Born Without: Am I a Woman?

Simple answer.

Hell. Yes.

However, our identity is something that can absolutely be challenged by being told, often as a teenager that we won’t ever have periods (well that seems good right?…yay!), will often have to undergo some treatment to have a comfortable sex life (getting less ‘yay’ by the second) oh and your lack of (or underdeveloped) uterus means you won’t ever be able to carry a child (‘yay’ is now in a far distant land ).

As a woman you learn about the female body and how it works and what should happen and when. You aren’t taught that sometimes those things don’t happen or why they don’t happen. So when you are presented with an effective void where there should be something that for all intents and purposes identifies to you a part of ‘being a woman’ then processing that and accepting that can be a challenge.

Periods are seen like a symbol of female identity and womanhood. So the absence of this makes you feel different, particularly as a teenager going through hormones, puberty, peer pressure and well just everything. For me, I definitely felt different. When everyone else was talking about periods I was finding myself making things up just to feel like I fit in or excusing myself from the conversation. I didn’t feel like a freak, I didn’t feel un-normal, I just felt weird.

The mere thought of ‘owning up’ to the fact I didn’t have periods, well I couldn’t even fathom what the girls in my all girls comprehensive would say. So I just didn’t say anything because I was pretty scared about the response. As a teenage girl this was not how it was supposed to be!

That being said I wasn’t afraid of telling people about MRKH, I was oddly quite proud of being able to say (and spell) the full acronym, I was just selective of how I did it and who I told and what I shared. I think I even gave one of my friends a very medical/clinical leaflet(!) or I often snuck it into a conversation like it was totally normal. Like on the way to Geography or something.

But I didn’t tell everyone everything and I definitely didn’t want some girls in my class to know for fear of ridicule or perhaps being thrown in a dustbin again (that had happened before). In reality my problems were not ever going to be at the forefront of peoples minds but if some people knew would they just laugh or worse, feel sorry for me?

What was actually easier to do was talk to a boy friend. They don’t have the sympathy or empathy in the same way and I found that bit the hardest when talking to my female friends. They also don’t ask so many questions!

Boys don’t really understand girls or girls bodies which helps 🙂 (at least not as teenagers and some I would argue never get to that point). Telling a boy was one thing but telling a boyfriend, something else.

My boyfriend was 2 years older than me and it was very daunting (and I am underplaying it here, its terrifying) to tell him at a time when we at least felt like we were under a lot of peer pressure – ‘hey its great and you’re awesome but I can’t have sex until I have done this treatment which will probably sometime next year’ – it could have gone a lot worse than it did.

Sexual identity much like periods is a part of life that I wanted to explore but I felt very embarrassed, stupidly so, that I wasn’t at that stage. In reality of course I think it gave us the chance to respect each other much more and find other ways to have fun. It really isn’t all about sex.

Even after the treatment I was then permanently worried if it felt different, or weird or bad because I wasn’t the same as other women. But of course what does being ‘the same’ mean. I can look back now and think how silly I was but at the time it feels all encompassing.

For both Mia and I the fact we had met each other at a time where we were both going through this treatment was a true blessing. I know we were both curious about the other and also probably as nervous as each other to finally meet.

Suddenly this thing which affects 1 in 5000 women, which was a hard to fathom number, felt a lot smaller when there is a girl in the next room who totally understands and is going through the same thing. Someone else who totally got where I was coming from. Sure there were differences to our experiences but many similarities too and that was also interesting to learn and to go through together.

What is perhaps obvious, but I found interesting and a little comforting, from Mia’s great writing, is that the feelings we have are often no different to those of us with different sexual development, fertility issues etc. Perhaps those feelings come at a different stage of life but they are no less important.

The general feeling of being different is compounded by the ‘feminine ideal’ and whats the ‘norm’ without considering that there is a huge heap of women (and of course men) who go through or have fertility issues. That’s not a small number, it’s at least 1 in 8 couples globally.

I really like this paragraph from Mia’s text so I am copying it verbatim. Its no wonder that our ideals around women and our own identity can be challenged in a society that has to dominantly been focused on the female identity as periods and motherhood.

