29 January, 2015

Gifts of Infertility Series - #19 - Courage

Rather than being the easy way out, letting go of a dream can require immense bravery.

It takes courage to say, “enough is enough,” to step off the treadmill and often, away from the support we might have there.

It takes courage to know that your decision will bring sadness and loss, to absorb that as part of you, and to continue to face the world every day.
Courage is the power to let go of the familiar - Raymond LindquistIt takes courage to say good-bye to our dreams or expectations, without knowing what will replace them.

It takes courage to face head on the emotions of grief, sadness and loss, of isolation and otherness, and to feel them fully, working through them, to come out the other side.

It takes courage to let go of the expectations and hopes of others – family and friends - to bear the burden of their sadness and disappointment as well as our own.

It takes courage to step out from the crowd and live a life that is different, and visible (even when we feel invisible).

It takes courage to tell your story, knowing that speaking (or writing) it will make it real.

It takes courage to own the life we live, to step above the judgements of family, friends, society (including our own IF community) that might see us forever as “less than.

It takes courage to absorb so much loss and judgement, from others and ourselves, and then to let it go, to acknowledge that we are not responsible for others’ hopes and dreams for us, to accept that without guilt.

It takes courage to fully live and embrace a life different to the one you had planned.

It takes courage to be a heretic, to see and celebrate what we have, not what we have not.

That courage becomes part of us. When we use it, it grows. It has given me courage when facing other losses, other health issues, and our own old age. It has given me courage where and when I didn’t know I had any.

26 January, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Imagine if …

I often find that people with children, when they hear women who embrace their life without children (either by choice, or because we had no choice), find it necessary to comment that they couldn’t imagine life without little Jack and Jill (or whoever).

Of course, they can’t (or won't) imagine their life as it is now without their children. To do so would be to imagine them gone, to feel their absence, their loss, and to imagine and feel the grief of this loss. Of course they can’t do that. And none of us are ever suggesting they should try. Maybe I should say that in future. Because it might be nice if they tried to imagine what their lives would have been like if they had never had children. Then, they might start to understand.

19 January, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Heresy

I shared my Early Days post with some of the friends I met many years ago who have also gone on to live life without children. One of them said to me:

“And these days I find myself being glad I haven't got kids for lots of reasons. Part of me feels that is almost heresy, but it's true!” 

She isn’t the only one who feels that way. And we know it’s not really heresy (though, feeling a bit of a rebel, I do quite like the use of “heresy” in this context). It’s simply appreciating the life we have, and being grateful for it.

15 January, 2015

Spreading the word

As you probably know (or have guessed) I blog under a pseudonym. Mali is a Thai name (it means "jasmine") that I was given when I lived there as an exchange student. I love that I get to use it every day on my blog and commenting on other blogs. I have come out under my real name twice in the infertility sphere, on Pamela's Silent Sorority blog, and then when the Huffington Post picked that guest post up for a feature week on women who went out to live No Kidding lives. Then, I included a small photo too, along with my real name. That was a big deal for me. I'm not a fan of photos!

But I've gone and done it again. Lesley Pyne, a UK therapist who works with childless women with a focus on learning to enjoy our lives and celebrate the good in them, has profiled me as part of a series of writers & bloggers who live No Kidding lives. She's included a number of inspirational members of my small blogging community here, Pamela Tsigdinos (Silent Sorority), Lisa Manterfield (Life Without Baby), and Loribeth (Road Less Travelled). It was an honour to be asked to share my story on Lesley's website, and to think through some of the questions she asked. And when it came to choose a photo, I decided to include a shot taken of me in Petra, Jordan, on our Lemons to Limoncello trip in 2013. It's not the best photo ever taken of me, but it seemed right, simply because travelling is one of the great gifts of infertility for me and my husband.

You can find my story here, and the other inspirational women's stories here, and more about Lesley and her practice here.

12 January, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Gifts of Infertility - A Repeat Performance

This time almost exactly ten years ago, some of the friends I had met online( and got to know from the inside out - to quote one of them - as we grieved and healed together) converged on London to meet up with me in real life. I’ve met others since – in New Zealand (fellow kiwis, or world travellers stopping by), Geneva, and London again. One or two I have yet to meet. I’ve talked about this before, this gift of friendship and empathy we get through times of hardship. But today, remembering that evening of fellowship and hilarity ten years ago, I want to celebrate those wise, funny, caring, and slightly batty (most of them, but self-described) women who were so important to me then, and are still so important to me now, reminding me I’m not alone.

