2016 has been a cruel year for my wife and I. Towards the end of 2015 we discovered that we would not be able to have children naturally and that IVF was our only real option if we wanted to conceive. It is a life altering moment, a moment of magnitude I am unsure anybody can quite grasp unless they have been dealt the same fate. With IVF being touted as the answer and with doctors and specialist full of encouragement and optimism, there was still a glint of hope on the horizon. With the diagnosis even came a small amount of relief. At least now we knew why, after 18 months, we couldn’t conceive and exactly what would be required to rectify it.
Regionally, the NHS provides different services for couples with fertility issues with some areas of the Country providing up to three cycles of IVF without charge. Here in Leicestershire, the NHS provide one cycle of IVF for free and so, tentatively, we agreed to undergo IVF knowing realistically that this would be our one and only chance – a second cycle would cost in excess of £6000 and for us, on relatively low income, we knew a second cycle would not be feasible. Fast forward to April 2016 and after months of hormone therapy, daily injections, endless appointments, examinations and lots of poking and prodding, my wife had two fertilised embryos transferred back into her uterus. Then there was the dreaded two week wait.
The two week wait – the period of time between embryo transfer and a pregnancy test – is an emotionally confusing time. Excitement, expectation and dread wash over you in equal measure. Two weeks of stomach churning anticipation passed and it was back to the hospital for the test and results. It was bad news. Neither embryo had successfully attached to the lining of the womb. The cycle was over. Our chance had come and gone.
It is an incalculable heartache. An earth shattering, cruel conclusion. Decades spent expecting, predicting and planning how life would pan out rendered completely pointless. Nobody expects that they will not be able to live that usual human existence; meet a partner, fall in love, buy a house, have two kids, see out their days together, as a family. All of those long term dreams and plans that my wife and I shared, that we had individually, carelessly assumed would happen since our brains were mature enough for such thought, were taken away in an instant. Worse still, it is achingly hard to make new plans or dream new dreams with such vigour any more. In fact, at times, it is difficult to find reason to care for anything at all. In moments like these, the black dog barks loudly at the door. I am not a stranger to depression, having sought help previously when the dark fog descended a few years ago. It is a common ailment in people with type 1 diabetes, which I have.
Initially I blamed myself, riddled with guilt I gave my wife the option; leave and start again, afresh, with a chance to start a family or stay and face the music together. Bravely, she chose the latter. It was important, from then on, that we shared our feelings. The failure to have children has broken even the strongest of marriages but communication is the key to survival. If you bury your thoughts, anger and upset then it will only come back to bite. Better to share the tears and frustration and take each day one at a time, together.
A couple of hard months grieving passed, our attitudes were beginning to change and there were signs of renewed positivity but 2016 wasn’t done yet. My mother in law became extremely ill, required emergency surgery and then was bound to life-support for two weeks. She spent a further five weeks in hospital, suffering total delirium for four of those it was like communicating with a stranger. During this time my father-in-law was home alone and suffering from severe dementia. Between caring for him, communicating with social services, housing officers, care providers and rushing to the hospital every other day there was little time to continue our healing. The workload and stress was starting to take its toll on my wife and she was struggling to cope. Luckily, after 7 weeks, the ordeal was over. My mother in-law returned home, the care providers were no longer required and semi-normal life returned.
By the time the dust had settled, summer had passed. There was little to look forward to but dark nights and bleak midwinter. It became important not to fall into that trap of quiet and melancholy and so I decided to turn my attention to the two great loves of my life, the natural world and writing. I picked up (the brilliant) Common Ground by Rob Cowen and read it through, front to back in a matter of days. It reignited a fire within me immediately. Having abandoned nature, walking and even just getting outside with everything that had been going on, I was itching to get out and rediscover what nature had to offer.
From the moment my feet first sunk into the soft grass of the edgeland I felt relief. A low, warm hazy sun cast light and shade across the landscape in equal measure on my first foray. The river glistened, bejewelled by the reflection of the evening sun. She rolled gently away across the fields whilst gnats and midges danced above her tuneful trickle in the half-light. In these fields I consorted with old friends; Warbler, Finch and Fox. Rabbits hugged the setting sun in field corners, Robins whittled warmly from the hedgerows, Blackbirds cast their siren songs from atop the beech and willow. Life here simply goes on regardless of war, famine, Brexit, Trump and personal grief. Continuity is one of the great aspects of nature and when everything in life seems to chop and change, be full to the brim and overflowing with this and that there is no better reminder that though things change and not every problem has a solution; nature doesn’t stop. It is always here, all around us. It is an old friend that can be relied on come whatever may. Nature precedes us, engulfs us and surpasses us whilst we exist for just a brief moment in passing.
