- "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.
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 right now, having made different financial decisions over the years (and admittedly, having had 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?