24 February, 2011

What's in a word?

Since the earth moved in Christchurch on Tuesday, there has been a lot of talk about what is important in life.  How ultimately, buildings and cars and things are not important, but people are.

The reporters refer to people looking for their loved ones - though frankly, they over-use this term but that's me the writer complaining, not me the person.  Because as a person, I understand that the term loved ones is more accurate.

There has been little use of the word family, because I think everyone seems to understand that when the chips are down, when tragedy strikes, we are all family.  And that referring simply to family right now, in Christchurch or throughout New Zealand, is too limited, too "nuclear."  It is a term, as we all have felt in this community, that excludes or isolates people.  (I wrote this three years ago.) And right now, no-one can be excluded. We are all connected.  Pure and simple.  We are connected through blood relationships, but just as important we are linked through love, through proximity, through a shared interest, shared work, or even a shared commute.  We are linked by a common tragedy.  And we are all just one big family, and no-one is excluded, for any reason.

20 February, 2011

The joys of no kids

So much of infertility blogging/discussion is negative, on what we DON'T have, rather than on the benefits of what we have.  This is understandable.  After all, where can we honestly, openly and safely talk about these things if not with each other?  Sure, this might not have been what we would have chosen for ourselves, but we're not betraying our earlier now-buried desires if we now appreciate what we've got.  I love the saying "happiness is wanting what we have, not having what we want."  I think that is very true, and is a lesson for all of us, wherever we might be on the infertility scale, or in fact wherever we might be in life, full stop.

And so, here's just a short list of a few things from the last few days that I wouldn't be able to do if I had children:

  • A peaceful Sunday brunch with my husband at my favourite (not child friendly) restaurant, planning our next trip, talking about work issues and mid-life crises
  • Sleeping in LATE on a Saturday morning, then staying in bed with a good book.  Because why bother getting up if we don't need to?
  • Having a house and garden that doesn't have to be child-proofed
  • Drowning my sorrows after work with a good chardonnay and tub of ice-cream after a harrowing all-day meeting last week
  • Devoting time to a great book and finishing it in one day
  • Blogging

15 February, 2011

Coming out of the closet

Lisa's post here inspired me to come out of the closet.  It's a little scary.  I posted on A Separate Life, where some of my family and friends visit, where I have a group of international friends who have nothing to do with my IF life but everything to do with my blogging life, where it is known that I am infertile and childless/childfree, but where it isn't a big deal.  I mention it maybe once a year.  Little do they know how often I think about it.  Well ... except for now ... and I feel quite naked.


Why?  Why me?  What did I do to deserve this?  Isn't there an answer?  Why don't the doctors know?  How could this happen?  I don't believe this is happening to me?  All these questions I have asked.  All these questions I know other women have asked, and continue to ask, today they ask "Why?"  Tomorrow they will ask "Why me?"  And they wonder if it was their fault.  They wonder if they did something to deserve this.  They just want to know why.  And my heart goes out to them. 

Years ago, a friend quoted Gertrude Stein to me.  “There is no answer.  There will never be an answer.  That is the answer.”  In a strange way, this has been a real comfort to me.  Knowing that there is no "why."  It just happens.

I look at women who have children easily, who don't have losses, who have never lost their innocence in pregnancy.  They have not been judged to be worthy, just as I have not been judged to be unworthy.  I look at women who get pregnant when they don't want to.  Why does this happen?  Well, just because it does.  It doesn't mean that they are better than me.  It doesn't mean they are luckier than me.  They don't feel luckier.  Those who struggle to cope physically, or financially, or emotionally, with a(nother) baby don't see the baby as a gift, even if that is how we would see one.  I look at women with children who neglect them, abuse them, or abandon them, who expose them to violent or abusive partners, who pay more attention to their own needs than those of their child.  Clearly, the biological act of having a baby is not evidence of their good character, or their good behaviour.  These women are no better than me.  A baby is not a reward for good behaviour, however much we might wish it is.  Not having a baby is not a punishment, however much it might feel like that.

It can take a while to reach acceptance of this.  Women are very good at blaming ourselves.  We search for answers.  We expect answers.  These days, when so much can be cured, solved, calculated or discovered, we can't understand why some of us can have babies and some of us can't.  We get angry, and often - because there is no-one else we can blame - we blame ourselves.  Pointlessly.  Painfully.  Sometimes destructively.

I've lived and travelled around the world.  I have seen wonderful people in difficult circumstances.  I have seen awful people with family they don't value, with riches they don't appreciate or do anything good with.  I have seen beloved, kind, good friends die young, I've seen those who have been tortured, and I've seen the selfish and evil live till they are very old.  None of this is justified or right.  None of this happens for a reason.  None of this is because you were judged to be deserving or not.  None of this is because they were or were not being rewarded.  It just is.

For me, understanding that there is no justice in the world is as much understanding as I can ever expect to have.  There is no reason why.  And that frees me from the guilt.  It means that I can find peace.  It means that I don't question myself every time I hear of a case of child abuse or neglect, or unwanted pregnancy.  It means I can love myself and have compassion for myself when I feel sad.  It means I can have compassion for other women too, regardless of their situation.  I like being in this place.

I just hope that others can get here too. 

14 February, 2011

Friends - in real life and on-line

I wrote about connecting with other childless women in "We are not alone" and how I still find it useful even seven years later to be part of a community where I belong.  And then I read about Lisa moving away from all her friends, but realising that she still had friends contactable by phone and email. I realised there was more to say.

