I feel like a FRAUD

Sat in the studio trying to focus, a feeling of unease is in my stomach rising through me, down my arms into my hands, which are shaking.

I am working hard on not trying to write the narrative of the upcoming phone call before it has even begun. I have all my facts and figures laid out next to me and I have captured as much information as possible.

I feel like I am going into to plead a case, to be prepared when the conversation invariably sway’s off course to discuss the aspects of my infertility. I need to be strong and grounded to purvey my truth.

Every word I say has to count.

 

The phone rings and its the doctor, right deep breathe here we go…….

 

So lets give a little background here.

In April I started using the menstrual cup, this highlighted to me how much blood I was loosing. I knew I was going through super tampons and a pad every hour, but this didn’t really equate to anything for me, its just what my monthly cycle did, its normal right?

So as I recorded the amounts and I was shocked, and yes shocked is the right word, and I was perplexed as to how this was not having more of an impact on my body.

It kind of shook me a bit, and I decided I needed to record several months and gain the courage to speak to a doctor, as something can’t be right.

So here are numbers for blood loss per monthly cycle.

(“Most women will lose less than 16 teaspoons of blood (80ml) during their period, with the average being around 6 to 8 teaspoons.” NHS Health Website )

April 205ml

May 163ml

June 132 ml

July 178ml

August 153ml

 

Stepping back into Monday, back in the studio, the phone rings and the consult begins.

My heart is beating, how can I say my point with strength, power, calmness, and clarity.

The usual; “how can I help you? “Echoes through the receiver, and I start by saying I wish to discuss my monthly cycle and the heaviness of the flow, and the concerns I have surrounding it. I outline the bloods loss, the crippling pain, the flu like symptoms, the soreness of my breast’s, bleeding mid cycle and the fatigue that follows each cycle.

I am ready poised waiting for all the suggestions coming my way. (I have been here before), and like clockwork the doctor reels of all the hormonal treatments and then the NSAIDS and clotting medication available.

Hurdle number one, deep breathe as I explain why I cannot do hormonal treatment and how medication contains lactose, which I am allergic to and causes a immune system response, heightening my CFS symptoms, meaning I can not entertain everyday normal function of life.

I feel disheartened already; I can hear where this conversation is going to go and every fibre in my being wants to stop, hang up and runaway from this call.  The doctor is doing their job, but it doesn’t make it any less painful to sit through.

Sat in my studio, my place of sanctuary, all of sudden the walls are getting closers, my heart is beating so fast and the tears are rising, my voice trembles and I apologise for getting emotional as I say “menopause in my family is around the age of 60, I don’t think I can keep going like this, I have had had my periods since I was 11.”

Discussion moves onto surgical procedures, I feel for a moment I have been heard, until it comes crashing down, shattering through me, making me feel hollow and empty, and like a complete FRAUD.

The words “these procedures are for women who have had children and you will not be considered until you have had children.”

Hello merry go round my old friend, you incite nausea, you leave me spinning and unaware of who I am, what is my truth and you leave me unsteady for days.

 

“ I can’t have kids”, trickles out of my mouth and flows down the phone.

 

It’s met with  “Why?”

 

Breathe in and big sigh out, here we go…

“I was told when I was 19 I have significant scarring on my fallopian tubes which means it will be very unlikely I can have kids, coupled with the diagnose of PCOS in my early 20’s and all my hormonal profiling’s clearly showing I can not conceive. My husband and I have decided that we do not wish to explore medical interventions, we are not going to have children as it is not meant for us.”

I can feel myself shaking, trying to contain years of emotions, all tethered to the journey of knowing I can’t have kids and how this has shaped my life.

 

“But you have a regular cycle, you will be fertile”

 

In this moment I am wondering how do I make myself heard, how do I prove I can’t have kids. I know I can’t, numerous doctors and specialist have been involved in this process over the years and have said yes I can one minute only to retract it the next.

Repetitive false hope, so eventually I just started to hear a low hum and decide that the medical system is just not for me.

Instead I just said “ I have been with my husband for 13 years and over the years we have only practiced safe sex some of the time, we should of been pregnant, and we actively tried for over a year.

(This may seem crazy that we tried, but I was always of the thinking if it was meant to be it would happen. And even here I am justifying my decisions.)

I follow it up clearly with we have decided that there is life beyond infertility and that is our life and the one we have chosen.

Feeling quite proud, I  am sat quite tall in in my chair, feeling empowered, knowing this is my truth, knowing this is my life story, this is the path I want.

