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.

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19 thoughts on “To Mom or Not to Mom

  1. Just Add Cloth

    I love this idea Pamela! I like the paralysis comparison, but I have found many people are not receptive to that example and get angry. Of course those are always people who never went through IF and are not living a childless life, so I am never sure how to navigate those conversations. As a woman who went through infertility for seven years for my son and now am one of those turned mommy bloggers (You might remember me as “An Older Version”) I find a lot of people simply do not want to even hear about infertility in general and most definitely do not want to hear about those who ended up unsuccessful. Everyone would rather talk about the “happy” endings. I am afraid the extended ART age limits are really prolonging the social pain for so many women.

  2. Pamela, thank you so much for this post and or agreeing to this dialogue. I can’t wait to see what others have to say and respond. I love your analogy: I’ve found myself referring to paralysis as a comparable condition since it is life-altering as opposed to life-threatening. Brilliant post!

  3. Mel

    Eagerly reading the salon this week. What a great idea.

  4. what a breath of fresh air, direct and thoughtful. thanks to you and keiko for cultivating this critical dialogue.

    as someone who was at the brink of one reality before surprisingly shifting to another one entirely, I couldn’t agree with this more: “While motherhood is today’s celebrated lifestyle choice, it’s important to know that it’s not a given.”

    looking fwd to this series!

  5. “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.”

    This is one reason why I too have stuck around the ALI community, long after my short-lived pregnancy & infertility treatments (in fact, my five-year blogoversary is just around the corner…!). So glad you & Keiko are doing this. You are both fabulous spokespeople for our community! & I look forward to reading more through the week. (As I said to Keiko, I may even have to sign up for a Twitter account just to be able to follow along on Friday…!)

  6. There is such value that you and Loribeth bring to the ALI community. As Mel’s mapped in “Navigating the Land of IF,” there are 4 ways off the family-building island, and resolving to live child-free is one of them.

    Looking forward to more of this discussion.

  7. Pammy,
    I am so glad you have stayed with the ALI community. We need your voice.

  8. I was so happy to see these postings today. My husband and I are facing the end of treatment and are planning on child free living if we have in fact reached our end. I’ve been heavily lurking on the non-mom blogs. Your happy fulfilling lives fill me with so much hope… a different kind of hope than I thought I was looking for.

    By the way – my captcha is butplace theology. Doesn’t get any better than that.

  9. That is an incredibly powerful metaphor. Wow. I’ll be thinking about it for a while. I am so glad that your voice is here and so strong and that you continue to educate the ALI community and beyond about those not parenting after infertility and loss. It is very needed.

  10. SRB

    I remember reading in another salon many months ago that each ALI blogger should read someone out of their experience, to understand a little more of the spectrum. At the time, I chose a few (parenting) adoption blogs, which has greatly opened my eyes to different paths to resolution. I will admit that I have not broadened out beyond parenting “after” IF, as this is closest to my experience, and therefore comfort level and where I am in resolving emotionally. I will also admit that today is my first visit to this blog, via Keiko, and I am glad. I am very much looking forward to the discussion this week.

  11. I for one really value your voice and I very much look forward to these posts and the resulting salon at the end of the week. Thank you for remaining in this community and speaking about your experience. It is so important for all of us to hear.

  12. I love that salon idea and the open communication between moms and not moms!

    It is very needed to have role models of women going child free after infertility. It changed my life to understand (through yours or Lisa Manterfield or Mali’s blogs) that even when destiny leaves you child free and scarred by years of treatments and loss, happiness is still on the table… More difficult to reach, but still there.

  13. Looking forward to the dialogues. :-) I’m one of the non-moms, but it’s good to learn about other aspects of IF as well. :-)

  14. Pamela (and Keiko),
    Thank you for opening up this important dialogue. As a fellow non-mom, I know how tempting it can be to just shut out the motherhood noise and just try to blow your own trumpet louder (so to speak). But having these honest and open conversations and speaking frankly about what it really feels like to walk a mile in IF shoes is the only way to start building compassion and understanding. Thank you for being the voices.

  15. Suzanne

    Pamela and Keiko – Thank you for leading this discussion. I’m still in the thick of treatments three years after my diagnosis. I’m not ready to face the permanent “not-mom” zone yet, but it’s SO helpful to read about the strong women who have been in these shoes in the past. Your words are helping so many of us, and I’ll try to chime in as the series progresses.

  16. I love this:

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

    and this:

    “The only way to keep both the moms and non-moms from completely misunderstanding each other is to keep the dialogue open.”

    I am so impressed by this salon that you and Keiko are hosting. I know I am late to the party, but appreciate both of your perspectives just the same.

    Thank you for being true to yourself and letting others into your world and way of thinking. I am so glad that you have stayed involved in the ALI Community. Looking forward to reading more of your, Keiko’s and others’ posts.

  17. I’m disappointed I was in Africa when you had this salon, but hope I can still throw in my penny’s worth as I go back and review it all now.

    I love this – yes, when we’re strong and able to cope, I think sharing our experiences, not hiding from them, is the only way to help people understand each other.

  18. […] but hopefully we also can still learn from each other. Over time we’ve had healing salons and perspective forums and […]

  19. […] On their open salon this week, Pamela has a wonderful analogy about what it feels like to watch a friend (or family member) go to the […]

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