26 November, 2012

Men are from Mars ...

When I was young, a new and enthusiastic feminist in my teens and 20s, the debate was still raging over nature and nurture, and whether the sexes really were that different.  Now I’m in much older, I know that the sexes are different, and increasingly we are finding incontrovertible evidence that this is a result of nature.  Over the years, especially at the forums dealing with loss and then infertility post-loss, I have seen example after example that shows men really are from Mars, and we women most definitely are not.

I’ve often seen women in the grips of grief over pregnancy loss, or in despair as infertility takes its toll, talk about their male partners.  And one of the most frequent sentiments is how much these women wished that their partners not only understood how they felt, but shared exactly the same emotions.  

But you know, our men are different.  Just because they don't react the way we react doesn’t mean they don’t care.  It means they’re experiencing this differently.  They’re distressed at the distress shown by their lovely women.  They feel helpless, they want to solve the problems, and they want to protect us.  And when they can’t, they can sometimes behave in ways that are inexplicable to us.  I’ve seen men who struggle to deal with the emotions of their women decide that the answer is simply never to try to get pregnant again.  Yes, I see you’re all rolling your eyes.  We know that’s not the right solution.  But our  men don’t always know that.

Whilst I didn’t want my husband to feel the grief I felt, I did want him to express his feelings a little more than he did.  He didn’t really know how he felt, because he didn’t explore his feelings in the same way I did.  He shook his head and said to me once, “you don’t understand.  If I don’t want to think about something, I don’t.”  I remember being stunned.  If only I could be like that!  Life would be much easier.

As I started to pull out of my wretchedness, and began laughing, smiling, and loving life again, he felt he could relax, and express some of his own feelings.  Isn’t this what I wanted?  Well, in a word, and to be totally honest, NO!  Because knowing that he was sad, when I was finally not being sad, pulled me back down.  And then it made me feel guilty for resenting him pulling me back down.  Now, so many years later, we’re both comfortable with noting when something annoys or upsets us, or even gloating over feeling child-FREE at times.  But in those early months and years, when I was concentrating on trying to get better – for me and for him - it was hard enough to deal with my own emotions.  To be completely frank, dealing with his emotions would have been an added burden.  It was a burden I could bear once i felt like I was recovering, and I knew I could support him when he needed it.  But had it come earlier, I might have drowned.

So when I look back, I am forever grateful that we are very different.  I can’t imagine we could have gone through that time, experiencing identical emotions, and survived.  The fact we are different complements each other.  So my advice to women who want their men to feel the same emotions is “be careful what you wish for.”

21 November, 2012

Saying Good-bye

Today, I ended my involvement with an ectopic pregnancy charity I have supported, and for which I have volunteered, for over six years.  It was a place that was tremendously important to me when I went through my two ectopic pregnancies, and when I tried to get pregnant subsequently.  It was a place where I met friends who will, I am sure, remain my friends for the rest of my life.  It was a place where I learned so much about myself and others, where I started to come to terms with living without kids.  It was the place where I tested out the initial thoughts of so much of what I write here today.  It was the place where I learned I could help people, and where I learned that I liked helping people. 

And so I feel enormously sad.  But it is right to leave.  The team I worked with disintegrated this year.  Yes, change has to occur wherever you work (volunteer), but sometimes that change seems so pointless, so counter-productive, so destructive of everything you have worked for.  And so the happy team that I once belonged to dispersed quite rapidly in the face of this change.  I tried to stay - I felt a responsibility to the users.  But I was giving so much, and began to feel so exploited, that it had to end.  And that makes me very sad.  It makes me sad that my departure is not a timely, confident one, where I know I'm leaving a happy and competent team in my place.  I am not.  But I can't make the commitment and continuing effort until such a team is in place. It makes me sad that what once was such a safe and comforting place is no longer that for me.  And it makes me sad that I am ending an involvement with an organisation that I once seriously expected to recognise in my Will.

