And like water, fighting your past won't help. You have to work with it, ride it, use it, even if you might swallow a little water along the way.
If you've read Annamarie's post from last week you will have caught up with the news - I am a sterile man. Had the Snip. Got the chop. Shooting blanks. The boys are staying in the house. No juice in the junk. No venom in the snake. No sizzle in the sausage. I could do this all day..
Jokes aside (and if you know me you will know that I rarely lay the jokes aside), earlier in the year we did make the choice for me to have a vasectomy. We had been talking about it for a while, and in fact I always knew it was something I'd eventually have to do once we were done having children. Compared to the female alternatives, it's by far the best method of contraception, as long as you know you're done.
And that, really was the big call - being done. We've talked about this in the blog before, but we made the choice last year that we would be a one child family, that trying again, even though we are (or rather were) both biologically capable, would be too much of a risk to Annamarie's health, would consume too much of our limited time left on this world, and based on our experience might not even deliver the result we want - and if it did its likely it would come with a whole lot of hurt.
In the end it was me that made the call to pull the trigger. I booked the appointment, I arranged it all with medical insurance, I drove it. I did that partly because, hey, they're my testicles, and partly because I wanted to take away some of the pain and guilt Annamarie seemed to be feeling. She would often talk about feeling like a failure because she couldn't give Sam a sibling, like she was somehow less of a Mum, less of a woman because of it. As much as I might reassure her that I don't think that, that nobody thinks that (and if they do they're an asshole), it didn't seem to help. She still felt, somehow, that it was her fault.
And so, I made it my fault. Now its not Annamarie being unable to have more, it's me not being able to provide them. I wanted to carry that, to take that baggage away from her, to give her the freedom to be the amazing mum and woman that she is, without worrying about the woman she feels she ought to be.
It only sort of worked. The decision certainly made it final. It closed the door, sealed our life as a one child family. I think that made things easier in some sense, cleaner. It also took away the fear we harbored, every time that Annamarie started feeling nauseous or had a heightened sense smell, that it might all be happening again.
But, of course, it didn't take away the hurt, or the guilt, or the feeling of being trapped in a life you didn't choose. We made the best choice we could because a whole lot of others had been taken away from us. I know that it was the right decision, but I still feel pain and regret about having to make it - and about what it means for our future choices.
I know we are lucky. I know we have the privilege of more options than most, that we have had some amazing and unique experiences, that we have the immense joy of each other as a family. I am even grateful for many of our hardships, for what they have taught us, for how we have grown through them.
That growth has lead me to accept what is and move forward as best I can. I guess the thing I am continuing to learn is that moving forward doesn't mean leaving stuff behind, that you carry your past, consciously or unconsciously, along with you. It's like you are floating down a river, making ripples and waves as you go. You might leave those waves behind, but they bounce back of the river banks, disturbing things as they go, creating new currents and flows that influence how you need to paddle as you move along. And like water, fighting your past won't help. You have to work with it, ride it, use it, even if you might swallow a little water along the way.
We appreciate all the comments and feedback, either here on the blog, on our social media accounts or those special people in our lives who email or make contact directly. We're continuing with this blog because of the positive comments you all make and because it's a kind of catharsis for us. The biggest compliment you give us is by liking and sharing our social media posts. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
If this post has resonated with you, please share so we can continue with our honesty and change the conversation around these "taboo" subjects.
It's been bugging me a lot lately, and it seems to be the theme of my life at the moment, so I decided to write about it. This is in part about mother's guilt, in part about parents judging other parents and in part about internal doubts.
Where to start? Maybe with a question - Why do some people think it's okay to make comments about your family size? And why does it even upset me?
To explain... I often, (especially now that Sam has started school) meet new people and they always ask "So, you have just the one?" or "Is Sam your only child?". And I find myself fluctuating between the standard response (that doesn't make people feel uncomfortable) which is "Yup, just one lucky little boy" or the more honest but sanitised version of the truth "Yes, we had another baby but we lost her before she arrived, so it's now just Sam".
And then there's the other question, which follows the first response:"Do you plan on having any more?". And really, when that rolls around I think I should have just stuck to the second reply and dealt with their discomfort because a "No, Sam's going to be an only child" doesn't seem to cut it with some people. There's raised eyebrows, or just an "Oh" or even an uncomfortable silence. And with each version there seems to be a vibe that having one child is selfish or wrong, or that you aren't really a proper parent if you aren't juggling the needs of more than one child. And for me, my response about only having one child doesn't honour any of our journey and how we've come to this place and it doesn't acknowledge our much-wanted daughter. It also makes me feel inadequate each time.
