Fatherhood.

21 06 2015

This cartoon is one of the best representations of the shock and awe of fatherhood I have seen. Bob Moran, a cartoonist has put together his very personal experiences for the UK’s Telegraph. 

Father's Days

Please click on the image

For me, the experience was somewhat different. Mandy was brought home by a work colleague at around 1600hrs. She’d earlier collapsed in a bank, passing out and hitting the floor because of the pain in her tummy. So, arriving home, she looked very unwell, and my immediate reaction was to phone our obstetrician. Eva was brilliant and decisive, after describing Mandy’s symptoms she just said “get her into maternity now and I’ll see you very soon.”

So, calmly, but inwardly panicking, I drove Mandy to Auckland City. I parked outside and grabbed a wheelchair, as she clutched her stomach. A hospital volunteer told me to “bring the wheelchair back once you’ve finished with it!” I didn’t respond, so she decided to accompany us all the way up to maternity telling us en route “we never get these wheelchairs back, they just go missing you know…” I couldn’t have cared less.

We presumably arrived at floor 9, it’s the maternity wing, and were immediately met by a team of lovely nurses at which point Mandy was admitted and transferred to a single room – the volunteer, pushing her way in past all of the clinical staff to grab the wheelchair, amidst all of the hullabaloo, couldn’t have been a more surreal spectacle. I was in disbelief and so were the nurses.

I felt relieved that Mandy was at last in safe hands. But she was in pain, lots of pain. So they tried to help her by increasing her oxygen intake because her breathing was shallow. Examinations continued, the pain wasn’t abating, Mandy told them she wasn’t getting anything through the line but they didn’t believe her. Increasingly worried, I asked them to check the line and so they changed the face mask. Concerned at the lack of relief still, after 15 minutes I decided I’d had enough and looked at the equipment myself finding that they’d not turned it on!

There was a sudden hush among the nurses as a registrar appeared accompanying Eva, our obstetrician. Initial examinations of Mandy gave cause for concern, not just for Mandy, but for Darcey too. Her condition was inexplicable. I remember them vividly trying to ascertain Darcey’s heart beat, but no-one could find it. Mandy was meanwhile fighting back the pain. Eva continued to examine her and after five minutes – it appeared to last a lifetime – Eva took the decision to ‘get Darcey out, and see what’s going on…’

There must have been a shift changeover because I remember the moment a nurse pressed the red button above Mandy’s bed,  as if by magic with the red lights flashing and the alert sounded, we were suddenly swamped with nurses, they came from everywhere. It was actually quite terrifying, because for me it underlined how serious the situation was, it was a real emergency for us the like of which I’d never been involved with before, with potentially serious and unknown consequences; but for the clinicians this was a ‘normal’, practiced and rehearsed, emergency procedure. They were all calm and focused, each with a role to perform. It was impressive.

Mandy was effectively stripped of everything she was wearing, studs, earings, rings and even in her pain, battled to retain some dignity by holding on to her black nail varnish on at least one finger. However, by now there were swarms of nurses and clinicians around us. Mandy was readied for theatre and I accompanied her as they wheeled her bed along the corridor…we didn’t have a moment to kiss and say ‘goodbye’, but my hand grabbed hers and she was gone. A heavy mancunian accent spoke to me, as a senior nurse put her reassuring arm around me.‘Let’s get you settled chuck with a nice cup of tea’ and I was escorted out into the landing area of the ward. Tea arrived and a reassuring chat with the nurse ensued, but soon she was gone and I was all alone.

Time passed me by and the security doors to the wards were closed. I was now shut out. The hospital had no cafe, the restaurant was closed, there was nothing and I feared leaving in case I missed something. There was no-one to speak to – how was I going to find out about Mandy and Darcey? Who was going to know anything anyway? Mandy was no longer in maternity, technically, or was she? Was it surgical now? I didn’t know anything. Silence.

I paced up and down and several hours went by. I picked up one of the wall phones to speak to the ward and nobody answered. I tried again, the result was the same. Three hours had now passed by, it was 2100hrs, and suddenly Eva arrived with what turned out to be a registrar from general surgery. ‘Has no-one been to see you?’ they asked. ‘No, it’s been a very quiet and anxious time for me’ I said. Apologising, they explained that Darcey had been delivered at 1942hrs and had been rushed up to NICU. Mandy had undergone an internal examination by general surgeons who found that she’d had a cecal volvulus. ‘So. All good. Congratulations. Someone should be along shortly to take you to see Darcey.’

