31 August, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: There are no shortcuts to healing

About 13 years ago, Sarah, a wise friend with an amazing spirit, gave me a hard-to-hear message during my second ectopic pregnancy. “Unfortunately,” she said, “you don’t get a Get Out of Jail Free card just because you’ve done this once, and you will have to go through it all over again.” When Sarah said those words to me, I didn’t realise that I’d have to go through it all a third time (as in fact she also had done), when I would have to grieve and accept a life without children.

I remember also being frustrated the only time I saw a counsellor, and realised (in horror!) that there were no tools or techniques that would help me cope with loss or childlessness, there were no short-cuts, no easy or painless steps towards healing that would magically turn my life around.

The truth is that we can do everything we think we need to do to be happy in our new life – we can stop (or choose not to start) treatments/adoption proceedings, pursue new interests, move away, try to bring children or nurturing into our lives, quit our jobs or change our professions, travel, volunteer, etcetera – but if we haven’t done the emotional work of grieving and acceptance (of our situations and be ourselves),  no changes in lifestyle or profession or relationships will really help us.

Even if I had known then what I know now, understanding what helped me and what held me back, I still needed to go through it all to come out the other side. I’m glad though. Though the long way round is very hard, I have met wonderful people along the way, learned important lessons, and grown in ways I would never have imagined.

29 August, 2015

Practising self-compassion

I saw the light this morning in bed. Actually, I didn’t see the light,not literally, because the curtains were still closed, but you know what I mean. I was having a lazy Saturday morning lying in bed, reading blogs and books and articles on my iPad, with a nice cup of tea delivered by my husband. (Some of the joys of not having kids!) Two things came together for me.

The first was a paragraph written by Brené Brown. You probably know I love her work on shame, as I think it relates very accurately to the experience of infertility. (See my post on Infertility and shame here.) As I read her, it explains time and time again why I’ve felt a particular way, and why something I’ve done or thought has worked for me, allowed me to feel better about myself after infertility.

She wrote about self-compassion in one of her earlier books (The Gifts of Imperfection - which I’m finally reading), and noted that in learning self-compassion, we need to set boundaries. In having compassion for ourselves, we can’t let people walk all over us, we can’t allow ourselves to be pushed around, or belittled.

The first step is to stop belittling ourselves, telling ourselves that we are lesser women (or men) because we can’t have children, that our lives aren’t worth as much, or that we have no future. If we tell ourselves this, and let ourselves repeat these beliefs and accusations over and over again, we’re just beating ourselves up. We’re creating victims, and we’re not being truthful. I understand how painful it can be – I’m an expert at berating myself for particular activities, and I can be very good at worrying about imagining that other people think the worst about me. But these days, I am better at stopping that train of thought when I recognise it. I’m better at realising that I think these things, but it doesn’t mean other people think these things about me. And I’m better at remembering that ultimately, we are all self-centred, and so other people probably aren’t thinking these negative things about me at all, because they’re busy at thinking them about themselves!

The next step is to stop letting others belittle us. I’ve done this in two steps. The first was to realise that so many of our attitudes, and therefore society’s attitudes, towards the childless is a massive stereotype, rarely thought through, and just not logical. We’re not selfish, we do know what love is, and we do leave a legacy.

The second step is more personal, and it is to stop putting other people’s opinions and feelings before our own. Sure, there are times this is appropriate. But not all the time. And that’s often the problem – that we are constantly putting others before ourselves. Believe me, I was taught this from a young age. This morning, I saw a post from Kathleen on Life Without Baby, talking about the responses from people when they received her wedding invitations. “I received several variations of “Didn’t know you were pregnant – har har!” She felt it would have been rude to point out that this was not possible any more, and that she was sad about that.

