31 August, 2012

The art of conversation

Klara had an interesting post about feeling ignored because she didn’t have children.  It’s something those of us who live a no kidding life have all experienced this at some time or other.  We find ourselves ignored, as people fawn over those with children, engaging in animated conversations about ages, school, etc, obviously finding an easy, common bond. 

I remember being at a friend’s house for the Naming Day of her children.  My husband and I were chatting with another couple who didn’t have kids.  Our mutual no kidding state wasn’t why we were chatting – they were just the only other couple there we had met before, we liked them, and we managed to find things to talk about.  Then another guy arrived, someone we’d also met before – my husband had actually been to school with him – but didn’t know especially well.  He was welcomed into the conversation, with the opener “so what have you been up to lately?”  He started listing off all the things he was doing with his children, adding in comments like "you know how it is with kids." We all looked at him.  He tailed off,  muttered an excuse, and vanished.  Presumably to find some parents to talk about car-pooling and soccer and homework..  It was the most blatant example I've encountered of someone who had lost all powers of conversation.  Actually, now I can look back and laugh at his discomfort.  But I remember, at the time, feeling quite insulted that he didn’t even bother to stay and talk to us about anything else.  Sadly, once the topic of children is off the table, many people really can’t talk about much else.

This is understandable I guess.  Their heads are full of the lives and their kids, with no room or time or inclination (I think that inclination is an important factor in this) to consider other issues.  And so they have nothing else to talk about.  In the same way that part of my extended family (uncles, aunts, cousins) cannot in any way relate to my life.  They’re mostly hard-working rural people, and then there’s me  – no kids, lived overseas when I was 17, then again later, university educated, travelled extensively for business and for pleasure, live in the big smoke, etc.  They struggle to find a common point of reference, and always have. I understand that.  If I’d had kids, that would have been an easy bonding point, a common point of reference. 

But you know, I wonder how that would have made me feel?  I’ve never enjoyed stereotyping, and always wanted to be seen for who I am.  I’ve always been offended if I’ve been ignored because I’m a woman, or if assumptions have been made that I think a particular way because I’m a woman.  (Yes, I do think more like a woman, but it doesn’t mean I can’t understand maths either, or don't want to be independent!)  Yes, I acknowledge that if I had been a mother that would be part of who I am, and an important part.  But I always felt it would still only be a part of me, that motherhood wouldn’t define me in the same way that infertility doesn’t define me now.  I’m more than that, broader and deeper.  And so if this friend of a friend, or my relatives, felt more able to talk to me because I had kids, it wouldn’t actually change anything other than a brief conversation.  They still wouldn’t be able to talk to me about my life, to learn about me, to find the wonderful person they’re missing out on!  They still wouldn’t know me.  And that's their loss.

29 August, 2012

August; it's not very august

August sucks. 

It’s the middle of winter.  Yes, spring might be around the corner, but we’re not going to get any really warm weather until December, so August is about as far away from warmth as we can imagine.  At least, for those of us living in Wellington.  And so we hibernate, we feel enervated and gloomy, unless we’re amongst the ski enthusiasts, or the lucky ones escaping to the nearby tropics or the warmth of the (further away) northern hemisphere.

It’s also the month I should be celebrating one or two birthdays from the ectopic babies I lost.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing this in tears, I don’t even feel particularly sad.  But I remember.  I remember the first August after the first loss.  Then the second August after the second loss, when my first IVF had failed.  (Actually, the second August my husband and I found we had six weeks between IVF cycles, so we took off for a holiday to Vanuatu.  It was lovely, but sad.)  Then seven years ago, my father died in August.  It doesn’t seem that long ago.  And no, I’m not in tears over my father either.  I think seeing someone in pain makes their death a little easier to take.  Yes, I miss him.  OK, I’ll stop there, because that last sentence meant that the tears do in fact threaten. 

This August though, as the other losses fade, there’s a new loss.  I’m about to sever my connection with an organisation that has been enormously important to me.  I’ve talked about it before, so some of you will know the one I am referring to, but right now I don’t want to mention it specifically by name.  I suspect I will sometime in the future, when I feel able.  I feel sad though, and conflicted.  I know my leaving will put the organisation in a bind.  But it’s their fault I’m leaving, and I’ve tried to see a way around it.  But there’s only so much I can give.  My reservoir of goodwill is running dry.  I’m proud of what I’ve done there.  But leaving is yet another tiny loss, and that’s not always easy to deal with, on top of so many others.

August - such a wonderful word.  Its synonyms include dignified, exalted, glorious, grand, imposing, impressive, magnificent, majestic,  superb.  That’s about the opposite of how I feel this August.  So no,
August is not my favourite month.  I’ve been in a funk all month.  But today the sun is shining, the sky is startlingly blue, it’s after 6 pm and it is not yet dark, and I’ve made some decisions.  Spring is on the way.

