Monday, January 7, 2013

Where did empathy and compassion go?

In anticipation of the upcoming arrival of a friend's twins, last night I wrote up brief summaries of the labor stories of my children.

Most of the comments were supportive, encouraging.  Some people commiserated.  Some shared their own stories.  Some expressed gratitude for their situations.  Some expressed anger and frustration at theirs.

They couldn't have kids.  Can't.

What those who expressed anger don't seem to understand, is that at least in my case, I've been in that place.  I've been told I wouldn't have kids without drastic medical intervention.  I've been half of a couple officially diagnosed with infertility.  I've mourned my period every month.  I've hated pregnant women, wondered why it seems like everyone else in the world can do this but me.  I've bought more than five pregnancy tests at a time out of sheer desperation.  

Not only that, but I lost the only baby I should have ever been able to get pregnant with.  

My point in writing those stories wasn't to upset people last night, any more than my writing this now is to garner sympathy from other people.

It's to communicate this truth: no one really knows what anyone else has been through.  

None of us is qualified to judge anyone else.

Recently, a good friend of mine posted something on Facebook about having a tremendous amount of gratitude for her son's upcoming birthday party.  That she had no memory of the prior one.  That she'd been through a lot that no one else could understand and was immensely proud of herself for coming out on the other side, with the fog lifted and cleared.  

Rather than express support and love for her, concern for her situation, or show respect for her honesty, she was bashed by family members. 

What kind of mother doesn't 
remember her child's birthday????

I'll tell you what kind.  

Her.  

Me.  

We both struggled with post-partum depression that manifested into bigger and bigger clouds of haze that sank upon us, crippling our lives.  Reached into every aspect of who we were.  Contaminated memories.  Ruined happy times.  Purely as a defense mechanism, I've blocked large pieces of those memories.  

She has too.  

I don't remember much of anything about the first 14 months of my daughter's life.  I think we had a small cake for her at home, but I'm not sure.  I saw a picture floating around once that told me I didn't screw it up completely.  That even if I didn't remember it, I had jumped through the hoops and done what I was supposed to do.  

I see pictures of her as an infant, most of which I must have taken, and I can't remember her like that.  The delicious rolls upon rolls.  I remember what I can through those pictures alone.  

Does it make me a terrible mother?

Certainly not, though it's taken me years and years to reach the point where I could begin to forgive myself.  

The memories of my last child, limited by circumstances outside my control.  Ruined too.  Seeing pictures of him as a newborn break my heart and tear at my soul.  It wasn't depression this time that did it, but the effect is the same.

Does it make me a terrible mother?

I want to believe it doesn't.  I haven't worked on forgiving myself for that enough yet.  Mostly because it wasn't anything of my doing that led to it in the first place.  Nothing I could have done.

I tell my friend at every opportunity I can that I love her, and that even though our situations are different, they are also very similar.  Good mothers can block the memories of their children, not by choice, but purely to survive.  

Then, a few days ago, I came across a blog recommended by We Band of Mothers.  It's called No Holding Back, written by a mother who lost one of her twins to TTTS.  

My heart broke for her, reading the piece about how she's never sure what to say when people ask her how many children she has. What do you say when there's a child missing who should be there?  

For a long time, I answered awkwardly too.  I would include the little girl who was supposed to come first.  The one that we hinged all our hopes and dreams on.  The one that didn't make it.  

Over time, I stopped.  I just told people how many living children I had.  Not because I cared one bit about making them feel awkward, because I didn't.  I stopped for my own sanity.  It was too hard to be constantly reminded of who was not here.  I stopped as a defense mechanism.  

Not too different than the repressed memories, I suppose.  

She's a piece of me, just as those missing years with my living children are, but I don't talk about them with many people.  

I share my stories only with those who I feel will understand, and sometimes I learn right away that I've made a terrible mistake in trusting someone with that information.  

Other times, I find that I make a connection with someone else, who starts nodding in agreement.  Someone who understands.  Sometimes that someone in turn confides in me.  There are usually a lot of tears.

We all have our tragedies.  We all have our demons.  

And no book can ever be properly judged by it's cover.  

Have empathy and compassion for those around you.  You don't know what path they've walked.  

18 comments:

  1. Thank you for being so honest and I'm sorry for all of the people out there who place judgement without thinking. I know that it is hard for people to understand the grips of depression and the effect it has on one's life, but no one deserves to be talked down upon because of their struggles. I love how candid you are and I am inspired by your courage and strength. <3

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  2. Aww this is such a heartfelt, wonderful, moving piece! And I don't just say that because you wrote about me! Although I am honored that you did. There are just a lot of really sucky situations in life, aren't there? I''m really glad that the movement to make the voices heard of mothers who lose babies/infants/pregnancies or are struck with infertility. It's about time we be allowed to have a voice and people hear it. If you could see me, I am putting my fist over my heart for you right now! :-)

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  3. You have always been one of my "brave" bloggers in that you've always been willing to take sides on issues and take some heat for it. Even when I disagree with you, I applaud your courage. I will never understand the need for personal attacks, criticism, and "the angry mom" when someone pours their heart out. You have poured your heart out here and I would be proud to stand in front of you should one single pitch-fork carrying mobster show up. I was told at 17 the getting pregnant was going to be difficult. For 13 years of my life, I feared would be unable to have kids (turned out to be a complete fallacy). People respond to stuff in all kinds of ways, I just wish others didn't have to be so mean about everything. Wonderful post.

