31 March, 2016

Broken bones and muscle memory

The last two months, life has been getting in the way of blogging. Not in a good way. First my mother died, and then was stress about fighting fees from her rest home and other financial issues, and now, after a moment's inattention at the top of some stairs, I've had surgery, ankle in a cast, and trying to learn to be comfortable on crutches. I've gone into more detail here on A Separate Life.

I had a few No Kidding thoughts. One was that I'd be completely helpless without my husband. Family and friends have children who are either adults or are old enough to be able to help. If I was single, I  simply wouldn't be able to live in this house. 

I have to give myself injections every evening, to avoid blood clots for the six weeks I will have my cast. The nurses were worried about me doing this myself. "No problem," I said. "I've done IVF." My first injection was last night. It's like riding a bike. It came automatically.

In X Ray, they still ask if there's any chance I'm pregnant. Apparently they are required to ask female patients up to 60 years old. One young woman apologised for asking. I cheerfully informed her I have no uterus. But said there wad a time that would have upset me. I remember well 13 years ago when I was sent for a chest x-ray to ensure my ectopic pregnancy wasn't in fact trophoblastic cancer. I was referred by the gynae ward, but the details didn't come through or were never read, And when asked if there was a chance I was pregnant, I dissolved into tears. Such a simple, necessary question had been so cruel then, and so unnecessary. This time, I didn't flinch. Or any flinching was purely habit, muscle memory, remembering the pain that no longer came.

Finally, I was never once asked if I had children. Three days of urgent clinics to the Emergency Department to the orthopaedic ward to operating theatre to recovery to physio to discharge, even with mention of IVF, I was treated as a human being first and foremost. That was what was important, not whether I had procreated or not. It was, frankly, a relief, given everything else that had been going on.

21 March, 2016

Speaking out

My name is Mali, and I have no children. I have no problem admitting this, and write openly about this fact, the issues around it, and my experiences both in terms of accepting that I could not have children, and in terms of embracing my life as a woman, not a mother.

Yet my name is not Mali, and I don’t publicise this blog to my wider group of friends and colleagues - though I expect I may do so one day - and I worry that this makes me a fraud.

The bottom line is that under my own name, I might be more hesitant, hoping to avoid both judgement and pity. What we write about, and why we write, can, unfortunately, be easily misconstrued, as I see sometimes in discussions with people who aren’t part of this community - even when they want to understand, they struggle.

But then I found this quote about speaking out and fear - born from different circumstances but no less relevant here - and my intentions for this space are renewed.

18 March, 2016

Life Without Baby - Claiming Your Right to Grieve Motherhood

In my very first month of blogging about my No Kidding life, back in November 2010, I was inspired to write a post after reading Lisa Manterfield, from Life Without Baby. That wasn't the first post she inspired me to write (to date, I count at least eleven!) and it certainly won't be the last. Today though, she has inspired a really important post. In fact, I am very honoured that Lisa has written a guest post for No Kidding in NZ, on claiming your right to grieve motherhood.

I never really encountered grief until I was in my late 30s and lost my first pregnancy. It was a shock. A year later, when I lost my second pregnancy, I thought that I had this grief thing figured out, and that I would get through it easily. I was so wrong! Further loss, including of motherhood, brought the realisation grieving was going to be different every time. Since then my father has died, and just recently, as you know, my mother. My emotional reaction to my mother's death - which has been different to the loss of my father, and that of my fertility and my babies - has once again been different than I expected.  Lisa's post therefore, is a timely reminder that we all need to grieve, and that we will all grieve differently, and at different times. This is, as she points out, normal and necessary.

Today's post is just a taste of what you'll find in Lisa's latest book, Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn't Happen.  In her book (you can get it here) she offers advice and presents exercises to help you work through grief and the issues raised when we are coming to terms with our lives without baby. Or go to her blog, and see her series of guest posts and interviews (a virtual book tour) all over the internet this month.

Besides sharing a love of travel and cats, Lisa also very much follows my approach (or did I follow her?) of blogging after infertility, with a strong focus on community and healing. We also have very similar views on life after infertility. She too acknowledges what she's lost, but embraces what she has now. The last sentence of her guest post (below) really says it all. Life is good for Lisa now - she's not kidding.


