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.