There is a short silence, and then the words come back “Are you sure you don’t want a family, you have a regular cycle you will be able to have a baby, has your husband been tested?”

My back bends, I feel small and insignificant, almost stupid.  Do I know my body? Maybe this doctor is right? Maybe I can have a baby? is this what I want?

I catch myself quickly, as I hear the false hope rise up, I stop it before it balloons out of control.

I know my truth I know my story, I am 38, I have known for 19 years, I can not have children, I am not lying, but why do I feel like I am, why to I feel like a FRAUD.

I felt lost for words, I fell silent, and the consult turned to focus on the mirena coil and it being the best option for me to help stem the heavy bleeding.

(I had the mirena in my early 20’s and it was removed due to the adverse side effects I experienced due to the progesterone going into my system.  But that’s whole different story)

I heard my voice ask if they could tell me more, I was going through the motions, I was beaten, I had lost my case, I had come away feeling like I was wrong, like it wasn’t me that been through the tests, and procedures, to be told over and over again you can not have kids.

In the space of 5 minutes I felt shaken to my core, I felt angry I didn’t get the referral, that I had agreed to get a prescription for a medication I am allergic too.

I felt like a complete and utter FRAUD, like a woman making up some elaborate story of being infertile.

Sat here right now, I feel ashamed at the lack persistence, where was my inner warrior, a little child took her place.

In this present moment I am sat sipping peppermint tea, the window open, the air flowing in, I feel connected back to self, giving permission to have patience and compassion towards myself.  I know this is not an easy path to tread. It’s full of misnomers, misguidance, misinformation and the feeling of having to prove my truth.

 

I will make another appointment, and share how I felt and ask how we move forward.

 

This is not about blaming anyone, especially the doctor that I spoke to.  They were doing a great job on the facts that they had immediately in front of them, and they are unknowingly swayed by society’s view of the role of a women.

This is a piece about how we can feel we know our truth but how that can be easily swayed by so many outside influences that others are subjected to and then projected onto us.

Unless you are walking the lesser-known path, how are you to know what it feels like?

It is my truth of hurt and pain over the years; the being told I could, to being told I cant, on a repetitive cycle. How these experiences shape the ones I have to date and the work that goes into making space for myself to journey through them all over again and to regain a sense of self before being able to take the next step forward.

 

Anotherhood is about being seen and heard, sharing the true stories of us as a community and together raising the volume on our voices, so experiences change and society’s perspective shifts and to be a woman without children becomes normalised.

 

Thanks for reading

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curves, Edges and Contours.

Curves, edges, contours, smooth, straight, hard, rough, lumps, bumps in all their womanly glory.

Not one body is the same, not one female body is set to live the same life as another.

Each of us in unique, unique in our skin tone, our shape, our contours, the way our shoulders sit, the way our spines run down to the small of our backs and spread out to our hips. Our legs, the foundation of what holds us to the ground, stretching down, some may be short, some may be long, but they are our grounding force. Our feet, the connectors to the earth, back to nature and back to where we were made, within nature and as women we are nature.

Nature has gifted us a body a soul and a mind.

Our bodies are to be celebrated for their uniqueness. Not perceived as lacking, or less than because they do not conform to what society says a woman’s body should do.

As you stand today, breath in deep, take a good look at your body, it may not conform to society’s view, but its strong, its holds you, it contains your soul which is the essence of you. Your body and you are to be celebrated as it adds to the rich diversity of life, and life offers beauty in all forms, we just have to learn to notice it more.

As I typed this first section, the words just tumbled out, ready to be seen, to be read, but to say I am always confident in my body would be a lie.

My relationship with my body is not straight forward, but it is one I am constantly working with.

From being a overweight teenager, to bearing the tiger striped stretch marks to show this stage in my life, to the eating disorder I developed in my teens, to the one that resurfaced in my mid thirties, to the complexities around not feeling female enough because I can’t have children, and then rejecting the female identity in the way I presented myself to the world.

To a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, where my body gave out beneath me, to many varied autoimmune conditions, that mark me visibly on my skin to my hair and internally hidden from sight.

For all of the above, I now look at my body and understand it, I know it, and I marvel at its strength, and its ability to rebuild itself, to transform and to adapt.

I am a strong woman, who is unique in my make up and I am just as much a valid member of society as the next.

And to be honest, what would the world be like if we were all the same.

