House Rules: Part III on Emotional Infertility and the ALI Community

Welcome to Part III of my series on Emotional/Mental Infertility in the ALI Community. If you’re just tuning in or would like a recap, you can find the first two parts here:

Part I: Emotional/Mental Infertility and Its Impact on the Adoption, Loss, and Infertility (ALI) Community
Part II: How Your Level of Emotional Infertility Affects Your Support Needs in the ALI Community

The major take aways from those first two parts can be summarized thusly:

  1. Your level of emotional infertility and what is right for you should not dictate how and from where other people choose to receive support for where they personally are on their continuum of emotional infertility.
  2. We are not (and should not be) completely separate groups. We are smaller micro-communities of support within the larger ALI community. As our personal journeys with our physical infertility and how that affects our levels of mental/emotional infertility change, we may need to seek support from different sub-communities.

In my opinion, there were two main reasons for why the creation of Parents After Infertility and Loss (PAIL) caused such an intense shockwave rocked the ALI community. The first is summarized in the two points above: there were huge misunderstandings and hurt feelings when people lost sight of the fact that others might need different forms of support based on where they were on the emotional infertility spectrum.

In her Healing Salon, one of the questions that KH99 posed tapped into a second, related vein of why I think ALIgeddon exploded. She asked,

“Within the ALI community as curated by Mel, who should be responsible for community building  and innovation, creating new blogrolls, etc?  Should it be top-down or is there room for grass-root movements?

For the sake of not completely recreating the wheel (and for the sake of being a touch lazy), here is a copy/paste of my answer for that question. I have included or clarified some details to shape the response more delicately to how it applies to our current discussion:

Here’s my thing – I don’t view the ALI community as “belonging” to Mel. She coined the term “ALI” and gave the united community a name, but I do not necessarily think that ALI should be synonymous with Mel/Stirrup Queens. This is not to undermine anything that she has done to provide a sense of unity. I love Mel to pieces; she is a beacon which draws in wayward souls who feel like they’ve been adrift all alone in these infertile waters. However, I don’t think that Mel or Stirrup Queens has to be the end-all-be-all for the ALI community. Though it was loosely-formed across a wide landscape before Mel brought organization to it, the infertility, loss, and adoption community existed before her, and it will continue to exist after her.

Community-building and innovation is there for anyone who feels driven to act. To say “top-down” and “grass-roots” implies that there is some sort of hierarchy within this community. In my opinion, there isn’t any one person who should dictate (or who should be perceived to dictate) how this community is “run.” Some of us have stronger voices than others (Keiko at The Infertility Voice also comes to mind). I view them as thought leaders, but I do not consider them “bosses” who make the rules for how this community operates. NO ONE holds that role. This infertility community is big enough for EVERYONE to move within it in whatever way is best for them.

I don’t think there was any intentional harm caused, but suggesting a carbon-copy of the LFCA was encroaching on theft of intellectual property. I did read that the person who initially suggested it didn’t realize that the LFCA was solely Mel’s brainchild and suggested it only because she thought it was a meme/custom that is typical for various online communities. I can easily see how someone could make that mistake. She apologized for it and now to my knowledge, PAIL will not do exactly that. Every new “start-up” is going to have some growing pains and will make some mistakes along the way. What matters is the intention at heart and whether it was to build or destroy. If the intent was pure but inadvertently caused destruction, then the next question is how they took steps to make amends for it. If it has been done in a respectful way, then I think that’s what matters. From what I can tell, it seems as though this has happened.

I don’t think that anyone involved in the creation of PAIL or the members of the group viewed joining as “leaving” ALI and “joining” PAIL. There is room for both, because one is a sub-set of the other. In my opinion, it is still a part of the whole. Joining PAIL is not “turning one’s back” on ALI, taking sides, or turning away from Mel, and it shouldn’t be viewed that way.

I don’t take issue with PAIL or the fact that there is a blog roll there. I don’t have an issue with the fact that it is an outgrowth of ALI or a sub-community. I think it would have been different if the Parenting after Infertility section had been copied from Mel’s and pasted into PAIL. Copying the blogroll that Mel has would have been no different than snatching a chunk of one of her blog posts and then claiming it for your own; it would be a form of plagiarism. Saying, “We’ve started a new blog roll, come join it if you’d like to,” is not. I think that Mel’s blog roll and PAIL serve similar, but very different purposes. I think there is room for them both to exist in harmony without cracking a huge divide in the greater infertility community, and I do not think it should be viewed as drawing a line between “haves” and “have nots.”

