27 June, 2016

Blog posts I won't be writing

A continuing series
  • Posts that list prompts that focus on being a parent, and “your” child. I’ve done that already, and have made my point that these posts can almost always be rephrased to be more inclusive, so as I don’t want to keep reminding any of us of what we have lost by continuing these posts, I have finally deleted all those prompts I won’t be using.
But that got me thinking about the other posts I don't want to write here:
  • Posts lamenting what should have been, because I don't feel this language is helpful. I may however, occasionally touch on what might have been, and will always try to be balanced, if not in one post, then in a follow-up.
  • Any post that says "you can achieve anything if you want it enough," because we, of all people, know this isn't true, whether it refers to becoming a parent, or whether it refers to achieving happiness, it only spreads blame and smothers empathy.
  • Posts that ignore the pain and heartache it takes to get to a good place.
  • Posts that deny that we can, indeed, get to a good place, a happy place.

23 June, 2016

Avalanche: A Book Review

Several weeks ago, I was sent a review copy of a new book - I don’t know the author, and have no connections with the publisher, but they’d found my blog. I was under no obligation to write a review, but when I stayed awake to 1 am to finish it, I knew I was going to do so.

Julia Leigh's Avalanche is a small book, split into two sections. The first deals with her marriage and first forays into trying to have a child with her husband. Their relationship was obviously complicated, and I couldn’t really relate to this part of the book at all. Following their divorce, the author then pursued IVF with a donor, and tells her story of the process, the reactions of those around her, and some of her own thoughts.

The author is a novelist and a film director, and she knows how to convey emotions and events. Her writing is often beautifully spare – something I envy, but can only rarely achieve. There is much unsaid in this book, subtly mentioned or only hinted at, events and conversations and observations recounted with no embellishing commentary. Having been around IVF and writing and thinking about the assisted reproduction world for a long time now, I enjoyed these subtle mentions, recognising them immediately, laughing or flinching or rolling my eyes in disgust at a simple sentence that said so much.

But, as Sarah said, there is a “shady abyss that lies between what is obvious to me and what is obvious to everyone else.” So I worry that the average reader – perhaps someone who was reading this to learn about the process, or to find out how to support someone who had been or was going through IVF – might miss these hints completely. I fear that the impact of the beautiful brevity of her words will sadly be lost, because the messages are there.

Still, for me there was a delightful feeling of being in the club, for once I could get the jokes (and weep the tears), and was in the circle.

I started trying to conceive in my mid-late 30s, and so could very much relate to some of the issues the author raised. This one in particular, made me laugh in recognition, and cringe at my naivete:
 “It seemed that every second day a celebrity in her forties was having a baby. I gratefully swallowed the evidence.”
We start to see her recognition that women without children are subject to judgement not empathy:
“In the public imagination – as I perceive it - there’s a qualified sympathy for IVF patients, not unlike that for smokers who get lung cancer. Unspoken: “You signed up for it, so what did you expect …?”
 She touches too on what drives many of us to have children, and why we feel so bereft when it doesn’t work.
“Part of me wanted to have a child just so I could have an inviolable reason for being.”

The loss so many of us feel when we can’t have children, yet which the majority of society don’t see as a loss or grief, is painfully acknowledged in this paragraph:
“I’m an expert at make-believe. Our child was not unreal to me. It was not a real child but also it was not unreal. Maybe a better way to say it is that the unknown unconceived had been an inner presence. A desired and nurtured inner presence. Not real but a singular presence in which I had radical faith.A presence that could not be substituted or replaced.”
I am also sure we could all relate to her gratitude to the doctor who referred to the embryo as “the baby,” even though she herself lists the damning statistics of the likelihood of her embryos ever being born.

