30 April, 2015

A snapshot in time

I’ve occasionally read posts by people who, after they have had their babies, have wished that  they could send a snapshot of their lives today back to their younger selves, a year or two ago, so that they could see that they would be okay, that they would get their “happy ending.”

I read these posts, and wish too that I could take a snapshot of my life now, and send it back in time to show myself when I was "in the trenches," or just at the end of my journey (and the beginning of the next one). I wish that the woman who had been stuck in the trenches, or was enduring loss, or was suffering in those first days, weeks and months after learning I would never have any children, could see the snapshots I’d send now. Could see in fact, the snapshots I’d have sent over the last ten years. I wish those who are now right in the midst of despair could see themselves in the future – happy and fulfilled, not despairing or bitter or sad, not living grey lives of unremitting sadness. I know many of them can’t imagine they’ll ever be in that position. And don’t want to imagine this. But they will.

Still, which ones would I send?

I could send a snapshot of me sitting at the computer, volunteering, helping people who were going through loss and infertility, learning more about myself every day, feeling valued, and having that reinforced by responses like this:
“ … this year was made so much more bearable by your kind and thoughtful and encouraging words.”

I could send snapshots of my travels, perhaps most recently of me hiking up to the Monastery in Petra, at the start of a five-month trip, to show that there is still excitement and adventure in my future.

I could send a snapshot of me  (and my husband) meeting Klara (and her husband) for the first time, or of a reunion with my ectopic internet friends a few months later, still close after over ten years.

I could send a snapshot of me chairing the Board of Directors after we had signed a huge contract, feeling relatively confident (never 100% - that just feels like arrogance to me), and managing to herd difficult personalities towards a result I wanted.

I could send a snapshot of me with my nieces, young and old, enjoying their company, loving them, shopping for them, no longer afraid of the feelings they might prompt.

Or I could send a snapshot of my husband and I celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary, happy and enjoying life.

Just because we didn’t get the result everyone who is still “in the trenches” desperately wants (to put it mildly), we can still take snapshots to show that a No Kidding life doesn't feel empty or shallow, but rich and fulfilling. Although we can’t send a snapshot back in time to our younger selves, maybe there is as much or more value in these snapshots if we take them and show them to those who  follow.  

27 April, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Change the way you think

That saying, I think, sums up the blogging world of those of us who have no kids not-by-choice. By blogging about the positives as well as the negatives, by talking about what helped us, by changing the way we think and look at the rest of our lives, we show that our lives are good. And most importantly, we show that it is possible to change the way you think. 

In the midst of grief and disappointment, you think you will never live happily without children, that you will always feel grief-stricken and left out. You don’t realise that you can and will change the way you think. You can do this consciously, first by simply recognising detrimental thought patterns, and then by pushing them away. It happens faster this way. But still, it will happen subconsciously, over time, as our psyches recognise that to survive, we need to appreciate what we have.

21 April, 2015

You are not alone

When I was going through my ectopic pregnancies, the waiting room of the outpatients’ service in the Women’s Health centre of our local hospital - where I spent an inordinate amount of time - had a large poster of a sad-looking woman.

“Miscarriage,” it said, “is very common, but also very lonely.”

Infertility is also, I have discovered, surprisingly common, but surprisingly lonely too. Coming out of infertility without children at all is lonelier still.
We probably all know someone who couldn’t have children or who faced infertility. As we were growing up, we went to school with children who were adopted, or we had an aunt or uncle who never had children. Since then, we might have experienced it closer to hand – with friends or relatives who couldn’t have children, or who never had them, and we don’t know if this was by choice or not-by-choice. Or we’ve experienced it personally. And we know that 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. That’s a lot! So why is infertility so lonely? I have a one word answer: Silence.

Infertility is a very intimate condition. Most of us don’t walk about talking about our sex lives. Most parents don’t talk about how their children were conceived. So it’s understandable that we don’t talk about our infertility.

When we find that we’re having problems, we feel embarrassed, and we feel shame. We feel shame that we are different from others, from the rest of the world who seem to get pregnant without problems. We feel shame when we are not connected, when we can’t do what is considered to be normal. And shame is, by definition, a very lonely state.

We feel less than, we feel as if we’re not “real women/men” because we can’t procreate, we feel flawed, dysfunctional, and worst of all, we feel judged. Judgement silences us.

Society is very cruel. People make comments like “you’re not a real woman until you’re a mother” or say to a man, thinking it's a joke, “show you’re a real man and get her pregnant.” They’re not funny, but they are so prevalent and so judgemental that they automatically silence us.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about infertility and assisted reproduction. So those who go through this and then manage to get their children don’t talk about it either. They might be so relieved they’ve joined the mainstream that they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Or perhaps they just don’t want to remember the difficult times. Whatever, there are a lot of people who have conceived via IVF or IUI or with donor egg or sperm or embryo, who don’t talk about their history, or who actively keep it secret.

