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.

 





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?