Monday, December 17, 2012


That is all.  Fuck it anyway.  Hope really is a bastard.  Feel free to let rip with profane language.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The two week wait, with added agony

I really don't know where to start with this post, so I'll just come straight out with it.  We have just completed what will have been our first and only IVF cycle, and I am now two days post embryo transfer.  We decided to do it more as a closure thing than anything else.  We both felt that if we didn't explore every avenue then we would look back with regrets.

So, at the ripe old age of 43, I went down a road I thought I never would.  Our RE was starkly honest about our chances of success - somewhere around 5% I think.  I'll write more later about our protocol and false starts along the way, but once we finally got going, my meds were as follows:

Gonal F 300, increased to 450 on CD8 (I think it was CD8) once per day
Luveris once per day
Clexane once per day
Buserilin injections, morning and night
Prednisolone 25mg per day

To be honest at the outset I was only going through the motions.  To me it was a box ticking exercise (pardon the pun), one more thing to say we tried.  I imagined my ancient ovaries might struggle to make three or four eggs.  It turned out that I vastly underestimated them.  At my CD7 scan I had 10 follicles, at CD 9, 11 follicles, at CD 12, 14 follicles and at CD13 they thought possibly 15 follicles.  Oh my poor aching ovaries, but boy was I proud of them!

My egg collection went really well.  The morphine cocktail sent me off into the most blissful sleep I had had in months, and a total of 13 eggs were retrieved.  We really could not believe it.  13 eggs from my 43 year old ovaries.  The following day we got the call to say that out of 13, 8 were mature, and six fertilised by ICSI.  That was last Friday afternoon, and we were told that we would not hear anymore from the clinic until Monday afternoon.

I had intended going back into work that day to clear my desk, but wisely decided against it.  Monday seemed to go on forever.  I swung between wild optimism and depths of dispair.  What if none survived and it was game over?  At 4.15pm the call came.  At 4 days post retrieval, five out of six of our embryos were still hanging in there.  We were to come back to the clinic at 2pm the following day.  The embryologist would check our little crop in the morning, but if all was well we would not hear from them.

So no phone call came and off we set for Dublin once more.  I struggled with a full bladder, and had to go to the bathroom and start refilling.  I got gowned up and we went down to the transfer room.  The embryologist came in and told us that although we still had five embryos, two had slowed down in development so we were now down to three.  The two best ones were being transferred and if the remaining one still looked good the following day, they would call us to let us know they would freeze.  If they didn't call, we could take it that it was not fit for freezing.

Then it was time to get into the stirrups and get these embryos into their new home.  It all went easier than I had expected.  I didn't have to have my bladder full to bursting which I had been dreading, and the whole procedure didn't last more than five minutes.  The doctor and nurses were really lovely and put us at our ease.  An hour or so later we were ready for the road home.  I reclined the passenger seat, snuggled up under a blanket and got some much needed sleep.

Since then I have been putting the feet up.  We didn't get that call from the embryologist, so that means we don't have a backup frozen embryo.  But we do have two little blastocysts on board.  My mood is all over the place.  Today I am extremely weepy, only able to think of how hard it will be when I get a negative test.  Other times I allow myself to think it might work.  I have to keep reminding myself of how far we have come and how much our expectations have been exceeded so far.  So who knows?  In ten days time all will be revealed....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Anniversaries, sad and happy

In the mid to late eighties, it seemed like Ireland was turning into a country something akin to Logan's Run.  Except instead of all the over 30s being exterminated, it was the 20 to 30 age group that were fast disappearing.  You would never know it if you walked into our local pub on Christmas Eve in Kiltimagh, County Mayo.  The place would be buzzing with all the young ones home, mostly from London, skulling the pints and telling us tales of plentiful work and good pay.  Walk into the same pub three weeks later, and you might find one or two punters having a Saturday night pint.  Every town in the West of Ireland was like this.  Last one out of the country, turn off the lights.

It was against this backdrop that my youngest brother Gerry left Ireland in 1985, at the age of 19. My sister Marianne followed him a year later, aged 21.  She had completed a diploma course in Catering Management and having worked in a hotel in Roscommon for a few months in a low paid trainee management job, she went to London to seek a better employment and a better life for herself.  She remained in contact with a girl she befriended when working in the hotel named Berni.  The following year when she came home, she convinced Berni to go back to London with her.

