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One year anniversary – why write a book?

It’s been a little over a year since I published my book and released it into the wider world.

Writing a book before the age of 30 was a pretty major life achievement for me. It was one of my bucket-list goals.

I just never thought my first book would be a childhood sex education resource! But it was such a worthwhile undertaking.

At the start of my teaching career, I felt held back from anything other than teaching. I felt pressured into giving 100% of my energy, 100% of the time and I burnt out. I didn’t feel any sense of encouragement for taking on anything outside of school – in fact, it was actively discouraged on many occasions.

In fact, I think releasing a book on the topic of conception in lesbian families could have cost me my job or at the least, gotten me into a lot of trouble. The environments I was in early in my career were very conservative with a lot of religious freedom to discriminate. The fear and anxiety were real.

Before I left that environment, I spoke to someone who had donor-conceived children, but she hadn’t told them. There was fear about it ‘getting out’ and what her children may experience if others knew about it.

I understood the concern, but I think this approach only protects the parents. The psychological outcomes for those children when they eventually find out (and they will), have the potential to be dire and distressing.

That was when I knew I had to write my book. I wanted my son’s story to be filled with pride and openness. Even if he never shares that part of his life with others, I wanted him to know.

After all – donor conception is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor is infertility, IVF conception, or having two mums. Some people choose not to talk about their fertility journey to others because they feel it is highly personal – and that is okay. An individual’s choice to keep it private still doesn’t mean they are ashamed or that they should be. 

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I wanted to write a book about my future child’s life and conception, even if it made people uncomfortable. I knew my child would deserve to know his story, whether people liked it or not.

I changed jobs at the end of Term 2, 2017 – but I had the two week holiday period to fill, so I realised that was my time to create.

The first draft was terrible. God-awful. Too many words, not enough story. Too much awkwardness.

So I went back to the drawing board and thought about what it was I was trying to do, and why? What would I want from a book like this, if I were purchasing it myself?

I wanted:

  • A narrative – to connect with a child at their level
  • A scientifically accurate explanation – no pet names or silliness around body parts and sex
  • Inclusivity – to see various reproductive situations represented, including insemination, and IVF
  • Cute illustrations…. of course

The thing is, I am not an illustrator – I just like writing. So I contacted Anil Tortop at Tadaa Book who illustrates in a range of styles, and once I had a draft I was happy with, we got started on bringing it to life.

I will spare you the experience of looking at any of my drafts, but understand that by the time the book went to publication, it was on version 18. Thank goodness for patient publishers.

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When I looked back and stared at my creation for the very first time, I realised that I had achieved what I needed to.

It represents my child’s experience. Children benefit when they see themselves or people like them in books and other forms of media. Knowing their life is important enough to be represented bridges that divide between child and world – through that, they know they are not alone. The research in this area is preliminary, but ask any teacher to give you an anecdotal experience and I almost guarantee you they will have more than one. Children can’t be what they can’t see.

It normalises the idea of IVF, donor conception, and living in a same-sex family. If you try to teach a child about sex education but their conception has to be explained as an add-end, it sends a message that their differences can’t be talked about, or that it makes people uncomfortable. If it is seen as ‘just another method’ or ‘just another way to bring children into loving families’, this creates a sense of normal. Which is great, because I feel our lives are pretty standard, even with all the differences.

It casts my wife as a main character in the story of our child’s life. I want my wife to experience equality in all ways as a parent and if she is not a main character in the story of our child’s conception, then she becomes less important – she is as capable of raising our son as I am and gets the same sense of joy and challenge from him as I do.

It works towards making us ‘just another Australian family.’ I know we’ve got a long way to go with this one, but casting our life stories on the periphery (which they have been for a long time), makes us seem vastly different to other families. The more we are seen on the bookshelf, the more conversations we can start and the more we will become ‘just another character in the story of Australian public life in 2019.’

I do feel that Australia is mostly inclusive, with some exceptions. I am fortunate enough to live in a very progressive postcode and for the last year and a half, have worked in secular, progressive environments that have included me for all I am.

However, when I introduce the fact that I am in a same-sex relationship in conversations with new people, that part of my identity can sometimes take over. So I am no longer the friend, the colleague, the parent, the new acquaintance. Once I’ve dropped ‘wife’ into the conversation, I then get to field silly questions like, ‘Who is the man? How did you make a child? When did you tell your parents you were gay? How’s that weather…. etc.’

My vision is that when I introduce this part of my life, it doesn’t become my persona.

Yeah, we have a long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come, I have great hope. In order to get there, we need to start more conversations, write more stories, and spray those into the world like cans of Fanta that have been shaken too hard.

Even if people don’t like it.

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Our first little family holiday!

Before we started our family, I absolutely lived for travel and also for my career. We are yet to venture overseas, but we did get passport photos for Master S this week, so that will be on the horizon this Christmas.

As for my career, my approach has changed as I am taking a break from the full-time teaching workforce. I now work from home as a writer. This gives me flexibility, but also some fairly unique opportunities. I enjoy it.

A few months ago, a professional in the area of fertility psychology contacted me to see if I wanted to share some of my own journey at a conference – to tell my story about why I wrote a book, both from an academic perspective and a personal one.

Clinical professionals benefit from hearing about lived experiences intertwined with interdisciplinary research, so I jumped at the chance to provide this.

So, we committed to the just-over-an-hour schlep to the Gold Coast, knowing we’d have a three-and-a-half-month in tow.

And we decided to make a weekend of it.

This is how it all went down….

The week before the conference was scheduled, I organised Granny-Care – my mother – to come over and help with Master S while I packed, ran errands, and organised our food for the weekend. Going anywhere with an infant is certainly an exercise in organisation!

I made list upon list upon list. I cooked and created snacks and meals, packed in an insulated bag. I realised that the car would be so full…….. and the bags would be heavy. But it was worth it, because we had a nice dinner when we stopped en-route for a breastfeed.

We arrived at the Gold Coast at about 8pm on the Friday night. It all went well. Master S even slept in a strange cot, in a strange room, in a strange place…..UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_21f2.jpg

When I arrived at the conference on Saturday, I was included in the whole event. I was able to spend time in conversation with fertility psychologists and other professionals in the field from around Australia. This included many rich conversations with others about resilience, early disclosure for donor-conceived children, and ideas around donor anonymity. I also had the privilege of hearing a presentation by a donor-conceived adult – it was fascinating to hear of her journey.

All of these conversations reinforced the importance of what I advocate for – early disclosure for donor-conceived children, with a range of resources to suit unique family needs and structures. It also enabled me to tell my family’s story of life, and I have so much pride in that.

On Sunday, we spent time as a family – my favourite part of the whole experience. 

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Before I had Master S, people loved to tell me about how my life would change so much. They seemed smug about it, how I would feel limited – how I may even fail to achieve my dreams. 

I have found the opposite is true.

I manage my time better because I’m completing tasks around a tiny human’s napping schedule – I have mastered the art of writing 100 words in 12 minutes (yeah… cat naps happen) and also the art of accepting that some days are more limited on productivity than others because once he’s awake, I am present with him.

The real ‘fire-cracker under my butt’ in using my time wisely is my baby boy.

I keep on going, because I want to contribute to the world he is going to inhabit. I want to be a role model for this child who is watching my every move in this world.

Most of all, I want to model pride, passion, and the pursuit of dreams.

I think that’s worth working for. Even if I get distracted a lot.

Anyway, play time is fun. 

Until next time…. I hope to tell you more about the journey of writing my book!

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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!