Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #14 - Mindfulness

The emotional pain I felt during and after my ectopic pregnancies was acute. Everything hurt. Everywhere there were reminders that other people got pregnant, and had happy families. It didn’t help that I went through these losses at Christmas, when there is such a huge, inescapable emphasis on mothers and fathers and children. It hurt. Everywhere we looked, it hurt.

My second ectopic, almost exactly a year after the first, after we had dared to hope it was in the right place, after we had actually been brave enough to tell my immediate family that I was pregnant (I had to explain why I wasn’t drinking on Christmas Day after all), was a nightmare in endurance. The pain didn’t seem to end. I bled daily for close to seven months. I couldn’t begin to try to conceive again until this was resolved, and that required many more blood tests, doctor’s visits, treatments, hospitalisations and surgeries. And so much waiting. As a counsellor said, during that time, I experienced hundreds of little griefs. Each time I was reminded of my loss, it was another stab in an already painful wound.

I needed comfort, but nothing would really comfort me. Except the little things; the little things like the summer sun warming my back, hearing a tui call in the trees outside, or a joke on a sitcom that would make me laugh, for a split second allowing me to be happy and carefree. Or, when we escaped other people and sought out a remote cliff, I was in awe at the beauty of the deep blue of the Tasman Sea, white seagulls riding the wind, the contrast of the green hills and clear blue summer sky. Even the view through the windows of the trees outside my house could, in certain lights, make me smile. The sadness always returned, but I learned fairly quickly to take those moments of joy when they came. In fact, I learned to seek them out, because they made the pain bearable. They allowed me to breathe, to smile, and to relax.

I realised later that I was learning mindfulness. I was learning to appreciate the moment, not to think about what had happened, or what was about to happen, or what might never happen. I was experiencing the moment. I thought back to a book that a dear Thai friend gave to me when I was living there in the early 90s. It was by Thich Nhat Hanh, and talked about “doing the dishes to do the dishes.” I finally understood it.

Mindfulness is good for its own sake, to calm us and bring some peace to our minds and hearts. But mindfulness also taught me to appreciate what I have now.

Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.  
H. Schaatel

Monday, September 29, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: No Kids to Promote

One of the things I miss about not having children is not having activities to support, sports to watch and cheer from the sidelines, music lessons and practice to supervise. But on the plus side, I don’t have to hit up friends and relatives and neighbours for fund-raising for Plunket, for the schools or sports teams or overseas trips. I don’t have to sell raffle tickets or Girl Guide biscuits, or the fund-raising chocolates that seem these days to be ubiquitous in workplaces. I don't inundate my friends here or on Facebook with these fund-raising requests, or ball photos or bragging about sports teams or exam results or what they cooked me for breakfast on Mother's Day. I don't get to do any of that.

So when I saw that the daughter of a friend of mine was involved in a campaign, I decided I should support her. I’ve only ever used my blog one other time to try to garner support for someone doing something I believed in. So I’ll keep it short and sweet. But you can read more about Maddie and her campaign here.

Please indulge me just this once.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #13 – Compassion and empathy

We don’t all see the world the same. That is obvious. But many of us – after loss or infertility or both – find that we no longer see the world the same as our younger selves either. If the world had been safe before, then it is no longer safe. If we felt we had belonged before, we no longer feel we belong. If we thought that there was meaning before, maybe we no longer feel there is meaning. The world changes and we change with it.

Seeing the world differently for me meant that I was suddenly aware that many people don’t see the world as safe, struggle to find meaning, and no longer feel they belong. I could see the vulnerability of so many of us, and could understand others' pain or fear or isolation, having come face to face with these myself.  I understood grief and the grieving so much more, no matter what the loss is. And there are so many losses in this world.

I was able to take my experiences, the process of grief, longing, loneliness, and healing, and use them to try to understand others.  The desire to try to understand had always been there for me. But I started used it consciously, realising that previously I had probably empathised when it was natural, easy, or made me feel comfortable. 

This might seem contradictory, but I also understand much better that we can never make assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling. Empathy and compassion forces me to think things through, to try to understand the different reasons why someone might act the way they do, say what they say, feel the way they feel. This understanding helps the compassion come more easily, and as it does, judgements and assumptions slip away.  And so the empathy grows.  Of course, that enables me to help people. I like that. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: When Granddad is irrelevant

Today we visited the in-laws. They were chatting about reminiscences, and next moment father-in-law is referring to himself as Granddad. Except that I thought he was talking about his grandfather. So I asked a dumb question, which he responded to accordingly.

Then I realised. “Don’t call yourself Granddad to us!” I remonstrated him. “We won’t get it, because to us, Granddad is irrelevant.”

I wasn't being overly sensitive, or bitter, or even unkind to him. I was just being honest.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #12 – Strength

Infertility is really hard. I think any of us who have been through it would agree. We go through stress, endure pressure from family and friends (often unwitting), society, and ourselves, we deal with month after month of disappointment, we have to find resources – physical, emotional, and maybe financial – that we didn’t know we had to cope with this. We feel broken, damaged, and lose confidence. We grieve. We cry a lot. A lot! We feel weak. Yet so often, we endure all this and put on a bright face to the world.

Whether our infertility journey ends with children or not, we have come through one of life’s major stresses. Research has shown that the stress associated with fertility treatment can be at a level comparable to the stress associated with serious illness. But unlike a serious illness, we often go through this without much support, sometimes feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

The grief born of infertility and loss helped me – ultimately - understand just how strong I was. The only problem is that I didn’t realise it at the time! Strength to me is not finding something easy that we breeze through. (Just as it isn’t brave to jump off a cliff if you aren’t scared.) Strength is finding something hard, but still facing up to it, working through it, living with it day in and day out. Even when we don’t want to. Strength is accepting that life doesn’t always deliver what we want or expect.
Strength too is learning how to ask for help. That’s perhaps another post, but I feel it deserves to be here too.

When my father died, a few years after we had ended our fertility journey, I actually realised what a gift I had been given. I wrote then that my infertility and loss experiences

“helped me get through this. … But having been through my (ectopics) and - my biggest loss - learning I would not have children, I knew that I would get through this. And so the grieving did not scare me, in the way I thought it would. Crying did not scare me - so I was the teary one of the daughters, though often laughing at the same time.”
 “My losses gave me yet another wonderful gift, one for which I am very grateful, and that was the gift of being able to help my mother, to focus on her through such a difficult time.”

Grief is horrible, painful, and it can feel relentless. But I know now I can get through it, even when I wonder why I should continue. Strength is not being afraid to lose, not being afraid of grief, because the having, the love, the hope – they are all worth going through that pain. The strength I have as a result of my losses gave me the courage to face a life I didn’t choose. The strength I have as a result of my losses and living a life I didn’t choose now gives me the courage to face up to whatever might come – including inevitably more grief in life. For that, I am thankful.