I remember Berni well.  She was a year older than Marianne, and in the time they worked together she was a frequent visitor to our house.  She was a petite girl with a great sense of fun.  I remember her sneaking me cigarettes which we smoked hanging halfway out my bedroom window.  If my memory serves me correctly, I'm pretty sure she loaned me a copy of Shirley Conran's 'Lace' with the warning "whatever you do, don't let your mother catch you reading that".  It was quite the journey of discovery for a 16 year old virgin from Knock, let me tell you.

I was there the last night out that Marianne, Berni and her boyfriend had in the local nightclub before they all headed back for London.   Tragically, she had lost her younger brother, 19 years old, some months before to a motorbike accident.  She spoke very fondly of him, it was obvious that they were very close and she was shaken by his death.  She had been out of work for a few months, and a new start in London seemed like the way forward.  Marianne went with her to a meeting with her bank manager, managed to swing her a bank loan with the promise of work in the restaurant she was managing at the time.  As was often the custom in those days, one person would go over to England, get a job, then scope out job possibilities for friends and family.  I remember one girl from Knock joking to me that she was a WIMPEY agent in London.  "A what?" I asked.  "We Import More Paddies Every Year" was her wry reply.

I went on to start my science degree in Galway the following Autumn.  One Friday night in November, I arrived home off the bus from Galway into Knock to find my mother waiting for me at the bus stop, ashen faced.  She ushered me into the back seat of the car and told me there was bad news from London.  Straight away I knew what she was talking about.  There had been a fire in Kings Cross tube station two nights before, the death toll was over forty people.  All I could think was Oh  No, not my sister or brother, but their housemate Berni.  She was aged just 23 when she died and had been working as a nurses aid.  I think she may have been thinking of going into nursing training.  Hopefully she would have made a better job of it than Catherine Tate's 'Bernie the Irish nurse' character.

Her housemates raised the alarm when she didn't come home from work the night of the fire, and didn't show up for work the following day either.  It wouldn't have been unusual for her to go off on the razz with her mates from work, but not normally midweek.  After two days they managed to establish that she had perished in the Kings Cross fire.  They were the people who went to the morgue to identify her, which was provisionally done from her jewellery; a group of young Irish and Australian immigrants, all in their twenties, the youngest being my brother aged 21.  They brought her coffin home to Knock Airport on a Ryanair flight.  We waited there to meet them with her family.  Her parents were just numb, having lost their two youngest children in the space of a year.  Unspeakably tragic.

My sister went on to marry a buddy of Berni's boyfriend from Roscommon.  They moved to Birmingham in 1990, and then back to Dublin in 1993.  Their first baby was on the way in 1994, due around the last week in November.  Marianne told me that she had been having very vivid dreams about Berni, one in which she told her the baby was a girl and to put Berni in the name.  That was it, she said, if it's a girl she'll be Sinead Bernadette, Sinead being the Irish for Jane, after me, and Bernadette after Berni.  She had a feeling in her gut that the baby was going to arrive on the 18th of November, on the seventh anniversary of Berni's death, even though it was a week before her due date.  I called up to her flat in Rathgar a night or two before the date, to find her in a cleaning frenzy.  The last thing we said to each other as I left that night was "Friday is baby day".

And Friday it was.  In the late morning, labour pains started and off they went to Holles Street.  At around 7 or 8pm I got the phone call in my flat in Ranelagh to say that my first niece and godchild Sinead Bernadette had arrived.  She arrived into this world seven years almost to the hour after her namesake had left.  I raced into Holles St to meet her, with what was to be her first teddy bear in my handbag.  I was her very first visitor, a delighted auntie.  I already had four nephews but this was my first niece.  Today that teeny tiny little bundle turned eighteen.  She and her mum are in London this weekend for a girly celebration.  I was supposed to go with them, but unfortunately couldn't.  They attended a mass in Kings Cross this morning to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Kings Cross fire.

I'm not always the biggest believer in fate and things being "meant to be", but the odd time I do believe in serendipity.  For the first six years after Berni's passing, November 18th had been a tough date for Marianne to get through.  I think Sinead arrived on that very significant date for a reason, to turn a sad date back into a happy one.  It was as if Berni was saying "mourn no more, be happy".

