For most people, the morning of October 22, 1999, was just another day at the office, but I had been preparing for that special day my whole life. I woke up feeling incredible excitement. By the time the day would end, I would never see life the same way again. Driving to the hospital, I began thinking about how all this had started four long years before.
As a freelance cameraman, I traveled the world. It wasn’t unusual to arrive home from a trip to Africa only to be back on a plane the following week to Indonesia, Vietnam or the Philippines. My wife, Jules, was used to my being away for work, but my being away meant she often was alone.
So we decided to get a puppy. We both loved animals and wanted a dog that would be great with kids. Children were in the bigger picture, and this seemed like good preparation. We decided on a golden retriever, located a breeder and arrived to find only one puppy left out of a litter of nine.
It was love at first sight. Six-week-old Molly came home in a red bucket and now, 14 years later, she sits at my side as I write these words. Jules calls her our firstborn. I feel the same way.
A six-week-old puppy will teach you patience, responsibility and unconditional love. It takes a lot of effort to train and care for puppies, but the rewards are many as they grow. Someone once said that taking care of the outside of a dog is good for the inside of a human.
Molly had a blessed life. We walked her nearly every day, and she often slept on the couch with Jules while I was away. She received plenty of love and attention, and was treated as part of the family. During the day and sometimes at night, she slept outside in the front courtyard where she could peer at the world passing by.
One night when she was about five, I forgot to close the gate behind me after a hectic day at work. In the morning, to my horror, I realized Molly wasn’t there. I couldn’t see her from my bedroom window. I rushed outside with all sorts of thoughts running through my head. What if she had been run over or taken by a passer-by?
Fortunately, I had no need to panic. As I got closer to the gate, there she was — sitting next to the letter box, still guarding the house. She had been there all night. From that day on, we never closed the gate again. Some people ask why she doesn’t run away. My response is always the same: Where is she going to go?
I realized something special that day: If you make your home the most enjoyable, loving experience possible for those who live there, they will never leave you. Molly is free to go whenever she wants. She is her own free spirit. I don’t remember the exact day Jules rang me from work sounding upset. Things had been building for some time. Her job had started to get to her. All she wanted to do was be a mum. She loved kids, and kids loved her. She hated her job and wanted to quit. I suggested she leave straight away. When she arrived home from work that night, she never returned.
As time passed, we talked about having a family. A young healthy couple, we were quite relaxed about the possibility of falling pregnant right away. After a couple of failed attempts, Jules began her search into the world of fertility support. It’s amazing just how many people have an opinion about how to become pregnant. “Eat this, drink that, stand on your head, take three of these twice a day, play this song and wear these … but only on a full moon.”
Both of us had all the usual medical checks and were told no biological reason prevented us from having children.
Eventually, we found our way to a Chinese herbalist. He was a quietly spoken, unassuming man who suggested we try some special herbs that help woman with fertility. The herbalist gave us some root clippings and various herbs to cut up and use to make tea. At this point, we were ready to try anything. The tea tasted terrible, but Jules drank it nonetheless. We continued to make regular visits to the wise man from the East, but with no success.
As the months slowly passed, the situation began to deteriorate. These were difficult times for Jules. The idea of never becoming a mum had never before entered her mind. You start off thrilled and excited about the idea of having children, bringing home a newborn and starting a family. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go to plan, and the excitement soon turned to disappointment, frustration, anger and then, finally, depression. We went through it all.
Walking into the waiting room of the medical center was sobering. Having exhausted all other possibilities over the years, we were left with what seemed our last hope for a baby. We had heard many stories about couples who had gone down the IVF path. It seemed only two possible outcomes remained: the euphoria of becoming parents or the pain of not ever having a family of our own. After all, getting pregnant either happens or it doesn’t. You can’t get nearly pregnant.
It seemed so unfair: You’re either winners or losers in the fertility lottery, leading to immense joy or total desperation. Looking around the waiting room, I could sense the desperation of the women pretending to read the gossip magazines clutched tightly in their hands. Some knew this room very well. It had been their life for the past six years, some even longer. IVF consumes your life. “Now, you both understand that even with IVF there are no guarantees you’ll fall pregnant,” the nurse said. That’s not what Jules wanted to hear. She needed plenty of guarantees! “On the other hand,” the nurse continued, “with this kind of procedure there’s also a risk of multiple pregnancies.”
Jules’s eyes lit up. I knew what she was thinking. Twins! Even the idea of quintuplets is completely acceptable at this point — anything but the deep prolonged pain of a life without children. Naturally, we took the dive into the unpredictable, extremely anxious world of IVF. Romance took a backseat to clinical procedures, timetables and frequent visits to the local depository. Nothing adds more to an already-busy schedule than a quick stop at the clinic to unload a sample of potential swimmers. A tap on the door, an old adult magazine thrust in one hand to help get things going, and a small jar with your name on it in your other. I soon got extremely used to the idea that I was now merely a pawn or a part in a game of “Let’s get pregnant.”