So, second question - why do I feel inadequate for only having one child? I've been pondering on this a lot lately. For the last three weeks or so I've been focusing on my mental health journey and the counselling and hypnotherapy I'm doing are making me confront some darkness I was sub-consciously trying to suppress, meaning these uncomfortable questions are coming out all over the place. And if I don't answer them, I might find myself in a worse place than I was before.
So, why? Why do other people's seemingly harmless questions provoke a response of guilt, sadness, anger and inadequacy? I think it's in part because of societal pressures. Yup, I'm going to blame society. But seriously, there's this unspoken expectation for you not just to breed, but breed to create a brood. A single child family in our corner of the world seems to be the minority and I know this isn't just my skewed view of the world. If was to do a poll at Sam's school, my guestimation would be that single-kid families would make up less than 10%. In fact, I can't think of one other kid in Sam's class who doesn't have siblings.
So, society, and more specifically, my own community, is making a one-child family different, outside the norm. Is that why I feel inadequate? I guess, yes, that's part of it. Every time I answer the "just the one" question, every time one of the kids in Sam's class asks when I'm going to have a baby, every time I watch Sam's school friends play with their siblings, part of me feels like I've done something wrong.
And then there's my own family dynamic. As one of three children, I am the odd one out. My brother and sister both not only have three children, but also bonus step-children. Every time we have a family occasion and I watch my nieces and nephews together I see Sam as the odd one out. I feel guilty that he doesn't have a brother or sister and I feel sad. My hypnotherapist believes that part of my feelings are due to an innate childhood need not to be left out and left behind. Something to do with me being the middle child and feeling like everyone else has the ideal family and I got left out. Maybe there's something in that too.
And then there's the guilt I feel for Sam on a daily basis. For not providing someone for him to play with, someone to share adventures with, someone to be there for him if something happened to us. The reality is that even if we did decide to have a child now, the age gap would mean they'd be at such different development levels they probably wouldn't play that well together anyway. And let's face it, my body couldn't handle a pregnancy any time soon, and by the time it gets better (because I have to believe it will) I'll be nearing 40 and would I be able to conceive anyway and if I did what complications would I have? And then there's the mental health question. I had prenatal depression with Sam, and post-natally wasn't exactly a breeze. I'm suffering PTSD now and I have anxiety issues. What effect would hormones have on my mental state, let alone being sick again for 9 months?
So I keep going back to the reasons we agreed to take the question out of the equation and decide to be a one-kid family. I still stand by all our reasons and believe we made the right decision. But it doesn't mean I don't long to hold my own baby again, to feel a baby kick inside my belly, to see that first newborn smile, the first roll, see them crawling, taking their first steps... It doesn't mean I don't constantly question my decision.
And I think the reason for that is constantly feeling the need to justify our decision, constantly having to acknowledge that we have "just the one". And I wonder if it's chipping away at my sanity every time. Will I ever feel good about our one-child family? Will I ever stop feeling guilty? Will I ever stop asking what if?
The reality is that the decision has been made, Nick had a vasectomy to take away the option because it wasn't right for us. So it's bloody unfair for me to keep thinking about it, keep beating myself up about it. That's life though isn't it? Constantly listening to that internal voice and either letting it take you somewhere dark or letting it lead you to a better place.
What do you think? Can I put this behind me and accept and celebrate our family for all the benefits of a one-child family? (the ability to travel easier and cheaper, less living expenses, more quality time with Sam without another child splitting our focus, easier childcare if we need to go our or away etc etc).
Or will I always feel a little piece of my soul being crushed every time I have to tell someone we"only" have Sam?
This week I talked to my counsellor about anger. It wasn't an intended topic. I thought I'd started counselling again to deal with my PTSD, trauma I know was in part caused by the loss of our very much wanted baby, but also from being so sick for so long. See, my current doctor thinks that trauma is in part responsible for my continued physical suffering.
Turns out, there were other issues I needed to talk about that I wasn't even aware of, and a lot of them I was / still am hugely angry about. The counsellor talked about how often women struggle with anger, over seemingly small things. They fester into huge things that we're not consciously aware of. Then the stress of this anger that we've not acknowledged eats away at us, has the ability to make us sick.
So in a bid to own and accept it I want to say I'M ANGRY! I'M SO BLOODY ANGRY.
