29 September, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: No Kids to Promote

One of the things I miss about not having children is not having activities to support, sports to watch and cheer from the sidelines, music lessons and practice to supervise. But on the plus side, I don’t have to hit up friends and relatives and neighbours for fund-raising for Plunket, for the schools or sports teams or overseas trips. I don’t have to sell raffle tickets or Girl Guide biscuits, or the fund-raising chocolates that seem these days to be ubiquitous in workplaces. I don't inundate my friends here or on Facebook with these fund-raising requests, or ball photos or bragging about sports teams or exam results or what they cooked me for breakfast on Mother's Day. I don't get to do any of that.

So when I saw that the daughter of a friend of mine was involved in a campaign, I decided I should support her. I’ve only ever used my blog one other time to try to garner support for someone doing something I believed in. So I’ll keep it short and sweet. But you can read more about Maddie and her campaign here.

Please indulge me just this once.

26 September, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #13 – Compassion and empathy

We don’t all see the world the same. That is obvious. But many of us – after loss or infertility or both – find that we no longer see the world the same as our younger selves either. If the world had been safe before, then it is no longer safe. If we felt we had belonged before, we no longer feel we belong. If we thought that there was meaning before, maybe we no longer feel there is meaning. The world changes and we change with it.

Seeing the world differently for me meant that I was suddenly aware that many people don’t see the world as safe, struggle to find meaning, and no longer feel they belong. I could see the vulnerability of so many of us, and could understand others' pain or fear or isolation, having come face to face with these myself.  I understood grief and the grieving so much more, no matter what the loss is. And there are so many losses in this world.

I was able to take my experiences, the process of grief, longing, loneliness, and healing, and use them to try to understand others.  The desire to try to understand had always been there for me. But I started used it consciously, realising that previously I had probably empathised when it was natural, easy, or made me feel comfortable. 

This might seem contradictory, but I also understand much better that we can never make assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling. Empathy and compassion forces me to think things through, to try to understand the different reasons why someone might act the way they do, say what they say, feel the way they feel. This understanding helps the compassion come more easily, and as it does, judgements and assumptions slip away.  And so the empathy grows.  Of course, that enables me to help people. I like that. 

22 September, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: When Granddad is irrelevant

Today we visited the in-laws. They were chatting about reminiscences, and next moment father-in-law is referring to himself as Granddad. Except that I thought he was talking about his grandfather. So I asked a dumb question, which he responded to accordingly.

Then I realised. “Don’t call yourself Granddad to us!” I remonstrated him. “We won’t get it, because to us, Granddad is irrelevant.”

I wasn't being overly sensitive, or bitter, or even unkind to him. I was just being honest.

19 September, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #12 – Strength

Infertility is really hard. I think any of us who have been through it would agree. We go through stress, endure pressure from family and friends (often unwitting), society, and ourselves, we deal with month after month of disappointment, we have to find resources – physical, emotional, and maybe financial – that we didn’t know we had to cope with this. We feel broken, damaged, and lose confidence. We grieve. We cry a lot. A lot! We feel weak. Yet so often, we endure all this and put on a bright face to the world.

Whether our infertility journey ends with children or not, we have come through one of life’s major stresses. Research has shown that the stress associated with fertility treatment can be at a level comparable to the stress associated with serious illness. But unlike a serious illness, we often go through this without much support, sometimes feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

The grief born of infertility and loss helped me – ultimately - understand just how strong I was. The only problem is that I didn’t realise it at the time! Strength to me is not finding something easy that we breeze through. (Just as it isn’t brave to jump off a cliff if you aren’t scared.) Strength is finding something hard, but still facing up to it, working through it, living with it day in and day out. Even when we don’t want to. Strength is accepting that life doesn’t always deliver what we want or expect.
Strength too is learning how to ask for help. That’s perhaps another post, but I feel it deserves to be here too.

When my father died, a few years after we had ended our fertility journey, I actually realised what a gift I had been given. I wrote then that my infertility and loss experiences

“helped me get through this. … But having been through my (ectopics) and - my biggest loss - learning I would not have children, I knew that I would get through this. And so the grieving did not scare me, in the way I thought it would. Crying did not scare me - so I was the teary one of the daughters, though often laughing at the same time.”
 “My losses gave me yet another wonderful gift, one for which I am very grateful, and that was the gift of being able to help my mother, to focus on her through such a difficult time.”