Other people don’t want to talk about infertility, because they’re not good at talking about anything they don’t understand. They don’t like talking about difficult emotions, and they don’t want to upset us. So they change the subject, they pretend it's not happening, they hope we'll "get over it."

No wonder we are lonely. We don't talk about it and no-one else does either. We could be surrounded by others who have been through infertility, but you'd never know it.

The good news though is that, even when we know we will live our lives without children, live a No Kidding life, we don’t need to be lonely. There is a vibrant, supportive community on-line – whether through blogging, on Facebook or Twitter, or in numerous messageboards – and at every stage of the infertility journey. All we need to do is look.

We can find people who are going through the same things as we might be and can walk side-by-side with us, holding our hands, crying with us, or laughing at the absurdities. Or we might find those (like myself) who have already been through these things, have walked this path before, and can now help light the way for us all. You are not alone. We are not alone. And that makes all the difference.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week in the US:

20 April, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Pictures on the wall

It’s Monday, and I don’t have a pithy or meaningful quote prepared for you, or other comments on No Kidding life that I could distil down to eight sentences or less, so I thought I’d talk about photographs. Obviously I don’t cover my house with photographs of my children; instead, it is covered with travel photographs, or paintings or prints purchased overseas, or of a favourite destination. If I’d had children, I think it would still be covered with travel photos, though maybe they would be in the shots. (I've never really understood why you'd have huge photos of your kids on the wall, when they're right there in front of you!)

My black-and-white photo wall has been overdue for a change for a while. The photos themselves are simply printed out on my inkjet printer, and so after five or more years, they fade or yellow. It’s time for a change.

Here are some of the new photos I’m putting up:

17 April, 2015

"My loss meant I couldn't be there for my friend"

When going through infertility, we are very good at shaming and blaming ourselves. We get angry with our bodies for letting us down, we blame ourselves for not being the women (or men) we thought we would be, and we are often unforgiving of the grief and stress we feel, and can be very self-critical when we can’t be as supportive as usual in our friendships or other relationships.

I began writing this post as a comment – many months ago – to a blog post. “My loss meant that I couldn’t be there for my friend,” the blogger wrote. She was beating herself up because she was unable to be wholly joyful for her newly pregnant friend. It was pain upon pain. She was in pain because she was reminded of what she wanted, but may never be able to have. And she was in pain because that pain stopped her being the friend she wanted to be. She felt that her friend had been there for her when she had experienced grief. And she was angry and upset that she couldn’t be there for her friend, to help her celebrate her joy, to be a good friend. She wanted to “repay in happiness.”

This is a reasonable response you’d think. I know it is a very common one. I’ve seen many people agonise in this way over my years as a blogger and infertility/loss counsellor, the latest example only a few weeks ago. We are angry at ourselves that our pain affects how we respond to our friends, and that as a result, their experiences of pregnancy or parenthood may be negatively affected. “Why should their happiness or behaviour be restricted just because I can’t deal with it?” we ask. We beat ourselves up, and take on the responsibility for the entire relationship. We want them to be happy, and so we take on all the pain.

But it’s a friendship. True friendships mean that sadness is shared as well as happiness; there are good times and bad. Our friends or family have many other people who are able to share in their happiness, especially when it comes to pregnancy or pride in their children. They have plenty of other people with whom they can share their love or joy or pride. After all, happiness is something people find it easy to share in, and people flock around. If we withdraw a little on that issue, they may not even notice, because others will step in. Yes, you may both feel sad that you can’t share this aspect of their lives in the way you had hoped. But it is not your fault. You did not ask for this. Don’t play the martyr. Taking on all the pain is kind of insulting to your friends isn’t it? It implies they can’t be sensitive, or that they don’t want to be.

The thing is, I don’t think your sadness affects their happiness as much as their happiness affects your sadness. Does that make sense? None of it is intentional, of course. My friend’s marriage broke up unexpectedly, and she was devastated. Her sadness didn’t affect my enjoyment of my relationship. Actually, if anything it reminded me to cherish it that much more. It didn’t mar my milestone-anniversary celebrations at all. But I didn’t tell her all about the romantic dinner we had together either, or the night in the fancy hotel room. That would have been cruel; it just wouldn’t have been right. I didn’t need to share that in detail with her to appreciate what I had. In an open, true, and considerate friendship, we will always make adjustments, thinking of the other person as much as ourselves.

I’m not suggesting you should ask your friends to stay away when they are pregnant, or never to talk about their children. But asking for and expecting some degree of sensitivity is not unreasonable. It’s part of being in a relationship of equals. After all, friendships are not relationships where nothing bad ever happens to the people involved. Friendships are not relationships where we keep score, where there is a quid pro quo arrangement that requires we have to give and take equally all the time. Over the life of a friendship, they probably balance out, but when one friend is in the thick of sadness, there will be a time where they need more from the other, and vice versa. In a good friendship, I think that we give what we can when we can.

