29 June, 2012

A Perfect Moment

After reading about Lori's Perfect Moment Mondays earlier this week I've been thinking about what I'd like to include.  A lot of my posts on A Separate Life are perfect moments.  I like to enjoy the little things in life, to celebrate the joy when I feel it, to be "mindful" and in the moment when I can.  And so I've written a post that records a Perfect Moment that I might add there tomorrow.  (Truth?  I wrote it on my iPad when I was out, and right now the iPad is downstairs (three flights) being charged, and I can't be bothered going to get it!)

But just now, I had a tiny Perfect Moment.  I'm listening to a regular programme on national radio.  And three panellists were chit-chatting about life.  Turns out all three are parents.  And the winter school holiday (vacation for the North Americans) break is about to start this weekend, for two weeks.  All three of them were sighing and bemoaning the fact that they had to deal with school holidays.  Not one of them sounded as if they were looking forward to it.  That said, all three of them sound like really good parents.  "So my perfect moment was what?" you ask. 

Smiling, and realising that in my No Kidding Life, I never have to groan at the thought of school holidays.  I can be thrilled at the lighter traffic in the morning.  I have an excuse to avoid the big malls (not my favourite places anyway), and the child-friendly cafes (I do anyway).  I don't have to travel during school holidays.  (In fact, I avoid it like the plague - higher airfares and screaming kids = torture in a tin tube).  And best of all?  I never have to feel guilty that I'm groaning at the thought of the school holidays.

27 June, 2012

The isolation of ...

The other day I was in one of my favourite cafes, and discovered the ear-splitting screamer was back.  On his second painful (quite literally, it hurt my ears) squeal, when I physically jumped in pain (and he was a good three or so metres away) I saw his mother had noticed my cringe.  Since the first screech, I had been keeping a surreptitious eye on the mother and her friend.  I noticed that the mother spent a lot of time chastising the child, pulling him onto her lap to tell him to stop screaming (you can just hear the child thinking “yes, it worked!”), and chasing after him.  Her friend sat alone at the table, with her little boy of the same age chomping happily and quietly through a muffin.  I’ve been that friend – not with a hungry little boy of course – but I’ve been that friend who sits trying not to look fed up, unable to have any adult conversation with the mother, wondering why I bothered.  We all have.

As infertile women, we find this kind of situation intensely isolating.  We’re reminded of what we don’t have, and we find it painful and isolating to spend the entire meeting talking about the child.  Or we see a group of women with their kids out at a playground or a cafe (preferably one with a kids’ playground, or at least with toys and books) , and we feel completely left out of the club.

But recently, I realised that I’m not sure how deeply I have ever considered how it might feel to be one of the mothers in the club.  Kait on Pictures & Print wrote an honest and thoughtful post about the isolating nature of parenthood.  I found it fascinating to see this from the other side.  That parents are just as frustrated with the lack of adult company, the fact that real connections – when there is a toddler in tow – are difficult to make, that their precious time with a friend seems to be squandered.  We sit there judging ourselves harshly, feeling isolated, feeling less than.  But so do the parents – or some of them at least - it seems.  And so I’m going to try to be more understanding in the future.  (Not that I’m likely to be around too many toddlers – well, not until the next generation starts reproducing.)

22 June, 2012

Infertile weirdness

I met the new man of a friend the other night.  I knew when she first started seeing him that he wasn’t interested in meeting her friends.  I don’t know whether that was an accurate reflection of his feelings, or whether he was a bit shy or nervous.  I have a theory, but no evidence to support it, so will keep quiet about it.  Anyway, they've been seeing each other for a long time now (over a year), and this was our first opportunity to meet him officially.

It was to be a cosy evening in by the fire, getting to know each other, and catching up with my friend.  In general, he was as she had described him, and we got on fine.  At least he would engage with us, unlike her ex.  But there was an odd moment, one which I chose to ignore at the time, and just get through the evening, but one which I can't fully let go.  He raised a discussion – tell me why – about an item he had heard on National Radio about breasts.  (Yes, we stopped for the obligatory jokes about men and breasts as we tried to break the ice).  He had been surprised to learn that women’s breasts don’t “fully mature” until  (note the use of until rather than unless) they have breast-fed, and that breast-feeding reduces the woman’s risk of cancer.

