One of my little exercises is to keep a sheet recording how I respond to anger. Well, I may have an entry. I told Father at one point that I generally avoid actually attacking people who say insensitive or even appalling things to me on the basis that they're just too stupid to know any better - and they wouldn't learn anything even if I Told Them Things in no uncertain terms. But that doesn't really sound like compassion, does it? And he said, what do you think, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do" means? I'm sure our Lord said it with a better attitude, though.
The problem with my strategy (well, one major problem) is that it does not work on infertile women. No matter how I try, I cannot convince myself that anyone who went through the pain of infertility for so much as a minute - let alone for years - is too ignorant to know how offensive her comments could be. Restraining myself from responding usually involves deleting a blog from my blogroll and never reading it again, because the response would probably start with, "Do you remember even one second of the pain you felt? What gives you the right to increase that for someone still in the middle of it by so much as one iota?" and get a lot more hostile from there.
So I've deleted bloggers who said, "I felt guilty for ever being sad about infertility, because it was not a faithful response - all that pain is worth it since I now have my child." That's great, dear. That's not the spiritual value of suffering, by the way. Also, if you can spare a moment from celebrating your bundle of joy, should those who will never have children feel guilty for grieving that fact? Should they just feel perpetually guilty in case they have children later - so they can potentially spend their whole lifetimes grieving and guilty?
And I've deleted bloggers who said that just seeing their babies was a source of joy for everyone in the world. Funny, then, how they wanted to have their own babies, and they weren't contented by the contagious joy of just seeing other people's. They may even have uttered comments now and again about how they didn't want to attend baby showers, because others' blessings actually made their lives harder. They must have realized that they were mistaken about those feelings once they had children of their own.
And I deleted the blogger who went from being interesting and having a lot of hobbies and personality to (she said) becoming obsessed with keeping her page reads up after she delivered her child. Apparently she wasn't able to get her head around the fact that the childless infertile community might need to lower its dose of all baby pictures, all the time. And I believe she said almost in so many words that it never crossed her mind to post less and comment more - invest her energy in supporting those who were still struggling rather than in developing a fan base.
This charming sampling would give a cynical - maybe even a reasonable - person a basis to believe that, far from being taught compassion and generosity by their experience, infertile women become so much more selfish than other women that once they have their own children, they take self-absorption and maternal vanity to olympic heights of which the normally fertile could only dream. But my friendships (online and in real life) with infertile women who have gone on to become mothers make clear to me that there are some out there who are capable of being self-aware, compassionate, selfless, and sensitive. I just think they're in the minority.
And I haven't even shared my Exhibit A. Exhibit A breaks one of the IF blogging commandments: you can complain about anything on an IF blog except other IF bloggers. You know what? So few of the IF women I "met" when I started blogging are still childless (and therefore still read my blog - the number of women who have children and still comment here is vanishingly small, but I treasure each and every one of you) that I have just about nothing to lose. Oh, a tip: if you haven't commented here since before your child was born and you return to comment just on this post to defend women with children, I'm deleting your comment. This is my blog, as you should be able to tell by the total lack of baby pictures.
So my Exhibit A is the DC women's Catholic infertility support group, a cumbersome name oftened shorted to the "infertile coffee" (I liked to say that there was nothing wrong with the coffee, actually). It was started by Jeremiah 29:11 in maybe 2009ish. Jeremiah has many traits I do not share - she's energetic, organized, personable, charismatic, and sweet-tempered. These were all excellent traits for an organizer of an infertility support group. Unfortunately for the infertile coffee, not that long after she started the group, she adopted Tommy.
Oh, sure, she invited the ladies over to meet Tommy several months later (and I gather several women went - I didn't), but there's something about "meet the baby" and "support for infertility" that sounded not-synonymous to me. Not that anyone should not also meet the baby, but I have days when I handle other people's babies well and they are not numerous and that was not one of them. It should go without saying that that's not personal - or, to mangle a quote, "It's the infertility, stupid," but apparently that doesn't go without saying (as we shall soon see).
So at some point I took over organizing the infertile coffee. This project was doomed from the start, partly because I am not remotely as personally pleasant as Jeremiah, partly because so very many of the ladies had adopted or delivered babies in that interval, and partly for another reason. When I picked the organization back up, I opened a discussion of what the group's format should be. Pretty much everyone sent back typically female answers - "Oh I like people let's be nice won't it be nice to meet nice nice nice." I don't understand why women can't just say what it is they mean once in a while. I have other women tell me in whispers all the time that they actually agree with whatever controversial perspective I have just aired, but they would never have said it that way (or, obviously, at all). Of course, they wait until after the storm of debate is over, so that I cannot possibly cite anyone else as agreeing with me. Cute.
Finding this discussion almost entirely unhelpful, I demonstrated my broad-mindedness by saying that I thought anyone affected by infertility should come - Catholic or not, childless or not - but not actually bring their children. Let's be honest (it would be a refreshing change) - there are homeless people walking around this city talking on imaginary cell phones who could reason in ten seconds to the fact that there can be no "infertility support group" with babies in attendance. Conjure up in your mind for a moment a picture of the last conversation you had with a group of women in which one (or more) brought her baby. Now, picture an environment in which you felt free to share your emotions and struggles with infertility honestly. What do those scenarios have in common?
As usual, I had several people (some of whom may be excused for not participating because they apparently didn't read email for several weeks and missed the entire discussion - ?) tell me later that of course they agreed that the group would be a total failure if people brought their kids.
So we started it up, with the few wretched childless stragglers who remained. But our numbers were not impressive. And though I had grand plans to conduct a canvass of all the area parishes for infertile women who had no idea about the group but would have loved to participate (I know these women exist), with only 2-4 people showing up at a time, and invariably at least one complaint about the location (but no actual alternative proposals), there never seemed to be a good opportunity to do that.
Eventually, I got sick of writing tons of emails to which almost no one ever responded, and I quit altogether. Because, you see, when I had the audacity to suggest that the infertility support group be a baby-free zone (since God seems to have ordained it that way for most of us already - har, har), I had to be punished. In several months of emails, I could count on one hand the number of responses I got from women who have children (remember, I said they were welcome to come). I could tell they were angry. But I will never understand how it can be mysterious that childless women might want to seek some support for their struggles that does not constitute cooing at someone else's child.
We're moving right along in Exhibit A. I don't check my blog email every day, but relatively recently Jeremiah, bless her heart, sent out an email saying that she missed the blogger meet-ups and would people be interested in meeting? I can't remember all the names of those responding, but inallthingsgood, who apparently still remembers that she used to be infertile AND childless, said that it might be good to have more than one - one with all the kids, and one for just the adults. And then, let's see, we had some responses from people who wanted to schedule on a weekday morning, and then somebody else I think said she could never possibly swing any event to which she did not bring a child.
So there were a couple of childless women still on this email list. Ostensibly, Jeremiah's invitation was directed to all of us. (She may just have been trying to be polite, though.) Like most childless infertile women, I work full-time. God knows I don't want to come to the play-date in any case (and He also knows that after the play-date happens, there will be no remaining interest in a meeting of just the ladies, to talk about actual infertility), but can't people pretend to remember that there are childless women in the world?
I considered deleting the email and never responding, which would be sort of fitting, but wrote a very pointed response instead. I am well aware that it will open exactly no one's eyes to the missed opportunity to learn from their own suffering and show some modicum of awareness of the existence of people who haven't been fortunate enough to start families of their own yet (or ever); it will just be another indication that they're all saints (as God demonstrated when He blessed them with children) and I'm a monster.
But I still get some satisfaction out of knowing that I'm right.