Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Yee hah, the things I’m doing because I don’t have kids


Let’s face it.  We often feel guilty because gradually, we find that we enjoy our life without kids.  We might question ourselves – “how much can we really have wanted children if we are happy in our lives without them?”  And, we might feel that enjoying the good parts of being childless/childfree means that we don’t deserve to feel bad when we notice what we’re missing.  But perhaps that’s because we beat ourselves up as often – no, more often – than anyone else.  But this is the life I have, and I think we’re allowed to embrace it.  I for one think I should celebrate the good things in my life, the things I can do now that I wouldn’t be able to do if I had children. 

So pop a cork, (or screw a top)  pour a glass, and gloat with me.  These are the things I love doing, because I don’t have kids:

Blogging.  I love blogging.  I doubt I’d have time, I doubt I’d be in the mental space where I can sit, think quietly, contemplate issues.  Not to mention have the time to read others’ blogs.  Which leads me to ...

Writing.  I have a few projects on the go.  I enjoy writing, but I need the time and mental space to do it.  And of course, for every writer, it is important that we do enough ...

Reading.  I’d probably read.  I can’t imagine not reading.  But would I, could I, do as much as I wanted?

Volunteering.  Again, I might have time, as plenty of people with children manage to volunteer.  But I’m not sure I’m one of those with the energy to focus in all those different directions.  I know I wouldn’t have AS much time to do what I do. 

Eating out.  My husband and I love eating out.  We don’t like “family” restaurants – they hardly deserve the label “restaurant.”  We like all sorts of food, and wine too of course.  We eat out spontaneously.  Last night, we went out because Monday night is half price champagne night at a good bistro.  We decided at about 4 pm.

Movies.  We go to the movies regularly, trying to compromise between his choices and my choices.  We go on the weekend, after work, if we’re bored.  We decide usually about an hour or two before we go.  No babysitters required thanks!

Sleeping in on the weekends.  Not just sleeping in, but lying in, with my iPad and a cup of tea, reading books, checking emails and blogs or magazine sites or the news.  And if it’s raining out – I’ll be there all morning.  Bliss.

Enjoying our home.  Our house is not child-proofed.  And we don’t intend child-proofing it.

Drinking.  We can drink, and over-indulge, any time we want to.  (Age may stop us, but kids won't!)

And last but not least:

Travelling.  Travel is a great interest, and a very important part of our lives.  We know we wouldn’t be indulging if we had children.  In many ways, our frenetic travelling the last few years has been a consolation because we couldn’t have children.  We’ve always liked travelling, and now we’re not paying for private schools or school uniforms or doctor’s visits or sports subs, we’re investing in seeing the world.  We know that:

  • It would be a struggle to afford to travel with children.
  • It would definitely be a struggle to get on a plane and go anywhere with children, especially as New Zealand is so far from anywhere else.  I can cope with 12 hour flights to Asia, and although I grumble about longer flights to South Africa or the northern hemisphere, I do them without thinking.  I couldn’t do that with children.
  • I wouldn’t get to have trips away on my own (like this one) in the same way.
  • We wouldn’t be able to go to civilised Adults Only destinations like Bedarra.  Or consider the particular cruise we’re planning for later in the year.  Or go on safari – well, not till they were 12 or so.
  • Unlike a friend of mine, who manages to do much of the above, our parents are not young, and we couldn’t farm the kids out to them while we jetted off overseas.  Now though, we can just go.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff.  Anything you want to add?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

More things I'm missing


I recently blogged on some things I would be doing if I had children.  It was a list of warm and fuzzy stuff, the baking, the knitting, the playing hopscotch or singing songs.  But there’s another list of things I would be doing if I had children. Part of accepting my life without children is acknowledging that having children isn't always easy or pleasant, and being honest about feeling happy about missing out on these things.