 

To accompany this piece there was no other artist more suited than the work of Linn Fritz. Linn has done a series of art work named Girls. Linn’s work is shapes, contours and smooth edges, culminating in strong dynamic drawings that capture the eye and evoke a sense of space and freedom. With bright colours that pop of the page, each figure is full of life a vitality,

I hope I can stride forward with the feeling of empowerment that her illustrations depict.

image-asset-2

Linn Fritz 

island  independent illustrator, designer and animator living in London.

Linn is a co-founder of Panimation , a multi-platform community for women, non-binary and trans animators and motion designers.

 

 

Art speaks a thousand words.

Right now it seems so hard to know what to write, there seems so many larger things happening in the world than a life without children.

Kadi’s and my conversations have focused on the pandemic, black lives mater and what we can do as individuals and as Anotherhood to support, help and and continue to grow and develop our roles in our lifetime.

 

We have discussed our next move, what we should post, what’s right, what isn’t and what we have seen that feels right to us.

Then we realised it comes back to something that unites us all, our female intuition, that innate natural source of energy from within.

The one that guides us, and if we tune in, leads the way in its own time, without rushing, but by taking time to reflect, learn and digest what we see, hear and feel.

 

We are in this for the long haul, Anotherhood is about equality, all voices are valid, and we want to share as many as we can.  Representing different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences, through our words and through the artwork we share.

We are keen to develop a creative section on our site, one that shows women’s artwork, that’s beautiful, reflective and emotive.  Kadi and I both work in the creative industries and so creativity forms part of our every day lives.

Artwork can speak a thousand words when words are not available, and it can bring peace, it can raise questions, and it can answer questions.  It can hold and contain something, which we are unable to express.

Art provides an intimate relationship, between viewer and the piece; no one reaction will be the same, and art is like a human, individual and unique.

To start this off we are going to share a piece of work by Abstract painter Alma Thomas.

 

Alma Thomas

 

Alma Thomas stated

“Through colour, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.” 

Alma Thomas created bright colourful abstract work that invites you to drift off, find letting your eyes wander through the pattern and your thoughts to stop and be lost with the beauty of her mark making.

We invite you to sit, take a moment and let your mind wander as you take in the quiet natural rhythm within her work.

 

almathomas_homepage

 

Alma Woodsey Thomas (September 22, 1891 – February 24, 1978) was an African-American Expressionist painter and art educator best known for her colourful abstract paintings. She lived and worked primarily in Washington, D.C. and The Washington Post described her as a force in the Washington Colour School.  The Wall Street Journal described her in 2016 as a previously “underappreciated artist” who is more recently recognized for her “exuberant” works, noteworthy for their pattern, rhythm and colour. Thomas remains an influence to young and old as she was a cornerstone for the Fine Arts at Howard University, started a successful art career later in her life, and took major strides during times of segregation as an African-American female artist. Thomas believed that creativity should be independent of gender or race, creating works with a focus on accidental beauty and the abstraction of colour.

 

Anotherhood is an organic process, that Kadi and I are developing it as we grow and learn from each other and the wonderful community of women we have found since first sharing Anotherhood and the ever shifting landscape of the world around us.   We see it as a collaborative process, with the women we interview and with what we post.

 

So we want to ask you, what do you feel you want to see more of on Anotherhood?

We want you all to be active participants, to feel that you have a voice in what we cover, write about or explore.

Let us know our thoughts or if you want to share your story send us a email Anotherhood.info@gmail.com or send is a message of Instagram or Facebook.

 

 

 

Guest blog: Bitter

by Brigid May

June 2020

 

Bitter

/ˈbidər/

adjective

adjective: bitter; comparative adjective: bitterer; superlative adjective: bitterest

  1. having a sharp, pungent taste or smell; not sweet.

“the raw berries have an intensely bitter flavour”

2.  (of people or their feelings or behaviour) angry, hurt, or resentful because of one’s bad experiences or a sense of unjust treatment.

3. (often used for emphasis) painful or unpleasant to accept or contemplate.

“today’s decision has come as a bitter blow”

4. (of wind, cold, or weather) intensely cold.

“a bitter wind blowing from the east”

 

My name is Brigid Maire. Brigid is an Irish name that means, “strength.” Maire is the Irish form of Mary, which means, “bitter.” I like to think I’m like a good black tea! Strong and bitter! But maybe that’s just how I like my tea…

I sometimes think I’ve been strongly bitter since I was a baby. My mom likes to fondly tell the story of when she was at the grocery store with me as a baby. A woman told my mother, “What a cute baby!” Without missing a beat, my mother says, I slowly turned my head and scowled at her. “Oh, it’s a mean baby,” she laughed.

