My Privilege

27 04 2014

I often have these moments, usually at the weekend, where I look around me at what I have and I thank God for the privilege – my new life that is priceless and that no money can buy.

Just yesterday, I read a couple of blogs by people who cannot have children naturally and, so far, IVF has failed them too. Their sadness and their anger has affected me. It always transports me back to my previous life. That huge loneliness, the pain and the quiet suffering of two tormented hearts, striving for that ideal that others just find so easy, sometimes without even trying.

I wrote to both, and gave them a perspective from what I experienced. It’s a different array of experiences for everyone, but in effect, the risks are the same, the greatest of which I feel is not knowing the eventual outcome; or what other unintended consequences of remaining so focused to the one goal will be.

It is all consuming and it’s exclusive, downright personal and emotionally charged. We become different versions of ourselves, not the social, fun loving and outward people that we may have been. Our relationships with others become conditional – on them not being parents or becoming parents – on a shared existence of childlessness. It’s coping, it’s existing, it’s surviving, and it’s bloody painful. How my heart feels for these guys, going through the same journey that I did with all of those hopes, dreams and aspirations of parenthood.

The only real advice one can give is to encourage the development of a life that’s not dependent or conditional on becoming a parent. Enjoy the now, and let the future take care of itself. So easy to say, but it’s true. Couples need to nurture each other more during this time, when the chips are down. It’s so easy to move apart, emotionally. It harder to recognise that it’s happening. The anger you both feel needs to be channelled somehow, away from each other and family but dissipated in a way that doesn’t allow it to gnaw at you from inside and ultimately cause you to self-destruct. Nothing will remove the pain or the negative thoughts, but managing them and creating a broader perspective could prove more helpful than anything.

So, back to my privilege and a different reality. The living room’s been devastated by toys strewn all over the place, a dog’s grabbed a favourite building block, a fight has broken out over a small toy car, someone’s heart is broken and they’re in tears, by the smell of things, there are nappies to change, and according to the clock, it’s time to feed little mouths. Thank you God.

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Darcey and Alexander, April 2014

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Mummy and the family, Easter weekend 2014

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Darcey, April 2014 (3 years 7 months)

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Alexander, April 2014 (1 year 7 months)

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The Snip!

23 03 2014

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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?




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.





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.





Going through to the other side.

5 08 2010

Someone said to me the other day that because I am going to be a Dad, it means that I am ‘going through to the other side’, meaning that I will soon forget about how it feels not to be a parent and yet to want it so badly, because I will join the ranks of the privileged.

I am not sure I agree with that statement nor do I think it’s fair.

Whether or not I became a parent, there are bits of the assisted pregnancy process I have forgotten about, unintentionally anyway, but there are huge parts of it that have left me scarred for life.

The pain I felt reminded me of a scene in The Godfather where Al Pacino’s coming out of the opera and an assassin’s bullet misses him but kills his daughter. He stands there, distraught, mouth open, looking up to God, but not a sound comes out of his mouth for what seems an eternity, seemingly as if the pain of what has just happened acts to atone for his sins. Then, in an instant, the pain comes out in a torrent of emotion. We all feel for him.

Well, there’s an element of this in all of us who suffer IVF failure after failure. Even years later, what affected me then can be triggered by other events today. Armchair psychologists tell me I don’t cope with grief very well and that I have many issues to deal with. I don’t think so. In fact, I think I am in touch and in control of my emotions in a way I never was before.

I will never abandon the memories that touch the experiences of assisted reproduction. Too many years and too many tears were expended to forget it so easily. So what I intend to do, once my family is complete, is to donate sperm and help others achieve their dreams. I will also get involved in whatever way I can with fertility pressure groups. I will honour the memory of what I went through by trying to help those who are going through it today.

So, to the arm chair critics and anyone else who believes I am walking away and not dealing with things – I am here to stay, here to help and ready to give.