Infertility: the totally misunderstood disease

25 04 2011

Infertility: a disease by any other name

What is it with these people who believe we’ve brought infertility on ourselves? Why do they think the way they do? Why are their attitudes so lacking in humanity and compassion? Why do others think it’s okay for them to have kids, but adoption is the only route for the rest of us? The answer is ignorance, and sadly it’s all too common.

In her recent article, Cristina Odone attacks the IVF industry for undermining adoption in the UK. She argues that if all those who want IVF on the NHS had to first attempt adoption that it would somehow force necessary changes needed to the adoption process in the UK.

To use infertility sufferers as some sort of battering ram to change adoption policy is obscene. What is she thinking? The truth is, she isn’t thinking at all. When we first discover that we, a loving couple, are infertile – because it really is about two people, whatever the circumstances – we’re devastated, we’re in mourning, we’re grief-stricken and our femininity or masculinity has some how been found wanting. We feel anxious, guilty and worried about the future. Everything we hoped for as a couple, those dreams of creating a new generation, the progeny of our love, all those hopes and aspirations, plans and fantasies all tied up together, are suddenly dashed. Most of us would never think that adoption was the next move. We were put on this earth for a reason and it is our right to try everything we possibly can to become the biological parents of children we wish to bring into this world.

Imagine, you troop up to an adoption counsellor and she asks ‘so why do you want to adopt?’ and you say, ‘…well, actually we don’t, we want to have our own kids, but we’ve been told we can’t until we’ve tried adoption first…’ Would she think you were suitable? You wouldn’t exactly be committed would you? Besides, you’ve just found out you’re infertile, so you’re all over the place psychologically anyway. Under this scenario and you tried to adopt, you would be turned down, so the whole exercise would be self defeating and what a waste of energy, time and money it would all have been. The whole suggestion is an absurd one.

Adoption comes to mind last, after every other possibility that can be afforded has been exhausted: IVF, donor egg or surrogacy then adoption, in that order. If you’re like we were, we had fire in our bellies and a desire to fight infertility every step of the way. We were going to try whatever medical science could offer us first, then we would look at other options. Only when you have no more money to throw at it, or as in our case, when the evidence was so heavily stacked against us, with a 1% chance of success it wasn’t worth it, did we move on, but not to adoption but to donor egg, surrogacy and then adoption.

In reality, adoption rules need changing, they are antiquated and in need of reform. It is though the decline in unwanted babies, the rise of freely available abortion that has impacted the adoption market, not IVF. I cannot verify this with numbers, but I think it’s a pretty good hunch that whereas thirty to forty years ago adoption was still frowned on, it is today far more accepted.

There are many who think somehow, because we’ve chosen to have children later in life, we should be denied the support of the state to conceive. The argument is that we’ve brought it upon ourselves, therefore we should be made to pay or to accept the consequences. ‘Tough’ seems to be the view that’s held. However, in a civilised society ‘tough’ won’t cut it. We’ve paid taxes, we’ve made a different choice to those who had children early, that choice isn’t wrong, it’s just different. We have a right to be supported to become parents, in the same way that it’s your right to a university place at any time of your life. There is simply no adequate argument that gives others the right to judge us, nor to condemn us or remove the support needed.

In the light of all this, I have come up with something that I call my ‘Articles of Faith‘, the truths that I hold dear:

  1. I believe infertility is a disability and like many disabilities whilst there’s no absolute cure it can be treated, with a modicum of success – in this instance, one chance in five (depending on age etc). It should be recognised as a disability and those suffering given protection under new legislation just enacted.
  2. I believe that it is everyone’s natural, God given right to become a parent.
  3. I believe that everyone should be entitled to three free IVF treatments by the NHS.
  4. I believe that  it is everyone’s right to choose when they wish to try to become parents.
  5. I believe that all those who have experienced infertility have a duty to speak up and fight ignorance and bigotry surrounding the issue.
It is really important that we try to remain calm and rational when debating these issues because for some of the protagonists out there, this is a bit of saloon bar sport. There’s this notion somehow, held by many,  that we’re all middle class, bleeding heart, lilly-livered liberals who wear open toe sandals, read the Guardian and vote Green, and that we’ve brought this all upon ourselves and therefore, they don’t see why they should have to pay for our largesse. How wrong they are.
So, let’s stand strong, tall and proud and fight these people who know nothing of our pain and anguish. There are none so blind as they who will not see. It is our job, the one’s who are free of the constraints of infertility, who must make them see and educate them. Who will join me in this crusade?
Advertisements




Adoption before IVF? I don’t think so.

22 04 2011

Making couples attempt adoption before IVF is simply wrong.

