28 September, 2012

S*x and infertility

A lot of women comment that infertility takes a toll on their sex life.  I can understand that.  When sex isn’t a loving, spontaneous act, but has to be scheduled, after temperature-taking, mucus-monitoring, early-morning alarms to ensure there is time for the deed to be done, well, any spontaneity and a lot of the love seems to disappear from it.  It becomes a means to an end, a chore.  And sometimes, nothing more.

Once I knew that natural conception was first, unlikely, and then, pretty much impossible, the pressure was off.  Sex quickly became what it was before we began trying to conceive.  A normal, healthy, loving, fun part of a good relationship.  If you’re not at this stage yet, rest assured, you’ll get there.  And you can, and should make the most of it.

So last week, when I read an article that said after childbirth, you are faced with six years of bad sex, I’ll admit it ... I smirked.

22 September, 2012

Christmas stockings

 Jen's post here made me remember ...

Years ago, at a market in Bangkok, I had bought a bunch of very cheap but colourful knitted Christmas stockings.  There were very large, very long (3-4 feet long) stockings, and shorter, more "traditional" style stockings.  They were so cheap, and so plentiful, that I bought a bunch.  Dozens in fact!  (I suspect I bought them at different times, forgetting I'd bought so many the time before.  That's what often happens at Chatuchak, the weekend market in Bangkok.  But that's another story.)

I'd imagined having these for our kids, and all the cousins coming to visit for family Christmases.  When it was obvious this wasn't going to happen, only two months after I learned I'd never have children, Christmas approached.  It was going to be a difficult Christmas, one which conveniently ended up being an adults-only Christmas.  But those Christmas stockings in the bottom of the Christmas decorations box were a painful reminder.  And so I wrapped up the stockings, and sent them off to brothers (in-law) and sisters with one for every member of the family, explaining why I was giving it to them, and that I hoped they would use them and have many great memories from them, and hopefully think of us and how much we loved their kids in the process.

I don't know if those stockings are ever used.  I don't want to know if they're not.  But I do know it made me feel lighter, and happier, to think that some children would be getting pleasure on Christmas Day as a result.  Even if they weren't my kids.  (And the positive thing about over-shopping - I have enough for my nieces'/nephews' kids if they have them!)

19 September, 2012

100% Woman

I was reminded today  that we often hear women going through infertility say that they feel like less of a woman.  I’m pretty sure I’ve said it.  I certainly know I felt it, I thought it.  And yet, we forget that the grief over infertility, the grief over pregnancy loss, is a very female experience.  Waiting every month and feeling the disappointment when we bleed, being forever reminded that our bodies are not performing the way we expect them (as female bodies) to perform, the hormones surging and waning (sometimes natural, sometimes swallowed or inserted or injected), the pain and fear of loss – it is a very real, quite uniquely female experience.And I've always thought it is just as uniquely female (because our men feel it differently) as giving birth.  Don’t ever forget that.  To go through this over and over again, and to survive with love and compassion intact, means, I think, we’re all woman.

The best and almost the kindest advice I got when going through my second ectopic pregnancy (or rather the aftermath) was from an internet friend who had also suffered infertility and loss.  "Go buy some pretty (or sexy or both) underwear,"  she instructed.  I did.  Lace and flowers.  It felt frivolous.  But I felt more like a woman.  So go shopping!

*   With a nod to Ben Elton's Maybe Baby movie, where Joely Richardson's character said something along those lines.

12 September, 2012

Nature/nurture and general ignorance

Mel's post prompted me to think about how other people view adoption.  On the one hand, we are barraged with comments along the lines of "just adopt."  On the other hand, we have people who make judgements and view children and relationships differently if they know they are adopted.  I suspect there are family members who feel that way about donor eggs too.  I wrote this post in 2009, and think it's worth repeating here.  I'll have more to say at the end.  Here it is:

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself frustrated over comments from people about members of their family. They have used family with quotation marks – “family” because they have included people in it who have been adopted. (Spouses were also not included as “family” but that in itself has not bothered me). Every conversation about the wider family has included a variation on the phrase “but of course don’t forget that J and D are adopted.”   I know that these people have strong feelings about this, and have included provision in their will for grandchildren “of natural issue” only.

