The Great Divide

I’ve got a little distance between the circumstances I’ll describe and my own distress, enough I hope, to have some perspective and not get myself worked up while writing it down.  Here goes.

I have a couple of crafty hobbies, one of which is knitting. Sometimes I wish my crafty hobbies included things like mountain climbing and metal work, because people don’t tend to want to include children in those activities, and I’m assuming that one is probably concentrating too much on the activity at hand to want to talk much about the parenting experience.  But I know that since knitting is a traditionally “female” interest,  it is going to attract many more women than men and most of those women are going to have children and because children are a part of their daily lives they are going to talk about them.

I know that if I choose to enter a group of women who knit, ( or any group of women or parents, for that matter)  it is likely that there will be a fair amount of talk about parenting, children plus the  sharing of  kids photos and toddler knitting patterns etc.   I have several strategies for dealing with this.  Such as limiting the time I spend  at meet ups – I rarely attend a whole day event.  When baby patterns or photos get shown around, I smile and pass these on quickly and return to my knitting.  I politely  move away from conversations that are mainly focused on children or babies.   If all else fails, and I find myself tearing up – I leave.   I hope that those people who know of me and my situation will be sensitive to my feelings. By this I mean that I hope they will understand why I employ such strategies.  I hope that they won’t take it personally if I absent myself from a conversation about parenting or give only a  glance to the  new baby jumper they are knitting.   I might smile and comment on the softness of the yarn, but probably will not comment on how adorable the jumper will look.  I might nod my head as they describe the difficulties of pregnancy, but I will shortly thereafter fetch a cup of tea.  I will be polite, though I know that sometimes I will not give the “normal” enthusiastic response to such items  and conversations  that women tend to expect from each other.  I offer this observation as a background to the following anecdote.

A year or two ago, a small knitting group started up in my area.  Until recently there was no set place or meet-up time, someone would volunteer their house or suggest a meeting point every month or so.  We didn’t know each other particularly well.  The usual questions arose at those first meetings: “What do you do?” “Where do you live?”, “Do you have children?”.  To the last question I answered, as I usually do, “Sadly, no”.  This was met with the usual responses: “Oh, Sorry”, “You can have one of mine” and “Have you tried [insert any number of already tried medical and herbal remedies here]”.  The usual.   After getting acquainted with our various fertile/infertile status, we all got on pretty well.  After about a year those who had volunteered their houses on a weekend were unable to do so anymore and we began to meet in coffee shops.  We chose one that boarded a children’s playground so that those with children could come.   The group shifted in membership and a couple of new people joined and I became reasonably good friends with one of the women.

One of the new members, ( “M”),   had a toddler conceived using IVF.  She was preparing for a second round of  IVF.   We had a couple of chats about the difficulties of infertility.  Within a short time of knowing her she became pregnant with twins.  We congratulated her and, unbeknown to me, my friend  in the group (who is currently a year into TTC herself)  asked her not to talk “too much” about her pregnancy because she thought that it might upset me.   To be fair, M is one of those women who do talk a lot about children and pregnancy and her own experiences in a very negative way, without letting others speak of their own experiences – but I;m not suggesting this has anything to do with the fact that she is a Mother, it’s  more to do with the type of person she is – she needs to be the centre of attention.

Sadly, a month into her pregnancy  she miscarried.  We all met up for an excursion to a yarn store and I told her that I was sorry to hear her news.  We talked for a while about the experience.  I can’t remember what I said, exactly.  I may not have been particularly helpful, but I’m very sure that I wasn’t cruel either.   During the course of the day I became a bit dissociated and teary for a personal reason totally unrelated to infertility.   In my dissociated state I had alluded to my friend’s efforts to conceive, though she had told me she was not ready to tell the group yet.  It was a small slip – a comment about vitamins and I’m not sure anyone else really noticed but I felt ashamed of myself.   I  apologised  to my friend and walked away to collect myself.  I’m sure my eyes were red on my return, but we all trouped off to have lunch together and chatted happily.

I returned home to find that M had written “Sorry, if I offended anyone today”, on a public forum on which we all communicate.  I sent her a private message and asked if she was referring to me.  I assured her that she hadn’t upset me and that I was upset for personal reasons.  I wrote that I was genuinely sorry to hear the news of her miscarriage and that I hoped she would be Ok.  Her reply indicated that she did not accept my explanation.  She stated that she knew I had a lot of problems, but that everyone had problems and she then went on to list a number of her own.  I replied again,  repeating the statement that I was sorry for her loss and adding that I knew it was important to talk about the miscarriage and that I hadn’t been upset by this.

A couple of months later my friend in the group offered her place for a Sunday meet up. A few people replied in the affirmative.   M said that she couldn’t come because her husband couldn’t babysit but suggested that we rearrange the meeting and come to her place instead so that her little one could run around.   My friend wrote that she’d prefer a child-free meet up if possible and repeated the offer to meet at her house on a regular basis. M replied “count me out, then”.

