This is a blog about motherhood. Or, the lack of it. And how that can impact a life. How infertility and the inability to have the family I dreamed of for so long broke me in half utterly and almost irrevocably.
I actually wrote this a couple of years ago. But since then the #SITC movement has been created and kind of gone national - so, I think this is worth a re-run as it's something many women will resonate with.
Firstly: I want to say that am (and always will be) in HUGE awe of my Mum friends. Because you are by far and away the most amazing women I have ever met. So this is for you, and, it's also for those of us who dread Mother's Day, every single year.
The media has a long-running tradition of making motherhood look all soft-lighting and perfect babies and generally inane and unrealistic perfection, don't they?
Thankfully, many of you have shown me through your delightful honesty in real life and on social media that the reality of being a Mum is actually intensely emotional, demanding, relentless, and something that requires putting yourselves first, second, third, fourth, and - well - almost always last.
Basically, since regaining my health, I’ve realised that you girls are the ultimate warriors of sacrifice and the givers of the most selfless love I have ever been witness to. I have realised that motherhood is so much tougher than what's projected in the images that those cheeky sods in advertising/marketing mobs sell.
You have also made me see that these are sacrifices and compromises you would make a million times over without blinking. You’ve given me such precious insight into the capacity of your love and nurturing spirits. You’ve shown me that you are giants of love to your babies.
To the many women who I know and love who have walked the infertility road … or are still walking it; I think of you also.
It's a brutally difficult subject.
I believe that all women are givers and nurturers by nature, whether we were able to have kids or not. By design, our arms were designed for holding babies. Our hands were designed to stroke little faces. Our wombs were designed to carry a child.
And that’s why you girls who had the struggle, or are still in it, are on my heart today. If you missed my public meltdown on Facebook over infertility several years ago; let’s just say that the battle crippled me completely for a while.
However in the last couple of years, I have, by the grace of God, moved past the very worst of that white-hot pain.
The one thing that still rakes the edges of that old injury is when I see my husband with our nieces and nephews. That can be almost impossible to bear some days when I see the pain through his eyes, still raw.
I am just thankful that I get to be his support person now, when it comes to this one. Because he carried me so gracefully and so selflessly for so long.
For me personally, being alive today is my miracle. And that is more than enough for me. To want to be in life now, and to see what a joy it is to be here and present. Mum or not.
What I wanted to share, I suppose, were some thoughts about this emotional journey so that perhaps you can learn a little more about how difficult it can be. And perhaps it may position you to be more able to help a fellow family member or friend who’s going through this. I speak from only my perspective, but hopefully some of you relate.
It's basically one of the cruellest things I've experienced in this life.
Infertility is probably a bit like being the awkward kid at school, except it is for life. While everyone else is going up grades, moving forward, graduating, achieving, and sharing their ‘normal’ progress with 98% of the world – you are the kid on the bench, smiling from afar until it hurts your jaw, while waving your friends on. You’re the peripheral kid hoping that maybe next time it’ll be you moving forward... maybe next time it’ll be your name getting called out. MAYBE, just maybe, next time you will be making ''the announcement'' and being in the thick of baby-showers and celebrations and this ancient rite of passage.
But it doesn't happen. Again, and again, and again.
The waiting becomes like a shard of glass that lodges into the middle of your heart and stays there. It’s just in place firmly and securely enough that it won’t kill you, but it hurts so much that you can’t quite get on with the business of living either. And you carry the injury internally and externally. And it starts to make your everyday functioning just a little more difficult, piece by piece.
For me (us) it was about five years of feeling like this. As you remain trapped at that endless point of ‘waiting’ - all of your friends continue to fall pregnant, have baby-showers, and then move on to the next level of social life - to meetings at kid friendly spots, kid focused sports, kids birthday parties, school pickups, etc.
And I am the first to admit that being on the periphery like this is about the hardest challenge of all. Because often, somebody observant will approach you at an event like that and put a soft hand on your shoulder and a sympathetic smile on their faces, because they know you’re sinking. But honestly, nobody knows what to say. How could they? And you are hoping they won’t actually ask how you are, because that kind of kindness is likely to be your undoing.
Being a nice person who loves their friends sincerely – you attend these birthdays, christenings, baby-showers, etc., and you WANT with all your heart to just feel happy and free to celebrate with your amazing friends or family. But sitting in a circle of women and knowing you will (probably) never actually understand the feeling they all share makes it almost impossible to breathe.
So you put your best smile on, remain silent (that is the safest) and just do what you can to make it through each event.
