Grieving loss, and enduring and accepting infertility, meant that for the first time in my life, I gave myself permission to become aware of myself, my emotions, my abilities, my flaws. I learned a lot about what I did well, and what I didn't. I accepted both these parts, and enjoyed nurturing my skills and abilities. And one of the most surprising gifts of infertility was the discovery and nurturing of new talents and skills.
Participating in a messageboard post-loss was eye-opening. It helped me enormously, but I also realised that simply by writing about my own experiences, I was helping others. Something about the way I expressed myself helped.
That led to a volunteering position that I found enormously rewarding. It both boosted my confidence, helped my understanding of my own situation and of others, and – most importantly – really did some good in this world.
But I'm going to take that further. I had always had an ability to look at an issue from both sides, and to understand what another person might be feeling. Acknowledging and nurturing this ability as part of my volunteer work was important. Even if I was still raw from learning I would never have children, or having a bad "woe is me" day, I could never allow this to affect the way I responded to women with children. I had to learn to see things from their perspective, and bring my compassion and knowledge to bear to help them. I'm no saint, and this is rarely easy. But it helped me do my volunteer job well.
It helped in other parts of my life too. And in unexpected ways.
At the time that I was a volunteer, learning more every day about human nature, I was also the Chairperson of a consulting company (owned by NZ government-owned institutions, working internationally). Chairing the Board was a challenge. I was the youngest director, and the only woman. And so it was inevitable that I endured the sexism of my fellow directors (not all of them but most). I gradually realised though that I could, in the end, get them to do what I wanted them to do. Sure, they ranted and raved and played their petty little political games, or ignored what I said until one of the men said it. But because I learned to understand them, see through their bluster and learn their motivations and insecurities, I learned how to convince them to change their minds. And they probably never knew. This is one of the advantages and disadvantages of the way women learn to operate in the corporate world. Because they don’t realise that they are being convinced of a better way to do things, we avoid the aggression that is often a feature of working with men. But likewise, this means that they don’t see or recognise the skill or advantages in my (a woman’s) argument, and we don’t always get the credit we are due.
Still, it is interesting to reflect and realise that part of my personal growth in the last decade became part of my professional growth too.