Being An IVF Dad (The Times)

I wrote this for The Times last week for their Fathers Day special:

Father’s Day 2007 was not a good day. I took my dad for a beer to celebrate his special day. “Son, not everyone can have kids, you know.” It was said with tenderness and I realised he was preparing me for disappointment.\r\n\r\nMy wife Iza and I had been trying for a child for two years, and I was beginning to give up hope. I was 37, I had a wife whom I loved, an exciting job making TV shows, a cool London flat, but there was a hole in my life — a hole that I felt could only be filled by a child. Since my early twenties I had always wanted kids. Women friends ask: “Why? How did you know?” But I can’t tell you why. It’s not intellectual, it’s instinctual. A deep-down primal urge. Women can desire kids, so why can’t men? I would walk past a school playground and the sound of children playing tore me apart. I started avoiding social occasions if I knew there would be children there.\r\n\r\nIza and I had married within 18 months of meeting. We didn’t want to just be a couple, though. We wanted to be a family. We both love kids and we wanted our own to play with and mould. Iza is Malaysian, and we were excited about mixing genes from two different cultures and countries and seeing how it would turn out.\r\n\r\nAt first I wasn’t that bothered by our failures, I just felt sure that it would happen. But as the months dragged on I could see the desperation in Iza’s eyes.\r\n\r\nWe changed diets. We changed positions. Iza employed all her skills as a financial analyst to plot daily temperature readings and design optimum fertility graphs. Sex had turned into a serious business.\r\n\r\nFor a long time I worried a lot about my sperm and she worried about her eggs. Neither of us mentioned it. We didn’t want to face the facts or start a blame game. For if we couldn’t make a baby, then one of us must be at fault, right? But after we had been trying for two years, I swallowed my pride and told Iza that I was concerned about the state of my sperm. Both relieved by my confession, we agreed to speak to our GP, who arranged for us both to have our fertility tested.\r\n\r\nAt the hospital I was given a pot and asked to provide a sperm sample. The room was lit by a fluorescent strip, but to get you in the mood for self-love someone had put a bedside lamp with a purple frilly shade on the formica next to the sink — no doubt the result of a management consultancy team brought in to improve masturbatory output. There was a CD player and one CD, The Best Christmas Album Ever. It was August. The only “reading” material was a pile of National Geographic magazines. I lifted one up and, to my joy, discovered that the topmost magazine was just a clever ruse — an old-fashioned, polite British way to hide the treasures that lay beneath. I assumed that the next bit would be easy. There aren’t many things I am good at, but this was something that I thought I had down to an art. But I found it hard to concentrate. What if my sperm was useless? What if I couldn’t father kids? As my wife and I sat holding hands in the doctor’s office the next day, waiting for our results, I am ashamed to say that I couldn’t help hoping that it wouldn’t be me with the official problem.\r\nThe doctor started to read from his folder. Please, please let me be OK.\r\n“Glenn, 20 per cent motility, 30 per cent dead. No fundamental problems there.”\r\n“Yes!” I thought. The relief was incredible. But a split-second later I realised that this meant it was my wife who had the problem. Except she didn’t: there was nothing wrong with her, either. Unexplained infertility accounts for almost a third of all cases, the doctor said, and pregnancy would almost certainly eventually happen for us. But we didn’t want to wait any longer and decided to ask science for a helping hand.\r\n\r\nWe started with IUI, intrauterine insemination, where the sperm is injected directly into the uterus. My wife’s private parts soon became public ones, and I had to watch her being prodded and jabbed by endless people in white coats. Once upon a time a woman’s sex organs were to me like 16th-century America — its coastline known but its interior a hidden mystery. Now I know way more than a man needs to know about a woman’s inner workings.