Feminine research equates motherhood with femininity (6; 2; 4; 3), thus it is unsurprising that the participants feel on the outskirts of societal norms. 5 describes motherhood as women’s “raison d’être”, so it is unsurprising that the participants should feel at a loss in fulfilling the societal expectation of gender ideals. Feminists have identified menstruation as ‘the uniting entity between women’, as something that all women share (1). This positive view of menstruation and ‘womanhood’ neglects that women with primary amenorrhea have never experienced a single period and never will.

Despite there being papers used here that are 30-50 years old some of these ‘ideals’ are very much still part of our society today even though they are antiquated and quite frankly incorrect.

Ultimately, we need to continue to educate people.

I know a considerable amount of work is being done across the wider community to raise awareness of MRKH as well as of other fertility conditions that don’t fit into that ‘societal norm’. By raising awareness there is an opportunity for wider acceptance of the different issues and challenges that can affect women (and men) so that it no longer becomes an assumption that everyone will have those same experiences and we will no longer treat such topics as taboo.

We still sadly have a long way to go.

Charlie xx

This blog is part of my Born Without series building on the work of Mia whose name has been changed on her request as she wishes to remain completely anonymous. She has provided me with permission to kindly share all of her research specifically for my blog. Love you M x.

References (for completeness):

  1. Kitzinger, C., & Willmott, J. (2002). ‘The thief of womanhood’: women’s experience of polycystic ovarian syndrome, Social Science & Medicine, 54, (3), 349-361, doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00034
  2. Glenn, E., Chang, C., & Forcey, L. (1994). Social constructions of mothering: A thematic overview. In Glenn, E., Chang, C., & Forcey, L. (Eds.), Mothering ideology, experience and agency (pp. 1–29). London: Routledge.
  3. Oakley, A. (1972). Sex, gender and society. London: Maurice Temple Smith Ltd.
  4. Rich, A. (1976). Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York: Norton. doi: 10.2307/3346405
  5. Russo, N. F. (1976). The Motherhood Mandate. Journal of Social Issues, 32, 143-153. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1976.tb02603
  6. Weaver, J., & Ussher, J. (1997). How motherhood changes life a discourse analytic study with mothers of young children, Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 15,(1), 51-68. doi : 10.1080/02646839708404533

Born Without: Coping

The second in the Born Without series of posts deals with coping. Having your understanding of the world changed so dramatically cannot be an easy reality to face. The strategies we use can vary in type and application to best meet our needs.

This post shares some insights into how coping mechanisms can differ between two MRKH women and how they have developed strategies to deal with the diagnosis including hiding details from others for their own self preservation.

These two women were diagnosed about the same time but had very different roads towards that and were 7 years difference in age.

I found out relatively quickly from that first GP appointment to diagnosis was about 8 months (excluding the year I was told to wait just in case things happened naturally) whilst Mia didnt get a final diagnosis until she was at University where she found out kind of a little by accident, in that a doctor blurted out something along the lines of “and of course you can’t have any children” which no one prior to that had told her.

Two very different experiences do naturally have an affect on coping strategies one a teenage girl in her last year of school and the other at University both with the challenges those situations can bring.

Its no surprise perhaps that one reaction was to ‘forget’ it all together and block it out. Whilst common to both was finding a mechanism to speak to others about it in such a way that even played down the seriousness. A casual ‘oh by the way I can’t have children’ whilst on the way to Geography kind of thing.

Lots of people who know me know I am a pretty outgoing and smiley person and I am utterly terrible at giving bad news, a trait I probably get from my mum who has this wonderful knack to tell a serious story in such a way that well does not relate to the jovial excitement of her story telling – anyone who have heard her relate the ‘and he took her into the woods’ story will know what I mean.

But in all seriousness we were two women, well girls really, who needed to find some way or comfort in telling someone about the situation and we both had very different ways to do that and quite different reactions to it from those receiving our news.

Mia has always been very selective about who she tells and this still largely remains her close family circle. Some friends know something but they don’t know the whole story and its never talked about. I would say in my experience from the people I know there are many many more who keep this very much to a small group of people.

