A few days ago, a friend with no kids said something about my kids that annoyed me, something that made me think 'you have no idea how hard my life is', that made me think 'you should be more sympathetic about the difficulties that I am facing, even if they are not your difficulties'.
And then I remembered thinking exactly the same thing from the other side around three years ago. I was talking to a friend with children about waiting to adopt and she said what no woman with empty arms wants to hear: 'Hey, if you really want kids, you can have one of mine!'
I felt like I had been punched.
At the time, I thought she was saying 'It's hilarious to me that you are aching for a child'. Now, I wonder if she was really saying 'I'm struggling with this. Please help me'. I didn't help, of course. I just turned away, burning with anger.
That comment wasn't an isolated incident. Most women who face fertility problems could write a masters thesis on Awful Things That The Fertile Woman Says and Does. Chapter one is Complaining About Her Children and some of the rest are Not Realising How Hard This Is, My Childless Life Is Not One Long Carefree Vacation You Know; She Said WHAT? Doesn't She Care About Our Friendship At All?; and Even If She Hasn't Been Through This Herself, Has She No Imagination?
It hurt me so much that my friends didn't understand how hard my experiences were. It hurt me so much that they minimised and ignored the pain of wanting a child. This is so much harder than it looks from the outside, I remember thinking. I wish you could see just how hard. You think your life is hard, so mine must be easy and it's not, it's not.
I didn't see that I was falling into the same trap they were.
Honestly, I had no idea how hard their lives were, and I didn't really want to know. I certainly didn't ask; I certainly didn't want to listen. They underestimated my difficulties but I did it to them, too. It's so strange to be on the other side now. Even after years, I still struggle to reconcile the pain of disconnection and isolation I felt then with how connected I feel to that equal-and-opposite shared mothering experience now.
I do think that they should have been nicer to me. More understanding. But I'm sure I should have been nicer to them too.
I suppose we were both in the wrong, my friends with kids and me. We could see that what we were doing was hard, but we couldn’t see that what we weren’t doing was hard too.
Fundamental error of logic.
Fundamental error of empathy.
I think the moral of the story, probably, is that everything is harder than it looks when you’re not doing it.