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.

Advertisements




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.





20 hurdles of IVF

2 06 2010

When I look back at my IVF involvement nothing prepared me for that horrific 14 day wait-and-see period during which pregnancy is determined. It is the point at which no all omnipotent surgeon can influence any further Nature’s plan for us. It’s cruel but it’s where we as humans face the limits of our ability to manipulate the creation of life.

I thought I would look back on what hurdles I encountered along the way. On reflection, it seems like there was a pretty long list of things to tick before going anywhere not all of which I was ready for: Read the rest of this entry »





It was never meant to be

31 05 2010

Having just survived the ordeal of IVF, donor-eggs and surrogacy, our quest to be parents headed off in a different direction, although we did not know it at the time, as a couple, we had been mortally wounded by our IVF. We didn’t go off to Russia or Korea as many did, instead we chose to approach the adoption service in New Zealand. Tired, emotionally battered and mentally exhausted, we somehow convinced ourselves that we were superhuman and that as everything else had failed, perhaps we could lavish our love and affection on children who were less fortunate and needed new parents or parents for the very first time.

Children are very hard to adopt in New Zealand for a number of reasons. Unwanted pregnancies amongst those of New Zealand European ethnic origin are more likely to result in a termination, whereas with Maori and Pacific Island families, many unwanted babies are ‘cared’ for by the extended family. There are also many bureaucratic hurdles through which to jump, quite rightly, which are all designed to protect the interests and welfare of children, and test one’s desire and resolve (as if we needed that to be proven!).

At the time we started looking into adoption, we were told that we would only be able to adopt a baby from our own racial background. Therefore, with a waiting list of over 200 couples for every  NZ European baby that came up for adoption, it was going to be some wait. Unless a private adoption opportunity came along, the reality was we might never become parents, so in earnest we decided to make further enquiries. Read the rest of this entry »