Losing myself in someone else’s story is one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve been a big reader since I was old enough to make my own book selections at the library. My father would drop me in the children’s section and I’d prowl the stacks looking for just the right story. After a while I’d hear my father making his way down the hall to collect me, the clicking sound his knee made pre-announcing his arrival in the quiet of the reading room.
Growing up I’d spend my free time imagining myself to be Laura Ingalls Wilder or Jo from Little Women or Anne of the Green Gables or one of many other courageous and independent girls or women who came to life on the pages in front of me. I didn’t fully appreciate how much I valued that skill in others until I got older. Now I’m fully aware of the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes, or empathy, when it comes, like a gift, from others. I had one such moment recently that’s memorable for a few reasons, but one in particular makes it stand out. It came from a man.
You see I’ve always expected more from women and what I once thought was their natural ability to relate on a deeper level, but I’ve clearly underestimated men. In fact, women — and they’re usually in the MOM community — are the ones who’ve bruised me most with their callous disregard for infertility. They offer up their dismissal with a mixture of statements like, “Must be nice to have all the time in the world to devote to shopping” (no, you’d find it rather empty after a while) or “You have no idea how hard it is to be a MOM” (you’re right, I don’t).
In contrast, there was this encounter. One of my men friends printed out my entire blog and read it on a cross country plane trip. A few weeks later he and wife along with me and my sweet guy were together on a visit to a noisy beach populated mostly by toddlers tearing into the water with inflatable dragons wrapped around their bellies, fathers playing catch with their progeny and mothers carefully reapplying sunscreen on their infants every few hours. It’s a scene that has always produced a mixture of envy and heartache that I’ve just come to accept.
Later that night over a glass of wine when we were discussing the progress on my book, this man turned to me and said, “you know after reading about your experiences I arrived at the beach today and tried for the first time to imagine how it must look to someone who can’t have children.”
Suffice to say I was touched. Touched that he would take the time to see the world through my eyes, touched that he would acknowledge the difficulty those with infertility face in the most ordinary of weekend afternoons and touched that my words gave him reason to express true empathy.
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And as a helpful pointer to men who themselves might be having difficulty with the “male factor,” I came across this news report: Taking steps to slow men’s fading fertility.