I recently responded with a letter to an ignorant and ill-informed  post by Cristina Odone in the Daily Telegraph. The link to the blog is here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100084585/the-adoption-crisis-is-down-to-stupid-criteria-and-slow-bureaucracy-but-i-blame-the-ivf-industry-as-well . Here is my reply:

Cristina, I am not sure what I think about what you’ve written, because for me the whole issue is particularly highly charged. That said, I don’t think you really understand this subject at all. Indeed, your last two paragraphs clumsily stumble into the very essence or heart of the psychology of being a childless couple: the choices are just not rational, it’s all so unfair, and you’re both so damned desperate to become parents.

As the fertile half of a marriage (that is no more) that tried IVF (seven times, privately), donor egg (twice) and surrogacy (once, with the donor), and adoption at the end of this tortuous road, I understand something of the issues. My blog, incidentally www.djpnz.wordpress.com “How Green Is My Grass?” graphically describes some of those experiences.

The thought process between IVF and adoption is very different. Whilst there is every hope and a chance (ours was less than 5%) that you can become biological parents, you do it. It becomes addictive, obsessive and dangerously intoxicating. To think about adoption, to us, was to admit defeat and for me, the fertile half, it was the lurking thought that I could still be a dad naturally.

We spent 8 years in the vortex of IVF, donor and surrogacy issues and we came out at the end of it battered, bruised and undeniably holed beneath the water as a couple. However, my wife could not give up on the dream of being a mum, so she investigated the possibility of adoption (in New Zealand, where I am still living) of older children, because the race rules are strict here and for every white baby presented for adoption, there are more than 200 potential parents. She persuaded me, and so we embarked on yet another painful journey.

So, the children we considered were 7 and 9, brother and sister, and wards of court since they were born, practically – mum was retarded and dad was a convicted paedophile. Social services were keen for us to provide a home, placed us under immense pressure to become guardians immediately and were indecisive about what do with parental visitation rights (mum only, since dad had a restrictive order placed on him) – which disrupted the equiliburium (two weeks of bedwetting per child). Add to this both children were damaged, psychologically after so many years in care. And, us, inexperienced, wannabe parents. It was all a recipe for disaster.

Eventually I had to call time, it was destroying us, and social services had simply lied to us, we felt, to get the kids off their books. The children went back into care and we imploded. We’d been treated very badly and bore deep scars now, on top of all the other stuff previously.

It’s not actually about exercising a rationale choice Cristina, it’s about satisfying a need as a human being to do naturally what others seem to take for granted. Therefore, for the majority of couples, exhausting all of the assisted measures is the only consideration; and it has to be a horrific realisation that nothing is going to work, ever, that forces you to regroup into the minefield of adoption.

Adoption shouldn’t be seen as something to go into lightly – a softer, cheaper option, it isn’t. Its got to be considered very seriously and forcing couples to consider adoption in advance of IVF is simply cruel, unfair and unkind. It should be everyone’s right to have at least one IVF attempt before other options are considered, but psychologically, those prospective parents have to be ready, and all the time they are pondering their infertility, as a couple, they are in mourning, emotionally fraught and definitely not ready for someone else’s children.





I am Darcey’s grandfather, apparently.

13 03 2011

Darcey and her 'grandparents'

 

I waited a long time to become a father and only ever fleetingly considered what it would be like to be an older dad, some ten years or so past the average age of paternity.

I have wondered how Darcey would feel taking me to school events as the more athletic dads pummeled me on the race track, how she would feel when her name was called out and there was me, sitting there clapping furiously at speech day, prize giving day, or graduation day… meeting her post-pubescent teachers, shocking them all with my wisened looks, imagining the comment ‘goodness, that’s Darcey’s dad, he’s so old…’

I dismissed the ageist thoughts as irrelevant, totally, completely and utterly. Who cares, I thought, I will never let it get to me.

Well, on Saturday, I was talking to one of the staff members who knows me, at our favourite bar come restaurant, with Darcey bouncing and gurgling in my arms. She was making very polite conversation about babies in general and then she said it, “Is this your first grandchild?”. In the length of a nano second, I died, was resurrected and carried on living, all with a smile, as I laughed out loud proclaiming “…actually, this is my first daughter…” to which a very embarrassed young woman replied, diplomatically, “oh, yes, I am so sorry, how silly of me…”

The problem is, this was not the first time, but I had forgotten that is had occurred before. I was picking up my free iPhone (as you do, courtesy of Vodafone Complaints Resolution Department) from one of their friendly stores in Ponsonby, and proudly, I entered the stored with Darcey for the young guy there to ask me “how old’s your granddaughter?”. He was serious but very quickly became very embarrassed by his faux pas.

So, the questions remain, do I look like a granddad, or are these young people (both in their early 20s) ignorant, unworldly-wise or just plain rude? Well, I must admit, even when I was twenty something, I don’t think I was ever that brazen to make any kind of reference like that in the first place to a customer or someone I didn’t really know. I’d worked in retail for over 10 years and had seen a few odd situations, couples mainly, where you’d wonder if the younger one was a son or daughter rather than a partner… It might just be that times have changed and people think nothing of speaking their minds like this, without fear of causing offence or embarrassment – and, so, there we are, I am showing my age – the generation gap writ large – between these kids and me.

