The phrase “beyond the Pale” refers to the part of Ireland under English control during the Middle Ages. Pale came to mean boundary; therefore, if you move beyond it, you are outside of the boundary and laws don’t apply. The phrase implies that you’ve gone too far and are alone.
That concept is fitting given the controversy roiling in the ALI (Adoption/Loss/Infertility community over the creation of the PAIL (Parenting/Pregnancy After Infertility and/or Loss) community. Quick recap: the PAIL community was created by Elphaba (we do love our nom-de-plumes) to help those who feel between worlds once they achieve pregnancy or parenthood. Unfortunately, the creation of the community was done without discussing it with the ALI community’s godmother, the amazing woman who has worked tirelessly over many years to build a space in which everyone felt included and supported, and she feels hurt and that her ideas are being used to build something exclusive instead of inclusive.
There has been a lot of nastiness in the comments accusing PAIL members of using the community to rub their success in the faces of those who are still trying to achieve parenthood and even some resurrection of everyone’s favorite game: the pain Olympics.
What the members of PAIL keep trying to explain and what continues to be ignored is the very real need for support for those parenting after infertility.
The ALI community is an inclusive, supportive place when you are wondering why you don’t ovulate. When you are having vial after vial of blood drawn. When you move to HSGs, clomid, IUIs and IVF. When you lose a baby too soon. When you agonize over the importance of biological ties. When you need to consider the ethics of domestic or international adoption. When you are outraged over a surrogacy attorney’s crimes. When you need to vent about callous friends and family members who don’t understand your pain. The community celebrates your highs and mourns with you during your lows.
Sadly, as many of us have discovered, that support ends when you receive a positive pregnancy test and/or finally achieve that take-home baby. Blog readers drop off. When you participate in the community, you are ignored. Your new status is everyone’s goal, yet you are almost ostracized once you reach it. The solution, as some of the commenters on Stirrup Queen’s post suggested, is for us to expand our readership into the general mom blogosphere.
Ignoring the fact that the solution is a bit condescending, the real problem is that we don’t feel like we belong completely in the broader parenting community. I don’t feel like I belong completely. I am a mother, but I still feel “other.”
There are some tangible reasons someone parenting after infertility might feel different from mothers who took a more conventional route to their children. They might be parenting a child of another race or in an open adoption and dealing with the issues that surround those situations. They might not have carried their child themselves. They might have to include complicated factors such as donor sperm, eggs or embryos into their child’s origin story. They might be dealing with mountains of debt and scarred veins from IVF treatments needed to achieve that child.
They might be parenting multiples and fielding knowing glances from strangers insinuating that they know your children must be the result of infertility treatment and feeling free to inquire after the regimen and using terms like “natural” (with the implication that your children are unnatural). Parenting after infertility causes many of us to redefine our definition of what a mother is. What a family is.
Though I have my much-loved sweet boy, I still can’t participate in some of the experiences and situations mothers use to bond with other mothers. Baby showers no longer cause me pain, yet when conversation turns to swapping war stories on birth options, labor experiences and breast feeding, I literally have nothing to say. I notice the other preschool moms in my son’s (former) class are all either pregnant or have recently given birth to their second child, and my mind goes to our 5 embryos in storage and the tens of thousands of dollars we will need to make a second child a reality. I observe the heated discussions over breast feeding vs formula feeding, natural birth vs pain medication vs c-sections, and they don’t mean anything to me (which is probably a good thing). I have no stretch marks to display (not from pregnancy anyway), no frustration over shedding baby weight. These concerns may sound frivolous, but they are the very real conversation of mothers around the often primal nature of motherhood.
I find myself questioning myself as a mother all the time. Am I giving Daniel everything he needs? Am I being the best mother I can for him? Is there something in me that prevents me from being a good mother? Because I faced the real fear of never having a child, I now feel fear all the time. Fear that I won’t be deserving of this incredible miracle that we were handed.
Some of this otherness and doubt may stem from the fact that our membership in the ALI community is based on the fact that we are abnormal at procreating in some way; that acknowledgement of not being “normal” doesn’t go away once you have a child. And that you needed to use medical treatment to subvert your body, while amazing and miraculous, sometimes makes me wonder whether I achieved motherhood fraudulently. Was I supposed to be a mother?
Maybe that’s the crux of my otherness: a nasty, deep-down suspicion that I don’t belong because I wasn’t supposed to be there.
I don’t write this post to be dramatic and fuel the fire on the inferno of PAIL. I love my son. I would have done nothing differently to have him. I can swap stories about sleeping and feeding when he was an infant, commiserate over picky eating habits as a toddler and what it’s like being a working mother. I do feel like I am a parent and share the same trials and tribulations others feel.
It’s just that how we got there never goes away.
Maybe I’m making too much of my experience. I remember in philosophy class that one theory said that as individuals, we are all alone and can never really know anyone but ourselves. We are all “other.” I thought that theory was very sad and depressing, and I think that we as humans are so desperate to build community and to escape that existential loneliness. We don’t want to be other; we want to find others like us who have shared the same experiences.
Please talk to me: if you are parenting after infertility or after a conventional path, do you fully feel like a mother? Do you ever feel like you don’t belong or are “other?”