Day 80

By , January 12, 2011 10:00 am

Tuesday 12th January 2010

Gestation: 15 weeks, 4 days

One year ago.


“How long can sperm live?”

I look up from my book, from my side of the bed.  There is Suse, bent forward in pain, grabbing at her left side.

The right-sided pain two days ago – that triggered our frantic post-vaccuming passion – was something else altogether.

This is real ovulation pain.

On the left.

The wonky old left.  The ectopic left.

Whoops.

I pick up my phone, flicking to the internet.  I google ‘how long can sperm live?’, figuring a bunch of internet mums trump my medical school memory.

It’s not a question I get asked much in Paediatrics.

I read for a moment.  Suse watches me the whole time, her worried eyes boring into the side of my head.  I skip past several sources stating that sperm can live for up to seven days, before settling on a more comforting one.

“This one says that, on average, they’ll live for one to two days, and that it depends on your vaginal milieu.”  I turn to her.  “I reckon your milieu isn’t up for much right now.  You’ll have low fertilisation milieu, Suse.”  I pause.  “You’re a milieu miles from anything to worry about.”

I pull a little monkey face.  It’s a momentary diversion, to remind her that the man she married is an idiot.

It’s a tactic I like to employ when I’ve got nothing else to offer.

“I need Panadol,” she says.

She sighs as she gets up, trudging from the room.  She returns a minute later.  She puts a hand to her forehead, again sighing heavily as she lies down, the other hand holding her left side.

“It’ll be okay,” I say.

“It’ll be okay?  With pain like this?” I resist the urge to pull the face again.  Like I said, I’m struggling here.  “This isn’t okay, Mark.  This isn’t normal.  And I have sperm in me.  Your live sperm.  And they’re all over here on the left hand side.  Right here,” she says, pointing.  “Right up around the blockage.”

“What blockage?”

She turns to me.

“The acupuncturist said I have a blockage.”

She turns from me.  We lie in silence for a couple of minutes.  Both staring at the ceiling.

“He means an energy blockage, honey,” I say finally.  “A meridian blockage.  Not an actual physical blockage.”

“Feels like a blockage.”

Suse turns out the light, her hand still on her forehead.

In the dark, the sighing continues.

* * * * *

Day 78

By , January 10, 2011 10:00 am

Sunday 10th January 2010

Gestation: 15 weeks, 2 days

One year ago.


“Do you think we should do it?”  I look across at Suse, who stands there rubbing at her belly.

“That’s a new one.  Way to romance me, love,” I say, feigning offence.

“Well?”

“Do I ever think we shouldn’t?”

She frowns.

“But what do you really think?”

“You want to do it because you have pain on your right side?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know that we have time,” I say.

I turn the vacuum cleaner back on and continue through the lounge room, wondering what on earth possessed me say that.  I hurry through the rest of it, becoming less and less careful as I go.  Large clumps of dust and tumbleweeds of hair roll on by unnoticed.  Five minutes later I’m done.  I hit the off button with my foot.

“Okay,” I yell down the house, “I think you’re right.”

“Sorry?”

“I think we should do it,” I say.

“Well, now we don’t have time,” Suse says, appearing from the bedrrom.  She nonchalantly fiddles an earring through a lobe.  “Now, we actually do have to go.”

I pick up the vacuum cleaner.  “But this could be important,” I say as I pass, trying not to sound whiney.

“Too late.”

I walk into the study.  I stuff it in the cupboard, slamming the doors closed.

“Does it feel like your usual ovulation pain?” I say as I return.  The vacuum cleaner crashes as it falls back out.

“Not really.  It’s different.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.  It’s just different.  Everything’s different since the ectopic,” she says sorely, frowning slightly.  “And besides, it’s only been eight days.”

“What has?”

“Since my period finished.”

“But your cycle is all over the place, love.”

“But eight days?”

I take her by the waist.

“After a month of bleeding and a shot of chemo, I can believe it.  Your ovaries are a bit confused,” I say.  “Maybe you just misfired?”

