07 January, 2013

A Regular Woman

Mel, on Stirrup Queens, quoted her daughter thinking about Befana. Italian legend says the childless witch distributes toys and candy to children who believe in her at Epiphany - read this to learn more

This very wise and compassionate little girl said
"It must be very hard for Befana to go into the toy stores to buy children presents when she can’t have a child of her own.  We may have even seen her in disguise when we’ve been in a toy store, pretending that she is just a regular woman and looking very sad."
That simple paragraph really affected me.  I wanted to hug her.  I marvelled that a child could show so much more empathy than so many adults, who never think about what it might cost us (and I'm not talking in monetary terms here) to buy or make gifts for the children in our lives, the children of other people.  I've written elsewhere how it bugs me that I make the effort to buy things for nieces and nephews, but - because they live so far away - never get to see them with the gifts, and rarely see photographs or often even any acknowledgement that the gifts were received at all.  I don't want effusive praise.  I just want to know the gifts arrive!    (I will note though that my sister (who reads this blog) - mother of Charlie who features on A Separate Life from time to time -  is very appreciative!)  In those initial years after I ended my efforts to have a child, it was extremely difficult and often painful to buy those gifts, so the lack of acknowledgement was particularly painful and lacking sensitivity or compassion.  It was never easy to enter into a toy store, or walk into Pumpkin Patch or Just Kids.  This young girl understands that, yet adults who knew what I'd been through didn't.  (Or perhaps they did, and never acknowledged it?  And that's a different post.)  Once I made it across the threshold of the toy or clothing store, the questions at the till - "Are you on our mailing list?" and "Would you like to be?" - always made me feel as if I needed to explain why I was there.  Now though, I usually just say "No" and "No" and feel much less bothered.  Yet I feel the questions, in a way that I don't feel those same questions at any other store.

But yes, in those early days I did feel like a fraud.  Like Mel's daughter, I didn't feel as if I - a childless woman - was a regular woman in any way.  Time passes though, and now I do feel like a "regular woman."  I go to the toy stores quite happily, sometimes even gloatingly, as I can go during school hours, when they are peaceful and empty!   As an aunt, I have great fun looking at toys and not worrying where to store them or how much noise or mess they will make.  I'm also the aunt who has bought (and buys) cool clothes for so many of my nieces. I enjoy doing that.  I used to feel a fraud, as if I had gone into these stores in disguise, and used to feel sad, but no longer.  And that is because, in my own head I have redefined my view of who is a regular woman.  I know now that so many of us go through infertility and loss that it is an integral part of being a woman.  A regular woman.  Like me.  Like you.  Like all of us.


  1. How old is Mel's daughter? How beautiful & wise comment she made!

    Just last week we had visitors (my friend, her husband, their 7-year-old daughter). The little one always draws us pictures, it is always the same motive: me & my DH & our dog. I keep the most beutiful pictures.

    This time I showed them a picture that she made when she was 4. And my friend started to comment it like: "Oh, it is lovely, here is Klara, here is Klara's husband and what is here - a baby carriage?"

    And the little just looked at her Mum and answered: "Can't you see Mum, it is a dog?"

    Can you imagine - the little one is more inteligent as her mum? She completely understands that a baby carriage does not belong to the picture of us.

    There were times that visits to baby stores broke my heart. Now I love shopping books & clothes for my nieces. With this I can see what a long path I walked already!

  2. From the mouths of babes . . . .

    It continues to amaze me how much more empathetic children are than adults. They can have the amazing ability to step into someone else's shoes and realize how difficult a situation is. A lot of this has to do with their parents (Mel's pretty amazing that way), their grandparents and/or aunts and uncles. Still, it's really impressive.

    I am glad you are in a place where you no longer feel like an outsider. I most certainly believe that the ability to give birth does not determine whether you are any more or less of a regular woman. Actually, from the sound of things with your nieces, you fall into the category of "extraordinary." nieces

  3. How intuitive young people can be. I wonder how it is we lose that as we get older?

    It's been a while since you've written. I miss you. Happy 2013!

  4. What a lovely, thoughtful child!

  5. There is a line I always remember from an e.e.cummings poem: "And down they forgot as up they grew." Kids have so much more openness than many adults. Unfortunately I still feel in disguise when I shop for showers, etc. It's nice to know that there is peace further down the road.

  6. Well said- I have too wondered when kids lose their innocence and gift of insight as they grow up. Sometimes I do get a glimpse of what kids think (with ones I work with), and it's a miracle how they manage to stay connected to empathy despite trauma in their lives.

