25 May, 2012

Just Life

I feel as if I’ve had quite an intense month or two, not only recovering from illness, but also with some pretty serious posts, some intense voluntary work, and so a lot of thinking and writing about infertility and pregnancy loss.  So it’s now Friday afternoon, which means time for another post, and my mind is blank.  Actually, it’s not completely blank (thank goodness!), as I’ve thought of a number of post topics, including a follow up to Biscuits and Broccoli about tomatoes.  I love tomatoes, I understand that some people don’t love tomatoes, and I feel very sad for them that they’re missing out on the absolute joy I felt a few days ago as I sliced into a tomato to toss into my fried rice and smelled that beautiful scent, that promise of deliciousness.  But unlike the “just adopt” folks, I would never try to convince someone to try or to eat tomatoes if they didn’t want to.  Though, really, I ask you, why wouldn’t you want to?  (I know, I know ... and I have now been completely distracted and have gone off to write a post about my general love of tomatoes here.)

Anyway, after the intense month or two, for the last week, or perhaps last few days, I’ve just been enjoying life. I’ve had a book-club get-together, had a friend to visit, went out to dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages, been out to brunch at my favourite place on the weekend with my beloved, saw a movie, and I’ve been trying to catch up with my reading of paper books (I’m an e-reader convert). 

I’ve been working out more intensely, determined to try to lose some of that sickness weight, as well as the still-there Christmas weight, and holiday-in-Thailand weight.  Then I’ll be able to start losing that extra last-three-years weight. 

And I’ve had coffee ... a few times ... in nice places.

And I’ve been working hard to finish a photobook of our European trip last year.  I love photobooks.  And I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  So the photo has to be exactly right, the placement of a group of photos has to be exactly right, and the text has to be right.  As my husband said, the book will cost a hundred dollars or so (more), but the time I’ve spent on it probably goes into the tens of thousands of dollars!  Yes, this is what happens when you’re self-employed, and don’t have many active contracts.  I only have a few technical things to check out now and then I'll be finished.  I'm always a bit nervous though when I send in the order. What if there's a glaring typo or mistake?

So I’m looking forward to the free time I’ll have.  Of course, my To-Do List is already incredibly long.  I don’t understand people who say they get bored.  I have more free time than most, and I still can’t do everything I want to do.  Imagine if I had kids!

19 May, 2012

Biscuits, broccoli and bias

Despite knowing I’ll never be a mother, I am often fascinated with issues of child psychology, and enjoy listening to interviews about this.  Perhaps I can do so happily because of the lack of guilt (I'm not doing anything wrong) and the smugness of knowing I can never be criticised for my child-raising skills or lack thereof. 

Anyway, I recently heard a discussion about babies/toddlers and when they become aware that what they want/like might not be what someone else wants/likes. 

Here’s the example they gave.  A baby is given first a biscuit (in my world, a biscuit is a cookie), and then broccoli.  After trying both, the baby is given the choice, and chooses the biscuit.  And every time after that the baby chooses the biscuit.  Clearly, the baby prefers the biscuit.  Then the mother tries the biscuit and broccoli.  But the mother makes positive noises about the broccoli (mmmm, yum, that’s good) and not about the biscuit.  Then the baby is asked to choose one of these for the mother.  At 14 months old, the baby hands the mother the biscuit.  At that age, baby thinks “biscuit good” and therefore gives it to the mother, even though the mother has said “biscuit bad, broccoli good.”  But by 18 months old, the baby gives the mother the broccoli, recognising that what they like is different to what the mother likes.

One of the conclusions of this was that the Terrible Twos, as they are known, are really just part of the process of the baby learning that what they want is different to what others might want, and figuring out what the boundaries are.

Fascinating, I thought, pleased that we learn this so young, so that when we are adults we are more tolerant.  I thought of Mel’s discussion about the different foods we like, and how I was amused that one of her favourite foods was one of my husband’s (and my late father’s) most hated foods (cucumber if you’re wondering).  My husband and I have different tastes in food, books, and music.  We accept those differences – although I might complain that I don’t get to eat pasta as much as I would like to.  But then I stopped myself.  There are times when I will say “I don’t understand why someone likes xxx, yyy or zzz.”  So maybe I’m not quite as tolerant as I thought.  There is no doubt though, that - like an 18 month old -  I am able to recognise that other people like something I don’t.  I just can’t see the appeal of it.  Others however (people not nearly as enlightened!!) don’t separate their dislike of something with their understanding that we all have different tastes.  My mother-in-law for example refuses to admit that she has different tastes to one of her daughters-in-law.  She talks about V’s “ugly” paintings or purchases (I’m sure she says the same things to V about my tastes) , and bristles if I suggest that they are not, in fact, ugly, but are just not her taste.  She almost has a hernia when we talk about someone coming in and remodelling her house.  She simply cannot understand – and refuses to understand - that anyone would not like the same things she does.  I think we all probably know plenty of people like this.

