To Mom or Not to Mom

Welcome to an 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 in a responsorial fashion. Over the next five days and culminating in an open Twitter discussion #ALIMomSalon this Friday, 10/26 at 12:30pm EDT, we seek 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 and even by writing your own blog posts about this salon, too!
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If you’re here, chances are we have a lot in common. We’ve likely spent way too much time naked in doctor’s offices. We have on-the-job training in reproductive endocrinology, or we’ve dwelled in a dark place wrestling with losses that many in our real lives knew little about. Then our paths diverged. Some of us went on to motherhood and many of us didn’t. Of the latter group many abandoned the blogosphere. Those not parenting are the minority voice in the ALI discussions.

Here’s a little acknowledged challenge for women who are not mothers due to circumstance or infertility: reconciling the omnipresent maternity ward we find ourselves in today. There was a time not so long ago when the biological clock had a fixed beginning and end. Not. Any. More. With egg freezing advances and the growth in the availability of donor egg/sperm and the proliferation of fertility clinics eager to sell or, worse, raffle services, the time frame for potential motherhood — traditionally the 20s and 30s — moved into a realm once thought impossible: 40+.

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Shocking as it sounds, up until my endometrial ablation a few months ago after turning 49, I was still a candidate for fertility treatment, according to this magazine feature from last fall, Parents of a Certain Age.

The extension of what’s maternally possible has created a new form of awkwardness.

There was a time when singletons and/or families of two (by circumstance or infertility) engaged in a difficult but necessary coming to terms. When we reached our limit emotionally, physically or financially, or — in the days of old — fertility clinics or adoption agencies refused service past a certain age, a hard stop declared the end of our pursuit of parenthood. We sought space and time to grieve our losses, lick our wounds and re-orient our expectations.

We tuned out of the beat-the-odds infertility blogs that became mommy blogs (seemingly overnight), and we turned off overly enthusiastic mom-centric Facebook updates … for a time anyway. It was self-preservation pure and simple. Intellectually, we understood that anyone who managed to overcome long odds to parenthood would want to celebrate, and for many, that included posting endlessly about every aspect of motherhood.

If you’ve wondered how it feels to have the shoe on the other foot, I hope this parallel scenario will help further illustrate: You are in a clinical trial for a new drug that may, just may, allow you to walk after paralysis. You get to know those in the waiting room, those equally anxious and hopeful that an expensive miracle drug will be a life-changer, allow you to realize your dream of skipping, dancing, hiking…you will re-join the world of the mobile. While the drug doesn’t work for all of those in the trenches with you, you beat the odds. Within months you’re posting photos of yourself scaling mountains, biking through Europe, dancing with your partner. How do you think they would feel?

Let’s not mince words. Have the random, unpredictable successful fertility treatments others have experienced been easy to process? No. Have those of us who didn’t succeed wondered how others might have handled it if they walked in our shoes? Yes! Does this mean we would not have demonstrated the mommy victory lap behavior we routinely observe? Not necessarily.

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Sure, it would have been easier to walk away completely, but then the conversation would become more lop-sided than it already is. That’s why I continue to stay engaged in this ALI community years after resolving my infertility. The only way to keep both the moms and non-moms from completely misunderstanding each other is to keep the dialogue open.

There are days when I choose to surround myself only with people who look and sound like me, but, ultimately, I realize the value of integration. I want others to understand my life and the hard lessons I’ve learned along the way. While motherhood is today’s celebrated lifestyle choice, it’s important to know that it’s not a given.

Discussion of fertility treatments has moved from behind closed doors to open forums. The ability to bend nature in new and unexpected ways will continue to test all of our sensibilities, which is why we need to find better ways to navigate our relationships and the emotional implications around our various paths out of infertility (or childlessness by circumstance). Regardless of whether we’re moms or non-moms, we have an example to set for our neices and nephews, and if you’re so fortunate, sons and daughters.

Now, readers, be sure to check out Keiko’s post about being a new mom-to-be via IVF. Then it’s your turn to participate. Tomorrow, we will attempt a little role reversal.