Making Peace with Children

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peaceOne of the hardest things about being infertile is coming to terms or reconciling how I relate to other people’s children. Luna’s latest thought-provoking post got me thinking more about this hairy topic.

During the worst of my early infertility days I would find myself irritated and annoyed by the little tykes. It made being around them somehow easier. My logic at the time seemed to be if I don’t connect with them then the pain of not having my own will be alleviated a bit. I was an anti-kid woman who wanted nothing more than to have kids. A bit of a paradox, wouldn’t you say?

Slowly I graduated to being annoyed by parents who thought nothing of filling any and all small talk time with reports of their children’s latest achievements. If you could have seen the thought bubble over my head you’d have read: “And what makes you think I care in the least about Junior’s first tooth (or fill in the blank)?”

Then I’d sneak a glimpse at Junior at a social gathering, his jack o’ lantern smile innocently gazing up at me and, well, I’d melt inside. Oh Junior, I’d think, you’re not the one I need to hold accountable for my inability to conceive. You’re just a sweet-faced little guy who has to make his own way in this world, and like any innocent child, you’ll need all the help and hard-won knowledge of us bigger people.

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In time and with some effort on my part a transformation occurred. When I’d catch a child gazing up at me in grocery stores or airports, I’d meet their look and return it with a smile rather than look away in pain as had been my natural instinct. They’d smile back and we’d share a happy moment. The new thought bubble over my head: I may be barren but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a beautiful, innocent child.

Their parents, though, remain a challenge. As Luna points out, her (and my ability) to be comfortable with them is tied to this set of questions: “What is their general attitude towards life and family and infertility (e.g. do they take for granted what they have? do they dismiss people without children? are they oblivious to the the plight of infertiles? are they smug?).

As I’ve mentioned in a recent post, I’m in something of a transition period with acquaintances and colleagues. With those who know of my failed efforts to conceive I’m able to feel a deeper connection to them and their children. With those who err on the side of obliviousness or smugness, I continue to struggle. I hope their beautiful children grow up with greater sensitivity than their parents sometimes demonstrate.

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17 Responses

  1. peesticksandstones

    January 31, 2008 6:43 pm

    I loved that paradox you described. So much of this hits so close to home for me.

    I look forward to the day I can look straight at a cute kid and offer up a smile and maybe even make friendly small-talk with the kid/the kid’s parent. But right now, I definitely notice I tend to go out of my way to not only look away, but also get out of the way for some reason (e.g. if a woman with a cute baby in a sling gets on the subway, I slowly scootch to the other end of the car). Like I don’t want to polllute their happiness with my infertile presence… as if anyone would now. Weird.

    Thank for being so strong — you give me hope!

  2. luna

    January 31, 2008 11:13 pm

    PJ, another eloquent post. You really took what I was thinking and expounded on it in such a thoughtful way. I love that!

    I know what you mean about the transition phase with friends, and that parallel universe. I struggle with that as well. But I’ve been falling on the side of avoidance lately and wondering if, how and when that will ever change. My dh tends to be far more sociable than I am, and eventually he may want to resurface more than I am willing…

    thanks again for the thoughtful post. (you validate me!) ~luna

  3. loribeth

    February 1, 2008 12:13 am

    It’s taken me a loooonnngggg time to be able to appreciate other people’s children for who they are & not some symbol of what’s been denied me. Most of the time, anyway. ; ) The parents, as you said, are often another story. Love your use of the term “smug,” which reminds me of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “smug marrieds” — how does “smug childed” or “smug parents” sound??

  4. Bea

    February 1, 2008 1:35 am

    This is a fantastic post.

    It’s a common misconception that people who are suffering infertility don’t want to be around children or babies. In reality, a lot of people have confirmed what you’ve said – they don’t want to be around the parents.

    I think if someone had dropped me off a baby to sit, even whilst I was still fresh from the grief of a miscarriage or failed IVF, I would have been happy to look after that kid. But only if the parent dropped him/her at the door with a note and an emergency contact number, rung the bell, and then left.

    Bea

  5. loribeth

    February 1, 2008 1:15 pm

    I also hate(d) — especially early on after my loss — being around babies because I felt like everyone was watching me to see how I’d react. Maybe it was just paranoia on my part, maybe not. The first baby I held post-loss was the next door neighbour’s little girl shortly after she was born. I took over a small gift & held her — it was just her, me & her mother. I was so glad to be able to choose the time & place and climb that mountain on my own terms, instead of having someone thrust a baby into my arms in the mistaken belief that it would make me feel better (or worse, help get me pg again!).

