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How did you do THAT? My experience of IVF!

This is published in QNews Issue 469 – which you can get from many book stores, bars, cafes, and clothing stores around Queensland.
www.qnews.com.au 

The first time I told an acquaintance, ‘My wife and I are expecting our first baby in December,’ the response was, ‘How?’ Luckily, I love talking about how babies are made, especially ours. The path we walked (due to my endometriosis) was initiated by in-vitro fertilisation – or IVF. Although many people think of this as a modern innovation, it was first developed 40 years ago!

Although our baby will be born in 2018, IVF’s first baby was born in 1978. In the same era that brought flared jeans and ABBA to the fore, IVF was just as experimental, attracting mixed views from the general public.

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Back then, IVF involved removing a single egg from the mother’s natural ovulation and placing it in the same environment as live sperm. After the egg was fertilised and had matured into a multiple-celled embryo, it was placed inside the mother, where it attached to the uterine wall and grew into a baby.

When we started, 38 years after its debut, IVF had evolved. Artificial hormones could allow for the creation and removal of multiple eggs, which could be fertilised with free-swimmers – but sperm could also injected into the eggs under a microscope, which addresses some male fertility concerns resulting from lower motility.

An embryo can now be implanted fresh, or frozen for later use – a technology that became available in the 1980s. A woman can now have multiple attempts to get pregnant from the same egg pick-up surgery by freezing leftover embryos. Eggs, sperm, and embryos can be frozen, used later, or even donated to other people. Just like we watched vinyl records morph into Spotify in the same amount of time, the complexity of fertility issues that could be solved increased.

“What do you think of this one? He is a healthy soccer player, and had braces growing up, just like me!”

Choosing the sperm was like a game of Guess Who. We looked through an album of potential young men who could help us create a baby, without wanting parental status. Although our child can access his details at the age of 18, we are legally their parents. Not everyone chooses this, and fertility clinics also allow people to choose people they know, subject to medical testing.

After our little game of Guess Who, I went in for a game of Operation. The most nerve-wracking part of this process was calling the clinic every day and seeing how many of our potential babies were still growing. Six were removed at surgery, but by day five, only two had made it to the freezer. Although it felt disappointing, I knew that my ice-ice-babies were going to give us a good chance of pregnancy.

Nearly two years later, the doctor furrowed his brow at the consultation and told me, ‘Be prepared, this first attempt is very unlikely to work.’

At least he was honest.

Some say the body is a temple, but I think it is more like a garden. When you are preparing for IVF, they scan your uterine lining a number of times to check that it is nutrient-rich for your microscopic ‘seed.’ I was given a nip of brandy and Valium – which would be my last drink for a very long time! This relaxed my muscles and the doctor inserted the embryo into my body, using a very thin surgical implement. It was mildly uncomfortable and took a few minutes.

I was so sure that my doctor must be right about the first time not working (with his 30+ years of experience) that I went to Cairns the very next day. I didn’t drink or carry on recklessly, but I swam in waterfalls, walked to places in the heat, and ate ridiculous wontons in a high-end restaurant. I also had the joy of hanging out with three of my nearest and dearest – my wife, and our close friends, Carmen and Mick. I had no qualms lying spread-legged in the back of their 4WD post-waterfall and waiting for my soluble hormone tampon (pessary) to melt. I was in great company. It was awesome.

Two weeks, 10 pee sticks and a blood test confirmed that it had worked! The process of making a baby may not always require IVF for same-sex couples, but this is my experience of its miraculous science. What a time to be alive!

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Have yourself a critically-thinking Christmas – or, why I bat for Team Santa

As an adult, my excitement towards Christmas has been limited to one of two activities:

1. Teaching my students how to make crafts for loved ones

and

2. Pressing all of the toys at Kmart and then walking away, creating an annoying canon of Christmas carols

I also work with my loved ones (my parents and my wife) to throw together some donation baskets for various animal rescues and family charities. Other than that, I tend to leave the country, so I miss a lot of the Christmas hype. Being grown-ass adults, we also don’t bother with gifts.

Santa Claus riding snowboard

As a child, I had a few short, sweet years where I believed there was a Santa Claus. I eventually had doubts – after all, why would an altruistic flying dude with a sack fail to address world hunger if he could deliver a bunch of stuff to kids every year?

I also questioned the plausibility of the physics, but it was good fun while it lasted. One of my best memories was when my brother and I received a game to share – Key to the Kingdom. Best 1990s board game, ever. Also, when we received a Yo-Ho Diablo, also to share. I can never remember having as much fun with a toy as when we took that bad boy into primary school and showed off all our tricks.

Santa must have known how much we wanted those particular toys…. right?

Now that we are about to give birth, I am noticing that there are two distinct teams – Team Santa and Team Critical ThinkingThe former love to take their children through the Santa stories, leaving carrots out for the reindeer. They’ll claim that at least one of the presents beneath the tree has been delivered by Santa. The latter consider themselves to be critical thinkers and shun the idea of propagating any ‘lies’ with their children because they want to foster intellect in their progeny.