I first connected with other women on-line back in 2002, after my first ectopic pregnancy.  I got to know women going through the same experience through an on-line support group.  There were lots of women there, but it was interesting for me to see how strongly personalities came through online, and how we made friends with other like-minded women and began chatting off-site, but still on-line.  Many of these women were in the UK or US.  And so during those long nights, especially when ectopic number two came along, when I couldn't sleep for grief or fear for the future, I found women to chat to on-line.

As I've said elsewhere (and I know I'm only quoting a dear friend of mine from that site), we got to know each other inside out.  The anonymity of an internet site or chat-room provides a safety that is appreciated and I think necessary when you are feeling vulnerable.  The blindness of those through the laptop screen was welcome, as I sat in my pyjamas "talking" to them with tears streaming down my blotchy face.  But gradually we got to know each other in more detail.  And as the weeks and months and then years went by - or simply on the days when we felt we couldn't talk anymore about ectopics or fertility -  we got to know each other outside our bubbles of pain, the women who had come before and would come again.  I discovered unique, interesting, intelligent, enormously compassionate, and  very funny women. I loved these women, and called them my friends.

It felt odd at first to refer to friends whom I had never met.  But these women knew more about more inner heart than any of my real life friends.  Some of them had been very supportive, but I'm a private person, and suffered largely in silence, with my husband.  I was terrified that I would drive them away, and so while there were several occasions when I would weep into my coffee when meeting them at a cafe, I really tried not to burden them with my crazy desperation and grief.  I also did this as self-protection.  Talking to people in real life opened me up to insensitive comments, and painful reminders.  I felt it easier not to expose myself to that.

I decided too that I loved my friends for what they brought to our relationship.  It seemed unrealistic to expect them to be able to support me in every facet of my life.  I had my online friends for support over loss and fertility and childless issues.  And so I didn't need my real life friends to do that.  But I didn't get upset at them for not being able to.  Because if we had always enjoyed talking about travel, then we could still do that.  If we had talked about food and exercise, we could still do that.  If we had always talked about work, or books, or politics, then we could still do that.  It wasn't realistic to expect them to be experts in fertility and grief.

A few years after I first joined the online support site, my husband and I travelled to Europe in search of snow.   Afterwards, I took another couple of weeks to meet up with the women I'd been talking to almost every day for two years.  I was delighted to find that the women I had loved on-line were the same women I loved in real life. Their personalities and voices were the same.  I realised how real these friendships had been.  I guess that's the point of this post.  Friendships forged on-line are just as important, just as true to me as those made face-to-face.

I've been very lucky to meet up with my friends in the UK a couple of times since then, and two of them have managed to visit me in NZ.  I managed to attend the 10th Anniversary of the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, the organisation that provided the website where I received so much support during my tough years (and where I still visit now from time to time, when I need it, or when I feel I just want to check on others).  We celebrated in the House of Commons, for tea and scones and tiny sandwiches, looking out onto the Thames from the centuries-old building, and then went to the pub. 

Since then I have made new, non-IF friends on my other blog (and I hope I'm making new friends here).  I know I'll meet them one day.  After all, I love travelling.

01 February, 2011

Where did I come from?

I’ve always been mildly interested in genealogy.  Growing up I knew that I had Welsh, Scottish and Irish ancestry, with a bit of Prussian and French thrown in as well.  I’ve shown interest when cousins or others have put together family trees, especially when it involved discovering towns back in the old country where my ancestors came from, all those years ago.  But I've never researched genealogy myself, always thinking it could be something I could do in my retirement, as I've watched my father-in-law do.

And then we learned with finality that we would never have children of our own.  It became starkly obvious, as my father-in-law developed the family tree in more and more detail, that we were the branch that went nowhere, that we had little or no significance on my husband's family tree.  Any discussions about it were painful.  As it became more and more detailed  - showing additions of the latest generation, of cousin's children's children - we felt left behind and even more insignificant.  The actual illustration of the tree showed in graphic terms our branch that was going nowhere.  We could be erased from the tree and it would make no difference.  Of course my father-in-law is oblivious, and thinks we are fascinated to learn about all these new additions to the family.  He enjoys looking forward, thinking about the new branches on those trees, the people coming behind him.  Those with children (and grandchildren) have no idea of the pain that a family tree with a stunted branch - our branch - can give those of us who are childless not by choice.

When my father died, some of the knowledge of my own family went with him.  Since then, his sister (the repository of much extended family information) has also died, and now my mother's memory is failing, and I know there will be things about my family that I will never know.   The words "too late" now have real meaning, and I find that very sad.  But then I become quite callous.  I remember my father, and the stories he told me, and the way he told them.  These are what is important.  Does it matter that I don't know much more?  After all, I have no-one to pass on these stories to.  Perhaps I can just wash my hands of all this?  

(And to be honest - and potentially controversial I know - I always find family trees slightly replusive for the fact that at the top, there are always just two people, but dozens fill the bottom of the tree.)
Then last year, my husband and I were considering a visit to Ireland or Scotland.  My enthusiasm for genealogy was briefly rekindled (until the trip was cancelled).  I wanted to know more, so that we could visit with a little knowledge, a little awareness of where I came from, so that we could visit places with relevance to my history.  Thinking about where I come from, where my parents' parents' grandparents came from, fascinates me.   As a keen traveller, I have often reflected on the bravery of my ancestors, setting out to a country as far away from them as anywhere on Earth, saying goodbye to family and friends forever, to establish a new life in an unknown environment.  I'd like to see where they started their journeys.  So I've decided to contact a cousin who is researching my mother's side of the family.  (Ironically, she is also childless).  I know that as long as I can look back, and not forward, I can handle genealogy.  Just don't ask me to keep an up-to-date family tree.