30 April, 2018

Better than bearable

In ALI blogging circles, it’s not unusual to read the comment, "I can't bear to live without children," which, when you think about it, is a huge statement to make, devaluing as such everything else that might be good about our lives.

It makes me question why some people might feel so definitively that their lives (and therefore our lives?) would not be worth living without children, though I know there are some obvious first answers:
  • Is it because, during infertility, we invest so much of our time, our money, and our emotional capital into having children, that it seems impossible to even begin to think that this might have been anything other than 100% necessary?
  • It it because society’s pronatal emphasis on being a parent, and the daily proporaganda that we are exposed to as a result, leaves us questioning the validity of any other life for ourselves?
  • Is it shame or fear of failure; simply by living a No Kidding life we admit to the world that we couldn’t achieve something that so many achieve so easily?
I think that, here in ALI-land, we only ever question statements like this when we know that we have no choice but to bear it, when we realise that we may have to live No Kidding lives, to find our way on a path without children.

But it makes me sad that during the infertility battle these blanket statements aren’t questioned then  either, as I think it would make life a lot easier when we step through the door and onto that No Kidding path.

Because the truth is, our No Kidding lives are so, so much more than simply bearable, filled with joy and opportunity, and endless positives.

23 April, 2018

You won't always be sad

A post recently made me think about grieving, and healing, and reminded me of how far I’ve come, and more importantly, how I got here.

Not So Mommy wrote about advice that it was “okay to be sad,just don’t stay there,” which sounds about right, doesn’t it? But whilst it might be true (as evidenced in Brandi's post), I don’t think it is helpful to tell someone not to "stay there” in sadness, because – whilst I recognise the temptation to do just that, when grieving becomes so familiar and almost comforting to us – when, in time, we want to move away from the sadness, we don't always know how to do that, which in turn can bring feelings of inadequacy or guilt or disbelief.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think the main thing I needed to know was that it would help me to welcome joy, and gratitude. Even in the midst of grief, there were occasional fleeting moments of happiness that visited unexpectedly –the feeling of sun on my back, or a hug from a loved one, or a surprising belly laugh at something silly. I felt guilty at first (which I explore here), but they also made me realise that joy was possible. It was still okay to be sad, but feelings of happiness, or gratitude, or joy, taught me that I wouldn’t stay there forever, and many years on, I know that is true. 

So I’d like to amend the quote to read, “It’s okay to be sad, just know that you won’t stay there.”

16 April, 2018

Microblog Monday Miscellany

  1. In case you missed it, I finally wrote my review of the Fertility Week that was featured on a TV programme here about a month or two ago.
  2. I've been reading a couple of ALI blogs recently where people are contemplating ending their pursuit of a family through IVF. When people are actively and openly talking about this, I do think it is appropriate to let them know that there is light on the other side. So, in case they might be visiting here, I  remind them of that fact, and refer them to a couple of my favourite and perhaps most relevant posts:
    Infertility's Waiting Room and
    Feeling Left Behind
  3. That previous point took me down the rabbit hole of old posts, and I got caught reading a number of them, which always (ALWAYS) leads me to cringing at (but not always correcting) all the missed typos that come from being too lazy to proof-read after editing/restructuring, or from autocorrect on my iPad! 
  4. If you're one of the Microblog Monday bloggers, know that I always read all the posts on the list that week, even if I don't comment. I try to comment even on the parenting or pregnant blogs, but there are sometimes when even simple platitudes don't come, and I become the keyboard-equivalent of speechless, not because I find the posts triggering or hurtful, or because I've turned my back on your blogs (and that goes for pregnant/parenting non-MM bloggers too), but simply because our experiences are so completely different.
  5. I am finding it a struggle to keep up with all my blogs (yes, perhaps having three is one or two too many?!) as well as exercise, eating healthily, looking for jobs, other writing projects, ridding myself of 2018 things in 2018, my photography course, Instagram (@travellingMali) and Fb, keeping up with my Goodreads challenge of only 25 books this year, caring for elderly in-laws, keeping house, etc etc, so at the moment, I am thankful I don't have kids on top of all this!

