By Lisa Manterfield
June 3rd and I’m traveling to Vancouver, Canada, to meet five women for what we’ve informally named “The Global Sisterhood Summit.” I’m meeting most of them for the first time, and I realize how unusual this is when the immigration agent questions me on arrival.
“What’s your business in Canada?”
“I’m meeting a group of friends.”
“How do you know them?”
“Bloggers. We met online through our blogs.”
At this point her head snaps up. “Have you met them in person before?”
I know how it sounds to say I’m meeting strangers in a foreign country because they sounded nice online, but I’ve been up since 4 a.m. and I’m getting cranky. I want to get to my hotel and go for a quiet run by the water so I can prepare for a weekend in which I have no idea what to expect.
“I’ve met two of them,” I tell her. “It’s fine.”
She purses her lips and hands my passport back to me. “Welcome to Canada,” she says.
I’ll admit I’d had misgivings about the trip myself. The cost of airfare, the fact that I’d be taking yet another trip without Mr. Fab, and something else: All we have in common is our childlessness and I wonder if that will be enough.
I’ve talked a lot on this site about not wanting to be defined by infertility and childlessness. It will always be a part of who I am, like all my life experiences, but I have many facets and I’m aware of the danger of getting stuck in a place of loss, of never moving beyond the thing that didn’t happen. I know how even well-tended grief can lurk in dark places, waiting for an opportunity to pounce again. Do I really want to fly to Canada only to undo all the work I’ve done?
But in the end, one of my other facets wins out. The curious cat inside me wants to be part of the action! So I packed a bag, cashed in my frequent flyer miles, and headed north.
Once I am checked in at the hotel, I abandon my quiet run in favor of lunch with Sarah. Sarah writes the aptly named blog Infertility Honesty and “speaks her truth” with the kind of blunt dry humor that jolts and then immediately endears. (See her post about the weekend and her brilliant “infertility t-shirts.”) Over one of the best Caesar salads I’ve ever had (Fried capers! Who knew?) we share our stories and laugh at some of the insanity we’ve endured. And then we talk about our mutual love of food. We order tropical tuna tacos and vow to sit together at every meal so we can sample one another’s selections. Almost every conversation we have that weekend will find its way, eventually, to food.
Before long, we are joined by Pamela and Kathleen, the two members of the group I already know well. Pamela is a lightning rod in our community, the person reporters and researchers track down for information. She is also a conduit to the various subgroups that have emerged—the bloggers, the healers, the advocates, and the leaders. You can read Pamela’s take on the weekend here.
Kathleen, who you already know well from this site, brings a broader perspective to our conversation. Infertility is only one version of the many paths that bring us together, and Kathleen reminds us of the common ground all of us who are childless-not-by-choice share. I know she’s working on a post about her experience over the weekend, so look out for that soon.
That evening I meet Cathy. She and her husband write Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs, a blog about living childfree after infertility. In her wonderful post about the weekend, she talks about surviving loss together and the power of community. I spend my time with her talking about going on adventures, learning to sail, and how pole dancing helped her to reconnect and fall back in love with her body after infertility treatments. She is about to begin training as a transformation coach and, as someone I consider to be the queen of reinvention, she’ll be great at it.
On Saturday morning Andrea guides us on a stunning hike in Lynn Valley. (The photo is of the terrifying suspension bridge we crossed. Talk about facing your fears!) Andrea is not a blogger, but a self-described “lurker”. What that really means is that she is an ardent supporter of our work and contributes consistently in the comments of our posts. Andrea is an observer, incredibly perceptive and intuitive, a peaceful nucleus to which I find myself gravitating.
By Sunday, our group is tightly bonded. Wine has flowed, stories have been shared, and a deep understanding and admiration of one another has developed. We are joined by “S” a local woman who has heard about the summit and has come to meet us. The seven of us talk together about our experiences, and this is when my history creeps out from under its rock and makes its attack. As I share a story about coming to the end of my fertility treatments, the once-familiar anger and passion spills out and I think, “There it goes. There’s that old wound bursting open, just as I feared it would.”
But in this hotel conference room, I am safe. I am among friends who understand me, who hear me, and who acknowledge that, although “infertile” is not a badge I wear brazenly, it is one I will always carry with me. It will always be one of the many clubs of which I am a member. I am grateful to be among women who understand how, after so many years, I am still not “over it.” And the anger passes, a little more grief purged, and the scar over my old wound remains intact, maybe even stronger than it was before.
To be complete, this story needs a take-away, and for me it is this:
Being heard and understood matters. Telling your story matters. Finding one person who can listen and say “Me too” matters.
And facing the fear of talking openly about things that hurt perhaps matters most of all.
So, no matter how you came to be reading this post today, you are not alone. This website, this community is your safe place to be heard and acknowledged and understood. I encourage you to reach out to one another, to share your stories, and to make real connections. Say yes to the possibility.
There are several regional groups in the Community pages. Consider finding some people in your area and planning an in-person get-together. Because this weekend showed me that there is no substitute for personal interaction, for breaking bread and talking, sharing stories and discovering connections with someone who understands you completely.
I worried that the weekend might cause me to move backwards in my healing, but meeting these women and experiencing the power of connection has set me free from the fear that I might never fully heal. I will. I have. And I will continue to keep moving forward.