Friday, 12 July 2019

Celebrations vs Grief - a place for both

I've been thinking a lot about celebrations recently. It's part of the New Zealand culture that celebrations shouldn't be (too) over the top, and that we should pay tribute to, or at least be thoughtful of, the unlucky amongst us, whether it is a sporting event, career achievement, or anything else we might be celebrating. Fair play and humility are important to us.

Perhaps that's why I feel I am less willing to keep silent when it is perfectly legitimate to talk about my losses, or my situation. I've written about this before, four years ago, in Practising Self-Compassion. I don't think that we need to keep silent, for fear of upsetting other people or diminishing their happiness. Because our feelings are just as important as those of other people.

I'm writing this after reading Loribeth's post about wondering how to acknowledge the anniversary of losing Katie this year, because on the exact same date her nephew and wife are having an OB-GYN appointment for their pregnancy. She's a nice person - she doesn't want to upset them. Society tells us that we are supposed to put other people's happiness before our own grief. We feel it is unfair to ask others to ever-so-slightly subdue their own feelings about their good news, when their celebrations - sometimes gloating - can cut us to the core, or kick us when we are down. When actually, the fact that someone might think twice about celebrating, or how they celebrate, in front of us is not a bad thing. They can whoop and cheer behind closed doors, with other family and friends. They will have plenty of people celebrating with them. Their joy will not be diminished. But if it is, with an awareness of how bad it might make others feel, is that a bad thing? I personally don't think so. I think it can be a teaching moment, and contributes to a better, more thoughtful, world.

I think - as I said in the comments to Loribeth's post, and as I've said here before too - that this is one of the reasons why pregnancy loss and infertility are so misunderstood. We don't talk about it because we put other people's feelings before our own. That's what Loribeth is doing, because she is a lovely, thoughtful person, and because she adores her nephew. But her loss was huge, and deserves recognition. At the very least, she deserves to show herself self-compassion, and allow herself and her husband to honour Katie and their loss in the way that feels right for them.

The thing is, I often think that we worry that our news or situations or sometimes our very presence will bring people down. Whereas I think the reality is that, unless someone has been through what we have been through, they don't recognise the pain of individual days, or events, and they are easily able to dismiss our situations because "it won't happen to them."

The reality, I believe, is that if she posts about Katie, and her nephew and their wife see it, two things may happen:
a) they will feel compassion for Loribeth and her DH, I'm sure, and
b) they may feel increased anxiety about their pregnancy, for an hour or two.

If they get good news, as we all hope they will, they'll either
a) forget any small sliver of anxiety, and/or
b) feel even more grateful that they have a healthy pregnancy.

The one thing I'm confident of is that they will be surrounded by the good wishes and shared joy of family and friends, including Loribeth and her husband.

If the couple get bad news at their appointment:

a) they will worry, feel anxious or grieve regardless of what was said or not said earlier, and
b) they will have been reminded that they have an uncle and aunt who understand, and who will be there to support them.

Victory and defeat, joy and grief, celebration and commiseration don't have to be mutually exclusive. The bad things don't need to be hidden. The good things in life can be even more precious when the bad things are openly known, are talked about, and are mourned.

Of course, it's easy for me to say. I don't have this particular dilemma. But I'll admit that I'm tired of us always being the ones who have to tiptoe around others, who have to swallow the slights, the casual thoughtless remarks, who have to make allowances when we are hurt. I'm tired of squashing my feelings in the interests of "being polite," when it is not reciprocated.  I don't think an occasional, polite, diplomatic mention of my own circumstances is inappropriate. In fact, I will defend it strongly.

I hope that whatever any of us would decide to do in similar circumstances, we are reassured by the knowledge that this loving No Kidding community of women and men will give support and understanding, and that we will our needs - the needs of the minority - will always, in this space, come first. As I said above, there are plenty ready to be cheerleaders for the majority, and to celebrate the unbridled joy (we sincerely hope) of those lucky enough never to feel this particular loss.

Monday, 8 July 2019

A recent reminder

Usually, when I see photos of children of my ectopic message board friends,I smile. Whether biological or adopted, I’ve followed them since they were born (perhaps since they were conceived and before the first pregnancy test), and feel as if I know them, even though we may have never met. They’ve become part of my life, even if I’m not part of theirs.

