Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Books, society and differences.

The last few weeks have seen me devouring three popular books regarding childlessness and infertility.  I've read them in the following order.

  1. Lisa Manterfield - "I'm taking my eggs and going home."
  2. Pamela Tsigdinos  - “Silent Sorority: A Barren Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found.”
  3. Miriam Zoll  -  “Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies.”
The first two books I couldn't put down.  I was totally enthralled in the stories of these women's lives and the experiences they had.  They are fantastic books!

I must admit though, at the end of Lisa's book, I was really disappointed.  You see, I was looking for her experiences and insights from after she made the decision to stop treatments.  I was looking for how she handled life once the door to motherhood was slammed closed for good.  Sections about the difficulties of treatments were skimmed over as I searched for the next chapter in life.  When the book finished and there was nothing about the months or years post treatments, frustration set in. 

So when Pamela's book shifted into that gear fairly soon, I was thrilled.  Finally, some insight into where I am in my life right now.

I'm only 17% into Miriam's book.  It's definitely going to be a different type of read.  More facts and statistics about infertility - both with our understanding of it, the treatment of it, and the fertility industry.  However, I just know I'm still going to devour her story just as much as I did Lisa's and Pamela's.

From all of this reading as well as the many blogs and forums I have been submerging myself in, I have begun to see both differences and similarities in my story compared to others.

The biggest difference so far is my experiences with society.  I don't seem to have felt the same level of judgement that so many others have.  I have given this much thought and there seem to be several factors that could account for this.
  • Is it because Australian society is different to say, American society, for example?  Do we, as a nation, not place the same expectations on society as a whole?  Are we more easy going with peoples life choices?  Not so stuck in the dogma of tradition and that life must be a certain way?  Certainly life is geared towards the family but that doesn't mean there is judgement placed on those that don't have children.

  • Or is it my social circle?  My nearest and dearest are all career women who began their families in their 20's.  Yet not once, have I ever felt judged by them.  Our friendships most definitely changed as their lives began to spin around juggling career and families, but there wasn't ever any purposeful casting out, just changing circumstances.

  • Then there is my career.  I am a musician, being an instrumental teacher for the most part.  A fairly solitary career at it's core.  We travel from school to school teaching a day here and a day there, so we aren't truly a part of any school social setting.  And our teaching is mostly one on one with the students.  No judgement there!  So I guess, in contrast to those who work in a office setting with the same people everyday, there isn't the same situation of office talk and pregnancy in your face.

  • Perhaps a big part of the difference is that because of my long term issues with eating and weight, I have been constantly and cruelly judged and ostracized by society for all of my adult life, so much so, that the issue of being childless fades into the background.  Unlike infertility, there is nothing hidden about being a larger build and the prejudice around that is detrimental and interferes with every aspect of ones life.  The many factors surrounding this addiction, to an extent, also saw me retreat from the world at large, so maybe I haven't found myself in the firing line of being judged for singledom and childlessness as much as others have been.
  • Lastly, I think that for me, I was single for a long time before I met DH.  There were relationships, but none that brought about the question of children.  People accepted that.  I never got the attitude of "you better hurry up and find someone, so you can have kids".  When I met DH, we started trying to have children before we even got engaged.  Getting married was always going to happen, there was no hurry.  But because of my age, we knew we needed to start trying to have children soon. 
    So before I could receive the "when are you going to have children", "why don't you have children, it's the best thing I've ever done" comments, people already knew we were doing IVF.

I think for me the issue is more of society, through it's daily life, reminding me of my heartache over not having children.  Not feeling judged as much as others have been, doesn't take away that heartache.  Society is still built around families and we can't escape that.  Pregnancy announcements, bouncing babies, the joys of parenthood.  The pain I feel at seeing other people live out my dream of motherhood is replicated in every blog I have read over the last couple of months.  It is always there staring us in the face and reminding us of what we can never have for ourselves.

