Thursday, 27 February 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!  

26 comments:

  1. The wounds of my infertility are still fresh. It was only 30 months ago when I was in the middle of 10th (and final) IVF cycle.

    My way of healing. I read strictly only blogs written by women without children. All other blogs hurt me. So I just don't read them.

    And I limit number of blogs that I read. I read only your blog and six others. (7 is a beautiful number). I try to cut down my blog time and increase my walking outside on the fresh air time.

    lots of love,

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    1. I understand. I would have found it hard then too,

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  2. I really appreciate this post. Thank you for writing it.

    And this is coming from one of the people who is constantly spewing gratitude and inadvertently insinuating that those who don't have kids are unlucky. I'm sorry for doing that. I really am.

    I realized a long time ago that I express gratitude for my children on my blog, (or on my FB page) because when I was in the thick of loss and secondary infertility, that is what I wanted to see from people with children (infertile or otherwise). So I'm just trying to be the person I wanted to be around when I was struggling, it's all I really know how to be.

    The thing is, I never got to the part of the journey where I had to confront the reality of not having kids. It was always something I considered a possibility, but only ever in an abstract way. And while I did spent some months believing I'd only have one child, I hadn't gotten to a place of acceptance about that. All that is to say that I don't know what I would have wanted from people with kids if I had ended up living the No Kidding life, or if/when I reached a place of acceptance about not having a second child, and so I'm not sure how to support people in those places.

    And I suppose you're right, I can't please everyone all the time, because what makes you feel supported might not be what someone else needs to feel supported. So where does that leave us? I guess just doing the best we can, and understanding that not everyone can give us what we need, at least not all the time.

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    1. Exactly! We can't give everything to everyone. As you see even here on this blog, coming from the same outcome, at different stages of our healing, we need different things.

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  3. BRILLIANT BRILLIANT post, Mali! In now in a stage where I feel that if I WANT people to hear my legitimate side of story and my struggles, then I SHOULD also allow those whose paths differ from me to share their legitimate side of story and their struggles (it's only fair that way, my brain and heart say). In the past I also wouldn't be able to cope with this, but now I can.

    And agree completely that we can't please everybody all the time. I'm reminded of my post on the impossibility of being inclusive as well as the fact that we can't see/predict everybody's pain and to be perfectly honest, who knows who's reading my blogs? Maybe a new reader may stumble on one of my blogs but finds it painful to read one of my posts because of something? Maybe in a different time and space that new reader may not find that particular post painful, but because she's reading it at a certain point in time, that's what happens.

    I remember when Klara wrote in her blog that there was an infertility theme in "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom, but I was surprised to read it because I don't remember such a thing. Then it hit me that I must've read the book before I was an infertile, so I'm going to reread it again later (good thing I still have that book and haven't given it or sold it). :-)

    I don't actively read parenting blogs, though I do read some articles on parenting as well as any parenting experiences that my friends share either in email or FB to educate myself about the other side. But then again I do have blogger friends who are mommies, so they share their kids' photos and stories frequently among other things and I don't mind that as long as the feeling's mutual - meaning they support me and I support them. I think if I'm interested in a blog/blogger, it doesn't really matter whether the blogger is a parent or not.

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    1. To be fair, though, I don't actively connect with infertile bloggers who became/or will become mothers (so I was probably saved from a lot of dilemma/possible emotional chaos when those bloggers became mothers in the end), except those who talk about various aspects of life and infertility like Mel, for example.

      When I first had my infertility blog, I was still mostly just lurking at other people's blogs instead of building communications with them. Once I was more settled with our decision not to continue TTC and to go on another path altogether, I started actively searching for those like me. And I must say I'm SO SO SO SO glad I've found you and some other bloggers who don't end up with children. You're INSPIRATIONAL and lots of your posts are really food for thought!

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    2. If I'm honest, I tend only to read the blogs of people who I knew before they had children, when I shared or supported their IF journeys. Or friends with kids I got to know through other means. And it depends very much on their attitudes when they write too, whether I can bear their particular take on blogging during motherhood.

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    3. Understand completely what you mean by "if you can bear their particular take on blogging during motherhood". It does make a difference indeed.

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  4. I had to laugh when I got to the third paragraph of this post. Mainly because I'm very guilty of trying to be as sensitive as possible regarding talking about my twins. The reason is mainly that I remember very well how painful it was to read posts from bloggers who we're venting about various aspects of parenting/pregnancy when I really believed we were at the end of our journey towards biological children. It wasn't that I didn't know they were grateful, but it was certainly like salt in the wound to have some go on and on over things I would kill to experience.

    What I hadn't considered, though, was this idea that reminding people that I'm grateful would suggest their life path was less. A big part is that I do believe that the people who feel this way are very much a minority of the minority and this has to do with the fact that those who are in a similar position to you usually aren't blogging or sharing their stories. Still your point is a valid one.

    How I've been handling this as of late is to post a disclaimer at the top of posts that will involve me talking about the Beats. I figure I give fair warning to anyone who chooses to proceed. Will there still be some that are hurt? Most likely. But it's kinda like the "Hot" warning on disposable coffee cups.

