Not the Standard Issue Woman (and That’s Okay)


Elizabeth GilbertHow appropriate that my last post before starting my blogging sabbatical coincides with a discussion about the book Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything.

I’ve been a regular participant of the Barren Bitches Book Brigade because I like the opportunity to reflect on and share questions and responses with fellow readers online. I tried a real life book club but the conversations always got sidetracked and lacked focus and depth. (You can read other book blog tour member responses by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens.)

Now before I dive into my thoughts about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book I want to explain why I’m taking a sabbatical. Three words: Space. Reflection. Exploration.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that I’ve been working through a fair amount of angst in this little corner of the blogosphere during the past 18 months. A trip through my blog archives and categories will reveal how hard I’ve struggled with the knowledge that I could not, cannot and never will conceive and deliver a child.  It’s easy to see how, in the wake of infertility, I lost my way and, worse still, allowed myself to feel “less than” other women — helped along by the baby boomlet taking place and the cult of mommy so pervasive in today’s society.

Much like the author of Eat, Love, Pray I’m not the standard issue woman. The archetypal woman’s life doesn’t apply. What’s a girl to do?

Elizabeth Gilbert set out to find peace and contentment after confronting her truths: She didn’t want to be married anymore. She didn’t want to live in big house. She didn’t want to have a baby.

My truths are these:

  • Infertility devastated me and fundamentally altered my life and my identity.
  • I can’t relate to those whose identity is predominantly wrapped up in being a mommy (especially those to whom mommyhood came easily).
  • I am on a life path that’s not better or worse than most women, it’s just different.

It’s about damn time I owned these truths and set out to find my own peace and contentment.

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After much consideration I’ve concluded that for me to find peace I need, among other things, to free myself from reporting regularly online about my state of mind. The constant chorus that’s been driving this Coming2Terms blog: Are we there yet? Have we come to terms? seems to be getting in the way of my actually getting there — and finding my new identity, which will comprise a set of new characteristics including being not just a well-adjusted nonmom but someone who can rise above and thrive after a complex personal setback.

So I encourage readers, especially those just finding this blog, to continue reading through and commenting on the posts here (all 215 of them). Reader thoughts and observations have been immensely helpful not only to me but to others who stumble upon or visit this site from time to time.
And, to those just starting to grapple with infertility know that you’re far from alone in trying to come to terms with how the infertile condition and experiences change and reshape you, your life and your relationships. I’ll be back at some point — hopefully with some useful new insights and observations about how one woman (yours truly) survived infertility and lived to tell about it.

Now on to answering some of my fellow book tour participant questions.

# One of the criticisms frequently leveled at this book is that it is “self-absorbed” and that its author is “selfish.” Interestingly, these same labels have also been applied to infertiles, particularly those of us who blog about our infertility. Do you think this criticism is warranted in either case (i.e., by the book/author and by infertiles/infertility bloggers)? Do you think being an infertile and a blogger influenced your reaction to the book? In what ways?

I’m sure my experience with infertility and my own searching for answers helped me identify strongly with the author and her book. To the critics, I ask is it self-absorbed or selfish to want to understand our place in this world and how we relate to others? I think it shows a fundamental lack of depth to accuse those who want to take stock of their lives and contemplate complex ideas or experiences as “selfish.” I find the most enjoyable people to be around are those who are most comfortable in their own skin because they have taken the time to understand what makes them happy and at peace. The world would be a much less interesting place to live without such individuals.

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By sharing their search for answers and revelations they in turn push and prod us to look at life from different perspectives. It’s far easier to live life the predictable way when everything falls neatly into place and it feels right. When it doesn’t feel right or when things don’t fall neatly into place the traditional path can be stifling, awkward or painful. Either way what’s to be lost by giving people room to explore, and respecting those who color outside the lines in their search for answers, fellowship or understanding?

# While I don’t believe infertility can be cured by positive thinking, do you think the impact it has on out life could be minimized if we learned to control our thoughts like she talks about in chapter 58?

I’m all for trying to view the world through the lens of positive thinking but when it comes to infertility it’s not just our own thoughts that can be negative. The negativity associated with infertility comes from many different places. It’s one thing to control our own thoughts, it’s another altogether to be bombarded with negative thoughts from others. (Can the universe please do something about that?) It sure would make thinking and maintaining happy thoughts a heck of a lot easier.