“You make me sound like a stupid cop.”  Something else crashes in the next room, following the vacuum’s lead.

“I think we should do it,” I say.  I frown, for extra effect;  like I’ve made a considered scientific decision.  Not the one of a teenage boy.

“Not now, though.”

“I really don’t think we have a choice,” I say.

After all, the pain is on the right side.  The correct side.  This is the good tube, the non-ectopic one.  This tube is our friend.

And if we’re lucky – and Suse’s sensitivity to her cycle has returned – then she may well have just ovulated.

If that’s the case, then it’s my duty to provide a welcoming party.  And I have two-hundred-and-fifty-million volunteers.  Ready and waiting to greet the one egg.

Suse sighs, rolling her eyes.

“All right, then.”

That’s more like it.

Who says that romance is dead?

* * * * *

Day 77

By , January 7, 2011 10:00 am

Saturday 9th January 2010

Gestation: 15 weeks, 1 day

One year ago.


Suse picks up the Melways, flicking to the index page.

“So where is the Basin?”

“Near the foot of Mount Dandenong.”

“And that’s a place?”

“It is, love.  It’s a suburb.”

“Really?”

I glance across at her, momentarily caught by the sarcasm.  There hasn’t been much room for humour over the last couple of days.

Funerals have never made me laugh like they do others.

I know.

There’s something wrong with me.

I drive along, heading vaguely east, in the general direction of our friend’s farewell party;  a celebration of a move north to greener and sweatier pastures.  I await further instruction on directions, but no better than to push Suse when she is holding a map.  She begins to flip, back and forth, between pages, sighing at shorter and shorter intervals.

“Is there anything I help with, love?”

“Not unless you can tell me why the pages aren’t consecutive.”

I look across.

“Well…”  I pause, thinking carefully.  “They won’t be vertically.  But they’re in order horizontally.”

“Yes.  I know that,” she says sharply, “I’m not thick.”  She waits for a response.  I don’t breathe.  “And yes, horizontally, most of them are consecutive.  That is, until you get to the Basin on Map 65.  And then, Map 65 and 66 join Map 122 and 123, which joins Map 307 and 308.”  She throws her hands up.  “It’s ridiculous.”

“Okay.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Because back in 1966 Melbourne only went out as far as page 66.  Only since then have the outskirts kept growing.”

“But why can’t they just re-number it?  Make it all neat again?”

“Because that would change the map numbers.”

“What do you mean?”

She’s gone from frustrated to intrigued;  no mean feat with a map in her hand.

“Well, if people want to look at Glen Iris, they look up Map 59.  No matter which edition.  It’s always fifty-nine.”

Suse frowns, looking suspicious.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No.”

“Who can remember that?”

“A lot of people.”

“A lot of people remember all of the maps in the Melways.”

“Yes.”

“No, they don’t.”

“The CBD is on Map 43 and 44,” I say.  “It has been since 1966.”

Suse flips to page 43.

“You’re so weird.”

* * * * *

We pull up smack in the centre of Map 65.  Over the fence of middle suburbia, we can already hear the screams of happy children.

Both of us know that through the gate there will be dozens of kids, all running between parents, by now mostly oblivious to their miracles bestowed;  only now aware of what they have not.  It’s a wonderful trait we humans have.

I look across at Suse.  She practices her brave face.

We exit the car, hold our breath, and enter.  And sure enough, there they are – squillions of children.  They’re strewn all over the place.  Some are on the dance floor, in front of two huge speakers, bopping away to the music.  Others are running around on the grass, playing tiggy.  Several continue to pull at their parents’ hands, having not yet gathered the courage to mingle.

It’s like a pro-parenting television commercial.

Suse grips my hand tight.  We take another breath, and then we walk around, catching up with friends.  Everyone of them seems to have a kid.  Or if not, they’ve found one for the evening.  Again, we chat lightly, skipping from conversation to conversation, avoiding discussions of the places we’ve been, both physically and metaphorically.

