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.

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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?




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!





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.





Approaching your emotions and feelings together

1 07 2010

I received a letter on this blog and replied to the specific points raised. As I did so, I though that a lot of what I was saying could be of value for a general audience. I have re-written my response and hopefully it will add some value to your thinking.

As in all activities where a deep, loving partnership is concerned especially where the emotions are so raw, we all need to cherish that other special person’s contribution, whatever it is. Occasionally, we should all stand back and see things from their perspective. Understanding, patience, consideration, support, tenderness etc goes both ways. Read the rest of this entry »





10 requests to family and friends during IVF

1 07 2010

With IVF and in fact any of the associated trials of assisted parenthood, when everyone knows you’re having problems, families and friends can’t help themselves. They love you, they care, some interfere, some say nothing, some are just silly and some simply couldn’t care less.

Whatever and whoever, we all need to set boundaries to make sure that our pain, anxiety, stress as individuals and as a couple is minimised.

I’ve prepared a list of  10 ‘requests’ to communicate to families and friends so that “you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs.”* Read the rest of this entry »