Looking back, I don’t really have many regrets. I was never particularly wild as a teenager. I wasn’t overly cautious either so I tended to participate in the things I wanted to do. Perhaps there are some boys in my past that I wished I had kissed. Or some occasions where I missed a chance to put myself forward for something I would’ve enjoyed and been good at. But overall, I’m fairly content with the choices I made.
However, there is one which haunts me. It hasn’t always. It has been filling my psyche recently because it has taken on a greater significance to me. What this choice indicated irritates me now. It makes me huff and sigh and shake my head. Why, Sheila? Why? Why did you do that? Who was that for?
It may seem small to you. In some ways, that was the whole point.
As a teenager, I wore a minimiser bra.
There. That’s it. I know I’m not alone. In recent bouts of nostalgia (the scourge of the mid-thirties), friends have confessed that they too nipped down to M&S and procured a minimiser bra. Stealthily slipping it into their rucksack and getting home as quickly as possible to get that boob container on.
Now, for those of you who have never dabbled in minimising your breasts, let me explain. It is very straight forward. The point of the bra is to make your boobs smaller. They do this by basically flattening them and pushing them nearer to under your armpits. Quite the look! They are all about making your boobs less pronounced.
For a buxom teenage girl, it was about being less noticeable. Making myself smaller and particularly these appendages I had no control over. I grew up feeling like I was too much so I was always trying to be less. Toning my personality down was slightly harder than reducing my wayward breasts. I did what I could.
That’s what’s got me irritated. Why did I feel I needed to do that? Fast forward 16 years and I’m striding into my 30s with gusto. Except, infertility tripped me up. I was suddenly back to that place of wanting to make myself small. To make sure no one was looking at me. The desire to not draw attention to our childlessness was fierce. Heading to group situations where I wouldn’t be able to hide, made me anxious. Going to church was like stepping on a field of landmines. Where would they go off? Who would ask us about our barren status next?
All I wanted to do was slip away. Unnoticed.
Infertility makes you want to minimise. You begin to feel guilty for being sad. When you talk about it you add disclaimers like, “Of course, there’s far worse things people are going through.” Or, “We are so lucky in so many other ways.” Sure, they may have truth in them but they are used to minimise the significance of what you are going through. For people coping with infertility, we are trying not to draw attention to our situations and then leave ourselves open to scrutiny: to the ‘problem-solvers’ who see our pain as their next project; the ‘prayer warriors’ who have basically been given the gift of impregnating people through their incredibly holy words and like to wield this gift with enthusiasm; or the ‘pity people’ who have not twigged that feeling sorry for us is not the same as empathy.
The only way to avoid these people is to be as close to invisible as you can. Hide your pain. Put on a happy face. Filter your life to show all the good bits. Pop the bad bits in a sturdy box and hide it in the loft.
I think women are particularly prone to minimising. We believe that we are too much and so we spend our energy trying to be just enough. We are like the embodiment of the taste test in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Don’t be too hot. You are clearly looking for attention. Don’t be too emotional. You obviously haven’t got a rational mind. Don’t be too loud. No one wants to hear a woman ranting and moaning. It is most unladylike. Don’t be too cold. Wear your heart on your sleeve but in a controlled manner that doesn’t lead to hysteria. Be open but not too open. No one needs to hear all about your private life.
It is tiring. It was tiring as a teenager and it is definitely tiring as a grown ass woman. So what’s the answer to the internal battle between being too much and not enough? How do we tackle this?
Take up all your space. Don’t make yourself smaller because you believe your story is less significant. Don’t quiet your voice because you think it won’t be heard anyway. Don’t minimise your pain to make others feel better and less guilty. Hold your space. Inhabit it. You belong and your story really does matter.
As women, in particular, stop trying to be who you think you should be. Be completely you. Find out who you are. Spend time with yourself. Feel those feelings that you keep pushing down. Listen to your thoughts and figure out which ones you want to talk about. Find people who see you for you. Tell them your story and know that it really matters. It matters that your heart is hurting. It matters that your dreams have been shattered. It matters that you are trying to dream new dreams and figure out what they look like. It matters that your relationship is under strain from the cost of infertility. It matters that you no longer know how to talk to God or even if you want to.
What doesn’t matter is what other people on the outside, who are not journeying with you, think.
And, no matter what, don’t buy a minimiser bra.