It took me many years before I could say the words, “infertile” or “infertility,” so I had to laugh in recognition at this:
“Infertile. A slip of the tongue. … I wasn’t infertile I was ‘trying to get pregnant.’”
She makes the usual observations – usual for us, perhaps not for those who have never been infertile or childless by chance/circumstance – about pursuing motherhood in our modern, Western societies. I found her contrast with the Australian Torres Strait Islanders, where she noted that a “clinic on the island would almost certainly go bankrupt” to be interesting, as there was a real similarity with the Maori and Polynesian peoples here in New Zealand. Likewise, adoption seems to be equally difficult in both our countries.

She goes into some details of the process of IVF, and this would be useful for anyone – in particular I think for those who have friends or family going through this.
“An uncharitable thought ... IVF seemed to be a great deal about levels and cut-offs. If number X, then do Y. I wondered if it was the medical equivalent of conveyancing in the legal world, which is to say, largely formulaic, a matter of following protocol.”

“It seemed that only a veil of science shrouded the vast mystery.”
She talks about costs, and how suddenly $5-600 seems like nothing at all, an incidental add-on when, even though some of her costs were recoverable through Australia’s Medicare system, she was spending thousands of dollars every cycle. Then there was this one, simple sentence that says it all:
“In the parking spot reserved for Medical Practitioners Only I noticed a Bentley.”
The emotional impact of doing IVF is clear throughout the book, and she writes about not talking about IVF, and about feeling smaller, less than, “pathetic,” and about the isolation of going through this.

Finally, she acknowledges that there “… was another way out of limbo. The dark and rocky path.”
She doesn’t touch on the dark and rocky path in any detail. But she does touch on the doubt I’m sure we have all felt when first venturing out on that path.
“I tried everything. But did I? Did I really?” 
The book is subtitled A Love Story. There are at least three if not four love stories here – the one with her ex-husband, with the child she hoped to have, the ongoing love story with her nieces, and finally, rediscovering a love story with both herself and the world. I hope this acknowledgement of healing and recovery will give hope to others who may be facing the dark and rocky path – the one that, as I always say, leads up into the sun with expansive, if different, vistas.

20 June, 2016

A thread in my tapestry

I have just finished reading On Top of Everything by Sarah-Kate Lynch, a New Zealand writer of generally light-hearted fiction who is always likeable, with a good sense of humour and lovely turn of phrase. As well as enjoying the characters, laughing at some of the comments, and drooling over a  recipe for a chocolate cake, this book also had me in tears a number of times, discussing grief and loss in many forms, including (but not only) infertility, childlessness by circumstance, and loss.

A message I try to express, but never so beautifully, about healing from grief is noted in the following line:
“It’s like he’s a thread in my tapestry, not the whole wall hanging …”
I was also please to find a comment that expresses how I feel about my ectopics and infertility, in that I discuss them only when I deem appropriate, and don't feel at all obliged to share my losses with others unless I am comfortable with doing so.

“I wouldn’t be bring him out like that and introduce him to someone unless I thought it would be of some help.”
She talks about grief and vulnerability, aptly saying:
“Accepting sympathy means you’ve
dropped any pretence of not needing it
and that leaves you raw.”
 And finally, perhaps my favourite, 
“nobody escapes the pitfalls of being a human being.”

18 June, 2016

No Kidding in NZ reaches out into the world

Well, my last post was about those living no kidding lives venturing out into the world. Now this one is about me AND my No Kidding blog reaching out into the world.

BlogHer have featured my post "It gets easier" this week. You can see it here. I've even signed up properly to Twitter, though I don't use it so don't expect to see me there much! (@MaliNZ)

16 June, 2016

No Kidding out in the world

There have been some very good pieces this last week about coping in the real world, and self-protection. Bamberlamb and Sarah wrote about the realities of living in the real world, and Mel (who wrote about doing what is hard, though in a non-IF context), and Bent Not Broken (who wrote about self-protection) talked about the decisions of how to deal with the realities of life. As I moved from post to post, I felt the links, the continuity, between all these thoughts and issues.