Grief is horrible, painful, and it can feel relentless. But I know now I can get through it, even when I wonder why I should continue. Strength is not being afraid to lose, not being afraid of grief, because the having, the love, the hope – they are all worth going through that pain. The strength I have as a result of my losses gave me the courage to face a life I didn’t choose. The strength I have as a result of my losses and living a life I didn’t choose now gives me the courage to face up to whatever might come – including inevitably more grief in life. For that, I am thankful.

16 September, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #11 – Understanding Why

The following is a repost from February 2011. You’ll find the original post and comments here.
"Why? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Isn't there an answer? Why don't the doctors know? How could this happen? I don't believe this is happening to me? All these questions I have asked. All these questions I know other women have asked, and continue to ask. Today they ask "Why?" Tomorrow they will ask "Why me?" They wonder if it was their fault. They wonder if they did something to deserve this. They just want to know why. And my heart goes out to them.
Years ago, a friend quoted Gertrude Stein to me:
“There is no answer. There will never be an answer. That is the answer.”
In a strange way, this has been a real comfort to me; knowing that there is no "why." It just happens.
I look at women who have children easily, who don't have losses, who have never lost their innocence in pregnancy. They have not been judged to be worthy, just as I have not been judged to be unworthy. I look at women who get pregnant when they don't want to. Why does this happen? Well, just because it does. It doesn't mean that they are better than me. It doesn't mean they are luckier than me. They don't feel luckier. Those who struggle to cope physically, or financially, or emotionally, with a(nother) baby don't always see the baby as a gift, even if that is how we would see one. I look at women with children who neglect them, abuse them, or abandon them, who expose them to violent or abusive partners, who pay more attention to their own needs than those of their child. Clearly, the biological act of having a baby is not evidence of their good character, or their good behaviour. These women are no better than me. A baby is not a reward for good behaviour, however much we might wish it could be. Not having a baby is not a punishment, however much it might feel like that.
It can take a while to reach acceptance of this. Women are very good at blaming ourselves. We search for answers. We expect answers. These days, when so much can be cured, solved, calculated or discovered, we can't understand why some of us can have babies and some of us can't. We get angry, and often - because there is no-one else we can blame - we blame ourselves. Pointlessly. Painfully. Sometimes destructively.
I've lived and travelled around the world. I have seen wonderful people in difficult circumstances. I have seen awful people with family they don't value, with riches they don't appreciate or do anything good with. I have seen beloved, kind, good friends die young, I've seen those who have been tortured, and I've seen the selfish and downright evil live till they are very old. None of this is right or can be justified. None of this happens for a reason. None of this is because you were judged to be deserving or not. None of this is because they were or were not being rewarded. It just is.
For me, understanding that there is no justice in the world is as much understanding as I can ever expect to have. There is no reason why. And that knowledge frees me from the guilt. It means that I don't question myself every time I hear of a case of child abuse or neglect, or unwanted pregnancy. It means I can love myself and have compassion for myself when I feel sad. It means I can have compassion for other people too, regardless of their situation.
I just hope others can get here too."

Three years later,  I still feel like this. I like being in this place. It helps me understand, not just infertility, but the rest of the world too. It brings me peace.  And that is a true gift.

15 September, 2014

#MicroblogMondays - The MicroblogMondays Blogroll

 The #MicroblogMondays blogroll isn't a micro blogroll. That's both good - because it means a lot of people are doing it - and bad. It's bad because I feel the need to read (and maybe comment on) all the posts on the list. That's okay, they're short. But then I get curious about the person (if I don't know them), and want to read more.  And then … well, you know how it goes. 

I need to be more disciplined, not so much with the writing – that’s coming easily - but with the reading of #MicroblogMondays posts.  My solution? Rationing.

PS.  There's also a #MicroblogMondays post over at A Separate Life.

12 September, 2014

Saying “goodbye” to our dreams

Some time ago, I read a post by a blogger who is parenting two children after infertility. She talked about how badly she wanted another child, but couldn't have, due to a range of different circumstances (infertility, finances, partner, etc). I will admit that I read this with a little roll of my eyes; she already has the “ideal” family, after all. But of course, that’s the point. Her “ideal” family, the one she imagined and hoped for, was larger than two kids and two parents. And so she continues to yearn. I may sound as if I have no compassion, but I do. I know all too well the loss, the lack, that she feels.

