(Not literally. Can you imagine? A massive friend pile up.)
Yesterday I braved the public transport system into town, as in The City, as in The City of London, as in The Square Mile… Yes, the business/financial district of London. As anyone who’s spent any time working in the City will tell you, navigating Bank station is a complete nightmare at most times (steps! crowds!) and even worse at rush hour, so it was quite a brave move.
A friend from my old job wanted to catch up, so I thought we could meet and I’d tack on another couple of friends as loads of people work around Bank. (It’s the heart of the business district in London. And extremely busy.) I decided I’d travel in after morning rush hour and take the sling, which worked fairly well. I got a seat on the tube and felt fairly pleased with myself, and B duly snoozed away.
I installed myself in a lunch place and people came to me. I always thought parents who did this were smug ****ers, but it turns out they were just being practical. Babies are portable, for sure. But their surrounding paraphernalia, less so. Also it turns out that the City is not set up for babies. Both the places we installed ourselves in yesterday didn’t even have bathrooms! (For the inevitable apoocalypse we went to Pizza Express and asked nicely to use the bathroom.)
First up was my best friend from my current work. She’s actually a client so doesn’t work for the same company, and she’s a PA. I find it weird that people don’t expect managers to be friends with PAs, as people have commented that it’s unusual. We just kind of clicked and she’s the only one I particularly miss from work. We aren’t alike at all – she’s a bit older and kind of broad speaking, speaks her own mind and doesn’t take things too seriously. Well, maybe we are!
We had a good catch up about work and non work over pizza and she held B and played with him. I was conscious how nice she was being – she also bought him a present before he was born – as she told me that many years ago she’d had a stillborn baby. She doesn’t have any kids now and she’s probably past the age to have kids. She said she’s resigned to not having kids. Anyway I felt it was bittersweet to see her with him as she was so nice and seemed happy about it. But I guess it must hurt in a way also.
Then randomly I realised there was a guy in the pizza place who was a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in years. So I went to check it was him and he was! We had a quick catch up (obviously we have seen each other on fb) and it turns out he lives really nearby. We worked out the last time we saw each other was at my wedding party. Yes – the one where I’m not married any more!
The third person was a friend from my previous job. (For those of you who followed my blog from the beginning, that one.) You may recall I went through some pretty bad stuff there. Dealing with operations, IVF and subsequent miscarriage with not an ounce of sympathy or understanding.
Anyway it turns out my friend (who is black) was also bullied and ended up resigning. Not without raising a grievance. (I didn’t bother. I just left.) They just couldn’t really deal with women of colour there. We realised there were at least four women who left in quick succession because of the bullying culture. Not nice to know it’s happened to more than one of us, but sort of reassuring that it wasn’t just me.
She ended up being on paid leave for months due to the stress of being bullied by them… Horrible stuff, but at least she was paid for that. As she put it, “They can pay for me to sit in the garden!” I kind of can’t believe that they still think it’s okay to discriminate against people who aren’t white men, but it’s that sort of company. Pretty prestigious but some rotten aspects. I’m so glad I left – my company now isn’t as prestigious but the people are nicer and I get paid more!
My final friend was a friend from my first job. We must have met when I was really young, and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s recently taken a job in London so took the time to pop out and meet us. It was great to see her as she lives outside of London so I don’t see her very often.
We talked about how it is to be a woman who doesn’t have children. She said she’s made her peace with it, and I was really glad because I knew she’d really wanted kids with her ex. With her new guy they have very active lives and he has his kids and didn’t want any more, so she has resigned herself to not having any.
I’m always amazed at the men who are against having kids and whose partners end up not having them. It just seems such a big thing to give up for someone – but I understand that there are plenty of women who don’t want kids. Which is fair enough. I just don’t like to think of women having to pick between their relationship and kids if they do want kids.
Anyway, it was a big catch up day. And in the usual fashion, I posted a pic on fb of each person who’d come to see B. My fb is fairly locked down and I only post to a subset of my friends so it isn’t that many people who usually see my statuses.
This morning I saw that an ex friend had “liked” the photos. She was someone who was friends with my ex and for all I know, still is. I “lost” her in the split as she sided with him and defriended me. (He blocked me on fb so I have no idea.) As I discussed in a previous post, I haven’t told him about B. The general consensus seemed to be that there was no point. We split a long time ago. He was upset and told me not to post stuff that might upset him (including pictures of my dog that our mutual friends had “liked”). So I’ve tried not to upset him.
So this morning I had a moment of panic. I realised because one of the friends who I’d met with was also friends with her, this ex friend could see the post. She could see that I’d had a baby. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Anyway I went in and changed the settings on the post so only my friends could see it (not friends of tagged). I don’t know how I feel about her knowing. I guess “liking” it meant some sort of approval… but she defriended me in the split so I feel like she kind of lost the right to be looking at pictures of my kid. And it also made me think of privacy and whether I’m happy with friends of my friends seeing pictures with them in, holding my baby. I don’t know. There’s a balance.
It is a strange sort of feeling when friends and ex friends collide…
(Or: A problem shared is a problem… doubled.)
Yesterday I found out that my sister is going to have a miscarriage.
She texted me at work, where I was concentrating on a report, her nickname (a funny family name she’s had since we were little) flashing up on my phone and pinging on my watch.
“Hello lovely Sister, I wanted to let you know that [fiancé] and I started IVF in September. We had a 9-week scan today and they confirmed a non-viable pregnancy, beyond doubt. I really want to talk to you but not ready yet. We hope this doesn’t bring back horrible emotions for you and T. Provisional ERPC surgery booked for next Friday. Talk soon? Just not now.”
In that instant, I realised that my sister and I have a lot more in common than I’d thought.
* * *
Growing up, we’d always been close but very different. I often felt that she was difficult to be around, for many reasons and probably because seeing weakness and brokenness in her was a reminder that I might be weak and broken too.
We have a lot in common.
But we deal with things very differently. She concentrates her pain and sadness inwards, selfwards… I generate rage and sarcasm outwards. Or I did. I’ve tried to become less angry and adolescent and it’s largely worked, mainly because I’m no longer an adolescent. And I went through a crazy stage but then I met T and Dog and everything crazy seems like a lifetime ago. (Nowadays I keep getting told that I’m “positive” which I think just means that when I have murderous thoughts, I keep them to myself. Although on a serious note, I do think age and a good relationship has a lot to do with it.)
Likewise, my sis stopped feeling so much pain. Or at least, she stopped visibly self-harming. I have a philosophy that adolescence is hard for everyone, but especially difficult for those who were adopted. It’s an untested theory – I didn’t know T when he was an adolescent, and he really is the most laid back man in the universe, so perhaps there are exceptions for every rule, and I also know a lot of people who had a difficult adolescence and hadn’t been adopted, so maybe it’s a faulty assumption I’ve made. But she seems so much happier nowadays…
And it’s kind of a swearword to say it, and I’ve seen adoptive parents get vilified for saying it, but I do tend to think love is the answer. (Not sure about the question…!) By which I mean that it seems somehow easier to move from a stage of uncertainty and self-doubt and insecurity to feeling self-realised, settled, secure… That’s pretty much where I’ve seen happiness in any people – when they’ve been settled with someone to love and be loved.
And really, over the past few years and my failed marriage my sister and I really have become a lot closer. Buddies. It’s strange really but maybe it was nice for her to have someone else having all the problems for once! I think time has rubbed off our sharp edges a bit, and everything has become easier… until this.