23 August, 2012

Do we really choose?

Being part of the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community has its many benefits, as I’ve noted before. But it also brings its pressures and judgements.  And one of those judgements I find in living a life without children after infertility is that we have chosen not to have children. 

I know that some members of this community can’t imagine how we could go on to accept our lives without children.  I get the feeling they think that we can’t have wanted children enough.  I have read comments along the lines of “I knew I would do whatever I had to do.”  The implication being that they would never have been in our situation.  But perhaps they never had to test their ultimate limits.  And for whatever reason, perhaps their limits were different to our limits.  I personally have very good friends who, after loss and infertility, never went on to IVF.  There were good reasons for this.  They had limits, limits that I didn’t have.  They might have chosen these limits, or the limits might have been imposed on them.  I never went on to donor egg, adoption or surrogacy.  There are very good reasons for this too.  (I know I haven’t really gone into these, but will one day).  But it doesn’t mean I feel I had a choice.

So when others talk about our choice to live our lives childFREE, that we chose freely to live our lives without children, I sense a degree of judgement (in addition to the inevitable judgement over my spelling of judgement with an “e”).  Yes, I know this might be in an effort to legitimise and validate our situation, and I appreciate that sentiment. But behind that I sense a feeling, a judgement, that we chose our situation, and if we’d only tried harder, we would have succeeded, just like they did, that they would never have given up, like we did, that we are quitters.  Or perhaps, if we’d been better people we too would have had our own “miracle.”  Recently, I read a comment that implied that the only time that we can say we didn’t have a choice was if we were below the poverty line.  This relates back to my previous post.  How much should I have gambled away in my pursuit to have children?  There is a huge difference between poverty and having a bottomless discretionary fund for numerous (or endless) IVF treatments, or for adoption, or even more for surrogacy.  And it also ignores the obvious.  That money doesn’t solve everything.

And so tell me, how much of a choice is it, our choice to live life without children?  Is it a choice if you’ve already lost your financial security?  Is it a choice if you live in a country that doesn’t have medical insurance, or that has strict regulations around IVF, sperm and egg donation, and surrogacy?  Is it a choice if you cannot physically conceive or carry a child?  Is it a choice if you are of an age, or have medical conditions that preclude you from being able to adopt?  Is it a choice if you’ve lost your emotional stability, your relationships, your confidence?  Is it a choice if, in pursuing your dream of children, you stopped living your life, put decisions on hold, and focused only on your fertility for year after year? 

How far are we supposed to go before it might actually be acknowledged that it was Hobson’s choice?  That is, a choice that is no choice at all.  What was our choice?  To continue trying, against all odds?  Or to “choose” to walk away?  That’s really not a choice.  And then we find we might be judged for that too? 

Now, I know some people want to own the fact that they had a choice.  I completely respect that.  Wanting to feel in some way in control, empowered, after the complete lack of control and vulnerability we feel around infertility and loss is completely understandable.  I too will own the fact that I had limits.  But do I feel as if I had a choice?  It certainly wasn’t my first choice, and not my second, third or fourth choice either.  So, no, not really.  I’ve accepted that.  I’m not bitter about it.

Now, for me, the issue is not how we came to live this life without children.  The most important issue is the choice we have now.  We have a choice to embrace our lives, our situations, and make lemonade out of lemons.  Because the only other choice is to dwell in grief, sadness and isolation.  I choose to live, and live well.  I choose to embrace my life without children, recognise the advantages, and enjoy them.  I don’t spend my days imagining what my life would be like if I had children.  What a waste of time and energy that would be.  There is joy in my life, and in accepting that, I am not betraying the infertility battles and losses I went through.  I am, I guess, moving on.  I am living.  I am happy.  And whatever life we live, there really is no other choice, is there?

18 August, 2012

Stop! I want to get off!

“I want to get off the roller coaster!”  I’ve heard that a lot in the infertility community.  The roller coaster of emotions around infertility and loss is tough to deal with.  We have highs, when we get good news, have a good hormonal rush, feel flooded with hope, or get that big fat positive pregnancy test result.  But we also have the deep lows, as if we’re on a roller coaster plummeting to our deaths, when we get bad test results, the IVF cycle fails, or we’re diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, or the baby doesn’t arrive, alive and healthy, as we had hoped or expected.  I’ve experienced this roller coaster, and it’s not a lot of fun.