Excuse me while I vomit. 

While these types wish to endow their child with thinking prowess, they fail to acknowledge one vital caveat; there has been limited research to support their assertion. That is to say, their rejection of Santa Claus on the basis of it disrupting critical thought development is mostly anecdotal conjecture. To which I give a resounding…. citation required. 

You would think that the first place a critical thinking parent would go to form their views would be research, but peer-reviewed articles to support the Anti-Santa viewpoint largely do not exist – like Santa himself.

What does exist is a significant body of research on development that points to the unequivocal benefits of pretend play and imagination. Children who engage in this form of play by themselves and with others develop a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity.

Busting the Santa Myth using burgeoning critical reasoning skills actually paves the way for cognitive development that will later be beneficial for persuasion, problem-solving, and innovative activities (like robotics!)

boy sitting while holding electronic device part

It is generally a short-lived myth, but while children believe, it can provide magic and positivity – from the sharing of stories, the anticipation of writing letters to Santa, and the excitement of receiving a gift. I personally draw the line at using Santa to control behaviour – be good or you won’t get anything from Santa! After all, managing behaviour is the job of parents – but there are no clauses in the handbook that say you need to use Santa in that way, and it probably won’t do any lasting harm.

Once the child begins to work through the myth themselves, that is when the real magic begins, because you can then appoint them as Santa’s Helper – a child who has figured it all out themselves, but who has a special role in protecting it for younger siblings and friends. Children who have lived Santa’s magic might relate to keeping it alive for others, but children who have always heard the Santa myth shunned will likely struggle to develop this empathy.

I have met many families who squash the Santa myth before their child is ever able to believe. Far from developing critical thought, what tends to happen is an uncomfortable sense of intellectual and moral superiority from the mouths of babes.

“Only BABIES believe in Santa Claus. You must be STUPID.” 

You can imagine how pleasant these children are.

I received the short-lived joy of Santa as a child. I am critically rigorous of any viewpoint as an adult, to the point where it annoys the people who love me because I won’t accept any poppycock at face value. That is to say – yep, I’m not fun at parties!

Yes, that is an anecdote with a sample size of 1, but I think you’ll find the rigour of Santa out is more beneficial for a child than begrudging them the experience in the name of ‘critical thinking.’

Ooh-la-la.

Let them eat cake – and leave some out for the big guy, too. 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever you relate to! May this season be a time of safety and love for you and yours.

shallow focus photo of Merry Xmas LED signage

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Benefits of pregnancy massage

When I became pregnant after my first attempt at IVF, people were quick to offer me encouragement. It was assumed that my level of fitness, reasonable diet, and lower body weight had somehow influenced my success. Although it is very easy to be self-congratulatory, my two biggest “secrets” were my low maternal age and my doctor, who had used a high amount of hormonal intervention.

In the months leading up to transfer, my body was pumped with self-injected blood thinners and I took numerous hormones and steroids. Many of these medications continued up until the 12th week of my pregnancy. As you can imagine, I felt (and looked) like I had been ridden hard and put up wet. The exhaustion and physical pain in those early days was overwhelming.

A few weeks before the transfer, I decided to visit a massage therapist. I found one locally – Blossoms and Honeybees – who specialises in pre-IVF massage and continued pregnancy treatment. Some of the benefits of this treatment include:

  • Increased blood flow throughout the body
  • Relaxation and muscle support
  • Wellbeing and stress management
  • Something to look forward to that distracts from the anxiety of the two-week-wait!

I will stress that although a regular massage in a shopping centre is a great treat, what I am describing here is a therapist who has specialised qualifications in IVF-tailored massage therapy. It will cost you more than the guy behind the curtain, but I believe it is worth it if you benefit from massage.

As well as being excellent for my body, my massage therapist has also given strategies I can take home for dealing with swelling, poor sleep caused by discomfort, and even the Brisbane heat. Many of the suggestions revolve around foods or drinks that can be incorporated  to alleviate various symptoms. I especially appreciated this when the swelling from steroids reached its peak, right before my wedding.

Massage therapy is also covered under my ‘extras’ in private health, so it can be worth checking if you have access to this. Like anything, it is good to gain benefit where you can with health insurance. Your own wellbeing and stress management throughout pregnancy and IVF is as important as eating well or taking pregnancy supplements.

It is an investment, but one I would certainly recommend in managing the stress and discomfort that IVF brings! 

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Active birthing classes with Mummy and Co – they’re pretty awesome

When I first became pregnant, the most immediate thing I noticed (after the initial celebration) was the amount of advice I was given. People who know me well, gave me incredibly pragmatic advice – which kinds of baby outfits are best for nappy changes, how to sterilise and soak a cloth nappy, where to go to get a car seat fitted, among many other practical strategies. These were useful and I took note of all of them.

woman sitting on grasses

The next most frequent topic was antenatal classes. Advice was clearly divided into two very firm positions; some people had left these classes in tears, and others told me that they were an absolute must. So I did some research, and many of the hospital-provided programs didn’t appeal to us.