I understand why she doesn’t want to talk. I didn’t, either. Even when I messaged my BFF and told her about the miscarriage and she called up straight away, I really didn’t feel like talking. I think it takes time to process the feelings, and everyone has different ways.
Their situation is almost exactly the same as ours, a few months down the line. We started back in April/May and had the miscarriage in July. They started in September and she’ll be having a miscarriage or ERPC next week.
How can this happen just the same to the two of us? Two babies who were born halfway across the world and somehow ended up here in the same family, who aren’t genetically related… It’s a terrible coincidence, a horrible twist of fate. It’s an irony that the two of us who were “unwanted” babies (unkeepable, I call it) both have difficulty having much-wanted babies of our own.
Two dead nine week old babies.
Two families shattered.
I kind of can’t believe how life can be so cruel.
The other thing is, when I was thinking about this that I suddenly realised that I was okay. I’m okay compared to my sister for whom this is all fresh. Maybe I wasn’t okay for a while, but I can talk about it now without crying or feeling terrible. I can understand that, y’know what, s*** happens and it happens a lot and WTF, miscarriages are just stupid and I can’t believe that we haven’t figured out a way to prevent them yet.
T and I were talking about how it seems like this horrible coincidence that they’ve had almost the same experience as us, and wondering once again about the NHS success rates, and wondering why they don’t test the embryos a bit more before transfer but it must be for economic reasons, and wondering how many couples have a baby after how many rounds of IVF. It’s hard to get the stats as each trust has different policies on eligibility and how many rounds.
It also got us talking about adoption. (If you’re not a regular reader: there’s a lot of adoption in my life!) I think it brings up feelings of that. We even for some reason ended up talking about our birth mothers. (I feel like without giving away too many details of stories that aren’t mine, I have always found it easier to be okay about my adoption because I don’t believe my birth mother was coerced. That’s not to say she might not be unhappy about it now, but I also firmly believe that a birth family’s grief is not the responsibility of the adopted person. Maybe as I get older and think about it more, I’ll open up the lines of communication or possibilities. Maybe not.)
I don’t feel as an adult adopted person that I have a responsibility to trace my birth family – regardless of how much they might want me to do so. (That sounds harsh – I don’t mean it to; I just feel that adoptees have had something done to them that was outside their control and they should be in control of their own connection or not with their birth families… We have so much of other adults’ responsibilities put to us, to be “adoptees”, to be vessels for others’ feelings and hopes – I don’t feel we should be compelled to take that on. My opinion only and probably one for a longer post.) But it does kind of bring up feelings.
I guess what I’m saying is that it somehow seemed doubly suckerpunched to have this happen to my sister. Someone who has had similar experiences and similar but different difficulties in life. I certainly don’t feel that it’s alleviated my pain at all for her also to be going through it (in that “a problem shared is a problem halved bull****). For one, I’ve been kind of getting over it in my own slow background way. It does mean I think about it more because it’s all I have thought about since she told me. Secondly, I don’t know how to help – and yet I do have a bit of insight, uniquely and recently.
I know why she wouldn’t want to talk because I didn’t either. I know that they want to get away – and I urged her to, because that was something that really helped me/us. I think there’s a certain amount of escaping from it for a bit (I read a lot of books when I was off work) and not facing up to it until you’re ready. I still haven’t thrown away my nine positive pregnancy tests. That’s sad. I keep seeing them in my drawer but I can’t do it yet. All my pictures of PB are tucked into the back of the pregnancy Moleskine (book) I got that I never filled in because somehow I didn’t feel like it was actually happening.
I spent most of last night trying to send her something nice. I sent her a card, and a care box and some stuff from The White Company which she loves and which she sent me very similar when this happened to me. I have this belief that people send you stuff that they like… but also I feel like there’s something sad about being the sympathiser and comfort-provider; a role reversal from a few months ago. One of the things she sent me was a dressing gown, and I actually ended up wearing it a lot, and it was something I wouldn’t have bought myself (I have one but it’s not as nice and it’s not as white!) so I knew it was something she would like. I got her some fluffy slipper boots and a candle. I already got her an advent calendar with lots of toiletries and cosmetics in so I didn’t send her any more of those.
Really then I got to thinking: what made me feel better during the miscarriage? I thought I’d make a list. I feel like there should be some kind of miscarriage hamper/care package you could send when this happens, a way of showing you care and with things that make you feel better, so this is for my future reference more than anything.
So anyway, here’s my list of things that made me feel better. Obviously only time really did that, but still. Worth a note.
- Doctor’s note. This sounds silly but one of the biggest stresses to me was having the time to be signed off work. My employer is not sympathetic to women/pregnancy and it would be horrendous for people to think I’d been “trying”. My doctor was amazing and signed me off for two weeks (did not mention anything about miscarriage – said “abdominal pain”), which made me feel okay to take that time and not be checking in at work. I put my out of office on and disconnected from the stress.
- Dressing gown. I spent a lot of time in loungewear. It was great. Maybe if that’s too big to send, then a pair of slippers or socks or a blanket… something cosy. I think you want to kind of hibernate from the world.
- Getting away. We already had a long weekend planned, and we still did it. I had some remnants of the miscarriage going on, but just being away from the normal environment really helped. We had a fabulous short break with Dog, in a place where we were just us and hadn’t lost anything, and it was very healing.
- Planning the trip of a lifetime. We said if IVF didn’t work out then we would go to Disney World. I had never been before and I really wanted to go. We did a big trip (as seen on this blog!) and it was fantastic. I don’t think anyone can be unhappy at Disney. And it gave me something to look forward to during the dark days.
- Messages from friends… but space. I think this is really important and maybe it’s a personal thing but I found it very hard to talk on the phone or in person and I really didn’t want to. I am okay doing it on the blog or in messages but I don’t want to be crying down the phone or in public. I don’t want the “pity head tilt”. But – I had friends who were great, who messaged me every now and then to ask if I was okay – just checking in. Didn’t push it. And sent little cards/presents/flowers. I think you want to know that people care, but you also want time on your own. I even was fine with T going to work each day because I just sort of wanted to sit on the sofa and read and pretend it wasn’t happening to me.
- Time out from social media. I just think that social media can be a killer as well as a good thing. Blogging was really helpful but even then I didn’t want to blog all the time… I couldn’t face writing so much about it at times, but at other times it was very cathartic. But Facebook is a killer… All the ultrasounds, belly bumps, babies and children. I unfollowed certain friends (so you’re still friends but they don’t show in your news feed). And I didn’t go on very often. I just laid low for a bit.
- Candles. They’re one of my biggest indulgences but I love them. There’s something calming about a scented candle. Maybe because we don’t have a bath! I think you can’t go wrong with a scented candle (the luxury type in a glass thing and boxed up in a fancy bag, like Diptique or White Company or Elemis or Oliver Bonas… they’re my go to gift for all occasions and I have a stockpile at home).
- New clothes. One of the hardest things to deal with is the weight gain and body changes. You get this from the IVF drugs anyway even if you’re not pregnant. I ended up buying new clothes because I needed to be able to feel comfortable and not hideous and ugly and fat-not-pregnant. I really think this helped – I still don’t feel 100% confident and I don’t like what the weight has done to me, but I have some clothes I can wear and cope. A lot of my clothes got way too tight. I’ve lost a bit of the IVF weight but not all of it. It’s important not to feel like you’ve let yourself go entirely, I think. It’s partly why I didn’t feel confident in front of T… I felt very unattractive and I’ve had to work over the last few months to gain back some confidence, and clothes etc were part of that. You can’t really go out in public if none of your clothes fit, and if you read the entry about my awful colleague then you also know the importance of dressing like you’re not pregnant! It takes time.
