Friday, 26 July 2013
Accepting Reality v The "I'm Doing Great" Consensus
This article by Jean Twenge appeared in The Atlantic on 19th June and has been much shared, discussed, leapt upon and derided. Twenge has written a book "The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant" in which she argues against age-related fertility scaremongering. Scaremongering is not a good thing, but neither is the "But Ellen, you see people in their forties having babies ALL the time" speech I often get. The article is called "How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby". Here is the link:
Let me deal first of all with the phrase "wait to have a baby." Yes, I've spent the last ten years waiting to have a baby. If I'd gone for it ten years ago, I'd have had a better chance of getting pregnany quickly and more chance of an optimally healthy baby. And more chance that that baby would have at least one, and preferably two, siblings.
So why have I been flying in the face of scientific fact? I base my lifestyle on the health section of the newspapers and every online magazine going. I eat loads of fruit and veg. I wear factor 50 winter and summer. I run. I used to do yoga. One of my Gretchen-Rubin-inspired-recommendations for this month is to use body lotion every day and I've gone for the paraben free kind. But in two big areas I appear to be ignoring the experts' advice. One is that I drink three or four (okay, most days four) cans of Diet Coke a day. The other is that I've yet to have a baby.
Is it because of my gambling gene? No. Is it because I've been waiting to be financially secure? No. It's because of probably the most common reason for delayed motherhood of all: I'm single. And I've now come to the roundabout conclusion that a factor in my lack of a mate is the sorrow I've felt from really early on that time was running out to have a baby. We're talking thirty here, not thirty-five.
I felt useless as my friends got married and began to pop out their bundles of joy. As the weddings started I felt lapped and every pregnancy announcement felt like another runner coming up behind me then passing me by, cruising despite having run 800 metres more than I had. It seemed so far. The gap was so wide and before I knew it second babies were arriving. The race was over and I was still running for nothing but the dignity of not being seen to give up. Except I wasn't running, but limping.
I had a big, bad villain to blame in all of this: my psychiatric history. That was why I was missing out. How could I start at twenty-nine, for God's sake? Every decent man seemed taken. Now I think of twenty-nine as practically neonate. There was, in effect, nothing stopping me. If I added up all my hospitalisations, they'd come to around four months. What was I doing the rest of the time? I was sitting around the house at home, in love with unavailable men or having nervous breakdowns.
Even now I have a hard time with the idea that I'm responsible for my own happiness. I used to go to an eating disorder support group years ago and the leader was very fond of saying things like "you're responsible for your experience" and "you create your reality". It made no sense to me. In fairness they took it to illogical levels, being heavily inspired by the books of Louse L. Hay.
I had no sense of agency. Things happened to me. My priority in life was to keep my parents happy. I was the goodest, bestest daughter in the world. Family gatherings are now painfully ironic as I'm the one who hasn't brought them any of what I can see are their greatest happiness; their five, soon to be six, grandchildren. I was the one who was good. I was the one who made no decision, none, without considering their reaction.
I was the best-behaved, but I was also the worst. I was the one who broke their hearts with my mad behaviour. Even more worryingly, I got myself "in trouble with the law". It was like a pendulum swinging. I'd go from being good to being bold and then, for the last eight years, it's been good as gold all the way.
Should I Aim to be Pregnant by Tea-time?
What use is panic? Thoughts of scarcity- too few men and those available of dubious quality, too few eggs and those available of dubious quality - lead to poor decision making.
This article in The Atlantic says the news is not as grim as I'd feared. It says "with sex at least twice a week, 82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27-to-34-year-olds. " The crux here is "with sex". Without sex, my chances are slimmer than none, unless I take the donor insemination route. (I've looked into this. The straws alone are over 1,300 euro. Yes, thirteen hundred euro for a teaspoon of the most common substance on earth after salt water. Maybe next year).
You might be thinking what the hell is your-one complaining about? Two posts ago I was describing my time locked and medicated in a psychiatric unit. I've admitted all forms of uselessness and madness. And here I am, a home-owning, gainfully employed individual who has no contact at all with the mental illness services. I'm doing great, considering. There's the rub: considering. I don't think I'm doing great. I feel, not that I've failed, but that I'm in the process of failing. I'm afraid that right now, today, is the crucial time and that I'm not doing enough. The whistle has blown and I should be doing my utmost to score that golden goal.
Why can't I be happy? Why do I resist practices like gratitude journals and counting my blessings? Because somewhere in me, something kicks up and says "not fair". I'm as worthy as anyone of the Full Package; the job, the husband, the house, the children. (Now I know that this is an illusion. That many of those who look like they've ticked all the boxes live in misery.)
I can see now why I'm not married and why I've no children. It's the "who am I?" mentality. It was enough that I wasn't in hospital or on drugs. I was satisfied with far too little. I might have seethed with resentment while holding friends' newborns, but it was the resentment of "when will it be my turn", not realising that the dating-and-mating playground is unsupervised. A friend of a friends broke off her engagement and the next time I saw, her, a few months later, she had a new man. I thought why am I not like her? Nothing's stopping her. I put the blame on who I was , rather than what I was doing.
What I was doing was refusing to accept the reality that I was deeply dissatisfied with my life, and instead going along with the "she's doing great, considering" consensus. Now I can face reality and it's hard, it's painful. I fill my days up with outings, lunch-dates, correcting and calling down home but I turn off the lights every night and go to sleep alone. I'm doing internet dating and all my messages are from men ten years older than me. I don't know what the story is with my fertility. I could be fine; but I'm entering the phase where months count, rather than years. I like this article, it gives me hope. Hope may be no more accurate than desperation but it's much more useful.
I loathe exhortations to "stay positive" but I suppose that's what I'm trying to do. I think "hopeful" might be better than positive. It doesn't carry the same connotations of expectation and certainty. So that is my step for today: to live in hope.