I realize that was a lengthy reply, and it was packed with a lot of finer points to consider. I’m not going to pull apart the stated facts, but I would like to use my comment as a springboard to discuss this implied point:

Respect the house rules that people have established for their blog space, but understand that you are free to establish your own house rules for your space and the community that you build around yourself.  

Melissa has often compared Stirrup Queens to a house. I find this to be a very appropriate analogy for how we should all view our own spaces and our interactions with each other in this community. She has worked hard to build a place where the doors are open, everyone is welcome, the cushions are soft, and the bar is always well-stocked.

Before making any big changes that might affect her readers’ comfort levels within her house, Mel makes a considerable effort to be as inclusive as possible when making decisions about how she runs her blog. That’s akin to inviting a bunch of company over to your brick-and-mortar house stay for a while, and then holding a forum on what color to paint your walls. You might take the group’s opinions into consideration, but ultimately, you’re the one who has to live there and be happy with the decision you make. In your own house, your opinion is the one that should carry the most weight. While you’d like for everyone to stay after you put up a few coats of olive drab green, people are as welcome to leave as they were to enter if they don’t like your house rules.

I can respect that. We should all expect that same amount of respect on our own spaces. We all have our own house rules based on our opinions about the organization of support we build around ourselves. We also need to remember that when it comes to house rules, it’s not about what’s right or wrong; it’s about what feels right to you as an individual. Kids can jump on the furniture all they want in my house, but if the rules are different in someone else’s house, we respect that seats are for butts, not feet. Does that make my house rule–or my opinion–any less cogent or valuable than the other? Absolutely not.

With those understandings explained, I can finally get down to the point of stating what I saw as the secondary major reason for ALIgeddon (with misunderstandings about emotional/mental infertility being the primary reason): the distinction between house rules and community freedoms was blurred. 

Melissa didn’t explicitly say, “THIS IS ONE OF MY HOUSE RULES!,” but in the fallout of ALIgeddon, she did express her belief that she would rather not have tools of her creation (the Lost and Found and ICLW, for example), used in ways that she perceived to be divisive. That’s her house rule, and I respect that. Though I don’t necessarily hold the same opinion, I also respect that PAIL felt divisive to her. Any decisions she makes about her blog as a result of the conversations within the ALIgeddon posts and the following Healing Salons will be respected, as well. House rules.

All of that said, it did make me sad to see that people felt like they either had to limit or justify the support they needed to receive elsewhere because they perceived it to be “in violation” of Mel’s house rules. Please understand that I am in NO WAY saying that Melissa is to blame for this. We can never blame anyone else for our own perceptions.  I am saying that while we are maintaining respect for others’ “house rules” and beliefs in their own spaces, we need to be sure that we don’t lose sight of having the freedom to formulate our own opinions and beliefs within the greater community and our own spaces.

If anyone perceives PAIL or the establishment of future groups to be divisive in nature, then I can respect that with the same intensity that I hope they can respect that others don’t find them to be divisive.

In the previous post in this series, Luna of Life from Here left an amazing comment that echoes exactly why I don’t see the creation of PAIL or any other sub-set within the greater ALI community to be divisive:

even though many of us in the ALI “community” share some commonalities, we often have different needs (e.g., not just emotional support, exchange of information and ideas, connection or friendship, but some bloggers are also hoping to gain readership too, it seems). and not everyone can have their needs met in the same way.

it’s hard to be inclusionary and meaningful for everyone, even when you have a really big tent. consider the “A” in ALI, for example. when we refer to adoption here we tend to mean only adoptive parents and prospective parents. we don’t include birth parents or adoptees, primarily because we think of APs and PAPs as having the connection to infertility and loss. but for me to have a real conversation about adoption means I need to step outside the traditional ALI community to get those viewpoints….

if anything comes from this recent divisiveness, I hope it is truth and respect. my hope is that people will be more honest with themselves and each other about what they need (and where they need to go to get it), while still being respectful of the needs of others (and not offensive or judgmental). if you don’t like what you read, click away. don’t be afraid to lose readers because you want to write about something else. find ways to support each other that doesn’t involve walking on eggshells. be authentic, and you will find your tribe. 

I absolutely adore that last line of Luna’s comment. When I first read her comment, and especially the last line, I nodded my head emphatically and thought, “Yes. Exactly that.” Take that last line and add it to the main points of my previous posts in this series…

  1. Your level of emotional infertility and what is right for you should not dictate how and from where other people choose to receive support for where they personally are on their continuum of emotional infertility.
  2. We are not (and should not be) completely separate groups. We are smaller micro-communities of support within the larger ALI community. As our personal journeys with our physical infertility and how that affects our levels of mental/emotional infertility change, we may need to seek support from different sub-communities.
  3. Find ways to support each other that doesn’t involve walking on eggshells. Be authentic, and you will find your tribe.

