Beyond the PAIL

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?”

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28 comments

  1. There are plenty of ways I feel “other”:
    * twins
    * spontaneous twins (majority of twins are the result of IF treatment)
    * twins in day care (do you know how rare that is?)
    * traveling husband

    For each of these, I have found my own tribe to help me through because people outside the tribe really don’t know how to help me effectively. Non twin parents can only guess at the best way to bottle feed two babies at the same time or get two babies on the same schedule through growth spurts and illnesses. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me Jon should get a job not traveling…. not understanding there are reasons he is in this job.

    I think we all need help parenting and that’s why I’ve found my tribes to be important. That said, there are commonalities we all have as parents and I find it good to focus on that as well.

    Rookie Moms recently wrote a great post on labels, good food for thought.

  2. I nodded my way through every paragraph in this post. Still, I feel lost in this PAIL stuff. I didn’t join the blogroll, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the otherness, and sometimes rather acutely. I do fully feel like my son’s mother. I do feel like a mother. But I struggle to relate to mothers who did not walk the ALI path.

  3. Well said. I agree with everything you wrote. We are different from other mums. I still don’t believe though that innovation has to be stifled because someone wasn’t consulted first. And that by celebrating pregnancy after IF makes us bad people.

    It makes us scarred people that want to talk about parenting without feeling like we are going to be criticised for doing so.

  4. I feel “other” in two very distinct ways. First – I don’t feel like I gave birth to my son. I had a c-section because he was breech, and to this day, I don’t feel like I birthed him. I feel like he was just handed to me on a silver platter in the operating room.

    Second – I feel like I (and we IF-ers in general) appreciate my baby a little more after what we went through to get him. I don’t think we love our kids more, but I do think that many of us appreciate motherhood more than the normal mother. Some of the things I hear normal moms say – I just can’t imagine feeling and saying those things because I worked so hard to get here. Someone asked me today how I’m doing staying at home – do I need a break, am I bored, etc.? In my head, I thought, “are you crazy? I worried this life would never happen for me!” In real life, I just said, “I love every minute of it,” because I really, really do!

    This is why we need PAIL – for discussions like these. Regular mommy bloggers would think we were nuts!

  5. You really go into detail about the problems so many of us in the parenting after IF community face. I feel these, especially, are these REAL twins? No, the are clones out of suck your SOUL! So. Dumb. Thanks for adding color to the story…

  6. You are definitely not alone in how you feel. I relate with everything you say and feel. I’ve found myself at work with women who have had children 10+ years ago still talking about their birth stories, with me having nothing to add and not necessarily wanting to discuss the gestational surrogacy process every single time.

    Thanks so much for your post.

  7. I just read your comment on SQ and I just wanted to come here and say “You belong”. I was also going to write a post titled “Beyond the Pail”, so we think alike! 🙂

    The biggest A-HA moment for me in this recent discussion was the fact that there is no ‘P’ in ALI. There is ALI in PAIL, but not the other way around. How are we to feel part of a community that is trying to get the P, but doesn’t want to acknowledge what it’s like when you get there?

  8. I also followed you over from the SQ comments. You articulated many of the same thoughts I’ve had about PAIL and the community as a whole. I didn’t find SQ and the ALI community until after we’d stopped treatments and achieved parenthood through adoption. I’ve wondered if that is why I’ve never really felt like I “belong”. Do you have any idea how refreshing and validating it’s been to hear so many other women echo the same sentiments (even – maybe particularly – those who were active in the community before becoming parents)?! I’m still not totally sure I “belong” in PAIL as, last I checked, I was the only “adopter” there. But it at least feels at little more homey.

  9. Agree with all of it, including the title, which I was going to use on my own post about this ridiculousness (great minds and all that, right?). Then I decided to step away from the drama for a while and not write about it…but I’m glad you did. I do often wonder if my feeling “other” about parenting is because of IF or if it really is because we are all “other”. But I think its the former because in this world, I DO feel more like I belong.