For me, I found it more comforting to tell people. To talk about it. At least until a point I felt like I was boring people and going over the same things over and over again then I got a little concerned my friend would start unfriending people. I told a lot of people. I even at one point was telling random people it felt cathartic even to tell someone something. Whilst now I really feel its part of me and I want to tell people about it in a far more constructive way.

My worst experience of telling anyone was my boyfriend at the time. I told him the day after I found out and he was very comforting but as it turns out also very emotional himself and didnt know how to take the news. He too sought solace to get his head around it.

For that I don’t blame him but when I turned up to a pub a couple of days later with all of his friends, the majority of whom I didn’t know, and it seemed they all new this really very personal thing about me that I wasn’t ready to share quite so publicly I was extremely hurt. Needless to say that relationship didnt last much longer

In contrast Mia shared what she felt comfortable with with her family and her boyfriend (now her husband) but she has blanked a lot of her memory from that period of exactly what she said or exactly how they reacted.

Not least because on one of her appointments leading up to diagnosis her condition sparked a lot of interest from the doctors in her local hospital and one doctor asked if some of the students could come and have a look. feeling a little bit like a prized exhibit at a country show she reflects that whilst she felt she was doing something positive to raise awareness of a condition (which as she learned was rare) the other half of her brain is saying “You’re a freak, you’re really different, this is really weird, no one’s seen this before. Look at the looks on their faces, they’re all really fascinated at how weird and strange you are.” This experience had a big impact on her as you might expect.

Coping strategies I think for both of us then changed when we met. We had the chance to meet whilst going through dilator therapy. Its hard enough trying to cope with this rather obscure seeming treatment but when you are a patient that physically can’t have children and are on a maternity floor it all seems rather insensitive. No one knows why you are there and you are wearing your own clothes not a hospital gown. Just a strange situation.

Something we both kind of look back and laugh about now but at the time I think we both tried to block out where we were and were more relieved, through what was a really lonely few days for us both, to have some company and someone who truly understood how we felt and could relate completely to what we were going through. A friendship that has remained for nearly 20 years.

Coping and reaction to different situations I know has been hard for both of us at different times albeit probably for very similar reasons. I found a lot of comfort in seeing a psychologist and attending support group meetings but Mia typically didn’t come to those meetings preferring instead to keep it much more private and to deal with it on her own terms.

Attending support group meetings I know is not for everyone and can of course be a daunting prospect. Yet, at least for me, I have found them to be fantastic and a great way to meet others, share experiences and learn about different things through lectures and invited speakers. The perhaps more laughable thing is that these meetings are funded by the nurses/doctors themselves, they do not (at least did not and to my knowledge this is still the case) receive any NHS support to run these so vital meetings. Women and their families, friends and partners travel from all over the country to attend what is normally a 3 hour meeting in London, just to be part of this community, to meet others, and try to find some support.

Coping and the way we deal with things varies. Mia and I are just two people who whilst similar in background and religion have had very different ways to deal with MRKH but both feel we are in a good place. I am certain that widening this study further will only highlight more differences and I suspect of course many similarities too.

There is no one fail safe approach here and sometimes we may have to find several different methods before we find the one that works for us and maybe what worked before just doesn’t now. That’s ok.

I am all too eager and impatient for things to just change and be ‘right’ and for everything to be all nice and fluffy but of course in reality things don’t happen at a click of a finger or a blink of an eye.

The main thing is to be aware that it takes time. Time is a theme that runs through all of this and over time we change as people and therefore our needs change too.

What is clear is that whilst trying to forget or blocking out a bad situation or memory can be effective (or seem so) for a short time it does not have longevity and ultimately isn’t helping anyone.

We must find the coping method that works for us and at the very least I would recommend anyone going through something major to seek support from others going through the same thing. Its a great first step to navigating your own path to coping.

Charlie xx

This blog is part of my Born Without series building on the work of Mia whose name has been changed on her request as she wishes to remain completely anonymous. She has provided me with permission to kindly share all of her research specifically for my blog. Love you M x.

