I am very excited to be a champion for World Childless Week, 10th to 16th Sep 2018.
I listened to Jody Day’s webinar ‘Coping with other people‘ for the We Are Worthy summit recently. Jody mentioned and discussed scenarios regarding coping with other peoples opinions, you know the opinions of family and friends that leave us voiceless and wanting to run for the door with comments such as “well at least you can have a lie in..”, “count yourself lucky that you don’t have to deal with…”, “you must have lots of money and go on loads of holidays”, “you can have one of mine”, “don’t give up hope”, “well at least you have a good job” and the list goes on and on and on.
But what happens when you walk into a consultant’s office after being referred by your GP to look into a condition or issue that is completely unrelated to having children? You walk into their office with the thought of having a child being the furthest thing from your mind – ok the fact that you had just spent 20 minutes in a waiting room full of screaming kids didn’t help – but you get my drift. For once that appointment wasn’t about your ‘baby mania’. That was me when I went to see the Gyne consultant about my fibroids and ridiculously painful periods and the conversation went something like this…
Consultant “Do you have children:” Ok so it’s a standard question that is always asked.
Consultant: “Have you been trying to have a baby?”
Me: “Yes. I tried for 3 years and stopped trying about 2 years ago now”
Consultant looking concerned: “Have you considered using a donor egg?”
Me: “Nooooo” with suspicion in my voice
Consultant: “I think that you should think about it”
Me: sighing “No I don’t think so”
Consultant: “Don’t worry the donor mother will be someone that looks like you….
Me: ‘You mean she’ll be black’ popped into my head
Consultant continues: …..”but it doesn’t matter about her. The sperm will be from your husband and the blood will be from you because the baby will grow inside of you so it will still be yours”
Me thinking: I can’t believe I’m hearing this, I really want to tell het to shut up but I can’t speak….
Consultant: “I think that you should think about it”….
When I finally left that office I was so angry, angry with the consultant for forcing me into a place that I had chosen not to visit previously and angry for the consultant not taking the care to realise that I may not want to engage in that particular conversation anyway. But most of all I was angry that I couldn’t find the voice to tell the consultant how I felt. I couldn’t say that I had spent the last 4 years dealing with the painful grief of my situation and the painful reality that I would not become a mum. I could not say that through it all I had chosen not to pursue the options that I felt were not right for me and I could not say that I did not come here to discuss this with the consultant in the first place. I felt like I had been re-victimised for my choices and unexpectedly thrown back into the depths of my grief.
Why do these situations leave us feeling worse than the experiences we have with our family and/or friends??? I wonder if it is because we expect more from these professionals who should know better and be more sensitive towards us when we sit in front of them shyly admitting that we were unable to conceive a child. I know that the consultant was not aware of what I have been through, she did not know if I was getting support to deal with my grief or if I was even dealing with my grief. The consultant did not even know if my relationship is ok or if I am still suffering from the emotional rollercoaster that I’ve been on for the past 7 years. And more than anything I did NOT walk into that room asking for the consultants help me to have a child in the first place. So why were they insisting that I take their advise????
One of the difficulties that I have faced on my journey is the issue of believing that I did not try hard enough for a child, I didn’t have IVF, I didn’t chose to adopt and when faced with this questioning from others, I am left to question if I really wanted to have a child in the first place. But I managed to reconcile these thoughts and feelings and make peace with my decisions. Hearing that consultant almost force her opinions on me was just as damaging as the journey itself. Why could the consultant not accept that their solution was not an option for me, why could the consultant not have asked me if I wanted to talk about it in the first place??? Why did they feel that it was their place to persuade me that I needed to just keep trying???
“…You have to take the pain and ask yourself how am I going to turn this into something positive…” Fertility Fest
This year was the second time I have attended Fertility Fest and the first time I was invited to take part. I must admit I remember feeling so excited when I first attended and had left the day hoping that I would somehow take part in the future. Well I got that opportunity when Jessica Hepburn contacted me back in April after my BBC radio 4 interview on Women’s Hour. After some planning Jessica invited me join her Sunday morning panel to discuss ‘Does motherhood make you happy’. What an honour! Then I saw the post on the Fertility Fest website advertising our session and my nerves started to kick in.
Can you imagine I was being called a fertility expert!!!
One of my worries was that I had no idea what Kate, the panel chair, would be asking. Kate and I had talked prior to Sunday and we had some insight into each others stories but I still felt unprepared. Most of my previous interviews I kind of knew what I’d be asked which was usually around my own story/ experience regarding childlessness. But this time I was on a stage with people starting back at me waiting for me to answer intelligent questions. Ok so my inner drama queen is starting to take over here.