So whilst we might learn this lesson in principle as early as 18 months old, we don’t always apply it.  Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we are at times simply unable to apply it emotionally.  And so when other people struggle to accept our lifestyle – that we have “chosen” to live without children – and try to convince us to do IVF/continue treatments/foster/adopt, what they’re really doing is reverting to the mentality of a 14 month old.  They want us to eat the biscuit, when we have embraced the idea of loving the broccoli.

16 May, 2012

Savouring the moment

My husband celebrated his birthday on the weekend.  Since we married many many moons ago, we have always done something special on our birthdays and anniversaries, and the only times we haven’t have been if a) we’ve been ill, or b) on a flight somewhere exciting.

So I booked a fancy restaurant, one we’ve been to before but haven’t visited for ... um ... too many years to remember.  (We’re guessing at least seven.)  We went on Saturday night, keen to avoid the Sunday night Mother’s Day Brigade on his actual birthday.  Saturday nights is their degustation night.  I booked the six course menu, as the nine course seemed just too much.

We got dressed up, took a taxi (so as not to be tempted to drive home after too much alcohol), and ordered a glass of champagne on arrival.  The restaurant is in an old Bank building, with ceilings double height, large Greek Corinthian columns surrounding the main room, and a grand bar; suitably luxurious surroundings to make my husband feel special.  The service was impeccable, as was the food, and matched wines.  A tiny serving of crab on a transparently-thin wafer whet our appetites (and not included in the six courses) and then, over the next two and a half hours, we savoured salmon with horseradish cream, paua ravioli, venison with beetroot risotto, rack of lamb with pea gnocchi, a divine divine brie with a fig compote (almost our favourite course), and a selection of chocolate desserts with peanut butter ice-cream.  Fortunately the servings were small enough that we didn’t feel stuffed, and the matched wines included half glasses as well as full glasses, so we were able to stand without wobbling at the end of the meal.  The price was what we expected, but we got a discount by using a gold card for an entertainment club, so we felt as if we’d had a bargain.

We didn’t have to rush home on a deadline to baby-sitters, or to tip-toe into the house scared we'd wake the kids.  We could sleep in on Sunday morning, knowing we didn’t have to rise early for young children, or to ferry older children to sports activities.  We didn’t have to save the money for school fees, or a child’s birthday present, or music lessons.  We simply enjoyed an evening, and celebrated our relationship.

15 May, 2012

What about the men?

I got a few comments on my Huff Post piece saying “what about the men?”  They ran rather sarcastically along the lines of “men don’t count, only women’s feelings count, everyone forgets the man” etc etc.  And I guess, if you’re coming into either my blog or read that article, you might think that.  I mean, I rarely talk about my husband on-line.  I don’t do it on A Separate Life, I don’t do it on Facebook, and I don’t do it here.  Even when he is mentioned, he’s “my husband” or simply “him/he.”

The thing is, it was my choice to go on-line to talk about my life, not his.  He struggles to even read my blogs.  He’s only on Facebook so he can see photos of relatives, he doesn’t even know what a status update is, and he can’t imagine anything worse than writing for fun!  He’s been selectively private about our infertility.  (He hasn’t discussed it with his family, but he has discussed it with a friend of his who has gone through infertility.)  And of course, his experience with infertility has been different to mine.  He’s watched me go through extremes during our marriage – initially very pro-contraception, right through to the cycle charting, the IVF injecting, and the thoughts of adoption or using donor eggs.  He’s watched me go through physical risk and emotional turmoil, at the same time coping with his own emotions of loss.  That’s his experience of infertility, and whilst I think I understand it somewhat, I know I don’t understand it 100%.   

His experience of infertility, and indeed his experience of living with no kids, is his experience, not mine.  I respect that.  I know that it is his story, not mine.  And I know that his story is not my story to write.  

14 May, 2012

The neverending Mother's Day

Mother’s Day can be torture to infertile women.  We all know that.  Mother’s Day torture lasts weeks, it's not just a day.  It lasts from the moments the first advertisements (commercials) appear in the newspapers and on TV, or flash at us unexpectedly on websites, and builds up in intensity to the day itself.  For those earlier in the process, this really can be torture.  Even those of us who have had years to come to terms with our non-mother status can’t help but - in between the shrugs of feigned indifference - feel the odd twinges of pain. 

