Friday, November 30, 2007

In a tizzy about being busy

The other night, I went out for dinner with a group of girlfriends. We share a sisterhood of sorrow. We all met through our pregnancy loss support group several years back, and have remained friends, even though most of them no longer attend group meetings. Three years ago, we decided to start a monthly scrapbooking night. Some of us are more ardent scrapbookers than others, but it's an "excuse" to get out of the house and get together. (There's usually more socializing than scrapping going on!)

These are women who intimately know & share my life's deepest pain -- the loss of a baby. Some of them also have had infertility problems. I can say my daughter's name and talk about "when I was pregnant" freely with them and without fear of a negative reaction. I feel more comfortable with them than with many other people who have known me a lot longer. And overall, I had a really good time, being together, talking, laughing, celebrating the season and our friendship.

And yet -- there was, and is, a part of me that felt alone and outside the circle, and guarded in some respects about what I say and what I share with them. Because I'm the only one among them who does not have children. Some already had children before their loss, and decided not to try again. Some have adopted. Others have had subsequent babies that now preoccupy their days and their conversation.

As they talked about how busy they were, how tired they were, how they were juggling their kids' activities, their own activities, their jobs, their maternity leaves and their Christmas plans (plus, two of them are moving -- one of them across the ocean!) -- I had nothing to offer in the way of similar stories or advice -- about finicky eaters and toddler sleep problems and at what age it's appropriate to bring a toddler to his first movie. And I had to bite my tongue and resist the impulse to join in the conversation with my own laments about about how busy & tired I am these days (or at least, do so in a very careful way).

I AM busy and tired. It's year end at my office, and mid-November through Christmas is my peak season. I do a lot of work that crosses the desks of my company's top executives, and my days right now are very full and highly stressful. I don't work a lot of overtime, but my days are long, nevertheless. On a normal work day, I am up at 5 a.m., out of the house and commuting by 6:30, in the office from 7:45 until 4:30, and not home again until 5:30 at the earliest. We're usually in bed no later than 10 -- which doesn't give us a lot of free time in the evening after supper is made, eaten and cleaned up. This means our weekends are usually crammed with house cleaning, laundry, shopping, errands and seeing dh's family.

I had a bad cold a few weeks back & an apparently still-lingering throat infection -- still don't feel 100%. My dh has been stressed lately about a number of different things, and I've been stressed trying to deal with HIS stress. And, like everyone else, I'm trying to keep on top of Christmas preparations, get everything done that needs to get done -- for dh's family, in time for our nephew's birthday on Dec. 15th, and for mine before we leave to join them for the holidays on Dec. 22nd -- and trying to enjoy the spirit of the season, just a little. Our calendar is filling up with holiday-related events & activities, along with our usual classes, meetings and other obligations. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have a running to-do list that never seems to get any shorter.

But I couldn't share most of this with these women. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, projecting my own insecurities here, but I'm sure some of them would think -- even subconsciously -- that I don't know what busy is -- because, of course, I don't have any kids. I thought I detected a fleeting expression crossing their faces when I've made such comments in the past. Even though they, better than anyone else, know how much we wanted children and what we'd give to have our daughter with us today, there is still this automatic, ingrained assumption (which I've obviously absorbed as much as anybody else) that people with kids are busier than people without kids -- that if you don't have kids, you have oodles of free time on your hands to kill -- and that somehow, their tales of busy-ness are more "legitimate" than any story I could tell to try to match them.

It's not a competition (although sometimes it seems that way). Everyone is busy these days -- it seems to be the nature of life in the 21st century. We all have the same number of hours in a day -- we just use them differently. Somehow, they always fill up, whether you have children or not, whether you have one child or five, whether you work inside or outside the home, whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban setting.

I often wonder how I would have managed children on top of everything else I cram into my life right now. I think the answer is, you just do. You just organize and prioritize your time in a different way. I think of my mother and a co-worker of mine, who both retired within the past few years. Both like to joke about how they wonder how they ever had time to work. They're both keeping very busy, just with other things now.

I'll admit that not having children gives me more in the way of personal time, and greater flexibility in how I use it. But who's to say that one person's activities inherently "count" more than another's? Or that I'm not entitled to my leisure time just as much as someone with children is?

In one of the online grief groups I belong to, we have a saying -- there is no "grief-o-meter." Pain is pain, grief is grief, regardless of whether you lost your child via ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or medical termination.

And busy is busy, and tired is tired, no matter how you got there.


  1. I'm sorry to hear you are so busy, tired and stressed lately. the holidays sure don't make that any easier.

    I wish your scrapping group of friends didn't have that underlying current of "busier/more fulfilled/whatever" than thou :( I hope you have good friends taht you can talk to who aren't like that. I am fortunate to have a few good friends that I can be free with, but I find that often in groups of women there seems to be almost a competitive tendency to establish who is 'the most' - at whatever. Guys seem to work out their competitiveness in other ways (this could be a generalization?) I wish women could be more understanding adn supportive w/o feeling the need to position as 'my business is more important than yours.' It feels dismissive and lowering.

