25 April, 2013

Join the Movement: Don't preach to the converted

This week, during NIAW, it would be easy for me to post here.  It would seem natural, and right.  After all, this blog is called No Kidding, and its entire focus is on infertility, or more especially, life after infertility.  And I could do this, but I know that the majority of my readers don't need to be exhorted to think, to spread the word.  They're already doing that.  In fact, I realised that to post here, when I have the option to post elsewhere, would be cowardly.

So I posted on A Separate Life.  I talk about infertility there only rarely.  Regular readers know most of my story, and know that I am living a "no kidding" life.  But there are newer readers there too, younger readers, readers who I know through other walks of life.  And so I knew that if I was going to "walk the walk" I needed to post there, not here, about infertility. So I did.  Briefly.  I don't ever want to turn that blog into a vehicle that I use to promote one issue.  For the same reason I don't politicise my posts there, I don't want to use it as a pulpit to educate my readers on infertility.  But, one post does not turn it into a pulpit.  And it was worth doing.  Because if even one of my readers there takes to heart the simple message that there are people they know who have suffered from infertility, and if just one person takes some time to think before they talk, or ask prying questions, then it will have been worth it.

19 April, 2013

Delayed gratification is over-rated**

My parents’ generation here in New Zealand adhered to the principles of the Protestant work ethic - my father-in-law in particular. He believes the point of life is to work. Your duty is to work. Leisure is just an excuse for laziness. Extravagance is wicked. Etc etc. I have watched him work, and retire, and don't see that this belief in these principles have brought him much happiness. Perhaps they did when he was at work, and had children at home. But not in the last 20+ years.  Despite that, delayed gratification is always portrayed as a noble state. Not just by him, but by a lot of society in general.  

On the other hand, instant gratification has always been portrayed as being selfish, or rash, or extravagant, or indulgent. All very negative connotations. Yes, I know all the arguments, and all the research about the advantages in store for the child who chooses to wait for the marshmallow. But you know, I've waited for the marshmallow long enough. I waited for the marshmallow children, not rushing into anything, waiting till we were financially stable, and until everything felt right, only to find that I'd probably waited too long. As a result, I'm no longer a fan of delayed gratification.

My ectopic pregnancies reminded me that I am very mortal. Infertility and subsequent health issues reminded both my husband and I that, whilst we have been very fortunate in life, we are not invulnerable. Anything could happen to us at any time. I see that in the lives of friends and family, and every night on the evening news. We never know when that texting driver is going to ram into us, when an earthquake or cancer or something we've never heard of might strike, when our lives might change irreversibly, or end completely.

So whilst planning is still important to us, we don't defer our gratification to some distant time when we will have more money, better health, more time etc. Because we know that we might never have more money, time or better health than we do right now.  Sometimes we succumb to the instant gratification = bad pressure, and feel guilty. We look back at our international travel the last ten years, and shudder when we work out how much it has all cost us. But we also know how much it would have cost to continue with IVF and to raise children, figure that we're breaking even, and shrug and book another trip! But I know others consider us to be extravagant. After all, we’re not rich.  But are we extravagant? Maybe. But does that mean we are bad, selfish, indulgent?  I don’t think so, even if others do.

But the work ethic proponents also believe that we should "never put off tomorrow what you can do today." So I want to argue that, within reason, we can apply that to leisure and lifestyle issues as well as hard work (or doing my taxes). Shouldn't we appreciate what we have, who we have, in our lives today, rather than waiting till tomorrow to appreciate them? Or worse, to tell those we love how much we appreciate them? In No Kidding terms, shouldn't we embrace our lives today, rather than waiting till tomorrow, next month, next year?

I've been thinking about this because my husband is being made redundant. We have two choices of action.  We could run around furiously and get jobs or contracts that make us miserable but bring in some cash. We could worry, panic, and stress about the future. We could choose to hunker down and be conservative. We have friends who have counselled us to do this. My in-laws will definitely counsel us to do this. (Or they will gossip about our recklessness behind our backs).  

Or we could say "let's make lemonade" and take the opportunity to do something completely different, even if just for a few months.  And that's what we're most likely going to do.  Because ultimately, we are now more comfortable with the present than the future.  We're not actually reckless, and we're not terrified of the future either.  But we acknowledge that the future might not come as we plan it, and the present is here and now and needs to be lived.  And so that's what we're going to do.

