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:
13 thoughts on “Renunciate”
This is going to sound awful, but I’m beginning to think you are secreting a pheromone that attracts these people. Seriously, what sort of person decides to unload on a patient who had a neurological disorder? I get she has a child that is suffering, but someone in the office needs to pull her aside, hit her nose with a rolled up stack of papers and say “NO!”
I really like your sorting system. I think it’s more than needed because so many are clueless to how their assumptions about life are painful for others. Isolation and refusing to engage are good teachers. Hoping that you continue to find this approach affective as you continue on your journey towards healing.
This made me laugh. Though I’ve sworn off psychics, I did have a reading when we were trying to conceive and in the middle of it she pauses and said “I’m getting that you’re one of those people that other people feel they can tell anything too. Like you’ll just be sitting on a bench at a mall and some stranger is suddenly telling you their life story.” Alas – I do learn a lot that way both good and bad. I just am so not down with people being narrow and conditional re: where I (and others) might be coming from. Am totally digging your imagery, rolled up stack of papers and all!!
Yes, I think I have an unconscious sorting system too. The thing that always surprises me is that the parents want empathy for being parents, yet they don’t seem to seek empathy for their children, which is what you were offering. The “As a Mom” comment makes it all about them, not about the child for whom they are concerned. I can understand that, but it also puzzles me at the same time that they can’t see it, and can’t value our perspective.
And yes, dammit, we are worthy. Believing that is key to healing. I’m glad you’re there!
Exactly! Thanks for leaving this comment Mali, now I know it’s not just me. I mean, I was listening, acknowledging and empathizing with her daughter….what could be awkward about that??
I also have a well maintained and used filter for these sorts of social interactions with parents/grandparents. More often than not, I realise that these people using the ‘as a parent’ phrase are only concerned with hearing their own voices – they rarely require (or notice!) any sort of response. I have no idea why people seem to lack so much empathy with other people – is it because families are becoming more insular? Why is this happening?
I’m with Cristy about hitting this woman square on the nose with rolled up papers (that did make me laugh, thanks Cristy!) for even spewing this verbal crap upon you when you’re at a medical appointment!
I am so sorry to hear of the struggles you’ve had with all of your illnesses over the years too and I hope that this latest bout of poor health doesn’t last. You have certainly been through the mill.
I think you’re totally right, it’s such a self congratulatory form of speech. In a perfect world, people would realize the exclusionary nature of the “as a parent” overtures, as well as the misleading inferences it produces. For now anyway, I’ll keep dreaming.
Thanks for your kind words about my health, or as one of my friends put it, “Sarah’s f’d up adventures”. Funny thing is, by primary care/basic blood work standards I’m extremely healthy for my age. Go figure.
Like those men who suddenly claim to have an understanding of women or are a defender of equal rights because, “as a father of daughters”………..I think Matt Damon or some other asshole said that once as have many others.
I’ve found my role is to patrol LinkedIn for those “family friendly policies” that so many companies like to promote. My favorite is my husband’s employer who claims to offer ‘family leave’ which actually is the mandated UNPAID leave required by our state for medical and/or family medical leave (they don’t actually provide benefits for spouses or dependents, nor any paid leave beyond the whopping two weeks a year…none of which can be taken during the holiday season).
The older and less give-a-shit I get, the more I simply say to people who do the ‘as a mom’ thing, “so what is it by giving birth that makes you somehow more empathetic and all-knowing than the rest of us who don’t have kids?”
Oh and, can I get a HELL YEAH! to the last part of your post 🙂
Yeah, the “as a father of daughters” thing really bothers me too. It’s crazy to me that people, or in this case fathers, rarely stop and think that had they not been able to have children, they’d have care and concern for everyone’s daughters. I guess the problem with the phrase is that it infers parenthood and proper moral development are inextricably linked. So not true, as we learned the hard way.
Thanks for bringing up the “family friendly policies” issue, or as we’re hearing much of these days, “hard working families”. Every time I hear that I remind myself that I and other people I care about probably don’t fit into that mold. Was thinking I’d like to challenge campaigners on just what exactly do they mean by that.
