Follow me on the crazy, hopeful, discouraging, funny, and ultimately successful (one way or another) path to parenthood while facing infertility.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

About Those Shoes We've All Been In

I have received an outpouring of support since our latest profile opportunity that came and went so swiftly. People have been overwhelmingly kind as we faced waiting for so long and then having a hope snatched away (that honestly there was more probability of the snatching away than clutching towards us due to the nature of the process). I am trying very hard to see the good intentions and overlook comments that are less than helpful, the Everything-Happens-For-A-Reasons and other platitudes involving plans I know nothing about. I would feel differently about those possibly if I were a religious person, but I'm not. If that is helpful to you and fits with your beliefs I mean no disrespect, it just really bothers me personally to think that there is some plan where people's suffering is required, where we have to wait 7 years so far without a child, a plan where it's necessary for people to receive cancer diagnoses and die young, where children die in horrific circumstances. I have a teacher friend who said, "you know, none of that is actually in the Bible. I am a Christian and I don't believe those sayings are actually helpful." Interesting perspectives.

You already know how I feel about offering up alternatives perhaps we haven't thought of. Strange, how no one says, "Have you thought about letting all this go and living childfree?" -- everyone who has offered support (outside the blogosphere for the most part) seems to find that option horrid and encourages me to keep the hope alive. It's as if they see that option as the worst, the one absolutely without hope -- it makes them very uncomfortable that I have increasingly been seeing that as one very real possible outcome to all this. I hope that adoption works out, but if it doesn't (because while some people might be able to do this indefinitely, I don't think we can) I have become okay with an alternate reality than the one I've worked so hard for for so long. It doesn't seem that others are, but it's not their life. It's ours.

And this is where the most annoying comment of "support" comes in. "Been there, done that." A harsher way of saying, "I've been in your shoes, I know how this will go."

Um, no.

You've been in YOUR shoes.

Not mine.

All of our shoes are, in fact, different. I don't believe that you can actually say, "I know just how you feel," or "I've been where you are," or "I've been in your shoes," or "Been there, done that" and have it be true.

All of our experiences are an accumulation of everything that came before. We have different treads. We've walked different paths to get to these particular footsteps. Our backgrounds and perceptions and actual experiences are rarely the same. They can look similar, and you can share what things felt like for you, or say "I can imagine how hard this is for you," but to say "I know exactly how you feel" or worse, "been there, done that" assumes an awful lot.

For me, this failure to make having a family happen rides on a lot of history. Very little in my life has gone the way I envisioned it -- my parents' divorce when I hit puberty, my father moving across the country, a first marriage that was not built on "to love and cherish, forsaking all others" but "to belittle and control, seeking 'comfort' elsewhere," a divorce at 30 as a new career was starting and I'd thought I'd have kids by that time (but was grateful I did not), a wonderful new chance at marriage...but then a horrifically long and as of yet incomplete journey to have a child. I was already well-versed in disappointment before we started getting negative after negative.

Everyone comes to their family building decisions from different places. Everyone tries different things. Everyone has different triggers for grief. There isn't one journey that's harder than another, but they are all very, very different. Coming to adoption after 13 IVF cycles that went awry at one point or another colors my experience. For someone else, having a miscarriage at a later date, or recurrent miscarriages, or a stillbirth could be the thing that colors their experience differently. Or they could come to the point where they are faced with IVF and decide it's just not for them for a wide variety of reasons. It's also possible to have someone who goes cycle for cycle with you, does all the same things, but because of their unique background or context or support structure or relationships, the experience is not actually the same. It's all so different. There are so many shoes.

I'm sure I have fallen prey to this at some point or another, because everyone is actually human (as far as I know). I do make a real conscious effort to not pretend that my experience is universal, though. It's not. I can speak to certain decisions that I've made that maybe you are making, but not pretend that my decision making process and yours would be the same. It's not. We come to things differently.

I feel that "been there, done that" is definitely the worst of this type of comment, because not only does it assume that your experiences are completely the same, it dismisses yours. It implies that your experience ended this way and therefore mine will, too, and there's no discussion around it. There's no acknowledgment of differences or challenges that are not actually the same. It's a conversation ender, not an empathetic beginning.

These shoes apply to so many things -- infertility, adoption, grief of many kinds, going through an illness, going through a divorce -- any challenging times. It's good to remember that while shoes look similar and we could actually buy the same pair, once we've walked in them a while they mold to our individual feet -- they take on the way we carry and shift our weight. They cease to be the same.

