped to an island. We all sort of like went to an island for like a whole week. 

Annie [00:23:06] God, that's the best wedding ever. Wow! *Sarah laughs*. And how long were you with Tim when you got married? 

Sarah [00:23:13] We'd been together for like, two years. 

Annie [00:23:16] Nice. And were you able to fly your family out? Did your mum come out?

Sarah [00:23:19] Yeah, so Mum came out. My brother James came out. He gave me away. Dad couldn't come. But what dad did do was like, he typed out a speech that my brother read out at the wedding, which was yeah, really good moves. It was really touching. He wanted to be there, but obviously couldn't. And my sister, my nephew. Yeah. And Tim's family and like, friends. As far fetched from Ethiopia... Norway. It was, yeah, it was great. People still talk about it being like the best holiday trip of a lifetime. Yeah, and we had the traditional Fijian choir singing. Yeah, it was emotional. By the time I got to the altar, Tim was like, wailing. And I was like come on, pull yourself together. And I was like, really harsh, I was like pull yourself together, come on! *Annie laughs* but he was, yeah, it was really emotional. It was beautiful. 

Annie [00:24:04] Then you had a son. 

Sarah [00:24:06] We did. We had Isaia James Kayuma Martin on the 30th of May 2013. Zizi, Zizi was breech. And I tried everything. I tried everything to sort of turn him around. It was like, you hang upside down and you're burning herbs in your foot. All sorts of stuff, wasn't happening. So in the end you had to have C-section. The Fijians, they're known for their singing. They're very spiritual, religious and singing is- so what happened was I was just lying there and they basically prayed over me, prayed and they started singing beautifully. 

Annie [00:24:36] Wow. 

Sarah [00:24:37] Yeah. 

Annie [00:24:37] Oh my God. That must have been such a spiritual experience. 

Sarah [00:24:40] It was amazing. It was like, literally, like goosebumps, like spiritually. I just felt really safe and I felt Zizi ready to come out, basically even before they pulled him out. Like you, you are in this amazing sort of atmosphere where you're like, wow, life is about to be born. And also just a miracle that he came safely because remember, I didn't think that I would be able to get pregnant. 

Annie [00:25:02] Well yes. Yeah. 

Sarah [00:25:02] So we're both like, tender hooks the whole time. Like, is this all going to work out? It was just pure bliss, Annie, it was absolutely stunning. So then, yeah, we nestled into being new parents as you did. I mean, you know, the whole- we were just in love. 

[00:25:15] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:25:25] So 2017 is the year that you cite as the adult changes kicking in. And it feels like the different types of changes that we can experience- there's change that we lean into and that we enact and theres change that happens to us. And this is a very much change that happened to you, like in terms of Tim, but also everything that came before. I guess that's a bit of both. You kind of chose it, you leaned in and you were quite resilient in that. Tell us about the IVFs.

Sarah [00:26:00] Yeah. So two years after conceiving Zizi, we decided we wanted another child. Again, second time around, wanted to have a baby, bam! you know, that's what happens, hot tubs and gin & tonics. 

Annie [00:26:10] Yeah! 

Sarah [00:26:10] I went for a scan and they couldn't actually see anything on the screen. And I was like, huh? But I was like, but I'm totally pregnant. I've done all these pregnancy tests. They were like, well come back in a week, you know, sometimes this happens. And so that's what I did. We went back in a week and they were like, wow, there's twins. And we're like, what?! 

Annie [00:26:30] Oh my God. 

Sarah [00:26:31] We were pregnant with twins. I remember like, Tim's face literally went grey. He was like, oh my God. Because he was just like, you know, he was a mathematician, right? So he's like, the cost, like prams, all of this. He was just like, this is going to absolutely like, this is not what I signed up for. I was like, well, you know *Annie laughs*. And then went back for like the 12 week scan and one of the twins, basically, the sack had gone. And then went back a week later and then that was it, no more twins. And so that was really, really sad. 

Annie [00:26:57] So this was 12 weeks in. 12 weeks, which is a significant time to get psychologically invested in what's happening. 