After four unsuccessful rounds, with each disappointment harder to take, we progressed to IVF. We went private after finding that the nearest hospital we could get funding for was a two-and-a-half-hour round trip away. I remember leaving the hospital, having written another large cheque, passing a teenage boy pushing a pram and thinking that his baby probably cost him no more than two vodka Red Bulls and a bag of chips.\r\n\r\nIt was hard being the bit-player. I wanted to play a bigger role, but assisted conception isn’t like that. The man’s role is a supporting one and it wasn’t easy when all the drugs caused crazy hormonal changes that turned my wife into Jekyll and Hyde. But I swallowed my pride and bit my tongue and even tried to massage her feet. It seemed the least I could do.\r\n\r\nThen there were the daily injections, performed by me, that ended in bruises and welts on her, and both of us in tears. Or once, memorably, me passed out on the floor — I’m phobic about needles. I had to visit a hypnotherapist and spend two weeks practising on oranges before I could even pluck up the courage to inject her. Thankfully, my wife saw the funny side. It’s one of the many reasons why I love her. In fact, it was humour that kept us strong, although sometimes the laughs were hard to find. There were the days when a friend would announce her pregnancy. We’d smile and congratulate her, then rush home to turn off the phone, eat cheese on toast and cuddle and comfort ourselves under the duvet. Eventually we managed to produce three embryos. Our own mini-babies. But then Iza reacted badly to the fertility drugs and the implantation had to be delayed and the embryos frozen. By now we had spent more than £6,000, so when the doctor told us that there was a 25 per cent chance of them dying when eventually defrosted, then less than a 30 per cent chance of success, it felt as if we’d put all our savings on a three-legged horse. After four months, the day came for our frozen embryos — we had christened them Magnum, Viennetta and Twister — to be defrosted. Twister never made it, but the other two came through and were implanted. I was excited and nervous, full of belief and optimism that this time it was going to happen, but deep inside already preparing for failure.The two-week wait to see if the procedure had worked was excruciating, but when we saw the baby for the first time on the scan it was amazing, this real, moving thing that was a bit of us both.

The delivery, in June last year, was a hideous 18 hours of labour at University College Hospital, followed by an emergency Caesarean due to meconium in the amniotic fluid. The operation was surprisingly quick. One minute I was holding Iza’s hand as she prepared for surgery, the next I was being handed a baby. Our baby. She was covered in poo and looked like an alien, but to me she was beautiful. I suddenly had tears in my eyes as I danced round the operating theatre with her to the sound of Nina Simone singing, appropriately, My Baby Just Cares for Me, on the nurses’ radio.

Ever since, despite the sleepless nights and extra weight of responsibility on my shoulders, I feel as if I have been walking two inches taller. A bad day is made OK by a smile from baby Maia. My heart melts when she stretches out her hands for a hug from her papa.

I am a different man now. We are no longer two people in love, we are a family.Tomorrow will be my first Father’s Day. And I will be smiling all day.

First published in The Times Saturday June 18th 2011.’

Daddy Detective

Is it wind? Does she want attention? Is she sleepy? Has she done a poo? Is she trying to do a poo? Is she bored? Is she hungry? Is she sick? Does she want to sit up? Does she want to sit down? Does she want to have a cuddle?

Having a baby means you have to have Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction to solve the riddle of baby’s crying.
It’s gonna be so much easier when she can talk and simply tell me what is wrong.

Oh Sleep How I Miss You

Baby is sick and I am not getting any sleep.

Sleep. What a beautiful word.
The soothing s leading on to those two e’s that snuggle so nicely next to each other, all cosy, and warm nestling between the headboard of the l and the p.
Oh how I wish I was one of those e’s .  
And is it just me or doesn’t the p, look like the head of a man emerging from a duvet?
Oh sleep how I miss you.

Dispatches From The Fatherhood Frontline Week 11

‘Things I have learnt:

Nappies leak.
Eco nappies leak even more.
They may be good for the environment and reduce landfill but the non oil based elastic replacement (no doubt made from organic tofu by South American natives) is not very elastic.

The smell of a baby is the best smell in the world.
The smell of a baby’s poo is not so good.
The smile your daughter gives you when she wakes up and sees you can make your heart burst with joy.
Looking at the world through a baby’s eyes is like taking LSD
.
The other day the two of us spent 10 minutes just staring at a leaf.

Baby screams and hangovers don’t mix.
Baby’s have a novel way of trying to go to sleep.

As adults we have learnt that the best way is to lie still shut your eyes and be silent.Baby’s prefer to lie on their backs with their eyes wide open, roll around madly shaking all their limbs and scream in baby talk the equivalent of “I CAN’T GO TO F-KING SLEEP” over and over for approximately ten minutes. Absolutely exhausted they then fall asleep.

Fatherhood – Funny Music Video

Fathers, check out this very funny music video that celebrates dads.