The most concerning thing for us as a same-sex couple was the discussion of sex and contraception, which I felt was irrelevant to us. I also worried about this being a safe space for our family. Although most people are quite inclusive, particularly around where we live, I had heard about same-sex couples feeling very uncomfortable in some of these spaces. So I let it go. We didn’t sign up.

My pregnancy massage therapist, Blossoms and Honeybees suggested that we should opt for an active birthing class with Liz Lush (Mummy & Co), a physiotherapist in Brisbane. It seemed to focus more on the labour and empowering the support person with a toolbox of skills to use in pain management.

Far from being an uncomfortable space, Liz took us through exactly what labour would be like – how it starts, how it progresses, and what can be done at each stage. She also spoke about the various interventions, when they are used, and how to advocate for or against certain procedures when there is an opportunity for choice.

After this, Liz took us through specific strategies that could help distract us from pain. We practised these while tightly holding cubes of ice (because although it’s nothing on labour, it gives you an idea of what your tolerance levels are for certain kinds of contact during feeling of pain.)

Through this process, I was able to establish that I really do not like close contact when pain or discomfort is at a peak, but I do like heavy pressure on my back and stomach in between. Liz showed us specific ways of achieving this and which massage strategies would provide me with comfort. My wife was then able to attempt it and receive feedback on her technique. Overall, I highly recommend receiving pregnancy massage from a specialised therapist, which I plan to blog about next time, as well as shopping around for birth preparation classes. Everyone does it differently and gets different results, but we were very happy with the care we have received from both Blossoms and Honeybees and Mummy and Co.

Now…. along with all the useful strategies we learned… we also had the opportunity to learn some Pinterest-worthy mantras for birth. Normally, I dismiss a lot of #inspo as platitudes and fluff, but you’d be amazed at how powerful words of affirmation are when you’re about to embark on such a primal journey! It is pretty miraculous, what we are capable of… 

 

Image sourced from 10 Things Yoga Mama

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Show, don’t tell – (part of) my experience with religious freedom exemptions

A colleague wanted to talk. Not unexpected. Working in a Christian workplace, I originally planned to stay closeted. However, at a dinner party with work colleagues I accidentally mentioned my wife.

My colleague counselled me on the “need” to disclose my relationship to our boss. We’d just taken out a home loan. We wanted to start a family. Now my income was endangered.

After a discussion with my immediate boss, I was passed up the chain to state management. I was advised not to discuss my identity with the students, their parents, my colleagues, or on the internet. Any argument about the erasure of my identity was brushed aside with a reminder of a specific clause in my employment contract.

Australian Christian institutions receive taxpayer funding, often equal to – or exceeding – that of the public system. Nevertheless, church affiliated organisations are exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act which prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. The law allowed my employer to discriminate against me as a lesbian.

two boy's looking at sky

We all sin equally, but I question whether love can ever truly be a sin.

The employment contract included vaguely worded clauses such as a requirement for employees to ‘support the ethos of the church’. Did this mean we were required to be regular church-goers? If so, it didn’t concern me. As a practising Christian, I attended church regularly, unlike many work colleagues. But lesbianism apparently ranked higher as a sin than sleeping in on Sunday. Reading between the lines of my employment contract I surmised that we all sin equally, but some more equally.

Some say, “Get another job,” but some LGBTIQ professionals are also people of faith. Working in a faith-based establishment is the job they want and are best qualified for. Others just need a job. In specific industries, such as teaching, there are many applicants for fewer positions. Getting another job may be harder than it sounds.

I accepted my situation. However wrong the conditions of my employment, I had signed a lawful contract. But there was no reciprocal appreciation of my acquiescence. In fact, my working environment became markedly unpleasant with increasing scrutiny of my behaviour.

Socialising with colleagues was discouraged because it might lead to my being ‘found out’. When another staff member repeatedly made inappropriate comments towards me, I was told, she knew I was gay and the comments were her way of processing it.

Maybe.

I considered resigning. I sent hundreds of applications to advertised jobs, and attended interviews. I even considered unemployment. At times, living with no disposable income seemed a better option than my hostile work environment. Throughout this process, I developed anxiety. I had sleepless nights. When I cried on the way to work, I knew something had to change.

Finally, management suggested a staff event to address my situation. Far from it being an LGBTIQ+ inclusion and awareness event, it was a Bible study on homosexuality. There would be open discussion on various viewpoints and the opportunity to ‘out’ myself. I would face a jury of my colleagues (some not yet aware of my sexuality). The (im)morality of my life, my sexuality, my marriage all up for public judgement in a way none of my heterosexual colleagues would ever have to face. Nauseated at the thought, I threatened to take the day off sick. The idea was discarded.