So happy birthday to my beautiful grown up niece, having her first legal beer with her mum tonight in London.  And if there's a bar up there in heaven, no doubt Berni and her brother are raising a glass too.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The wrong water

I started in my present job in August 2010.  It's a small outpost of a very large multinational corporation.  There are twenty employees in the office, including three temporary contractors.  Finance and accountancy industries tend to be female dominated, and our office is no different.  There are just four men in our place.  When I started there, there was one heavily pregnant lady in the office, the first pregnancy in the company in four years.

Since then it's been a hive of fertility.  It goes something like this (all the names have been changed to protect the fertiles):
August '10: I join company.  One pregnant colleague, Anne, seven months pregnant.

Sept '10: Marie announces her pregnancy, Susan joins the company, returning to work after the birth of her first child.

Oct '10: Anne goes on maternity leave, and gives birth to a daughter.

Dec '11: Eve gets married.

Feb '11: Eve goes on honeymoon for a month.

March '11: Marie goes on maternity leave, and gives birth to a son. 

April '11: Susan announces her pregnancy.

May '11: Aoife joins the company as a project accountant on a year's contract.  She is also returning to work after the birth of her first child.

August '11: Anne returns from maternity leave.

Oct '11: Susan goes on maternity leave, and gives birth to a daughter.

Nov '11: Sinead gets married and goes on honeymoon for a month.

Dec '11: Aoife announces her pregnancy.  Sinead returns from honeymoon.  Kate gets married on New Year's Eve and goes on honeymoon for a month.

Jan '12: Marie returns from maternity leave.  Kate returns from honeymoon.

Feb '12: Eve announces her pregnancy.

March '12: Kate announces her pregnancy.

April '12: Sinead announces her pregnancy.  Colleagues joke about pregnancy being contagious.  It's in the water they say!  I quip that I'm drinking three pints of the Goddam stuff a day.  One of the pregnant people says straight back to my face - you're drinking the wrong water, Jane.  Ouch.

May '12: Last Friday we send Aoife on her merry way with lunch and gifts.  Her contract was due to finish up soon, and her doctor wanted to sign her off work, so she has finished up a few weeks in advance of her due date.  Last Monday Anne arrives back from her holidays after a trip to Venice for her thirtieth birthday, to announce her second pregnancy.  As soon as she walks out of our office, I have a mini nervous breakdown.  Sobbing, tears, snot, irrationality, the whole nine yards.  I leave the office at lunchtime, because at this stage I have cried myself into a migraine and the tears are showing no sign of abating.

Because I will be forty three this day week.
Because Monday was the five year anniversary of the day we lost our third pregnancy, the one in my mind that should have made it.
Because I just know that I will never come into work and say "guess what lads, I was drinking the right water all along!  I've caught that bug that's going around!  I'm one of you!"
Because I am now the only married woman in the office who is neither pregnant nor a mother, and it hurts so bloody much.
Ah, infertility.  The unwanted gift that never, ever stops giving.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mikashevichi calling

If you told me this time last year that we would by now be having hour long bilingual Russian English conversations on Skype with a family in remote Belarus, I just might not have believed you.  A tad random sounding, as the young folk say.  But that's what we did last evening.  We use Skype on a fairly regular basis to talk to John's siblings who live in Australia and England, but yesterday was the first time we skyped our friends in Belarus.  It was lovely to see Dasha again, to hear her giggle and point "Dougie" every time our fluffy cat walked into the room.  It was good too to talk to her grandmother, who has been her and her little brother's guardian for the past few years.  A very young granny of fifty, she actually became a grandmother when she was just about my age (eeek!).  They obviously get down to childbearing at a younger age over there.  We also got to meet Dasha's six year old brother, who looks just like her, and just as energetic.  He was doing handstands in the background while we were chatting with Tatiana and Dasha.  We might in time invite him to stay with us, but I think we might wait until the girls are a little older, and have more English. Then we will all be better equipped to deal with the langauge barrier.

Saying goodbye to them in January was hard, no two ways about it.  Harder than I ever thought it would be.  Before they arrived, I imagined that I would be glad of the break to pack them off home and go back to work.  But no, the house just echoed with deafening silences.  John was hit full on with a huge sense of loss.  Me, slightly less so, I think.  Not because I missed them less, but I suppose because our past pregnancy losses affected me in a more tanglible way.  I have become more immune to the grief of loss.  More calloused.  I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.  I still can't bear to clear out the Bratz doll clothes or the Hello Kitty hair bobbins strewn over the back seat of my car though.  They are a comforting reminder of other days, and hopefully of days to come.

