27 February, 2014

You can't please all the people all the time

A perennial issue amongst the infertile and bereaved is the issue of insensitive comments, and saying the right thing.  Recently, Loribeth over on the Road LessTravelled kicked off an interesting conversation, showing that many of us have different views on the words or approaches that we find comforting or isolating.  I’ve seen this too in the years I was volunteering on a message board; what worked for some people was like a red rag to a bull to others. 

In the blogosphere, there is of course the issue of how to deal with pregnancy and babies after infertility. I know a lot of women don’t quite know how to navigate this in the blogosphere (or on FB etc) without offending those who aren’t in their situation, and may never be. 

I have read bloggers who try not to talk too much about their children, or who are very conscious of writing about both the difficulties of having a child, and the sincere gratitude they feel.  I appreciate that.  These bloggers don’t want their readers who haven’t gone on to have children to ever feel that they are ungrateful, that they take their children for granted, or that they have forgotten what they went through, and what others have been through or are still going through, and how that feels.  So I read bloggers emphasising how grateful they are, how aware they are of their great good fortune, even in the depths of sleep deprivation, breast feeding difficulties, tantrums, etc.

I feel three things about this.  The first is that I appreciate the efforts bloggers make to ensure that their readers are as comfortable as possible.  And I like the fact that they want to remind those who never faced infertility that there is a significant proportion of society who don’t have it so easy.  By speaking out, and making other people aware that infertility is common, they are doing a real service.

The second is that I feel a bit sad that bloggers either feel that they can’t talk about their children, or that they need to express their gratitude so regularly.  I can understand this because I have seen some people react unkindly to infertiles who become pregnant/have babies, usually reflecting the rawness and grief of the readers (who become commenters) who aren’t in a headspace to hear that having a child is nothing less than perfect, the answer to your dreams.  I’m not newly grieving the family I never had, and I am very content with my life, and so I find the information about adapting to life with a child doesn’t upset me at all.  Ten years ago it might have, and I probably wouldn’t be reading these blogs.  Today, I find it fascinating.  And in some cases, vindicating. 

The fact is that we all know that having children can be tough, it’s not perfect, and it seems reasonable that a parent should be able to let off steam.  I’ve never felt that there should be any onus on bloggers to negate the difficulties of pregnancy or child-rearing, simply to deal with the sensitivities (beyond the reasonable, everyday sensitivities) of those who are struggling with their infertility/losses, etc.  And I feel said that they might feel they are not allowed to express frustrations, without balancing that with gratitude.   

I do understand, though, that gratitude is a perfectly legitimate way to get through the tough times, and I can see how it helps to recognise your own happiness and gratitude on a regular basis.

But you see (and this is my third point), gratitude and looking on the positive side of things is also how I deal with my life now. So to constantly be reminded of others’ gratitude that they didn’t have to walk the road less travelled towards a no kidding life, that they didn’t have to live my life, that my life was (and still is) in fact their worst nightmare, reminds me that I am not “one of the lucky ones,” and it reminds me that they consider my life to be undesirable, and lacking.  I know that this is not intentional.  And that at the same time, it probably comforts those who are still hopeful but fearful. But it makes me feel excluded, lesser, and in fact, pitied.   

And I find this frustrating because I don’t feel unlucky, and I like to focus on the positives of my own life.  An analogy perhaps would be if I constantly said to my sister that I know how lucky I am to be able to travel, to have seen the world the way I have seen it, to have visited so many countries and had so many wonderful experiences.  If I did this, I would simply be emphasising to her that she hasn’t had these opportunities, and how unlucky she was to have the life she has had.  I know that she would hate my pity.  But she’s had other things (children, for example) – our lives are simply different, not better or worse.  And she is interested in my travels, so we talk about them rationally, without that emotional level.  And I guess that’s how I would like to see bloggers talk about their children.  

So yes, if I’m being honest, I could cope with a little less gratitude and sensitivity.  Who'd have thought I would ever say that?  (And throughout the ALI blogosphere I hear sighs, see eyes rolling, and hands thrown up in disgust and confusion!  And I understand!)  However – and I want to emphasise this - I don’t expect or ask anyone to change what they are doing. 

It just goes to show really -  no matter how hard you try, you can’t please all the people, all the time!  

24 February, 2014

A head full of thoughts

I have been doing a lot of reading lately and very little writing.  As you may have noticed.  I've been reading some fascinating thought-provoking articles, but haven’t managed to write down my thoughts that were provoked by these articles.  Not yet.  I have also been reading other blogs, but struggling to comment.  Part of this is a genuine technology issue – commenting from my iPad when I'm in bed or downstairs prone on the couch seems to be fraught with difficulty.  I do most of my blog reading these days through Feedly on my iPad, but I'm getting fed up with the number of times I've written a comment, only to try to publish it or review what I've written and it vanishes, the pages flashing back to the original post listing, my words lost in the ether.