And I look back, and know that my infertility history, as well as more recent difficulties, helped me come to this position. I'm comfortable with it.  I’m going to take my gratification now, thank you very much.  I am not going to wait.*

* All will be revealed, once decisions have been made.  
** For those of you who follow A Separate Life, apologies for the double posting.

13 April, 2013

Life, and its prices

I was watching the news tonight.  I'd been at a stressful meeting all day, and was feeling emotional.  And then there was this item on a news programme.   A woman was appealing for help to find a house that could be rented by her children.  (Note:  She is living in Christchurch, where rental properties are now scarce, following the earthquake.)  Her sons are in their fifties, but both are intellectually impaired, with the mental age of toddlers.  This poor lady, so well spoken and so loving, needed to find a house for them to live in, after they have to evacuate their current property for it to undergo earthquake repairs.  Sadly, she felt that she had been turned down by landlords once they became aware of the condition of the two brothers.

They have full-time around-the-clock care, but still this woman was the main person in their lives, their caregiver, their protector and protector.  She's probably about my mother's age, and she talked about how it was her duty to look after them.  From the moment they were diagnosed, she shrugged, she knew it was her duty to do the best by these boys.  "That's what we do, when we decide to have children."  The two brothers were looking at her, and her husband (not the men's biological father, but certainly their "real" one as he had been with them since they were little), with such love and adoration.

Okay, by now I was in tears.  This wonderful woman had done everything for her sons.  She had no choice, but she was still doing everything.  But neither she nor her husband are young anymore, and she won't be able to be their protector and defender for ever.  Not only will she not have the support of her sons when she needs it, but she will have the worry about how they will go on.  I was in tears at the thought of how these men will cope and deal with the loss of their mother, whether now or in 20 years.

A friend (who also is unable to have children) said to me last year, when a New Zealand couple lost their IVF-conceived triplets in a mall fire in Qatar, "what we went through wasn't as bad as what those parents are dealing with."  I wasn't prepared to get involved in a "pain olympics" kind of discussion, but  acknowledged their terrible terrible loss. But last night, watching that item of the woman and her sons, I knew that I felt luckier than her.  Yes, she loved her sons.  Yes, she has no doubt had many happy times with them.  But the price she has paid for that.  Oh, the price ...

05 April, 2013

Ouch, whine, drink

My mother-in-law will turn 90 in a few months.  Yes, that's right, 90.  Probably older than most of your grandmothers!  So of course, our minds have turned to the big event.  The social organisers of the family - the sisters-in-law (of course) - have had discussions, and plans were hatched.  But they all depended on Brother No. 1 (with apologies for the insensitive but in some ways surprisingly apt Khmer Rouge reference).  Brothers #1, #3, and  #4 have all lived overseas for many years, but #3 and #4 both return much more regularly.  Brother #2, my husband, lives here, only a short distance away from his parents, and in recent years has felt that we can't really move because they are aging and becoming more needy.  I've whined about this from time to time  .And so, emails were sent, and efforts made to see if all brothers could get together.  Unsurprisingly, these were unsuccessful.

Scene set.  Father-in-law sent out an email noting that it was unlikely to happen. He feels sad - he believes he will die without ever having all his sons together in the same room again, and this belief was the main impetus behind our efforts to get the brothers together.  I feel sad for him.  But then he lost me.  He said in his email that the prime reason for a get-together would be seeing all the grandchildren get together - cousin meeting cousin.  Not a celebration of his wife's longevity (he's a good deal younger).  Not the opportunity to see all his sons together again under the same roof.  No, it was the next generation. 

And yes, as my husband pointed out (and I knew this but I wanted a whine), my father-in-law reflects on his life and worries about the "continuation of his line."  And yes, I do still feel sorry for him that he doesn't have his sons and his grandchildren around him.  Heck, he only has 50% in the same hemisphere.  I get that.  I do.  He's old, and sad.

But still.  Ouch.  Unintentional as it might be, the snub hurts.  Clearly, our attendance is largely superfluous.  Irrelevant.  The last 13 years, when we've been the only relatives left in the country, feel as if they count for nothing. Because we didn't produce grand-children.  And, after all the efforts I made to try to arrange this reunion, after taking the risk that Brother No. 1 would blame me for pressuring him to return, after the time and energy and frustration that I have invested in this family, in keeping them in contact with each other, in ensuring that the grandparents actually see some of their grand-kids, that hurt.

