31 July, 2012

Blogging urges and infertility

I try to post at least once a week.  Usually I manage to do so without problem, finding that I often have the urge to post on Friday afternoons, and that at least is a regular pattern that keeps me posting weekly.  But I see I’m overdue.  Somehow, time has overtaken my urge to post.  Somehow, even though I’m not working full-time, I and  struggling to post at the moment, and I marvel at those of you who have less free time, and still keep your blogs up to date.  I mean, my last post was a big cheat.  (When in doubt, resort to lists! – that’s my motto.)  So today, after a busy (though non-productive) day, I thought I’d better check how long it has been since I posted.  “No problem,” I thought.  I’ll just check the file I keep, where I have a bunch of potential blog topics, and quite a few drafts written.  But not one of them inspires me at the moment.

And you know why?  Because right now, being infertile just isn’t part of my being.  I don’t feel infertile.  I don’t feel lacking in any way.  I'm sorting out a number of things - finding a decent income source, working on a writing project, helping my sister-in-law plan her trip to France later this year, planning my own significant birthday trip (that's probably another post), getting fit, keeping up with my volunteer work, and working my way through Jamie O's 30 Minute Meals cookbook.  Not to mention, trying to keep up with the Olympics.  So my mind is flitting all over the place, and life is busy.  Infertility?  What's that.  It's disappeared, for the moment at least.  The usual triggers are firing blanks.  This morning I had a quick coffee in a local cafe (actually, it was breakfast, after rushing out to post a passport renewal application and a letter to a US friend), and smiled at a little Indian-NZ girl who wanted to use one of the chairs at my table.  (She was insufferably cute!)  Later, at the airport with my mother, I noted another little cutey, with red curly hair just like my niece, and grinned.  A baby stared at me over the shoulder of their parent.  No twinges.  Nothing but pleasure at seeing these lovely little children.  A momentary pleasure, quickly dismissed.  It’s the way I want to be able to react to kids all the time.  Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.  But when I can, which these days is most of the time, I feel normal.  I don’t feel infertile.  I just feel like me.  It is good.

23 July, 2012

Who I am

When in doubt about something to blog, my usual solution is to resort to a list.  I saw this idea on another blog, loved it, and so here is my version.

100 things that emphasise who I am, rather than who I am not. 100 things that have nothing to do with infertility.  100 things you might not know about me (and plenty of links so you can learn more than you ever wanted or needed to know!):
  1. Wife
  2. Daughter
  3. Sister  (middle child)
  4. Aunt (to 10 nieces and nephews)
  5. Great-aunt (argh!)
  6. Niece and cousin
  7. Daughter-in-law (even if slightly resentful)
  8. Sister-in-law
  9. Friend
  10. Feminist
  11. Mentor
  12. Counsellor (unofficially)
  13. Volunteer
  14. Bereaved cat owner (I miss Cleo and Gershwin)
  15. Cat lover (we’ll get more cats one day)
  16. Farm-girl (well, I was in my childhood)
  17. Blogger
  18. Writer
  19. Reader (literary fiction mainly, but occasionally and shamefully trashy sci-fi or fantasy or chick lit)
  20. Letter-writer (when I get round to it)
  21. Procrastinator
  22. Worrier
  23. Pianist
  24. Flautist (less accomplished than on piano)
  25. Fan of Beethoven
  26. Cook (and pretty good when I pay attention)
  27. Regular exerciser (though not for fun)
  28. An athlete covered by a non-athlete’s body  (where did that come from)
  29. Ice-cream lover (ahh – that explains #28)
  30. Wino (ditto #29)
  31. Lover of good coffee (Wellington coffee can’t be beaten)
  32. One woman crusader against Starbucks
  33. Vegetable lover  (vegetables over fruit)
  34. Sudoku whizz
  35. Cross-worder (at times cryptic)
  36. Kenken beginner
  37. Addicted to the computer
  38. Traveller (45 countries so far)
  39. Allergic to economy class (that’s what I try and tell my husband anyway.  And it's tough when we live so far from the rest of the world!)
  40. Navigator and map-reader (You can’t always trust GPS)
  41. Travel planner (personally, in my own business that I hope to re-launch soon (watch this space), and also for family as a  Christmas gift)
  42. International businessperson
  43. Grammar enthusiast (not an expert though)
  44. Lover of words
  45. Thai speaker (wish I was better)
  46. Mandarin speaker (I’ve forgotten a lot)
  47. School-girl French speaker with unfulfilled dreams of being fluent
  48. Self-taught Spanish speaker
  49. Wannabe other language speaker with smatterings of Japanese and German
  50. New Zealander
  51. Adopted Wellingtonian
  52. Former Thai schoolgirl and AFS Exchange Student
  53. Former resident of Bangkok (my second home)
  54. Diplomat (formerly by title, always  - !!! -  by nature)
  55. Self-employed (closer to unemployed)
  56. Company director
  57. International Marketing Consultant
  58. Strong leader (according to the staff at my company)
  59. Follower of the VPMS - volcano paper management system
  60. Teacher
  61. Post-grad educated
  62. Intelligent
  63. Possessor of common-sense (I’m not delusional; two of my bosses have confirmed this)
  64. Good listener (I hope)
  65. Empathetic
  66. Patient
  67. Impatient (with the in-laws, and my mother, and people with bad grammar)
  68. Cynical
  69. Loyal
  70. Tall
  71. Green-eyed
  72. Pale-skinned
  73. Freckled
  74. Wavy-haired
  75. Prematurely grey under the natural brown
  76. Trying to lose weight
  77. Very right-handed
  78. A little bit shy
  79. Telephone-detester
  80. Internet-lover
  81. iPad fan
  82. Low in Vitamin D
  83. Scared of heights
  84. Slightly claustrophobic
  85. Crier at sadmovies/moving moments/victory ceremonies/soppy ads, etc
  86. Amateur photographer
  87. Photo-book addict
  88. Maker of cards
  89. Lover of architecture
  90. Wannabe interior decorator
  91. Peri-menopausal
  92. Sufferer of trigeminal neuralgia
  93. Hater of mornings (yet lover of sunrises)
  94. Filled with still unfulfilled potential
  95. Nervous of earthquakes
  96. Wearing leopard print slippers
  97. Suffering from a cold
  98. Pretty happy
  99. A lover of lists
  100. Not actually called Mali

