Friday, 28 January 2011

We are not alone

I have been reading the reviews of Lisa's book, Taking My Eggs and Going Home.  I discovered Lisa's blog only last year, about the same time I discovered Pamela,and Loribeth's Road Less Travelled, and Melissa's Stirrup Queens, and one or two others.  It had been seven years since I learned I would never have children, and yet for some reason I felt the need to search out people in a similiar situation.

During my actively infertile years (I am no longer technically infertile, as I'm not trying to conceive any more - how weird is that?) I spent most of my time on an ectopic pregnancy site, and an IVF site.  These sites were incredibly important to me.  They gave me a place to vent, to express my fears, to become a woman I barely recognised, a woman who wanted more than anything to be a mother, a woman who became quite desperate.  Most importantly, they gave me a place to be anonymous.  What I said on these sites was not part of my everyday life.  I didn't have to worry about pitying looks, or the lack of invitations to children's birthday parties or for fish-and-chip-dinners-on-the-floor from my so-called friends.  I didn't feel ostracised because of my childlessness here.  But when IVF was over (I'll write about that sometime), and when my ectopic friends largely went on to have children (as most women do after an ectopic pregnancy) or to adopt or simply to move on, I was left alone with my infertile, childless thoughts.

And for the most part this was okay.  I was learning to cope, I was facing life and a future without children, and I was okay.  But there was still a void in my life.  And as time passes, I think the void we feel is less the child or children who are not there, and more the feeling of belonging, the feeling of community, the feeling that we have a place in this world, and that we have worth, and value.

The nuclear family society that in Western cultures seems dominant doesn't really work.  It doesn't work for those of us who couldn't have children.  Decades ago, or perhaps centuries ago, families were wider than two parents and children.  Families included grand-parents and aunts and uncles and cousins.  Families worked together, and played together, and lived together.  But now, in the 21st century, this is no longer the case.

For a start, families are often scattered.  My own family is an example of this.  My sister lives an 8 hour drive away, my other sister and mother live on a different island. My husband's family is scattered further afield, with all his brothers (and therefore all his nieces and nephews) living overseas, in Australia, California and Qatar.  Of course, this happens increasingly, especially in a small country like New Zealand.  But it means I don't know my nieces and nephews, I don't have the relationship with them I'd like to have, or that I see them have with other aunts/uncles who live closer.

But I think families are also more insular, more protective of themselves as a family.  Perhaps having only one or two children per family means that parents find things more manageable, and therefore call for help less often.  Or perhaps only having one or two children means that they are more protective, and more jealously guard the time they spend with those children, knowing there are no more to come?  Or perhaps parents feel under more pressure to be a "good parent" and feel they can't ask for help as much?  We all know the stories of parents - let's be honest, usually mothers - feeling under tremendous pressure, but unable to admit they need help. 

Whatever the reasons (and I've hardly made an exhaustive study of it!), it seems to be a universal phenomenon that the nuclear family exists more than ever in a silo (apologies for the jargon).  Sometimes the silos are linked under the umbrella of a school community, but this is only accepting of those already in that community.  And the childless aunt - previously a valuable part of society who had her own role (in raising the children) in a community, extended family or village - is now without that role, judged worthless to that community, and is allowed in only for snippets of a child's life.  The saddest part of this is that this focus on the nuclear family (or groups of other nuclear families) in fact does nothing to improve the child's life, or the child's parents lives, or the childless aunt's life.  We are all losers.


And so, whilst society might be less openly judgemental or critical about the childless than a hundred years ago, the childless person is still very much isolated from society.  (The ways in which this is manifested would be a whole new post).  Which brings me back to online blogs, and books such as Lisa's, and Pamela's, and (for me, many years earlier), my friend Lysanne Sizoo's book, Small Sparks of Life.  On-line, and in these books, I read about women like myself.  Women who (dare I say it) are intelligent, vibrant, funny and insightful.  Women who have had the courage to talk about their losses, and their lives, women who are strong, doing well, and are ... well ... simply normal, wonderful women.  They let us know we are not alone.  Even, or perhaps especially, seven years later, I need that. Doesn't everyone need that?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Life without children ....

... can be very good!

In case you're wondering what I was up to over Christmas when I didn't post much, this is an unashamed promotion of my regular blog A Separate Life.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Insensitivity goes two ways

I've been thinking a lot lately about whether it is fair to expect friends and families to be sensitive to our situation.  Initially, after my ectopic pregnancies and finding out I'd never have children, I encountered some unthinking reactions.  We've all come across these, but for the record, I'll include some of them:
  • "What's wrong with you?" my mother-in-law asked after my second ectopic pregnancy.
  • "Sorry to hear of your ectopic pregnancy," emailed a (male) friend I'd emailed to tell about it. "But guess what, we're pregnant, and attached is our scan photo!!!"
  • "Oh yes," said my mother knowingly, as I explained that I'd been given a single room at hospital, after becoming upset at visitors coming in with newborn babies.  "It's like when I was in the nursing home, waiting to have my baby, and all the other women already had theirs."  ("No Mum, it's not like that at all!)
  • "But you never lost anything because you never had anything," said a friend after I'd sobbed that we'd come so close to having the baby, only to lose it in a second, almost-in-the-uterus-but-not-close-enough ectopic pregnancy. 
     etc etc etc

But it's seven years now since I found out I would never have children. I'm doing well apart from the occasional "ouch moment."  I enjoy my life, I'm excited about the opportunities for my husband and I for the next few years, and find it very hard to imagine having children. So is it fair of me to expect friends to be sensitive?

