25 July, 2016

In the doldrums

It’s not yet the end of July, and I’ve already written nine posts this month, after nine in June, - and that’s only on this blog. Phew, I think I need a rest!

If the truth be told, I’m feeling a bit bleurgh. After everything that has happened this year – I was finally ready, and physically more able, to get on and do some things that will get my life going in the right direction. But Murphy's Law has prevailed, and I’ve come down with a cold, and all I want (and need) to do is sleep.

Or maybe it’s the aftermath of writing and thinking so much the last week or so, and now it’s done, I can't immediately think where to turn, so I'm appealing for suggestions - anyone have any great ideas?

Whilst you’re coming up with those suggestions though, I think I’m going to go lie down on my couch on this sunny winter’s day, and read part two of Elena Ferrante’s Naples series. I couldn’t do that if I had kids.

23 July, 2016

Privilege in the No Kidding world

You can achieve anything series – Part 5

I couldn’t write my previous post about infertility privilege without taking it that step further to look also at my experience as a woman without children. I look at my No Kidding life and think about the barriers I’ve faced that others may not have faced. But I look too at the mountains others have had to climb, but I have not.

So I’m going to note some of the issues that have made my transition to a No Kidding life easier. The first list includes, ironically, the issues that were major barriers in my quest to become a parent.
  • New Zealand has regulated infertility practices. Perhaps the same things that made it hard to conceive – ie donor eggs are very rare, it is illegal to pay for them or for surrogacy, special ethical approvals must be given on a case-by-case basis, IVF drug dosages are regulated – meant that it took some of the decision away from me.
  • Adoption is now rare in New Zealand, so it is easier for me to shoot down the “just adopt” brigade.
  • Geographical distance from the rest of the world – from gestational surrogacy in India, or donor egg cycles in Spain, or multiple IVF cycles elsewhere – means that the difficulty of taking these measures also stops people suggesting them as much, and perhaps reduces the judgement that we didn’t do them.
So some of these factors were barriers when trying to conceive, but are now advantages in adjusting to and living a No Kidding life. There is an additional list of advantages/privilege I enjoy, although I am sure it is far from comprehensive:
  • I’m not part of a religious community that puts emphasis on family
  • My parents never pressured me to give them a grandchild. That was all me. (I wanted to be able to give my father a grandson. He never got one, though for a few brief years he had a great-grandson.)
  • My in-laws never pressured us, beyond the occasional dropped hint.
  • Whilst there is still a very definite glass ceiling in New Zealand, we are not the macho, misogynist society we would have been forty years ago, or the even more extreme examples that we might see elsewhere in the world, where the lot of a childless woman is much more difficult than mine, even deadly.
  • As someone who has been fortunate to have a career, I didn’t 100% feel that my life was worthless when I couldn’t have children.
  • I have been self-employed during the particular period of healing, which has meant I’ve been able to take time to heal and recover, away from the pressure of a full-time workplace.
  • I’m well educated and curious, and so I have had the ability to think and come to terms with my situation, to explore my own thoughts and reactions, and to learn from others.
  • Whilst a good friend, my sister, and niece have all had children in this period, I also have friends without children, or with older children, and so I haven’t constantly been surrounded by babies.
  • My friends who do have children don’t see their worth solely as mothers, and so are able to talk about many other subjects as well.
  • My husband loves to travel. And we can afford to travel. It may not seem relevant, but it makes life easier to be able to look forward to new experiences.
I’m sure there are many other areas where I enjoy privilege in my No Kidding life. Yes, I’m aware this is almost a reverse game of Pain Olympics, in that I can look at others and say, “they have it harder than I do.” But I don’t think it is unhealthy to do that. After all, I’m not denying what is difficult for me. I’m just acknowledging what has been easier. Doing that makes me grateful. And gratitude is never a bad thing.

21 July, 2016

Privilege in the infertility world

 You can achieve anything series – Part 4

At best, the application of the idea that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it/work hard enough/want it enough brings focus to our efforts, inspires us, and gives us hope. That encourages us to look at the ways we can improve our chances. When I was full of hope, I certainly tried a number of things I would never have attempted previously.

So if we are successful, we congratulate ourselves on doing that thing which, we believe, changed our fate. In the infertility world, it is pinpointing what made the difference in the particular cycle when they conceived, or during the pregnancy that stuck. Maybe it was just relaxing. Maybe it was sticking at it for just that one last cycle. Or pushing for a different protocol, or working with a different doctor or clinic. Everyone wants to feel that their choices made the difference, that they had some control, and they want the credit for that. It’s quite a natural response.

