Wednesday, 30 November 2011

It's time to send those cards again


December is almost here, the beginning of the official Christmas (or for those of you in the US – holiday) season.  It can be a tough time for those of us without children.  I’ll write more about different aspects of this, and how I get through it, later in the month. 

Now is when we start thinking about sending cards.  I’ve seen discussions from friends in the US and Canada, the inadequacy they feel when they send out their own cards, with photos of two (with the odd beloved pet thrown in) when they receive cards with photos of their friends and all their children.  The pain of opening cards and seeing yet another seemingly happy family, perhaps a new arrival in the photograph, and then have to look at those photos till after New Year.  What a sock in the face that must be.

Fortunately, here in New Zealand, the personalised photo cards are very rare.  In fact, the only ones that I ever receive are from friends in the US.  I find it a somewhat odd custom.  Perhaps we’re a bit lower key in New Zealand, but we don’t presume to think our friends want our faces looking back at them throughout the festive season.  In the spirit of the season, we send cards to our friends and family that are about them, not about us. 

I carefully choose cards that will fit the recipient.  I think I would have done that regardless of whether photo-cards were traditional here in New Zealand.  (After all, I do it with my own home-made cards for friends and family throughout the year).  And I hate to bow to a tradition if it doesn’t work for me. 

So at Christmas, my religious friends get a card with a biblical scene on it.  Children, or friends/relatives get cards with Santa, often humorous ones in New Zealand that show Santa with a suntan, lying on the beach with the reindeer, a beer in hand, and a barbecue sizzling away in the background, you know the type.  Other friends will get elegant Christmas trees, or decorations, or for my Buddhist/Muslim friends/family I will hunt out New Year cards. 

It means Christmas cards have never been a source of pain for me.  And for that, I’m very thankful. 

Perhaps I lie.  They can be a bit painful, but only when I either a) receive a card from someone I’ve forgotten to send one to, and it’s too late to get one posted before Christmas, or b) when I don’t receive one from people I really want to hear from!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Warning: The Debt


My husband and I went to see The Debt on the weekend.  Helen Mirren is a favourite of mine – and the reviews were of a talented cast and intelligent script.  So I was keen to see it.

I will try not to give any spoilers.  I will try to choose my words carefully.

I thought the movie was very good.  We went for an Indian meal after the movie, and discussed it.  Any movie that causes a discussion or debate, that lingers beyond the movie theatre, is good in my book.  The Debt is not a big “shoot-em-up” movie, but one based on suspense, a mystery, and characters finely honed, subtly portrayed.  My kind of movie.

It was a thriller.  So I knew there would be tension.  I found it in an unexpected place, in a very powerful presentation of how the woman agent’s bravery far eclipsed that of her male colleagues.  I almost physically recoiled at the scenes in the fertility doctor’s office.  I hardly recall feeling so horrified at a movie.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there was blood or gore or cruelty.  They didn't need these devices to make a powerful scene.  I don’t think men will get how creepy, how very disturbing, those scenes were.  Brilliantly played, I thought.  But yes, horrific, and traumatic.  I think any woman would find them so.  A woman who has been through infertility might find them especially so.  

Which is why I felt I needed to make this a public service announcement.  I want to warn you, if you’re feeling raw and vulnerable about seeing fertility specialists, then that this might not be the movie for you.  Personally I’m very glad I saw it.  But I feel light-years away from a fertility specialist’s office these days.  It might be different if I had to walk into one next week.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

No regrets?


It is easy for those of us without children but who had wanted children, in our lower moments, to think that if we only had children all our problems would be solved, or to dwell on how happy and fulfilled we would be.  And yet we all know that’s not how it would be.  There’s a saying warning us to “be careful what we wish for.”  And for good reason.  Nothing is ever quite what you expect. 

So at times, I think about what my life might be like if I had children.  And my mind doesn’t always turn to the positives.  More realistic now than when I was trying to conceive, I wonder if:
  • my life would have turned into drudgery, and the house turned into a tip, because I cannot imagine I would have been Supermum.
  • I would be constantly tired and irritated.  I know I wouldn’t have found a hidden energy.  I suspect that any reserves of patience would be hiding out with the hidden energy.
  • I would feel resentful of my husband, resenting the fact that he wanted children, and blame him.
  • I would forget those years of wanting children, and remember only the years when I didn’t want children. 
  • I’d be fatter because I finished off my children’s food, or if I’d be thinner because I’d never get time to eat.  I suspect it would be the former.
  • I’d have grown gray not so gracefully, simply because I wouldn’t have time to get my hair coloured.
  • my days would fly by, never being able to achieve what I had planned, and see the years fly by in turn, or alternatively, if the days would drag by, the chores never-ending.
  • I would feel trapped at the end of the world, trapped in my life, trapped looking after children.
Of course, I will never know how I would have felt.  But sometimes, these days, I do breathe a sigh of relief, and think that maybe I was lucky I didn’t have children. Sometimes, and increasingly often, there are no regrets. It helps, it really does, to look honestly at this side of my life that might have been, to be honest about my personality and capabilities, and even (at times) to be glad that I don’t ever have to find out.

