28 October, 2011

Freedom of Speech

Often, the most hurtful words someone can say to a childless (not by choice) woman is “you’re not a mother.  You don’t understand.”  

These words are said to hurt, to put any non-parent in their place.  And they do.  We feel sad, diminished, lesser than.  But I suspect the reason they are said is as a defence, from a place of hurt.  They’re said in response to a suggestion or comment meant to help.  Mothers feel defensive, guilty, under attack.  (So do we of course but that’s the irony, isn’t it?)  So comments or suggestions from someone outside their club are felt as a further attack, rather than the helpful, understanding suggestions other mums might give, even if they are given with exactly the same intent.

And yet, those most hurtful words are true.  I’m not a mother.  And whilst I can intellectually and emotionally try to put myself in that place, I have never experienced it in the way that they mean.  (Because, as we all know, losing a pregnancy and/or grieving your child-that-never-was doesn’t seem to count).

But I’ve been wondering.  Does the fact that I’m not a mother mean I’m not qualified to have an opinion?  I personally don’t think it does.  And I’m tired myself of feeling defensive and worthless.  I know I’m not.  Now, I know I can’t say “I’ve been through this” and provide comfort in that way.  But I’m also not tied up with the wave of emotions that influence a mother’s decisions.  And we all know too that emotions don’t make us logical, balanced, fair, or even compassionate.  They make us defensive, protective, blinkered. 

I’ve been around enough friends and family with children to have observed different parenting styles, and I’ve been around long enough to have observed the results of those parenting styles.  I’m close enough with some children to know how their parents make them feel.  So I can see what hasn’t worked.  I can, quite frankly, see the mistakes that are being made, that have been made.  (I’m not without compassion – I understand why these mistakes are being made.  But mistakes they are, nonetheless.)  Perhaps the fact that I “don’t understand” is exactly my advantage.

It makes me sad.  Because I know I can’t (usually) say anything without it being taken the wrong way.  And I don't want to hurt.  I know I can only be there for the children, hear them, let them know they’re heard, and provide love, support, gentle encouragement, and when they’re old enough, a calm and reasoned alternative view for them to consider.

If you’re a mother, know that we understand far more than you think.  And maybe our less emotional, less defensive/guilt-ridden points of view might be useful sometimes.  If only you were open to it.

25 October, 2011

Would I still like myself?

If I had had children, I would have learned new things about myself.  But I’ve learned and changed so much as a result of my infertility, it makes me wonder how different I would have been as a mother?

For example, I find now that I’m much more accepting of failure, and my own flaws, but I better recognise my talents and skills too.  This has helped me understand others more deeply, and I find I’m kinder to myself too – beating myself up less for my failings.

A few years after learning I would be childless, I discovered an enormous feeling of contentment; a feeling I’d not experienced before, one that resulted in acceptance of my life.  I couldn’t change things, so I had no choice but to accept.  It was calming, and liberating at the same time.  I was happy. I was not searching for fulfilment through something else.  I found it within myself.

I’m not sure that I would have had the time and space to learn this if I had been running after a toddler.  I suspect I’d now be judging myself against different standards, and I suspect I’d be afraid of not measuring up.  I’m not afraid of not measuring up any more.  Is this a result of my infertility?  Or is it just a result of the years passing, of aging? 

20 October, 2011

Let's celebrate

It’s my birthday today.  I have a horrible cold, feel sick and old.  But that’s okay.  I know it’s only temporary (well, except for the old bit!), and it isn’t the worst birthday I’ve ever had, not by a long shot.   

When I think back to that day, eight years ago, the Worst Birthday Ever, I wish I could hug that sad sad woman and tell her what I know now.  That grief is painful but it eases over time.  That your mind adjusts.   That hope returns, just hope for something different.  That there are other outlets of an urge to nurture.  That life can be fulfilling, satisfying, worthy and content without children.  That it does get better. And that that is worth celebrating.

15 October, 2011

Home Sweet Home

If all goes well, I’ll arrive home to spring, long evenings and daylight saving, a husband happy to see me, a house that isn’t too dusty, an enthusiasm for the future. 

But first, a nap.  Couldn't do that if I had kids!

08 October, 2011

What ifs - Friendships

I was contemplating some what-ifs: what would my life be like if I had had children.  I have a list – they’ll probably all come out in due course.  But this one is a big one, and very relevant for this week.  I’m talking about friendships. 

