Delightful, Delicious Diwali!

Title

Diwali , or the “Festival of Lights” is an Indian festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness. Hawke’s Bay’s Indian community has been celebrating it at Napier’s Sound Shell for several years now.

It’s a free event and has a great, friendly, family atmosphere that easily attracts hundreds and hundreds of people – young and old of all ethnicities each year. It’s the sort of event that Napier has been so sadly missing out on in recent years.

Crowd

There’s dancing, great music (so good, you’ll probably recognize riffs and beats that most main-stream rap musicians have flogged and hoped no-one (aside from maybe one billion Indians) would notice) and FOOD!

Food

Lots and lots of delicious samosas, satays and curries are served from a number of stalls. This year Napier’s Indigo Restaurant, had the consistently longest queue.

Queue

It took about half an hour to reach the business-end of dinner, but when you got there it was certainly worth it – $10 for a traditional Indian meal in such a great open-air environment with free entertainment! Try and beat that, “Great Long Lunch”!

I happened to see Napier’s Inner City Marketing Manager at the event. I certainly hope she was taking notes, because NICM could learn a heck of a lot from a great family festival like this. Napier needs and deserves a lot more like it!

Dickensian Dickens Street

What Would Charles Dickens Make of the Napier Street named after him?

What Would Charles Dickens Make of the Napier Street named after him?

Is Napier’s Dickens Street becoming literally more and more Dickensian?

There were Great Expectations for Dickens Street after its revitalisation a few years ago, but it appears to be going through some Hard Times.

At its Hastings Street end we have a noisy, smelly and dusty industrial revolution of construction and destruction.

At the other end we have the squalor of the still half-empty and abandoned Mid City Plaza – a Bleak House going mouldy on the outside and crumbling inside, while across the road a store sells “legal” highs to local street urchins.

Now I see a giant “$2 Shop”-type store opening in the middle of Dickens Street (there are already around three such stores in close proximity).

This is no Old Curiosity Shop – rather an immense purveyor of too-cheap goods – the sort poor little Oliver Twist had to make for a pittance.

Another of these ‘bargain’ stores is not encouraging for central Napier’s growth, retail quality or the region’s reputation for low wages. You have to wonder who let it get in this state?

With festive season fast approaching, we can only hope those letting our CBD down hear an inspirational Christmas Carol or have a life-changing dream and stop being such Scrooges!

Who’s Your Daddy? Part Three

IVF treatment is largely female-centric. For several months the woman has to take oral medication, inject herself daily (twice daily for one stage) and be generally poked, prodded and scanned. Not the most pleasant of experiences at a time when some major internal chemistry is going on.

All the man can do is be supportive and try not to aggravate or get in the way of his partner (any male reading this will know that is almost completely impossible at the best of times).

Have I stated yet just how much I love my wife for going through this with me? Throughout this whole process she has been so strong, brave and positive, especially when it came to things like self-injections. I hate needles.

Timing is very important and certain things have to be done at certain times. Everything is monitored and regulated. When you get the call that you have to be in Wellington the next day for a scan or egg collection, then you HAVE to be there.

That is what happened to us. My wife went for a routine test on a Friday and we got a call that afternoon that we had to be in Wellington on Saturday morning for a scan and possibly the business-end of proceedings. Cue a 400km evening sprint.

The next day revealed that things were on track and we would have another scan on Monday and work from there. We ended up spending almost a week in Wellington (there are a phenomenal number things you can do for free or next to nothing there, by the way), culminating in the collection of the eggs my wife’s treatment had generated and a sample from yours truly with more than enough swimmers to fertilize the eggs.

We returned home the next day and got a call to say that almost all of the eggs (there were well over a dozen – no pun intended) had fertilised (YAY!) That may sound like a very positive result, but as each day passes, the number of eggs that successfully fertilize reduces by roughly half to a third.
We would be looking at hopefully transferring one of these eggs back into where it belonged the following Monday.

