June 24, 2015

The happier person should do the harder work.

A couple of months ago I was reading the Modern Manners section of Real Simple magazine {May issue} when I came across a story. It went something like this: 

A woman and her husband were expecting their first child, and it was also a first grandchild for her husband's parents. And rightly so they were all very excited.  
Unfortunately her husband's older sister and her husband have been unable to conceive and were looking to adopt. According to her she said that when they announced she was pregnant she received very rude comments from the husband's older sister and her husband including that "we were not to tell people that we are pregnant in front of them because it hurts their feelings."  
She acknowledged the difficulty they were going through and says she has been giving them their space to deal with it, but the bitter comments and ignoring of family functions have hurt her feelings too. She says "I feel as though I cannot be excited about having my first child or discuss anything about it for fear that they will be offended." 

The response give by Catherine Newman, Real Simple's etiquette expert, to this woman's social quandary was this: 

"You're having a baby! You should be thrilled, and you are, so let your abundant joy spill over into compassion for your unhappy sister-in-law. (There is a good rule of thumb in many difficult situations: The happier person should do the harder work.) Ideally, the couple would muster a bit of graciousness at family gatherings. But if they can't, you will have to continue to dial down your excitement. Pregnancy is such a poignantly visual reminder to would-be parents struggling with infertility. Doubtless they feel as if you're flaunting it when you so much as step into a room, and ignoring you may be their best option in their own raw state. So keep cutting them slack, and consider visiting with your husband's parents alone so that you can rejoice openly together. And cross your fingers that the adoption goes through. Once those little cousins are running around together, all will be well again."

Several more months ago I saw an article online. It was one of those times when I saw a bajillion pregnancy and birth announcements on Facebook, which always seem to occur right around the time when I find out that I am, once again, not pregnant {sorry, I sound like a broken record don't I?}. I was looking for things to read to make me feel better. You know, to find voices of women who are going through the same struggles, who are writing about their feelings I can relate to. Even finding someone who wrote a good vent session because I surely could have use one at the time. But the blog post I ended up reading was about women couldn't stand hearing about their friend's infertility problems. I was appalled. I don't talk about my infertility issues with friends for different reasons - I sometimes write about it here on the blog but it's mostly done in private conversations with Yangkyu which are largely filled with sadness, sometimes anger and lots of tears. And after reading this online I was kind of glad I kept my issues to myself and within my own space. 

Among other points the blogger {who is going through infertility} wrote, two things stood out. That for every single infertility "whining" a friend has to bear, her infertile friend probably has to smile and congratulate 10 of her friends on their birth and pregnancy announcements. And every day, week and month, that friend who is whining about her infertility has to comment and like and coo at 20 different babies because it's her niece or nephew or a child of a very close friend. That she is obligated, despite the fact that even seeing a baby may be difficult for her, because she is family or that she is a good friend. We just have to suck it up and be happy for them otherwise we're relegated to being cold, heartless, selfish, sad, bitter infertiles.

But what the blogger also points out is that it's all about balance. I sometimes can't stand it when people only talk about one thing all the time - whether it be babies, dogs or food. I like variety in my conversation. And so I get that if the person is only talking about her infertility every single time, that it can get a bit overbearing as well. 

One person's comment on why she was annoyed with her friend and her constant talk about infertility stood out for me. She wrote how she stayed by her friend's side, got excited for her when her friend finally got pregnant and wept when she had a miscarriage. But years and years of this wore down on her because it was the only thing her friend would talk about. That she too wished she could get pregnant but couldn't because she was trying to find someone to settle down with. And she hurt that her friend could not see that.

For me, this person had every right to be annoyed. 

Everything about life is about balance isn't it? Sometimes it's so hard to see that. But I also agree though, that the happier person should do the harder work. It's not pitying. It's being mindful and self aware of the privilege we have on being on the happier side of things. 

Whenever I see a person I follow on Instagram who shares that their dog has crossed the rainbow bridge, I don't post a picture of Piri for a day. I know they are probably not even looking on Instagram and are grieving away from their phones. But it's just what I do to grieve with them. Sure I can say, "Well my dog has kidney disease and we are on borrowed time so I will post as many pictures I want because it's my space and he's a sick dog!", but I don't. My dog is still alive despite his issues. 

But of course this doesn't mean that I'm sensitive to everyone and their feelings - there are too many struggles out there for me to understand. I'm sure I still put my foot in my mouth and have made insensitive comments but I acknowledge it, say sorry and then don't do it again. It's sometimes tempting to say "but.." and put the blame back on the other person but I try not to do that. It doesn't really accomplish anything.

Compassion and empathy are really hard to embrace and practice. It's really an every day learning experience.

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