    Incidentally I have 2 friends from highschool, W and B - all 3 of us in different stages in life - W is CF, I have 2 kids after IF, B is unmarried/not in a relationship. B is the busiest of the 3 of us, I would say - with all the volunteer work, stuff she does for family & friends - it is hardest to find a weekend where she is free, So being CF and being single does NOT mean one is not busy.

    I hope this weekend brings you a lift in spirits, some pampering, whatever it is you need. I am sorry you are going through such a rough time.



  2. I actually feel guilty saying to mothers "I'm busy." I think they're thinking "How could SHE be busy?"

  3. I love the last line--huge cheer. You should put that quote on your sidebar.

    It's a strange sensation to have a group of people who are simultaneously as close as can be and as far as can be from you emotionally.

  4. Hi! Found you via Ellen, I believe. In any case, I'm glad to "meet" you.

    I think one of the hardest parts of IF has been that silent judgment of others. Like you said, it could be my own insecurities, but sometimes it feels like they're making assumptions about me and my life. Whether it be how busy (or not) I am, or the cause of our IF, or why we don't "just adopt" ... I see it on their faces and hear it in their words. I'm excluded. I couldn't possibly understand. To which I respond the same, as neither could they possibly understand. Such is life, I guess :-) I do try to be empathetic and wish others could do the same!

    You're a great writer. I'm looking forward to reading back through your posts.

  5. Agreed.

    Part of our pronatalist culture requires that we support and recognize the needs of parents -- but to what extent? I'm wondering this in my own life, as my college roommate, the working mother of a toddler, hasn't returned any of my emails/calls in several months. I am sure she will inevitably plead frantic parenthood -- and I'm not in a place to admit that excuse.

  6. Love your post, it's so true. I also lost my only pg at 5 mos. after 10 yrs of marriage and 2 yrs ttc... 2 yrs later we are on our last chance attempt and if it fails we are facing a CF future... I swear it's as if people think we have nothing else to do even though we work hard long days and try to build our life without kids. It's as if our time and energy is de-valued because it's not spent childrearing, much as we would have loved things to be different...

    Someone once insisted that our free time is a "luxury" we should be grateful for -- first, who has lots of "free" time? and yes, of course, infertility is such a "luxury"! argh.

    Anyway, I'm so sorry this group of women is not more compassionate about your current situation. I hope you get through the holiday season with your spirit in tact. Thanks for the post.

    amy s.

  7. came over from Stirrup Queens - I so completely resonate with this post. I'm part of an activist group at home and when some members started having children they really began to withdraw from the group - social events as well - and it was really hard to be on the other side of that divide. To be exhausted and overcommitted and not to have that "out" that everybody else seemed to have.

  8. This is the first time I have come to your blog but I WILL be back to visit. You are so right. Busy is Busy and Tired is Tired. Your schedule sounds a lot like mine. Having children doesn't make you more busy, just busy in a different way. You are so right it is just different priorities in different things. Working two jobs and spending time with my husband, and being in my church groups doesn't make me less busy than somebody who is running their kids to different activities. Good Post!

  9. I saw this article in a women's magazine once. They trailed four women for a week to see who had the most free time.

    1. Married, at-home mum of four.
    2. Working mum of one.
    3. At-home single mum of one.
    4. Childless, working woman.

    The one with the LEAST free time was number four. The one with the MOST free time was number one. Kids don't automatically equal busy and tired - you have to take a person's life as a whole.

    But try getting people to believe that.


  10. Coming from the Creme..

    This is a great post.

    I do relate in a few ways. I have a scrapbooking club I go to, and the women were always bringing their newborns in, etc. and I was there trying to forget about our troubles in having another child. It was hard and very alienating.

  11. Thanks for writing this post. I really agree with you that there is no grief-o-meter.

  12. Great post! You explained SO many things that I couldn't really find the words for! I feel the same way! It's incredibly annoying and frustrating when parents try to minimize the fact that us without children couldn't POSSIBLY be "tired" or "busy"...

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! I enjoyed reading your post on this similar subject ;)

  13. Thanks so much for the reference to this post. It really spoke to me. At the end of last year I was feeling completely stressed and yet I didn't have a full-time job (part of the stress) or kids, and I felt like a total fraud saying I was stressed. But my body showed me I was. I like the grief-o-meter statement - and stress or being tired is the same.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this post with me... So true. There is that sorry of assumption that with kids you are busier, tireder, and without you just shouldn't complain. It's crap. I love your grief-o-meter statement. I guess comparison is part of human nature, but it's just not useful at all. Sigh... And I agree with people above--we were told all the time to "live it up" while trying, that we wouldn't have time when we were successful, and very few people understood just how exhausting and stressful those years of being childfree while desperately trying to not be weren't luxurious at all. Great post!

  15. I stand by my earlier comment: "And busy is busy, and tired is tired, no matter how you got there." This needs to be a motto. And anti-Pain Olympics.