Born Without

September 16th to 22nd is World Childless week, a week that aims to raise awareness of the childless not by choice (cnbc) community. There are so many reasons, some of which are not medical, as to why someone, male or female, may be childless.

One of those reasons is MRKH.

Its difficult to really explain what being in that position feels like for most people and how it can affect you psychologically in particular. I have touched on a lot of specific points in my blogs before but I wanted to strip it back to some basics in the hope of shining a more specific light on this as part of a series of blogs over the coming weeks/months that I will be writing which have been based on my own experiences, reactions, challenges and more recent direct participation to support new research by my friend Mia*, designed to start to shine a light not on those newly diagnosed but on those whose diagnosis was 15+ years ago and how it has challenged their own identity at a different stage in their lives.

Part of this research included an interview which I have (very much) adapted here as a starting point.

What is MRKH?

Is a rare congenital syndrome named after the first publications by Mayer (1829), Rokitansky (1838) and Kuster (1910), Hauser (1961) often shortened to MRKH but sometimes also known as Rokitansky syndrome or Mullerian Agenesis. In practical terms it is the significant malformation or complete absence of the womb and under development of the vaginal tract. What causes this underdevelopment during the embryo’s development is still unknown. It affects approximately 1 in 4500 women globally.

When did you find out you had MRKH?

I was 17

How did it make you feel when you first found out?

I was with my mum. It took ages for the Doctor to come back after the laparoscopy and tell us what it was by which point I was tired and in pain and just wanted to go home. Mum cried but I admit it kind of washed over me a bit at first. I couldn’t really comprehend it if I am totally honest.

How does it feel to have a condition that affects 1 in 4500?

I don’t even know how to explain it. It really doesn’t feel that it’s just a small number. Granted at first when I hadn’t met anyone else it seemed impossible I would ever do so and therefore felt quite lonely but in reality that was for a short time. Having met so many more people a few of whom are now really close friends it doesn’t feel-, quite as daunting and actually like quite a big number in reality. The key reason for that indifference to me is the support I have both received and sought out myself directly. It has had a huge impact on my perception here.

What challenges have you faced?

My main challenges have really been with myself and comprehending, managing and coming to terms with it. A concern with what other people think, have thought or may think rather than reality. So there have been a lot of ups and downs over the years, most specifically emotional and psychological which are basically impossible to prepare for. It was my boyfriend at the time who mentioned to me that perhaps I should go and talk to someone. I remember being really nervous saying to my parents that I thought I needed to talk to someone. I’ve now gone through four different cycles of counselling at different times over the last 17 years to focus on the different stages or triggers in my life. There is still such a stigma around asking for help which continues to sadden me. The only other key personal challenge has been related to access to fertility treatment. You can read my blog on IVF Surrogacy here.

Would you say that MRKH has an impact on your life right now?

I think it’s something I will always think about or at least have in my mind. Saying that I actually feel it’s had a quite a positive impact, sounds a bit silly when I say it, in the sense that I think it’s made me, so much more aware of- different situations, different emotions, different ways of dealing with things. You don’t expect this to happen to you, and then when it does you have to process how you deal with it which is a little alien as its something you are totally unprepared for. So I think it’s given me a newer perspective as to, how difficult that part is whilst also providing me with new tools and skills I would otherwise have likely never known. Its not just something you snap your fingers and get over. Yet aside from the negative outcomes I feel more positive about it now than I have ever done.

So how has your viewpoint on MRKH changed over time since your diagnosis?

Quite a lot to be honest. When I was first diagnosed I was really embarrassed about it. A 17 year old girl who finds out there is something wrong with her own reproduction system it is going to have an impact. You don’t feel like other girls who are experiencing the full throws puberty with the addition of periods (a clear positive I don’t have to deal with I must add). At that age I wasn’t at all sure how to deal with the rest of it. A little later came the anger, sadness the drinking too much, the burying it. In many ways common (but totally ineffective overall) coping mechanisms I must add. Then of course the stages in mid to late 20s when my friends started having their own kids to then over time considering those options myself with the raft of emotions that also brought. To now where I am largely at peace with it to be honest and very much content with life as it is. Who knows perhaps even without MRKH I would be childless just by circumstance. We will never know.

