Living As an Ex-Pat in ParentLand

There have been some tremendous responses from people who read yesterday’s post.

And if you haven’t read Esperanza’s post, trying to answer the questions I raised, please do.

Because I think she has really uncovered how so many of us feel as parents after going through infertility.

I lived in London for two and a half years. I was never truly an English person, even though I paid taxes there and used the NHS and ate crisps and wine gums and went to pubs and tried to pick up the slang. My skin had the marks of skin damage after living my whole life in California: native British people of all races have the most beautiful, luminous skin. On the other hand, I have pretty straight teeth after years of braces. That cliche is so true that a client once said he could suss out who the American was (he had never met me) by having my whole team smile. He pointed to me immediately and said: “Her!” But the obvious marker was, of course, my accent. And that I couldn’t decipher a lot of what people were saying. Especially Scots! Toughest accent to crack, ever.

I never quite bonded with any native Brits. They were just at a natural advantage in their homeland: they had lifelong friends already who knew habits, history, remembered the Falklands War and spoke in a shorthand version of English. I liked them and respected them (what they thought of me I’ll never know, you Brits are SOOO reserved!) but I wasn’t one of them. I couldn’t PASS.

So, I bonded with ex-pats. These were ex-pats from many countries: the US, Canada, Nigeria, India, Bulgaria and France. We had quadrants: we were probably most tight with our fellow Americans, and likewise for others of other nationalities. But we all loved to hang out together and we were essentially each others’ family. Because we knew. We knew we didn’t pass, that we never would, that there were differences between us and Brits. Differences we would never be able to overcome.

Likewise, when I had my twins, I thought I could safely make passage to ParentlLand. For two years, I tried like hell to “pass”, to fit into the culture of the other parents. But there were things that were different: these mothers had not struggled to get to ParentLand: they were natives who were born being able to plan their exact entry. They had very little fear, they didn’t have preemies who had to be fed every two hours, there were deliberate gaps between each of their children. They breastfed for years. Like my American accent, my twins marked me as different right away. Every parent in ParentLand asked if they were “infertility” babies. If I said yes, they would either quickly change the conversation or would ask questions that they did not enjoy hearing the answers to. And they would categorize me as “different”, not as easy to be around as other natives. And one naturally prefers to hang out with others who are familiar.

I felt like that ungainly American in the office of smooth Brit talkers and jokers again. I didn’t understand the patois, the stories of weaning, the talk of trying to prevent an “Oops!” baby, the complaints about how awful it was to be pregnant.

It wasn’t until my second miscarriage, when ParentLand finally rejected me fully, that I realized I needed to find some kind of other support.

Which is when I found Mel, then Lori, then local ex-pats Bodega and Esperanza. And now, all of you reading.

Darcy often worries about me: why didn’t having twins make me happy and shinny and, well, normal? I think the truth is, I got culture shock. I was back in London again, but this time without the amazing friends I had there to back me up and make me feel at home.

I took way too long to find “my people.”

But I am so happy I did.

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14 Comments

Filed under Parenting After IF

14 responses to “Living As an Ex-Pat in ParentLand

  1. huh
    a very accurate analogy, I must say (having changed a few cities and countries in my life and knowing exactly what it’s like – finding “my people”

  2. I can totally relate! There are so many things I cannot relate to with my friends who have gotten pregnant easily… No matter how hard they try, they will never quite “get” it. And I am so lucky to have found “my people” as well, a community that makes me feel like I belong :).

  3. Gail K

    I completely understand. I am also in a gray area not sure where I belong. After struggling with IF for years, I have decided to stop. While I am not happy that I still don’t have a child(ren), I am also relieved to be done with treatments and schedules and everything else that was involved in TTC. I haven’t yet decided whether or not to pursue adoption or to live child-free(less). So, I am in the middle and not sure where I belong. But, I am glad to be part of the ALI community, even though I’m not a blogger.

  4. I so understand what you’re saying here. But I also hesitate to agree fully … because I think that a lot more people who live in Parent Land *aren’t* “normal,” whatever the heck *that* means. We all know that there are more miscarriages than are talked about. There are more fertility issues than people want to admit. One of my best friends from college just had a baby after silence about trying for five years and finally confided to me (she hasn’t even told her parents, and her husband doesn’t want people to know) that they had to “get help.” She was ashamed to admit it. While I know that there are plenty of innocents out there who just don’t *get* it, there are also a lot of others who suffer alone, pretending that Parent Land is a perfect place. Maybe if more people knew that they weren’t alone, we could *all* live there. While I love the analogy of ex-pats in the IF community. I think if I’m talking about my relationship to ParentLand, it’s more like visiting Disney. It’s just Not Real. And the more people (and the NYTimes!) pretend that it is, the harder it will be for any of us to “find our people.” That’s one of the reasons I love your relentless investigative journalism, even as an ex-pat. ūüôā

  5. Great analogy! & I think it fits very well.

    I see Justine’s point, though. When I think about it, I’ve felt like an outsider for most of my life for one reason or another. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I was always the “new girl;” I was bookish and klutzy when most of my classmates were into sports; being Canadian made my sister & me a novelty when we went to visit my relatives in the States; being a “Canadian” girl made me a novelty in dh’s family (I was the first non-Italian to marry into his family on both sides, & still am on his mom’s side). You get the idea.