- Haircut. It’s a cliché but I had a haircut. I went to the most expensive recommended place I could (as I never have haircuts – I hate them) and booked the expensive stylist. It cost me something ridiculous but it made me feel better about myself. The stylist was very sympathetic when I explained my lack of confidence and really made me feel better – when I next need a haircut in a year or two, I’ll go back!
- Massage/spa. My parents didn’t know what to do to help. They wanted to come and see us but I couldn’t face it and anyway we were away. So they said I should book myself in for a massage / facial / pamper and they’d send some money. It was nice to do.
- Chocolate. Obviously. And that stuff that’s banned during pregnancy, like rinded cheese and wine…
- Dog. I really think it helps if you have a dog.
I guess you could add blogging to that although I know most people don’t do that, and you can’t do that for someone else… but I think it helps to be able to talk openly to someone who understands. I think the thing is you don’t know how you’ll react until (if) it happens to you. Everyone is different. Some people are into full disclosure. Some not so much. Some people want their friends to rally round. Some want privacy. I’d hazard a guess that most don’t want to be surrounded by pregnant women and babies – either virtually or in real life. I found that very hard. I’ve avoided most babies – but some are unavoidable and I just had to suck it up, and I have realised that people are generally nice enough, and babies are not that bad.
Some friends say the stupidest things when you tell them. Some are sensitive and kind. Some say dumb-ass stuff about “At least you know you can get pregnant” and “It happens to everyone” and “There are a lot of children in the world who need parents” and “My cousin’s sister’s wife couldn’t have children and then they went on holiday and relaxed and she got pregnant” or “Why don’t you give up your job?” – none of which help. They really don’t. I know what not to say. I don’t know what to say because everyone is different.
I suppose the best start is to reach out – preferably via text, not forcing them to talk on the phone or get dressed out of sweatpants – and just say Hey, I’m sorry to hear that… I’m here for you.
One of my best most unexpected friends in this was pregnant. She’s not even geographically close but she messaged me to say hi, and I told her. She has kept sending me random messages throughout her pregnancy, which is really sweet and thoughtful, asking about how the op went and so on.
Miscarriage is horrible.
Bad things happen.
All we can do is get through…. carry on…
(Or: I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it… What makes you think I’ll treat your advice any differently?)
Well meaning advice and when not to offer it
(Clue: well meaning doesn’t always/ever equal useful.)
One thing I’ve noticed lately is people getting uppity when other people don’t accept their “well meaning advice” with open arms.
An example of this is a friend on FB who had a massive rant yesterday because a friend of his had told him to leave her alone when he offered her “advice” on dealing with her ME. He was absolutely “livid” that she had “had a go” at him for offering advice when he had been “only trying to help”. He also felt like she was “wallowing in self-pity” (because being housebound with ME and chronic pain is the kind of situation that you should just, y’know, snap out of).
This wasn’t about his friend. It was about him and the injustice he had faced because his friend with ME had not gracefully accepted his unsolicited advice. (He does not and has never had ME.)
(*Edited to say: I should have put Myalgic Encephalopathy / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (US) which is the full name. It is generally referred to as ME in the UK. Thank you to Ashley for explaining the US understanding in the comments below!)
Knowing him, and knowing how cantankerous and self-righteous he can be, I asked myself the following questions on his behalf. I call them the When To Offer Well Meaning Advice Test (WTOWMAT).
- Did the person ask for advice? – The answer was almost certainly no, given the reaction.
- Do I have any experience of dealing with this particular issue? – No. He doesn’t have ME. He isn’t housebound in chronic pain.
- Is the advice I am going to give likely to help the person to improve their situation? – No, given she’s housebound and his advice was apparently to get out of the house more and “stop wallowing in self pity”.
- Is the person I’m offering advice to likely to have never encountered this advice before? – No. Given that ME used to be referred to as “yuppie flu” and has only recently been recognised as an actual valid medical condition, and is still controversial – she has probably been told to snap out of it quite a few times.
- Am I particularly qualified to deal with the problem this person is facing? – No. He’s not medically or psychologically qualified in any way.
- Is the advice likely to make the person feel better about the situation? – No. Most people who are suffering don’t tend to react well to being told to snap out of it.
6/6 “No” answers. (I reckon if you answer no to any more than 2 of them, you need to stop and think if it’s the right thing to do, or whether it might be more useful to, I don’t know, make a cup of tea instead.) These are a few basic questions it’s easy to ask yourself before you offer well meaning advice. I’m sure there are many more but just answering these will probably give you a clue about whether the advice you’re thinking of is likely to be gratefully received or not.
So here’s my “advice”, which you can take or leave (I won’t take it personally): Before thinking of giving advice, put it to the WTOWMA Test.
It’s entirely anecdotal, but I’ve found that people are less likely to tell me to get lost and more likely to want to remain friends if I use this test before giving out any advice.
Well meaning advice is not expert advice
I’m always a bit wary of advice. For one thing, as Alice would say, “I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it”, so I’m not that great at taking advice full stop. For another, I’m often on the receiving end of well meaning but ultimately unfounded and unsolicited advice and I don’t take it very well (due to my inability to have given birth to a child and as a female in my thirties, which makes me something of a statistical anomaly and magnet for “helpful” advice from fertile friends).
It’s a well known fact that most humans aren’t very good at statistics. They tend to extrapolate from their experience to all experience. They tend to think that one off events are of greater significance than they actually are. The human brain is predisposed to see patterns – and so can’t cope with randomness without trying to make sense of it or attributing it to a benevolent/vengeful deity or a blind watchmaker (depending on your religious persuasion). And also, the majority of humans have a certain level of experience that doesn’t extend to the entire human race and tends to be limited to people who share similar characteristics to themselves – so in statistical terms, their reference group is not representative of the overall population.
So, where does this leave advice?
It means that:
- People often use anecdotal evidence to support an argument – “My sister’s cousin’s husband’s brother’s grandmother was having trouble conceiving but then they were about to give up and went on holiday/took some vitamins/adopted a child and they found out they were pregnant and now they have four kids! Have you tried doing that?”
- Humans are humans so they hope, rather than looking at facts or data, and they see hopeful patterns rather than looking at facts or data – “Everyone I know who has a baby also drinks water so I think maybe you should try drinking water more because I bet that’s the reason they are more fertile than you.”
- People want to feel useful so they will try and come up with solutions even if they are not tested or likely to work – “I read somewhere that if you eat kale whilst howling at the moon and covered in bodypaint made out of ground beetroot then you will ovulate and get pregnant within a month! Why don’t you try it?”
- People want to feel that stuff isn’t just random and that it isn’t their fault, so if they can possibly make it someone else’s fault then they will – because then they don’t have to accept a world where random good and bad stuff happens – and where you’re a reminder that bad stuff might happen to them – “It’s because you work so hard and you’re stressed. If you only focused more on having a family like I’ve done and stop being such a career woman then maybe you’d be more likely to get pregnant. Also you shouldn’t drink / eat chocolate / ever have any fun in your life… even though I conceived my two children whilst drunk.”
