Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gifts of Infertility Series - #20 - Freedom

When you don’t have children, there are some very obvious freedoms. The freedom to do what we want, when we want, without having to consider the abilities and needs of a child, is often cited as one of the advantages of not having children. For me (and my husband), this means we can eat whenever we want, sleep in, go out spontaneously or stay out late, turn the music up loud at any time of night and call to each other across the house without worrying we’ll wake a child up. And I can use the F word or any other less than polite language, whenever I want, without fear that a young one will pick up on it and repeat it at an awkward time. It also means we can eat whatever we want when we want. We’ve lived in Thailand, and we’re partial to spicy food – curries, and a more recent favourite, Moroccan tagines. We rarely drink to excess, but could without worrying about the responsibility for a child in the house.

A freedom that is (or has been at least) very important to my husband and me is the freedom to travel, and to choose the best times to travel. We haven’t been restricted to travelling during school holidays, when prices are more expensive, flights and hotels and rental cars more difficult to get, and attractions more crowded. Puglia in September, when children pretty much all over the world are at school, was pleasantly (but not overly) warm, and blissfully quiet.

Not having children means that we get to take time off together too. Many parents go for years having separate time off – simply because they have only so many weeks of leave per year, and children have many more weeks of holiday/vacation.

These freedoms are, as I said, quite obvious. They’re the ones trotted out routinely when we (or others) look at the benefits of a no kidding lifestyle (and some of which I covered in #9 of this series). They’re often the ones used to accuse us of being selfish, but that’s another issue (and one I’ve covered before).

But infertility gave me another gift of freedom. Society is very judgemental, and it seems to me that parents are under a lot of pressure to conform. I’ve always chafed against rigid expectations and societal roles – I’m too much of a feminist for a start, and I don’t like people assuming what I will do. A woman without children already throws people off a little; we’re not as easy to categorise and stereotype. I actually don’t mind that. As I don’t fit into the rigid structures and societal expectations of what is “normal,” I don’t have to spend energy in trying to conform. I can therefore experience a different type of freedom. A freedom that enables me to spread my wings, maybe take more risks, because I’m not caught in those roles where I must be focused on “working hard and raising kids.”

Oddly, this gives me freedom from judgement too. I can decide to do pretty much anything, and the judgement will be less because I don’t have to “think of the children.”

For me too, there is a freedom of thought, of ideas. I’ve been thinking about my life and life in general, freed from stereotypes or clich├ęs. (It has to be noted too that I have the time and space to think too, rather than postponing deep thoughts because I am too busy raising children.)

Of course, I haven’t had much choice about this – though maybe that is as much to do with my personality as it does my no kidding life. When you don’t have children, many of us start asking questions like “what is my life for?” or “why am I here?” or “what does this mean?” The gift of infertility is that I have looked and found some answers. When you don’t get what you want in life, you either have to find a way to make sense of it and learn to accept it, or get stuck in your old way of thinking, forever miserable. That’s not much of a choice. We’re forced to think about things when we live this life. So I’ve been thinking. Mostly here, on this blog, but frequently on your blogs (in the comment sections) too.

This has given me a true freedom in many ways. My attitudes towards my life, my legacy, my material possessions, my career, my friends and family, and what constitutes as “success” have all changed as a result of infertility. I write about that here, on this blog and in this series, and there are a few more posts to come that might touch on this.

I feel freed by the conclusions I’ve come to, and many burdens I’ve carried have been lifted by this growth. I’ve thought through many ideas, cast off what doesn’t work for me, and come out of it feeling embraced by freedom. I don’t think I have all the answers. Of course I don’t. And sometimes, as we know, the answer is that there is no answer. But I have found enough answers that have made a difference to the way I look at, and live, life.

Actually, those answers – or the ongoing quest to find those answers - have made a difference to the way I feel. That’s the gift of infertility. It forces us to look at our lives and life in general in a different way. Of course, we can only do this when we are ready. But I know that I wish I had been able to see my life like this long before I faced infertility. Infertility freed my mind in ways I couldn’t imagine. I hope it frees yours as well.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Six lessons we should all learn about grief

I wish, as I was growing up, I had learned these lessons about how to respond to those who are grieving:

  1. Acknowledge their loss.
  2. Listen to whatever it is that they want to say, even if it is hard to hear.
  3. Hug them – sometimes physical touch can speak volumes, and doesn’t require difficult words.
  4. Let them know you care.
  5. Don’t ever tell them to "cheer up," or "get over it," or say “at least …” 
    It won’t help, and it denies them their grief.
  6. Don’t dismiss their feelings, especially not to make yourself feel more comfortable.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who will inherit my things when I have no kids?

My mother-in-law is 91, her husband a few years younger and increasingly immobile, and they need to move house. They need to down-size, but they can’t bring themselves to do so. A major barrier I think is the effort of sorting out her possessions. She has collected small treasures on her travels, and some lovely wedding gifts. Her possessions are not worth any money, by and large, but they are valuable to her personally. She walks around her house, and sees her life reflected back at her. And she’s not ready to let go of that.

She worries aloud, “who will want my things when I’m gone?” She worries that her precious belongings will end up at the tip (landfill), thanks to the unthinking son who told her that’s where most of her things will go. (Men!) She understands that the younger generations have very different tastes these days, and knows that we won’t value her things in the same way she has. Or that we will value different things. And she feels bereft, even before she gives anything away, knowing that the meaning of these possessions will die with her.

