"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Infertility Chat: Don't Be the Feelings Police

I've been thinking a lot about my infertility situation lately. Maybe it's because I'm finished school (woohoo!) and not working yet, so I have more time in which to really contemplate the past few years. At any rate, today's post is about something I wish more people could grasp, not only in the infertility world, but in any situation where someone else is having a difficult time.

Feelings. They're a big mess, honestly. Sometimes they make no sense at all. Why can't we just be like robots? Sometimes we're faced with our own emotions, and we're sitting there going, "What are you doing brain? Why am I feeling this way?" because we can't even make sense of our own emotional reaction. Other times, we're trying to help someone, but their feelings are so deep and scary and weird to us that we're tempted to jump in and say things like, "Calm down" or "You need to be hopeful" or "You should be excited about X". It might even seem like saying these things are helpful, because you're directing that person to be more positive, but you know what, it's time to check these phrases, and here's why.

1. Policing a person's feelings tells them their emotions are wrong. You may not mean it like that, but that is how it is experienced. I struggle daily with my feelings of sadness, bitterness, and anger. I hate that these emotions surface again and again with regards to my infertility. If I tell someone that my infertility is making me angry and bitter, and they tell me to be hopeful instead, I feel like that little voice in the back of my head is validated, the voice that says I'm weak and that if I were a stronger and better person, I wouldn't be so angry. And now, instead of being hopeful, I'm wallowing in shame.

2. Correcting a person's feelings does not encourage them to keep sharing. I've talked about my infertility to a lot of people. Some of them have been helpful; others have not. When I go out of my comfort zone to open up about a deeply personal subject, the reaction of the other person is pivotal. If that person listens and mourns with me, I feel like I have found a cog in my support network. If - as often happens - the person shuts the conversation down or corrects me, the message that I get is that I need to keep these emotions to myself because no one wants to hear them. Sooooo many infertile women feel like they have no outlet to share, and it's so unhealthy for us.

3. You are only seeing a slice of their grief. It may seem to YOU that this struggle is not worthy of the bitter sadness that they are experiencing, but you don't know. You haven't walked in their shoes. Often, when I share with my mom friends, I realize that they have no idea the levels of grief that I experience as an infertile person. It's not just the disappointment that comes month after month. It's not just wanting something I can't have. There are so many ways in which our society and especially our churches are structured around the assumption that women are mothers. There are so many other griefs that come with infertility: Isolation and social exclusion; marital struggles; finances; the loss of dreams; questioning the life decisions you made when you assumed you would be parents. It's hard, and you don't truly know all the reasons your friend is sad, so when you encourage her to perk up, you are invalidating things you may not understand. And on that note, please do not say, "At least you're not...." to a person struggling with infertility. Yes, it could be worse, but the pain they are in is genuine grief, and it's okay to express that.

4. You may be bringing bad theology into the mix. People love to throw lines into the conversation like, "You should be hopeful. I know God will give you a child." Do you? Really? Did you have an angelic visitation that you didn't tell me about? I've read the Bible many times, and there is no guarantee that we will get everything we want. As far as I can see, there are plenty of people in the Bible who served God and lived lives of difficulty and unmet needs. So YES we can have hope in heaven, but don't tell people to place their hope into something God has never promised us. I can say honestly that I have less of a struggle with the idea that God may never grant my desires than I do with Christians who try to encourage me with bad theology and false promises instead of coming alongside me to really go deep into the spirituality of suffering.

Soooooo, where do we go from here? What should you say if your friend is expressing feelings that are deep and heavy and you don't know how to respond. Here are a few thoughts on responding to your infertile friend, but I still think the heart of it all is just to listen and say, "I love you and I'm sorry you're going through this pain." You don't need to make her feel better (though in my experience, ice cream is never a bad idea :D ). If she's angry at God, you don't need to jump in; God can take it. You just need to be there and care.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Make Me Laugh

After a few weeks of insanity, thanks to my university, I'm BACK and excited to link up again with The Broke and the Bookish. Today we're writing about books that make us laugh.

1. The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis: This is probably funniest to you if you know something about the Canadian political system. I laughed until I cried.

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: I laughed so hard at the funny dialogue and eclectic characters. Mind you, I also cried a lot, so be forewarned that it's an emotional read.

3. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: I recently picked this up and felt a bit embarrassed by reading what felt like Will and Kate fanfiction, but it was SO funny at times. The writers were really witty.

4. The Eyre Affair and sequels by Jasper Fforde: This book is up your alley if you like silly reads.

5. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis: Time travel, Victorian manners, wayward pets, and lots of punting. I laughed a lot.

6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: The first time I read this book, I was not that impressed. I felt it was lacking compared with Austen's later novels, and it is in some way, but when I recently revisited it as an audio book, I found that some of her commentary is really hilarious.

7. The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith: Mma Ramotswe's thought patterns made me laugh out loud.

8. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot: I've only read the first two in the series, but they surprised me by being extremely witty, and much better than the movie.

9. The Bruno and Boots books by Gordon Korman: Granted, I read these when I was 9 years old, but I remember them being very amusing.

10. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: There is so much more than humour in this series, but truly the books are hilarious too. I remember embarrassing myself by bursting out laughing on the bus while reading about the antics of Fred and George.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Infertility Chat: Practical Ways to Support Your Infertile Friend

Infertility. It's hard. As I talk to people about infertility with people who have not experienced it firsthand, I hear the same thing again and again. "I just don't know how to relate. I don't know what to say. I don't know how to help. I'm so afraid to say or do the wrong thing that I do nothing."And I get it. I don't know how to help others sometimes. I feel like every word that I say is the wrong thing. On the other hand, when we get paralyzed with fear and decide not to speak at all, our friends get the message that their pain is unnoticed, that their sorrow is not shared. I think that many who have not gone through this journey feel helpless. They feel like they can't open the door because it makes their friend sad or because they're not qualified. But you know what, YOU ARE. You are qualified to speak *because* you are a friend, *because* you love this person. So if you're looking for some practical tips that don't involve becoming someone's personal psychotherapist, here are a few thoughts. These are mostly geared towards female friends, because I'm a female and I'm writing from my own experience.

