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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #11 – Understanding Why

The following is a repost from February 2011. You’ll find the original post and comments here.
"Why? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Isn't there an answer? Why don't the doctors know? How could this happen? I don't believe this is happening to me? All these questions I have asked. All these questions I know other women have asked, and continue to ask. Today they ask "Why?" Tomorrow they will ask "Why me?" They wonder if it was their fault. They wonder if they did something to deserve this. They just want to know why. And my heart goes out to them.
Years ago, a friend quoted Gertrude Stein to me:
“There is no answer. There will never be an answer. That is the answer.”
In a strange way, this has been a real comfort to me; knowing that there is no "why." It just happens.
I look at women who have children easily, who don't have losses, who have never lost their innocence in pregnancy. They have not been judged to be worthy, just as I have not been judged to be unworthy. I look at women who get pregnant when they don't want to. Why does this happen? Well, just because it does. It doesn't mean that they are better than me. It doesn't mean they are luckier than me. They don't feel luckier. Those who struggle to cope physically, or financially, or emotionally, with a(nother) baby don't always see the baby as a gift, even if that is how we would see one. I look at women with children who neglect them, abuse them, or abandon them, who expose them to violent or abusive partners, who pay more attention to their own needs than those of their child. Clearly, the biological act of having a baby is not evidence of their good character, or their good behaviour. These women are no better than me. A baby is not a reward for good behaviour, however much we might wish it could be. Not having a baby is not a punishment, however much it might feel like that.
It can take a while to reach acceptance of this. Women are very good at blaming ourselves. We search for answers. We expect answers. These days, when so much can be cured, solved, calculated or discovered, we can't understand why some of us can have babies and some of us can't. We get angry, and often - because there is no-one else we can blame - we blame ourselves. Pointlessly. Painfully. Sometimes destructively.
I've lived and travelled around the world. I have seen wonderful people in difficult circumstances. I have seen awful people with family they don't value, with riches they don't appreciate or do anything good with. I have seen beloved, kind, good friends die young, I've seen those who have been tortured, and I've seen the selfish and downright evil live till they are very old. None of this is right or can be justified. None of this happens for a reason. None of this is because you were judged to be deserving or not. None of this is because they were or were not being rewarded. It just is.
For me, understanding that there is no justice in the world is as much understanding as I can ever expect to have. There is no reason why. And that knowledge frees me from the guilt. It means that I don't question myself every time I hear of a case of child abuse or neglect, or unwanted pregnancy. It means I can love myself and have compassion for myself when I feel sad. It means I can have compassion for other people too, regardless of their situation.
I just hope others can get here too."

Three years later,  I still feel like this. I like being in this place. It helps me understand, not just infertility, but the rest of the world too. It brings me peace.  And that is a true gift.

Monday, September 15, 2014

#MicroblogMondays - The MicroblogMondays Blogroll

 The #MicroblogMondays blogroll isn't a micro blogroll. That's both good - because it means a lot of people are doing it - and bad. It's bad because I feel the need to read (and maybe comment on) all the posts on the list. That's okay, they're short. But then I get curious about the person (if I don't know them), and want to read more.  And then … well, you know how it goes. 

I need to be more disciplined, not so much with the writing – that’s coming easily - but with the reading of #MicroblogMondays posts.  My solution? Rationing.

PS.  There's also a #MicroblogMondays post over at A Separate Life.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Saying “goodbye” to our dreams

Some time ago, I read a post by a blogger who is parenting two children after infertility. She talked about how badly she wanted another child, but couldn't have, due to a range of different circumstances (infertility, finances, partner, etc). I will admit that I read this with a little roll of my eyes; she already has the “ideal” family, after all. But of course, that’s the point. Her “ideal” family, the one she imagined and hoped for, was larger than two kids and two parents. And so she continues to yearn. I may sound as if I have no compassion, but I do. I know all too well the loss, the lack, that she feels.

The comments on her post almost universally agreed with her, echoing (and amplifying?) her pain Other women parenting after infertility talked about their sadness that they can’t have more children, talking about the sometimes overwhelming urge, the desperation, and the refusal to shut the door on their dreams.

It struck me that these women, who had in the end got (most of) what they wanted, could not move on. Their door hadn't been slammed shut on them, as most of ours were (at whatever stage, for whatever reason, we felt we could not go on). Many of them have, it seems, never learned to move on - they got out of the waiting room by being pregnant or becoming a mother, and carry so much of the emotional trauma of infertility with them still.  They haven’t had to deal with ending their dreams.  Not totally.  (I know there are varying degrees of acceptance of the end of dreams with those who have to pursue IVF, donor eggs/sperm/adopting embryos, and fostering or adoption, and I don't want to belittle the loss involved with these choices.)  So they still endlessly torture themselves thinking about what their ideal families, and mourning the loss. 

But I see, time and again, evidence that those who go on to parent don't always realise that eventually it is a matter of choosing not to hurt. But then I remember choosing not to think, consciously stopping my “what if” thoughts. It was brutal – I’d remember, or have to remind myself, that it just wasn't going to happen. Each time it hurt, and sometimes the hurt was cumulative, before it started to ebb. It took time, but really, over just a few months, those thoughts - and the acute pain that accompanied them - receded. I'm not saying it was easy. I remember wanting to hang on to my grief, taking familiar comfort in the wanting, feeling guilty about relinquishing the dreams.  (Did it mean I didn't want it enough?) But in the end, I knew better than to entertain the "what-ifs" because they only brought pain – painful reminders of loss, and painful reminders that it wasn't going to happen.

It was a necessary maturity I've learned through infertility, learning not to want what I can’t have. The relatively brief (in the context of my life – or as Klara says, the next 15,000 days) pain of the process is followed up by peace and a new enthusiasm for life. I hope these women manage to face the loss of their dreams, and can work through it in the way we have had to. Because coming out on the other side is worth it.

I've had this post brewing for months now. Then this week, Loribeth* posted a link to this article about a study that says: 
“Women who already had children but wanted more had worse mental health than women who wanted children, didn't have them, but were able to move on with their lives.”
It was interesting to see that a study had confirmed exactly what I had been thinking. The article comments that the study author also commented on the “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types. I interpret this, in infertility terms, to refer to the “never give up” brigade, the ones who declare (once they have their happy little families) that they know would never have given up, they’re not quitters (not like us).

But as the study author says, 
“There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being.”

We all do this throughout our lives, after all. Years ago, I wrote a post about the dreams I had had to set aside as I grew up, and called it “Never.” Yes, having children is bigger and was always more – I don’t know if realistic is the word – statistically likely than getting into the Silver Ferns. But now, it is just another thing on the list I've left behind.

The study author makes on last point, one that I particularly like, and one that I think is very relevant to the ALI community; a community that provides wonderful support, but rarely accepts that there might be a time when they shouldn’t cheer each other on endlessly, imploring them to “never give up,” and at times (perhaps unwittingly) shaming those who do.

“We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”

Once again, that is why I blog, why I comment, and why I'm still here in this community.

* Apologies to Loribeth - I read the article then wrote this, then double-checked your post and saw we’d picked out most of the same quotes!