Thursday, April 17, 2014

Out of touch ... or free and easy?

Last Friday, my husband and I slept in, and got up for a lazy day.  Lazier than usual, given that we don’t have much (or much that is compulsory) to do every day until we find jobs.  When I looked at the newspaper (and realised that there was a newspaper), it dawned on me that we were a week out!  Easter, and the long lazy weekend, is this week.  Doh!  The false start was due to the fact I was too lazy to look at a calendar, and had based my assumptions on something a friend had said.  Oh well, we had some nice hot cross buns for lunch.

Of course, the fact that we're still "self-employed" at the moment contributed to the fact we were out of touch.  But mostly, I think it is because we don't have children.  If we had kids at school, there is no way we wouldn't know which weekend was Easter, or when school holidays begin.  The calendar would rule our lives.

I kind of like the fact that we are free and easy, and not enslaved by the calendar.  And it means we can have more hot cross buns tomorrow too!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taking a middle path to save the world?

I wrote a whole post talking about population control and climate change.  But nervousness about the reaction I might get has stopped or delayed (I haven’t decided yet) me from posting it.  And as I was contemplating this issue, one of the comments I got on my Saving the World post made me think.

Amel noted that she had, in the past, bristled when someone (with no kids) said to her that the world had too many children anyway.  And I can understand that.  Because I see that reaction all the time in people who have kids.  They get defensive.  It’s natural.  And those of us who tried to have children could also feel that way, if we saw our choices as under attack.

Then I thought about the childfree-by-choice, who often (as Loribeth pointed out) use the environmental impact of having children as one of the reasons you might choose not to have children.  They are absolutely right.  I wholeheartedly agree with them.  But sadly sometimes some of the more vocal childfree-by-choice risk antagonising those with children.

And it struck me that there could be a leadership role on this issue for those of us who at one time wanted to have children – often wanted desperately to have children – but who now find ourselves without children.  We can relate to the parents, in terms of the desire to have children, and the choice to begin trying.  And we can relate to the childfree-by-choice, because we are living the same lives as them, without children.  And - after a bit of time (as Amel pointed out) - because we can step back a bit and look at the consequences a bit more objectively. 

Perhaps we could help forge a middle way, one that we could all support, whether we have children or not.  One where we were prepared to talk about population growth, and how it is killing our planet.  Where as a start we were prepared to examine our own desires and the ethics of that, had we been able to realise our dreams.  Because I think that is what is needed.  An honest examination of our motivations and the implications of those.  A start to the discussion (because it is not being discussed).  Without being defensive.  With our family and friends and (most importantly) the next generation. To save our planet.

Update:  I'm not going to raise this again here, as I don't think it really fits with what I want to say in this place.  I may discuss it elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

12 things I wish I'd been told about the Big M

I was going to title this “For Women of a Certain Age” but I realised that that was making assumptions, and the one thing we've learned about assumptions in the reproductive health sense is that we cannot make them.

I'm writing this nervously too, knowing that anyone googling my real name (potential employers, for example) could in fact find themselves here, men or women.  I hope that the fact that I'm writing under a pseudonym, and that I'm writing about intimate women’s issues, will let them know this is not for them, and turn them away now.  NOW!  Because this is a warning of TMI (Too Much Information) for pretty much everyone.  When I tell my husband what I'm about to tell you, he covers his ears and makes loud noises.  So hopefully, that warning will turn anyone else away too.  Though my husband isn't usually so lucky, as my response is “if I have to live it, you at least have to hear about it!”   These are things women share, privately, in the kitchens during dinner parties, or in cafes, or on the driveway after lunch, or in the bathrooms at work amongst other women of or approaching a certain age.  These are not things we share with men.  They know it happens.  But they don’t really want to know.  Consider yourself warned.

I know this isn't a No Kidding related post.  But I feel it sits better here, in a community that is predominantly women, that is knowledgeable about our reproductive systems, and that is accustomed to talking about things that are generally considered to be TMI.

Twelve things I wish someone had told me about the lead up to menopause:
  1. Men don’t understand what you’re going through.  They’ll have a rough idea, based on general knowledge and bad jokes on American TV sitcoms.  And the truth is, they don’t want to know what you’re going through.  I try to tell my husband some of the TMI details, and he covers his ears and makes loud signs.  My response is “if I have to live it, you have to hear it.”  Don't get me wrong, he is sympathetic.  But until it happened to me, he had no idea.  And would rather not know.