Sarah [00:27:06] Oh absolutely. I saw like prams, I saw how we're going to fly internationally. I just saw us as this big unit family like as women do, like we've got names. Is it going to be a boy-boy, boy-girl? Like it was all mapped out in my head. And to suddenly have that all taken from you was really, really hard. And I definitely look back and I for sure fell into depression after that. I was determined to get- I was like, I want a baby and Tims like let's just take our time with this. I was like I really want to do this. So we started trying and I was getting pregnant, but I was having early miscarriages. And then I went to go and have a check-up and they were like, well, it turns out basically you've got scarring on your uterus, which basically is this condition called Asherman syndrome. And just to cut a long story short, the only way then that you can basically get pregnant after they remove the scarring is to have IVF. And so I basically went through all this operation, ---,  all sorts for them to kind of remove the scarring. But even then the remaining right tube, because remember my left tube was gone, is just damaged. It's like, I can't believe this. I can't believe we're kind of, here.

Annie [00:28:19] So hang on. You find out you have this Asherman syndrome, which is basically scarring on the uterus. 

Sarah [00:28:23] Yeah. 

Annie [00:28:23] Part of it is from the-. 

Sarah [00:28:24] The DNC. 

Annie [00:28:25] DNC that you had to have after your first- the twins passed. 

Sarah [00:28:29] After the twins. And no one tells you about this, Annie, that's the thing. 

Annie [00:28:33] So the DNC is when they have to remove the foetus from you. 

Sarah [00:28:37] Yeah. 

Annie [00:28:38] And it's quite a horrible procedure, isn't it? It's like a yucky thing. 

Sarah [00:28:43] It is really. It's just basically scraping the baby away. 

Annie [00:28:46] And they scar you? 

Sarah [00:28:48] They can scar you. And no one tells you about that. Like no one tells you about this. And, you know, I've since obviously read up on it and talked to quite a few physicians who are like, well, yeah, that actually can happen. I mean it's like a 0.00, you know, percentage which I clearly fall into. Same with like, you know the ectopic, there's a 000 point. So I'm always in this like nought, nought point percent. It's like God, tt's going to be me. And it was sadly me. And so we went through all that and then the only option then was to go through IVF. Tim wasn't keen, he was like, you know what- because I've been through all of this and-

Annie [00:29:22] That's a lot of stuff, yeah.

Sarah [00:29:23] It's just too much, you know, emotionally, physically. And remember I'm having to fly from Fiji to like Australia for all of this because we can't have that happening. And so it's a lot and Tim was just like, babe, like Missy, let's just be happy with Zizi. But you know, us women, like once we're on that track of like, I want a baby, there's just literally no stopping us. And I was like, you know, I want to keep going with it. And so I started IVF. 

Annie [00:29:48] And had you processed the twins, do you think? Looking back.

Sarah [00:29:50] No, not really. I was like just really sad. And I just, I felt like I was just dead set, that having a baby would basically make me feel better. That is what's going to make me feel better. 

Annie [00:30:01] Yes. 

Sarah [00:30:02] And I don't care how I make that baby, I just want that baby. That was pretty much what my headspace was. So that's what we did. We started IVF beginning of 2017. I'd fly over. The first two cycles failed. Then I came back home, it was like Easter time. And then I got a call from mum and, you know, because of the time difference it's basically 3 a.m. in Fiji and it's daytime fr for London and I got a call to say that my brother had passed away, James. 

Annie [00:30:32] How? 

Sarah [00:30:36] He'd basically gone to sleep and didn't wake up. Yeah. 

Annie [00:30:40] Oh my God, Sarah. 

Sarah [00:30:40] Yeah. So that was-

Annie [00:30:43] I'm so sorry, and he was your older brother? 

Sarah [00:30:44] He was the younger brother, so he was 28 at the time. 

Annie [00:30:49] *Gasps softly* Oh my God. 

Sarah [00:30:49] Yeah. So that was a real shocker. And I'll just never forget that flight, Annie. It was like- it's a 24 plus hour journey. And I remember just saying to the air hostess', just don't come near me basically, like just do not disturb. And I just looked out of this window with clouds, clouds and just wrote the eulogy and just was like, wow, James. You know, I was trying to recall the last time I'd been in touch with him, like we were really close. He really looked up to me. He was wanting to study international development because of me. And yeah, it was just, it was, yeah. I mean, I feel like I'm only starting to deal with his loss now that I'm back in England. I feel like because of all the loss I've had, I just had to park him dying until I got back home. And I feel like now that I am back, I feel like this is now, I'm sort of having to process all of that now and not then. 

Annie [00:31:47] Sure, yeah. 

Sarah [00:31:50] So I got back and yeah, I was home for a month. There was funeral, just doing all that stuff. It was nuts. It was really, really nuts. Yeah and then got back to Fiji and then I *laughs*, I think I was just on this road of like, I want to feel better. The only thing that's going to make me feel better is having a baby.