But that belief in our individual power can give rise to the message that there is actual proof that you can, in fact, achieve anything if you put your mind to it/want it enough/work hard enough. These messages exhort us to never give up, because they didn’t, and look at them now. Or they suggest that the reason we are not pregnant or parents is because we should have tried X, Y or Z, because it worked – so they have concluded - for them. When these messages are given out, this belief can become damaging, accusatory even. It can (though of course it doesn’t always, as shown by some of my wonderful readers and commenters) turn into an unpleasant smugness: “I’m pregnant because I did X, Y or Z.” The message, usually unspoken but not always, is that they tried harder/worked harder/wanted it more than we did.

That of course, intentionally or unintentionally, sends the message that those of us who didn’t achieve success only have ourselves to blame. It judges. And it is received as such. It makes those who might be contemplating stopping second guess their decisions, guiltily wondering if they don’t want it enough, feeling that others see them as weak, giving up, quitters. It makes them more susceptible to those who spread the message to never give up who have commercial motivations (their doctors and clinics), or with societal/religious motivations behind their message.

It makes those of us who did stop, whether through choice or not, feel guilty, as if we didn’t deserve to have children, because we too didn’t want it enough. Unlike the successfully pregnant/parents, this message tells us that we clearly didn’t work hard enough/want it enough/try hard enough/stick at it long enough to succeed. “It’s your fault,” say the messages. “You didn’t deserve it.” We feel this blame, this judgement, acutely, because – immersed in these messages - we inevitably ask ourselves if this means we were undeserving, if there was more we could have/should have done?

Yet there is still so much unknown about infertility and assisted reproduction that, in many cases, even if a couple did howl at the moon, stand on their heads, push for that one last cycle with a particular protocol, eat foods X and Y and avoid Z, before or during that particular cycle when they conceived, the facts are that they don’t know and may never definitively know which (if any) aspects made the difference, and which (if any) didn’t. Even doctors will admit that they don’t really know which results they control and which they don’t. Likewise, those of us who are No Kidding lifers don’t know if we could have taken any actions that would have seen us end up with a child, or if all our actions would have been futile. Ultimately, it all comes down to our own personal opinions.

And these personal opinions are inevitably shaped by our own experiences, our own privilege - infertility privilege, in this case. The thing with privilege though, is that so many who benefit from it never understand or accept that they had advantages that others didn’t. They think their success or advantages are a result of their hard work or desire, rather than privilege or even random luck. Maybe they are – hard work and desire inevitably help. But we all know that we can have all the hard work and desire in the world and still not reach our goals.

Some of us might think that we recognise our own privilege, but do we? Do we recognise it all? In the infertility world, whilst we are probably aware that we might be lucky to live somewhere where assisted reproduction or adoption is available, we might feel grateful that we can afford to pursue these (if we can), and believe that we are recognising our privilege. But we might not realise that the simple geography of where we live will control whether we can pursue any or unlimited or funded or unregulated assisted reproduction cycles. For example, consider the postcode lottery of IVF funding in the UK, or that countries or states bordering or near to us might offer options that our own countries/states don’t. Our locations, our cultures, religions, laws, family circumstances, and societal norms, might determine whether or not we can adopt, and even how we might feel about facing a No Kidding life.

We might also think that we have a choice about continuing to try to reach our goals, but we might be oblivious to the benefits that have led us to that feeling - the fact that our diagnoses have not ruled out options completely, that our health doesn’t prevent us from adopting, that our health system or insurance company will fund more cycles, that our culture (and government) is open to IVF or adopting. We might not realise that the education or personal strength or family history or religious background or colour of our skin that gives us the ability to advocate for ourselves is a result of privilege. Sometimes, the very fact of being able to exercise our free will is privilege.

Am I saying that nothing is within our control? Maybe I am, but not entirely. What I am saying is that the issues that influence our choices or open doors or create barriers to choice are endless (I am sure you can think of areas of luck or privilege that I have not). We are kidding ourselves if we are so overcome with pride that we can ignore the influences of privilege or even sheer luck in the process.

All this makes the message that “you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it” seem very shallow. It’s a trite slogan that alienates many people, belittles and berates, blaming and shaming those of us without the goals we had wanted to achieve. It silences those who didn’t achieve, because clearly, as we never had the right stuff to reach our goals, we are not qualified to speak.