I now felt at the mercy of everybody else’s ‘freedom of religion’. I had no legal protection. I resigned. I was sad to leave the people I worked with, as many supported me behind closed doors, but I knew it was for the best. Even as a reverent Christian, I will never again teach in a faith-based employment setting.

My lived experience and the knowledge that others experience the same hopelessness cause me to strongly oppose exemptions from the discrimination laws. The freedom to discriminate is out of step with the views of our nation. It is also morally reprehensible.

I would argue that Jesus would not stand for it, despite what his loud, self-appointed spokespersons might say. Fortunately my story has a happy ending, but there is no limit to the harm that can be done when institutions have the freedom to discriminate.

we like you proud signage

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We don’t need to do that gay stuff

Those of you who follow my personal Facebook and Twitter page may have noticed that I recently undertook training in the area of LGBTIQ+ workplace inclusion. A lot of people are asking, why is this even necessary?

Recently, the Director General launched a policy that demonstrates Queensland Education’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, for the benefit of its workforce. This includes the training of liaison officers to support employees coping with discrimination and coming out. Likewise, it aims to educate its teachers and leadership teams on the necessity of intentional inclusive practices in our schools.

Overall, individuals who identify as LGBTI still experience discrimination and exclusion that impacts their working outcomes and mental health. This can be exacerbated with employers who have freedom of religion. This gives the church and its institutions carte blanche to behave in ways that would be deemed unlawful in state institutions (for example, in schools, healthcare settings, and universities). On a human level, many of these actions are out of step with Australian values and modern legal precedents.

One question I am asked frequently is, in what ways can employers still realistically discriminate? I thought it would be worthwhile to provide a succinct guide that outlines some of what I have experienced or read about, in the hopes that it could help someone else in a similar situation.

1. Any leave provisions that other employees can access may not be applicable to gay, lesbian, or other employees. 

In this, I am referring to leave that a person may take in order to deal with life business. One example is wedding leave. Because a same-sex union is not recognised by the church or by some individuals, an employer can make it difficult to access this provision. Likewise, carer’s leave or medical leave accessed for the purpose of obtaining fertility treatment can be deemed a ‘lifestyle choice.’

Until you have had to take a false sick day in order to start your family, I cannot hear you say that sexuality does not matter in the workplace and that diversity and inclusion is not needed in every context.

2. Your life and relationships may be put into the public forum for discussion or “spiritual development.” 

I am not kidding when I say that I have heard of and experienced staff development days about homosexuality, to allow people to ‘air’ and ‘grapple with’ their views on the matter, before suggesting that this could be a good opportunity for people to come out. I’m glad to say that these events are not common, but it is quite upsetting to hear about.

3. Social and professional engagement is limited when diversity and inclusion are not done well.

You may end up working in a school that prides itself on “community.” However, if your personal life is deemed as “controversial”, you will be summarily excluded from this engagement. For some, this may be a blessing, but it can definitely put you on the periphery in institutions where success relies on engagement. I have personally felt that there was a time when I felt I couldn’t even comment on articles related to gay rights online, let alone publish a book about it myself. Everyone weighs up their own contributions, but I could not live like that.

If you are feeling excluded or discriminated against, there is support out there. This resource has a range of liaison services and legal advice that you can access, I have personally accessed a few of these at times when the Independent Education Union could no longer assist me due to the complexity of my case. Moving into the public sector provided me with more protections, but this isn’t always possible for everyone.

If your working environment is causing you to feel mentally unwell, this resource is valuable reading. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone, even if your current circumstances seem complex and difficult.

time lapse photography of water ripple

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Fearfully Fifteen – by RJ Miles

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This is a submission for Black Inc’s anthology, Growing up Queer in Australia. For more information or to submit your own coming out story, click here

Author’s note: Time is compressed in this narrative for the sake of flow and brevity.

Introduction

When I was about nine years old, I was in the normal, exploratory phase; you know, the one where you tip a half a bottle of moisturiser onto your open hands and lubricate yourself so you can feel your fleshy insides? Well, the first time I did that, I felt a fleshy, inverted bump with a hole at the end of it that I could not explain – until I flicked through a medical magazine and saw a full colour diagram of a flaccid penis. That inverted bump felt like the exact tip of a penis. Sometimes I wondered if I’d been changed at birth. You know, so my parents could have one of each. It would explain these feelings I’d been having. Weren’t you meant to like girls if you had a penis? It seemed I had one growing inside of me.