  2. Weight will arrive.  It will sneak up on you, and it is difficult to shift, even though I exercise regularly at the gym.  I always thought that was a cliché.  Um.  No, it’s not.  Don’t let it sneak up, and don’t assume you will be able to get rid of it in the way you did even a few years ago.

  3. Emotions will go up and down like a yo-yo.  Again, because you’re feeling them, they sneak up and don't seem so unusual.  I - finally - managed to recognise the mood changes, and reel them in a little.  Fortunately, this aspect seems to have abated recently.  All I’ll say is that my husband’s a saint.  (Shh.  Sometimes.  Don’t tell him.)

  4. Our reproductive parts, having already caused many of us such grief, might just quietly go to sleep and turn out the lights without a word.  But equally, as a dear friend commented to me recently, some of us might find that our parts are not dying down quietly, they're going out screaming. Loudly.

  5. And this is the thing no-one ever tells you.  Well, no-one ever told me.  I wish women were warned, because I have tolerated this for too long.  I have been dealing with regular chainsaw massacre-like events.  The nine hour flight to Singapore was no fun, and I was nervous for weeks in advance that on our South African safari the lions would smell blood and attack!  (Fortunately, for once, timing was on my side and attacks were averted.)  Having googled a little, I tolerated this because I thought it was normal.  It is common.  But it is not necessarily normal.  And there are degrees.  So talk to your doctor, because …

  6. There is medication that can reduce the carnage, and make your life more tolerable.   Actually, this is relevant for anyone, no matter what age, who might be similarly inflicted.  I am going to talk to my niece about it.  I don't think she knows.

  7. Living in a hot climate might help.  When I was in Qatar and Jordan last year, at 40-plus Celsius, I didn't even notice if I was having hot flushes.  (OK, that’s not a serious one, but it was good not to notice them!) There are degrees of hot flushes too.  Sometimes they're just a gentle flush of heat.  Other times, it feels as if you're suddenly thrust into a sauna.

  8. They estimate that up to 80% of women have fibroids by the time they reach menopause. Many women have them, but as they have no symptoms, they're not even aware of it. Fibroids can cause major problems - heavy bleeding, pain, frequent urination, etc.  We've all heard of the stories of people growing huge basketball-size fibroids.  But what I didn't know was that even one or two can do a lot of damage.  And they grow and multiply quickly in those last ten years before the Big M. That pregnant-looking belly may not just be down to mid-life weight gain.

  9. Most importantly, if I was back in my early 40s now, I would do things differently.  In particular, I would get my FSH checked every year or two, to see where I was in the process.  I would certainly get it checked if I noticed disturbing changes.  Why didn't I? Because I didn't realise that it would help me know if my symptoms are normal, or whether further investigations are necessary.  My gynaecologist said that my FSH indicates that everything should be over by now.  Yet, up until about six months ago, I was still reasonably regular.  But apparently that wasn't normal.

  10. Talking is good.  In fact, talk to your older female friends, your mother, your aunts, older sisters.  Find out what was normal for them, so you get an idea about what might or might not happen. Some of them will tell you just to wait and it will be over.  Don't listen to them.  Talk to your doctor instead.  It might be the case that you can just wait.  It might not.  (Not, in my case it turns out).

  11. Listen to women who are going through this, understand, empathise, and learn.  But please don’t compare your own sterling health/regularity with theirs, even if you want to be over it too.  (I'm not sure if I did this myself or not, but I wish I'd thought about it).  If you’re not having difficulties, don't be pleased with yourself.  I've had a number of people do this and it makes me feel broken and judged and old before my time (even though it is not, apparently, "before my time") all over again.  (One woman's comments - about how "normal" (or the implication being, exceptional) she was because everything was continuing without change at a couple of years older than me - took me right back to the dinner table conversation we had had years ago when she and her husband were asking about my ectopic pregnancy, and he said proudly, smugly even, "my wife, she has no problems.")  The best reaction was from a friend who said "I want to hear it all.  I'm following you in a year or two, and want to be prepared."  She may not have any issues (she's not that much younger than me, and so far so good).  But she listened.