I was the youngest of five girls, I was constantly bitter about some injustice. My sisters always had something I didn’t. Why did the oldest always get the front seat? That meant I wouldn’t get the front seat until it no longer mattered! I was required to go to every play, game, and graduation for my sisters. By the time I was in plays and games, they were off living their lives. Even when they were nice to me, I was bitter, thinking, “Why are you being nice to me?!”

Bitterness isn’t appreciated. Why would it be? Bitterness is “unpleasant.” It’s uncomfortable, unattractive, un-ladylike.

But bitterness is also a helpful tool. It teaches you to get angry instead of sad. When my college boyfriend broke up with me for another girl, I told him he “would regret the day” he let me go. I was bitter. How dare he!? My sister was shocked. “How are you so confident?” Because for some, if a guy broke up with them, they’d think, “What’s wrong with me?” But my bitterness told me to think, “What the hell is wrong with you!?”

Eventually, I came to terms with my bitterness. It was a part of my personality that for the most part I, and my family and friends, could ignore. If I got started on a rant, I’d eventually take a breath and apologize. People just came to know me for rolling my eyes and getting angry. It was never acknowledged to be an asset, but it didn’t stop people from loving me either.

 

I was raised to believe that having children was my life purpose. My parents told me that having children “teaches you true selflessness.” My dad said my mom was never more beautiful than “when she was pregnant.” As soon as the talk shifted from who we were marrying, it shifted right onto having children. How many you planned to have, when you planned to have them, what did you plan for the nursery, the names, the schools, etc.

So, I got married (to a wonderful man, by the way, who turns my bitterness into delicious cocktail bitters) and we planned our future. Three kids. Of course, three kids! Two is too few! One is just sad! Four is craziness. Three kids. I’d like all girls. I’ll accept a boy, but I’d really like all girls. We can only agree on girls’ names anyway. We should try at this month in this year so it can coincide with my summers at work and my workload in my graduate program. We’ll buy this house, but maybe we need to upgrade when we pop out all these kids we’re going to have.

My family would laugh! “Just because you planned that, you’re going to have all boys.” “You can’t plan when you get pregnant.” “What if it doesn’t go according to your plan?”

“What if it doesn’t go according to your plan?”

Their comments made me bitter. So, you guys get to plan your futures, and teach me to plan mine, but as soon as I voice my plans you laugh at them!?  I’ll show you!

But I couldn’t show them. I couldn’t get pregnant. Ohhhh, and that made me…. Even bitterer.

 

WHY could I not get pregnant? Everyone else could get pregnant. My period was regular. I was a healthy weight. I had cut back on alcohol. I had even started taking daily prenatals that made me feel constantly nauseous, so then I’d think to myself “I’m pregnant,” but boy, was I not.

My sisters got pregnant, one after another. My dad once joked to me, “Here comes your sister who gave me grandchildren.” He didn’t know at the time it wasn’t going to happen for me. My family never considered it wouldn’t happen for me.

I tried for a year listening to people say, “Just relax,” “Just have a lot of sex,” “My friend used this ovulation app and was pregnant within a month, “You’re going on a fun trip? Oh, you’re definitely gonna get pregnant there.” But I didn’t get pregnant. I would cry bitter, bitter tears asking God, asking anyone, “WHY can’t I get pregnant?” It made me so fucking bitter.

 

And again, the good thing about bitterness, is it prefers anger to sadness. “Why can’t I get pregnant?” turned into, “Why is it so important that I get pregnant?” “What’s wrong with my body?” turned into, “My body is great! Why is there a pressure for me to make my body do something it’s not doing?”

I leaned very hard into my bitterness. I saw the Childfree community having drinks on their patios in the dappled sunlight and I wanted to join them. I didn’t want to join mothers with their children and the breastfeeding and the labor and the tired, hard nights that don’t look like one iota of fun. Yuck! I wanted to bask in the childfree sun with my amazing husband and our beautiful dogs.

I tried my luck in that club. Babies? Ew! Not for me! Granted… I tried really hard to have a baby, because I do feel pressure from my family to procreate, and I do think having a child would be fun for like 20% of the time, and I do wonder which features in my child would be from my husband and which from me, and I do enjoy working with preschoolers and the joy and frustration that comes from the beauty of childhood. But I also really like not being a parent and the choice wasn’t really up to me and I don’t want a child living in my home! *catching my breath* Please let me in your club!

 

Of course, they let me in their club. Just like mothers would let me in their club if I had asked. But the childfree by choice didn’t truly understand my grief and the mothers didn’t truly understand my happiness. And that made me… bitter.