Annie [00:32:10] And how was Tim about that? Was he okay or?

Sarah [00:32:13] I think he just kind of left me alone. I think he was just like, she- 

Annie [00:32:17] You needed to do it. 

Sarah [00:32:18] Yeah, he's like, she's on this journey. But he made it very clear, like, Missy, I'm happy for you to just do what you need to do but please can we discuss, like, if none of these work, this is it. Like, I'm not prepared to do any more. And I was like, absolutely. And I just then had it in my head. I was like, well, let's just go for it. Let's just do all of- we'll just do all the rounds this year. So did two more cycles, they didn't work. Christmas was coming up and we were very much aware that Mum, we didn't want Mum to be alone for her first Christmas without James. 

Annie [00:32:49] Yeah. 

Sarah [00:32:49] So we're like Mum, why don't you come over to Fiji? Come with us for Christmas. We're going to fly Tim's family over as well. And I was like, Tim what about I just fly over, do the last one. And so we sort of timed it like, do it two weeks before and then, you know, we get the results like Christmas Eve, like he's like, huh, okay, Sarah but like, if it's not what you wanted. 

Annie [00:33:08] I might ruin your Christmas. 

Sarah [00:33:10] I was like, but you know what? If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. We've made this pact. He's like, okay. So Mum flies in, I flew out, so I leave Mum with the boys. I'd been texting Tim, we're figuring out what wine to bring back to Fiji from Australia for Christmas. I went to this pre-pregnancy yoga class, came out sunny on my way to the car, and then I turned on my phone because obviously I had switched it off for the class and there was all these missed calls and messages like call home, call home, call home from my friends. So then I did, and then I got onto my first friend and she's like, Sarah, where are you? And I was like, ah, I've just come out with yoga class, I'm just on my way to Tim's parents home. Are you able to be somewhere where you could just park? I was like, oh, is everything okay? And then I suddenly was like, where's Izzy, is Izzy okay? They were like, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's like it's just Tim. And I was like, ahhh, okay. Then my battery was running low, so I was like, well, let me just go home and just charge the battery. So that's what I did. I drove home, charged, put the phone into the charger, and then I was like, so what's going on, where's Tim? They're like, oh, you know, he was at football and then he collapsed. And I was like okay, well, is he alright? Like, do you want to put him on the phone? And then suddenly, like, the phone switches to someone. And I was like, what's going on? Where are you guys? And it turns out, my friends in a hospital with Tim. Ans I was like okay, well just put him on the phone. They were like ahh Sarah we can't. I was like, well, why not? And they were like, oh, because he didn't make it. I was like, what did you say? What did you say? What did he say? They're like, he didn't make it. And then I was like, shut the fuck up. So then I hung up and then I went to go and phone his phone because I just didn't really believe it. I was like there's no way he could be. What do you mean he didn't make it? Then his phone's ringing out. So then I ring my friends again, I was like, just put him on the phone. Like, it's just not funny. And they're like, Sarah, I'm so sorry he didn't make it. Tim's dead. I just remember the room just spinning, like, really spinning. And then I just collapsed and just started screaming. What did I do? I started Whatsapping people Tim is dead, but I still didn't believe it. But I'm just messaging Tim is dead because apparently Tim's dead. Then I call my mum and she's not, she can't even speak. She's just like, I'm so sorry, my daughter. But I'm not believing any of this, Annie, at this point I'm still not believing it. But then I'm just calling people. I'm calling his siblings. I'm meant to be going to see his siblings for, like, dinner. I'm calling his mum. She's on the way to, like, book club with her friends. She's driving. I'm on loudspeaker. It's just pandemonium. And all I could think of is like, I need to get home to Zizi. Like now. 

Annie [00:35:43] Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Sarah [00:35:46] I'm suddenly on the flight back, but the whole time I'm thinking, there is no way Tim is dead. 

Annie [00:35:51] Of course, yeah. 

Sarah [00:35:52] We've had all this shit happen. How could this be happening? No, this is just a bad dream. So then we land into Nausori airport, which is the nearest airport to where we lived. And then I walk out Annie, and then it was basically like- That's when I knew Tim had died. There was like, police motorcade, blacked out official UN cars because Tim worked for the UN and I was like, oh fuck. 

Annie [00:36:19] And they're there to pick you up. 

Sarah [00:36:20] Yeah, that's when I knew, okay yeah, he is- He's actually dead. 

