But how did her baby get into her tummy?

Ah. We have reached a developmental threshold. I thought we’d hit it before Christmas when my daughter said, ‘You know I was in mummy’s tummy? Well how did I get out?’ but that was only the mechanics of birth (and she didn’t believe me that mummy pushed her out her noo-noo). No, this question – the creation of life and the sexual dimension it implies – is altogether trickier, deeper, and represents a significant step outside of ‘that’s the way things are’ to ‘why are things that way?’ Yikes.

I must admit, I fudged the answer. I was alone with her in the car at the time, and I figured something like this ought to be discussed with her mother first so we can decide the best time, best way, and all that. To be honest, I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with the concept of procreation for a few more years at least, so I wasn’t ready, and a garbled response about eggs and seeds probably isn’t the best way to introduce a three-year-old to the mysteries of the adult world.

My mind racing, I considered implying that birds and bees had something to do with it; storks, cabbage patches, magic; even the age-old ‘when a mummy and daddy love each other very much…’; but given that bees are dying, storks are terrifying, and one of her friends has two mummies, it’s no longer that simple.

I turned it on its head and asked her how she thought they got in there.

‘I think mummy swallows them,’ she said, and we left it at that.

Phew! Dodged a bullet.

I was taught about sex at the age of four or five – penises, vaginas, sperm and eggs. While I’m not sure about the appropriate lower age, there is definitely an age where you should already be clued in – I remember everybody making fun of a ten-year-old at my school because he thought he came out of his mother’s butt. Sucked to be that guy – pooped into the world.

There’s a danger to leaving it too late, too. When I was on a bus travelling through Alabama twenty years ago, I remember seeing a massive billboard that said: ‘Talk to your children about SEX, or SOMEONE ELSE WILL!’ You definitely don’t want them learning from porn and thinking, like today’s eleven-year-olds, that that’s how people actually do it. And, of course, the consequences of a lack of sex education have been devastatingly explored in fiction, from Stephen King’s Carrie to Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. Message received and understood.

But there’s a way to do it, and I know that showing embarrassment or squeamishness can send out the wrong message and lead to problems later down the line. I met a girl at university who said, ‘I’m bisexual, but I’m terrified of penises, so I’ve only ever been with girls and I don’t think I’ll ever have sex with a man, so behaviourally I’m a lesbian.’ (My response to this statement was, ‘Nice to meet you, I’m Gillan, what’s your name?’). I don’t want that kind of confusion for my girls.

And I certainly don’t want them to think sex or masturbation or specific body parts are ‘dirty’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘shameful’ either. I want them to be body confident, with a healthy sexuality free from the hang-ups that I, an awkward, sexually-inexperienced autistic bloke might pass on to them.

So I started researching this topic online (very carefully – I don’t want to be on a watch list!), and I discovered I’m a lot more old-fashioned and out-of-touch than I realised.

Today’s Parent, for example, suggests teaching a child of 0 to 2 the words penis, vagina, vulva, clitoris, bum and nipple, meaning I missed that window. It also suggest explaining to them when and where it’s appropriate to explore their bodies – gently and in the privacy of their bedrooms, apparently – which I must confess I thought was a conversation for much, much, much later on.

For the 2 to 5 age range – where we’re at now – it suggests opening up about consent, explaining it’s not appropriate for others to ask to see or touch their genitals, and not to keep secrets about this, which is definitely good advice but, God, how do you have that conversation without implying the world’s full of sexual predators? Also, now’s the time to mention sperm and egg, perhaps leaving the gory details for when they’re older.

All of this seems alien to me. Far too young, I keep thinking, let them be children a little longer before you strip them of their innocence. But other sites, like Family Education, all seem to agree on this basic framework – the proper names for genitals and where and when it’s appropriate to touch yourself somewhere between 0 and 3, the egg and sperm speech and stranger danger around 3 to 5, and the more explicit details about 6 to 8.

I’ve been living under the erroneous belief that I could sit them down in about five years, have a one-off Q&A session, then avoid the issue until their first date when they’re sixteen, with a couple of ‘women’s issues’ interventions along the way. Instead, you need to mention sex throughout their upbringing, stressing issues of consent and context, in order to create a sexually healthy adult.

I guess I agreed to all this when I became a father, and next time she asks I’ll be better prepared. Sometimes, I think it would be better if a stork delivered us fully-formed to our parents. You certainly wouldn’t have to worry about stretch marks and post-partum incontinence!

Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 3)

So why did somebody who professed in a series of posts that he didn’t want another child decide to have another child? It’s a reasonable question to ask and certainly requires an explanation – both for my readers and for the little sprog who will one day grow up and read it (who could be here in six hours or could arrive in six days – who the hell knows?).

For those of you who aren’t aware, I was averse to having a second child for a number of reasons – disruption to the first child’s life, not being sure I’d love it as much or be able to give it the same input, the intellectual approach to having the child (how much gap do you want between your kids?) rather than an emotional or spiritual one, and, most importantly, the fact I didn’t feel a pressing desire for one the way I did with the first.

That last one is the most important because it underpins all the others. If you do desire a second child, the clinical discussion of when you want it isn’t nearly so distasteful; you see the disruption to the first child’s life in terms of the positive effects it can bring; and despite a background dread that you’ll someone fail to bond with something new, you move forward with the faith that you will. Which goes to show that, while we see ourselves as rational beings, our arguments and the conclusions we reach are based as much on emotional factors as pure logic.

Why I desired a second child – that’s the real question.

It started at my wedding. Well, after my wedding, if we’re going to be technical, but it began in response to a conversation my mother had with a member of my wife’s family. See, my wife has always wanted a second child – even before the first – and nor is she averse to a fourth, sixth or eighth (however many we have, it apparently must be an even number, because reasons). She wanted more kids because it was unconscionable to her that Izzie should be an only child like she was.

I was always a little dismissive of that argument. Everybody wants what they didn’t have, and while the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, when you get there you find it still needs cutting. Having grown up with a brother, the presence or otherwise of siblings has never been an issue of much importance to me, and so I didn’t really understand where she was coming from.

Until a few weeks after the wedding, when my mother told me of this conversation that she’d had. My wife has always been rather coy about her childhood, and so I had never heard the stories of her growing up alone on her father’s farm after her mother left. I had never heard how she would wake up in a big empty farmhouse, her father already out with the cows; never heard how she was too far from the village to mix with the other kids; of how she’d sit alone as darkness fell, the only sounds the distant lowing of cattle or the wind breathing through the cornfields.

I certainly hadn’t heard that whenever people used to visit, she’d beg them to take her home with them, tell them she wouldn’t make a fuss, she’d sit in the corner and be quiet, if only she didn’t have to be quite so alone.

It was also a very confusing time. Growing up autistic, without being diagnosed, and with a father who, though doing his best, had no idea what to do about it, was clearly an emotionally crippling experience. And without someone to talk to, to share experiences, to discuss how she was feeling, my wife felt the lack of a sibling in a way few people probably ever do.

It was only then that I really understood my wife’s deep psychological need for a second child and her absolute terror of Izzie ever feeling anything like she had growing up. Of course, if we didn’t have a second child, Izzie’s childhood would be nothing like her mother’s, but even so, I started to wonder what she might miss out on.

I didn’t want to have a second child simply to benefit the first – I wanted to want one in its own right. But having a second child doesn’t simply benefit the first – it benefits both. They both get to share experiences, memories, good and bad; they have someone to moan to about their weird parents; and they have someone else who can teach them another aspect of what it is to be human.

And gradually, after having these thoughts, I started to feel a change in myself. I started seeing babies and becoming broody; started seeing families out and about with their little ones and wondering how big a gap there was between their ages; and ultimately started to feel as though I would like to go through the whole terrifying, exciting, exhilarating, life-affirming experience again.

And that is what it is – life. That’s about the best and only reason to have a second child.

I’ll close with the words of Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 1)

Today I am reflecting on the preponderance of the number two in my life. My wife and I together are two; my daughter is two years and two months old; we have two household pets (a dog and a cat); after the tragic death of Peking the Pecking Pekin two weeks ago, we now only have two chickens; and two weeks from today, we are due to welcome baby daughter number two into the world.

And then we’ll be in more number two than we know how to handle! (Come on, admit it, you were expecting a poop joke).

Yes, my wife is thirty-eight weeks pregnant. I might have forgotten to mention this over the past, oh, thirty-eight weeks. Partly because I wrote a series of posts about how I wasn’t keen on having another baby, and I hate going back on myself; and partly because of good, old-fashioned denial.