What would you say to someone who has found out they can’t have children?

Nothing can prepare you for how you will feel. My best advice would be to find support in whatever way best works for you. Talk to people. Find comfort and find a way to process this. Don’t think it can be solved overnight. Cry. Scream. But most of all don’t think its the end of the world. It may feel like it and I get it, I have been there but give it time. If you can come to terms with it you will find happiness in your life however that comes.

*Mia’s name has been changed on her request to remain completely anonymous but she has provided me permission to kindly share parts of her research specifically for my blog. Love you M x.

The Test

Every day I speak to people going through different things. I speak to friends, family and colleagues going through all manner of different predicaments big and small but I also speak to those with MRKH. 

I have the privilege as a friend, support contact and through my involvement with the charity MRKH Connect to be part of this community which welcomes women (and girls) at all ages, cultures, wherever they are in the world to share their often painful stories and seek solace, friendship and support in those others, that for all intents and purposes, are the only ones who can truly understand what it’s like to feel the way they do.

That feeling of sorrow, loneliness, confoundedness, frustration, anger. Those are feelings common in so many situations and for so many different reasons but it doesn’t matter how many times I hear it, how many years or at what stage of mine or their life we are in, the echoes and similarities are clear.

The echoes of their experience to my own life, my fears, my deep understanding of the effects and triggers this condition can bring. Whilst also showing the differences afforded by age at diagnosis, geographic location, locality to support and the strength and personality of those who are fighting to not let something like this be all consuming, because it really can be.

I was privileged to recently take part in an interview for a Psychology Masters student where the focus on the research was ‘Born Without’ and one component of the research was MRKH. I was privileged not just because of the subject which is so personal to me but because of who asked me. A friend and ally for so many years and the first person I ever met who also had MRKH. With long distances between us now we were able to reconnect like it was yesterday over something so important to us both.

The aim of the research is to investigate how women feel after being diagnosed with MRKH, what it means for them and how it has impacted them. (I hope to be able to share more on it when it is published)

Yet our experiences are so different. It was clear just between the two of us that with the same condition it had a significantly different manifestation in how we tried to deal with, understand and manage it.

Understanding and appreciating the differences between people, situations, diagnosis is one way to understand the challenges that we all face.

I try not to focus on the past too much. It’s gone. Hindsight, different situations, different decisions lead to a parallel spider web style reality that will never be solved and never be me. Yet through those interviews, and amongst more chuckling than we thought there would ever be about shoving an inanimate piece of plastic in a place it incomprehensibly did not want to go, I know that my feelings, my fears, my thoughts were no different to anyone else’s in that situation, at that time.

Despite the differences, with similarities comes the ability to provide comfort and sympathy whilst also hoping to inadvertently help others find their own way by sharing experiences, both good and bad.

I remember that fear, pain, sadness all too well but also the positives that it has afforded me and when I speak to people who recount their own stories to me so bluntly it reminds me of how far I have come and yet despite how different our experiences are, what stage our lives are at, that it is possible to find a way through even if it doesn’t feel like it.

I do know this isn’t easy for everyone. It wasn’t easy for me, albeit it may seem it now. Yet a big change in my life provided a turning point to a different direction, different thought and a very different way to how I approached it. I am also certain that it doesn’t always need a big life shake up to get to that point, its sometimes more just the willingness to do it.

This is not to say that it just goes away. It doesn’t and won’t and that’s just the way it is. But to be able to share our thoughts, feelings and support with each other is so powerful. The hardest thing is asking for that support in the first place and then, knowing you need it, where to find it.

A life changing situation, whatever that may be, has a profound affect on someone and it changes you. I have no idea if I would have come to the same conclusions in life or where I would be if I hadn’t got MRKH but it has had a huge impact.

There is no pass or fail in the test of life, just living. These things that happen are not there to trick us or indeed designed to test us in a negative way but more to show us the potential we do have.

