18 January, 2021

The unknown impact of words

I received a lovely email in December from a reader who is giving me a lot to think about. It was a letter of thanks to our whole community, and so I had to share it with you all. In her words,

"I quite honestly could have … contacted Infertile Phoenix, Loribeth, Jess at My Road to Mommyhood, even Sue at Childless by Marriage (even though that was never my precise situation) because I read you all. And all of your encouraging blog posts and comments."

Gateway Women was also a major influence for her as well. But she wrote to me, perhaps because I am a fellow kiwi (NZer). Essentially though, her message is to us all, which is why I am writing this blog, and mostly using her words (with her permission) to do so.

She was wary of writing. She emphasised that we all need to be more sensitive to the other people in the room, not to be person asking or saying “whatabout …,” and leaving us in peace in our respective safe spaces. Because she has children. But she wanted us to know that we had all helped her. She said,

" … what I really want to say is that the vast majority of my healing and growth has come from the profound wisdom and humour and kindness expressed through your community."

This is why I write, and why I love reading all (or as many as possible) writers in our community. Because, even unintentionally, we touch others outside that community. I know I’ve written that bu being part of the ALI community, and through healing and understanding and growth, I know that I have become better able to help others. But here was a concrete example of that!

You may wonder how this is? Her story is not uncommon. She faced infertility, went through multiple pregnancy losses, and (like many of us) had her reasons for not pursuing adoption. So she was exploring the prospects of a No Kidding life, coming to terms with the fact she would not have children, when she became pregnant. This time it stuck. But motherhood has been complicated for her, and not the "ultimate purpose" of her life as we are all led to believe it will be.

That’s when she found the community again. But not to pity us, or to feel grateful for what she had. She wrote:

"It even took me a while to realise what I was doing. Why was I reading about these lives and thoughts that were, at least on paper, shaped so differently to my own (but felt similar)? And I think it was a way to reach back to the pre-parenthood me. I was so profoundly terrified of a life without children when it appeared inevitable – I had no template for it. I imagined that becoming a parent would somehow erase all of those existential crises thoughts, and I’d have my ‘purpose’ and everything would be ok.

And when it didn’t, I needed to see role models. People who had actually been through the fire. People who didn’t have the (too often) default fall back of “my kids” as the answer for the purpose in life. Somehow, reading from the often profound, often wry blogs in your community, I was able to forgive my pre-parenthood self her fears, and accept my current parenting self for her ‘failures’ as a mum. I would have been ok had I not become a parent. I would have had a fulfilling and satisfying life. I will still be ok now that my life involves parenting. It is not my purpose, it was not what I was ‘put here to do’ – I am still me! You and your friend acknowledged this ages ago: there is no purpose in life other than to enjoy the lives we have."

She talks about the cult of motherhood, and the pressure she feels, and in our correspondence she is sparking thoughts on new blogs from me on this too. But ultimately, she just wanted to thanks us all – writers AND readers and commenters of these blogs, and the Gateway community:

 "Thank you for putting your thoughts out there for people like me to anonymously read. It laid the foundation for me to begin griefwork (because fundamentally many of my torments were unaddressed grief from infertility and losses). And it has allowed me to grow and appreciate, to continue to learn, and perhaps counter-intuitively, to be a better parent."

 <Note from Mali: I don’t think it is counter-intuitive at all!>

 She continued, 

“If parenting’s goal is to raise human beings, then what better guide than people who had to accept the intrinsic unfairness of life in ways that are not socially supported? Who had to rebuild and reassess life in ways that our current society does not expect or demand parents to?”

I've often thought that we have a lot in common with parents. That some societal pressures to conform to one way of behaving or one world view are detrimental to us all. My correspondent agrees, and I may write more about that at another time. But right now, one of the things that has given my life joy and purpose has been being able to help others – whether it is simply from a kind word or smile, or a simple donation, from volunteering or from writing this blog. Getting positive feedback is therefore a reaffirmation that my efforts are worthwhile, and encourages me to continue. I suspect it is the same for you all. So I need to thank our kiwi reader for her words too. Thanks for sharing our common experiences, and the completely unintended impact our words can have – in a good way.


  1. Wow. This brought tears to my eyes. I'm so glad that reading different perspectives helps even when the situation isn't quite the same, and I agree it's not counter-intuitive, but it's still eye opening to hear this Kiwi reader's letter. Thank you for sharing. I bet she's not alone. And I am honored to be included in the voices that made her feel less alone. I bet you have a ton of good posts coming out of this interaction regarding the cult of motherhood and pressures. I think it comes back to your infertility waiting room... There's no perfect door to go through.

  2. I love the kind words of your reader!

    I have always liked women who are like her - with the attitude: "I am still me."

  3. How wonderful that this reader took the time to let you know her thoughts. I, too, experienced many of those revelations about the cult of motherhood and not automatically having a life purpose just from having a child.

  4. We never know the impact we have on others, sometimes where/when we least expect it...! Thanks to your anonymous correspondent, Mali, and thank you for sharing that with us. Made my day! :)