Tell me, how do you define yourself? By your job? By the number of children you have? By the partner you have chosen? Perhaps by your car? Your house? The clothes you wear? How thin you are? Perhaps you are still defining yourself.
I’ve been asking myself this question recently after a particularly emotional – and unsuccessful – ride on the IVF roller coaster. And I have concluded that I have been defining myself by whether or not I have children, which, I believe, is not only wrong because it reduces all other Good Things in my life to mere grey, meaningless matter, but also, by extension, makes me a failure. I recognise I am not a failure, that I have things to be proud of, yet when I’m going through assisted conception, and when it fails (as it has done now for the 7th time), I feel as if none of the other parts of me are important, none of them defining or of any value.
So how do I get around this, I ask myself?
It made me think of a lovely lady I became friendly with a couple of years ago, of Indian origin. One day over lunch I told her that I was seeking to understand myself and promote a greater sense of wellbeing in myself – to better manage the stress I was experiencing in a challenging job that was not allowing me any ‘Me’ time. As a practising Buddhist she spoke of some of the concepts of Buddhism and I appreciated their relevance to me at that time. The key message she relayed to me that day was that I needed to love myself more, for only then could I put my worries aside and become stronger and more resilient. Although it sounded as if it made sense at the time, I continued on my way, worrying about work, about my age, lack of a child, and a whole host of other things, putting everything else first and myself last. Looking back on 2009, I realise I put aside precious little time for myself – for fitness, for painting, for learning Italian, for weekends with my husband – and by the end of that year I felt exhausted, depressed, drained from the IVF attempts, disillusioned with my job, and still anxious about Everything. So I return to her words today.
Love thyself. For such a long time I have looked at this as something a little strange; I was brought up to care for others; putting others first has always been natural to me. The concept of putting myself first, caring about my own wellbeing has always been anathema to me; it feels selfish and self centred. But as I experience life’s thrills and life’s spills, the concept starts to take on a new meaning. It has taken me over 40 years to get here (40 years sounds like such a long time, but once you’re here you realise it isn’t long at all), and now I’m here I hope I will feel some relief from finally looking after myself. I wonder, how many women never get there? I know a few: wonderful, beautiful people, but anxious and stressed.
I think my aim in all this is to accept who I am and feel comfortable as that person, like that person, love that person; and to enjoy just being myself, bettering myself, without the need to define myself through Another or Others. This is such a liberating concept when you start to think about it and gives you free rein to make the most of who you are and enjoy the journey. If you’re already there, well done. I know I’m not. Yet.
It won’t be easy, and I know it will take time, and it will take effort. I am determined to feel good about the way I look (lose ten pounds, do regular sport); to be respected at work; to make time to paint; to take weekend breaks away with my husband. And of course, I would dearly like to be a mother, and if that blessing comes one day, I’ll be wondrously happy about it; but if it doesn’t, I need to know I’ll still enjoy just being me. The infertility problems we’ve been experiencing over the last six years are what have brought me to these reflections today; and I hope that by the end of this year I will be comfortable with myself, with who I am (with child or without), and will be happy simply by being me; and that that way I will find ever greater strength to love others and be there for them when they need me.