Navigating a world where having children is the norm, when we aren’t part of that norm, is a feature of our lives. Back when I had my ectopics, I used to talk online to a friend about not belonging to the club, feeling isolated and apart, and she suggested setting up our own club, where we would have to be Club Leaders. A decade later, I see this happening more and more online – and even occasionally  in person. But when we don’t have the opportunity to meet up in our No Kidding Clubs  (ie 99% of our lives), we really need wider society to understand (or even to seek to understand), and because they can’t and don’t and won’t, we can feel isolated and vulnerable.

In particular, Sarah’s phrase -  “this thing we child free not by choicers are missing when we go out in the world” – spoke to me deeply. This is what the “others” don’t understand, even when they are broadly sympathetic. They don’t walk out into the world as we do, with our history, our losses, our reality. It’s the reality of feeling left out in social gatherings, when listening to political speeches, and in the heart and bosom of our families, when we realise we don’t count because we don’t have children.

(This doesn’t just apply to those of us without children either. There are myriad groups in society who also feel isolated, who are accused of being overly sensitive, who are criticised when they try to self-protect. It is what statements about privilege are all about, trying to get people to understand that their reality – what they face when they go out in the world - is not the reality for us all.)

So when we go out in the world, perhaps feeling isolated and ignored, how do we deal with this? Do we just suck it up, do the hard thing, pretend everything is okay, or do we self-protect? When is self-protection appropriate, and when is it just taking the easy way out?

I have often worried that others will think I am being overly dramatic, wallowing in my losses, and seeing artificial barriers. I felt weak when I didn’t want to be around children or pregnant women. I wondered if I was just taking the easy way out, if I was being a coward, if I needed to just suck it up. This was what I had heard or imagined other people saying. What I was actually doing was putting other people’s ignorant and privileged thoughts or words or actions before my own reality. And of course, sometimes I still do.

That’s not surprising, because emotional weakness wasn’t really acceptable when I was growing up. For years I felt I had no option but to do the hard thing, do what was expected, what was necessary. Doing the hardest things have sometimes, for me, given me the greatest rewards. Yet it isn’t always the right thing for me. The trick is balance, and figuring out when the easy way out is just a cop out, and when it is the right thing to do, changes depending on circumstances, on emotions, on people you’ll be with, on healing, on time. After grief, I started giving myself permission not to always do the hard thing. I needed too, to acknowledge that opting for self-protection, sticking up for ourselves, is sometimes the very hardest thing to do.

I’ve become quite good at this, at assessing what is real, when I need to protect myself, when I’m imagining the worst-case scenarios, when I need to push myself out into the world and when I can hide from it. Yet still I wonder and worry from time to time – especially as time passes, over a decade later – whether my continued focus on and exploration of my life without children (here on this blog, for example) is self-indulgent, melodramatic, wallowing?

And so these posts were a welcome reminder that it is okay to recognise that I walk a different path than others. Healing and acceptance, and a happiness with my life, aren’t a denial of the fact that I walk a different path than most. Talking about my different path isn’t complaining or wallowing, it is reaching out for understanding. Likewise, I am allowed to feel the impact of other people’s stereotypes or views, and – as a friend at brunch on the weekend pointed out – I don’t have to shrug them off and pretend they don’t hurt, or that they don’t exist. Feeling a slight against me, acknowledging that it has hurt, doesn’t mean that I am weak, that I am overly sensitive, or that I’m not really healed. It’s part of my life, and by not acknowledging these, I am ignoring my own reality. It’s bad enough that others do this to me, but I can’t do it to myself.

I say these words to others. I stand by them. I believe them. I live by them. But sometimes I slip, I admit that. So perhaps I need to say these words to myself more often.

13 June, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Books

Nothing pithy or thoughtful today, as I’ve been thinking about some other things this week, and my brain is all used up.

So this is merely a Watch This Space post, flagging that I’ll be doing some book reviews over the next week or two. It does seem to be book review week, as last week I wrote a post over on A Separate Life outlinging the books I read during my convalescence, that was my first book review post there, and given the crickets in the comments section, might be my last too!

