30 January, 2017

Shedding resentment

Last week, I wrote that those of us who don’t have children will sometimes feel resentment towards those who do have children, when we might have been on the receiving end of condescension or insensitive comments, or have had to tolerate those parents or expectant parents who are condescending or insensitive or smug and self-congratulatory, or when we feel judged as failures or weak.

It reminds me that some time ago, I heard that carrying resentments is not only mentally unhealthy, keeping you in that hurt space and not allowing you to move on, but also quite literally holds you down. It turns out that resentment is an actual physical burden – in a test, high jumpers couldn’t jump as high when asked to think about resentments.

When I think back to those early years of pain and hurt and at times anger and resentment, I can well imagine that I wasn’t capable of leaping as high, and that physically as well as emotionally I was carrying a heavy burden.

As time goes by, it is easier to let these things go, to refuse to let them keep me down, to understand they’re more about other people’s issues than they are about us, or to speak up and defend ourselves, or to point out that their comments are hypocritical or insensitive or unfair. I’m much better at this now than I was in the early days and years of coming to terms with living a No Kidding life, and looking back, that progress really has felt as if I’ve been shedding a load.

I know that I feel much more relaxed and freer as a result of letting my hurt and resentments go. Lighter, even.

23 January, 2017

Quoting Mali

Recently, off-blog, I answered some questions about living a No Kidding life, and these were some of my favourite comments. They're my favourites because they are so personal to me, and their truths were so hard-won.
  • Give yourself permission not to answer questions - it is empowering.

  • A happy life is not only possible, but inevitable.

  • The real choice is between living childless or childfree.

  • We are the real success stories.

  • Our own thoughts and fears are worse than anything anyone will say to us.

  • Life – that’s what’s next.

19 January, 2017

Writing about those with different outcomes

Mid-last year, I was asked to address the issue of how No Kidding bloggers talk about others who are going through infertility or who are now expectant mothers or parents. (That should explain my last post, the one I wrote here last year, and this post - and apologies in advance, for any repetition.) Accusations were made – at some No Kidding bloggers, though not all of us, and not all the time. So I agreed to write about this from my perspective.

First, it is important to recognise what all No Kidding bloggers have in common. We are all writing with the knowledge that we will never have children (and that once we wanted them). This is an inherently different perspective from those who were infertile and are now parents, or those who are pregnant and full of hope and expectation and fear, or those who are still trying and hoping. It means we might have different views on the experience of infertility, views that might be unwelcome to those who are going through infertility now, or who have come out of it with the prize they wanted.

The underlying assumptions to our lives are now different not just to the bulk of society, but also to those of our previous fellow infertiles. This is a very different dimension to our lives. We experience something they do not, feel different pain and different joy. Stating this is not competitive, comparative, divisive, or playing Pain Olympics. It is a plain and simple fact. We have a different starting point.

Secondly, when we live without children, we can (and do) experience a real sense of isolation. We are rarely (if ever) recognised as a legitimate group in society, but are easily ignored, invisible beside the over-powering norm of those who have or expect to have children. It happens in wider society, and in the infertility blogging community. So the normal, natural and strong desire to look for tribes and for connection is accentuated. Our blogs help us find that.

When No Kidding bloggers write about expectant parents and parents, we do so in a number of ways:
  1. We might write focusing on our personal experiences with the pregnant and parents, articulating our feelings, trying to understand ourselves, our emotions, our motivations, our relationships.
  2. Or we might write in a genuine attempt to understand the motivations of pregnant people or parents, rather than simply to be offended by their presence, or their words or actions, their ignorance or casual insensitivity.
  3. Or we might write about systemic biases and issues, whether societal or commercial, recognising what was and is hard for us, and wanting to improve the situation for those who follow behind.
No Kidding bloggers write too with a number of emotions:
  1. We write with gratitude, when parents are thoughtful, when they try to understand our experiences and decisions, when they respect our emotions, understand our sensitivities, and either embrace us in their lives, or respectfully keep their distance when that’s what we want and need.
  2. We write, perhaps, with envy, frustrated that they don’t appreciate what they have and take it for granted, and/or when they fail to recognise our losses.
  3. We might write too with hurt and resentment, when they have been condescending or insensitive or smug and self-congratulatory, or when they are clearly judging us as weak, as failures, as those who opted out when the going got tough, without making an effort to understand.
  4. We write with hurt and fear and loneliness, when their words or actions have made us feel marginalised, vulnerable, isolated, forgotten, and dismissed.
  5. We might be angry too, when they have laughed at us, demeaned us, and made us feel irrelevant.
I have felt all these emotions when reading blogs or interacting in real life, and I am certainly not alone.

Whilst sometimes we might write defensively, filled with emotion, there are other times we are able to be thoughtful, and objective. Importantly, I think that sometimes writing on our blogs - amongst people who understand - can be an outlet so that in real life, or in correspondence or on someone else’s blog, we can continue to exercise restraint, and be polite and decent and respectful!

But when we are writing with emotion, when we react to actions and words, spoken or written, that have hurt us deeply, cut us to the quick, we can be less than kind towards those who instigated these hurt feelings. We might make gross generalisations, or attempt to use humour to ease the hurt we’re feeling, or defensively adopt a hurt, or angry, or mocking tone. Likewise, simply by being honest about our own experiences we can inadvertently hurt someone who feels as if they are being targeted by our words. Because it is easy to take offence. And so a cycle of hurt continues.

