Trading Places: My (M)other Life

It’s Day Two of the open salon hosted by yours truly and Keiko of The Infertility Voice. We created this dialogue to discuss both sides of the motherhood debate from our unique perspectives. Why? To parse out the concerns and vulnerabilities of transition within the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community without tripping over political correctness and delicate sensibilities.

We hope you’ll join us every day this week and will be inspired to add your own responses in the comments here and at Keiko’s blog or by writing your own blog posts.

Today is role play day, and we all get to play! Those visiting our blogs who are mothers after infertility get to take on the role of a non-mom. Those of us non-moms after infertility get to assume the mom persona. Those in between have the option to choose whichever feels the most opposite of where you are today.

As I sat down to write I realized that getting into the maternal mindset was easier and a whole lot different than when I first attempted a role reversal exercise five years ago (be sure to read the comments).

Easier, why? My nights consumed by demons are a welcome thing of the past. My grieving for what might have been has ended. The embers of bitterness from the days of wondering why her and not me have long since grown cold. I’ve forgiven those who casually dismissed my suffering or were tone deaf to my sorrow, encouraging me to “enjoy my freedom.”  (So NOT the thing to say to someone in emotional distress.)

I’ve learned that nurturing is not the sole province of mothers. I’ve met many warm, compassionate, caring and playful women who are not raising children after infertility. I’m inspired at how they’ve transformed, channeling their pain to tap their creative spirits. They’ve reinvented themselves; they are positively shaping our world in ways large and small.

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So, how would I apply what I’ve learned in the role of mother after infertility? What  would I teach my children? To embrace not just the good things that come our way but the painful experiences, too. To get outside of our heads and live from our hearts, knowing that while they may break, they can also mend. To understand the impact of our words and behavior on others. I would encourage them to seek out those who are not like them, and to take the time to learn why so they can find common ground. I would raise my children to see failure as an opportunity. I would teach them the difference between temporal and structural changes:

Temporal change can be difficult. Drift apart from a friend … bond with another. Have to move … home is where you make it. Ultimately, you adjust and move on when temporal change comes your way.

Structural change
is quite different. You directly experience deep loss or a life-changing medical condition that causes fundamental shifts. These you don’t get over — you can only come to terms and learn from structural change.

Whether any of us in the ALI community go on to become mothers or not, we each must come to terms with the infertility experience, and that means working through unpredictable, complex emotions: disappointment, anger, depression, sadness, a sense of alienation, being invisible and just plain misunderstood. As I beat my head against the wall trying to understand and makes sense of what I’d lived through I was often disappointed with the failings of myself and those around me. When I didn’t arrive as fast as I wanted to in my new life or was impatient with others for not getting me I realized that taking emotional shortcuts often led to new conflicts. Walking, mindfully, in other’s shoes is one way to alleviate the most distressing disagreements.

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And that’s another thing I’d teach my children: healthy conflict resolution. You could say women who have experienced and processed infertility are among the best equipped to take on the role of motherhood. We’ve accumulated oodles of life lessons to share and we do so across generations.

Above all, I’d make clear that not all families are alike — there are families of two –but that doesn’t make them any less special. My kids would grow up knowing there is more than one way to live life joyfully and with meaning. I would teach them that there are no easy roads. Each day is a new beginning. Each week brings challenges that must be overcome. Each month we must cultivate not only our talents but the talents of those who come into our lives. Each year we grow stronger.

We will need to draw upon that strength, I’d tell them, because sometimes no matter how hard we work and how well we follow the rules there will be periods in our lives when it feels like we’re swimming against the tide. Fortunately, if we develop strong relationships along the way we can rely on friends and family to throw us a life line.

Now, check out Keiko’s thoughts. Then it’s your turn to apply lessons learned to role play…

 

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7 thoughts on “Trading Places: My (M)other Life

  1. all important life lessons.

    I think I’m a far more compassionate person now because of my infertility and loss. and while I can’t claim to be a better person or parent, per se, than someone who hasn’t shared my experience, I do believe it prepared me to raise more compassionate and understanding children, now that I have that chance.

    every time my daughter talks to me about having babies or being a mama, I am sure to handle it very delicately, explaining that not all women become mamas, not all men become dadas. and I’ve told her that I was unable to become a mama when I was waiting for her. she doesn’t get it yet. but I hope my girls will some day have a greater understanding of the spectrum of womanhood than as defined by society.

