Saturday, July 15, 2017

It takes a village

A Facebook friend recently shared this article/blog post, titled "In the absence of a village, build one." My friend added the comment, "We do not have do to it alone. Find your village, love them hard."  

The article is written from a mommy-centric perspective, for an audience of other mommies. (Which seems ironic from an infertility/childless perspective, because from where we sit, motherhood seems like a highly exclusive country club that everyone else gets to join and hang out with -- except us, of course.)(Scroll down to the comment from Jen on July 14th.) But I think that with a little imagination and some rewording, the thoughts shared here could apply to those of us in the adoption/loss/infertity community (or just about anyone, really).  

The author notes, "The time when you need a village the most also happens to be the time when it’s hardest to build one." She's thinking about her kids and their childhood, of course -- but I immediately thought about those awful days, post-loss, during infertility treatment, post-stopping, when I felt so completely alone.  (Maybe not in the immediate days after my loss, of course, when friends & relatives rallied round, called and sent flowers and cards, but in the weeks & months afterwards, when they assumed things were "back to normal" and got on with their lives, assuming I was doing the same thing. I wasn't.)  

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First, let's look at the barriers to finding your village identified in the article. (Not all might apply to your personal situation.)

Barriers to finding your village   

1. The age of fellow moms in your life—and the ages of their children

The age you're at -- when you're going through infertility/loss, when you have children, or just going through life, period -- can make it harder to find your village. If you're in your 20s & 30s, some of your friends might be having babies, some might still be looking for someone to have babies with. The ones having babies might not understand what you're dealing with, if you're going through infertility & loss -- and even if they do, they're obviously busy with other things;  you and your problems aren't their priority.  If you're trying to get pregnant in your 40s while all your friends have already had their families (some of them even becoming empty nesters...!), you can certainly feel out of sync with them. Even if you eventually do have a baby or adopt a child late in your reproductive life, there might be quite an age gap between your kids and theirs. Your friends may have already found their mommy tribe and feel more comfortable talking about school PTA meetings with the other PTA members, rather than comiserate with you about your lack of sleep. If you never have children, by choice or by chance, you will most likely feel shut out of the loop while your peers build their families. Working (and working & commuting) can make it difficult to find new friendships and maintain old ones. And if you're like me, & retire early, you can sometimes feel isolated if most of your friends are still working.

2. The arrangement of work & life

"For example, mothers who work outside the home may have a hard time connecting with moms who stay home. There are only so many hours in the day…" the article says. And, I might add, both kinds of moms often have a hard time connecting with non-moms, and making room for them in lives that are now laser-focused on all things mommy & baby-related.

A little more about work and the role it plays in finding our village: for some of us, work becomes our village, or a part of it.  I met a lot of great people at work, and I've stayed friends/friendly with some of them. But there are barriers to cultivating friendships at work, too. I know a lot of the younger people in my office liked to go out together after work (especially on a Thursday night, for some reason)  -- I did too, when I was in my 20s and we lived in the city. But when you get older, your priorities change -- even if you don't have kids tying you down. You don't recover from a night out at the bar as quickly ;)  you start to value your sleep, and you have a husband (if not kids) waiting for you at home.

Also, this probably wouldn't be as much of an issue in a smaller community, but the people I worked with commuted to our downtown office from all over a huge metropolitan area. Distance & commuting time -- not to mention the need to adhere to train, subway & bus schedules -- can certainly be barriers to after-work socializing, and forming and maintaining out-of-office friendships. After a long day of work (8.5 hours including lunch, plus another two hours or so commuting, round trip), I often just wanted to go home.  (Especially on a weeknight -- since I had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning & do it all again...!)

3. The courage it requires to reach out to another woman

Especially "in real life,"  even if that person has also experienced loss &/or infertility. Sometimes, it's easier to reach out to other women in similar situations online.

4. The feeling that the women around you already have a village in place

Thinking of that exclusive mommy club again. ;)  Although feelings don't necessarily equal reality. There are more women out there looking for villages, or new people for their village, than we might think.

