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…