16 July, 2012

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Statistics are everywhere.  We look at the figures, and we understand them.  They're based on science.  We know for example that about 12 % of the population are infertile, which means 88% are not.  We know that about 1-2 % of all pregnancies are ectopic, and about 1-2% of those ectopic pregnancies are interstitial/cornual.   We know too that after one ectopic pregnancy, you have a 10% chance of a repeat.  Which means that you have a 90% chance it will be in the right place.  These are good statistics.  Hopeful statistics.  There is a far greater chance that everything will go right.  And so we present these statistics to others, hoping it will make them feel hopeful, more positive, happier.

But once you've been on the wrong end of the statistics (my second ectopic was cornual/interstitial) then it is hard to trust in the odds any longer.  Someone has to be that 1-2%, or that 0.2%.  Why not us?   I mean, I always think "why not me?" when I buy a lottery ticket.  To be that 1 in a million.  Someone has to be.  But whilst in lottery terms I am in good company, in fertility terms, my only experience has been on the wrong end of the odds.  Being in the 0.004% who have repeat ectopics including a very rare type in a rare location is 100% of my experience.   So I know that if I have statistics quoted to me, I don't get a lot of comfort from them.  My confidence in being in the good side of the odds is much weaker now than it used to be.  I feel much more vulnerable.

Maybe I feel that way because I've always been so lucky in life.  I've been lucky to be relatively healthy, to be fit, athletic, academically able.  I've been lucky to be able to make friends, to travel, to earn enough money to live a reasonable lifestyle.  And so when I was on the wrong side of the odds, I found it shocking.  Now though, I don't find it so surprising.  Other bad things have happened.  So I developed TGN.  It is rare.  Big deal.  I get it.  Makes no difference to me how rare it is.  Just as I'm sure having a peanut allergy or asthma, and knowing that these are reasonably common ailments, isn't any comfort to the sufferers either. In the face of our own personal situations, the words rare and common bare irrelevant.

Still, I happily fly in a plane, knowing that statistically my chances of going down in an aeroplane are less than being caught in a car accident.  (That said, I'm more worried about car accidents these days).  I even went up in a balloon in Turkey.  I'll take risks, I don't live my life cowering in fear.  I have to have some trust in the statistics.  After all, they didn't fail me.  I just fell on the wrong side of them.  And I think that's my point.  That we have to trust in the statistics to be able to continue to live our lives, or we'll be paralysed by fear. 

That said, if the Odds Gods are watching, I think it's about my turn for some luck on Lotto.  Don't you?

12 July, 2012

Who we see when we look in the mirror

Too often, society tells us what we should think of ourselves.  And too often we listen.  There are a lot of messages out there, and not all of them are healthy.  One of these is that a women with no children is missing something, and that she is not a fully worthy member of society.  This is a pervasive view. (I know I've written about it before, but I see others - earlier in their journey -  regularly grapple with this issue, and so wanted to share some new thoughts).   Like so many messages (how thin/beautiful we should be), this one is reinforced by the media and our 24-7 interconnectivity with the world.  We can’t escape from it.  And it makes infertility even more painful to those who go through it.  After all, if you hear a message enough, you can start to believe it. 