5. A fragmented village

I have lots of different people from different parts of my life and places that I've lived, some that I rely on more than others, sometimes for different things. They don't necessarily know or know about each other, or about the different parts of my life beyond the part I shared with them. (This was one reason I was very leery to join Facebook at first -- I wasn't sure I wanted all these different parts of my life coming together in one place. I am sure some of my Facebook friends, have been surprised at some of the things they've learned about me there...!)  

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6 Tips to help you build your village 

I think these tips from the article can apply to any village-building effort, not just if you're a mom. 

1. First, believe that you don’t have to do motherhood adoption/loss/infertility (or anything else)  on your own. 

There are people who are going through the same thing you are (both in "real life" and certainly online) who are also looking to build their villages and find support... and who are willing to support you, too. Start looking for them.  

2. Next, get comfortable (ironically) with vulnerability. 

"Vulnerability allows us to take friendships to a much more meaningful level, and in turn we find ourselves feeling happier and more comfortable in our own skin because of the authenticity we’ve developed in the safety of close relationships," the article says. 
If anyone knows about vulnerability, I think it's ALIers. :)  Infertility & loss are pretty isolating, lonely, emotion-laden experiences. Our hearts are raw, broken, tender.  If there's one thing that helps us survive, it's giving voice to our truth -- being honest, expressing our feelings fully and honestly (by talking about them, or at least writing them out) -- and to know that others are listening.  Not necessarily that they have answers for us. Sometimes the mere act of voicing what's in our hearts -- and having someone pay attention -- is comfort enough.   

3. Watch for women you can bring in.

"A village gets stronger with numbers. If you already have a support network, keep your eyes open for women... who might need what you can offer. Be a people connector."

We're everywhere -- even if we're not always upfront about it. 

4. Keep working on YOU.

"Your vibe attracts your tribe." 

5. Ask for help, and accept it when it’s offered. 

So often, the people around us don't know we're hurting. It's hard to open ourselves up and admit we need help. Sometimes it leads to more hurt (clueless friends & relatives who don't understand) -- but sometimes it can lead to new understanding & new, stronger connections. 

6. Offer YOUR help. 

"Being willing to help others—to be their village—is the biggest key to creating one."  Share what you've learned, comment on others' posts.  

What do you think?  Did the translation to the ALI world work here? What would you add?

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Reading the post got me thinking (not for the first time...!)  about my personal "village" and how it applied to my own life, post Katie, post-infertility.    

Immediately after losing Katie (in August 1998), I found myself reading obsessively about pregnancy loss -- why it happens, what I could do to prevent it from happening again, and what I could do to help myself recover from such a horrible blow. Several older women in my life who had lost babies years ago -- dh's aunts, my best friend's mother -- called & told me it had happened to them too. Most of them told me "you'll have another baby,"  which I suppose is what they'd been told (and for them, it did happen, so why wouldn't they believe otherwise?). Most of the women my own age that I knew had not experienced such a loss, it seemed.  I was floored -- and so touched -- when a former coworker now living in the States called me out of the blue (after reading the mass email I'd sent out) and told me about her own miscarriage.  

The package the hospital sent home with me included some information on local support groups. Even in a city as big as Toronto, it was hard to find support: the hospital's own onsite group no longer existed (!), another wanted me to come to their midtown office for an interview (!) & then wait until they had enough people to form a group that would last for a certain number of weeks & then send us on our way.  Finally, the hospital social worker I was dealing with told me about another group where she was a board member.  I went to one meeting by myself;  dh joined me for the next one, and we stayed there for the next 10+ years -- first as clients and then as facilitators. Finding our tribe, real-life people who lived nearby and were going through a similar experience, was a huge part of our healing. 