Another hour and a half passed by, this time, I’d managed to get the ward to answer, and they were now ‘searching’ for Mandy. I was on floor nine, the maternity floor, but they thought she might be on floor seven.

Just after 2300hrs, a nurse appeared through the doors and said ‘Mr Page, would you like to come and see your daughter?’ I followed her excitedly. I don’t really know what I was expecting. I was feeling out of sorts, I’d missed her birth (she was my first), she was in NICU and my wife had gone missing. I was tired, hungry and anxious. Turning left into the NICU ward, I saw posters, large wall mountings, each unique, beautiful, colourful and personal describing the journey of other poor little souls who were born early. They had all seemingly graduated and left the care of this fabulous facility, safely and alive, each returning to their homes to live a normal life.

I was now very worried and began wondering what on earth almost 10 weeks of prematurity might look like. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. The room was softly lit, and there in the furthest left hand corner, under the window, was an incubator. Tubes, cables, wires and straps went in and circled around the plastic box in which Darcey was lying. She was obscured by a quilt which had been placed to keep the environment dark. There were two other little ones in the room too, the pings, bongs, and mechanical sounds resounding through the room made it a very noisy place to be, but beyond that there was a calm and tranquility. I stood there at the end of the incubator, and the nurse removed the quilt, and there was our little darling…

Darcey in NICU, 3 hrs old

Darcey in NICU, 3 hrs old

I was shocked, delighted, tearful, horrified, amazed, left for words. She was so small and wasn’t breathing on her own, with CPAP and its monitor noisily regulating the flow of air into her lungs. All of the tubes looked huge compared to her. She was no bigger than my forearm. It was hard to comprehend. I’d never been to a NICU before and to see this image of Darcey, our little girl looking so poorly, so red skinned, with a concave chest, with tubes and bandages all around her was quite a shock. As far as we knew at this time, she was ‘okay’. Tests would reveal she had a large ASD and was potentially deaf on one side.

I wished Mandy had been there with me, but it would be another hour before we ‘found’ Mandy, and another two days before she was well enough to venture up to floor 9. Her experiences are another story entirely.

The arrival of one’s first born is usually a time of immense happiness, celebration and jubilation. This was and and wasn’t one of those times, although I thanked God for giving me back Mandy and delivering Darcey alive. In addition to the shock of the menace posed by the tubes and devices connecting Darcey to life, here I was standing over her, unable to pick her up, detached from the physical connection of holding my baby, I wasn’t able to touch her even. This was a traumatic time, it was a very lonely time but my dream had finally come true: I had become a father.

I caught up with Mandy in recovery on floor seven. Like Darcey, she had tubes coming out of her nose, her arms and tummy. She looked very unwell, but I was so grateful that she was alive. One of the nurses had provided a photo of Darcey. She shed a tear, squeezed my hand and she closed her eyes. As it turned out, Mandy would recover to full health, but it had been very serious and she had been lucky.

Darcey would spend the next 60 days in the wonderful care of Auckland City’s NICU.

 





The Snip!

23 03 2014

Image

When you’ve personally not had to bear the sadness of infertility (except when you’ve been married to someone who was – and it leaves deep scars) and in your new life, with two successive acts of God, children just seem to appear, it rather begged the question do we want to have any more? By looks of things we could just continue churning them out…I had visions of a platoon of mini-me’s and mini-Mandys, with us sitting out our dottage with hundreds of grandchildren bouncing off our zimmer frames and taking the mobility scooters out for a blast around Auckland! I think the answer we came to was, sadly, ‘no’.

So down to the clinic to have initial discussions about ‘the snip’. I was really surprised by how many times they asked me do you want to do this, are you sure, have you thought about this etc etc. It’s hard to imagine any man casually going into a clinic and asking for his vas deferens to be disconnected. Of course I’d thought about it. I’d pondered and cogitated for years! I am 46 for goodness sake, I wouldn’t have done this lightly, at any time in my life, but come on, seriously, what did they imagine?

