Monday 14 October 2019

'We're like a Celtic Tiger home with two ovens' - Newstalk presenter Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole on their next baby

Same-sex couple Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole are thrilled to announce Anne Marie's pregnancy, less than two years after Dil gave birth to their son Phoenix

Anne-Marie and Dil say they are like
Anne-Marie and Dil say they are like "a Celtic Tiger kitchen with two ovens" as they expect their second child
Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole pictured with their son Phoenix
Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole with their son Phoenix. They are expecting their second child. Photo: David Conachy

Andrea Smith

It's two years since Living met Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole, when Dil was pregnant with their first child. Several very welcome changes have taken place since then, the first being that they are now the thrilled parents of little Phoenix, an extremely handsome and well-behaved 22-month-old toddler.

The marriage equality referendum passed when Phoenix was five days old, which had a bearing on the second change. After his naming ceremony was over in December 2015, his mums shocked the assembled guests by inviting them upstairs in their lovely Georgian home overlooking Mountjoy Park, where the two women proceeded to get married. That they could do so legally and avail of the protection marriage offers meant a lot to them.

Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole with their son Phoenix. Anne Marie is expecting their second child
Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole with their son Phoenix. Anne Marie is expecting their second child

And the most recent development is the delightful news that their family is set to expand, as Anne Marie is 17 weeks' pregnant with their second child. Today marks the first time the mental health practitioners have shared the news publically.

Dil (43) and Anne Marie (36) attended the Institut Marques (formerly Clane Fertility Clinic) again and found it lovely having the same medical team. On her pregnancy, Dil had IUI (intrauterine insemination) where donor sperm was injected into her uterine cavity. Alas it didn't work so she had IVF treatment, where an egg is fertilised outside the body and transferred to the womb, and it was successful. Anne Marie's IUI worked first time, and she and Dil have used the same "known" donor for both children. Ireland uses Danish sperm banks, and while the donor can never contact them, if the children choose to contact him at 18, they will have their mothers' full support.

Anne Marie instinctively felt that the procedure had worked. "I had an almost primal hunger that I've never felt before," she says. "I was walking down Gardiner Street one day and got this mad craving for food, so I bought a big crusty roll. I would never usually eat food on the street, but I just hoovered it down. Our own pregnancy test came up positive after two weeks, which felt amazing, and I couldn't wait for the clinic to confirm it." Anne Marie experienced nausea and debilitating tiredness between weeks two and 10, and has felt marvellous since. She plans to have a water birth at home, just as Dil had with Phoenix. "Before we even started inseminating, we checked when our home birth midwife, Liz, was available in 2017," says Dil. "We had such an amazing experience with her that we want to have her again."

The female half of heterosexual couples can often be heard lamenting that it's a pity men can't bear children. While it comes to a lesbian couple, the option is there for both partners to carry the baby, if they choose. While the original plan was for Dil to have the first baby and Anne Marie to have the second, Dil enjoyed pregnancy so much that she longed to bear another child herself.

Over the moon: Dil Wickremasinghe and Ann Marie Toole pictured in 2015 when Dil was pregnant with Phoenix
Over the moon: Dil Wickremasinghe and Ann Marie Toole pictured in 2015 when Dil was pregnant with Phoenix

Anne Marie assured her that she would have been happy for her to go again, but Dil decided not to do it because of her age. She also knew that, while her wife was being very generous in offering to step aside, Anne Marie also really yearned to bear a baby. "I felt so blessed to be pregnant at the age of 41 and had such a powerful experience giving birth that I wished I could squeeze one more in," Dil laughs. "It's great for me, though, because I could outsource my second pregnancy. I always say that we are like a Celtic Tiger home - we have two ovens so we may as well use them both."

"And I was so ready for it," Anne Marie adds. "During Dil's pregnancy, I wasn't in that space, but something changed in recent months and I had a very deep yearning to be pregnant."

Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole pictured with their son Phoenix
Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole pictured with their son Phoenix

Actually, at one point, the two women contemplated becoming pregnant at the same time. Now that they have had one child, they have vetoed that particular plan. "We realise that idea was crazy," Anne Marie smiles. "We're mental health professionals and we know what lunacy is."

Of course, the other thing that has changed is the political landscape. When Dil was pregnant, the marriage equality debate was raging, and she and Anne Marie were subjected to vitriolic abuse and hostility from opponents of same-sex marriage and parenthood. They dealt with it with immense dignity and openness, which was a great help in informing the debate and also giving hope to others in the same position.

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

The couple have also had to come through some difficulties of their own in the past to bring them to the happy position they are in today. Dil is from Sri Lanka, but she was rejected there and sacked from a job in radio for being gay, and also experienced sexual abuse outside the home. The shame she felt turned to depression, and her healing began when she moved to Ireland and had therapy. She is presenter of Global Village on Newstalk, which highlights social justice and mental health issues.

Anne Marie is from Meath, and she only came out three months before she met Dil in 2010. In the preceding years, she suffered with anxiety and had developed the eating disorder bulimia nervosa, which saw her being hospitalised. Now a psychotherapist and counsellor, she believes that her mental health problems were inextricably bound up in the repression of her sexuality.