…and you’ll get down to what I see as a fundamental belief and what will be the subject of my final installment of this series:

The power to be thought leaders rests within each of us, especially when seeking ways to create the support we need for our level of emotional/mental infertility. 

Check back in here tomorrow (or Friday at the latest) to read about that.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts about finding your tribes and house rules as they pertain to the ALI community (or any online community/blog, for that matter). Caveat: we’re almost one month away from ALIgeddon. If nothing else before now has initiated the healing process, then time and distance certainly has. My comments will not be used to tear the scabs off of healing wounds. Comments which I perceive to be caustic, inflammatory, or counterproductive will not be tolerated.

Those are my house rules.

WORD.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    “Be authentic” – I think those are absolutely the words to live by for me. That’s how you find your tribe (or your tribe finds you, as the case may be).

    • says

      Being authentic is something we all hope to do, but I also think it’s one of those things that eventually grows to be difficult. We don’t realize (at least *I* didn’t realize) just how much of my authenticity I was giving up when I began tiptoeing around writing parenting-related posts. Well, I take that back – I always felt a bit weird posting parenting posts, but it never stopped me from doing it. What I did begin holding back, though, were posts about just how miserable I was following my retirement from surrogacy. I went into radio silence for most of a year not because I had anything to say, but because it felt “wrong” subjecting anyone to the moany drivel that was rolling around in my head. I needed the time a way regardless, but somewhere along the way, I still lost a lot of my authenticity.

      • says

        I guess you just have a more concrete idea of your online identity than I do. My sad little blog is essentially whatever I want to spew about, so authenticity is my guideline. If I don’t care about it, I can’t write about it. And if it’s something that’s really bugging me, it’s going to stew until I let it out. And I lack tact. So, I find it easy to be authentic.

        I don’t write much about my daughter, because my husband doesn’t want me to. I don’t write much about my husband (and oh, is he ever a source of blog fodder!) because he doesn’t want me to. I don’t write about his family (and again – soooo much material there!), because he doesn’t want me to. I don’t write a lot about my family because my blog is anonymous and I know my sister reads some of the same blogs I do, and I don’t want her finding it. So, my limitations are different than most others in the ALI community. I don’t worry too much about who reads it, aside from the fact that I don’t really want anyone to clearly recognize themselves.

        But, then again, I’m not a resource. I don’t have much to offer, other than some shared experience. Do you think you have a greater obligation because you have such wide and varied (and yet, very specific) experience? I mean, I know people have a common ground starting point with me, in some ways, but I don’t have valuable information to impart. So, I can make some blog friends, but I’m never going to have a wide readership. Do you think that makes a difference?

        • says

          Interesting questions, a. I had to roll them around a bit before being able to answer. On the issue of your privacy – I can DEFINITELY understand how that limits what you write about and how much interaction from others you receive on your own blog. There are plenty of times that I’d like to write about things that happen with my mom and sisters, but they all read here (hi, Mom!). As much as I think it would be great to use this blog as my ultimate venting place or space where I can get opinions or advice about things from a wider audience of my regular readers, out of respect and privacy, I just can’t do that.

          I have a lot more leeway than you do, because Frank doesn’t care if I write about him and the kids are jazzed that I do. I do limit what I write about the kids and don’t write about anything which they might find embarrassing somewhere down the line. Now that they’re older, I’ll even ask their permission to post about certain things. I put myself in your shoes and considered what I might write about if I couldn’t write about Frank or the Minions. Now that I’m not actively involved in surrogacy, there wouldn’t be too much TO write about. I’m working on broadening my subject matter and horizons, though, mostly because if I want to be a better writer, well — I need to write about more of the things that I ruminate on and not only on kids/family/infertility.

          All of that said, I think that having shared experiences to write about is valuable. Yes, it’s harder to have a wide readership when the blog posts come infrequently. But then again, even when I was writing frequently (3-5 times per week), my readership wasn’t huge. I do have a regular set of readers and active members in my little community here, but I don’t know that I’ll ever have droves of people who come here to read. That would be great, of course, but knowing that I’ll probably always have you guys is A-OK with me.

          Here’s the thing though, a – despite not writing a lot, you are still a VERY active member of this community because you almost religiously comment on a TON of blogs out there. People still “know” you. I think that if the frequency of your writing on your blog increased — no matter what you were writing about — then your readership would go up. You have tons of readers. We just read you in the comments that you scatter around everywhere. :) Like the comment that you’ve left for me here -> BLOG POST. I think you have TONS to offer. The key is just finding the right balance between anonymity issues and writing the stuff you’re thinking about (and I KNOW you’re a thinker like me and internalize way more than you ever put out there).