14 April, 2018

Fertility Week: Highlighting infertility and loss on mainstream media

Some weeks ago, I mentioned here that a nightly news/magazine-style programme on one of our major TV channels was going to present a Fertility Week. I recorded each night, and have now finally got around to watching them, to report back.

They introduced the series one Friday evening. I did however immediately email them, asking that they ensure they include examples where people didn’t walk away from infertility with children.

Monday evening was information night. “Fertility, the “F” word, a big effing deal.” The statistics were useful. One in four couples face fertility issues, which is more than the population of the South Island. For someone who grew up in the South Island (ie, me!), that comparison is huge. They explained the issues of unexplained, male and female infertility, and when you should seek help for under 35s and over 35s.

They interviewed a couple with a low sperm count and low AMH. They were young, but had been dismissed by doctors, and they urged people to get tested. They noted too, that they hadn’t told many people in their lives – until now! And they talked about the invasive questions, and that people don’t take the hint that they don’t want to give answers. “People don’t quit when asking about babies,” they said, ruefully. Josh, the host who had suffered infertility, agreed. I wondered if anyone watching this would really understand what they were saying, would realise how painful these questions can be, and would change their actions.

One of the co-hosts talked about his own story. Josh noted that his first baby is due soon, but that really it is his fourth, but no-one accepts or recognises that. He talked about how difficult it is to open up, and that he noted that when others on staff announced pregnancies, he decided would ask if they had faced difficulties. Almost all of them had, but none had spoken of it. He emphasised, “it was a relief to know we weren’t alone.” And on reflection, he thinks it would have helped if he could have talked about it as they were going through infertility and loss.

Tuesday evening they turned to science. They talked about government funding, the requirements, and the cost for private patients (or those 40 and over who don’t qualify). They interviewed three couples who together had years of trying for children. But they didn’t include anyone who was not successful with IVF. So even though they noted that, percentage-wise, you’re more likely not to get pregnant than to get pregnant (under 35 about 45% success rate, over 42, a 10% rate), there was no discussion of donor eggs or sperm that might boost those rates. The visual of the happy interviewees with their babies/children would be the lasting image many people would take from this segment, giving a dishonest impression of the possible and probably outcomes. Let my eye-rolling commence.

On Wednesday, they talked to the guys, which I was pleased to see. They emphasised issues around male infertility. Of course, one man they interviewed couldn’t resist going on about his “miracle.” Sure, after two ectopics and seven miscarriages, he was understandably ecstatic. But he didn’t seem to register that others might not be so successful. He stressed the “need to address” the problems, “especially something like this that can be remedied.” Queue further eye-rolling from me.

However, I had some hope. Because each night, the group of three hosts is joined by a guest, and this night their guest was JJ, a well known radio host and Dancing with the Stars contestant who has spoken up in women’s magazines about her and her husband’s infertility. I knew she didn’t have the “miracle baby” outcome to her infertility. And after the man who waffled on not to give up, she spoke up.

JJ talked about her eight years of infertility, the multiple unsuccessful IUIs and IVF cycles, and the fact they never got their baby. She was in tears, but spoke through them, determined to explain why some people do have to stop trying. She talked too about the emotional impact on her husband. It was important, I wanted to cheer for her, but I believe I was crying too. You can watch her piece here.

Thursday night they turned to adoption. “When all options are exhausted, some turn to adoption.” But thankfully, they almost immediately pointed out that adoption is “almost impossible” in New Zealand. Adoptions by non-relatives have plummeted by 98% over the last thirty years. This is one reason why I get annoyed at the “just adopt” brigade, and why I get annoyed at the people who say that we chose to resolve childfree. When I say that sometimes there are no options, you need to believe me! They noted that adoptions in New Zealand are almost always open, perhaps unusually. And they pointed out that adoption can be complicated, and that there are almost always issues of abandonment and trust involved.