It brought me to that age old question, what makes a family? Is it the years spent together, the shared experiences, love, arguments, traditions? Remembering the Christmases when Uncle Robin drank too much, or Auntie Evelyn’s beautifully-iced Christmas cake, or Yvonne and James wrestling, or the games of French Cricket on the lawn? Or is it simply the shared blood, the shared DNA, that ties us? The fact that we can look around and see that we share the Rose hips, or the R noses, or that I see my mouth on my nieces’ faces.

And how important is that blood? It is only important in consciousness. If you know that someone doesn’t share your DNA, do you look at them differently, in that awareness? If you are not aware of the lack of any genetic connections, wouldn’t you love them as deeply? Don’t people manage to find or imagine physical or emotional similarities to ensure they’re included in the family? Aren’t family trees full of children who don’t have the fathers that are recorded or assumed, coming from different blood? Or these days, family trees will include children from donor eggs or sperm, whose genetic links are to another family tree entirely, but who have been loved and raised through this one, whether the wider family is aware or not that they don’t share DNA? Aren’t, too, family trees empty of those who should be there, the children who are lost to that branch, unacknowledged because of indiscretions, shame and stigma, or simply lack of knowledge of their existence?  So why should these blood connections seem to be so important? And why do I mind so much that they are?
I suspect that this has hit me hard on a personal level, because our particular branch of the family tree ends with us. Adoption or other alternatives were always a possibility for us, not having any children of “natural issue.” I am furious at the thought that if I had adopted, people would view my children differently to those of my sisters, or of my husband’s brothers. The fact that they would be seen as second class citizens, not true members of the family. Would they feel the difference? Would it scar them? It makes me wonder whether child J and D, mentioned in the first paragraph, are aware of how some members of their family see them. I hope upon hope that they are not.
So why is it that I still flinch when I think of the bare, lonely branch on a family tree that ends with my husband and I? Why should it matter? Whilst I mostly feel accepting of my life without children, of my death and beyond, it does annoy me that this still has emotional power over me. Is it the desire for some form of immortality that makes blood so important? And isn’t that based on a deep-seated fear of being forgotten, a fear of ending? And isn’t that based on a feeling that you have not been enough in this life? Done enough? Been loved enough and loved enough right back? Is it based on a fear that we have not made a difference in someone’s life? Or that we have not changed the world after all?

Perhaps I just need to get over myself. We all need to get over ourselves. Simply being here has changed the world, and made it a better place. A kind word can make all the difference to the right person on the right day. Delight in someone’s writing, their work, their smile, their garden. Loving and being loved, whether by family or friends, near or far. These are not unimportant things. They should be, and are, enough.
The person I referred to in that post is my father-in-law.  Yes, I obviously harbour a deep resentment towards him as a result of these comments!  The ridiculous thing is that he is so ignorant of reproductive technologies that there are some grandchildren who could easily be the wonderful result of IVF or donor egg/sperm.  I don't know, and as I said here, it's not my business.  He loves them (as do I) - they are good students, very active, athletically-talented, and fun kids.  Everything he wants in grandchildren.  And that's all that matters.

11 September, 2012


The body of a newborn baby was found yesterday.  It was in the back garden of a house in a lower socioeconomic suburb, found when a woman went out to hang her washing on the line.  There were immediate appeals for the mother to come forward, so she could get medical attention.  Today there are appeals for people to help – to notice a woman who may have been large, but seems to have suddenly lost weight in the last few days.  Wherever she is, I hope she is warm and safe.  A southerly blast is coming through from the Antarctic, and it is mighty cold outside.

I don’t really feel anything.  I mean, obviously I feel sad for the child.  I feel sad for the mother who was, probably, terrified and alone, unable to think her way through to a solution.  But terrible stories like this used to make me feel very upset; they used to evoke a yearning, making me want to go and adopt the child, and they used to make me feel so angry and frustrated that I couldn’t.  Now, though, I know that’s not going to happen.  I’m not in that space anymore.  I don’t think I’m hard or uncaring or cold.  I think I understand what I can and can’t do, and managing my emotions accordingly.

And the truth is, however many women there are who desperately want to be pregnant and give birth, there are others who desperately do not want to be pregnant or give birth.  And I have compassion for them too.