  12. Remember that ultimately, it’s just another transition in life.  One I was not looking forward to, but one I realise now is no big deal.  One that will give us more freedom than we, as women, have ever had.  Think about that freedom, what it means, what we've put up for months, years, decades, and what we can - when we’re ready - cast aside, both physically and emotionally.  It is not an end, it is a beginning. I am now ready, and I am welcoming it. Nothing is ever simple though.  Changes for me, it seems, will come surgically next month. To be honest, I can't wait.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pick a point and grieve?

Mel at Stirrup Queens has posted on an interesting question asked of a Washington Post columnist.  The reader asked why the longing for a partner, and the longing for a child through infertility, should be treated differently.  They felt that infertility is treated with compassion, but that those longing for a partner are essentially (my words) told to “get over it.”

Not knowing anything about this columnist, I admit I was quite surprised to find that there might be a view that infertility is treated with more compassion than being single.  I haven’t seen this myself, having felt considerable judgement about my infertility, and having seen the compassion given to friends who have become newly single when relationships have broken up. 

So I wonder, how would I respond to this question?  Is there a difference between the two situations? I’m going to prevaricate.  Yes, and no.  The two situations – longing for a child and longing for a partner - are both different and the same.  And sadly, both can lead to the other, which is of course a difficult double whammy.

Suggesting, as the columnist went on to, that there are significant differences between the two, is entering into a dangerous game of the Pain Olympics. 

You can know you’re infertile, but you don’t know if you are going to be single forever, she said.  So that makes it easier?  I don’t know. It might make it harder.  I've seen lots of people going through infertility torn apart by the uncertainty, tearfully confessing that they are sure it would be “easier if they only knew.”  I can understand that, the stress of ongoing efforts, of waiting on adoption matches, etc.  This is the case of being in the waiting room, with all the fear and uncertainty and grief that entails.  But there is a waiting room when you’re single too, and that is also full of fear and uncertainty about what the future will hold.  And maybe you never fully get to leave that waiting room.

The difference, as Mel noted, is that most of us in that infertility waiting room, are holding the hand of someone else, someone who has promised to be with us, someone who we hope will be with us even when we leave the waiting room, through any of the doors offered.  

That said, there is also real judgement about those of us who can’t have children, or who don’t have them.  That it wasn't “meant to be” – implying that someone/god/the universe has come down to judge us as unfit to be parents.  And that judgement and condescension and pity is hard to take.

You see the danger of entering the Pain Olympics?  There are always cases of “on the one hand” and “on the other” that make this an impossible question to answer, other than to say, both situations should be treated with compassion and empathy.

Ultimately, at the end though, the columnist advises the single person to "pick a point, and grieve." She argues that the infertile can do this, that infertility allows a logical grieving point, and that it helps us heal.  But this is very simplistic.  What is the “logical grieving point” for someone who was infertile and adopted, never going on to have the pregnancy or birth or breastfeeding experiences they dreamed of?  Or for someone who was infertile and went on to have children, or for someone who had secondary infertility then completed their family, or for someone who did all these but the experiences were not what they had imagined?  They're all grieving losses, not specific points; they grieve the process, the loss of innocence, the way it changed them even if they've gone on to the “happy ending” of the fairy tale. 

And what about me?  I don't grieve a specific moment.  Which one would I pick?  My first ectopic or my second? My first failed IVF or my last? Or the moment when my doctor said he wouldn't support any further IVFs? Or the day when I discovered my tubes were blocked and trying again naturally, even with the risk of ectopics, was ruled out?  Or the day /days /weeks /months when we realised that donor egg or adoption weren't possible?  I don't have a specific point of grief.  Grieving those individual moments, any of them or all of them or the last of them, still pale into insignificance when I see what I really grieve.  And that is a lifetime of experiences that I won’t have.  And is that different to a person who is single?  No, it isn't.  The reminders are always there.  The grief can return at any time, though usually less and less.  So grief isn't something you deal with and “get over.”  It is a process, and whilst I think I am well through it, and out on the healthy side, I know that the process itself will never end. 

And as I move into a different phase of life, I know that at least for infertile women, our old friend called "Hope" who we know so well leaves us   – regardless of our diagnosis - quite definitively in our 50s, if not much earlier.  Yet a single person might always be tortured by her.  Hope might always be around the corner.  And that can be a good thing.  But it can also torture us.