# In chapter 25 Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how “the Augusteum in Rome warns (us) not to get attached to any obsolete ideas of who (we are), what (we) represent, whom (we) belong to or what function (we) may once have intended to serve.”  Through our struggles with infertility and/or loss many of us have had to revisit our ideas about what our life would be like and who we thought we were supposed to be.  How have your ideas about your identity and purpose in life changed since your began your journey to have a child(ren)?  Have you been able to make peace with your new found identity and/or purpose if it doesn’t embody the dream you originally had for yourself at this point in your life as an adult and/or parent?

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Great question. (How much time do you have?)

Wise counsel from the Augusteum. Wish I’d heard, understood and internalized it earlier. I’m guilty of having spent way too much time and energy trying to realize an old idea of who I thought I was supposed to be and the life I thought I should be leading.

I see now through my struggles with infertility and loss that I was unable to let go and to see that I was trying to make fit an obsolete idea. Not only was I frustrated by attaching myself to an obsolete idea, I was also holding myself back from adapting and understanding what I was better suited “to represent” and “the function that I was intended to serve.”  In setting free those obsolete ideas and mapping out a new life I want to stop revisiting what my life was supposed to be.

Have I been able to make peace with my new found identity and purpose? Well first, I have to try on some new identities and purposes, see which fits best and then I’ll be able to report on how I was able to make peace.  Check back and hopefully I’ll have a better answer somewhere down the line.

I hope that, via my sabbatical, I’ll find myself in the foreseeable future like the author who described herself as the “administrator of my own rescue.”


39 Responses

  1. luna

    August 17, 2008 11:17 pm

    pamela jeanne, your need for space, reflection and exploration is completely understandable and I wholeheartedly support your decision to step away for awhile. you have a wide world of supporters here who wish you well in this next phase of your journey.

    you will be missed, but I hope you get the rejuvenation you deserve and the inspiration you seek.

    wishing you all the best,

  2. Diane

    August 18, 2008 1:55 am

    Best wishes, Pamela. It helps me to take breaks from it all too for exactly the reasons you said: space, reflection, exploration. I won’t forget about you; I’ll use this time to get caught up on your old posts and the discussions in the comments, which are also very worthwhile. Thank you for everything! Your blog helped me a lot.

  3. Lori

    August 18, 2008 2:46 am

    Wow. I support you fully. And at the same time, I can’t imagine my blogosphere without you.

    But I trust your instincts, and I know that you will find that peace and contentment.

    I hope to keep you with you nevertheless.

    Your announcement seems to fit perfectly with your answer to #3.

    Peace, my friend.

  4. Baby Smiling In Back Seat

    August 18, 2008 4:16 am

    I entirely agree with you that others’ negative thoughts about infertility (or more commonly, not having children at all since most of them don’t know anything about TTC/IF) have been far more destructive than my own. I don’t know if the universe is going to do anything about that anytime soon, but I do think that you have personally contributed to increasing this world’s understanding and tolerance of infertility and non-motherhood. On behalf of the world, I thank you.

    I hope that your sabbatical is restful, productive, renewing, or whatever else you seek!

  5. Kami

    August 18, 2008 4:55 am

    I will miss you! I think you will find your break very helpful. I took a break from all things IF related for about 3 months and it was really good for me. I hope you will check back in at some point even if it is to say good bye forever.

  6. Nichole

    August 18, 2008 4:57 am

    I wish you the very best and of course Peace. Finding peace and separating myself from thoughts of my infertility while wanting a child were impossible for me. The more someone would tell me to forget about it the more depressed, angry and frustrated I became. We all need to stop and take a step back and more importantly we have to do it in our own time. You deserve that and so much more. I so wish I had found you during my early struggles with infertility. I felt so alone and like nobody really knew how I felt. I know you have helped so many women through these feelings and I trust that you will find a way to make peace with it yourself as well. My prayers are with you. Take all the time you need.

  7. annacyclopedia

    August 18, 2008 5:05 am

    I’m thrilled for you, PJ, even though I will miss your wisdom terribly, although as you say, I do have your archives to go through and that should keep me busy for a while. I think I will miss most of all the feeling of complete and utter agreement and amazement at how brilliantly you express your thoughts. But at the same time, I have a sense that this is going to be a time of real renewal and growth for you, and I’m so glad you are taking care of yourself this way.

    So for what is likely to be the last time for a while, I completely agree with your answer to #1. You are so right on – the reason I loved this book is that she is interested in finding the truth of who she is. And I see that in you and admire it so much. So I wish you peace, insight, and much healing as you take these next steps on your journey.

