Across the country there was celebration over the news Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is pregnant with her first child. Privately, there was pain and heartache as those who wish for the chance to have a baby cope with the news. Alicia Young writes for The Spinoff about compassion and empathy for those struggling.
Remember that time we hosted the Rugby World Cup? Of course you do. It was inescapable. It was in the paper, it was in your social feeds, it showed up at work in the form of shiny kiwi stickers and little flags. It was months of unavoidable rugby saturation – wonderful for rugby lovers, but incredibly tedious for rugby agnostics like me.
Now we've got a new national obsession: Jacindababymania. But rather than being annoying, it's actually physically painful – and it's going to go on ALL YEAR.
I was at work when the news broke. The prime minister's hapu! As conversations raged around me, fever-like heat rose up through my body. My heart shook like a cat at the vet. And I wasn't the only one. In infertility forums all around the country, people were asking, 'Is anyone else crying in the bathroom right now?'
"I celebrate what it means for women but my first thought I have to admit was a big fat F...." – Private message in an infertility support group
Of course it's exciting that Jacinda's breaking the ultimate glass ceiling, but for people dealing with infertility or baby loss, it's going to be a brutal year. Here's why:
There will be no escape
Generally you can protect yourself from baby announcements. Someone tells you she's pregnant, you retreat into your bunker of hurt to work through your 'agghh why not me' feelings, and then you emerge – safe in the knowledge that you won't be reading about the pregnancy in The Herald, The Guardian and The New York Times. But this announcement is everywhere. And for all the excellent sentiments like this one…
"NZ's prime minister is having a baby with a man she's not married to and he's going to be a stay at home dad while she runs the country. WELCOME TO 2018" – @J9andIf, Twitter
…there are hundreds of heart-stabbing messages from mothers welcoming Jacinda into their fold, and hundreds of conversations scrutinising the details of her pregnancy. It's only going to get more intense over the coming months as the nation fixates on Jacinda's maternity wardrobe, her birth plan, and finally, her baby.
"Within minutes of the announcement I'm sitting at work hearing people discuss how far along she is, when she would've found out, and I know the answers to those questions because I got pregnant the same time through IVF. I'm sitting here being reminded that I am NOT pregnant anymore. The country is going to go crazy and there's going to be so much baby hype, happiness and celebration in June while I'm grieving the loss of what could have been." – Private message in an infertility support group
It reinforces the idea that women have to have children in order to be successful
If you need proof that becoming prime minister isn't enough of an achievement for a woman, consider that people are STILL throwing shade at former PM Helen Clark for failing to reproduce. By contrast, Jacinda is being lauded as within reach of the pinnacle of achievement.
A pregnant PM is a genuinely inspiring story, but… it's possible to be successful as a woman without having a child, isn't it? Is it? I thought it was? Helen? Help?
It highlights the gap between families and… er… 'non-families'?
Are two adults and two pets a family? We're not the type of family that marketers have in mind when they talk about 'great family deals' or 'fun for the whole family'. We're not even who progressive Labour had in mind when they kept banging on about "backing Kiwi families" in the lead-up to the election. Even friends can be cruel when they drop thoughtless remarks.
You don't know what it's like to be tired.
I wish I could do X, Y and Z, but I've got kids.
Having kids gave my life meaning.
Normally people in our situation can hide in plain sight, but with the nation gaga over Jacinda and Clarke, the family-focused first couple of NZ (actual headline from Stuff.co.nz), some of us are feeling pretty exposed. We're in the midst of a nationwide fertility festival, and there's a line of us outside the gate who didn't get tickets.
It perpetuates the myth that anyone who wants a baby can have one
The PM was told she would need medical intervention in order to conceive and her road to pregnancy is likely to have been long and painful too. But it's the baby announcements that get shared, not the miscarriages and failed treatments, and this perpetuates the myth that almost everyone who wants a baby can have one.
In reality it's not easy or possible for everyone to get pregnant in their 30s… or even their 20s. Even fertility treatment (if you can stomach the pain, the angst and the cost) doesn't always get results: IVF fails more often than it works.
And if you think adoption or fostering is easy, think again. We went along to the CYFS adoption course, where the message we received was – don't hold your breath waiting for a kid. Fostering comes with zero parental leave and ongoing uncertainty. Even if you think you're on the path towards 'home for life', you might still have to give the child back.
There is just no easy answer to infertility.
It brings it home
When shit happens (or doesn't happen) you build a story around it to make yourself feel better. My story is: "I'm really busy anyway and I achieve more because I don't have a kid. Plus, I'm worried about the environment and having a kid is the worst thing you can do for the planet."
Jacinda's news is a sharp needle bursting my protective bubble. The reality is that I'm mildly busy, but I'm no prime minister. I'm just a slob who sits around watching The Late Show and eating peanuts. And yeah, I care about the environment, but Jacinda does too. I'm sure she and Clarke will do their best on that front. (There are cloth nappy laundering services for those who can afford them. Just one of the things you annoyingly know after six years of expecting to get and stay pregnant.)
Jacinda's news has forced me to confront the reality that I could fit a child into my life too – if I had the option.
It makes you feel like a jerk
A bold Facebook commenter who wrote, "Oh God, another six months of this, then followed by daily reports on baby's health … pics of Jacinda addressing the House with baby strapped to body, noooooooooooooooooooooooooo… …." was met with angry face emojis and scornful replies. When there are pregnant people around you (which, at my age, is 100 per cent of the time), you're supposed to 'let them have their moment' and not 'rain on their parade'.
But the trouble with that is that the woman who's lost her baby never gets to have her moment. The couple struggling with infertility never get to have their moment. And so their stories are pushed out of the cultural narrative, and people like me are left to wonder – am I successful? Am I part of a family? Does my life have meaning?
Alicia Young has a master's degree in creative writing from Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters. She has published several short stories and other works. Read her three part series on her IVF journey beginning here.