29 April, 2011

A few things about me

I don’t really do the blog awards thing (though thanks so much to EBC and Sushigirl for thinking of me).  However I do love reading the pieces that give a little sneak peek into the lives and personalities of the people whose blogs I read.  We know the most personal things about each other, but often not the most trivial, or the most fun.  So here are some things about me (more trivial than fun!):

  1. I love to travel.  I knew I wanted to travel from the time I could read, and first went overseas at age 17 as an exchange student to Thailand.
  2. I love languages, or perhaps the idea of speaking other languages. I speak Thai, and have formally studied (and forgotten) Chinese and Japanese and French, and I’ve taught myself some Spanish, and smatterings of German and Italian for trips to Europe (the words vanished as soon as I got home!).  I’m so indecisive about which language I want to concentrate on, that I don’t speak any of them fluently.  Far from it.  Sigh.
  3. I’d rather have ice-cream than chocolate.
  4. When I concentrate (particularly when playing the piano) I stick my tongue out … just a bit.
  5. I’m addicted to Sudoku – one a day keeps the Alzheimer’s away.
  6. I’m a secret Dr Who fan.
  7. I’m the classic middle child, but I’m ready to rebel against that, as long as it doesn’t upset anyone.
  8. I operate the VPMS (Volcano Paper Management System) on my desk.  Pile things high.  What’s important will rise to the top, what is not will slide off the side.  I wouldn't recommend it; it’s not very efficient.
  9. I hate heights.
  10. Mali is not my real name.  (But you knew that didn’t you?) 

27 April, 2011

Myth: People who live childfree have carefree lives

Resolve, a US organisation, is promoting National Infertility Awareness Week by suggesting we blog about myths surrounding infertility.  Whilst I don't belong to Resolve, I did find its website very useful when I was going through infertility and coming to terms with living life without children, and so I want to raise awareness and help them if I can.  I've already blogged about the People without kids are Selfish Myth here.  So I chose another topic for this week:

Myth:  People who live childfree have carefree lives.

I wish this were true.  Sure, we're not getting up five times during the night to sick children, or any of the other cares that parents have.  But those without children are often the ones who end up volunteering, or the ones who work longer hours when the parents are off on school holidays (twice this week already).  And of course, those without children are often the ones who end up caring for aged parents and relatives. 

My husband and I are childfree and we should be the members of the family who are travelling the world, living in exotic places without worrying about what schools the children will go to.  But we’re not – after a three year sojourn overseas in the early 90s, we are now the members of the family who are left to care for my elderly in-laws.  All the other offspring are living overseas, following their careers, with no intentions of returning.  They visit infrequently.  After all, it’s so expensive to travel with children, the in-laws remind us - the dense childless couple who obviously don’t understand.  And as they remind us of this, their children pocket their huge foreign currency salaries, build their mansions, drive their Porsches, and send their children to the world’s most expensive universities, but rarely visit their parents.  They show their concern for their parents by emailing or skyping or phoning occasionally.  We show our concern by being here.  If we leave, who do they (the in-laws) have?  How will they cope?  We think about this, a lot.

Do I resent it?  Yes.  (The point of this blog is brutal honesty – even if I don’t come off very well!).  They’re not my parents.  They don’t recognise what we’re doing (ie that we’re living here, making career and financial choices to our detriment to stay here, for them), and so we don’t get a lot of gratitude.  I’m not really looking for that, because I don’t want them to feel guilty for holding us back at a time in their lives when they are frail and vulnerable.  We’ve never told them why we’re still here.  And we won’t.  It’s not fair to them. But it's not fair to us either/

And I admit, sometimes it would be nice to feel appreciated.  So yes, increasingly I resent that we are giving up so much at a time of life when we could be doing so much.  We’re doing the right thing.  Even when there might be no-one around to do it for us.  Perhaps that’s why we’re doing it?  Because we think about our old age, we recognise the vulnerabilities and the challenges, and we have compassion.  Perhaps it’s easier not to think about these things when you can breezily joke about your children looking after you in your own old age, because you can’t imagine a future being alone.  We can.  And so, we help, and we sacrifice.  So much for being carefree.

24 April, 2011

A shoulder to lean on?

