A Party, An Infertility Survivor, and No Social Mishaps
Newsflash folks: It finally happened. I, I Infertility Honesty, attended a party where I hardly knew anyone and everyone had kids and…….wait for it……..NO ONE ASKED ME IF I HAVE ANY.
I repeat: I WAS IN A ROOM – WITH HUMANS, MIND YOU – A WHOPPING 15 OR SO, AND YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT, ALL WITH CHILDREN…….AND NO ONE ASKED ME IF I HAVE KIDS.
Wow. I know, right?
Chalk that up as a Christmas miracle. Or Chanukah, as it were.
I was very proud of myself for going at all, as it was something I would not have been up for the year prior. I still felt half there, half not there, as I’ve been feeling lately. After all, the life experience of parenthood is organically woven into the fabric of human conversation whereas the tumultuous trek from infertility to non – parenthood isn’t. If and when I bring up or contribute anything that is authentic to MY life in conversation, I run the real and constant risk of being minimized by my fellow humans, misunderstood and even judged. As an infertile, and especially as an involuntary childless infertility survivor, the remnants of speaking with people can easily belong to my already too high pile of human disconnect, as well as contributing to the percolation of my craving for solitude. This time, I didn’t add anything to the conversation regarding IF and childlessness, as there was no reason to. The gathering was the lovely idea of my spin class instructor – we got together to rally around of one of our class members who had broken her hip a few months back from a slip and fall.
And, let’s be honest, even the most tuned in public cannot “cure” the void I’m now starting to move around in, as the experience of my children not being here deepens with time. Even the kindest of souls cannot serve as an aversion towards the sparse feeling born from being in a room full of people with children, or more truthfully, in a room full of people none of whom are my children, that sparse feeling that propels tears forward on the drive home. But that really is all of the more reason for people to be sensitive to the traumas and losses that are inevitable parts of human reproduction now then, isn’t it?
I have no idea if the appropriate behavior at this gathering was random, or if the surge of IF related topics lately in the media has actually started making a difference. I know seeing a post on the “Why don’t you have kids?” and “When are you going to have kids?” questions go viral along with a couple of talk show hosts speaking out recently gave me hope – their overall message being “Stop asking!!”
I of course don’t fault people with children for mentioning them in new social situations. That’s only natural – as natural as the voicing of experiences like mine should be. The lack of inclusion and consideration arises with the all too common expectation that I, as a woman, can and should take an interest and be able to relate. It’s the all too pervasive presumption that whoever they are talking to isn’t having or recovering from a miscarriage (or their second or their third), isn’t going through the havoc and hell of fertility treatments, the person to whom they are speaking couldn’t POSSIBLY be someone who wanted children but couldn’t have them for whatever reason, or, like me and my husband, were not medically able to reproduce. Most of the time, truth be told, I want to hear in depth about a stranger’s children as much as they would want to hear about my husband if theirs had just died. And furthermore, just coming to the end of my second year grieving and mourning the loss of my children, this is normal.
I cringe when I think of how many of these inappropriate and thoughtless lead ins my husband has been bombarded with, being exposed to the public in his restaurant business. He received endless and unwelcome “Why don’t you have kids?” and “When are you going to have kids?” overtures while his wife was at home sticking herself with countless needles, recovering from numerous procedures, and grieving yet another loss. And the common question he gets now?
“How many kids do you have?”
It never ceases to amuse me how the fertile mind “works” – happy marriage + successful businesses MUST equal the ability to reproduce. Yes folks, 2 + 2 = 5….haven’t you heard??
“Zero”, my husband will promptly reply. And of course I just love his “Yeah, you want a number?? I’ll give you a number!!” approach.
I actually experience a strange peace when I’m around people such as the aforementioned party guests. I realize it may be completely unfounded and misguided, but it is a peace just the same. Being around people who don’t pester people like me and who are willing to talk about other things makes me feel that should their kids have to deal with infertility one day, such people will do a better job supporting them through it, as opposed to those who find themselves trapped in a constant drool of pronatalism. That things are better for the next generation is so important to me – there is absolutely no reason people after me should have to suffer the medical debacles, social isolation, societal misunderstanding and familial discrimination that my crew did.
Saturday’s gathering was what it was – important support for someone who was injured and is now on their way through recovery. But it was also a fine step forward, whether those present knew it or not, towards the truth our human race has evaded for far too long: Many people suffer trauma and loss on their path through reproducing, and, many people, whether it be individually or as a couple, as it likely has been since the beginning of human history, are not able to reproduce at all. As a society we must set up our verbal construct and social protocols accordingly.
12 thoughts on “MIRACLE??”
What a great and uplifting story. You made me laugh with your good fortune.
You venture out with your armour in place and your brain steeled for the obvious questions and for a rare change they don’t come. Once it’s all over there’s that huge sigh of relief and the slow fading away of the stress you know has been building since you walked in the door to the party. It’s a liberating feeling to experience such an occasion and to meet people with a wider range of interests. If they could all be that uncomplicated.