But I don't want to think about that sadness.  I want to think about the fun I had there, in the midst of tears over loss, and infertility, and fear.  I want to think about the wonderful friends I made.  I want to remember the function at the House of Commons, drinking in the pub with Izzie and Ruth and Mary, and as far back as 2005, a raucous night out with a whole bunch of women I met that day, but who I knew (and who knew me) from - as Sarahg said - the inside out.  I want to think about the person I am now, in large part due to those women I met at the EPT.  I want to acknowledge how important that place was to me, and how much I appreciated it. And I want to feel thankful that it, that the women who made that place so special, were there when I needed them most.

20 November, 2012

What I did on my holiday ...

A number of you asked for details/photos of our adventure in South Africa. I've written about it here on A Separate Life, and included a number of photos.

And an added bonus - A Separate Life is wordpress, and won't let me upload videos (unless I pay a fortune), but Blogger it seems is more generous.  So just for you, here is a clip I put together from still shots of a thrilling encounter.  (Warning:  it involves an animal mother and baby.  If this is likely to cause pain, you might want to skip it.)

15 November, 2012

Two Years

12 November was my two year anniversary of blogging here, at No Kidding, about my once very private but now rather public journey of infertility and living without kids.

This is my 148th post.  You’d think, as I like round numbers, that I’d have at least tried to reach 150 by the 12th.  And that I would have at least posted this on the 12th, not the 15th, as I am doing right now.  Clearly I wasn’t paying attention, and the date slid by.  By the way, did you notice that if I had, it would have been on 12-11-12*, which has a nice symmetry about it.

My blog hasn’t taken the world by storm, it doesn’t have the most readers, or the most comments.  But I enjoy writing it, sorting out how I feel about my life, providing an outlet for the occasional moan about not having kids, and building a small community of friends who gather here, and read each others' blogs.  I also get enormous pleasure on the occasions when it is obvious my words have helped.  It makes sense of my losses, sense of what I have been through.  I am very proud of that. 

Of course, now I wonder if I can keep it up for another two years.  I'll do my best.

* My part of the world writes dates day-month-year, which has a logical progression, rather than month-day-year, which just confuses the hell out of me!

10 November, 2012

Sharing our stories ... or not ...

As I mentioned before, one of the joys of being on holiday is just “being.”  We travel without labels, other than perhaps our nationality and first names.  At the end of our trip, we visited another game reserve.  There were two American couples on our trip, one a young (30-ish) honeymoon couple.  So inevitably the subject of children came up.  The second couple (40-ish) didn’t have children, and talked briefly one lunch-time about how it had never been an issue for them.  They were undeniably childfree.  The woman then turned to me across the lunch table, and joked that “oops, you must have kids.”  I shook my head.  “Nope,” we said.  “But you’re happy, right?” said the childfree,.  I nodded and laughed.  “We’re here, aren’t we?”  And the subject – around us – never came up again.

I didn't share my story.  It wasn't the place for that kind of conversation.  We were all meeting each other for the first time, a communal group of about 14 people at a long table.  And I felt comfortable not sharing.  In fact, I felt more than comfortable.  I felt free.  

I felt free, not having to justify my position to indignant parents.  I felt free, in a majority of people without children.  I felt free, not having to face people’s pity.  I felt free, feeling normal, not deficient in any way.  I felt free, not having to explain what ectopic pregnancies are, or blocked tubes, etc.  I felt free, not having to answer any questions about “why not?” or “did you consider adoption?”   I felt free.

Later, there were conversations we were on the periphery of, with the honeymoon couple.  He wanted to try for kids in the first year, she wanted to wait another year or two.  Our young ranger and his wife (the lodge manager) were expecting their first child, so the subject came up around them too.  One night, as we stood out in the middle of the African Bush, with a drink in hand as darkness feel, and as the giraffes skirted the vehicle, nibbling on the thorn trees, he was asked if they had been trying.  (I rolled my eyes.  This is such an intrusive question!)  “It wasn’t happening,” he said – and in those few words I understood the enormity of what he wasn’t saying, of what she (they) had probably gone through, of their fear, of the shaken confidence in their bodies.  “But,” he said ... and my heart sank.  You guessed it.  His explanation, in summary, was that “we just relaxed and it happened.”  A discussion ensured on the benefits of “just relaxing.”  I couldn’t contribute to this conversation (I was feeling decidedly under the weather from what turned out to be a brief bout of food poisoning).  But I was screaming in my head “you know that’s an old wives’ tale.” 