 In infertility circles, there’s always the question.  Who do we tell?  I started spotting (and my temperature dipped) on Christmas Day with my second ectopic when I was with all my family.  I knew things were not going well.  And I remember thinking "I just want to get out of here."  I knew that I wouldn't get the support I needed with my family.  I just wanted to be alone.

This isn’t an indictment on my family.  They’re not selfish or any more insensitive than anyone else (including me!), but they wouldn't know how to react, and that would have been hard for all of us.  I could see myself having to spend all my energy worrying about my mother, for example.  I might be selling her short.  But I wasn’t prepared to test it.  Besides, I was 40.  I stopped relying on my family for emotional support when I was 17.  I wasn’t going to start again at this.  I wouldn't have known how, and neither would they.

As my ectopic dragged on, proving complicated to treat and resolve, as I was in and out of hospital, I got support from my husband and from on-line friends who knew what I was going through, having been through similar times themselves. One of my sisters was concerned, and would ring regularly to show support.  I appreciated that, but I found it hard to talk.  So in the end I asked her to email, not phone.  In the midst of grief, having that control, being able to choose when I spoke (or wrote) to someone, was important.  I didn’t have to pretend I was cheerful, or to sound upbeat.  The words could do it for me if I needed, and I could type with tears streaming down my face. 

So when I tried IVF, I didn't tell anyone in my family.  There were dozens of women on the support group who knew I was injecting myself daily with drug, but only one real life friend.  I knew I couldn’t cope with the expectations, the questions to see how it was going, how I was coping, why I wasn’t feeling optimistic, or getting “over it” etc.  I’d seen others under enormous stress from their friends and family, expecting positive results, and I didn’t want to deal with that.  So I blocked everyone off, and I did that to protect myself.  I needed to be selfish, and concentrate on what I was going through at the time.  It worked for me.  It doesn't work for everyone, I know.  A lot of women would be shocked that I didn’t involve my family.  But it was right for me, and really, that's what was important at the time.  And to be honest, almost eight years later, I don't actually know if my family know.  I can't remember if I told them in the end, and we've moved on.  I guess if they read this, they know now!

21 April, 2011

That question

Yes, that question.  You know the one.  Do I have to say it?  Are you going to make me?  OK.  But brace yourself.  The question is:  “Do you have kids?”  However many years have passed, however happy I am in my life right now, however much I even feel relieved that I’m not running around a young child, that question still has power over me.  Even now, it can still cause a blip in an otherwise perfectly innocuous conversation with a stranger in the gym changing room who thinks she recognises me. 

Fear of the question is perhaps even more powerful.  Instead of looking forward to seeing my sister and her husband and my gorgeous niece this weekend to celebrate CJ’s third birthday, I think about the birthday party.  I plan to avoid it – thinking we can borrow a car and escape for a few hours.  It’s not so much the thought of a dozen or so toddlers running around hyped up on sugar, although that’s enough to put me off.  No, it’s the mothers that scare me.  Either the questions about whether I have children.  Or those looks (you know the ones), from the women who are “in the mother’s  club” to one who isn’t.

That question has the power to hurt out of all proportion. The memories.  The feelings I’ve largely dismissed on a day-to-day basis.  That question has a direct line to the tender bits deep inside.

15 April, 2011

You can achieve anything? Yeah, right.

Lisa (who inspires a lot of my posts) wrote about the “don’t give up hope” brigade here.  She comments that hope without knowledge or action can be dangerous.  I agree with her one hundred percent.

I regularly see the danger of hope without knowledge or action on another site:  Women who maintain hope, in the face of all odds, that they will still have a child.  I am not talking about women who actively pursue IVF or other avenues to have a child.  I’m talking about those who seem to live in denial, women who torture themselves, holding themselves in a miserable endless limbo, with this hope.  They grieve every month when they are not pregnant, but they don’t do anything to help themselves conceive.  And they get angry if family or friends suggest that, if they are not going to take action on X or Y, then perhaps it is not going to happen.  How dare anyone suggest that they should give up hope?

