26 March, 2014

Saving the world

I read an article about climate change and the choices we make.  It took an interesting approach, one I hadn’t seen before, looking at (amongst other things) the impact on the environment of food per calorie (beans are best, apparently), before going on to talk about other choices we can all make to help the planet.  It was a large article, taking up half a page in our local newspaper.  We’ve since thrown out the paper, and I can’t find it online, so I’m going to have to paraphrase the last paragraph:

“But you can eat all the beans you want, cycle to work or drive a Prius, never fly, recycle everything, and eat organically, but none of it will even come close to the environmental impact on the planet of one single act – that of having a child.”

Next time someone calls you selfish for not having children, or implies that only those with children are contributing to society, remember that.  We’re saving the planet.

12 March, 2014

Infertility's Waiting Room

We do a lot of waiting when we are infertile or have suffered loss.  Waiting for the right time for a start.  Then waiting every month to see if we're pregnant.  And even that waiting is filled with waiting – waiting for our fertile days, for ovulation, for the days when we can realistically test to see if this month was the one.  Then we wait to be referred to a specialist, wait for appointments, for cycles to begin, to get lab results, to inject, to get more lab results, to collect, to fertilise, to grow, to transfer, to test, to try again.  Then for some there is other waiting - to see beta results rise, to reach viability, to give birth.  Or for approval, a match, a birth mother, a court date.  Frequently, there is waiting for the financial resources we need to support all the other waiting.

Yes, we spend a lot of time in the waiting rooms of infertility.  And in that waiting room, there are a number of doors.  The door we enter through immediately locks behind us, and we can never pass back through it again.  We are changed, and if we are honest, the totality of the life behind that door is lost to us.  Often we leave our innocence and hope and faith and trust in a fair world behind that door. The fact that this door remains closed surprises many.  They think they will be able to go back through it, and get back to “normal” as if they never left.  They especially expect this if they get what they came for.  It is a shock to many to find that it isn't that easy; to find that what brought us to the waiting room stays with us.

So we sit in the waiting room of infertility, and we wait.  Some of us run around and try all the tools available to us in the room, over and over again, and some are more choosy for a myriad reasons.  Some too don’t have the means (financial, medical, social, emotional) to try all the tools. But ultimately, waiting is what we all do there.

And as we wait, we look at the other doors with exit signs.  One of those doors is brightly painted, is festooned with flowers and balloons, and has flashing lights around it.  When that door opens, a glow of light beams through, and we hear cheers and laughter and the popping of corks when we see one of our number walk through it.  We feel the warmth of a large group waiting to welcome us in.  This is the door we want to go through.  This is why we’re in the waiting room.

We don't see past the initial lights and music though.  We don’t want to.  We don’t see that through this door there are still clouds and sadness and hard work and jangling alarms and stress and arguments and guilt and worry.  We don’t want to, because it might make us question everything we are going through, back in the waiting room.  We want to believe.  We want the holy grail.  So we just see and imagine the sunshine and friends and family, all painted in happily ever after.  This means that, when they get through the door, some are surprised that they still carry with them the fears and sensitivities and anxiety (sometimes more) that built up in the waiting room.  That life still has its downs as well as its ups.  Thankfully, though, there are people who write about this, opening the door a crack further for those still in the waiting room, helping them understand.

Back in the waiting room we see another door.  It is more subdued than the first door, but adorned with flowering bushes and lush ferns, and when we see women leave through it, we also hear applause and glasses clinking and the laughter of children.  It is muted, there has been grief and struggle to get to this stage, but still there is happiness and warmth on the other side, and initially it seems a deceptively easy door to walk through.

We don't see the tests we might have to go through once we choose to walk through that door, or all the twists and turns on that path.  From our seat in the waiting room, we only see the portraits of happy families on the walls as they open the door.  We don't see the same joys that are through the first door, but we assume and hope that they will be there.  And we have a barrage of people outside the waiting room urging us to take this door, reminding us that this door is always an option.  They too don't see or understand the twists and turns of this door, or how difficult it can be to go through it, or how difficult it might be on the other side, how complicated it can be, the loss that has occurred for the room to exist at all.  They think it is simply a matter of just doing it - opening the door and going through.  If only that were the case.

Then there is a third door.  Most of the seats in the waiting room face away from this door.  It is hidden in a corner, discreet, unattractive, certainly unadorned.  The pot plants around it are dusty and drooping, neglected, in need of some tender loving care.  For some of our time in the waiting room, we might not even notice this door, because we are convinced that we're going through the door surrounded by light.

But then one day we see it (some sooner than others).  And once we've seen it, we can't ignore it ever again.  It looms large in our peripheral vision, and as we spend more and more time in the waiting room, it grows and takes on an ominous hue.  When the door opens for a woman to walk through, often she is weeping.   These are the women who have tried all the options and used all the tools in the waiting room, or they are the ones who couldn’t reach some of those tools, or who collapsed on the floor in exhaustion, unable to get up and try again. We watch them grieve, and go through that door in varying states.  Sometimes they go willingly, accepting that this is their only option, some with a dejected slump, some determinedly thrusting their shoulders back and holding their heads high, with sadness in their eyes.  Sometimes they are pushed through the door, kicking and screaming, trying to cling on to their waiting room seat with its view of the other two doors.  

And when they open this last door, all we can see from the waiting room is darkness.  There are no bells and music and popping of corks going through this door.  When the door opens, a chill air rushes into the waiting room, and those seated there recoil, huddling into themselves, pulling their hope around them in comfort, trying to ignore the fear that has taken root and grows within.  They see darkness through that door, and they believe that all the darkness and despair they feel in the waiting room comes from this door.  It must be avoided at all costs.

What most people don’t see though is that people who stand to walk through any of those doors stand straighter as they leave the waiting room. Because that is where the darkness and despair live and thrive.  Those still in the waiting room don’t see the light behind this door, because the light is hidden by a dark screen, a healing screen that eventually we all manage to walk through. The waiting don’t see the women there shed their burdens, feel lighter and become more alive.  They can only see the darkness.  They are simply unable to imagine there is any light behind that door. They don’t hear the throngs welcoming us in, because there are fewer people behind that door and their welcome is more muted.  Many of them might be busy doing different things, but they are there, and when we encounter them they are welcoming and compassionate and thoughtful.

And once through that door, once through the difficult maze of dark reconciliation, the sun comes out, and hope and inspiration bloom.  Yes, there are difficulties and sadness through this door, as there are through each of the doors.  But there is also sunshine and light, the scent of summer flowers, and - when I went through at least - the sound of champagne glasses being filled on the decks of a ship in the Aegean.

But all this is largely unknown to those who sit in the waiting room of infertility.  They can't see any of this.   And that's why I write.  To offer a view further through that last door, as others* offer different views further through the other doors. To let people in the waiting room know that whichever door you open, there will be happiness and sadness and wonderful surprises. And that hidden door, the one that opens in your worst nightmares?  I hope that here I can paint this door in happy colours and nurture the plants around it to make it less scary.  I want to bring it out of the shadows and bathe it in light.  

* and many more