But the group only met once or twice a month. The time between meetings felt like an eternity sometimes.  That's when I discovered the power of the Internet. We'd bought our first computer two years earlier, in the fall of 1996.  Early on in my pregnancy, one of dh's coworkers had given him the name of a website she thought I'd like to check out. It was Parents Place (now defunct), with week by week pregnancy information & tips, as well as message boards for pregnant women and new mothers. There were, I realized, post-Katie, also message boards for pregnancy loss -- but I was a little hesitant about putting myself out there publicly like that. 

Eventually, I found a private e-mail list that seemed a little "safer" to me than public message boards, and joined that. It proved to be my daily lifeline for the next several years. I would rush home to check my email for the latest digests and emails from my newfound friends, and pour my heart out onscreen, both to the entire list and privately to several members I'd formed cyberfriendships with.  

The list was for women (& men) who had endured pregnancy loss and hoped to try again. As you might imagine, many of them also had infertility issues, and they were a source of invaluable information and encouragement as we ventured down the slippery slope of infertility testing and treatment. But as more & more of them got their "rainbow babies" (and sometimes a second, and a third...) -- and I did not -- my postings to the group began to taper off. It was becoming obvious that the "subsequent pregnancy" part of the title was not going to happen for us.  

I didn't post regularly on any infertility message boards while I was going through treatment (although I did check some out). (Blogs were not yet a "thing" -- that came a few years later.)  But after my final IUI failed early in the summer of 2001, I started hunting for resources for living without children.  There was not much out there -- and a lot of what I did find was for people who never wanted children. But I did find a very few message boards (often attached to infertility websites) devoted to the subject, with a somewhat active membership. In particular, I found a home on the Childless Living message board at iVillage. Sadly, it is long gone now -- but this week it will be 16 years (!) since I introduced myself there. I always consider that date as as the beginning of my childless/free life after infertility & loss. And I am still in touch with several of the women I "met" there (and I have met two of them "in real life") -- on a different private forum we created a few years later, and (later still) on Facebook. 

I don't think I discovered blogs until about 2006, and I started following a few of them regularly. Most of the ones I found in those early days no longer exist. But one in particular still does: Melissa's Stirrup Queens, which has long been a community hub for those of us dealing with adoption, loss & infertility. I think I started tentatively commenting on some of her posts -- particularly the sessions in The Lushary (which hasn't creaked opened its doors in a long time, but which still holds a fond place in my heart...! ;)  ) -- sometime in 2007. Through her blogroll, I discovered Pamela's original Coming2Terms blog, which eventually morphed into Silent Sorority.

And so, with Pamela's example in front of me and Mel's encouragement (and to take part in her Barren B*tches Book Tour -- which was, at the time, getting ready to discuss Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" -- plus ca change...!), I decided to start my own blog. This fall, it will be 10 years (!!) since I hit "publish" on that very first post.  While many of the bloggers I used to follow (sadly) no longer write, I'm so very happy (& proud) that the childless-not-by-choice neighbourhood of our ALI village has grown by leaps & bounds in recent years!  

I know I've told this story before (and I'll probably tell it again & again) -- but I felt compelled to tell it again now... mostly because I'm so grateful to the Internet and to blogging for giving me hope, empathy and friendship at a time in my life when I really, really needed it (and found it hard to come by in my offline life).   
Thank you all for being part of my village!  :)  


  1. Thank YOU Loribeth!!! Finding your blog (and a few others) was a huge, healing relief in my life. Suddenly, I wasn't alone anymore. <3

    The barriers to finding your village make so much sense, especially #2. I often wonder what it would be like if everyone collectively decided to slow down a little.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I confess that I couldn't read the article once I got to the meme, because it annoyed me so much, assuming that "women" = "mothers." So I appreciate that you read this, and put such an effort into writing this. I love the village that we have now, spanning the world!

    I couldn't face support groups when I had my ectopic pregnancies and became childless, and found my village online too. I've written many times how those women saved my sanity, and taught me so much about recovery. And I love my blogging village now too.

  3. I might do a spinoff of this post if you don't mind. My village means so much to me every single day, but especially within the last ten days or so. I am so thankful for all of my people.