I am not heartless.  I can understand that indignation, that determination that they surely must get what they want, the disbelief that others don't share their hope.  And I acknowledge that when I had hope, it was a positive good thing.  But I think there are times when we have to give up hope: for our own good, for our sanity, for our relationships, and ultimately for our future.  Giving up hope is not in fact a bad thing.  But in our society, “giving up” is a phrase with such negative connotations.  It implies we are weak, that we have not tried hard enough, that we are quitters.  It leads into that whole “if you try hard, work hard, you can achieve anything” misconception (pun not intended) so prevalent in society today.  Well, um, no.  It doesn’t actually work that way, and we there are times we need to acknowledge this.  Unfortunately, giving up hope or even beginning to acknowledge that it is time to give up hope, are the hardest things to do.  Carrying on is easy; we know how to do that.  Giving up is scary, and hard.  A level of courage is required.  And that is admirable, not shameful.

Lisa said that being without hope (for a child for example) does not mean that we are hopeless.  She is right.  Putting an end to the hope for that one outcome, the child, opens up avenues for all areas of hope.  Hope for the future, for an achievable future, springs anew.  Hope for our relationships, hope for a healthy and happy life, hope for all those new opportunities that had been shut down by our focus on the goal.  Suddenly, hope is a good thing again, not something that ties us to misery, despair, sadness.  Ironically, giving up hope is the very thing that allows you to hope again. 

10 April, 2011

That voice again

I knew writing a post titled “At peace” was tempting fate. 

One of the strongest lessons I learned from pregnancy loss and infertility is that people worry more about themselves than they do about us.  When I first had losses and then faced infertility and childlessness, I felt as if I was walking around with “barren” or “defective” or “heartbroken” tattooed on my forehead.  I felt conspicuous, and imagined everyone was talking about me.  I tortured myself by imagining friends and family (though to be honest, mainly family) talking about me behind my back, or saying dreadful insensitive things to my face.  I practised what my responses would be, justifying the self-torture.  But of course, these dreadful things were never said to me.  (Insensitive things were said – but not the truly awful things I had imagined – and I coped with them.)  And they were probably never said behind my back.

I’ve since recognised that I frequently feel this way.  I think maybe we all do – our grief, our hurt, our shame, is so central to us that we forget others might be focused on other issues, that they might not even be thinking of our situation, that their bad moods or rudeness or reluctance to talk to us might simply be a result of something going on in their lives.  I recently suggested to someone that this might be how she was feeling too.  I think I might have upset her, and hope I didn’t.

Of course, I wished that I could hear or feel or imagine such rebuffs and acknowledge that it is all about them, not me.  Sometimes I could (and can), and when that first happened it was a real freedom, an “at peace” moment.  But often I couldn’t.  And I wondered why I couldn’t.  Why do I let these things upset me?  And then I realised.  It was how I had been feeling and thinking myself.  I’d been telling myself these terrible thoughts and comments (real and imagined) and I had believed them.  That’s why they hurt me so much.

And so even this week, when something terrible happened and I felt awful about it (and still do), my negative voice woke up and started telling me these terrible things; things that weren’t true, weren’t my fault, or even at their worst, things that were done  and could not be undone but were never done with malice.  I recognised this negative voice.  Damn it!  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always stop the sinking stomach, the stress, the worry, the shame, the desire to hide away from everyone.  It hasn’t stopped it this week.  Intellectually I know it will pass.  My experience shows it will pass.  But getting through it emotionally isn’t easy.

05 April, 2011

At peace

I’ve written a few disgruntled posts here, and I don’t want these to reflect me, or my life.  The truth is that I am more at peace now, having been through infertility, than I ever was before I tried to conceive.  Before I tried to conceive, I didn’t really value myself.  I kept thinking of what I thought I should do, and I kept worrying that I wasn’t living up to my potential.  I didn’t really take a lot of time to relax, and enjoy my life, to appreciate what (and who) was good in it, to congratulate myself on what I had achieved, on what I did well, on who I was.  I especially didn’t congratulate myself on who I was.

I was sad, but resigned, when it seemed I wouldn’t conceive.  When eventually I did conceive, and lost the pregnancy, then a second pregnancy, I became obsessed, and I didn’t recognise myself.  I am not the first woman to have been spurred to try to conceive after a pregnancy loss.  That urge to get pregnant again right now is strong.  Those damned hormones have a lot to answer for.

