Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Redefining family

Many years ago, a piece was circulating via email about Urban Tribes and their role in a person's development during their single years. I really liked this piece for a few different reasons, because I was never much of a dater yet I had a good support system through my friends.

What stuck with me through all of these years, though, was this idea of family. Traditionally, we've defined family as being composed of individuals who are genetically related: you have a mother, a father, grandparents, aunts and uncles and siblings. The phrases "blood is thicker than water" and telling someone "we're the same blood" have been ways to emphasize the strong tie family has and how important it is to us and our society.

So what happens when blood relatives let you down? In the case of infertility, this will happen more times than not and to varying degrees. Whether it's parents prying too much about when you're going to have children, a relative's remark about how you just need to get a surrogate, a cousin talking for hours upon hours about how difficult is it to be pregnant, or learning your younger sister is pregnant. In an ideal world, we cry, but the love and support for one another would help us through those difficult times, building strength within the family.

But sometimes this doesn't happen. Sometimes, in all the excitement of a grandchild, your mother tells you to get over yourself because your sister is going through something really hard. Sometimes you're told you're being selfish, that you brought this on yourself. Sometimes "family" causes more harm than good.

About 5 months ago, I made the difficult decision to cut off contact with my family. Infertility was not the reason for this, but it certainly was the straw that broke the camel's back. For years I've had a difficult relationship with my mother, filled with multiple incidents of abuse, mainly verbal but also some physical. Still, I hung onto the relationship because I craved family. I craved it so much that shortly before my official diagnosis, I tried confiding in both my parents about my pain and sorrow of not being able to conceive.

My sister's announcement that she was pregnant was a blow, but I was determined to be there for her and support her. What drove a wedge was not her being pregnant, but her using her pregnancy as a weapon to attack when an argument ensued. What continued to make things difficult was the gossiping that was happening on both sides of the family, with Grey and I being judged continually and told to "just relax." But the final straw was an email in August, where I was told that Grey and I should adopts my cousin's son because the state was pulling him from the home. It was only following a heated phone conversation, where I indicated that Grey and I were not ready for that path, that I was told "no child you adopt will ever be yours."

Since then, I've found that I've been in a process of redefining "family." During this journey, both Grey and I have met many people on the same path, forging new relationships. In addition, our relationships with  some friends and family in the Pacific NW has strengthen, with them being huge sources of support during this period in our lives. But probably the biggest change has been finding this community; finding others who are on this journey to share stories. Initially it was a place to gain information and read about others people's experiences, resulting in my feeling a lot less lonely when everyone around me was able to get pregnant so easily. What I never expected was to form friendships with a number of bloggers nor that in my darkest hours, it would be getting those emails that would help me through those moments of grief.

In a non-traditional sense, while living on the island of IF, we come together as a tribe; we redefine our family. My family is no longer restricted to a blood relatives, it includes kindred spirits, women and men I've met during this journey who understand my grief, my excitement and even my dreams. In during moments of crisis and joy, we come together to support one another, despite different points of view and being at different points in our journey.

Ethan Watters said it best:
 Tribal behavior does not prove a loss of ''family values.'' It is a fresh expression of them.


  1. There are many families that tear you down more than they build you up. My husband's family has done a good job of bringing my husband down again and again. I'm so thankful that I have a great relationship with both my sister and my mom. BUT they have still said hurtful things regarding IF, even if unintentionally. I lean on my blogoverse "family" when I need real support in this journey.

    Those of us who read your blog will always be here to listen, and to give you a shoulder to lean on when you need it. :)

  2. There are times I'm tempted to just cut myself off from my family and my psychologist is actually urging me to do just that. Similar reasons to yours of course.

    The only real thing we can do with infertility is hope and take it one day/injection at a time.

  3. This is such a thoughtful post. It can be so sad when parents are unable or unwilling to provide the support that children really need. I am in awe of the strength it must have taken for you to put yourself first and create the family that can give you the support you were missing.

  4. Thank you for this post. It is very true that our family can be so hurtful towards us at times. I am so glad that in today's world, we can find "safe" places to turn to like this community when we need it.

    ICLW #32

  5. This is a great post. Because it is so true. I am sorry to hear that your family has not been anything but loving and supportive. I have experienced a lack of support from my family, but mostly because they can't relate and do not know what to do or say to me. They often get quiet and tense and uncomfortable when I mention my daughter because they don't know what to do or say to help me. But yes, I agree that family can be anyone, blood relative or not. And often times, the people that are the most supportive are not our blood relatives.