I admit that I’m writing this because I’m still smarting from something I read a year or two ago and, for various reasons, have never written about before. Those of us who reject the “put your mind to it” message or the “never give up” message were claimed to be, quote, “sanctimoniously competing for gold in the Pain Olympics.” That accusation cut to the quick (even though it was not necessarily personally directed at me –I don’t know), because it felt so viciously (if perhaps – I want to give the benefit of the doubt - unconsciously) judgemental.

Rejecting this message, saying it can be detrimental and judgemental, isn’t about competing in the Pain Olympics. I’m not interested in playing that game, because there is never a winner. I do not criticise those whose own path is to follow the “I’ll achieve it if I try hard enough” path. If it works for them, then I will be cheering them on. I’m also not interested in “silencing pregnant women or mothers” into submission as the writer suggested. But I am interested in talking about the facts. And equally, I won’t be silenced either.

The facts are that those of us in the No Kidding community in the infertility world could have tried every possible avenue, and we would still never have achieved our goal. We shouldn’t be shamed for that. But so often we are. We’re told, for example, that we chose not to have children, when all too often we feel we had no choice, that we gave up.

But the facts are that some of us did try everything that was available to us, everything that was possible for us. There are those who may not be prepared to believe that, but the truth is that we all have different opportunities, different abilities, different privilege, and different luck that dictates how far we can go. The facts are that we all go through different experiences, and these take different tolls on us, and so limits all differ from each other. The facts are that what seems to one person to be an easy choice and the logical next step is for another person an insurmountable hurdle for whatever reasons. The facts are that what seems to be weak and giving up to one person is in fact, to another, the hardest, bravest, most bitter decision to face reality and reclaim their life. One person might think that it takes the most strength to continue, when another might think that it takes the most strength to accept and move on to another path. One person might choose to continue to find professionals or new science that keeps giving them hope, and another might choose to believe the advice their current professionals/science are giving them. Continuing to pursue a dream is an investment in their future for one person, and yet for another saying good-bye to that dream and turning towards another is an investing in their future.

The facts are that none of us should be judged for any of our decisions or our limits or lack of limits. I wish that our limits were understood, that medical professionals were more honest and transparent, that money wasn’t a motivator or a barrier, that society and our friends and family didn’t shame us into continuing or stopping or feeling like failures.

The reality is that rejecting the “put your mind to it” or “never give up” messages, and realising that the only option is to accept that it is over, is for many of us the only truth we have. In rejecting these messages, we’re not criticising those who continue to try. It’s not about them. It isn’t a case of sour grapes, and we’re not playing in the Pain Olympics. We’re just seeking the truth, our truth, and asking for a little understanding, and a recognition of our reality.

Update: This series concludes in my next post, Privilege in the No Kidding world

19 July, 2016

Gifts of Infertility Index

Just to note, as a result of a request I have added a new page, with a linked index to all my Gifts of Infertility Series posts. If I add any new ones, I'll update the index.

It should be easy to find as a separate page, but otherwise click here.

18 July, 2016

Make the effort to care

I saw a meme on social media the other day. It said, “People will never understand something until it happens to them.”

This is true. But the lesson doesn’t end there. Just because it hasn’t happened to us, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our hardest to understand what it might feel like to experience this. We have to try to understand, whether it is on global terms, trying to put ourselves in the shoes of refugees from Syria, or on personal terms about how our friends who are parents feel after sleepless nights, or for them to make the effort to find out how we feel when they start a sentence with “as a mother."

If we don’t make the effort, we’ll never care about anything outside of us.

If my infertility has taught me anything, it has taught me that.

15 July, 2016

Wanting it enough

 You can achieve anything series – Part 3

One of my favourite reality shows is Project Runway. I watch it for the fashion, to feel how out of touch I am and for its celebration of creativity and inspiration. One thing always puzzles me though. In one of the last shows, they always ask the last four or five people why they should be included in the final three to show at New York Fashion Week. And almost without fail, they all say, “because I want it so badly. I’ve never wanted anything like this ever before.” As if that’s a decent reason to give them a place. Only rarely will they refer to their creativity, their skills, their record of wins, their unique aesthetic, their commercial appeal, etc. Perhaps they’re part of the generation who have been raised to believe that wanting it is, in fact, enough.

Ultimately though, only one is the winner. Others, who have “wanted it” just as much or more, worked just as hard or more, and shed just as many tears or more as the winner, don’t take home the prize, receive the title, or bask in the accolades.

So clearly, “wanting it enough, working hard enough, believing in themselves” are not, in fact, enough to ensure we achieve our goal. We certainly see evidence of that in the infertility world, nowhere more so than here in our No Kidding blogging community.