Whether you believe in fate or not I do believe that everything happens for a reason even if that reason is unfathomable

“These things are sent to try us”

Charlie xx

Baby Baby

As a kid I, like so many of my other friends, played with baby dolls. We would dress them, push them around in buggies and name them, often something ridiculous. There were baby dolls of all types and with all sorts of ‘extra functions’ to more closely mimic a real baby . Some would cry, some would blink some you even fed and had to change.

Children’s fascination with playing with dolls has not waned over the 30 years or more since I was sitting cross legged on my bedroom floor doing the same thing and of course role playing and storytelling is a huge part of growing up.

I played ‘families’ with an often reluctant sibling, cousins and friends. We joked and played and reenacted life around us, things we saw on the television etc etc. We would run around the garden pretending we were going to the shop or on holiday and the illusion only shattered when the shrill tone of a parent would call for us back inside for dinner.

We told our ‘boyfriends’ (because of course it was real love at the age of 6) that we wanted to get married and have X number of children and they would be called Bob and Shirley and… – normally to our horror they would then walk away to desperately find someone else to trade their football cards with that wasn’t the crazy girl with the pigtails from 3B.

The beautiful innocence of children. The imagination has no boundary.

It’s not a case of not thinking about other scenarios at that age, the thought never crosses your mind. You wouldn’t role play not being able to have a child because you, well certainly I, never thought it was physically possible you couldn’t unless you didn’t want one.

Even growing up I think that mindset doesn’t change until you are in a situation where you learn you can’t or it may be difficult. It is only then that you start to realise that there is this whole other side to having a family (with whatever meaning that has to you) that you were not aware even existed and even if you could, certainly couldn’t comprehend ever happening to you.

I have known girls as young as 9 to find out that they have MRKH. That childhood fantasy of motherhood shattered. Whilst in reality I suspect in many cases the actual impact doesn’t hit until much later. It will always be there, always knowing you are a bit different.

Yet others only go on to find out when they are ready to make that leap to build their family and spend often years of heartache, time and money pursuing, many successfully whilst equally many not so, to try and make their dreams come true.

1 in 8 couples in the UK struggle with fertility that’s actually a very high number and of course doesn’t include those who have fertility issues (men and women) who are not in a relationship. Yet people publicly ‘joke’ about fertility and in particular, pregnancy. What is the world coming to.

A joke of course suggesting something is funny. Fertility is not.

Now before I go on, of course I am not saying that we as human beings cannot have banter with our friends, family and colleagues about various topics. We all do it and hell I have joked about my own fertility a number of times. Doesn’t make it funny, doesn’t make it right and it wouldn’t be the same for everyone but in a safe space and in your own environment then conversations can waver on the boundaries of ‘have I pushed this too far’ only to realise that at that time and in that moment you were fine with it and it was ok.

It seems, and I admit I was not aware of this, that there are people out there who, amongst other times of year, use April Fool’s day (1st April) – the day typical for pranks and silliness and all in the realms of harmless fun, you know that day – to joke friends, family, the general public or even their followers (yes some ‘celebrities’ do this too) into believing they are pregnant.

I mean why?

Whilst clearly they have some sensibility radar that is set very much to some number several fathoms below zero, they also clearly have not themselves, or through friends and family, experienced the utter pain and heartache that hearing those words (and you always know when its coming) can do to people.

Fertility is not something to joke about, its an emotionally charged subject if you are having a discussion about it however light and friendly you have to tread lightly. Relationships have failed, friendships have fallen away and life as you know it doesn’t feel the same. Yet some nit-wit is parading around their fake pregnancy like its some hilarious badge of honour.

Unfortunately it is people like that that have no perception of the world around them and the impact they have on others. Even worse when those words come from a high profile celebrity.

I don’t know what peoples reasoning is and I am sure in many cases if they realised the impact they would, or at least I hope they would, be mortified.

To me all it does is highlight ever more clearly that we should be open about fertility much more than we are. Things are changing and improving on this and unfortunately, and perhaps fortunately in a weird sort of way (and I mean absolutely no offence by saying this) we are becoming more aware of the difficulties as more and more of us look to have children later. Unfortunately, whilst we as humans evolve, our body clocks haven’t quite caught up yet.

