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A True Story of Life, Love and Infertility
By Jay-Jay Feeney, Jo Rodwell
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2013 Jay-Jay Feeney
All rights reserved.
My mum, Robynne, was only sixteen when she had me. She was a rebellious teenager in the seventies, living in Auckland with her mum and three older siblings. She went to a party, met a charming man and, next thing she knew, she had the uncomfortable task of telling her mother she was pregnant. Unsurprisingly, the news came as a shock to Nana, who was a single mother of four, and discussions were had as to who would bring me up. Firstly, abortion was suggested but, luckily for me, Mum was against it. My grandmother was going to bring me up as her own child, which was a fairly common way of dealing with the problem. If that had happened, I would have grown up thinking my actual mother was my sister. Because we are so close in age, people think this anyway!
In the end Mum decided she would keep me. And she has no regrets!
While mum was pregnant with me she met a man I'll call 'Gavin', a friend of her older brother Poul. They dated for a few months and, with their parents' consent, married when I was just three months old. Gavin became my dad. The one I grew up with. Soon after the wedding, Mum was knocked up again. She and Gavin moved to Hamilton and had two children together.
My family life is really complicated. You will get a fair idea of these complications while reading this book, but due to sensitivities I have changed a few more names — like my siblings, for example. Mum and Gavin had Melissa and Matt, and divorced when I was about four. So, for a while Mum was single with three kids to look after.
Soon after separating from Gavin, though, Mum met her next partner. For the purpose of this story, I will call him Peter. They had a daughter together — Jemma. Mum was 22 and had four kids.
* * *
Peter was very sweet in the beginning of the relationship but that changed after only a few months. He became very violent and we were all emotionally and physically abused for about seven years. Just like the families on those anti-domestic violence advertisements on TV, we would often be cowering together in a bedroom crying and listening to Mum and Peter screaming at each other, and then we would hear Peter hitting her.
He punched holes in the walls, he kicked holes in the doors, he broke windows and cupboards and he left Mum battered and bruised on too many occasions.
He used to hit us, too, and his blows were hard — there was always a lot of force behind them. I managed to avoid most of it because I was a 'good girl'. I tried hard to do what I was told and keep to myself. I did not want to remind him I was there, so that I could avoid the bashing.
Unfortunately, my sister and brother who weren't Peter's copped a lot of his cruelty. My brother, who was just two at the time, was still wetting his bed. Peter would flip out and poor Matt would hide his wet sheets under the bed, but Peter would always find them and rub Matt's face in his urine-soaked sheets.
There was no end to his cruelty. We had a couple of dogs — a German Shepherd named Duke and a Doberman Pinscher named Sheba — and Peter trained them to attack anyone and anything that came on to our property uninvited. The dogs never hurt us but they hurt other people and animals.
When I was six I had a pet rabbit in a hutch. He was adorable — probably a bit bigger than a guinea pig with beautiful, sleek grey fur and sparkly eyes. The movie and book Watership Down were big at the time, as was the theme song, 'Bright Eyes' by Art Garfunkel, so that's what I named him. One day, I went outside to feed Bright Eyes, and found Sheba eating her. It was a horrifying sight.
His violence wasn't just targeted at Mum and us kids. I remember one day some friends of Peter's came over and it was obvious he had had a disagreement with them. Peter started a fight with the man outside and the fight moved inside. Peter was slamming him up against a wall and I hid behind a door to get out of the way. Unfortunately, Peter slammed this guy against the door I was hiding behind and gave me a pretty painful squashing.
There was blood everywhere and then, in his rage, Peter went outside and threw an axe through the windscreen of the man's car. His girlfriend was sitting in the car. I don't know why the neighbours hadn't called the police by then, but it wasn't long before the bloodied man scrambled into his car and drove away with a smashed windscreen and a hysterical girlfriend.
* * *
Mum left Peter many times, and she always took us with her. We used to run, on foot, to get away. Sometimes, we travelled out of town to different friends' and relatives' houses and sometimes we even stayed at women's refuges.
Women's Refuge is a truly remarkable organisation — it's a lifesaver for many women and their children. All the people we met at the different refuges were really kind and incredibly supportive, especially of us kids. We slept in bunks and wore borrowed clothes. We were fed. I remember one house was quite dark and musty smelling. The women who stayed in these safe houses were encouraged not to tell anyone where they were, so I don't know how Peter found us but, one time, he found us at a refuge and, once again, convinced Mum to go back to him. We were dragged back home with her.
Another time, in 1980, we ran and Mum was screaming at me to keep up. I was wearing Jandals and couldn't run as fast as her. I think she was running as fast as she could from fear. She had four kids in tow — my four-year-old sister and I were on foot, and she was carrying my two-year-old brother while pushing my baby sister in her pram. We crossed railway lines and seemed to be running for ages until, finally, she stopped at a phone box.