The comments on her post almost universally agreed with her, echoing (and amplifying?) her pain Other women parenting after infertility talked about their sadness that they can’t have more children, talking about the sometimes overwhelming urge, the desperation, and the refusal to shut the door on their dreams.

It struck me that these women, who had in the end got (most of) what they wanted, could not move on. Their door hadn't been slammed shut on them, as most of ours were (at whatever stage, for whatever reason, we felt we could not go on). Many of them have, it seems, never learned to move on - they got out of the waiting room by being pregnant or becoming a mother, and carry so much of the emotional trauma of infertility with them still.  They haven’t had to deal with ending their dreams.  Not totally.  (I know there are varying degrees of acceptance of the end of dreams with those who have to pursue IVF, donor eggs/sperm/adopting embryos, and fostering or adoption, and I don't want to belittle the loss involved with these choices.)  So they still endlessly torture themselves thinking about what their ideal families, and mourning the loss. 

But I see, time and again, evidence that those who go on to parent don't always realise that eventually it is a matter of choosing not to hurt. I remember choosing not to think, consciously stopping my “what if” thoughts. It was brutal – I’d remember, or have to remind myself, that it just wasn't going to happen. Each time it hurt, and sometimes the hurt was cumulative, before it started to ebb. It took time, but really, over just a few months, those thoughts - and the acute pain that accompanied them - receded. I'm not saying it was easy. I remember wanting to hang on to my grief, taking familiar comfort in the wanting, feeling guilty about relinquishing the dreams.  (Did it mean I didn't want it enough?) But in the end, I knew better than to entertain the "what-ifs" because they only brought pain – painful reminders of loss, and painful reminders that it wasn't going to happen.

It was a necessary maturity I've learned through infertility, learning not to want what I can’t have. The relatively brief (in the context of my life – or as Klara says, the next 15,000 days) pain of the process is followed up by peace and a new enthusiasm for life. I hope these women manage to face the loss of their dreams, and can work through it in the way we have had to. Because coming out on the other side is worth it.

I've had this post brewing for months now. Then this week, Loribeth* posted a link to this article about a study that says: 
“Women who already had children but wanted more had worse mental health than women who wanted children, didn't have them, but were able to move on with their lives.”
It was interesting to see that a study had confirmed exactly what I had been thinking. The article comments that the study author also commented on the “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types. I interpret this, in infertility terms, to refer to the “never give up” brigade, the ones who declare (once they have their happy little families) that they know would never have given up, they’re not quitters (not like us).

But as the study author says, 
“There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being.”

We all do this throughout our lives, after all. Years ago, I wrote a post about the dreams I had had to set aside as I grew up, and called it “Never.” Yes, having children is bigger and was always more – I don’t know if realistic is the word – statistically likely than getting into the Silver Ferns. But now, it is just another thing on the list I've left behind.

The study author makes on last point, one that I particularly like, and one that I think is very relevant to the ALI community; a community that provides wonderful support, but rarely accepts that there might be a time when they shouldn’t cheer each other on endlessly, imploring them to “never give up,” and at times (perhaps unwittingly) shaming those who do.

“We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”

Once again, that is why I blog, why I comment, and why I'm still here in this community.

* Apologies to Loribeth - I read the article then wrote this, then double-checked your post and saw we’d picked out most of the same quotes!

10 September, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #10 – Accepting my mortality

When I had my first ectopic pregnancy, I realised that – if I had had this decades earlier, or with a different, less vigilant, less suspicious GP who might have misdiagnosed me – then I might have died. If I had been living a century earlier, I would almost certainly have died. When I had my second ectopic pregnancy, the doctors were concerned that, because of the location of my pregnancy, if it grew too large and ruptured, I could/would bleed out before I could get to the hospital. So I was hospitalised for a week. During that time, the doctors suspected I might have a pregnancy-related cancer - choriocarcinoma - also known as trophoblastic disease. A few months later, during a surgery to remove the last of the pregnancy tissue, there was still a risk that I might bleed out, as I had developed a new, large vein. A nurse helpfully told me how nervous my surgeon was about the surgery, and how many bags of blood he had ordered. (In the end he cancelled the surgery, opting for another procedure first, to reduce the risk of haemorrhage).

On the ectopic site, we frequently told women suspected of or diagnosed with ectopic pregnancy who were displaying concerning symptoms that they needed to ensure that they were not left alone. Collapse and bleeding out was always a possibility. Many women are rushed to hospital for emergency surgery with an ectopic pregnancy. They are often later told by their surgeons that they were “lucky,” even though they didn't feel lucky at all, and that they were only an hour away from dying. (Later, they will often report PTSD-like symptoms.)