  10. I also found you through your comment on Mel’s blog. I am not parenting yet, but I still agree with so much you have said in your post. Especially the part about “achieving motherhood fraudulently”. Today, I am 6 weeks and 3 days pregnant in my second pregnancy (my first ended in a 5-th week loss). From my first IVF, after TTC for 18 months. And I sometimes feel like a fraud in two different ways: for one, I feel like maybe I was too impatient, that maybe I jumped the gun – afterall, for a woman my age (I’m almost 39) it’s not unusual to have to TTC for two years or more. But I was “impatient” and chose to “cheat” and use IVF.
    The other way I feel like a fraud is because I conceived in my very first IVF; like it was “too easy”, especially for a woman my age and with my hormon levels. And so far, while I’m far from “safe” yet and have a long way to go for my take-home baby, it’s continued to be “too easy”. Great betas, no spotting, even no major problems with pregnancy symptoms. The “only” worry is that I haven’t seen more than a yolk sac yet at a time when others already get to see a heartbeat. And the ever-present fear of another loss. But still, I kind of feel like a fraud for my ART journey having been “too easy” so far.
    So, yes, in a way a feel “other” twice over.

    1. Relaxednomore, I can understand what you mean by feeling like a fraud because of doing so well with IVF. I feel almost ashamed to reach out to other people who experience IVF, because they are experiencing infertility. I am doing IVF not because I am infertile, but because I am working with a gestational surrogate since I can’t carry my own child due to spinal issues. I’ll only need one IVF to ‘get pregnant’. I feel that somehow I am ‘cheating’ others with my blog of my experience, if that makes sense, because I can’t understand their journey with infertility or difficulty in trying to conceive. Thanks for sharing your feelings.

    2. Relaxednomore, I totally hear you – I got pregnant on my first IVF as well, the only treatment we ever did. Of course, I went through 8 1/2 years of infertility to get there, but many days that just doesn’t seem to matter.

      And congrats!!

  11. I totally get that feeling of “maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mother” even though conceiving #2 was not a struggle (which goes down the path to oh maybe you weren’t infertile after all to begin with). I definitely think we all carry scars to some degree, some level of trauma, that makes it hard to relate to “normal” moms.

  12. Yes, I do feel other. I am infertile but I have given birth to a child. I am a mother but will never be one again.

    I think people tend to forget that there was an infertility community before SQ came into existence, and that while SQ is an amazing space, it is not the end all and be all. That sounds extremely harsh, yet it is the truth. I do wonder if fragmentation is actually the norm rather than the exception after a community reaches a certain size, because I think that’s what’s happening now in the infertility blogosphere.

    Anyhoo, I really appreciate your coherent thoughts on those posts.

  13. I have tried to stay away from the fray at Mel’s and at PAIL…and I wondered why and then read your post. Because I don’t feel totally a part of any of the communities. Because I had a son beforehand and was coming from it of a mother first, secondary infertile second–I have always felt a bit “other”. I think the most community I have felt is with the Braces Bunch. Because with them–we stick together no matter what, we are there for each other not only on-line, but through snail mail and packages. We have gotten to “know” each other.

    Perhaps, despite “knowing” Mel, people still did not realize that they were hurting her.

    I did not know of PAIL until this thread…and I think I would join it. Not to be exclusive, not to leave any group–but because I am STILL searching for a place to “belong”.

  14. Sorry I’m late to comment here. I just wanted to say that I know how identifying as “other” feels. As someone who is not IF and has only suffered one loss I’ve always felt so out of place here in the IF community, but my mom’s history and my loss and TTC struggles make me feel just as out of place in the “fertile” community. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere either and it’s hard. I wonder if anyone feels like they are really belong anywhere, if this hubbub has taught me anything it’s that mostly like they don’t. Maybe that is the human condition.

  15. I feel like a real mother– I sometimes feel even more like a real mother thanks to my infertility (in the “I had to work for this so I appreciate it more” kind of way that is not always a positive and helpful mindset to be in). And I haven’t had any trouble hangin’ with the regular mom folks in my neighborhood– perhaps because I can share those birthing/breastfeeding stories without qualifiers.