They didn’t really cover international adoption, or the cost of that, and the difficulty of doing this from New Zealand, but I guess they had limited time. 
I did appreciate the clip of a woman commenting that, because she couldn’t adopt (domestically or internationally) due to health issues, she struggled at times. She explained that yes, she might be happy for others, but at the same time she felt sadness and grief for herself. Mother’s Day, which is only a few weeks away here in NZ, is particularly hard. Apart from JJ, this was the only childless outcome openly discussed the entire week.

The final programme of their Fertility Week talked about the stress of loss and infertility on relationships. They quoted women who had told their husbands that they would understand if he left them for a woman who could give them children. They talked about friendship losses as well, about whilst you might be happy for your friends, sometimes it was too hard to be with them and their families. Or finding that friends weren’t always patient or understanding.

Of course, in interviewing people about this, they didn’t edit the clip where another woman with a baby on her lap stressed to keep trying, to keep going. The insensitivity frustrated me – I'm not sure if she wanted to give hope, or was just so thrilled with her victory she wanted to shout it from the rooftops. She certainly didn't recognise the damage that this pressure to never give up could do to people at the end of their limits. A knowledgeable producer might have been able to counter this, but it was all done too quickly, with little time to elaborate.

During the week they had been running a hashtag to get people to share their stories. The name of the hashtag was simple, catchy, but misdirected. #mybabystory implies that there is a baby, when for many people going through infertility, and needing the support of others, there is never a baby. Even searching #mybabystory does nothing but bring up photographs of babies, potentially very triggering for people looking for support, going through infertility now, or trying to come to terms with their No Kidding lives after infertility. I felt that this was a big fail, and I wonder who they actually consulted for advice when putting the week together.

They finished the week with the stories people wrote in to tell, and each of the hosts had read these out in a pre-recorded segment. It was emotional, and you can see the final segment here. They couldn’t bloody resist, though, could they? It became dangerously close to a “just adopt” segment, and they only included one quote from someone who never became a parent.

Still, there was one sentence which I listened to with a very different perspective. “I have unconditional love for a baby I didn’t birth,” wrote one parent. I assumed that this comment was about adoption. But I read it, and related to it, in another way. It could just as easily have been me talking about my unconditional love for babies never born. I think all of us here can relate to that.

My conclusion is that this was a very successful week, and they deserve the praise the programme received. Personally, each of the hosts dealt with the issues with tact and sensitivity, and it was a welcome airing of issues too often kept hidden in the shadows. 

But they could easily have done much better, simply by changing some words, editing some clips and scripts, and being a bit more balanced. Ultimately, their discomfort with the hardest part of infertility – the fear that the outcome won’t be what is most sought after  – led to the fact that they pretty much ignored that outcome. And they certainly didn't point out that a No Kidding life isn't full of pain and regret and sadness and envy, but can be full of friendship and joy and adventure and fulfilment. Clearly, they should have called me for advice!

Still, brava to The Project NZ for their Fertility Week.

Some other links:
Jesse Mulligan, the host of The Project, wrote this article summing up the week.
A clip about invasive questions from a guest who doesn’t have children.

09 April, 2018

Little girls need old women

Recently I smiled when I read a post that commented, “little girls need old women,” but almost immediately thought of my own old age, only a decade or two away, and our confident plan to be somewhere where any transitions can be dealt with more easily in our old age without children, and realised that it will be harder to be around little girls there, to be the old woman they need, to get the rewards of being there for someone else. At first, I felt conflicted, wondering if it means I should try to stay in the wider community as long as possible, so that I might have the chance of meeting little girls I could befriend and nurture and listen to? Maybe my plan isn’t as reasonable as I think it is?

I thought of the logistics of doing this, and then I thought of the effort of trying to move, when frail and vulnerable and easily stressed, without any younger generational support, when it was inevitable that I would have no choice but to move. No, my plan still seems sound (though I do have another fifteen or twenty years or so to figure it out properly). And sure, I can be the kindly great-aunt, the one ready to listen to great-nieces when or if they visit. But living where I do, without any relatives nearby, the opportunities for that will be severely limited. So whilst my plan might be sound, what it may mean is that infertility has robbed me even of being the friendly old lady across the road. I feel a little sad at that, because old women need little girls too.