And the thing is that a lot of what I'm angry about - things people said or did, or didn't do - I have been rationalising so much about, that I wasn't giving myself permission to be mad. Like, I rationally know that so-and-so said that stupid thoughtless thing because they were also going through their own trauma. So in my head I was like, "Well, you can't be angry at that person because they're also struggling and didn't mean to say that thoughtless hurtful thing". But after my counselling session this week I call bullshit on that. Just because someone said or did something from a place of anger, grief or whatever, doesn't mean that my own feelings about it aren't valid. I mean, sure, I'm not going to confront that person and make them feel bad about it, that would be what Nick would say "a dick move". What would be the point? But by not letting myself feel that anger I've done myself a disservice. I have been swallowing that anger. I have been unconsciously feeling bad about it and blaming myself. How is that fair or constructive for me? And in fact, it's manifesting into anger about insignificant daily things, things I'm not really angry about, or, should I say, aren't worth being angry about.
And you know what, I'm mad at circumstance too! Things that are no one's fault, like the fact we lost our baby, that we've suffered a period of traumatic events over the past 6 years. As my Dad would say (even has a song about) "I didn't sign up for this".
None of that is fair and I'M SO ANGRY. Even writing this I'm having to employ my mindful breathing techniques so that it doesn't consume me. But perspective is an amazing thing. Letting myself own the anger doesn't make it go away but I've given myself permission to feel an emotion I was avoiding because I didn't think I had a right to feel it. And I can't tell you how empowering that is. I am allowed to be angry, damnit.
And to a special friend of mine going through their own journey not allowing themselves to feel anger - look, I wrote it in black and white! It's now here on the interwebs, and everything you read online is, as we all know, 100% fact. So you feel angry and you own that anger! It doesn't make you a bad person!
And to everyone continuing to follow our journey from when it started at the beginning and to the new followers we've picked up - thank you for helping us embrace this conversation. It's not always easy to talk about your struggles, but everyone has their own version of trauma and stress, no one has it all together. We just don't all write a blog about it!
As you may have guessed, my wife is angry. But she is learning to own that anger, and that's great for her. Well, actually it's not great for her. It's enormously shitty, which I suppose is the point.
It's not always easy living with a person carrying some Grade-A-Anger. It is often surprising, like when you forget to clear the dishes off the bench and this becomes the basis for a 30-minute argument. It is sometimes surprising the other way, like when you forget to put the car seat back in the car (are we noticing a theme in Nick's failings here?) and you expect a blow up, knowing that will create a real challenge during school drop off time but it turns out to be a non issue.
I can appreciate the anger. I can understand it. I can accept it. What I have not yet been able to do is deal with it in any sort of positive way. Anger often generates more anger, especially when it's directed at you, and often we have ended up in fights I had no intention of getting into and even though I know she's not really angry at me... Well OK, by that point she is angry with me but that's because we've spent the last 10 minutes shouting at each other.
What do you do? I've tried acknowledging it, apologizing, saying it will be OK. This sort of works when I can muster it, but even then we sometimes end up debating degrees of remorse - "I said I was sorry!" "Don't just say it, show me!".
But what I've come to understand is that my wife isn't angry at anything for the most part, and she's generally not angry at whatever is happening in this moment. A bunch of shitty stuff has happened (as it does to many of us) and the injustice and hurt of that has left a mark. I can't erase that, any more than I can bring back all the people that we've lost. I just have to sit with it, give her the space to feel it, and try not to take it too personally (something I am not great at, to be fair).
I'd love to tie this all up in a neat little bow for you all, give you some kind of life lesson to take from our experience. Sorry sunshine, not gonna happen. We're flawed people, still trying to wrap our heads and our hearts around everything that was and is, without unravelling ourselves on the way.
Ok, so those of you who follow us on Facebook will have seen that we've continued to share snippets from our lives and articles that catch our eye. But here, on the blog, we've been a wee bit quiet.
Why? Well, to be honest, because of me. Nick has continued to write regularly, and let's face it, he's better at it than me! But my strength is pulling it together, developing it into something people can read. Make it look pretty, so to speak. But me, I've been fatigued (incidentally, Chronically Fatigued, but that's another story), and actually tackling my own thoughts, let alone sharing them, has been overwhelming.
Part of me says that's the time we should have been continuing to share, because we've been so transparent about our journey so far. But it's actually been too hard. Sam started school at the beginning of the year and while that had it's own challenges for an entire term (again a story for another time!), I made a resolution that with this extra time I would find a solution for my ongoing illness and I've been on a journey of discovery ever since.