So, I sat with it for a long time. I read all the philosophy books I could. I read books on a childfree life, on infertility, on the pressures of motherhood and the female identity. I constantly evaluated where my bitterness was stemming from, whether I was hurting people with my bitterness, or whether they needed a good dose of bitterness to be a little more sensitive. And I’m still working on this.

 

“What’s my point?” I ask as I near the end of another long rant…

I guess my point is: I’m bitter. I’m bitter about things from my childhood. I’m bitter about things from my teens. I’m definitely bitter about things from my adulthood. And while I identify with the first three definitions of bitterness, I don’t want to become the last. I don’t want to become “intensely cold.”

My friend who’s a new mom and I have been discussing infertility, motherhood, and the idolization of pregnancy. She expressed a viewpoint unique to motherhood that frustrated me, and I told her, “Ugh! I hate when people say that.” But that’s my infertility bitterness shutting someone up. Just because I’m bitter about parts of my experience doesn’t mean I get to invalidate someone else’s experience. I need to use my bitterness to light fires, not become hard and cold. I need to say, “That sounds like it sucks! And let’s light a fire and burn down all the reasons why that sucked,” instead of shutting her up. I want the world to see my bitterness as an asset, to speak up when they feel bitter too!

And I hope ultimately that people can see my bitterness, see the fires I’ve started, and say, “Wow. She must really hate how hard society is on women, on women’s bodies, on women’s purpose, that she is fighting to change it,” and not, “What a bitter barren bitch. Why doesn’t she just adopt?”

Although, they’re right. I am bitter, I am barren, and I’m definitely a bitch. And I’ll keep you warm with the fires I light.

 

 

To find out ore about Brigid’s story you can check out her interview with Anotherhood here, or checkout her Instagram.

If you would like to do a guest blog or find out. ore information then please send an

e-mail to Kadi and Laura anotherhood.info@gmail.com

Illustration created by Laura

Uncertain Times

Here I am sat at the computer and the world feels like someone has hit pause, whilst simultaneously hitting hyper speed in my brain.

Thoughts are whirling around my head, news stories flash in and out, images clatter against the side of my skull, and my breath feels hard and stuck.

Stuck, stuck in a strange alternative universe, stuck in a weird movie, stuck in an unknown time, stuck, just the biggest almighty amount of stuckness.

This is my reality, but what is the reality for others?

My Whatsapp is lit up with voice and video messages as I connect with friends all across the globe. Old voices I haven’t heard in a long time, faces that shift with every second as the reality presents itself.  The sound of tears and heartbreak, businesses fold, and livelihoods shift beyond control.

The words I type feel weighted, like they are being dragged down, pulled down to depths that I can no longer reach. Somewhere I am not in control of, until they all slip out of sight.

As I look down into the depths, I am struck that in the dark waters I can see my reflection, I can see the water moving, I can see bubbles rising. Light reflecting off the surface, ripples appear and words float below the surface.

The words are not clear, but they are there, the water shifts and changes with every glance.

My reflection moves in flow with the water and the light changes the way I see and the way I feel.

The darkness is full of glorious blues, greens and glossy black, iridescent, dancing around with each other, delighting in each other’s company.

The voices I hear, the faces I see through Whatsapp all change.

I see them, I see the true them, I feel them and I hear them.

I am connected more than I have been in a long time.

My reality is this, its what I choose to see and what I choose to feel. The waters may seem dark, but with darkness there lays inherent beauty.

Mother earth has pressed pause, she has pressed the reset, we are being invited to connect, but to really connect with one another.

To share our true feelings, let the tears roll, let the fears have space, let the anxieties rise, and for them to be truly heard.

Honour each other, be still, be there, listen, hear and acknowledge together that this is hard. Together we can find, see and create the beauty.

Do what’s right for you, honour yourself, your body, and be gentle with your self and gentle with others.

 

Take care

Laura

 

 

 

 

I am woman hear me ROAR

Femininity, I can’t say the word let alone spell it, the m’s n’s get me in a muddle and so often I avoid using the word altogether. My dyslexia makes it hard to say and to spell but there are other reasons I have in the past not felt an affinity to the word.

I have felt removed, detached like it was not a word that described anything I could recognise or feel.

I rejected the word because I felt like it rejected me.

Me my femininity and I have not always seen eye-to-eye.

In fact we have been devoid of each other a lack of connection, a split and inherent misunderstanding of the role that we played in each other’s life.

As a child I was not into girly things, yes I liked Beatrix Potter, but I mainly liked climbing trees, being outside and riding my bike.