I have however reviewed books here – I reviewed Pamela’s Finally Heard last year, though I just realised today I haven’t reviewed Lisa’s recent book here yet (though I did review on Amazon and Goodreads) either! A few weeks ago I was sent a review copy of a new book about a woman’s experience of IVF in Australia, which – along with the approach for the AWW article – means that No Kidding is showing up more often in searches! I finished it at 1 am this morning, but I have too much to say to fit in a MicroblogMondays eight sentence post, so will review it over the next week or two.

I find book reviews quite difficult, as - through my book club, and through seeing the reactions to various books written in this community – I am acutely aware that what speaks to me doesn’t necessarily speak to others, and vice versa. Still, all I can do is be sensitive and honest.

09 June, 2016

When the absence of hope is a good thing

A week or two ago, I was reading a novel (We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek) that had an interesting comment on hope, and I thought it was worth sharing here, given that hope is such an major part of the infertility journey, and of our childless life.

The idea was that hope allows for the possibility that the desired outcome won’t come about. Hope means that whilst we hope something will happen, we know that it might not. This seems a perfectly reasonable comment to me, but one I’d never really considered!

It seems to me, therefore, that when many people say they’re filled with hope they’re actually saying they’re filled with certainty that they’ll get their happy ending. I’m pretty sure we’re all like this (unless we have had a diagnosis prior to beginning our quest to have children). We start trying to get pregnant, sure that it will be possible. When we realise that this might not be so simple, doubt starts creeping in. Are we hopeful, or are we still sure that it won’t happen to us? I guess it varies. Some of us go into denial, confident that we’ll find a way. Some of us start to realise that it might not be possible, shocked to see our confidence and certainty disappear, and we cling on to hope, though see it receding. That element of hope though - even when we fully realise that we might not be able to achieve our preferred outcome, even when we are terrified that this might happen – can keep us going and give us strength. Yet hope can also torture us into continuing treatments even when we know we should stop. Hope – it is very complicated.

I’ve heard some people say that they think it might be easier If they didn’t have hope, as they deal with the agonising stresses of assisted reproduction or waiting for adoption or the month-by-month waiting of trying to conceive. Elaine, a new blogger who has guest-posted on hope this week on Klara’s blog here, notes that there is indeed a sense of relief when letting go of hope.

But she adds that then you have to grieve, and “that was no fun at all.” I have also said that at first I felt that the loss of all hope was harder than having it. And so for a while we live with a certainty that our lives are never going to be happy.

But then hope sets in again, bringing in at first cracks of light, allowing for the possibility that maybe our lives won’t be so hard after all. Hope returns, but for something else.

Then, to come full circle, I think hope goes away again. A new certainty takes root, the certainty that I and and will be okay, that a life without children is not only worth living, but worth celebrating. In that case, I don’t need to have hope that I will have a good life. Because I know I will.

06 June, 2016

Being honest about jealousy

Infertility bloggers are amongst the most honest people I know – maybe they are the most honest. They’ve had to deal with some difficult emotions, have had to face the fact they can’t do (easily, or at all) what others just take for granted, and they’ve had to face their demons. One of those demons we talk about regularly is that of jealousy, as we beat ourselves up for envying others, though so often what we are really feeling is sadness that we can’t experience what comes to others so easily.

This weekend, I confess that I am jealous - not of happy families or parents, but of other No Kidding bloggers. You see, a group of our esteemed colleagues got together this weekend, meeting up in person after getting to know each other online through the written word ("getting to know each other inside out" to quote my friend Sarah).

I wished I could have gone, though Vancouver is a long way to go for a weekend! I am very happy for the ones who are there, and I am hopeful another such gathering might occur some other time and some other place (New Zealand anyone?), when I can attend.

In the meantime, though, I confess that I am just plain and simply jealous!

03 June, 2016

It gets easier

No Kidding in NZ’s main message - to those who are struggling, or contemplating the end of their infertility journey - is that it gets easier. Eventually, we can even say it becomes easy. As much, of course, as life is ever easy.