32 comments:

  1. These are all great points, and so completely true.
    When you mention how no one asks about living child-free...I don't think people necessarily see it as the worst possible thing. I think that it moreso comes from a place of not wanting to dash any hope you may have or be the dream-killer, ya know? If you were not in a place where you had given much thought to possibly living child-free and someone suggested that to you, That would probably feel just as shitty as some of the unhelpful comments you get now, no? If it's something you aren't ready to hear, and it is something the completely opposite of what you are working towards, that could be a reason people don't say it. I know that's personally how I feel, I wouldn't ever suggest to someone to go the opposite way of their dreams.

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    1. Also, when I say "you" I'm not personally calling you out, more of a general "you" as in anyone in that situation. Just wanted to clarify😀

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    2. Thank you. I think it's fine to not offer living child-free up in the beginning, but when it's clear that it's something I myself am floating, I would love to have that possibility respected instead of dismissed as giving up hope or abandoning my dream or whatever is usually given to me when I mention that this may not work out. I hope to the high heavens that it does, as that would be not at all the resolution I'd hoped for after trying so hard for seven years, but at this point I have to, for my own sanity, make peace with that resolution and see it as another reality that we may be going towards. Does that make sense? I definitely agree that it qualifies as another unhelpful suggestion, but it was interesting to me that as much as people ask me why we didn't do surrogacy or foster adoption or whatever other option is out there, no one says, "what happens if you don't have children?" even when I bring up that possibility myself. It's pshawed away. I appreciate your whole-hearted assertion that the dream could be kept alive. I'm still at it, but I wish that the resolution of living child-free not by choice wasn't looked upon as the worst possible alternative when it is a possibility, and one I have slowly been making peace with as I would hate to suddenly be faced with an alternative to my plan and not have thought about what that might look like for me.

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    3. Oh yes, of course! I never feel like you are calling me out specifically. I want to clarify myself in the comment above...I hope it helps. I always appreciate your viewpoint and perspective and the time you put into responding to my posts. :)

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    4. Oh, good😀 And I totally understand needing to sort of keep it real by thinking of the alternative if adoption doesn't work out. There are many things in life where I have to look at both sides and admit the possibilities in order to protect myself. So I get that. People want the happy ending, so it makes sense to me that even if you bring up potentially living child free, they poo-poo it away. Because it's a reminder that life sucks and can be cruel and unfair, and that you don't always get what you want no matter how hard you try. It's a harsh reality people don't want to deal with, so they dismiss it not realizing they are dismissing you in the process.
      Also, thanks for giving me something to do...work is pretty boring today😜

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  2. This. All of this. Thank you for putting this into words.

    I think people say the wrong thing when they feel they need to say something. Sometimes I will give people news and then say, "You don't need to say anything" to let them know that no words they're going to offer up are going to help, and that most of them will probably hurt. It is very hard to only abide with the person and not fill the silence. Even when you're told it's okay to do so.

    That is what I'm hearing from you. Abiding with you is helpful. Everything else, not so much.

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    1. You are welcome! I think you are hearing what my intentions were. I don't want to seem like a hurtful, in-pain person lashing out at those who want to help, I am trying instead to show what it feels like to receive "support" that feels more like a dismissal. Especially "been there, done that." I don't enjoy that one iota. Abiding is perfect. And I know how hard it is, so I don't lash out at those who don't offer the silence, but at the same time...how will people know what that feels like if I don't share those feelings? Sigh. I think your followup response to offering up news is brilliant. I might use that one in the future.

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  3. I see your point about not parenting after infertility as being seen as the worst possible outcome by others. I also see Charlotte's of wanting to keep hope alive. There are two separated point of this I think need to be addressed. The first is something you've talked about before (and I think are touching on again here) which is the importance of empathy. Too often people offering support do so taking their outlook and feelings into account. Which is where these defenses for why (and ultimately hurt feelings) come from. Hence why it is so incredibly important to start with "I'm sorry" and follow up with "how can I help?" Because everyone is different in what they need at different points of their journey. And it is unfair to offer support that hurts, only to become offended and add salt to the wound.

    Your other point about resolving by not parenting is also very valid. Too often, this option is seen in the same light we view death. But just as death is mired in fear, so is resolving by not parenting. It is poorly understood as so few who go this route are even allowed to talk about it. Thankfully more incredibly brave individuals are openly sharing their stories and their journeys towards healing. But the general populous needs to start owning their role in silencing these individuals.

    Thinking of you lady. Wishing you weren't managing the platitudes and attempts at explanation for your journey. Because I also don't believe there's a reason for any of this other than that life is insanely unfair.

