Sunday, 19 December 2010

All those questions

I am a strong believer in self-protection, perhaps because I have little faith in others being able to be sensitive enough to protect us when we need to be protected.   Even when they are well-intentioned, even when they know our stories and would never ever want to hurt us, insensitive things are said and done.  I know how easy it is, because I’ve done it myself.  I said something thoughtlessly in front of someone, and I know it upset her.  Later that day, we had a good cry about it together, and I believe she forgave me.  I still feel awful about it, and I have never done anything similar, and I’m very cautious about what I say.  Others are not, unfortunately, and don’t learn.

I approach insensitivity in two ways.  If they are people I think will learn, will listen, or simply need a bit of a shock, then I will tell them why they’re being insensitive.  Not in detail.  I don’t go into detail, because I really don’t want to share my private feelings with insensitive clods.  I don’t want to give others the power of knowing how vulnerable I am.  But I do speak up occasionally when I think it’s needed.  My most commonly used comment is this one:

I’m not the person you should be complaining to/ showing this to /telling this to.

But I’ve also had to say this:

I’m sorry, I don’t really want to hold other people’s babies.


The second group are the insensitive clods or people I don’t know.  I ignore them.  I give myself permission not to respond to rude, prying, insensitive people.  I feel good about that.  It allows me to protect myself, and keep my dignity and self-respect.

If someone wants to ask personal questions, I simply won’t answer them. Since I’ve faced infertility, I’ve been surprised at our automatic inclination to respond honestly to questions, no matter who asks them.  We need media training by the people who teach politicians never to answer questions, so when we’re asked “why don’t you have children?” we can either change the subject completely, or turn it back on them (“why do you?), at the same time avoiding giving any meaningful answer ourselves. 

I’ve used this answer:
If I wanted you to know, I’d tell you/have told you.

And this one:
You’d run a mile if I told you.

But I really want to use these ones  (found on a “comebacks” webpage years ago):

The cats (dogs) turned out so well we didn’t think it was necessary.

The dog’s allergic.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Reclaiming Christmas

Christmas is a time full of memories of loss for me.  It begins in November, pauses today on 4 December to remember my Dad who would have been 82 today, and then builds up steam as I remember the diagnoses of my two ectopics in December and January.  Christmas carols bring back memories.  Old repeats of corny TV programmes (Mr Bean's Christmas for example) bring back painful memories, and the brilliant red blooms on the pohutakawa trees (often called New Zealand's Christmas trees) never fail to transport me back to the Women's Hospital at this time of year.

But I've always loved Christmas.  Over the years I've heard a lot of women - usually those who are worried about their fertility or are going through loss - say that "Christmas is for children."  They're grieving the loss of Christmas as well as the loss of their children, their future.  And I understand that.  I had collected cute knitted Christmas stockings from markets when I lived overseas.  I ended up with multiple stockings, imagining a house full of our children and their cousins at Christmas. And the year my last IVF failed, and I knew I would never have children, I looked at those stockings and cried.  I've since given one to all my nieces and nephews.  I hope their parents use them.  I hope they make them happy.

But understanding the grief that we won't ever celebrate Christmas with our own children, doesn't mean that Christmas has to be lost to us.  If it was important to you before children, it can be important to you afterwards.  It might not be what you always wanted, but let's face it, what in life is exactly as we had envisaged it, or just how we always wanted?  And so I stamp my feet a little, and say "Christmas is NOT just for children.  It's for all of us, to make our own." 

And so I do try to make Christmas my own.  If family are visiting my city, then I insist on hosting Christmas dinner, both to save my mother-in-law from the effort (she hates cooking), and also to claim it for myself.  I keep it simple, but have traditions that are mine.  And to be honest, one of the traditions I like is that I keep it simple, and sophisticated.  Sure, kids are catered for, and have a good time.  But this is not just about them.  It's about all of us, family getting together, or simply my husband and I, celebrating our love.

My own losses have made me much more aware of how difficult Christmas is for so many people.  We may think that others are happy, but there are people without families, others who may be going through things we don't know about, hiding behind seemingly happy family photographs, or busy Christmases, as their hearts are breaking, as they struggle with illness, or financial difficulties.  Our culture's emphasis on being happy at Christmas is cruel to a great many people, and they all need our help and support, so much more than any child needs a new playstation (or whatever the latest "must-have" present is).

My friend is about to go through her second Christmas separated from her husband.  Last year she was hopeful they could reconcile.  This year she knows they won't.  It's difficult for her, her parents, her children.  They're all grieving.  But she's making it her own, and I applaud that.

I guess I'm saying we should reclaim Christmas.  Get our own happy memories.  We never forget, of course we don't.  But it doesn't mean that we can't welcome Christmas or other holiday traditions with peace and joy.  And that is what I wish everyone.  Joy and peace and love.