Monday, 27 June 2016

Blog posts I won't be writing

A continuing series
  • Posts that list prompts that focus on being a parent, and “your” child. I’ve done that already, and have made my point that these posts can almost always be rephrased to be more inclusive, so as I don’t want to keep reminding any of us of what we have lost by continuing these posts, I have finally deleted all those prompts I won’t be using.
But that got me thinking about the other posts I don't want to write here:
  • Posts lamenting what should have been, because I don't feel this language is helpful. I may however, occasionally touch on what might have been, and will always try to be balanced, if not in one post, then in a follow-up.
  • Any post that says "you can achieve anything if you want it enough," because we, of all people, know this isn't true, whether it refers to becoming a parent, or whether it refers to achieving happiness, it only spreads blame and smothers empathy.
  • Posts that ignore the pain and heartache it takes to get to a good place.
  • Posts that deny that we can, indeed, get to a good place, a happy place.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Avalanche: A Book Review

Several weeks ago, I was sent a review copy of a new book - I don’t know the author, and have no connections with the publisher, but they’d found my blog. I was under no obligation to write a review, but when I stayed awake to 1 am to finish it, I knew I was going to do so.

Julia Leigh's Avalanche is a small book, split into two sections. The first deals with her marriage and first forays into trying to have a child with her husband. Their relationship was obviously complicated, and I couldn’t really relate to this part of the book at all. Following their divorce, the author then pursued IVF with a donor, and tells her story of the process, the reactions of those around her, and some of her own thoughts.

The author is a novelist and a film director, and she knows how to convey emotions and events. Her writing is often beautifully spare – something I envy, but can only rarely achieve. There is much unsaid in this book, subtly mentioned or only hinted at, events and conversations and observations recounted with no embellishing commentary. Having been around IVF and writing and thinking about the assisted reproduction world for a long time now, I enjoyed these subtle mentions, recognising them immediately, laughing or flinching or rolling my eyes in disgust at a simple sentence that said so much.

But, as Sarah said, there is a “shady abyss that lies between what is obvious to me and what is obvious to everyone else.” So I worry that the average reader – perhaps someone who was reading this to learn about the process, or to find out how to support someone who had been or was going through IVF – might miss these hints completely. I fear that the impact of the beautiful brevity of her words will sadly be lost, because the messages are there.

Still, for me there was a delightful feeling of being in the club, for once I could get the jokes (and weep the tears), and was in the circle.

I started trying to conceive in my mid-late 30s, and so could very much relate to some of the issues the author raised. This one in particular, made me laugh in recognition, and cringe at my naivete:
 “It seemed that every second day a celebrity in her forties was having a baby. I gratefully swallowed the evidence.”
We start to see her recognition that women without children are subject to judgement not empathy:
“In the public imagination – as I perceive it - there’s a qualified sympathy for IVF patients, not unlike that for smokers who get lung cancer. Unspoken: “You signed up for it, so what did you expect …?”
 She touches too on what drives many of us to have children, and why we feel so bereft when it doesn’t work.
“Part of me wanted to have a child just so I could have an inviolable reason for being.”

The loss so many of us feel when we can’t have children, yet which the majority of society don’t see as a loss or grief, is painfully acknowledged in this paragraph:
“I’m an expert at make-believe. Our child was not unreal to me. It was not a real child but also it was not unreal. Maybe a better way to say it is that the unknown unconceived had been an inner presence. A desired and nurtured inner presence. Not real but a singular presence in which I had radical faith.A presence that could not be substituted or replaced.”
I am also sure we could all relate to her gratitude to the doctor who referred to the embryo as “the baby,” even though she herself lists the damning statistics of the likelihood of her embryos ever being born.

It took me many years before I could say the words, “infertile” or “infertility,” so I had to laugh in recognition at this:
“Infertile. A slip of the tongue. … I wasn’t infertile I was ‘trying to get pregnant.’”
She makes the usual observations – usual for us, perhaps not for those who have never been infertile or childless by chance/circumstance – about pursuing motherhood in our modern, Western societies. I found her contrast with the Australian Torres Strait Islanders, where she noted that a “clinic on the island would almost certainly go bankrupt” to be interesting, as there was a real similarity with the Maori and Polynesian peoples here in New Zealand. Likewise, adoption seems to be equally difficult in both our countries.

She goes into some details of the process of IVF, and this would be useful for anyone – in particular I think for those who have friends or family going through this.
“An uncharitable thought ... IVF seemed to be a great deal about levels and cut-offs. If number X, then do Y. I wondered if it was the medical equivalent of conveyancing in the legal world, which is to say, largely formulaic, a matter of following protocol.”

“It seemed that only a veil of science shrouded the vast mystery.”
She talks about costs, and how suddenly $5-600 seems like nothing at all, an incidental add-on when, even though some of her costs were recoverable through Australia’s Medicare system, she was spending thousands of dollars every cycle. Then there was this one, simple sentence that says it all:
“In the parking spot reserved for Medical Practitioners Only I noticed a Bentley.”
The emotional impact of doing IVF is clear throughout the book, and she writes about not talking about IVF, and about feeling smaller, less than, “pathetic,” and about the isolation of going through this.

