I’ve been thinking about confirmation bias a bit over the
last year. Increased access to technology and the internet means that, even
more than previously, we are all able to surround ourselves with like-minded
views, to read the information we agree with, not that which challenges us.
It’s one of the reasons I still get a newspaper delivered. I like the fact that
when I read the paper with breakfast, I read articles that I wouldn’t have
clicked on if I was on the newspaper’s website, if I even got to the website
(Besides, I like the puzzles.) I grew up in the age where we only had one, then
two television channels in New Zealand. If we wanted to relax in front of a
screen, we had to watch what was on. I learned a lot of new things I wouldn’t
have otherwise, if I’d been able to change channels. Even my student exchange
was a case of finding joy and discovery and a career path in something I’m not
sure I would have chosen. My choices were simple – a US exchange, or an
International exchange (which included the US as the last resort). I chose the
International option, as I imagined myself on ski slopes in Switzerland, and
ended up in Bangkok, Thailand. Students these days get to choose their desired
destination, and many predictably go for the countries they know most about. I
think this can be a big mistake.
I have to say though that I’m not making an argument against
having too much choice, but rather making an argument for being open to other
possibilities. We think we know what we need to know, and what we want to know,
but we should always remain open, and explore new avenues. Obviously, as a
person without children, I want others to be open to what my life is, and to
accept it as a legitimate reality, and even as a realistic option.
Many of us have written about how hard it is for those going
through infertility to be able to read our blogs. We probably remember this from our own journeys. Those who are trying to conceive
find that conception (and carrying to term) becomes the main focus of their
lives. They need support, and so read those who are at the same stage, those who are also full of hope, denying
any alternative options, determined to reach their goal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Support is
important, feeling you’re not alone is helpful, and feeling hope is a good
thing. All this is healthy.
But refusing to go beyond that – especially if you’re in
this for a long period of time – is less healthy and less helpful, because it also plays to your fears.
We all know that our fears pull us down, tell us we’re worthless, and lie to
us, but when we’re in the midst of fear, we don’t always see that. Staying
within the actively-trying-to-conceive community convinces you that the holy
grail of having a child is the answer to happiness, to everything you ever wanted in your life, and can
close your mind to any alternatives. Or it can convince you that the
alternatives – No Kidding for example – are your worst nightmares.
Unfortunately, wider society just emphasises and further confirms those views,
amplifies the fears and uncertainty, and paints the No Kidding life as a
failure, as the worst case scenario, as a grey life full of sadness. Whereas we
here all know that that is simply not the case.
Obviously, though, confirmation bias works both ways. I know
that many of us, when we are newly entering the No Kidding community knowing it
is for the rest of our lives, read only No Kidding blogs, for the same reasons
– for self-protection, knowing we won’t see scan or newborn photos or pregnancy
announcements, or hear all the statements that that cut us to the core and diminish
us and our experiences. So, it is natural that many of us, especially in these
early days, might read only No Kidding blogs for the support, to feel that we’re
not alone, and to feel hope that we will be okay. If we only read No Kidding
blogs, there is a safety in community that we can’t find elsewhere.
But it can mean that we become focused on our grief, unable
to recognise the difficulties and hardships in other journeys, including those
who got the holy grail. Long-term, there is a danger that a focus only on the
No Kidding experience might stop us developing a wider perspective that could help
So could our own confirmation bias lead us to perpetuate our
feelings of victimisation, and lead to the demonisation of those who are
There is a real risk of this. And I do see it at times, though as I say, usually in the early days of accepting there will never be children. But I’m coming to the conclusion
that we – the No Kidding – are perhaps less susceptible to the effects of
confirmation bias than those in this community who are pregnant and parenting.
We live in this world too, and unless we hide away and only ever communicate
with others who don’t have children (which is impossible), we have no choice
but to interact with others who have had different outcomes, with different
views, and with different challenges.
We know (how could we not?) that the world has different
opinions and lifestyles to our own, and once wanted to be part of those
communities ourselves. We have friends and family who live differently from us.
We are bombarded daily with the message that the way we live is different from,
perhaps lesser than, the norm. Whereas so often, confirmation bias reinforces
the superiority of a view or a lifestyle to the exclusion of other minorities,
in our case, we might use it just to remind ourselves and each other that we
are equal, and legitimate, members of wider society and this community.
In our case, is it actually a bias at all? I’m not so sure, and as I have written this post, I’ve found my ideas change. I started
this post to make the comment that we must be sure we don't succumb to confirmation bias, become bitter, further
isolate ourselves, anger others by not attempting to understand their
situations, and make our own position in society harder than it already is. But
as I have been writing, I’ve realised that – long-term, at least – there is
little chance of that.
When we do get together as a No Kidding community, we’re
looking for and providing support that we don’t get elsewhere in society. Support in context is
not a bias. But still, it's worth thinking about from time to time, and just checking that we're being fair and unbiased to both those with and without children. After all, that's really the only way to ever be fair to ourselves.