So many of us cling to the idea that if we want it enough, we somehow deserve the reward. Who can blame us, after all the messages pushing the ideas that we must become mothers, and that it is within our grasp if we try hard enough? But those of us on this side know that wanting it, sticking at it, and working hard are in fact, never enough. They might help. They might in fact work for some people. But for the majority of us, we know that ultimately, luck and/or fate and/or genes and/or location and/or wealth and/or privilege or whatever you want to call it is going to play a part.

And that will be my next post - Privilege in the infertility world.

11 July, 2016

Putting your mind to it: The infertility version

You can achieve anything series – Part 2

The exact same reasons for the belief, or rather, the message, that I outlined in my previous post exist here in the infertility world:

Society: Our pro-natal society teaches us to believe that a) everyone will become a parent easily, and b) our place in society and our life’s value is inextricably linked with becoming a parent. When we begin to find that it is not as easy as we’ve been led to believe, we start to question ourselves, our value, and our place in society. We start to panic, and feel helpless. The message that we can in fact have children, as long as we try hard enough and never give up, fits all those societal expectations that we have absorbed.

Hope: We began trying to conceive because we wanted to be parents. Hope that we will achieve our goals keeps us going. Hope without control is tough, so we need to believe that we have some control over the process. So we have to hope that our efforts will allow us to achieve our goals. After all, we’ve been taught to believe that the alternative is not to be considered.

Altruism/Connection: “You can do it too!” “Never give up!” “We’ll be parents together!” Those who have been through infertility have known the torture of wanting something that is so central to our humanity, but seemingly outside of our ability to achieve it. It’s hard going through this, and hard to see others still going through it. So those  who have received their prize like to encourage those who are left trying, they want to connect and pass on some of their happiness and satisfaction. It’s well-intentioned, and done with love, I know. Those who are still going through it want to believe that these statements are true for everyone, including and primarily themselves. So they too will encourage others to keep trying, to keep believing, to keep wanting it enough.

Self-aggrandisement: After often years of effort, grief, loss, treatments, disappointment, it is perhaps natural for someone to want to congratulate themselves on achieving their goal, to feel that they made the difference, that they wouldn’t be pregnant without their specific efforts, their decisions that made this cycle different, their perseverance that shows they wanted it enough, that they tried hard enough, that they believed, that they were worthy. They want to feel they had some control, and that they can take some credit in their achievement. 

Commercial motivations: The fertility industry and adoption industries push success and opportunity and focus on the outcomes. It’s in their financial interests for people to keep going and going, to try new things, to keep believing it will work for them. Pamela writes extensively on this issue, and I bow to her superior knowledge.

Two of my commenters on my previous post provided other good reasons that also should be noted:

Fear: Valery suggested that maybe this is also out of fear  - fear that maybe they actually never had any control. If there was no control, it means that they could just as easily not have had the success, despite all their efforts.

Guilt: Ruby suggested that perhaps it was out of guilt. Survivor's guilt is easier to deal with if you believe that you had some control, and can take some credit, for the result.  

So, does wanting it enough work? Don't answer that - it will be my next post, and you can guess what I'm about to say!

Scared of boys!

Last year, I wrote a childless woman’s guide to surviving the school holidays, but this month, I won’t be able to follow it at all. Geography has separated me from many relatives, and until two years ago, I only saw my great-nephew every few years, and he really had no idea who I was, saying politely at one stage, “it was nice to meet you!” But – out of tragedy – we’ve had the opportunity to get to know each other better, and he’s discovered my husband understands computers and computer games, something he used to do with his dad.

So this year, when his mother asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he replied, “I want to go to Wellington and stay with Auntie [Mali] and Uncle D – on my own.” He arrives on Wednesday, and I have to say, I’m a little terrified. He’s a 13-year-old boy, the first boy in our family in three generations, and the only 13-year-old boys I've known in my life were when I was a 13-year-old girl!

Oh, and did I mention that his mother and I were pregnant at the same time?

Wish me (and him) luck!

08 July, 2016

Putting your mind to it

You can achieve anything series – Part 1

A week or so ago, I promised not to write a post that promises that you can achieve anything you put your mind to it. In the comments, Cristy wondered why this belief exists?

