Humbled and afraid

It’s been a week where carving out time to write dropped in my priority list (old habits creeping back?) yet I did not want to pass up on this opportunity right now to extend my deepest appreciation for people in my life who reached out after my last post.

I have had the honor of being surrounded by brave individuals willing to peel back their pain and sorrow to talk through their experiences in trying to become a parent. Some of those journeys successfully accomplished their pursuits of bringing a child into the world with their partner. Others have paved their desired paths to parenthood via adoption, foster care, surrogate. And others have found peace and acceptance as a childfree individual or couple, fueled by the desire to pour into others who may have gone through a similar experience and the continued fight to ensure that our world remains the type of place we want to bring children into.

The horror of another mass school shooting this week can make any of us afraid to bring any life into our violent world. It isn’t just these terrifying incidents that underscore how frightening America can feel and appear. We operate in a nation under a mindset of scarcity and competition. That means people win, and people lose. That means there will never be enough to go around. We can’t show each other compassion because we’re locked in battle to do all we can to get out ahead. We’re so fearful of losing that we close off the opportunity to forge connection and community with others.

That’s what scares me the most about our world right now. How quickly we back into our corners, no matter what political ideology we espouse. It feels like we’ve lost our ability to see our shared humanity. We will all die. That is inevitable. And we will all live, for some amount of time. And in this time, how do we maximize the gifts we’re given as human beings to bring joy to others; to love; to be grateful; to offer help; to comfort. You can be an individual and be a part of the whole. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Have you seen this Ted Talk from Celeste Headlee: “Help Make America Talk Again”?

I don’t ascribe to the belief that people should ever put themselves in physical/emotional/mental/spiritual danger, which can happen in trying to seek understanding of how others view the world. I do think there are opportunities given to us each day where we can be safe and we can start to forge connection again.

You have shown that when it comes to the deeply personal and often private topic of fertility, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable creates the space to see each other in new, profound ways. We aren’t alone in those journeys or in life. I hope that we can continue to find ways to be there for each other, behind the scenes or in center stage, throughout our lives. Not just during these dark moments but also when the light is bright.

I’m grateful for you. I respect you. I love you.

On fertile ground? Not so much.

“Wait, this isn’t going to be a post about mindfulness?”

No, no dear readers. Not today. Although, I could argue that a heightened sense of awareness, developed through mindfulness, will increase one’s ability to be empathetic, which for a woman dealing with infertility is a highly desired quality.

In previous ramblings, I’ve alluded to my fertility journey. I’ve tried to be as open as possible about this experience with people in my life, as I have been blessed to have received the same openness from others who have walked their own path down a similarly frustrating, heartbreaking road.

And yet, talking about infertility is not a comfortable, cozy conversation topic. It’s one spoken in whispers, as if normal volume will spread it like wildfire. Like many women in a particular age range, especially after getting married, I get asked almost daily if I have children.

“Do you have kids? Not yet? Do you want kids?”

Why are we socialized to ask this question to people, especially strangers? What does having a child, or holding the identity as “parent,” really tell us about someone? Do we perceive an individual as being a better person if they are a parent? Are they smarter? More responsible? More capable of giving love? Perhaps there’s research out there proving otherwise, but my gut is that those associations are fallacies.

In the year after my doctor dropped the “I” label on me, I answered such questions with a hopeful response of: “Yes, I want kids. We’re working on it!” I soon learned this opened the door to the laundry list of unhelpful statements people utter that are both good-intentioned and make you feel like a 21st century Hester Prynne.

Hester Prynne

Enduring heroine or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s views on women’s sexual freedom? You decide!

I want to be upfront that I can only speak to my perspective on what is helpful and unhelpful in supporting a friend grappling with infertility and the swirl of exhaustion, guilt, blame, self-loathing, hope, outrage, confusion, and pain that infiltrates the mind, body, and spirit. So, in that vein, here are some of my suggestions on what actions to take — and which ones to avoid — when trying to be supportive:

