05 April, 2021

Privacy, shame, and childlessness

 Last week, Sue at Childless by Marriage, wrote a post asking if her readers needed to read her blog in secret. It took me back to my very first forays into the internet world looking at pregnancy loss and ectopic loss. I was lucky. I found a home at the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust messageboards relatively quickly. Well, let's say I found the site quickly. I lurked through my first ectopic, but read it avidly and got to know some people who are still friends almost 20 years later. Then about six months later, I started reading and posting on their Trying to Conceive boards. I learned all about cycle monitoring, ovulation tracking etc. It took me a long time to confess (because that's what it felt like) to my husband that I was doing this. 

By the time I had my second ectopic a year later, he knew that I was well into this online community, but he never had any urge (as far as I know) to see what I was reading or saying. He knew it helped me, and that was enough for him.

So I remember the feeling of wanting to hide what I was reading and what my thoughts were. Perhaps it was because I was trying to figure out what it was I was thinking and feeling before I discussed it with him, or anyone? Perhaps it was shame? Perhaps it was nervousness that he (or others) wouldn't understand, or would mock it? It took longer for me to open up about that to friends or family. A lot longer. Even now, I don't tell many people about this blog unless it is relevant to our conversation.

Of course, I know full well that anyone could search my real name and they'd find this blog. I bumped into a woman I worked with 34 years ago at the supermarket doing pre-Easter shopping. We had a lovely long chat and catch-up, and she noted that she had read something I'd written (directed to it by an article in a women's magazine where I had been quoted) and had liked it. I will admit, I write here as if I am still anonymous! The head-in-the-sand attitude helped when I first "came out" publicly. I was worried about people being mean, judgemental, mocking. But now, I just shrug. I am confident in what I write and who I am. But it has taken time.

And I can understand that anyone first dipping their toes into the No Kidding/childless world of writing here or elsewhere around the internet might want to stay anonymous, or lurk for a while, or always use a pseudonym. Because it takes us time to discover what we think, where we belong, and who we are. It takes time to figure that out and feel free to mention it to even those who are closest, let alone in more casual relationships or with more distant acquaintances. Protecting yourself, your privacy, and feeling safe as you're going through some major life adjustments is not wrong, and it's not shameful. It can give you the freedom to be who you are, as you figure that out. And that's pretty wonderful.

Time makes it a lot easier. Then one day, you'll find that privacy doesn't matter quite so much any more. You might feel your shoulders relax, hold your head higher, and puff out your chest, proud of who you are, and how far you've come.


29 March, 2021

Hope and a childless future

Hope is complicated. It can be both destructive and life-affirming, sometimes at the same time. It has been a key feature of life for many of us this last year. It has also been prevalent for so many of us when going through infertility. Hope protected us from our greatest fears. Hope kept us going – not just through the next cycle, but it kept us being able to operate in the real world whilst going through something difficult. We're all familiar with hope, its presence, and its absence.

The NYT had an article a few months ago about the benefits of hope. It was written in relation to the pandemic, but everything it said reminded me of going through infertility. It said, 

“ … experts say that fantasizing, forward thinking and using one’s imagination are powerful tools for getting people through difficult times.”

It explains the vocal “never-give-up-hope brigade” who promote this philosophy both when they are still going through infertility, or when they have exited it with the result they wanted. But if only people felt able to hope for different things too.

 “They are fantasizing about what they’re missing right now,” said Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. “These daydreams serve as a substitute, which gives them some of the pleasure the real experience would.”

I could relate to that. I remember imagining having the babies I was trying to conceive, the children they would become. I remember imagining the feeling of getting that positive pregnancy test, or the scan that said the baby is in the right place (that’s my ectopic history showing through), or the birth of a healthy baby. I remember the pleasure of all that. It made the stress of waiting, of dealing with negative results, so much easier. I do understand the desire and instinct to do this.

Imagining the future in this way is called prospecting, and in the article, a doctor was quoted saying, “The essence of resilience about the future is: How good a prospector are you?”

Well, I’m pretty good at this, I think! After all, I can imagine the future in which I win Lotto. And we all know, that’s not going to happen! So I think I would put it another way. Can you imagine a future that is different from the one you’re trying to get now? Do you imagine being happy in that future? Is this even encouraged in our societies, when we are told that “if we work hard, we can achieve anything?” (And we all know that’s not true either!)