I’ve drafted several versions of a post attempting to answer this. At first, I wrote a long response about the history of this belief, going back to immigrant miners, through to my grandparents’ and parents’ generations, and in my lifetime, the arrival of “Girls can do Anything” catchphrase, leading up to this very prevalent idea that we can in fact achieve anything as long as we work hard enough/want it enough/put our minds to it. But I’ve not researched this history enough to hit print, and they’re only my off-the-top-of-my-head theories, so – having mentioned them – I’ll drop that.

Then I jumped straight to its application in the infertility world, and began writing about that, though I’ve decided that should be my next two posts (and I confess to being nervous about posting these). But first, this message doesn't just appear in the infertility world. So here today, I’m back to some wider thoughts about the “you can achieve anything you put your mind to/work hard enough/want it enough” message that is so prevalent in society today. So, as Cristy asked, “Why does this belief exist?”

I think there are several reasons. On any given day, around any given issue, we might be influenced by just one of these, by a combination, or by all of them. You may disagree with these, or maybe you can come up with more. Please, tell me in the comments.

Self-aggrandisement: People who have achieved their dreams or who have broken through the glass ceiling are allowed to talk about this because, supposedly, they know what they’re talking about. But saying, “anyone can achieve anything they put their mind to,” is another way of saying, “look at me, I’m wonderful!” It’s humble bragging, saying that whilst anyone can do it, they were in fact one of the few who was special enough – worthy enough - to actually be able to achieve it. They look at their efforts, and remember how hard it was to achieve what they wanted, how long it took, and how much they wanted this. They want to feel all that hard work was justified, and that it was wholly responsible for the outcome, so they believe that their success was due primarily to their efforts. And of course, because they’ve achieved it, they have been anointed with credibility. They did it, so they must know what they’re talking about, right?

Altrusim: I can see that people who say this, at their best, want to be inspirational, to help others achieve what they’ve achieved. And many of us want them to be inspirational too. So they encourage, and try to spread the word. Do what I did (try hard, believe in it, or simply want it enough) and you too will get success.

Society: Our society’s moral values teach the values of hard work. My father-in-law, having lived through the Great Depression (yes, it severely affected NZ too – America sneezes, and the rest of the world catches cold) and its aftermath, believes that work is the purpose of life, that it gives your life its value, and that working hard is the highest level of virture. So “working hard” and “trying hard” are seen as virtuous attributes in themselves. It seems to me that in society these days, “wanting it enough” seems to be a more recent addition and distortion to this original concept.

Commercial motivations: So we are inundated with the message that success is within our reach if only we do X, Y and Z. We see it in the marketing of products and services – it’s always been there. We see it in the massive growth of the self-help industry. There’s now a lot invested – literally – in the continuation of this message, or its variations. They want, no, need us to believe this. We can achieve what we’ve always wanted if only we buy their products, and use their services, follow their advice, read their books, do what they did. It is all within our grasp. Nothing is out of our reach. It’s our fault if we don’t take the opportunities offered. On a macro-scale, our entire economic systems are based on promoting this message, even if the systems themselves are based on quite the opposite premise. (Though that’s another post/book/endless debate to be had, one that doesn’t belong here.)

Hope: We all want to believe that we could achieve these things though. When we say that “anyone can achieve anything if they want it enough” we are holding out hope that we too can achieve these things. How depressing to think that because of the way we look, or where we were born, or what genitals we have will be more of a predictor of our success and our value to society than our own thoughts and actions. So we eagerly buy into the idea that we can achieve anything we want, if we want it/work hard enough/believe it enough. It’s aspirational, right? And we think that that has to be a good thing.

And so it is in the infertility field, which will be my next post.

04 July, 2016

#Microblog Mondays: (More) Miscellaneous

I’ve been working on a number of longer posts (watch this space), and so haven’t posted mid-week this week, and didn’t have a pithy eight-sentence post ready for today either. Clearly, my plan to write a blog schedule has gone by the wayside, but hopefully you’ll see some evidence of my labours soon.

It’s my mother-in-law’s birthday on Wednesday, and I plan to bake her a birthday cake. I don’t get to bake birthday cakes for my never-born children, or for any nieces and nephews, so I’m quite happy to do it for my elderly in-laws. I’m thinking a lemon layer cake - because she lost a lot of her tastebuds several years ago with radiation treatment, but can still taste tart citrus flavours - but first I need to find a good recipe, and must remember to make sure I have the right pans before I start.

I am finally able to start thinking about where we might travel next, possibly in November or December when my husband’s contract will have ended. There are advantages to being unencumbered by the need to provide a memorable Christmas for any children, or to travel only during school holidays. Anyone have any suggestions of good destinations at that time of year?