Over the weekend I started to inspect what happens when we shroud major life events in secrecy. I begun to wonder if maybe by allowing some of the tough subjects, like pregnancy, miscarriage and infertility, to be taboo topics we put ourselves into a “females are complicated” box and close the lid. Ironically, I believe we do it so as to not be seen as complicated beings and avoid being “held back” because of it, but in doing so we may actually be making what are intrinsic and totally normal parts of being women, abnormal, uncomfortable and difficult.
Sure, many are just private people and these are very painful subjects. Each to her own. But I believe there’s more to it than simply that. I’ve had people openly say, “don’t talk about it, you’ll jinx it!”, or “why are you telling anyone yet?!” and the worst possible one, “you can’t tell the shareholders!”. All of these responses suggest that it’s simply not acceptable for women to have issues or to discuss them. Maybe some would just prefer to be sheltered from the embarrassing moment when they don’t know what to say. My 13-year-old step daughter got around that swiftly. She simply stated, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you.” Succinct and mature. Or perhaps these are just the rules and no one is okay with them being altered. I wonder though if we do ourselves an injustice if we simply accept the party line.
This past week I’ve had a timely and painful reminder of how exposing yourself can actually help not hinder. Up until somewhere in the middle of last week, I was pregnant. Like many things in my life, I was deeply passionate about having this baby; the excitement I could not contain. Pockets of counsel around me spoke of not getting my hopes up and limiting who we told. I found myself guilty at every turn of uttering the words, “I’m pregnant”. This was not something I could keep inside for safe keeping. This was something I was so proud of, I had yearned and fought for and I did not want to “wait and see”, to be “safe rather than sorry”. What would I have to be sorry about? The way I saw it was that those who I love need to be part of my life and help me through the good times and the possible bad ones too. That I can’t go on this journey on my own – I would need people to be around me as I stepped out into the unknown and put my body, mind and heart on the line.
As many of you know, laying myself bare for the world to see is not an uncommon event for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more comfortable. Just because I do it, doesn’t mean I like it. I do know that this way of being isn’t for everyone and that many people prefer to keep the process private. It is an individuals’ choice who and how they include people into their own journey. What pains me is the forced secrecy, the unwritten rules that I’ve broken and are likely to continue to break.
I had a miscarriage. But because I had let many people in on the pregnancy (even though I wasn’t 12 weeks), I had many people to help me figure out how to pull myself upagain. My personal belief is that by allowing parts of my own perceived weaknesses to be seen, I gifted myself a chance to connect. I don’t just make a decision to share the good bits or shelter people from awkward moments.
Like writing this. It occurred to me as I cocooned myself into my duvet on Saturday – my head thumping from the sheer volume of tears and numb from the shock of sudden loss, that I was not really sharing a life changing and learning experience. I share all of my life and learning experiences with my Facebook family. But was I being guilty of only posting the good times? And whilst I don’t subscribe to the concept of reality TV and I do know that not everything needs to be online, it feels false to only run the highlights.
We need people to be willing to talk about the heart crushing reality of these highly sensitive and uncomfortable subjects if we’re to break through the glass ceiling and get out of this box. We have to normalise that being a woman is harder than we were ever prepared for. But it’s okay. It’s normal. And more importantly, it’s vital. We have to help others to feel less isolated, confused and trapped. I have fought for years to understand the balance of “when do I try for a baby” with “don’t tell the shareholders for the fear of upsetting their confidence in my abilities to get the job done”. Apparently emotions and creating new life can’t be pillars for investing in innovation. What a ridiculous notion, it’s because of my emotions that I am who I am in business. It’s because I am willing to put myself out there and on the line every day that I can dare to dream of doing something that hasn’t been done before and create something from scratch. To feel sick about the concept of failure, but do it anyhow, that’s what leadership is about. And every time something hurts me, I learn more about myself and I take that into everything I do. It improves me.
And the same goes for creating a baby. And for losing one.
Unlike the lucky ones who get to jump into bed and go the old fashioned route of baby making, for some – myself included – mother nature had other plans in mind. For those fortunate to not have experienced it, let me assure you that IVF is everything it’s cracked up to be, and then some. It’s gut wrenching, horrific and painful. It just sucks. Right now I’m on a major hormone come down, can you tell? But it also brings joy as well. I have felt joy because of the miracles of modern science. Being told I was pregnant was the single most exciting, terrifying and joyful moment of my life. I cried and I cried and I cried. Then my mother cried and my father too. My beautiful step daughters cried and laughed and immediately began naming our little embryo. My partner and I had hopes, dreams, ideas and fantasies. They were ours. For six or so incredibly long weeks this little guy we called “Tin Bum” (for never a name was so poignant as his, the chances of making it this far so slim) gave us hope for a future together that we had worried wasn’t possible. I never thought I’d be told I was pregnant; I didn’t think it could happen for me. But it did.
And then, it didn’t. In an instant it was all taken away. Whilst I like to think of myself a sane and intelligent person (most of the time) and I understand the logical and rational reasons that these things happen. I also appreciate that it “wasn’t meant to be”, that something hadn’t worked out and it was simply nature doing what nature does. But that doesn’t make it any better. It just can’t. It’s simply not possible to fix this broken bit of me, that feels foolish and tricked. I committed whole heartedly to this and I couldn’t make it work. After my last failed IVF round I mooted that for a “two feet in concrete” kind of gal, the downside of IVF was that if you threw yourself in boots and all you risk so much heart break. Oh how I wish I was the kind of person who could have just nonchalantly glided through the first trimester without “getting my hopes up”, who could have held back a piece of her heart until things were “certain”. But I’m not that girl and even though I feel devastated and a whole raft of other conflicting emotions, I know that it was what I had to do. I had to commit to the love required for this journey and that started from week one of the pregnancy, not at week 12.
I know that it’s my vulnerability and willingness to feel it, and not just run away from it or numb it, that will enable me to get back up from this and carry on to the next part of my journey. Whatever and whenever that might be. It will become a part of my story and it is now knitted into who I am. It will improve me, like all the other dents in my armour.
I re-watched Brene Brown’s “Power of Vulnerability” talk last night (as I often do in times of deep conflict) and was reminded again of how important it is that we speak of sensitive and uncomfortable subjects. That by doing so we not only help others, we help ourselves. We begin to understand more about our frailties and our super powers. It requires us to lean into the discomfort. That’s what I’m doing by sharing this with you and anyone who cares to read this. If we can normalise the most special and painful part of being a woman, if we don’t make being a woman a weakness, then maybe we can feel more secure and supported in the tough decisions and start to lift the lid on the box we often find ourselves in.