Two Wiser Women On Society and Motherhood
Welcome to all on the virtual book tour for Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen. (Don’t have your copy yet? You can get one here. Don’t worry, we’ll wait…)
Right. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Author Lisa Manterfield has done a tremendous service for those grappling with this question: “What if I never get to be a mother?”
Smart, resourceful and deeply thoughtful, Lisa turned her search for an answer into a book that will undoubtedly benefit many. Take it from one who learned the hard way: you could not fashion a better guide.
Society: Are We There Yet?
Impatient as hell in 2010, and coming out of fertility treatment trauma, I wanted nothing more than to push forward with my life. I looked far and wide for women I could relate to and feel ‘normal’ around. Thankfully, Lisa had just written an essay: “A future without a baby is just fate, after all” published in The Los Angeles Times. I wrote to tell her how it resonated with me and a beautiful friendship formed. We arranged to meet for lunch and stories tumbled out of us.
We now regularly exchange ideas, lessons learned and findings in the reinvention department. Long ago we agreed that creating a life apart from the one you always anticipated doesn’t come easily in a society that doesn’t know how to respond to our experience. I particularly value her thinking on the cultural challenges, which became the basis for this conversation:
Q: We’ve been sharing cultural observations for the better part of six years. What changes — both in society as well as in your blog readership — have you seen?
I’m visiting your blog today as part of a two-week tour. I couldn’t have done that six years ago because there were so few resources. I’m encouraged by how many of us are now speaking openly about this topic on our own sites and in other public forums. I have several readers who’ve been with me from the outset and are now mentoring new readers. It’s wonderful to see how our community has grown and is so supportive.
What hasn’t changed much is that the topics of infertility and childlessness are still misunderstood and that new readers arriving at Life Without Baby are still facing the same inappropriate questions and lack of understanding among family and friends. We have a long way to go to move beyond the taboos.
Q: How have you changed? If you were to sit with the ‘you’ of the past, what counsel would you offer her?
Unfortunately, the me of the past probably wouldn’t have listened to a word I had to say! She especially would not have wanted to hear that everything would be okay in the end. She might have joked that there were advantages to not having children, but it would have been a front to hide her pain.
I think the best counsel I could have given her is that she is right to be devastated, angry, and bitter because this is all part of the grieving process. I would have told her that I understood what an enormous loss this was for her and that she needed to grieve that loss the way she would grieve any other kind of loss.
I think that’s the understanding that is so often missing on this journey, even from the people who truly care about us.
As for the new me, I think I am calmer and more compassionate toward myself and others. I have a deep understanding that life doesn’t always work out as you’d hoped, but somehow it still works out. I still have goals and dreams I’d like to accomplish in my life, but I’m also more likely to remain open to other possibilities and opportunities. They almost always seem to come along and you can’t see them when you’re single-mindedly barreling toward a goal.
Q: We’ve survived through a particularly noisy ‘cult of motherhood’ era. A 2009 Guardian piece, ‘Childless is Not a Synonym for Weird,’ is just one of many articles in recent years teasing at the cultural stereotypes that women in our shoes confront on a regular basis. “Kind, honorable and resilient” are representative adjectives that I would use to characterize our peers — what descriptors would you use and why?
It’s shocking that these stereotypes exist, but whereas I might have been furious reading this article a few years ago, I now find I’m able to laugh.
[bctt tweet=”To brand an entire group of women based on their fertility is preposterous.”]
And it works both ways. You only have to glance at any day’s news headlines to know that the ability to reproduce doesn’t automatically breed compassion, selflessness, and “essential humanity.” By the same token, there are childless women who are not kind, honorable, and resilient! That’s a part of being human. That said, the women I’ve met online through the various communities that now exist have proven themselves over and over to be compassionate, supportive, and surprisingly humorous. I’m very honored to know them.
Q: In 2010 we both talked to Dr. Marni Rosner as part of her groundbreaking research, Recovery from Traumatic Loss: A Study of Women Living Without Children After Infertility. She described the concept of “twinship — seeking to avoid feeling alone in the world” … what are you most proud of in your work advancing “twinship” ?
I love this idea of “twinship”. One of the biggest unanticipated benefits of speaking out on this topic is the realization that I’m not alone and that all the crazy thoughts and emotions I experienced are actually typical! That came as a huge relief to me. Similarly, the thing I’m most proud of is that I have touched individual lives and made a difference to women who also believed they were alone. Every now and then I’ll hear from someone who says the website or the book or a video I made or a post I wrote spoke to them directly and I know that deciding to go public about a topic I honestly didn’t want to talk about was the right thing to do.
Q: I recall your description of watching a frog swim valiantly and hard across a pond before resting and regrouping, and how it gave it you pause to reflect on your own journey. What over-arching message does your latest book offer to women who are about to swim valiantly across the pond?
The thing I found myself repeating in every section of the book and at ever stage of the “swim” is this: Be kind to yourself. There is so much blame and shame wrapped up in this situation, not to mention the second-guessing and the constant “what-if?” Without a good support system, the tendency is to want to put your head down and push through until it goes away. So I want to say over and over, go easy on yourself, give yourself time. It’s okay and normal to second guess and go back and forth, and it’s okay and normal to feel sad, angry, or lost, or to overcompensate and forge ahead in another area of your life. But you also need to give yourself permission to stop and be utterly miserable about what’s happened. Yes, at some point you have to kick off and start swimming again, but you don’t have to make it across the pond in one go.
Q: Taking a page out of our friend Tracey’s book, what movie would you recommend women watch in tandem with reading your book, Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen, to help make sense of the reinvention that awaits them?
I’m thinking about Wild with Reese Witherspoon, although I might point to Cheryl Strayed’s original book over the movie version. Here is a woman at the absolute lowest point of grief and despair, whose coping mechanism is total self-destruction. She quite literally decides to take the road less traveled and steps out alone into an unfamiliar world. She drags her loss and grief along with her—as represented by Monster, the enormous backpack that she can barely carry—and step by step she begins to heal. She deals with her grief head-on and not always with dignity (the violently discarded hiking boot, for example) and she gathers a supportive community around her. She finds ways to deal with other people’s perceptions of her, and ultimately she strides across the bridge back to civilization as a woman sure of who she is and ready to find her new path out in the world. And of course, beyond the book, Cheryl Strayed has indeed forged a path that I’m sure she could never have envisioned when she set out to make that hike.
Now, dear readers, over to you for your thoughts on what Lisa and I discussed here. Please share your comments on this blog or back over on Lisa’s blog post.