Start the conversation. It's okay to say "I don't know what to say": It's okay that you don't have the right words, but saying that you want to say something is huge and meaningful and shows that you care. Once someone has opened up to you, it can be hard to know how to bring the subject up again without prying, but it's important. Often, I've opened up to someone and it was awkward. If they don't bring it up again, I figure that it was uncomfortable and I should never mention it again, so my friend never has the chance to say what she maybe wished she'd said the first time. I would suggest saying something like, "I know you shared earlier about your struggles to have a family. How are you doing, like *really* doing?" Then you allow your friend to share if she wants to, but the focus is on *her* not on the infertility.

Listen: This applies to pretty much every situation. Most people in a hard time just want someone to listen to them without judgment or advice.

Ask if there are some ways you can be helpful: Then you don't have to guess. It is highly unlikely that they will ask for the moon, but you are showing that you value them and their choices.

Remember her due date: I've never had a miscarriage, but I have heard this from many friends who have. After the miscarriage, some people are sympathetic, but then they forget. Meanwhile, the woman is walking toward a day that was supposed to mean life, and now represents death to her. If your close friend has had a miscarriage, write that day in your calendar or set an e-reminder, and give them a short note on that day or the week before knowing she's in your thoughts.

If you know the name of a child that was lost, use the name: Some couples do not choose not to share the name of their unborn child (or do not give a name), but if a woman shares the name with you, remember it.

Remember her on Mother's Day: It doesn't have to be a lengthy tome. Just a short email saying, "Hey, I know this day is hard for you. Just letting you know I'm thinking of you." It took me less than a minute to type that sentence, but it could touch someone more than you know. Mother's Day is hands' down the hardest day of the year for me, and when someone remembers that, it moves me more than you can imagine.

Be her wing-woman at gatherings: In my *cough cough* wilder days, if I went to a club with a bunch of girlfriends, we had each other's back. If it looked like a creepy dude was getting too close to Susie, one of us would swoop in and make sure she was okay. That's being a wing-woman, and you can totally do this at baby showers, kids' birthday parties, etc. If you see Nosy Nelly swooping in to ask your friend if it isn't high time she had her own baby, jump right in and change the subject. If your infertile friend has been dragged into a convo about baby poop for 10 minutes and you can tell she wants to get up off the couch, be the one to pipe in and ask who has been watching Fuller House, or ask her to help you with the punch to give her an excuse to exit gracefully. Yes, your friend can do this for herself, but some of us are shy *raises hand* and even if you're not, it's always nice to feel like someone really understands that you're in a rough spot.

If you're thinking of her and/or praying for her, tell her: Often we have a friend in a tough spot, and we think about her often and remember in our prayers, but then forget to actually touch base. I've had it happen where I reached out to update someone and was told, "I think about you all the time." Except I hadn't heard from this person in months. I had assumed s/he had forgotten all about me and my struggles. No one knows that you care unless you tell them. Again, this can be done in a two-sentence email. [Note: I know that some non-believers are uncomfortable with being told they are in your prayers, so only say this if you know the person will appreciate it; otherwise, it's perfectly cool to just say she's in your thoughts.]

Celebrate her life: Often, milestones related to children are celebrated, while our own personal ones are ignored. In fact, we women should be celebrating *all* that we accomplish, not just made to feel like our uteruses (uteri?) are the only important part of us. It makes me sad that I speak several languages, have just completed a second Master's degree, and take part in a fabulous practicum project, yet most people only seem to care whether or not I have children. That's all they ask about. It leads me to feel like my whole life is a failure when actually I'm successful in other areas. Don't get me wrong: Being a good mom is a great accomplishment, but it's not the only accomplishment out there.

Offer to drive her to appointments: Only if you have time, of course, and she might not say yes, but at least this says that you want to practically care for her.

Food: I mean, we all have to eat, right? Infertility treatment can be incredibly draining. It is not uncommon for women undergoing IVF to be exhausted and not feel up to cooking. In addition, shuttling back and forth to extra doctor's appointments can take over your life and make it harder to do all of your regular errands, like grocery shopping. If you know your friend is starting IVF, bringing over a couple of freezer meals that the couple can eat if they don't feel like cooking, or a gift card for take-out could be really helpful.

Organize a girls night: One where you laugh and watch movies and eat junk. If there are mostly moms there, make a point of talking about a variety of things, not only kids. Kids are great. Other things are great too. Balanced conversation is key.

Ask if she want to hold your baby; don't just hand the baby to her: Some infertile women have trouble being around young babies, because it's a constant reminder of what they may not have. Other women who have had miscarriages find it difficult to be around babies born around the time of their due date. It is too close of a reminder of the baby that they will never hold in their arms. Personally, I have no issue being around babies, but it never hurts to ask someone before you hoist your child into their hands.

Remember that infertility is grief: You may not understand it, but your friend is grieving a dream, a child or children that she imagined she would have. Grief takes a thousand different ways to manifest itself, and it may not always make sense to an outsider, but it is very, very real. Think about a grief you have experienced or you can imagine, and the myriad of ways that that grief can show up in your life. Now remember that infertile people are grieving too, and even though you may not understand every trigger, what you *can* do is hug her and tell her you are sorry she is going through this.