          I (like many others, I’m sure) am always looking forward to your comments and thoughts and I appreciate you for ALWAYS being here. I’d be right there making myself cozy on your couch if you were writing at home. ;)

  2. says

    Luna’s quote is brilliant…”find ways to support each other that doesn’t involve walking on eggshells. be authentic, and you will find your tribe. ” Those are words to live by in everyday life as well as in online interactions.

    • says

      It took a while for me to find the right way to clarify that idea. It’s good to know that I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines.

  3. says

    Girl… it’s like you can take everything that I have been thinking and feeling, but have failed at expressing, and put it out there in a way that not only makes sense, but has an impact. Thank you!

  4. says

    Wow. I’m blown away. This series (finally read the whole thing) is so thoughtful, and SO right on.

    It’s interesting … I wonder how many other “communities” are like the ALI community, in the sense that they have (either written or unwritten) house or community rules.

    I don’t know if I have house rules; they’re certainly not obvious. I guess I wouldn’t want people to plagiarize. I want my commenters to treat each other with respect, as they treat me with respect. I probably expect a certain reciprocal level of support from the people whose blogs I comment on.

    I agree with you that we do have the power to be thought leaders, but when you thought you found your tribe, and suddenly realize they’re not your tribe any more in the way you need them to be, it can be a profoundly unsettling/alienating moment …

    • says

      Thanks for reading along through the whole series, Justine!

      You bring up an important point that did cross my mind as I wrote this. Whether we realize it or not, we all have house rules for our own spaces. I think that for the most part, our expectations of each other and for ourselves are so similar, that we just consider certain behavior to be expected. Going back to the “house” analogy, when we visit someone’s house for the first time, we know that there are certain things that you should or shouldn’t do to be polite (don’t put your feet on the furniture, don’t help yourself to what’s in the fridge, etc). Once we get to know our hosts and what their house rules are, on the next visit we might then know that it’s perfectly fine to put your feet up on the coffee table.

      I think the same thing holds true for blogs. We generally know to be polite and respectful when commenting. We might refrain from cursing the first few times. But when we notice that the blogger regularly curses in his or her posts and comments, we might feel comfortable dropping the f-bomb when we leave our next comment. Some house rules are so widely-understood that they go unspoken. For others, we might first need to know the writer and their personality a bit more to flesh out the particulars.

      “…when you thought you found your tribe, and suddenly realize they’re not your tribe any more in the way you need them to be, it can be a profoundly unsettling/alienating moment …”

      Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. This comment directly ties into the second post in this series. It is definitely unsettling and sometimes painful to realize that your tribe is no longer the best fit, and it can be just as painful when someone in your tribe has to make that leap away from you, too.

      Thanks again for such a lovely comment.

  5. Alexicographer says

    I’ve really enjoyed this series of posts even though I haven’t had/taken the time to contribute to the comments much, if at all. Running with the non-contributory theme and hoping that humor’s not against house rules, I just want to say that I’m assuming you mean “kids of all ages” and wanting to come jump on the furniture :)!

    • says

      According to my house rules, humor is always allowed!

      According to my REAL house rules, sometimes the adults jump on the furniture more than the kids do. ;)

    • says

      I told you your comment hit the nail on the head. You clarified what was in my head so well that it saved me the work of writing it myself. Actually, you clarified it BETTER than I could have. They were thoughts that I was rolling around, but they hadn’t yet crystallized into the words that I could put down on “paper.” Your tent analogy was just PERFECT.

    • says

      Thank you so much, KeAnne. I have YOU to thank for this post, because your question on your Healing Salon was what got my thoughts pushed further down the line that they were headed in already.

  6. says

    I don’t know if there is a tribe for me out there. And if there is, I don’t know how to find them.

    I have to admit I am (still) hurt by ALIgeddon and no longer feel I can…trust…the community at large to have my back. I think that’s why I’ve only read a couple of the Healing Salons – I don’t feel I can be healed.

    Anyhoo, thanks for the posts – you’ve encapsulated some important things we should all consider.

    • says

      I can’t even begin to imagine how many more people there are out there who feel the way that you do as a result of this. I hope that in time, you and others will be able to find their tribes and can get the support and comfort that they once felt they had. xoxoxo

  7. Carol says

    Finding your tribe is a bit difficult job to do. When I read this article I feel so homey with my tribe and thanks for posting this one. it is a big help for me.

  8. leanne says

    Another powerful, thought-provoking, and well-written post. And so many times I found myself nodding in agreement.

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