We have had a good bit of text and email contact with Lera and her mum.  It's heartwarming seeing these Russian language emails popping up in my inbox.  Google translate can be a bit hit and miss, but most of the time I get their drift.  The girls speak about us a lot, and they loved their holidays with us.  They are both doing well at school.  They go to different schools, so have not met up since they arrived back home.  I hope they will do soon.  It must be strange as a seven year old to live for two weeks with another seven year old you have never met before, in the house of a couple of total strangers who don't even speak your language.  And yet we still functioned as a family for that time. 

It struck me how much of our communication was non verbal when Lera and her mom phoned us the night after she arrived back home.  The conversation faltered because we could not speak each other's language.  Then I heard a little whispering in the background and Lera's little voice piped up...."Zhon, Zhane....I luff you!".  And that is all we needed to hear.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Spasibo, Santa

In the 21st Century world we live in, there are a number of different ways to build family.  Most couples manage to do it the old fashioned way that has kept the human race going for millions of years.  For other people, who are infertile due to either social circumstances of not meeting the right partner at the right time, or medical reasons which prevent them conceiving or carrying a baby to full term, it’s not so simple.  Reproductive technology, adoption or fostering, or choosing to live a childfree life are some of the possible ways forward for them.  We are one couple who could conceive but not carry a pregnancy to term.  This Christmas we have found a different way of forging familial ties.  For the past two weeks we have been host Mama and Papa to two little seven year old girls from Belarus, and they have changed our lives in a way I would never have thought possible.

As I am sure most people reading this are aware, the largest nuclear meltdown in the history of Europe happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine in April 1986.  The story of the disaster and its ongoing consequences for the countries of Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russia can be read about here.  The stories of the liquidators, who saved Europe from a potential explosion which could have killed hundreds of thousands and left Europe a wasteland.  Everybody remembers the brave heroes of 9/11, but how many remember the heroes of Chernobyl?
In 1991, an Irish woman called Adi Roche was working as a full-time volunteer for the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, when she received a fax from Belarus with the simple message SOS Appeal. For God’s sake help us to get the children out.’  So began her life’s work, to form Chernobyl Children International, which since its establishment in 1991 as a nonprofit charity organisation, has delivered over €90 million in humanitarian aid to the Chernobyl region.

As well as large organisations like CCI, there are hundreds of smaller Chernobyl Support organisations all over the world, particularly in Ireland, who are ploughing their own smaller scale furrows, helping the children of Chernobyl in small but very significant ways.  One such organisation is Chernobyl Lifeline Ireland, based in the town of Roscrea, County Tipperary.  They have been working with people in the town of Mikashevichi, in the Brest region of Belarus for the past sixteen years.  This is a town into which a large number of evacuees were resettled from the regions which were so contaminated following the disaster; they were rendered no-go areas, to be deserted for thousands of years.  We were told that when rural areas were being evacuated, priority was given to the cattle and other farm animals over the people.  Mikashevichi continues to this day to bear the social scars of a displaced people, uprooted from their homes and placed in urban high-rise buildings with little or no financial compensation for their lost homes and livelihoods.
The people of Chernobyl Lifeline Ireland work on an entirely voluntary basis, some travelling to Mikashevichi to bring seriously ill children to Ireland for medical treatment and recuperation.  Others open their homes to children in disadvantaged circumstances for recuperation vacations.  While these children may show no obvious signs of illness, the long-term legacy of Chernobyl has left them breathing contaminated air and eating from a contaminated food chain for their entire lives.  It is estimated that for every vacation of three to four weeks these children take outside of their own country, up to two years is added to their long-term life expectancy.  Recurrent vacations to countries like Ireland can literally help them to live for decades longer than expected.

By far CLI’s greatest success story is that of a twenty two year old young woman called Ella.  Ella was found by a member of CLI in Mikashevichi at the age of nine years old.  She had spent the previous year of her life in hospital, and had been sent home to die.  Her mother, a twenty seven year old single mother at the time, was told that her only daughter was suffering liver failure.  With her mother’s permission, Ella was brought to Ireland for a second opinion.  She was unable to walk when she arrived and had to be carried off the aeroplane.  Their first port of call was to a paediatrician in Roscrea, who said she was the most ill child she had ever seen in her life.  Ella was placed with a host family, and remained in Ireland for six months.  Within a few weeks, she was up and out playing with other children.  After six months she was healthy enough to return to her mother.  Her host family sponsored her through her education, and she is now a college graduate, working as a schoolteacher in Belarus.  This Christmas she returned to Roscrea as the group’s interpreter.  She visits Roscrea twice a year and speaks warmly of her Irish family.  We met her for the first time this Christmas and she is an amazing young woman, someone I am proud to call a new friend in our lives.

