I don't often talk about infertility in my everyday life. It's never been a major factor in any of my relationships. I've received my support on-line, and have real, lasting and deep relationships as a result. But my daily relationships with friends and family are all about us, what we are doing, who we are, and not about who we are not. So it's not as if I feel I am hiding anything. It simply increasingly isn't a factor.
However, as the years go on, I also feel more able to raise the issue of infertility, or life without kids. If, in a conversation, something springs to mind, then I am much more liable to comment on it now, then ten years ago, when I was going through so much grief. I feel free to comment now, in the same way my friends feel free to comment on their lives as parents, or professionals, or travellers, or runners or photographers. So the other night, when I met some friends, we were chatting about life ... and death. I casually mentioned that making a Will when you don't have kids raises all sorts of issues that parents generally don't face. It's complicated. And I got a strange reaction from one of the women. She shook her head and said, "you could still always adopt, you know." I was surprised. This was a leap from the "I'm making my Will" topic of conversation. And besides, "I'm 50!" I protested, shocked to still hear this at my age. "Still, there are lots of children in the world," she went on. I stopped the proud new grandmother there. I explained the difficulties in adopting in New Zealand, at any age, and especially now at my age. She protested, "I meant children overseas." I explained too that I am probably more aware than any of us of the children overseas who could be adopted, but that all overseas adoptions still have to be approved by New Zealand authorities. And whilst it might be possible to go through this at our age, it was also very expensive, and anyway, I hadn't been complaining. The question of adoption was not on the table. Our life is our life, and we're both at peace with it.
My friend nodded, and we changed the subject. To be fair to her, she accepted everything I said, accepted that it might never have been an option (and didn't pry about why or why not), and admitted she knew nothing about adoption in New Zealand. She was graceful and not combative. It was a minor incident in the scheme of things. But this, and then a subsequent discussion - about silly things that left me feeling as if I wasn't allowed any of my opinions - left me feeling beaten and exhausted and not a little upset later that night. I thought I'd recover once I got home, but it has stayed with me for days. I would have dismissed this from many people, shrugged it off and got over it. But I was surprised I got these reactions from this particular person. Surprised, and puzzled. And I still am.
In thinking about this, I've realised exactly what it is that I dislike about the "just adopt" argument. Put simply, it entirely dismisses the legitimacy of my decisions, and the life I'm living. It has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of adoption. It has everything to do with the feeling that I can't talk about not having kids without feeling accused (directly, indirectly, or tacitly) of complaining. How did a simple mention of the complications of making a Will (eg having to consider the reactions and personalities of siblings and nieces and nephews) turn into a complaint about my life? How did my simple comments elicit the "just adopt and stop complaining" response?
I realised later that I'd had a similar reaction last week from the same woman, when we'd talked about the phenomenon of reticular memory, and I'd thrown in an infertile reference at the same time as I talked about cancer sufferers and Italy-bound travellers. The combination of the two events is what upset me. As if the mere mention of infertility was unacceptable conversation. That it was seen as bemoaning my fate, when I should clearly be living stoically and silently and invisibly.
That is what upset me. That my reality, living life without children, was not heard or legitimised, but instead dismissed and denied. (And yes, I'll say now that the other friend in the conversation probably never even noticed any of this, and has never made me feel that way.) And yes, I'm sensitive on this issue. But I don't think I'm over-sensitive. After all, the truth is that I'd sat there with my friends and happily and willingly engaged in conversation about their children and new grand-children. And yet I felt attacked when I made a simple reference to what was going on in my life. So why was their (her) reality more acceptable conversation than my own?