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.

 





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.





“Daddy”

22 03 2014

Daddy

Me, Darcey and Alexander

“Daddy”. I never thought I’d hear this word, but I have and I do regularly, each and every day, and I love it. I’ve never forgotten that I thought for a long time that I never would, but it’s hard now to remember a life without Darcey and Alexander.

It’s an odd feeling at times, often contradictory, often guilt ridden, to try to remember what life was like before, and to imagine, just for a moment how it would feel not to have that responsibility, each and every second of every day for the rest of my life.

I yearned for 8 years or more to become a “Daddy” and now I am blessed with two children. However, I too go through periods of huge doubt, about me as a father to two under 4 at 46 years old. I worry enormously about my capability, competency and comfortability with it all. Sometimes I find it really problematic. I work extremely hard, my role is hugely demanding, it extracts every ounce of energy and every free thought that I have. Mandy also works extremely hard, with both children, each and every day, she’s a dedicated, non-complaining, caring and committed stay at home mum. She’s frazzled too, but yet still finds more energy to respond to their every need. I get home, yawn, eat and face walking the dogs then work, perhaps fitting in a bath at bed time for the children and occasionally a bed time story, before beginning yet more work, often into the early hours before rising four or five hours later. I am knackered, she is knackered, but apparently it gets easier.

So to complain, cry foul and not be the model of fatherhood has come as shock. I thought I could and would do it all. I can’t and never will. It’s time to accept I am human, and at the very least recognise two little people need an interaction with their Daddy that’s full, engaged and uncompromised.

I have at least built a castle, for the kids, that very shortly we will all enjoy! I might even find time to become a child all over. I guess though that my castle was a creative endeavour that allowed me to focus entirely on the children but at the same time enjoy, relax and experience something incredibly positive and nurturing. I am not sure I’d ever have built a castle, not now, but it was the sense of giving and seeing how excited the children were when I asked them if I should, that made me do it. Then I realised, I am doing what Daddies do, the world over. Perhaps I am not alone and we all struggle from time to time.

Bottom line, I would not give up these children for anything.

Their/my Castle.

Their/my Castle.





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.





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.





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!