At the start of each cycle, Jules had to be injected with a substance vital for providing a fertile environment for eggs. My first duty was to carefully break open the first vial containing the serum. Once in the head of the needle, I would then have to change the needle itself to one that would penetrate the skin. The responsibility of getting this right and not breaking the glass was immense. As I entered the room I found Jules anxiously waiting. I had only one go at getting it right. The needle had to pierce the skin of a small area just to the left of the upper part of her buttocks. Too far to the left or right would not work at all and would also be extremely painful. The nurses had given me some spare needles to practice with on an orange. I had no problem there, but this was my wife and we both hated needles.
Summoning all my courage, I took aim and shot the needle right into its mark. I’m not sure who screamed louder, but the job wasn’t over yet. I slowly had to empty the contents of the needle and as I did her pain increased. I couldn’t help thinking how vastly more enjoyable the process would have been if nature had simply taken its course. Nothing more to do now but wait. We were told to relax and let God do the rest. Easy for the doctor and nurses to say. But I took their advice and immersed myself back in my work as a cameraman. For Jules, it was a different story. She had given up work to focus on having children.
It meant so much to her to be a mum and she worried about meeting the challenge. A big cross on the calendar signaled the day the pregnancy test results were due. Jules refused to take the call. Therefore, the news of any outcome would always come to me. I will never forgot that first time.
“Is that Mr. Darrell Brown?” the nurse asked. “It is,” I replied. “I’m sorry, Mr. Brown, but the result this time was unsuccessful. Hopefully we will have better luck next month.” Click! That was the easy call. Now I had to call my wife.
Weeks turned into months and months into years. I never really got used to hearing the same message: “I’m sorry, Mr. Brown, but once again you have been unsuccessful.” Often, I would be in the middle of a hectic shoot, and would have to leave the set to take the call. Then I’d phone Jules and listen as she broke down in tears on the other end. After she calmed down I’d walk back to my position behind the camera. As difficult as it was for me, my heart went out to Jules. Many nights, she would cry herself to sleep. Those quiet moments of desperation became all-consuming. I felt helpless. I had invited Jim, the local real estate agent, to give us an appraisal on the house. We were sitting in the kitchen sipping tea and talking about the current state of the market.
When my phone rang, I instantly recognized the clinic’s number. Jules was in the bedroom and, unknown to me, was listening intently. I had forgotten, but she knew exactly what day it was, and had a pretty good idea of who was calling — in fact, she was expecting it. “Is this Mr. Brown?” the nurse asked, as usual. “Yes, it is,” I replied. “Mr. Brown, we are just calling to let you know that your procedure this month was successful.” “I’m sorry?” “Your wife is pregnant.” I slowly put the phone to my chest and smiled at Jim. I asked him if he was finished with the appraisal and, if so, he could let himself out. Once he had left, I asked if the nurse could repeat what she had just said. She confirmed that, indeed, Jules was now pregnant. The “magical” day had arrived: My sperm and her egg had finally met.
Knowing you have information that, once shared, will completely change someone’s life is both a surreal and a most wonderful moment. I hung up the phone and slowly made my way to the bedroom. All those sleepless nights, the crying and heartache, the worry and the pain of not knowing, were finally over. I had the words that would take away her pain.
When I first entered the room I couldn’t see her. “Jules,” I yelled. Then, peering over the bed I saw her, cowered up into a ball, hands over her face. She lifted her head and looked at me. She knew who was on the phone and had heard parts of the conversation. Finally, she had a glimmer of hope that the moment we had been praying for had arrived. But a part of her was still unsure. How would she cope if she had misheard the call?
“You’re pregnant,” I blurted out. I’ll never forget the cry that came from her — a primal scream of someone who had just had the weight of the world taken off her shoulders, the cry of a mother who had been given the ultimate blessing. She cried uncontrollably while I nestled next to her trying to give as much physical comfort as I could. Finally, when she had gotten herself together, she looked at me and said, “I don’t believe you. I need to hear it for myself!” She ran to the phone and called the clinic.
“Yes Mrs. Brown, that’s right. Congratulations, you’re pregnant!”
I arrived at the hospital earlier than expected. I couldn’t wait to see Jules and stroke that little bump I had been talking to for the past nine months. As I walked through the doors I remember thinking, the next time I see the outside world, I will be a dad.
For some men, that’s a daunting thought, but not me. For reasons I’m still not sure about, I never for a moment doubted my ability to be a good father. In fact, a great father.
I’ll never forget the moment our son arrived. I stood at one end of the bed with Jules, the doctor and nurse at the other end behind a raised sheet. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the doctor raised one hand above the sheet and up sprung my little boy. Covered in fluids and crying his lungs out, he never looked more beautiful. After quickly being cleaned up, he arrived on Jules’s breast and together we stared fixed in a semihypnotic trance — a sea of love and a dream that had finally come true.
As I looked into his eyes, I couldn’t help thinking how hard this fella had tried to get here. Although he had only been in this world a few seconds, already he made both of us the happiest people on earth.
And so Cody Joshua Squire Brown was born. Australian cinematographer Darrell Brown is the author of Raised by Our Childhood Voices, available on Amazon beginning in September 2015.