Part I

 

Six years later. Bundaberg, four six seven oh. A curious and difficult place, still heavy from the conservatism of a bygone era. The city itself was stitched together with ties that were thicker than water and went way back. For instance, the people I shared a classroom with all seemed to be linked to one another in some way – whether their great-great-grandaddies worked together on the cane fields back when the island folk were blackbirded into sugar-cane slavery, or whether they’d grown up together and adopted the title of ‘cousin’, despite having no relational ties. I always felt like I was caught up in this web of familiarity around me, one disclosure away from hanging myself in the tangle of my darkest secret. Me, I seemed to collect secrets in different shades of dark grey. One of my lesser ones was being expelled from school back in 2003 for creating illegal online content. My darkest and most closely-held secret was my sexual and romantic interests. It placed me outside the glass world of my peers, where I could stare inside but not be a part of it. It was a perfect vantage point to observe the dynamics, including the façade my newest love interest seemed to put on. I could never quite tell if she was gay or not, but the enigma kept me interested.

“Aye luv, just the usual?” The barista’s chipper voice cut through my thoughts for a moment and I remembered that was the one endearing aspect of living in a small place – they never got your order wrong.

“Yes, please. Just the iced coffee with three marshmallows and whipped cream.”

“All right.” She turned to the grinder to start preparing my fluffy sugar hit. I took a moment to inhale and enjoy the rich, chocolate coffee smell in the air.

“You still at the Christian College, luv?” she inquired.

“Uh, yeah,” I replied, trying to shut down the conversation. I hadn’t been enjoying it, though I should have been. After all, my parents uprooted our whole family life and separated from my brother just to bring me here, to curtail a burgeoning teenage rebellion back in the big city. She sensed my detachment and shot back bluntly.

“Well, here’s your coffee. $4.” She pushed a plastic coffee cup towards me and turned her back on my rewards card. I felt momentarily guilty for my short reply, but it was more socially acceptable than saying, ‘I’m so glad to be on holidays from that fascist snake pit. The only thing standing between myself and my own epithet is the promise that things may be better in a decade, but that feeling is fading fast.’ Hmmm, yeah. Probably best to keep that to myself. Suicidal ideation was not exactly polite banter in the coffee shop.

I knew then as I sat at that table, stabbing my marshmallows with a plastic straw, that I should tell somebody and find out if all this was normal. The whole gay thing was sitting just below my skin like a tell tale heart, ready to break through and give me away. Nonetheless, I felt oddly ready to break open my soul, no matter the consequences. I was tired of living lies. It was an exhausting existence, only added to by the boredom and trauma of small-place life. In a school with a hundred students, there were few places to hide unless you were wagging school.

As I traipsed into school the following Monday, it wasn’t just the bag on my shoulders that weighed me down to the floor. It was the King James Bible and the weight of this heavy secret, thumping under my skin, around my bones, and through my veins. I made a point of looking around, still feeling like I was far adrift outside of this world I didn’t belong to.

“Hey, why so serious?” The girl I’d had my eye on for the past year and a half shot into my view through my periphery, her earth eyes scanning me, trying to read my mind.

“Uh… nothing. Just thinking about the science exam we’re doing this afternoon. Flaccid, turgid? I can’t even remember which one is which…”

She chortled, as we both straightened our backpacks and walked to our first class, which was double agricultural science. We were slightly late, but nobody seemed to notice because they were all so transfixed on what was going on in front of them. The teacher didn’t break his focus for a second.

“What we’re going to do,” he said, rubbing the silver, phallic implement with a sense of sickly anticipation – “Is we’re going to move the bull into this squeeze chute so he can’t move.”

“C’mon, stud,” he persisted, as the bull had stopped momentarily, stamping its foot on the concrete, dusty ground beneath him. He eventually complied and moved forward.

As the gate shut behind him, his hoof scraped the concrete below, exhaling with a stubborn grunt. He started to shift his weight around, his hips and thighs brushing the metal gates on either side. With careful precision, Mr H slid the implement inside, penetrating at a slight angle. The bull heaved and shuffled, but he was constrained, unable to move much.

“Whoo! Whoo!” he pushed harder and the bull continued writhing against his false, manly comfort.

As the device sent its invisible rays of artificial pleasure pulsing through the animal, he moaned with a rising intonation, the mechanical orgasm tightening his underside. The specimen dropped through the funnel held between his legs by the farmhand, his crow’s feet grimacing as he aimed the funnel and cup in just the right place. For all the effort, a few drops of potential life fell into the clear cup, quickly sealed to prevent leakage. Solitary globs of rich, thick fluid; it didn’t seem like much at all, but that very cup contained millions of opportunities for the beginning of life. It also contained the potential for profit, depending on how much meat was made from each resulting calf.

“And this is how you extract sperm,” he said, with a cavalier, unusually satisfied half smile.

How unromantic. I could not believe that this teacher, who had just entered an animal with an electrical, metal dildo so he could artificially inseminate another cow, realised his own cognitive dissonance. I’m sure it was interpreted in the conservative scripture somewhere to not artificially create life inside of an animal, probably weaved through all the same verses in Leviticus that forbade gay relationships. I wondered if anyone else was thinking what I was thinking. Probably not. When I’d looked around, I was surrounded by completely uniform blank stares, the same as when we were praying, only with eyes wide open, except for the girl with the earthly eyes. She was looking across through the gate at me, though she looked away quickly when our eyes connected.