I left it at that, and we continued to enjoy our safari.  But I did go over the conversation, and questioned myself about whether I should have said anything or not.  Then I got home, and read posts about “passing or not passing,” and whether or not we have an obligation to put our stories out there.

Unquestionably in Africa, I didn’t put the entirety of my story out there.  Maybe I should have.  Maybe it would have helped both the ranger and his wife, and the young honeymoon couple at some stage.  But I didn’t.    I needed the space.  I needed the freedom.  I was still true to myself.  We are happy after all.  And perhaps having that knowledge, seeing our example (and the example of the second American childfree couple) will have helped the ranger and his wife, and the other couple, in some way.  Perhaps seeing a happy relationship that has lasted 20+ years, and learning about fulfilled lives without children, might just make those couples think when they meet others, or even help them through some of their own difficult times.  And I have to say, having the choice about what I wanted to say (or not say) just felt right.

03 November, 2012

Two Weeks

Two weeks.  It is an important length of time to women who have been through infertility.  Two weeks – the luteal phase, the two waiting weeks, or more commonly known amongst the online community as the 2ww.  A lot can happen in two weeks.   Hope, anxiety, joy, despair. And even when we're not trying to conceive, it is impossible (for me at least) to be unaware of my body, not to notice the passage of two weeks, the physical changes, the emotional changes.  So much can happen in two weeks.

And in the two weeks (just over) that I’ve been away, there has been a huge amount of thought and insight presented on the blogs I read.  There is so much to digest, so much to get my head around, to think about, that at the moment I am simply reading (to catch up, when I can finish with the laundry), incapable of any response beyond the simplistic.  I hope you all understand.  And I know that a lot of what I have read is giving me food for thought, and ideas for new posts.  Just be patient!

02 November, 2012

The barren aunt

A holiday* should be a time when the everyday issues of life are forgotten, and we can enjoy just “being” and/or “doing” – whether we are lying on a beach, climbing a mountain, or stalking animals with my camera.

And much of my holiday was.  Whereas on a beach or touring holiday we keep to ourselves, this is pretty impossible on a safari.  You eat communally sometimes, and you spend 6-7 hours a day together with a ranger, tracker, and other guests in one vehicle.  We met some lovely people, and – apart from some casual mentions by one couple about their children – we all just enjoyed “being.”  After several days together, we still had little idea what they did for a living, and they also had little idea about us.  It was fantastic.  We were all equals, there because of our love of animals and nature.  We talked and laughed and joked and enjoyed the environment, and each other, without reference to our other, everyday lives, and the roles we played there.  It was a breath of fresh air.

But there were reminders, both positive and negative.  We viewed a lion pride.  Here they are once they got to know us, posing for a family photo.  

The pride comprised a dominant male, three lionesses, and three cubs.  One of the lionesses was, in the words of the ranger, barren.  She had been pregnant once (they thought), but had never had any cubs.  He had a theory that her infertility was due to the fact she had too much testosterone.  She was a very large lioness.  He was convinced that this supported his theory.

Now, I don’t know anything about the reproductive systems of lions.  This might have been just a theory, or might have been based in fact.  But it made me, by far the largest female in the group and (as far as I knew) the only barren one, feel very uncomfortable. It reminded me of who I was in the real world. And I felt for this beautiful creature.

But that said, it was charming to watch the cubs gather arround their barren aunt, play with her, lie next to her, show tactile affection.  She had a very comfortable place in this family, a place perhaps that some of us (the human barren aunts) don’t always find.

*vacation (for my north American readers)