I have a very happy, complicated relationship with writing. It is at once very personal, in the ways that only the places you can call home are, and very public, in the way that professional ambition can be. Writing has always been a place for me to take the pieces of my life, sorrowful and joyful and all that falls in-between, and start to make from these pieces a picture of the woman I am becoming. At the same time, I know, in the way that we all know at some point or another, that it is more than private salvation: it is what I was born to do with my life. I’ve known since I was 8 years old when I announced it to my bemused father. (In fact, I’ve been doing it since I was 8 years old, when I would compose brief, light imitations of the Sweet Valley High series that I was voraciously consuming.)
I am at best when I write. I am more confident, more consumed and engaged than I have ever been at any job I’ve tried and best of all – I am so fulfilled. When I finish a piece, the words wrung out of me onto the page and arranged and rearranged and read out loud ad nauseum, I am hit by that unmatched feeling that hits one who knows that they are doing their life’s work. (In fact, there’s a rule in our house: no publishing before bedtime. It winds me up too much.)
So, when major things happen in my life, I do what I’ve always done to sort through my emotions: I write. And because I write for more than myself, I will very often share what I’ve written. Initially, I would share it on other platforms, developed and published by other people. When I first started keeping my very own blog, I did so anonymously, partly because most of my writing at that time was about how much I hated my job. But I was also shrinking from the vulnerability that comes with putting one’s work out there. Whether the work was personal or not, I was deeply afraid of putting it into the ether and announcing to all who knew me – this is who I am, this is what I think.
Gradually, I’ve grown bolder. Although I still depend on other platforms to publish my work, I do so now because I am eager to associate with myself with other more established writers, who by the click of their mouse can legitimize my work. I’m also writing more and more about my personal life. The boundaries between personal and public dissolve and there are things I’ve put in pieces that I’ve never said out loud even to myself. This has not been without its challenges. One of them is that I often commit to paper (and to the internet) stories that are not mine alone. My aunt’s death; my husband’s and my struggles to conceive. Both of these are deeply personal pains that are not mine alone, that I share with other people. I’ve been very lucky in that not one of these people has objected outright to my writing. In some cases, it has opened up relationships that were long neglected and assumed closed. The people closest to me, knowing as I do how important the writing is, have been endlessly supportive. I’m an extremely fortunate writer and an even more fortunate person.
I am also inviting an audience into the stories I’m writing and that comes with a further set of challenges, that have been illustrated in some of the responses I’ve received to the recent pieces I’ve written on my husband’s and my fertility journey. For the most part, the response has been incredibly supportive. I’ve heard from women I haven’t spoken to in years who’ve been through variations of what I’m going through. To those women, I’ll say this again: it has meant so much more than you’ll ever know to hear your stories and to know that I am not flailing around in these dark, seemingly uncharted waters without a map. Thank you for your openness. I’ve heard from people who are genuinely rooting for us, sending us hope from afar. To those people, I say: thank you for your kindnesses, great and small. They make this journey easier.
Given the subject matter I am writing about, and the fact that I am writing about it from within the belly of the beast, having not yet emerged victorious with my baby-shaped happy ending in hand, some of the responders have expressed genuine concern. To you, lovely people, I say: thank you for your generosity of spirit and for caring as much as you do. We’re okay – really, we are. The writing is a sign of healing. It is how I’m processing it all and keeping a clear eye on what this narrative is becoming. Narrative doesn’t come fully formed, it is a process of iteration and learning, and the only way to learn and to begin to see the contours and nuances of the narrative is to write it out. Writing is about power, after all and if I don’t impose a narrative on this significantly chaotic and disempowering process, I feel I may lose what little I have left.
I am still nervous about the lines between public and private and often feel as though I am crossing them more than I am blurring and blending them. I have learnt through writing this particular set of experiences that those lines exist where we draw them in the sand, and that we may, shift and shape them as we live out our personal and our public lives. Before we started this journey, all I’d ever heard were the stories of easy conception, bumps and babies in abundance, and women for whom falling pregnant was a matter of will and planning. I assumed this world we were entering – a world filled with charts and tests and probes and acronyms and doctors – was rare. I’ve since learnt, in part from those of you who have shared your own journeys, that we are not all that alone. The dominant narrative, the one most of us hear, is the easy one, replete with baby-shaped happy ending. But it is by no means the only one. There are countless other narratives, some filled with pain, that are subsumed under the easier, happier tales. Leaving women like me who have difficult stories to tell feeling like anomalies, like we have been cast out of the metaphorical red tent. So, I’m shifting that line in an effort to tell a different story. Publicly and without apology.