    The only times these days that our infertility raises its head for me are either: when I’m exhausted and my son has woken up again and I feel a teeny temptation to lose it and then I hold him and stroke his incredible head and remember how freaking lucky I am and how desperately I longed for this; or when someone makes a comment like “I’ll probably be pregnant again by then so we’ll have to move” or asks us if we’re going to have more children (not if we want more children) and I have to confront the fact that I just don’t know what’s in store for us or how hard it will be.

    (Though in a sense, none of us knows what’s in store really, so maybe we’re lucky that we have to accept it right up front as the condition of life).

  16. Just came back over to read the subsequent comments, and I wanted to say that I am glad you’re hosting one of the salons. This is such a good discussion. I look forward to participating…

    Have a great weekend!

  17. I have had two baby boys who were born prematurely. Both spent time in the NICU. I lost one baby and a Fallopian tube to an ectopic pregnancy. Before I had my second boy I spent a year dealing with PCOS. My second son was born via emergency cesarean.
    During my first stay in the NICU I felt betrayed by my body. During my second, I wondered whether it was unfair and arrogant of me to try for a second.
    So, yes, I feel other. But for modern science neither of my boys would be alive. I may have been able to conceive easily, but nothing else came easy. And for a while I feared I’d lost that to a doctor’s mistake and a lost Fallopian tube. Despite this I am grateful. Once you experience the absolute fear of having a child who is not well,you never take your child’s health for granted.
    The
    The NICU

  18. (you updated your old website – that’s how I found you)

    I don’t really blog about parenting after infertility, I sometimes mention parenting stuff and I am up front about being infertile, but, I wouldn’t consider myself a parenting after infertility blog.

    Nonetheless I don’t fit in with most of the mommy’s.
    The day our children were born was the worst/scariest day of our lives (I don’t have all those happy memory crap that other mothers seem to have).

    And after 5 years and numerous IVFs, when we became parents I was squarely landed in the IVF vet category, and I felt cranky.

    Mostly I just read blogs now of people that are infertile (if I read them back when we were trying to have kids, I haven’t picked up any new blogs), and I read a few parenting after infertility blogs (but they have to be interesting and genuine and about the blogger, I find way too many turn into a list of my babies achievements and turn into mommyblogs).

    I went to the PAIL website, I looked at the blogs listed under my kids age category and all of them appeared to be strict mommyblogs, lots of pictures and posts only about their children (not about the parents emotions, or how different they feel parenting after infertility). I find it hard to distinguish between mommyblogs and parenting after infertility blogs (I’m sure the difference is big to the writer, but, to the reader most, not all, but, most are indistinguishable and are total mommyblogs). Even the PAIL topic of the month (breast-feeding! something that excludes those of us that worked with surrogates or adopted our children). IT sounds like another mommyblogging hangout space to me.

    (but that’s my opinion, and what does it count, when I don’t even blog about parenting?).

    1. Good to “see” you again! I think your comparison of the mommyblogs and parenting after infertility blogs is interesting. I haven’t visited all the PAIL blogs yet, but in general, I don’t enjoy blogs about newborns b/c they do tend to be milestone posts. I did a few of those on this blog and that was one of the reasons why I stopped blogging for a while b/c who wants to read that? That’s not interesting. It’s only been recently as my son grew older and I had more time that I wanted to post more. One thing I’ve wanted to say to new moms who say they feel like they don’t need a new spot or that the pain of IF has lessened is to wait a few years, and I don’t mean that condescendingly at all. As I wrote to JJiraffe last week, when my son was an infant and life revolved around feedings, dirty diapers, sleeplessness and cuteness, I felt blissful and just like any other new mom. It was only as he started to get a little older and we could slow down again that IF pain started to return. Does that make sense?

      1. absolutely, and your blog is not what I call a mommyblog(ye know the long just about my baby never ever talk about myself posts). I’m interested in a mothers perspective of parenting after infertility, but a blow by blow of baby milestones is a bit of a snooze fest for me!

        Glad I found you again!

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