Mothers Day: the pinnacle of the infertility calendar
Spring starts to bloom: the grass growing in lush green tufts and the leaves budding in preparation, for the grand reveal. A time of the year associated with new life and new beginnings, as we emerge from the cold confines of a dormant Winter and life about us starts to stir. For some though, it is also a time of dread. For with the emergence of Spring comes an annual tradition, that many women find a real challenge: Mother’s Day.
As with Christmas, the build-up starts months in advance. It seems impossible to set foot in any retail or catering establishment without the message being emblazoned on everything about you. If you think that you can skulk about at home and miss the hype, then you’re mistaken. A clever network of advertising through e-mail, TV and social media bombards you, even within your own home. The capitalist machine fully cranked up for the annual celebration, devoted to the wonder of womanhood and procreation.
But what if you’re not one of the chosen ones? The Office for National Statistics reports that 18% of women are childless, some admittedly by choice, but the vast majority forced into membership of a club that they never asked for, nor wanted. In an age where women are able to achieve far more than ever, on some level we are still reduced to the functioning of our reproductive organs and our ability to procreate. Adoption, the favourite appeasement for family and strangers alike, a far away dream, given the physically and mentally exhausting path that we have already traversed. Those children seemingly considered as second best, in a world where they deserve so much more.
Media portrayals of the childless are frequently damning and unsympathetic to the plight of those who have failed. All too often the focus is on selfish and uncaring attributes, with an undercurrent that these women somehow contribute less to society. A recent, misinformed article in the Daily Mail even told us how our ‘partying lifestyle’ would increase our chances of cancer and premature death. Totally misinformed tripe that doesn’t even consider the role of hormones and seeks to tar us all with the same, judgemental brush. It’s not all Moet, darling.
Meeting new people and making small talk is often shot dead in the water, as a surprising amount of people choose to use family as a means to find familiar ground. For those who lack the required responses, we’re often left in a blind panic: do I say nothing and appear aloof, or do I explain myself, when it’s really nobody else’s damned business? Our plight, so often, laid open to scrutiny from even complete strangers, most brutally demonstrated by the constant harassment and speculation surrounding childless female celebrities, such as Jennifer Aniston and Helen Mirren. Yes, I could wax lyrical on my pets being my fur-babies for hours, but that would be met with an equally baffled and awkward response. If you have children then you are, most likely, completely oblivious to this undercurrent, perhaps even perpetuating it, for it only really becomes apparent when you are caught on the wrong side of the glass, looking in.
Don’t get me wrong, I am being light-hearted here. It’s not all that, I certainly hear a great many women cry, as their journey through parenting leads them to a level of exhaustion they have never known before. Those who are looking forward to the morrow, with a somewhat debatable attempt at breakfast and the joy of a handmade gift or card, which it requires a great stretch of the imagination to ever, fully appreciate. I am aware, like many others, that I am labouring under a misconception and have an idealised view of motherhood, but I did so want to be one of the clique.
I applaud Mother’s Day as a celebration of women, but each year it brings an agony that always knocks me sideways, and I am not alone. I frequently get asked by women how I and my husband have overcome this hurdle in life. I’m no expert, but I know from experience that it is a long and arduous journey. I have tried to highlight to fellow women that accepting infertility is akin to grieving for a loved one. A pathway that meanders through the grieving process, bizarrely for something that you have never known or loved, but wanted, so very, very much. Even when emerging from the other side of your journey, there can still be days when the smallest thing can act as a trigger and big events, like Mother’s Day, may trigger nigh on catastrophic reactions.
Sadly, the approach of the majority of women I know in this situation, is to isolate themselves and hide from the world, shunning company and, most certainly, social media. The proud messages becoming a constant bombardment in our, already, fragile psyche. To those women, I want to reach out, offer the hand of friendship. You are not alone, there are many of us out there struggling with the same emotions. You have been through a great deal and this too shall pass. Turn the day into a positive: do something you’ve been meaning to try for a long time; take a long walk and be at one with nature; treat yourself to that gift you’ve been promising yourself for a while; or arrange a meet with like-minded women. Recognise that there is so much more to being a woman than one label and one day. Whatever you’ve been through and wherever you are in your grieving process, there is still a world out there, with new adventures, that is waiting for you. The grass, after all, isn’t always greener on the other side.
Author: Dr Kristina Engelbrecht