Hilary Mantel is a novelist.
A couple of months ago, I was reading a book called The Therapeutic Purpose of Creative Writing. In a section called 'Healing Narratives' I came across a sentence that must refer to me; it must, because my name is in it. 'Hilary Mantel had half her insides, including her ovaries and her womb, removed when she was 19.'
The words on the page gave me a physical shock. I felt shaky, as if blood had drained from my head to the (allegedly) missing parts of me. It was the inaccuracy which shook me. It wasn't just the implication that my eight novels are a way of patching up my biography, doing a job on the defects of my life. It was more the matter of poundage, or whatever measure you use to weigh a person's insides; there should be some Old Testament sort of measure, you feel, with a short, blunt, bloody name. I wanted to protest that, though I might be damaged, I wasn't quite as damaged as that. I wouldn't like to say what proportion of my insides is missing but I don't think it's half. As a doctor once remarked to me-or perhaps I dreamt it-'one has plenty of bowel to spare'; but only two ovaries, and a solitary womb. It's true I was sick when I was nineteen, but I was sick when I was eighteen, when I was fifteen, when I was twelve. No one diagnosed my sickness till I was twentyseven. Then I was 'cured' surgically, leaving behind the rattling lightweight of which the book speaks-a woman without her due portion of guts.
While I was puzzling over this misinformation, and wondering what I had said or written that had given rise to it, I was conscious of a picture forming-of a hollow person stalking the world, holding open a door in its solar plexus so that everyone could see the empty space within. And it occurred to me that, at whatever age it was created, there is such a gap, always waiting to open, wider and wider still, a black hole into which all the accomplishments of the years might vanish.
The disease which made me infertile and childless-there is a difference, of course-is endometriosis. I will give a lay-person's definition. Endometriosis is a condition in which the kind of cells which line the womb are found elsewhere in the body. These cells have the property of bleeding each month, and do so wherever they are. When the bleeding stops, scar tissue is formed. If there is room for it, the condition may go on for quite some time without causing a problem. If space is tight, pain ensues; sometimes, because of pressure on nerves, the pain is felt elsewhere in the body, which makes the condition hard to diagnose. Mostly, the
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Publication information: Book title: Inconceivable Conceptions: Psychological Aspects of Infertility and Reproductive Technology. Contributors: Jane Haynes - Editor, Juliet Miller - Editor. Publisher: Brunner-Routledge. Place of publication: Hove, England. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 19.
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