As a part of my work as a teacher, we are required to do professional development several times a year. These workshops vary in content and quality. Sometimes they are technology workshops about how to better utilize Smartboards or software. Lately, there have been several related to curriculum design, mostly focusing on STEM/STEAM. My favorites though focus on inclusiveness and diversity in education. Yesterday, we did a three-hour workshop on majority and minority groups, exploring what it feels like to be in both.
During the workshop, we all (about 60 of us) stood on one side of the room. Then, as a scenario was posed, you crossed the room to the empty side, if the scenario applied to you. Some of them were innocuous, such as "Cross over if you grew up outside of New England." Once you got to the other side, you could choose to give more information about your crossing, or not.
This sounds simple, but it was really emotionally challenging at times. The feeling of standing on the side of the room with fewer or no other people with you was really outside my comfort zone. As we worked through the scenarios, they got more and more personal. Some other interesting ones posed were things like, "Cross if you:
- have been the only one of your culture or race within a workplace
- have ever been targeted by police simply because of who you are
- have ever felt targeted by a stranger because of who you are
- have felt embarrassed to tell people whether you went to college or where you attended
- lost a job opportunity because of something about your background
- have suffered from a life-threatening disease or injury
- are adopted
- been a single parent
- married to someone of another culture or race"
Then it got really interesting. The facilitator asked:
- "Cross over if you have ever had feelings of discrimination or discomfort around the question of why you don't have children, or your plans to do so."
I thought about whether to cross the room for a few seconds. As I quickly had to make the decision whether to "come out" to my colleagues, my inner voice became clear. I had to do it. I had to be honest with myself and stop hiding, even if I had to do it by myself. It was a little scary, but I've learned from personal experience that exposing myself in this way can often open a door to incredible conversation with someone else, who might also be struggling. So, I forced my feet to move into the empty space, with lots and lots of eyes on me. Luckily, as I glanced up, those eyes were full of warmth, support, and a little bit of shock.
Then, I got lucky. Within my school, I'm close with three other women who are either currently or have gone through infertility treatment in the past. One is pregnant, due a month after me (after seeing my RE!) and two are still in treatment. The other woman who is pregnant smiled at me, and then crossed over to stand at my side. The other two still TTC stayed where they were.
A second later, another co-worker came to stand near us, one I hadn't expected. This woman is a teacher I have worked with for several years, and over last year became quite unpredictable with some angry outbursts and general aggression. It suddenly dawned on me why there had been such a change in her personality.
All three of us took the opportunity to speak about why we crossed over. I said that I crossed over because it took us a lot of effort to attain this pregnancy, after years of being asked when I would have children. I spoke to the pain of people assuming that if you are young and married, that children are an assumed inevitability. My pregnant friend spoke to not only how difficult it was to watch co-workers get pregnant while she was still struggling, but also the guilt of currently being pregnant, knowing people close to you are still struggling. We both ended with how strange it feels to be on the other side.
The third woman spoke too. She talked about how she is unable to have children and watching us be pregnant is very painful for her. Instead of being hurt by her words, I felt tremendous empathy for her. How many times have I been in her shoes? How many times did I wish I could say the exact same thing?
After the workshop, I wrote to her and expressed my support. I gave her a bit more background of my situation and offered to speak to her about her process if she ever wanted to or felt comfortable doing so. About 30 seconds after sending my email, she responded in a really appreciative way. We made a date to take a walk after the first week of school and discuss her situation.
If I've learned nothing else from my infertility experience, it's that if you are willing to make yourself vulnerable and exposed to others, the payoff can be huge. Crossing that room may have been hard for me, but maybe it will make her journey just a teeny, tiny bit easier.