I got a handwritten letter on Wednesday. Spend any time in broadcasting and you learn that somebody who chooses to get in touch with you using a biro rather than a laptop will be either very crazy or very sweet. This was the latter, an older man who wanted to write and tell me his baby story: that 30 years ago he and his pregnant wife had visited their obstetrician for a check-up and after running the necessary tests the doctor said just two words: "She's dead."
I've heard a lot of stories like this in the past few days, as we used our broadcast and social media reach to encourage New Zealanders who wanted to share a baby story that didn't fit the usual narrative. We called it Fertility Week, though inevitably we ended up talking about more than fertility - we talked about the babies people had lost, and adopted out, and even the ones people had chosen not to have. We spent one evening talking about the experiences of men in all this, Josh and I trying to delicately cover the unique experiences of the putative sperm provider without mansplaining pregnancy to our bemused female audience.
I didn't expect to learn so much. I already understood a lot about the technical aspects of infertility from friends who'd been through it, but as a recovering know-it-all I was startled to hear many things for the first time this week. When Jay-Jay Harvey spoke, tearfully but brilliantly, about the nine years she and Dom spent trying to have a baby, she also talked about the heartbreak she felt for him. You don't just have your own pain to deal with, you have the pain of wishing so badly on behalf of someone else, and the guilt that comes from knowing that the problem lies with them, and that they would do anything to give you what they want. But of course they can't.
I learnt how hard it is just to get through small talk. Josh joked on Monday "sometimes when people asked my wife and me if we're trying to have a baby we toyed with telling them the straight-up truth to see how they'd deal with it. "We've actually had three miscarriages, how are you guys going?"
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I've learnt that when you're having baby problems you both want to talk about it and don't want to talk about it. It can be a relief, sometimes therapeutic, to share your story on your own terms at a time that is right for you – and people can live their whole lives without coming across that moment. But conversely you don't want to talk about the worst thing that has ever happened to you with the guy who sits across from you at work, just because he fancies a bit of Friday night drinks banter.
People want to talk to you about babies, but only if you don't freak them out by going off script. Up to one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage but in case you thought one in four members of your indoor netball team will be opening up about losing their own child, they won't. You learn that you're best just to not bring it up, even if (especially if) somebody asks you when you're going to hurry up and start a family.
You truly don't know anybody else's story until they tell you. A few of the Project staffers bravely shared their personal experiences with me during the week, though I suspect a few more had stories they weren't ready to share and were silently cursing me for arranging five days where it was everyone's job to read through the hundreds of devastating baby stories arriving in our shared inbox.
There weren't many fairy tales in that inbox, but there were a few happy endings. Like that handwritten letter, which went on to talk about another moment, some years later, when the same obstetrician gave them two new words: "She's perfect."
It didn't make me like the doctor any more, but I enjoyed the little burst of happiness that those words gave me all these years later, as I sat in an office feeling newly thankful for my own children, who the woman I love was currently feeding, bathing and bedding across town.
Even as I type this my notifications are clicking away on the corner of my screen, as new messages come in from Kiwis who, late in the week, have found themselves with the courage to write their own story and send it to 40 strangers working on a TV show. We've read them all, we've learnt from them, and we did our best this week to share them in a respectful and constructive way. Our Fertility Week won't change the world exactly, but if the question "so when are you having a baby?" gets asked a little less often in the future, we'll feel the whole exercise was worthwhile.