29 October, 2019

Needing to belong

Listening to an interview today, I heard a young Maori man talk about his desire to go somewhere where being Maori was normal, the standard state of being.

Whilst different, this need to belong, the yearning to be amongst people who are the same, made me think of childless women. Whilst we might have accepted we'll never be part of the wider "norm" of women who are mothers or who expect to be mothers, we do still yearn for a place where we feel normal, where No Kidding women are the standard, or at least we are not seen as different. Sometimes we can achieve that in work gatherings – I don't really recall being asked if I had children at any time in the 11 years I was on a Board of Directors (although I faced other sexist issues over my time on the Board), and I also remember going on a course when, for two wonderful days, the issue of anyone having children was completely irrelevant and ignored by all attendees. The fact that I still remember the relief and freedom that two-day course offered me ten years ago is a testament to how rare these times can be, and to how unrelenting the pressure to be "normal" can be. (Though it also reminds me that I feel this pressure so much less, if at all, these days.)

I am lucky too, in that I have some friends without children. In fact, a week or so ago a group of women – all mutual friends of a friend – went out for dinner and a community theatre performance, and it was only afterwards that I realised that only one of us had children. We had a great time. Yes, my friend showed videos of her new nephew, and I felt forced to ooh and aah over him for her sake (she is also involuntarily No Kidding). But once that was over, we all relaxed, had fun, and best of all, felt normal, and that we belonged.

I hope that you all manage to have the occasional evening like this, when you can shed your childlessness, and just be.

22 October, 2019

When pain heightens awareness

At the end of The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clementine Wamariya said something else that I meant to include in my last post, but forgot. That's okay, because having its own post means I can comment on this idea a bit more.

She said (and I will paraphrase a little, because she struggled getting the words out),
"use your ears, not only to hear what others are saying to hurt you,
but to hear ALL the sounds around."
She recognised that it is so easy, especially when we are in pain, to only hear what hurts us. And this is normal. Suddenly, after a loss or when we find ourselves in a situation we never imagined or wanted, there are slights all around. Part of this is because we have a new awareness of how this world is focused on the majority, and ignores, neglects and insults the minority. Part of it, however, is that we are only capable of focusing on what accentuates the pain we are already in. After all, pain has a way of blocking off everything else around us, insisting we focus on it, and it alone.

But when we have healed a little, have become able to put the pain away for seconds, or minutes, or days (or weeks or months), it is good to start to hear "all the sounds around." Hear the reasons behind the hurtful comments, and the hurt – whilst very different from ours – that often prompts them. Understanding helps reduce the sting of those comments. Hear our own prejudices in addition to that of others against us, and ask if they are fair. And to those who have come out of infertility with children, I'd ask them to continue to hear the voices that included their own voices, just a short time ago.

We all share so much, even when our situations are so different. The experiences of those in pain are often very similar. Let's use our heightened awareness to hear the commonalities in our experience, rather than the differences.

14 October, 2019

Learning resilience from The Girl Who Smiled Beads

I've just come back from a walk, when I not only enjoyed the mild temperatures of spring, the calm weather (windy walks are the norm in this city), and the last remnants of blossoms, but listened to the end of an extraordinary audiobook. It is the story of a refugee from Rwanda, and is extraordinary not for the fact of her journey, which - as she points out - is sadly common amongst fellow Rwandans, and innocent refugees all over the world, but for her voice, and her honesty, her pain, and her wish to be seen and understood.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads has another narrator, but there is an epilogue in which the author, Clemantine Wamariya, speaks directly to the reader, and we finally hear her own voice. Her words are important, and relevant for all of us. I found some of them particularly appropriate to those of us who have walked the No Kidding path, and was delighted to hear that she reflected my wishes for this blog. She stressed the importance of remembering who you are, of speaking the truth, and of not reverting to programmed views and stereotypes. She said,

"My wish for you is to remember you. ... To use your eyes to truly see. ...

To use your mouth to speak, where each word invites you to be you. ...
And if you've made peace ... remember the joy. ..."

She finishes with great advice.

"Taste delicious meals!"

This reminder to be honest, to be yourself, to speak your truth, and finally to allow yourself to feel joy, is incredibly relevant to those of us who have struggled through infertility, and is a recipe for healing, and for living, regardless of our outcomes.

I highly recommend this book.

07 October, 2019

Baby Loss Awareness

Today is Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day. I've written about it on A Separate Life here. In the next week we have Baby Loss Awareness week too, a loss I have experienced directly. Both these experiences have taught me how lucky I am too. In thinking and writing about pregnancy loss, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned, for my growth, and for being able to get where I am now. As you know, I've written a whole series on the gifts that have come from infertility and childlessness.

And in my experience, my No Kidding story began with ectopic pregnancies, just one type of pregnancy loss, just one way of losing our babies. But never having those babies is a loss too, so I have to acknowledge those whose losses are not recognised in the same way.

It's been almost 18 years since my first ectopic pregnancy. I still remember it every day. But 99% of the time I remember without pain. I remember the love I felt for that baby, and the one I lost the following year too. I remember how I felt when I lost these pregnancies, but I don't relive the pain. Time helps. Time heals. Love stays. It gets better. Believe it.

01 October, 2019

Finding acceptance and compassion

Several blog posts over the last few weeks have all come together in my mind, as well as observations of a Fbk group focused on ageing without children. And so I had to put some thoughts down.

I read a post of a woman who was struggling with the fact that it was unlikely that she will have the third child she so desperately wants. I read Fbk posts from people who seem to reside permanently in grief over the children they were not able to have. They seem unable to be able to move on, and I feel for them. I read their comments wishing that they could join this community, and feel the hope and compassion and understanding that I try to offer, and that is offered by my readers and fellow bloggers. And I read Léa’s post here about the difficulty of acceptance, referring to a study (one that I had quoted after Loribeth had referenced it about five years ago) that found that acceptance is vital for happiness. 

Then I read responses to the people who were stuck in their grief from a person who berated them for that. Just because this person was able to move forward and embrace their life, and embrace the children of friends and family, they seemed to think that everyone should be able to do that. And they weren’t particularly kind. They didn’t think that maybe their circumstances were different, maybe their friends and family were more inclusive, maybe they had children in their lives they could influence, or maybe they had the mental and physical wellbeing to be able to cope with their lives. So they were judgemental of the grief-stricken for not moving on. Which is, as we know, exceedingly unhelpful.

“Get over it,” or words to that effect, are never going to work. I am cautious even when I tell people that it gets easier, because I know many will resist and resent that message until, one day, they realise they can start to believe it. Over 15 years, I’ve seen this pattern over and over again. Over one, two or three years, the large majority of us learn to accept our lives. We first learn to let go of the yearning. Then eventually, the mourning turns into remembering. And we learn not only to accept our lives, but to love them. We learn to look to the future.

But what of those who don’t? Decades on, they are still grieving, or worse, still yearning. I don’t know if they are stuck in their grief simply because they have never received help and encouragement to find a way to stop their yearning that will never be fulfilled. Or maybe they’ve never had to face and overcome their emotions, their fears, and now don’t know how to even start to do that. Or maybe, perhaps, they were just having a bad day (as we all do), and needed some understanding and compassion.

It’s frustrating. I started this post to write about those who have been unable to move on, and who continue to feel their loss keenly. I end it with no helpful conclusion, other than that compassion and understanding and acceptance – our own, as well as that of others – is key to our well-being. As Léa said so beautifully (in translation), "it is essential for (our) mental health to mourn without continuing to hope in vain."