I was shocked, I will admit. Why would it have been rude to respond with her suggested, very polite response? Her feelings matter. When people make jokes and they hurt, why should we feel we have to take it, and not respond? (Yes, I know that sometimes it’s not worth it – but that’s a different question than whether it is rude.) It’s the same as those who wonder how to respond when we are asked if we have children, and why not? I don’t think it is rude to simply say no, to refuse to share why we don’t have children, or to tell them everything and point out that we are sad about the fact we don’t have children. And if, by telling them or not telling them, they learn the lesson that we don’t appreciate jokes about being pregnant, then that’s okay. It’s certainly not rude. It is my story, it is my truth, it is my pain, and I have a right to share that, or not share it, with whomever I choose. It is okay to point out that I am not selfish, that I know what love is, and that I do leave a legacy if I feel someone is perpetuating stereotypes that hurt me, and others. If I set boundaries that protect me, that are respectful of my situation and history, and enforce them gently and tactfully, it doesn’t hurt anyone else. (Indeed, it might educate them). But not setting boundaries undoubtedly will hurt me, and in turn, it hurts my relationship with others, whether on a large scale (society) or in an intimate one-on-one relationship.

And this was Dr Brown’s conclusion. If we let others ride roughshod over our feelings, then we will feel anger, resentment, and bitterness towards them, and towards ourselves. It makes it harder for us to be kind and compassionate back to them, to tend to the relationships, to be open and honest. Once we practice self-compassion and exercise boundaries, it is easier to bring others into our lives and hearts, to be kind and considerate, and compassionate to all. And ultimately, find it easier to love and accept ourselves as we are.

24 August, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: "Only a parent ..."

Over the years, quite a few women have said to me, “MY child won’t do X” or “OUR relationship is different, we’re very close!” only to be (predictably) proved wrong as their children grew up. In another conversation with a woman I know well, the "only a mother ..." and "only a parent ..." comment was uttered in this context repeatedly, blocking any possibility of a real discussion and the consideration of alternate views. It was clear that my role in the discussion was intended to be one of support, nodding and sighing, and validating the parent's decision. Whilst I couldn't bring myself to put my heart into this, I also couldn't put the child's case, as I wanted to do. My restraint was impressive (if I do say so myself)!

Later I said to my husband,

"Only a parent can be so self-righteous that they are blinded to the truth."

He laughed, we shrugged, and then went back to whatever we were doing.

21 August, 2015

The happiest times of our lives

Some time ago, Jamie wrote a post about mothers who are certain they’ll look back on the time with their children as the happiest in their lives.

Whilst I might have a counter to that – that mothers probably feel they have to say that or the world will judge them harshly, and that it is also probably the most stressful time of their lives (when I think about mothers I know, or follow) – I guess mothers do, in general, look back on the time with their children and remember the good times, and their love for the children.

“What do childless people look back on?” Jamie wondered. (Apologies to Jamie – I can’t find the post right now).

I thought that was a good question, and – given my advanced years - decided I wanted to answer it, from my perspective.
  1. I look back on my school years. I was achieving well, and the world was my oyster. Yes, it was painful, as our teenage years are often filled with emotional angst, cliques at school, pressure to perform. But overall, I have very good memories of my school years.

  2. My AFS year in Bangkok when I was 17-18. Though I wouldn’t say it was the happiest time of my life, it was the most extraordinary year, the most life-changing year, and one I have many happy memories from.

  3. My years as a diplomat in Thailand ten years later, with my husband, when we explored Thailand and Southeast Asia together, gave me wonderful personal and professional experiences.

  4. I would also look back on my volunteering days. I was healing after loss, and coming to terms with childlessness, learning contentment and mindfulness, and knowing I was helping people. It was a time of growth and insight and friendship, and was very rewarding. It was completely unselfish – well, apart from the good feelings I got from doing it – unlike looking after my own nuclear family would have been, and that also makes it a very special time.