Claiming Your Right to Grieve Motherhood

Have you ever been to an event, sat through a movie, or even taken an innocent trip to the mall to shop for socks, only to end up huddled in the bathroom in floods of tears? Or perhaps a stranger’s casual “Happy Mother’s Day!” or “Do you have kids?” has made you want to scream expletives as your face burns with rage at the insensitivity of people.  Or maybe you’re experiencing a kind of low-level sadness that you can’t seem to shake off—a feeling that nothing in your life is ever going to feel right again. This, I’ve come to learn, is grief rearing its ugly head.
When I was coming to the end of my quest for motherhood, I had no understanding about grief.  I felt sad, angry, and frustrated that I wouldn’t get to be a mother. Some days I felt so irrational and crazy, I wondered if I was losing my mind. Other days I believed my my life would be meaningless without children. On those days, I wanted to crawl into bed and stay there for the rest of the year. I felt numb, absolutely wrung out, and physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. And yet I still didn’t register that this was grief. For me, grief is what we experience when we lose a loved one, but it turns out we mourn all kinds of losses, including the loss of motherhood.
When we lose a loved one, that loss is often sudden. Even if it’s expected after a long illness, someone’s passing is usually a significant single event that marks the end of a life and serves as a catalyst for our grief. Death offers us a permission slip to mourn, and those around us understand and (usually) make allowances for our grief. We might be permitted time off work and excused from social events, and most people will sympathize when we don’t seem quite ourselves.
This is seldom the case when it comes to the end of the journey to motherhood. Quite often our grief comes from an escalating series of losses, such as miscarriages, failed treatments, a failed relationship that we’d hoped would result in children, or any number of disappointments we endure. Even the arrival of a period every month can be one more reminder of what we’ve lost—a reminder whose regularity can feel like a cruel taunt. And these losses often don’t come to a forced conclusion—there always seems to be one more thing or one more time you could try—and so our grief builds until we are left to force an ending and draw a line in the sand that says “Enough!”
To make matters worse, we often experience these losses alone and in private. We can feel shame at being unable to conceive, and we encounter people who suggest we’ve brought our childlessness on ourselves by the “choices” we’ve made—as if deciding not to procreate with an ill-suited partner or electing to call a halt to expensive and painful treatments puts the blame on our own shoulders. And when we do confide in others, we’re met with unhelpful and unsolicited advice, such as “Why don’t you just adopt?”, or flippant comments, like “You can have my kids.” Even the most understanding friend or relative can’t really grasp the enormity of the loss of motherhood. And how could she, when we often don’t fully understand the extent of the loss ourselves?
Motherhood means something different to each of us, and it’s worth taking some time to dig into what the loss means to you, and to give yourself permission to grieve. People around you will have ideas about how you should go about grieving and how long it ought to take. You may even have your own expectations and impatience about “getting over it”. But, we’re all different. We each have different coping mechanisms and different ways in which we express our grief. It takes time—months, and sometimes years—to get through grief and to start healing.
Working through grief takes time. It’s not as simple as booking a week off work, taking care of your grief business, and then going back to normal. It’s doesn’t work that way. But you do have to create time and space in your life to allow yourself to grieve.
Many cultures and religions include an official period of mourning in their grief rituals. It’s a time for people to acknowledge their losses and feel permitted to be fully absorbed in grief. If you are able to take some time away from your normal life, even if it’s a day or two, do it. Take that time for yourself to just be with your grief. Maybe take a long walk, write in your journal, or just sleep. One couple I know booked a long weekend in a secluded cabin with the sole purpose of being miserable. They spent time together, talked about their loss, cried a lot, and ultimately came home feeling spent but united, and ready to face the future.
 Some companies offer bereavement leave because it’s understood that people need time off to deal with grief. While that usually only extends to the death of an immediate family member, consider creating your own bereavement leave if you’re able to get some personal time off. Even a weekend of zero obligations or a “mental health day” during which you just stay home and feel sad will give you that much-needed space for grief. Give yourself permission to be miserable, but give it boundaries. Create a limited safe time and space to open up that box of emotions and fully explore what’s inside. At the end of your period of mourning, plan to take one small, positive step toward moving forward. It could be as simple as taking a shower and getting dressed, or perhaps the first step toward a bigger goal, such as going to the gym or researching a class you’ve been wanting to take. You’re not going to push your grief aside forever, but you do need to pick yourself up and step out into the world so you can start living again.
Grief is unpleasant and exhausting, but it’s also an essential part of the healing process. It helps us to keep moving forward, to keep living. And it enables us to come to terms with a new kind of life and find meaning again. It doesn’t force us to get over our loss, but it does help us to get through it. The biggest travesty of all would be to allow the life you didn’t get to take over the life you still have.

