Sunday, 23 May 2010

Dear Internet using person,

May I begin with a warning? This post is the result of an uncharacteristic bout of insomnia, doubtless brought about from an orgy of sleep last night that was definitely brought about by a day spent vomiting after eating a dodgy burger the night before that. Strange how seemingly insignificant decisions come back to haunt you, isn't it? As a result of all of this sleep dysfunction, I've been thinking. Something that I am not particularly used to doing when I am normally sleeping. And I've been thinking about serious things. Not the usual wow-isn't-this-almost-quite-interesting, don't-you-hate-it-when, I-think-this-you-should-think-it-too, internet waffle that my fellow bloggers and I love to wallow in, but actual genuine key issues in my life. So if this all seems sanctimonious, self-indulgent and extraneous to your life, I can only apologise. Feel free to turn over whenever you lose interest. However, in the interests of getting this out of my head and hopefully being able to sleep at some point tonight (it's 2am), I am going to treat this post as a purely selfish cathartic exercise. There's nothing like getting naked in front of the entire potential readership of the World Wide Web for getting things into the open.

You may, perhaps, be familiar with the situation that my wife and I find ourselves in. A while back, my wife suffered abdominal pains that we dismissed at first. However, those pains didn't go away and eventually we trundled to see the doctor, who looked a bit solemn and said that we ought to go and get an ultrasound scan to see what was happening.  Yeah, whatever, we thought as we again trundled down to the BRI, indulging in some window shopping on the way.  We sat in the waiting room of the ultrasound place for ages, watching the throngs of teenage girls and pissed-off looking grandparents-to-be file in and out of the mysteriously out of sight room.  Eventually, our turn came and my wife disappeared off for her scan.  I must admit that at this point, I was actually a bit excited: what if she was pregnant?  We hadn't exactly been officially going for a family at this point - we hadn't got the stopwatches, thermometers and line graphs out yet if you know what I mean - but it was on the cards and we had abandoned all the traditional obstacles one places in the path of this possibility becoming a reality.  Perhaps this was the cause of the discomfort in my wife's belly?  After a few minutes, my wife came out of the scanning room clutching an unmarked envelope containing a letter, the contents of which were a mystery to us.  All we'd been told was that we had to take the note to ward 6.

Ward 6 was deep down the labyrinthine warren of BRI corridors.  We handed the note to a medically official looking person.  The atmosphere changed.  Suddenly, the people handling us where serious and efficient.  Killing time in a waiting room with everyone else was no longer on the agenda: we were shown to a hospital bed, and despite not knowing what was going on, my wife was invited to occupy it.  We were confused: if you're going into hospital you pack your pyjamas and your toothbrush.  You don't just turn up in the clothes you're standing in, completely materially and mentally unprepared for the whole ordeal.  However, being good British subjects, we obeyed without complaint.  My wife sat up on the bed and I sat on one of those plastic covered NHS chairs that positively suck the joy out of life.  Soon, a doctor arrived, full of calming reassurance and knowledge.  She told us that they thought there could be a problem and could she have a sample of urine to do a test on please.  My wife obliged and off it went to be tested.  Later, a nurse asked her if she knew she was pregnant.  No, we didn't.  Eventually, when they were sure, the doctors came and told us that there was a 'mass' in my wife's fallopian tube.  This was almost certainly an ectopic pregnancy, where a fertilized egg gets lodged and begins to develop in the wrong part of the body.  The only course of action was surgery as there was a good chance that the tube could rupture; a life threatening state of affairs.

"You were never pregnant," the consultant assured us.  "This is a mass of cells that could never have developed into being a baby".

This all happened in the space of maybe three hours.  Surgery - miraculous keyhole surgery at that - happened the next morning, successfully saving my wife's life and removing the 'mass' and the irreparably damaged fallopian tube it occupied.  In that moment, it felt like any other routine potentially life threatening medical situation - appendicitis perhaps.  The aftermath, however, has been pretty devastating.

Losing a fallopian tube seriously decreases your chances of getting pregnant naturally.  As a result of the scare, suddenly pregnancy became an issue in our relationship.  We saw doctors and I had to undergo the exciting experience of issuing a sperm sample to be tested for motility, vigour and general manliness.  The results weren't good.  In a crushing blow that no man can truly appreciate until he's encountered it, it became apparent that my sperm was laced with an antibody that attacked the sperms as though they were an invading agent, killing lots of them and further reducing the chances of natural conception.  The combination of fallopian tube shortages and sperm self-annihilation meant that our chances of getting pregnant without the assistance of science were now slim.  Our life was not what we presumed it to be.