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    1. Thank you so much... yes. You got it. That is the most frustrating thing for me, to feel like at this point, after everything we've been through and such a long time on hold for this piece of our lives, that working towards adoption while we contemplate a life without children is necessary for sanity. I feel like everyone is all for the fighting with all we've got for parenthood, but it feels like a defeat to them if in the end we cry uncle, we decide that we've taken as much as life has to offer in this arena and decide to live without limbo anymore. We're not there yet, but it's hard to feel so misunderstood when floating that idea. I already feel like there are those who believe we "gave up" on IVF, which is nuts considering how much we did for so long without much success, but everyone loves a miracle story.

      It's hard to feel misunderstood, and then to feel so dismissed by a 'been there done that' type comment. I feel like you are always the champion of the fact that all our stories are subtly different, that even being on the same path, we experience things differently. I hope that our path ends with a profile opportunity that leads to placement in the next year and a half. I hope that we leave this journey the way we'd hoped. But I also know that we'll be good if we don't, too. It will take adjustment, but it helps so much to know that I'm considering alternatives now. It doesn't mean that I have "given up" on my dream. Argh.

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    2. It is hard to feel misunderstood. It's also hard to fee unheard. To be speaking in the same language but not having others connect. And that is probably the hardest part because it leads down two roads: either stuffing those feelings and lying that they exist or withdrawing.

      And for the record, you most certainly did not give up with IVF. Anyone who accuses you of such really needs to have their head examined. You drew a healthy line in the sand and made a choice to pursue other paths after this one was exhausted. That's not quitting in the sense others would assign it.

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    3. Thank you so much. I feel like it's such a shaming thing to insinuate that there was a stopping-too-soon -- because for me it was a zillion cycles and for someone else it might be one. It didn't used to bother me, but 'don't give up!' really bothers me for that reason. Giving up and moving on are not the same.
      And I love your first paragraph, thank you.

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  4. I'm sorry you're in pain and people's comments have made the pain worse. Sending care.

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    1. Thank you for the care! It's not that people's comments have made the pain worse. I recognize that for the most part they come from a place of wanting to help. It is just frustrating to me that there's this idea that everyone's situation is the same, that someone could say "Been there, done that" and even remotely think it's helpful. I also want to keep floating this idea that while I would be disappointed if our story ended without children, I am floating that as a real possibility that I need to consider, and it would be great if people could say, "I support you there too" instead of telling me I'm giving up on my dream somehow by entertaining that outcome before it is a possibility so that I'm not devastated if that comes to pass.

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    2. I understand more of what you're saying after reading this response… Yes, I understand that frustration. Understanding and empathy can be a lot more effective when they are just there with you and your specific experience versus relating their own. I appreciate that you are mentally and emotionally exploring living child free... I did that for a little while, then came back to adoption – for me it was the phase in between giving up having a child biologically and deciding to pursue adoption but I could see there being another phase of that as well

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  5. I really hope you have a child placed with you soon. Still, you and Bryce have proven that you have great resilience. If you don't end this process as parents, I have no doubt you will continue to have a worthwhile and enjoyable life. You will always have a valuable story to tell, no matter what happens, and I hope that you will also be surrounded by people who want to listen.

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    1. Thank you so much. I read your comment to Bryce and totally teared up all over the place. Thank you.

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  6. I have been a long time lurker, don't know how I got here. I am sorry that your desire to parent has yet been achieved, I believe you would be a loving parent. And I also believe you will continue as a valuable person with or without being a parent. I remember walking silently alongside my son and daughter in law during their journey to parent. I made sure to express to them that I did not view them as "less then" or "broken" while those around them became parents. Same to you.

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    1. Thank you so much -- I appreciate your comment and your support. It means so much. It is such a difficult path, and I don't know how it will end but it brings me such peace to know that both possibilities will be okay. I hope I get the chance to parent, but I also believe that I can have a valuable, unbroken life if it doesn't turn out that way. Thank you so much for your words and thoughts, I am sure your support has also meant so much to your son and daughter-in-law.

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  7. I like what Mel says about giving people permission to say nothing when there is nothing to say. I'm going to remember that.

    I am abiding with you. Your last lines are perfect.

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    1. Thank you. Yes, me too. Permission to just give you a hug or something. :) Thank you for abiding with me!

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  8. One of the things the internet has taught me is how to listen to everyone's story and allow them to own their stories, and to hold them in my heart, bearing witness. Which is what I will do with your story, and your grief. <3 Sending love.

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    1. Thank you so much, that is perfect. It is hard to do, admittedly -- to hold someone's story and not want to connect it to yours. Connections are good, it's when it's overgeneralized that it causes me stress and irritation. Thank you for the love!