  8. Ms Heathen

    August 18, 2008 10:44 am

    You have given so much and so generously to so many of us, Pamela Jeanne. I know that I personally have gained a great deal from reading your blog.

    But I can also completely understand your need to take some time to reflect, and to explore new directions. Although your presence in the blogosphere will be sorely missed, I hope that your sabbatical will bring you peace and contentment.

  9. Irish Girl

    August 18, 2008 12:32 pm

    PJ, I understand your need for this sabbatical. Although I’ll miss your writings (especially right now, for my own personal reasons!) I respect your decision completely. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in my corner of the world as to whether it will help or hurt me to continue writing mostly about infertility and now our childlessness (can’t yet use the word “childfree”). It does help me to get the thoughts and feelings out but at times I feel that my writing can often perpetuate the negative feelings. “We are what we repeatedly do” kind of thing, you know? Of course you know! 🙂

    I’d like to personally thank you for writing those 215 entries. You have made a huge impact on many, myself included. Wishing you all that you seek and more!

  10. Kristin

    August 18, 2008 12:33 pm

    Best of luck in finding your new identity during your sabbatical. I love your answer to the question about self-absorption.

  11. Alacrity

    August 18, 2008 1:07 pm

    PJ – I completely understand your need for time away – if we are to redefine ourselves, we need to stop measuring our lives against what we don’t have and won’t be, and start deciding what we will have and be. And the only way to do that is to start living it.

    That said, I will miss your presence, support and inspiration daily.

    I know that you will find your path.


  12. Iota

    August 18, 2008 1:28 pm

    I think you are wise to have a sabbatical – for the reasons you state. I’ll miss your posts, though. This blog has been an honest, reflective, sensible and sensitive description of your journey, and fellow travelers (infertile and fertile) have gained a lot from traveling along with you.

  13. loribeth

    August 18, 2008 4:15 pm

    I understand your need to take some time away to think things through. I often ponder why there are so few women on the Internet writing about living childless/free after infertility, & I think your explanation here hits the nail on the head — at some point, we need to move on from our identity as an IF woman (or at least try to set it in its proper place in the background) & start figuring out who we are NOW & who we want to be in the future — take the emphasis off “childless/free” and start focusing on “living.”

    But I do hope this only a sabbatical. ; ) Yours is such a strong, insightful voice in our community, & especially for the few of us who are travelling the CF path. There IS life without children, & it’s not better or worse, it’s just different than the accepted social norm & different from what we had expected for ourselves. All the best to you!!

    P.S. Love your answers on the book!! Your truths also ring very true for me too. I flagged the passage on the Augusteum while reading — it’s probably the one passage in the book that most “spoke” to me.

  14. Dianne

    August 18, 2008 5:27 pm

    Well, PJ you know what is best for yourself. But, I know that I will miss you during the sabbatical. And I selfishly hope that you return soon.

    Be kind to yourself.

    Regarding the book, I love the “misfits.” Maybe because I know that I am one. At one point – I associate the book with “the land of the misfit toys”. It was always my favorite part of Rudolph. It made me feel at home.

    Wishing you well.

  15. Summer

    August 18, 2008 8:43 pm

    I will miss reading your thoughts and insights while you’re on sabbatical. I hope, during this time, you will find things to rejuvenate yourself.

  16. stepping up

    August 18, 2008 9:26 pm

    Just today I was describing to a friend how helpful this site has been. It’s wonderful to come here, read your insights, and feel whole. I also mentioned how stepping away from this comfort zone may help my growth in the world out there…Then I read this entry.

    I wish you peace and fulfillment on your journey. You have taken us by the hand and helped us thru our obstacle course. Thank you for taking the time to write. You’ll be missed.


  17. Ellen K

    August 18, 2008 10:13 pm

    I’ll miss reading your posts but certainly understand the need for a break and wish you clarity and peace as you work out these new directions and challenges.

  18. JenB

    August 18, 2008 11:20 pm

    Pamela, I will miss you and your blog. I have been dealing with IF a long time (ten years) and I know it is permanent. And yet I still struggle. Your words have been a comfort to me and all the wonderful people have left their comments too.

    I have been wondering lately myself whether reading IF blogs are healing or more like picking at a scab. Am I hurting or helping myself by reading IF blogs?

    I think maybe I shall step away too and see what comes of it. I wish you all the best in your journey. Take care.


  19. Mel

    August 19, 2008 12:26 am

    Your point about controlling your own thoughts and keeping positive when being bombarded by other people’s negative thoughts was brilliant.