In particular, in a quick list, I am not sorry to be missing out on:
  • Sleepless nights, and early mornings 
  • Using all my our available annual leave  to cover school holidays and days off for sick kids. 
  • Changing nappies, wet beds, cleaning up vomit, and all the other excrement-related tasks that parents have to endure
  • Loud, wriggling, children.  I’m quite a still person – I get that from my dad.  I don’t like lots of movement, and often wonder at the constant movement and wriggling of a toddler!  It pains me to see the wriggling, the knocks to their mothers’ faces, the pulled hair, ears, ear-rings (ouch).  
  • Spending money on new clothes and toys and birthday parties and goodie bags (I hate that concept)
  • Being friendly with the parents of my children's friends, rather than choosing my own friends 
  • Bright plastic toys in primary colours all over my house 
  • Little gates at the top of the stairs - I have four separate staircases in my house.
  • Noisy toys 
  • Children’s TV and music.  Though I did find recently that I quite liked Shaun the Sheep.  But if there’s such a thing as too much champagne, I’m doubly sure there’s such a thing as too much Shaun the Sheep.  My sister assures me of this.
  • Craziness at dusk (tired, crying kids, bathtime, bedtime etc).  Dusk is a time I really love for its peace and tranquility ... and feeling that it's okay to have a drink.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Oops

It was July 2003. My first IVF cycle had been cancelled when I produced only one egg. A 3% chance of a take home baby, my fertility specialist said. Try again, he said, this might have just been a one-off bad result. So we booked a holiday for August, to help pass the compulsory six week gap before we could try again in September.

I emailed my sister-in-law, to chat, and to tell her about the holiday to Vanuatu. She knew about my ectopic pregnancy seven months earlier, but didn’t know about IVF. We weren't telling any family members. And she wasn't the most sensitive of people. I had earlier emailed friends in the UK, internet friends, who knew all about the details of my efforts to conceive. I told them about our holiday. I said, “so hopefully we will be all relaxed and ready to try IVF again.”

I forgot to proof-read the message to my sister-in-law, as I copied and pasted. I left the bit about IVF in. She responded. “Are you trying IVF?” she wrote, her excitement oozing out of every word. She continued. I can’t remember her exact words, but she implied that IVF was the answer, that it would work. But I was wounded already. I knew it didn’t work for everyone. I knew that it hadn’t worked for me once already – in fact, I hadn’t even had the chance of getting to any In Vitro Fertilisation. No eggs meant nothing to fertilise. So I fudged my response. “Oh no,” I said, a wee white lie not bothering my conscience at all. “I made a copy/paste mistake with a friend who’s doing it. Besides,” I said, this time being truthful. “It isn’t right for everyone.”

I didn’t want to say we’d tried and the odds of it working again weren’t good. I didn’t want to say I was too old, that I should have tried earlier. I didn’t want the judgement, the sympathy, the feelings of inferiority. I didn’t want to deal with someone else’s emotions, someone who was so casual about getting pregnant that she’d said to me a month earlier that being pregnant whilst visiting us was the worst possible holiday (I pointed out that it wasn’t), and who then said, “I don’t care if I miscarry this baby, I can get pregnant again.” And so I never mentioned IVF again. To give her credit, neither has she.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Hopscotch, scones, and balls of wool

A friend who blogs and comments here sometimes is a mother who stays at home.  She is always busy with crafts, and art, and Girl Scouts, and a whole range of things she gets to do as a mother.  And today it got me to thinking – almost wistfully but not quite – about some of the things I would probably be doing if my pregnancies had ended differently.
  • Baking.  When there are just two of you, there is no excuse to bake biscuits (cookies for the Americans reading), or scones (biscuits) or pikelets or muffins, the things I grew up eating after school, or on the weekend.  It’s impossible to make a recipe just for one scone each, or one pikelet, one muffin or one biscuit.  I don’t bake cakes, unless we have visitors, because there’d always be  half a cake left the day after the dinner party, and then we’d eat it all.  If I had kids, I could feed it to them and the hordes of neighbourhood kids who visited after school.  But I don't.  So I don't bake.  And I love baking.  I really do.  There’s something therapeutic about creaming the butter and sugar, sifting the dry ingredients, or icing a cake.  At this stage, I’d be teaching little S or D the first steps of baking – making pink and white coconut ice, or my favourite chocolate fudge cake (as we called it) which turns out to be the same as the Chocolate Biscuit Cake that Prince William insisted on having at his wedding.  I miss that I can’t do that.
  • Sport.  I was very sporty as a child and teenager, and even as a young adult, but once I started working and travelling internationally, there was no space for it.  I’d be at the stage where I would be teach little S or D how to play netball, or kick a soccer ball, or how to swim. Or we’d play hopscotch on our concrete driveway.  I’d be more active, I wouldn’t have to force myself to a gym to get exercise.
  • Music.  I grew up playing the piano, and would now be teaching little S or D the joys of pressing keys, making sounds, and turning squiggly signs on a piece of paper into music.  I don’t play very much these days, but if there were children around, I imagine playing and singing together.
  •  Art and Craft.  I’m not very arty, although (and I might write about this separately) did take up painting at one stage.  But think of the fun we could have with paint and pastels and crayons and glue and sparkly things at this age!
  • Knitting and sewing.  It was a case of necessity, but I grew up making my own clothes and knitting our own jerseys and scarves.  These days it isn't as necessary - import tariffs have been dropped, and we can buy clothes more cheaply than we can make them.  But I can imagine sewing clothes and knitting woolly jerseys for the little ones – especially now the cats are gone and there wouldn’t be a battle for the balls of wool.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Was it IVF?