After all, isn’t happiness wanting what you have, not getting what you want?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Childless, childfree ... or what?


Beef Princess made another point about the label childless not by choice when you’ve had to decide that enough is enough.  She suggests Childless by Exhaustion, which I understand and quite like!  In my case, it might be Childless by Running Out of Time.  But actually, these days, I wouldn’t use such a description.

The problem is that the labels childLESS or childFREE  automatically convey additional information about our history, and our feelings about our situation.  And (as you may have guessed) I don’t always want to share that information.  These labels make a point of telling people we either feel a loss and that we are living in sadness, or that we are delighted we don’t have children and celebrate it daily.  Some people are very comfortable with those labels, and that’s fine for them.  I can certainly understand that some people might choose to use the label childless because they don’t want to be grouped in with all the negative accusations that are (sadly) often directed at the childfree.  At times I have felt that way too, particularly in those immediate years after we learned we would live without children.  In those years, I certainly felt child less.  But, even then, that is not how I wanted to portray myself to the world.  I abhorred the idea of pity, and I hated the prospect of successful parents looking down on me, having achieved something I couldn’t.  My situation was private, and my feelings about it were private.  And so the label childless felt too defensive, too negative,  and I’ve never comfortably used it.

Now, eight years on, it certainly isn’t the right label for me.  Sometimes I feel childless.  Or I feel childless with a secret relief.  It’s simply not that straightforward, and so I try not to describe myself either way.  But neither is childfree, because the truth is that we tried to have children.  If either of my pregnancies had implanted in the right place, I might have children by now.  And so childfree doesn’t seem quite right.  Sure, sometimes I feel child free.  Or I feel child free tinged with guilt or sadness for feeling that way.  But it doesn’t fully describe me. 

The problem I have with both of these labels is that they allow others to make a judgement about our choices, and invite an emotional response (pity, superiority, horror, disbelief, etc).  And that isn’t fair.  After all, the words parent or mother don’t have any such connotations to them, do they?  They don’t say “mother by choice” or “mother not by choice” or “parent by accident” or “mother by drunken binge on a Friday night in the back seat of the car of a guy she’d just met in the bar” or “parent by broken condom.”  They don’t say “parent after ten years of trying to conceive and thousands of dollars of fertility treatments” or “mother who thought kids would save her marriage” or “ happy mother who always wanted kids and got everything she wanted” or “mother who thought she always wanted kids till she got them and now wishes she didn’t.”  The words parent or mother are just factual statements.

Fact:  I’m simply a woman, first and foremost. 
Fact:  I don’t have children. 

I'll proffer that information only if it's relevant.  I guess that’s why - here and in informal situations - I like using the “no kidding” term.  It’s simply a fact.  It doesn't comment on how others should feel about it, or I feel about it. And as anyone who has read my blog can see, my feelings aren't black and white (even if my blog is). 

I’m not kidding.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Just Adopt


A new blogger, Beef Princess at Simply Not Conceivable, has joined our community.  I love the by-line to her blog:

because not everyone can have children, but they can still have a life.

This week she got me thinking, and I wanted to respond.  And if, in doing so, I direct some readers to her blog, all the better.

She raised the question of adoption.  I’ve not addressed this issue yet here, though I plan to at some stage.  I  loved her comment that  Most people won’t have to try so hard to have kids.  They will never have to answer that question.  I think that’s what makes me so angry about this question, this assumption from the fertiles that we can “just” adopt. It  is so easy for them to blithely say, “we would have adopted if we couldn’t have children.”  But such comments are meaningless unless they have been through infertility, perhaps spent all their disposable income on fertility treatments, exhausted themselves emotionally (as Beef Princess points out) through years of disappointment and grief, put their relationship under huge pressure, and perhaps dealt with pregnancy losses or still-births.”  Try saying “just adopt” and mean it after all that.  We know it isn’t that easy. And I wish others did too.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

One vote


We are in the midst of an election campaign here in New Zealand.  The relief of winning the Rugby World Cup has been quickly replaced by the frustration of seeing political pollution (candidates’ hoardings) everywhere we go, of listening to the political pollution on the radio when I’m not quick enough to turn it off, and of trying to avoid reading the political pollution on the Internet or in my newspaper.

