the strength to reproduce

Becoming puppy parents has brought a keener focus on the idea of being human parents.

Over recent weeks we’ve adapted and realised what it is to be a parent of sorts, to have responsibilities, to have a cute little dependant, to no longer be quite so free.

It’s hard not to apply this to thoughts about children. But still we waver indecisively.

Are we capable? Are we strong enough?  Both of us: physically, mentally, financially. Are we selfless enough?  Being child-free until your mid-thirties means you’re comfortable having time, hobbies, relative freedom, being selfish.

Time imposition

I resent the amount of time it takes to do laundry. The monotonous drudgery of sifting clothes, washing, hanging stuff up to dry and putting stuff away: it takes so long it makes me angry. I suspect more advanced civilisations exist where they push material through some kind of tube and it is done in seconds, like a car wash.

Time dedicated to laundry at this point in life would pale in comparison to the amount of time and gargantuan imposition a small human being would bring. (And the added laundry load doesn’t bear contemplating). Would we want our lives changed so drastically forever?

Puppies have immediate rewards in cuteness and plain undiluted joy. As well as a lack of major additional laundry. (Old towels is about it). For all the hard work of training and cleaning up piss and shit and vomit, there is obvious pleasure to be had from early on. They also sleep for a good amount of time, letting you do other things. It is not relentless.

Is this really the case with those alien baby things? No.

[Read: Sorry Sperm]


Of course we might not be able to have children anyway. We’ve never tried. There could be all sorts of health complications. I might not be spunky enough after angrily frittering away my most potent stock over the course of my lonely twenties. She has a number of health complications meaning she takes regular medication. Neither of us are ‘young young’. There are no guarantees.

I also have concerns about her, for which I feel guilty but cannot escape. Is she physically and mentally strong enough for all that? She is easily drained on both counts, quickly fearful of any potential health issues. This is perhaps understandable given the early loss of both her parents. Would motherhood summon a total neurotic meltdown, a tsunami of postnatal depression? Do I deep down believe she is strong enough? A brutally hard and maybe impossible question to answer.

If we did it, would I feel greater financial pressure? Already I feel painfully inadequate about my puny earning power. I am impelled to constantly buy equipment in order to keep up and advance professionally. Whether I actually do or am is a moot point. But this doesn’t help. Even so, we get by ok month to month. We don’t really go without, except holidays and socialising. That doesn’t really happen, partly because we have very few friends. But if she’s off work and I’m stumbling along with my few hundred quid here and there way of earning, would that be enough to comfortably support a family? Possibly possible, but not comfortable either financially or mentally.

Feeling even more inadequate and insecure about my earning will help nothing and nobody.  Could I do anything else?  Could I actually get a different job earning a more respectable wage? And if I did would I be totally miserable?

[Read: Pondering Parenthood]

If we don’t

It’s ok if we don’t, of course. That’s the liberated twenty-first century view. You can do what you want. You don’t have to make excuses to anyone and there are plenty of solid rational reasons not to. The biggest fear is probably what older versions of yourself will think. Will 40, 50 or 60 year-old versions of ourselves be wracked with painful regret about a life unlived, or unfair resentment of each other?

Or can you coach yourself into being philosophical about it all? Spend time with nieces and nephews, try and volunteer doing something with young people, without implicating yourself as a pervert.

Even then, will we have enough to keep ourselves occupied? Will there be a gaping hole that can’t be filled which ultimately separates us?  There are far too many unanswerable questions in all this. You can’t ever know, one way or the other. You can overthink it until your head hurts a lot.

Scary clocks are ticking, not yet with major serious urgency, but they are ticking nonetheless.


in sickness and in health

The last couple of weeks have been strange and difficult. Middle of the night ultra-anxiety; big, unattractive belly-shaking tears of fear and panic; excessive contemplation of death: all that. And not my own death either. Her death.

She developed this horrible skin condition which is apparently quite common but I’d never heard of. Hives or urticaria. She had it chronically bad: red marks, weels and inflammation from the scalp of her head, up her neck, across her face, all the way across her body to the balls of her feet. It was horrific. Something was eating or at least mutating my wife.

She woke up in the middle of the night crying at the pain and discomfort. Utterly fucking terrified, I applied a cold towel compress and vacated the room, eliminating my own body heat from her irritation. I walked down the hall to the sofa where I sat, read everything I could find on the internet about this thing and cried myself to sleep.