Not that the pregnancy wasn’t planned – it was, and I’ll explain about the decision process in Part 2 – but I’ve been caught in a quagmire of complacency and the mistaken belief that I had more time. It was always, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ or, ‘I’ll do it next week,’ but I’ve run out of next weeks and I might have run out of tomorrows too, so I’d better do it now.

You see, the first time you’re expecting, you go to all these classes, buy all these weird and wonderful products, read everything you can about babies and child-rearing, rearrange the entire house, get everything ready, and pontificate about what it means to be a parent. Consequently, the baby takes forever to arrive and you’re in touch with the process every step of the way.

Not so with second pregnancies. The second time round, having been through it all before, you’re a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. I mean, you’ve already got everything a baby could ever need, the house is as babyproof as a marshmallow, and having successfully raised a child from babyhood to toddlerhood, you’re pretty confident you know how this parenthood thing works. Instead of living, breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping pregnancy, therefore, you’re not as closely tied to the day-to-day development of your child, so it races by with little notice until you realise with shock that it could literally arrive any moment and you’ve not prepared yourself emotionally for that wonderful, terrifying, exhilarating, traumatic and altogether life-changing day.

But that’s only half the story of why second pregnancies race to an unexpectedly sudden climax. The other half is that there’s already a pint-sized version of yourself tearing around the house, and throwing herself down the stairs, and loving you, and hating you, and hitting you, and hugging you, and generally taking all your attention, all your love, and all your energy, so you can’t spend anywhere near as much time thinking about the second unborn baby as you did the first. That’s not really fair on the second bump, I know, but it’s the way it is, although I’m fairly certain that my neglect of my child in utero won’t have that many long-term consequences. What’s important is that I focus on her once she’s born.

And therein lies the other reason I’ve avoided thinking about my impending second child until the last moment – I’m terrified of how it’ll change things, I’m terrified of how it’ll affect my relationship with my first daughter, and I’m terrified of letting them both down.

With your first child, you don’t have to divide your attention. You lavish everything upon her because you can. Every need she has, you meet there and then. You give yourself to her, body and soul. She is the centre of your universe.

How can I give that to my second child? Clearly, I can’t. And how will my first child cope when I can’t give it to her anymore either? The best thing I’ve got going for me is the closeness of my relationship with my daughter, and I don’t ever want to lose that, but equally, I want to have the same with my second daughter, and I’m struggling to see how that’s possible. I’ve always considered my heart as fixed in size – one child can have all my heart, two children can have half each, three a third, four (god forbid!) a quarter, and so on. The only way out of this diminishing is for my heart to double in size each time – and I’m not sure there’s enough room in my chest for that. Or perhaps, in my typically autistic way, I’m far too focused on this ‘heart’ metaphor and should stop trying to intellectually analyse something that is beyond conscious comprehension.

I said in my earlier posts on the subject that having a first child is a matter of faith – trusting that you’ll be able to cope and it’ll all work out okay – but that a second child is more of a conscious decision. I’m only now realising that having children is always a matter of faith.

Because for all my cocksure complacency, my know-it-all arrogance and bluster, I’m just as scared this second time around as I was the first.


Afraid of Number 2, Part 2

My route to fatherhood wasn’t the usual one. The thing with watching your girlfriend undergoing IUI with donor sperm to get pregnant with a baby you don’t particularly want is that over time you come to accept that, for better or worse and with no input from you, there’s going to be a baby in your future. And that does weird things to both your head and your heart.

Because Lizzie so wanted a baby – because her very being ached for it – I wanted it to work. For her. I read books on babies, pregnancy, parenting and babies conceived by donor sperm so I could support her through every stage of her becoming a parent. I injected her every afternoon with hormones, drove her thirty miles to watch her have probes inserted into unmentionable areas to scan her ovaries, then thirty miles back listening to her excitement that we’d seen a follicle or heartache that we hadn’t.

Then, after a couple of years adjusting to this weird set of circumstances, I sat in the room and held her hand as she underwent insemination with the seed of a man she’d never met and was never likely to (which means a virgin can get pregnant – take that, God!). After which, I treated her like a queen – albeit a queen that needed her court jester to help her with two suppositories a day. Definitely think I got the shitty end of this arrangement…

Two weeks later came the agonising – ‘Is that blood? No, that’s not blood, it’s just – oh God, please don’t be blood. Oh Christ, it’s blood. But maybe – no. It’s gone. That little follicle we watched grow and grow on the ultrasound screen, that we nurtured and spoke to and treated as though it was an actual baby, has gone. And those two weeks we’ve spent thinking and hoping you might be pregnant – they’re over.’

