Monday, 13 February 2017

Coping with children in our lives

Saying “it gets better” may at times feel meaningless to a grieving childless person, because it is so vague, not specifying how, or when, it will happen. So I’m going to try to articulate something that I realised today, after reading two different blog posts about spending time with children.

When we’re infertile, and going through the initial grief of childlessness, every child and every pregnant belly we see are reminders of the children we wanted, the children we have lost, the children we will never have, and the parents we will never be. They feel so close, such an intimately painful part of us that has been wrenched away, that having them around us is at times unbearable. We’re acutely aware they are not our children, the children we wanted, but yet … in ways … all children are the children we wanted, our children. 

As we heal, I think we manage to put a distance between ourselves and our wounded hearts, and other people’s children, recognising that there’s a difference between the children we wanted to have, and the children who are there in front of us. That separation in my heart and my mind certainly got easier over time, as children who were babies at the time we were pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) grew and developed their own unique personalities and bodies that didn’t and couldn’t have come from us, even in our imaginations.

These children are not the precious, unformed beings we had hoped to have and had already loved with all our hearts, but I now see that this is a good thing, as it gives me a freedom to love and appreciate these children for who they are, untainted by my ideas of who I wanted them to be, and without the awful yearning for them as my children.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Banishing intrusive thoughts

Life Without Baby recently had a lovely post and thread about getting to the stage of acceptance where we can appreciate and enjoy our lives without children, but I ached for one of the commenters, who said, “ … but I would give it all up for just one.”

I could feel her pain, and her unwillingness to freely admit, without qualification, that life without children has many advantages. It’s that feeling we have, so many of us (all of us?) that if we admit that we enjoy life (or at least many aspects of our life) without children, maybe what we’re really saying is that we didn’t want children enough or worse, that we didn’t deserve children enough. It’s as if we feel we are admitting something that is a betrayal, that is heretic, almost sinful; something that is certainly anathema to the prevailing belief elsewhere in the ALI blogging community, and in wider society, that parenthood is everything.

I will admit, from time to time I still experience a flicker of guilt, of a “what if this means I didn’t want them enough?” thought that appears to torment me. But now I am soon able to despatch that thought, knowing that the thought is in itself a betrayal, heresy to my staunch belief that we can truly enjoy our lives without children, even though at one stage we genuinely and deeply wanted to have them.

This way of thinking is a betrayal of of the decisions I made and the decisions and situation that were forced on us, of the pain I’ve been through to get where I am, and of the babies we lost on the way, and mostly it is a betrayal of me, my life now, and my life with my husband, my family and my friends.

On the bright side, I think that we all work through this stage eventually – or I sincerely hope so – and even though the negative thoughts may come, I know now that we can choose to listen to them and let them linger, or shoo them off with a confident, and knowing, flourish.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Shedding resentment

Last week, I wrote that those of us who don’t have children will sometimes feel resentment towards those who do have children, when we might have been on the receiving end of condescension or insensitive comments, or have had to tolerate those parents or expectant parents who are condescending or insensitive or smug and self-congratulatory, or when we feel judged as failures or weak.

It reminds me that some time ago, I heard that carrying resentments is not only mentally unhealthy, keeping you in that hurt space and not allowing you to move on, but also quite literally holds you down. It turns out that resentment is an actual physical burden – in a test, high jumpers couldn’t jump as high when asked to think about resentments.

When I think back to those early years of pain and hurt and at times anger and resentment, I can well imagine that I wasn’t capable of leaping as high, and that physically as well as emotionally I was carrying a heavy burden.

As time goes by, it is easier to let these things go, to refuse to let them keep me down, to understand they’re more about other people’s issues than they are about us, or to speak up and defend ourselves, or to point out that their comments are hypocritical or insensitive or unfair. I’m much better at this now than I was in the early days and years of coming to terms with living a No Kidding life, and looking back, that progress really has felt as if I’ve been shedding a load.

I know that I feel much more relaxed and freer as a result of letting my hurt and resentments go. Lighter, even.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Quoting Mali

Recently, off-blog, I answered some questions about living a No Kidding life, and these were some of my favourite comments. They're my favourites because they are so personal to me, and their truths were so hard-won.
  • Give yourself permission not to answer questions - it is empowering.

  • A happy life is not only possible, but inevitable.

  • The real choice is between living childless or childfree.

  • We are the real success stories.

  • Our own thoughts and fears are worse than anything anyone will say to us.

  • Life – that’s what’s next.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Writing about those with different outcomes

Mid-last year, I was asked to address the issue of how No Kidding bloggers talk about others who are going through infertility or who are now expectant mothers or parents. (That should explain my last post, the one I wrote here last year, and this post - and apologies in advance, for any repetition.) Accusations were made – at some No Kidding bloggers, though not all of us, and not all the time. So I agreed to write about this from my perspective.