It was a strange period of my life.  I learned a lot about grief, and I learned the value of being supported by other women, and of supporting them.  I found that I was appreciated for my honesty, confronting my own thoughts and feelings.  And in turn I found that I could help others.  The appreciation I received from other women made me see that my life had value, see that I could nurture others, even if I didn’t have a child to nurture.  I learned too that nurturing myself was important too.  I managed to silence that negative voice in my head, for the first time in my life.  Or perhaps not exactly silence, but to quieten that voice, by confronting it, and questioning it, rather than believing it.  I learned to forgive myself, to understand why I did things, or said things, or felt things.  I learned to have a little compassion for myself. 

I didn’t learn these things on my own.  I had wonderful teachers.  They know who they are.  And I hope they know I will be forever grateful.

So after the initial grieving of the loss of a life I had never had, and would never have – and this took longer than I ever expected – I found myself oddly, uncharacteristically content.  Happy, even.

Now, having been through this (although perhaps age has something to do with it too), I find it easier to tolerate others, understanding more about what motivates people, about why they act the way they do, and that it is all about them, not about me.  And I know more about myself, about what I value in life, about what's important to me, and why and how I want to live.  Before I saw life through one lens only – too busy to stop and smell the roses.  I'm glad I can see it differently now.  And at times I pity those frazzled parents, who perhaps haven't had time to stop and think in the way I have been able to.

01 April, 2011

Tough days ...

Some days are just harder than others.  Mother's Day (and Father's Day) is one that is always difficult for those of us without children.  Even before I tried to conceive, I didn't love this day.  I don't like the suggestion that some people are more worthy than others.  But after my losses, this day was a horrible reminder of what we didn't have, the status I didn't have, and that "no-one cared!"  (A little melodrama is I hope permissible).

I know it is Mother's Day in the UK this weekend. I know how difficult it will be for many of my friends there, for women I've "talked" to on-line, and for women I don't know but who are going through infertility or pregnancy loss right now, and will find this day desperately difficult, and will feel terribly alone and isolated and forgotten.
With modern technology, it is easier now to avoid some of the hype that builds up before Mother's Day.  But it is impossible to avoid it all.  That little twinge of regret, that reminder that I need to press "fast forward" or "mute" to protect myself, can be painful.  In some ways however I find Fathers' Day more difficult to deal with, as I freely allow myself to feel pain for my husband, when I won't do the same for myself on Mother's Day. 

Over the years we have developed some coping mechanisms.  In one of the first years of childlessness, we made the mistake of going to the movies.  As we bought our tickets, two boys stood behind us (sick of waiting for their parents lagging behind), and the girl behind the counter looked at me and the two boys and chirped "Happy Mother's Day!"  I gulped, nodded, and escaped into the dark of the theatre.  We won't make that mistake again.

I don't live in the same city (or even island) as my mother, so rarely see her on Mother's Day.  But as the only son/daughter-in-law combination left in the country, we make a point of seeing my mother-in-law.  Occasionally we will invite them to our house for a nice lunch.  Or we might go out to their house and take dinner.  Or we might invite them out to a restaurant.  But we always do it the day before Mother's Day.  I cannot sit in a restaurant, surrounded by happy families, with my mother-in-law and be reminded at every turn that I am not and will never be a mother.  So we plead excuses - prior engagements, or simply that restaurants will be too crowded - and happily go out the day before.   I don't know if my mother-in-law or father-in-law have ever noticed this.  They are probably too polite to comment even if they did.

And so on Mothers' Day, our duty done, we hibernate a little - but as we tend to do that at least one day on a weekend, we don't feel as if we are trapped at home, and often we forget what day it is, enjoy a relaxing day and a nice glass of wine or two.

I do remember fondly one particular Mothers' Day though.  We were in Johannesburg, and our guide was taking us on a tour of Soweto, such a notorious town with such cruel memory associations from the 1970s and 80s.  We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch.  It was full of families celebrating Mother's Day.  It was sunny, everyone was dressed up in their Sunday best, there was chatting and laughter, and the good food was consumed heartily. I smiled.  I was happy.

Note:  Whenever I write "Mother's Day" I check.  Is the apostrophe in the right place?  Apparently, the founder of Mother's Day insisted that it should be singular possessive.  A day to honour one mother, not all mothers.  This is not really how the day is treated, but I stick to her principles in my use of apostrophes.