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.