Finally, she acknowledges that there “… was another way out of limbo. The dark and rocky path.”
She doesn’t touch on the dark and rocky path in any detail. But she does touch on the doubt I’m sure we have all felt when first venturing out on that path.
“I tried everything. But did I? Did I really?” 
The book is subtitled A Love Story. There are at least three if not four love stories here – the one with her ex-husband, with the child she hoped to have, the ongoing love story with her nieces, and finally, rediscovering a love story with both herself and the world. I hope this acknowledgement of healing and recovery will give hope to others who may be facing the dark and rocky path – the one that, as I always say, leads up into the sun with expansive, if different, vistas.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A thread in my tapestry

I have just finished reading On Top of Everything by Sarah-Kate Lynch, a New Zealand writer of generally light-hearted fiction who is always likeable, with a good sense of humour and lovely turn of phrase. As well as enjoying the characters, laughing at some of the comments, and drooling over a  recipe for a chocolate cake, this book also had me in tears a number of times, discussing grief and loss in many forms, including (but not only) infertility, childlessness by circumstance, and loss.

A message I try to express, but never so beautifully, about healing from grief is noted in the following line:
“It’s like he’s a thread in my tapestry, not the whole wall hanging …”
I was also please to find a comment that expresses how I feel about my ectopics and infertility, in that I discuss them only when I deem appropriate, and don't feel at all obliged to share my losses with others unless I am comfortable with doing so.

“I wouldn’t be bring him out like that and introduce him to someone unless I thought it would be of some help.”
She talks about grief and vulnerability, aptly saying:
“Accepting sympathy means you’ve
dropped any pretence of not needing it
and that leaves you raw.”
 And finally, perhaps my favourite, 
“nobody escapes the pitfalls of being a human being.”

Saturday, 18 June 2016

No Kidding in NZ reaches out into the world

Well, my last post was about those living no kidding lives venturing out into the world. Now this one is about me AND my No Kidding blog reaching out into the world.

BlogHer have featured my post "It gets easier" this week. You can see it here. I've even signed up properly to Twitter, though I don't use it so don't expect to see me there much! (@MaliNZ)

Thursday, 16 June 2016

No Kidding out in the world

There have been some very good pieces this last week about coping in the real world, and self-protection. Bamberlamb and Sarah wrote about the realities of living in the real world, and Mel (who wrote about doing what is hard, though in a non-IF context), and Bent Not Broken (who wrote about self-protection) talked about the decisions of how to deal with the realities of life. As I moved from post to post, I felt the links, the continuity, between all these thoughts and issues.

Navigating a world where having children is the norm, when we aren’t part of that norm, is a feature of our lives. Back when I had my ectopics, I used to talk online to a friend about not belonging to the club, feeling isolated and apart, and she suggested setting up our own club, where we would have to be Club Leaders. A decade later, I see this happening more and more online – and even occasionally  in person. But when we don’t have the opportunity to meet up in our No Kidding Clubs  (ie 99% of our lives), we really need wider society to understand (or even to seek to understand), and because they can’t and don’t and won’t, we can feel isolated and vulnerable.

In particular, Sarah’s phrase -  “this thing we child free not by choicers are missing when we go out in the world” – spoke to me deeply. This is what the “others” don’t understand, even when they are broadly sympathetic. They don’t walk out into the world as we do, with our history, our losses, our reality. It’s the reality of feeling left out in social gatherings, when listening to political speeches, and in the heart and bosom of our families, when we realise we don’t count because we don’t have children.

(This doesn’t just apply to those of us without children either. There are myriad groups in society who also feel isolated, who are accused of being overly sensitive, who are criticised when they try to self-protect. It is what statements about privilege are all about, trying to get people to understand that their reality – what they face when they go out in the world - is not the reality for us all.)

So when we go out in the world, perhaps feeling isolated and ignored, how do we deal with this? Do we just suck it up, do the hard thing, pretend everything is okay, or do we self-protect? When is self-protection appropriate, and when is it just taking the easy way out?

I have often worried that others will think I am being overly dramatic, wallowing in my losses, and seeing artificial barriers. I felt weak when I didn’t want to be around children or pregnant women. I wondered if I was just taking the easy way out, if I was being a coward, if I needed to just suck it up. This was what I had heard or imagined other people saying. What I was actually doing was putting other people’s ignorant and privileged thoughts or words or actions before my own reality. And of course, sometimes I still do.

That’s not surprising, because emotional weakness wasn’t really acceptable when I was growing up. For years I felt I had no option but to do the hard thing, do what was expected, what was necessary. Doing the hardest things have sometimes, for me, given me the greatest rewards. Yet it isn’t always the right thing for me. The trick is balance, and figuring out when the easy way out is just a cop out, and when it is the right thing to do, changes depending on circumstances, on emotions, on people you’ll be with, on healing, on time. After grief, I started giving myself permission not to always do the hard thing. I needed too, to acknowledge that opting for self-protection, sticking up for ourselves, is sometimes the very hardest thing to do.

I’ve become quite good at this, at assessing what is real, when I need to protect myself, when I’m imagining the worst-case scenarios, when I need to push myself out into the world and when I can hide from it. Yet still I wonder and worry from time to time – especially as time passes, over a decade later – whether my continued focus on and exploration of my life without children (here on this blog, for example) is self-indulgent, melodramatic, wallowing?

And so these posts were a welcome reminder that it is okay to recognise that I walk a different path than others. Healing and acceptance, and a happiness with my life, aren’t a denial of the fact that I walk a different path than most. Talking about my different path isn’t complaining or wallowing, it is reaching out for understanding. Likewise, I am allowed to feel the impact of other people’s stereotypes or views, and – as a friend at brunch on the weekend pointed out – I don’t have to shrug them off and pretend they don’t hurt, or that they don’t exist. Feeling a slight against me, acknowledging that it has hurt, doesn’t mean that I am weak, that I am overly sensitive, or that I’m not really healed. It’s part of my life, and by not acknowledging these, I am ignoring my own reality. It’s bad enough that others do this to me, but I can’t do it to myself.

I say these words to others. I stand by them. I believe them. I live by them. But sometimes I slip, I admit that. So perhaps I need to say these words to myself more often.