  • Do: take cues from your friend on how much they want to open up about their experience. Ask permission to ask questions. Be patient. It is their story to tell, and they deserve the chance to share it when they are ready.
  • Don’t: don’t share a story about your brother’s girlfriend’s aunt who tried getting pregnant for 100 years and then — lo and behold! A baby was born. Leave all comparison stories at home. I do not care. That is their experience, and bully for them. But, those stories do not fill me with hope because our bodies are completely different vessels.
  • Do: if you feel sadness as a friend, share it witnessing another friend go through this, share it. “I am sorry that you’re going through this.” I am sad too. I wish you weren’t sad, and I wish I wasn’t sad. But, I feel your compassion and care in your words.
  • Don’t: don’t unload a pile of advice on my doorstep. Have I thought about working out less? Decreasing my coffee intake? Standing on my head in the middle of the street? The short answer: YES. Yes, I have cut out x,y, and z and taken this supplement and added this and — you get the picture. Yes, again, well-intentioned. Let us not forget that intention does not negate impact. I feel worse after hearing this advice because it makes me feel like I’m being perceived as not doing enough to fix this situation. I’m trying — believe me, I WANT to get pregnant! If I want advice, please allow me the chance to ask for it.
  • Do: if you are willing, share your story if you have also had trouble conceiving. Even if you did eventually get pregnant and now you’re a rockstar parent, I appreciate your willingness to name the challenges you endured. Even though you achieved your desired outcome, you still experienced sorrow and loss.
  • Don’t: don’t tell me to just relax and have fun. Ever. My response to this statement is not appropriate for the Internet.giphy
  • Do: be my friend. That may seem silly, but let’s continue to do things together that bring us joy! Sure, some of those could relate to women’s health (or MINDFULNESS! See, I could sneak it in there). But, it can be all of the other activities that people – fertile or not – take up: go bowling, start a book club, attend a concert, dance like no one is watching (except that one creepy person in the corner). Distractions are welcomed. Having fun and creating spaces for laughter are appreciated. Finding time to build our bonds of kinship remain a priority.

One situation, where I don’t feel like there’s a clear or justified do/don’t, is around sharing your own personal good news if you become pregnant. This happened to a friend of mine not too long after I had revealed my own struggle. Later on, she confessed that she was afraid to tell me as she was attuned to my situation and didn’t want to hurt me.

Now, this friend is by far one of the kindness, most selfless people I know. I appreciated her honesty, and I expressed that her decision to withhold her celebratory news made me feel sad. I reveled in her happiness — and now get to do that to an even greater extent by holding her beautiful child.

At the same time, there are days where I catch a friend’s social media post announcing their pregnancy and my first reaction is not one of celebration. There was a string around the holidays where it felt like everyone in my circle was holding up little baby booties and onesies and I was like:

C’MON ON NOW UNIVERSE.

A friend reflected that the infertility journey is truly a roller coaster. There are moments of such anticipation and excitement — you try to temper it as best you can — but there’s something so visceral when you allow yourself to be filled with that hope.

Then, there are times when the bottom drops out; your body sucks your breath back in by the sheer force of your current reality. You want to hold on to something — someone — and yet you are often alone. You may be on a bathroom floor. You may be laying on some awful table with your legs in stirrups. You have to find a way to pick yourself back up. Slap a smile on that face. Be ready to shake hands with someone new as they ask:

“So, do you have kids?”

Establishing a gratitude practice

I feel like it would be remiss if I didn’t begin this blog post by extending my appreciation to you, reader. Thank you for reading these words and visiting this random assortment of thoughts, ideas, reflections, and calls for action. While I can envision a scenario where my ruminations echo in a uninhabited universe of the Internet, I prefer to imagine a space full of individuals — like yourself — participating in the conversation.

On of this journey to be a more mindful and centered person, I kept stumbling on this notion of a ‘gratitude practice.’ Now, over the years, I’ve seen friends use the social media platform of Facebook to take on a “X number day” challenge to share appreciation for other people, special places, basic needs, etc. I would see those posts (when the Facebook algorithm decided that I should) and think: “Awww, that’s so nice!”

And then I was like: “Where are the cat photos?”

catmeme

Seeing other people publicly acknowledge their gratitude is inspiring. Showing thanks in our world can feel so perfunctory. Like many others, my parents made sure I said “thank you” after receiving a gift or being the recipient of something special. Does this sound familiar:

Did you say thank you to your Aunt?”

Public shaming can be an effective tool to form what should be a kind habit. As adults, how do we get back to the root of why we express gratitude? How do we turn those words into feelings that sit with us, in our hearts and minds, and fill us with joy and celebration?

One of the tools that could help, according to gratitude gurus, is to start keeping a gratitude journal (mindfulness folks love their journals!) I’m a notorious start-a-writing-outlet-and-lose-interest-in-three-weeks person. I always have been (minus sophomore year of high school where our English teacher required us to keep a journal for the year. Some hilarious entries, I assure you, including a recap of my first date with my “long” term high school boyfriend, who I treated poorly looking back. I’m sorry Eric.).

Back to gratitude: in concert with the Calm app’s “7 days of Gratitude” meditation series, I’ve been physically noting what I’m grateful for each morning. In most cases, I reflect on the prior day and the people and experiences that positively impacted me. I’ve also tried to step back and extend appreciation for the seemingly mundane in my life, but from the perspective of others, are enormous gifts: running water, a heating unit, access to the public library, the ability to own a car, living in a neighborhood where I can freely walk or run outside.

Sometimes acknowledging these pieces of my life make me feel weird — it forces me to stare at my privilege head-on. I need that reminder because it’s easy to let these gifts gloss over me — the entitlements and opportunities. When I pause to appreciate the electricity in my home and my ability to talk on a phone with my parents, I feel the flame of injustice flicker in me, as I don’t want these gifts to be exclusive. I want them to be universal. And that requires me to be a part of the fight.