It is a confusing topic to say the least.  There are so many possible factors for the cause of the differences I have felt over societies reactions.  I feel for every woman out there who has been subjected to that along with the pain of the daily reminders.  I hope it is something that can be changed through conversation and education and I am definitely an advocate for speaking out.

I would love to hear your thoughts on all this.  My understanding of this issue is far from finished!!  Not to mention the experiences that are still to come that might change my perception.
Have you felt societies judgements?  Or has it also been different for you?  If so, how was it different?


  1. Hmmm...I have two different backgrounds to share.

    Indonesian society: in my generation, people are still expected to be virgins and living together before marriage is considered a taboo and a no-no. So it's expected that people get married before living together and getting pregnant, but once they're married, there's still this immediate assumption that they want to have kids right away. I think it has to do with how the society is built - I mean we don't have good pension and thus it's really really HARD for parents to have to support children when they're older parents (unless they're rich or they have their own business). This is because the salary rate is really not standardized like in Finland for example. Here even if you're a cleaning lady, you can have a decent life and support your children even when you're an older parent, because there are so many benefits here and there. In Indo, if you want the best of everything (education) for your kids, you have to be ready to shell out A LOT of money.

    In Indo, it's VERY common to have big weddings and parties and during those parties and weddings, it's as well common to ask "When are you gonna get married? When are you gonna have a child? When are you gonna give your first child a sibling?" And even if you've got two children of the same gender, they'd still be asking, "Don't you wanna try to have a third one of a different gender?"

    That's considered normal everyday question. A few years ago when I went back to Indo, a neighbour (an old guy) even asked me about the regularity of my menstruation. Yep...that's not considered rude. So, let's just suffice it to say that it's really child-centric over there. I also know one friend who only had one child (she and hubby only wanted one) who was SCOLDED by her yoga student (a much older woman) that it wasn't good to have only one child bla bla bla...

    OK, let's move on to Finnish society or at least the people where I live in (Sodankylä people). Over here I feel that people are more careful when asking about personal stuff. I know one customer who didn't even dare ask me where I came from until I had worked in the same place for over a year...and even then he asked me first, "May I ask you a personal question?" And I thought he'd ask something related to kids or marriage, but no...he only wanted to know where I came from.

    Some customers here have asked me whether I have kids or not but they never ask more than once. In Indo it's normal to be asked the "kid" question more than once (esp. if you haven't produced anything yet). So whenever I go back home to Indo, I have to psyche myself to be asked those questions again.

    The last time I went to Indo, another neighbour asked me "when" and that time I told her, "Nah, it's OK for us even if we don't have kids."

    She immediately responded, "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! I'll keep praying for you to be able to conceived."

    Ahhhh...OK, thanks, do whatever you want then...

    So conclusion: I find it much easier to be a childless-not-by-choice woman here in Finland compared to in Indo. I know one single ex-school friend whose dad has been frantically trying to find him a suitable mate and he finds it hard to explain to him that he's fine being single.

    1. In my enthusiasm, I forgot to write this: I'm sorry to hear about how you were ostracized due to your weight. :-((( I must say that you have a wonderful circle of friends. :-)

      In the past I had a little problem with being Chinese in an Indonesian society, but I find now that it's helped me learn how to live as an expat in Finland, because I've never been a native anywhere my entire life.

    2. Thank you for your thought provoking reply Amel. It is quite amazing the differences in societies the world over. I don't know what to think about it all! We live in such a complicated world.

  2. I haven't really felt judgement from my social circle, just society in general. My mom spent some time being disappointed by my childless status but she is working on moving on with it and accepting it. Its just hard for her because she feels like being a mom was the best thing in her life and wants the same for me. Im helping her see that there are other possibilities out there for happiness.

    1. Good luck with your mom. That's great that you are helping her to see the other possibilities. My DH has had similar problems with his Mum in that she has harassed him about when he is going to give her grandchildren. I think that may have changed now after all we have been through. I would certainly hope it has!!!