- People have something called a confirmation bias, where they see more evidence for stuff that supports what they think, and ignore / don’t see the stuff that contradicts it – “I have noticed that all the people more like me find it easier to get pregnant. (Apart from Marcie. And Helen. And Judy. And Rita. But I mean, we are all doing the right stuff and I’m sure they’ll be pregnant soon.)”
- A lot of people believe that there is a God of some sort who is controlling things so they just have to figure out what it is he wants, and pray a bit, and be good because their life must have meaning; it can’t just be random bad luck – “It’s God’s will that I haven’t yet had a baby. It’s because he has a higher purpose for me. I’ve been called to adopt / remain childless / do IVF… God never gives us more than we can bear and it makes me a better person.”
Massive generalisation, of course, but my background is in stats and data analysis and I have an interest in human interactions (and a human tendency to see patterns in things, ha) so over the years I’ve noticed these things. I’m also not keen on falling out with friends, which I used to do a lot when I was younger, so I have analysed a lot of my behaviour and realised that not listening / not empathising / trying to force people to do exactly what I would do – are all things that tend to make people want to avoid me.
Well meaning advice is not always helpful advice
None so more than in the context of people’s attitudes towards infertility. But this could equally apply to anything where someone’s going through something of which the “adviser” has no direct experience. Or if the advisee hasn’t asked for anyone’s help.
Here’s a clue: If it’s not an intervention, and they haven’t asked for advice – they probably don’t need advice.
And another one: It’s not all about you. Really.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who take it as a personal slight if I’m not interested in their well meaning advice on relationships / work / infertility / anything else. If your advice isn’t heeded: This isn’t because I think you’re a terrible person. It’s just that your advice probably isn’t that helpful to me and I’d rather you didn’t waste your time. I’m on it. Just be my friend.
Everyone’s an expert problem solver
You know when someone’s about to give you advice. It’s like it’s in slo-mo and you are just waiting for them to elicit some kind of personal information from you (“I’m infertile”, “I had a miscarriage”, “I was adopted”) and use it as an excuse to expound their Theory of Everything. (Assumption #1: Your level of acceptance of their advice is a direct correlation with how much you love and respect them as a person, and also how clever / smart / empathetic / wonderful they are.)
Firstly this means that they often think that there is a solution, and that solution is something that they are likely to come up with in the five minutes it takes to have a conversation with you that makes you feel worse about yourself. (Reality check: Some problems don’t have immediate solutions. Some shared experiences are not asking for solutions. Some problems you don’t have the solution for – and that’s okay.)
Secondly, there’s an implicit assumption from people who’ve never experienced it that there must be a reason why they’re okay and you’re not. And that reason is usually that you just haven’t tried the solution that they cleverly came up with a minute ago after thirty seconds of thinking (or probably no thought at all) and all you have to do is implement it, silly. (Reality check: For anyone dealing with something “heavy”, which let’s face it is the usual scenario which elicits the aforementioned well meaning advice – the chances are they’ve been dealing with this for a while. And they’ve probably already thought through all the scenarios you could possibly imagine. And you telling them to try something, when they’ve already explored that, is probably making them feel bad and like you i) think they’re stupid not to have thought of it before, ii) make them feel as though you’re saying it must be their fault because they haven’t tried enough, and iii) minimising their suffering by suggesting there’s a reason for it. Which is not okay.)
Thirdly there is the assumption that because you’re in this situation, you just haven’t tried the solution they are offering (via that often welcomed medium of forced advice). If only you would just try and open your mind, and have the right attitude you would be fine. Just like them. (Reality check: If you are not in a very similar and directly relatable situation then ask yourself the questions on the WTOWMA Test. At a minimum, ask them whether giving this advice is 90%+ likely to give them the desired outcome. If they haven’t asked for your advice then maybe, just maybe, they don’t want it. That is okay, and no reflection on you as a person. Knowing when to STFU is actually a great reflection on your ability to show insight and empathy and friendship. That is awesome.)
Oh, now you’ve made me feel bad! I was only trying to help!
You know what? **** happens. Suck it up, buttercup. Your friend is going through a bad time and it’s your job as a friend to be a friend, not an expert adviser.
As a friend with a friend who’s going through a bad time or facing a problem, it’s pretty damn simple.
- Be there for your friend. Offer hugs, empathy, a shoulder to cry on, hot drinks or a place to crash / night out on the town if the going gets rough.
- Be someone’s 3am person. I know there are friends who, if I called them at 3am, would pick up the phone. I know people who would hop in a taxi / drive across country to save me if I was in a fix and asked for their help. I know others who would sit on the end of a phone and listen to me rant and cry and open a bottle of wine just so I never have to drink alone. Just because you’re there doesn’t mean you ever have to do anything – think of it as being on the stem cell register. Maybe you’ll never need to donate, but it’s enough to know you would if needed.
- Leave the door open. I have a friend who was told they had terminal cancer. It is absolutely horrendous and we don’t live close by or are even in contact very often, but I sent messages saying to call any time or see if we could set up a visit. I knew my friend would be inundated with requests so I didn’t take it personally that we didn’t speak for a while. When my friend felt able (and when the prognosis had improved, thankfully), we had a great, long conversation about everything. I wanted my friend to know I was there, but I also didn’t want to intrude when they were fighting the biggest battle of their life. It wasn’t about me – it was about them. (I’m not perfect by a long shot – but I knew in that case when to shut up.)
Thing is: All you can do is your best, and everyone gets that “well meaning” isn’t badly intended – it’s just that sometimes it hurts.
It hurts to be told when you have cancer that maybe you shouldn’t have tried that cigarette that one time in college, or eaten bacon or not gone to the gym.
It hurts when you don’t have a child that maybe you should just relax, or that IVF is unnatural, or that adopted children will never be like “real” children.
It hurts when you have a disability or painful condition to be told not to feel sorry for yourself and that positive mental attitude is what you need to get through it, by someone who’s never walked in your shoes.
If we know that things are hurtful then we can try and minimise doing those things. Nobody’s perfect, and life is sometimes unfair. But we can make it that little bit nicer by trying to understand the consequences of our actions and by not doing things that we know will hurt others.
Don’t knowingly hurt others.
That’s my free advice to everyone. Take it or leave it – I won’t take it personally!
I haven’t really been offline this long… It’s just that I started writing a reeeeally long post last week that I’m eventually going to publish when I’ve finished it. I decided that there are a few things that might help explain some stuff in terms of back story, but I also don’t want to put it all out there publicly, so it will be password protected like I’ve seen some of the other bloggers do. If this all seems a bit secret squirrel then I can assure you it’s nothing too exciting! It’s just that I prefer to blog anonymously where I can, so you can read my blog perfectly fine without knowing too much about my back story, but some of it is explained in the post I’ve been writing, and I probably have another one or two.
Anyway, back to today’s Thought For The Day: Is the grass always greener?
I think we can say with some certainty that it probably isn’t… It’s just a trick of the light. You’re not looking properly!
T and I have implemented a new regime for Dog, whereby we walk him together in the mornings. This follows on from a nasty incident with our dog walker (see post here) where we decided to stop him being walked by someone else. We thought that given he isn’t getting an extra walk with someone else, we should take the time to give him a more quality walk in the mornings, rather than just a poo walk :). It used to be just me taking him out during the week as I get up early, and then T would take him out at the weekend so I could have a little lie in. So now we both get up a little earlier and it also gives us a great opportunity to spend some quality time. Ahh… The modern couple!