Once we’re on it though, it’s not easy to get off.  Perhaps a better analogy is to talk about a treadmill.  This analogy worked for me.  When we first visited a fertility specialist, we were shocked at the suggestion that within three months we could be doing IVF.  But then came a second ectopic, and once healed from that I leapt onto the treatment treadmill, with tests and drugs and injections.  And even when there was failure, I didn’t get off, just programmed in another cycle.  After that failed, my fertility guy pulled the plug on the treadmill.  And I’m grateful that he did.  Because I could have kept going.  If there had been options, if New Zealand’s fertility industry wasn’t so regulated and we could have increased the drugs I was shooting up, if he had been less scrupulous about the money he could have continued to extract from me, I might have stayed on that treadmill, I might have increased the speed and the incline, moving into donor eggs, or I might have seamlessly switched across to the adoption treadmill beside it, without missing a stride.  I’m glad the treadmill came to an abrupt stop.  (OK, I could have done without the abruptness of it, as I hit the front of the treadmill and came away with bruises, a bad headache, and a spinning brain.)

But my point is that once you’re on the treadmill (or roller coaster) it is hard to get off.  Even if you want to get off, it’s really tough to slow it down and get off in a dignified way.  I have seen some people pour money into more and more IVF cycles, unable to stop.  And I can see how they did it.  I know the feeling.  It’s an addiction.  An addiction to a form of gambling.  Because that’s what IVF is, let’s face it.  A gamble.  If we poured the same money into slot machines, or on the blackjack table (my husband’s preferred game), our families and friends and society would be shocked, and urge us to call Gamblers’ Anonymous.  And yet they see us do it with IVF.  For my husband and I, it was a risk worth taking.  We could afford it.  And we only tried twice.  But there are infertile couples who gamble their life savings on an IVF cycle.  Some will go into debt simply for the chance to conceive.  And then there’s the emotional cost.  We gamble with our peace of mind, our sanity, our relationships.  And you know, I think that’s sad. 

I think it’s sad on so many levels.  I think it’s sad that some people can get pregnant at the drop of the hat, and others of us have to spend our life savings and risk our health simply for the chance to do so.  I think it is sad that we can get so caught up on the treadmill that we just feel we have to keep on running, that we feel if we stop we’ll fall and never get up again.  I think that it is sad that it gets to a stage where we might be motivated by fear to keep running on that treadmill, running away from a future we are afraid of, whereas we first got on it because we were running towards something. 

I think it’s sad that we might feel pressure from others to stay on the treadmill.  I've been on the end of this pressure.  And I’ve seen it exerted on others.  I’ve recently seen someone come to the end of their treatments, unable to afford anymore.  And yet I’ve seen their internet friends pressure them to continue, suggesting cheaper options (such as IVF tourism, or IUI over IVF) even though this too is beyond their financial (or emotional) reach.  Because the ALI friends are on the treadmill too.  And they’re running, running hard, and they want company as they run, and they don’t want to contemplate any of their number getting off, because they only want to see the finish line, the holy grail, they don't want to see the tripping and falling, and they are incapable of seeing the relief and peace that is possible afterwards.  I think that’s sad too.

And finally, I think it is sad that I am worried about posting this, that I am worried about the reaction to the suggestion that we should dare to question whether it is right to continue to gamble on finding a solution to our infertility.  Yet I’ve said it because I think it needed to be said.  

16 August, 2012

That age old question

My mother is visiting at the moment.  As nice as that is, it is also extremely stressful.  I won’t go into details.  But inevitably, it brings up the occasional question, “who will look after us when we’re old?”  And I feel guilty for even asking that question.  After all, I’m usually the first to point out that elderly folks who have no children are often better able to cope because they don’t rely on those children, they have support networks, and they have put into place the appropriate plans for their old age.  I’m usually the first to point out that just because you might have children, it doesn’t mean they will be there in your old age.   

But occasionally my mind or emotions betray me, and I have a moment of vulnerability, putting myself in the position of my mother, and wondering how I would cope without a diligent, bossy, daughter (or three).

But you know, even writing this down has reminded me of the reasons why I’ll be okay.  And it has reminded me that I am allowed the occasional vulnerable moment.  After all, I am sure even parents wonder, deep down, if their kids will be there for them when they’re old and frail.  We all have our vulnerabilities from time to time.  We’re allowed them.  After all, they don’t dominate our lives.

09 August, 2012

No, I'm not stuck

The internet can be overwhelming, addictive and all-encompassing.  Perhaps more explicitly, the blogosphere can be addictive, overwhelming and all-encompassing.  This can be wonderful.  It helps us feel less alone, less isolated.  It helps us learn, understand more about what we are going through, get advice and gather tools for coping with whatever it is we are going through.  It can provide a focus when going through a difficult time, and it can help with healing.  It can, quite literally, be a life-line.  The ectopic forums, for example, that I first joined have saved lives.  No question.  The benefits of these internet communities can be incalculable.  At the very least, it can make us smile, and yes, laugh out loud.

But.  And yes, there is a but.  The internet can keep us stuck in one place.  It can make us feel obligated to read and comment, and rather than be uplifted by the friends we have online, it can make us terribly sad, or feel left out, left behind, or pressured to achieve whatever it is we are trying to achieve. 