Yes, I do not deny that I am missing the experience of being a mother.  But that's not what they mean.  There are those who would say I am "missing something," meaning that I am not whole.  But equally there is an assumption that women are "missing something" if they don't have a partner/man.  There's an assumption that you are "missing something" if you only have one child, or what society deems "too many."  There's an assumption that you are "missing something" if you are overweight, or smoke, etc. There are a lot of assumptions swirling around us all the time.  And they’re not always fair.  They're generalisations, placing unreasonable expectations on us all.  I cringe at the message delivered to young women that they will only be fulfilled as mothers, rather than giving them the choice.  I cringe at how that translates as pressure for those who can’t be or don’t want to be mothers.  I wonder how many people are mothers simply as a result of the weight of society’s expectations? I wonder if people would say this, would place such pressure on others, if they thought that their own daughters and sisters and wives might be infertile?  They might.  But I think they'd think twice.  And that's why I speak out about this.

The thing is, when people who hold these assumptions get to know us, really know us, they understand that we're individuals, whole individuals with full and fulfilling lives.  They understand our personalities, and don't judge us solely on whether we are mothers or not.  They see that we are fair, caring, nurturing, brave, funny.  They see that we are individuals, and don't conform to stereotypes.  The best members of society will drop those assumptions on knowing us.  They'll stop thinking that we have to be mothers to be full members of society.  The others might continue to hold  onto their stereotypical assumptions, but  see us as exceptions.  They're a work in progress.  But the important thing is that they don't see us as lacking.  And anyone who does?  Well, I don't think they know us well enough.

Whenever I think of this topic, or see others grapple with it, I think in particular of two women.  The first - W - is a woman I met 20 years ago in a foreign land, a woman who was self-less for her family and community, who brought love and joy to those she met, a woman who was kind and nurturing, intelligent and funny, and above all loving.  W was (and is) a full and very caring member of her own community and society.   She gave me the nicest compliment I've ever had.  The second woman, S  was the facilitator of an ectopic pregnancy site I found myself at over 10 years ago.  S was endlessly empathetic, wise and sensitive, and had a wicked sense of humour.  The way she influenced my life and my recovery (especially through my second ectopic and my subsequent infertility) was huge.  She helped everyone without judgement, without bitterness that her own journey was going to end without children, and she went on to work with young women at risk.   S and W aren't the only infertile women I've met who have been better women than most of the mothers I know.  Some of them will be reading this.  Yes, I mean you.  They, and all of us, are proof positive that we are full and worthy members of society.

The important question though, about this assumption is what we believe ourselves.  If, in dark moments,  I look in the mirror and think that I am "less," I try also to remember W and S and many of my other friends (virtual and IRL) .  They are not “less worthy” than anyone on this planet.  They don't deserve that.  And so neither do I.  Neither do any of us.  The trick is to believe it. Then it is easy to dismiss the assumptions of others.  Easier to convince others that they are wrong.  The trick, of course, is to believe it.

07 July, 2012


The other day I logged into Blogger to put up another post.  I scanned the stats as usual.  I usually take little notice of them, but that time I saw that in the year or so I’ve been blogging, I’ve had 31113 page views.  Now, aside from the fact that that is a beautiful number – I love symmetry – I found it quite astounding that things I have written have been read 31113 times.  Admittedly some of those views will have been my own, but I’m still thrilled that about 30,000 times – on my little blog I don’t promote - someone has visited my site, and read my words and thoughts.  And so I thank you.  I thank you for visiting, for commenting, for being so respectful of each other, for being so thoughtful and intelligent and compassionate and funny.  I’m honoured that you find something worthwhile here.  You inspire me to to be more thoughtful, and I hope, to be a better writer.

05 July, 2012

Social Networking and Infertility

I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve never really been surrounded by lots of friends/family who were pregnant or had young children at the same time.  As I've said before, my family and friends have, very considerately, stretched out their child-bearing years across for over twenty years (oldest niece is 32, youngest is 4), and so I’ve never felt too bombarded by pregnant bellies or newborn babies.  I read this morning about a woman who has just been through a pregnancy loss and who complained that she had a grand total of twelve pregnancies in her immediate circle.  I cannot imagine having to deal with that. Because the truth is that infertile women can find it difficult being surrounded by pregnancies, newborn babies, and children.