On occasion, to feel small and insignificant can do much to quell fears and anxieties. It is something that nature does so well; cast us as minor pawns in a major game, make us see the bigger picture. Standing in vast open landscapes, atop a Cumbrian mountain, gazing out to sea from Cornish shores, lost amongst a great, broadleaf woodland, entranced by torrents of water crashing over rocks as rivers carve their way through granite hills before falling serene into valley floors. A cool, crisp sunrise or an elaborate setting sun with nothing but real silence except for bird song, the rustle of trees, the gurgling of water. These natural sights and sounds can still a raging mind and fill a disconsolate heart with beats of joy and wonderment.
Once returned to nature, exploration is endless. There is always something new to see, to feel or hear. The excitement of a new species on your patch, the surprise appearance of a rarity shows that out here, anything can happen. Nothing is a dead-end, the impossible is possible and that is a great feeling to take back into every day life. Once out of the initial zone and back at home, gripped by our experiences we begin to learn and study, occupy the mind. With each new page-turn of a book or a new click on google, our world is opened up to more exploration, learning and understanding. This cycle is endless and fascinating.
This year has undoubtedly left its mark on me. I still suffer with stress and anxiety, especially around groups of people, social gatherings or anything beyond my comfort zone. Sometimes even the smallest tasks seem stressful or a hassle. I do still find it difficult to get out and put on a brave face and have a good time. My wife and I both still have our dark days but it is to be expected, life changing events do not simply come and go overnight, without fallout. Our attitudes though are changing. We tend to care less about what people think, we tend to care more about ourselves, about each other. We certainly care more for the bigger picture, what our existence means for the planet, the environment, the natural world. I’m not exactly sure just when humans decided that this planet was ours to be pillaged and abused or to be excessively farmed, drilled, mined and exploited. It is an ignorance I can’t stand for any more. Man’s ‘god given right’ to the planet and all that lives within it. We take what we want, waste what we want, sell what we want and inevitably destroy what we want. If it doesn’t fit in with our ideals, then it doesn’t fit at all. Do people genuinely think the planet was designed solely for us? Are people so deluded that they fail to realise this planet was here for over four billion years before we even took our first, tentative steps?
For example, I read recently about the forthcoming reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx back into the UK. Despite the fact that the Lynx is a native British species previously driven to extinction by man, the move has divided opinion. Here is what the tabloids have had to say about it:
PLANS to let bloodthirsty wild lynx the size of small lions lurk, ready to pounce, at three beauty spots in England and Scotland have been dropped after an outcry from residents and farmers…
Alarmed farmers say it could lead to savage attacks on livestock and even children by the hungry vicious beasts…
Bloodthirsty? Size of a Lion? Hungry vicious beasts eating children? I can only laugh at such astronomical inaccuracies and obvious lack of understanding. Here I am, writing for love, not money, whilst a ‘professional’ writer is putting out articles like this and being paid for the privilege? Just to be clear – the Eurasian Lynx is in absolutely no way the same size as a Lion. Do these cats kill for fun and blood-lust? Absolutely not, they simply eat a diet of meat. What about savage attacks on livestock and children? Well given that the Eurasian Lynx is one of the most secretive animals in the world and will rarely ever stray from their woodland homes, let alone seek out human contact I think it is safe to say no, but for the record, never has a single child been attacked by Eurasian Lynx.
So what is it that drives these ludicrous delusions? Was there outcry when Red Squirrels were reintroduced? Otters? Is the Lynx not soft and cuddly enough to warrant reintroduction? Are we really that frightened by anything that remotely poses a human threat? Makes us feel a twinge of fear? Takes away our control? Sadly, the removal of the Lynx (and the Wolf, and the Brown Bear – all UK natives) has had a devastating impact on the ecology of our Country, which is of course totally unrecognised by the same ignorant people that want no part in their reintroduction. Much adored cute and cuddly Deer are running riot, destroying woodland and grassland in huge swathes, breeding at rates never seen before in the UK. Likewise, Rabbits we tried and failed to control ourselves with the disgusting, inhumane introduction of myxomatosis. The simple fact is, there are no large predators left in the UK to rebalance the ecosystem. There is no ‘top of the food chain’ any more. Man has eradicated all of them, ignorantly, through selfish fear and misunderstanding. Self preservation it seems, can be a dangerous ailment.
On the days I really struggle with human interaction, I can sit surrounded by birdsong and feel nothing but content, at one with the landscape and enjoy a moment to simply exist without judgement. On days when work and life get too much, a simple walk amongst the trees, the birds and bees can melt away my woes completely. 2016 is drawing to a close and it’s safe to say that I will not miss it when its gone. I will though be forever grateful of what these last few months have instilled in me, something which no chemical can replicate. Where before I struggled long and hard to find the will to love, to care; I now understand that pain is temporary, it comes and goes. It is a natural medicine that has brightened my days, shortened my nights and lifted my spirits. Nature has given me the desire to not only carry on but to enjoy the things I love, drive forwards with ambition and encourage me to dream new dreams. 2017? I’m ready!