So, examinations then took place, a squeeze here, pressure applied there, ‘cough please…and again… once more…’. Then the biggest surprise of all. After all the questions, the prods, pokes and the justifications, the doctor said he couldn’t perform the operation. I had a moment’s thought that this rather friendly, avuncular clinician was having some kind of dilemma, and that morally, he couldn’t do it to me! Sadly, no, it was far more simple. For my sins, I had some how managed to acquire an inguinal hernia on my left side. As if that news wasn’t enough, it was accompanied by the news I had one on my right side too! I’d never been troubled or had any suspicions at all.

Whilst consultants don’t agree that it is necessary to fix the hernia problem before slicing into the other (so to speak), this one believed that dealing to the bilateral inguinal hernias was apparently very important, and that we’d have to fix them up first. What a palaver. However, never one to miss an opportunity, ‘could we do all three at once?’ I asked, ‘three for the price of one?’. So with a laparoscopic procedure, coming in from the top, I would now have a general, a rest-up in bed and be pampered for 24 hours! Marvellous. That was the theory. Major projects at work, back to work the next day (try putting on trousers, jeeze) and then the following week, a trip to the US, UK, Canada, Australia and back to Auckland. It was without doubt, a little, well, painful, at times – brought tears to my eyes, but needs must!

As I work for the health sector, I also thought it would be good to take a look at the service we offer patients in our wonderful elective surgery units. I am delighted to say it is fabulous care – from start to finish. I only wish the post operative sample clinics were under my control too. Turned up with my sample three months later, my daughter in trail, in a relatively full waiting room, to be asked what it was (the label was clear) and then to be told that I needed to go to another lab test centre, twenty minutes away. With a rush of blood to the cheeks, my sample clenched in one hand and my daughter in the other, I melted out of the waiting room in a nano-second. Some things, it would appear don’t change – my embarrassment for one.

It seems I never quite get it right. However, all appears to be working well less a few million of my little friends, much to Mandy’s relief.





It’s never far away…

14 07 2012

Alexander David Archer-Page (26 weeks)

So, here we are, blessed again. This is the first time I’ve had the inclination to sit and write about our good fortune, for that is what it is. Alexander is now 30.3 weeks. He’s in the 95th percentile in terms of weight, placing him in the ‘large’ category and Mandy is feeling it, poor girl. It was exactly at this point, 22 months ago that Darcey came into our lives and is going well but is still small – 8.0kgs. However, she’s lively, bright and quite advanced developmentally, ahead of  her non-adjusted age group, when in fact she should be a couple of months behind, so that’s all good.

This week then had a psychological significance and every day that Mandy and Alex can hold on means that he will be safer, stronger and more resilient, whatever happens, but Mandy’s suffering increases.  We survived this week, but we’re taking each days as it comes, not as a given. Alex could arrive at almost any time over the next 10 weeks, if Mandy were to suddenly become ill, as she did with Darcey. Fingers crossed.

So, tonight, it was with sadness that I learnt that one of our friends has been unlucky – her IVF failed. It’s good that she’s talking about it, and actually we’re very pleased she’s talked to us. I remember that people who were expecting babies were the last on the list of people Jo and I wanted to talk to because they’d simply never understand – and in most cases, that would be true. In our case, it simply opens up the old wounds and makes me reflective of how far we’ve come, how lucky I, personally  have been, but what a painful journey I have ridden. It makes me think of Jo, her mum and dad, and how sad they’ve been not having children and grandchildren in their lives because of some unknown physiological condition. I cannot change that, but I can be very grateful for having been given a gift from God, not once, but twice.

But then there’s another friend of ours, whose IVF journey has been so tortuous for her and her husband. She’s gone off air of late, finding it all too hard. Of course, I totally get that. It’s so utterly devastating. It worries me that they, as a couple are not in the same place about this. It harks back to the advice I would always give which is be careful what you wish for and do not let it become all-consuming. At the very least, you, the couple, need to be strong, united and in one place. Ultimately, if one of you is only luke warm about continuing IVF or trying another procedure or process, you stand to place your whole marriage at risk. The marriage and love for each other came first, that, above all else needs to be protected. I pray for our friends, that they will find reconciliation and inner strength to overcome their differences and unite once more.

So here’s the thing. Soon to be a dad of two children, happily married to boot, but feeling terribly unworthy and guilty, because of  all those who have tried to become parents and failed but keep on trying and trying. Those scars I bear are so deep that I guess they will never disappear. From those scars, however, comes empathy, sympathy and understanding – the only support I can offer to those around us who are sad, feeling desolate and angry.