This year Mother’s Day coincided with my husband’s birthday.  We went out the night before for a posh dinner at a beautiful restaurant in a stunning old bank building, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  But on the day itself, we felt kind of lost.  We’d have liked to go out to our favourite brunch place.  We go about every second week, and it had been two weeks since we last visited.  We usually turn up to the children-not-encouraged restaurant about 1 pm, chat and laugh with the lovely guys who run the place, and have a relaxed and delicious light lunch.  It would have been the perfect mid-day treat for my husband, as we had nothing planned all day except to head out to visit his mother that evening.  But even now, after all these years, we looked at each other, pictured the restaurant full of happy families feting their mothers, and said “no.”  I thought I might be ready to face a restaurant at lunch on Mother’s Day.  But apparently I’m not.  Maybe next year.

So I got up this morning (Monday here in NZ), worked out, visited another favourite place for coffee (and it was such bad weather there wasn’t a mother with child in sight), and felt free.  M’s Day over for another year.  But I forgot didn’t I?  I forgot about the time zone, where it is still Mother’s Day in the US.  So Facebook (I have a lot of friends from the US) had a number of self-congratulations, and of course the blogs I read were all posting about it too (although many with beautiful sentiments well worth a read).  And wryly, I reflected that this year Mother’s Day is taking an awfully long time to end.

11 May, 2012

Belonging ... or not

Here, in the 21st century, we like to think of ourselves as highly evolved, as intelligent and aware members of a diverse society.  We like to think that we can accept others for who they are, for the decisions they make, and for the lives they lead.  We like to think of ourselves as open and welcoming. (For the purposes of this post, please, go with the generalisation).

But we know that we’re not.  We stick together in our groups, with people who make us comfortable.  We like to feel that we belong.  We do this in real life, and on-line. One of the reasons for the recent discussions across the ALI community were the emotions that emerged when it seemed that one group didn’t feel it belonged anymore.  And one of the outcomes was, as Mel and Loribeth and others have pointed out, the recognition that maybe another part of the wider group, our own subset of No Kidding bloggers, had also been feeling left out.

This was why I was so excited to see Nicole’s article featured on The Huffington Post for NIAW.  And then to read Lisa’s article.  Then get an invitation for mine to appear.  At last, as I trumpeted, we were not being ignored.  It was, I suspect, one of the first times that people living without kids after infertility were highlighted.  It seemed to me to be a deliberate theme for the week.  (In fact, Tracey has confirmed that they did specifically choose to highlight “infertility thrivers.”)  And I was pleased at this theme.  I mean, we all know that whenever infertility is mentioned we usually get the endless happily-ever-after stories of infertility treatments that finally worked (the miracle babies), or the adoptions that “filled the holes” in the couples’ lives.  And if there is a place for these stories, then there is a place for ours.

And yet, even on a well-known infertility/ALI blog, amongst our own, amongst women who understand infertility, there was a comment that made me step back.  I chose not to respond there and then.  I thought ignoring it would be the best thing.  But I can’t shake it.  A week on, I can't shake it.  (See, blog post commenters and anonymous HuffPost commenters ARE different).  There, as I was celebrating the recognition of women who were living happily without children even when this wasn’t our original hope or dream, I suddenly felt as if I’d been slapped.  I felt as if someone was trying to put me in my place, slap me back down. Someone commented on the number of articles on the HuffPost Women’s section about being childless.  This person seemed to object to the Huff Post publicising the radical ideas that you could be happy without kids, and that fertility treatments might not work. 

Well, as all of us know, fertility treatments don’t always work.  In fact, for as many as 30-50% of couples, fertility treatments don’t work.  That’s not a small number.  That’s a lot of couples.  Personally, I wish that more people knew this.  That IVF wasn’t seen as the silver bullet of infertility.  As we all know, adoption isn’t the silver bullet either, it’s not easy and it can be very expensive, and for some it isn’t an option at all, even if they would like to pursue it.  The reality is that many couples are left with no real choice but to go forward with their lives without children.  What is unusual is that we are now talking about this.  Loudly.  Proudly.   (Read Loribeth’s Here us Roar post for a great discussion of this, and a song as a bonus.)

And so I was puzzled and, I'll admit it, a bit upset at this objection to our stories from someone I thought would understand.  It seemed we hadn't made the progress we thought we had made.   “Doesn’t she want me to be happy?” I thought.  “Or doesn’t she want me to admit that I’m happy?  Are we supposed to be seen but not heard?”

I'm still puzzled, though less upset now.  This was a lone comment, and I like to think a lone voice in the wilderness.  But it does make me think about our overall place in this community.  Why should our stories be less legitimate than the stories of other infertile people?  Even in our own community, amongst people we thought were our own, people who we thought would understand, or at the very least have some empathy, our voices are denied.  In the words of the commenter, words I wouldn’t normally use here, "WTF?"

03 May, 2012

What they said ...