We decided to sign up as volunteers with CLI after having attended an information session on international adoption this summer.  We were advised to get as much practical experience with children as possible before embarking on the adoption process.  That night we went home and wracked our brains for ideas on how to achieve this.  Then I started to Google volunteering and children’s charities, and up popped the answer.  Volunteer as a host family this Christmas and take in children from Belarus.  As it happened, a former colleague of mine is the son in law of one of the founders of CLI in Roscrea.  The next day I made a phone call to him, he passed on my details to his father in law, and the wheels were in motion.  After some amount of communication back and forth over the months, we managed to get forms and paperwork sorted for police clearance, and my former colleague was happy enough to supply a personal reference for us.  We were then asked for our preference in terms of girls or boys, and age group.  We decided on little girls in the 7 to 8 age group, the youngest children accepted on the programme.  So the call went out the other side of Europe in the town of Mikashevichi, and two beautiful little ladies, Lera and Dasha were ushered into our lives.
We attended a meeting of CLI just a week before the group arrived from Belarus.  We were the youngest host family in the room, and one of only two newbie host families.  Most of the others had been doing it for years, and stories of family bonds forged were incredible.  One couple, in their late fifties told us of their Belarusian “son”, a 21 year old who phones them every Sunday night.  Another family, pub owners in the area, said their 18 year old lad arrives to their house every Christmas, throws off his coat, declares himself home, and is out working in the bar in no time.  Of course we all teased them that they were too mean to pay a lounge boy to collect the glasses in the pub and this was why they were hosting!  All joking aside though, the warmth of stories was inspirational.  The organisers smiled at us and told us that we might not realise it yet, but from now on we would be affiliated to CLI for life.  I was inclined to believe them.
We were due to get holidays from work on the 23rd of December, and the children arrived on the 18th, so another host family had to step in and host them for the first five days.  We finished up a very full on week at work on the Friday afternoon, then collected Ella, our interpreter, in Roscrea and headed up to the Offaly-Galway border to collect our girls.  Driving into our cul de sac that night, we both suddenly were hit with the enormity of what we had taken on.  Here we were, pulling up to our house with two seven year olds asleep in the back of our car, children who would be our sole responsibility for the next sixteen days.  They did not speak English and we did not speak Russian.  It felt as if we were imposters, who had stolen someone else’s children.  What the heck had we signed ourselves up for?  Our three cats were even more alarmed at the new arrivals.  We might as well have let a pair of rabid little terrier dogs into the house with the way they reacted to their entrance.  It was the first time in my life I have seen two cats try to exit one cat-flap at the same time.

The next day was Christmas Eve.  I stole out of the house first thing, and did the run down town to collect last minute groceries and the turkey and ham.  We had breakfast, and then took the girls for a drive out to Lough Derg to a playground.  After that we took them shopping.  Dasha being a very girlie girl begged us to buy her a pink Disney Cinderella dress, teamed with a pair of bubblegum pink Doc Marten style boots.  Carrie Bradshaw, eat your heart out.  Even better, she insisted on wearing the ensemble to mass on Christmas Eve.  Who were we to refuse?  Walking into mass to the strains of Away in a Manger in our local church, hand in hand with these two gorgeous little girls, was one of many magical moments this Christmas.
In the past twelve days I think I have laughed more than I had in the previous six months.  From the girls parading around our house dressed head to toe in elf suits, complete with pointy ears; to tickle attacks, to marathon games of twister or “tveester” as it will always be known to me, to blow drying their Barbie dolls’ hair after she went swimming in the bathroom sink, to Dasha having a hissy fit over bedtime and stamping her feet whilst wearing John’s enormous furry monster feet slippers, to hurtling down the water slide in the local leisure centre, to shouting “Spasibo, Santa” (Thank you, Santa in Russian) up the chimney on Christmas Day, it has been fantastic fun.  There have been really special days, like when we brought them to see the sea for the first time in their lives.  The Atlantic Ocean at Lahinch is impressive on any ordinary day, but to two seven year olds seeing the sea for the very first time in their lives; it was nothing short of awesome.  Playing chicken with the waves on the beach ramp at high tide was amazing fun for all of us.