The strangest thing – I was just as heartbroken as Lizzie. I don’t think anybody who hasn’t undergone fertility treatment can understand what it’s like when it doesn’t work. It feels like a miscarriage because you’ve seen the egg, you’ve seen the sperm, you’ve seen them meet. It’s not just a period – it’s the loss of a baby, a dream.

People who knew what was happening said, ‘So? It took me/my partner a year to get pregnant.’ But that is not the same thing. When you’re trying for a baby naturally, a period means you simply try again – an upcoming month of sex, cuddling and romance, yay! When you’re having IUI, it means another month without sex. Another month of injections, three-hour round trips to the clinic every couple of days, scans, pressure, insemination, suppositories. It’s cold, clinical and the most unromantic thing you can imagine.

Also, you’re acutely aware of the fact that you only have enough money for three attempts. As Lizzie couldn’t grow follicles without injections, and wouldn’t ovulate without a different injection, and was using donor sperm, each failure dramatically reduced the possibility of her ever having a baby. So it’s completely different from trying for a baby naturally.

On the second attempt, on the way to the insemination, I drove my car into flood waters and screwed the engine. Looking back, I wonder if, subconsciously, I did it deliberately as a result of the stress of the whole shebang. But we were towed out of the flood, made it to the hospital, and Lizzie was promptly inseminated again.

This, similarly, didn’t work, but we were more prepared for failure this time and we knew we still had one shot.

It really was third time lucky. The follicle grew beautifully; the hormone-induced mood swings were almost non-existent; and the insemination went so well, we were almost guaranteed a healthy, happy baby. So when the blood came again, we pretended it wasn’t a period for the longest time, until we had to face the devastating truth – there would be no baby in our future.

After having spent three years getting my head around having to raise a baby, the fact that suddenly there wasn’t going to be one knocked me for six. Over the years, I had grown not just to accept my impending parenthood, but desire it, not in my head but in my heart. I was as desperate to be a dad as Lizzie was to be a mum.

But we’d run out of money. That third miscarriage/period was the most painful experience of my life.

On the other hand, I’d run out of reasons why I didn’t want to be a father. After a lot of soul-searching, I realised they were all based on fear – that I wouldn’t be good enough, I’d mess the kid up, I wouldn’t be able to cope, it wouldn’t like me, it’d be autistic. But then I thought: what if I was able to cope? What if I was good enough? By wrapping myself in cotton wool and avoiding the possibility of bad things happening to me, I was denying myself the possibility of good things – great things – happening too.

If you deny yourself the possibilities in life, then you’re not living and you might as well be dead. And what had all my self-protection got me? Life still found a way to intrude, time and time again.

It was like a spiritual awakening. I realised I needed to give up control and learn to embrace a little chaos and random chance – not an easy admission for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Suddenly, I had faith in myself and life. So I decided to leave the issue of my parenting in the lap of the gods – we would stop using contraception, and if I was meant to be a father, Lizzie would become pregnant.

Not that I expected much. We’d learnt during the fertility treatment that Lizzie ovulated without drugs about twice a year. She also didn’t form a thick enough wall of the uterus to enable the egg to implant without suppositories. And on three occasions, viably-proven sperm had been implanted right on top of the egg and failed to fertilise it.

The odds of Lizzie growing a follicle, the follicle getting big enough to mature an egg, the egg being released, us having sex at exactly the right time, the sperm penetrating the egg and the egg implanting, were so astronomically small that we figured we’d be in for a long, hard slog. So, in the meantime, we’d get a puppy and live our lives as normal. If a baby came along then great, but if not, we had to get on with our lives.

Lizzie was pregnant within two months.

I knew from the second of that first positive pregnancy test that everything would be fine, Lizzie would carry it to term, and it would all work out okay – I’d trusted in the Universe to tell me if I should be a dad and the Universe had answered with a massive, emphatic yes! There was no chance whatsoever we’d be given such a gift only for it to be taken away.

