We Are Worthy
I miss you! Life has been demanding a lot from me lately, leaving little time for reflection and expression. There are positive resolutions to some of my challenges and obstacles on the horizon though, so I’ll take it. I know I’m late to the party, but I just had to jump in on today’s World Childless Week theme in spite of my personal constraints. And even though it’s already yesterday in the UK. Hope you have or will get to check out WCW’s many offerings. More from me soon, I hope.
For those of us acclimating to living without the children we expected, certain unyielding realities become abundantly clear amid the implosion of our formerly held world views.
As we relearn the world through our involuntarily childless lens, we are brought face to face with the universally stringent conversational patterns that thoroughly omit our experiences and viewpoints.
It was a golden, crisper than usual mid September day as I made my way to my periodic neurology appointment. I chuckled as I found the office, a drastically cozier and quieter place than the bustling hub where I had always seen my doctor prior. This other location provided a much more cooperative environment for someone in the first part of an autonomic nervous system disorder, as I was now discovering two years and nine months in and approaching its merciful resolution.
I relayed as much to the friendly receptionist as succinctly as I could. “It’s funny what we don’t realize as we’re coping, isn’t it?”
She instantly started questioning me about my condition. As it turned out, her daughter had mono a couple years back and she suspected it had manifested into some mysterious ailment. So far, diagnosis illusive.
I showed some concern as we soon figured out her daughter didn’t have what I had. And then she continued.
“I’ve been researching this for my daughter, you know, as a mom….”. She went on to describe the next test they were going to do and if that didn’t show something they were going to be at a loss. I nodded in understanding. At the diagnostic dead end part, not at the ‘as a mom’ part of course. More on that drivel later.
Now, I’m no dummy. I know what is expected of me next. Much like the conversation with planet parent anatomy I broke down in my last post, I now have two unfortunate “choices.”
Either A) I reveal my parenthood tribe membership thus sealing my “understanding” of her situation, an act that breeds an additional purpose: the not so subtle inference that those who aren’t part of the same tribe are not able to understand and thus not worthy.
And then there’s choice B) – Regardless of what I have not gotten to experience or may be experiencing or have experienced in the department of having and raising children (infertility, fertility treatments, miscarriages, yearning for a child unattainable due to other circumstances, grief over involuntary childlessness, the list goes on!) and life in general, I’m supposed to act impressed that she’s doing her job as a parent (a job, that unlike mine, she probably chose), validate how HARD it is and shower her with sympathy.
Instead, I responsed: “You know, whatever role we may be playing in life, it’s very very hard to be dealing with something for which a diagnosis is difficult to come by. It’s such an emotional roller coaster.”
And I mean, I would know. I’ve got a plethora of worthy experience to contribute on that topic. I came down with mono at age 17, which ended up leading to depression that was at times suicidal. No one could figure out why. I was ailed by mental illness off and on for the next twelve years. It seemed any medical professionals I dealt with were operating with the under lying assumptions that I was just generally unmotivated and not that smart. I then adopted the assumptions that none of them were perceptive, insightful or compassionate. Anyway, I was finally diagnosed at age twenty nine with two major biochemical imbalances as the root cause of my issues. Quite fortunately the nutrient therapy treatment program they put me on worked.
My husband and I were an unexplained infertility case for two years, two years that were chock full of trying to conceive naturally, holistically and medically all while bathing in the jarring energy field of no answers. It would ultimately take three years and six doctors to come to what I believe is a full diagnosis, we’ll never really know. To the end of it not rendering a child anyway.
Then there’s my diagnosis time of seven weeks, quite short for my particular nervous system disorder which typically gets written off by doctors as all in your head or a panic disorder. But still ultra intense when you’re trying to navigate the medical system in a crazy mental state with few physical capabilities of your own. For someone who panics for no reason, can’t stand for more than ten minutes, can’t digest their food, is dealing with constant dizziness, nausea and lightheadedness, randomly feels like they can’t breathe, are going to faint, have a heart attack or even die, seven weeks is long enough. Even if I was randomly lucky to get a diagnosis relatively quickly and to be stuck with something that eventually has an end.
And, last but not least. Having never received the opportunity to worry about a living child, I have spent years in the space of gulping concern over whether my children would get to exist at all. I have often imagined, given all I put into bringing my children forth, that I’d have been a somewhat unwittingly over protective parent. Not the same experience as parenting a living child, and I’m not trying to make it so. But totally worthy just the same. While the parenting demographic has, for the most part, been a complete and utter failure at imagining what it’s like to be me, I’m able to imagine the startlingly perpetual and alarming nature of having a child with undiagnosed medical issues much better than most would think.
But none of these above experiences were “As a mom”, at least from the narrow traditional standpoint. And that’s one of the many problems with the “as a mom” modifier. Not only does it imply a hierarchy and status based on what is often an unearned privilege, it directs the discounting of so many worthy experiences that should be in the human conversation.
It’s also worth pointing out that such parent-splaining renders itself ridiculous when applied to holding up the end of any other relationship role. I can’t imagine explaining to people that I’m sponsoring my husband’s permanent residence in this country “you know, AS a wife”.