Whatever went before, it’s never far away.





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?




It’s all my fault.

26 02 2011

Me, in blue jersey, in 1975 with sisters and cousins, at home in Seaford, East Sussex

The summer of 1976 was seriously the last year I can remember as a child where the birds sang, the sky was blue, the sun shone, all was good with my world and I was as happy as a an innocent 9 year old could be. It was pure bliss. For me, that was the last year of my childhood, filled with Enid Blyton’s Secret 7Famous 5 and CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. My youngest sister who was three and a half years older than me was still interested in playing with cars in the dirt, and accepted time and again having to endure being the Germans in our elaborately built WW2 POW camps that somehow incorporated live hampsters and their cages, inspired in part by having seen the first live screening on British television of that classic film The Great Escape.

It was also the year of a very long drought, James Callaghan became Prime Minister, and Denis Healey was Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was he who pushed in front of me at the Woolworths in Seaford as I waited to pay for my penny chews with my pocket money. I remember staring at him and couldn’t help wondering at the time if his bushy eyebrows were for real (for all those not familiar with this particular Labour politician he possessed enormous eye brows, giving him the look of an owl, and an impressionist by the name of Mike Yarwood used to mimic him relentlessly with the catch phrase ‘silly billy’, which he had never used up to that point, but later adopted and used freely whenever he could).

I loved my parents, I adored going to cubs and I had a great group of mischievous friends, with whom I would spend hours playing war games in the old battlements and trenches of the Canadian Army’s WW2 anti-aircraft batteries on the Sussex Downs above Seaford. Having watched repeats of the BBC drama Colditz, a friend of mine and I borrowed tools from our respective fathers’ garden sheds and began the long, dangerous and difficult task of digging a tunnel – to Australia. Needless to say, we didn’t get very far, but we got very dirty and into a lot of trouble.

From Seaford Head and all the way down to the Cuckmere Haven, in the sight of the Seven Sisters, this was all mine: where we’d walk and run across the cliff tops for hours, exploring and making ‘camps’; or taking picnics and cycling for whole days on end on forays into the Sussex countryside visiting places like Wilmington, Alfriston, East Dean, Friston, Rodmell, Newhaven and Bishopstone. That’s if I wasn’t going on secret undercover missions amid the undergrowth of the Old House, at the end of my road, a large, walled property, surrounded by trees with two sets of tall, solid wooden gates, through which no-one ever saw anyone come or go. Another favourite pastime was to hide in the bushes and remove golf balls in play from the fairway without the golfers seeing us – having previously removed all of the link numbers or swapped them around – accumulate our quarry, mix with older stray balls and then sell back to the Club House.

Naughty, well yes, a bit, but not deliberately destructive and disrespectful of others’ property (if you excuse the golf balls). Adult fearing, indeed, we respected our elders and did as we were told and shivered at the sight of the local constable. God fearing, absolutely, we all feared his representative on earth Sister Bruno and her slipper, at Annecy, our Convent primary school.

I was a normal boy, growing up in a family of three sisters and two hard working parents. From what I can recall, we were all happy children in a very protected, rural and seaside environment, a beautiful part of England, that I love and miss to this day.

Euphemistically, along came the winter of 1976. It was a bitterly cold winter with an average temperature that sunk to 0.8C (33.4F). I remember it well, not least because I got a brand new bicycle, a multi-gear ‘Hustler’ with lights and a speedometer, for Christmas! Mum had told me to get a blanket from the dining room because she was a little bit chilly, and unsuspectingly, I went to retrieve the blanket and to my utter amazement found the bike sitting there. I think I screamed in excitement. My eldest sister and I went on a bike ride later that day. I couldn’t wait to get back to school to show it off.

Sadly, that was the last ‘family’ Christmas we ever had.

In early January one weekday evening when it was cold and dark, mum and dad assembled us together in the lounge. I remember correctly forecasting to my sisters what I thought this could be about. But even then, nothing prepared me for the words that I didn’t really understand fully “…mummy and daddy don’t love each other anymore, and mummy is going to live somewhere else…”  I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards. I do remember that I cried in assembly at school the next day and in class. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I do recall the stirring of butterflies in my stomach and feeling sick. Mummy and daddy were splitting up. The odd thing is, none of my friends from that point on right up to and through university were the products of a broken marriage – not one. I was always the odd one out. How I looked admiringly into the lives of all my friends.

