I promise this is my very last post on ‘difference’ – a topic that has been preoccupying me for longer than it should. It’s part of the chapter that I’ve been writing today. If anyone has any reflections to offer I’d be glad to hear them. Off to Winchester tomorrow for the wedding of an old friend’s daughter. Not sure if it’s a hat occasion or not, but if Sam Cameron can get away without a hat in the Abbey, then I’m blowed if I’m going to wear one. Not many things I feel grateful to her for…
Here goes with ‘difference’ anyway –
Difference does not have to be negative. Difference can be exciting, stimulating, a cause of celebration or it can be relatively neutral…something that just is…and accepted as that. Difference is only worrying or dangerous if we feel threatened by it or someone is threatening us because of it.
Our daughter ‘Zannah, born in 1986, enjoys the difference of being a donor conceived person. She sometimes brings the fact into conversations if it is appropriate to do so and all her close friends know about her beginnings. It’s part of her identity.
One of the mothers I talked to has a diagnosed and well-controlled mental illness, as well as being the mother of egg donation twins and an older son conceived without help. I didn’t know about her condition when I spoke with her but she dropped it into conversation when an appropriate moment came up and later told me that she does the same with her twin’s origins. No stigma about either for her.
How we manage difference will depend on many things. Our own backgrounds and experiences will be important influences. If our parents were fearful of change or difference in others and maybe rather inflexible in their attitudes, then it is possible that we may have picked up their approach to life. This is not inevitable of course and many people reared in rather cautious families find themselves challenging the narrow boundaries in which they were raised. Doing something deliberately ‘different’ like having a child with a non-genetic connection could feel exciting, even liberating, or it could bring back to the surface fearful feelings from an earlier time.
How does the capacity to become comfortable with difference come about? The mother I referred to above says that she feels at ease with having children from different origins because this is the second crisis that she and her husband have faced together. The first was the diagnosis of her mental illness. Having weathered this together and developed very good communication ‘antenae’ between them, she feels they can manage anything now and is thrilled with her young family. Like other mums and dads who feel comfortable with their ‘mixed origins’ families, these parents have a flexibility of approach that is likely to mean that they will be able to adapt to the needs of their children, whatever these happen to be.
Going through difficult times together – and infertility, whether primary or secondary, is a good example, often means that couples emerge with a stronger, more mature relationship. Facing what can feel like impossible decisions often encourages the development of a greater emotional range and increased communication skills between partners, and these capacities are invaluable when it comes to managing difference. Another capacity that is sometimes not recognised or is under-rated is that of being able to ask for help when you are in difficulties without feeling diminished as a result. Those who have a good enough sense of self to know when they need help and can seek it appropriately are also likely to be able to acknowledge difference without feeling threatened by it.