Thanks so much for writing this. I often think that if space aliens dropped onto planet Earth, they’d have to assume that moms (and to a lesser extent, dads) are some kind of royal class here. Mommy mania continues hurtful to us “outsiders” and to permeate the culture. Attaining parenthood confers instant prestige and success. No other success compares (or oftentimes even matters anymore.) Culture and society need to start valuing other types of significance, contribution, and success…or society will be poorer and poorer for it. Thanks again.
Absolutely Kathy!! I had a moment of truth a few years ago (I’m now officially 5.5 years into my childless journey) where I realized that I’m doing everything I can do. I Connect with and process my experiences, I share and communicate them well and reasonably……however this is a two way street. I’m holding my end of the deal, now society needs to do its part.
Am digging your space aliens imagery. Probably not too far off from how things would transpire…..
Thank you Sarah – I absolutely love this post. I have been checking the site for a new post and was so pleased to see a new piece – I actually saved it! I read it last week and nodded all the way through. I did the same again today – I love how you sum up the swirling of my emotions into succinct sentences that validate exactly how I feel. Thank you as always. I particularly love your sorting system and feel lots better about my incinerator! I had a similar encounter from a work colleague, just last week. It started out with her admiring my (husbands car), Audi soft top TT, she’d followed me in that day. She didn’t leave it at that – no, she had to tack on the end (wistfully), it would be the car she would have had if she hadn’t been a parent! I could have changed the subject or walked away. Instead, I had to mention the failed fertility, the sadness. She then said “I know how that feels, as Tom was the result of our last IVF attempt”. She then promptly asked me if I had thought about adoption. Before I had much chance to muster a reply she relayed the story of wanting to visit her IVF clinic with her son and how they had warned her that there would be people who had not had the success she had. I replied at this point, so why didn’t they simply say “no” to you for the sake of others. This left her dumbfounded. It was quickly followed by an outpouring of “how sad and sorry she was” – she then insisted on hugging me in the middle of the office kitchen. I was surprisingly unmoved (probably still getting over the clinic visit and her complete lacking). My parting comment – in a professional and factual way I am proud of was “we enjoy the TT, it in no way makes up for the daily loss of our family”.
Hi Jane –
Love your response to the fertility clinic waiting room issue!! You sure nailed that one. That has always been a huge sticking point with me. Amazing the clinic even spoke up at all for those who don’t have success. My doctor’s office actually encouraged IVF baby show and tell.
Perfect parting comment too. I get the sense from some people who get to be parents that they feel they are missing out on something and that we childless people are living the dream. Ultimately I think it’s a failure of imagination – somehow they don’t make the leap that your response summed up so precisely. Back when my husband and I could travel, we went to Vegas not even a month after our final failed treatment. I remember being in a restaurant saying to him that this was nice but in no way could it ever make up for what we had just lost. As I sat in a very clear sense of what travel could be for us, I referred to is as a “cheap consolation prize”. We have sat in that reality, people who get to be parents haven’t.
As far as your co-worker, she was making a mindless comment, you called her out on it, and I think she just wanted to get out of her own discomfort. Which is perhaps why you were unmoved by her gestures as they were quite possibly self motivated and not based in compassion at all. I don’t think anyone with a living child should ever say that they know how we feel. They of course couldn’t possibly. What a start to your work day – my goodness!
Thanks so much Sarah for your reply – your follow up insights help enormously. Even those who sit in our reality for a time – if they get to be parents they don’t ever really get it. I’m certain I would have – we’ll never know. I am staggered daily to the numbers of those who really do lack true compassion. It seems particularly evident though with infertility. It puts me off being authentic – after all whats the point. I still don’t get the understanding I’m after and I still have to absorb the adoption question. I guess though, I did get to use my “sort system” and I will be quick to walk the other way next time I see her (rather than feel I need to ask after Tom – I’ve overheard a few trivial nuggets in the office since) which again, I can now throw in the incinerator! I can also say that I did eventually relay the conversation to my husband – over a few Friday night pints and he was equally outraged and it allowed us to talk about a relatively taboo subject and share our feelings. He has also hugged me or given me the knowing look if we are out in public and overhear “unsolicited baby trivia”! He also revealed his sadness is there within him all the time. So sorry too Sarah that your travelling is curtailed, hope this is back on the horizon soon – how is your yoga going?