So I think the columnist was too simplistic with all her “grieving” advice; simplistic and a little impatient.  I bristled at her comment: 
 “But keep letting grief make your decisions? No.”
No, I can’t really disagree with the sentiment.  But it is advice that has to be carefully given, and smacks too closely of the “get over it” advice given to those of us who have been through infertility or loss over the years. It smacks of a lack of compassion, and ultimately, both situations deserve compassion.  But not compassion with a time limit.  We’ll figure that out ourselves.  Time heals.  You don't need to push us on it.  Compassion, I believe, shortens the time limit and makes the process easier.  Tough love does not.  It just deepens the pain, and denies us our feelings.  But that’s another post for another time.

I’ll give credit where it is due though, and agree with her final comment that we all have to learn to want what we have.  But that’s the same for us all, single, childless, both.  In fact, that advice is right for everyone – those who couldn’t complete their families, whose children weren’t quite as they had dreamt, whose careers didn’t work out exactly had they had envisaged or hope, whose relationships (family/ friends/ lovers/ partners etc) became complicated, who didn’t win the.  Wanting what we have.  That is the pathway to joy and contentment and happily ever after.  And if we can do that, then we are lucky.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Saving the world

I read an article about climate change and the choices we make.  It took an interesting approach, one I hadn’t seen before, looking at (amongst other things) the impact on the environment of food per calorie (beans are best, apparently), before going on to talk about other choices we can all make to help the planet.  It was a large article, taking up half a page in our local newspaper.  We’ve since thrown out the paper, and I can’t find it online, so I’m going to have to paraphrase the last paragraph:

“But you can eat all the beans you want, cycle to work or drive a Prius, never fly, recycle everything, and eat organically, but none of it will even come close to the environmental impact on the planet of one single act – that of having a child.”

Next time someone calls you selfish for not having children, or implies that only those with children are contributing to society, remember that.  We’re saving the planet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Infertility's Waiting Room

We do a lot of waiting when we are infertile or have suffered loss.  Waiting for the right time for a start.  Then waiting every month to see if we're pregnant.  And even that waiting is filled with waiting – waiting for our fertile days, for ovulation, for the days when we can realistically test to see if this month was the one.  Then we wait to be referred to a specialist, wait for appointments, for cycles to begin, to get lab results, to inject, to get more lab results, to collect, to fertilise, to grow, to transfer, to test, to try again.  Then for some there is other waiting - to see beta results rise, to reach viability, to give birth.  Or for approval, a match, a birth mother, a court date.  Frequently, there is waiting for the financial resources we need to support all the other waiting.

Yes, we spend a lot of time in the waiting rooms of infertility.  And in that waiting room, there are a number of doors.  The door we enter through immediately locks behind us, and we can never pass back through it again.  We are changed, and if we are honest, the totality of the life behind that door is lost to us.  Often we leave our innocence and hope and faith and trust in a fair world behind that door. The fact that this door remains closed surprises many.  They think they will be able to go back through it, and get back to “normal” as if they never left.  They especially expect this if they get what they came for.  It is a shock to many to find that it isn't that easy; to find that what brought us to the waiting room stays with us.

So we sit in the waiting room of infertility, and we wait.  Some of us run around and try all the tools available to us in the room, over and over again, and some are more choosy for a myriad reasons.  Some too don’t have the means (financial, medical, social, emotional) to try all the tools. But ultimately, waiting is what we all do there.

And as we wait, we look at the other doors with exit signs.  One of those doors is brightly painted, is festooned with flowers and balloons, and has flashing lights around it.  When that door opens, a glow of light beams through, and we hear cheers and laughter and the popping of corks when we see one of our number walk through it.  We feel the warmth of a large group waiting to welcome us in.  This is the door we want to go through.  This is why we’re in the waiting room.

We don't see past the initial lights and music though.  We don’t want to.  We don’t see that through this door there are still clouds and sadness and hard work and jangling alarms and stress and arguments and guilt and worry.  We don’t want to, because it might make us question everything we are going through, back in the waiting room.  We want to believe.  We want the holy grail.  So we just see and imagine the sunshine and friends and family, all painted in happily ever after.  This means that, when they get through the door, some are surprised that they still carry with them the fears and sensitivities and anxiety (sometimes more) that built up in the waiting room.  That life still has its downs as well as its ups.  Thankfully, though, there are people who write about this, opening the door a crack further for those still in the waiting room, helping them understand.