I remember Christmas in 2014. This was the worst of it for me. I’d been away at a health retreat – trying (again) to get myself back into line (again). I came back from a two week intensive detox feeling AH-MAAAAZING. My skin was glowing, I was fit, going great, off the booze, and smashing life. I thought ''this time it will work...''
Or, so I thought. Then, silly season happened. Christmas was to be hosted at our home that year. This was a first for me in my entire adult life. I should’ve been beside myself with excitement. And yet all I can recall from that day is sitting to the side of the entire day’s proceedings and feeling brittle enough to break in half, then and there.
It was a blurred cacophony of baby-gifting, sweet smiles, giggles, and celebrating everyone’s kids. Which is what Christmas should rightly represent. Hope, love, family, and joy.
And that’s why you feel despicable – because you KNOW the expected thing to be done is to show joy and peace and love. But all you feel is sadness and emptiness, and then a paralysing guilt.
That year, that Christmas, I had the feeling of being completely utterly removed from my own body. I couldn’t speak, really. My responses were mechanical and wooden. I felt like an outsider in my own body. The day was agonising and I found myself hating every moment. I just wanted to scream, lose my mind, and run.
Going through that day and all the festivities to follow was just an endless procession of different tortures that year. Falling apart (again) was an inevitable conclusion I now see. People would’ve had short odds if they were betting.
The worst thing I see in hindsight is that my husband – throughout all this – wasn’t even in a position to do his own grieving, because he was so desperately worried about what I would do next or how long I would hold up between the low points. I was an absolute mess. Physically, spiritually, emotionally.
So what did I do? I selfishly turned to red wine therapy. I let myself go. I gave up. I lost myself, drowned myself, and relapsed to a place from which I nearly never made it back.
I'd been trying to get healthy and sober for years at that stage. But it just wouldn't stick. The resentments and anger I carried about what had happened to me as a young woman kept resurfacing and I stayed trapped in a swamp of self-pity and rage.
Our journey during those five years has included trips to the coast and Lord-knows how many invested dollars thrown at assisted fertility attempts and failures. It included countless ultra-sounds, measurements, jabs, pokes, dyes being flooded through fallopian tubes, more prodding and poking. Zero dignity. And by far the most hideous experience of all? Waiting in the fertility doctor rooms, surrounded by beautiful women, holding pregnant stomachs, and holding the hands of glowing fathers-to-be. Those who’d made it. Dear GOD - why are there not separate rooms??
I remember one time that my ‘due date’ to check the ‘stick’ was Australia Day. My (in-laws) family are all adorable mad patriotic Aussies, and they adore a get-together on Australia Day to be mad patriotic Aussies. It’s the best ever. I remember that day, waking with so much hope in my heart. Thinking – ‘’oh my goodness, imagine if I could rush out and announce to everyone that I am knocked-UP!’’ …. I let myself get carried away completely with the thought of it.
It wasn’t to be. So, instead, I ruined everyone else’s day, as I had an increasingly selfish habit of doing.
It was from this celebratory season and low point that I spiralled to the rock bottom that almost claimed my life.
That is how the summer in 2014 would eventually become my breaking point.
It was the following February, after suicidal thoughts and a rapid spiral to the point of almost no return, that I finally reached out and asked for help, and admitted I'd become an alcoholic.
Almost four years have since passed. And some days I now have to remind myself that I am here. I am safe. I made it. And life does in fact have the capacity to be beautiful.
What I've learned in these years since is that there are two things that are the hardest challenges of all in a small-town environment and rural setting: being sober, and being childless.
These things by default marginalise you like no other. It's not intentional. You're simply not a part of the ebb and flow of those aspects of rural living that see to dominate our social landscapes though - ie; kids, kids parties, kids sport, and drinks where the parents get together and discuss their kids.
As the 0.000000000009% of the population who isn't in that space, you therefore have to create and manufacture your own social environment the best you can. It isn't easy. While others are naturally having social contact and interactions several times a day through the natural course of that life - we peeps minus kids dance in and out of the periphery doing our best to be part of it all.
As I reflect on this with 2018 drawing to a close, I can say that I have moved past the aching desire to be a Mum. It's a dull ache that now surfaces at times.
I have moulded my life and intentionally created what I am now, to do the best I can with what I have.
Helping others through #SITC is what I can definitely call the equivalent of a baby. It certainly has cost me my life's savings and a lot of sleep! And I wouldn't change a thing. I believe in what I am nurturing.
I'm also very thankful to the friends and family who are part of my life who are inclusive and thoughtful when it comes to sharing their children and their family time with me. That's one of the most precious gifts of all.