Anyway, on one of our walks last week, we got to talking: T had been out to meet up with some friends from uni, and he came away thinking that he was the least successful out of all of them. Perhaps on paper, he is: his friends included several executive level high fliers and entrepreneurs. In comparison, T works for a large corporation and is at a middle management level – he had a set back a short while ago where he lost his job, and to his credit he went out and tried his hardest to get another one, and he now has a job he really enjoys.
It got me to thinking: How we measure success is pretty much in comparison to others, and much of the time it’s related to job success and financial gain. And this affects how we feel about ourselves…
In comparison to T’s super-successful friends, we are not a particularly successful couple on paper. We are going into our late 30s, and neither of us is super senior in our jobs. I’m on the bottom rung of the management ladder, which again to illustrate my point, I initially thought was fantastic – now I feel like I’m rubbish compared to all the people above me, and the people below me who are snapping at my heels. I haven’t been promoted in 3 years. I’m separated, eventually to be divorced, and the two of us aren’t married, and we cohabit in a one bedroom studio in a dodgy part of town. We don’t have any children (gosh, how we’ve tried!) and judging by Facebook our holidays are pretty inferior to everyone else’s. We’re heading towards 40 with “nothing” to show for it.
But… What you don’t realise from this is that T is a fantastic person (obviously, I wouldn’t love him so much if he wasn’t!) and he has so much going for him. He’s funny and kind, and people like him – he’s very popular, and one of the things I like about him is that he always has time for people. He’s one of those people who kind of picks up a bunch of waifs and strays and people who probably wouldn’t be given a second chance in life – people who are a bit different or special, as well as the popular ones. (I probably fall into the former category of being both different and special!)
For example, one of his friends has mental health and physical issues – they met when they were both fine and working, and now the friend doesn’t work and requires special care due to disability. Many of the other friends kind of fell by the wayside but T remained, and he even took a few days holiday to spend with his friend earlier this year. I feel like not many people would do something like that. He’s that kind of decent, caring person.
He also knows how to have fun – the first thing I loved about him was that he was kind of game for anything, and we had an amazing first “date” where we went to random places in London, and he held my hand as though it was the most natural thing in the world. He’s the kind of person who always has great ideas of what to do – I hadn’t lived in London that long when I met him, and I love that he’s just so enthusiastic about life. He’s always up for an adventure, whether it be a random supperclub or a visit to the city farm. Nothing is ever too much trouble for him, even his many harebrained schemes to add fun stuff to our life (like a gigantic 50 inch television he bought on eBay and now takes up most of our living room). And of course, I’ll always love him for Dog. (He still insists that Dog is his “flatmate” rather than his dog, as he said I have all the responsibility and he has all the fun. And of course, Dog far prefers him to me!)
And then, if you compare our lives to that of my friends – it’s more of a double edged sword. In the olden days, well, I was the success story. I got together with my ex sooner than anyone else – most of my friends are slightly older than me, so I felt properly grown up being one of the first amongst us to be married. I got promoted pretty quickly back then and I doubled my salary in a year. We bought a house, and once we were married I kind of assumed that at some point in the near-to-middle-future we would have children. We took 3-4 holidays a year. We were living the dream.
But then it all went a bit wrong. And suddenly I was in my 30s and getting divorced. And I didn’t have the baby and I didn’t have the house, and stuff happened at work which meant a lot of people got laid off and my job was at risk, and suddenly I was paying two rents and going steadily into debt, and I was single in my 30s with some fairly bad and expensive habits (wine and cigarettes, one of which I’ve given up!). I wasn’t a success story any more, and all my friends who I’d sort of passed by in the success stakes were getting married and having babies. I mean they were all popping sprogs like there’s no tomorrow. Even the ones who we kind of thought were terminally single got together with someone!
Life can turn on a dime.
I had a pretty bad and turbulent year, and just before the end of it, I fell in luck again. I say luck, because I think that a lot of this is all chance… You have to be open to opportunity, and I was coming through my alcoholic smoke-fuelled fog and there he was. My T. I don’t think I owe all success in life to him… but I owe the majority of my happiness to him. Because I think if you can find joy in life then it’s easier to be successful.
Because the thing is: We are successful. We’re happy. We have joy in our lives on a daily basis. I never take it for granted that I have T’s love. I used to be in a relationship where I felt like a great deal of love was conditional, with a man who didn’t like to hold my hand or kiss me on the lips. T kisses me every day many times, on the lips, tells me he thinks I’m attractive (even though I’m a big fat blob) and shares his joie de vivre with me and everyone else he meets. We have what is literally the best dog in the world. (I know this because the joy I get out of being Dog’s human could erase even the toughest day.) We have laughter and stupidity and fun and everything else. Life is pretty darned easy with T.
I know that I could be happy without T, but life is so much happier with him. I can choose to be happy, but with T it isn’t a choice. I just am. And I think that’s worth more than any fancy holiday, fashionable outfit, or high falutin’ job title. You can take your CEO and I’ll stick with T.
I am loved.
(And I know this isn’t specific to me. Well, I know you don’t have a T, because there’s only one T, but I am betting you have an A or a B or a C or a Whateverhisorhernameis, who brings you joy and who you light up when they think of you. It’s the magic of the human condition, I guess… There’s someone for everyone and maybe you haven’t found that person yet, but I think in this world of however many billion, there’s gotta be someone for you. I hope you have already found them. I hope that you can see the wonder of life even when times are dark, because it’s there.)
* * *
On the subject of social media: This story just came out about Mark Zuckerburg (FB founder, for those of you who live under a rock!) and his wife Priscilla Chan. He has a public Facebook profile (he kind of has to, really) and they announced at the end of July that they’re thrilled to be expecting a baby.
What was interesting was that he says in his status update that they had previously suffered three miscarriages and opens up about what a lonely experience it had been.
I think of the irony of poor Priscilla, having to see friends’ Facebook status updates about pregnancies whilst going through the agony of three losses. (I’ve only had one and that was bad enough – I can’t even begin to comprehend how horrible repeated losses must be, although I’ve learned a lot through the blogging community about these private agonies.) I guess it might be somehow worse, knowing that your husband created the social network that provides a constant stream of fertility updates. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m grateful for someone rich and successful being open about their fertility problems. A lot of the time in comparison I think we make ourselves feel unsuccessful, when really a lot of perceived “success” is just luck. All the money in the world (of which Zuckerberg probably has a good proportion!) didn’t help them get pregnant before time. Maybe their billionaire status meant that they had access to special treatment. He doesn’t mention IVF (and of course he has no obligation to mention anything, but given he’s so open about the miscarriages, you’d think he might mention treatments if they’d had them). But even so, with the kind of massive wealth they had – they still experienced loss. It’s not beyond any of us.
I don’t say this through schadenfreude. I take no joy in their suffering. I do think it reminded me though that misfortune happens to all of us, and that we can’t know everything about anyone else’s life.
I’ve spent a lot of time being insanely jealous of friends who seem to “have it all”. And Facebook and social networking allows us to put on a show. Doesn’t it? We can all insta-filter our lives and show just the success, just the green grass, and none of the rainclouds.
The thing is, the grass isn’t always greener. Maybe that lush grass has grown in the fertiliser of sorrow. Maybe our eyesight just isn’t what it could be. Maybe our friends are using filters just to show us the light, the green grass, and none of the darkness. If one of the richest couples in the world struggled to have children, then maybe we aren’t being punished – it’s just bad luck. And when we think about stuff, and take a step back – maybe we’re pretty bloody lucky after all.
