3 May 2019
I got married in July 2004 and it was always my wish to have children, with the full expectation that this would be a massively life-changing step for us. What an under-statement THAT proved to be.
In 2006 and 2007 we experienced a few miscarriages. Neither of us were spring-chickens, so it's perhaps not surprising that things didn't go by the textbook. Late in 2007, Debs fell pregnant again. We informed my parents on Christmas Day 2007. We did not want to get ahead of ourselves, but at the same time felt obliged to explain why Debs was declining the customary welcoming glass of sherry and any other alcohol. She was determined not to do anything that might compromise this pregnancy.
Our history told us not to get carried away. But I think something inside both of us - some kind of gut instinct or intuition - convinced us that, this time, we WOULD have a child. The 13-week scan was a milestone - we SAW our child. We truly started believing. We agreed then that, if we made it to the 20-week scan, we would take up the option - if it presented itself - of finding out the gender of our child and would even name him or her.
And so it was that, in March 2008, we said hello to Matthew. All was well at 20 weeks, and we know allowed ourselves to fully believe. We started buying things, and preparing his room. To cut a long story short, Matt was born at 26 weeks - three months early - due to complications with the pregnancy. He weighed 1lb 4oz and was not expected to survive more than 12 hours. He spent six months in hospital, all of which is documented in my book, The Bane of My Life, followed by a further six months at home on oxygen.
Matthew is our miracle. But it's fair to say our time with him has been more than life-changing. It's been an emotional rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs, and challenge after challenge. Matt is profoundly autistic, and has a number of other issues.
There are times when I grieve for the fatherhood I feel that I have been denied. I looked forward so much to the excited anticipation towards Christmas celebrations and so many other paternal milestones and experiences, many of which have not happened because of his level of understanding. I wanted my 'child' to be wowed and impressed by my magic skills, to cheer me on during hockey matchdays and, of course, to pick up a stick himself when old enough; I wanted to hear my son say "I love you, Dad" with the full understanding behind those words. But then, I have come to know families of autistic children who don't speak at all; who harm themselves and who are far more challenging than Matthew.
Yes, we missed out on a lot. But, for all the ongoing challenges, we CAN interact with our son, who enjoys leading the family in a singsong, and, ultimately, are grateful for the fact that he is with us at all. Our experiences in raising him have certainly helped my sense of perspective at times when other things have not gone our way. For all that I mourn, and feel that I've been cheated out of, and all those 'father-son' moments I've missed out on, Matt remains my 'happy thought'.