The In-Betweeners

Liminal spaces, those in between, mark a threshold, a place of transition. Some cultural writers argue that one of the problems we face in modern society is this lack of acknowledgement of the liminal: rites of transition, of initiation.

Yet simple states, like being engaged, acknowledge this liminality. Neither married, nor single.

In our houses, in our hotels, there are spaces that are neither here, nor there. My mother’s house has “the entrance hall” a small area where guests (if they ever used the front door) are welcomed before entering the house proper. Verandahs, particularly the large, Aussie, wraparound variety, are liminal, not inside, not outside. Hotel foyers, places of coming and going, arriving and leaving, these too are liminal.

Liminality can also extend to our consciousness, our in betweenness. Many rituals of older cultures seek to tap into this mental space as a way of achieving higher insights. Liminality is represented in our religions, in the funeral rites, marriage rites, christenings and older ideas of purgatory. They help us deal with and acknowledge these important points of transition.

I have often thought that in education, the liminal space is the place of the highest learning. The point in learning new knowledge, where the “knowing” and”mastery” on the other side are glimpsed, but not yet owned by the student. Where we begin to understand why this new knowledge is important, but have not yet internalised it enough to apply it to new situations. As a teacher, guiding students in the frustrations of this in betweenness and giving them the confidence needed to move towards the knowing, this is one of my most important roles.

Infertility is a liminal space. Perhaps in the past it was not, it was a defined end point. Yet now, for many, It is a holding area, and hopefully, with time and medical help, a place of transition into parenthood. Liminal spaces are important , but almost what gives them meaning is the act of passing through them; and the trouble is, in infertility, many couples can become stuck. The in between is important for its role in transformation. It is not a place in which to dwell. Like an adolescent failing repeatedly to pass an initiation rite in an ancient tribe, being stuck there is a wounding and isolating experience.

For hub-in-boots and I, we have understood and experienced the space of infertility as somewhere we would pass through; either to parenthood or to a life without children. For us, this transition was very quick, a matter of 3-4 months from discovering the problem, to what looked like a kind of resolution. It seems our heads were barely ready for one space before we were thrust into another. We are both do-ers, after all.

Yet from this medical rite of initiation, we have entered, relatively unaware, into another liminal space. Pregnancy is liminal. It is neither childlessness, nor parenthood, the first trimester in particular, where one is not “allowed” to be accepted as reliably pregnant, one is not “supposed” to reveal one’s expectant state to the world at large, and there are no visible signs of what is occurring inside, even as many of the most important changes take place in our bodies and our minds. Later on, we mark the transition, with parenting classes, baby showers, celebrations on birth and christenings. But at the point of biggest transition? Nothing!

The “complicated pregnancy”, as the books call it, is yet another liminal place, even more removed from a knowable place with defined boundaries and outcomes. If I am lying in a casualty ward bleeding, but still with a fetal heartbeat, I am not really pregnant, nor am I a “miscarriage”. I am in a space in between. Even on bedrest, i oscillate in the place i inhabit, I am conscious, often, of this feeling of being not one, but not the other. Slowly, I feel us crossing over the border into really being pregnant.

Unlike births, deaths and marriages, unlike even transitions from child to adulthood, there is nothing, culturally, to mark many of these fertility-infertility-fertility transitions. Or loss-pregnancy-loss-pregnancy-parenthood transitions. Science & medicine brings us possible ways out of previous dead ends, but cultural acknowledgement of these new states has not kept up. There is nothing to mark the change of our state. MAny losses are intangible, and therefore often slip by unacknowledged, unnamed,incomprehensible to those outside the experience, and sometimes incomprehensible even as they are lived.

I am sure there are many other spheres of life where cultural change has not accompanied living changes, I am just aware of our own experiences. But I know this lack of a formal space created can make these situations harder to process, emotionally, and can make it harder to move on from the losses.

I know in counselling Claudia has said to me that it is important to create your own ritual, to acknowledge your wins and your losses. So i drew stupid faces on eggs to mark what was collected, and held photographic eliminations to rival Masterchef. I made space to sit quietly in a church, to think about the embryos that didn’t make it. We celebrated the end of a failed cycle, and we trumpeted our wins loud in clear in person and in blog land.

Tomorrow “we” are having a little BBQ to celebrate hub-in-boots’ 45th birthday, to mark his transition from one year of life to another. I say “we”, because instead of catering and proffering drinks, I’ll be reclining on the couch , in the bed, and if we decide to go crazy, in the backyard. (hub in boots is going to drive me down the steep driveway !). For me, this is also a celebration of the end of the first trimester. A time of transition, an important milestone .

And I can finally say, as we transition yet again:


8 thoughts on “The In-Betweeners

  1. Are you an Anthropologist? I am and I love this post:-) I wrote about infertility as liminality as well, but you are absolutely right – pregnancy is another liminal state. Which in a way has come as a bit of a surprise since, while in the state of infertility, pregnancy becomes in effect the end point. Only when you get there do you really realize that it’s another state of transition. And in your situation it’s like an additional liminal state within the liminal state of pregnancy.

    I’m 13 weeks now as well and I agree it should be marked and celebrated! But at the moment I’m alone – my husband is in London until Sunday. I think we will do the celebration on Valentines day. Then the NT scan on Monday is over. And this month also marks that it is now 6 years ago since we started trying for a baby. We have been in a state of liminality for an awful long time…

    1. I’m glad you could identify with this. I was reading a novel today in bed, and a chapter was called liminal place and just seeing those words sent me off and running.

      Not an anthropologist ( what a cool job), a business lecturer! But my post grad in creative writing exposed us to some pretty out there cultural studies stuff that I ended up revelling in. I’ve thought long and hard about doing research into the role of liminality in learning, and how to create it. I remembered you referred back to a post having written about liminality / infertility, but It slipped my mind and I never went back and dug it out. I will now.

      Geez 6 years is a long road. You’re a tough woman making it. It’s a long time to live in between. Isn’t it odd to find pregnancy another place of transition???
      Such a pain your husband is not here to celebrate! Wishing you all the best for the NT scan.( Make sure you take someone with you). I hope it is smooth and low low risk, and that Tuesday’s 2nd trimester celebrations mark you crossing over a true threshold, free of morning sickness and all the other 1st trimester nasties.

      1. Funny, I’m also a business lecturer (or rather was before I quite my job in August…). But I’m an Anthropologist by education and always will be by identity. Just applying anthropological methods and theories in business/organizational contexts, i.e. doing organizational ethnography and that kind of thing.

        My husband will be back on Sunday so he will be there fore the NT scan!

      2. God small world! One of our head research guys is an anthropologist working in management. My other life was a chartered accountant , so that’s what I teach . Interested in the org culture stuff though. Glad he’s back for the scan. X

  2. Great post! I really like you “analysis” of both infertility and pregnancy as liminal spaces. I think you really “hit the nail on the head” (as we say in Germany) with your post.
    Oh, and happy beginning of the second trimester – hope it will be better than the first!

  3. I love this! Thank you for giving me a much cooler way of saying I’m “stuck,” “stagnated,” “in limbo,” etc. It feels like I’ve been in this liminal space for much too long, but I guess you’re right, if I ever get to be pregnant, I’ll just be entering another liminal space. I hope the next two trimesters are healthy and relatively uneventful so you can finally transition into parenthood!

  4. Pingback: Boob job (the original) | maybe baby and the adventures of hub-in-boots

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