But recently I had one of those moments. After our first ectopics, a good friend and I conceived again at the same time. We even shared the same EDD. I lost that baby to another, rare ectopic pregnancy, but my friend’s pregnancy proceeded without difficulty. So her daughter has been a permanent reminder of what I might have had. Most of the time, I’ve been happy for my friend, and remember the bright, happy young child I met when she was small. I don’t allow myself to think, “what if?” because it does nothing for me.

But it was a shock recently to see this young woman all dressed up for her end-of-year school ball (or whatever it was called in the country concerned), possibly at the end of her schooling completely. She was tall and elegant and so very adult. So real. All of a sudden, I'm hit with the realisation and sadness that my own child would have been that age too. All grown up and ready to go out into the world. Many of you know what these shocks feel like. It's been a long time since I experienced that, and so it was a shock. So much so, that I shared it with my husband. I don’t usually do that, as I don’t want to bring him down. We had a moment together, and now I’ve brushed it off. Mostly.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Travelling (and coming home) without kids

Our latest trip overseas is over. Today is my first day full back. I'm feeling a bit jetlagged, but managed to have a good night's sleep last night, despite going to bed at what our bodies thought was seven pm (but was really midnight here) and waking up at 3.37 am, and that has helped a lot.

We spent just over seven weeks away, and had an amazing trip to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. It was a trip for my husband's birthday. It was a significant number (with a zero) and neither of us can quite accept that he's that old! But we had a great time, went to some great places, ate some fabulous food, and - apart from the fact we're still waiting for our bags to arrive - didn't have any major accidents, illnesses or travel problems. We know we are very lucky.

And yes, as I noted a while ago, we couldn't share our travel with children. But even though I commented frequently to my husband that our niece "Charlie would have loved this!" I also knew that her parents would hate the very things their daughter would love. Life is a compromise.

We loved our trip and were very thankful that we were able to do it out of school holidays, in our own time and at our own pace, following our own interests. Well, we compromised between the two of us, but that's easier than compromising with a child, I'm sure. My brother-in-law and his family had just been to Japan a few weeks before us. They did completely different things than we enjoyed doing on our trip. (Well, except for one thing I will show below.) They visited anime museums and Disney and Universal Studio parks. My BIL wanted to go to museums but didn't have time to do any of the things he wanted (except for one brief escape in Kyoto), whereas we visited a number of really excellent museums, and enjoyed the temples and palaces and history. (Which is not to say all kids would dislike museums - we have a nephew who is a museum buff, but would want to spend too much time there even for us.) We saw a few families travelling, some with young children, and we shook our heads in a combination of admiration at taking on the task and gratitude that we didn't have to deal with the complications of travelling with kids.

There was two incidents where we were reminded we were childless. Once, in Japan somewhere I think, when we gave the inevitable reply to the question of whether we had children, we received a very kind response from the questioner. The question didn't bother me, but the kind response did make me bristle a little, simply because I don't like the assumption that our situation deserves pity. But they were kind, not judgemental, and that was the key.

The second incident made me laugh a little. In Vietnam, we visited the My Son Sanctuary, a complex of ancient Hindu temples built from the 4th to the 13th centuries, still tucked away in the forest. A key feature of the temples was the focus on fertility, with altars in the shapes of male and female sexual organs. Our guide went on and on about them, talking about the people who would come and pray for fertility at the temples. It reminded me that I am linked to people who have experienced similar disappointments a thousand years ago.

Finally, after an hour or so, he asked us how many (not if) children we had. "None," we replied simultaneously. His eyes widened. I laughed. "We should have come here to ask for help!" I said. He didn't say anything. He clearly didn't know what to say, and I wondered if we were his first customers who had responded this way. I wondered what was going through his head. I wondered if he would do/say things differently in the future. What I didn't wonder was whether he pitied us. Because it didn't matter. We were in an amazing place, learning about a civilisation that was new to us, and I just felt fortunate to be there. (Well, despite the heat that had me streaming in sweat.) What was more disturbing to me was when he caressed part of the "female" part of the altar! (Though if I'm honest, that was actually very funny.)

Still, two incidents in seven weeks is pretty good if you ask me! For most of the time we were in that neutral space, where our No Kidding status - our childlessness - was irrelevant. Where we could concentrate on each other, on where we were, and on what we were seeing and doing.