Recently, when on holiday in Thailand, a friend texted me to say she'd become a grandmother.  She's always been one of those women who get very clucky (whilst I hate that phrase, it's probably the best way to explain her) over babies, any babies.  I knew it was coming, but I noticed that the text had a photo attached.  Thankfully, due to problems with the roaming network, I couldn't download the photo.  I was relieved, because I was feeling a little fragile (see my previous post), and knew that I didn't want to see the photo.  I was a little annoyed too, because my friend - perhaps more than any of my "real life" friends (as opposed to my virtual/internet friends who totally understand) - usually makes a real attempt to understand how I feel.  I complained to my husband.

"But she's excited," he said.

Yes.  She is so excited at becoming a grandmother, at the journey her son is embarking on, at the new, gorgeous member of their family who arrived right on schedule.  And it got me thinking.  Here was I, on a holiday in Thailand, putting Facebook updates about drinking berrytinis at the bar on the 64th floor, or adding a photo of our resort pool, complete with palm trees and cocktails.  She would love to go on a holiday like this, but can't afford it, making different financial decisions over the years (and admittedly have children).

How fair is it of me to show photos of my travels, if I can't look at photos of her first grandchild?  Do I have double standards?  Is there a "use-by" date around our childless state, and after a while we should just shut up and get on with it?  Am I any different from my robustly healthy mother-in-law, who annoys the entire family by gloating about her good health in front of her husband who is quite infirm and increasingly immobile?  Am I just another insensitive clod?

I don't talk about my "ouch moments" except with online friends who truly understand.  I don't let people know that they're hurting me.  I went to drinks with my friend last week, and looked at the photos of the new parents and their baby, and the new and ecstatic grandparents. She laughed and thanked me for being polite and looking.  I objected.  I want her to know that I'm interested in all parts of her life. I don't necessarily want her to know that sometimes it hurts, because I know she makes a real effort to understand.

I don't brag about my holidays, and only provide photos or information if people ask.  My friend asks. She puts in orders for pxts from the beach before I leave.  She's interested in where I go.  I don't think I forcefeed her with boasting photographs or stories.  I try not to.  I think she does the same with me, by and large, about her children and now grandson.  Unfortunately, not everyone is as considerate as her.

And if I'm honest, my husband and I have thrown ourselves into our travels in recent years to fill that void that should have been filled with children.  But perhaps noone else understands that.  Perhaps they just think we're boastful and extravagant?

So is my infertility and childlessness really different?  If I find I can't afford overseas holidays, I'm still childless.  My friends might or might not be able to travel overseas, or might choose not to, but they'll always have their children, and now their grandchildren.  The world expects you to have children and grandchildren.  There are daily reminders that I am different.  The world doesn't remind you daily that you're not travelling overseas regularly.

Is that really a difference?  think there is. But as time passes, I find it harder and harder to justify.  Perhaps I am just using it as an excuse?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The wall is never thick enough

Just when I'm celebrating feeling free and anonymous, unjudged about my childless/free status, old hurts wedge their way through the cracks in the wall I have put up between my life now and my infertility.  I was lucky - I had about two weeks of freedom from hurt.  But uncharacteristically there were some ouch moments too. Sweeping it under the carpet is good - it works most of the time, lets me feel good about my life, and for the most part I'm not hurting.  Not allowing myself to think about what life could have been works well for me.  In fact, for the most part I'm very happy.  But just occasionally I want to say, "hey, this isn't fair, I'm not over it, and it does hurt."  And I feel this especially given the strength of my emotions over these two incidents.  So I record them here because I want to acknowledge the pain and the loss that hits sometimes.

  • Seeing a brother and sister playing poolside at the resort.  They were having such fun, mum and dad were drinking cocktails and looking on.  I looked on too, thinking what joy it would give me if I were their mother to see them enjoying themselves, and each other, so much.  Then I sipped my own cocktail and looked in another direction.
  • Two little blond girls on the train with their mother and father, coming back from the Weekend market.  They had bought shiny, sparkly mirrors.  They fought over which colour - the older girl won of course - and they played with the mirrors.  They could have been me and my sister.  And suddenly, tears came to my eyes.  That's the first time that has happened in public for a number of years. Thank goodness for sunglasses.

And yet, even acknowledging that these moments made me sad, I realise that others would also find these sad.  My niece is an only child, and will always be.  My sister could equally have had such a reaction, knowing little CJ will never have the joy of playing with a brother or sister like that.  Was I sad for her or for me or for us all?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The freedom of anonymity

There's something about being away, on holiday, that gives a real freedom.  Of course the absence of daily chores, the distance from work and work worries, the fact that you don't actually need to do anything you don't want to, all that helps.  It allows you to breathe, breathe deeply, just breathe, and shed all those worries and burdens we carry around with us every day.

But for those of us who are infertile, who don't have children, I think the anonymity of being in a strange place, with no-one who knows you or cares about you, can bring a special freedom.  In a resort in Thailand, I've found we rarely exchange words with any of the other guests.  They're tied up either with their family groups, or with themselves as couples, just as we are with each other (and with our e-readers).   We give them their space, as they give us our space.  And that is enormously freeing.  For a week, I haven't had to deal with anyone who knows me, who knows that I can't have children, that I had losses.  For a week I haven't had to face any curious questions about whether we have children, I haven't been "Mali the Childless."  I've been free to be me.

In fact, not only am I free to be me, but I'm free to be me at the most inner core of my being.  There's no pity or sympathy or judgement or assumptions about anything - my childless state or my career or my waist-line or  style of dress or size of feet.  I'm just me.  It's free.  And it's good.  I wish I could be me more often.