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)





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.





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!





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.





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.





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 »