I have to say that when I agreed to have my piece published on The Huffington Post, I thought about who might see it, but I didn’t really think about the comments.  I didn’t think I was getting any – my piece wasn’t on the iPad version (sob, I would have been so chuffed to read it there) – and so I didn’t look till yesterday.  After Kate’s comment on my previous post suggesting I'd be better off hitting my head against a brick wall, I braced myself, and went in.

They were all there - positive, negative, off the topic, angry, and just plain nuts.  It was weird seeing myself referred to as “the gal” or simply “she.”  Especially as my mother was a strict believer in the “She’s the cat’s mother” rule.  It was weird that people had taken the time and effort to comment on something I had written, on an international news/magazine site.  I mean, blog commenting is different; we develop more of a personal relationship on a blog, and there is more of a conversation.  So reading the comments made me feel as if I was eavesdropping on a bunch of people talking about me. 

Quite a number had missed my point.  I don’t feel guilty for not being able to have children.  I did (but don’t any more) feel guilty for feeling happy and enjoying my life without children, when I had wanted to be a mother so much, and had grieved my pregnancy losses, and the end of my fertility, so very much.  They also obviously thought I was much younger than I actually am - not realising that my insight (or happiness) didn't come over night!

No one, i repeat no one should ever feel obligated to have children, or feel any guilt over not having children.

Some people just don't want to have kids. If you are one of those people, why grieve the loss of something you didn't want to start with?

There were the meant-to-be-supportive, vehemently child-free:

I choose not to over populate this earth with drooling little crumb crunchers and Im perfectly happy. There is adoption for the desperate, and there are many, many puppies that need good homes. No grieving needed.  (Actually, I'm a cat person).

... if I couldn’t have children I’d throw a party!

There were the adopters (with many variations on the theme):

I am not sure that it seems she really wants children.  Adoption seems obvious.

I'll never understand what is wrong with adoption?  (Fortunately many commenters pointed out the many barriers to adoption).

Adopt a child and do some real good.

There was the one “just try surrogacy”:

Actually, before age set in ectopic pregnancy is easily solved by IVF  ... carried by surrogates.  (The commenter wanted me to go to India for this!)

There were the mean or smug:

Of course, she's infertile.  She's old.  Can't have your cake and eat it too, sweetheart.  (Sweetheart?!)

I am so sorry but part of this problem is that woman are falsely given this "you can have it all" line which we clearly can not.  (No kidding?  I do agree with this - I certainly was fed that in the 1980s.  But I could have done without the smug, I know best, tone of voice.)

We can not wait until our mid to late 30's to start thinking about kids. Otherwise you see this. (Ditto above).

You are lucky your man did not leave you.  (I suspect this was written by a woman who had been left - but it still jarred.)

And the nastiest, probably from someone who calls herself a Christian:

Thank you God for not allowing this person to bring life into this world. 

For a while there I felt indignant.  These people didn’t know why we didn’t adopt, they know nothing about me other than that article, and many of them didn’t really understand my point.  But, as I explained to my husband who said I should reply, these people would never understand.  They didn’t want to understand, which is precisely why they were commenting.  In fact, I was really surprised to find myself laughing and rolling my eyes at these comments.  They didn’t hurt.  Even the last one.  (Well, okay, it does irk ... just a bit!)

But the positive comments were wonderful, and made me smile.  They include:

Why the guilt over one's strength and one's ability to re-balance? 

Any loss is difficult. For me, it was the loss of a husband when my children were young. I remarried, and had periods of time that I felt guilty because I was happy again.

I applaud her for being honest and sharing her innermost feelings regarding her personal experience.

I could have written this article, because it captures my thoughts exactly.

Thanks for sharing your grief.  It helped me.  (From an infertile man, this moved me unexpectedly.)

God Bless all of us women for being women.  ... God bless us to be what we want.

...if we do not become mothers, that does not lessen our worth as women in any way.  (This commenter must have read Nicole's fantastic article a few days earlier!)
Sounds like you're a person with her head screwed on straight. Continued happiness!

This woman to me would be a joy and a treasure.  (Either a lonely or horny or both  man.  I made a point of passing this one on to my husband.  Just to make sure he remembered how much of a a joy and a treasure I really am!)

Thank you for this article, for your honesty and your thoughts. This is a wonderful attitude.

It is wonderful to read a post reminding people that you can have a happy ending even if this means you did not get to be a parent.  (Yes, yes, yes!)

Reading these comments reinforced exactly why I blog, and why I am feeling motivated to write more widely about the subject.  To know that I had inadvertently helped some complete strangers was amazing.  The examples above, and the wonderful wonderful support I’ve received here on this blog from you all, made this rather scary “coming out” venture worthwhile.  

And at times, especially after weeks like this, it does feel  as if I'm "having my cake and eating it too" - it's just a different cake, sweetheart!