A friend, in response to my Let Me Be post, wrote an interesting collection of thoughts on having children.  She noted that when she learned her cousin was pregnant with twins, her first thought was whether it was IVF.  Then she asked herself, “why do I care?”

That’s a really good question, and I don’t know the answer.  But it does seem to be the kind of question we all ask.  At the same time as I fiercely protected my own privacy (you may laugh about this given the intimate details I now willingly divulge here online, albeit under a pseudonym), I remember discussing with my husband whether his brother’s twins were conceived via IVF.  The twins are now 11 years old, and we still don’t know.  We have an opinion on it, but what business is it of ours?  None, I know, and that is why we have never asked, and never will.  I was not prepared to be open about our own IVF efforts, and we never told my husband’s parents or brothers (although we probably would now if the subject came up).  So I have to respect their right to privacy too.

I’ve seen a variety of opinions on this, though.  Some people find it appalling not to tell.  “There’s nothing to be ashamed of!” they cry.  (And they are right.)  They share details with their families, friends, colleagues at work, people at the bus-stop, as if they are on an awareness raising crusade – and maybe they are.  If it works for them, that’s good.  They are horrified that some of us make a different decision. 

But just because we’re not ashamed of something, doesn’t mean that we want everyone to know.  I’m not ashamed of spending all morning in bed this morning (just because I can), but it doesn’t mean I wanted my next door neighbour to know when he knocked on the door at about 11 am.  I’m not ashamed of the way I vote, but it isn’t something I ever really discuss with anyone.  So IVF, a process that is so intimate, that brings up so many emotions, and can be such a stressful experience, is hardly something I was ever going to shout about from the rooftops.  Many of us who go through this don’t want to expose ourselves to judgement, or insensitive questions, or simply the knowledge that other people know what we’re going through.  Let’s face it, many people will not understand – either the decision, or the mechanics themselves of IVF.  People think it’s an instant fix, guaranteed to work.  Others have very strong views on it based on religious beliefs. 

Besides, who goes around telling everyone exactly how their children were conceived (or not conceived as the case may be)?  Why should we expect couples who go through IVF to be any different?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Thoughts about daughters, nieces and mothers-in-law


I actually wrote about this a month or so ago, when Mother’s Day was being held in the UK.  Yesterday of course it was held in NZ, Australia, the US and Canada, South Africa, and probably a whole bunch of other countries.  I was congratulating myself around 5 pm for getting through it okay.  I realised I had seen little advertising, as these days – like so many people – our TV/internet/newspaper consumption is on demand, and we don’t have to sit through schmaltzy advertisements reminding me what I’ve missed out on.  So I was feeling okay, as for the second weekend in a row I was a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law and spent the time with my in-laws.

My mother-in-law loves Chinese takeaways, and only gets them if we visit.  So it’s easy for us to go out to their suburb, pick up dinner just down the street from them, and then have the meal with them.  It’s a real treat for my mother-in-law, as for some reason she never walks the five minutes to buy them on her own.  (That’s a whole different blogpost, that I won’t inflict on you!)  Picking up the Chinese food, the lovely old lady who served us chirped, “Happy Mother’s Day!”  I nodded (it wasn’t her fault), then grimaced – ouch - as we got outside.  It took me by surprise.

