Wednesday, 27 April 2016

#StartAsking for Recognition

This week is – in the US at least – National Infertility Awareness Week, and as part of it they have a Bloggers Unite Challenge. This year, the theme is #StartAsking. I don't always participate in their challenge, but this year their theme seemed appropriate to me.

To #StartAsking for help, asking for anything, is really tough for many of us. I’ve been reminded how hard it is to ask for help the last week or two. I’m sure if I’d only picked up the phone and asked friends to help out, they would have. But my husband and I were coping, even if it wasn’t that easy or that pleasant, and so I didn’t. To think about actually asking for help, for acknowledgement, for recognition, is often very difficult for us. So I heartily approve of their 2016 theme.

Whilst I know many bloggers will have gone public with their #StartAsking appeal, mine is actually to those in this community, those of us who come out of infertility to live our lives without children. For some years I’ve been doing this anyway, but it’s good to make a conscious choice around it. I want to start asking for recognition that not having children is a legitimate outcome after infertility.

I’ve written about it before of course. Those going through infertility don’t want to contemplate failure. Because that’s how they see us, at least when they are in the midst of infertility madness. I note that Fertility NZ's list of forums doesn't include one for those who don't have children, despite saying they are there to provide support during infertility "and beyond." The rest of society see us as pitiable. But we’re not. I’ve written before too that I think we are the true success stories, showing that it is possible to embrace an outcome that does not deliver our preferred way of life, to live good lives, and to be happy.

So I don’t just want to ask for recognition that not having children is a legitimate outcome of infertility. I want to demand it. People talk about getting their “happily ever after.” Well, it’s time they recognised that we get our happily ever after too. It’s just not the one we anticipated. It’s time we recognised that too.

So I’m going to continue pointing out to others that they can’t make assumptions about my life. I’m going to tell them the realities, be happy when I have reason to be happy, and be sad when I have reason to be sad or feel bereft. When parents worry about their old age, I’m not going to keep silent, but point out that they have it easier than I do (when it is true of course). “Cry me a river!” I recently said to someone who had no reason to complain. And I’m not going to keep quiet about the joys of sleeping in, or travelling outside of school holiday periods, taking advantage of cheaper accommodation and flights, and quieter planes and empty museums. We take joy in their joy as parents. They can take joy in my joy in living a life without children. We commiserate and help out when their kids are sick or troubled. We can ask them to commiserate and help out when we are going through tough times. Many of us of course have friends and family and colleagues who do this already, and I’m grateful for them. But when this isn’t the case, I’m going to start asking for legitimate consideration. I’m not going to be obnoxious about it, but will ask subtly, politely, firmly.

On a wider, societal basis, it’s time that we were seen as legitimate members of society, contributing fully, providing support, and valid members of the electorate and economy. It’s time advertisers stopped ignoring women without children, and that politicians recognised that not everyone has a family, that we pay taxes and vote too. It’s time the fertility industry acknowledged that there are some people they will never be able to help, no matter how much money they spend, and that this is a legitimate outcome, one that needs to be treated with respect and sensitivity.

Recognition. I’m not just asking for it, I’m demanding it.

Note:  Since publishing this post this morning, I have edited it post, removing links to NIAW and Resolve, after receiving yet another piece of spam from what appears to be one of their sponsors. None of their sponsors provide services to those of us without children, of course. Once we stop pursuing fertility treatments, we don't deliver the big bucks any more. 

The message of my post still stands. But now I need to also #StartAsking for recognition from Resolve too, and for freedom from irrelevant spam marketing.

Read Pamela's post about the role of their sponsors, and conflict of interest here.



Monday, 25 April 2016

Who will want my stuff? (#2)

In this community, the topic of “who will want my things?” comes up frequently. Frankly, this issue arises when you have children too, as I wrote here, quoting my friend who implored people not to foist their possessions on descendants who might not share the same tastes or interests.

Still, we shouldn’t assume no-one will want our things. As we went through my mother’s treasured possessions, her three daughters divided up the possessions between us, finding that we each had memories of particular things, and that these were almost always different. We asked the granddaughters who were there to choose anything in particular they would like (and we chose for the absent granddaughter), and although initially they said there was nothing they wanted, they each found one or two things that they wanted to have, to remember their grandmother by. My cousin was there too, and she took items too, either for herself because she loved the items or the memories associated with them, or for the children of our other cousins. It was nice to think of these things – from my mother’s life but also from our grandmother and great-grandmother - being part of all their lives.

