Thursday, July 24, 2014

Positive role models - my aunt (Role Model Series I)

My previous post prompted a number of women to reflect on the positive role models of their childhood, and those who brought them hope or comfort through their IF journey - aunts, cousins, friends and neighbours, bloggers and authors, mothers and non-mothers.  If you haven't, I encourage you to read the comments.  They are full of love for those women, their role models, and will make you smile.

I mentioned my aunt, and wanted to honour her a little more.  Mother of one, a cousin who was always a favourite, but grew up too far away, on exotic islands and in busy cities.  Like me, she grew up in a small rural area a long way from any major city, and yet went on to university and a career.  Now in her 70s, she has only recently retired.  She was a successful journalist, climbing to a senior position in our national broadcasting organisation.  I remember the time she was profiled in a very prominent national magazine, and was so proud I knew her.  

She was always very softly, deliberately spoken, a contrast to her loquacious and adventurous husband who took her on adventures to the Pacific Islands in the 1960s.  She was never a stereotypical pushy, aggressive journalist, but a thoughtful, polite, sensitive one.  She emphasised to me that it wasn't necessary to match these stereotypes to succeed, and that there were always different ways to get results.  I remembered this when I was working as a diplomat and later businessperson.  In these bastions of male domination, working in less than liberal parts of Asia, I was able to achieve as a woman, not by emulating the strategies of my male counterparts, but by working in a different way, to my advantage.  I think, over the years, my aunt had also prepared me for being different, for not doing what was expected, and showed me that it was okay.

Rather than make this a long post listing women who were role models or who said or did something that helped me through my life and my journey, I think I'll do a short series of my own personal role models.   In the meantime though, feel free to mention yours in the comments here, or on your blogs.  We all need role models; people to look up to, people who help us navigate our way through life's difficulties, people who make a difference.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Worst nightmare or role model?

We often talk about the fact that those of us with no kids are persona non grata on many infertility blogs and sites because we are their “worst nightmare.”  A comment on my previous post got me thinking though.  Would young girls, thinking about their future, look at us and see us as their worst nightmares?  Or would they see us as legitimate role models, offering so much more than the black and white world of hope or despair?

As a little girl, I looked up to my aunt, not because she was a mother (she was), but because she was a successful journalist, and because she and her family lived in our capital city (where I live now), and had lived overseas in the exotic Solomon Islands, with many adventures.  Yet she too had grown up in the small rural district where I spent my childhood.  She was one of my few female role models whose mere existence promised hope of a wider world than motherhood on a farm.  (Motherhood on a farm, from my perspective as a young girl in the 1960s and early 70s, was not very appealing.) 

I was the type of girl who would have responded wonderfully to a role model like the adult Mali.  Think, too, of other little girls who might feel trapped by our pro-motherhood societies – little girls who can’t wait to grow up and explore the world, or perhaps rule the world, before they think about being mothers; little girls who don’t have mothers, or who are afraid of being a mother, because they don’t have happy memories of mothers; little girls who don’t have memories of happy mothers; little girls who simply don’t want to be mothers, little girls who don’t feel like little girls, and many more.   Seeing happy confident women without children might make their lives easier, less pressured, more accepted. 

I know though that there are young girls who only see their future as mothers, and who look forward to that. Would learning that some women don't or can't become mothers terrify these little girls? Are we really their worst nightmares even at such a young age? It shocked me to think this might be the case?  I of course don’t know the answer.  I do know though that I think it is terribly sad if the reality of my existence would frighten a child.  Sad for me, sad for the child, sad for society and our inability to accept diversity.

Instead, I like to think that young girls who want to grow up and become mothers would look at women like me, and just absorb the fact that the world includes women who are mothers, and women who aren’t.  And because there are many more women who become mothers than not, that they will just assume they will be in the majority too.  (I mean, didn't we?) And I like to think that none of this would disturb them from continuing with their dreams. 

Instead of being seen as a scary nightmare, I want to live in a society that allows us to talk about the fact we don’t have children to adults and children alike.  I hope that I can be a role model for young girls (as well as teenage girls and adults), who will grow up with a greater sense that they are okay as they are, whatever happens, and that will be accepted as such.  Freedom – for adult women and young girls alike, and especially for my much-loved niece who does not have an easy path in this life - to simply be who they are.  Knowledge that they are valued for who they are, whatever that might be.  That's a lesson I wish I had learned when I was six.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

You could always ...

