THE SHOCK AND AWE OF FATHERHOOD
The first time I recall seeing journalists huddled en masse was on the doorstep of a nondescript terraced house in an inner city backstreet of my hometown Bristol, just down the road from the church I attended as a child.
Nobody was inside at the time. The house would remain empty for days. But the reporters and photographers maintained a vigil in the hope of a glimpse of Louise Brown, or “Superbabe” as the international press had christened the world’s first test tube baby.
Thirty years on from that late-Seventies breakthrough, in a fertility clinic halfway around the world in Sydney, my wife, Fleur, and I hoped to benefit from the same scientific alchemy – or invitro fertilisation, to give this technology its proper medical name.
When first we embarked on our IVF journey, I thought it could be traced back to my time on the road as a BBC foreign correspondent.
Male fertility is a sign of general wellbeing, and after years spent covering the 911 beat – first in Washington and then in South Asia at the sharper end of America’s “war on terror” – I was horribly run-down.
A posting in Australia, which often had the feel of a lifestyle sabbatical, helped repair body and mind. Still, however, we struggled to conceive.
At first we tried natural remedies: everything from Chinese herbs to acupuncture, naturopathy to kinesiology.
Surely all we needed was a minor corrective. Then, after a further year of trying, a doctor suggested an exploratory operation to find out if something more serious was amiss.
Even if it turned out to be a condition like endometriosis, which creates blockages in the fallopian tubes, we went into hospital that day believing the problem could be remedied without too much difficulty. It would be medically routine. Alas, the anesthetics from the operating theatre had not yet worn off when the surgeon called to tell us, in a cruelly matter-of-fact way, that it would be not just be hard to conceive naturally, but impossible.
As a journalist, one hopes never to become inured to awful news. The moment that happens it is time to relinquish the press pass. But covering disasters and conflicts, from the tsunami-wrecked shores of Sri Lanka and to the mine-scattered border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, does build up something of a protective shell. When this call came through, however, those emotional defences were breached in an instant.
It felt as if we had suffered a bereavement.
Only a few years earlier, the “kids conversation” had been such a joyful part of our relationship. How many children would we have? What would they be called? Would they inherit Australian traits from their mother or the British reserve of their father. A virtual family had already taken shape in our minds. That day, however, the mental screen went blank, as we contemplated for the first time that the virtual may never become real.
Now, in misery and self-pity, we found ourselves having the “no kids” conversation – or, just sitting in dazed silence.
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