And we steer clear of the vowels.  We never mention the ‘A’ word.  Or the ‘E’ word.  Or, for that matter, the ‘I’ word.  It’s all to avoid the ‘O’ and the ‘You’.

Abortion.  Ectopic.  Infertile?

Oh, my god.  You poor thing.

* * * * *

The night grows dark, and with it, the children’s moods.  Somewhere, at an unseen table, little paper bags are dealt to the kids.  Their moods escalate in response, hitting an invincible high, before plummeting back to earth.  Refined sugar is the smack of the pre-schooler.

Bodies are pushed, knees are grazed, lolly bags dropped, and tantrums ensue.

And that’s the adults.

Suse and I sit, having found our safe ground: watching the kids on the dance floor.  A group of girls, spanning across ages, spin freely in a circle by the speakers.  Next to them is an adorable African boy, his hair a frizzy mess, grooving effortlessly to the music.  And then to his left, is a skinny white kid.  He remains slightly behind, his eyes fixed in concentration, valiantly attempting to copy the older boy’s easy moves.  He is earnestly, hopelessly, utterly uncoordinated.

Suse looks on wistfully, smiling frequently, lost to the conversation.

And then she suddenly rises, and heads towards the kids.

I sit there, talking to my friend, and I begin to watch my wife.  Instantly, she is enveloped by the group;  the tall kid, the free spirit, the Mary Poppins.  The energy of the group re-doubles, delighted by the appearance of this grown-up with a child’s heart.

One of the girls takes her by the hand, and they begin to dance in a spin.  After a few moments, Suse pulls her across towards the skinny kid, jack hammering on the fringe.  Graciously, she rolls out her delicate hand, offering it to the un-co boy.

He goes still, his mouth open.  He looks like he’s just been picked by the Prom Queen.

And then they dance.  My beautiful wife, the grinning girl, and the agitated boy.

Their mouths open in laughter, holding hands, bopping away, giving in to the spirit of the game.  One with no rules;  a pure connection of innocence.

I smile.  At my wife.  Bathing in her youthful energy;  a woman ripe for her own children to nurture.

Just aching to nurture.

* * * * *

After a while, Suse returns.

“You looked like you were having fun, love.”

“I was,” she grins.  “How has it been over here?”

“Great.  I’ve been watching you have fun.”

She sits down, hugging herself tightly to me.  As she does, a woman leans across the grass.

“You looked great out there,” she says.

“Oh, thanks,” Suse replies, slightly self-consciously.

“You’ve got such a beautiful energy about you.  The kids adore you.”

I smile at the woman, noticing the deep rings beneath her eyes.

“Which are your kids?” I ask.

Proudly, tiredly, she points.  “Those two there.”

“Awww.  I danced with him,” Suse beams.

“And he loved you.”  She grins even more.  “Do you have kids?”

“No,” Suse replies, catching herself, her grin halving.  “We were pregnant, but…”  She pauses, stopping herself.  “But, no.”

Suse looks back towards the dance floor.  She follows the woman’s boy with her eyes.

“No,” she whispers once more, the smile having left her face.

* * * * *

Day 76

By , January 5, 2011 10:00 am

Friday 8th January 2010

Gestation: 15 weeks

One year ago.


Terry walks down the aisle.

Under one arm, he holds a coffin.  It is white, and about twice the size of a shoebox.  It has polished silver handles, but there is little need for them.  It fits snugly into the crook of his armpit, wrapped in place by his massive forearm.

He is dressed in a red shirt with gold stitching; celebration colours.  For here, today, we are celebrating the life – the very short life – of Val.

Val is short for Valiant.

* * * * *

Val was born at twenty-three weeks gestation.  He had a brief, but courageous life, lasting two hours in his parent’s arms.  He should never have been born this early.  And having been dealt this hand, should never have lived even more than a few minutes.  At twenty-three weeks, a baby’s lungs are so underdeveloped that usually there is very little ability to breathe.  There is just not enough lung tissue to stay alive.