This is accentuated now by the arrival of Facebook.  It’s a great place for women to brag about their kids or pregnancies without leaving the house.  In the past infertile women may have been able to cope with the occasional interactions with friends or family with children, because we would be able to plan these interactions, prepare ourselves, brace for the emotions that might come, and have a time limit on the encounters if we found them difficult.  But with Facebook, we never know when we go into the site what we will see.  We are suddenly shocked by scan or baby photos, or – in my case these days – the fortunately so-far-occasional grandchildren photos.  I emphasise photos, because these are hard to avoid seeing, and because they can elicit an almost instant emotional reaction.  Gushing status updates are both easier to avoid.  We can stop reading as soon as we realise what they're about.  But a photograph can't be unseen.  In an instant there is often a visceral punch in the gut from a baby photo or photo of a successful ultrasound (when so many of us only have memories of unsuccessful ultrasounds).  So on Facebook, infertile women can either be in a permanent state of bracing ourselves – an emotional state that can be tense and exhausting -  or we can be ambushed, suddenly pierced by a painful reminder.  And so for some, unless they de-friend their entire circle of Friends, Facebook is doomed to be an inescapable, painful mothers-and-babies party. 

Understandably therefore, I read a lot of complaints about Facebook.   I’m lucky.  I don’t have too many people with babies on Facebook, though as I mentioned the grandchildren are starting to arrive, and my friends with kids rarely post about them (have I told you how much I love my friends?), or simply aren’t on Facebook.  But I’ve taken certain precautions to protect myself too.  This goes beyond just infertility protection.  I do it for privacy reasons, and to make Facebook work for me, rather than the other way round.  My tips for avoiding annoying encounters on Facebook are probably obvious.  But this is what works for me.

I hide the profuse posters, block those Farmville etc apps, and don’t receive email notifications of posts.  This allows me to access Facebook when I want to, and how I want to.  If I want to check up on a profuse poster – or someone who is going to post a lot of baby pics – I’ll go into their page from time to time, when I feel like it, and will comment or visit then.  It means I don’t have to wade through a bunch of shared sayings, photos and chain status updates (that I hate).

I occasionally post something that I will make available only to specific people or groups (the Custom share option).  I recently posted something about a strong earthquake here in Wellington (7.0).  I deliberately didn’t make it available to my friend in Christchurch, who has experienced probably hundreds of similar earthquakes over the last two years.  She didn’t need to hear me moaning about the one that scared me!  I also block one particular guy from my more frivolous postings.  He’s a friend, but he’s judgemental.

My security and privacy settings are quite rigid.  I’ve set that I’m the only one who can see tagged photos of me.  I don’t allow (I don’t think at least) others to see what I “like” etc.  I want to control what is out there about me, as much as feasibly possible.

I don’t allow “friends of friends” to see what I’m up to, and I really wish others would do this too.  I’ve been surprised with the occasional newborn baby or scan photo because of friends of my nieces making everything available to “friends of friends.” 

Perhaps the step that has protected me the most is that I have deliberately kept my number of Friends low.  I’ve added people I genuinely love and want to stay in touch with.  I don’t even have my in-laws.  They wouldn’t understand my regular “Chardonnay Time!” updates.  I have no-one from my business life on Facebook.  I’ll use LinkedIn for that.  I really can’t understand people who fill up their friends list with people they don’t really know, or who are colleagues they only know in the most peripheral work terms.  A friend of mine has over 600 friends.  He is a lobbyist, so this is business for him.  I guess it helps him.  But he rarely posts anything – varying between the occasional economic comment and his latest golf score.  But he probably has no desire to use Facebook in the way that I do.  If I had business colleagues as Friends, I’d almost certainly block them from almost all my status updates.  I don’t want my business colleagues knowing I’m scared after an earthquake, or where I am on holiday, or seeing photos of me, or watching the jokes I have with some of my (slightly crazy) English friends.  And if I want to talk about infertility, I certainly don’t want to share that in my business life, or with casual acquaintances.  It’s not relevant to our relationships, and isn’t something I talk about.  (Though admittedly, if I talk about infertility, I don’t make it accessible to my full Friends list, and I tend to restrict who can see the post.  Though as the years go on, I’m less and less bothered about who sees what I say.) 

There’s a lot of negative commentary about Facebook out there.  But I love it.  I connect with friends who live overseas, friends I no longer chat with regularly as I did perhaps 10 years ago, friends who were exchange students with me 30+ years ago and share a special bond, and family who live far away.  I connect with my adult nieces far more over Facebook than I would otherwise, and find it so much easier to maintain relationships with people I care about.  It is a wonderful tool for me.  But I think that’s because I’ve carefully thought about it, and how I want to use it.  I hope you have all been able to find a way to make it work for you too.  I hate that the thought that you might feel tortured by it on a daily basis, or feel dread when opening the site rather than eager anticipation.  Because we all deserve more than that.