Tuesday, 29 August 2017

You cannot change what you refuse to confront

This speaks to me, as I bemoan my messy office (whilst editing photographs or writing blog posts), my desire to lose weight (but my love of food and wine), my lack of income (but my procrastination about launching a new business), etc.

But it is relevant in the infertility context too, as we know that when we are trying to conceive, it is easy to single-mindedly pursue our goals, refusing to confront the prospect that we may never conceive or carry to term successfully, whilst desperately wanting the pain and frustration of infertility to end. Confronting that pain is the first step to changing the pain, and walking through that neglected door in the Infertility Waiting Room that I’ve written about before.

Once we are through the door, and living a No Kidding life, it can be easy to feel we’re going through the motions of life, without realising that we first need to confront ourselves, and our thoughts and beliefs that can so easily keep us feeling miserable, or thrust us back into grief. Confronting those negative thoughts about our lives, and the way others might perceive us, can help us reprogramme our brains, change the way we think, and live more contented and compassionate (to ourselves and others) lives.

It’s a constant lesson for me, one that well over a decade later I am still learning. At first, it was important to confront the thoughts about my worth, whether I deserved my fate or not, but now, I find myself confronting my feelings about how others react to me, deciding whether I can educate, be compassionate to what might motivate others to act or be insensitive, or to forgive and let it go. The compassion and forgiveness come more easily, as does the willingness to speak up and educate, to be matter-of-fact but kind, and most importantly, I try not to criticise or blame, but of course, this is all still a work in progress, because, well, that’s life.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Bittersweet past and present

Family gatherings are always bittersweet. One of my husband’s brothers and family have been back in NZ as their expat stints overseas have ended, though they are only here for a month (as covered by his end of contract provisions) because they are going to reside in the land of my sister-in-law, which is of course more tax-advantageous than staying here to help out with the elderly in-laws. Another brother and family decided to visit for several days to coincide, so three of the four brothers and their families are in the country at the same time, which happens only every 3 years or so. So it is chaotic and complicated and great fun.

One of the complications of course is being the couple who does all the care of the now very frail and vulnerable elderly in-laws and doesn’t have the luxury of choosing where to live based on tax advantages, and of course, there’s the complication of being the couple without children, the ones who didn’t provide the grandchildren. While they’ve been here we’ve celebrated the 18th birthday of the nephew who was born around the time we were trying, and the 16-year-old niece who was three months old at the Christmas when I was still having treatment for my first ectopic pregnancy, and the 13-year-old who was gestating when his mother said blithely to me, “if I miscarry, I don’t care because I can always get pregnant again.”

There are memories everywhere, but the kids aren’t aware of these things, and so it has been nice seeing them again, and chatting with them about books and history and their interests, though we’ve sadly had very little time with them, as time with their grandparents has had to be their priority. I was sad to know that I can’t see my Australian niece play netball, especially when she plays the very same positions that I did, and it was lovely to hear my own piano being played by my nephew, though of course there was pain that I will never hear it played by my own child. After so many years, it’s been a little surprising for some of the memories and emotions to come flooding back, and a little surprising to feel those painful twinges over the things I don’t get to do with my children (and see their parents dismiss the activities so casually), but at least now I know without doubt that I will recover quickly and regain my usual equilibrium in no time at all.


Monday, 14 August 2017

Making progress, or not?

One of my very early posts (in fact, it was my fourth post here) talked about the common statement, "as a mother ..." and bemoaned the fact that normal human compassion is so often qualified to that of a mother or more generally, a parent. I'm pleased to say though that recently I heard someone say (one of the presenters on the afternoon show of our national radio) "as a human being." I think he might have even started to say, "as a father," but stopped himself, and used the more inclusive term. I was gratified, and amazed - maybe times are changing?

A post a few weeks later raised the idea of media training for all of us, so that we could learn how to dodge intrusive questions, just as politicians do. Unfortunately, even politicians struggle with this, as we found when just a week or two ago a young (37) woman was appointed leader* of one of the two major political parties here. Seven hours later, she was asked (by the same presenter mentioned above, but in his television role) the first question about having children (she has said in the past she would like to), much to the discomfort of the female journalist sitting next to him, and we indulged in joint eye-rolling at the question, crushing my hopes for continued progress for women. However, the resulting public furore about this (and subsequent discussions in the media) made me more hopeful that society is changing, and that it is no longer acceptable to always see women as walking wombs first.


*Both parties have previously had female leaders and Prime Minister


 

Monday, 7 August 2017

500

Blogger tells me that this is my 500th blog on No Kidding in NZ, and so I thought it might be timely to look back on what I was writing every 100 posts, even though most of the time I was completely unaware that they were milestone posts. Even though I started this blog some years after coming to terms with my No Kidding life, there’s still been a journey in the way I think and express myself on this subject.

My 100th post was a post of celebration, both of the joys of a simple morning in Wellington, and the realisation that despite several possible fertility-related triggers, I was completely unaffected by them – though not so unaffected by the high-pitched screams of a fellow cafĂ© client.

My 200th post talked about an article about the fertility industry and some of their unrealistic promises (false advertising?), their financial interest in continuing to push treatments, and the damage done by their (and others) inability to acknowledge that a significant proportion of fertility patients won’t get pregnant or carry a healthy child to term.

At 300 posts, I briefly talked about the frustrating habit of parents saying that they couldn’t imagine their lives without their children, but not making any effort to understand what our lives without our children are like.