When you're getting married, doing a job, buying a house and building a home, why are you doing it?  I have lots of friends that are following a 'calling' or path through life that doesn't involve procreation, but I'd have to say that the majority of people I know have starting a family at the back of their mind as they are doing their thing.  Unconsciously, my wife and I were following a path that we'd set out for ourselves.  We talked about families and joked about the stupid names we could call our kids and how I could take them to football and brainwash them into supporting Liverpool FC, teach them Welsh words, all that young couple nonsense.  It did not occur to us for one second that that may not be possible.  Looking back, I think we assumed we had a right to it.  It was a given.  It was certain.  In the space of a few hours, that assumption was blown into smithereens, liquidised before our very eyes.  It was no longer a given.  It was no longer our right.

But I realise now that it never was.  We in the Western world have a tendency to regard lots of things as being our right.  The right to free speech; the right to choose our leaders; the right to watch TV; the right to own stuff we want.  The truth is that this is a delusion.  Probably the most fundamental right I have is to exist, but no one can guarantee that I will continue to do so by the time I finish typing this sentence, let alone the post or the end of a fruitful and long life.  Nothing in this world can be guaranteed, a bald, bare-faced fact that we're not used to looking in the eye.  However, events like the one I described above force you to look that motherfucker right in the eye, and in so doing you have a choice:  You can either sink into self pity and build an elaborate cathedral of cosmic unfairness to hide yourself in, or you can get a grip, sort yourself out and face up to the reality of what one is entitled to in life.  I believe that there is only one thing that we can take for granted in this world: the love of God.  It's the only thing that everyone, every single person that has walked, is walking and will walk the face of this planet is guaranteed whether the like it, see it, feel it or not.  Be they good, bad, Christian, Muslim, straight or gay, I believe that to be true.  I happen to be a Christian, as does my wife, but the theology of God's love for Man tells me that that is almost irrelevant, because He'd love me just as much if I were an atheist.  God even loves Richard Dawkins, which must be difficult given the nasty things he's said about Him.  Despite the horrible stories of bigotry, intolerance and judgementalism you may hear about Christians, the idea that God loves every human equally is a cornerstone of our faith.  It's in the Bible, especially the bits with Jesus in.  Go and read it if you don't believe me.  John 3:16 is a good place to start.  (By the way, I'm not saying that you have to believe or agree with it, I'm just trying to explain what Christianity is all about as an antidote to the media poison that is liberally placed before us).

In other words, God loves his creation, his children.  I have no right to anything other than that love.

For various reasons - ethical and practical - we will not undergo IVF treatment.  We decided together that we didn't want to force the issue that much, that we wanted to come to terms with the situation and admit that certain things are out of our control.  This is, believe me, not an easy decision to make.  In times gone by, the pressure to have families was huge.  Look at the lengths Henry VIII went to, for goodness' sake. Nowadays, that pressure is subtler but still there.  We have more choice over what to do with our lives, but in the age of social networking and iPads, we're more exposed to what people are doing with theirs.  It's really hard to look at something like Facebook and see all your friends, family and colleagues having kids and sharing the experience when you, in all likelihood, cannot.  One feels great joy and genuine excitement for them, but seeing yet another murky ultrasound scan (remember that waiting room?) portraying a burgeoning foetus used as an avatar is a bitter pill to swallow.  It is painful, hurtful and above all, humbling.  I would never, ever stop people from telling us about their triumphs and happiness as new or expectant parents, but it is inevitable and healthy that we grieve our loss and circumstance.  And it makes you realise again that having a family is not a given, that nothing is certain.

Recently, we've been talking about adopting a family.  Man, that's difficult.  Will we qualify?  Will we cope? Will we bond with it?  Will it feel like second prize? It's a can of worms that we never expected to prize the lid off of.  Even thinking about adopting is painful because it makes us realise that there are unwanted, uncared for children in the world.  How messed up is that?  Especially when we and many other people really want to have children.  Hang on a minute...

Perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps we do have a right that should insist on in this world aside from the unquestioning, unwavering love of God.  We have a right to be parented, to be guided into the world and shown how to work it as best we can despite it and us being a bit broken and unpredictable.  Children should have the right to have parents; children should be able to depend on adults to guide them.  As a result, we as adults have a responsibility to provide that right to them.  It is our duty, just as God sees it as His duty to love us despite everything we get up to down here.  Maybe realising that was the point of this journey; in the hammer blows that have reigned down on us in these super-heated events, maybe that's the little pure bit of metal we're trying to separate from all the cak.

Coming from good Liverpudlian stock, I like to sabotage my own earnestness with banality at every opportunity. In keeping with that tradition, I'll finish by quoting the Rolling Stones on this topic:

No, you can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find,
You get what you need.

Oh yes.  Woo.

Time for bed.