    Like everyone, I’m sad to see you go on break, but you need to do what you need to do. And I hope the break is restful and life-changing.

  20. HeidiM

    August 19, 2008 5:24 am

    Something tells me that your quest to find a new identity as a well-adjusted non-mom will be wildly successful. Maybe you’ll even write a book about it that will put ol’ Liz Gilbert’s to shame!

  21. And B

    August 19, 2008 12:39 pm

    Hey – but I feel like you’re my friend now. Can I email you occasionally?

    You will be so so so missed but know that I am very much behind you as you step into this new place with your new “haircut” – new you.

    When you find freedom point me in the right direction (but I am beginning to fell headed in that direction anyway)

    much love to you

    Thank you for all the courage, honesty and thoughtfulness you have brought.

    I really will miss you.

    love Barb

    • Pamela Jeanne

      August 19, 2008 10:09 pm

      Of course you can email me! I’ll be around but just spending less time online …

      Thanks, one and all, for your encouragement and lovely thoughts. It’s appreciated more than you know!

  22. shorty

    August 19, 2008 12:55 pm

    PJ said ” . . . How have your ideas about your identity and purpose in life changed . . . ? Have you been able to make peace with your new found identity . . . ” I’ve actually been doing a lot of thinking about this lately. Infertility has shown me that I may not be the person I thought I was. I grew up in the deep South (now living in Michigan). I was raised to believe that true women avoided conflict and confrontation at all costs. Therefore, I grew up believing that I was sensitive and always polite – always keeping negative opinions to myself. After I found out I couldn’t have children, I experienced the same sorts of reactions and scenarios that most of us face — bewilderment and estrangement due to the fact that society seems to show no sympathy, empathy or understanding for our situation. I went through ugly conversation after ugly conversation with family and friends who had such terrible responses — most of them basically stating that “you can always adopt” or that it was something I did wrong. Somewhere down the line, I started realizing that one of the things making me the angriest was my own response to THEIR response – which was basically to retreat and not let them know how they hurt me. Well, those days are over. I’ve shocked myself by finding out that I’m much happier by just stating the damn truth. If I’m upset, I say that I’m upset. If I’m offended, I say that I’m offended. If I’m touched, I say that I’m touched. WOW. WHAT A LOAD OFF. And, in the end, my relationships are BETTER because I’m no longer sulky, withdrawn and passive/aggressive, I’m now me – in living color — take it or leave it. I was raised to believe that I had to make sure EVERYONE likes me. Now, I just don’t give a damn. I HAVE to be my own badass self — without apology. It makes me happy, it makes my WONDERFUL husband happy, and those who care about me want to hear the truth anyway. Soooo — long story short — I’ve found out that I may not be a delicate Southern belle, but I like who I am. Sometimes mouthy, but always honest. Life is so much better this way.

  23. ursi

    August 19, 2008 4:39 pm

    Your blog has been a help to me, as I’ve moved from hoping I might get pregnant by ivf to hoping I might get pregnant by ‘a miracle’ to knowing I won’t. But I have also thought recently that it might be better for me if I spent less time reading infertility blogs and tried instead to focus more on other aspects of my life. That also made me wonder whether writing a blog like this (though it is so helpful for others) might make it more difficult for you to ‘come to terms’. So I completely understand. Best wishes and many thanks for all that you have done.

  24. JuliaS

    August 19, 2008 7:46 pm

    Wishes for a productive and useful sabbatical!

    I liked what you said about owning “your” truths. Definitely something I could use a little of myself.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  25. stepping up

    August 19, 2008 8:47 pm

    Sounds like many of us would visit a site that would offer insight/ideas when we know it’s time to move on and reinvent ourselves. Can anyone direct us to one?

  26. Zee

    August 20, 2008 3:12 am

    Great responses, Pamela Jeanne. I loved your thoughtful answer to the first question (mine, coincidentally!) The last one especially resonated for me, particularly this line: “In setting free those obsolete ideas and mapping out a new life I want to stop revisiting what my life was supposed to be.” As hard as it is to keep going back, and going back, and going back, hoping each time that this time it’ll be different, it’s even harder, but certainly more worthwhile, to break away and start looking for something else.

    Good luck with the sabbatical. I’ll miss you a lot, but totally understand how important it is to take a break from the endless introspection (outrospection?) of blogging. Here’s to finding a comfortable new identity and purpose, and the matching peace that goes with them.