Fast forward to this very day not much has changed, aside from the fact my body has shifted through teens to adult hood and now I am in my late 30’s with a body that feels like its bears a few scars as markers of the years gone by.

I feel like I have never conformed to the archetypal female. I chopped my hair short after years of it being really long and dressed in men’s clothes; I struggled to be comfortable in my own skin. I bought sports bras that fitted so tight reducing the size of my breasts; I worked out so much to shift any curves.  I focused on growing muscle so I would look lean and be strong.

I calorie counted until I was so skinny and I thought I would be happy but I was miserable, I couldn’t get my body to fit what I wanted or who I felt like I was in my head.

Then enter Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a return of Alopecia who brought along its friend Vitiligo and Fibromyalgia.

My body internally and externally was stripping back of all I knew. My body stopped being able to move, I was consumed by overwhelming fatigue, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t eat without my body having reactions to food.

I couldn’t think, a low fog engulfing every space in my brain, my hair started to fall out in patches and my Vitiligo graced me with its presence on my face for the world to see.

Days and months became a sea of tests, sleeping, hurting, thinking and the regeneration of all that is feminine within me.

The shifting point was the day I decided to shave my head, the day I decided I wasn’t going to let my hair fall out, I would celebrate it and join it on its journey.  That was liberating, I was stripped back, my face was there for all to see, the tiredness, the Vitiligo, the puffiness, but I didn’t care because it was me.

 

35799346_10156550744381882_5573736414736023552_n

 

Infertility, autoimmune disorders, loss and grief create who I am today, it has gifted me the understanding of what it is to be feminine.

It is not having long hair, to have perfect skin an unrealistic body and it certainly is not being a Mother.

What makes me feminine? The way I feel, the way I think, and the way I allow myself to be guided by my intuition.

My strength and determination, my ability to sit and feel the challenging emotions, to let them rise and fall, to acknowledge them and celebrate them in all their glory.

To stand tall, to own my Alopecia, my Vitiligo, my CFS, my PCOS and my Infertility. Together they have a created a cocktail of experiences, layered, complex and churned together in my body, but that body is me.

CFS was a pause, a time to stop a time of reflection, and a time to tune into my body, my soul and feel what I really wanted.

I delved into my creativeness, swam in my thoughts and ideas, had wild imaginings and let my soul dance and sing.

I let my body dance the dance of the feminine. I let my soul sing a haunting melody of what has brought me to where I am today.

I reconnected with my inner child and now together we play and delight in our womanly abundance.  I feel a strength within, I feel it rise and grow as I acknowledge it, listen to it and know that I am all-feminine.

I am me, I am strong, I am feminine, I am a wild woman, with fire in her belly and strength in her soul.

I am female hear me Roar!

 

Illustration by Rachel Sego

Rachel is the deisgner of Anotherhoods logo, check out her work on her website Rachel Sego Illustration or insat @rachelsegoillustration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How We Met

I met Laura five years after my diagnosis. At least that’s how I began to measure
time after my whole world flipped upside down. Everything in relation to the date of
diagnosis.

I was in a relationship that ended one year prior to diagnosis; my two closest
friends had babies one year after diagnosis; I was mid career change and broke as a
joke at the time of diagnosis. Five years later, I met Laura.

First I was diagnosed as pre-menopausal, and then a year after that, just plain old
menopausal. It takes one year of missed periods to fall into the latter category, and
by the time I was diagnosed I was well beyond the expiration date.

I didn’t have visions of a white picket fence in my future, so concerns of surrogacy
and IVF (using someone else’s eggs) didn’t make much sense. Other than my
missing periods, my health was fine. I didn’t feel any different, but I knew that the
absence of such an integral part of my reproductive health could cause problems
down the line.

I dabbled with acupuncture, but it got pricey so I stopped. I tried synthetic
hormones, but they did terrible things to my mood, so I stopped. None of the
specialists were able to conclude the cause of this catastrophic hormonal event. So
instead of asking more questions, I just stopped.

Eventually, I tuned it out completely. I attended friends’ weddings, and baby-
showers. The world kept turning, and I stopped searching.

Most of my closest friends knew about my “situation,” but frankly, there wasn’t
much to say. I couldn’t have children, and they had precious toddlers demanding
their attention at every waking moment. Our once parallel lives began to intersect
less and less.

I knew several women who had chosen not to have children, though their joie de
vivre didn’t quite fit the vision I had for my life either. What was my vision for my
life? I couldn’t see it anymore.