Five days ago, I missed a call.

“Hello, Mark,” Terry whispered into my voicemail, his voice beginning to crack.  “Kim went into labour, and… and they couldn’t stop it.  Our little boy was born just now, and they said he is…”  There is a pause.  “But he’s still breathing, you know?  Fighting.  And… and… I just don’t know what to do.”

Terry took a big breath, a long silence ensuing.

“I just thought…”  Another long pause.  “I don’t know what I thought.  I just… I don’t know what to do,” he repeats.  “And I thought… that you… might be able… to do something,” he finished, his voice fading as he hung up.

I rang back as soon as I heard the message.  It was nearly fifteen minutes later.

“Hey, Terry,” I said.

“Hello, mate,” he replied, his voice empty.  “I don’t know why I called you.”

“I do, Terry.  And I’m glad you did.”

Through the end of the phone, I heard Terry begin to cry.  This 220-pound Goliath, an ex-Novocastrian, broke down.  I sat there listening, my own lip beginning to quiver.

“I just… I don’t know what to do.”

“I know mate,” I said.  “Well, not like this, I don’t,” I continued softly.  “But I know what it is to feel helpless.”

* * * * *

Terry continues to walk down the aisle, the coffin tucked under his left arm.  Kim walks just behind, her hand lightly touching the lid as they go.  There is barely a bump to be seen in her belly, her other hand resting lightly over it;  as if to ease the ache.

Her eyes are vacant.  She’s retreated some place.  To a place of strength and reserve;  to make it through the service.  But it is a place of separation, too.  She is with us in body, but even now, she is in shadow.

Just minutes ago, Kim spoke with amazing courage and beauty, about her little boy who had left.  As did Terry.

In this:  undoubtedly, unequivocally, the most painfully moving funeral that I have ever attended.

I look across at Suse.  Her eyes are fixed on the couple.  On all three of them, really, as they continue their slow funeral procession.  Tears stream freely down her cheeks, unnoticed.

I grip her hand tight, but she does not avert her gaze.

I turn back, and I take it in.  With Terry in red, and the coffin in white, the scene merges from rich colour, to shade, and then into Kim’s translucent complexion.  Almost invisible.

And then it happens.

Terry stops, and his face screws up in agony.  His entire body bobs, his eyes clenching tight.  He brings his free hand to his face.  Kim stands there, her mask remaining flat, still, watching.  Silently, this huge man begins to walk once again.  In his celebration shirt, his face crumpled like paper, his own tears now spilling like everyone else in the chapel.

All the while, continuing to hold an impossibly beautiful coffin under his left arm.

Such sorrow.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

Nothing ever quite like it.

And I hope to never again.

* * * * *

Day 68

By , January 3, 2011 10:00 am

Thursday 31st December 2009

Gestation: 13 weeks, 6 day

One year ago.


It’s New Years Eve.

We’ve stayed in Oxley for five days.  We’ve been hanging out with Suse’s parents, doing plenty of nothing.  I ran every day while she read.  We visited Suse’s brother, and her sister, and other siblings came to stay.  We spent time as the Brock clan, across generations;  an extended family.

But Suse and I also heal as our own family.

We are kind to ourselves, and kind to each other.  Our wounds cure in the baking, northern Victorian sun.  We allow Helen to tend to us, to make things better with food.  And we draw closer again, without the pressures of work, or the pile on the desk staring back at me.

This afternoon, on our way home, we drop in to see Ella.  We have a couple of beers with Suse’s best friend, and the two of them giggle like schoolgirls, while we help Ella and her sister choose clothes for their New Year’s party.  I find myself advising on female fashion.

I must be relaxed.

And it’s a stinker.  It’s hot, and humid, and the beer flows easily down our necks.  We grab another, beginning the kick off for New Year’s Eve.

We move onto the next party, a barbeque at Adam and Lexi’s place.  We arrive to a happy crowd, and then sit and chat about pleasantly mundane things, cracking lame jokes.  Not once does anyone mention the ectopic.

