Sunday 25 September 2016

We're married now with our baby son Phoenix and it's just amazing

Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole have already given each other the perfect Mother's Day gift, says Andrea Smith

Published 06/03/2016 | 02:30

Mum's the word: Anne Marie Toole and Dil Wickremasinghe with their baby son Phoenix Photo: David Conachy
Mum's the word: Anne Marie Toole and Dil Wickremasinghe with their baby son Phoenix Photo: David Conachy

As he beams happily in the arms of his adoring parents, beautiful nine-month-old baby Phoenix Wickremasinghe has no idea yet of the strength his mothers, Anne Marie Toole and Dil Wickremasinghe, have demonstrated.

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Not for long though, as he will soon learn how their courage and willingness to publicly stand up and be counted gave hope to other same-sex couples who longed to be married and become parents. When Dil became pregnant, she and Anne Marie were subjected to vitriolic criticism and hostility from opponents of same-sex marriage and parenthood, but they dealt with it with dignity and fortitude. Many people credit their honesty and openness with helping to positively change attitudes and bring about change.

The gorgeously warm mental-health advocates have also overcome sexual abuse and depression, in Dil's case, and an eating disorder and anxiety in Anne Marie's, and went on to set up Insight Matters, which provides affordable psychotherapy, counselling and personal development guidance. Dil (42), who was born in Rome to Sri Lankan parents, is a TV3 Midday panellist and presenter of Global Village on Newstalk, which highlights social justice and mental- health issues.

Anne Marie (35) is from Meath, and she and Dil met at a mental health conference in 2010. As Dil is seven years older, they decided she would be the one to bear their first baby. "I saw the last bus coming, so I said to Anne Marie, 'We have to leg it,'" laughs Dil.

The women have been very open about conceiving their baby through IVF, using donor sperm at Clane Fertility Clinic. They chose a 'known' donor from Denmark, and will be able to use the same biological father for any future babies. Their children can contact him at 18 if they choose, and will do so with their mothers' full support. "I can see us in a cafe across the road sussing out this man coming to meet our kids one day," says Dil. "We'll appear nonchalant, but we'll probably be worried."

While the original plan was that Anne Marie will try to conceive the next child, Dil is feeling broody again, so who knows? They have even discussed becoming pregnant at the same time, but have to take into account that there are twins in Anne Marie's family, and the chance of having multiple births through IVF is also high. "We're like a Celtic Tiger home," says Dil. "We have two ovens, so we might as well use them both. We're exploring all options, but I'm leaning towards the idea that it's Anne Marie's turn to shine. I'll be delighted to be able to support her through pregnancy, as she did with me."

Phoenix is all the more precious because when Dil was 18 weeks pregnant, she started bleeding and it was feared she was having a miscarriage. While he was thankfully fine, sadly it was discovered that an empty sac was also present and a second baby or "silent twin" had been lost.

Dil and Anne Marie chose to have the baby at home via a private service called Neighbourhood Midwives, and were delighted with the service. They practised "gentle birth" training, which teaches you not to see the pain associated with labour as a threat, and as a result, Dil enjoyed her 24 hours in labour, where she watched a Madonna concert, ate curry and danced, before having a water birth.

"I guided the whole thing, and you'd swear I had given birth before because I was so confident and knew what to do," says Dil. "Anne Marie was amazing and was constantly with me, holding my hand and being so comforting. It was an absolute celebration and I tell women all the time that labour doesn't have to be this traumatic thing.

"It can be a positive, empowering and liberating experience, like it was for me. Phoenix was so calm and alert right from the start, and I call him my little Buddha boy."

They didn't know the sex in advance, and Dil and Anne Marie were delighted to have a gorgeous, healthy little boy. "It took a while to get used to there being a willy in the house," laughs Dil, who vehemently opposes gender stereotyping and has never fit the stereotype of what a woman should be anyway. "I was asking my friends, 'How do you wash it?'"

