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.