I'm shocked to see it has been so long since I posted.  My sister and six-year-old niece came to visit for six days, so that will be my excuse.  And as of this morning, I now have their cold, but I'm not using that as an excuse.  It does remind me though that by not having children, who pick up everything going, we do stay a lot healthier!

We had a lovely time together (I blogged about it here), despite the miserable (but expected) midwinter weather, which meant that some of our planned trips (the zoo, the bird sanctuary, etc) did not come off.  It did mean that our time was more relaxed, and we had more time to get to know each other. I played many games of snakes and ladders, and baked chocolate chip cookies, and watched movies, and made pancakes for breakfast, and got lots of cuddles.

As I was giving my niece a big hug ... another one ... I told her that I needed to give her lots of hugs because I don't have a little girl, and I don't see her often enough.

"You could always adopt one!" she declared, as she escaped from my clutches and raced off to do the next exciting thing.  I shrugged, and laughed.  I mean, what was there to say?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Saying good-bye and good riddance ...

The other day, I heard an interesting interview with someone who had experienced mental illness.  She was talking about survival and recovery from mental illness, and the stigma that is often attached to it.  She was a strong, strong woman, and she announced proudly that she was not ashamed (why should she be?), and that she refused to buy into the social stigma.    

It struck me that there are similarities with infertility.  There is a social stigma around infertility, and specifically around childlessness (a word I prefer not to use).  I suffer from it still from time to time, even though I fight it, even though I don’t feel this way most of the time.  But there are times I feel ashamed, times I feel less, times I just don’t want to share.  And yet, like those who suffer from mental illness, this is not my fault, and it is not a judgement on my personality or character. Am I buying into the social stigma?  Or am I just protecting myself, exercising my own right to remain private, and choosing my battles?  I hope it is the second.  Because I want to emulate this strong woman who was vibrant and full of life and a surviving spirit.  

And I think that is what we are trying to do here on our blogs – battling that social stigma, refusing to feed it, in fact, crushing it and refusing to let it find – pardon the pun – fertile ground here.  Social stigma, I'm showing you the door.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A scene ...

Two female friends are chatting.  One, the one without kids, discovers that the one with kids is having a party. 

“You’re having a Halloween party?”  she says, surprised she didn’t know about it.  “When were you going to ask me?”

“Yes,” says the mother, guiltily, realising she hadn’t mentioned it to her childless friend.  “It will be full of kids, and I know you hate them.”

“I don’t hate kids,” No Kids friend says indignantly.  “And I love YOUR kids.”

“OK, good,” says the mother, defensively,“come to the party.”

No Kids friend is hurt.  The invitation seemed grudging and was most definitely an afterthought, she felt left out, and her love for her friend’s children had been discounted and forgotten.  She was losing her friend; a friend who was shutting her out, instead of inviting her in.

A scene from real life?  Not quite, but close to experiences I’ve had – though usually I found out about parties afterwards.  Or wasn’t forceful enough to say that I would have liked to be invited.  (So of course, it happened over and over again.)

No, this was a scene between Cristina and Meredith, on Grey’s Anatomy.  It was nice to see such a real scene, so subtly done, included in a popular programme.  So often these complexities of real relationships between mothers and their non-mother friends are ignored by modern media.  But not on Grey’s.  It was the first programme to – in my experience at least – show an ectopic pregnancy, and show some of the grief of that.  It was Cristina again  - she’s such a well-written character.  And I've written before about how they deal with the issue of women and mothers.  But back to the scene ...

The awkwardness of the conversation between the two, the hurt on Cristina’s face, and the guilt on Meredith’s, was authentic but not laboured.  It was simply there, to be seen and hopefully understood. Perhaps women who relate primarily to the mother would have interpreted the interaction differently?  I don't know.  But the episode ended with Cristina turning up to the party (having brought cupcakes as requested), looking at her friend so involved with her children and those of her friends, and quietly leaving, feeling she had no place there.

I was watching the end of a friendship – or at least, the changing of a friendship to something much less than it had been – and it was so familiar to me.  I had been there.  And even now, it makes me sad.