    Even within the ALI community, I sometimes feel like a bit of an outsider, since I am (a) a touch older than most of the other bloggers out there, (b) started my blog several years post-loss & treatment & (c) am living childfree after loss & infertility, which is sort of the dark horse of the ALI family.

    So I guess we all have our differences… I guess it’s up to each of us to decide whether the things we have in common outweigh the things that set us apart. In the case of the ALI community, I most certainly feel I have more in common with all of you than with the general populace. :p ; )

  6. Lifelong outsider and ex-pat to ParentLand. I was at a baby shower for a really good friend a few weeks ago and couldn’t participate in any of the conversation about being pregnant or giving birth. How could I when I haven’t been either? One thing I’ve noticed about a lot of the ParentLand bloggers is that a lot of them have suffered from PPD or PPA and it is a bond many share. Not that I would want to share that particular bond, but having never given birth, I didn’t develop PPA or PPD. It’s silly, but it’s just one more thing that makes me feel “Other.”

  7. OK. I’ve totally taken over your comment box (sorry!) but I wanted to say that yes! This is what it felt like to me, too, when I found my People. The ones who were outliers with me.

  8. (Sorry I’m so late in commenting)

    It breaks my heart to hear how people in ParentLand treated you. I like to think I would still have had compassion for those who had to struggle to get there if everything had gone as planned two years ago. I am thankful that going through this experience, I have at least learned how to support those that have been down this awful road. I hate that as women as a whole, we can’t just be compassionate to other women just because that’s our role as human beings. But they just don’t know any better. Unless you’ve been touched by this hell either indirectly or directly, you assume that it was easy for everyone.

    I’m so glad you’ve found your people and that I am one of them. Those jerks in ParentLand missed out on a really incredible friend. Even though I wouldn’t wish this nightmare on anyone, I’m so thankful that it has made me a better woman because of it.

    Thank you for this perfect metaphor.

  9. Lut C.

    Hitting the nail on the head! That’s precisely how it feels.

  10. fab, love the analogy too. I moved from UK to NZ a while back, so completely ‘get’ finding my people. At first I was keen not to be an immigrant who only knew other ex-pats, but there’s a shared experience that comes with such upheaval, as opposed to those who have never wanted nor needed to push outside 50 miles of where they have always lived.
    But now I barely even notice if someone has emigrated or not, I don’t even distinguish between the British or Kiwi accent (blasphemy, I know) . . . the intensity of the experience faded with time. I always remember vowing to never, ever, emigrate again the day I flew out of the Homeland though . . .

    love seeing how this translates to my ‘infertility experience’, and I’m sorry you met a bunch of parents that had either never moved anywhere, or buried the experience in some private locked box not to be opened

  11. Pingback: Time Warp Tuesdays: Mothering | Too Many Fish to Fry

  12. Here from the not too distant future via Time Warp Tuesday. I appreciate your perspective here and am glad you finally found your tribe. It is difficult when we don’t feel like we fit in.

    Since my experience with infertility and loss didn’t happen until after having my first child, my experience has been a bit different. As originally I felt like I fit in very well with other moms in my neighborhood, but then when most of them were able to have #2, #3 and some even #4 while I was still trying to bring another healthy baby I didn’t feel so comfortable around everyone anymore. They were still friends, but I eventually learned to seek out and connect with those who were also dealing with secondary infertility, recurrent pregnancy loss and then neonatal loss to find the support that I craved from being with those who “get it.”

    It has taken me awhile to be comfortable with idea that various people in my life can and should fill different roles. I can’t expect all of my friends and family to be all things to me anymore than they can expect that of me.

    Anyway, I am typing this on my phone and hope it makes sense. Thank you for sharing and I am so glad you found our ALI Community both online and your local contingent.

  13. I wonder if my own TWT post this morning was colored a bit by reading this last night before bed. I used to worry so much about being able to ‘pass,’ that every ‘real’ mother could see right through me, but now, because of your and others support, I don’t need to try so hard to simply pass when I can actually be who I am with all of you. It’s so much easier for me to identify with this post today, as opposed to when you first published it. I never realized my way of thinking had changed so much until I reread this post. Thank you for showing me that.

  14. I remember this post and I think it’s brilliant the second time around, too.

    I have no idea what I meant about taking over your comment box. That seems like not such a long comment — wonder if I somehow lost some of it?

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