    For shopping for baby items, in a sense, I'm thankful for my deafness, because getting things for my baby nephew, folks do ask me something at the stores- I shake my head and say "I am deaf"- so they tend to drop it.

  7. In my family, children who didn't write thank-you notes for gifts did not get further gifts!

    I will confess that I bought my niece's presents online, but then again, I do 99% of all of my shopping on line. Going into a crowded toy store during the Christmas shopping season is, I am pretty sure, one of Dante's circles of Hell.

  8. I don't know when people lose that empathy, or if the ChickieNob will be able to hold onto hers (she's 8, Klara). I hope she does.

    One thing I said in response on my post (and I'm not sure if you saw it), is that the Befana story is not one of a woman living child-free after infertility, but someone who is in the throes of trying to treat her infertility. Like so many Biblical figures, she's punished with infertility. She didn't follow the three wise men after the birth to see Jesus, so now she needs to travel the world trying to bring a gift to Jesus (and testing out every child in the process) so that she can finally be released from her punishment and reach parenthood. 2000+ years of IF. That idea -- punishment and reward -- bothers me a lot more than the idea that she may imagine someone in the throes of long-term infertility as being sad in the toy store.

    1. I (mentally) chose the interpretation of the Befana story that she had lost a child, but obviously skimmed over it and missed the punishment/reward idea. And so yes, you're right - the idea of punishment and reward is very disturbing. Especially as so many of us going through infertility feel as if we are being punished, and that we're not worthy, when that is so blatantly not the case.

    2. Actually, I'm developing my thoughts further on Befana. I've just visited your post again, and left this note (and thought it was worth repeating here):

      "I guess Befana then also has another lesson to teach many of us. That at some stage we have to stop and to accept our infertility, otherwise we are doomed to live the rest of our lives searching for something we will never find, and living in grief. It’s only in that way that she can enter the toy stores freely. I choose to think that maybe that she has accepted it, and continues to give children gifts and candy because it gives her joy, and so that she is remembered and loved, rather than because she is still looking for her “reward.”

      Because the alternative is (as ChickieNob realised) unutterably sad.

    3. This just reminded me of the story I was told as a child as to why mules are sterile (apparently all are not), and that is that the mule ate the hay from baby Jesus's crib and was punished. What a horrible tale. And yet, this is something that I have thought in the worst of my moments: That I was being punished.

  9. Thank you!!
    I think this is what I have been feeling and didn't realize until reading this. I have made great efforts for years to pick out perfect items for my nephews or neice and when it goes unacknowledged over and over again...it hurts. I have resorted to following tracking numbers now to know it has arrived.
    I told the hubby that it is painful because this might be my only connection to these far off little people and if I stop, I sever that only tie. Thank you for helping me understand myself a little better.

  10. I still remember the stab in the heart when I was in a store buying a gift for one of the last baby showers I attended and the clerk asked me how many kids I had. Or the time the girl at the checkout counter in the drug store (where I was purchasing sanitary items for my period's arrival) trying to give me a flyer with coupons for a kid's event they were holding soon... and how confused she seemed when I told her I didn't want it. She actually tried to put it in my bag, and I had to say no thank you again.

    I don't shop for kids stuff any more. I send money. Less stress for me, and the kid gets to pick out their own present. I know it's impersonal, but it saved me some sadness/bitterness and I figure it was either that, or stop gifting to the kids in my life completely. Still sad, tho.

  11. I went to some children's clothing's stores yesterday to buy a gift for a friend's baby. I'm glad to know that none of the storekeepers asked to give me some help or anything, so I could browse through the products in peace.

  12. One thing I really had to push myself to do when shopping in the kid's sections for Christmas was remind myself that I was shopping for people I love. I seemed to be 90% okay with it this time around. Not so in the past. Practise makes perfect though.

    If you have experienced infertility grief, a special side effect is the extra emotional baggage we carry along with us to the store when undertaking this seemingly natural task: selecting wonderful, cute gifts for a special little boy or girl (or both)... all the while pushing hard against the visions of doing it for our own immediate children. Takes a lot of willpower to seperate the emotion from the task sometimes. But again, practise - practise - practise. I did have a bit of fun picking all the cool clothes this year for my nephews, without much connective thought at all to my own circumstances.

  13. I sometimes feel like a fraud. Because I am so young, no one knows we won't have children or imagine I can't. Sometimes it leaves me feeling like less than normal. And I hate that feeling. But, I imagine in will fade over time to feeling quite, normal and natural.

    It sucks that anyone ever has to feel like less than who they are. But infertility definitely does drive that.