“Now… who wants to look under the microscope?” Mr H had the sealed cup of little swimmers inside his shirt pocket.

I raised my hand, slowly, unsure if it was a loaded question or not (you just never knew in religious places – anything could be a loaded question). I didn’t want to be the only one, but curiosity got the better of me in the end.

“Could I have a look?”

Squinting through the microscope, I saw the minuscule particles of life, swimming back and forth under the glass. I wasn’t the least bit disgusted, but suddenly, a thought hit me. My biggest fear in loving women wasn’t the fact itself; it was the idea that I may never have children of my own. Of course, I had entertained options like fostering children or having brief encounters with men, but none of these seemed fair for all parties. Plus, I wanted to birth my own child. Not right then, but in the future.

As soon as I’d started wrestling with these feelings proper, I booked in to see the school ‘therapist.’ You see, when you’re stuck in a small town, they don’t hire qualified therapists in schools. They choose the most seemingly empathetic parent in the community who may have some church-based qualification to listen to the concerns of the worried well. I recall sitting outside her office, scratching my nails into my wrist to make little crescent moons, both anxious and frustrated about this appointment I had made without my parent’s prior knowledge. I had to know for sure, and every teenage psychological journey needs a Sherpa.

“Hi, Rebecca. What brings you to me today?”

I swallowed and looked out the window, wondering what this pent-up, Pentecostal community would think of me as I am. I didn’t have to wonder too hard, though. It had already been covered in our Christian Living classes.

“Um… well… I’ve been having these feelings and I don’t know if they’re OK or not.”

In that moment, all I wanted was for her to guess what I was about to disclose and affirm me; tell me that it would be okay and that coming out would not cause the sky to fall in. Instead, she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

“Right.” She tapped her pen on her clipboard, scribbled a couple of notes and returned her gaze to me.

“Do you want to tell me some more about these feelings?”

I continued to look away as I collected my thoughts. She seemed cold and unusually detached from the counselling process. Although I didn’t have much experience with such things, she didn’t seem to understand what I was getting at.

“You know that feeling you get when you touch up against someone and you feel seasick?”

Awkwardness welled up in the pause between us.

“Yeah…? That is normal at your age, Rebecca. It means you may like someone. It doesn’t mean you have to act on it.”

“Right.”

“Um… look. Here’s a pamphlet that might help you deal with some of those urges.”

She handed me an A4 glossy infographic that detailed 101 THINGS YOU CAN DO INSTEAD OF SEX.

“Thanks…” I slunk away awkwardly and crumpled the paper into my pocket, only to pull it out again at recess.

“Make gingerbread men? Go to the movies? Fly a kite?” The girl I had a major crush on thought it was as ridiculous as I did.

We all giggled between bites of our sandwich.

“I know, right? And what do you do if kite-flying leads to sex?”

I crumpled the paper into a ball and pegged it into the bin, along with my sandwich crusts. It was a perfect shot.

“They must think we’re all ingenues. Or idiots.”

Even though I liked someone in our friendship group and considered myself accepted by my friends, I had never floated the idea that I liked women. I felt so inexperienced and unsure. What if I lost all my friends and became the object of ridicule for the rest of my schooling life? I couldn’t imagine. My parents had already moved our family away from the city because I was beginning to go off the rails back there. I had been expelled from school six months into year 8 because of choices I had made, so the next logical step was obviously to go 360km north to a place where we knew nobody to “start over.” So there I was, stuck in that backwards place with mostly backwards people and I just knew the whole gay thing wouldn’t fly; yet, I couldn’t go on deceiving myself. If the school therapist wouldn’t listen, then I would find someone who could.

The next day’s morning bell went and everyone shuffled off to their first class – Relationships and Self – which was where the roll was marked and notices were handed out. I still had the cow conception on my mind and I had been weighing up my own future in the mean time. While we were waiting for the second bell to send us off to our first real class of the day, I walked over to the door to deliver a blunt and provocative message.

“Miss, I think I’m gay.

She raised one badly plucked eyebrow, completely unsure of what to say next.

“What?”

“I like women. Like, more than a friend.”

Her eyebrow dropped and her face turned into a scowl. She struggled to find words, but given she was a local, she had strongly formed opinions already.

“Well, I sure hope you’ve thought of the consequences of that before making such a significant life decision…”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you may be fifteen now, but who knows, maybe one day you’ll want a family of your own. I know I didn’t want kids at your age but you just never know. Maybe you’ll want kids.”

“Dyke!” A blonde, wiry boy up the back yelled in my direction, but I ignored him as the rest of the class erupted with laughter.

“Sure, miss. I’ve done my research. You know how we were out on the farm the other day? Well, I was pretty sure humans would be smart enough to do the exact same, so I went on the internet to see what I could find. Turns out two women can do the same thing, you just don’t need an electric dildo or a metal squeeze chute.”