Once I relaxed and stopped worrying about where to look I started to enjoy myself. It was interesting hearing the different views and experiences of mothers and non-mothers who were all united (and for once not divided) by our experiences with the difficulties of conceiving a child as well as the honesty around the difficulties of motherhood. I was told, during the early stages of my grief, that I was grieving the good stuff around motherhood – which I realised was true because I have never listened to a sad story about parenting or watched a difficult situation between a mother and her child and said to myself ‘I wish I had that’ or ‘I wish that was me’ – so to be in a place where we could freely share, without judgement, meant that we could fully learn from our experiences.
Outside of fertility fest I have come across women who had experienced difficulties with conception but it almost felt like they either forgot about it or had shut it away as if it didn’t matter anymore because it resulted in a child. Being around these women always felt like they just didn’t understand my sadness or wouldn’t except my story because no matter how hard the journey to motherhood can be you can get there if you do not give up. And with this attitude comes the hidden truth around motherhood, the fact that it can be bloody hard. So thank you Jessica for creating this space where we can all acknowledge the pain of infertility and experience the back stories to our incredible journeys’ no matter where the finish line take us.
One of the things that really amazed me were the women who approached me to talk to me about their particular journeys that lead them to attend fertility fest. I had not come across such women before, women who are facing difficulties of conceiving a child and, although still hopeful, were preparing themselves for the possibility of not becoming a mother. I must say I was amazed at their courage for accepting this possibility. I have no doubt that if their stories do not have the happy ending they are hoping for, that the grief will be huge but the fact that they are open to hearing from me, Jessica and others like us that they can still have a fulfilling life without children, and that there is support out there, if needed, must go along way to reassuring them that they will still be ok no matter what. It was also great to hear from the black women who attend and who congratulated me on what I am personally doing to bring the women of colour experience (a voice that is often forgotten about) to the conversation.
“Grief transforms our souls in different ways” Fertility Fest
Generation IVF explored assisted conception from different perspectives. As much as I am aware of the use of donor eggs, especially as I know women who had unsuccessfully explored this route and have also heard the joyous stories of women who were lucky enough to have been successful, I never considered that the donor herself has a story to tell. That women who is an important part of this journey too is all but forgotten, un-named and unmentioned – the anonymous person who made that pregnancy possible. I was encouraged to consider egg donation recently (I’ll blog about this experience soon) and it was almost like the egg donor didn’t matter, apart from the fact that she would look like me, and the possibility that the process may not be successful was also not mentioned. It was described as such an easy option to end my pain.
Fertility Flight club was a joy to watch. Hearing the panel discuss ‘What makes you angry in the field of fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies?’ really got my juices flowing. Diane Chandler talked about Secondary Infertility (the sadness around not conceiving or struggling to conceive a second child), a term that I had not come across before. Diane reminded me of how angry I felt when a friend announced how she struggled for 7 months to conceive her second child which can be extremely hard to hear when you had been trying for 3 years and knew of others who had tried for 10+. It can feel like such an insensitive moment to someone who is grieving the loss of motherhood but also a grief, I have learnt, that many mothers have faced because they so desperately wish for another child or have tried to have a child in that new relationship. Stella Duffy really made me want to embrace being the ‘angry black women in the room’. I have often felt mis-understood and labelled as angry because I speak up for what I believe in which in-turn has often left me feeling dismissed and unwanted. But if this is how I am heard then maybe it’s time to ‘bring it on’!!!
Listening to women speak about their difficulties with going through IVF and or motherhood whilst at work I realised how much the manager’s voice (I’m thinking about my own difficulties around being a manager without children) is one that is rarely heard.
Thinking about the day I realised that there are childless women who will find it hard to attend fertility fest (depending on where they are with their grief) because of the many stories that did end with the baby. As these women move through their grief I truly hope that they can embrace fertility fest for everything that it is – the joined experience of the difficult journey through fertility and infertility.
So I held the first Gateway Women’s ‘Women of Colour’ reignite weekend workshop in London on the 28th and 29th April. I was excited and nervous about this but also very curious to see what would happen in the room. I’ve attended 2 reignite weekends in the past as well as graduating from the Plan B mentorship programme in February 2016 so I knew, in some ways, what to expect but, from my own experience of being the black women in the room, I hoped that this workshop would be different. I was curious to see what would happen especially because of my own experience of not only grieving my childlessness but also of grieving through the eyes of a black women who is becoming consciously aware of the society I am in both personally and professionally.