She called a friend who said Mum could stay with her but she didn't have room for all of us kids. This was not ideal. Mum was 22, with four kids, running from her abusive partner and with no support. Her mother lived in Auckland, but she wouldn't dare burden her with this, and she was only close to her brother Poul, who was busy with his own family in Auckland. Her friend said she could accommodate two of the kids. Which two kids would Mum take? What would she do with the other two? This impossible situation and the decision Mum made proved to be a turning point in all our lives.
She decided she would keep my baby sister Jemma and me with her — because Jemma was a baby, and because I was at school. That meant my brother and sister, Matt and Melissa, would have to go somewhere else. So she called Social Welfare and asked them to find somewhere to place my brother and sister until she figured out what she would do — she had no other choice.
Mum had to take Melissa and Matt to a place called The Nest. Run by the Salvation Army in Hamilton, it provides a range of services and community ministries — Melissa and Matt ended up at the children's home part. As soon as Gavin heard about it, he got angry and went and picked them up first thing the following morning. So, my brother and sister spent one night at the home and, although I'm sure they can't possibly remember it, they both have different accounts as to what went on in there. I don't know what to believe, but I know for sure that Mum had to make an impossible choice at the time and it remains one of the biggest regrets.
I think my brother and sister grew up believing that Mum abandoned them. They didn't understand and it seemed to me that as they got older they became more and more bitter. They have always had that niggling question, 'Why did she choose Jay-Jay and Jemma over us?' I've always defended Mum, because I know what she was going through and I know how much she has hurt because of that decision, but I guess I will never understand completely what it has felt like for them. Mum has only just started to repair her relationship with my brother, and her relationship with my sister has been on and off over the years. Both of them have suffered long-term consequences from this experience and I believe they have both grown up with serious emotional issues because of it.
For years, I felt like the only person in the family who had to make the effort to hold our family together. Taking on the role of peacemaker has been hugely stressful — I'm the type of person who always cares for other people. I cared for my younger siblings when we were living with Peter. I cared for Mum when she was running from Peter. I felt mad when the family fell apart and I continued to try to get everyone to make ppeac with each other.
I can't stop myself from taking on everybody else's stress and I swear my family lay it on me because it makes them feel better having someone else feel as shitty as them.
My brother lived with Gavin until he left home. My sister moved between Gavin's and Mum's a few times but Mum found it hard to cope with her on her own, so asked Dad to look after her again, since he was now in his second marriage and also had Matt in his care. He and his new wife were better equipped to deal with Melissa than Mum was.
Reading this, I realise we all had a pretty horrible upbringing. People respond to circumstances differently according to their personality and, unfortunately, in my opinion my brother and sister always seem to blame the world for their problems. Even as adults, they don't want to take responsibility for the poor choices they have made.
On the other hand, I choose to move forward and always try hard to make tomorrow better than yesterday and today. But, honestly, I often feel the weight of the emotional and psychological damage from my childhood circumstances.
* * *
My seventh year on this planet was the worst year of my life. Two major, devastating things happened that have determined my mental state since. The first was learning that Gavin, who was the only dad I knew, was not my biological father. I remember sitting on my bed one day when Mum came in to talk to me. I don't know why she decided this was the time to tell me such huge news, but she did. I'm actually really glad I found out while I was young and not when I was an adult.
Mum told me my 'real' father was a guy called Malcolm. So, my brother and sister are really half -siblings. After Mum and Gavin broke up I always lived with Mum and had the occasional holiday visit to Dad's.
I have to admit, I cried and felt confused. Later, I was okay about it, but Mum told me it was a secret that I had to keep. I kept that secret until quite recently, when she helped me find my real father.
The second major thing to happen to me is something else I have kept secret all my life. I told a couple of friends and a psychologist, but it's something that's not easy to talk about for fear of being judged. In fact, as I type this I feel nauseated, and I am literally shaking over the keyboard.
I was sexually abused as a child, and keeping that secret all these years has affected me every day of my life since.
It makes me sick just thinking about it and hearing the man's name makes my skin crawl. Whenever I meet anyone with the same name, I can't talk to him because I am reminded of my abuser. It's really hard writing about this now, but it is one of the things that shaped me as a person, so it seems important to include it here. I swear it's why I carry so much stress and anxiety, and why I have such low self -esteem.
This pervert often came into my room at night. I don't want to share specific details, and I'm sure I have repressed much of the memory anyway. I used to be so scared of him that I would always pretend to be asleep when he crept into my room. Every time he came in — which I now guess happened many times over the course of about a year — I always hoped he would go away, but he didn't. He would whisper to me, 'Ssshhh. Go back to sleep.' I hated what he was doing to me and it always hurt so much, but I was scared that if I did anything or told anyone, he would cause real harm to the rest of my family. I was six years old. Six! I really wanted to tell someone so that it would stop. I knew he was doing something that was wrong, but I was terrified.