Back in the waiting room we see another door.  It is more subdued than the first door, but adorned with flowering bushes and lush ferns, and when we see women leave through it, we also hear applause and glasses clinking and the laughter of children.  It is muted, there has been grief and struggle to get to this stage, but still there is happiness and warmth on the other side, and initially it seems a deceptively easy door to walk through.

We don't see the tests we might have to go through once we choose to walk through that door, or all the twists and turns on that path.  From our seat in the waiting room, we only see the portraits of happy families on the walls as they open the door.  We don't see the same joys that are through the first door, but we assume and hope that they will be there.  And we have a barrage of people outside the waiting room urging us to take this door, reminding us that this door is always an option.  They too don't see or understand the twists and turns of this door, or how difficult it can be to go through it, or how difficult it might be on the other side, how complicated it can be, the loss that has occurred for the room to exist at all.  They think it is simply a matter of just doing it - opening the door and going through.  If only that were the case.

Then there is a third door.  Most of the seats in the waiting room face away from this door.  It is hidden in a corner, indiscreet and unattractive, certainly unadorned.  The pot plants around it are dusty and drooping, neglected, in need of some tender loving care.  For some of our time in the waiting room, we might not even notice this door, because we are convinced that we're going through the door surrounded by light.

But then one day we see it (some sooner than others).  And once we've seen it, we can't ignore it ever again.  It looms large in our peripheral vision, and as we spend more and more time in the waiting room, it grows and takes on an ominous hue.  When the door opens for a woman to walk through, often she is weeping.   These are the women who have tried all the options and used all the tools in the waiting room, or they are the ones who couldn’t reach some of those tools, or who collapsed on the floor in exhaustion, unable to get up and try again. We watch them grieve, and go through that door in varying states.  Sometimes they go willingly, accepting that this is their only option, some with a dejected slump, some determinedly thrusting their shoulders back and holding their heads high, with sadness in their eyes.  Sometimes they are pushed through the door, kicking and screaming, trying to cling on to their waiting room seat with its view of the other two doors.  

And when they open this last door, all we can see from the waiting room is darkness.  There are no bells and music and popping of corks going through this door.  When the door opens, a chill air rushes into the waiting room, and those seated there recoil, huddling into themselves, pulling their hope around them in comfort, trying to ignore the fear that has taken root and grows within.  They see darkness through that door, and they believe that all the darkness and despair they feel in the waiting room comes from this door.  It must be avoided at all costs.

What most people don’t see though is that people who stand to walk through any of those doors stand straighter as they leave the waiting room. Because that is where the darkness and despair live and thrive.  Those still in the waiting room don’t see the light behind this door, because the light is hidden by a dark screen, a healing screen that eventually we all manage to walk through. The waiting don’t see the women there shed their burdens, feel lighter and become more alive.  They can only see the darkness.  They are simply unable to imagine there is any light behind that door. They don’t hear the throngs welcoming us in, because there are fewer people behind that door and their welcome is more muted.  Many of them might be busy doing different things, but they are there, and when we encounter them they are welcoming and compassionate and thoughtful.

And once through that door, once through the difficult maze of dark reconciliation, the sun comes out, and hope and inspiration bloom.  Yes, there are difficulties and sadness through this door, as there are through each of the doors.  But there is also sunshine and light, the scent of summer flowers, and - when I went through at least - the sound of champagne glasses being filled on the decks of a ship in the Aegean.

But all this is largely unknown to those who sit in the waiting room of infertility.  They can't see any of this.   And that's why I write.  To offer a view further through that last door, as others* offer different views further through the other doors. To let people in the waiting room know that whichever door you open, there will be happiness and sadness and wonderful surprises. And that hidden door, the one that opens in your worst nightmares?  I hope that here I can paint this door in happy colours and nurture the plants around it to make it less scary.  I want to bring it out of the shadows and bathe it in light.  

* and many more

Thursday, February 27, 2014

You can't please all the people all the time

A perennial issue amongst the infertile and bereaved is the issue of insensitive comments, and saying the right thing.  Recently, Loribeth over on the Road LessTravelled kicked off an interesting conversation, showing that many of us have different views on the words or approaches that we find comforting or isolating.  I’ve seen this too in the years I was volunteering on a message board; what worked for some people was like a red rag to a bull to others. 

In the blogosphere, there is of course the issue of how to deal with pregnancy and babies after infertility. I know a lot of women don’t quite know how to navigate this in the blogosphere (or on FB etc) without offending those who aren’t in their situation, and may never be. 

