Sunday, June 26, 2011

birth, death, shame, compassion and comments

I awoke to an odd comment on another of my blogs. Early on a Sunday morning, someone in an outer Melbourne suburb had been visiting the site of a local blogger, clicked my non-de plume in his links and got redirected there. From there they chose just one title in the recent posts, an entry that consisted of just two sentences, and felt compelled to comment.

The two lines mentioned a Guardian article and my friend Lucy’s response to it on Deliberately Barren. The visitor did not read either piece, instead they vented their spleen, presumably driven by the title of the post Is child-free the new black?

Anonymous wrote
“Cecent (sic) people who have never had children - never truly know what it is to love somthing (sic) or someone more than life itself.

I feel sorry for all the barren, self centred types.”

Someone I don’t apparently know felt an overwhelming need to connect with me, to us, to tell us we are wrong, inadequate, lacking the ability to love and are driven by ego.

I stopped myself picking apart the inaccuracies in anonymous's comment (who am I to judge someone else’s equally as woeful spelling?) and remembered Brene Brown.

You see, last night I found some podcasts I’d downloaded 2 years ago and spent a couple of hours listening to the wonderful Dr Brown talk candidly about shame resilience. Did I feel that anonymous was trying to tap into some seam of shame within me, that I wanted to attack them (I keep wanting to write “her”, there is something feminine about this response) in return?

Brene Brown says many wise things about the difference between guilt and shame, and also empathy and compassion.

Taking a step aside from myself and anonymous for a moment, I’m a little overwhelmed by the judgments that are continually made about people who don’t have children. Regardless if this is through choice or circumstance. Over the last few days I’ve done my best to wade through the comments on Clem Bastow’s piece in The Age last week. But I find the volume and intensity of emotion somewhat alarming. To summarise the majority fall into two camps – those that negatively judge Clem with scorn or pity for saying she doesn’t want to have children and others who say 'ho-hum this topic is done to death, this article is so last century'.

But you see from anonymous being driven to comment on a mere headline, the issue of not having children is still relevant today. Why else would someone who doesn’t know me, or Lucy, feel compelled to name and shame the “barren” as being self-centered and incapable of experiencing love?

I want to sit and have a chat about those two points for a minute. No attack. No judgment. Just virtually toss them around with anonymous, without assigning a value. Is that possible?

Anonymous is alluding, I believe, to unconditional love. When I sat with my dying brother through his final weeks I believed I experienced this holy grail of love. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. My small business ceased to exist. I’d happily have moved to the end of the earth indefinitely (or at least the city he was dying in). To some extent all my needs evaporated. There were irrational thoughts of what I’d barter to save his life (for a while I considered giving up sex forever, yes unconditional love is tinged with an element of insanity). I’d eat and sleep occasionally but my life revolved around him. I could not think of any other time in my life I felt this way about my brother.

As messy, noisy and scary as death is, there’s such a privilege to sit with someone while they are dying. To be permitted, or welcomed, to be with them for their final breath.

Though this process was privileged and life changing, it was also utterly private. It’s not been something I’ve felt the need to share so publicly before. But when I meet people who find death scary, when people I’ve known have run from these experiences, I don’t judge them. I don’t believe there is weakness in that. Not everyone wants to witness the death of a stranger or a loved one. I feel compassion for their fear. I hope that in their life they become less afraid of death and dying. I don’t wish them to be shamed by their feelings around it.

At the times in my life when I desperately wanted a baby. And yes, desperate is the most appropriate word to describe the longing. It was all about having MY baby. A piece of ME. A person who’d ensure my immortality by ensuring my DNA, MY essence, perpetually through time. (Reading the words as they pour out, I’m struck by the fact that I have just written about fearing death. Coincidence?) Perhaps that proves anonymous’s point, that I am self-centred after all. Because I could dress the desire up in so many other clothes, but deep down, the essential ingredient in this yearning to reproduce was me. Perhaps my selfish craving was unique and that all the other men and women who become parents have never had an inkling of that desire.

The TED talk below has nothing to do with being child-free. It’s a thank you to anonymous, for helping me get in touch with my vulnerability. Enjoy.


K_Bom said...

What incredibly powerful and moving words.

I'm glad you didn't feel the need to defend your article to the weak (and clearly insecure) "anonymous". Because as you know, there is no need.

It really surprises me how many people are still threatened by those who don't have children (either by choice or by having it foisted upon them by circumstance), and feel such a strong need to insult, belittle, and make assumptions about the childless.

It makes me wonder whether these types would be so mean-spirited and insulting (often anonymously) if they were truly content and secure in their own lifestyle choices.

Lucy said...

oh yeah, obviously anon isn't really interested in reading any further than surface stuff. i know how it feels to love children 'cos my step kids feel like my own in a way, and i love my friends and family on a very deep level.

there are plenty of examples of people having kids and mistreating/abusing/not getting them. plus anon doesn't know why you or i may have, for, shall we say, biological reasons, decided against kids. you know, too late, no partner, a womb that doesn't work...sheesh, the list goes on and on...

must say that i have never been made to feel as though my choices were bad ones - who are all these negative people? why don't i come across them?

lovely response, darls. xx

Meg said...

Your brother was so fortunate to have you as a sister. What an incredibly moving description of your love.

And we too, here in the blogosphere, are fortunate to have your opinions and insights, as they add richness, diversity, humour, respectfulness and good spelling to the world.

It sounds to me like anonymous is very frightened. I hope they find their way.

Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks guys. Pity anon hasn't been back to start a dialogue.

Clyde said...

Wow, that is wonderful writing. Thank you for sharing regards your brother. I too would have done the same thing and did I guess when my youngest bro was in a medical coma. I sat with him and talked to him and put one half of a set of headphones in his ear and played him songs for the hours that I had with him before my other bro came in and then mum and then dad etc...
We were lucky...he came back against all the doctors advice and little chats away from him when they could corner us.
As for being childless, the girly and I are and whilst we suffer for our choices a little we turn their negatives into positives giving all our love to our fur fambly of five and will do until the day comes where we need to meet with death and seek direction. First post in and I love your blog already. Thankyou. Clyde

Another Outspoken Female said...

Hi Clyde, thanks for stopping by. And also for sharing your story.

DB is an unstructured, often neglected collaborative blog. As you can see by the tags at the end of each post so far there's only three of us and these little rants are secondary to other pieces of writing we throw out to the electronic ether. You and/or your partner are welcome to post on the subject here if you'd like to join us.