My 400th post complained about being sent inappropriate advertising, and then concluding at the end that rather than being irritated by it, I just had to laugh at their ignorance.

So whilst I can still be (and perhaps always will be) annoyed at those who get it wrong and make no effort to do better, I am in a better position to consider solutions or to suggest what they could do (for example, parents, medical professionals or fertility providers or businesses) to try to understand our lives, putting their own in a more honest context, just as we must try to do in return. I think that’s what understanding and honesty is all about – maybe that’s what my journey here is all about.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Confirmation bias and childlessness

I’ve been thinking about confirmation bias a bit over the last year. Increased access to technology and the internet means that, even more than previously, we are all able to surround ourselves with like-minded views, to read the information we agree with, not that which challenges us. It’s one of the reasons I still get a newspaper delivered. I like the fact that when I read the paper with breakfast, I read articles that I wouldn’t have clicked on if I was on the newspaper’s website, if I even got to the website (Besides, I like the puzzles.) I grew up in the age where we only had one, then two television channels in New Zealand. If we wanted to relax in front of a screen, we had to watch what was on. I learned a lot of new things I wouldn’t have otherwise, if I’d been able to change channels. Even my student exchange was a case of finding joy and discovery and a career path in something I’m not sure I would have chosen. My choices were simple – a US exchange, or an International exchange (which included the US as the last resort). I chose the International option, as I imagined myself on ski slopes in Switzerland, and ended up in Bangkok, Thailand. Students these days get to choose their desired destination, and many predictably go for the countries they know most about. I think this can be a big mistake.

I have to say though that I’m not making an argument against having too much choice, but rather making an argument for being open to other possibilities. We think we know what we need to know, and what we want to know, but we should always remain open, and explore new avenues. Obviously, as a person without children, I want others to be open to what my life is, and to accept it as a legitimate reality, and even as a realistic option.

Many of us have written about how hard it is for those going through infertility to be able to read our blogs. We probably remember this from our own journeys. Those who are trying to conceive find that conception (and carrying to term) becomes the main focus of their lives. They need support, and so read those who are at the same stage, those who are also full of hope, denying any alternative options, determined to reach their goal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Support is important, feeling you’re not alone is helpful, and feeling hope is a good thing. All this is healthy.

But refusing to go beyond that – especially if you’re in this for a long period of time – is less healthy and less helpful, because it also plays to your fears. We all know that our fears pull us down, tell us we’re worthless, and lie to us, but when we’re in the midst of fear, we don’t always see that. Staying within the actively-trying-to-conceive community convinces you that the holy grail of having a child is the answer to happiness, to everything you ever wanted in your life, and can close your mind to any alternatives. Or it can convince you that the alternatives – No Kidding for example – are your worst nightmares. Unfortunately, wider society just emphasises and further confirms those views, amplifies the fears and uncertainty, and paints the No Kidding life as a failure, as the worst case scenario, as a grey life full of sadness. Whereas we here all know that that is simply not the case.

Obviously, though, confirmation bias works both ways. I know that many of us, when we are newly entering the No Kidding community knowing it is for the rest of our lives, read only No Kidding blogs, for the same reasons – for self-protection, knowing we won’t see scan or newborn photos or pregnancy announcements, or hear all the statements that that cut us to the core and diminish us and our experiences. So, it is natural that many of us, especially in these early days, might read only No Kidding blogs for the support, to feel that we’re not alone, and to feel hope that we will be okay. If we only read No Kidding blogs, there is a safety in community that we can’t find elsewhere.

But it can mean that we become focused on our grief, unable to recognise the difficulties and hardships in other journeys, including those who got the holy grail. Long-term, there is a danger that a focus only on the No Kidding experience might stop us developing a wider perspective that could help us heal.

So could our own confirmation bias lead us to perpetuate our feelings of victimisation, and lead to the demonisation of those who are parents?

There is a real risk of this. And I do see it at times, though as I say, usually in the early days of accepting there will never be children. But I’m coming to the conclusion that we – the No Kidding – are perhaps less susceptible to the effects of confirmation bias than those in this community who are pregnant and parenting. We live in this world too, and unless we hide away and only ever communicate with others who don’t have children (which is impossible), we have no choice but to interact with others who have had different outcomes, with different views, and with different challenges.

We know (how could we not?) that the world has different opinions and lifestyles to our own, and once wanted to be part of those communities ourselves. We have friends and family who live differently from us. We are bombarded daily with the message that the way we live is different from, perhaps lesser than, the norm. Whereas so often, confirmation bias reinforces the superiority of a view or a lifestyle to the exclusion of other minorities, in our case, we might use it just to remind ourselves and each other that we are equal, and legitimate, members of wider society and this community.

In our case, is it actually a bias at all? I’m not so sure, and as I have written this post, I’ve found my ideas change. I started this post to make the comment that we must be sure we don't succumb to confirmation bias, become bitter, further isolate ourselves, anger others by not attempting to understand their situations, and make our own position in society harder than it already is. But as I have been writing, I’ve realised that – long-term, at least – there is little chance of that. 

When we do get together as a No Kidding community, we’re looking for and providing support that we don’t get elsewhere in society. Support in context is not a bias. But still, it's worth thinking about from time to time, and just checking that we're being fair and unbiased to both those with and without children. After all, that's really the only way to ever be fair to ourselves.