The initial steps to establish a gratitude practice are more private and hidden. Whether through journaling or running through a list mentally, we keep these actions behind closed doors. The next iteration is extending our thanks outwards (hence, going back to friends on Facebook). For me, I am less interested in sweeping displays of gratitude; I want to ensure that people I interact with feel my appreciation in genuine ways for me and for them. That looks like me sending a quick text or email letting them know how grateful I am for their willingness to give advice or attend an event. Or leaving a voicemail that ends with me saying “I love you.”

Gratitude

Gratitude rocks! Get it? Yeah…

This is a work in process, like everything else in life. Some days I will excel in expressing gratitude; other days, I will lie in a dark pit and cover myself with self-pity and dark chocolate. Over time, I hope that I will become more in tune with the gifts the world offers me — in the form of adventure, friendships, convenience, comfort — and give myself the time to acknowledge and appreciate those gifts, both internally and externally.

I am thankful for the ability to have time and space to write this morning. I am grateful for the Wifi connection that bridges people and communities across the globe. I am appreciative of having access to a coffee maker and coffee that provides the fuel for mornings…and afternoons…and sometimes evenings.

What are you grateful for in your life today? How do you share your appreciation for these gifts?

 

What is a soul worth? Do I have to answer that?

Monet Noelle Marshall's face with the text "Buy My Soul and Call It Art"

Not a question I thought I would be contemplating on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Durham

But I was. And it was uncomfortable.

After nearly an hour of witnessing, absorbing, and engaging with the performers of Buy My Soul And Call It Art inside the Living Arts Collective, I found myself sitting across from Monét Noelle Marshall – the installation’s creator and director. With her hands gently folded on the table in front of her, she asked me a simple question: “What is my art worth to you today?”

Monet Noelle Marshall's face with the text "Buy My Soul and Call It Art"

I like to believe that I’ve developed a stronger ability to identify and name systems of oppression and racism. I’m grateful for thought-leaders like Monét to remind this privileged cisgender white woman (me) that, in fact, I’m far from being “woke.” Scene after scene throughout the show revealed the complex web of entertainment, art, media — even the nonprofit sector — and how the white dominant culture co-opts black artists, ideas, and identities. Sometimes covertly. And sometimes in plain sight.

In the opening portion, we witnessed a young Black man performing through dance in an enclosed space; the walls were see-through yet not penetrable. There were slots, like mail slots in doors, on walls adjacent to this box (containment, confinement). And we were each given paper money to spend during our time in the exhibit. So, one person walked forward and slipped some of their paper money into one of the slots. The goal: giving a tip to the performer. A few more folks walked up and put their paper money into one of the two slots — I ended up making the choice to do that too.

But, none of the paper money ended up in this performer’s space. He looked around for it then up at us, How could the dollar bills not be there? We were then led to the other side of the installment to see two white young nonprofit professionals in their own containers, the floors littered with paper money. Yet, they complained bitterly about how the lack of funds meant fewer resources for them to distribute to the “inner city kids” — programs would have to be cut. What could they do with a donation of just $35?

Gut-punch times a 1,000 for me at this moment.

I cannot do Monét’s work justice with my words; and I don’t want to overshare in hope that she will be able to bring this powerful work to more places in the Triangle and beyond.

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Grateful to all of these talented arists and performers who made this exhibit happen

It is too easy to go through this world and accept what is at face value, especially in regards to the elements of our culture. Art, music, theater, dance, film, writing. Who has the power, in these worlds, to be seen and heard? Who is rewarded? Who is praised and acknowledged? Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite was, in my recent memory, one of the first times many people started to pay attention to the, as Indy Week writer Kevin J. Rowsey II coins, the “problematic relationship between black art and the arts and entertainment industry.” 

It can’t stop with outrage at one awards show. This is an on-going battle to control and disseminate media and seek financial gain, fame, notoriety. But don’t think that there’s nothing we can do to change this. Absolutely we can. It requires us to be intentional and do the work to use our resources in ways that support diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultural outlets.

I am committing to seeking out and supporting spaces that not only promote the work of black artists but center black artistry. I am committed to actively reading more written works by people of color; spending my money to support black and brown musicians, painters, illustrators, songwriters, filmmakers — whatever medium I elect to consume. This show also re-ignited my flame to tackle the problematic elements of the nonprofit sector. Yes, that will most certainly be a future blog post.

Earlier this year, I shared my quest to become a more mindful consumer. This is another avenue for me and for you to walk. I certainly get to benefit from the talent, hardwork, and skills of black artists.

The question is: do they get to benefit from my consumption? Or does that funnel back to those in power, those who hold the purse strings?

Here is additional coverage of Monèt Noelle Marshall & Buy My Soul and Call It Art