I’ve been involved in this international on-line community (in different ways – not just blogging) for about ten years now.  I see women who from time to time declare their need to step away from the intensity of the internet and their internet relationships, and I want to applaud them for recognising that – at that moment – it is not helping them.  But very sadly, I have also seen women get stuck in one place, perhaps addicted to the attention and comments they get for their grief, the comfort they feel being in the trenches with everyone else, rather than growing and learning from the love and caring and advice they receive, and feeling the comfort and independence of healing. I saw this a month or two ago (when I started drafting this blog), and wanted to reach out to the person concerned.

Then I stopped.  “What about you?” I asked myself suddenly.  “What does it say about you that you are still involved in this community, still writing about infertility after so many years?  Are you stuck?  Are you addicted to talking about your grief?”  And that’s a fair question, one friends or family or readers might ask, given that I’ve been living my No Kidding life since October 2003, and yet only started this blog in 2010.  And I think that sometimes my presence here leads others to assume I haven't resolved my infertility, or accepted my life.

My short answer – because this has already got too long – is that I don’t think I am stuck.  But infertility and living my life without children is undoubtedly part of who I am. I like to think about issues, learn and grow, and I like to share lessons and get feedback.  I'm not going to brush this under the carpet and ignore, pretending it doesn't affect me.  And it’s not something my other, in-real-life friends might understand. I have a friend I talk about travel with, another one who will sit with me and bemoan the state of politics in the world, others who will talk books and business, and another who shares my struggles with the scales.  So, just as I make time to be with them, I make time and space to be with friends (yes, that’s you I’m talking about) who understand the ups and downs of living a no kidding life.  I recognise when my place in this ALI community helps me, when I need to take, when I need to give, or simply when it gets too much for me.  Take yesterday as an exampleThrough my contacts in this community, I was reminded of my isolation, not my inclusion.  But then I was also enveloped by people saying “you are not alone.”  And the value of that is priceless.

08 August, 2012

Parents for ...

I just read Mel's news.  She has been approached to write blogposts for the Obama campaign.  "How thrilling for her," I thought, excited shivers going down my spine.  Then I read the name of the blog:  Parents for Obama.  And I felt a kick in the teeth. 

You see, it's not just that there is a group for parents supporting a candidate or political party.  After all, I've seen the Dogs Against Romney campaign on Facebook, and I'm sure there are Teachers for Obama and similar groups (okay, I've just checked the website and see there are groups for women, LGBT, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, People of Faith, etc etc).  I'm sure Romney has a similar number of groups - though perhaps not one representing the LGBT community? So lots of sub-groups, each with their own issues.  I understand that. It's what we see here too.

This post though is about how I felt.  And no, of course I'm not a voter.  Not in the US (thank goodness!).  But I am a voter here.  And elections often make me feel this way.  Elections kick me in the teeth.  Campaigns seem to go out of their way to ensure the complete alienation of the childless.  And yet, I read statistics that say by about age 40, 20% of women do not have children.  Let me write that out.  Twenty percent!  That's a huge proportion of voters.  Are they all going to feel alienated like I do?  I feel as if my vote doesn't count. Yet I care about the future of our country, about the future for my nieces and great-nephew.  I care about their education and health and future opportunities.  And personally (though yes, unfortunately I know democracy doesn't work this way), I think I know a lot more about education and health and future opportunities for their children than many parents.  But that's the thing.  I'm reminded once again I'm not a parent, and that I don't seem to have a right to an opinion.  What I think doesn't matter. And that's what hurts.  I know I could go and start a Childless for ...  group.  But could I do that, and then comment on the same issues that the Parents for ...  group could comment on?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I guess the point is that I don't want to be seen as a sub-sub-set.  I may be marginalised, but I don't want to feel marginalised.  Hence, a strong reaction. 

I'm surprised that something as simple as the name of a group supporting a candidate (in a completely different country)  can throw me into a spin, when I've been feeling so great lately.  Perhaps it was where I read this.  Though I've always seen Mel's blog as a mommy blog more even than an infertility blog (but that's okay cos it's her blog!)  so it shouldn't really have surprised me.   Even as I write this, I know that I've been feeling fragile for a number of reasons - not enough sleep (Olympic-mania), a major meeting coming up, a migraine yesterday I'm still recovering from, hormones, etc.  I was also worn down this morning reading Loribeth's post about Maeve Binchy and the links to various articles.  And so this was just the straw that broke my back.  

But only today. It broke my back today.  It won't last.  Even sitting here feeling a bit wobbly, I can look into myself and know that I still feel okay about my no kidding situation.  What I don't feel okay about is the way my situation is viewed / ignored by others.  There is a difference.  A big difference.  And that difference means that I can shrug this off and smile.  I hope you can too.