Coming home too was easy. Well, as easy as three flights (one with a delay that saw us making a connection in the nick of time, one an overnight flight), and 24 hours travelling with virtually no sleep can be. We heard babies and children crying on the plane, one crying "mama" quite regularly, others being shushed, and we relaxed into our seats, with our pillows and blankets, our movies and (e)books. Being able to have 2 1/2 hours sleep yesterday afternoon helped a lot, though with children we may not have been able to do that either. And last night we relaxed and caught up on the last two episodes of GoT, rather than getting kids ready for school today.

Yes, we know how lucky we are.

If you made it through that, here are a couple of relevant pics:

Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
- my SIL and family went at night
because it was the only time they could do so.
I loved her photos, so we went too.

My Son Sanctuary -
where people prayed for fertility
hundreds of years ago.

Monday, 24 June 2019

More Perfect Moments

I’m writing this before I leave, and it will be posted when I’m almost on my way home. I’m hoping I have a number of Perfect Moments on this trip, and if I do, that I will either jot them down here (if I have time to post from afar) or that I can tell you about them when I get home. Today for example, I will be at the beach, and a common “perfect moment” for me is when I’m in the tropics, floating in the sea or a pool with my eyes closed, weightless, free of worries and – temporarily – responsibilities, enjoying a calm, peaceful moment. I was thinking about that today, hoping that there will be plenty of moments of swimming-related freedom in my future. I may not be able to wear a bikini anymore, but that’s not going to stop me entering the water!

In the meantime though, it’s the perfect moment to repost this Perfect Moment post, written almost seven years ago. I needed to read it, because I had forgotten the joy of this situation, and recently focused a little more on the inconvenience. Here is the heart of the post:

A lot of my posts on A Separate Life are about perfect moments. I like to enjoy the little things in life, to celebrate the joy when I feel it, to be "mindful" and in the moment when I can.

Just now, I had a tiny Perfect Moment. I'm listening to a regular programme on national radio. And three panellists were chit-chatting about life. Turns out all three are parents. And the winter school holiday (vacation for the North Americans) break is about to start this weekend, for two weeks. All three of them were sighing and bemoaning the fact that they had to deal with school holidays. Not one of them sounded as if they were looking forward to it.

"So my perfect moment was what?" you ask.

I am smiling, realising that in my No Kidding Life, I never have to groan at the thought of school holidays. I can be thrilled by the lighter traffic in the morning. I have an excuse to avoid the big malls (not my favourite places anyway), and the child-friendly cafes (I do anyway). I don't have to travel during school holidays. (In fact, I avoid it like the plague - higher airfares and screaming kids = torture in a tin tube). And best of all? I never have to feel guilty that I'm groaning at the thought of the school holidays.

May you all have a Perfect Moment today.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Finding a balance: empathy and open debate

As I mentioned last week, over the last year or so my posts have been developing on a theme. The theme was first mentioned in one of my Gifts of Infertility series, where I talked about developing Compassion and Empathy.

So now, when I talk often about how thinking about my own situation, and about hurtful comments or attitudes towards me because I do not have children, I realise that this process has helped me better understand others. It has reminded me, when it is easy to forget, to be more compassionate to and strive for empathy towards others. I’ve been a bit concerned that my posts might have become a bit preachy, although really, what I have been sharing is how my own thinking has developed. And reminding myself to step back, be open, and be kind.

I've been thinking about this too, because I’m very conscious of discussions throughout society in recent years about increased sensitivity, of avoiding triggers. The questions about freedom of speech* and how far we should go to try to consider others, about how to have hard discussions that are still respectful, and about when it is unkind and unnecessary to do so are not completely resolved. A conversation in the comments of a previous post here were an example of this debate.

I’m trying to find a balance between my own indignation at attitudes about parents and non-parents, or comments that might trigger (a loaded word in itself these days) my own hurt, and my wish to keep dialogue open. I want to keep a dialogue open, because I believe that is how people learn - how we learn about others, and how they learn about us. I haven’t quite been able to reconcile the two in my mind, except for saying that I want everyone to feel they can have open, honest, discussions, ensuring at the same time that these need to be kind, considerate, outward-looking and open-minded.

Wishful thinking?

And have you been able to reconcile this?

* in the broad sense of the phrase, not the US Constitutional definition.