Annie [00:36:25] Oh my God. 

Sarah [00:36:26] Basically, Tim had a heart attack, a sudden heart attack at home, and Mum found him, of all people. Mama Flavs, yep. I was just like where's Zizi? I got to the home and, like, our friends are there, and everyone's just inconsolable, not really knowing what to say. And I was like, wow well, I need Zizi here now. My mum was like Sarah, I think you need a night to yourself. Like, he's fine. He's with best friends. He's with his nanny. I think you need a night to yourself to basically start to process. And then we're going to bring him in tomorrow. And then you need to tell him because he doesn't know. And so I was like... he doesn't know.

Annie [00:37:07] God. And Zizi was, what, three?

Sarah [00:37:09] Three and a half, yeah.

Annie [00:37:10] Three and a half. Right. 

Sarah [00:37:11] It's really weird. When James passed, I read Judith Samuels book Grief Works, and I'd read a book by Brendan Cox, the Labour MP. And in one of the chapters Brendan Cox talks about how he'd told the children, the two children, the boy and a girl, how you know, how the mum had died. But he talks about the language that he used, like not like, oh, your mums turned into a star or a moon. Like, your mum's dead.  

Annie [00:37:36] Right, so very frank, very honest. 

Sarah [00:37:38] Really honest, there's just no beating around the bush. And then how he had taken the children to see Jo Cox's body. And so that's pretty much what I did. Zizi returned the next day. It still gives me chills just because he sort of bounces out of the car, my friends, Lara was dropping him off with my nanny and they're like trying really hard not to cry. And he just bounces out of the car and he's like, mommy, mommy, mommy! All he knew was that dad had gone to hospital and that's all he knew. So he just said, Mama, Dadda's gone to hospital. I was like, yeah yeah, I know. And I sort of like laid out a map with a picture of us as a family and teddy bears. And I was like, you know, Zizi come sit on a lap, and then I just said, Zizi you know, like about Dada, you know, and I basically started sort of explaining it about his heart, like how we need our heart to pump blood around a body. And if the heart stops, then it means we're dead. And that's pretty much what I said to him. And he sort of like, remember him, like looked up at me sort of like, so dada's not coming back. And I was like, dada's not coming back, baby. He's dead. And then he just had a moment and then he basically bounced out of my lap and just went. We Just followed him. He went to his playroom and started basically trying to like, climb. And he's just basically yeah, he's just reeling out of control, just really just not there. And that was his way of processing. And then he was like, I want to go and see Dada. I was like, okay, so we organised for that to happen and I hadn't seen a dead body up until that point, Annie. So I went in first and yeah, it was, it was really surreal. I took music in to play to him, but because they did a really bad job of, you know, sort of making him look good, it was like, I'm not playing music to that. I just want to be in and out of this room. 

Annie [00:39:28] Right, it didn't feel like him. 

Sarah [00:39:29] No, it didn't feel like him. It didn't look like him. It just wasn't right. But I went to go and get Zizi and I was like, okay. And I explained to him, I sort of explained this is Dada and his forever bed, and this is what you're going to see. And so I just basically did a quick lap and that was it. And to this day, I have no regrets in doing it the way I did. 

[00:39:50] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:40:00] That Year of changes is so, so huge and life defining and life rupturing. So there would have been immediate changes after that. Your parental role, you're now a single mum. How was that kind of in the aftermath of Tim's passing? 

Sarah [00:40:19] It was really hard. I mean, it was and it wasn't. So, Fajian culture, they embraced death like a lot better than we do in the West. 

Annie [00:40:28] That's amaz- what a blessing that it happened there. 

Sarah [00:40:31] We had a big house. I had people living with us for six months after Tim died. 

Annie [00:40:38] Wow. 

Sarah [00:40:39] And as much as I basically had a few, like- I mean, I'd come down to the fridge and it's like there's not food that I want to eat or I just wanted some space. In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have possibly happened. Mum ended up staying on with us, but I had people surrounded by me and Zizi and so much love for six months, for a good half year after it happened. 

Annie [00:40:57] Amazing. That's absolutely amazing. So what prompted you to come back to Hastings then, from Fiji? 

