Sunday, May 14, 2017

No Children on Mother's Day? You Are Not Alone.

On this Mother's Day, I find myself closing in on the one-year anniversary of my hysterectomy, and I have yet to really write or talk much about the experience. I actually had plans to blog my way through recovery, but it was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I ran into some difficulties along the way, but I also found myself overly protective about my body, as well as what I was facing emotionally.  But on this Mother's Day, I wanted share some of those thoughts, mainly thanks to a couple of Facebook posts, which addressed the fact that, for some, this holiday can be a painful reminder for women who did not necessarily choose not to have kids.  What I appreciated most about these posts was simply the recognition that not all holidays are joyous occasions for everyone, and that we should not only be cognizant of that fact, but also, not be afraid to talk about those instances as well.  Social media often glorifies our life experiences, which I am all in favor of, but I also think that it needs to be a space open for the realities/challenges of our lives as well.  

So with that in mind, I begin...

Like most young girls, I dreamed of the day that I would have kids of my own, and all the memories you might associate with that: The pregnancy, the middle of the night feedings, the first day of school, the first Christmas, the first overly-frosted sheet cake...maybe an occasional diaper change, but only if I could pull my T-shirt over my face.

But as I moved through my 20s and 30s, I realized that having children might never in the cards for me.  I slowly began accepting that fact, with the thought of adopting never far from my mind.  By the time I met my husband (we married when I was 41), he had two kids of his own, and I was in and out of my doctor's office with severe endometriosis, a "diseased" uterus (my doctor's words), cervix, and ovaries. (I had a cyst so big one time that the tech told me I should name "her." We settled on Celeste.)   In fact, the only ultrasounds I've ever experienced were to check on the (lack of) progress during hormone therapy. One day I even had an expected mother walk over to me in a waiting room full of pregnant mothers and hand me some chocolate . To this day, I wish I had given her a hug and thanked her. We never said a word to one another, but she understood this wasn't a joyful moment for, I'll never fully know.  I do know that she made me smile as I watched mothers waiting to find out if they were having a boy or a girl.

I was so moved that I went home that afternoon and wrote a poem.

Last February, after twenty years of living with this disease, my doctor entered the waiting room and told me, "It's time." I don't regret the decision I made to have a hysterectomy  but I still grieved the loss.  It wasn't that I still thought I might have kids, but I was letting go of the dream that I had as a young girl.  My longing to have children is temporarily filled when my stepchildren are here, but the thought of what might have been creeps in on days like today when social media is flooded with images of daughters and sons embraced in their mother's arms. 

What I've learned over the years, and what I want so share here, is that you should not be made to feel like you can never truly know what "real" love is, or that your life will not be complete because you could not have children. You may lose friends along the way who can no longer "connect" with you -- you who does not understand late night feedings you once dreamed about.  However, your real friends will bring you along for the ride and not push you away because of those differences.  Before my step kids came along, I actually found myself at one of my best friend's houses Trick-or-Treating with her children. I found myself on the playground with students I taught.  And when the kids came into my life, I could find joy in reading to my step daughter in bed the night before we had to drive her back home.  Is it the same? Of course not.  Will you still feel some sadness now and again?  Absolutely.  And that's ok.  I think it's normal, actually.  What you thought your life would look like does not match up with where you are.  

I found new ways of defining what family could be.  And my life is richer for those experiences.  You may never get to know what being a mother is like, but you can know and experience joy in other ways. Our lives take unique paths and make us who we are, and some decisions are made for us. It's not always what we want, or what we expected, but how we move forward is our decision to make. 

So to those of you who are like me on this Mother's Day, I just wanted to say: You are not alone.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What's on My Mind: The Social Media Dilemma

I remember seeing a show many years ago that talked about empathy.  The story went as follows:

Imagine that you are in your car, and someone cuts you off.  You will often react by honking your horn, yelling obscenities, or feeling angry. 

Now imagine that you are walking down the street, and someone cuts you off by bumping into you.  If the other person apologizes, you continue on your way; no harm, no foul.  If not, you may grumble something under your breath, but you are less likely to cause a scene or audibly vocalize your anger.

Why?  When we are in our cars, we feel a sense of protection.  We are yelling at a vehicle, an object.  But when an actual person bumps into us, we are face-to-face with a human being.  We are no longer “protected” by a vehicle, we are forced to look one another in the eye, and, therefore, more likely to be empathetic to the other person's (unintentional) actions. 

I was reminded of this story as I spent another day scrolling through my Facebook page. I began to think that this is what’s happening to us on social media.  We are “protected” in a virtual world.  We aren’t looking people in the face as often when we speak our minds, and, as a result, we seem to be losing our sense of empathy.  

I know that for many this is nothing new; however, I think we are seeing an increase in the lack of empathy that has been taking place.  For example, I stumbled across a political post this morning and clicked on the comment section, only to see comments quickly becoming verbal attacks, the argument nowhere to be found.  Words like, “You are disgusting for thinking this,” “You’re a f*ing idiot,” “Why don't you shut the f* up,” etc.  I wanted to take a break from this, so I went on my neighborhood group page to see what was happening in the neighborhood.  I found myself falling further into the rabbit hole.

I have often wondered when social media turned into what it has now become: both an immense connector and divider at the same time (in the words of Jon Stewart). The trend was moving in this direction before this past year (though many will argue that it has become exacerbated).  Perhaps it’s a by-product of our “tell us what you think” culture.  Perhaps we are becoming more comfortable with using social media as a platform to express how we think or feel.  

Nevertheless, what is unique to social media is how we are communicating our oppositions or disagreements.  In the past we would sit down, face to face with one another, and express how we felt.  Now?  Now we are communicating with a computer screen between us, and like being in the car, there is an inexplicable barrier between “me” and “you” when people don’t see the way the other does.  Or see why the other person does.

The result?  Verbal attacks on one another.  And when these attacks happen to my own friends or are attacks on what I fundamentally believe and hold to be morally and ethically true, I have been hitting three buttons:  Unfriend.  Unfollow.  Delete.  (I do, however, see the inherent danger in doing that as well.) And that has included deleting my own posts -- posts about what I believe in, links with videos supporting those beliefs, articles where I was shaking my head "yes" over and over -- because I didn't want to have to sort and sift through the comments on that particular day.  I had had enough.  

What I can’t delete, unfortunately, and what I can’t ignore is the impact this is having on my understanding of community.  My understanding of empathy.  I've found myself repeating in my head, "I wonder what Dad would think.  I wonder what my grandparents would say."  They've been gone long before social media made its debut.  But the reality is, even if they were alive today, we would be having that conversation in person...over "coffee milk" on the front porch.

While I don’t know what to do about that in a virtual world, I find that I try to leave it as often as I can.  To reach out to people and meet face to face.  To fight for a cause I think is important.  To pick up a poem, a short story, a play and remember the importance in doing so. But at the end of the day, I still find myself going back.  I guess I still long for the sense of connection, the sense of community that I once found there.  Maybe it still is there, and I’m just having a hard time seeing past the cars that continue to cut me off without recognition or acknowledgement of who I am as a human being.