Then, as we arrived at the in-laws, the MIL was so excited that her son had come to visit again.  I should feel sorry for her – and I do – that all her grandchildren live overseas, and that three of her four sons do.  Later, we chatted.  She bemoaned the fact that she never had a daughter.  That she used to commiserate with her next door neighbour (mother to two sons) that they never had little dresses hanging on the washing line.  How sad it was that she couldn’t dress up a little girl.  And she does all this in front of me.  And her son.  What I wouldn’t have given to be able to hang up little boys’ shorts and T-shirts on the washing line!  I tried not to let it show.  But of course, she doesn’t notice. 

When her first grandchild arrived (a girl), she never bought her little dresses.  She never did girly things with her.  She doesn’t do that now with her other three grand-daughters, even when she visits them overseas, or they visit here.  And I figure “maybe my life isn’t that bad?”  My nieces know that Aunty “Mali” buys them cute clothes, fun girly things (without being too stereotypical).  An older niece remembers me teaching her to wear mascara, and taking her shopping every year for all her school clothes once she turned 13.  (Her mother would hand me a cheque, and send us off, knowing we both enjoyed doing it together).  A friend’s daughter was delighted when I bought her a bunch of ear-rings for her newly-pierced ears.  And I take pleasure in their pleasure.  My mother-in-law has four grand-daughters, and it is no-one’s fault but her own that she doesn’t have the fun of going into a kid’s clothes shop to buy the most adorable little girls’ clothes.  Besides, one of the benefits of being a gran or an aunty is that you don’t have to worry about how to wash or iron the cutest little outfits.  That’s a mother’s problem, after all.

And finally, I’ve been a member of her family for over 20 years.  So has my closest sister-in-law.  My other sisters-in-law have been around for at least 10 years each.  She has had the opportunity to have daughters, to learn from us what it means to be a young-ish (well, compared to being 87!) woman today and to share life with us.  She doesn’t recognise the role we all play in the family.  It’s not easy to communicate when the family is in five different countries, and most of the sons are dreadful correspondents.  But we – the daughters-in-law - arrange family reunions, we talk and share issues and concerns, we keep that family together.  We may not be daughters – but we’re the nearest thing she’s got.

It seems that this is an exercise in writing as therapy, rather than just a moanfest.  I felt sad last night, but in writing this, I realise how lucky I am.  I take the opportunities I have - I love buying my nieces presents and clothes, spending time with them, relating to them, sharing what I can of myself.  I’ve nurtured a lovely relationship (albeit long distance) with one niece in particular, who is now emerging so beautifully and confidently into adulthood.  Of course it’s not without pain.  But as I said in my previous post, I’d rather have that, than the inability to relate at all.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Surviving a child's birthday party


There are definite benefits to not having children.  After spending Easter with my sister, her husband, and daughter, I enjoyed coming home to a house full of peace, quiet, and an absence of brightly-coloured or noisy plastic toys.  We are grateful we don’t have to watch Dora the Explorer endlessly on TV  ... although I will admit to developing a fondness for Shaun the Sheep.  After a glass of wine or two (for me, not the sheep), he's quite funny.
Of course, I know that people “grow up” as parents along with their daughter, and so just being around my niece probably isn’t as tiring as for my sister and brother-in-law as it is for those of us used to a family of two.  Still, I see my sister and her husband talk about being lucky when they can sleep in till 7 am, and I see that they are tired.  They talk enthusiastically about when C will be old enough to come and stay with us for two weeks.  I’m thinking I could probably cope with a 17 year old.  Maybe even a 15 year old. So they have a few more years to wait.  Only 12 years to go guys!! 

The three-year-old’s birthday party was not as bad as expected.  There weren’t dozens of children or judgemental mothers.  It was warm enough for the few children there to play outside, and the older children took good care of the little ones.  The trampoline was a hit too.  So it wasn’t too chaotic, the mess not too bad to clean up afterwards.  And C loved all her presents. 

Over the weekend, whilst there were some ouch comments and moments, my husband and I survived too.  I wish they (or we) lived closer, so I could be there as C grows up, be part of her life, and know she knows who Aunty “Mali” is.  As hard as it is to be around young children in our situation, sometimes I think it’s harder not to be.