Is that sending the wrong message to “outsiders,” a recent accusation? Does saying that “it’s easier or easy lead to outsiders dismissing the challenges that come with being childless after infertility?” Is it dismissing the struggle we’ve been through? Is it dismissing the painful moments we still face?

I don’t believe so. I feel no guilt for the way I write, and I have no regrets. But I do feel called to respond to this, in case there are more readers who feel this way.

First, I write this blog for myself, and those also experiencing this journey, than I do for those who have not been through it. Telling those in pain that it gets easier is both truthful, and compassionate. It’s not dismissing their pain. I believe that I recognise that pain here. But I don’t want them to think that the pain they might fearfully anticipate, or that they are suffering right now, will last forever. I want to convey my reality, and the reality of others I know who have been through this, that it doesn’t always hurt.

Secondly, I also advocate speaking out –  not necessarily in public (that is great, but we don’t all feel we can do it or have the opportunities to do so), but in a smaller, more personal way, to individuals who might dismiss our struggles, or who might not recognise that what they think is inevitable doesn’t need to be that way. My recent posts here and here are an example of that. I am keen for people to recognise our reality of living without children, and its challenges in a society where 20% of the population who will never have children are largely ignored. I believe I do my bit in conveying to those with children or those who expect to have children that there are other ways to live in the world … and that there are challenges in doing this. Speaking out about the challenges is completely compatible with also declaring that our lives can be good.

I believe in honouring our struggle. We may have lost the life we wanted. But I very firmly believe that we shouldn’t also lose the life we have. Living well, enjoying life, and enjoying those parts of my life that are different simply because I don’t have children, is the only way I know how to honour my reality, my losses. I don’t feel guilty for that – though I have in the past. I won’t apologise for it. Because I think we should celebrate the good things in our lives, even if they are different than we once had expected.

I too, have always wanted to avoid pity. Understanding is one thing, and pity is another. By focusing only on the challenges, we do risk being pitied. By recognising the hard parts of a life without children, and by embracing the good parts, I think we better promote understanding that our life is just as multi-dimensional as it would have been with children, and, hopefully, avoids the pity that feels and often is, condescending and ignorant.

Finally, no life is without pain or struggle. In the infertility blogging community, there is much talk about getting the coveted “happy ever after” outcome. But this phrase isn’t an accurate reflection of their reality. There are many parents who struggle, who may find they don’t particularly like the day-to-day of parenting, who might have children with illnesses or special needs or personality disorders that bring great stress and challenges, who might struggle financially, whose relationships break up. No-one I know tells me that parenting is easy. The “happy ever after” outcome of parenting is as much a myth, I believe, as the myth that – if we don’t have children - our lives are over and sadness and regret.

Compared to those who are actively parenting at the moment, my life really is relatively easy. Whilst I have to save for my old age, knowing I’ll have to pay for care rather than rely on children to assist, I don’t have to save for my children’s activities or education or health care costs. I might worry about saving for my retirement, but I don’t have to fear the day I might need to pay for an expensive, potentially life-saving medication (that, in NZ, may not yet receive public funding, or that insurance might not cover) for my daughter, as my sister does. I don’t have to worry about my children's future, that they might not be able to get a tertiary education, or that they've fallen in with a bad crowd. There is no doubt - my life at the moment is easier than it would be if I had had children.

The thing is, “easier” is also a relative term. Those awful, initial days and months don’t last. But as a lot of people recognise, that healing period, when we still feel pain even when we recognise slow improvements and slow gains in strength, can last three to five years. So in that period, we have days when things feel easier, and days when they don’t. That’s to be expected. It’s hard and horrible, but can be interspersed with new adventures and fun and joy. The good days begin to outnumber the bad.

Gradually, that part of our lives that is affected because we don’t have children – our No Kidding lives – gets easier. That part gets smaller and smaller, takes up less and less emotional space. Sure, it occasionally pops up. But mostly it is tucked away in a corner, where it is quiet and causes little bother and virtually no stress. It is relatively easy, at least it is now for me, and has been for many years. That’s my truth. And I believe that it will be the truth of most, if not all, No Kidding bloggers.