A few days later, we were in Wellington again to have our fertilized egg transferred back into more natural surroundings – a much easier and gentler procedure than removing them and we drove home the same day. Now it was a case of sitting and waiting.

The test to see if everything worked is 14 days from the date of transplant. Waiting is the worst part of anything. Your mind plays through every possible option (and a few impossible ones, just to keep you awake at night) elation, despair, uncertainty, will it, won’t it? After managing to put it to the back of our minds for the most part for 14 days, my wife went for her pregnancy test in the morning and I arrived home from work that afternoon to wait with her to find out the results. I felt literally sick with anticipation.

We were sitting on the couch when the phone went. My wife answered it, but held the phone so I could hear it too. The test results were in and…..

WE WERE PREGNANT!!!

All that time, all the pills, the injections, the sharp bits in tender areas, the hugs, the tears, thousands of kilometres and similar amounts in travel expenses suddenly evaporated in comparison. From odds of zero to a very definite one, something that had seemed heartbreakingly impossible two years earlier had been turned on its head and was now very much a reality.

As I write this we are seven months into our pregnancy. Everything is about numbers once again: two months / 8 weeks / 56 days remain until we have an actual baby of our own. Someone to look after, love, guide, care for and worry about for the rest of our lives. If anything, it’s scarier than the process we went through to get here. Scans, midwife visits and antenatal classes all help establish things and inform us, but you can’t help but feel that once baby arrives everything will go out the window.

It’s been a massive roller coaster of a ride and the ride is about to get even wilder and longer. Fortunately we have a wonderfully supportive network of family and friends around us. It will be very interesting to see where the next stage takes us. Doubtlessly you will read about it here.

Who’s Your Daddy? Part Two

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Fertility is a game of numbers: Sperm counts, cycle lengths, percentages of success. The figures are seldom cheerful. Especially if, like me, you were never a big fan of maths at school:

• All it takes is one sperm to fertilize an egg. A healthy male produces around 400,000,000 sperm each time he.. um… “does his thing” (I’m picking most workplace servers are set to reject posts containing the “E” word) that’s a 0.00000025{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948} success rate!

• And even if one little trooper successfully battles his way through to his destination, the egg may not even be there waiting for him to report for duty!

• It is estimated that around one in five couples (that’s a whopping 20{3919f50c199a8627c147b24d329ff0de8aa05e3a462fa3330e11cd9ea56ed948}!) now need assistance with reproduction.

• For those going through fertility treatment, the chances of success have massively increased over time with advances in medicine, but they are still not overly great. On the first round of treatment, usually less than half of patients are successful. That steadily increases as rounds increase, but it is still no guarantee of pregnancy. I know several couples who have tried time and time again to no avail.

We had accepted the odds were not in our favour, especially after our initial test results, so when our specialist suggested I try taking a drug called Clomifene it was a case of “why not?”

Clomifene is usually used on women to help with fertility, but there had been cases of it being prescribed to men with positive results. “There is one slight issue” our doctor said. “When you get it from the pharmacy, Andrew, the chemist will look at you strangely and ask if you’re sure it’s for you.” Sure enough, upon placing my order, the pharmacist came around the counter to check that the medicine was in fact for me. “Yes, I’m acting as a medical guinea pig” I said and asked if he knew of any good lettuce suppliers nearby.

Because there are no fertility facilities in Hawke’s Bay, we spent the next few months travelling to and from Wellington a lot. Fortunately it’s one of our favourite cities. We found a very good, affordable central hotel and Wellington quickly became a second home for my wife and I.

One of the fundamentals of fertility treatment involves a room, a man and a plastic container. It’s not the most romantic of settings and the container never buys you dinner afterwards. But it would become a familiar setting. At least they changed the magazines pretty regularly.

Our first trip down provided some success: After 3-6 months of medication THERE WERE SPERM! Ok, so there weren’t many and they weren’t moving, but it was a start. Back home and back to the pills.