I wonder what it is then about my face, my build, my body, my manner – that when someone sees me with Darcey, with all that evidence amassed they wonder, seriously, if I am her granddad. Okay, I have no hair, I have hardly any wrinkles and no gray strands within the hair on my head that remains, so what is it? Inside, I am laughing to myself that if they think I am indeed Darcey’s granddad, then I’d love them to meet her grandmother, and whilst we’re at it for pure shock value, let’s introduce the great grandparents too, they’d be horrified!

There is something else here though, in their defence, which is the possibility that I remind them of their parents, since their parents could definitely be of the same age as me. It would be inconceivable to them that their parents could ever be capable of having kids, let alone enjoy a healthy sex life at the tender and ripe old age of 43, going on 44!  Hence, in their eyes, the only relationship I could have to Darcey would be as her grandfather, anything else is simply too horrible to consider. How funny. It’s feasible, I don’t really get it, but I guess it makes sense in their eyes.

Whatever the rationale, it’s not so much the age thing as it applies to me, I am really seriously perfectly relaxed about it (please believe me, I am), even if I am not looking as youthful on the outside as I thought I did. Actually, for me it’s the thought of how Darcey will feel. Whilst I am pretty confident that as her mum and dad, we will be more active still than most parents of children Darcey’s age, it does worry me that she will feel a tad embarrassed, for more reasons than those young people are about their parents in general.

One thing is for sure…I won’t be the source of embarrassment to Darcey for trying to look and act younger than I am – I can at least promise her this much, the oldest swinger in town I will never be!





A privilege

11 12 2010

On November 8th, 2010, Mandy fell ill, literally, and was rushed into emergency surgery 30.6 weeks pregnant with Darcey. We did not know what was wrong. However, twenty minutes later, at 1942 Darcey was delivered and was effectively 9 weeks premature and spent the next nine weeks in NICU (the neo-natal unit of Auckland City Hospital). She weighed just 1.5k or 3lbs 5oz, and was immediately placed on breathing and feeding apparatus. As for Mandy, unbeknown to either or us, she was being examined by General Surgeons who found that her bowel had flopped over and twisted into a volvulus. Luckily, there were no signs of necrosis and so they righted the bowel and turned what was going to be a lateral, gentle, bikini line scar into a vertical one 14 inches long.

It was another two hours before I could see Mandy, but I still had no idea what was wrong. Eventually, the surgeons found me, confirmed Darcey’s birth and the fact that Mandy was recovering from bowel surgery.
It seems nothing is ever simple in my life – however, I doubt it’s no different for anyone else who reads this.I am so grateful for Darcey but even more thankful for Mandy’s recovery.

Now that the little cherub has been home some five weeks now, after having been incarcerated in NICU for 60 days, we are both enjoying parenthood, sleepless nights and no social life, but loving every moment of this special time. Each day something new occurs and each day I thank God  for this chance to fulfill my dream of being a Dad.
I have written much about my experience of infertility and the pain that I still carry with such raw memories inside me. But, today, I look down at my daughter in a sling over my arm, sound asleep and still have to pinch myself that after all this time and after everything that I went through, I am now a Dad.

All the way through NICU, I made sure that everyone knew how special this baby was. For many people we met there, none of them had ever experienced the ravages of infertility and were totally unaware of the pain, desolation and despair that infertility inflicts. They are now all a little wiser.

There is one promise that I have made to myself, since before Darcey was born, and it is that I will never forget my journey to parenthood, nor will I betray the memory of those for whom the pain and the misery still continues.





Smoking mums!

1 06 2010

Having told the world how much I hate smoking mothers to be, it has been my misfortune recently to be confronted by two of them, yes two. I will only recall one of those events because it makes me so angry to think about both of them…

I was parking the car and this truck rolled up next to me. Out popped a rather heavily pregnant mum to be (probably 25 weeks or so gone) with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. As she walked towards the drink store, she stubbed out the fag on the pavement and her partner, who was also smoking, had got out of the car and was lurching back through the rear window to talk to three kids (none of whom were wearing seat belts). As he bent down, I noticed he was smoking too. The smoke was circulating around the car, in front of the kids and out the other side. Read the rest of this entry »





Children in need

31 05 2010

This is the preface to  It was never meant to be a post I am writing and will publish very shortly. It examines my experiences of the adoption system in New Zealand, after we took the decision to provide a home to two very damaged little souls.

I am not qualified to pass judgement on adoption protocols, but I do have opinions based on what I experienced. I don’t  seek to undermine the efforts of anyone involved in adoption. To the best of my knowledge, everyone involved with adoption and fostering acts within established legal constraints, they are largely professional, selflessly dedicated  and act without side nor malice to procure the very best possible outcome for children in need, in what can be a maelstrom of emotion and complex legalities. Read the rest of this entry »