Our sense of who we are and how we fit in — or don’t — alters over time. The gawky growth phase — whether as an adolescent or as an adult going through complicated transitions are the most memorable — usually due to the mess involved. In the midst of it we feel awkward, restless and just plain out of sorts. Choose your metaphor. A eucalyptus tree shedding its bark. An ugly caterpillar. A rumbling dark storm cloud.
The growth and change that accompanies these periods is sometimes fast and obvious, but it can also be imperceptibly slow — complicated by a society that doesn’t always know how to make sense of nuance or dimensionality. We only know we’ve arrived at a place of peace and acceptance one day when we wake up feeling different in a good way, lighter and liberated.
At various points with this blog I’ve talked about the challenges of fitting in, finding a tribe and striving to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’ve wrestled with how people perceive women like me, how I perceived myself and whether I was invisible or too visible.
In our modern society we invest a lot of time creating labels, categories and rituals to define ourselves and others. Some of these can be reassuring but others can cause conflicts. This week offered up some fascinating examples across the globe of the restlessness and the challenge of finding our place and fitting in particularly when stereotypes arise, perceptions don’t align or misunderstandings linger.
For example, there was Isa in Germany. We swapped direct messages via Twitter. A journal contacted her to see if she would be willing to participate in a series on infertility. Isa had rightful trepidation and we weighed the tradeoffs. How would it feel to be profiled as a CNBC (childless not by choice) woman. She decided to forge ahead in the hopes her story could help others. All was feeling right until the journalist made clear that the journal was bringing some loaded stereotypes to its reporting. The editors wanted photos that depicted a sad, depressed woman complete with grey skies. While she made every effort to convince the reporter that there was more to the story, the editorial team wasn’t interested in profiling a woman happy and at peace. That’s when Isa ended the conversation. Instead of a complex, nuanced and balanced article, the editors wanted to fulfill their own pre-determined narrative: the focus is on winners (those who succeed with motherhood) and losers (those who don’t).
Perhaps one day we’ll reach a point there is an appetite for stories that get beyond a narrow or one dimensional view. While there is significant grief and healing and compassion needed in the wake of failed treatments and related losses, Isa and I agreed we are multidimensional women living vibrant lives along with many of those reading this very blog post.
Then there were email exchanges up north in Canada with “A,” a thoughtful, warm woman who regularly shares insightful, complex ideas. This week she talked about how a type of indifference to infertility has been “one of the most common experiences of our journey and how it undermines positive change. ”
Perhaps readers here have faced it, too? “A” writes, “this is when someone chooses to completely bypass compassion and absolve themselves of the deep examination of attitudes and therefore any helpful action. The issue of infertility is so often dismissed under the guise of ‘personal responsibility.’ It let’s society off the hook. This is a attitude that, when wielded without deep wisdom and/or compassion, allows society to not have to examine their beliefs and then take compassionate action.”
“A” then pointed me to a talk given by Bhikku Bodhi on Conscientious Compassion: Why Mindfulness Alone is Not Enough. (You can register for free access to a Beyond Mindfulness conference and have access to all the videos for about 48 hours.)
In her words:
He discusses the pitfalls of taking mindfulness practices out of their Buddhist context and then using them “unwholesomely”. Around minute 18 he speaks to how this might lead people to become accepting of “whatever arises”. He continues, and this is almost a direct quote, Therefore when one faces oppressive, destructive, vicious social structures, rather than reacting against them and seeking to transform them and just takes this as part of the given…that one has to accept and deal with by monitoring and regulating one’s own subjective reactions to them. This needs to be counterbalanced by conscientious compassion.
I’ll be watching it later this week — sounds like there will be more to mull over.
Finally, I had a chance to speak by phone with Missouri-based Justine, a therapist, blogger and author of Ever Upward and the blog post titled “I Want More: Can We Create a New Tribe.” In it she raises some important questions, including:
Is the infertility community no longer my tribe?
Do I no longer belong there?
Am I holding onto something that doesn’t even want me any longer?
Do I care too much?
Is change even possible?
Read Justine’s thoughts and share your own.
So much to contemplate. In addition to watching the video link above, I’ll also be reading Justine’s book.
Now it’s time for a walk. Meanwhile, welcome your thoughts.
*More beautiful images of the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees here.
13 thoughts on “Tribe: Fitting In and How We See Ourselves”
Darn – what a week! I feel overwhelmed by the “fitting in” issues with which we grapple, but ecstatic that so many are speaking up about them.
“It” – infertility and life after failed treatments – raises so many questions, which made me think of the Elie Wiesel quote “I define myself more by my questions than by my answers.” I recall he went on in that interview to say that answers come and go, but that there will always be questions. A reminder that swimming in a sea of doubt, growth and/or upheaval requires much soul and authenticity.