Even the mundane jobs that every Mammy has to do day in, day out have felt great.  Packing the enormous bag of towels, goggles and swimming gear for the whole family to go to the pool.  Negotiating the sulks and tantrums over daily brushing of teeth and changing of underwear.  Thank you, Google translator for giving me the Russian for the sentence “if you do not put on clean underwear, we will not go to the playground”.  Doing their laundry, brushing the tangles out of their beautiful long hair.  Cooking family sized dinners.  Making pancakes for breakfast.  Breaking up fights over broken hair clips and stolen fancy writing pens.  Trying to get them to eat a reasonable amount of healthy food before breaking out the treats.  All the stuff that makes me feel like a Mammy.
Most of all though, it is seeing the joy in my lovely husband’s eyes that these two little mischief makers have brought us.  When they arrived, Lera was a very serious little girl, and as quiet as a mouse, to the point of being painfully shy, whilst Dasha was the louder, more dominant child.  Now Lera is well able to hold her own, and has blossomed into a really sociable little one with a great sense of fun.  We found out that neither girl has a Dad in their lives, and so they have latched on to John in a major way.  They adore him, constantly competing for his attention.  They hang out of him, getting piggy backs all over the house, snuggling up to him watching movies.  I might not have been able to make him a Dad in the conventional sense, but if Lera and Dasha return to our home on an ongoing basis, he now has the next best thing.

This Christmas we gave ourselves the greatest gifts ever.  The gifts of joy, laughter and love.  Of seeing our house in the way we had intended, full of shrieks and noise and play, sometimes like the Waltons, more often like the Simpsons.  And for all that we say, in the little Russian we know, Spasibo, Santa.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Plan B

2011 has been quite a year. Some ups, a long period of feeling down, but now I feel like I am getting my mojo back to some extent and beginning to reclaim my life. The long and the short of it is, although we are still to some extent trying to conceive, I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that our chances are between slim and nil at this stage. Most days I am OK with that, some days I am a weeping, snot dripping wreck.

And so to plan B. We have decided to explore the avenue of adoption. To be honest I'm not 100% sure that it will be the right thing for us, but we have decided to give it a shot and see how we go for now. We attended an information session during the Summer, got our application pack and have started the ball rolling to some extent. The biggest obstacle holding us up at the moment is waiting for U.K. police and social services clearance. Like many Irish people our age, John lived in and around London for ten years between the 80's and 90's, at around 14 different addresses. Even finding these addresses was a challenge in itself, but luckily his mother kept an address book during that time which survived until now. He filled out the relevant forms, wrote letters to a number of borough councils all over the greater metropolitan area, and we are still waiting to hear back from them.

In the meantime, we've been hatching plan C, a more short term plan. The idea came to me after the adoption information session. The speakers at the session advised us to get as much time and experience with children as we can. Now I have years of experience with kids and babysitting. I became an auntie at the age of 19, and served my time as a nappy changing baby sitting aunt in my late teens and twenties. John hasn't so much experience, as he only became an uncle ten years ago, and only two of his nieces live in Ireland, the other three are in Australia.

Anyway an idea came to me out of the blue. An ex colleague of mine has a family member who is hugely involved with the Chernobyl Children's Project in our area. Part of the work they do is organising respite holidays to Ireland for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in countries like Belarus, during the summer and at Christmas. After thinking about it for a short while we decided to take the plunge and make enquiries about volunteering with them. As it turns out, they are always on the lookout for host families, and were delighted with our expression of interest. So we applied for Garda (Irish police) clearance, and supplied references, all of which came back spick and span. So the plan for this Christmas is that there will be a group of children ranging in age from 7 to 14 arriving from Belarus in mid December. We will be hosting two of them, from the day we start our Christmas holidays on December 23rd, until January 4th.

We were given the option of saying what our preference was in terms of boys/girls and ages, so we have decided to go with the younger end of the age spectrum (hopefully true believers in Santa!) and girls, as I have a few young nieces in the same age group, with whom we can hopefully arrange a day's visiting/play date. We are both apprehensive and excited at the thoughts of it all. I can imagine there could be difficulties getting them to settle in a house with no other children, but I am hoping we will be able to establish a support network with the other host families in the area. Mostly though we are really looking forward to it. If nothing else it will give us a dose of reality. And we certainly won't have a quiet house this Christmas.