Staying or Going in the Infertility World
So I read two articles back-to-back, and (of course) they reminded me of our little corner of the blogosphere, the ALI community. Neither had anything to do with infertility on the surface. But, you know, I can make anything about my wonky ovaries.
Send the Elevator Back Down
So the first article was about the concept of “send the elevator back down.” Do you know this idea? It’s paying-it-forward. You succeed in your career goals, usually due to other people helping you along the way, and you turn around and help everyone else reach their similar career goals since you’re now in a unique position of holding useful knowledge and perhaps having connections that other people are trying to build.
I’m a big fan of this idea, and mostly put it in action when it comes to writing/publishing. With an MFA and four books under my belt, I have knowledge and connections to give away to others. I like to read, so it’s a win-win: I help you get your book published and I, in turn, have a new book to read.
And… well… we sort of see this play out in our community. Someone resolves their infertility or they move from childless to parenting (two different things — you can resolve without reaching parenthood and you can equally reach parenthood without ever resolving), but they stick around to help guide or support other people. Sometimes they stick around simply because this is their community where they feel most comfortable, but others make the conscious decision to help guide people through treatments or adoption or living child-free; either because they know how difficult it can be and want to make the journey easier for the next person, or because they benefitted from other people back when they were starting out, and they want to turn around and pay it forward.
I’d argue that the usefulness of the information and support after infertility is akin to the usefulness of the information and connections we see in the work world. I can tell you how to write a proposal in the same way I can tell you my experience with clotting disorders, but one person cannot repeat another person’s experience moment for moment. Sticking around and giving information is just that — sending the elevator back down. You can’t control the other person’s ultimate elevator ride. It’s about politeness. It’s about not draining others. It’s about sticking around once you have something of value — knowledge.
But it’s also about sticking around to continue to support even when you don’t technically need the support anymore. Or the support you need has changed and you’re getting it from somewhere else.
So why would we ever run that type of person out of a community or declare their support unneeded? Why would we ever reject the elevator being sent back down, insisting that we can either call for it ourselves or ask only that other people on the ground floor push the button? To me, support is support, especially if it’s coming from someone within the same building.
I’m eternally grateful to the people who stuck around and sent the elevator back down for me. They may not have had anything useful in terms of helping me reach my goal, but they were the people who sent down the styrofoam cups of tea on the elevator. Or who simply held my hand when I was nervous riding to the next floor. I didn’t need them to solve my problems, but I was grateful that when I was drowning, there were other people around me who were swimming that I could cling to when I need a few seconds to catch my breath.
The other was about the hot hot feminist trend (if Jezebel says it’s hot, it’s hot) of leaving it all behind with a breakcation. Think Wild, think Eat, Pray, Love, think all the times you’ve read about people uprooting their lives and leaving their community/family/job behind to kickstart a new life/goal/mindset.
It’s nice to see women participating in something men have been doing for many centuries — the reinvention trope — and sometimes one needs a break in order to become their best selves. I’m not talking about a break in the sense of a pause; I mean that sometimes people need to leave entirely to fulfill their needs. Sometimes you need to focus on yourself.
There are some that are angry when people stop reading or writing when they hit pregnancy or parenthood. There are some who call them selfish and lash out at them for leaving behind the people who supported them.
But I also understand that sometimes you need to do what is best for yourself. You are the only person who can take care of you, and if leaving is what will help you, then that is what you should do. No one should stay to send the elevator back down at the expense of their own sanity or happiness.
There are some who can’t stay. Staying is too painful, too detrimental to their happiness, holding them back. They aren’t leaving because they don’t care about others; they are leaving because they care about themselves. And we should hug those people and send them on their way with good wishes.
Every single one of us will reach resolution (I hope) whether or not we reach parenthood, and we will all need to make the personal decision whether to stay or go. Whether we’re going to stick around and send the elevator back down or make a clean break so we can start the next section of our life. We won’t necessarily know beforehand how we’ll feel when we reach our own crossroads, but I would love for the decision to always rest in the hands of the individual. That the community, as a living, breathing organism, doesn’t make the decision for the individual by turning our back or yanking their arm.
I have been lucky enough to be part of this online community for 8 1/2 years, and I’ve seen the community members shift and change as people enter and exit. The beautiful thing, of course, in that longevity is holding on to the other people who have also been here for years; the stability in those relationships which allow the rest of the movement to feel more like a dance than a roller coaster ride.
To the people who have left, I wish you well. I’m glad our lives bounced against each other when they did. To the people who have stayed, thank you. I know I always have a group of people I can say things to that get it.