Her face descended into red fury, and I knew I had taken it one step too far.

“LEMON!” The boy up the back continued, and the whole class was in fits of laughter. That was when the teacher made her biggest mistake of the conversation.

“Yeah, and how exactly do you plan to do that?”

The uproarious laughter died down, and I cleared my throat.

“Welllllll, miss…. Based on my research, you get the sperm and the doctor uses equipment to fertilise the egg. They can do it inside you, or in a dish… then they put it back. Hey presto, baby!”

“That is… INAPPROPRIATE!”

“Miss, that’s homophobic.”

At that exact moment, the bell went. I straightened my shoulders and walked out, without scuffing my Converse for a moment. I had no idea what was coming, but I got the feeling that things were going to be all right.

Part II/Prologue

I am aware that it is such a tired cliché to say that ‘it gets better’, but it really does. Once that weight had lifted off my shoulders, people knew they had nothing on me anymore. They could call me names and push me around but because I had owned my identity, their words were basically powerless.

Right after I came out, the school therapist, principal, and deputy called both of my parents into the school without me. They laid out their concern, which was that my “lifestyle choice” was no longer compatible with the Christian ethos of the school. My Dad rightfully pointed out that the son of the school’s P&C president had been caught having sex on school camp, yet hadn’t been punished.

“That’s none of your business and not worth discussing.”

Their response, their silence towards my faith life was all of the vindication I needed to move forwards with my life.

I spent the last two years of high school in the public system, which was in no way perfect, but it was better for me and my “lifestyle choice.” Year 12 was the year our music teacher resigned. She was quickly replaced by an openly gay teacher who played the bass guitar and a whole lot of other stringed instruments. During that time, I wrote a coming out song, which she performed on school assembly with me. It was the bravest, most uncertain moment of my life, but I’m glad I did it.

As I moved into my adult life, I was fortunate enough to meet my wife, who had experienced as much of a difficult time as I had in coming out. Together, we have built a positive home and community around us. In daylight hours, I teach children. In the evening, I study and write. I recently published a book that educates children on how two Mums can make a baby with IVF and IUI, the exact topic that made my life inappropriate in 2005. In December, we are expecting our first baby through the same means.

I still have a faith life, but that is a story for another day. Things really did turn out okay – and it does get better.

 

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IVF’s 40th birthday

This coming week, IVF turns 40. It’s hard to believe that such a delicate, yet widely used technology could have had its beginnings in the 1970s – but alas, the first IVF baby was born on July 25th, 1978. Can you believe it?

Not only has the technology come a long way, the attitudes of the general public towards conception via assistive reproductive technology have progressed. Although some people are still uncomfortable with the idea of human eggs being fertilised outside of the body, sometimes with donor sperm, this reproductive technology has made it possible for millions of people to become parents who may not have been able to otherwise, and many people support this. Even with some of the medical complexities at play, IVF can still be a successful and accepted treatment.

To celebrate, I am offering a 10% discount for purchases of my book, One in Many Millions, until the end of this week. Use the code ‘ivfjourney’ at the checkout. 

 

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And how do YOU plan to make a baby?

450_mockingbirdI was sixteen years old when I came out for the first time. I was living in Bundaberg and it was very early in 2007 – right at the start of Year 12. Two years prior, I had been expelled from a conservative, pentecostal Christian school with 300 students because of my choice to come out. I had been harassed after I left by parents on MySpace, making all sorts of allegations about my personal integrity. It was difficult – so much so that I didn’t even tell my parents about what I was going through. I was hamstrung between a rock and a hard place; the ‘rock’ being the fact that I was not ready to come out, and the ‘hard place’ being the fact that my previous school had convinced me that my parents would outright reject me. I wish I’d sued them – but I did better. I became a teacher and an author, hoping to educate others to be the best and most accepting version of themselves. No regrets. Still, suing God may have delivered a satisfactory outcome.

Bundaberg is the sort of place where everyone knows everybody else. Family lines go back to the days when Kanakas were blackbirded from the islands for cheap labour on the cane farms, and everyone goes camping with their “cousins”, who are actually just lifelong friends. When you join such a community at the age of 14 – particularly a tightly-woven religious community – you are not going to fit in. Especially if you happen to be gay. When I first got the keys to a car, I used to drive out on country roads to my friend’s houses. If it had been raining, the light would throw reflective rainbow shadows between the cracked bitumen as the trees went from orderly rows of fruit-bearing goodness to withered hands of desolation, pointing to the nothingness. If you drove out to those places at night, you would see the stars. The shimmering blanket of night sky was nothing like the city, where all the stars were suffocated by distant haze and streetlights; it was the only saving grace I found living so far from my real home. If you turned off your headlights in that place, you could disappear. Sometimes I wanted to. Copy of Copy of 100_0529

After I ended up in a public school, I came out to my peers and teachers. I fielded all sorts of odd questions, including and not limited to:

How do you know? Have you ever tried it with a guy? How can you be sure if you’ve never done it? Have you ever kissed a girl? Do you have a girlfriend? Do you want a threesome?