You had me thinking all afternoon if I could remember any similar occasions. The last one that comes to mind was a drawing course I attended last year. The usual dreaded questions never came up among this group either. People made comments about their own kids or grandkids if the conversation went in that direction but the typical questions never arose. Don’t know whether it had anything to do with the age of the students (mostly over 40) or if it was just plain good luck on my part.
It would be nice to believe it’s becoming ‘the norm’ but I think there’s still a way to go yet. I remember in the early years when our grief was new, raw and all-consuming and thinking it would be so much simpler to wear a badge at the parties and gatherings we attended: “no kids – don’t ask” (would still come in handy on occasions, even now). It would save the feelings of unease, anxiety, the awkward questions and even more awkward answers between both parties. (At that early stage we hadn’t yet worked out our standard answers).
I do notice with myself that in the last few years I don’t sweat the outings too much anymore (although I don’t really go to that many; who knew shyness had an advantage). Maybe I’ve grown a somewhat thicker skin without realising it, or some form of grudging acceptance of our situation has quietly snuck up on me.
It could also be that having turned 50 those questions don’t arise as often… social circles change, acquaintance’s kids are now older or out on their own and they can now hold a kid free conversation. I am sure it will only be a few more years before I’ll be getting the dreaded “how many grandchildren” question. I better make sure that thick skin is ready!
I hope that with continued exposure in the press the protocol when meeting new people would be a more general conversation on topics of the day instead of the more personal questions we dread having to answer.
Definitely! Generally speaking, if people have kids they talk about them, as we all so painfully know, so that there is a need to ask in and of itself is totally humorous. It needs to be standard social protocol that asking someone why the don’t, when they are going to, or any other potentially traumatic details is rude, thoughtless and should be off limits. But yes, we likely have a ways to go with that.
I think age may have something to do with it, as you also pointed out. Most at the party I attended were at least in their forties and most of them seemed to be past the consuming toddler and even grade school phase of things with their kids. I was wondering if that’s indeed a factor.
It’s still very hard though, I often wonder if and when I’ll ever be able to feel comfortable and safe around people.
A drawing class? That’s great, I can’t even draw a straight line….
A Christmas Miracle, indeed! To quote one of my lifelong crushes, Bruce Willis, in his award winning role as Detective John McClain in Die Hard (arguably the best Christmas movies ever made), “Yippee ki yay motherfu**er!”
Hope you got to take in your share of your lifelong crush over the holidays. And of course I love that you love those movies.
That’s an encouraging story! I hope so much that I will be able to have similar encounters with people without the conversation always coming back to children and how many we have. We just started going to a new church and that is the 2nd question we get from almost everyone we meet. At this point, I find it almost funny how uncomfortable people get when we say “none” and sweetly smile and stare at them. My hope is that their uncomfortableness may make them think twice about asking prying questions when meeting others down the road. Probably not, but I can hope! 🙂
Becky, that’s awesome. Not that people ask you “the question”, of course, but your tactic. Learning to be amused by the discomfort of others, as opposed to guilty and feeling responsible for it, is one of the main things that gets me through. It isn’t always easy though, we’re so mistakenly conditioned, especially as women, that our worth rests on making others feel good.
That it would make them think twice next time is a reasonable hope, I think. I know that’s how I tend to feel.
I remember going to a course about the same time into my healing as your. I spent two full days where we all focused on the course itself, and I wasn’t asked once about whether I had children. It was a blessed relief! It was also perhaps the first example of my anticipation of an event being far worse than the event itself.
Yeah, because every possibility exists for the event to be worse than the anticipation. This has happened to me on many occasions. To not be asked about children feels so right and normal, doesn’t it? In those precious spaces, all momentarily feels right with the world.
This is a true miracle! Your words…”the lack of inclusion and consideration”…the whole paragraph is spot on. Consideration for our stories should be a part of that conversation. The routine conversation. I’m facing the holidays with family and an unexpected new baby in the family. I’m telling my story in small steps but kind of feel like coming out with all of it if questioned. Excellent post. I agree it should be better for those that come behind us and that won’t happen unless we share it.
All so true. Steph, I’m wondering how it went this Christmas? Making room for ourselves in the conversation is exhausting and difficult, especially when people’s expectations are often that the focus will be all baby all the time. Coming out is hard, it can feel initially more alienating when people don’t respond with the empathy and support that they should.
Thanks for the reply! Thankfully no questions with all eyes on the new baby. I shared this post and my reply with my husband who shared these thoughts with a co-worker over the holidays. She was receptive and agreed that more should know what it’s like for those of us. This was from a mother of three unexpected little ones. I also had the opportunity to re-connect with an old friend. Although an all positive holiday update may have been appropriate, I felt it to be a big lie without catching her up on this aspect of my life. She was overwhelmingly empathetic and positive in terms of our moving on with no expectations of what we should be doing in terms of adoption etc. I’d say we had some small wins this holiday season. I hope others had the same.
There’s definitely hope……but I know for me it’s taken time to get to a point where I’m healed enough to risk being minimized. I always say going through what we go through and simultaneously educating people can be like being picked up by an ambulance with a life threatening injury and having to explain, step by step, to the EMTs how to administer medical treatment. Good for you for getting some conversations started!