Monday, 30 January 2012

"She has no children. She has nothing."


"She has no children.  She has nothing."  So said a so-called friend of Beef Princess.  (I’ve stolen the title of this blog post from Nicole, who was also moved to write).  We've certainly been exposed to the subliminal messages of society that encourage this school of thought.  We've probably all heard family or friends say something like this over the years.   Maybe it was before we tried to conceive, before we knew that we might end up living life without children.  But we would have heard it, and it would have sunk in.  Maybe some of us even said something like that.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have, as it took me a while to decide I actually wanted children in the first place, and I hated the pigeon-holing of a woman’s lot it implied.  But I could understand if others did – after all, this is the pervasive message of society today. 

To hear something like this - that without children you have nothing - can be incredibly hurtful.  Why?  When we know it is not true?  When we know – and I’m sure even the woman who made this statement knows – that it is not true.  Why?  When we know that we are so much more than whether or not we have children?

The reason why I think it hurts us so much is that we've probably all said it to ourselves at some stage.  In those dark days when you realise you may not be able to have children, or in those dark days after loss or illness, you tell yourself dreadful things, imagine that other people are thinking the most awful things about you.  (Well, I did at least.)  We've focused for so long - for some of us for our entire adult lives, for others, a very short but intense period of infertility and loss - on having children, on the importance of children, of family, of taking our place in the bosom of the community, of being accepted, together, normal.  And so when we feel deprived, locked out, we have genuinely felt as if we had nothing.  We felt as if we had no future.  I know that we felt as if our husbands and partners would be better off without us, that we were failures as women, that we had no purpose in life, that we would never be happy.  Some will have wondered what the point is of continuing to live.  Some people reading this might still feel this way, still stuck in those dark days.  And so, when we hear someone say this, say that we have nothing, we slip back to that moment, and believe it all over again, even if just for a split second.

Feeling hurt, feeling ostracised from a society that continually emphasises a lifestyle that we can’t have is one thing.  But what explains the statement itself? 

If you ask me, the statement “without children you have nothing” says more about the person saying it than it does about us.  Why the need to put someone down like that?  To sneer that they have nothing?  It was supposed to be a barb, to be unkind about a person who had already hurt the speaker.  But why she felt it was okay to use that particular barb (least of all to Beef Princess) is what astounds me.  It would be like criticising someone for the skin colour, for being left-(or right) handed, for having blue eyes or a high voice, for being poor, or for having a low (or in some circles a high IQ).  

But the majority rules, and people who “have no kids” seem to invite judgement, simply for going against the norm.  Just like on the school playground, difference invites judgement in the adult world too (perhaps even more so).  But I wonder too, is part of the motivation for this judgement perhaps the desperate need to feel that they themselves have more than they actually feel they do?  You know, the happiness is relative theory.  (If you have more than those you compare yourself to, then you will be a happy person.  If you have less, you will be unhappy.)  Is that why sleep-deprived, freedom-constrained mothers feel the need to put others in their place, in turn putting their role as mothers on a pedestal?  That allowing themselves to feel superior makes them feel happier?  Is it perhaps that they feel so insecure, so conflicted about their role as mothers,  that there is a constant need to reaffirm how wonderful their life is, and how much better it is than that of those of us without children?  (After all, perhaps that is why I feel very happy about my own life; because I can do things that those with children can't).

The message from society these days is that having children is everything.  There is no doubt that this is what the majority of our community either believes, or professes to believe, or wants us all to believe.  I don't think it is a simple case that this is what everyone believes. Human beings are notoriously bad at being able to analyse their own motivations.  I think this is a case in point.

Whatever the motivations of both the statement, and our reactions to it, we all know that it is not true.    Children are admittedly a wonderful part of life, but they are not the only thing in life.  We know that.  Relationships - with family, friends, colleagues, and our partners - sustain us and nurture us.  Work sustains us, helping others sustains us, an open mind, intellectual challenges and explorations, our health, our hobbies,  our pets, and even a good bottle of wine or a crisp apple – they all sustain us, and help us live a happy life.  My father-in-law had four children, decent health, and was very well-provided for when he retired.  But when he retired, when he lost his job, he thought he had nothing.  He is an intelligent, logical man.  But his attitude defied logic.  He lacked the insight, the emotional intellect, to examine his emotions, his beliefs, and his attitudes, and hold them up to the light.  Consequently, he has been miserable for over 20 years, when he could have lived a happy, amazing life.  I think that people who say things like “without children you have nothing” are equally lacking in insight, emotional intellect, understanding, and perhaps most importantly, compassion.

And I pity them.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Being a daughter-in-law


I’m a good daughter-in-law.  I visit the parents-in-law regularly.  I push my husband (when he needs it, which isn’t often) to interact with them, or think of solutions to their problems.  I try to figure out how to make their lives easier.  I smile and nod and listen to their stories.  Yes, I moan and complain here and to my friends that my husband and I are stuck looking after them, and that my husband doesn’t feel he can leave the country because then there’d be no-one to take care of them.  (All their other children live overseas and show no guilt about it, and no intentions of returning, or even of visiting regularly.)  And actually, I'm quite proud that my husband feels that way, even if I wish he didn't.   But I have never let my parents-in-law know how I feel, and I never will.  That just wouldn’t be fair.  They are both in their 80s, and things are getting worse not better.  They need to feel secure, at least, in our presence when their future is increasingly insecure.