No one should ever feel ashamed of fertility, male or female, no one should ever feel directly persecuted by a joke. Those of us with fertility issues may find it hard to hear our friends and loved ones are having a baby but we absolutely want to know. We don’t want to know it was a joke.

Of course we all take things to heart sometimes but to a lot of people it is not something to joke about and being mindful of the impact or potential impact and not saying anything shows far more strength of character than saying something that you may later come to regret.

#InfertilityIsNotAJoke

Daffodil Posies

The Fourth Sunday of Lent seems like a rather innocuous day by all accounts and for many, particularly those who are not religious would mean a day of very little significance. 

However, that day is also in the UK more commonly known as Mother’s Day although its original meaning, at least in the UK, was not specific to our own mothers at all but to people returning to their ‘Mother church’ in lent.   

It was commercialised by the Americans in the early 20th century although they, like many others hold ‘Mother’s Day’ on a completely different day (or days) and it is not closely related to the church in the same way it is in the UK. 

Suddenly that day, as innocuous as it originally sounded, starts to bring a sense of dread, sadness and pain to many. 

Mother’s Day invokes a day of celebration for so many yet for others highlights something we may have lost, may have always wanted, may never have and remind us all too emphatically of our own struggle. 

Everyone deals with Mother’s Day differently and there is no right or wrong way to handle it. 

Ever since I was a little girl I have always remembered Mother’s Day fondly.  We would go to church and my brother and I, along with the other children of the congregation, would race to the front of the church, at the vicar’s request, and pick up a small posy of daffodils for our mums. Always wrapped in a little bit of foil to stop the water dripping everywhere.  My mum standing proudly with a smile on her face as she received them.  

As we have got older the significance of that little posy of flowers hasn’t changed and whilst we may now only rarely see our Mum on Mother’s Day we always send flowers or some form of sickeningly vomit inducing card that we know that my mum will say she hates, but she will secretly love. 

My mum is herself rather indifferent to Mother’s Day, because as she told us once, why have just one day when we can celebrate our mothers when we should be doing so every day anyway?  If we thought of it like that then again, the meaning changes. 

However, this meaning can change even more when you find out yourself that you can’t have children and in particular for me when all of my friends started having children.  All of a sudden that reality of motherhood, or lack of, became a lot more real. 

That being said I focus very much on my mum for Mother’s Day and not on how much I may have wished for Mother’s Day to be for me as a mother.  To me it is just another day. 

If Mother’s Day invokes sad feelings because of our own personal struggle, then how can we change our focus to something that suddenly becomes a celebration?  Why not think of it as the 3rd Sunday before Easter (which it is in the UK).    As soon as you take away the ‘Mother’ connotation it already seems less intimidating. 

Last year on Mother’s Day I did the Surrey Half Marathon.  I had no idea when I signed up for it that it was on Mother’s Day.  I didn’t even realise until a few weeks before that it was.  As the 2500 runners lined up to start the race I heard one Mother say – ‘I can’t believe they organised this on Mother’s Day’.  1) I am pretty certain they always have the run on the same weekend every year and Mother’s Day moves so it’s not their fault and 2) quite frankly, why not?!

Mother’s Day does not have to be this all-encompassing day of dread and despair for some and the day that we all go and pamper mum for others.  In fact, I know for many this is definitely not the case and often not what many mothers would really like. The media and adverts of course paint this rosy picture of the perfect Mother’s Day which idealises family life on that one day, changing our perceptions as it does with so many things.   

If I was to make my own mother breakfast in bed in Mother’s Day I am certain she would think I had done something terrible that would have provoked such an act. 

That is not to say that Mother’s Day is not important to me.  It is.  I like to celebrate my own mother but neither me, my brother, or my Mother have any specific expectations that are any different to how we treat or surprise her on any other day. 

I can be sad about something I don’t have of course but what about all of the things that I do have? To me that outweighs the rest enough of the time for me to really feel largely indifferent now to Mother’s Day at least for my own grief. 