I've been seeing a holistic doctor who has delved deep into my symptoms and has been Sherlock Holmes-ing through my long list of ailments. It's been a time-consuming and expensive journey and we're not there yet. But I've been on a roller coaster - blood tests, specialist appointments, gastroscopy, colonoscopy, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, yoga, counselling, IV infusions, antibiotics, multi-vitamins, probiotics. I've been trying a lot of different things and seen some amazing wellness professionals. But at the end of the day, it always seems to come back to the trauma. Trauma has put me in a compromised state, allowing my body to invite in a massive infection into my gut. Trauma is triggering my ongoing nausea and malaise. Trauma is likely the cause of my fatigue. And I'm actually a bit fed up with trauma. I'm a bit fed up of life passing me by and not engaging fully in it.
But I have moments of hope, moments where I can appreciate how far I've come on my journey, where I see glimpses of the person I want to be. Trauma is always with me, but it doesn't define me. So going forward, on this wave of hope and the energy I have at this precise moment I decided to write for the first time in 8 months. And that alone is a massive step, so watch out trauma, I'm on a journey of discovery and you're actually not invited!
Annamarie is being very generous in her assessment of my continued writing. I've bashed out a few things here and there, done a little journalling, but nothing particularly special.
For me, it's been about time - I haven't had it. Or rather, I have and I've done other things with it. Work for example (lots of that). And exercise (I've been in the final stages of injury rehab, after my escapades last year). And being a Dad. And trying to support Annamarie through the next stage of her health journey. And trying to have time for an actual marriage in there somewhere. So yeah, not so much with the writing.
Annamarie has done a great job at staying connected on social media. To be honest sometimes I forget we even have a blog, until my phone pings me to say somebody has liked something "we" shared. I'm still on board with the stuff we share, with the reason we started this thing, I still think this is important stuff (maybe now more than ever), but, like most people, I've had shit to do. But it turns out we're still receiving quite a bit of traffic to the website, so maybe it's time to re-visit sharing our journey.
So, there you go. I don't think either of us know how we'll keep going with this, whether this is a re-set, or a new start, or just a one-off. But for now, here it is. Here we are. And so are you. Hello again.
And hello above from Richie, now a big part of our little family unit.
So I was listening to a podcast about contraception the other day (as you do), and in amongst all the awkward teenage discussion of "pulling out", and diaphragms, I had a thought - I should get a vasectomy. That's probably not the most common epiphany, I know, but for us it is relevant, because I think now we have reached the final decision that we are not going to have any more kids.
When we lost our baby last year, many people would, with the best of intentions, try to provide comfort by reminding us that we could "just try again", that this was just a bump in the road and that their sister's friend or someone else they knew had LOADS of miscarriages before finally getting their "rainbow baby". . . The problem with this, apart from the casual dismissing of our grief (and, for that matter, their sister's friend's grief), is that it wasn't really true. While technically there is no reproductive impediment to us having more kids (i.e my wife still has a womb), the reality of what another pregnancy would mean for Annamarie and for our family is hard for us to even consider.
It's pretty much guaranteed she would get hyperemesis gravidarum and hyperthyroidism again, and with her already compromised immune system the impact would likely be worse than before. We'd be giving up more than a whole year of our lives to her being bed-bound and vomiting, me playing nurse, cook and cleaner, and all of us barely holding onto our sanity. And then the further recovery after the birth. Many months of trying to remedy the damage to her digestive system, lymphatic system, endocrine system, immune system, even her teeth. And then there's Sam - is it worth giving up years of watching him grow and develop, of enjoying being his parents, in the hope of giving him a sibling?
Because of course, as we know too well, it is only a hope. There are so many things that could go wrong in any pregnancy, and while the percentages on all those "normal" things (Down's Syndrome, Spina Bifida etc) are relatively low, given our prior experiences I don't like our odds.
What if it's a molar pregnancy again? The chances are now 1 in 55 of that recurring because of a previous molar. What if it's something worse? And then there's the genetic question. We now have more knowledge about both of our genetic make-up and what conditions we could pass on to a future child. And while the odds are still low of passing on a serious abnormality that one of us carries, it's something that plays on your mind. Is it worth quite literally putting Annamarie's life on the line to chase the dream of the family unit we originally wanted?
They say that time heals all wounds. I think that's a crock of shit. I feel lower now, 18 months after we lost our baby than I did at the time. Because, see, life doesn't go the way you want it to. Life doesn't just give you one hardship and then provide you all the time you need to process and move forward. In our case my psychologist has called it a "cluster of traumas" - an abnormal situation that doesn't often happen in life. Normally you might be dealing with a death, ill health, a break-up, redundancy etc - a big emotional jolt while trying to deal with your everyday stresses of work and family. That current stress could be epic, huge - it takes everything out of you, but you get through it eventually after much struggle because humans are really quite resilient creatures.