Five years after diagnosis, I received an invitation to the lavish baby shower of a
satellite friend. The wife of a friend of a friend. I’m still not even sure how I made the
invite list. I was getting ready to paint “Congratulations!” across my face and start
pounding mimosas, when I saw an add for a women’s health conference being held
in Downtown Los Angeles on the same day.

“Cycles + Sex: We educate people about their bodies. And highlight
the interconnectedness of our sexual, hormonal, reproductive and menstrual
health.”

Interconnectedness? That had not even crossed my mind. I had been avoiding
the deeper aspects of my reproductive health, and focusing on the social
implications of being a thirty-something woman without kids. Although the Cycles
+ Sex flyer was a paid add on my social media, it stuck with me. Two days before
the conference I made the conscious decision to tune back in. I cancelled my
RSVP to the baby shower, and committed to attending the conference.

The event was lovely; keynote speakers, panel discussions, and information
sessions about issues relating to women’s health. Topics of sexuality and desire,
menstrual health and justice, fertility health and support were sprinkled
throughout the small warehouse space where the event was being held. Also,
there were lattes and lots of free snacks!

I felt a buzz run through me, but once again, I wasn’t hearing my story being
represented by the people on stage. “If I were up there, this is what I would
say…” echoed in my brain. I wanted to start a conversation about being infertile
and NOT trying to have kids; About being single in your 30’s and not being a
parent, and not sure where you land on the whole parent thing at all.

I wanted to talk about why I needed hormones if I’m not trying to get pregnant.
Are there alternative treatments to prevent osteoporosis? And what are you
supposed to do without your friends now that they have kids?!

I had questions, and I assumed I had some answers too. I approached several of
the speakers as they were milling around the booths in the marketplace near the
stage, but couldn’t find my “in.” The day was coming to a close and I was doing a
final lap around the merchant tables when one booth caught my eye. It was a
fertility clinic called PRELUDE, with a little card on the desk that read something
along the lines of, “We meet you where you are.” Interesting, I thought. Where
am I?

The woman (wo)manning the booth, Carly, saw me staring at the card with a
confounded look on my face, and asked if I needed help. I said, “Yes,” then
barfed up the most incoherent nonsensical rhetoric about being young, and
single, and infertile. She looked at me deeply as I stammered and said, “I get it.”
And I think that she did. She told me to keep in touch, and that she didn’t know
where this could go, but she knew tons of women also dying to have this
conversation. That sentiment alone was worth the price of admission, and all the
lattes.

I emailed her within the week, but didn’t hear back. I didn’t hear back the next
week, or the next, or the next. In fact, I forgot all about our interaction. And then
just before Christmas, I received an email from Carly at Prelude. It was short with
one other person was CC’d. She said she was sorry she wasn’t able to get back
to me sooner, and that my issue had to take the back burner for her, but she knew someone in Edinburgh, Scotland who was looking for a similar
conversation. That was Laura.

I let the email sit for a minute, unsure of what I had to say, or who this person
was. Laura emailed me directly within a day. The words she wrote may as well
have come from my brain.

This is what she said: “I am personally interested in the lack of support for women who
are childfree, either through choice, not ready yet, or medical reasons. The only groups
available over here that focus on being childfree, focus only on the ‘not through choice’,
so all group members are wishing to have a child. Focusing solely on this excludes a
community of women who have chosen not to have children, or women who know they
are unable due to medical reasons, and are at peace with this.”

Childfree. Support. Peace. Those words coursed through my veins.
She described living in a space where there are loads of resources for parents
and retired couples, but practically nothing for women in their 30’s who do not
have children, either by choice or circumstance. So we began to write. I had a
pen pal for the first time in 30 years! We shared long, complicated discussions of
topics I wouldn’t think to bring up with anyone else. We discussed the nuisance
between Childfree and Childless. We touched on the topic of femininity, and what
that means when you don’t have children. We scratched the surface of the
inevitable “You can always adopt,” argument that so many people like to dig in
on. (Don’t even get us started!)

We had never met, had never spoken, but had a common language and treasure chest of shared experience. It felt electric.

Now, almost 7 years after my diagnosis, I wake up most mornings and check my
WhatsApp app immediately. Nine times out of 10, there’s a message from Laura.
We video chat every few weeks. We’ve even met in person once!

I’ll listen to her messages on my way to work, and afterwards I’ll leave her one in
return. We talk about the normal things; partners, family, work, the basics. But
more than that we talk about the fundamental difference that binds us.
Grief. That which comes after being told that you’ll never have children. Or that
which settles once you realize your closest friendships – the ones that you’ve
shaped your life around – will never be the same. The grief of telling your
relatives, and partners, and future partners that this is it. This is all you get.