And we need to accept that we can and should be open to receiving what we need, when we need it. We should give our friends the opportunity to show they can be considerate too. We should give them credit for being thoughtful, thinking friends. We should honour the friendships, and recognise that making excuses for them, or not asking for what we need, isn’t really helping us do that. There’s a real risk that we’re going to feel resentful in the end, or that we’re going to withdraw from the friendship completely, to avoid the painful reminders. And that hurts both/all of you in the friendship.

A friend who doesn’t acknowledge their friend is in need is not much of a friend. What sort of friends would expect their friend in pain to hide that pain? What sort of friends would put their happiness above another’s pain? I acknowledge that some of us do have so-called friends like this. But my focus here is not really about them. It’s about the friends who care. The ones who know our situations. The ones who, if they knew how much we needed help or that we were hurt by ways that they behaved (ie talking all about their children all the time, or going on about a pregnancy), chances are they’d be only too happy to change. These friends would I think feel awful that they hadn’t realised earlier, and would only be too willing to adjust to help the friendship. I for one have felt very hurt that a friend hasn’t shared their pain with me, especially in an area when I think I could have helped. So is it fair to them if we hide how we feel? Is it fair to take some of the responsibility for maintaining and nurturing our friendship away from them?

I don’t think it is. I think that we should give them the chance to show that they can be considerate too. Give them the chance to tip the balance of thoughtfulness and care their way. To care for us and nurture us, in the way we would care for them and nurture them. Because none of us ever know when they might need us in return.

13 April, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Kicking out at my emotions

Savannah has a great post about venting her emotions by throwing a wet paper towel at the wall. (Read it – it is more than just the physical act.)

When I was going through my ectopics, a woman who has become a friend suggested some ways to get our anger out, and I don’t think I’ve ever shared them here.

  • Grab some old lipstick and scrawl whatever you want to say all over your (thankfully, easy-to-clean) bathroom mirror.
  • Open a cupboard, and scream into it. (The cupboard - especially if it is one filled with towels etc - muffles sound, so your neighbours won’t call the police).
  • Kick the living daylights out of a cushion or pillow - it won't hurt it.
I tried this with cushions from my couch, as they regularly needed to be fluffed-up. As I kicked the cushion back into shape, I gradually kicked harder and harder, taking out my anger at my situation on the cushion, and getting more and more strength from those very powerful emotions that were released. 

I confess I was not a little scared at how strong those emotions were – but I will also say that the release felt good!

08 April, 2015

A message to those who are hurting (themselves)

It is very hard for us to exercise self-compassion when we are hurting. But so often, what hurts most are our own views on a subject, and the very cruel judgements we make about ourselves. I know I do it - sometimes to feel that I am prepared for the worst case scenario in a particular situation, sometimes just out of habit.

When we are going through infertility or coming to terms with the idea of living without children, it is so very common to feel that we are not “real” women or men, that there is something wrong with us, that we are less of a person, and that we are not strong enough. In short, we beat ourselves up. We’re much harsher to ourselves than are (usually) any of our family or friends or colleagues.

And we can’t escape ourselves, we can’t get any respite from those negative thoughts. Daily we torture ourselves, daily we give ourselves the message that things will never get better, that we’ll never be happy, unless we get the “holy grail.” Daily messages dictate how we feel, how we think, and how we behave. When they are as destructive as this, as narrow-minded as this, as cruel as this, they need to change.

“But I can’t stop!” I hear you cry. “How can I not think these things?”

Imagine that your best friend or most beloved family member was in a similar situation, struggling with infertility, or at the end of their journey, unable to ever have children, to be parent. Would you stand over them, telling them to “get over it” or say cruelly, “you’re not a real woman (man)!” Would you say “you’re so weak, you’re not important enough to pass on your genes/parent a vulnerable child?” Would you tell them they were “less of a person?” Would you tell them it was their fault? Would you tell them they were worthless? Would you tell them “your life doesn’t matter because you’ve never had children?” And would you tell them “you’ll never be happy. Ever! Your life is over because you can’t have children?”

Can you imagine the pain that would cause to someone else? Would you ever say that to someone you loved? Would you say that to me? Or to any of those of us without children? Would you say it and believe it, if it wasn’t about you? Would you even think it? No. You wouldn’t. Of course not. You’d probably hold them (us) close, and surround them (us) with your love.

So why do you say these things to yourself? Don’t you deserve to be treated better than that? Don’t you deserve the same compassion that you would show someone else? Don't you deserve the intellect and logic that disputes all these stereotypes? And don’t you deserve to be held and loved and comforted?