For so many going through infertility, they can’t imagine the alternative, No Kidding childless life as anything but their worst case scenario. Some are lucky, and don’t have to imagine that. Yet for those of us who do, resilience requires us to be able to see some brightness in that future.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if clinics and doctors and teachers and society in general taught us to imagine all possible outcomes, and to see the joy that can be in both. (There’s that Accurate Thinking again.) Wouldn’t that make life easier? Wouldn’t that bring joy more quickly when one avenue is closed to us? Learning how to imagine a new life with excitement and joy. Learning to feel hope for something new. That’s our mantra here. If it were encouraged more broadly, maybe it wouldn’t take so long for it to come to us. Or for others to accept it for us.



23 March, 2021

Because I can

Tonight my husband and I are metres from a beach, looking across at a lighthouse, listening to the waves. No childcare issues. No eldercare issues. We are embracing our No Kidding lives.

15 March, 2021

Accurate thinking

 I was just listening to an interview on our national radio station. It was aimed at how to help anxious children (and parents) but there were many points that were equally relevant to us. My favourite point, though, was:

"Don't teach positive thinking. Teach accurate thinking."

Isn't that perfect? (And not only because it has given me a topic for today! lol)

I'm not overly negative or cynical (despite being told by a colleague once that I was "quite cynical for one so young" when I made a comment that he agreed with) but I'm also not someone with a glass-half-full attitude all the time either. I like to think I'm realistic. (Though once again, this comment is tempered by remembering friends of friends on Fbk who think that they are politically objective, then spew all sorts of hate. Sigh!) Perhaps all these qualifications about who I am or am not just back me up. I hope I'm realistic. I think I was realistic when I saw the infertility and loss statistics for and against my age and my history (first after one ectopic, then after a second) and the evidence we (me, my husband, and my fertility guy) were faced with during IVF cycles, and assessed these without emotion (or rather, with emotion put aside) to determine what if any our next steps might or might not be. It doesn't mean that I didn't have hope. But hope - and for a while, despair - were tempered by evidence, science, and brutal (from each of us at different times) honesty.

I think this is what we ask for when we ask that the "think positive never give up" brigade understand our positions. We don't want our positions dismissed, or the evidence to be ignored. We just want people to understand or at least, to accept our situations. 

In exactly the same way, it is not accurate to assume that a life without children will be never-ending gloom, loss, or sadness. Neither is it accurate to say it will be perfectly happy, and that everything we've all been through will be forgotten. Of course not! It is accurate to say that our lives can and most likely will be good, happy, with some wonderful experiences. Looking on the bright side, embracing the good things we have already, or have because we don't have children, is not blindly optimistic. It is simply realistic. Life is full of balances, trade-offs, pros and cons. The joy is there if we look for it. That's accurate. And I'm not kidding!

08 March, 2021

Shared experiences (again)

 I belong to a Fbk page for TN (Trigeminal Neuralgia) which is an invisible nerve pain condition. I don’t regularly read the posts there, because so many are in chronic and severe pain, and it can be both scary reading about it, wondering if that will happen to me, as well as it can make me feel like a fraud, because my pain has so far been reasonably well managed. Still, the other day I saw someone talking about raising the issue of the condition and of their pain with others. Many of them struggle to get any form of understanding or tolerance of their pain from friends or family members, and so suffer (literally) in silence. Someone said the following:

“I still think it is worth persistently and politely pulling people up, and explaining why, though.”

I agreed wih them. And I guess that’s why I write this blog too. Because, like TN, not having children can be an ongoing source of pain for many members of our No Kidding community, and yet it is invisible, ignored, disenfranchised. When I casually mentioned TN once, a friend said to me (innocently), “but you don’t get that now, do you?” And I had to explain that every day I feel it, I’ve learned to live with it, and that I am lucky that medication has helped me so far. That’s not unlike those of us without children. Every day we live with it, we feel it because we know we don’t have children, our friends and family assume that we are fine now, and so we are ignored.

I guess it’s just another example that there are so many of us in society who feel marginalised, misunderstood, and in pain, for a myriad reasons. There are more people who might understand our situation than we realise. So maybe talking about it, both to spread the word to others and to get support from each other, is all we can do. Which I guess is what I try to do. Calmly (I hope) explaining our No Kidding lives when I can. Writing here and thinking. Walking alongside all of you, and feeling grateful for the fact that you are walking alongside me too.