Monday, 14 September 2009

Mists and melancholia

After my walk this morning with Ray I am feeling very shaky. It usually takes a few days to recover from chemo and this is my tenth this year. The nausea I can deal with but the effects of the steroids are quite dramatic. In the first instance they cause sleeplessness but after coming off them there is a tiredness which sleep cannot assuage. There is a lethargy and feeling of depression. It’s not even self-pity – that’s easily dealt with by looking at the news bulletins and realising how much other people are going through. It is more like old-fashioned melancholia, almost a feeling of detachment.

The time of year doesn’t help. It’s not quite autumn here in the South East of England as it has been fine and dry. There is a distinctive smell in the mornings when autumn truly arrives and that hasn’t happened yet. However, September is the new school year and not only am I not taking part in this as a teacher, I have this last week had to ask for a suspension from my PhD studies. This leaves me feeling a little purposeless.

It has been a strange year and a period of reassessment. I am extremely lucky in having a good husband and a great son and daughter but it has been difficult learning about my conception. This time last year I was putting the finishing touches to a book I had produced for Jonathan and Anna about my maternal and paternal family – not family trees but photographs, background information and anecdotes to bring their forebears to life. I knew that by the time they have children I might not be here and I wanted to make sure they had some family history – the family trees I thought they could do themselves at a later date if they wished. It all seems a little ironic now.

My concept of family is having to change. In the last few years we have been programmed to accept new kinds of families where they are constantly altering with step parents, half-siblings etc. Years ago with the deaths of many mothers in childbirth, I know that there were many families with multiple step-parents but I don’t think these families were ever touted as being ideal, but about survival in a sometimes difficult world. Nowadays non standard families are not usually the result of maternal deaths but because marriage is less popular and the options of divorce enable many people to start a new family. However, like many people I thrived on the permanence of family life but now I am having to look much more closely at how we, as a society, cope with infertility, adoption and donor conceived adults. The main factor which seems to make some situations bearable and others not, is openness. Where there is honesty we can talk about how we feel; where there is secrecy some people are deprived of what we all long for – the knowledge of our own identity and where we fit into the world in which we have been placed.

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