26 May, 2013

Hear me, that's all I ask

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?


  1. dear Mali,
    Beautifully written!
    I just can not believe that a friend can be so insenitive to even mention adoption to you. Especially not in this contest. How I hate "just adopt" suggestion.
    Why others have the right to comment everything about their lives (just because they have children / grandchildren...) and we are not? And you are right - the Will is important for us, childless couples.
    (how stupid - does your friend think that you desperately NEED somebody so you have somebody to leave inheritance to???)

    A big hug to you!

  2. Ouchhhhh...where did that come from? The talk about a will ended up going to that direction? Goodness...

    Nowadays I'm confused as to what I'm supposed to say whenever people ask me if we have kids or not. I mean, I opt out to say "no, we don't" as the "safest" answer, but sometimes I'm tempted to say "We don't want any", though that may also cause the other person to argue about it. But yeah, it's not easy to get validation over our decisions when it comes to our IF journeys, and because of our "younger" ages, people still assume that we want to have kids (and are still trying) - except those who've read my FB wall post about our decision to live life without kids, that is. :-)

  3. It's incredibly frustrating when someone--especially a friend--fails to validate our choices or experiences through ridiculous questions or comments. I find that I have a hard time being with those people if they do it frequently enough. I'm sorry you are dealing with this now, when it seems the only decent thing for your friends to do is show support or at least acceptance. It sucks that they have to be the ones to remind you of what is considered acceptable by society today and to make your feel outside of that. That really sucks.

  4. I think people don't understand that sometimes people want solutions and sometimes people want to talk. Humans don't wait for the question of "what should I do?" We just jump in and start offering out solutions willy nilly, as if there is some prize for handing out the most solutions in one day. I know I'm guilty of it -- I read a post where the person is discussing X, and I tell them about Y because I think, "maybe they don't know about Y, and if they knew about Y, they would see that there is a solution to their problem." I think that 50% of the time, this is helpful. A group of friends were all discussing issues with the spelling tests at school, and I threw out how we're preparing for the spelling tests at school even though no one said, "what should we do?" And everyone grasped our solution and said, "whoa, didn't know about that app. Brilliant. Let me download that." And all was well.

    And 50% of the time, we try the same thing with much more complicated situations. And what we get is a solution that not only wouldn't work, but isn't helpful to hear. Isn't necessary. There isn't a problem to solve, or even if there is a problem (considering everyone's feelings when creating the Will), the solution doesn't fit it any more than throwing all your money off a bridge to just get rid of it quickly and not give it to anyone solves the problem.

  5. Ugh. I totally understand why you are (still) upset. :p You would think, if these women have brought up their own kids (& now grandkids!), they, of all people, might understand why you wouldn't have any interest in adopting at this stage of your life. If you haven't done it by the time you're 50, you're obviously not interested in the option. So why bring it up??! If they're curious WHY you haven't adopted, they could just come right out & ask instead of hinting that it's something you should do.

  6. From a Will to just adopt... that is skipping so many steps it is hard to believe. As if she was waiting for even the slightest opportunity to throw it out...

  7. Ugh - we need to create a will too. I guess I know now not to bring it up with others! :)

    We tried to "just adopt" for over 3.5 years...and they were the most miserable of my life.

    We were just on vacation and about 2 miles into a hike, we hadn't seen anyone that morning. Upon enjoying our view, another couple came up. Turns out that they were DINK's too (Dual Income No Kids). I guess we all just smiled and enjoyed the view...for we wouldn't have both been their at that moment should kids have been in the picture. We were all just happy as could be.

  8. I do think many people are very insensitive to one's decision to be childless should infertility be an issue. I have known many people that have found a different kind of happiness with being childless and enjoying those perks, to each their own.

  9. This quote "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. " - is how I feel SO many times.

    It is so frustrating to be seen as complaining, when you are just discussing your extremely valid and acceptable life. What if one of the other ladies was like "I am making my will and I have 2 daughters and only fancy piece of jewelry to leave and I can't figure out who to give it to". You wouldn't respond with "well, you should have only had one child." That's how ridiculous it is to say to you "well, you could still adopt".

    I am sorry you had to suffer that, as I have had to suffer it too too many times now. and you totally hit the nail on the head - it isn't so much about the fact that they are unaware that adoption is complicated as that they are invalidating us and our lives.