Father’s Day, another bittersweet celebration in the trying to bring a live baby home calendar. You just can’t get a break can you? Like Mother’s Day it makes you nostalgic, sad and emotional even if you don’t bloody want to be. It shines a light on what you have and haven’t; the relationship you have with your own father and what fatherhood means. What they DO. The pillars of support, love and protection that they’re meant to bring.
Theirs is an intensely important story, standing side by side with the mother and child. In infertility and babyloss, the man’s story tends to stand quietly behind the woman’s. In my introverted husband’s case, being married to a professional oversharer, this was not difficult. His natural state of being encouraged little further discussion with friends and colleagues beyond the acknowledgement that shit was going down and he’d have another pint please. In those days, we thought that we had served our three to four to five years of infertile servitude as friends and friends of friends popped out progeny like champagne corks. When we lost our baby, we didn’t know it, but that was when the real battle of the womb began.
Want to know if your relationship will survive in the long term? Hold the call Oprah and Dr Phil! Stand down Jerry Springer! There is no better way of sorting the sheep from the goats in a partner than throwing a chronic (eight years now and counting) state of suspended fertility animation and continual loss. Take your wife and start with ending your first pregnancy, royally fucking her up but still fundamentally having hope, given ‘you’ve already got pregnant once and kept it to 12 weeks.’ Add in the complete unknown, more rounds of fertility treatment, more operations. Learn how to mix drugs – legal this decade – and carry out bruising sub cutaneous and inter muscular injections, up to four a day. Don’t tell her the needle for the latter is two inches long each time it slides into the upper buttock. Fret as her physical anxiety worsens with panic attacks on any form of transport going above 50 miles an hour, exteriorising a complex life grief situation. Watch, increasingly stressed, as the second round turns into the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth.
Add another four years for good measure. Commute long weeks between home and work, racing home to effectively shag the Mrs and trudge back to work again at ridiculous o’clock. Sprinkle with dwindling hope and difficult conversations about alternative routes, all the while in utter disbelief it has gone this far. Find respite in brief bouts of hope, increased resilience, holidays, cuddles, love, and a determination to conquer this together.
Go where no man has gone before, when cyclogest pessaries clog up various orifices causing discomfort and a complete loss of dignity: “This lump on my arsehole??!?” “Yes I think it’s a giant spot on your…….yes.” Find it in you to keep your sex life going, always reassuring you’re up for it. Holding your wife’s hand as she weeps, promising to try and get her pregnant.
I’ve made him sound like superman haven’t I?
There are many things I admire about my husband. He hasn’t always been on point. He’s been angry, bitter, depressed. He’s raged internally about the lack of holidays, the taking over of our lives, the unfairness of our life savings – given with trust and hope – to a supposed last go that was practically guaranteed to work. He’s not had the option of ducking out of work, of taking a sabbatical in suffering. Every birthday and Christmas he keeps the cards coming, always positive, always hoping that the next year will be better. Or not. (Our cat, a former breeding queen and currently the most fertile member of the household, apparently has a sustainability policy which prevents her from writing further support, natch).
In the semi constant groundswell of a sea of hormones, deep soul sadness bordering on depression and acute anxiety, his calmness, practicality, hope and dedication to the child cause has helped us navigate our marriage. He has never begrudged pursuing treatment. He still doesn’t and after everything I think that’s kind of remarkable. If he gets made redundant at any point due to Covid he could totally go into nursing despite being incredibly squeamish when it comes to blood. One of his closest friends has recently become a father for the first time in lockdown. He hasn’t gone into meltdown or expressed his own pain. He’s got on the zoom call, joked around with the boys. He’s kept to his path and his path has always sounded for me easier to tread. He doesn’t compare, doesn’t feel the pressure. It’s me who has seen the beautiful photos of father and baby daughter and my heart has ached.
Four years ago I was in pieces. Now I find it another tricky day to get through, a day when you talk, shore each other up, go on a long walk to find the cinnamon bun and carry on hoping, even though you’re both 40 now (shaving a year off for you darling) and where we put our most private thoughts about how this will turn out is anybody’s guess. I mean, give me a few more years of this bullshit and let biology do the work for me. Maybe then I’ll be so wrapped up in living the couple’s life always having disposable income smug married without children I really won’t give a rat’s ass about not being a mother.
It was my biggest life fear that we would end up as the couple that ‘it didn’t work out for’. It still is. It was my husband – let’s face it, probably the only one who could – who said, “We’ve always been the two of us. I started out as me and I can carry on being me.” He doesn’t define himself by not fathering a live child. Yes, he is absolutely gutted that it hasn’t worked out so far. No, he doesn’t know what will happen next. Sleepless nights are one of his worst nightmares but he knows right now it would be a dream to be kept awake most of the night and day by a small person.
He isn’t sure about adoption but he will pursue all avenues. He doesn’t fall to bits at Christmas, at birthdays. He can hold babies and look like the world’s most extraordinarily beautiful dad to be. He’s a bloody bloke. He sits with the unknown better than me.