07 April, 2018

Childless Success Stories Revisited: Our Declaration of Independence

Loribeth’s post about a New York Times article (which I didn’t read due to the paywall, and didn’t feel I needed to, given her excellent recap) which essentially gave the message "never give up" added to a comment on a post, from someone who said they always liked "hearing success stories about infertility." I was frustrated at both these instances, and the view that the only success stories are those who have children after infertility.

Six years ago this month, I wrote a post about this subject called The real success stories. Go read it if you haven’t – I was going to repost it here in its entirety, but realised I had some more things to say, so in the interests of brevity I’ve just provided the link. Because you see, six years later, I’m frustrated that pretty much every word of it is still relevant (though of course, I hadn’t really expected change in society to occur that quickly).

And so, once again, I wonder why, in this supposedly more accepting age, in the 21st century, people still focus so much on the so-called success stories (ie, those with babies). They don’t want to hear the stories of those of us who didn’t have children. But why don’t they? What is wrong with hearing the stories of those who battled bravely, didn’t achieve their desired outcome, but went on to live good, full lives? What is wrong with thinking about those of us on a different path than we might have wanted? What is wrong with acknowledging that there are some of us who have suffered real loss? Why does it make them uncomfortable? And what is wrong with acknowledging that there can be happiness and pride and fulfilment in a life that is different from theirs?

Why are people so uncomfortable and afraid of the different? The answers are obvious, of course, but I think today I needed to rant! So in brief, I know that humanity finds it hard to cope with the idea of “different.” There are myriad examples of this, in every society, all over the world – discrimination and bias are, sadly, key features of human nature. And those in the majority like to feel that theirs is the best, the happiest, the only legitimate outcome. Hence the inability of so many to acknowledge those of us who don't come out of infertility as a parent.

Actually, though, if I think about it, maybe some things have changed. International discussions about childless leaders now invariably criticise discrimination against women without children, rather than accepting and justifying it. Here in the ALI community, our numbers have grown, and we are becoming harder to ignore. Mel’s Round-Up, for example, regularly includes posts from the not-so-Silent Sorority of No Kidding bloggers* on the road less travelled and on different shores, living the next 15000 days of our lives without baby, rising from the ashes of infertility, sometimes brutal in their honesty, bent but not broken, inconceivably eloquent. Posts are written, interviews given, articles printed, and books published giving our perspective. I’m so proud of everyone doing this.

But I say again, in our Declaration of Independence, so-named by Loribeth in the original post's comments, that I believe we are the true success stories. We are the ones who fought to get what we wanted, who did everything and (sometimes) more than those who have children, and still didn’t get what we wanted. So we learned to want what we have. We may have endured agonies, perhaps years of grief and adjustment, but we learned to retrain our brains away from the if-onlys, to find new hope for different things, to blossom and thrive on an alternative path, to embrace ourselves, and our lives. Born out of hardship and disappointment, we are the true success stories. I celebrate you, and I celebrate us.

* Those other excellent bloggers not able to be mentioned here are included in my blogroll.

03 April, 2018

Redirecting No Kidding resilience

This year I’ve been rather distracted from this space, as you may have noticed, what with new self-imposed and enjoyable projects that are more time-consuming than I expected – blogging, and photography, and summer! – and, less enjoyably, external pressures and obligations that I have been finding very stressful. I have, however, just realised that some of the things I learnt about resilience after infertility and No Kiddingness might actually help me again now, and so I am promising myself I will do more of the following:
  1. Get out in nature, and feel the joy of it, and feel gratitude for my body carrying me through it.
  2. Deny the narrative of the voices in my head, and the voices of unhelpful people (after all, what they say is probably more about them than it is about me), and  let them go, because I know they’re not true.
  3. Stop letting others dictate how I feel, stop letting them belittle me, when I'm doing so much more than they are, as their comments and actions are probably about them, not about me.
  4. Let go of the anger, because it only eats me up, and forgive them, even if it is only to stop bringing myself down.
  5. Stop being so hard on myself, and show myself some self-compassion - I I don't need to justify my actions to anyone when they are coming from my heart.
  6. Take control of what I can control, and use that to move myself forward.