Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't Ignore: the Space Between

a post in honor of National Infertility Week

I don't write a lot specifically about infertility here any more.  Part of me feels like that silence, or that lack, is a betrayal, because it was such a significant part of the forward-movement of this blog for such a long time, and because the community that supported and continues to support me on this journey deserves a better advocate.  Part of me feels like that is the natural evolution of this space.  Part of me worries that people who come here for cupcakes or soup won't want to read about pregnancy loss.  Part of me thinks that maybe cupcakes and soup are excellent ploys to raise awareness for a disease that affects one in eight women.  Part of me knows that infertility is one of many subtexts for everything I write.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted an April Fool's pregnancy announcement on Facebook.  After he revealed the truth, most people thought the joke was funny, but it took him a long time to untangle the rumors that had spread.  He's a nice guy, and I was surprised that he would have done something so cavalier, but I felt that I needed to say something.  So I wrote him a private Facebook message, telling him that I didn't want to speak on behalf of the entire ALI community, but that a post like that might be hurtful to people in ways that he didn't intend.

To my surprise, he wrote back that his wife had also experienced recurrent pregnancy loss, fibroids, and other complications with her reproductive system.  They were no longer able to have children, and the two they had were hard-won, like ours.  He should have known better, he said, given their own experiences with grief and loss.

It was yet another one of the instances of my making assumptions about my own friends, wherein I was acting the part we usually assign to the unaware "Fertile."

In a conversation months ago with another friend whose first child was stillborn, she said that she often felt unwelcome in the ALI community, in the blogs that seemed to make assumptions about women who had children.  She reminded me that women on the playground, watching their children ... women in church ... women who are friends, neighbors, relatives ... may also have walked on this path.  I think about her words often when I catch myself making assumptions about the women I meet, reminding myself that the assumptions I make could stand in the way of deeper friendship, trust, understanding, and support.

In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, my request is this: don't ignore the assumptions we make about each other.  Those assumptions support the wall of silence that surrounds infertility, that makes it so taboo.  Don't ignore the silences, the things that go unsaid because there is no safe space to say them.  Don't ignore the subtexts of strained or happy conversations.

Because ignoring these things promotes ignorance, and more ignorance is the last thing we need.

Thanks for reading, for listening, and for witnessing, both with me, and with so many others.
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26 comments:

Sara said...

I don't normally comment here, despite being a faithful reader, because I don't have much to say about cupcakes or soup other than "yum." I want to say "thank you" for this one, though. It's an important reminder.

gwinne said...

Ah, yes. Thank you for this. I frequently make these assumptions, even though I know I *shouldn't*, even though I know if folks looked at me with my big girl over the past few years they never would have known what was really going on. Now when I get comments about the huge age gap, I say something like "that wasn't my plan, but we don't always get what we want."

Jjiraffe said...

Love this post.

And this: "Part of me thinks that maybe cupcakes and soup are excellent ploys to raise awareness for a disease that affects one in eight women."

Maniacal laughter!! YES!

Adele said...

I also catch myself falling into the pitfall of assumptions, and it bears keeping in mind that they're often wrong. These days, when I'm out and about with O, I also often lock eyes with women on the street. And something makes me know that they're having a tough time of it. And I want to tell them: No, I'm not someone for whom this all came easily. (Though, I could be full of crap and that might all be transference).

It was still a silly Facebook move he pulled, though.

jhl said...

I'm glad you commented today, Sara. Thanks for sticking with me. Thinking about you ... and hoping that you know that wherever you are on your own journey, you are not alone.

jhl said...

Gwinne, people say the same thing about my kids, too. And it's hard to remind ourselves that we're not the only ones; infertility is invisible, and we tend to first judge people by what we see, not what we don't.

jhl said...

Adele, I suspect that you're right about more of those women than you know.

And it *was* a silly thing to do. Apparently it was sort of an inside joke for his family, who knows that they can't have any more children. Even so ... if I were his wife, he would never have heard the end of it!

JeCaThRe said...

We all deal with pain differently, and it's possible that his wife also found it amusing. Sometimes surviving a difficult journey includes developing a dark sense of humor about the whole thing, and that can linger even after you've made your peace.

(This is not true for me. I have started swearing at every book and movie that makes bad things happen to babies and children.
This is awkward when I bust out the really bad words after an hour of reading quietly.)

mommy someday said...

Hi from ICLW - what a great post!

Kathy said...

Great post Justine!

This really spoke to me:

"I think about her words often when I catch myself making assumptions about the women I meet, reminding myself that the assumptions I make could stand in the way of deeper friendship, trust, understanding, and support."

So true.

I appreciate you writing and sharing this. Even though your blog has evolved over the years and you may not share as much or as often about your journey through infertility, I agree "that maybe cupcakes and soup are excellent ploys to raise awareness for a disease that affects one in eight women." I also am sure "that infertility is one of many subtexts for everything (you) write."

I know we haven't been connected here in the blogosphere for very long, but I am grateful to have found you/your blog and love following your half baked life.

jhl said...

Thank you, Kathy! I was so glad to read your post, today, too ... I wonder, if we supported each other better, perhaps the community as a whole would be better supported?

LaLa said...

We all hide our true selves in general public dealings, so it's a good reminder that beneath the surface of every living person, there is hurt and struggle and heartache. We never really know what another has been through, or what scars we might share with each other.

Amy said...

