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?"


  1. From my standpoint on the edge of my fertility journey and trying to see life afterward, I can see that unfortunately many people (especially women still TTC) just do not want to see or hear that there are other paths. I think it is often denial on their part. They do not want to see the stories which do not involve a take-home baby and "happily ever after."

  2. Some people do enjoy burying their heads in the sand and resist any effort to change that situation...

  3. I haven't seen the comment you're writing about, Mali -- and I totally agree with you -- but I am (sadly) not surprised. As I've often said, even within the ALI community, we are (still) "the black sheep," the worst nightmare come true. I have read posts & comments from bloggers that weren't necessarily malicious, but frankly admit that they just can't fathom a life without children, don't understand how we could have "given up" -- they just can't go there, can't read our blogs or Pamela's book.

    The vast majority of infertility coverage in the media (such as it is) tends to focus on happy success stories (IVF, adoption) or the hope of those still in treatment. Childless/free is rarely, rarely referenced, which is why the HuffPo series was such a thrill. It's sad that someone had to begrudge us that brief moment in the sun. It's not for everyone, certainly, but all we are asking is some acknowledgement & respect, from our own community if not the public at large. I don't think that's asking too much. Is it?

  4. I agree with loribeth - the idea that there may be no children at the end of ART is something that no one wants to admit is a possibility for themselves. I also haven't seen the comment, but I figure it's because the poster is so terrified at the thought that they would want to bury the idea.

    I know when I was first confronted with the idea that there might be problems with having a baby, my mother told me (this was before any testing or anything) to just go get that INVEETRO thing and have a baby if it was taking too long. She absolutely thought that you do it and are instantly pregnant.

    I was for years scared of stepping up to IVF, but I need to do it just to finish what I've started. I don't have high hopes for it actually working. I'm resigned to the idea that living childless is a definite path in my future. I'm only hoping that I can find my way to happiness once there.

  5. Thanks guys. I know that people don't want to think about being in our situation - I've written about that before, and can understand it. I was just surprised that someone actually had the gall to COMPLAIN about us getting any publicity at all.

    Anyway, I promise not to go on about this. And hope you're all coping with the dreaded M's Day.

  6. Sorry I missed so much... I admire you for putting your thoughts out there knowing the stupid comments would be coming. I certainly don't envy you, but I thank you, for saying what some people need to hear.

  7. I think there's a lot in the comments that deny your viewpoint that has nothing to do with you: fear (that this is the future they will face, too), futility (wondering if all of those treatments they're enduring are for naught), uncertainty (what if maybe this isn't the right thing for them to do after all?). I'm sorry that this group has felt silenced even within the ALI community ... if anything, this is a community that needs the voices and strength of ALL of its members, if we're ever going to resolve together. Thank you for this brave post!

    (And a special thanks, too for visiting and commenting today, which can be a tough one for any of us.)

  8. You know Mali, I think when people make cruel comments, it is a reflection on their own emotions and what's going on in the internally more than anything they see in you. As many people above have said - it can be hard for people still in infertility treatments to believe it won't work (esp. since so many doctors promise the moon).

    I find myself having to bite my tongue when I listen to my female friends talk about having children one day - especially since most of my friends are in their late 20s or early 30s now. Everyone who has never tried to have a baby, assumes they can and assumes it will be easy. I don't want to rain on their parade and say "well, you never know..." but I try to hope they will be able to have babies with ease.

    These are the same people I know have good intentions when they say to me "Well, you can just adopt..." it is a lack of knowledge and lack of acceptance that sometimes we do not have much control over these issues as we'd like to believe.