Lisa Manterfield is the creator of LifeWithoutBaby.com, the online community that provides resources, community, compassion, and support to women facing a life without children. She is the author of Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and the award-winning memoir I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. She lives in Southern California, with her wonderful husband (“Mr. Fab”) and overindulged cat, where she is working on her latest novel.

14 March, 2016

Irritating ignorance

The other day, I received an email from someone marketing an ovulation testing website – or something like that, because, to be honest, I’ve forgotten exactly what it was and I deleted the email in anger.

It annoyed me for a number of reasons.

Clearly, the company had obtained my email address somehow from Resolve, as the email referenced my participation in past Resolve activities (I have sometimes joined their National Infertility Week or whatever they call it, and have linked blog posts to their site). I wonder, did Resolve itself feel it could forward my details to a company which was urging me to “keep trying?” Does this not conflict with the very name and purpose of their organisation?

Or did this company lift our email addresses somehow, and in a major marketing fail, completely misjudge its audience, not understanding that by the time we are engaging with Resolve, we are already experts on ovulation testing and a myriad other reproductive issues, and are often deep into the scientific, and very expensive, methods of trying to conceive or build families.

Or we already accept (or are working towards acceptance) that Resolve, in infertility terms, simply means to end our journey and move forward into our new lives, whether as parents, or as happy, independent adults.

Now that my irritation has dissipated, I can only laugh at their sheer ignorance.

07 March, 2016

Leaping to conclusions

Back in January, I was sitting in my car in the car park of a major store, getting some bad news about my mother, when I physically cringed at a personalised number plate, reading “IM A MUM.”

It irritated me, off and on, for a day, but when I was calmer, I asked myself why someone would get a number plate like that? Of course, if they were one of those women/couples who think that because they have been able to conceive and give birth they should be congratulated, my rolling eyes were valid.

But then I thought further, and thought that maybe they had been trying to conceive for years, maybe they’d endured multiple losses, maybe this was the last IVF cycle they could afford or were eligible for, maybe this was the culmination of their dreams against all odds. Maybe they had been so overwhelmed that it actually had happened to them, that they bought the number plate, forgetting perhaps how it felt to be on the other side, or maybe their husband or their parents or in-laws bought them the number plate to celebrate the birth. Or, of course, maybe it is to celebrate an adoption, which gives another spin on this.

The thing is, I don’t know, and likely will never know, so I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Accepting this makes me a lot less judgemental (in a whole range of situations), and actually helps take the pain away. 

03 March, 2016

Helping ourselves

I write (and comment) on self-compassion quite a lot. Maybe because I never really discovered it – or was never able to put it into practice – until my 40s. I don't think I'm alone there. I don't think I'm alone in saying I'm still working on it, either!

The reason I write about self-compassion is that I think we can be so hard on ourselves that we never give ourselves space to breathe, to just "be." Or – relevant to this community – we don’t allow ourselves to grieve, telling ourselves to “get over it” or to “suck it up,” or beating ourselves up for being weak. I think though, that by pushing ourselves constantly, harshly, we are living our lives falsely, denying who we are, or trying to force ourselves to be the people we would like to be. Perhaps we make it even harder to be the people we want to be, or the people we could truly become. In hindsight (it’s always in hindsight, isn’t it?), I know I’ve been guilty of this. I still am, if I’m honest, but less often.

I fear too, that in being tough on ourselves, we’re also tough on our relationships. We might take out this stress on our partners, or feel that it is only fair if they meet our exacting standards – after all, we’re trying to meet those same standards, why shouldn't they? Or perhaps we’re tough on ourselves by doing all the work in our relationships, or always taking the hurt, always trying to be the bigger person, protecting others, but not ourselves. None of this eases our hearts, or opens them to others, or allows us to show any degree of kindness to ourselves.

We’re so used to not showing ourselves compassion that the mere thought of it feels indulgent. It feels as if, by accepting our flaws and being kind to ourselves when we need it, we’re being weak, selfish, that we’re letting standards slip. It feels as if we’re giving ourselves an excuse to be lazy and become complacent. As if we’re giving ourselves a free pass to a self-indulgent life.

But I don’t think that self-compassion is a free pass. Clearly if we acknowledge our flaws, we can see room for change. That’s hard. It’s not the easy way out. Acknowledging and accepting our flaws is tough. In many ways it might be easier to just keep up the pretence, or to keep busy and not have to think about it, or worse, do anything about it. That might work for some people, but perhaps not in the long term. At same stage, I think it is healthier to be honest with ourselves, and to learn not to beat ourselves up. That’s wasted energy we could use on being the people we truly are, the people we truly want to be. Or on just being.