26 August, 2013

Gift? What Gift?

When I was first coming to terms with the fact that I would never have children, I couldn't really see the gifts that my life and my journey might bring.  I was full of pain - everything was painful, everything reminded me of what I had wanted, what I had lost, and what I would never have.  Ads on TV, comments in the news, people on the street - everything was telling me I wouldn't have kids, and worse, was stressing that I always would feel like an outsider, that I may as well have "CHILDLESS" or "INFERTILE" (a word that has taken me a long time to feel comfortable using) or "LOSER" tattooed on my forehead.

So I knew when I wrote my last post that there would be people reading who would struggle to see the gifts of infertility, of never having children, and who might just shake their head at my post, wondering if they'll ever get past it, or if I'm just kidding myself.  So I thought it might be helpful if I wrote a bit about how I got through that stage myself.  Because, in various forms, some of that pain followed me around for a long time.  But gradually, I began to realise a few things:

  1. First, that nobody was defining me as a "loser" except me.  That was my definition, one that I feared others made, but they never did.  As soon as I realised that, realised that this was my interpretation of the "worst case scenario," I was able to begin to drop it.  Old habits die hard though, so it took some time, but ultimately it has gone now, and has been gone for many years.
  2. There was still joy in my life.  I write about this a lot, perhaps because I think it was the single most important thing that helped me first get through my ectopic losses, then the infertility verdict, and finally, to heal.  Joy in the small moments, being "mindful" as the Buddhists would call it, and laughter.  Allowing myself to laugh, to feel good, to feel this joy - it all helped me realise that life wasn't an endless grind of nothingness, of gloom or doom.  That if I could laugh in the face of this, then maybe there was hope that joy and peace would come.  And so I snatched at those tiny moments of joy, of happiness, of laughter.  Even the fleeting moments were worth noticing and holding tight, because they were a promise of things (of joy) to come.
  3. Pain is, and was, healing.  Feeling pain, recognising it and listening to it, wasn't easy.  But it helped me heal, helped me understand what I felt, and grieve what I'd lost.  But in recognising the pain, feeling that legitimate pain, I became able to avoid wallowing in it forever (although believe me, I am sure I did my fair share of wallowing).  This led me to the understanding that my brain could be reprogrammed, and that as a result, I could avoid feeling this pain all the time.  I have written about this a lot, but I keep coming back to it.  When I was trying to conceive, I'd find myself imagining what I'd be like as a mother, how it would feel to hold my baby/my child/my teenager/my adult child in my arms, what my child would be like, what I would teach them, what sort of father my husband would be, etc.  And in the first days, weeks, and months, all those imaginings still haunted me.  Because they had become a habit, and they were hard to let go.  Each time I would catch myself and think "but that's not going to happen" there would, at first, be new pain.  But gradually, I was able to train myself not to think this way.  At first, I would catch myself half-way through a thought, feel the pain as I remembered what my reality was, and cut it off, trying to divert the pain, thinking of something else.  Then gradually, I just wouldn't go there.  Whereas before, when I thought of holding a baby or child in my arms, I would let myself feel that baby, I could see and hear and feel the child.  Now, I can't.  I simply don't let the thought go beyond the theoretical.  And this happened for me quite quickly - within a couple of months, I found myself able to cut off some of these thoughts.  Because to do otherwise was to invite a recurrent pain, a pain that was pointless, that got me nowhere, and that did nothing to help me heal.
  4. This wasn't my fault.  I had done nothing wrong.  I was just as good as I had ever been.  And I gradually realised that peoples' comments and judgements said much more about them than they did about me.  Again, this is an ongoing journey, one I've written about in relation to shame.
  5. My journey and the pain I had been through had taught me things.  I had more empathy, I understood grief and the grieving more, and I understood much more that we can never make assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling.  I was able to help people, and I liked that.  I got validation from others, and realised I was okay.  I found that I quite liked myself!  And a lot more than I did before I went through this too.  And that helped me realise that in fact, maybe out of all this I would come out a better person, a more peaceful person, someone who is more content with herself.
  6. And that made me realise that maybe there are in fact gifts as a result of infertility, not just loss.  This was probably first an intellectual exercise, a theoretical understanding that I would be okay, and that there were advantages and gifts of this life and the journey I had been through. Not being able to feel this at the outset is not unusual.  But eventually I developed an emotional understanding, and an acceptance and gratitude for the good things I got from this journey, and that has also helped me heal.

23 August, 2013

Gifts of infertility

To someone contemplating ending their infertility journey, facing a no kidding life, when they had dreamed of a noisy life full of children, the idea of infertility being a gift is probably offensive.  And I understand that.  But there are positives and negatives out of every situation, we all know that.  Mothers complain about lack of sleep and loss of privacy and spontaneity, at the same time as we complain about feeling ignored by society, or having a house that is just too quiet.  Equally, our lives all have gifts, if we know where and when to look for them.  Knowing that there are gifts, and looking for them?  That, in my view, is what acceptance means. 

This week, it wasn't hard for me to look at two of my life's gifts.  Out of some bad luck, as many of you know, we had free time and decided to make limoncello out of lemons, and so we're currently in Italy for three months.  And that is a gift we would not have if we had children in school.  (Though actually, I like to think I would have been one of those parents who would have pulled her children from school to take them to see the world, learn other languages, etc.  Easy to say now of course!)  

But the second gift was that of new friends.  I have met many wonderful people on-line as a result of my ectopic pregnancies and infertility.  Some of them I have been lucky enough to have met in real life.  And on Wednesday, another virtual friend (and her husband) became real life friends.  My husband and I visited Slovenia - only three hours from where we are currently staying in northern Italy - and we were lucky enough to be hosted by the lovely Klara and her hospitable husband.  We ate lunch and drank wine, and talked, and looked around their beautiful* town  This is the part of travelling that I have always loved - learning how people really live, away from the tourist traps.  

