To me, a bully is a bully! No matter the motive, no matter the reason, no matter the scenario, no matter the circumstance! If anybody, male or female is made to feel intimidated or oppressed by another person, or group of people, nothing good can come out of that.
In the case of infertility bullying, it is like pouring salt in an open wound. The couple, whether individually or collectively, are already feeling the strain and trying not to buckle under the pressure and heartache of it all. And then, they have to now deal insensitivity and wickedness as well, most often from people who are ‘nearest and dearest’ to them…people who choose to taunt them about their situation, for whatever reasons they feel like.
Even though my Mom didn’t battle with infertility, she did find it hard carrying a pregnancy to term, and suffered a series of miscarriages, early and late term, before she had me…and later on, my brother. One day, a few years before she had me, she was in the ladies’ room at her place of work, and another lady complimented her about how lovely she was looking that day. The next thing she knew, another lady in the toilet hissed, and said something like “Is it to look fine, or is it to have kids?!”, and now went on about how blessed she was to have a house full of children.
I couldn’t quite understand this, the first time my Mom told me this story. I had to ask her if it was that she overheard the lady saying it behind her back, or maybe the lady said it in another language, thinking my Mom wouldn’t understand, but no oh. Apparently, the lady said it pretty much to her face, and in English. I couldn’t quite fathom it…until a few years later, when I faced the same thing as well.
As much as I had a lot of good friends in the company I worked when I was TTC, there was also a group of women I didn’t really get along with. We didn’t have much in common, as all they seemed to do was gossip and criticise. So, I would exchange polite greetings with them, and keep it moving. Alas, I was branded a snob by this group, and a few people told me how these women thought I ‘felt too big!’
So, I guess they decided to get their own pound of flesh somehow. No matter what they were talking about before I walked into wherever they sat as a group, most often the lunchroom, their talk would always shift to stories of pregnancy and endless boasts about their own children. Sometimes, they would even talk about childless women who had been forced out of their marriages. All these while I was still in God’s waiting room. Do I think this was deliberate? Hell yeah!
Workplace bullying is one thing, but when it crosses over to the home front, that is another kettle of fish entirely! I was lucky never to have faced this…overtly. But there was this one day that the passive aggression from one of my husband’s visiting Aunts was more than enough. She came visiting that Sunday afternoon, and didn’t say a word to me…but kept on glaring at me the whole time. The venom from her eyes said it all. How dare I not give their son a child?! Her visit left me rattled, and she hadn’t even had to say a word.
Many of my TTC friends, and even some of our community members, have shared stories about being bullied by their in-laws…with all sorts of accusations, and endless name calling, thrown at them. One of the more humorous ones I heard was about a relative who said something like “Women that hawk under the hot sun dey born pikin! You wey AC dey blow, you no fit!”. You can just imagine!
So, how can we deal with this kind of bullying. Saying grow a thick skin sounds a bit like cliché, but I tell you, that is the best way to start. We have no control over what comes out of people’s mouths. We also have no control about the circumstances we find ourselves in. But we do have control over how we react to them.
In my case, I had to find a way to filter off what my office bullies were saying. Of course, it wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of tears shed in the toilet in the early days. In fact, I found myself making sure they had already exited our lunch room before going for my own meals. But after a point, I was like What is it sef?! And I stopped running away. Whether or not my office bullies were in the lunch room, I would sit down comfortably, and eat my food well! And when they started their gisting, I would be sure to engross myself in whatever news CNN had to offer, or make phone calls so I could have discussions of my own. After a while, I didn’t even notice them…and that’s the truth. And I guess when they realised their chatter was wasted on me, I later on realised they had started talking about other things…and people. And when I finally got pregnant, and had a visible bump, I perfected the art of the polite smile when these same people tried to fawn over me, sometimes even offering unsolicited advice. What mattered was that I had come out on the other side…victorious.
My Mom also got her revenge on her own office bully. She said that when I was born, the woman had unfortunately been transferred to a branch in Benin. But four years later, we had cause to travel to Benin for a family function, and my Mom made sure she went to the branch, with me in tow. She said she left me to play in the banking hall, while she chatted with the women behind the counter. Then the lady in question apparently noticed me, and said something like “Oh, what a beautiful girl! Whose child is that?”. My Mom said she answered, and very smugly too, “Mine.” The look on the woman’s face was priceless.
So, my advice to you is to stay strong. If growing that thick skin isn’t working for you, then find a support system…a confidant…someone you can talk to, anytime your bullies make you feel down. Being able to talk to someone who understands, and who can give you counsel that would work best for your specific situation, always helps, and will help give you the mental and emotional reinforcement you need.
And here’s something about bullies for you to chew on. Their major driving force is hardly ever what they feel about their victim, but rather, a deeper sense of self loathing, envy, or both. So, the next time someone tries to throw your seeming infertility in your face, realise that you might not even be the real issue.
Godspeed to us all!