It surprised me in the end how little there was that was unwanted, to dispose of to the second-hand dealer, and although sending these possessions off was initially sad, I realised that I am happy to think that a stranger might pick up a piece that I remember from my childhood, fall in love with it, and take it home, ready to make new memories around it.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A supportive community

I hear a lot of trash talk about online communities and blogs and bloggers and trolls. To hear some people – often those who don’t get involved in online communities or read blogs – the internet is the Wild West, and as soon as you pop your head above the parapet (apologies for the mixed metaphor) by publishing something, you’re likely to get it shot off by the ubiquitous trolls.

This is not my experience at all. The forums at the EPT were not places men felt comfortable, given all the discussions of bleeding and symptoms and cycles. Worst of all, all those emotions probably sent men running from their computers in horror. These forums were full of warm, supportive women. Sure, there was the occasional bust-up, maybe one a year, which really was a remarkably small number given the vulnerable emotions, the stress and distress, of many of the women there. Likewise, the blogging communities I am part of (predominantly but not wholly female) have equally been open, supportive, loving, and wise.

So yesterday, as I was perusing the newspaper over lunch, I was pleased to find this quote in an article that noted the popularity of women’s websites:
"Communities are fundamentally different when they're just women," said Women.com founder Susan Johnson, giving voice to a piece of old, obvious wisdom that's enjoying something of a renaissance online.

"The cadence is different, the tone is more trusting... It's this safe environment where everyone can express herself without being trolled all the time."
I am so grateful for this, who come here and comment wisely, respectfully, honestly and kindly, and for the people who write wisely, respectfully, honestly and kindly on their own blogs. I am so grateful that you provide support and make me think in this way.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Training our brains

In the early days of learning I’d never have children, I realised it was possible to retrain my brain. I remember catching myself thinking “if I get pregnant” and shutting down that thought - the thoughts that had almost become an obsession -  by a) telling myself “that is not going to happen now,” and then b) deliberately turning away from that thought. I think that the thoughts themselves brought such painful feelings of shame and failure in those early days, that I realised I simply couldn’t go on letting myself think that way.

I was reading an article this week when I found a reference to a quote by Jeffrey M. Shwartz, who, it turns out, writes books (that I might now read) about this exact idea – that you can consciously train or – as I have always called it – reprogramme your brain.
"The struggle is not to make the feeling go away; the struggle is to not give in to the feeling by thinking about the obsession.”
This is not an effort to shame those of us who feel grief, rather it allows us to understand that whilst those feelings are natural, our brains have also been programmed to think one way (ie, that our lives will be nothing without children). Unless we make a conscious effort to change, we risk being stuck in a pattern of grief and longing for what we will never have.

When we’re ready, it is indeed possible to say enough is enough, to look forward, and to embrace our futures wholeheartedly.

Friday, 15 April 2016

It's only a part of me

Week Three in a cast, and I'm finally able to sit at a computer, albeit only for a short time. Even now I feel my toes and foot going numb. So I'm catching up on some reading and commenting, and obviously, writing.

I've just read several posts in which the writer has felt happy and free, even if just for a few hours with a friend, or days away in another environment, or have imagined being away in another environment. The feelings of liberation, of worries falling away, of awareness that they are more than just their infertility, is wonderful.

I remember several experiences myself where, perhaps because of the environment I was in, or the people I was with, my infertility or status with or without children was wholly irrelevant. The relief of this is both mental and physical. I remember feeling my shoulders drop and straighten, my neck lengthen, my eyebrows lift, and a smile come to my face. I remember feeling open to the world, and knowing that I had a real, happy - in other words, normal - future in front of me.

It also made me remember the times I have met up with other No Kidding bloggers or online friends, or those who had been through loss at the same times as me. I remember being surprised that we barely discussed our mutual infertility or losses. That, we recognised, was part of us, and what had brought us together. But we'd dealt with that online. So when we met, we focused on other issues, getting to know each other in real life. It was totally normal, even if the circumstances of our friendship was so abnormal.

I think that's what special about the relationships we develop here. We get to know each other by those shared experiences, sure. After all, I often quote my friend Sarah, who said "we get to know each other from the inside out." But then we are able to move on, realising that those shared experiences are only a part of us, a part of our friendships. We celebrate new houses and jobs and adventures, and we commiserate losses (of family members, friends, pets). Our relationships grow.

We grow, individually and together, emerging from the losses and sadness, into the rest of our lives. That makes me happy.