Then, there was one I had thought about, but only briefly.

But don’t you want children someday?

Actually, I had always wanted children. I was not the sort of person who desired to be a parent from the moment I left school, nor did I ever want a big family – but I did want one baby to share with my future spouse. I had never thought about the practicalities of making this happen, but I knew that if I wanted it, I could find a way.

This particular question was asked numerous times by my Year 12 home class teacher, who was oddly curious for someone who saw me for 15 minutes out of the day. Sex education only goes so far and it certainly didn’t cover gay issues in 2007. Her questioning bothered me so significantly that I started to research what my options were. I came to the conclusion that if I wanted a child, I would need to pursue assisted reproduction with donor sperm. The next time she asked me how I would make a child without a man, I fired straight back at her.

“Well, miss, you can use donor sperm and in vitro fertilisation – or insemination. I have options.”

She looked at me with a cocked eyebrow.

“And how do you suppose that works?”

“Well…”

I looked back, wondering if she was serious.

“A donor provides his photograph, then he ejaculates into a vial, to be frozen and stored for insemination or IVF. Does that explain it?”

She was honestly speechless and had no idea how to respond, other than to record it onto the school system for behaviour, which my parents got a copy of upon graduation. We leafed through it the day after I left school and laughed and laughed.

Eleven years on, I wrote a book about it. Life is beautiful.

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Sorry for my absence – big news…

For those of you who have been following me for awhile, you will have noticed that I have been in hiding for a few months. On the 28th of March, we went in for our first IVF transfer with one of the embryos that was created in 2016 using donor sperm. At the time of writing, I am 14 weeks and 5 days pregnant! Now that I am beginning to get some energy back, I would love to share my story with you – hopefully it can help someone in the same situation, or at least provide some insight.

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May/June 2016 

Our IVF journey started almost two years ago. We both dearly wanted to be parents then, but employment circumstances made it difficult and financially disadvantaging for me to access the sick leave required for IVF appointments – due to my ‘lifestyle choice’ (yeah, I wish I was kidding – I’m not). The egg pickup was not overly successful, but we did get two embryos – one BC and one CC grade. These grades refer to the viability, rather than the health of the baby or its genes. I still attribute the small harvest to the high stress level I was experiencing at the time, but that’s a story for another day. Those embryos were put on ice for later use, and I started looking for another job. I changed jobs twice before starting the next step. I knew I had to be 100% confident with how I would be supported at work, in case the whole thing dragged out. Even though I was not ‘medically infertile’, I still had an irregular cycle and endometriosis to contend with, which can create challenges in trying to conceive. To put all of that aside, mental anguish on top of IVF isn’t helpful in the slightest.

March 28th – 2018 

The 28th of March was THE DAY. On the morning of my transfer, I had the biggest craving for baked beans on toast, which I gave in to. Prior to the transfer, I had mad cravings for sushi and Easter Eggs. It was the last week of school, so the Easter Eggs were not in short supply. I blame the steroids. I also spent a lot of time meditating to music and having massages with a fertility specialist. On the day of the transfer, my embryo’s placenta had ‘upgraded’ to BB, which was a sign of things to come. The whole process took about 2 minutes, in which I became so emotionally moved that I burst into tears – a good moment when you’re spread legged on the operating table.

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March 29th – 2018 

This was the last day of the school term. More Easter Eggs were consumed and we left Brisbane for Cairns on a night flight.

March 30th – Early April 

When we arrived in Cairns, we spent time truly vegging out, eating kipfler potatoes, spending time at waterfalls with our friends and trying not to think about the fact that we may be pregnant. The 1st of April was Easter and also my birthday, which was the day that I felt the embryo implant into my uterine wall. A few days later, I did what I said I wouldn’t do and took a home pregnancy test. Two lines appeared. I had doubts that it had worked and chalked up the positive result to Pregnyl injections. Later in the month, I went for my first HCG blood test, which confirmed that I was in fact pregnant. Our first ultrasound at 7 weeks confirmed that the pregnancy was going well. IMG_0749

For now? 

I am absolutely shattered – completely exhausted. Somehow, I am keeping my busy life together on a golden thread. I am still teaching every day and I have recently been appointed to a position of added responsibility in the Education Department (how exciting!) On top of that, I have been completing extra study, but spending roughly 12-14 hours in bed every day, which feels most unhealthy. I finished prednisone steroids, which I’m glad about. Those steroids involved some low moments of sitting in the Hungry Jack’s car park with thick cut fries of an afternoon. Never again!

In other news, we are so happy and proud to be welcoming Baby Miles in December 2018. My little secret is that I was barefoot and pregnant at the wedding…. don’t tell anyone! A tight dress gives nothing away….

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