I have read bloggers who try not to talk too much about their children, or who are very conscious of writing about both the difficulties of having a child, and the sincere gratitude they feel.  I appreciate that.  These bloggers don’t want their readers who haven’t gone on to have children to ever feel that they are ungrateful, that they take their children for granted, or that they have forgotten what they went through, and what others have been through or are still going through, and how that feels.  So I read bloggers emphasising how grateful they are, how aware they are of their great good fortune, even in the depths of sleep deprivation, breast feeding difficulties, tantrums, etc.

I feel three things about this.  The first is that I appreciate the efforts bloggers make to ensure that their readers are as comfortable as possible.  And I like the fact that they want to remind those who never faced infertility that there is a significant proportion of society who don’t have it so easy.  By speaking out, and making other people aware that infertility is common, they are doing a real service.

The second is that I feel a bit sad that bloggers either feel that they can’t talk about their children, or that they need to express their gratitude so regularly.  I can understand this because I have seen some people react unkindly to infertiles who become pregnant/have babies, usually reflecting the rawness and grief of the readers (who become commenters) who aren’t in a headspace to hear that having a child is nothing less than perfect, the answer to your dreams.  I’m not newly grieving the family I never had, and I am very content with my life, and so I find the information about adapting to life with a child doesn’t upset me at all.  Ten years ago it might have, and I probably wouldn’t be reading these blogs.  Today, I find it fascinating.  And in some cases, vindicating. 

The fact is that we all know that having children can be tough, it’s not perfect, and it seems reasonable that a parent should be able to let off steam.  I’ve never felt that there should be any onus on bloggers to negate the difficulties of pregnancy or child-rearing, simply to deal with the sensitivities (beyond the reasonable, everyday sensitivities) of those who are struggling with their infertility/losses, etc.  And I feel said that they might feel they are not allowed to express frustrations, without balancing that with gratitude.   

I do understand, though, that gratitude is a perfectly legitimate way to get through the tough times, and I can see how it helps to recognise your own happiness and gratitude on a regular basis.

But you see (and this is my third point), gratitude and looking on the positive side of things is also how I deal with my life now. So to constantly be reminded of others’ gratitude that they didn’t have to walk the road less travelled towards a no kidding life, that they didn’t have to live my life, that my life was (and still is) in fact their worst nightmare, reminds me that I am not “one of the lucky ones,” and it reminds me that they consider my life to be undesirable, and lacking.  I know that this is not intentional.  And that at the same time, it probably comforts those who are still hopeful but fearful. But it makes me feel excluded, lesser, and in fact, pitied.   

And I find this frustrating because I don’t feel unlucky, and I like to focus on the positives of my own life.  An analogy perhaps would be if I constantly said to my sister that I know how lucky I am to be able to travel, to have seen the world the way I have seen it, to have visited so many countries and had so many wonderful experiences.  If I did this, I would simply be emphasising to her that she hasn’t had these opportunities, and how unlucky she was to have the life she has had.  I know that she would hate my pity.  But she’s had other things (children, for example) – our lives are simply different, not better or worse.  And she is interested in my travels, so we talk about them rationally, without that emotional level.  And I guess that’s how I would like to see bloggers talk about their children.  

So yes, if I’m being honest, I could cope with a little less gratitude and sensitivity.  Who'd have thought I would ever say that?  (And throughout the ALI blogosphere I hear sighs, see eyes rolling, and hands thrown up in disgust and confusion!  And I understand!)  However – and I want to emphasise this - I don’t expect or ask anyone to change what they are doing. 

It just goes to show really -  no matter how hard you try, you can’t please all the people, all the time!  

Monday, February 24, 2014

A head full of thoughts

I have been doing a lot of reading lately and very little writing.  As you may have noticed.  I've been reading some fascinating thought-provoking articles, but haven’t managed to write down my thoughts that were provoked by these articles.  Not yet.  I have also been reading other blogs, but struggling to comment.  Part of this is a genuine technology issue – commenting from my iPad when I'm in bed or downstairs prone on the couch seems to be fraught with difficulty.  I do most of my blog reading these days through Feedly on my iPad, but I'm getting fed up with the number of times I've written a comment, only to try to publish it or review what I've written and it vanishes, the pages flashing back to the original post listing, my words lost in the ether.

