Recovering from my surgery has been slow but steady. Not there yet, but on the right track, which is good. My husband has been good - with hardly a complaint (okay, a few complaints) - about doing things to help. He is adamant that I shouldn't do too much too soon. I think when it actually registered that my blood count had been dangerously low, requiring blood transfusions over about 14 hours across two days. he got a bit of a shock. To be fair, we both did, though more in hindsight. So he is keen for my recovery to go smoothly. He claims he's adding up all the favours I've asked of him, and is looking forward to me repaying them. I said he has to put them in the bank as insurance against some time when he will get sick/need surgery, and I have to be the chief driver/cook/bottle-washer/errand runner/muscle.
So I've been doing very little. The odd bit of cooking or making lunch, tidying up the kitchen a bit (though no bending allowed which makes it harder), walking around and around the living room to get some gentle exercise (if I go out I have to climb, and that puts too much pressure on the abdomen and pelvic floor), catching up on recorded TV (making my way through House of Cards Season 1), binge watching Season 2 of The Bridge, and ... an indulgence ... binge watching Season 1 of How I Met Your Mother (because I've never watched it before). I will be watching the rest.
I thought recovery would be no problem, because I would have the internet, and I could use the time to write. But sitting here at the computer in my office is not entirely comfortable, and I'm not supposed to do it for too long because of the pressure on my abdominal muscles. And reading ... well, I didn't anticipate the severe brain fog from the anaesthetic (hence all the TV watching). Just this week it has lifted, and I've been at last able to read a couple of books, and may return even to The Luminaries.
And it made me realise how much harder it would have been if I had had children. Being able to take it easy, concentrate on my recovery, and sleep when I need to sleep is, I suspect, something that many women in my position can only imagine. That said, many women my age have adult children who can help out too, so I guess it goes both ways. Still, I'm thankful that I am able to concentrate on me at this time. I don't think it's selfish, I think I am lucky. And right now, I need to see the advantages of my situation.
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
No kids? So what am I going to do with my life? I often read this sentiment in blogs of those who are either facing the prospect of living their life without children, or who have just entered their No Kidding life. I asked it myself, and was reminded of this by Lisa on Life Without Baby.
The previous few years had all been aimed at getting pregnant, and the lifestyle with children. And suddenly, that wasn't relevant any more. I felt as if there was a void that needed to be filled with something big, something amazing, something different. I know I wasn't alone in those feelings. But even though I felt that everything had changed for me, it hadn't really. I still had elderly parents that needed to be considered, a husband who liked his job (and wanted to be near his elderly parents), a house that needed maintenance (and still does), friends and interests. So a major lifestyle change was difficult.
When I look back though, my lifestyle now is different to what it was ten years ago. For a start, we have travelled much more. Partly because we have had more disposable income, but also partly I think because we thought "why not?" It wasn't as if we were waiting for children. I have a brother-in-law who puts many possible trips on hold because he wants to go with the his "whole family." So he rarely goes anywhere, as part of his "whole family" is now grown up and living in another country! He is putting his life on hold for a fantasy that has passed. We at least had recognised that our fantasy had passed - after all, the passing of our fantasy was dispatched like a brick to the head!
My working life had already changed, as I moved from a full-time job where I travelled internationally, to being self-employed. Early through that grieving period, I found myself thrust into a leadership role, and whilst it was scary, it was also challenging and interesting and rewarding too. At the same time, I got some significant contracts as a consultant, and so my working life was varied and interesting and fulfilling. I also expanded my wings in the volunteer sector, and began writing - something I had always loved and done when I was younger, but which had been overtaken by the business and diplomatic writing of my career. The differences between my personal and professional writing styles surprised me. Finding my voice was scary too, but liberating.
I found that I had changed. I was more confident in my own abilities, but I was also more content. I knew my own limitations, and for the first time in my life became able to accept them. I could push them when I needed, but stopped pointlessly beating myself up for these limitations. After all, I also found myself better able to understand the limitations of others, to see the insecurities or misunderstandings behind the bluster and bullying and verbosity that are so prevalent in board rooms. Part of this understanding came from the volunteer work I was doing - analysing motivations behind behaviour had always been an interest of mine, and my volunteer work addressed this intensely.
But part of this understanding too was simply from being in my 40s, with that combination of experience and wisdom that I think comes to us then, if we are prepared to think, to examine ourselves and our motivations and actions, as well as those of others. Still, I'm not sure I would have achieved this growth if I hadn't been through the losses I had been through. Sure, as a parent I may have grown in different ways. But as an adult without children, I had the luxury of time to contemplate the world, and how I wanted to be in it. And that has brought me a lot of peace.
I never did find though that one amazing thing that would fill my No Kidding life. We look for something to replace the children, but I think what happens is that life fills that void. You know, the life we're living when we're making plans. And it can fill the void in wonderful, inspiring, surprising ways. Tiny ways too. Like learning gratitude. That doesn't mean though that I'm not still looking at new opportunities. I suspect I'll still be looking when I'm 70. That doesn't scare me though. In fact, I quite like that idea, because in looking, I'm always learning, I'm always changing and growing and challenging.
It may look from the outside that everything is the same. I'm in the same city, same house, and yes, even drive the same car! (I'd love to move and go off on a grand adventure, but circumstances at the moment don't permit that.) I'm the same person, with the same values. But life didn't end when we said good-bye to children, and began a No Kidding life. And as a result, I have changed, and in ways that make me happier, more content, more confident. I know that I continue to change. And I embrace that change.
Thursday, 15 May 2014
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
It was a beautiful autumn Sunday. The air was still, crisp, and clear, and through the open window I could hear tui and other birds chattering in the pohutukawa trees outside. The sounds of a Sunday afternoon were distant and comforting, a power tool involved in garden maintenance, car doors slamming as people come and go, gentle traffic sounds in the distance. Less comforting was the soundtrack from the major public hospital about a mile down the road - occasional sirens, and the deep throbbing of the Rescue Helicopter as it flew in to land.