In looking back, there were strong pointers to the inevitability of this whole situation. However, as a child, there was no way I would have had a clue that those signals had been flashing alarmingly, semi-permanently for quite a long time. So, the day arrived when mum packed up her little blue mini and left home. In my mind, that dark, overcast, chilly late afternoon in February 1977 was like no other: it was the day that my world blew apart. I felt nothing but guilt, it had all been my fault and if I had been good, she wouldn’t be leaving now. Perhaps it was the time that I had been asked to do the hoovering, where I had taken out the hoover, asked how much I was going to get paid and was told ‘nothing’, and promptly wound up the cable and returned the hoover to the cupboard under the stairs. I was wracking my brain, desperately trying to think how I had caused my parents to break up.

As mum hugged me, she was in tears, I can’t remember if I was or not. I hugged her back and as she drove off, I remember thinking why didn’t I slash her tyres to stop her? I went inside and hugged the dog, and felt totally and utterly alone. The girls couldn’t even bring themselves to come out. My eldest sister was about to join the army, so before long, with dad commuting, it befell my two middle sisters to look after me, cook, clean and manage the house. It was a long, unhappy Queen’s Jubilee year. Where everyone else was happily getting involved with events, we were still coming to terms with the ground zero devastation of the implosion of our family unit.

Before long we were getting into the habit of life as a family apart. After school on a set day each week, we would all troop to the Tuck In Cafe, a greasy spoon, where mum would meet us and we’d make a tearful reunion. Eventually, one or two of us would go and stay with mum at her flat above the Flude’s shop in Worthing. It frightened the living daylights out of me, Lord knows how mum coped as she slogged her guts out holding down three jobs, to earn money to survive and to occupy the sad emptiness of her new life.

We moved house, downsized to a bungalo on the other side of town, me, dad and two of my sisters. I remember getting depressed on Sunday nights. I’d always been anxious about going to school and it had taken me a long time to adjust to being separated as an infant from the girls when they were in juniors, and again when they moved on to senior school. The only two items of comfort I had was Minty, my cat and my glow in the dark rosary that hung at the end of the bed, demonstrating the presence of my guardian angel. Perhaps the real issue was that the country itself was depressing – everything was beginning to break down and from 1977 to 1979, every union took a turn at putting the knife in. Our family just fitted in with everything going on around it.

I know mum will be reading this, so for her and a wider audience that at this moment is possibly clambering for a variety of nouns to describe their outrage, please understand, I do not blame her nor I do feel rage or anger since I have done all that. Mum has endured the brunt of some of my outbursts, indeed, she’s borne the brunt of one hell of a lot of abuse from all of us, in some shape or form over the years, none of which could make any of us proud. She has more than made up for deserting our home and I love her very dearly. She’s been a tower of strength and a true friend and supporter.

When mum left, she was suffering from anorexia and she was dangerously thin and under-weight. There were other reasons too, more personal and more hard to comprehend, that forced her hand. I remembered a period where, and possibly this is my memory exaggerating a bit here,  she had been back and forth to hospital, for one major operation after another. I remember the last occasion seeing the distinct flashing of blue lights coming into my room at the front of Maurice Road, as she was taken off to hospital in the middle of the night. I forever remember her recovering in her dressing gown, the one with the mauve velvet straps, as I sat close, on the floor by her feet, often rubbing them or applying cream to her soles.

I cannot know what really went on in my parent’s marriage – indeed, such knowledge of those facts could be too painful for anyone to bear – but one absolute fact that is incontrovertible is that she was unwell and I think from what friends of hers have told me, that at the end of the day, it was either her marriage and role as mother and wife that were going to have to be sacrificed, or her own life.

The flight for survival then is the path she chose and was encouraged to take I think, quite rightly, by her parents. The pain of her guilt that she must have suffered, each and every day of her life since leaving home must have been immense. Who would not have been tormented by the image you saw in your rear mirror of your little boy, waving goodbye, a small figure in gray , as you left the family home for good. And then, to lose her parents, both of them, within the space of two years, must have been additionally traumatic – suddenly alone without the closest supporters you could ever want for.