Our next visit proved even more fruitful: There were sperm and a few of them were doing laps and lifting weights! Ok, not entirely accurate, but they were moving – we on the right course to possibly getting somewhere. Wellington on a Plate was on at the time, so we treated ourselves at the good news.

The third visit produced even more active swimmers and we were able to start looking at beginning IVF treatment for real. As I said, no guarantee, but so far ahead of where we had been a year or so previously.

Next the roles would be reversed somewhat.

Who’s your Daddy? Part One

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The only thing I want to be in life is to be as good a father and husband as my Dad is. It’s a pretty simple goal. Everything else in life – work, money, travel etc. comes second to being a good father.

So when you’re told you can’t have a child, that’s pretty damn hard to take. That’s what happened to me about two years ago.

My wife and I had been married for five years and we had been trying to start a family for a similar length of time to no avail. Occasionally the “regular monthly event” wouldn’t happen and we would get our hopes up, then it would turn up late and you’d just hope the next month was different.

People offered what they thought was “helpful” advice – “Have you tried drinking smoothies?” “Have you tried taking an aspirin a day?” I have absolutely NO idea what these had to do with getting pregnant. But the one thing that linked all the advice we received was that NONE of it involved penises and vaginas!

We went to the doctor and got put on the public fertility waiting list, started eating healthier and going to the gym to get fitter and thinner as part of the eligibility criteria was based on our BMI figures – A pretty ridiculous gauge, as A: At 6’8” and 100kg I was classed as “Overweight” and B: We have all seen excessively large men and women who seem perfectly capable of spurting out child after child much to the glee and apparent encouragement of our nation’s Social Welfare system.

Eventually our number was called and we went down to Wellington to begin fertility treatment. It didn’t start well.

Our first visit involved providing “a sample”, a meeting with a fertility specialist and a meeting with a counsellor. But our appointments got swapped around and we saw the counsellor first. One of the first things she told us was that they had tested my sample and found no sperm. Sorry, what? NO sperm? Not lots, not a few, N.O.N.E.

Ok, there might be reasons that are easily fixed, right? We asked the doctor next. Maybe. Maybe not. The first step was a second test the following day (to let the “troops” re-marshal) and if that still didn’t show up anything, then slightly more drastic measures would be taken – namely an operation called a “testicular biopsy” to see if there might be a blockage and things were fine behind it.

We got back to our hotel and I bawled my eyes out repeatedly. I was a failure. As a man, as a husband, as a father, as a human. I must have been very hard on my wife, but she never showed it, just gave me all the support I needed and occasionally donuts.

The next day arrived and a second sample returned the same results as the first. So off to theatre I went. My wife wanted to come too and support me, but I wouldn’t let her. I was at one of the lowest points in my life and I didn’t want to drag her down there with me.

Now as a man, there is one area of your body that you don’t allow very sharp objects near, and that area is your crotch. That was exactly the area that sharp objects were headed. Needles to (thankfully) administer anaesthetic and scalpels to, well take slightly more solid samples for testing (It still makes me cross my legs tightly just thinking about it).

Cue icepack in a very sensitive place made even more sensitive than usual and slow, tentative walk back to the hotel to await the results.
Still no joy, still no swimmers. It was a very quiet, long drive back to Napier the next day.

There were options, but they all involved any children we had not being “mine.” Once again, my wife was a rock. “If I can’t have your children, then we won’t have children” she said. That broke my heart even more, because I knew she wanted them as much as I did.

Long discussions, cries and cuddles later I decided that I would be fine with using a donor’s sperm. It may not be my child biologically, but it would be half my wife’s biologically (she has the better set of genes by far, anyway) and I would still be a father and love and care for our child to the very best of my ability. We decided it was the best way to go.

At our next meeting with the fertility specialist we told him our decision. He told us he would put us on the donor list, but first wanted to try something and put me on a medication not usually used on men, if we were ok with it.

We agreed. What did we have to lose?

To be continued