The irony is that, completely unrelated to any of this, my husband and I are hatching a plan that might mean we won't be around at the time of the proposed reunion.  And despite my hurt, I still feel guilty about that.  Guilty as charged - childless with a conscience; a conscientious irrelevance.  No kidding. 

Time for a drink.

Disclaimer:  This was written when I was hurt.  I know I shouldn't write posts when I'm hurt - so don't be surprised if I delete this tomorrow!

03 April, 2013

Sharing about sharing

Telling, not telling, opening ourselves up to criticism, judgement and support; is it being vulnerable, or ensuring we have a wider support group?  Is it setting ourselves up for hurt, or for having  people with us  who know what we are going through, and can help us?  This is one of the issues we all face when we are facing infertility, or down-stream when we have come through the other side, and are either living our lives with or without children.

The need to tell, to connect with others who understand, is of course why so many of us have come to blogging, both writing blogs, and writing comments on other peoples' blogs.  But even here, we have the same issues.  Do we open up and say everything, or edit our thoughts and our opinions?   When we're blogging, of course, we are also vulnerable to accusations of over-sharing.  

I've talked about it before, and my conclusion has always been that we are all different, and we should all do what is right for us at the time.  And what is right for us when we are going through the difficult times might not be how we choose to handle "life after infertility."   I was one of those who chose not to make it public knowledge, though my immediate family and close friends knew bits (not all) of the story.  They knew about the losses, but not generally about the IVF. 

Yes, I hear you.  Here I go again.  1, 2, 3, Roll your eyes!  But the reason I'm addressing this is two-fold.  First, I keep seeing the issue come up, whether it is a question about Facebook sharing, a post written and removed (but it still makes its way to my feed) about reactions to a pregnancy, or discussions of our responsibility to speak out, to spread awareness of our situations.  To tell or not to tell is a real question for us all.

So I was interested to see what Brene Brown would say about sharing and over-sharing, in her book Daring Greatly.   We share to connect, that's clear.  But when we share with someone, anyone, everyone, where there is no existing connection, then we are perhaps "over-sharing."  The response of the those on the receiving end might be, as she suggest, simply to wince, feel awkward, or  (and this is my addition), as many of us have found here on the internet, to be on the receiving end of judgements, nasty comments, and even abuse.  If we are at a stage where we are very vulnerable, hurting, sad and alone, then over-sharing is both a reflection of our pain, reaching out desperately for understanding, but also - if we don't receive the support we want - yet another disappointment, another example of where we don't "measure up."

However, this doesn't mean we shouldn't share.  Because Brene Brown believes that receiving empathy when we are vulnerable is absolutely important.  She believes it banishes shame, and it restores that part of us that feels good about ourselves.  Her advice is advice I love: 

"We share our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them."

That sentence articulates completely why I don't explain to strangers why I don't have children, or why I didn't adopt, or why I waited so long to have children.  (Well, except on this blog or the Huff Post!)  These days, I'm feeling a lot less vulnerable about having no kids, and so I will talk about it relatively freely. I'm a pretty good judge of who I can tell, and who will respond supportively or with interest, and who will be embarrassed, or judgemental.  But I am still cautious.  I retain the right to choose whether or not to share, and I never feel obliged to share.  And even if, these days, I don't believe the basis of any negative comments I might receive, it doesn't mean they won't hurt, even as I tell myself to brush off the comments.  Ultimately, it's my pain, my truth, and I get to choose who sees that. 

So who do we share with?  Brene Brown's advice is to share with "people with whom we have ... relationships that can bear the weight of our story."

I love this too.  How often have we shared things with people and discovered they never talked to us again, or that friends and acquaintances stepped away, because they couldn't cope with our pain?  Or we were offered platitudes and advice to "get over it?"  Those relationships invariably suffered.  Or they were never strong enough to cope with the weight of our story.  And the people who stuck through this with us, who responded with empathy and not judgement?  Those are the connections we will keep and cherish for a long time; those are the connections that will grow.  And many of those connections are ones we have made here, or on other blogs.  Sharing when you receive empathy is the best medicine.  

Sharing.  I'm sure there's more to say.  I'll try to give it a break for a while!