Apparently UK parents drive on average 1,300 miles a year trying to get their children to sleep. Inspired by this stat, the clever people at Fiat cars have made a music video that celebrates the late might drives of desperate dads who use a car’s gentle vibrations to get their kids to nod off.

The Fatherhood (Fiat 500L 12″ Remix) is a fantastic 80s pastiche that takes viewers back to the decade of hilarious hair, when New Romantics were young and carefree.

Set in the dead of night, The Fatherhood follows a weary dad-of-two trying to get his screaming babies to sleep by driving them around the neighbourhood. As he drives, he starts to sing with brutal honesty and humorous irony about his long-lost youth and he questions how he’s gone from Jack the Lad to Jack the Dad with lyrics such as:

It sometimes seems ironic as I binge on Radio 4
That the one fun act, that got me here, I don’t get that any more.
I’m looking forward to the peace when you’re a little older,
No more urine on my trainers, no more vomit on my shoulder

With oh-so-serious poses to camera, dreamy dance sequences, a Kate Bush knock off and a unicorn, the film takes visual cues from the 80s music videos everyone loves to hate, and offers a humorous and edgy insight into the mind of a new dad, that had me laughing out loud.

The Fatherhood is the second film from Fiat that tells the truth about life as a parent. After the phenomenal success of The Motherhood, Fiat is now telling the Dad’s side of the story.

The Fatherhood features the new Fiat 500L, Fiat’s latest addition to the Fiat 500 family. The new Fiat 500L is aimed at style-conscious young families who are looking for a car that not only meets their practical needs but also reflects their personality. Significantly larger than the iconic Fiat 500, the Fiat 500L is plenty big enough for a family of five.

Heartbreaking Letter

I have just stumbled acros this letter to santa from a 7 year old girl, which makes me very thankful that wifey and I are not divorced and that we spent xmas together as a family with our daughter.
Like any little girl, she wants puppies, an iPhone, money – but her #1 request was “custady pappers that says I can see my dad more oftan.” Sadly, she’s more likely to get the puppies and iPhone than time with her father.

Dad Fail

I am not the perfect father by any means but at least I am not as stupid as this dad. Watch this shocking parenting fail video as a dad attempts to skateboard down a ramp at a skate park while holding his young son. The father is seen at the top of the ramp holding the toddler in his arms, but as soon as he starts to skate down the ramp he loses control and the pair slam to the ground, with the youngster smacking his head on the concrete ramp. Neither of them are wearing any protective clothing.

It is not known who the dad is or where he lives although he appears to be American.

Wifey’s Birthday

It’s my wife’s birthday soon and I have been looking for gifts for her. She says she doesn’t like surprises and would prefer  cash, but does she really mean that? I like giving surprises. Although looking back over past purchases my track record is pretty patchy.

Early on in our relationship I bought her a stripper pole. She had been flirting with the idea for months. But she was seriously underwhelmed when she got one for her birthday. And suffice to say it lies under our bed never used,  although I still live in hope.

The other year I got her a gym membership. She had been talking about getting back in shape and I thought it would make a lovely gift. But she said it was insulting and scowled at me all night.I should have learnt my lesson about that one because she didn’t appreciate the cook book I got her for Xmas, or the bathroom scales.I know. I know. In retrospect not the best gift for wifey. But I thought she\'d like the colour.My wife said they were gifts that said you are fat, lazy, and can’t cook. Not things I actually think about my beloved but I can see now why she believed that might be what I thought. The car sat-nav I got her two years ago didn’t go down much better. She is useless at directions and so I thought she’d appreciate it.

I think choosing bad gifts must go in the family because I still remember the year my grandma got me 3 pairs of socks, the wrong size, and 1 can of Lynx which said ‘not to be sold separately’ on the side (obviously one of a multipack) all wrapped in Minnie mouse wrapping paper. I was 27.

So after seven years of marriage maybe wifey is right to ask for her birthday gift to be cash rather than a “surprise”. But then again maybe I will get her some flowers. Surely you can’t go wrong with flowers direct to the door can you?  After all everyone likes flowers don’t they? I have just to make sure I stick to a beautiful bouquet and don’t swerve into more unconventional territory. Like the time I bought her a cactus. And she got needles in her hand when she unwrapped it.