* * *
I wanted to show you this awesome ring I ordered last night whilst browsing the internet in the middle of the night. My sleeping gets a bit out of whack at the weekend, so we all go to bed at the same time, but whilst Dog and T are snoring away, I catch up on reading. (I know, backlit screens aren’t the best, but when the nice doctor assessed my sleeping patterns last week, she said it was fine in the short term as I’m not particularly stressed about my insomnia.)
I know when some people suffer a loss, they do something to memorialise it. Actually I didn’t think of it like that, although I referred to our pregnancy on here as carrying a Pizza Baby. I just love pizza! So when I saw this ring, which is based on the pizza emoji, I just had to have it! 🙂
I actually think it’s a pretty great way to add a bit of fun to my life (in a hopefully quite subtle, possibly even safe for work way) as well as reminding me that I love pizza. (Okay, I don’t need reminding… It’s always on my mind!) I don’t really think of it as a requiem for PB, but I do love pizza and I loved little PB whilst I was carrying him, and I think of him fondly.
At the weekend, we met up with friends who have a fairly new baby. Well, he’s probably not that new any more, but we don’t see them that often. The last time I missed seeing them was when I was having the miscarriage, so the mum did refer to my previous absence through illness and asked if I was okay. I did half think about telling her about the miscarriage, but she was toting little baby at the time and I kind of felt… Why rain on her parade? The baby is a real cutie and has sort of grown into his face now so he looks like an actual person rather than a grumpy old man! (Why do all babies look like old people?!)
I felt like I could enjoy the day and not be miserable about being out with someone with a baby. It’s not their fault they’re fertile (honeymoon baby!) and I’m not. I guess I just compartmentalise it in my mind. There is very little time of the day when I’m not thinking about PB in some way, at the back of my mind, but I think I’m sort of desensitising myself to the pain. I’ve always been quite good at the jedi mind trick and I just think I can enjoy spending time with friends without making our loss ruin the entire day. They even started talking about baby names and what we might call a baby! I don’t know how I got through that. I think I just smiled, took it for the good natured ribbing that it was meant as, and changed the subject back to them.
I sometimes think that it is all in how they act… They’re not rubbing our faces in it, and they’re always very gracious about letting us hold the baby, or not if we don’t want to. (He’d been sick so that was a good excuse not to, but actually he’s a lovely baby so I quite like holding him… which is progress for me.) Another of my friends practically crows about her good fortune, but these guys are very unassuming, and they just bring the baby along without making a massive deal of it. That helps.
The point is: It’s easier to be happy for someone else when you’re happy. I am happy, pretty much – I have a lot to be grateful for. Equally it’s okay to be unhappy about some aspect of your life, even if you have a lot to be grateful for… There’s no right answer. I feel like I can manage a bit of dualism: I can be sad that PB’s gone, and sad that we might never have a child, whilst holding the joy in my heart that T and Dog bring me. I can be frustrated at seeing pregnant bellies pop around me whilst being grateful I have such great family and friends to support me and make the burden of infertility a little lighter. I can be frustrated in my job and how hard I have to work to get anywhere whilst being happy that I live in a developed country and have the opportunities I do (particularly to go on holiday!).
So… Back to my original question: Is the grass always greener? I think that we can safely say it isn’t, and even if it is, I can’t stand gardening!
On one of our bargain hunting trips we found a big roll of greengrocer’s grass. The people who were clearing out their space gave it to us for free! They also gave us a free chair and desk (which is now my desk, piled up with detritus, but that’s another story) and T’s desk was only a ridiculously small amount, for a solid wooden desk. We’ve actually gotten a lot of our furniture for free or very little! Anyway, we live in a studio and we don’t have a garden, but we decided to lay the “grass” on our little balcony and make our very own garden. On our last trip to IKEA I found a bunch of fake flowers (I tend to kill all living plants, sadly) so I wove them into the balcony railings. I strung up a hammock which I like to lie in with Dog lying on top of me. The sunlight catches the balcony late in the afternoon, so it’s ideal… It’s like our own little urban garden, and I love it.
Even if you don’t have a garden, you can make one.
Even if your grass isn’t green, or you can’t grow grass… You can dream it up.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite sayings:
Life is a series of happy accidents.
Be happy, guys. Life’s too short not to be!
Remember, if you want to get the password for my protected post (it’s really not that exciting, I promise you) then please drop me a line below. In order not to stick it all out there I ask you to let me know who you are, blog wise, as it has some fairly private stuff in there so I only want to give it to people I “know”. 🙂
I have an announcement to make…
It had to bloody happen, didn’t it? It’s summertime, which means hayfever season and EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD IS PREGNANT.
I’m not pregnant. I’m just… blobby. I’m actually turning into Jabba the Hutt. I’m not even going to dignify that with a picture, because it’s actually Jabba the Hutt with swollen breasts, greasy hair, skin breakouts and a load of stomach bruising which in combination is I’m not pregnant.
Anyway, so it turns out that all the weddings we attended in the last year resulted in an easy quick-as-you-like-it pregnancy. The first one – my extremely self-satisfied everything-comes-easy friend: pregnant on honeymoon. The second one: another honeymoon baby. And now, the ones who’ve been trying to “catch up” with us for a while (cue announcement – I mean, when does anyone make efforts to catch up otherwise?): ANOTHER BLOODY PREGNANCY.
I’m happy for them. I really am. Well… that and fuming. Because for every super-pleased-with-themselves friend who gets knocked up on honeymoon, there’s me:
Yes: during my long spell of infertility (= my life) I’ve actually managed to get into a long term relationship, cohabit, get engaged, get married, get separated, do a lot of silly things, get into another relationship, cohabit… and decide to try for a baby. That whole thing spans over a decade and doesn’t even count the decade before that where I was mainly growing up and trying to find out my way in life. And now we’re on the lovely not-at-all-guaranteed IVF journey and I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself. In a ranty way. (Btw this is just a vent. I’m always nice to pregnant friends. I even buy thoughtful gifts and feign an interest in their pregnancies when really I just want to scream it’s not fair!!!)
During just one year the number of babies that have popped out (on Facebook mainly) are enough to build my own little army of babies. (They wouldn’t do anything. So probably not that effective as an army.)
This is how I feel. It’s like everyone who even sneezes gets pregnant. Today’s announcement = the last straw. I even was invited to the meet up “catch up” but I knew there was likely going to be a pregnancy announcement so I avoided it. Typical. If only pregnancy were catching, I’d have about a hundred babies by now.
So here’s what I think…
“If you don’t like something, change it.”
A long time ago when I was going through a bit of a hard time (and no doubt causing others a hard time… for which I’m truly sorry) I came across this manifesto for life, and it resonated with me.
For so much of my life I felt like I was letting people down, and not being the person they wanted me to be. And I would try super hard to be that person, the one who’d be the best friend they ever had and would never be unfriended. And that led to a lot of disappointment, because like King Canute I discovered that you can’t hold back the tides. The times they are a-changin’, and friends change more than almost anything else.
If I look at my friends now, they’re not the same as the friends I had 5 years ago. They’re not even the same friends as I had 3 years ago. I have some friends who’ve stuck by me through thick and thin (literally, haha) and some who are new and amazing and some who are old and fading into other people’s orbits. And I’m okay with that, I think… Although I still think of the old ones, the ones who are lost.