I see friendships change in some friends with children.  They grow away, and are only friends with the mothers of their children’s friends.  I’d probably be immersed in school functions and sports, and so would probably be spending a lot of time with the mothers of other children.  Not all my friends with children have been like this.  And so I like to think that I wouldn’t have changed, or neglected my other friends either.  But I think the peer pressure is there.  People forget, they lose you.  I don’t like to think I’d have done that to my friends.

On a brighter note, if I hadn’t been through my ectopic pregnancies, if I’d got pregnant and kept my pregnancies, I would never have found the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust.  I would never have met all those wonderful, hilarious women there.  The friends I’ve made through the EPT are lasting.  Nine years later, some of us parents, some of us not, but we’re still friends.  They’re the women I turn to if I doubt myself, if I have problems, if I need to share my most intimate secrets.  I’m going to be seeing some of them in London this week.  Some have visited me in NZ.  I’ve been to Leicestershire and Coventry and Gloucestershire as a result.  I’ve even been to a function in the House of Commons!  My life is broader and richer as a result of meeting these women.  And this week we’re meeting up in London, celebrating our lives, celebrating our friendships.

01 October, 2011

No Kidding

I’m cheating.  It's allowed when you're on holiday, you know!   The following is a post I wrote on A Separate Life exactly one year ago.  It was perhaps the catalyst to starting this blog.  I realised I had things to say.  So here it is:

I don’t have children. That’s no secret, but I don’t make a big deal of it here; I have other avenues for that. I don’t make a big deal of it here; I have other avenues for that.  And besides, this is about my life.  Every aspect of my life.  And my life here.  Whilst I am definitely living a life without children, and whilst every day I think about it (and I volunteer for a charity devoted to raising awareness of ectopic pregnancy), I don’t want to be defined as “Mali, who couldn’t have children,” or “Mali who is childless.”  I’m Mali.  I’m happy, and I have a great life.  But my infertility and childlessness is part of my life.  A separate part of my life, perhaps, but one I can’t, and won’t deny.  I don’t want to hide it.  I am not ashamed of it. 

My infertility and pregnancy losses have given me something wonderful.  They’ve given me enormous self-awareness and empathy, and some wonderful friends scattered about the globe.  These women, the ones I’ve posted about before and who I am proud to call my friends, have enormous empathy and humour, especially when life hasn’t always gone their way.

But then there are the others.  For some reason, lately I’ve been exploring the blogging world in the areas of both the childless and childfree.  Some of these blogs and their comments are inspiring, women going on and living great lives after all their dreams were smashed.  Others are hilarious.  But I find there’s an intolerant stream running through pretty much everything I read. 

Even on the site that helped me so much, I see intolerance.  Women who, after the trauma of one, two or more pregnancy losses and sometimes years of trying to conceive, get pregnant.  In the right place.  Celebration!  But I find them complaining about friends who aren’t over the moon at their pregnancy, or about people – including those who don’t have kids - not being understanding that this amazing pregnancy is the most important thing in the world.  They don’t stop to consider, at any time, that maybe these friends or people without kids might be in exactly the same situation as they were a few months or years ago.  There is no sense of empathy, despite the fact that they were pleading for this themselves for so many years. 

In the childfree pages, I find women who legitimately have made the decision not to have children.  These women undergo the same forms of social pressure to have children suffered by those who are unable to do so.  But there is rarely any empathy.  Only scoffing, scathing remarks about wanting to have children, and why don’t they adopt? 

Then you get the numerous articles written in newspapers by so-called journalists or columnists, supposedly exploring why some women or families choose not to have children.  These articles seem to take the position that there is something aberrant or wrong in this decision.  And they do so by justifying their own decisions to have children as the “right” decision, the only one any logical human being would make.   As if Couple A’s family of 2 or 10 children is any way affected by Couple B’s decision not to have children, or Couple C’s decision not to adopt after years of painful infertility. 

The thing that disturbs me is the vitriol in the posts, the articles and of course, the comments.  But let's put the comments aside for a moment.  Largely I find that even in the original articles, there is no attempt to understand another’s point of view.  To accept that each person or couple makes the decisions that are right for them.  To understand that it can be painful not to have the life you had wanted.  Or to accept that lives not lived exactly the way you live them are legitimate.  There is no understanding of diversity, no celebration that we are all different, and that that’s what brings the excitement, the ideas, the progress, the colour and music and poetry into this world.

I realise that the infertility/childless/childfree world is not alone in this.  The internet brings us such a wide variety of opinions and options that we can go to the ones that reinforce what we believe.  But doesn’t that stifle our thought processes, our learning, our debate, and most of all, our empathy for others?

I am as you can see becoming increasingly intolerant of this intolerance.