So far this year there hasn’t been too much of an emphasis on family.  Issues include the economy, debt, asset sales, to name a few.  To be frank, I’m not paying that much attention, as I still feel bruised from previous years.  You see, in previous years, family was the most commonly used word in the political campaigns.  And I understand that for most people their family is their concern.  But for those of us who don’t have children – don’t have a family in the sense of the word that most people identify with - this is simply another time of the year when we feel marginalised, isolated, alone.  It is another time of the year when we are reminded that our worth, to society, is so low that our only value is as a taxpayer.  It is another time of the year when we are ignored, swept aside, where - despite having a vote - we simply don't count.  

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The answer to that question


THAT question.  Do you have kids?  There are quite a lot of posts around at the moment where the question of what to say to this question is being mentioned.  I know I’ve addressed this before.  But I keep seeing the issue come up - and the common thread is that no-one feels comfortable answering this question.

Some people feel it is rude not to answer.
Others feel they want to be "honest" and provide details.
Others feel they need to justify why they don’t have children.
Others don’t want to answer, but just don’t know what to say.

I remember seeing the film of a psychological experiment where someone, in a public place, simply started giving orders to passers-by.  The innocent passers-by were remarkably obedient, compliant, submissive even.  The conclusion was that obedience – especially to someone who projects authority and the expectation of obedience - is obviously an instinctive response.  I wonder if that explains why why we feel we have to answer a question, any question, when we’re asked?  Even when we don’t want to?  I think this instinct to be obedient, to conform, and not to be rude is especially strong in women.  So we’re really in trouble when we’re asked if we have kids, aren’t we?  It explains perhaps why we feel we’re being dishonest for not giving out full details of the reasons why we don’t have children.

But, you know, I don’t think that choosing to withhold information is in any way dishonest or rude.  Why should we feel that way, especially as sometimes the questions are rude / insensitive /invasive or personal?  I think we are simply exercising our right to privacy.  I don't choose to bring up that topic.  So why should I respond, in any detail or at all?  And a lack of response, or a simple answer, isn’t rudeness or dishonesty.  A rude response might be “mind your own @%$#*&^ business!”  A dishonest response might be a response that simply isn’t true.  But a decision not to answer or give details?  That’s not rude, or dishonest. It is simply the answer we want to give.

I chose to give a one word answer – No.  Depending on who is asking, I may or may not follow up with any details.  But usually, my view is that if they don't know me well enough to know I have children, then they don't know me well enough to know any details!  So I simply say "No."  And when I say it – with a strong tone, with a degree of finality, but always politely – I find I am not asked the inevitable follow-up question “why not?”  (And let’s face it, that’s the one we really don’t want to answer!)  By not offering more information, by strongly implying that that topic of conversation is a dead end, I find that those asking the question – perhaps responding to their own need to be obedient – move on to another topic too.

I feel strongly that as a community we need to claim our right to respond the way we want to.  We shouldn’t feel cowed, or victimised, by questions we don’t want to answer.  I hope that we all will one day  feel strong enough to choose to answer – or not – as we see fit, and without guilt, or fear, or shame.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Cruisin'


As part of our holiday, we took a cruise from Athens to Venice.  It was our first cruise, and we were amongst the youngest on the cruise - although not the youngest.   I remember another childless friend commenting years ago that her and her husband found they had more in common with the empty-nesters and the retired folks who were living a childfree life, and how it made her feel old before her time.  I felt a little like that  on the cruise, knowing that my friends with children couldn’t do this, at this time of year, because of school commitments, and occasionally feeling slightly odd, wondering if I too was old before my time.

But putting those feelings aside, the cruise was wonderful.  Waking up every day in a new place without having to pack or fly or drive anywhere was bliss, enjoying a glass of champagne and the gentle breeze as the ship sailed out of port every evening was amazing, and sharing it all with my husband was a joy.

And it was childfree.  There are no facilities for children on this ship, and so the youngest person on the ship was about 18 (other than the energetic, young crew, that is).  This meant that the cruise services were all pitched at adults.  It was sophisticated; there were of course cocktail parties to start and end the cruise, dinner was late and, in two of the restaurants at least, chic and classy (I’m trying to find synonyms for sophisticated).  It was perfect.  And as I’ve mentioned on previous holidays, the absence of children for an entire week was in fact liberating – and you know, I’m pretty sure I wasn't the only one (childless or not) who relished being in an adults only space for a time.