I’m not a religious person, but everything that happened seems as though it was meant to be, as though somebody wanted me to be a dad and took our little family on a journey of pain and spiritual growth in order to make that happen. And as soon as we were both ready and willing and trusted to fate, we were handed our longed-for baby.

Izzie is a miracle. I truly believe that. She is a gift from heaven we had no right to expect.

But now Lizzie wants another…

Continued tomorrow…


Afraid of Number 2, Part 1

No, this isn’t a post about poop – I’ve done enough of those. And I’m not afraid of poop anymore – I’ve changed so many nappies now that I’m the poop master. Well, maybe not the master – after changing Izzie and washing my hands, I quite often look down half an hour later and think, ‘Why on earth is there poop on my knuckle?’ – so maybe I’m more like the poop first mate. Or at least the poop deck hand. But that’s by the by.

Instead, this post is about baby number two.

With the little sprocket now being nine months old, the same amount of time she was in the womb, the subject of repopulating said womb has been raised. Actually, it was first raised when Izzie was five weeks old and her mother informed me she was desperate to be pregnant again. So in truth, the subject is not now being raised so much as I’m being beaten repeatedly over the head with it.

Trouble is, it’s an entirely cerebral conversation – how much of an age gap do you want between the kids, do we wait until the first child is at preschool or go for it as quickly as possible, how many kids do you want in total? This has prompted Lizzie to suggest we start trying for a second baby in October. Rather, she has tried to suggest it – I have recently developed a serious medical condition where I go deaf whenever the subject is broached. Shame.

People seem to think that second babies will be easier than the first, and I guess that’s true in the same way that the fire that sweeps through the ruins of your house after it’s been knocked down by a tornado isn’t that bad because you’ve already lost everything anyway. But don’t forget that alongside the new baby you have a toddler. As hard as it is with one, it’s going to be exponentially harder with two. It’s like a man hanging off a cliff with a brick in his hand suddenly deciding he wants to hold a second brick in his other hand and hang on by his teeth – it’s doable, I suppose, but good golly gosh you’re making things difficult for yourself.

And I’m not sure I’m capable of planning my reproductive future with anything even approaching logic. ‘How many children do you want?’ asks Lizzie. How could I possibly know the answer to that? I have no idea what our lives would be like with two kids, let alone three, four, five. It’s a totally abstract concept. It’s like asking how many hairs I’d like in my eyebrows – um, a hundred? A thousand? I don’t have a freaking clue.

This could be because I’ve never given the possibility of a second child a moment’s thought. Bizarrely for someone who has taken hold of this parenting thing like a drowning man a lifeline, I spent all of my life up to fifteen months prior to Izzie’s birth not wanting kids – gritty, snotty, smelly little things that would take up my time, my energy and my money. But something happened to change all that.

Around four years ago, Lizzie’s mum asked when we were going to make her a grandmother. Cheers for that. I told her that I didn’t want kids because I always thought I’m too selfish for kids, I never wanted to pass on my depressive mindset to another generation or inflict my bullshit onto anyone else, and I wouldn’t be a good role model, not to mention that it’s a shitty, overpopulated world filled with misery, despair and an aching sense of ennui, and what possible right, or rhyme, or reason did I have playing God and bringing a little person into it? Frankly, the thought of a little version of me running around, blaming me for forcing it into life, was the worst hell I could imagine.

Her response was: ‘Well, that doesn’t stop Lizzie having children.’ And before I knew it, donor sperm had been imported from Denmark and some random fellow named Jan was going to impregnate my significant other.

It was, without a doubt, a game-changer. But since Lizzie acquires pets like a successful zoo then leaves me to look after them, I figured it would be something like that – I would help her raise the unholy affront to nature, but without any responsibility for deciding upon its future or blame for giving it faulty genes. In short, I would be uncle dad, mummy’s partner, and nothing more. Hardly ideal, but it was that or leave. And truth be told, I was looking forward to the Facebook update – ‘My girlfriend’s pregnant.’ ‘Wow, congratulations, you’re going to be a dad.’ ‘I never said I was going to be a dad. I said my girlfriend’s pregnant.’ Ouch…

So we embarked upon a journey of IUI treatment (intra-uterine-insemination) involving blood tests, internal and external ultrasounds, dye injected into fallopian tubes, hormone therapy that turned Lizzie into a snarling, vicious animal, daily injections, suppositories and counselling. We watched follicles grow day by day on her ovaries but never get large enough to pop. She became a medical object that had to be scanned and poked and prodded and studied, month after month after month. Not good times, for sure.