In my case I've had the grief of continued loss and continued significant ill health. Sometimes everything seems all too much and I resent my lack of control over my body. My G.P said to me the other day that I was lucky I didn't need a medical certificate after my gastro bug because I work for myself. I actually got quite irate, Is it lucky? Is it lucky that I've continued to be unwell, continued to be knocked back by surgical procedures and remnants of my molar pregnancy? Is it lucky that I've only been able to do extremely part-time work, working for myself for the past 2 years because I haven't been able to commit to working for someone else? Is it lucky that I have to let clients down when I'm ill? Is it lucky that I haven't ever put effort into marketing my own business because I'm scared of not having the energy to commit to a larger clientele? I'd say that looking at it from the perspective of my family - as a wife and mother - that my limited contribution to family life and my almost non-existent financial contribution has put incredible strain on our lives. Lucky???
The last few weeks have been extremely difficult. Not only is coming home from months of travel depressing enough but on top of that I've been sick the entire time - first with a cold and then a terrible gastro bug that awarded me an ambulance ride & short stay in hospital followed by a week of not eating & horrific symptoms while the bug slowly left my exhausted body. So my outlook has been less than rosy. My appetite for writing has been as non-existent as my appetite for food. And as we get closer to Christmas, the "happiest time of the year", I find myself struggling to find any joy. Being constantly reminded with what we don't have anymore - the special people no longer with us and the little girl that was meant to be part of our family.
With these last few weeks of the year also comes the end of Sam's time as a preschooler. Early next year he'll turn 5 and be a big school boy. And I'm grieving for the loss of my baby, the only one I'll ever have. He's growing up too soon and I feel as if I've lost the past 2 years of his life - it just passed me by while I spent most of it in bed. I'm not ready to face him going to school, so much so that we haven't even decided on what school to send him to. It's a week until his Kindy graduation, 2 weeks until Christmas, and rather than joy I feel grief and then of course I feel guilt for not being totally present in my child's life and missing out on more. It's a vicious cycle.
Writing this blog has at times been extremely cathartic. It's kept me honest, it's allowed me to confront and deal with my feelings. But it's also been exhausting and the confrontation has been challenging. I'd love to say that almost a year after we started the blog that I'm the mentally fit, healthy person I was hoping to be when we started. That the strategies I put in place throughout the year have made me a stronger person. But again, life isn't like that. You take a step forward and get knocked back and then struggle to get back on track. Some days it seems like I'll never find myself again and that's scarily depressing. I normally try to be completely honest in my writing, but also hopeful - to try to embrace the challenge and use it to find my silver lining. All I can say right now is that when I do feel hopeful again, maybe I'll feel like writing about it to prove that it did happen.
It has been a little over 18 months since we lost TJ, and in some ways the pain has eased - I think about her less nowadays, I don't feel that raw stinging feeling any more, like something has been ripped away from me. But in other ways the loss has deepened, spread out through our lives somehow. TJ's loss doesn't just mean the death of our daughter any more - it represents the loss of our dream, of the family we hoped for, of the life we hoped for. And that's the kind of hole that doesn't fully heal with time. You just sort put a fence, chuck up a warning sign, and learn to walk around it. We're grateful for the life we have - it has many advantages over the original plan (more available cash, getting to sleep through the night, the ability to travel more easily) - but it still represents a compromise, an enforced change that we're trying to make the best of.
I suppose in many ways that's what life is made up of - a series of less-than-perfect decisions in the face of shit that happens around you every day. Nobody gets everything they want. Even the rich and famous are unhappy. I get that, and we don't expect special treatment from the world. But some days, when you realise at a random moment that you'll definitely never be a father again, it still hurts.
This blog has been about addressing that hurt, about capturing it in words as best we can and in doing so making it easier for us to process. Hopefully it's also helped some of you along the way. But doing this has also been exhausting, both in terms of pure logistics and emotional effort.
And so, we've made another decision - we're putting the blog on pause for the moment. While we have loved sharing our journey, and it's been amazing to hear from people how much it has meant to them, we need to be honest - we're tired. We need a break. And so, we're taking one. We don't know for how long, we don't know if we'll start it up again, but for now, it feels like we've reached a natural stop, or at least a place where we need to refuel. Thank you to everyone who has come with us on this journey - if you've stuck it out through dark moments, travel angst, tentative hope and extreme rage at pantry moths, we salute you. Hasta luego, amigos.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.