We were part of a small community of 20,000 people in Seaford, a coastal town at the end of a railway line that was dominated by Seaford Head, a massive assault of white chalk that rose inexorably into the sky above the town and seemed to me as a boy, as if it were indeed the pathway to heaven. We attended a Annecy catholic school with only 200 pupils, a wonderful, innocent, time warp in a dangerous world. Everyone was close and parents knew each other from inter-related school activities, football, cubs, clubs and church – except for dad because he was a non-practising Anglican. Mum worked in the town and felt the heat of others’ judgements – always suspecting that another party is involved, but not really knowing the real facts. She endured gossip, whispering and shameful torture from supposed christians, friends’ parents and people we knew, who would rather cross the street than have to look mum in the face and acknowledge her. There were no good samaritans in Seaford, just a bunch of dreadful hypocrites.

Dad, for his part, had always been this rather remote, victorian figure, a less extreme version of his father whom I remember as cold and grumpy. Granddad had lived with us for a number of years but he and mum had never seen eye to eye. For all their differences though, he always said that she was a very good mother.

As far as dad is concerned my impression is that children, at that time, were there to be seen and not heard. I think this changed when he became a father again in his forties, to my half-brother Michael. A perception I have is that dad had more interest in, and patience for, the intricacies of an industrial mechanism than with the musings of a child. I can’t remember just ‘mucking around’ with him where he let his hair down, it was always rather formal. So, our relationship was formed around things military, air shows, the garden, mowing the lawn and digging the garden. Dad didn’t do football or rugby, but we occasionally did cricket, chess and draughts. I can only remember one occasion on which dad read me a story at bedtime; and the only time I can remember him bathing me, he used a loofah on my back and not only removed baked on grime but several layers of skin into the bargain. In his defence, he was probably very busy, working, commuting and constructing things.

Dad was, is, a perfectionist in everything from building houses to renovating them and constructing things from scratch. This made it difficult for him to teach me  – I simply could not do anything to his standard, he was impatient, overly critical and frustrated when I got it wrong – very odd for a teacher. I felt for years I was useless with my hands, and to this day I still think he despairs at my lack of DIY prowess, irrespective of some of the projects I have completed. He was the cleverest person in the use of their hands I have ever known, and remains so to this day. I could only ever aspire to be half as accomplished as dad and I feel very inadequate by comparison. He and mum together taught us an assortment of good values, manners, smart dress codes and controlled behaviour – they also had a no swearing policy and required us all to speak well and clearly.

When mum left, dad’s facade evaporated. Suddenly, there was a vulnerability about him, and I can vividly recall his agony, tears and sadness. Many was the time, having crept out of bed to listen, I heard dad unsuccessfully begging mum to return. He also told my oldest sister when she in the army serving as a nurse in Hong Kong that he missed her and that ‘she was the only one he cared about.’ He was if anything always effusive about her, she was his chink of happiness and pride in this sea of doom all around him. However, for once we were seeing a different, softer side to dad, but to be honest it was frightening and made me feel a lot more insecure because not only had mum gone, but my dad was now a different person as well. For a child, this was extremely hard to handle, there were no guarantees of certainties anywhere.

As an adult, I now understand mum’s motives and why she took her decision which to many is an action that is indefensible: to leave your husband and children and start a new life. Let’s be clear, without understanding all the facts it’s neither fair nor rationale to condemn. As we will never know all the facts and frankly, as it concerns my parents I do not want to know all the facts, no reliable judgements can be made.

It’s at this point though, that one’s understandable outrage at her actions needs to be replaced with compassion and understanding. I am not denying how I feel nor am I trying to justify mum’s decision that damaged everyone around her. However, if I am not prepared to condemn or to blame mum’s actions, then nobody else should either.

A course of events were set in train, the consequences for every family member were very different.  However, they have presented themselves in many forms: lack of trust, reclusiveness, huge insecurities, lack of confidence, lack of self esteem, social anxieties – eating disorders, panic attacks, irrational fears, morbid thoughts, in some shape of form, all four children have suffered  some or all of these problems. These may or may not have been a direct consequence of my parent’s marriage break-up, but it for sure compounded whatever genetic predisposition we already had.