Well, yes.  I knew that.  A few years ago, as studies came out trumpeting these legitimately important results, I felt more and more marginalised.  But I thought I’d come to terms with this.  There's nothing I can do about it, so these days I usually just shrug and move on.  His choice of subject gave me a twinge though, so I just said I knew that, nodded, looked at my husband, and changed the subject. 

I want to think that he was a bit nervous and was trying to find interesting topics of conversation.  I want to think that he didn’t think.  Because I know if there is one thing my friend will have told him about us, it will be that we don’t have any children.  And I strongly suspect she will have added the point that we tried to have children, but couldn’t. But you know, I have this grating feeling that it was deliberate, even pointed. I can’t imagine why, so I’m just going to say that obviously I am a bit paranoid (missing out on breast-feeding a child is one of my great regrets), and obviously I have read far too much into this. 

Infertility really screws with your mind, and potentially your friendships, even years later.

19 June, 2012

Confidence - finding the right balance

I’ve never been overly confident.  Confidence was seen as an undesirable character trait when I was growing up.  Brash over-confidence was just showing off.  It just wasn’t done.  So whilst I enjoyed school and was averagely confident there, I struggled with lack of confidence and shyness through my university years.  Seriously, I used to sit in tutorials and think “I can’t be the only one that knows this, so I must be missing something deeper.”  I followed the school of thought that: "“Confidence is ignorance. If you're feeling cocky, it's because there's something you don't know.”*   But actually, it wasn't ignorance.  I wasn't missing something deeper.  I just didn't believe that I knew enough.  My lack of confidence continued in my first years at work.  But when I worked in Bangkok, and then during my 30s, my confidence grew and grew.  It never got close to where I would have liked it to be, but it made life much easier.

And then pregnancy loss and infertility hit.  And suddenly, the self-confidence I had been developing was destroyed.  It was shattered.  I no longer felt bullet-proof.  And the emotions of pregnancy loss and infertility, failure and self-doubt as a woman, all these emotions pulled my self-confidence down.  Initially, I was scared to go out, scared to meet people, in case the tears came, in case the awkward comments and questions were delivered. 

As the years have gone by, my confidence has improved, but not entirely recovered.  Age and peri-menopause make me feel both physically and emotionally more vulnerable.  Ectopic pregnancies, suspected cancer (yes, I know I was lucky it was only suspected), and one or two other illnesses, have made me very aware of my mortality and my potential physical frailty.  The onslaught of tears has made me very away of my emotional frailty.

And yet this is a time when I should be “in the prime of my life,” a time when I know that intellectually I am at my strongest and should be most confident.  I don’t want to appear weak, even if I feel it.  So I hide it – apparently quite successfully.  After chairing the board of directors of an export company for seven years, I was described by staff (and some directors) as a “strong leader.”  Yet they don’t know what I used to go through before board meetings, or the agonies of doubt I’d experience when dealing with difficult personalities.  Maybe I would have felt that way anyway, before infertility?  Perhaps.  But I think I’m more honest with myself now, more honest about my own frailties, and perhaps more prepared to make allowances for those frailties.

So as a result, I find myself a little afraid of taking on new and demanding roles.  I used to travel internationally all the time for work, yet now the thought of being away from my husband for too long makes me emotional. I worry that physically I would struggle to cope with new challenges, especially with the big M (I can't yet bring myself to say its name) looming and the threat of TGN returning.  I no longer feel the degree of physical invincibility we feel when we are younger.  And the emotional confidence isn’t there either, even though rationally I know there’s no reason I shouldn’t cope.  If I've learned anything in the last few years, it is how competent I am in my area of business.   And yet because I don’t want to crumble publicly, to admit to colleagues I have weaknesses (beyond the obvious), I feel very hesitant about even pursuing new opportunities.  Is this trepidation a result of infertility?  At least partially, yes.  Am I too scared to try?  I don't know yet.  But I really hope not.  

* Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl

12 June, 2012

The best medicine

I’ve written quite a lot about joy.  About how important it is to take joy when you find it, to never feel guilty about that joy.  I also found, in the depths of my despair, how uplifting laughter can be.

I love to laugh.  And I probably laugh louder now than I did before my losses, before I discovered what grief was.  I try to control my laughter in public.  But when I’m at home, I love to laugh uproariously at something I read, hear, say, watch, do, etc.  It feels good.  And in those first days, weeks and months of grief, any laughter was life-saving.  So laugh.

And just for a treat, my favourite TV ad at the moment.  It makes me cry and laugh. 

Laugh with me!  (After all, I'm resigned to the fact that I'll never win Lotto).

07 June, 2012

Closing the floodgates

I never used to cry much.  Crying wasn’t encouraged when we were kids.  Stiff upper lip and all that.  Emotion was not to be displayed.  So I didn’t cry when my first boyfriend cheated on me with a friend, I didn’t cry at my grandmother’s funeral, and I never cried when I first left home for a year in Bangkok.  (That year though I did learn to cry in the shower.  It’s very therapeutic, you know.)

So when I lost my first pregnancy, and I cried, it was a surprise to me.  In fact, the emotions that were released then were shocking to me.  I'd always felt a degree of control.  But suddenly control - of my body, my emotions - was gone.   Then came the stress of trying to conceive again, and a second ectopic pregnancy.  By now, the floodgates were well and truly open.  I like this analogy.  When we were children, we used to drive an hour or two up into the mountains, and along a series of lakes created by a hydropower scheme.  (My Dad loved to go fishing, and we used to go too sometimes on picnics.  My one and only fish – a brown trout – was caught in one of these lakes.  I didn’t like fishing, though I loved the natural environment.)  Anyway, one of these lakes had a large dam, with floodgates that were opened when the lake was full or in danger of overflowing.  The sheer volume of the water pouring out was always staggering, and I often wondered how they would ever close the floodgates against the magnificent power of the water.

I discovered personally that closing floodgates isn’t that easy.  I cry at everything.  I cry at pretty much anything remotely emotional.  I cry at great sporting victories or achievements, and medal ceremonies always get me, whether I know the winners or not, so I’m bracing myself for the coming Olympics.  I cry at anything remotely moving; happy moments and sad ones, newspaper articles and TV advertisements.  A while ago a friend was sharing that she and her husband were going to do something exciting with their about-to-be adult daughter.  My eyes filled with tears – happy tears, for her.  Fortunately, she understood and did the same!  I find it a bit debilitating.  I even struggle to tell stories that move me.  My husband and I joke about it now.  “Stop (talking/watching/reading), you’ll cry,” he’ll say.  “Too late!” is invariably my response.  And I would have liked to have said words at my father’s funeral.  But I wasn’t physically capable.  The tears would have come, my voice would have cracked, and I would have turned into an undignified mess. 

Initially I hoped that, as I healed from my losses and accepted my life without kids, the floodgates would close, and the tap would turn off.  But no, not really.  I feel as if I go through life now, skimming along the surface, knowing that there is a huge well, no, a lake of tears, suppressed but not controlled, just waiting to burst through.  Of course, hormones/age could have something to do with it.  Perhaps I can hope that in ten years time I won’t be so emotional!

On the plus side though, I have learned that tears are great mascara removers.  I wish I could bottle them.  I’d make a fortune.

01 June, 2012

Happiness does not require child

This morning, at the gym, I was feeling a little down.  I suspect hormones are to blame, but I have also just finished a project, know I need to seek some more work soon, and don’t relish the idea.  I wondered briefly if the emptiness I was feeling was because I had no kids.  It would be easy to blame any unhappiness I feel on that.  To assume that if I had kids I’d be happy.  But I know that’s not how it works.  Child doesn’t equal happiness.  And more importantly, happiness does not require child.  

Yes, joy and sadness are both part of life.  My life is just like any other in that way.  And I am pleased to report that the sadness slides away quickly, often on the drive home around the sparkling harbour or after a good coffee.  And in the absence of sadness, in its quick departure, joy takes its rightful place.