But there have been thoughts I've wanted to share, prompted by a post, that were too long for a comment.  And I've been waiting for the time or inspiration to turn these into a post.  Then there are the comments I want to make, that I feel I need to make, but I sincerely don’t want to upset the original blogger, so I have been (and still am) grappling with how to deal with the subject matter.

So I guess my excuse is, even if I haven’t been posting here, it doesn't mean that I'm not thinking, or reading your thoughts.  And I know that is useless – much the same as someone says, when we’re grieving or stressed, that they’re “thinking of us,” when what we really needed was to hear them say that to us, or to feel their hugs, or simply their presence.  So I apologise for my absence.  And aim to do better.

14 February, 2014

Love on the internet

I got all mushy today, as I wrote the post that I first titled Celebrating the Internet, then thought I'd change it given that it's the 14th of February.  Yes, I know it's cheesy. Sorry!

I posted it on A Separate Life, but then realised that many of the people I think about and talk about and have met or want to meet are over here on this blog.

So I'm celebrating you, too - here's the link.  

12 February, 2014

Giving up the Ghost

Hilary Mantel, twice winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize, as author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, has written a memoir - Giving Up the Ghost - about as she describes it - her childhood, and her childlessness.

I am a big fan of her writing, and in this book, there are such beautiful sentences that make me want to break out in cheers, at the same time feeling that I should just concede defeat now and never try to write anything ever again.

The sections about her childhood are wonderful, amusing and insightful and fascinating.  Then she moves to her adulthood, and her medical issues that led to her childlessness.  Her matter-of-fact explanation of her struggles to get doctors to take her seriously and treat her endometriosis left me in horror.  Not disbelief, sadly, as I’ve heard enough doctor horror stories to last me a life time, though hers are particularly bad. 

After a callous comment from a doctor – who was at least treating her, but said, "oh well, at least you won't need to use birth control" - she writes:
 “There are times in life when you are justified in punching someone in the face.  But I didn’t react.  I knew it was for the doctor to direct the blow, and me to absorb it.  Sometimes one takes a little pride in endurance of this kind.  At this stage it was all that was left.”
I think we can all relate to all aspects of that paragraph!

Ghosts are a recurring theme, and Mantel uses them as a construct to explain her childhood, and her childlessness.  And she does so beautifully.  This following is a selection from a most beautiful passage in which she focuses on her childlessness.  (Catriona is the daughter she never had.)
"(Children’s) … lives start long before birth, long before conception, and if they are aborted or miscarried or simply fail to materialise at all, they become ghosts within our lives.   

Women who have miscarried know this, of course, but so does any woman who has ever suspected herself to be pregnant when he wasn’t.  It’s impossible not to calculate, if I had been, it would have been born, let’s see, in November …

... No doubt there are ghosts within the lives of men; a man with daughters brings his son into being through wishing him, as a man somehow better than himself, and a father of sons wraps his unborn daughter in swaddling bands and guards her virginity, like an unspoiled realm of himself.  … The country of the unborn is criss-crossed by roads not taken …"
This, this is the answer to those who say "you haven't lost anything, you never had anything."  And she does it in such a way that is so inclusive, relating to many more than those of us who couldn't have children.  In a very gentle way, she refuses to allow that denial of our losses, of anyone's loss.

And she goes on to recognise the difficult process of coming to terms with all this.
"No advance in medical technology was going to produce Catriona; she was lost.  But when biological destiny veers from the norm, there are parts of the psyche that take time to catch up.  You understand what has happened ... But there are layers of realisation, and a feeling of loss takes time to sink through those layers.    … Mourning is not quick; when there is no body to bury, mourning is not final.”
She talks about healing, never once using the word, but we learn how she managed to move forward and start the next phase of her life.  And what a phase that has been.  One of the wonderful things about this memoir is that - because she is so famous now and such a phenomenal writer -  she has reached people who would never normally read about childlessness.  The book was recommended to me by a friend who loves Mantel's writing (as I do).  I hope that the parts that affected me, also opened the eyes of those who have never contemplated the position of those of us with no kids, or those who cannot have their own biological children, or who have never found their partner in life, or who had boys and wanted a girl (and vice versa).  Because I think we all have ghosts in our lives, or have had at some time.

I have tried to write this post with only limited use of superlatives.  But I failed.  Dismally.  Because this book is so beautifully, poignantly written, with dignity and humour and grace. 

06 February, 2014

A brief sojourn

I've been silent the last few days - not just here but on all your blogs too - because I've been away celebrating a special occasion.  I've written about it on A Separate Life here.  http://aseparatelife.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/togetherness-a-tally/