I can see some real strengths from mum and dad though – resilience, perseverence, humour, emotional intelligence, drive, compassion, attention to detail, sensitivity, articulacy, numeracy, a sense of history, a love of nature and so the list goes on. Mum, for her apart, is a truly inspirational woman who has single-handedly achieved so much with so little through nothing other than hard work, drive and intelligence. Dad, in his own way held it together for his kids when he was left on his own – he could have behaved so differently, but he he didn’t – no alcohol, no women, no vices of any kind other than a searing cynicism for figures of the political establishment! It could all have been so different and I thank God that it wasn’t.

This story is about my take on a period which affected me profoundly – I own this piece of that experience and it is my story. It was Darcey’s birth that made me begin to seriously reflect on my earlier life and want to write about it. It made me think very deeply about what kind of foundation I would create for her and how I would leave my mark on her blank, innocent canvas of a psyche. Darcey’s arrival then has had a tremendous impact on my view of the world. As my sister Giselle said to me, ‘…as her father, you will be the first man Darcey comes into contact with. Make sure that her experience is a good one.’ We only have room for so much philosophy in how we run our lives, but that, for me was a catalyst. It not only preoccupies my thoughts about that father/daughter relationship, but about my relationship with Mandy, and what memories and influences Darcey will infer from witnessing how we behave as her mother and father.

This post then was written without malice or spite. It will serve to archive  a period that should not be forgotten, for there are so many things to learn from it. I also wanted to convey a message that faith in God, love and honesty are the most powerful weapons in overcoming any difficulty we face in life. If we lose sight of those three things we can become seriously distracted and struggle to make sense of anything.

I owe my parents a huge amount, particularly my mum and I wanted to publicly thank them both. Whatever happened during my childhood, I still think I have so much to be grateful to them both for and I pray to God that I might be as good a parent as they were, despite their issues, with Darcey.





The loneliness of it all

23 02 2011

‘No body understands’ is a phrase I’d utter repeatedly to myself. I had had such visions of me, a dad, running around doing all those fatherly things. How could it be? But then how bad could it be, I wasn’t the infertile one. The guilt I felt was immense, but the sense of being utterly alone was even greater.

When I started looking at the family tree, I don’t know why, I started digging at this time, I could see that the line was a very fertile one. On Dad’s side, my great great grandfather was one of 10, my great grandfather was one of 9 and my grandfather was one of 24 (from two marriages). Dad was one of 10 (6 still born). Mum’s side we knew less about but she was one of four, her father was one of three and his mother was one of 9 or so. I was one of 5 (two marriages). When my father went to have a vasectomy, after two previously failed attempts, they told him he was probably one of the most fertile men for his age in West Sussex. Then of course, the evidence came back that I was ok biologically.

As I’ve said before, all that is no consolation, I might as well have declared myself infertile because actually, the predicament is acutally something that afflicts two people, you the couple – it’s a shared problem. But it’s a tricky business to share because one of you will turn round to the other at some point and say ‘you can’t know how I feel in all this’, and it would be true; but, my advice at that point would be not to argue that point, but to concede. However, my reposte would be that there are two people in this relationship and we both hurt but in different ways. This is what gets missed.

The truth is, you owe it to each other to recognise the different positions you find yourselves in. The focus is so naturally the one who is biologically or biochemically challenged, all the attention is on that half of the relationship, but the other half needs comfort too. The other half in all this is told that they ‘don’t have a problem’, but the reality is they do, and if  you ignore this, then, over time, the real problem will actually become your relationship, not infertility.

How many times have we all privately gone away to weep? How often, by contrast have we wept together? On how many occasions have we made time and stripped down to ‘yours and mine’ where we expose our true, deep feelings about all of this? In all probability, a lot at first, less so as time has moved on. My advice is that it should be ongoing. Make no assumptions, leave no hostages to fortune – the narrow focus on the end game can leave your partner silent, emotionally crushed and unable to express how they really feel. Both of you have a responsibility to monitor the temperature of your feelings and to resolve any issues that do exist before moving on.

The loneliness of deep inner feelings will gnaw into the fabric of your love for each other. It will be expressed in word or deed at some point, but surface it will and the shock could be devastating. So, remember, you are a couple, you’re doing this together, you need to know how the other really feels because the process you’re engaged in needs informed consent of the deepest kind. If it all seems too hard, slow the process right down to relieve the pressure of it all and get yourselves back on an even keel. Only then, when rational thought returns should you continue, along that well trodden path, together, whatever the outcome.





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.