In the beginning, when I was at school, I would cling hard onto those friendships because I wanted everything always to remain the same. I would do everything in my power to make sure that we would never be torn asunder (*dramatic adolescent me*)… I would write long letters and think of brilliant presents and I’d always do my utmost to be the bestest friend in the world. And I was rewarded with some pretty great friends. Which is great because a lot of them have stayed with me till adulthood.
As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve become more realistic about friends and I’ve come to the understanding that you can’t cling onto every single one of them. I just don’t have the time or the emotional resilience to do that. Plus you learn to let them go when there are good reasons to. There have been some who’ve left me because of the simple fact of geography – old work colleagues who I don’t see every day any more, or people who’ve moved to the other side of the country or world, where you just can’t keep up the connection. There are the ones I think of wistfully, like my ex best friend (well, not best friend exactly, because I don’t like to rank my friends, but up there with the main ones) who I don’t even see any more. We never fell out – we just drifted apart. We didn’t have that old yearning to meet up again and again any more. I feel like you should always try and have that excitement and want to meet up with people. I try and infuse my friendships with that.
You definitely manage to sift out some friends when a relationship breaks up. Or, more accurately, they sift you out. I tried not to be too upset about those friends because I felt that I was “the bad one” and that the one who leaves also deserves to lose friends. I picked myself up and I carried on. And I made some really good friends during that dark time. (Some not so good ones as well, but that’s another story!)
But the ones who I really feel that I’ve lost, who almost without exception have stopped being friends without me even trying: The Mummies.
I first recognised this phenomenon when my friend asked if we could meet up and she brought her 4 year old and I realised I hadn’t seen the child before – and she then had another child who I still haven’t seen. There are loads of them:
…There’s the friend I haven’t seen since she was on her way to meet me for dinner (it was her shout, I remember that, as I’d paid for our last very expensive meal and she’d promised to pay the next time!). That day she found out she was pregnant so she cancelled on me – and I’ve never seen her again, in person. She now has a kid at school and another one who’s a toddler – I still haven’t seen her since.
…There’s the friend who never told me she was pregnant and I found out via social media that she’d had a baby. She knew about my fertility issues and maybe she was being nice by not saying anything. I haven’t seen her since either. It’s like she just dropped out of my life.
…There’s a score of other friends who’ve had babies, friends who I eagerly send huge care packages of presents to on the birth of their children… and who I never see again.
Is it me? Am I avoiding all of my friends who have children?
I think maybe it works both ways.
I’m pretty sure they see me as a horrible un-child-friendly person who doesn’t want to hang around with babies or talk about breastfeeding all the time. I don’t have anything in common with those people and maybe I come across as unenthusiastic or unfriendly about it. I just can’t bring myself to spend my rare free time with people who are carting babies and toddlers around – the idea fills me with dread.
I’m a terrible person.
The thing is… I don’t want to spend time with those people because I don’t want to be reminded all the time that they have what I don’t have… I don’t want to hold your baby and I don’t want to watch you breastfeed and I don’t want to do anything which makes me feel again and again that I probably won’t ever have that. I don’t want you to look at me in pity and I don’t want you to make assumptions about how I “hate” children, because nothing could be further from the truth and I’m tired of having to make out I’m happy and/or explain myself all the time.
I’m sad and I’m jealous and I don’t know if I can still be your friend.
And maybe they feel that. I think that’s why friends with babies start avoiding friends without – because they are a reminder that it doesn’t always work out. They’re so happy with their new baby and they don’t need that kind of forced happiness in their life. Because I really do try… I’m the biggest fairy godmother in the world – I spoil the children I know. But there’s a kind of sadness there and maybe they’re worried it’s contagious and they don’t want to have to deal with someone else’s sadness.
And the only ones who stick around are the ones who know and can feel it. The ones who are super sensitive and generous with their children and don’t try to force them on me or me on them… Who can just let us be friends, with or without their babies being there. Who try and preserve the friendship even though this big huge thing has happened to them and they can’t stop smiling, but who are sensitive to the fact that I can’t begin to comprehend this and sometimes it might make me act a bit weirdly.
And maybe that comes across as me being really petulant and selfish and I really try not to be, because I want to be happy for them, I really do. But it’s hard not to feel helpless when the loss just hits you every now and then. That everyone in the world is pregnant apart from me. That maybe this is punishment for not being the best nicest person I could be, and I don’t deserve happiness – I have too much of it anyway and I’m luckier than I deserve to be. The idea that I’ll maybe never know anyone I’m genetically related to. (Most of the time I’m fine with it, because I never have, but every now and then it’s like: kapow!)
Ultimately, I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. It’s more a random rumination on loss, or more accurately, missing something I never had. I guess I’m really thinking… I wonder if I’ll ever be a part of that club? Will I ever be a mother?
So… Back to the manifesto. If you don’t like something, change it. I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to be a good person and a friend I would like to have. (I rarely ever live up to my own expectations, but at least I’m not as bad as I used to be.) I can’t quit my job as then I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent, but I’m trying to make the best of it… I’m trying to have an open mind and heart. And I’ve seized the opportunity to make things happen, to make a baby happen. I’m lucky in love. I’m living in one of the most developed countries in the world. I have a job and I can look after myself. I have lots of amazing people (and animals) in my life so it’s not like I’m missing out on love or snuggles.
I’m doing okay. I’m doing my best. That’s all any of us can do.
“Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”
Here’s the thing that nobody speaks about. It’s the slow journey into this surreal situation, the one where you end up in a hospital lecture room with 11 other hopeful couples who’ve somehow overcome their natural British reserve and are resigned to the fact that they’ll have to go through some fairly invasive and embarrassing procedures in order to be in with a smaller than average chance (roughly 1 in 4) of having a baby.
It’s that feeling of jealousy, despair, a sense of unfairness when yet another of your friends blithely announces their pregnancy after about a week of trying halfheartedly, when you haven’t shown even the slightest sign of anything for over ten years. The smile you plaster on your face when you tell them that you’re happy for them and you throw them a baby shower and buy their child loads of gifts (because part of you is wondering if you’ll ever get to buy those things for your own baby). The show of interest when they are whingeing on about baby brain and sleepless nights and you feel like telling them to shut the **** up and be grateful that they didn’t have to go through this because it hurts and you don’t know how much longer you can pretend to be happy for them.
But the worst thing is the dumb things people say. It comes from work colleagues, friends and sanctimommies – when you’re female of childbearing age, pretty much anyone considers you fair game for comment. I thought I’d do a rundown of the top 10 dumb things people say when it comes to infertility, mainly because I’m sick to bloody death of hearing them and it’s cathartic for me to have a rant about them!
1) “What are your plans for having a baby?”
Would you ask someone whether they’re having sex and how often? Really? Would you? I’m not sure why anyone feels it necessary to delve into such detail about what goes on in people’s private lives. The default assumption seems to be that if you’re a female of marriageable age (in my experience this goes from 21 upwards), your reproductive system is somehow fair game for everyone to comment on. Newsflash: It’s really none of your business.
You don’t know what anyone’s story is. You don’t know if they’ve decided they don’t want a baby, or if they’ve gone through countless miscarriages that you’re forcing them to drag up and think about, or if they’re in an unhappy relationship, or if they’re a victim of abuse, or have psychological issues around having a baby. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a good reason why they don’t have a baby right now, or maybe there isn’t. It’s not for you to pontificate. And maybe, just maybe, it’s none of your damn business and you shouldn’t put them in a situation when they have to explain this.