Funny enough, I also stumbled upon his quote “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” Hmm…
I’m so sorry Isa had to go through all that turmoil. Bravo to her for staying true. Backing out of something, especially something one hoped would make a positive difference, can be disappointing and takes a lot of guts.
So much to think about here. I am furious for Isa. How horrible that the editor had preconceived views even to the extent of the artwork to be used.
I think the mindfulness comment was interesting. I know I use it to allow me to accept and celebrate my life, and to give me confidence to speak out about my situation, and to confront others about stereotypes or the constant assumption that everyone is or will be a parent.
I look forward to reading Justine’s post too. She doesn’t need to create a new community though. It’s already here!
Thanks for your support !
It was disillusioning – even though I am not really surprised about what happened. In the beginning me and Belle thought that it is a positive thing if one magazine will round down a serial about infertility with an article about a childfree/less life after infertility. Not only telling stories of women who became mother on ivf (as usual in mainstream media). But the focus in conversation then was fotos, fotos, fotos – personal fotos, big fotos, and the….attention please :) …. picture language – also called metaphorical language. And for only one example: ocean and palms doesn´t match with “the story” they told me. Well, don´t know what is “the story” – but it matches with my ! story at this point of my life :) “Unfortunatelly” I am again in Croatia at the moment (where dh and I live and work some time during the year) and I am happy and at peace again :) So Belle is. #sorrynotsorry :) The title of the first part of ivf-mommy-story was sth like “won – I did it” – and I absolutely don´t agree in “winning – and failure” categories about infertility stories. I got over all that social deep-seated “jackpott-stereotypes” and won´t support any article that confirms this narrow perspective. The headline for “our stories” is also “won – I did it” in my opinion :)
And…I am absolutely sure that they didn´t understand what is the problem about. They possibly think we are crazy now.
We like to share our story – our multidimensional story ! In your own Blog you can be sure that nobody will change the meaning without your consent.
The headline of our blog is a quote from M. Angelou: “a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer it sings because it has a song” – this relates a little bit to what Sarah wrote :)
I am so thankfull that Pam took time for conversation with me !
And it is so great to be part of this world wide sisterhood/tribe ;)
xo from Germany,
P.S. Love this Rainbow Eucalyptus and it´s metaphorical language ! ;)
I really do !
Yep, this feeling of not fitting in is something that’s been hitting home for me lately. An infertility friend recently told me that she didn’t understand why we “gave up” and that I was her “worst nightmare” in the same conversation. It’s like it’s bad enough to deal with the emotional fallout of my reproductive system not working properly, but then for a person that I once considered a friend to say something like that was beyond painful. So I don’t fit in with the group of women who all supported each other through infertility, and not only do I not fit in anymore, but I’m their worst nightmare…. Ouch.
I’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness lately. I think I need to look into it some more.
Off to read Justine’s blog which I didn’t even know existed before yesterday.
Echoing all that has been said above. I’m horrified to hear Isa’s experience. In a Duggar-glorifying world, it’s not surprising. But I truly hoped that things would be different.
The point about society turning mindfulness on its head to justify the isolation those living with infertility experience is a take I hadn’t considered. I know this has been done before and overcome (cancer anyone?), but we as a community need to band together to do so again. Because mindfulness should be about compassion, not silence.
And I consider you all an important part of the tribe. But maybe it’s also a sign that I don’t belong either?}
I once had this notion, dear Cristy, that women who didn’t achieve success with motherhood after infertility needed their own space, but I’ve long since modified that position. In the rawness of the loss, this particular tribe certainly craves added care and tenderness, but we most certainly don’t live in isolation. It’s for that very reason that we need bridges built by those with compassion who can validate and acknowledge our lives. You have been a most kind and able ambassador to our once island of pain. It is through kind hearts like yours that we can once again assimilate into society. You will always hold a very special place in my heart. You are an endearing soul who has found a way to speak our language…
I completely agree, Pamela! — both that we don’t live in isolation, and that Cristy has been a great ambassador. :)
As Mali said, Justine doesn’t need a new community — we’re right here! :) And while we definitely have our own issues and perspectives, I agree with you that complete segregation from the broader ALI community is not the answer. As I said in my own comment on Justine’s post, we need to keep speaking up — loudly! — & letting people know we are here, and that there is a good life to be had without children. Whether they have never experienced infertility themselves, are still in the throes of treatment, or are at the end of their rope and wonder “what now?” after another IVF failure — people need to know this is a valid option, that while it may not be the outcome we all hope for, it’s not the end of the world either — and we are living proof of that.
A sad, depressed woman with grey skies?
No, that’s definitely not how I see my world.
And it is definitely not the way I see Isa, Pamela, Kinsey, Mali, Sarah, Loribeth and many other childless-not-by-choice bloggie friends.