She has four sons, four daughters-in-law, and seven grand-children, and still feels this way.
Ironically, perhaps, I am the only one of her sons or daughters-in-law who has any of her things. Years ago, I discovered she was going to give away all of her crystal bowls and (not many) glasses. She assumed that none of her daughters-in-law would want her crystal, perhaps because we haven’t purchased any ourselves. But her crystal is beautiful, most of it wedding presents, though a beautiful lamp is a gift from a previous beau. She has never really used any of it, not being much of a host, and she came from the generation that thought you should save beautiful things for special occasions. When she told me she was going to take it to an op shop (thrift store), I was appalled. “Don’t you dare!” I cried. So that day, I found myself going home with several boxes filled with crystal.

A year or two later, the same thing happened with some of her tea settings, and once again I headed home with a full cargo of delicate tea cups and saucers, silver trays, and teapots. Most recently, she was caught puzzled what to do with all her table linen, most of it still in its original packaging, unused. This last time, I contacted my sisters-in-law and adult niece, sending photographs of each item, and arranging to give them anything they wanted.

It is strange though that she either assumes we won’t want her things, or she has a disconnect and just doesn’t think of her daughters-in-law as family members, people she’d want to pass her things on to. But perhaps it’s not that strange. She has found it easier to give away the beautiful things she has never used, than the tiny items she bought in Europe in the 1960s or in Thailand visiting us in the 1990s. They are the objects that seem to hold the most importance for her. And that’s what I’ve learned from all this. Her things are important to her, but not necessarily anyone else.

When I think about it, I actually now have more memories of using her beautiful crystal and silver than she does, and they’re part of my life more than they ever were of hers. A dinner party isn’t complete without using at least one of her pieces of crystal, and I think she likes the fact that I use her things. Christmas dinner features her silver trays (filled with nuts, or stacked with mince pies), crystal bowls (at least one filled with berries and another with whipped cream), and in the future perhaps her table linen. They’ve become part of my Christmas tradition, as they were never part of hers. My nieces and nephews know these things because I use them, not because they once belonged to their grandmother.

Last year, a blogging friend did what my in-laws can’t bring themselves to do. She downsized to move into a small home in a retirement community. A year on, she has some advice on the process here. She made two very important points: 

  1. Remember that you are not your possessions.
  2. Trust me when I say that most objects, once you let them go, you will never miss.

And, in a reminder that this is not just an issue for those of us who don’t have children, she said, “Don’t foist your treasures on your descendants. … Taste in furnishings is not necessarily transmitted in the DNA. Don’t take it personally.”

It is inevitable, even when we No Kidders try not to, to think about our old age and death. Aside from the perennial unknown – who will take care of us? – we also often ask the question “who will want my stuff?”

I have possessions that are important to me, that make me smile every time I see them, that bring back memories of adventure or happiness or friendship or love but are meaningless to anyone else. They may well be more important to me than they are to my husband. Even if I had children, there is no guarantee that the things I loved would be the things they would love. I’m sure I love different objects of my mother’s than she does, and I’m sure my sisters love different things again. We, all of us, love different things for different reasons; we have different emotions, different memories, different tastes, and as a result, value different things.

I accept that my stuff is important to me, but not necessarily anyone else. That makes the thought of parting with these things someday all the easier. I feel at peace too with the knowledge that, after I’m gone, there is no-one to inherit from me. I understand and accept that my nieces and nephews might not want any of the things I’ve inherited or acquired in my life-time. Maybe they will, in the way I love my crystal. Maybe they won't. It doesn't really matter. After all, as Lali said, it’s not personal.

Some of my (mother-in-law's) table linen, tea cups, silver and crystal.

Monday, March 23, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Thinking through my fingers

One of the great pleasures of blogging, and in particular, of ALI blogging, is writing a post that I really have to think about. I love reading blogs too, that confront me, and make me think. I often comment along the lines of “I’ve got to think more on this” or “I may post on this myself.” As I write a comment I start formulating a view, or see more questions that need to be asked, and sometimes have to restrain myself, or simply go away and think more. The mere act of sitting at my computer (or iPad) to write stimulates me to think, helps me formulate a position or view on an issue I’ve never considered before, maybe changes my position, or shows me that I don’t know enough to have a specific position or to write knowledgeably about a particular subject.

I love the intellectual stimulus that I get simply from reading and writing blogs, and the self-discovery I’ve enjoyed as a result.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why we didn't adopt

Klara recently shared the reasons why she and her husband chose not to adopt, and invited other no kidding bloggers to do the same. Loribeth and BentNotBroken have done so, and Savannah has also shared her adoption story in a series of moving posts. I've had a post drafted for some time, and have been tossing up about how much to say. Because it’s not just my story. So I’ve opted for the short version. Here goes ...

There were almost insurmountable practical barriers to adoption:
  • Domestic adoption in New Zealand is rare these days.
  • Because of this, competition is stiff. And as older parents, chances we would have been chosen were slim.
  • International adoptions are very expensive, and can take a long time to finalise. We didn’t have time to spare.
There were also other issues that were complicated to resolve:
  • We were both feeling our age. Did we want to become new parents at this stage? Would it be fair to the child?
  • Complicated feelings towards other issues, including adopting older children (would we be able to give these children what they needed?), open adoptions (I support these but they bring their own challenges), and international adoptions (having lived in Asia, and with part-Asian nieces and nephews, we were comfortable with the idea of having an Asian child, but conflicted about some of the other ethical considerations).
  • We were tired and demoralised.
  • General misgivings/other issues.
Practically the barriers were high. Coupled with other issues, the wall was too high to climb together. These are the complicated issues that the “just adopt” brigade don’t think about or discuss. Our marriage, a partnership built over many years and forged stronger through our joint loss and grief, and our confusion over adoption, would - we knew - survive this. It would survive simply because we considered each other’s feelings, but were honest about our own. Our knowledge that we would be okay gave us further confidence not to rush into something that might not be the right decision. As time passed, we became more and more comfortable with leaving it be.