D is married to E. They have been together for 16 years (most of their adult lives) after meeting at school. Since a young age, D's partner has always known that she wanted children and so as a couple they hoped to start a family when the time was right. Unfortunately things didn't go to plan and whilst they have experienced a few disappointments along the way, they have also learnt lots about each other and what they are capable of.
When you were younger, did you ever think about having a family?
In a way, my family are quite traditional. Two parents that are together, two kids and a dog when we were younger. Growing up in an environment like that, having children just seemed like it was something that you did. I was too busy playing football or skateboarding or being in a band to overly think about it but if you would have asked me how I saw my life in the future then kids would always be in that image I would conjure. The concerns for me growing up dealing with depression, was feelings that I would never really be a good enough to be a dad. I found it hard to care for myself and always thought the worst of myself and the responsibility of having someone that depended on me on a daily basis was one that terrified me quite a bit.
So when you met E was that feeling still the same?
We met young. I was sixteen and still living for today, playing music and skateboarding were as far forward as I had thought about seriously at that time. E and I met at school and were together aged 16 and 14. At this time for me, I had just been told I was bipolar by doctors as my grades plummeted at school and I found it difficult to leave my bedroom. I used to self harm a fair bit at this time too and it was hard to comprehend a future. E gave me a lot of focus and changed my general attitude towards myself. She gave me a future worth thinking of and the confidence to see I deserved it. I remember very early on her asking me about kids and a family. She remembers me saying yes in a way that felt like I would say anything to stay with her but in truth it was the first time anyone had challenged me to think of my future in a positive light, like she was checking I wanted a family because she could see my potential, which is something I struggled to see at the time. The future still scared me and was not something I thought about in the same way E did, but I knew that I wanted a family and for the first time I had felt as though I actually deserved one too.
When did your realise that the route to creating your family together wasn't going to be straightforward?
The January after we married we started trying to fall pregnant. To be honest, deep down I think we both realised this was not quite working out how we were hoping quite early on. I was under no illusion that this was something that would happen instantly but something made me feel like this was not going to go as smoothly as we had hoped after a few months. The NHS rightly will not really even consider testing for anything so early so we carried on trying, both of us realising the longer it went on, the more likely something was wrong. Strangely, finding out why it wasn’t working was almost something of a relief as the process beforehand was very testing.
Did you have to prepare yourself mentally before you started the IVF ‘journey'?
The reason we are going through IVF is because I am unable to create sperm due to an operation I had when I was about eight. This operation is for an issue that now can be tested for and fixed at birth, but back in 1995/1996, doctors thought it was best treated at an older age. Medicine and healthcare has moved on by an astronomical amount in this time, but finding out the reason I am unable really made my mum feel guilty. I think because how long we had been trying with the idea that something was up, I had grieved about it and found ways of dealing with it by the time it was confirmed. As I said before, finding out was somewhat of a relief, but I was really unprepared for having to allow my mother to process her guilt. I told her a lot, as did E and everyone around us, that she has no reason for feeling guilty but she found it very hard to accept. We have been under the care of some remarkable doctors that have always been very honest and truthful throughout our treatment which allowed us to continually be prepared for what we may have to go through to achieve our aims.
I have, however, changed my life around completely since this has happened. It has been a trying time, involving hospital visits, an operation, massive medical bills due to NHS not funding our treatment and a feeling of little or no progression for a long period and although I am proud of how well I am able to manage being bipolar, I knew things needed to change before it did tip me over the edge. I left my job teaching and became a barista, lost six stone and pulled myself from being quite severely diabetic back to something closer to what is considered normal. I don’t think I did much before IVF treatment started to prepare for it, but during this time, for more reasons than just IVF, I have completely changed my life to make myself much happier.
Has your resolve been tested during the process?