My mother-in-law is almost 89.  She’s been very lucky with her health, both physical and mental.  But she’s old, and she's never been very sensitive (even though she thinks she is), and age doesn't help that.  So I can’t really allow myself to get angry with her, and I certainly know I can’t begin to educate her or change her views.  As much as I want to sometimes.  As much as she makes me want to scream sometimes. 

So today, we visit and the first thing she does is point out the photos of the nieces and nephews on holiday in Malaysia swimming with baby elephants.  That was okay – we’d been emailed the photo, and so didn’t have to discuss it with her, or hear her rave about how beautiful the boys are, what beautiful children they are, so stunning, she’s never seen anything like it, their eyelashes, have you seen them?  Not this time.  Then she whips out the photo of her great-niece (one who has never given us the time of day) with her 3 year old daughter and new-born baby.  I bite my tongue, and find something else to do (I’m such a coward) whilst my poor husband has to look at the photo.  He shrugs, easily, deliberately disinterested.  “A baby.  They all look the same.”  Somehow, it isn’t impolite from him. Guys can get away with so much. I wanted to hug him.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Decrepitude


I still haven’t recovered from the virus that struck me down two weeks ago.  I am exhausted from coughing, struggling to breathe deeply, and suffering from a general malaise.  I don’t even feel like getting out on this sunny day, although I’m pretty sure the Vitamin D would do me good.  Once again I think, “imagine how tired I would be if I had children.”

But you know, if I had had children, they would now be old enough to look after themselves, do the dishes, tidy the house, amuse themselves by reading or playing on their own, or walk down the street to the playground.  It wouldn’t matter so much that their mother was sick.  I say this because if I imagine what it would be like to have a toddler at my age, I feel totally decrepit.  Feeling sick is making me feel old enough.  And also, I don’t see why I should feel guilty about moaning about feeling sick.  Even not having children, surely I’m allowed to moan about feeling sick.  Haven’t felt this bad for this long since I had dengue fever.

So apologies for the uninspired posting.  Hopefully I’ll be back with some deeper thoughts in a few days.  Cough.  Splutter.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Traditions, old and new


Mel wrote a lovely post last week about taking a tradition she learned about when travelling in Italy, and bringing it into her family.  It made me think about what I might have done if I had had children, what parts of my life in Thailand would have become part of their life in New Zealand.  I know they’d have grown up eating Thai food, taking their shoes off at the door, and being told to “jai yen yen.”  (Literally, it means cool heart, in practice, it means “calm down,” and my husband and I use it on each other frequently.  It doesn't always work!)   They might have learned all about Songkran, the Thai New Year water festival.  It is celebrated in Thailand in April, the hottest part of the year there, and being soaked with water isn’t necessarily a bad thing then.  April in New Zealand on the other hand is autumn, sometimes lovely Indian summer days, other times freezing temperatures and time to dig out the winter clothes.  It would be hit and miss.

I also loved the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand.  A November festival, again a bit weather dependent but less so, this one only requires some relatively calm water.  Krathongs are little banana-leaf boats with a  candle, that you float off into some water.   It symbolises letting go of all your grudges, anger and negativity.  Time to start afresh.  I like that idea.  I could do with starting afresh occasionally; holding on to negativity and grudges is not a healthy practice, but one I can find myself doing.  I do find though that usually I am able to force myself to let them go (mostly) from time to time.  I like to think I would have introduced the idea to my children. 

Oddly, these thoughts don’t give me much sadness.  Instead, it’s kind of nice to know my children’s lives would have been interesting and full, and perhaps a wee bit different, because of me.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Why I Write


The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. — Gustave Flaubert

I found this quote.  Actually, Wordpress found it for me, giving me the quote as I uploaded my latest post on A Separate Life.  And it made me stop, and smile.  This has been my exact experience.

I always loved writing.  As a teenager I wrote for fun, but then university and work, and writing theses and papers and emails and project reports and proposals used up all my writing energy for many years.  But when I had my first ectopic pregnancy, and joined the EPT forums, I discovered the only way I was going to get support was if I wrote.  I wrote my own posts, pouring out my heart as I went through another ectopic pregnancy and failed IVFs and reached the end of my fertility. 

And being a part of the community, of course I read what others wrote, and responded to them, seeking to find what might comfort me and therefore them, and in the process, figuring out what my own thoughts were.  The other wonderful women who were there with me at the time helped me enormously.  They were funny, insightful, each with a unique way with words.  Some of them were further on in the healing process than I was, many had taken different routes, but we all talked together, working things out together.  As one of my friends said, we got to know each other inside out.  And as I wrote I thought deeply about what I felt, what I was trying to say, and what that meant.  I would frequently say, "I've only just figured this out" or "that's the first time I've realised this."  As Gustave Flaubert said would happen, as I wrote I really did learn what I believed. 

As the years past, fortified and comforted with what I'd already learnt, and knowing I was nowhere near finished learning, I started exploring the ALI blogs, found Pamela and Lisa and Loribeth.  What a trio to find at the outset!  And reading them, I realised that I wanted to say more; that the self-therapy of writing would only work for me if I was in fact actually writing.  Hence, this blog.  And just as importantly, perhaps more so, commenting on other blogs so often prompts me to think again.  Writing as therapy.  Learning what I believe.  It’s not over yet.  I’m glad.