We watch Adam and Lexi as they play with Sally, their ten month-old girl.  I take Suse’s hand, seeing the deep envy in her eyes.  We talk at length to Bel and Dan, the IVF-stalwarts, now ten weeks and counting.  Despite their attempts to relax, they unwittingly sit with their shoulders tensely raised.  By habit, they brace themselves for an unseen impact.

They have done so for months.

We have more beer, and then I have another, as we sit there watching the storm clouds roll in.  They are heavy and menacing, and yet Adam insists that we’ll be fine.  The weather radar begs otherwise.  And yet, we acquiesce to his desire for a backyard barbecue, his pride spilling over at his shared slab of concrete.  That is, until big fat drops begin to fall like coins on a plate.

We retreat inside.  We eat our feast, necking more wine and beer.  We shoot the breeze, easy conversation with close friends, two-thirds of us aware of the travails of failed pregnancies.  It is nice to be in such easy company.

With ninety minutes to spare until the next year rolls in, Suse and I farewell our friends.  We’re off to Morley Bridge, just near our house, for an A-grade view of the fireworks.

Our fireworks.  Our bridge.  Ours alone.

Something a baron couple can share alone.

* * * * *

“Should I pour a couple of tequila shots?”

We’re barely through the front door.  I’m already drunk.  And shots are not my thing.  They’ve never served me well;  they usually end in tears.  Only rarely in hysterics.

And yet, I’m an obliging kid of guy.  This is my wife breaking out, announcing the finish to something, a completion of our own annus horribilis.  Annus goddamned terribilis.

And she has that mischievous look in her eye.

There are only forty more minutes left in this ugly year.  And these have been a forgettable couple of months.  Fuck, it’s Day Sixty-Eight.  It’s time to wipe it away.

And it’s just the two of us, in this, our wedding year;  celebrating and commiserating for all it has been and meant.

It’s time to shed our skin.

“Sure.”

She grins with delight.  The dirty great drops continue to fall against the roof, threatening to break through.  Suse prepares while I think twice.  She hands me the lemon and the salt, and takes the shooters.  We step outside and onto our porch.

We take the first shot.  We lick the salt.  We then suck.  We hold up our glasses to the rain, in celebration.  We repeat.  And we repeat again.

And again.

I shake my head involuntarily, like I just sucked on a battery.  A wave of delirium licks at me.  And then I take one more.

To celebrate.

Why the hell not?

We stand there both, the giddiness building, staring vacantly out at our street.

“We better get ready to go,” Suse says finally.

“No worries,” I reply, my voice no longer belonging to me.  I take a slug of beer to chase the bitterness away.  I walk inside and I grab the rain jackets, feeling an overwhelming lethargy descend.

Pushing through, I return, handing Suse her jacket.  She leans forward, resting her palms on her knees.

“Whew, I feel a little lightheaded,” she says, before sitting down.

Well, that’s it.  Done.  There is all the permission I need.

With that, I lie down, flat on my back.

Baked.

The New Year’s fireworks sound great.

I just never see them.

Neither of us do.


* * * * *

I make it to bed, where slowly, I put myself down.  I lie there, motionless, listening to the grenades outside.  Within moments, I am haling Suse for a bucket.  She grabs one, and places it by my side of the bed, while I transform into a sundried tomato.  And yet, it feels good to be wiped like this.  After all of the rawness at the edges of our wounds, there’s a sweetness to being this numb.

If only we could drop the nausea.

I lie there, breathing, in and out.  It feels okay, but I’d skip this function if I could.  Everything tips me closer to the green edge.  I dance at its curb for days, only to realise on staring at the clock that it is only eighteen-minutes-past-twelve.

Gingerly, I pull myself up.  Within ninety seconds, I have showered, brushed my teeth and am back in bed.

The lassitude is sweeping.  Nothing can rouse me.

But I am man.

When Suse starts to kiss me, I find a new strength.  Previously untapped energy sources.

Uranium.

Happy New Year.

* * * * *

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