But there have been thoughts I've wanted to share, prompted by a post, that were too long for a comment.  And I've been waiting for the time or inspiration to turn these into a post.  Then there are the comments I want to make, that I feel I need to make, but I sincerely don’t want to upset the original blogger, so I have been (and still am) grappling with how to deal with the subject matter.

So I guess my excuse is, even if I haven’t been posting here, it doesn't mean that I'm not thinking, or reading your thoughts.  And I know that is useless – much the same as someone says, when we’re grieving or stressed, that they’re “thinking of us,” when what we really needed was to hear them say that to us, or to feel their hugs, or simply their presence.  So I apologise for my absence.  And aim to do better.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love on the internet

I got all mushy today, as I wrote the post that I first titled Celebrating the Internet, then thought I'd change it given that it's the 14th of February.  Yes, I know it's cheesy. Sorry!

I posted it on A Separate Life, but then realised that many of the people I think about and talk about and have met or want to meet are over here on this blog.

So I'm celebrating you, too - here's the link.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Giving up the Ghost

Hilary Mantel, twice winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize, as author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, has written a memoir - Giving Up the Ghost - about as she describes it - her childhood, and her childlessness.

I am a big fan of her writing, and in this book, there are such beautiful sentences that make me want to break out in cheers, at the same time feeling that I should just concede defeat now and never try to write anything ever again.

The sections about her childhood are wonderful, amusing and insightful and fascinating.  Then she moves to her adulthood, and her medical issues that led to her childlessness.  Her matter-of-fact explanation of her struggles to get doctors to take her seriously and treat her endometriosis left me in horror.  Not disbelief, sadly, as I’ve heard enough doctor horror stories to last me a life time, though hers are particularly bad. 

After a callous comment from a doctor – who was at least treating her, but said, "oh well, at least you won't need to use birth control" - she writes:
 “There are times in life when you are justified in punching someone in the face.  But I didn’t react.  I knew it was for the doctor to direct the blow, and me to absorb it.  Sometimes one takes a little pride in endurance of this kind.  At this stage it was all that was left.”
I think we can all relate to all aspects of that paragraph!

Ghosts are a recurring theme, and Mantel uses them as a construct to explain her childhood, and her childlessness.  And she does so beautifully.  This following is a selection from a most beautiful passage in which she focuses on her childlessness.  (Catriona is the daughter she never had.)
"(Children’s) … lives start long before birth, long before conception, and if they are aborted or miscarried or simply fail to materialise at all, they become ghosts within our lives.   

Women who have miscarried know this, of course, but so does any woman who has ever suspected herself to be pregnant when he wasn’t.  It’s impossible not to calculate, if I had been, it would have been born, let’s see, in November …

... No doubt there are ghosts within the lives of men; a man with daughters brings his son into being through wishing him, as a man somehow better than himself, and a father of sons wraps his unborn daughter in swaddling bands and guards her virginity, like an unspoiled realm of himself.  … The country of the unborn is criss-crossed by roads not taken …"
This, this is the answer to those who say "you haven't lost anything, you never had anything."  And she does it in such a way that is so inclusive, relating to many more than those of us who couldn't have children.  In a very gentle way, she refuses to allow that denial of our losses, of anyone's loss.

And she goes on to recognise the difficult process of coming to terms with all this.
"No advance in medical technology was going to produce Catriona; she was lost.  But when biological destiny veers from the norm, there are parts of the psyche that take time to catch up.  You understand what has happened ... But there are layers of realisation, and a feeling of loss takes time to sink through those layers.    … Mourning is not quick; when there is no body to bury, mourning is not final.”
She talks about healing, never once using the word, but we learn how she managed to move forward and start the next phase of her life.  And what a phase that has been.  One of the wonderful things about this memoir is that - because she is so famous now and such a phenomenal writer -  she has reached people who would never normally read about childlessness.  The book was recommended to me by a friend who loves Mantel's writing (as I do).  I hope that the parts that affected me, also opened the eyes of those who have never contemplated the position of those of us with no kids, or those who cannot have their own biological children, or who have never found their partner in life, or who had boys and wanted a girl (and vice versa).  Because I think we all have ghosts in our lives, or have had at some time.

I have tried to write this post with only limited use of superlatives.  But I failed.  Dismally.  Because this book is so beautifully, poignantly written, with dignity and humour and grace.