First, it is important to recognise what all No Kidding bloggers have in common. We are all writing with the knowledge that we will never have children (and that once we wanted them). This is an inherently different perspective from those who were infertile and are now parents, or those who are pregnant and full of hope and expectation and fear, or those who are still trying and hoping. It means we might have different views on the experience of infertility, views that might be unwelcome to those who are going through infertility now, or who have come out of it with the prize they wanted.

The underlying assumptions to our lives are now different not just to the bulk of society, but also to those of our previous fellow infertiles. This is a very different dimension to our lives. We experience something they do not, feel different pain and different joy. Stating this is not competitive, comparative, divisive, or playing Pain Olympics. It is a plain and simple fact. We have a different starting point.

Secondly, when we live without children, we can (and do) experience a real sense of isolation. We are rarely (if ever) recognised as a legitimate group in society, but are easily ignored, invisible beside the over-powering norm of those who have or expect to have children. It happens in wider society, and in the infertility blogging community. So the normal, natural and strong desire to look for tribes and for connection is accentuated. Our blogs help us find that.

When No Kidding bloggers write about expectant parents and parents, we do so in a number of ways:
  1. We might write focusing on our personal experiences with the pregnant and parents, articulating our feelings, trying to understand ourselves, our emotions, our motivations, our relationships.
  2. Or we might write in a genuine attempt to understand the motivations of pregnant people or parents, rather than simply to be offended by their presence, or their words or actions, their ignorance or casual insensitivity.
  3. Or we might write about systemic biases and issues, whether societal or commercial, recognising what was and is hard for us, and wanting to improve the situation for those who follow behind.
No Kidding bloggers write too with a number of emotions:
  1. We write with gratitude, when parents are thoughtful, when they try to understand our experiences and decisions, when they respect our emotions, understand our sensitivities, and either embrace us in their lives, or respectfully keep their distance when that’s what we want and need.
  2. We write, perhaps, with envy, frustrated that they don’t appreciate what they have and take it for granted, and/or when they fail to recognise our losses.
  3. We might write too with hurt and resentment, when they have been condescending or insensitive or smug and self-congratulatory, or when they are clearly judging us as weak, as failures, as those who opted out when the going got tough, without making an effort to understand.
  4. We write with hurt and fear and loneliness, when their words or actions have made us feel marginalised, vulnerable, isolated, forgotten, and dismissed.
  5. We might be angry too, when they have laughed at us, demeaned us, and made us feel irrelevant.
I have felt all these emotions when reading blogs or interacting in real life, and I am certainly not alone.

Whilst sometimes we might write defensively, filled with emotion, there are other times we are able to be thoughtful, and objective. Importantly, I think that sometimes writing on our blogs - amongst people who understand - can be an outlet so that in real life, or in correspondence or on someone else’s blog, we can continue to exercise restraint, and be polite and decent and respectful!

But when we are writing with emotion, when we react to actions and words, spoken or written, that have hurt us deeply, cut us to the quick, we can be less than kind towards those who instigated these hurt feelings. We might make gross generalisations, or attempt to use humour to ease the hurt we’re feeling, or defensively adopt a hurt, or angry, or mocking tone. Likewise, simply by being honest about our own experiences we can inadvertently hurt someone who feels as if they are being targeted by our words. Because it is easy to take offence. And so a cycle of hurt continues.

Whilst I’m not condoning it – either the hurtful words or tone, or the ultra-sensitivity that can exist in any sector of the infertility community (including ours) -I do understand it, and  I don’t think that it should be entirely unexpected. It certainly happens in all sections of the wider infertility community that is, after all, full of hurt people. The truth is that we’ve probably all experienced both ends of these emotions.

Personally though, I don’t believe that anyone* intends to hurt others. Rather, it is an inadvertent result of expressing emotions and seeking connection, perhaps in an attempt to communicate to others how words and actions can hurt, or in an effort to understand and explain the environment in which we find ourselves.

Fortunately, though, we heal and grow, and we evolve and mature as writers and thinkers. Emotions ease, and we can step back more objectively. We might still unconsciously hurt others, but I don't think it's possible to avoid this entirely. I will certainly defend the right of bloggers here to talk about what hurts them, to express their emotions, and to recognise the particular pain and strength and benefits of the No Kidding community. I don't think that supporting a minority, asking for equality for a group that feels ignored and dismissed, takes away anything from the majority.

But I also like to think that we all (regardless of where we sit in the community) heal and grow as readers as well as writers. It is much easier for me now to feel compassion for someone who has hurt me, to begin to understand their motives and their pain, and to accept that it is about them, and where they are in their journey, not about me. I see other bloggers who are parents after infertility, who are able to agree with much that is said in our community too, once they have some distance.

I do think though that we need to understand that a post can feel divisive and competitive, or reflective and inspiring, depending on where we sit in the process. I recognise that. It all comes down to motivation and delivery, and its worth - from time to time - stepping back and thinking about our own motivations for and delivery of our posts. As long as we display tact and good manners and empathy, are being honest about our emotions, are exploring them with a genuine wish to understand, and are not being deliberately unkind, then I think that we can all continue to blog with pride.

* at least in the blogosphere, I can’t and won’t speak to what happens in Twitter