Whilst Klara and I had both hoped one day to have children, we would never have met if we had kids. I hope one day to be able to host her and her husband in NZ too.  We may live on opposite (almost) sides of the world, but our shared experiences and lifestyle have brought us close.  And that was a gift.

*Watch Lemons to Limoncello for an update on our all-too-brief time in Slovenia.

17 August, 2013

Cristina is not a cliche!

I've been a fan of Grey's Anatomy since it started.  I don't love all the characters, whiny Meredith Grey drives me nuts for example, McDreamy doesn't do it for me, and nor did McSteamy (though Owen does), and I certainly haven't loved all the episodes.  But I never miss it (except the episodes that are on now in NZ!  Argh!).  Why?  Because I love the character Cristina, and some of her story lines.  I can relate to her ectopic pregnancy story line.  And - in various ways - I can relate to her refusal to be stereotyped, in her case by not wanting to be a mother.   I'm not like her at all - perhaps I would like to be a "take no prisoners" type - but I admire her single-mindedness and her self-confidence and her convictions.

Perhaps one of the reasons I love Cristina is that I feel a connection too with the actor, Sandra Oh.  I love her too!  I also "know" (as those of us who have made internet friendships through sharing some of our heartbreaks "know") her closest friend, the friend thanked in her Golden Globe win speech, and so have followed her career more closely than I might have otherwise.  And now, I hear she is leaving Grey's.  

Her friend put on FB this article about Sandra and her feelings about her character, and also Shonda Rhimes and her feelings about Cristina, and how they will write her out.  I particularly like that Rhimes said

"I know a lot of fans just want us to end everything by giving Cristina a baby [as if that's] going to make everyone happy, which infuriates me as a woman, as a human being and as someone who loves babies -- it drives me nuts. I adamantly stand by Cristina's ability and desire to not have a baby and to be happy about that. There's something great about this struggle and what's going to make her happy and see where they go next."

I love that Rhimes refutes the suggestion that everyone will be happy if Cristina has a baby, and insists that she can live happily ever after without a baby.  I wish more women in media (I'm thinking of the very disappointing and cliched ending of the Cathy cartoon for example) were prepared to step away from this view that is so prevalent in our culture, and acknowledge that women can be happy without babies - whether it is their own choice or not.

10 August, 2013


Many of us talk about triggers, reminders that catch us unawares, surprise us with their sting, and shock us that we are still finding pain in what-might-have-beens even many years on.  I do it myself.  I think I'll always have triggers.  But how I react to them, how I process them, is changing.

One of the things I love about FB is that I can stay connected (or make connections) with people I know who live offshore.  Very few of my FB friends are day-to-day friends.  Mostly, other than family, they’re overseas friends I hold dear.  As some of you may know, at 17 I was an exchange student in Bangkok on the AFS programme.  There were about 44 international students on the programme, and we shared a unique and amazing experience – that of being Thai teenagers for a year – that forged deep bonds.  We all made life-long friendships there.  Wonderfully, as a result of FB, we are all reconnecting, 30+ years later, older, hopefully wiser, but still those same enthusiastic, idealistic teenagers at heart!  Once again we are becoming part of each others’ lives. 

So I read the status updates of these far off friends with a lot of joy.  But every so often … for example, right at the moment, one of my closest of the AFS friends is visiting her daughter who is about to give birth.  Proud grandmother-to-be is posting photos of her pregnant woman, and her husband. She's not going overboard - just one or two lovely photos.  And I can cope fine with the photos, but of course there are the comments too – “is there anything more beautiful?” etc.  Those always bring a tiny twinge, but one I can acknowledge, and then move past.

In comparison, another of my AFSers (as we call ourselves) has just returned from a visit back to Thailand, and has been posting photos of herself with her Thai family, and with her American family on the trip.  She talks joyfully of introducing her boys (young teenagers) to her Thai life, and what she considers (as many of us do) to be her second home.  And for the first time in a long time, I let myself think how wonderful that would feel.  Because that’s one of my regrets – that I wasn’t able to pass on some of that incredible experience to another generation, to help them understand another culture, to help them understand me, and what I went through too.  Yes, I’ve been more lucky than most, and have been able to make Thailand a part of my marriage, introducing the country and people I love to my husband, as we spent three years living there in the early 90s, a decade after my teenage experience.  But still, it stung.

My initial reaction was to post.  But I didn't want it to be another “woe is me” post.  Because it isn’t really.  It’s part of who I am, and that’s okay.  I mean, I'm 50, and at this age, we all have regrets, we all have “what-ifs” and the associated triggers.   Infertility is just one of mine.  But in some ways, perhaps equally in terms of regularity of reminders and a stinging shame, so is the loss of my once-slim body, and my resultant self-consciousness over my less-than-perfect shape.  Or the fact I've chosen sanity and creativity over an exciting international business career.  My triggers aren't just about infertility.  As many of us have said, we are more than just our infertility, after all.

And I know, as I've written before, that I am just as guilty at triggering other people’s regrets by posting about my travels, my “gelato reports” and photos of beautiful places, or simply the fact that I have been lucky enough to take several months off even after redundancy and job loss.  And I know that if I want to do this, and talk about it, and have it acknowledged, then I can’t begrudge others for their happy “grandma” pics or “taking my boys to Thailand” pics and posts.  Because the upshot is, they are not judging me and my life by posting about theirs, and I'm not judging them by posting about mine.  We’re just sharing our lives, sharing what makes us happy.  And that, after all these years, is what is important.