One day, at Frankton Primary School, I came very close to telling my teacher. I must have looked a bit sad or worried as I walked past her and she asked me if I was okay. I said I was tired. I couldn't say what I really wanted to say — to tell her how awful things were. I was scared I would get into trouble. I have always regretted not being able to speak about it then and I often think about that moment. What happened to me was disgusting and it's disgusting that it continues to happen to children all around the world. It makes me so angry I could scream until I lose my voice.
Over the years, I've blocked out a lot of what happened and that's supposedly expected but it has taken its toll on me. I have spent most of my life in public putting on a front, wearing a happy face. All the while, I've been feeling dirty, insecure and guilty on the inside. Every year that passed, I felt more and more that it was too late to tell someone.
Being abused is one thing, but harbouring the secret of abuse is another — it causes the keeper of the secret major anxiety. I was very depressed through my teenage years and I let lots of people take advantage of me. Not necessarily taking advantage sexually, but I was a victim. People would take advantage of my good nature, my generosity, my loyalty and sometimes my body. I would do anything for anybody if they asked, because all I wanted to do was make people happy. As a result, I was unhappy.
Sometimes, I'd be so low that I would sit in front of my mirror screaming at myself. I'd be abusing myself, telling myself what a horrible piece of shit I was and asking how on earth anyone could like me. I wanted to die and I often thought of ways I could kill myself that wouldn't hurt. But then I would think about Mum and I didn't want to leave her here without me.
I'm sure the abuse is also where my body image issues stem from. I have the worst self-esteem when it comes to how I feel about myself. I am not what you would call 'fat', but I feel fat. According to all the BMI charts and info you see and hear, I should be around 57 to 62 kilograms as a healthy body weight. Whenever I get past this, I obsess over it and hate myself more with each extra kilo. I got up to 70 kilos this year, and was at my lowest point.
I don't eat a lot. But I love carbs and I hate exercise. Since Dom is a runner, he makes me feel guilty every day when he puts on his shoes and heads out for a run. He even says to me repeatedly, 'Calories in, calories out. You need to exercise.' Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know! But instead, I feel more self-loathing and less motivation.
I hate seeing myself in photos and on film, because all I can see is chubbiness. Double chin, flabby arms, muffin top, wide thighs, no box gap! I want a box gap!
I don't mind being a size 12 or 14 but I hate not being in proportion. I swear if I was 3 centimetres taller I'd be okay. Damn short legs!
I hate wearing tight clothes, I hate wearing togs and I hate being naked. Of course I'm okay being naked around Dom, but only when I walk from the bathroom to the bedroom. I don't like doing it with the lights on if you catch my drift! And I could never video myself having sex. It's not something I think would be an attractive sight at all.
In fact, I don't even find myself attractive. I look in the mirror and all I see is a frumpy, middle-aged woman. Plain Jane. No fashion sense, no sex appeal. It can be quite depressing, because everyone wants to be sexy every now and then.
I'm always on a diet. And I go through phases of motivation. I'll have three-month bursts when I'm into diet and exercise and I'll lose 5 kilos and feel good about myself, and then I'll go back to my normal routine and pile the weight back on again. It's a never-ending cycle and I get so mad at myself for not having the willpower to control it.
Due to my depression and anxiety and the ongoing dramas with my family, I am constantly stressed with not just my own stress, but theirs too. I think this is one of the biggest dangers to my fertility.
I have been advised many times by counsellors and doctors to relax and let my stress go, but it's impossible.
The toll our upbringing had on my siblings is undeniable. My brother has had drug problems and has been to prison for drug-related crimes. This is not a secret — it has been in the newspaper! It's quite a sensitive subject but I think people often self-medicate to try and make up for the bum deal they had early on.
* * *
When I was about 11, Mum met a new boyfriend, Kirk, and four years later had another son, my little brother Poull. So, she had five kids — the last was born when she was 31 years old.
We lived with Kirk for about a year or two in his house but never referred to him as a stepfather. He ended up leaving when Mum was pregnant with Poull, and he hasn't been a part of our lives since.
Excerpted from Misconception by Jay-Jay Feeney, Jo Rodwell. Copyright © 2013 Jay-Jay Feeney. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Getting to know Dom,
Dom's medical emergency,
Why do we want children?,
First IVF cycle,
Second IVF cycle,
Third IVF cycle,
Fourth IVF cycle,
Time to reassess,
Preparing for our fifth IVF cycle,
Fifth IVF cycle,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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