I’m sitting in the hotel lobby at my conference, because amazingly, in this day and age, I’m expected to actually pay for internet in my room. Come on Marriott, I get the money game you’re playing here, but come on. We’re already paying out the nose for the room… you could throw a little free in-room internet my way.
This conference has taken up a grand amount of time (as it should) but it’s been an intense 4 days so far. Tons of sessions from which to choose, constantly playing the game of “what information can I realistically take back and practically apply to my institution?” and feeling a bit out of my league. This conference is more academically focused rather than just pure student affairs’ conferences I’ve attended in the past and sometimes I just feel like I’m wearing a scarlet BA on my chest… more faculty and administrators than staff here, that’s for sure. Larry told me after I got out of my first session: “Don’t sweat it and don’t sell yourself short. You’re just as smart and have every right to be there, too.”
And that’s why I love my husband ^_^
Yesterday morning, I was on my way out of a session when a young woman came up to me.
“Hi, are you Keiko?”
“Yes,” I said, distractedly.
“I read your blog and I just had to come over and say hi and thank you for being a voice out there for us.” We chatted for another minute; I was half-asleep, having overslept a bit and trying to remember where my next session was so I gave her my business card, thanked her for reaching out to me, and dashed out into the crowd of attendees. A few minutes later, I realized how rude I must have seemed: I didn’t even get her last name.
I had gotten her first name- M- but hadn’t thought to grab her card in my semi-awake state. I was thrilled when I checked my email that evening to see she had sent me a note. This morning we exchanged emails and texts and met up to chat during some downtime this afternoon.
Like any good academic conference, there are plenty of publishing company exhibitors here to hawk their titles to us salivating first-year/common reading book selection committee members. Today many of them had catered lunches featuring several of their authors here to talk about their books. M and I had each gone to different lunches, and she shared with me a really tough moment for her that day:
The author of Just Don’t Fall, Josh Sundquist, spoke at her lunch about how childhood cancer robbed him of his leg but lead to a path toward the Paralympics. She relayed his delivery: energetic, engaging, exhuberant. He described how as a 9-year old, he looked up to a boy wearing a lime green soccer uniform in his school. He wanted that uniform; that was his goal. At 10, he was diagnosed with cancer and lost his leg. After years of physical therapy, he talked about a ski trip with his family where he went sledding with a modified sled. Just before he went down for another run, as he was sitting on the sled, a man came up to him, saying “Hey kid!” He turned and looked, and here was a man in a red, white, and blue uniform: stars, stripes, matching and coordinated. “Hey kid, I’m a coach for the US Paralympics Team, and I think you’d be great.”
Sundquist arrived at his selling point, about how to adapt his book and his story to college freshmen audiences of all backgrounds: “Sometimes you grow up and want so bad to fit into one uniform, only to find out that it’s not that one that’s handed to you.”
M didn’t have to explain anything more beyond that point. The look in her eyes was enough to know just how deeply that had resonated within her that afternoon, a stark reminder of how the pain/anger/longing/fuckedup-itude of infertility can really strike us anywhere.
No matter how hard we might work to create safe-spaces for ourselves, we just never really know when a subtle reminder of your own infertility can creep into your brain. In some ways, it’s like we’re either always with our guards up or feeling hopelessly defenseless. It’s a precarious and unsettling state in which to be.
M and I talked for over an hour, each sharing our stories and experiences. I think we were both appreciative of the chance to make a face-to-face connection. I certainly didn’t come here thinking I’d talk to anyone about infertility but I’m glad I did.
Sidenote: I had my own WTFIF?! (I’m coining a new acronym: What the fuck, infertility?!) moment Saturday at the Georgia Aquarium. That’s a post for later in the week.
I’d been feeling a bit stagnant in the days leading up to the conference, but since I’ve been here, I’ve felt a renewed kick in the ass about writing, and more importantly, about doing more for this community. My chance meeting with M has only solidified that resolve.
I told M that I write and make videos because infertility shouldn’t be silent and we should be able to speak openly about it with others. M made such a great point about how we can both look around this Sea of The Academy and know we have brother and sisters in arms, fighting daily and (most likely) private battles. I listened to M’s story, celebrating the things we share in common and listening with compassion at her own challenges, offering the best advice I could. It was a truly wonderful conversation and I’m glad to have made such a happenstance connection with someone.
|Photo by Gillian via Flickr.|
M: Keep writing. Even if you don’t blog, make that pen move. I won’t say that every word put to paper is one less tear, but it certainly makes it easier along the way. No matter how things turn out, you can always look back and read the story of your growth and strength.
You don’t have to carry signs or run a fundraiser to be an advocate. Like I said, even sharing your story with just one person outside your safe circle is another person educated about the reality of infertility and potentially another ally in your corner.
Arm yourself with information and facts. People will be snarky, ignorant, or even polite and well-intentioned but careless in their delivery. Or, as you said, they could be straightforward and devastatingly blunt. We’re in the field of education, so I know you can relate to this: make those teachable moments. You don’t have to necessarily share your personal story, but a solid statistic or research can go a long way. Like a good higher ed professional, refer them to a reliable resource for more information.
Treasure your safe circle of support and “use” them when you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for their support when you need it. That’s why you hold them so close to your heart.
Never feel weird about reaching out to me, even at a place as random as an academic conference. I’m here to listen. I might not have any answers but at the very least, I can listen because your story told in your voice to another person is important, valid, and to be respected. I know it’s not easy and I respect and honor your courage for opening up and sharing it with me.
I wish we weren’t both members of this community, but I’m glad we found each other, that we made this connection. It helps not to feel so goddamned alone.
And M: no matter what happens with this cycle, I’m sending you luck and support. Take it easy with those needles and just remember that you’ve got someone rooting for you, ready to celebrate or provide an ear, a shoulder, and a box of virtual tissues if necessary.
Be well and safe travels.