And the best thing? It’s that I’m continuing to gather up wise, funny, caring people who are becoming firm friends, though I wouldn’t presume to suggest that any of them (or any of you) are slightly batty. Or would I?


08 January, 2015

Childlessness, pain and healing: the early days of life after infertility

I’ve been thinking the last few days about those very early days of learning we will have a life without children. First, infertility, then childless. I remember those days, even though they were many years ago.  I felt as if I had been slammed into a brick wall.   

Those first days and weeks were awful. There's no other way to say it. At first, the truth of my situation hit more and more deeply. Each time I would think “when I have a baby ...” or “my children will ...” the truth and the pain hit anew. I would not be having a baby. My children would never ...  never … This hurt more and more, as the realisation set in. It was as if I was repeatedly punching a bruise that was already very painful. I had struggled under the stresses of trying to conceive, of repeated losses, of pregnancies that turned lethal, of IVF and IVF failures. But I had always, even at the worst, had some hope. Now, though, all hope was gone. It was final. There would be no children, ever.

I could not imagine ever feeling better about it. I was exhausted at the thought of having to navigate my way through a new future, a future that seemed to me to be pointless, without meaning, without joy, filled with nothing but pain and darkness and regret. Along with hope, the light had gone, and I could see nothing but sadness, pain, guilt, and hopelessness. Briefly, I even imagined the relief of not having any future at all.

I felt a failure as a woman and a wife and a human being, and thought that I would never be whole. I felt isolated, that I didn't belong anywhere. And I avoided people, except for one or two special souls. I stopped going places I might meet someone I didn't want to see. Even trips to the supermarket were torture; hoping to go when it was emptiest, but finding it was filled with old folks and young mums; the cashier cheerfully asking how was my day, and my mumbled reply.

But it did get better. I quickly realised that punching the bruise was pointless, and so made efforts to train my brain not to think about the babies I didn't have, would never have. It worked. I stopped thinking of myself as a potential mother. It took a little time (weeks/a few months), and I slipped often. It was a struggle and painful in itself, consciously turning away from those thoughts and dreams. But this was really my first step to healing. 

The other feelings – pain, anger and guilt – lasted longer. The shock ended, but turned into a year or two of, I think, a very low-level depression. Tears were close to the surface. So too was envy, for those who had what I would never have, and for those who still had hope. They were reminders of my failures, of what I couldn't achieve, of what I would never have, reminders of what I couldn't give my husband too, an additional pain. Sure, I had good days and bad days, two steps forward, one step back, and sometimes it felt as if I was back to square one. But gradually the good days outnumbered the bad. I found joy and fulfilment in helping others. But still, I was grieving, and grieving takes time. Trying to imagine a new future, a future different to the one we had imagined and longed for, takes time. You think infertility is tough? Coming to terms is tough too.

There’s a phase we go through when we are angry, when we believe we will always feel angry, when we refuse to accept our situations. How dare someone suggest that I accept, that I “move on,” that I forget? Didn’t they know how much I wanted this? How much it hurt? How could they suggest this? They didn’t understand. Their suffering wasn’t as strong as my suffering! It couldn’t be!

I worried that it would look like I was wallowing in my grief, that I was self-pitying, or self-indulgent, so I hid it. After all, most people thought that I hadn’t lost anything, because outwardly, nothing had changed for us. But the pain I was feeling from that lost future was real, like the phantom pain of an amputated limb.  I remember how much it hurt, how angry I was!

In particular, I resented the idea that I should or would accept my childlessness, and all the negatives I saw in that life. (Yes, though I don’t like the term now, I very much felt childLESS in those early days.) I fought against acceptance, because acceptance seemed like betrayal - of ourselves, our pain, our grief, our dreams, and those two babies we lost. Acceptance implied that we didn’t want it enough, that it was okay we couldn't have children. Yet my whole being was screaming silently, "it was not okay!"  Likewise, after any feelings of happiness, I felt guilty. Did that mean I hadn’t loved or wanted my lost babies? Did that mean I didn’t really want it after all? 

Acceptance (and feeling joy), though, is none of these things – it’s not a betrayal, or a shameful admission that it was our fault for not trying hard enough. Acceptance is simply an acknowledgement of the situation we found ourselves in, the situation where we had no children, and would never have children. And there was no denying or changing that.

So I healed. It took time, there are many ups and downs. But if there is one message I want to convey in this blog is that it gets better. Now (11 years after learning I would never have children), I am no longer in the trenches; I climbed out and put my face to the sun a long time ago.