  6. Ms Heathen

    February 1, 2008 2:18 pm

    I’m still at the stage of being annoyed with the parents – but both you and Luna have made me think about how I might relate to/feel differently about the kids themselves. It is so difficult not to look upon them as a symbol of everything you want in the world, but can’t have.

    Picking up on Loribeth’s point, I have for some time referred to those of our friends who appear to be able to reproduce regularly and effortlessly as ‘the smug fertiles’!

  7. Ellen K

    February 1, 2008 5:04 pm

    When I see cute children at the store, I’ll smile at them but not remark aloud on their cuteness so as to avoid conversing with the parent, who sometimes appear to see my smile as a cue to start a monologue about the rigors and joys of parenting. I want a private moment of enjoying the child and reminding myself that I am not totally incompetent at interacting with children (just apparently at having them).

  8. niobe

    February 1, 2008 6:05 pm

    I think that you’re right that many, many people are simply oblivious to infertility and assume that if someone doesn’t have children it’s because she didn’t want them.

  9. May

    February 4, 2008 7:24 pm

    Heh. I’m always the ‘nice lady’ who smiles at toddlers, who plays face-pulling with babies in supermarket queues, who runs to help a kid who has fallen over in the park. I adore kids.

    Their parents, not so much. Last time I ran over to a kid who had fallen off her bike, her father, who was very grateful, admittedly, that I had helped his little girl, just had to spoil it all by asking me where my kids were. I just did not know what to say. I felt he was assuming only a parent would give a flying fer’crying about a child. *sigh*

  10. Ann

    February 6, 2008 3:47 pm

    You know, I even have a hard time with my nieces. I know my problems aren’t their fault, but it’s really hard for me to have fun playing with them and enjoying their general cuteness when I’m so damned jealous of their parents.

  11. Anonymous

    February 15, 2008 5:52 pm

    I read your post listing the book, Healing Through the Dark Emotions, by Miriam Greenspan. Thank you so much for the recommendation. I am just a little more than halfway through and have learned so many lessons already. I plan on reading it a second time. IF and the losses connected with it are devastating. The side effects to those losses are anxiety, depression, grief, and despair (ah…just to name a few). It is so easy to forget or not realize that these are normal reactions to a crisis. We aren’t clinically depressed. We are just grieving the loss of the child we dreamt to hold. Some people can move through these emotions quickly while others need more time. It is a journey and there will be a final destination. We may struggle with the unknown path but, we will arrive safely!

    • Pamela Jeanne

      February 15, 2008 7:10 pm

      So very happy to learn that you found the book helpful in reconciling some of the emotions and challenges of infertility. I hope we all find a safe and peaceful journey — one that allows us a return to the joy that we’ve missed in our darker days. Wishing you all the best. Please visit any time and let me know you’re doing.

      • Working Girl

        February 25, 2008 2:00 am

        I am sorry that I forgot to include my name in my post. I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your honesty. The journey is long and hard and I am constantly looking for new ways to cope. Your blog has been very helpful.

  12. sebbie

    July 20, 2009 8:24 am

    After 11 years of trying to become pregnant, I thought I’d made an uneasy peace with the fact that it wasn’t meant to happen. Shocked to have become pregnant a month after breast cancer surgery at age 43(diagnosis came out of the blue after first ‘well-woman’ mammogram)…lost the pregnancy after 8 weeks… It’s been much more difficult
    trying to make peace with losing something you almost had, than it was
    trying to make peace with something
    you never had…even 3 years later, the depth of my grief from that loss
    is still raw. I’m grateful for the possibility that someone else out there might truly understand this.

  13. Elizabeth

    July 27, 2009 12:43 pm

    I just googled “peace after infertility” and found your blog. My heart is with you. I did take solace in the fact that you tried everything, too. Sometimes I feel like I missed asking the magic question, eloping with my husband and trying to get pregnant immediately, etc.
    I’ve been researching adoption, too, and think we will go that route. Someone wrote about it, “It’s hard to feel sad about what might have been when there’s so much joy in what is” and that spoke to me.

    I guess I am about the hope right now.

    To the breast cancer survivor, you are in my thoughts. I know that I conceived and could not deliver; it is haunting. Sometimes I wonder if I lived in NYC or California where healthcare is more progressive if the outcome would have been different. I am especially gifted at driving myself insane with that thinking.

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