Bearing her own history in mind, what has it been like for Anne Marie seeing her body change with the pregnancy? "That whole part of the journey has been huge for me," she admits. "I make the odd comment to Dil asking how my body looks, like every partner does, but I am just letting it do what it needs to do now. I know that when it grows, it is part of something greater and that has been tremendous for me." While Dil stayed at home for several months with Phoenix and Anne Marie went off to work full-time, the situation will be reversed this time. Dil had it easier in many ways as she only had herself and the baby to take care of, whereas Anne Marie will have their son to mind too. "Anne Marie is not going to have the luxury of going to all of these lovely classes with a newborn baby because she will have a toddler who wants her attention too," says Dil. "I am very mindful of that and want to give her as much support as possible. Seeing her body changing and her bump growing is miraculous, and she has never been more attractive."

The thing Anne Marie has in her favour is that they are now living above Insight Matters, their affordable psychotherapy, counselling and personal development guidance centre on Mountjoy Square. When Phoenix was born they were renting an apartment in Ashtown, Dublin 15 and Dil felt a bit isolated. "I would have a crying baby and I'd be looking out at the buses going by and hoping that Anne Marie was on one of them," says Dil. "We are living on top of a mental health practice with 35 therapists now, so we will have lots of support. If Anne Marie needs adult company or someone to talk to, she just has to pop downstairs for a change of environment."

Their practice Insight Matters has become a huge success and Anne Marie and Dil are currently seeking ethical investors to move it to the next level. They plan to buy the building they're in and franchise so there's a service like theirs in every Irish town.

The other thing that's different this time around is that Dil will be able to breastfeed the new baby too, as she is still feeding Phoenix. It may surprise some people to learn that Anne Marie initially hoped to breastfeed Phoenix, as it's possible for a non-pregnant woman to produce milk through the process of induced lactation using a breast pump. It takes a few months to achieve and unfortunately time got the better of them, so it didn't happen for Anne Marie by the time Phoenix arrived.

This time around, both women will be producing milk, so they plan on "tandem" feeding the new baby. It also means that Anne Marie will now have the option to feed Phoenix too. "It will be interesting for other people looking at us fighting over who feeds the baby," says Dil. "He or she will have the option of chocolate booby or vanilla booby. It will be different for Anne Marie having a two-year-old breastfeeding from her because Phoenix has teeth. You can see him noticing that her boobs are getting bigger every morning when he sees her getting changed."

In a heterosexual couple or LGBTQ+ one where only one partner carries the babies, the relationship of the other parent to the children is on what you might term an equal playing field. In the case of Dil and Anne Marie, how might it pan out in a situation where they have both carried one child? "Do you mean will we have favourites?" says Dil, who has a wickedly funny sense of humour, while Anne Marie takes up the challenge of trying to explain it.

"I didn't carry or feed Phoenix and while I loved him straight away, the bond had to grow," she says. "Dil's relationship with him and the bond they have as birth mother and mother currently feeding him is different than my relationship with him. The non-birth parent has to do more to connect with the child, as the other has it naturally through biology and carrying. So I had to figure out how I could connect with Phoenix and nurture him in my own way. My relationship with him is so special, and from now until August, I just want to spend as much time as I can with him because I'm going to have someone else needing me too."

Phoenix went through a stage where he wouldn't do anything without Dil, and got upset every time she left for work. "There were times that he would reject Anne Marie and only want me, and that could have been upsetting for her," says Dil. "She understood that it was a very necessary part of the developmental cycle for a baby. In the past month, the clinginess has subsided, and Phoenix is growing naturally and organically into his own independence."

Anne Marie says that while she understood in her head that their little son was transitioning from being a part of his mother to being his own independent person, of course it hurt her heart when she was pushed away. "It did because I'm only human," she says. "I realised that my job was to be present for him, even if he was telling me that he wanted Dil and not me at certain points. I had to remember that he gave me a million indications in the previous week that he wanted me just as much as he wanted Dil. It was just a phase that is threatening for a child, hence the clinginess, and he has come out the other side even more securely attached."

Dil and Anne Marie have taken a very gentle baby-led approach to parenting, and Phoenix has wonderful male role models, including Anne Marie's dad and brothers and their own friends. Her family are delighted about the new baby, and her parents took care of Phoenix the day she and Dil went in for the IUI treatment. There have been well-documented difficulties between Dil and her own family in Sri Lanka, but her dad visited Ireland last year and Dil, Anne Marie and Phoenix flew over there in June to see her parents. "The healing is still a work in progress," Dil admits, "but I'm not looking for anything from them any more because I have my own family now".

Their plan for Phoenix is for him to attend a Steiner school, which focuses on emotional well-being and they will also partly home-school him. As they do so much work in the area of gender identity, they're very conscious of it around their son. "We let Phoenix take the lead," says Dil. "We try as much as possible to get gender-neutral toys and clothes, and we're raising him as a feminist. We want him to be a well-rounded individual and know that boys can cry or work at whatever they want."

Anne Marie and Dil don't know the sex of the new baby yet, but have no preference. As long as it's healthy, I say proffering the usual old platitude, and Dil corrects me, gently but firmly. "People always say it doesn't matter once it's healthy, but I think that creates a hierarchy as well," she says. "Not all children are born healthy or with the same abilities, so we'll just be happy that the baby is born alive. After that, we can work with anything else." 'Global Village', Newstalk, Saturdays from 7-8pm

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