Description of Me
I’m currently pausing from reading through the stories submitted for question three to put down some thoughts. I was struck by the person who said that people don’t understand that the tears are not self-pity but rather an expression of pain. I’m reading Joan Didion’s book at the moment–The Year of Magical Thinking–which chronicles the loss of her husband and daughter. She has a wonderful passage in the book about self-pity and the American contempt for anything construed as “self-pity.” That people are complimented for holding it together (another person wrote us directly with a message straight out of the non-infertile world: you handle your infertility better than another couple because you can attend these events when they can’t) rather than publically grieving. For getting on with their lives. For putting others first. She talks about the words used in conjunction with self-pity. Wallowing. Boo hoo poor me. Indulging.
There are some who would say that you can’t compare the loss of the ability to reproduce to the loss of a spouse. Certainly the emptiness of someone who was there and is now not vs. something that was never there except in the form of hope is difficult to compare. But for me–and I think for many of us–that loss is so huge, so real, so tangible that we really do go through a mourning period. My cousin died close to when another cousin was getting married. The wedding couple offered to postpone the wedding for the sake of family. The parents of the child who died said the celebration must go on. When the time came for the wedding, the sister of the child who died asked her parents to dance. I remember her father rubbing her arm and saying in this soft, sad voice: “I can’t dance right now, sweetie. My heart hurts too much.”
You would never ask a mourner to dance or think they were engaging in self-pity if they declined to get down to “Brick House.” But women who are going through IF are expected to muster the enthusiasm and happiness required at a baby shower. Or a bris. They are expected to traipse down the aisles at Buy Buy Baby picking out the cutest frilly dress for a newborn girl. We are expected to put our own experience and sadness on the back burner in order to celebrate with another person who is getting exactly what we want.
We did a mix: skipped some events and attended others based on where I was in my cycle and the closeness of the friend. But I don’t think there was one event that we entered into light-hearted, with our own pain on the back burner. We cried getting ready for the party. I sometimes ducked into the bathroom while we were there to pull it together. And we cried on the way home.
At the same time, there were non-infertiles who thought they were saving my feelings by not inviting me to the first-birthday parties or other child-centered events. In the end, that just made me feel like a pariah–cast out of the community of womanhood because I couldn’t reproduce like all the other women.
So how can the non-infertile world win? They’re damned if they do invite this over-emotional self-pitying freak to their parties and they damned if they don’t. I guess it’s the fact that there is no way to win because there is nothing to win. You can’t assuage the pain of a person going through IF by inviting them to a party or having them hold a child or even patting their back and being a good listener. If you start from that understanding–that you will not possibly be able to say the “right thing” and fix the problem, then you already are helping. Because lower expectations of how I should be handling things or when it’s time to stop mourning or stop crying or extend happiness to another couple are needed because these things can’t be forced.
And don’t even get me started on the method I like used when told by pregnant people that they’re expecting. THAT is for a different entry.
A loooooong entry.
Because, yes, I do have a method.
Does it make me a small, self-pitying person? Feel free to respond. In fact, please do–I think I’ll hold off on posting another question until tomorrow since question three is still getting comments.