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  9. I can understand you considering what a childfree life might mean. Every couple reaches their limit at some point. Lately I've also been thinking about how I would cope if we decide to stop pursuing infertility treatment/if another one fails. I don't think there is anything wrong with considering that option and even preparing yourself. It is sad if other people can't understand that. I had someone close to me comment once that I should just keep doing IVF until it works. Easy for someone who has never been through it to suggest that!! Before I went through IVF myself I read a book based on real life about a women who tried IVF once and hated it so much that she decided to pursue other options such as adoption. At the time reading the book I thought it was such a shame that she had given up so soon and not tried a second or third time. But once I actually went though IVF myself I totally understood! It was a lot harder than I had thought. So sometimes unless you are actually in another person's shoes you just can't really imagine it, but then as you say everyone's experiences and history colour the person they are and so you're never really in the same shoes at all! I also hate the 'everything happens for a reason/God's plan' type thing too. How cruel would God be if he decided to let horrible child abuse happen just so they could learn a lesson or whatever? People can find strength they never knew they had while going through cancer for instance but it's still a totally shitty thing that has happened.

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    1. Yes, yes -- great comment. It is interesting how your perspectives shift the further into things you get, and how you felt at the beginning can shift and morph into something totally different after time and experience. I so appreciate your thoughts!

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  10. I got fired up when I read this and wrote a small piece inspired by it. I hope you don't mind my post linking back to yours, Jess.

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    1. Not at all, thank you! Now I feel bad, I didn't even ask you if it was okay to link to your post at the holidays...sorry about that! I look forward to reading it. I was fired up when I wrote this one, I can only imagine... :)

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  11. We want to be seen, to be heard, and to be supported. Regardless of our experiences (all different as you say), that is universal. And so you'd think we - as humans - would have figured out how to provide that. But we're colossally (is that a word?) bad at it!

    I'm going to offer a slightly counter view too though. Of course, it depends on tone of voice - delivery is everything! And so I can completely understand if the "been there done that" or "I've been where you are" comes across as dismissive or condescending, and completely unhelpful.

    But maybe a soft, loving "been there, done that" is also an offer of comfort, of solidarity, an acknowledgement of how awful it is, of telling you you have been heard, and of empathy. Because although all our journeys are different - and even if they were identical, they'd always be different because WE are all different - we can (unfortunately) share the feelings of despair, of disappointment, of failure, of guilt, of hope, etc. I look at people now who are just entering their No Kidding lives, and - whilst I certainly don't know exactly what they've been through, what they are thinking or how they feel - I can guess some of it, based on my own experience, and that of others. And knowing that, I can offer love and support and empathy, and never tell them that "everything-happens-for-a-reason." (I hate hate hate that platitude too!)

    I think these shared experiences, if used correctly and with the right intentions, can give great comfort. I've taken great comfort from shared experiences. That's what brings so many of us together in the blogging community, for example - the sheer fact of shared experiences.

    Finally, I haven't been through what you are going through, and I'm so sorry you're still having to deal with it, and having to listen to those platitudes. If adoption works out, or if you live childfree, my hope for you is that you will be happy, and find peace. And in the meantime, as you're waiting, I'll be here with you.

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I definitely didn't mean at all that shared experiences don't exist -- I love to hear others' experiences, and it makes you feel so much less alone to know that there are people who are in similar circumstances. It's when they assume that our experiences are the same, when there's no room for conversation, or when someone says that they know just how you feel and it doesn't sound like it's meant to be helpful from the tone -- it's more of a "you're not the only one so quit your whining" kind of thing. It's hard, because the "been there, done that" that set this off was not an in-person communication, it was a comment on facebook, and so I have not a whole lot of sense about tone. But, what followed felt like a dismissal of my experience and an all-knowing "it worked out for me so it will for you too" kind of deal, which annoys me. The whole "I just KNOW this will work out" or "you are MEANT to be a parent" or "I don't think it's in God's plan to have you go through all this and NOT have a baby in the end" goes to that whole "I know something you don't know" thing that I don't understand. Please, I'd love to know. But no one truly does.

      I do value shared experiences quite a bit, it's the responding to a difficult circumstance as if you've been in my exact shoes that I find inaccurate.

      I always appreciate how you make me think!

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  13. "I hope I get the chance to parent, but I also believe that I can have a valuable, unbroken life if it doesn't turn out that way." I carried that same belief with me as dh & I made the decision to stop infertility treatment, and I think that was the first step on our road to healing. I so hope that adoption works out, & you & Bryce get to parent... but if you ever do decide enough is enough, you know that those of us who made a similar decision will be here for you. (((hugs)))

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    1. Thank you so much. I love your words and your hugs. I look forward to the healing, no matter how it comes. :)

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  14. I'm not sure I can add too much to this comment section because all of these comments are spot-on. I do think that maybe people that say "been there, done that" on major life issues are possibly not well versed in appropriate behavior? I truly can't imagine saying that to someone who is going through a divorce after I have, or going through infertility.

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