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    1. A minority of a minority? Yes perhaps. I think the reason people in my position aren't usually blogging is because they don't feel they fit anywhere. And so their needs aren't known, or respected. (Not accusing you of this - just a thought as I'm typing.) I guess they leave IF blogging, because everything (talk of new cycles, adoption etc) is a reminder that that wouldn't work for them. I do think though that there are many more of us than people realise. We've said it before - we're the hidden ones in the ALI community.

      I do appreciate your warnings. Not for me, because I don't need it now, and I wouldn't ask for me, but for those who do need them, and who heed them. But I feel sad (for you, for us, for those going through IF who are still so raw that unexpected comments can be painful) that a warning is necessary at all.

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  5. I'm like Klara, apart from one I only read blogs written by the childless / childfree. This is because, even though I am a couple of years down the line from when I stopped trying, I still find it very hard to read about those who got to the place I wanted to be for so long.

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  6. Hi, I'm here from Stirrup Queens' round-up today. This is a really thought-provoking post. I am one of those people who feels the need to express gratitude... not waxing on and on, but just as an aside. If I'm really honest, it's not even for my readers - it's for me. I feel guilty writing the slightest hint of complaint after everything I went through to get there, so I have to remind myself that I'm grateful to have landed where I did. Though I have several close childless/free twitter friends and try always to be sensitive to them, this interpretation of the *I'm-really-grateful asterisk never occurred to me. Thank you for this perspective.

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    1. I understand your need to express gratitude. After all, I do it too.

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  7. yes, round up indeed ;-)
    I'm still thinking about my reply. But get distracted by the train of thoughts 'what would I have done if I had remained childless'

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    1. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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  8. Great post, and the third part especially made me think. Endlessly grateful posts annoy me, and I've never been sure why. In a weird sort of way, it almost seems like humble bragging? Like, here's my fantastic life! It's so beautiful! Then...and I'm so grateful! Which I guess is supposed to insinuate that no bragging is occurring. I don't mind a few posts like that, but when every other FB or blog post says that, well, my jaw clenches.

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    1. Yes. And I think with the advent of FB, this humble bragging is more and more prevalent. I am guilty of it myself on FB.

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  9. I have been reading your blog for a while. It sustains me. It nourishes me. I find that you say what remains a tangle in my own mind and heart. Thank you for voicing this.

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    1. Thank you so much. That means a lot.

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  10. I am part of the ex-infertile crowd who never talk about their kids. The reason is that years of infertility to me meant going to places (mentally) where very few people go. A life without children is something that remains taboo, and even if you guys start to openly talk about it, in some countries (like France where I live) it remains very difficult to only meet or read about women that live without children. So, for years I blog and think and reflect on infertility which for me was an incredibly life changing experience... and once I finally have that baby, well whatever is related to him seems so normal and mainstream that I can't be bothered writing it up.
    And despite having a child now, I still mainly read childless/childfree blogs as I feel that so many good books are been written on parenting that blogs don't bring much, whereas on the childfree/childless topic, blogs still really make a big difference.

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    1. I hope blogs still make a difference. And I'm honoured that you read me.

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  11. I'm in a good place right now so I can say this but believe me when I was in a bad place about my infertility, I saw all of these grateful blogs as very insensitive. After many years of struggling with my feelings of loss, I now know I need to take care of myself. If I start reading something or watch something on TV and I feel it trigger sad feelings about my childlessness, I just stop reading or change the channel and look for something that makes me feel good. We can choose to water the seeds of happiness in us, or nurture the feelings of hopelessness and sadness. When I was at my lowest point, I felt like it was out of my control but now I actively try to control my exposure to the stuff that hurts me. We used to be friends with a couple with children who were eternally grateful for all their blessings and whenever we left them I told my husband I felt so petty but I hated them. After a while I accepted the fact that I didn't like them (who cares if it started out as jealousy) and we choose not to see them anymore. This couple didn't even notice the loss of our friendship and I am a lot happier. So what I am saying is we all should choose to do, view, read, whatever makes us happy. Try as much as possible to limit your contact with the stuff that hurts.

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    1. You're right. Protecting ourselves is important, as we cannot rely on writers (or friends) to be able to meet the needs of all their readers/friends. It just isn't possible! And perhaps acknowledging that allows us not to take the loss of relationships too personally?

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  12. When I wrote that post, I had no idea the wide range of opinions people would share. And I think they are all valid... I guess we all have our triggers/pet peeves, & the "I can't imagine" phrase is one of mine, even when I know it was well intentioned & there are far worse things that people could say to me. And I have to admit, sometimes those overly-grateful posts irk me too. In the end, you are right, Mali -- sometimes nothing anyone can say is going to be the right thing, especially when we are hurting.

    Anyway, it's been fascinating to read all the comments on my original post & the discussions I've seen elsewhere. Thanks for adding to the conversation with this great post!

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    1. Yep, look what you started! Interesting, respectful discussions - that's what I love about blogging in this part of the internet.

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