People always ask us “how on earth” we have managed to stay together so long. I always find the question rather odd as we don’t try, it just works. The process is not one I would wish upon anyone. I have felt guilt like I have never felt before, I have mourned for lost genes I will never get to pass on and there are times where I have felt like I needed to cry until the world stops spinning, but the one thing that was never in doubt was our relationship. We are a much much stronger team than we were before and going through what we have gone through has prepared me for fatherhood. Sixteen year old me would not even recognise the person writing this as himself. Although this has been one of the toughest times of my life, I truly believe it has made me a much stronger and better person who has changed his life in a rather big way, not just in order to start a family, but in order to be happy and enjoy life.
E has a blog and being able to write has been a helpful resource for her, do you have an outlet for your thoughts?
Not in such a literal sense. I find solace in the stories E tells me of people having been through a similar process and I find it remarkable that when E was blogging and posting more about IVF that so many people come forward that are either concerned that they may be in the position we were in when we first realised, or people that are now three kids in that went through what we have. It is not a subject that is talked about often and less so from the mans perspective and I think more people, if they are comfortable doing so, should talk about this as it will raise an awareness that it is more common than you would think.
I have a great network of people around me that I know that when times are tough I can rely on to either listen to my thoughts or to take my mind off things. I talk openly about the process and my mental health to anyone that expresses an interest in it, much in the same way that E uses her blog, but whereas E uses the internet as a platform to get things off her chest, I have always been a much more internal person.
What have you learnt about yourself, E and others since starting IVF?
I have learned that this whole subject is something that is not talked about hardly. So many people approach E especially with a story that is similar through social media that they have never spoken about to anyone. I don’t think that, in regards to learning about myself that I have learned that much due to IVF alone, but I know that this process has made me stronger and brought E and I closer. We were always close, but this process has a way of testing relationships and although it has tested us as a partnership, it never tested the partnership itself.
I have also learned the importance of being happy. I have made huge changes that I have detailed before in order to make my life more enjoyable. I have gone through this process unhappy in a lot of other areas of my life, but the IVF process has shown me that life is too short to be unhappy. I have always been scared of being happy, but I have made big changes to my life which has had a dramatic knock on affect to my general wellbeing, which in turn has made me able to handle this process and anything else that is thrown at me.
How do you relax? What helps you when things get tough?
I have realised I am a man who follows his passion. I love music as a passion, but taking it as a career eventually killed that passion. When I was teaching music, my mental health was at an all time low and coming home and making coffee every night was one thing that got me through my working week. Upon leaving teaching, my search for a new career started and stopped in the coffee industry. I find making coffee is the perfect blend of science, art and passion and allowed me to wind down, relax and find the passionate me that was lost for many years.
Food is also really important to me. I have always had a passion for cooking and eating, but this is something that I have lost recently, but hope to rekindle a love for. I have struggled with a very unhealthy relationship with food based around my mental health and I now feel in a much happier place with this, so now I feel my relationship is healthier I can push forward to find ways to express that passion I once had.
So what's next in the merry-go-round of life?
As for my career, I am now the head of coffee at a cafe group in East Anglia. I love my job. It's great to get up happy to go to work. I am still learning and hoping to compete in some coffee competitions next year.
I have struggled with my own mental health for years, and it is only recently that I feel in a position to help others with similar stories. I feel using the skills I have gained from making coffee, and the experiences I have had in my past life would put me in a position where I can try to help others. I have an idea in my mind currently of how I can do that, but it is still very early stages, but I am truly excited for it as an idea.
The IVF process is still ticking along. There is a lot of waiting around for the right time for x, y and z but after two years of knock backs and road blocks, we truly feel we are making great progress towards starting a family. The last year has been mostly a positive one, with a few setbacks that I have been strong enough to deal with. If the next year is as life altering as this one, I am truly excited to see where life takes me, and takes us.
If feels like there is so much more opportunity and discovery for you both. Can The Alternative revisit your story in 6 or 12 months?
Of course, I look forward to it!
You can follow D’s coffee stories via his Instagram: Norfolk Coffee Quaffer