Thursday, 12 July 2012

Who we see when we look in the mirror


Too often, society tells us what we should think of ourselves.  And too often we listen.  There are a lot of messages out there, and not all of them are healthy.  One of these is that a women with no children is missing something, and that she is not a fully worthy member of society.  This is a pervasive view. (I know I've written about it before, but I see others - earlier in their journey -  regularly grapple with this issue, and so wanted to share some new thoughts).   Like so many messages (how thin/beautiful we should be), this one is reinforced by the media and our 24-7 interconnectivity with the world.  We can’t escape from it.  And it makes infertility even more painful to those who go through it.  After all, if you hear a message enough, you can start to believe it. 

Yes, I do not deny that I am missing the experience of being a mother.  But that's not what they mean.  There are those who would say I am "missing something," meaning that I am not whole.  But equally there is an assumption that women are "missing something" if they don't have a partner/man.  There's an assumption that you are "missing something" if you only have one child, or what society deems "too many."  There's an assumption that you are "missing something" if you are overweight, or smoke, etc. There are a lot of assumptions swirling around us all the time.  And they’re not always fair.  They're generalisations, placing unreasonable expectations on us all.  I cringe at the message delivered to young women that they will only be fulfilled as mothers, rather than giving them the choice.  I cringe at how that translates as pressure for those who can’t be or don’t want to be mothers.  I wonder how many people are mothers simply as a result of the weight of society’s expectations? I wonder if people would say this, would place such pressure on others, if they thought that their own daughters and sisters and wives might be infertile?  They might.  But I think they'd think twice.  And that's why I speak out about this.

The thing is, when people who hold these assumptions get to know us, really know us, they understand that we're individuals, whole individuals with full and fulfilling lives.  They understand our personalities, and don't judge us solely on whether we are mothers or not.  They see that we are fair, caring, nurturing, brave, funny.  They see that we are individuals, and don't conform to stereotypes.  The best members of society will drop those assumptions on knowing us.  They'll stop thinking that we have to be mothers to be full members of society.  The others might continue to hold  onto their stereotypical assumptions, but  see us as exceptions.  They're a work in progress.  But the important thing is that they don't see us as lacking.  And anyone who does?  Well, I don't think they know us well enough.

Whenever I think of this topic, or see others grapple with it, I think in particular of two women.  The first - W - is a woman I met 20 years ago in a foreign land, a woman who was self-less for her family and community, who brought love and joy to those she met, a woman who was kind and nurturing, intelligent and funny, and above all loving.  W was (and is) a full and very caring member of her own community and society.   She gave me the nicest compliment I've ever had.  The second woman, S  was the facilitator of an ectopic pregnancy site I found myself at over 10 years ago.  S was endlessly empathetic, wise and sensitive, and had a wicked sense of humour.  The way she influenced my life and my recovery (especially through my second ectopic and my subsequent infertility) was huge.  She helped everyone without judgement, without bitterness that her own journey was going to end without children, and she went on to work with young women at risk.   S and W aren't the only infertile women I've met who have been better women than most of the mothers I know.  Some of them will be reading this.  Yes, I mean you.  They, and all of us, are proof positive that we are full and worthy members of society.


The important question though, about this assumption is what we believe ourselves.  If, in dark moments,  I look in the mirror and think that I am "less," I try also to remember W and S and many of my other friends (virtual and IRL) .  They are not “less worthy” than anyone on this planet.  They don't deserve that.  And so neither do I.  Neither do any of us.  The trick is to believe it. Then it is easy to dismiss the assumptions of others.  Easier to convince others that they are wrong.  The trick, of course, is to believe it.

12 comments:

  1. LOVE this post, Mali. Ever since we surrendered to life without kids and stopped thinking about a future with kids, I've been infusing with a new mantra: The two of us is a complete family. In the beginning it was harder to believe that, but as time went by, I start believing it with all my heart and soul and now I want to tell the world about that so that they stop infusing us with hope. :-)

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  2. Thank you for this post. I have struggled with not feeling worthy enough because I couldn't give my husband a child. It's been pounded into my brain, mainly because of the media and some friends as well...thanks to Facebook, that unless you experience pregnancy and the birth of a child, you just haven't experienced anything. It has made me feel "less".
    March 28th of this year was a turning point for both my husband and myself. We drew a line in the sand, so to speak, and surrendered to a life without children. Since then, we have come along way. I started my blog Living Life as a Family of Two, trying to convince myself that we were also a complete family. I am now starting to really believe it and am doing my best to be more open about it.
    Thank you again for this.

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  3. Love this post! Thank-you!

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  4. So helpful to show how many expectations we all try to live life in the face of...motherhood being just one of them.

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  5. Great post, Mali. Thank you. It is so unfortunate that so many people lack the ability to be compassionate or to empathize at all with others. It is something that I made a conscious decision to work on in myself a very long time ago. Sadly, that decision was born out of a desire not to be like a woman who was (and is) incapable of even considering possibilities that don't exist in her mind. Even more sadly, that woman is my mother. She means well, but cannot see beyond her own assumptions and expectations. I made a decision long ago never to be that way; rather, I decided to try very hard to be unconditionally loving and accepting of people, to try not to be judgemental, and to try to find the good in people even if it meant looking very hard! I still try, because some days it's not easy. If only more people were capable of looking into the mirror and seeing beyond their own grimmacing faces.

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  6. I was very fortunate to have had 2 lovely, talented, smart, wonderful (unmarried, childless) aunts who were major influences in my life. Because of them, I always knew that any choice I made would be the right one as long as it worked for me. I wish everyone had that kind of example in their life - and I hope whatever young girls show up within your sphere take a lesson from how complete you are.

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    1. I also had two childless aunts. They have always been an integral part of my life, closer than those aunts/uncles who had kids and far less time for me. They were never alone, always consulted with for recipes, always had an ear for my problems and were my confidants, especially with issues I felt less comfortable discussing with my own mother.

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    2. Yes! always try out the new boyfriend with my (childless) aunt. ;-)

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  7. I feel like printing out this post and stick it to my mirror. Will definitely remind myself everyday that "Too often, society tells us what we should think of ourselves". *sigh*
    Thank you for the great post.

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  8. It's so hard when we hear this constant message that somehow, we're not complete unless we have a baby... even when, deep down, we know otherwise. I have always, always felt (even before I discovered I was infertile) that I was more than my uterus, & resented people trying to push me into motherhood before I felt ready to deal with it. I think that belief, & the knowledge that I could have a good life regardless of whether I had children, is what has sustained me through all this. Thanks, Mali, for a great post. : )

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    1. Loribeth - we're children of the early feminists together I think. Like you, I also resented people trying to push me into motherhood. I love your comment - because yes, I think that's how I've coped too.

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