Over the course of two weeks and fluctuating levels of distress and discomfort, we went back and forth to see GPs, and dermatologists at the hospital. I spent several consecutive nights on the sofa, battling manfully against a snotty cold, suffering massive worry, catastrophising hugely, drafting her funeral eulogy in my head, wondering what my life would be like after she died. I pictured myself walking a dog and that being enough. It wasn’t just in the middle of the night when I wondered about her dying. I thought about it all the time, this constant sinister ticking: butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies?

I didn’t want to lose her. It took me a largely miserable decade of being a loner to find her. We are not long married and planning a future, thinking about buying a house, getting a mortgage, maybe even (finally) a dog, and possibly reproducing if we can.

Did she have fundamentally flaky genes, having lost her mother in middle age? Will she ultimately not make it past a similar stage before something strikes her down? Will health deny us the chance to grow old together, to become old people? I always wanted to become a properly old person. Nobody has that guarantee, I know – health and chance and anything at all can shit over your life for no good reason; but all the same I really hope we get old together.

At its worst, walking down the street and seeing old people would make me mildly upset. As would seeing babies and gleeful children. Would we be able to have them? Really? Would we ever be parents or would there be further medical complications?

She has complicated thyroid issues and Grave’s disease (not exactly a promising sort of name, even for a disease). This means she’s predisposed to the whole range of auto-immune disorders. You don’t want to go Googling that stuff. With urticaria, there’s a general dearth of medical knowledge and research. Also it’s idiopathic, so you might easily never know the cause of your outbreak, whatever you try and however you eliminate things from your diet or routine. (We’ve tried a lot). There are informed sounding medical blogs and self-published books by American sufferers, but little more.

Over the last day or two, since the last hospital visit, it has mercifully eased and we are back sleeping together. But the fear will probably never go. Take nothing for granted, try to enjoy every tiny nice moment. You never know, it might all be fine.

bringing healthy back

“Y know.  Got my health.”  People casually say this when the chips are down, acknowledging if not properly crediting the importance of health.  Only when health goes awry do we tend to fully appreciate it.

Although I feel my appreciation is generally above average.  I enjoy my health, fitness and mobility.  If I lost it I would rapidly grow less healthy, as much in the mind as in the body.  Enlivening chemical releases which come with physical exertion are difficult to replicate.

A couple of weeks ago, an innocuous crouching movement ten minutes into a freezing Tuesday night football training session led to me jarring my back.  It was painful enough to know instantly that the evening was over for me.  Away I awkwardly hobbled, hoping it would just take a few days to right itself.

We often seem trust our bodies to just do stuff and get on with it, in a way we trust little else.  Sorry I abused you with alcohol, body.  Just sort it out for me now please.

The next morning was acutely painful and distressing.  Pulling on socks was slow and embarrassingly undignified; my skeleton simply refused to move as usual.  Over the coming days I experienced several moments of what it must be like to be infirm and old.  I was irritated to be overtaken on the pavement by people I wouldn’t usually get overtaken by; I was embarrassed that standing up in public places was slow and looked ostentatious, as if I were proudly exhibiting the results of my injury; I hobbled awkwardly from any stationary position, taking a good minute to gather fluency in my walking gait; standing room-only tube carriages proved more of a challenge than usual but sitting down was rarely worth the pain of standing up.

Eighteen months ago, during my last episode of serious back pain, I visited a therapist local to my parents.  Encouraged by persisting symptoms and compounded by the contribution of a heavy cold which saw coughs and sneezes rifle pain through my creaking skeleton, I booked another.

The weekend with parents was reasonable.  My interest had been piqued in my Dad’s family history after rediscovering a couple of very old black and white photographs.  I daresay while I discussed this with Dad, Mum sat in her armchair affronted that her family history was for once out of the limelight.  But thanks to Google Streetview walks around the neighbourhoods of their respective youths, it led to Things To Talk About –often a struggle with parents.

There were even a couple of brief moments when I felt confident enough to chance speaking about myself to my parents.  In time-honoured tradition though, Mum nipped them in the bud, effortlessly deflecting attention back to herself.


On the morning of my appointment with the sports therapist my back was feeling a little better, as if the pain would desist entirely of its own accord given a couple more days.  I went for a long walk with the dog.  The forest’s late winter mulch glowed under a clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine; lungs were filled and photographs taken.  Fifteen minutes from home we encountered traffic on the pathway of a popular walking spot.  The dog rubbed noses with one other dog, walked on, did the same with another, walked on.  A man with a bad tempered dog on a lead had to be carefully steered around.