  6. They say blood is thicker than water - you definitely haven't met my family if you ever told me that! I'm sorry your family hasn't been the source of support you need. I totally feel your pain! In university I would cry at sappy chic flicks where the mom and daughter shared an incredible moment - I never have or will have those with my mom. I think when you don't have a family to support you, it makes you want a baby that much more - so that you can, one day, have the family you always wanted.

    Big hugs!

  7. It really is amazing how much blogging has helped me over the last few months. There were a few blogs that I occasionally followed but never really thought about doing it myself until last fall; and I'm so glad I did.

    Sitting down to write, without a filter, exactly how we're feeling and knowing that there are other women out there who understand and just get it. Those little comments we receive as people share their story or even share how your post helped them through something is like a little hug from a friend.

    No matter where we are in our journey, we can cry with each other and cheer each other on because we've been there. Glad to call you a friend on my journey.

  8. Family is what you make it. They are the people you hold close to your heart. To say that an adopted child isn't really your child, is wrong and ignorant.
    I am glad to be your family.

  9. Blood may be thicker than water - but love is thicker than blood. My family has lived by that motto for years as I come from a broken home and a life full of step, half, and adopted family members...I pity the person who denies to enrich their lives by not considering someone family just because they aren't "blood".

    {from ICLW} Lavonne @ *Our Wish*

  10. This post brought tears to my eyes. Very brave of you to make the decisions you have over the last 5 months.

    I too, am glad to be your family. Our tribe wouldn't be the same without you and your insight.

  11. I'm so sorry to hear about your crappy relationships with family. It's so hard when what should be a built-in emotional safety net becomes the opposite. Thank God for the IF community. I've been feeling the bond with other ALI bloggers very strongly lately. I'm glad you do too.

  12. I'm lucky to have an amazing family, but we still have chosen not to tell our parents about our IF struggles. None of them had any trouble starting their family's and I don't think they would understand. They would want to be supportive, but would unwittingly say something hurtful. So we just keep them in the dark. The internet community however, has been amazing.

  13. This is an incredible post. Thank you. (I'd write more but the goosebumps are keeping me from thinking...I just felt this more than you would know.) xo

  14. I'm so sorry you are struggling with your family. I went through a several year stretch without contact with my family in which I did the same thing: build a support system to protect and nuture me. Years later I was able to approach from a healthy happy place and keep boundaries that allow me to keep in contact with my family without letting the drama and heartache come back.

    On a side note, what are fertility socks?? I keep reading about them and I'm super confused! :)

  15. This is beautiful Cristy. I am thankful for you every day.

  16. I am all for creating the family you want -- however that happens. I am blessed with a (mostly) understanding and caring family; my husband is not. We both have built up the people who truly matter around us. You are 100% right to pull back from anyone who cannot be supportive, especially with everything you are going through right now.

    Wishing you the best of luck,

  17. my husband and i have had many talks about what defines "family." his family is pretty close - he speaks regularly with his parents and gets along nicely with his sister and her family. they talk online weekly, too. my family ... not so much. to this day none of us are close. my sisters and i don't really get along (at ALL, in the case of one of them with whom i don't even speak; the other one lives in Poland now) and my parents were divorced when i was 12 for many sad, sad reasons ... subsequently, i never really grew up in a very nurturing "family" environment. i worried about this a lot when my husband and i started talking about wanting to start a family of our own. i worried that i wouldn't know how to provide a "family" environment because mine was so screwed up for so long.

    in the end, you probably made the healthiest decision for yourself... and that was very brave. if people aren't supportive and positive, what good are they in your life?

    my husband and i are still trying to find that "community" you speak of, but we, like you, believe in the fact that our "family" and our support systems are what we make of them. thanks for reminding me of this. :)

  18. hi from ICLW

    I've thought more and more as I've gotten older than family is so much more than just blood relatives. I'm closer to friends than my blood relatives. If they can't be supportive to you, don't feel badly about keeping your distance.

  19. I'm so glad that you're taking care of yourself by redefining your boundaries with your family. I've always believed that family is not defined by blood but by how you feel about each other. I am so glad that you are building this family. You deserve it!


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