  5. My travelling years – which overlapped with some of the worst times of my life – started in earnest in the late 1990s. In fact, last year was the first year we haven’t been overseas since … I think … about 1996! We loved travel, we could finally afford it (unlike now), and there were so many places to go. We would go on a trip, and while we were away, we’d often start thinking about where we wanted to go next! I have such great memories from our travels, even the trip to Vanuatu between our two IVF attempts, when we went snorkelling, and attempted sailing on a small catamaran but didn’t know how to turn it around! Even when I was sad because I was recovering from a lost pregnancy (our France trip), or cancelled IVF (Vanuatu), or my father’s death (Queensland), I have fond memories of each place. Perhaps in some ways, the memories of those places are special because of the sadness, and are worth keeping too.
So just because I don’t have children, I still have plenty of times that I can think of that I was happy. I may not have one period of 20 years that I can say were the happiest of my life. But perhaps that’s a bonus – I can look at my life as a whole, and say I had many happiest times of my life. Sure, it has had ups and downs, but much more happiness than sadness. And I’ve still got retirement (provided we can save enough money for it) to look forward to!

What would be your happiest times?

17 August, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Running out of time

This last year I’ve been looking for jobs. I’ve applied for the few jobs that are appealing and relevant to me and my experience and abilities, attended a few interviews, and in between have been thinking about what I would really like to do. (Yes, I’m still trying to decide what I’d like to be when I grow up!)

My husband has also been without work for most of that time (though not just now), so I’ve been fretting about retirement savings, worrying about what sort of a lifestyle we’ll be able to live when we’re old. And of course, that becomes a little more pointed when there are no children to take up any slack, in the way that my sister or I can – if necessary – for my mother.

I feel as if I’m running out of time, and that is a bit of a flashback to trying to conceive, when I knew I was running out of time there too. The insecurities are different, but - like infertility - I struggle to escape them, even when I know I'm highly skilled and employable.

Yet today, I feel hopeful, simply because I feel good, I’ve worked out this morning, had a coffee that has perked me up, and I’m sitting at the computer, focusing on the good in my life, and ready to rock!

10 August, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: It's over!

Last week on #Microblog Mondays, Cristy asked her readers to finish the sentence, “Infertility is ________.”

My first reaction was a rude word, as I remembered my own pain, and thought of all the people I know, and all those I don’t, who are going through pain right now because of infertility.

Closely followed on the heels of that expletive that first shot to mind/fingers/lips, was the sudden realisation that the word I was really looking for was “over.”

Of course, I am living with the results of infertility, and I always will – and that means that there are times I will feel sad or regretful about what never was. But for me, happily, infertility is over, and no longer has day-to-day power over me.

Discovering that I feel this way was liberating - I felt a burden had lifted, and stood taller, straighter, stronger -  as it means I have done the grieving, endured the growth pains, and moved through healing to a good place. With the will to grow and to embrace our lives, I think this is the inevitable destination for all of us on this journey. Arriving at “over,” all we have to do now is just live.

03 August, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Not sleeping? A tip.

When I lived in Thailand as a teenager, I kept a diary. Turns out, I’m crap at keeping diaries - Samuel Pepys or Anne Frank I am not! My daily entries often consisted of a list of what I’d eaten - interesting only because I was living in Thailand – but they tell me little about how I felt or what I was thinking. My letters home though, were much more enlightening, perhaps because I like to talk to people, and a letter – like a blog - is more of a conversation?

Blogging too is more like writing letters, and tells me much more about my thoughts and feelings than keeping a diary every did for me. Except for when I was going through infertility and loss, when I was often kept awake at night, thinking about treatments or my losses and the details - always the details - of what had happened recently. I would go over and over events and hormone levels and doctor’s comments, in an effort to remember them, worried I'd forget the details of what I'd been through, or worried about what people might be thinking, and what I might say to them. Finally, I realised that writing these things down before I went to bed freed me of that need to churn it all over and over, it reduced my stress levels, and made it so much easier to turn off my brain, breathe deeply, and fall asleep.