I couldn’t tell what the receptionist at the neurologist’s office made or didn’t make of my comment (seven paragraphs back in case you’ve forgotten, and if you did I can’t say I blame you), but soon after I noticed her gear majorly shifted. As she led me to my exam room, she broke into “my child is driving me crazy” mode. One of the things being that her daughter, aged eighteen, wants to have a baby (hey, join the club!). When we make motherhood the pinnacle of practically freaking everything, what should we expect from our young girls??
And yes, I’m aware. I’m aware that now it’s my cue to either tell her that I know or to validate how stressful parenting is, to provide encouragement that she’ll get through it, etc etc.
But you know what? I can’t. I can’t because some things are just worse and one of those just worse things I have lived myself. My experiences have completely dimmed my awe of parenthood. Four years and multiple efforts at trying to conceive, including multiple failed fertility treatments, trauma recovery, a deep grief journey and societal disenfranchisement has a way of doing that to a person. While I’m now able to acknowledge what she may be going through on a level, and while I’ve come to the point where I’m optimistically ready for my new life to unfold, my lack of awe remains. And I don’t owe anyone my pretending otherwise. I reached a point quite some time ago where I had been through enough and lost enough to see that getting to be a parent, at least under normal average circumstances, would have been easier.
I instead continued validating via my own worthy experiences, which had previously been interrupted by her mom lament. I shared with her how I had mono my senior year of high school and acknowledged that while there’s no good time to be sick, that’s a particularly rough age to have something chronic as it’s such a transitional age and sickness at that age can be so socially isolating. “I really feel for her” I said about her daughter as I placed my belongings down on a chair and headed for the exam table.
She looked inexplicably dumbfounded at this point, and turned around to leave the room without saying anything.
On my way out of the office, she seemed strangely disconnected as I wished her “good luck with everything”.
There are definitely some angles where this woman deserves the benefit of the doubt. She was in the middle of working, and her mind was of course churning over her daughter’s unresolved health situation. She also could have caught my gut punched facial expression that no doubt plastered across my face when she announced her daughter wanted to have a baby. Perhaps unaware of its triggering nature or maybe feeling like she had said too much, something we all do on occasion.
There’s also the possibility that she was just spewing, like a lot of people are, and wasn’t prepared to receive real empathy and concern. AS an involuntarily childless infertility and IVF survivor (He he – get it??), I’ve been plunged into the depths of feeling. While I’m not as wedged in that realm as I once was, I think that this is a place one more so evolves to, as opposed to returns from. It’s a place not everyone knows, it’s a place to which average life experiences generally don’t bring people.
And then there is the attention grabbing factor that we childless people encounter on a regular basis. I’ve had at least a few of these exchanges, where my presence and empathy is not enough for people who get to be mothers. A couple of years ago at a social gathering, I was listening to a couple’s concern for their child, who is gay and a grown adult, traveling through the middle east region of our world. I listened intently, acknowledged their pain and concern, even got tears in my eyes. Oh, but the mother wanted more, to the point where she blatantly hedged, “But can you imagine…..AS A MOTHER!!!”
Well, imagining that “as a mother” of course would have been excruciatingly painful for me, especially back then, since I of course would have much rather had that situation to deal with, disconcerting and legitimate though it was. So I replied, “Well, AS A HUMAN BEING, I’m not crazy about the idea either. It is so deeply concerning.”
Bottom line is, I have no doubt that both aforementioned exchanges would have been much less awkward and strained had I done what is socially expected of me as a childless woman/person. And that both would have been more connected, informative and gratifying for everyone were there room for me and people like me in the conversation.
I’m recalling the early days of my plight, woozy from the shock of my experiences having no place anywhere. In addition to my children, it felt as though I was being eternally tackled by another major loss. And I was. The loss of getting to be a legitimately grieving person with relevant experiences to share and express out in the world.
In my early days I’d have had no room for this woman’s mainstream experiences or her social gaffes. I’d have hardly been able to entertain conversation of someone else’s children. I’d have not been able to do what is unfortunately the solo job of tying my experiences into her pinched monologue. I’d either have gone out of my way to not even get into the conversation, or I’d have made my experiences bluntly known in one way or another to put an end to it. This is all normal, justifiable, and rightfully so. This is all OK and entirely acceptable. Coming out of that space has taken me years.
I’ve learned that navigating society’s social and cultural black holes not only requires healing, it requires some mad skill levels. I’ll have to reflect back on how they might have formed in me, as I’m not entirely sure. What I do know is that these days, I’m somehow able to swoop through most of what used to enrage and choke me up like a member of Cirque du Soleil, the conversation edition.
It seems I’ve inadvertently developed a sorting system when I find myself in parent talk. “My kid has an unresolved medical situation” goes into the “That’s tough, I might have a bit of room for that as long as they stay reasonable” pile. “My eighteen year old daughter wants to have a baby” gets tossed into the “I’ll ignore that” pile. “As a Mom” and all other ploys for attention and status? Straight to the incinerator.
I hone in on these seemingly pointless interactions with people from the infertile and childless perspectives because they are anything but pointless. These microcosms are very telling in terms of our greater macrocosm. Being made conversationally and linguistically irrelevant and invisible on a regular basis is NOT OK. It’s a societal and cultural failure that further harms individuals who are already struggling through no fault of their own. It makes humanity weaker as a whole and it needs to change.
While I may not always need to hide the way I used to, or make the noise I used to need to make, while I may now make myself known in ways both more subtle and steadfast, my take remains unwavering: