Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Empathy for the seals (Or, how I narcissistically connect everything to my reproductive challenges)

So I'm back from my travels. I've missed and look forward to catching up on all your news, but I must say, it's been good to have time away from screens of any kind. Away from any thoughts related to my reproductive system, babies, or lack thereof. Well, almost any thoughts.

And just like that, it's now officially spring (and the start of another year in my life); but here in the UK we've been hit with a gust of glacial temperatures and snow the like of which I've not seen in all my years of association with these isles. Of course as a Canadian, I find all the hoopla faintly humorous, (it's really just a few inches people), but the fact is they are simply not equipped to deal with snow of any real quantity here.  

Anyway, the weather made for a very atmospheric experience of the beautiful and forlorn Northumberland coast, where we hiked the coastal path last week. It seemed to evoke the history of the peoples that built the magnificent castles and abbeys studded along the beaches, conjuring the mournful Gaelic tunes which lie deep within the heritage I inherit on my mother's side.

And speaking of my mother, the long walks in conditions not conducive to extended conversations provided other hidden benefit besides atmosphere.

Here's the thing: H and I spend so much time together, and even, because of the nature of our work, away from others, that it's easy for me to forget the casual way in which  patronizing and wildly unrealistic 'helpful' comments about the state of our childlessness, the things we should do to change (or my favourite, accept) that state, and even the ways we should grieve our son, can so easily be tossed around by those who don't understand the life-altering depth of the infertility and loss experience. As such, my skills at deflecting these comments, at placing protective boundaries, are not as finely honed as they might be. It's worth noting though how tiring it can be to stay 'up' all the time for the benefit of others who can't and don't understand, and who worry for you because they probably think your behaviour is well beyond the margins of normal coping. Because man, as much as I love my mother, is it tiring. And so isolating.

I know all mother/daughter relationships are fraught, with or without the challenges and uncertainties and feelings of inadequacy that come with infertility and loss. But in moments like those last week, I was reminded of the inevitable divide, the very natural inabilities to relate (on both sides), that have developed as the space between our respective journeys to motherhood widens.

But having said that, the time outdoors was wonderful and invigorating and calming, as it always is for me.

Aside from the gorgeous views, all the freshly caught crab we could eat in cosy pubs along the way, and the soothing sound of the waves, what did we encounter on our hiking expedition? While walking along the coastal path to one of the aforementioned castle ruins (pictured below), we came across a scene that nearly broke my heart. A beautiful seal pup, clearly not more than a few weeks old, had been washed ashore by the violent waves. He was deposited a very long way from the water's edge, his mother nowhere in sight, and had suffered an injury to his eye, which was heavily swollen shut and releasing a sickly looking fluid. He kept lifting his little flapper to shield and sooth the eye, while annoying hikers who I would have liked to beat chase away with a stick wanted to come and 'pet' him. Apparently, under severe weather conditions, this is not unheard of. I couldn't bear the thought of this little guy floundering, in need of care, so far from his natural habitat, or of his mother, out there in the waves, lamenting his loss. Big, fat missing-my-son, longing-for-a-living-baby tears threatened as I imagined this. Go on, tell me I'm anthropomorphizing creatures whose reality in the natural world is a brutal one. I already know.

As soon as we reached the nearest car park, we put a call in to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who were listed as the contact point in case of discovery of a sick or injured seal. (Why no Parks Warden, I don't know). Five telephone calls - from the RSPCA (who said they couldn't help because by the time we finally got through to their call centre they couldn't be sure of the pup's exact location anymore - thank you RSPCA!), to the National Seal Rescue to the Scarborough Sealife Centre to British Sea Divers' Mammal Rescue - and many angst-ridden hours later, I finally got through to someone who agreed to send out a scout who would locate and treat the seal pup. So back in my flat and already re-packing for my urban idyll, I had only to hope this story ended as happily as other, reassuring but even more surprising cases of seal pup rescue. I hope they found that little guy and got him back to the water. I can even dream that he was reunited with his mother.

On reflection, I don't know what worried me more about this episode though: the thought of this lonesome baby seal suffering far from the care of its mother, or the fact that I sometimes now find it easier to empathize with and relate to the predicaments of a seal mama and baby than relate to my own (human) family.


A glimpse of H and I, pre-seal discovery





13 comments:

  1. Man. I'm sorry you had to endure difficult advice from your mom. It's so much harder coming from family, I think, because they are supposed to be the ones who will always support you (which they probably think they are doing when in reality they are not). Also, thanks for going to bat for that seal pup. Poor little guy. I guess I have whatever anthropomorphizing problem you have, because that brought a tear to my eye just reading about it.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not alone in my empathy for the seals, but I'm sorry I made you cry.

      And that's just it: it's so hard to handle the thoughtless advice and comments when they are coming form people that a) you expected (perhaps unfairly) more of, and b) who are really only trying to help. A tightrope for sure.

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  2. I couldn't agree more about how difficult it is to stay "up" or "on" for the benefit of others, as we try to deal with our own emotions. My Mom is the same way, she worries so much and in order to stop her from worrying, I try to pretend like I'm not as stressed as I really am. I am sorry you are going through the same thing, it is so emotionally draining. I'm glad you have a supportive partner and you can help each other through these tough times. I know our loved ones mean well, but sometimes they end up adding to the stress. I am sending you a big hug through the computer screen :)

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    1. Thank you so much for understanding, it means a lot! Your mom sounds a lot like mine, and yes, it IS very emotionally draining. As I said above, the hard part is that I know she is actually doing it out of concern, and so I've found there are some topics I just have to avoid with her, which bears its own kind of sadness, because we used to share a lot more. This is all such a minefield, isn't it?

      Sending hugs right back!

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  3. Poor baby seal, I am glad you managed to call someone able to help it.
    It is difficult to deal with helpful advice / remarks, sometimes I can not really take it. Someone just wrote something in regards to same sex marriage saying: " it isn't about procreation - it's about civil rights. Prisoners, old folks, infertile couples can all marry.".
    And it just rubbed me in all the wrong ways because.... infertile couples don't even imagine they are so in MOST cases. And if you are unexplained according to science there is nothing wrong with you.....
    Or when people say something like: "you should just relax, go on holiday, get a massage" , yeah, like that would work.

    Anyhow glad to hear you had a nice time. And hoping for better times this year :)

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    1. I can really understand your frustration with that kind of statement. I think it's this difficult balance of wanting to be recognized by society for the special challenges we face (and there is a need for more education, actually), and on the other hand, as you say, it's not an identity group any of us would choose, and often there are so few signals (for medicine or society at large) that something is 'wrong'.
      But yes, those 'just relax' comments are the ones that make my blood boil, because...idiots, obviously. But also, when they come from someone you know cares, in their own wierd way, then it's hard to know how to respond.

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  4. Aww, that wasn't narcissism, just compassion. It's not like you made five telephone calls to complain about how even seals can have children and you can't, etc. ;) Good for you for taking action!

    It sounds like you were trying to treat your mother and yourself with kindness, too, by backing off instead of jumping into an argument. It's too bad you felt pressured to be "up" for her sake. I get it, though. With some people it's just easier to put on a mask and deflect ... as long as you're getting enough support elsewhere.

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    1. Thanks for saying that :) It's just that, in those moments I *swear* I was actually identifying with the mother seal and thinking about my son and what I'd have wanted others to do if ours had been a situation where intervention might have helped...Crazy, I know.
      With my mother, over the lastr three years I have had to learn to avoid a lot of topics, which is hard, because obviously I'd like her support. But sometimes as you say it's really just easier to deflect.

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  5. Ugh, I can't even handle seeing a squirrel or bird hit by a car-- an injured baby seal would put me over the edge. Good for you for doing something about it. I wish more people cared that much.
    And I feel for you about the mom situation. My mom's reactions/comments/lack of tact often leave me just thinking... WTF?

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    1. It nearly did me as well! I just hope my efforts got him the care he needed.
      And I feel you. I have had SO many WTF moments since our first loss, that honestly, they would warrant their own post...maybe their own blog! I definitely have a different view of people and society than I did before. Not always very nice.

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  6. Oh, poor little baby seal, glad you were there to at least try to help. I hope someone came out in the end to have a look at him. And I would be as upset, thinking his mama was out there, looking for him.

    Also, nice to see a glimpse of the two of you :)

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    1. I hope so too Marwil. It was really the mother baby connection that hit me hard :(
      Perhaps I'll one day get brave enough to offer more than a glimpse!

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  7. Whether the seal pup incident was a telling sign of your continual relationsip with loss, or not, I say well done you two for not being the by-standers that we so often see, with thier first thought being to get the mobile out and take photos.As for mother daughter relationships your certainly not on your own there.X

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