It may surprise some people to learn that both Dil and Anne Marie were hoping to breastfeed Phoenix, but it's actually perfectly possible for a woman to produce milk if she hasn't been pregnant, through the process of induced lactation. This involves using a breast pump before the baby arrives to stimulate milk production, but it's a process that takes time.

"It would have taken a good three months of pumping and expressing to get Anne Marie's mammary glands going, and although she tried, unfortunately time got the better of us," says Dil. "When Phoenix was born, Anne Marie cut the cord and the midwives put him on her chest while I was in the pool waiting to give birth to the placenta. He actually latched on to her first, so he knew she was his mother from the get go."

Anne Marie says that the reality of being a parent hit her after she walked the midwife to the door a few hours after the night birth. When she returned, an exhausted Dil and baby Phoenix were both sound asleep. "It was very surreal and a moment I will never forget, because I realised that it wasn't just the two of us any more," she says. "I couldn't sleep, and kept walking over to make sure Phoenix was still breathing, but it was wonderful."

For any set of new parents, it's common and completely normal for the partner who hasn't given birth to feel they're in a different place to the one who carried the baby. Initially, Anne Marie found it strange going back to work after three weeks, and then coming home and trying to understand what she had missed during the day.

"Someone said to me that Dil is the primary mother and I'm the secondary one, and that didn't sit well with me," she says. "I needed to understand that she is the primary caregiver to Phoenix and I'm the primary provider.

"There is a thing with roles initially where you can feel sensitive and think the other person has a much stronger connection with the baby, but Phoenix and I have a really strong bond. It was different to Dil's and it took time to understand that. He is beautiful, strong and gentle little soul, and is such a happy and content baby," she says.

"Phoenix has bonded with both of us equally," adds Dil. "Everyone says it must be easier with two women, but that is absolute horseshit. Men can be fantastic carers too, but society has created a notion that a man is less of a man if he is hands-on."

Little Phoenix was born on May 17, and he came a week early. His mums reckon he didn't want to miss out on being part of history, as his first family outing took place five days later, when they went to cast their votes in the marriage equality referendum.

"It was so emotional," says Dil. "As we put the ballot papers in, I kissed mine and Anne Marie kissed hers, as our hopes and dreams rested on those sheets of paper. Thank God it all went so beautifully. That Saturday, I went on my radio show as a guest to talk about the baby, and I proposed to Anne Marie live on air. She had no idea I was going to do it, but she said yes."

Anne Marie may have been surprised, but the guests who arrived for Phoenix's naming ceremony and blessing in December got an even bigger shock. After the blessing, the proud parents invited them back to their lovely Georgian home overlooking Mountjoy Park, above their practice, where they had secretly arranged caterers, a string quartet - and a wedding ceremony! Dil's pal and Best Man, comedian Steve Cummins, did a set to entertain the unsuspecting guests, while the women took Anne Marie's thrilled parents aside and told them they were getting married in ten minutes.

"Steve made the announcement that we were inviting our guests upstairs to our wedding, and we heard the gasps," Dil recalls. " They came up to the Discovery Gospel Choir singing, and it was amazing to have the people closest to us there celebrating both Phoenix and the love we share for each other."
With two amazing mums already, baby Phoenix won't be short of wonderful, strong male role models either, including Anne Marie's dad and brothers. Dil is delighted that her own father recently came over from Sri Lanka to stay with them for a month, and developed a great relationship with the baby. This was particularly significant as there have been well-documented difficulties between Dil and her conservative family and they were estranged for several years.

The healing is a work-in-progress, she says, but the process will be continued when she and Anne Marie go to Sri Lanka in June with Phoenix to visit the rest of the family.

Meanwhile, the women are thrilled with their delightful baby son, and the fact that they have been able to get married and gain the security that this affords legally is the icing on the cake.

"It didn't take marriage to strengthen our relationship, but it has linked us core to core," smiles Anne Marie. "We are still the same people. but we're married now with a baby son and it's amazing."

www.insightmatters.ie

Global Village, Newstalk, Saturday 7-8pm

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