Sarah [00:41:05] It was a mixture of, I felt like my What Sarah Read Next platform was needing to basically get more of a leg up. Like I did as much as I could over in Fiji. I really missed home so much, you know, it'd been 13 years since I'd been away. I was ready to kind of come back. I wanted Zizi to also experience, you know, the UK culture and also get to know my family a lot better as well. We'd been basically living on the other side of the world where he had access to Tim's family, and I felt like it was time for us to be this side of the world. I'm a Londoner, but I really, because I've been sort of living by the ocean, I really felt strongly that I wanted to be by the ocean living here, which is why we live by the coast where we are. When Tim died, I was fearful about how, you know, people were like, you've got to move back home. And I was like, I can't be ripping Zizi  up from his home, having him just lost his dad. That's like double whammy bad. And, you know, Annie, like the first day of his school here, we're standing in this playground and he's gripping me and these kids can't stop coming up. They're like hi Zizi, Bula Zizi. Bula is how they say hello in Fijian and Zizi looks at me and he's like, mummy, how do they know Fajian? And I'm like, yeah, I have no idea, like what is going on? Anyway, it turns out, check this out. The school, knowing that there's this Fijian boy coming over to start, they basically spent half a day learning about Fiji and the Fiji language.

Annie [00:42:36] Stop. 

Sarah [00:42:36] Yeah. 

Annie [00:42:36] That is so sweet. 

Sarah [00:42:38] Yeah. 

Annie [00:42:38] So it made him feel more welcome? 

Sarah [00:42:40] So welcome. So much welcome because he's a bit of a shy kid, but you know, it's a big deal. Like he had 20 children in his class, in the whole year group. Now there's like, you know, 100. So it's a big, big, big move. 

Annie [00:42:53] It's a big jump. 

Sarah [00:42:54] And it's only the last few days where he's basically felt brave enough to start playing football with the boys in the playground. So I can basically drop him off now and it's fine but it's been a big one. But he's really settling in. 

Annie [00:43:06] How long have you been there now? 

Sarah [00:43:08] So we're coming up to nine months.

Annie [00:43:12] Since 2017, since that year, how has your relationship with Zizi changed, if at all? 

Sarah [00:43:17] Ahhh. We are bonded. Really bonded. I mean, we're bonded anyways, mother and son. But I feel like everything that we've been through, specifically Tim, has just basically taken our relationship to a whole new level. I sometimes joke that we're like, flatmates *laughs*. 

Annie [00:43:32] Yeah, it's more friends. 

Sarah [00:43:33] It's like, more friends. And like, you know, I've got his back, he's got my back. He's very protective over me. I'm very protective over him. We do daily check ins when it comes to emotions, like I don't- I've never ever sort of swept anything under the carpet with him, and him too. He's had 3 big, really huge, emotional blow outs about Tim. First one was not long after Tim died where he just- for a child at that age to be able to process it, they just can't. And so he had a real big- and it was so huge you could feel like his heart is just exploding that I had to call a friend over just to help hold me, hold him because it was just a lot. 

Annie [00:44:14] Yeah. Yeah. 

Sarah [00:44:15] And it was also recently he had one when- it was like just before Christmas when everyone's getting sick. We were both really sick. I don't know, he came to hug me and he's like, mum your head's so hot. I was like, I know, I feel really sick. And then he started crying. He's like, mum I don't want you to die. I was like Zizi! Babe, don't worry. 

Annie [00:44:30] Ahh, bless him. 

Sarah [00:44:30] So he has that fear. Of course he has that fear. Because we talk openly about grief and our emotions and we practise gratitude every day where, you know, if there's anything that's changed me with grief, like I'm a lot, I'm a lot more, I've just so much empathy and so much gratitude for life every day. Like, you know, you wake up in the morning, I'm just so grateful for being here, you know, like just the smallest things. And I'm a real believer and also just trying to kind of keep a positive mindset. It's so easy to kind of fall into sort of negative loop of, you know, oh, shit, why me? Why me again? Oh, fuck. You know, why me again? And you can kind of go into that cycle, but I feel like it's a slippery slope. Do you know what I mean, you attract what you kind of give out. And so I'm all about, as much as possible trying to stay positive, even when things do kind of become rough. 

Annie [00:45:25] Mmm. Can I ask about the last IVF thing that you got when- that you were supposed to get the results of on Christmas Eve. What ever happened with that? 

Sarah [00:45:36] We're keeping that one up in the air for that one. We're still just undecided of what to do just because it's like, when Tim initially died, I was gung ho set on using the embryo. So when you're signing your IVF forms together, there's a part that says, you know, if your partner's to die, give them permission to use the embryo. And I remember Tim and I sort of sitting there looking at each other like *laughs* as if, you know what I mean, like as if that would ever happen. And then suddenly I'm in the situation where it's like, crap. Wow. Okay. 