But then, amazingly, one of the follicles grew. And it kept growing. And it reached the right size. So we gave her an injection to release the egg, and a day later Jan came out of the freezer and his seed was separated from his juice (the womb is designed for sperm; semen irritates it), and he was placed into a long transparent tube and off he went.

Then something strange happened. I discovered in that sterile, unromantic hospital room that somewhere between watching the follicle grow on the ultrasound screen and repeatedly injecting hormones into Lizzie’s belly, her journey had become my journey. And good gosh I hoped that Dane’s alien sperm knocked up my girlfriend…

Continued tomorrow…

The Meaning of Life

I never wanted kids. If they were anything like me, they’d be annoying, dissatisfied, egotistical misanthropes, and if they weren’t anything like me, I wouldn’t like them anyway. Kids are fatal to your own future: every generation reinvents the world anew, so by having children I’d be paving the way for my own obsolescence. I was too selfish for kids, I’d be a horrible father, this is an awful life of soul-destroying wretchedness, and it’s irresponsible to bring children onto an already overpopulated, polluted, strife-ridden planet.

Oh, and did I mention I was really, really contrary in an elitist if-everyone-else-is-doing-it-I-don’t-want-to kind of way? Yes, I was a hipster before there was a word for it.

So one day, maybe not too many years from now, my daughter will ask me why I changed my mind, and that is a question that’s very difficult to answer.

The stock response would be that I was getting older and we’re biologically programmed to ensure our genetic legacy. Triops, those ugly puddle-dwellers you can buy your kids instead of sea monkeys, only live for sixty days. They reach adulthood, breed, lay eggs and die. When the puddle dries up, the eggs lie dormant in the earth until the next time they get wet. Life, leapfrogging through time, rainstorm by rainstorm.

I was explaining this lifecycle to my cousin one day when she said, ‘What’s the point?’

I guess the point is existence itself.

So strong is this urge to procreate that last night, the baby wide awake as she had been for five hours, both her parents feeling sick, exhausted and heavy-limbed, the cat scratching at the bedroom door, the nappy bin overflowing, the dog whining for attention, Lizzie declared that she wanted to be pregnant again.

‘Now?’ was my incredulous response. Izzie’s only five weeks old, after all.

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘I loved being pregnant. And I want to experience labour again. It went so quickly last time, I didn’t get the chance to enjoy it.’

Now, I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that crazy talk is down to her hormones whispering in her ear, ‘You’re fertile, breed, breed!’

But biological factors are not the reason I had Izzie. To paraphrase Bill Bryson, my lineage – everyone’s lineage – goes back several billion years, from that first amoeba that found life in the primordial soup and asexually reproduced, through countless aeons, orders and incarnations to culminate in the being that is me. Every single one of my millions of ancestors was born, reached sexual maturity, and managed to successfully reproduce before they died. They survived ice ages, volcanic eruptions, meteorite impacts, earthquakes, floods; they walked with dinosaurs, megafauna, insects as big as your arm and snails the size of Volkswagens; they evolved to meet every crisis, and as humans outlasted the Egyptian Pharoahs, the Roman Empire, Viking raiders, the Crusades, the Black Death, the Plague, the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, Napoleon and two World Wars.

If I didn’t have children I’d be breaking a chain that goes back to when the world was new. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure. It’s like being picked to carry the Olympic torch and letting it go out – nobody wants to be that guy.

But that’s not the answer either. The truth is that as the years went by, the more I felt as though something was missing. Like my cousin and the triops, I looked at my life and wondered what was the point. Without kids you become centred on yourself, on what you have, what you do, what you want, and eventually it begins to feel empty.

I realised over time that there’s no meaning in bricks and mortar or trinkets of tin, certificates on the wall, money in the bank. What matters are the connections you make, the people you touch, the lives on which you have an impact. Taking for yourself bears no comparison to giving of yourself. The meaning of life, I firmly believe, is family.

My daughter may one day ask me why I brought her into a world full of hate and pain and suffering. My answer is that life thrives among the ruins. There is beauty amidst the horror. I have seen coral colonising sunken ships. I have seen flowers growing at Auschwitz. And I have seen families love, and support, and forgive one another, when all around them was falling apart. That is worth more than all the pain the world can serve up.