It’s well recognised that those of us who don’t go on to have children, whether naturally, by IVF, surrogacy or adoption, are not welcomed with open arms to the community. Perhaps that’s unfair, and an over-exaggeration, as I do know that our presence on-line is appreciated by those who want to see that there is hope after infertility. But the majority don’t. They majority would rather not acknowledge our existence. The majority who are “still in the trenches” have their heads firmly in the sand. Let’s be blunt here. They don’t always want to see us, to accept that our lives are a reality, and that they might become one of us. “I could never do that!” they say in horror contemplating our lives. They are incapable of seeing our happiness, our joy. They look at us and see only their imagined emptiness.
Yes. I know this, because I’ve been there. I’ve been thinking about this issue a bit lately, after writing a few things. And then today, in response to Mel’s post about finding out how the infertility journey was to end, I wrote this comment:
“When we’re in the midst of infertility, of treatments or losses or both, we are blinkered. We're the ones wearing the eye patch, and no matter what we saw, we wouldn't believe how happy we could be in the end, regardless of the outcome. I think I was like that, and I certainly see a lot of women here in the ALI community who refuse to allow themselves to imagine another possibility. So if I'd seen a happy, childless Mali at 49, would I even have understood what I was seeing? No, I don't think so.”
You see, I wouldn’t have understood what I was seeing, because I just wouldn’t have let myself let go and imagine it. The power of imagination is after all what drove me on to keep trying, what drove me to want to have a child in the first place. I could imagine my family, I could imagine being a mother, I imagined pregnancy (beyond 7 weeks), and childbirth, and breastfeeding. I imagined holding my baby, my toddler, my 6 year old. I imagined all that, and it kept me going. And all that imagining didn’t let me stop, because the (imagined) feelings were so good. The thrill of the BFP, of telling people, the thrill of it all was (as I have said) addictive. And easy.
And so I didn’t want to imagine not having children in the end. I wouldn’t let myself imagine that. Perhaps because in that imagining, I knew there would be sadness. But I think I also feared that if I did imagine how it would be, I would find that I might like it. So I was stamping my feet, in a tantrum, and saying “NO!” Like a toddler, I was shaking my head, wanting only the yellow sweets, not the red. The ALI community is a little, no, a lot like that. Even those who got their yellow sweets still will not allow themselves to imagine that it would have been okay to have the red. They will not allow themselves to imagine their happiness with the red sweets, only their unhappiness, because otherwise it means they didn’t get what they want. (More stamping of feet). But it's not an all or nothing equation. Wise Loribeth commented “but what if you saw you were 50, no kids, and happy?” But our ALI sisters won’t let themselves imagine that. Why? Because if they understand the happiness, it might make them feel differently about us, our lives, our so-called choices? Or because they feel that it in some ways it denies the struggle they ... no ... WE have been through?
And yet those of us who have had little or no choice in the matter, who have come to a stage when our only option is to imagine our lives without children, when we finally let ourselves imagine that life, we often feel a huge wave of relief and happiness. We see lives free of treatments, free of waiting for adoptions, free of more losses and disappointments and endless uncertainty. We see lives where we are in control (as much as anyone ever is), where we can plan, where we can live the way we want to, where there is certainty. For me, this came in a flash between treatments, and it felt as if a door opened, a light shone, and a burden was lifted. It is what kept me going, and helped me know I’d be okay, even when I was in the depths of disappointment. I've had other friends describe this too. I wish more women were prepared to let themselves go, and imagine – for one minute – what it might be like. They might find it helps them get through the most difficult parts of their infertility journey. It won’t necessarily influence the outcome. It might make the process easier though.