Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Awareness and Why it Matters

I'm no activist.

I knew this before I Googled the definition, but I wanted to be sure.

Activism (as defined by Merriam Webster) is a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue. Nope. Not me. First off, not a fan of controversy and 'direct vigorous action' sounds eerily like exercise. You won't find me handcuffing myself to a tree, sprawling on the road in front of logging trucks or staging a hunger strike. Especially not that last one. Pass the donuts, please.

It's National Infertility Awareness Week (in the US, at least. Canadians, we get to have our own party in May. Stay tuned...) I'm pretty vocal about educating about infertility. I've got this whole book-writing thang going on. I have this here blog that, while quiet lately, has not been forgotten and still gets occasional visitors.

My personal Facebook page has been splattered with infertility awareness all week. My friends love it. 'Baby-maker's busted, yo!'

NIAW isn't activism because infertility isn't a controversial issue: it's a fact of life for 1 in 8 couples in North America. One in eight. Put eight couples in a room, odds are in favour of one of those couples will experience some form of infertility. In all of its varied forms, it is a harrowing, invasive, privacy-shattering, grief-filled road to walk. Infertility can break us... our bodies, our hope, our marriages, our faith. Month after month after oh-so-painful month...

Activism ain't awareness, folks. No way, no how.

Awareness, according to Merriam Webster, is simply having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge. That's it.

Do you know what infertility is? Yes, probably.
According to the stats several people you know are struggling with infertility. True story.

Do you know how to support them? Here's where the answer gets messy.

Let's look at two other words:
Understanding: the power of comprehending; especially : the capacity to apprehend general relations of particulars
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

Awareness is foundational to understanding, which in turn acts as a catalyst for compassion.

Infertility exists. It's real. Infertility is not the desperation of pathetic women who will stop at nothing to get pregnant, but the medical condition that prevents conception or hinders the ability to carry to term. It is as valid as diabetes, cancer, stomach ulcers and ingrown toe nails. If we can acknowledge that not every woman who passes her husband in the hallway gets pregnant; that not every woman able to conceive is also able to carry to term that's a beginning.

Understanding, then, acknowledges something more: this ain't no fairytale. Quips like 'whether you're doing it right' or 'Here, take my kids' are unhelpful and insensitive. A vacation or just relaxing isn't going to solve our problems. Infertility will force us to take our family planning outside of the beauty & privacy of the bedroom, and introduce strangers, schedules, statistics and invasive, painful medical tests. (HSG? Google it. Avoid at all costs.)

Awareness opens the door to understanding the complexity of infertility.

Let me be clear. Neither awareness or understanding equal the well-meaning 'I, like, totally know what you're going through.' No. I wouldn't dream of stubbing my toe and claiming I completely understand chronic pain. No. The absurdity of that is clear. If you haven't gotten up at 4 AM five mornings a week so that you can have blood drawn at 6 AM (at which point your arms look like a crack addicts' and you have to wear long sleeves in the heat of summer to avoid questions), and if you haven't sat half awake during the third ultrasound that week only to hear that your ovaries hadn't responded and you weren't likely to ovulate again even though you had put your husband and coworkers through something akin to hell while on Clomid for 4 days, you do NOT totally know what we're going through. (No offense to my TTC Naturally peeps for my limited choice of illustration. Rock that BBT, sistahs!)

We don't expect you to fully understand it. We were all blindsided by the brutality of infertility, alternating between denial and shock for months. You need to walk in our shoes to full grasp that and we pray you'll never need to.

We do crave compassion: a consciousness of our distress and a desire to alleviate it. Even in extending compassion, please be aware that you can't alleviate it. Be aware that helplessness and floundering for some adequate means of expression will be par for the course. That it might take years for us to be able to handle a baby shower or Mother's Day service, or to get through someone saying 'I'm praying for you' without crying. That your prayers and love and concern will always matter, always be treasured.

Compassion is God's way.

We're all human. We're all struggling with something. We're awfully good at shooting our wounded with well-intended platitudes. We open our mouths without thinking and unwittingly speak pain into another's life. Compassion is contagious if we let it. It is the doorstop to a prayerful pause. It is the insistent reminder to bite our tongues. If we all became more aware, more conscious of the distress seeping from the edges of our lives we might one day learn to speak less and pray more. To offer a silent hug or pop a card in the mail. To wipe a tear away and nod silently with understanding.

Awareness is the small hedge of protection I build around those not yet brave enough to speak out. Through prayer and persistence, I believe this wee hedge will grow and bloom. For seven days I will tell as many people as often as I can: 'I am the face of infertility. Infertility nearly tore me in two. I wasn't sure I was going to make it through. Can you love me through this? Can you love others through this? Because that's really what we need.'

I'm no activist. But I will wrap myself around the wounded and be their voice if they'll let me.

The Voice of Infertility has made some pretty spiffy Facebook covers for NIAW this year. There's a little something for everyone, so hop on over and grab yours!

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