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


  1. Pertinent topic for me right now. What accusations were made? (I will explore those links more thoroughly after typing this). I think endlessly about the different experiences of those within the IF community, and whether we are as cohesive and "together" in our solidarity as we seem to be. I am aware every time I leave a comment on the blog of someone who is still desperately trying to get pregnant that they might not necessarily relate to me or maybe even want me in their blogosphere (angel of doom syndrome...). Or is that just my own perception? And I know that I have my own "triggers", one of which is people who - after having fertility treatment at an earlier date - have eventually conceived naturally and have one or more children, yet still call themselves "infertiles" in their current writings. I'll admit it: I just can't help it, that does wound me. Hurts! But I should exercise empathy and not do the competitive hardship thing, I know. You say that there is a real sense of isolation for those of us that came out of infertility empty-handed: this is so true. It's also true when you say that we become more objective as time passes and emotions ease. I feel more objective and neutral now, but I still wonder whether our experiences are just too different for us all to be a real, strong, genuinely-bonded, at-one community - I hope not, and I wonder what others think?
    Great topic Mali and I thank my stars for the No Kidding crew (proud to be on the list to the right there..).

  2. I am scrambling to catch a plane from California to Washington DC for the Women's March, and but a quick note to say that emotions are raw and remain so for a very long time for those who wanted to conceive and deliver children but were unable to do so. We are complex creatures who are only just now getting a measure of credit and acknowledgement for all we've had to confront (including society's default response: dismissal and downplaying of the very real grief that consumes us on our paths. The healing would be hastened if we were not forced to defend our pain. Perhaps the best way to show that we have range: consider an infertile woman who wanted nothing more than to have children and spent nearly a decade trying and then another decade actively grieving those losses investing herself in advocating for policies that will help other people's children. It behooves all to look deeply into their soul and ask could they do the same -- hold that grief and yet still find the capacity to create opportunities for the next generation to flourish in harmony. I promise to come back and review all of this in more detail. I'm away now...xoxox

  3. Wonderful measured post Mali,
    I can't think of anything to add, just to say that I agree completely with your words & Pamela's

  4. This is a very thorough and thoughtful post, Mali. Like you, I don't believe that any (or the vast majority) of us write with the intention of hurting anyone. I am sure I have hammered out some posts in the heat of the moment that gave offense to some -- but that was certainly not my intention. And I would point out that we in this corner of the community have certainly been subjected to some thoughtlessness (however inadvertent) on the part of other ALI-ers too. If we ever express negativity about others in this community who are still TTC or now parenting after infertility &/or loss, I think it's probably in response to our own feelings & experiences of being marginalized, forgotten and unwelcome.

    Ultimately, as I commented in one of the other posts that you flagged here, I think most of us write for ourselves.

  5. I also love the thoughtfulness of this post. I can say that when I was in the first few years of my infertility treatment journey, I did not want to hear other perspectives. I only wanted to hear stories of people who "made it" because it was too scary to me to think on the alternative. I didn't think childfree not by choice people were bitter or trying to dissuade me, because I did not seek out that voice. Which was unfortunate, because maybe listening to that voice might have cut through some of the miraculous-thinking, nevergiveupevereverkeepgoingtillyoudrop mentality that I feel I was sold by some entities. I think all voices are important, and listening to perspectives that might be uncomfortable is good for you. Not agreeing with people is not a horrible thing as long as it is done respectfully. I think it is very difficult to write and not offend someone unintentionally, because as Loribeth said, we write for ourselves, from the vantage point of our experiences -- even when we seek to educate. I process a lot through my writing, and hope that I don't offend but realize too that I can never make everyone happy. Someone is likely to think me bitter at some point, and that's their right from where they stand. It just won't stop me writing from my place in space, that's all. :) I think it's always wonderful to stop and think about how words are received, the impact we have on different people through sharing various experiences. I know I appreciate and respect your voice so much, and feel shame that at one point I wouldn't have wanted to listen.

  6. So perfectly said, Mali. Every last word. I feel enriched by the value of this post and disheartened that it had to be written at all.

    A huge YES to: "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."

    I've always felt this should be an easy thing to recognize, empathize with and honor, but I know most of us run into different responses from time to time. When expressing my needs, feelings and experiences I too have been accused of being selfish, uncaring, begrudging others their happiness, and competing in the pain Olympics. I've had to learn the hard way that this has much more to do with that person's inability to validate and empathize than it does with what I said or wrote.

    I would have benefited had the No Kidding perspective been generally more visable throughout my TTC journey. That said, I think there are points along the way when people are not ready for it, and this is ok and normal too. However it does not warrant criticism towards and judgement of the messenger.

    I accept that there will always be those who expect behavior over authenticity, truth and all of the rough edges that naturally accompany such things, especially life altering experiences that remain collectively unacknowledged. Also, there is the societal expectation, all too often subconscious, that it is somehow the job of those of us who weren't able to have children to conform to the views/feelings/perspectives of those who were able to or are still hopeful. I always say, I owe my silence - and conformity and sugar coating - to no one.

  7. This right here is why those living childfree not by choice need to keep blogging. Because it needs to continue to be put out there. I blogged all through my infertility, and I know I posted "bitterly" from time to time. Actually probably a lot. I still blog, a year into parenting now, to keep a record of my daughter, but I also still need the space to continue processing my emotions. I'm so glad you wrote this, because it's so important for others to hear. I agree with some of the other commenters. I didn't want to read blogs of women walking through life without children. It terrified me and I'm ashamed of that, and I am still ashamed of the fact that I read them now, having a child. Infertility is sticky. I mean, it's not we come out of this like alcoholics do when they maintain sobriety after AA meetings. We all have different outcomes, and even when we are successful, the grief and trauma can remain.

  8. I really love your last paragraph. So well said about balancing the voice/emotional space of the writer with respect for the reader.

    So much in life really comes down to empathy, to connection.

  9. This is one of the most important posts that I've read in a long time. Through blogging I've grown as a person, in my writing and in my ability to have compassion and empathy for others. You are a big reason for that. I'm so thankful that you were willing to represent our community and address the concerns of the person who wrote to you. Brava!