One of the reasons ectopic pregnancy (or other serious pregnancy-related or gynaecological conditions) can be so traumatic is that, for many of us, it is the first time we have had a serious health condition, often our first time in hospital, our first surgeries, and our first potentially fatal condition. Sometimes it hits us straight away, and sometimes we don’t react to the reality of this till later, depending how we've dealt with the competing grief and immediacy of a loss of a pregnancy. Each time I was told of the dangers of my condition, I was more upset about the lost pregnancy and the fact that these continuing issues might put an end to attempts to conceive, than about the dangers to my life. It didn't seem possible that pregnancy could kill me - not in the 21st century!

But in due course, it is possible to reflect. I had been lucky. I didn't die, though I could have. Good health care meant that I was fine.  But I had come face to face with my own mortality. I realised that my previous lucky good health didn't protect me or guarantee freedom from danger in the future. I had been on the wrong side of the odds – 1 in 400,000 (for the particular type of ectopic I had the second time) – and so suddenly, being that “one” seemed very possible. I realised that I faced danger everywhere in life. Initially it made the world a scary place.

But after some time, it also made the world a place to be treasured, a place full of wonders, and much love. I realised that – beyond limiting extreme risk - I can’t control my mortality. I'm okay with that. Maybe it is because I realised that if I can’t control it, there’s no point in worrying about it. There's a freedom to this realisation. Death will come to me when it does, and all I can do is live, and live well, in the meantime.

08 September, 2014

#Microblog Mondays: It's a Valid Choice

Aisha Tyler spoke again about infertility (as well as a lot of other interesting topics), and made some points I think are worth sharing.

  1. Concentrating on your career, not family, at any time is a valid choice.  
  2. Choosing to stop is a valid choice too.  
  3. Most women can't afford to pursue treatment after treatment.
  4. Most women don't get pregnant - we only focus on the Cinderella stories.  At last, someone said it.
  5. There is no clock ticking on adoption. Whilst I disagree with this - depending on your location and budget, there is definitely an age factor when it comes to placements - I think that she was actually saying that choosing not to adopt (or not to rush into adoption) is a valid choice too.

If you have the time, watch her entire interview here.

PS.  Thanks to Mel for giving me the heads up on this interview.

07 September, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #9 - Our No Kidding Lifestyle

Finally I come to the obvious. One of the true gifts of infertility is living a No Kidding Lifestyle. I’ve blogged about the advantages of this before, so won’t wax lyrical about this. Not this time. No, I’ll just add a quick list below of my previous posts as a reminder. It is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to add more of your own.

04 September, 2014

Gifts of Infertility Series - #8 - Self-Confidence

I hesitated to add self-confidence to my list, as one of the first impacts of my losses and infertility was a severe lack of confidence. It didn't help that I’d changed careers at the time, and I no longer had the daily reminders that I was an intelligent and capable person, or the reinforcement of colleagues and clients when I did a good job. This lack of confidence was surprising to me. If you’d asked me, I would have said I had never tied my self-worth or my identity as a woman to being able to have children. But when I couldn't have children, when I was shut out of the mothers’ club, I felt the onslaught of society telling me that I was “less.” And my confidence plummeted.

So it may seem strange that I list confidence as one of the gifts of infertility. I have the benefit of being a decade on from the first shock of loss, and if I look back, I see a real growth in self-confidence too. Yes, this may be a result of the wisdom of a few more years. But it is also the result of new experiences, of being thrust into a situation I didn't choose, and of being forced to work through this to find a place of peace.

But as I dealt with my losses and infertility, as I found new talents, as I realised I was learning to deal with life and whatever it throws at you, my confidence was restored. Strictly speaking, it was never restored, because it when it returned, it was in a very different guise, with quite a different view of life. 

I developed a much clearer idea of who I am.  I know what I think – and perhaps for the first time in my adult life, what I think about me is more important than what others think.  Oh, I'm a work in progress. But I am so much better than I was. Confidence doesn't mean that I never worry, that I don’t feel fear, that I don’t second-guess myself sometimes. But it does mean that, deep within, I don’t have those insidious insecurities about who I am, or what I am trying to prove. This gives me a real freedom to think and act and simply be. I like that.

I have been broken down, and rebuilt piece by piece. And that rebuild is solid.