  27. Meg

    August 20, 2008 1:01 pm

    Hi Pamela Jeanne, I only just found your blog in the last week. I guess the timing isn’t a coincidence but signifies the stage in my IF journey. It’s only in the last month that I’ve really started to think and acknowledge to myself (and even out aloud with my husband) that maybe it’s not going to happen… Maybe (and in all likelihood) all our dreams and hopes won’t become a reality.

    I’m struggling through the emotions and grief, the tears, the envy, the feelings of wretchedness of being/feeling so unkind, and with the issues of identity – you know the picture! And also trying to start to think about what it means for the future… It feels like the constant trying to have a child has been the main purpose of my life for the last 3 ½, culminating in 5 unsuccessful IVF cycles years – so if it doesn’t happen – who am I, now and into the future? What’s my purpose? Etc etc… At the moment it’s really hard to imagine what that life will be or look like, let alone how I start to live that life.

    While I’m new to Coming2terms, this is the third time I’ve visited to read and reflect in the past week. As many others have said – it’s been helpful reading about your thoughts and journey – so I wanted to let you know and say thank you for your insights and documenting your experiences. You’ve made a difference for me.

    I too was selfishly disappointed to read you’re taking a break. I am also glad for you. Last week when I first visited and was reading your posts, I hoped that for me – I wouldn’t still be in this same place of struggle, discomfort, angst and pain in another 18 months. That I will have moved on to a new place in my life – and that IF won’t play such a big role in my everyday living/thinking, or define me. In other words – that I won’t feel the need to visit your blog so often, if I’m different by then – as that will mean having “come to terms”. I hope that for you too…

    So I wish you all the best with moving into a space of peace and comfort in your own skin as you forge your new identity and find your purpose. Enjoy the “being”.

  28. Samantha

    August 23, 2008 2:00 am

    I hope your space and blogging break will give you the time for reflection and bring some closure for you. I understand what you mean about sometimes needing to step back from yourself and constantly being in your mind and thoughts. May your break give you clarity.

  29. peesticksandstones

    August 25, 2008 11:21 am

    PJ — I will miss your posts intensely, but completely understand the need for a break.

    In the meantime, I’ll look forward to finding out what’s next. You make me so proud to be a woman!

    Take care, lady…

  30. Deathstar

    August 28, 2008 3:57 pm

    I have always looked forward to your posts as part of my day – but I totally understand that you need to discover the beauty of your inherent nature – not just IF Pamela Jeanne. Being a fellow Gemini, I have rarely held a sane meeting of the minds – but I strive for it every day. I was actually reading Eat Pray Love on the plane and so much of it spoke to me. Who would I be if I just let go of who I should have been?

    I owe you so much – you encouraged me to start blogging and you’ve been with me the whole way. I will email you every now and then if you don’t mind. Please if you ever need anything…. I’ll be here.

  31. Rachel

    August 31, 2008 3:22 pm

    What’s fun and interesting about being standard issue, I ask you?

    I’m very glad to see you at this point. Personally, I think you should start a new blog (if you want to keep writing), and give it a new name and make it about the rest of your life — which I’m sure is going to be wonderful, fulfilling, full of many good things and surprises. Probably its hard times too, as life is always fair with the ups and downs.

    Whatever you do, know that I am thinking of you, and am excited for you and the next phase of your life. You’ve come a long way, baby — congratulations!

  32. Jana

    September 1, 2008 12:58 am

    Selfish? Self-absorbed? OMG! Have you ever met anyone more selfish or self-absorbed than a MOM? Those ultra smug women who assure you that you don’t understand, because you are (gasp) not a MOM. That foist their needs on you because they are of course a MOM. As if your life and responsibilities are less valuable. You are not after all a MOM.

  33. Bea

    September 6, 2008 9:54 am

    P, this sounds like progress. The talking phase is necessary, but so is embracing the talked-already phase that comes after it. Don’t be a stranger.


  34. Phoebe

    September 10, 2008 4:46 am

    In my own personal experience, my desire to want children is an identification that I intellectually know is rooted in my ego, and unfortunately, in our society. As one woman said to me, “you are so much more than that”. It’s true.

    Personally, I am glad you are taking a break. You are a talented woman and have so much to offer the world. I think you have been an important beacon to other women who are experiencing the pain of not being able to have children. This must be grieved and grieving has it’s own timeframe.

    At some point, living in the past is not healthy if it no longer serves a purpose to grieve and just becomes an obstacle to learning who you are. So much is happening right here, right now, and it is constantly changing. It’s amazing, life!

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