But I was one of the lucky ones. I lay inside feeling safe and relaxed, peaceful after a stressful and sometimes scary week. A part of my body that had never done anything for me was gone. I knew I should be relieved. And I was. But it was still a little too soon. Too many memories had been brought back with this surgery. And there was an unexpected loneliness too. Out there, out the window, beyond the grounds of the private hospital where I was admitted, was a city full of people going about life, enjoying a beautiful day that I could not, that I never will. It was Mother's Day. Timing is everything.
Thursday, 1 May 2014
This is a post I have been contemplating for a long time. I’ve covered some bits before. But I always come back to it. And as I begin to write it, I suspect it might turn into two or maybe even three posts. So bear with me.
Friends and family are a perennial issue in the IF community. Friendships and insensitivities and hurt is raised over and over again. Everyone has a story. And that's why I want to talk about this again. Infertility plays havoc with our perceptions of our friendships. We get frustrated when we don’t get the support we need and want. We worry that our situations – dealing with IF, loss, adoption, or the fact we don’t have families – means that we aren’t giving our own friends and family the support* that we would normally expect to give. If things had been different.
When we are hurting most acutely, we feel the lack of support most acutely. We are raw with pain and shame and despair, and so any misstep by friends or family is a stabbing pain. We can’t believe their insensitivity, or we feel unloved and uncared for and forgotten. Or worse, we feel worthless, that our loved ones think we are undeserving of comfort, or that our pain is denied, dismissed, unnecessary. We are often 100% consumed with our infertility, and so our friendships come under extraordinary pressure to adapt to this change. What was good about our friendship can get lost under the shifting tectonic pressures of infertility and grief. It is tough. It is tough for us. It is tough for our friends to know what to say, how to deal with us. Too often, as I am sure I have written before, their inability to know what to say turns into silence, and for us, that is often worse than not saying anything at all.
And as a result, our hurt and our pain, and our friends or family members inability to know what to do to help us (or their inability to understand that we were going through pain at all), leads us to reach out, but sometimes in the wrong way. We’re hurt and angry and upset, and we don’t yet have the perspective that would help us understand. And some friendships crumble, some in complete destruction, others are permanently damaged.
I had a friendship that changed during my infertility. She was there for me at the beginning. She hugged me when I cried with my first ectopic, visited me in hospital during my second, and brought me books to keep me entertained. But she brought her toddlers to the hospital, and the books were full of miscarriages or statements by characters that their lives hadn’t been worth living before they had children. This, at a time when I was in hospital for a lost pregnancy, and was suspected of a cancer that would mean my quests to conceive would be over there and then. She didn’t think, and to be fair was horrified when I pointed this out at a later date, when I was actually able to laugh at her misfires. These lapses I could forgive, because I knew her heart was in the right place.
But over the next years, we drifted apart. I got tired of being the one who always contacted her. I felt that I was the childless one with the unlimited time, and that my wish to spend time with her was seen as a burden. Maybe, maybe not. But anyway, when I didn't do the contacting, we weren't in contact. I felt hurt that I wasn't included in her life with her children. I learned years later she was going through a difficult time too, but one which she couldn't really articulate, and in fact, consciously or unconsciously fought against articulating because that would make it real. And in our joint pain, we were simply unable to help each other. I regret that, but I know that I couldn’t have done anything differently. I don't blame either of us. We are still friends, but no longer besties. I do however find that the hurt and rejection I felt then returns easily when I am feeling down. So the wounds haven’t entirely healed, but I am glad we are still friends.
What did this teach me? Well, it reminded me that friendships change. Throughout our lives, if we are fortunate, we have friends. Sometimes, the friendships are enduring, moving with us through our different life stages and milestones. Sometimes our friends come to us at particular times, bringing to our lives whatever it is we need of them (and vice versa), and then move on, for whatever reason. Sometimes we leave our friends on good terms, simply because geography or life experiences are different and separate us. Sometimes, we leave our friends – or they leave us, in more negative circumstances, leaving us or them or both of us hurt, in pain, confused, angry, let down, disappointed.
But even if separations are less than amicable, with time and distance it is possible for me to step back, and examine my role in the ending of that friendship. Not to blame, but to learn. I want to learn from each friendship.
And one of the things I’ve learned is to appreciate what each friendship gave me at the time. And that’s wonderful. Just because a friend can’t support me through some of my issues (the occasional pangs of no kids, for example) doesn’t mean that the friendship is worthless. It’s not. As I've written before, if we always enjoyed talking about travel, then we can still do that. If we felt solidarity in discussions of food and exercise and weight loss, we can still do that. If we had talked about work, or books, or politics, then we can still do that. My friend and I still have much of what brought us together in the first place. And that’s a good thing. Recognising it is even better.
I’ve realised it simply isn’t realistic of me to expect everyone I know to be experts in fertility and grief and what it means to live without children. It doesn’t mean I won’t try to educate them, to make them more aware and more sensitive, if the opportunity presents itself. Some friendships grow as a result. But if they don’t, I find that I am able to take their lack of understanding or occasional insensitively less personally than I might have otherwise. Recovering from hurt is quicker and easier. Reducing expectations increases satisfaction. That's Marketing 101. Perhaps we should also call it Friendship 101 too?
To appreciate my friendships for what they were, and for what they are now, not for what they lack, is how I want to live my life. It’s not always easy, but it is rewarding when I manage to do it. Reminders – perhaps by reading about struggles others are going through, or simply by writing this blog – are good for me. They teach me gratitude for what I have. And make me feel loved and appreciated.
* to be a topic of a future post