The answer is yes. You do deserve it. I deserve it. We all deserve it. Giving that to myself was a gift. Recognising that I deserved this, accepting it, believing it, exercising it, helped me begin to heal. I hope with all my heart that it will help you too.

06 April, 2015

Eight things I wish I had known about grief

  1. Asking for help is hard, but healthy, and we should all do it more often. 
  2. There are ways to heal from disappointment and loss, even when it feels as if that is impossible. 
  3. Forgive myself - my body, my thoughts, my actions (or lack of actions).
  4. Let go of the guilt. 
  5. Love myself  and take care of myself. 
  6. Cherish what I have. 
  7. Exercise love and compassion towards others. 
  8. It gets better, and I will be okay. 

01 April, 2015

Gifts of Infertility Series - #20 - Freedom

When you don’t have children, there are some very obvious freedoms. The freedom to do what we want, when we want, without having to consider the abilities and needs of a child, is often cited as one of the advantages of not having children. For me (and my husband), this means we can eat whenever we want, sleep in, go out spontaneously or stay out late, turn the music up loud at any time of night and call to each other across the house without worrying we’ll wake a child up. And I can use the F word or any other less than polite language, whenever I want, without fear that a young one will pick up on it and repeat it at an awkward time. It also means we can eat whatever we want when we want. We’ve lived in Thailand, and we’re partial to spicy food – curries, and a more recent favourite, Moroccan tagines. We rarely drink to excess, but could without worrying about the responsibility for a child in the house.

A freedom that is (or has been at least) very important to my husband and me is the freedom to travel, and to choose the best times to travel. We haven’t been restricted to travelling during school holidays, when prices are more expensive, flights and hotels and rental cars more difficult to get, and attractions more crowded. Puglia in September, when children pretty much all over the world are at school, was pleasantly (but not overly) warm, and blissfully quiet.

Not having children means that we get to take time off together too. Many parents go for years having separate time off – simply because they have only so many weeks of leave per year, and children have many more weeks of holiday/vacation.

These freedoms are, as I said, quite obvious. They’re the ones trotted out routinely when we (or others) look at the benefits of a no kidding lifestyle (and some of which I covered in #9 of this series). They’re often the ones used to accuse us of being selfish, but that’s another issue (and one I’ve covered before).

But infertility gave me another gift of freedom. Society is very judgemental, and it seems to me that parents are under a lot of pressure to conform. I’ve always chafed against rigid expectations and societal roles – I’m too much of a feminist for a start, and I don’t like people assuming what I will do. A woman without children already throws people off a little; we’re not as easy to categorise and stereotype. I actually don’t mind that. As I don’t fit into the rigid structures and societal expectations of what is “normal,” I don’t have to spend energy in trying to conform. I can therefore experience a different type of freedom. A freedom that enables me to spread my wings, maybe take more risks, because I’m not caught in those roles where I must be focused on “working hard and raising kids.”

Oddly, this gives me freedom from judgement too. I can decide to do pretty much anything, and the judgement will be less because I don’t have to “think of the children.”

For me too, there is a freedom of thought, of ideas. I’ve been thinking about my life and life in general, freed from stereotypes or clichés. (It has to be noted too that I have the time and space to think too, rather than postponing deep thoughts because I am too busy raising children.)

Of course, I haven’t had much choice about this – though maybe that is as much to do with my personality as it does my no kidding life. When you don’t have children, many of us start asking questions like “what is my life for?” or “why am I here?” or “what does this mean?” The gift of infertility is that I have looked and found some answers. When you don’t get what you want in life, you either have to find a way to make sense of it and learn to accept it, or get stuck in your old way of thinking, forever miserable. That’s not much of a choice. We’re forced to think about things when we live this life. So I’ve been thinking. Mostly here, on this blog, but frequently on your blogs (in the comment sections) too.

This has given me a true freedom in many ways. My attitudes towards my life, my legacy, my material possessions, my career, my friends and family, and what constitutes as “success” have all changed as a result of infertility. I write about that here, on this blog and in this series, and there are a few more posts to come that might touch on this.

I feel freed by the conclusions I’ve come to, and many burdens I’ve carried have been lifted by this growth. I’ve thought through many ideas, cast off what doesn’t work for me, and come out of it feeling embraced by freedom. I don’t think I have all the answers. Of course I don’t. And sometimes, as we know, the answer is that there is no answer. But I have found enough answers that have made a difference to the way I look at, and live, life.

Actually, those answers – or the ongoing quest to find those answers - have made a difference to the way I feel. That’s the gift of infertility. It forces us to look at our lives and life in general in a different way. Of course, we can only do this when we are ready. But I know that I wish I had been able to see my life like this long before I faced infertility. Infertility freed my mind in ways I couldn’t imagine. I hope it frees yours as well.