I think this great advice that I struggle to follow.

loveandchaosreign said...

I had my assumptions challenged a few months back (http://loveandchaosreign.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/assumptions/) and I am definitely working on my own responses to people's assumptions about me. Having boy/girl twins from IVF people automatically assumed we were "done" because we got "one of each". But we weren't done, and dealing with people's insensitive comments was incredibly annoying.

Now that we're done despite not really wanting to be, I can only imagine how those conversations are going to feel now. But I will do my best to remember to try and not assume that people are being insensitive. Sometimes I think we instinctively assume the worst of people, especially when so many of us IFers have been through so much heartache - it's our way of protecting our hearts. We stand constantly on the defense - of our choices to pursue or not to pursue treatment, adoption, etc... Our fertility choices are constantly debated because of women like Nadya Suleman (octomom) and it's hard not to throw bars around our hearts and just assume everyone is judging us somehow.

jhl said...

You're right, of course. Though a dark sense of humor shouldn't excuse anyone from sensitivity. And I'd argue that Facebook is just not the right platform for that sort of joke. Or if it was, perhaps share it with his family, who was the intended audience to begin with?

I know he didn't intend to hurt anyone with the post. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body.

jhl said...

I think things like FB has made this even harder, because we assume (since people over-share) that we are seeing EVERYTHING ... and yet, what we're seeing is a carefully curated version of people's selves.

jhl said...

You're so right about the connections between assumptions and defenses. Sometimes it's the only way we can feel safe. And yet ... if only we could suspend judgment ... we might find ourselves i a safer, more supportive place ...

Keiko said...

Oh Justine, this is such a vitally needed post. Re: the FB fake pg announcement, it's surprising that he would have posted that having gone through hurdles to have their children. Sometimes we just don't think - or maybe we even tune it out after a while. Kudos to you for calling him out via that FB message. It takes balls to do that.

I feel like folks with secondary infertility almost have an even more uphil battle to climb. Whether their previous children were hard-won or not, they have to go through all of the emotional and physical hoops like any primary infertile person - and deal with the judgments and put-downs from them too. I get the bitterness, I do. As someone who has't even begun CYCLING (but am this summer! wee!) I can understand the resentment.

But I don't get judgy. I don't get bitter. They have a right to experience all of the same emotions we do. And as I said in a post recently, being a parent isn't just a right - it's an honor.

Great post. And thanks for swingin' by my place for ICLW. I'm such a bad commenter that ICLW is the kick in the ass I need to comment on other fab blogs like yours :)

jhl said...

Thanks, Keiko!

I try not to compare the experiences of what I have started to call the "ALI diaspora" ... I think that every individual deserves to be treated with compassion and dignity. I know that's what you do, too ... and I'm thankful that you do so in such a public way, on behalf of those who can't.

And BTW, in case I haven't made it clear, I think your new business model/blog is awesome!!!

Andie said...

Firstly, Facebook message, what a stupid thing to do.

Secondly, I feel like I am one of the people that others make assumptions about. Has reached a certain age, has good career, no children. Sometimes you can almost see people really want to ask. No one knows what we have been through. SO I guess because I feel judged, I try not to judge others. You never know what someone else has been through.

I guess your post has made me feel a little conflicted. Because while I strongly belieeve we should break down the wall of silence, I am also the first person to defend my privacy and would never discuss such intimate details of my history with people (except the Internet, ha). I hope that I am making sense here. It's why I really admire people like Keiko, who can go out there and be completely open and advocate for others.

returntogobaby.com said...

This is a great post. It is so easy to make assumptions about people with children.

jhl said...

I don't think we need to go screaming from the rooftops, if that's not what we feel comfortable doing. But I do think that we need to make more spaces safe for people to speak. I'm on the fence about sharing details in public, too ... but perhaps partly *because* it is a social taboo? Hard to know.

-Kindra said...

I feel weird, with Babe in one hand pushing a double stroller. I need to buy some infertility gear ASAP cause I'm proud to be a member of the toughest fighting mama/mama-to-be club I've ever seen.

Esperanza said...

I'm sorry I'm just commenting now. This is such a powerful post and one I thought of a lot after I read it. I too try to remind myself that I don't know everyone's path and I should never judge someone, even if I do think I know the journey they've faced. I also realize that I'm one of the few who do remember the people I know have been trying but I haven't heard from, like my friend who I saw last year when she was four month pregnant and now shows no signs of that pregnancy on Facebook at all, in fact I can find no record of it ever. I wonder what happened and want to reach out to her but I'm not sure that is what she would want. I don't know if she just wants to move on or would like me to acknowledge her loss. I'm unsure how to proceed. I also wonder if I'm the only one who remembers an past coworker who I heard, through the grapevine (another coworker is her cousin) had a miscarriage. That was easily over a year ago and I never heard that she was pregnant again. I'm sure she's been trying. I want to reach out but again, I don't know if acknowledging that I remember, that I assume she's trying, is what she would want or not. Sometimes even when you don't ignore the space in between, you're still not sure how to proceed. Life, and loss, are so complicated.

jhl said...

*love*.

jhl said...

I think it would actually be a wonderful thing to ask. Sometimes I suspect that people disappear because they feel ashamed to acknowledge and remember, and knowing that someone else *does* remember would be such a gift. And the worst thing that could happen would be an awkward silence. But you're right, it's complicated.

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