  2. I really like what you say about nurturing not being solely in the domain of mothers/parents.

    Jim Gritter says there are 3 roles in the life of an adopted child (I know this isn’t an adoption post, but it’s germane to my take on it). (1) is the lifegiver, or birth parent; (2) is the life-sustainer, or adoptive parent; (3) is the life-affirmer.

    The latter are the people who nurture in other ways: grandparents, aunts/uncles, teachers, coaches.

    I wish all adults, parents or otherwise, would teach and model what you say: “To get outside of our heads and live from our hearts, knowing that while they may break, they can also mend.”

    Good point, also, about the temporal and the structural.

  3. Oh, those life lessons. I think that infertility has also taught me compassion for others. I understand what it feels like to be hurting, but not be able to talk to others about it, and to witness my pain seeping out the seams and showing itself in ways that betray my true nature. I used to get my feelings hurt if some I knew took out their bad mood on me, but now I’m able to take myself out of the equation and ask what’s going on with that person that’s causing him/her to behave out of character. I’ve also found I’m much more patient and more likely to stop and take the time to listen to someone who does reach out for help. If there are silver linings to the infertility cloud, this is one of them.

  4. Those are all great lessons, Pamela, & not just for children. ; ) I think that respect for each other’s differences, for the hard choices we sometimes have to make (which may be different from the choices that you would make), and a willingness to learn from each other (and I’m not just talking moms vs non-moms) would go a LONG way to making this world a better place.

  5. I read the whole post and then FROZE!!! I’ve always been rather extreme in life. When I’ve decided to do something, I tend to go all out – same goes when I’ve decided NOT to do something.

    Not having been pregnant at all during TTC and having surrender to being a non-mom, I find it SO hard to take my foot off the brake. I’ve spent at least the past two years focusing on enjoying our life as a complete family just the two of us. Focusing on enjoying each other’s company and cherishing our life together that I just don’t want to think of how I’d be if I could become a mom (though in normal circumstances, I LOVE this kind of exercise!). I’m just too afraid – I suppose one reason is ‘coz a close friend have just miscarried and her grief has made me turn around and look back on all the things that IF has robbed from us and I don’t want to let myself be way too sentimental.

    That said, though, I haven’t told you personally how HELPFUL your book has been to me. In this world where there are only a few people who’ve surrendered to life without kids, your book is a lifesaver! I felt being in a oasis reading it and I felt heard, understood, and enlightened when reading it. So THANK YOU!!!!

    I wish I could give more voice to this discussion but I’m too afraid of the deluge that it may cause he he he…the only thing I can think of to say to my future kids is to think before they speak, because words can break or encourage someone, esp. when they’re on their darkest moment.

  6. Wow! I LOVE all the lessons you would teach your children. I got tear reading this post and am so moved by the lessons that your life has taught you. In some ways I feel like you are a mother to our ALI Community, being a veteran and long time blogger. I thank you for not walking away, but staying to keep the conversation going. As I said in Keiko’s role reversal post, I believe it takes as much (or more courage) to stop trying as it does to keep going. Though my situation is very different, my husband and I finally this year made our “soft” decision to be done trying to expand our family into a “hard” one. This was not something we came to easily, but for many reasons it made sense for us to close the door on this stage of our life and make the most of what we have now, even though our family doesn’t look the way we hoped or once imagined it would or could be. Thank you for sharing Pam.

  7. I put myself in the position of “what if I was a mother” last year. http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/hopskotch-scones-and-balls-of-wool.html

    And then I blogged about the things I would be doing as a mother that would not be so enjoyable. The everyday stuff you would have to do and put up with that are the negatives of having kids. (And I’m not talking about the big stuff here – just the petty, daily life stuff). http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/more-things-im-missing-out-on.html

    I certainly know that the lessons I’ve learned from life during and after infertility would be passed on. I try to pass on some of these to one of my nieces. The main one is that compassion – for yourself, and for others – is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. If we were more compassionate, and empathetic, this life would be a lot easier, and the world would be a lot nicer.

    I’ll probably have more thoughts about this …

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