Whilst I’m not condoning it – either the hurtful words or tone, or the ultra-sensitivity that can exist in any sector of the infertility community (including ours) -I do understand it, and  I don’t think that it should be entirely unexpected. It certainly happens in all sections of the wider infertility community that is, after all, full of hurt people. The truth is that we’ve probably all experienced both ends of these emotions.

Personally though, I don’t believe that anyone* intends to hurt others. Rather, it is an inadvertent result of expressing emotions and seeking connection, perhaps in an attempt to communicate to others how words and actions can hurt, or in an effort to understand and explain the environment in which we find ourselves.

Fortunately, though, we heal and grow, and we evolve and mature as writers and thinkers. Emotions ease, and we can step back more objectively. We might still unconsciously hurt others, but I don't think it's possible to avoid this entirely. I will certainly defend the right of bloggers here to talk about what hurts them, to express their emotions, and to recognise the particular pain and strength and benefits of the No Kidding community. I don't think that supporting a minority, asking for equality for a group that feels ignored and dismissed, takes away anything from the majority.

But I also like to think that we all (regardless of where we sit in the community) heal and grow as readers as well as writers. It is much easier for me now to feel compassion for someone who has hurt me, to begin to understand their motives and their pain, and to accept that it is about them, and where they are in their journey, not about me. I see other bloggers who are parents after infertility, who are able to agree with much that is said in our community too, once they have some distance.

I do think though that we need to understand that a post can feel divisive and competitive, or reflective and inspiring, depending on where we sit in the process. I recognise that. It all comes down to motivation and delivery, and its worth - from time to time - stepping back and thinking about our own motivations for and delivery of our posts. As long as we display tact and good manners and empathy, are being honest about our emotions, are exploring them with a genuine wish to understand, and are not being deliberately unkind, then I think that we can all continue to blog with pride.

* at least in the blogosphere, I can’t and won’t speak to what happens in Twitter

16 January, 2017

Reflecting on our days “in the infertility trenches”

When writing here, I sometimes reflect on what it was like when I was trying to conceive and carry a child, and I frequently (as I am sure, other No Kidding bloggers do this too) recognise myself in those who are still trying to conceive or resolve their infertility. This recognition, this hindsight - knowing now what I wished I had known then – causes me to reflect, to think about what would have helped, and to be – at times – brutally honest about my emotions and thoughts at the time.

I don’t believe that, in reflecting on and analysing our own feelings and experiences, there is any actual or intended judgement of the actively infertile, but I do understand that our thoughts and discussions (in blog posts and comment threads) can at times feel judgemental to those who are still stressed and emotional, still vulnerable and fearful, who feel perhaps that their choices are under attack, even though many or most of us made those same choices, and trod the same path.

Yet I firmly believe that we make these comments as a recognition of ourselves, of what we didn’t and indeed couldn’t understand at the time, and from the benefit of knowledge and experience and hindsight and time. I think that we look at these issues in an effort to understand not only ourselves, but often also the commercial and societal environments in which we are living, and in an effort to improve the environment or to ease the process for those who come after us.

Saying, for example, that it is possible to be scared or stuck on the treadmill or immersed in grief (as examples of words I have used) is not an insult, although it can be and has been taken as such, just as recognising societal pressures or problems in the fertility industry is a systemic discussion and indictment of structural and societal issues, not of the patients who, of necessity, use the industry’s services.

My intention at least is that when I think of those still on their infertility journey, I do so with love and empathy, having been there myself, knowing how hard it can be, understanding the pain they are going through right now, the pressure, the doubts, the fear, and that I write with the hope that their paths might be eased as a result of our discussions, our reflections, and our sometimes unwelcome honesty.

But I wonder, how successful do you think I am, and perhaps the No Kidding blogging community is as a whole, in remembering where we have been?

09 January, 2017

Swimming between the currents

Many years ago, a Thai friend gave me a copy of The Miracle of Being Awake, by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is about mindfulness, before the concept of mindfulness entered popular culture, and I have always carried a number of concepts from this book with me.

One, which I particularly love, is the idea that we should nourish and celebrate the differences between cultures, making these differences simply part of our experiences in the world. There is no bridge between cultures that we must cross - rather, we become like fish who swim between currents, moving into and out of different cultures with ease.

Today, as I picked up the book looking for some words that might explain how I feel we can embrace our lives without children, I realised of course that this analogy works perfectly in the No Kidding culture too, and also, of course, for those residing in Parentland. None of us have to be in just one group, feeling isolated and rejected from the other, feeling we have to prove ourselves as worthy. We can simply swim between these groups, appreciating the differences and laughing in the good times, supporting and being supported in the bad. We may find succour more in one culture than another, especially at first, but we can find joy in them all. We can nourish the differences between us, recognising that while we experience things differently, we are still part of one, overall, experience of life.

02 January, 2017

Inspiration and expectations

For my first blog of 2017, I thought I'd share some words from a TV series I watched recently, finally, after recording it some months ago. The series was a dramatisation of the life of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest, who then gave so much back to the people of Nepal by building schools and hospitals. He lost his wife and daughter in a plane crash in Nepal, and grieved deeply. I don't know if the words his character said were his own, or were dreamed up by the screenwriter, and I can't remember them perfectly, but they touched me nonetheless.

"I have been a lucky man," he said, as he came out of his grief and started looking to the future again. "I've achieved my dreams, and we don't expect* that to happen to many men (sic)."

Stretching for our dreams is a good thing, of course, as Sir Ed would 100% agree. But assuming we will achieve them, or on a lesser scale, simply assuming we will always get what we want, can set us up for difficulty and failure. Recovery when we feel cheated or denied is difficult. But I think that appreciating what we have, even after awful grief and loss, helps us move on.

* or something along those lines