I had a wonderful bunch of women, all at different stages in their grief, with different personalities and with different reasons for wanting to be in that room but with one thing in common, we were all WoC. This in itself was momentous as there are few spaces where WoC can sit in a space and openly explore our observations, around race, without being judged, shamed or silenced. It was definitely a first for me and something that I will cherish.
I wasn’t sure how the conversations would develop and was conscious that I didn’t want to influence what was discussed by steering the conversations back to race but it became clear’ quite early on during the workshop, that our backgrounds and experiences, because of our race have become unspoken truths that we are rarely allowed to raise let alone explore thanks to ‘white privilege’ and/ or ‘white fragility’.
During a couple of the exercises over the weekend I also noticed how some of the women found it difficult to daydream. As we know trauma can affect our ability to dream where women who are grieving the loss of motherhood can feel guilty if they are able to imagine a future without children. This is often translated to somehow mean that ‘we did not really want children if we can imagine a fulfilling life without one’. I myself found it difficult to accept my grief because I chose not to go down the IVF or the adoption route. Being able to acknowledge the regret of a termination can also be difficult when the person you are now with would not have chosen to be with you if you had had that child.
I had not experienced this level of difficulty (with the dreaming exercises) at the previous reignite workshops that’s I’ve attended and wondered where the block was. If we consider unconscious conditioning we can go back to slavery times where slaves (black people) were not allowed to dream, something that was told to them in many different ways. I can also imagine that during those times a dream could be just as debilitating and as painful as hope itself.
While we were reflecting on this one of the ladies pointed out that we, as a race, were invited (or allowed) into England to support and help the British to rebuild their country, a country where some people still believe that non-British people (minorities) do not belong. Is this a reason for our (sometimes) limited dreams??? How do you hold on to that dream that your ‘mother country’ is not interested in seeing you succeed in??? Ok so I am generalising her as I have meet some very successful black people over the years but I have also wondered what they have sacrificed or endured for that slice of the pie.
I remember reading in Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race‘ where Reni talks about structural racism. She mentioned that research shows how racism is weaved into the fabric of our world. To quote from her book Reni stated that “It seems like black people face a disadvantage at every significant step in their lives”. Reni goes on to explore white privilege which ‘bullies us into not speaking up’ and ‘scares us into silencing ourselves’. “We don’t get the privilege of speaking honestly about our feelings…” and it is rare that we even get the opportunity to talk about our experiences unless invited to do so. With this in mind is it a surprise that people of colour (at times) find it difficult to dream past what we can physically see…. “You learn to be careful about your battles, because otherwise people would consider you to be angry for no reason at all” [Reni Eddo-Lodge].
I wrote about my experience with religion in my blog, ‘The Black Woman in the Room’ for Gateway Women where I mentioned the shaming silence that can be witnessed when God (or more aptly how he’s represented) enters the arena. One of the women at the Reignite weekend made the comment that when it comes to religion “It’s good when it’s bad” … This comment did leave me with the most quizzical look on my face but she went on to explain that (where religion is concerned) people can thrive on notion that God will work his miracles in those dark times; when you’ve lost your job, when someone is ill (the more serious the better), when it looks like all hope is gone, all you need is the faith that God will work his magic once you’ve put it Him prayer.
There was one comment from the workshop that has stayed with me… “women get what’s left” – such a sad and definitive comment.
Well I certainly felt like a woman who get the most prestigious award that weekend. The experience of being in that room, with that particular group of women was the best feeling I could ever have imagined. I would not have asked for anything more!!!
Yesterday I attended the first event of Fertility Fest where Jessica Hepburn launched her book ’21 Miles: Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood’.
The evening was chaired by presenter and writer Janet Ellis, who lead a fantastic interview with Jessica detailing her experience of 11 unsuccessful rounds of IVF, self discovery, swimming the English Channel and the wonderful women she meet along the way. It was a pleasure to sit in the audience and listen to Jessica’s emotional and inspirational story as well as hearing from some of the other women who contributed to the book. Every word, every story shared on that stage spoke, in some way, to every person in that room. What a legacy!!!
Thinking back on my own journey I still have to pinch myself at the realisation of how far I have come myself let alone the fact that I will be taking part in the festival too. I will keep you updated with fertility fest but for now I’ll leave you with these 3 quotes from the evening…
“…The awful things in life can be the things that can be the exciting part of the experience…”
“…if you can’t have it then go out into the world and ask what can I have?…”
“…if you don’t take a step forward you won’t change the world…”