Tintin, Paris 2011

I have recently found out that, traditionally, a 10th wedding anniversary is celebrated as a tin anniversary.

It’s our 10th wedding anniversary shortly. We’re going to Paris to celebrate. We’ve never bothered celebrating wedding anniversaries previously. There’s been more than one year where one or the other, or both of us, forgot our wedding anniversary. There was also a year where M. forgot, and I ‘misremembered’ the date. But this year, we’re going to celebrate.

For families with children, family milestones tend to be built around children. Family celebrations are associated with births, first-steps, starting school, going on to college, starting a job, meeting a partner, the arrival of grandchildren. These tend to be shared and celebrated. We’re not going to have those milestones, so we have to mark our own celebrations. Have our own milestones. And celebrate that we are still here and enjoying life together.

We have to create our own traditions and celebrations. So we are going to Paris where we can sit in cafés, lose ourselves in waterlilies, gaze at the architecture and celebrate in Paris.

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Talking with friends

This week I chatted (separately) with two old friends.

The first I met for dinner on Monday evening. We’ve known each other since college – or more accurately since I was in college, she was still in school. She has known for the past few years that we’ve been trying for a baby and never mentioned it since I told her. I (it turns out wrongly) made the assumption that she wasn’t comfortable talking about it. In the meantime, she became pregnant and had a wonderful daughter who is now over a year and a half old and the light of her life.  As my friend became more excited about her pregnancy, we were learning the indignities involved with infertility, she became a mother around the time when we learnt that IVF/ICSI was our only chance of achieving a pregnancy, and her daughter’s first birthday was just after our last failed cycle – just before we were gently told that we had reached the end of the road. Throughout this time she, understandably, became consumed by her daughter and could talk of nothing else. And I became slower and slower to tell her what was happening us. I kept thinking that the timing was wrong, and that I couldn’t tell her what was going on with me given what was going on in her life. I reasoned that she wasn’t comfortable in talking about it if she didn’t ask me. At the same time she was wondering what was happening and thought if I didn’t mention it, I wasn’t comfortable in talking to her about it. We could have both saved each other some hurt if we’d spoken up.

Last night I was chatting on the phone with another friend. We’ve known each other since the first day we started national school, shared digs in first-year in college and then shared a flat together for the next two years of college. I’ve moved around a fair bit since, so we don’t see each other very often at times, but we’ve always stayed in contact – over the years we’ve chatted about nothing, calmed each other down when we were buying houses, getting married, had work crises and the other things life can throw at you. She also knew we were trying for a baby and was one of the first people I told when we were referred to the fertility clinic. I told her about the various injections, the ICSI, the disappointments and the heartache of learning that there was no point in keeping going. At the same time I’ve shared in her delight and panic when she was pregnant, listened to her describe her son’s birth and celebrated the milestone’s he’s reached since. She, and her family, called up to me a few weeks ago when they were on holidays nearby. When we went out for lunch I tried to create as many chances as I could for her to tell me she was pregnant – short of asking her was she pregnant or had she put on an awful lot of weight I couldn’t have given her more opportunity. I knew it was very unlikely that she had put on that much weight in a short enough time, so was fairly hurt when she didn’t say anything. I was even more hurt when she did tell me last night. While we were chatting on the phone, finishing up our conversation she said ‘oh yeah, bit of news, [her son] is going to have a brother or sister’. While I’m delighted at her news, it couldn’t but touch a nerve. And she told me like it was a thing of nothing. And that hurt.

Just at the steep bit.

I read a wonderful post today http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.com/2011/09/feeling-left-behind.html#comments

I’m on the steep part right now. Where your calves hurt and all your muscles ache, and you wonder why in the hell you started this climb anyway. I know I will get there, to where I can enjoy the view, but at the moment, it’s steep.

It’s steep and can hurt the lungs. You know when you go for a run and feel the air getting into parts of your lungs that haven’t been ventilated since the last (a fair while ago) time that you decided to ‘get a bit of exercise and get fit’? Or if you’re hillwalking and you’re at the long haul, when you need to just put the head down and keep going – if you stop to look around you just won’t start moving again?

I know I will get there, but sometimes I just want to stop and sit on the side of the road.  If you ask for directions in Ireland, the reply can often start with “I wouldn’t start from here now…”. Well, I wouldn’t start from here now. But I will get there.

What gives you the right?

I like to think that I’m not a judgemental person. But I know, when it comes down to it, I make snap-judgements the same as the next. And I know I have no right to make those judgements, to use my values to measure someone else. So I try not to. I try not to let that self-righteous streak creep-in, try not to assume. And I really try not to hurt.

I don’t like social chit-chat, I don’t like talking about nothing to strangers. I will talk for hours with friends, but I’m a bit shy with people I don’t know. And I do know that the only way I will get to know them is to talk to them, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. Unless of course, that stranger is willing to talk politics, and then I know the conversation will flow. Or if it’s a work context, then I’m the ringleader in a group. But social conversations with strangers are not ‘my thing’.

The conversations I hate, are the ones that go like this: the initial chat about the weather/traffic/what brought you here, then we move on to jobs/careers. Which very often leads to the next question – do you have kids? Funnily enough, that progression doesn’t happen as often with my husband (who is henceforth called M, as I hate the phrase ‘my husband’). Asking about his career is rarely a precursor to whether he has children. But as a woman, it seems to be regarded as a natural conversational progression, jobs to kids. When I say no, no kids – the response can (thankfully, not always) be an instant judgement: ‘career woman’. Sometimes this is said straight-out, sometimes it’s more subtle. But, the judgement is that I chose my career over having children. I’ve never heard anyone even allude to having made a similar judgement about M, I’ve never heard ‘career-man’ being muttered as judgement.

The conversation can then take a number of different turns, I’m sometimes told that I am not fulfilled as a woman unless or until I have a child of my own, or the conversation could follow the turn that I haven’t ever really loved anyone (unless or until I have a child of my own), or, my own particular favourite, that I couldn’t possibly understand the importance of the health system/education/whatever you’re having yourself, until or unless I have a child of my own.

I usually paste an inane smile on my face throughout these conversations. I do have enough social skills to know that the reaction I want to give is not a socially acceptable one. It is not acceptable for me to scream, what gave you the right to judge me? Why do you assume that I chose one over the other? Why do you not make the same assumption of M.? When did womanhood become equated with motherhood, that I am not a real woman until I have procreated?! Of course I have loved. And believe it or not, I do understand how important the health service is. I understand it at an academic level, it is part of why I am politically active – I believe health services should be related to your health not the depth of your wallet. And I have used the health services far too often not to understand it at a personal level. And why do you assume it is a choice that we do not have children?

I know it is not socially acceptable to scream this out, with choice expletives dropped in at will. And believe me, I have an impressive range of expletives. So instead, I smile and try to change the subject. And I try not to show how their judgement has hurt. I bite my lip and don’t tell them that without my career, and M.’s, we couldn’t have afforded the unsuccessful cycles of IVF and all the heartbreak that goes with it.

And the times that the conversation doesn’t contain those judgements, doesn’t hurt so much, I’m grateful. And after I say ‘no, we don’t have kids’ we move on to something else.