Family of the League–Volume I

The day my boyfriend, Rohan, and I discovered we were going to have a baby started off with extreme happiness and ended with us in the hospital.

As soon as we left the doctor’s office we went out and splurged on baby clothes, even though bubs wouldn’t be arriving for another seven months. Rohan was so funny, cute and attentive–I knew even then he would have made a great father. Despite the fact that I was 20, he was 23 and bubs was a surprise, we knew we could be parents and that we would be happy.

The day turned on us on our way home. We thought nothing of one of the most dangerous things we all do on a daily basis, that is supposed to be made safer by road rules–driving home.

When I was on my L’s, I’d always been afraid of T-intersections. My father, Derryn, talked me out of this fear and I always felt safe with Rohan. When Rohan cruised through the intersection, he didn’t see the later-to-be-revealed drunk driver coming towards us.

Rohan’s side of the car was hit, so he took the majority of the impact and had the worst injuries–fractured skull, crushed legs via the collapsed dashboard and door, a broken arm and a crushed chest from the steering wheel. The surgeons did their best but he never stood a chance. I was unconscious due to concussion and whiplash for two days, I never got the chance to say goodbye.

Along with the concussion and whiplash, I also managed to break my right arm and leg, a few ribs and start a collection of cuts and bruises, most importantly and amazingly bubs managed to survive. I hadn’t had the chance to fell my father and my stepmother, Sharon, that I was pregnant, as my father was 16 when I was born, he wasn’t thrilled by the news of impending grandfather-hood at 36. Rohan’s parents, Charles and Ella, didn’t know how to feel–they were dealing with the devastation of the death of their only son, as well as the death of another child, and the joy of the existence of a soon-to-be only grandchild at the same time.

I left the hospital at the end of the week, with the funeral to follow three days later. I couldn’t get a moment’s peace with the press following us. We’re all part of AFL families. My father retired after 17 years with Essendon the year before and became a co-coach at the Western Bulldogs. My stepmother is the youngest of seven children and the only girl, her six older brothers, the “Rossi Brothers”, were all players and her father was coach of the Bulldogs. My Aunt Celia, my late mother’s older sister, is a famous former supermodel turned ball gown designer, all of the player’s wives and girlfriends buy their Brownlow frocks from her boutique. Rohan had played for the Bulldogs for five years, his last game was four days before he died–2 goals, 4 behinds, 5 marks and 6 possessions–pretty good but not his usual best. The upcoming game between the Bulldogs and Crows was cancelled and the points split evenly.

The press were respectful as they could be at the funeral, but I knew as a Channel 10 cadet reporter myself, that the story of a young AFL player’s unexpected death and funeral was newsworthy. The worst thing about the funeral was the shame I felt—the shame of not having the courage to give a eulogy, the shame of my visible injuries and the shame of surviving when he didn’t. I had an ultrasound at the hospital two days later, as one life I loved ended, another was about to begin and I had to deal with facing that alone.

My father was very protective of me, a week after the ultrasound, he convinced me to get out of the house and come to a club training session. It was there that Brad Carlisle and I met.

He came up to me to offer his condolences and tell me how much of a good man and player Rohan was. I didn’t talk to him much and he seemed to understand. Maybe it was due to his maturity, or at least he seemed more mature through my eyes as he is seven years older than me. He said that if I wanted to talk, I could wait for him after the training sessions, I didn’t that day. Our first proper conversation wouldn’t happen for another five weeks, when I had physio on my cast free arm and leg with the club’s physiotherapist and a swim to calm myself afterwards, especially when I was also nearing the end of my first trimester.

The conversations continued and as our friendship grew, so did bubs. It didn’t take long for the club and the public to catch on. The public were shocked but mostly filled with joy, I had fans come up to me and congratulate me and also offered parenting advice. I knew they meant well, but it did get annoying fast. As Brad and mine’s friendship grew, so did our feelings for each other and that guilt reared its ugly head. Shortly before my 20 week scan, Brad and I had a big fight, mostly about my pushing him away, I honestly never thought I would hear from him again.  It was also around that time that the rumours and the press were running rampant. The boys were disappointed in me and dad thought I was on the rebound.

At the 32 week mark, Brad came to see me and apologised. He made his feelings clear, I made it clear that while I was starting to reciprocate his feelings, any relationship that we could have, should progress slowly. He kissed me and we vowed to keep everything as discreet as possible.

Charles and Ella weren’t thrilled about the possibility of Brad being a part of my life and that I seemingly got over Rohan’s loss extremely quickly. In retrospect, I don’t blame them. Brad explained that he had no intention of hurting me or hurting the baby and that he would respect them as the baby’s grandparents.

Nicole Rohanna Matthews was born on February 18th 2006. She was named after Rohan’s late older sister, Nicole, who died of Leukaemia at the age of 16 in 2002. Her middle name, Rohanna, as well as her surname, was obviously to honour her father. Brad was present at the birth. If he really wanted to be with me and really wanted to be a father figure to the baby, he had to be there.

Whilst dealing with new motherhood, I was also dealing with the criticism of moving on from Rohan too soon in the public eye. We married a little over a year-and-half after Nicole’s birth on October 12th 2007.

We got the surprise of our lives when we were told that we managed to conceive triplets naturally, two years later. Henry Michael, David Mitchell and Michaela Miicha Carlisle, were born on March 24th 2010. The 2010 season was Brad’s last, he went to on to become St Kilda’s Forward Coach.

We lived our lives normally, in a sense, within the AFL world. The children had close loving relationships with us and their three sets of grandparents—my parents, Brad’s parents and Rohan’s parents. Charles and Ella treated Henry, David and Michaela as their own grandchildren, due to their connection with Nicole, and the triplets returned the favour with unconditional love.

The boys followed in their father’s footsteps, literally, and were drafted to the Bulldogs under the father-son rule. Nicole graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Melbourne and is now an AFL commentator. She looks exactly like her late father and late aunt—dark black hair and blue eyes. Michaela became one of the very few female field umpires.

Falling in love while pregnant with another man’s child isn’t a good idea, but looking back on it, as tough and frowned upon as it was, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.


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