We met as we had arranged, at my friend’s house.  I came late, as I usually do when I think that I can probably only manage a couple of hours of women talk.  After the meeting my friend told me that before I’d arrived they’d been discussing what M had written online in another group forum.  At that time, I said that I knew M had a problem with me, but that I didn’t have a problem with her. She was just a pretty critical and negative person who I would probably never end up good friends with, but she didn’t affect me that much.  I said that after 8 years I was pretty thick skinned about the infertility thing, which is to say it still hurts like hell, but I’ve accepted that people cannot really understand it unless they’ve been through it, and that  it is ignorance which is at the heart of most hurtful comments.

When I got home I, quite stupidly, checked out the discussion M had started online.  I thought I’d find a few complaints about how difficult it was to deal with someone who was infertile, or about how it wasn’t fair that we didn’t change the meeting to her house.    What I found was exaggeration and lies.   She claimed she’d been told never to speak of her child for fear of upsetting me. As in, never ever mention the word child.  She also claimed that when she’d told us of her miscarriage that I’d smiled at her and said “Now you know how I feel, great, isn’t it?”    When someone questioned her about this, she said that she knew she hadn’t misheard the words or tone because I’d been told off by the group.  None of this is true.  I checked to make sure that nothing I said could have been interpreted this way.  I was reassured that whatever I’d said had been said in a sympathetic tone and that M seemed to have forgotten that we’d continued to talk with her at length about the pain of her miscarriage.   The online discussion continued for 10 pages, during which I was called an “infertile bitch”  and referred to as someone who “hates children”.  M stated that I should “just deal” with the infertility and “get help”.

I know this woman is slightly unhinged, and seems to have projected upon me views and values that I just don’t  have. She has taken my own personal pain as a comment on her somehow.   It’s not her personally that has hurt me so much.  But to be called an “infertile bitch” after 8 years of dealing with other’s pregnancies, children, invasive and rude questions and assumptions.  It’s been almost too much.

So many questions have arisen for me from this episode.

“Why is it that my infertility hurts others so much?”

“Why must there be this great divide between Mother’s and those who are childless?”

“Can’t we accept that both Infertility and parenting may be  difficult and heart wrenching for an individual?”

“Why must this be a competition in pain?”

“Why is the onus usually on the infertile couple to make the parents feel OK?” – for such is my experience.  In other areas of life, if someone has lost something precious, others don’t expect them to cater for the needs of the person who has what they have lost.   I know that’s a tricky one, but that’s the way it feels.

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2 Responses to “The Great Divide”

  1. Esperanza Says:

    First of all, can I just say that what happened to you is infuriating! I just cannot believe that woman would say those things about someone, behind their back, on a forum so that others can rip her apart. It’s just disgusting.

    As a response to your questions, I think that people respond they way they do to infertility because (a) they do not understand it and (b) it causes suffering. (A) is a very important point because anything that people don’t understand they can’t really react appropriately to. (A) also bleeds into (b) because people who have not experienced real suffering have a very difficult time being around people who have. People, ESPECIALLY in Western cultures, do not like to acknowledge suffering AT ALL. We do a lot to hide it and we expect others to follow that societal expectation. So when a person’s suffering is brought up others usually react negatively to it, and since they don’t really understand that they are reacting negatively to the suffering, they instead focus on the person and/or situation. Infertility is an especially difficult situation because it is all but invisible and the people who do not suffer from it usually have no idea what it means. So if you bring it up, they have no idea how to respond and feel uncomfortable because of that. They also feel uncomfortable to know that you are suffering and they in turn feel guilty that they have something which you want and don’t yet (and maybe never will) have. No one like to feel these things so they lash out at the person who has caused it all.

    I looked into this a lot when I lost my first pregnancy. I was very vocal about it and people did not know what to say or do about that. It was hard, but I felt that it had so shaped me I could not ignore it. So while I have not experience infertility, the year when I was trying and especially the half of it that I was also dealing with my ectopic, I did have some experiences that I’m sure are similar to what you’re talking about. I also tried to make room for them, hoping they will return the favor. Sometimes that happened, sometimes it did not.

    I wish I had more and better answers but I don’t. I’m very sorry for your struggle, both personal and with these people. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jodie38 Says:

    What a b*tch. Strikes me as the drama queen type, never overly happy herself and always willing to take it out on someone else. Hate, hate hate people like that. Slightly unhinged is about the nicest way to describe her. I’m especially surprised by the fact that she’s been through IVF, should at least give a small rats a$$ about where you’re coming from, how you feel. I can tell by your very fair description of her and yourself that you didn’t do or say anything that she accuses you of, and I’m half a world away.
    Infertility makes people uncomfortable, and it really seems as though they feel that suffering/sadness may actually be contagious. They don’t know what to say, and don’t know how to approach someone who has had to deal with a level of pain and loss that is unfathomable to them. So, like most people, they don’t try. There are always exceptions to this – people who try to bridge the gulf with understanding and sensitivity. But for each of them there seem to be ten more clueless knuckle-draggers trampling around in your business. I don’t know why that has to be, but you’re right. I think all you can do is embrace the good ones and let go of the bad ones. That may not leave many people, but I guess that’s where quality not quantity comes in to play. So very sorry you’re having to deal with that level of stupidity….

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