As someone who’s experienced long term infertility, several procedures and operations, and has now entered the sad but hopeful world of assisted conception, I would really appreciate it if people stopped asking me this question, with its implicit assumption that I haven’t really thought about it. Because I have. More than most of you sanctimommies ever did. And I don’t want to have to keep explaining where I’m at on my fertility journey – especially in the middle of the office when I’m likely to burst into tears.
2) “[Your dog/cat/hamster] is just a baby substitute”
I can’t even put into words how irritating this is, not to mention insulting to your dog/cat/hamster. My dog is my dog. Your cat is your cat. A baby is a baby, not a pet. A pet isn’t a substitute for a baby. FWIW, I definitely wouldn’t stop loving my pet because I had a baby, despite what people seem to think. It’s possible to love more than one thing at once. Stop being so stupid.
3) “You’ll regret it if you put your career before having a baby.”
Really. This is a winner… You ladies who have a “decent” job will be familiar with this one. This usually comes from work colleagues (even male ones seem to think they have a right to comment) and smug mummies who think that the only reason why you don’t have a baby is because you decided to prioritise your career instead. (Usually to make up for the fact that they have deprioritised their careers and are now applying the same project management philosophy to their opinionated brand of helicopter organic whole foods breastapo parenting. Not that I’m bitter or anything.)
This is actually one of the ones that makes me most sad (or angry, depending on the time of the month) because I don’t throw myself into my career because I would prefer that to being a parent… I do it because it’s never happened for me. And on those days when some nasty senior (generally self satisfied middle aged man) is being horrible to me and disrespecting me, I really wish I wasn’t there and was cosied up at home with a little one instead. But I just suck it up.
So yeah… Don’t assume that just because someone has a decent job and no baby that it’s by their own design. Chances are it isn’t, and you telling them that they’ve made the “wrong” decision is just rubbing salt into the wound.
4) “You need to get a move on… tick tock!”
How many times have you heard this one? If I had a fertilised egg for every time someone had said this to me, I’d be the mother of 5000 children! You get together with someone – people think it’s fair game to comment on your (lack of) reproductivity. You get engaged – yes, you’re definitely going to have one, and your friends start commenting on it every time they see you. You get married – it’s definitely time you got a move on… and the only possible reason you haven’t had one is because you’re slow / stubborn / you don’t want one…
Because of course I had a choice in the matter. There I was, just sitting around surrounded by a surplus of available, wannabe daddies who were just dying to get into a committed relationship and impregnate me, and it was just silly me who didn’t listen to my biological clock. What a dumbo I am! :O
And meanwhile, everyone else who gets cohabited, engaged, married or even touches a member of the opposite sex gets pregnant.
As my dad always said… Life isn’t fair.
5) “If you just relax, it will happen [+ insert other ridiculous suggestions here]”
OH NO IT WON’T! Do you think I was this uptight about it 15 years ago, when I had all the time in the world? No I wasn’t! It took years and years of (completely unnecessary, as it turns out – now isn’t that ironic, as Alanis would say) contraception, then not-not-trying, then sort-of-trying, then actively trying, then a load of doctor’s appointments and operations to tell me that it’s really not about whether I’m bloody relaxed or not!
Yes… I’ve been on holiday. I’ve “not thought about it”. (Which, by the way, is quite difficult – try not to think about a white bear, to paraphrase Dostoevsky – turns out that’s a bit difficult.) I’ve relaxed. I’ve taken charge. I’ve measured my temperature, I’ve tracked my ovulation, I’ve even found out about that darned CM – and believe me, you have to get over the ick factor pretty quickly once you start having TV scans (no, that’s not about finding extra digital channels, sadly).
Here’s the thing… Just because it happened for you really quickly, that doesn’t mean you can take the credit for it. If someone has infertility issues, it could be for a myriad of reasons and most of them won’t be their fault. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. You are super fertile, therefore you “relaxed” and that one time you got jiggy with it on your honeymoon you also got up the duff. Lucky you! I’m happy for you, really. But please stop shoving your “helpful” suggestions in my face.
6) “Never mind, you can just adopt.”
I have personal experience of adoption and I can tell you, this is not the easy option. Adopting a child is a serious undertaking and it should not be considered consolation prize for people who can’t have a baby naturally. You can’t just nip down to the shops and buy a child. The process takes years. It’s invasive – even more invasive than IVF, because they’re poking around in your head – you have to be pretty special and strong to get through that. In the UK it’s unlikely that you’d be able to adopt a baby, and it’s also likely that any child in care is in care because of a serious breakdown in the ability of their family to look after them, so you’re also looking at a situation that involves a lot of emotional and psychological requirements other than just pesky fertility. It’s not something that you enter into lightly, and it’s not something that you should suggest to people without being pretty sure they’d be open to your advice.
In summary: Being adopted is great. Telling adopted people to “just adopt” = not so great and about as sensitive as throwing a brick at someone’s head.
7) “You’ll never know what love is until you give birth to your own child”
Waaaaaah. Is it me or is this the most annoying, patronising pile of rubbish anyone could ever say to you? Seriously, just shut up! I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me that I don’t know what love is.
Here’s the thing… I do know what love is, and I love a lot of people (and small furry beings) and I don’t have a finite amount. Getting a new being to love won’t dilute the love I have for the beings I already have in my life. And I think that’s pretty insulting to anyone who’s ever adopted a child, to suggest that they somehow don’t know how to love.
And as anyone who’s adopted a human (or an animal) knows…
(Credit: No longer on Etsy, poem by Fleur Conkling Heyliger – often used for adoptees)
8) “If it doesn’t happen, it means it’s not part of God’s plan”
As my mother would say, peel me a grape! Actually I’m not really that way inclined, but I refuse to believe that even a putative Flying Spaghetti Monster would be so mean as to spend time randomly doling out infertility to undeserving couples. If it’s God’s plan then I’m pretty sure He would make sure that no child ever grew up unwanted, and nothing bad ever happened, and perfectly nice people would be able to have children.
If I look at people I know who’ve given birth to babies, I can’t see any rhyme nor reason as to why they’ve managed to do this, whilst others have struggled. They’re not more godly. If anything, many of these children were conceived in a state of inebriation, which I’m fairly sure was not part of God’s plan (although John 2: 1-11 does mention Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding, so maybe he was trying to help out the couple’s fertility). 😉 What can I say? It’s pretty darned insensitive to start blethering on about it being God’s plan to someone who’s infertile – it’s like telling them they’re less deserving than you. I’m pretty sure you’re not a good judge of that, up on your high horse.
9) “You’re lucky you don’t have children, because you can [go out drinking/stay slim/insert other stupid reason here]”
No! Just no! Stop right there! You think you’re doing us a favour by saying this, but you’re not!
It’s well meaning, possibly… But it’s bloody upsetting when you have to put up with hearing this from your pregnant / sanctimommy / unsensitive friends. I don’t really care if you’ve put on 4 stone and you now never go out without an infant suckling you and you haven’t washed your hair since 2003. That’s your choice! And I would like the choice. (*I’d like to think I’d be able to wash my hair, but tbh I don’t even do that at the weekend when I’m home alone, so I’d most likely turn into a hobo.)
Lists usually seem to involve 10 things, and so mine has ten… so I’ll reserve this last one for Any Other Blether. You know, the kind of stuff where you know someone who’s going through a load of heartache around infertility (or it doesn’t even enter your head that they might be), and you decide that it’s entirely within your rights to force them to talk about it, in your own clodhoppery way.
If you think what you’re saying might be upsetting, then how about you just don’t say it?
An Infertile Friend