There are photographs of my mother, father, brother and myself being ‘looked after’ by dogs at very young ages.  We are dog lovers.  I want a dog of my own.  Yet there remains an awkward, discomforting grain of doubt about all of them, particularly upon seeing my two year-old niece closely petting and climbing over my parents’ hound.  That slender possibility that the dog could suddenly turn and snap and something horrific could happen to literally mark a young life forever, if not worse.  A prickling sensation of what if..?

Next along the popular path approached an elderly couple with a small black terrier.  Both dogs off their leads approached each other, dropped their sticks like soldiers downing weapons, sniffed noses and behinds.  Then my parents’ usually mild mannered Labrador turned.  They leapt up at one another, both growling and snarling, scuffling hard and firm.  Mine pushed the smaller terrier onto its back and went at it with its teeth, definitely not playing.  Compelled to act I leaned down to haul her off, pinned her to the ground, cuffed her across the nose and angrily yelled in my most masterly tone.  (It was still some distance off my Dad’s livid lunatic tone.  One which suggests he might be at risk of keeling over from stress).

Standing up almost straight, one hand still on the dog’s collar, apologising to the curiously unfussed elderly couple, I realised the damage I’d done to my back, the repairing which was now newly ruined.  Pain crackled up in waves from the base of my cemented spine.  My resentment of the fucking dog escalated in direct correlation and she remained on a lead in disgrace for the rest of the walk.


Paying a man to expertly knead the top of your buttocks isn’t something I do often, but have done once before.  As 18 months earlier, I lay on my front, looking out of the window at the pleasant rural panorama, allowing the bald, stocky man in a sporty polo neck to explore me with his hands.  Under his spell those oiled fingers danced along glutes and muscles.  He squeezed and kneaded spinal points which pranged, made me flinch and tighten, unlock and relax, explaining everything as he went.

Now approaching a stage it was before the ill-fated walk, I’m impatient to return to full fitness, to walk freely, to not fear standing up or dressing myself, to run and work and sweat and breathe heavily, to physically exert and to not feel pain.  It shouldn’t be rushed, I know.  But surely it can’t be long until I can casually utter those words again.

I want my healthy back.

nervous system

“Speaks English well,” I read my doctor’s notes from his PC screen when he popped out of the office to arrange my blood tests.  I felt mildly buoyed by this, then wondered why that was medically relevant.  If it would become relevant if I suddenly didn’t speak English very well.  If my speaking skills deteriorated, or perhaps if I suddenly lapsed into Arabic.  Everything else reflected what I had reported over the last ten days or so: the head symptoms, the fluctuating but generally unremitting pressure.

The doctor was amiably open in his cluelessness and, after a couple more questions and basic neurological tests, set up the blood test.

While more than one have said I should be less relaxed and more assertive about how I’m treated by healthcare professionals – and they could be right; I still didn’t feel the need to be excessively forthright or abrupt.  He was filling out the forms and doing everything he could.  I asked for tests and he was giving them to me.  Neither of us knew what was going on up there.

Results by Friday.  Something new to worry about.

My name was called over the speaker system for the second time that morning and I found my way between a mix of patient legs and resentful eyelines (HIM, again?  He’s only just come out) to a different examination room.

I’m always surprised to meet people whose outlook appears to be one of default good cheer, apparently pure and untarnished by the faintest cynicism.

“Hello!” I can’t properly convey in any description how much jolly cheer she inserted in that one word.  Suffice to say it was lots.

“You’re perky today,” I observed of the nurse after she beamed at me.  She could have been a Radio 1 DJ.

“Ah, you’ve got to be, haven’t you?” she said, unwrapping a small pack of needles and blood receptacles.

“Have you?  Yes, I suppose.”  Maybe you did if you spent the day vacuuming blood, and with it the first signals of potentially fatal disease.  Of course she must do other things.  I stood between a bed and a seat opposite her.  “Where dyou want me?”

“Just take a seat there.”

I rolled up the sleeve of my arms.

“Ooh, you’ve got lovely big veins.”

“Do I?  That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”  What was that about?  Was I accidentally flirting?  Nerves, nerves.  Calm.

I give blood fairly regularly and needles don’t usually faze me, although I don’t tend to look that closely.  This time I quivered, flinched at the prick, looked away.  Neither of us spoke for a moment.  Nerves.