Annie [00:46:10] Wow. 

Sarah [00:46:11] Right, we actually are in the situation. So I basically started having therapy. You have to have therapy. And then what happens is they have to assess that you're emotionally, physically, mentally ready and financially ready to basically take on a baby if it works, on your own as a single parent. And so they literally go through all nooks and crannies to assess you. And then you've got to go in front of a panel who then make the final decision. So I started that process and I would have therapy every week. I got given an opportunity to go off to a really beautiful island for three months in Fiji to basically work on a health program. And it was there that I basically started- I decided to put things on hold just because I was like, oh, do you know what? Let's just. This is too much. There was this brief cloud that's starting to lift a little bit and I feel like I'm in a really good place and I don't actually know where I'm going to be in like a few months time. So let's just put things literally on ice and see what happens. And that's where we're at. Still single, still loving life. I've learned to love myself a lot more. You know, the whole self-esteem, not having a father, abandonment issues. You know, I'm happy with being alone. I've not really had that, and I'm in a really good place. Like What Sarah Read Next is growing. There's so much coming. My son's happy. 

Annie [00:47:39] Let's talk about this book, then. So this is something you say you're going to Waterstones, you're working on this book. What is the book? What is the intention with the book? When will we be able to read it? 

Sarah [00:47:49] So the book is based on my story, on my life. It was going to be memoir, but now we've decided that it's going to be fiction just because we can play around with the storyline and my life a little bit. A lot of it is about the grief that happens to the woman after she loses her husband. But I hope the reader kind of comes away inspired. You know, I feel like not a lot of people would have maybe perhaps survived what I've survived. 

Annie [00:48:16] God, no. 

Sarah [00:48:16] It would have been quite easy to basically --- someone that says, lets go away to like this dark cave and just kind of get swallowed up. 

Annie [00:48:24] But it sounds like you're in such a good place in terms of being able to go back and revisit those times and there'll be something hugely constructive, I think, about writing that story down, like the physical act of getting that story out and on paper and also the fictional aspect of being able to change it, having agency over it, you know? 

Sarah [00:48:46] Yeah, absolutely. And you know, like I look back Annie, at everything that's happened. Like obviously initially I was really angry with Tim. I was really angry with him. 

Annie [00:48:54] I bet. 

Sarah [00:48:55] I was like, how can you be dead?! How can you go? Leave Zizi, leave Nick his brother, leave me, like after everything that's happened. I remember, Zizi and I took ourselves to the beach, and you know, there's something like I went- I sort of waded in by knees. Zizi was in a kids club and I just started screaming like, fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!

Annie [00:49:13] Yeah.

Sarah [00:49:15] And I turned around and there was this Fijian family just come from church behind me, like, oh *Annie laughs*. They were like, whoa, don't go near her *laughs*. And I look back at that person then and the person I am today, and I'm so proud of how far I've come. 

Annie [00:49:35] So you should be, yeah. Absolutely.

Sarah [00:49:36] And I'm also really chuffed at like, the person I am now today as well. Like how, I'm happy. I like this version of me, you know. I like this version of me. 

Annie [00:49:47] I'm so glad. I'm so glad for you. And I think anyone listening will just be in awe of your courage and your strength. I mean, before 2017, like your whole life, you've showed it. It's been there. It's been inside of you but what an incredible story. And we are so grateful for you for sharing it with us today as well Sarah, thank you. 

Sarah [00:50:05] Thank you. 

Annie [00:50:09] What a story. Intense love. Immense strength. Going from being such a happy family of three. The struggles with fertility. Then having to become a single mother. Moving back across the world to start a new life in England. I mean, this woman has really dealt with change. All different facets of it, and I'm in awe of her. And I thank her for sharing her story with us today on Changes. Do go and follow her on Instagram, I suppose that's the only call to action I have for you today, is go check her on Instagram. It's @whatsarahreadnext, you will find book recommendations, reviews, chats with authors. There's links to her events, there's mailing lists, and we'll put a link to it, of course, on our show notes. It's @whatsarahreadnext. And of course, we need to look out and anticipate that book that will be coming out from her as well. Hey, thanks so much for listening to Changes. It means the world. And if you did enjoy this episode, I would be so grateful if you would consider subscribing to the podcast and we will deliver conversations into your inbox every Monday morning. Obviously, share this around and we will be back next week with a very different episode. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. See you later!