Even as a child I preferred my own company, or the company of one or two friends, rather than being with large groups of kids. My Mum was worried about me until a psychologist told her that this was just my personality.
Still, in this modern era the attitude is that we must all be extroverted, be out there in the happening world, and show how confident we are – all the time. We should be comfortable in large groups of people, be able to do the small talk with people we don’t know, be fine with dressing up in whatever is considered appropriate for the occasion regardless of how uncomfortable we feel, and keep up the appearance of having it all together.
Since we knew we couldn’t have children, and particularly since I’ve started working from home, I’ve become quite distanced from the expectation that I will be extraverted, and the pressure to be, or at least act like, someone I am not. I don’t see a lot of people really, whereas pre-2012 I worked in various office settings with a large number of colleagues.
Being on my own, working at home, and being an introvert suits me very well. It is my personality, but I’ve also realised that it keeps me away from certain reminders about how my life is so different from what I thought it would be.
This realisation came to light over the weekend. Kirby’s work held an end of year dinner for employees and their partners on Friday night. I got dressed up in my green wrap around skirt with a purple leaf embroidered on it, a purple top, black tights, and blue flat shoes. I put on my home-made make-up and let my hair dry naturally. I felt good before we left home. I was dressed in what I wanted to wear. I was who I was and I was comfortable with that. Although I admit I was nervous as I had only met a few of Kirby’s colleagues before, and there would be over seventy people at the dinner.
So, we got to the restaurant which overlooks the River Torrens in Adelaide. I met a few people and they were nice and welcoming, and we chatted as we were served hors d'oeuvre and drinks out on the balcony. Then we were ushered into the restaurant and we chose where we would sit for dinner. I followed the people I had been talking to and sat down with my back to the window, which meant I could see all of the people in the room. I regretted my choice of seat.
While there were people of all ages at the dinner, many of them were in their twenties or very early thirties, and among this group there were about five women who were obviously pregnant or had recently had children. And most of them were dressed up in cocktail type outfits, with heels, and with make-up and hair perfectly done.
My feelings changed from being fine, to being confused, to being sad, to wanting to leave, and back again.
Then the left side of my face started spasming and there was a slight dribbling from the corner of my mouth. I’m not sure anyone noticed, but to me it felt like my face was jumping up and down so much that people on the other side of the room must have seen it.
Then I looked at the menu and there were no vegetarian options (although in the end there were, but I had to ask specifically).
I felt so out of place and awkward.
I was sad that I was once where they were, where I dressed up like they did, was looking forward to having a family and to having a career. I once went into a workplace, and got involved in the politics, and enjoyed the feeling of comradery that existed (at least in most of my workplaces). I spent time with large groups of people with champagne glass in hand.
I was confused, as I sat at the table, as to where that confident, modern, and social young woman went.
And I didn’t want to hear the women and their partners being congratulated on being pregnant or on recently having a child. It was a reminder of what I would never have.
Over the weekend I was irritable and I cried a few times. I had not achieved anything in my life – at least that’s what my thoughts kept telling me. I could not compare to these amazing women who had a career and were preparing to have children as well. I couldn’t even keep up with simple household tasks. I have had one health issue after another, and now have the prospect of brain surgery next year which, although not extremely invasive, has some pretty significant risks.
Who did I think I was to even consider that I was anybody? What made me think I could have even a snippet of what I hoped for?
Then last night, after I talked to my beloved Kirby (he truly is the best man), I realised that I was wondering about the “me” from all those years ago who wasn’t actually, truly, me.
I don’t like dressing up all fancy with heels and perfect hair and make-up. I never have. I’m not the life of a party, I’m not an extrovert, and I don’t want to be. I don’t want a career where I am required to be in an office during certain hours, let alone a career which is fast paced and where I aim for promotion after promotion.
I like being in tracksuit pants, I like working with my cats and dogs nearby, I like to be able to go out to my fishpond in the middle of the day, and it is handy to be able to put a load of washing on when I have a break mid-morning.
I like my solitude.
My thoughts of not having achieved anything and not being able to keep up with basic household tasks were rubbish. I have achieved many things in my life, and our house, while not show home spotless, is fine. Sometimes things get a bit messy, but so what?
Not having children and having health conditions, which include clinical depression, epilepsy, burning feet at night, and now Hemi-facial Spasms, are real. These things are part of my life. And these things have changed the path my life has taken.
If we had had children I would likely have continued in the field of work I was in and not moved to writing and editing. If I hadn’t had health issues I would probably have done the same, but because my health issues mean I cannot always work nine to five I have had to find other ways to be employed and working for myself from home works well.
When I am on my own at home, pottering around, editing, and writing, I am happy. I enjoy life and I feel good. Then there are times when I go out and mix with people who are living the life I thought I would have and my confidence diminishes and I wonder why I am not like them. Why don’t I have a traditional career, and why, most significantly, can’t I have children?
It’s easy to not think about all of this when I am at home, or when I am spending time with just a few people, but in situations like Kirby’s work dinner it is impossible not to put those thoughts aside.
What I need to do is remind myself that I don’t, and never will, have children. That is the way it is, it’s not fair, and there is no explanation as to why it is so. I also need to remind myself that my life, how I have it now, suits me. It reflects who I am, and have been since I was a little child, and therefore why do I feel the need to try and be like other people?
The other thing I also need to remember is that people generally like me as I am. Well, not all people like me, but that is okay.
My twenties and thirties are gone. My forties are here and life is for living. My life is for me. And reminders of our much wanted children, the person I tried to be in previous years, and the level of health I wish I had, will still arise, but they don’t have to diminish the satisfying life I have now.