I hope that this gives hope to any of you who are struggling to imagine a future without children. I know that some of you will not believe my words. That you cannot imagine feeling anything other than the way you feel now. I can’t convince you that you will be happy, that you will heal. You probably feel that my words of hope and promise of a good life are as empty as those people who tell us to “just relax” or  that “miracles happen.” Maybe, for a rare few, they will be so immersed in their grief that they never come out of it, never let themselves imagine a life that they did not choose. 

But over the years, on blogs and messageboards and in personal life, I have seen so many people come through this. I think it is human nature to move on, survive, and thrive. Life is a joy, not a struggle. I'm not kidding.

Note: I've linked in the text to several of my posts which go into these feelings, and perhaps how I feel now about these issues, in more detail.

05 January, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: He belonged to all of us

On Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), a group of my cousins got together. An uncle – unmarried and with no children - had died a few months earlier, and we were preparing to scatter his ashes.

After we’d had a picnic and an all too brief catch-up (including the obligatory introductions to the children who had all appeared since our last meetings), we adjourned to the local cemetery to scatter some of his ashes on his parents’ grave. We then visited other family graves, and reminisced about the years when we were young and growing up together. 

Some of the cousins – those who had spent more time with my uncle in recent years - went home with little cannisters of ashes.

“At first, I didn’t like the idea of dividing his ashes and giving them out to everyone,” grimaced one cousin. 

“But then I thought about his life, the fact he had no children or wife, or other family. And it seemed right, because ... really ... he belonged to all of us.”

01 January, 2015

Blogging and World Peace

Those of us who blog as part of the infertility community know that we do so in a place of great stress, of hurt and pain and disappointment. But it can also be a place of great joy, of surprises, of elation and happiness and hope. Unfortunately, sometimes these intense emotions collide, and fight for space. This happens from time to time – I have been watching it happen periodically for over 12 years.

It happens throughout social media - on forums, on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Technology has given us many ways to connect, but equally it has given us many ways to be exposed to hurt and pain. Unfortunately too, it has given us many ways to inflict hurt and pain. And of course, “hurt people hurt people.” People lash out, people express themselves poorly, insensitively, and thoughtlessly, are sometimes intentionally cruel, or sometimes unintentionally cruel, and as a result some are terribly hurt.

When we go online, we know we are opening ourselves up to potential pain. Things are inevitably going to hurt us, because no one can please all the people all the time. There’s no way to avoid hurting anyone, so we are going to be hurt. That’s a given. I accept that. And if I am hurt, then I try to look inwards, figure out why something upset me, and maybe how I can respond rationally and sensitively and kindly, rather than lashing out. Lashing out only spreads the hurt, and never solves anything. Telling someone not to be hurt never stops the hurting either. (If only it did!)

In my earlier career, I was a diplomat. Diplomacy is under-rated. Analysing a situation, interpreting motivations, and expressing our responses in a way that promotes understanding are all skills that help us in life as well as international relations. As a result of certain family dynamics, I think I’ve been doing this – with varying degrees of success - all my life. Thinking about what I am saying, when and where I am saying it, and why I am saying it, is the first step. Endeavouring to understand another’s position, their pain and their feelings, is the next step. Trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and figure out what I might do if I were them, or why they might have acted in a particular way, can help me understand, and grow, and perhaps realise that the hurt was never really intentional.  (I try to practise this, but as with anything, it’s a work in progress.)

I think it’s the same in global politics as it is in family relationships, in friendships or in online social media. I think the world would be a better place if we all tried to understand each other, rather than react aggressively, unthinkingly. I just hope those whose instinct is to lash out will in time step back, think, and find another way to deal with their emotions. The fact this community is so diverse – globally, situationally, generationally, whether we are just starting out or have resolved our infertility a decade or more ago, parenting or not – means that we can learn and grow and accept and understand, and ultimately see each other differently. Our diversity is also our strength. I have learnt so much from others in the community, seen new perspectives, and hopefully given others insight into my lifestyle as well. We all have a place here.

Ultimately, I believe that the IF blogging community is dominated by love and support. And I do believe that. Maybe every year or two, I’m aware of a blow-up in the infertility community. I think it’s inevitable. But mostly disagreements are dealt with respectfully, without blame, thoughtfully, informatively. I see so much love, so much support, so much caring and sensitivity, so much kindness, on a daily basis. There is a quest for understanding, for self-improvement, for personal growth. There is honesty and pain and joy and laughter. And we all – those trying to conceive, those parenting after infertility, and those pursuing a life without children after infertility – participate in this, contribute to a conversation that needs to be had, that builds a loving community, and that helps people know they are not alone. Let’s not lose sight of that.