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  4. I get so tired of people who pass judgement on others without knowing the person or what they've been through. Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes? Anyone remember that quote?

    Great post Kelly, there's a reason why I love you and your blog so much! Keep up being so honest! :-D

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  5. SO true, soooooo true. Especially parenting. I think most people are trying desperately to be good parents, even when we can't. God knows I have struggled at times and I try to be empathetic of others who may be in the same place. I feel judge-y sometimes, but I am not proud of it.

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  6. Kelly~ I love you~ your heart, your soul, your honesty. Thank you for being you. Please know that there is always a place where you can go to talk~ and always a place where you can share yourself without judgement~ that place is with me. We are connected not by what is different about us~ but by what is similar. Love and Light to you my friend.

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  7. Man, don't link that lady to my blog. She'll need to take a valium to calm herself down when she reads about all the child abuse...

    I think sometimes, people don't think. They just react to the issue at hand and forget that there could possibly be more to the story. It's the classic difference between people like Obama, who waits to get all the information before making any kind of statement, and other people who just respond, knee jerk.

    In that vein, I've been trying to do a better job of looking at people who make me mad and assuming they have other things going on. Who knows what lies beneath.

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  8. ...Nodding...
    Only kindred spirits can understand. You may get lucky with the average joe, but pretty much, you and I, can feel someone's true intentions and never have to be on the defense with each other because of that, and because we know...if we don't catch up this time, there's always next time. And judgment? I don't allow that in my life. I'll excuse it verbally, written or bodily if I must. Kelly you help so many people like me, you have no idea. So a big thank you to you. Even if I'm unable to address it as often as I should (for that I feel bad). Just don't go away. Much love, G

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  9. I have chunks of my children's childhood lost in the gray crevices of my brain. Most because of survival and choosing to live in the moment. Some because of an illness that has changed the way I store memories.

    Thank you for clarifying and freeing me today. It isn't my memories that make me a "Good Mother." It is the memories my children hold of me.

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  10. We have no idea what is going on in other people's lives. Also, we really can't judge people even when we do. Maybe some people can handle a certain bad thing better than another person can. Maybe they handle it differently. It's not fair to judge someone. We do not live in their skin.

    Also, I wish people would just back off a bit and let other people tell their stories. You overcame fertility, obviously. Why can't you tell the story of your labor, your birth, your sadness, your joy? Your story does not diminish another person's story or sadness or joy. I don't understand why people are so offended when other people have a different experience than they do. I would think these stories would inspire hope, not anger. I see hope and strength in your writing every single day. You are someone to be admired. All of these people brave enough to share their stories are too. We help people when we are honest. Your friend cannot remember her daughter's birthday. She is better now. There is someone out there who desperately needs to hear that right now.

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  11. Once again - You make me so proud to be your Mother. Your honesty and sincerity is unsurpassed. Love, Mom

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  12. You could never be a terrible mom. I look towards you as my role model. I don't even know you, yet I strive to be like you.

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  13. The fact that you've come out on the other side as a happy and healthy mom makes you even more awesome. People just love to judge others. It seems that no one can put themselves in someone else's shoes for a minute. It also seems that no one can think before they type. It's a sad day in our age...

    Hugs to you!!

    Valerie

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  14. Thank you for writing about this, something that happened to me, something that was so hard to experience. People comment so quickly and without thinking sometimes, myself included. When you are on the journey of coming out of an abyss of psychological trauma, everyday is a battle between giving into the darkness or stepping closer to the light. Being judged harshly can send you reeling back, erasing the progress you've made, unless you take a step back and think about your journey and give yourself credit for the progress you've made. I have come a long way, I won't go back even if it means I forgive the seemingly unforgivable at first glance. Some judgements are made in ignorance, I am choosing to forgive ignorance, and to love myself anyways.

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  15. People need to start bringing people up, not tearing them down. No two life experiences are the same and we need to embrace each others differences. I have had some life experiences where most would curl up and hide from the world and I proudly wear it on my face everyday. I have lived my life with stupid comments, and stares that truly hurt. Lets love each other people!!

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  16. Sometimes people can be such douches. They have no consideration for other people's feelings. Postpartum depression is a very real affliction and can take a long time to overcome. My youngest suffered Postpartum depression after her children and while she did everything that needed to be done, took wonderful care of the babies it took her awhile to be herself again. She is a wonderful caring mother...but sometimes it is just so overwhelming.

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  17. Another instance of people tearing people down without even knowing what it is like in their shoes! I am just amazed that being who we are and the struggles that each of us has, that we cannot strive to be more empathetic, and feel that maybe, just maybe the other person may have gone through much more?!

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  18. Very true. Don't judge others because no one, no one has all the facts expect that person.

    And don't expect anyone, especially yourself to be super mom, because kids want a real mother, not a fictitious one!

    Great writing.

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