We talk about how the holidays are hard because there are so many questions from
so many people who just don’t understand – or maybe don’t even know. We
mourn the shifts in group dynamics to each other, because we know we can’t
bring them up with the group.

We share very graphic (maybe too graphic?) medical details, knowing that the
other will nod with empathy, and understand that decisions around reproductive
health go so much deeper than the biological.
We talk about our careers. We talk about our pets.

But also, and maybe more than all that stuff, we talk about the joy of feeling so
completely free. And sometimes we even feel a little guilty. . . 😉
I adore my friends. And I’m obsessed with all of their kids. We do our best to
make time and space for each other, although it isn’t always easy.

In my more self indulgent moments, I feel invisible to them, worried that their lives as parents are inherently more important than mine. But every morning when I see that little red tick next to the green WhatsApp app, I know that half way around the world, I
am seen.

Somewhere out there is a woman in rural Scotland who will leave me a
15 minute message that boils down to one sentiment: “I get it.”
And I think she does.

Is it possible to grieve something you can never have?

I am sitting at the table with rice and veg in front of me, the dog is asleep, the radio is humming away in the background and the light is shifting from day to dusk.

As I sit and eat, the hum of the radio starts to filter in. I start to listen to a beautiful and heart-breaking narrative. The segment shares songs that have been a part of a significant moment in someone’s life, tonight’s story spoke of a mother who gave birth to a little girl and she said she couldn’t believe how lucky she was. As the story unravelled I found I was struggling to eat, a lump was rising in my throat, my chest felt tight and my eyes were brimming with tears. The song brought about comfort to the Mum who sadly lost her baby at 7 months old. The mother’s story spoke to her courage by embracing every moment with her little girl, as she knew that she would not be with her for long.

As I sat and felt the sadness rise through me, I wondered can I ever relate to the loss of a child, to something I can never have.  Is the sadness I feel the same, is it different, is it another part of me that will be separated from motherhood, or is there a shared emotion?

This I can not answer as I will never birth a child, so I will never feel the loss of a child, it is only one that I can imagine is inexplicable pain, and sadness that must engulf every sense of a mothers being.

How can I sit here and type a comparison, simply I can not, but I can wonder if it’s possible to grieve for something I can never have.

Grief to me, is a darkness, an unknown that holds a sense of beauty deep within. I have experienced many losses in my life and those losses travel with me. Through the losses I have experienced beauty in memories, noting the small things that matter, having things around me that bring me joy and remind me of those I have lost.  These bring me comfort and a light that fills up the darkness shifting it to a state of beauty.

I experience these as known losses, but what about the unknown losses, the indescribable, unfathomable and intangible side to the grief I feel, as I do feel it.

The loss I feel comes in waves, and sits deep within me, it is not a grief that has a big voice, it has low shallow whisper, but its there and its real and runs through my body and soul, making me ache through my very being.

How do I write this, how do I put words to something that feels invisible.

I can’t touch it, see it, or name it but its real.  Does this grief speak of not being able to give birth, to carry a child, or is it speaking to the feeling of displacement as I witness friends experience the birth of their families.

I feel it is a culmination of both and more that I cannot name.

It feels empty in the pit of my stomach, the lump is rising through my chest as I type, the sense of subtle shift of muscles from relaxed to taught, my fists lifting of the keyboard to clench, before returning to hit the keys with more ferocity, jaw aching as my teeth push down on each other and as I close my eyes to see if I can breath through the feelings surging through my body. Then it passes, and there is stillness, another wave has passed, but like the sea there will be another. Some days are calm, others the waters are choppy, turbulent and the waves come in full force, crashing and colliding with my thoughts and body, a halt in motion as I stop and listen to that quiet whisper aching to scream from the pit of my stomach, to let it out and speak to the truth of not being able to have children. The truth in the darkness, the light and the hidden depths of beauty found within. I am not grieving for what may have been, for the child I can not bear I am grieving for the loss of placement I feel, the sense of aloneness, the loss of voice, the loss of my feeling of femininity and the loss of celebrating a life that is full without having a child.

I wish to embrace this feeling as it rises through me, give it a voice, speak my truth, share my truth and bring light and shine it on the beauty of the women who cannot or choose not to have a child.

I am grieving for what I can not have, but I am celebrating the loss, shining a light on the darkness and bringing light to the beauty of my life as a woman who can not have children.

Written by Laura Cave-Magowan

Illustration: Laura Cave-Magowan