Time is a great healer though.  We may not think it but in the 17.5years I have known I can’t have children my feelings have changed, and I have become much more focused on what is important to me now and not the fear of what may have been or what could be in the future. 

Be sad if you need to.  Grieving is so important but don’t let it consume you.  Mother’s Day like any other day doesn’t have to be a struggle.  There are distractions everywhere if you are open to them.  Here are some things you may like to consider if you find the 3rd Sunday before Easter particularly hard:

  • Think of it like any other Sunday
  • Change its meaning to you – make it a recurring day of celebration of you, of life, of whatever you fancy
  • If it does upset you then don’t make it harder for yourself.  Turn off social media – yes you can do this!
  • Arrange a day of fun with you partner, friends, family, cat, dog…  
  • Get your favourite food in and have a cosy day of films and fun
  • Exercise  – whether its running or cycling or just going to the gym to pretend to work out it’s a great way to get your body moving and those endorphins flowing
  • If in doubt then wine, chocolate, sweets or any other guilty pleasures are also available

I now live in Norway and Mother’s Day here was a few weeks ago.  This Mother’s Day I will be at work entertaining some clients.  To me it will be just like any other day. Just the way I know my mother and I like it.

Don’t let this day be more than it needs to be to you. 

Charlie xx

Article written for Fertility Network UK in support of Mothers Day 2019 #survingmothersday #youarenotalone

The thin blue line

Where is the line between something that seems like an innocent question and someone leaving a conversation in tears?

That line is in a different place for different people and the cause of crossing that line is not the same. A conversation can go from fun and laughter to upset and anger in a matter of seconds, without any warning.

We all say hurtful things to each other sometimes. On some occasions we mean it. On others we have no intention of causing any hurt or that what is being said is indeed hurtful. We may not even know we have hurt someone by saying something but it doesn’t mean there is no effect.

Sometimes that same thing that can upset us in one situation may not in another. We may be able to shrug it off, joke about it. Or it may bury itself for another day.

How do you know where the line is though?

Well, quite frankly you don’t…sorry

However, clearly treading on eggshells with everything we say to someone is just not possible and would rather restrict conversations and make everyone overly wary, or worse, no one would talk to each other anymore. Ever.

What we can do is be more aware of the things we do say to people. Certain things can be triggers for people that may seem silly or standard to some but for others punctuate the sadness, anger, frustration or hurt we feel.

That person may be dealing with loss either physical or emotional, family issues, relationship issues who knows. You have no way of knowing unless that person wants you to know. That can mean that certain situations can be extremely hard such as Christmas, birthdays, mother/father’s day, talking about children, talking about how great your job is when someone else is hating every second of theirs.

As a recipient of those discussions the simplest thing to do is be honest, cut the conversation off before it causes upset. However in reality that is far easier said than done. Sure, you can feel super comfortable, as I do, about your own pain and situation but it doesn’t mean you want to make a deal of it when the conversation comes to a difficult topic.

Sometimes it is easier to just laugh it off, join in if and when you want to, and then carry on like normal. This in itself can take huge strength of character to achieve. It does require you to have some way to make yourself feel ok afterwards and I don’t just mean blocking it out and burying it to the very depths of your being.

There is no quick solution to do that. Different things work for different people but support networks for anything are always critical in whatever form works best for you.

Over the years the methods I have used have changed as I have grown up and grown older. A conversation or situation that was terrifying 5 years ago is not any more. Maybe it will be terrifying again but I have learnt that living in the present is far more important than worrying what the future will bring.

That does not say that I never get upset or angry or walk away from a conversation, nor do I now think (as I perhaps used to) that it is stupid or unnatural to get upset when it does. My happiness is more important and preserving that in the best way I can with the different techniques I have learnt is most important and part of that is just living life.

Being more sensitive and aware about what we say, or what we ask can go a long way in making us more mindful of what is going on around us. It is often those that have been in those difficult situations that are the most sensitive to them but it shouldn’t take an event or situation to make us realise that being more thoughtful is really what we need.

Charlie xx